Shallow Thoughts : tags : annoyances

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing, Science, and Nature.

Sun, 09 Oct 2011

Disable Google's Instant mode, and Instant Previews

A group of us were commiserating about that widely-reviled feature, Google Instant. That's the thing that refreshes your Google search page while you're still typing, so you always feel like you have to type reallyreallyfasttofinishyourquerybeforeitupdates. Google lets you turn off Instant -- but only if you let them set and remember your cookies, meaning they can also track you across the web. Isn't there a more privacy-preserving way to get a simple Google page that doesn't constantly change as you change your search query?

Disable Instant

It turns out there is. Just add complete=0 to your search queries.

How do you do that? Well, in Firefox, I search in the normal URL bar. No need for a separate search field taking up space in the browser window; any time you type multiple terms (or a space followed by a single term) in Firefox's URLbar, it appends your terms to whatever you have set as the keyword.URL preference.

So go to about:config and search for keyword, then double-click on keyword.URL and make sure it's something like "http://www.google.com/search?complete=0&q=". Or if you want to make sure it won't be overridden, find your Firefox profile, edit user.js (create it if you don't have one already), and add a line like:

user_pref("keyword.URL", "http://www.google.com/search?complete=0&q=");

Show only pages matching the search terms

I use a slightly longer query, myself:

user_pref("keyword.URL", "http://www.google.com/search?complete=0&q=allintext%3A+"

Adding allintext: as the first word in any search query tells Google not to show pages that don't have the search terms as part of the page. You might think this would be the default ... but The Google Works in Mysterious Ways and it is Not Ours to Question.

Disable Instant Previews

Finally, just recently Google has changed their search page again to add a bunch of crap down the right side of the page which, if you accidentally mouse on it, loads a miniature preview of the page over on your sidebar. You have to be very careful with your mouse not to have stuff you might not be interested in popping up all the time.

A moment's work with Firebug gave me the CSS classes I needed to hide. Edit chrome/userContent.css in your Firefox profile (create it if you don't already have one) and add this rule:

/* Turn off the "instant preview" annoying buttons in google search results */
.vspib, .vspii { display: none !important; }

Really, it's a darn shame that Google has gone from its origins as a clean, simple website to something like Facebook with things popping up all over that users have to bend over backward to disable. But that seems to be the way of the web. Good thing browsers are configurable!

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[ 21:31 Oct 09, 2011    More tech/web | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Fri, 30 Sep 2011

Hiding that pesky Facebook ticker

So everybody's complaining about that new Facebook ticker. You know, the thing that sits on the right sidebar and constantly and distractingly updates with stupid stuff you don't care about and wouldn't be able to click on quickly enough even if you tried.

My mom forwarded me a link to a neat page she'd seen with instructions on removing the ticker using Adblock Plus. A good idea -- I hadn't thought about using Adblock, though it does seem obvious in retrospect.

But I don't currently have Adblock installed in the profile I use for Facebook -- I keep Facebook separate from my everyday browsing, since I don't want Facebook tracking all the other sites I visit. Could I do the same thing with userContent.css?

It turned out to be quite easy. Copying the exact pattern didn't work, but a minute or two with Firebug told me the CSS class of the ticker. I edited chrome/userContent.css in my profile. If you don't have one already, just look for userContent-example.css and create a new file in the same directory without the -example part, named just userContent.css. I added this line:

.tickerOnTop { display: none !important; }

Restart firefox, and presto! No more ticker.

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[ 20:58 Sep 30, 2011    More tech/web | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Tue, 27 Sep 2011

Banishing errant tooltips

Every now and then I have to run a program that doesn't manage its tooltips well. I mouse over some button to find out what it does, a tooltip pops up -- but then the tooltip won't go away. Even if I change desktops, the tooltip follows me and stays up on all desktops. Worse, it's set to stay on top of all other windows, so it blocks anything underneath it.

The places where I see this happen most often are XEphem (probably as an artifact of the broken Motif libraries we're stuck with on Linux); Adobe's acroread (Acrobat Reader), though perhaps that's gotten better since I last used it; and Wine.

I don't use Wine much, but lately I've had to use it for a medical imaging program that doesn't seem to have a Linux equivalent (viewing PETscan data). Every button has a tooltip, and once a tooltip pops up, it never goes aawy. Eventually I might have five of six of these little floating windows getting in the way of whatever I'm doing on other desktops, until I quit the wine program.

So how does one get rid of errant tooltips littering your screen? Could I write an Xlib program that could nuke them?

Finding window type

First we need to know what's special about tooltip windows, so the program can identify them. First I ran my wine program and produced some sticky tooltips.

Once they were up, I ran xwininfo and clicked on a tooltip. It gave me a bunch of information about the windows size and location, color depth, etc. ... but the useful part is this:

  Override Redirect State: yes

In X, override-redirect windows are windows that are immune to being controlled by the window manager. That's why they don't go away when you change desktops, or move when you move the parent window.

So what if I just find all override-redirect windows and unmap (hide) them? Or would that kill too many innocent victims?

Python-Xlib

I thought I'd have to write my little app in C, since it's doing low-level Xlib calls. But no -- there's a nice set of Python bindings, python-xlib. The documentation isn't great, but it was still pretty easy to whip something up.

The first thing I needed was a window list: I wanted to make sure I could find all the override-redirect windows. Here's how to do that:

from Xlib import display

dpy = display.Display()
screen = dpy.screen()
root = screen.root
tree = root.query_tree()

for w in tree.children :
    print w

w is a Window (documented here). I see in the documentation that I can get_attributes(). I'd also like to know which window is which -- calling get_wm_name() seems like a reasonable way to do that. Maybe if I print them, those will tell me how to find the override-redirect windows:

for w in tree.children :
    print w.get_wm_name(), w.get_attributes()

Window type, redux

Examining the list, I could see that override_redirect was one of the attributes. But there were quite a lot of override-redirect windows. It turns out many apps, such as Firefox, use them for things like menus. Most of the time they're not visible. But you can look at w.get_attributes().map_state to see that.

So that greatly reduced the number of windows I needed to examine:

for w in tree.children :
    att = w.get_attributes()
    if att.map_state and att.override_redirect :
        print w.get_wm_name(), att

I learned that tooltips from well-behaved programs like Firefox tended to set wm_name to the contents of the tooltip. Wine doesn't -- the wine tooltips had an empty string for wm_name. If I wanted to kill just the wine tooltips, that might be useful to know.

But I also noticed something more important: the tooltip windows were also "transient for" their parent windows. Transient for means a temporary window popped up on behalf of a parent window; it's kept on top of its parent window, and goes away when the parent does.

Now I had a reasonable set of attributes for the windows I wanted to unmap. I tried it:

for w in tree.children :
    att = w.get_attributes()
    if att.map_state and att.override_redirect and w.get_wm_transient_for():
        w.unmap()

It worked! At least in my first test: I ran the wine program, made a tooltip pop up, then ran my killtips program ... and the tooltip disappeared.

Multiple tooltips: flushing the display

But then I tried it with several tooltips showing (yes, wine will pop up new tooltips without hiding the old ones first) and the result wasn't so good. My program only hid the first tooltip. If I ran it again, it would hide the second, and again for the third. How odd!

I wondered if there might be a timing problem. Adding a time.sleep(1) after each w.unmap() fixed it, but sleeping surely wasn't the right solution.

But X is asynchronous: things don't necessarily happen right away. To force (well, at least encourage) X to deal with any queued events it might have stacked up, you can call dpy.flush().

I tried adding that after each w.unmap(), and it worked. But it turned out I only need one

dpy.flush()
at the end of the program, just exiting. Apparently if I don't do that, only the first unmap ever gets executed by the X server, and the rest are discarded. Sounds like flush() is a good idea as the last line of any python-xlib program.

killtips will hide tooltips from well-behaved programs too. If you have any tooltips showing in Firefox or any GTK programs, or any menus visible, killtips will unmap them. If I wanted to make sure the program only attacked the ones generated by wine, I could add an extra test on whether w.get_wm_name() == "".

But in practice, it doesn't seem to be a problem. Well-behaved programs handle having their tooltips unmapped just fine: the next time you call up a menu or a tooltip, the program will re-map it.

Not so in wine: once you dismiss one of those wine tooltips, it's gone forever, at least until you quit and restart the program. But that doesn't bother me much: once I've seen the tooltip for a button and found out what that button does, I'm probably not going to need to see it again for a while.

So I'm happy with killtips, and I think it will solve the problem. Here's the full script: killtips.

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[ 10:36 Sep 27, 2011    More programming | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Fri, 25 Jun 2010

Use Firefox User CSS to make LinkedIn discussions scroll normally

Several groups I'm in insist on using LinkedIn for discussions, instead of a mailing list. No idea why -- it's so much harder to use -- but for some reason that's where the community went.

Which is fine except for happens just about every time I try to view a discussion: I get a notice of a thread that sounds interesting, click on the link to view it, read the first posting, hit the space bar to scroll down ... whoops! Focus was in that silly search field at the top right of the page, so it won't scroll.

It's even more fun if I've already scrolled down a bit with the mousewheel -- in that case, hitting spacebar jumps back up to the top of the page, losing any context I have as well as making me click in the page before I can actually scroll.

Setting focus to search fields is a good thing on some pages. Google does it, which makes terrific sense -- if you go to google.com, your main purpose is to type something in that search box.

It doesn't, however, make sense on a page whose purpose is to let people read through a long discussion thread.

Since I never use that search field anyway, though, I came up with a solution using Firefox's user css. It seems there's no way to make an input field un-focusable or read-only using pure CSS (of course, you could use Javascript and Greasemonkey for that); but as long as you don't need to use it, you can make it disappear entirely.

Add this line to chrome/userContent.css inside your Firefox profile (create it if it doesn't already exist):

form#global-search span#autocomplete-container input#main-search-box {
  visibility:hidden;
}

Then restart Firefox and load a discussion page. The search box should be hidden, and spacebar should scroll the page just like it does on most web pages.

Of course, this will need to be updated the next time LinkedIn changes their page layout. And it's vaguely possible that somewhere else on the web is a page with that hierarchy of element names. But that's easy enough to fix: run a View Page Source on the LinkedIn page and add another level or two to the CSS rule. The concept is the important thing.

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[ 16:17 Jun 25, 2010    More tech/web | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 09 Oct 2008

Getting rid of .sudo_as_admin_successful

Ever been annoyed by the file in your home directory, .sudo_as_admin_successful? You know, the one file with the name so long that it alone is responsible for making ls print out your home directory in two columns rather than three or four? And if you remove it, it comes right back after the next time you run sudo?

Here's what's creating it (credit goes to Dave North for figuring out most of this).

It's there because you're in the group admin, and it's there to turn off a silly bash warning. It's specific to Ubuntu (at least, Fedora doesn't do it). Whenever you log in under bash, if bash sees that you're in the admin group in /etc/groups, it prints this warning:

To run a command as administrator (user "root"), use "sudo ".
See "man sudo_root" for details.

Once you sudo to root, if you're in the admin group, sudo creates an empty file named .sudo_as_admin_successful in your home directory. That tells bash, the next time you log in, not to print the stupid warning any more. Sudo creates the file even if your login shell isn't bash and so you would never have seen the stupid warning. Hey, you might some day go back to bash, right?

If you want to reclaim your ls columns and get rid of the file forever, it's easy: just edit /etc/group and remove yourself from the admin group. If you were doing anything that required being in the admin group, substitute another group with a different name.

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[ 17:33 Oct 09, 2008    More linux | permalink to this entry | comments ]

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