Posts Tagged ‘geek’

Compose for typography

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Often, us artist-types need advanced typography when making artwork, laying out text, and fun things like that. How do you usually do it? For me, it’s either been launching a stupidly hard to find (and annoying to use) character picker or searching for some character on the Internet and copy/pasting it in. (Once in a while, I’ll make a really simple HTML page which has contains not much more than » or — or © — then open it up in Firefox and copy the resulting character).

Well, friends, there’s a better way! In discovering the compose key (thanks to many awesome volunteers) a couple weeks ago, I’ve been happily typing not just German characters, but some advanced typographical ones, too! It’s great for applications like Inkscape, which ordinarily seems to lack support for typing these sorts of things.

A quick primer (hit the compose key, then…):

  • or = ®
  • oc = ©
  • < < = «
  • TM (shift-tm) = ™
  • - - - = —
  • 12 = ½
  • ^2 = ²
  • c= = €
  • c/ = ¢
  • Y= = ¥
  • xx = ×
  • ?? = ¿
  • !! = ¡
  • <” = “
  • >” = ”
  • <´ = ‘
  • >´ = ’
  • -: = ÷
  • .< = ‹
  • .> = ›

These are just a few. In general, think of what the symbol looks like when combined with something else, and that’s probably what you need to type, after hitting the compose key.

To set this up in GNOME, open up keyboard preferences and go to the “layout options” tab and select “compose key position”. (I have mine set up for the “menu key”.)

(Update: Remapping keys in GNOME 3.2+ has since been moved to System SettingsRegion and LanguageLayoutsOptions…Compose key position → [select the key(s) you want for compose key])

(Update 2: Remapping keys in GNOME 3.6+ has since been moved to System SettingsKeyboardShortcutsTypingCompose key → [click and hold, and select the key you want for compose key from the dropdown])

In KDE, go to the keyboard layout in the KDE control center, click on the “Xkb options” tab, enable the “Enable Xkb options” option, then scroll through the list until you see the second “Compose Key Position” (the one with options under it in the tree). Enable it and the the key you wish to use.

For vanilla X, you can edit Xorg.conf and follow a mini-howto.

Anyway, when you use the compose key, you can instantly start typing various characters all over the place… not just in Inkscape (where it’s quite useful), but in Firefox, XChat, in IM conversations, etc.

Response to the Skype rants on Planet GNOME

Saturday, August 18th, 2007

I recently read some ranting regarding Skype via Planet GNOME. In the blog post, it is detailed what Skype does wrong — however, those shortcomings do not stop people from using Skype.

Why do people use Skype, despite all of the issues? It’s the combination of a few simple factors.

  • No need to worry about firewalls or other crazy configuration. It just works. Firewalls, today, are a reality. Nearly everyone on the Internet now is behind a firewall. It wasn’t always this way. Software needs to stop pretending that we live in a world where firewalls are the exception.
  • It is free (or cheap) to use. Compared to a traditional telephone network (or even most VOIP), Skype is cheap, and even free if you’re talking Skype to Skype.
  • It works on nearly everyone’s computer. Mac? Windows? Linux? N800? Yeah, it’s there. One person’s Skype install works with any of the other ports, without fuss.
  • People using Skype can talk to others who don’t even use (or have heard of) the software. Of course, this is by way of the standard phone lines. But still — the software does it, and it’s cheap.
  • Skype is a catchy, simple name (and people can easily convert it into a verb, too).

Yes, Skype is proprietary and the UI isn’t great… but it’s good enough for most people, as it gives people what they want (free/cheap communication to their friends and family). The alternatives are either to use a clunky alternative with lots of set-up and jargon (while worrying about things like firewalls, IP addresses, SIP configuration, etc.) or to use something like the phone networks where calls are expensive (charged by the minute on cell phones, or a bundle per month for land lines) which are all being routed through proprietary networks using mainly proprietary hardware and software anyway.

Despite Skype’s shortcomings (and being closed source), you should understand why normal people — the ones who just want to chat to their friends — use it. It’s all about the computer, as a whole, being a tool that people use instead of a person being a tool the computer controls. This applies to all software and all electronics, proprietary or open source. (It’s really the difference between good and bad software when it comes to the experience.)

Build something better, easier, nicer, and more compelling than Skype and make it available to everyone… and people will use it. (It worked for Firefox.) You can even pitch in to help an already existing, very promising project with these goals; I’m sure the developers (and eventually all the people using the software) would love the help.

Hack Week video

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

Teams from around the world have been posting video on the Idea Pool website.

Here’s a video filmed and edited by Nat Friedman, and I’m featured at 1:46 into the video (at the end).

Yes, I was very, very tired making sure that the site was ready to launch and also traveling back to Europe. Shortly after arriving in Nuremberg, we were on Digg for several hours, so instead of taking a nap, I drank a lot of Red Bull and Afri-Cola so I could watch the website withstand “the Digg effect” (which used to be called “the Slashdot effect”, but we haven’t been on Slashdot yet. *hint*) and also take a lot of pictures.

Nat did a great job filming and editing the “from-the-trenches” Hack Week video; it’s quite funny.

Adventures in git

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

I’m sure this isn’t news to a lot of you, but git is seriously cool.

I just discovered it this past week (after hearing a little about it once in a while since it started in 2005). I was mostly happy with Subversion (SVN) and CVS (before that)… but git is just way cooler due to its distributed nature, among other nifty things. It’s extremely fast, has easy tagging and branching, features amazing merging and patch management, and the repositories it makes take up very little disk space too. Also, due to being distributed (and having excellent management features), it makes working on a custom branch — even when offline — not only possible, but a total breeze compared to most other SCM / version control software.

People have also made git work pretty well with other software of its kind, most notably CVS and SVN so that one can work in git locally and publish changes to more traditional repositories.

Starting the adventure

My own foray in using git initially started just the other week when Nat was telling me all about it. I decided to take the plunge into git this past Friday.

To familiarize myself with this new version control software, I imported a project I am currently working on into a git repository (building up versions from pieces of snapshots I made at different stages), and worked on learning the basics through some pretty nice tutorials.

Benefits, already!

Using git seriously paid off. Late Friday evening, I upgraded some upstream software I had been using and it broke my project… I knew it must’ve been a simple one line change, but I didn’t know where exactly. This was, of course, right before I left the office for the three-day-weekend.

On Saturday, I wanted to get things working again — including all the new upstream changes (you know, bug fixes and what-not), but I did not have a ‘Net connection. Thankfully, it turns out git came to the rescue, due to its distributed nature.

Essentially, using git meant that I had my own little (very) compact repository with all of my changes, so I could check out old versions of files, examine changes, look at differences between my own tagged “releases”, and commit any change I wanted — all locally, without a centralized server or any sort of network connection.

Voila! I found the problem… it was, indeed, a simple one liner that made assumptions that weren’t true on my system. I fixed it, committed the change, and had everything working once again… all on my laptop, without access to the outside world.

My deciding to play around with this new version control system turned out to be quite fortuitous and timely. I really don’t know how I would’ve tracked down and fixed the simple, hiding show-stopping bug (especially without a network connection) so quickly and easily otherwise.

git more info…

If git sounds interesting to you, I’d suggest you check out the following:

git-ting to the point

It does take a short while to wrap one’s head around git (and make it second nature), especially if you’ve used CVS or SVN for so long, but the benefits make it totally worth investigating and trying out.