Shallow Thoughts : : Jul

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

Wed, 16 Jul 2008

Running a second X: Xnest, Xephyr and xinit

I had a silly problem: I needed to make some screenshots, but my window borders were too pretty.

The problem isn't actually that they're pretty; it's that the theme I wrote for openbox is very different from the much simpler theme I used to use in fvwm, and I needed new screenshots that matched the old fvwm look. Preferably without actually going back to using fvwm -- I'm quite happy with openbox these days.

Anyway, the obvious solution is to run a second X. I had done that in the past (when I needed to test something repeatedly, like a wacom tablet, and didn't want to be restarting X all the time) so I knew that was possible. But then someone told me about Xnest. It's a way to run an X server embedded in a window of the current X session. What a neat idea! I wanted to try it.

I made a simple .xinitrc.xnest file that starts fvwm after loading .Xdefaults. It took some fiddling to find a combination of arguments that worked. In the end, this was it:
xinit ~/.xinitrc.xnest -- /usr/bin/Xnest -ac :1 -geometry 1024x768
And indeed, a 1024x768 window popped up with an fvwm running inside it. Cool! Except it turned out to be not so cool -- because as soon as I switched desktops, I found that the Xnest window wouldn't repaint itself. Not even after being covered with another window then uncovered -- it just didn't seem to get any expose events. Bummer!

Next I tried Xephyr -- I heard that it was similar to Xnest, a little more heavyweight but a little more reliable. It turned out the arguments were just the same, so I ran it exactly like Xnest:
xinit ~/.xinitrc.xnest -- /usr/bin/Xephyr -ac :1 -geometry 1024x768
but Xephyr was even worse about window redrawing, plus it had some problems with the mouse pointer, which kept jumping to random places.

Too bad! They both sounded fun, and I'm sure they'll improve and will eventually become usable. But for now, I'm back to the simpler solution, running a second X server. Here's how that works: first I have to log in on console 2 (ctl-alt-F2). For some reason, I can't run a second X except from there. Then I run:
startx ~/.xinitrc.xnest -- :1 and I get a new X session, on ctl-alt-F8 (with my regular session still accessible on ctl-alt-F7).

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[ 21:01 Jul 16, 2008    More linux | permalink to this entry | ]

Fri, 11 Jul 2008

Paving notice

They're repaving the streets where I live.

[Repavng notice with no time, date or contact info] They left this flyer on our door to alert us. It's good of them to keep us informed.

I guess they don't want us to ask any questions. It's helpful to know where the cars will be safe.

I wonder when we should start parking somewhere else?

[ 14:49 Jul 11, 2008    More humor | permalink to this entry | ]

Fri, 04 Jul 2008

Learning about Firefox 3 extensions

Oops! Right after I posted that last entry, I discovered that my little kitfox extension wasn't working as well as I'd thought. And the more I hacked it, the less well it worked, and the more I discovered was missing, like a chrome.manifest file (which firefox 2 hadn't seemed to need).

Eventually some very helpful folks on #extdev pointed me to Ted Mielczarek's excellent Extension Wizard. Give it some details about your extension (its name and version, your name, and a couple things you might want like a toolbar button, a prefs panel and a context menu) and it generates a zipped directory containing a bare bones extension, even including niceties like internationalized strings.

Even better, your new extension skeleton includes a readme that tells you how to leave the extension expanded while you work on it. That's quite a bit easier than building the XPI file and installing it each time.

So kitfox has a 0.3 version (in the unlikely event that anybody besides me wants it).

There's a project called fizzypop to develop and extend useful Mozilla dev tools like the Extension Wizard ... watch that space for more details.

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[ 21:12 Jul 04, 2008    More tech/web | permalink to this entry | ]

Making Firefox 3 livable

I finally broke down and spent the time to get Firefox 3 working properly for me ... meaning, mostly, finding replacement extensions for the bare minimum of what I need in a browser: control over cookies (specifically, enabling/disabling them for specific sites), flashblock, and blocking of animated images. I'd downloaded extensions for all those a few weeks ago, but I found that although Firefox 3.0 said the FF3 extensions were active, and Firefox 2 said the old ones were, neither set actually worked.

I decided to start from scratch: remove all extensions -- rm -rf .mozilla/firefox/extensions/* .mozilla/firefox/extensions.* plus apt-get remove firefox-2-dom-inspector -- then install a new set of Firefox 3 add-ons.

After much hunting (I sure wish would offer a way to limit the view to only extensions that work with Firefox 3! Combing through 15 pages of extensions looking for the handful that will actually install gets old fast) I found the replacements I needed: CS Lite for the cookie controls, a newer Flashblock, and Custom Toolbar Buttons as a stopgap for image animation (though I suspect updating anidisable will be a better solution in the long run). This time, with the old firefox 2 extensions purged, the new ones took hold and worked.

I also added a nice extension called OpenBook that fixes the horrible Firefox "Add bookmark" dialog. You know: the one that has two nearly identical dropdown category menus side by side, with the bigger one giving you only a tiny subset of your bookmark categories, and the smaller one being the real one. The one that doesn't offer a space for keyword, so to set up a bookmarklet you have to Add Bookmark, OK, Organize Bookmarks, find the bookmark you just added, Ctrl-I to get the Bookmark info dialog, and finally you can add your keyword. OpenBook gives you a dialog where you can set the keyword to begin with, and it only gives you one menu to list categories so you aren't constantly tempted to click on the wrong one.

Now for the urlbar -- that new firefox 3 "smarter" urlbar that slows down typing in the middle of a word so it can pop up a big fancy window full of guesses (all wrong) about where I might be trying to go. Actually, even if the guesses were right, it wouldn't help, because I'd have to stop typing, search the list visually, then if one of the suggestions was right, move my hand to the mouse or the arrow keys to choose that suggestion. That takes way longer than just typing the url.

But I guess I don't mind unhelpful suggestions popping up as long as it doesn't mess up focus (preventing me from clicking or tabbing to other apps on my screen) or slow down typing. Firefox 3 seems to be handling the focus issue better than firefox 2 did, but the slowdown was quite noticeable on the poor old laptop. So I wanted a way to disable the behavior. A little googling revealed that the Firefox crew immodestly calls their new urlbar the "awesomebar", which aside from giggle factor also proves quite useful in googling: a search on firefox disable awesomebar reveals that I'm not the only one who doesn't like it, and got me several preferences I could tweak in about:config plus a couple of extensions to turn it off entirely. I won't try to summarize, since the best settings depend on your machine's spec, plus personal preference.

Making progress! Now the only issue was getting my urlbar tweaks working, so that typing <Ctrl-Return> after typing a URL opened the URL in a new tab instead of tacking on various silly extensions (oh, yes, of course I wanted to go to http://www.firefox disable rather than googling for those terms in a new tab). Fortunately, it turned out that the javascript that runs the urlbar has changed very little since firefox 2, and I hardly needed to change anything to get my kitfox extension (v. 0.2) working in Firefox 3.

Only one more issue: this blog. The CSS that handles the right sidebar wasn't displaying right. Seems that Firefox 2 has changed something about its interpretation of CSS, so it was floating the right sidebar way down to the bottom of the page below the last content line. Eventually (after adding firefox-3.0-dom-inspector, another extension that had stopped working in the transition) I discovered the problem: the #content was set to width: 77% while the #rightsidebar's left-margin was at 76%. Apparently Firefox 2 rounded up as needed, whereas Firefox 3 just ignores the left-margin if it would overlap the content, and then floats the sidebar anywhere it thinks it can fit it. Fixing those percentages helped quite a bit, and I added an overflow-x: hidden (on a tip from a helpful person in #firefox) so that wide calendar doesn't hurt layout for narrow windows. I think it's working now ... any readers having problems with the layout in any browser, by all means let me know.

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[ 12:04 Jul 04, 2008    More tech/web | permalink to this entry | ]

Wed, 02 Jul 2008

Not a combination I'd think of

There's a store down the road from me that offers an unusual combination of items. It always makes me stop and wonder when I pass by.


It must be my naivety and lack of marketing accumen, but it never would have occurred to me that cigarettes and pure water were two products that ought to be sold side by side.

The most amazing part is that another store just a few blocks away has started offering the same combination! (Though their sign is much less striking.)

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[ 23:56 Jul 02, 2008    More humor | permalink to this entry | ]

Nature updates

Part of my reason for keeping this blog is keeping records of when particular events happen. If there's no story attached, that doesn't necessarily make for interesting reading. So I'll be brief, and just mention that last weekend the mysterious chlorine smell (Dave calls it a bleach smell) was fairly strong up on Skyline near Castle Rock; but it was not noticable at all the previous super-hot week. There goes the theory that it's temperature related.

And the bullfrogs are back at Walden West pond, though they're not croaking very actively. We even managed to spot a (huge!) tadpole, and the feet of something that looked like a crab but was probably a crayfish.

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[ 23:55 Jul 02, 2008    More nature | permalink to this entry | ]