Archive for September, 2008


Things have not been so good around here, recently. But I’ve managed without any real incident, with the exception of last Tuesday night. Over the course of a couple weeks, it was determined that one of our home-stay student’s bedrooms had bedbugs. (Since they hitch rides on luggage, they are most common in places with high turnover rates of guests. We’re guessing, and the time-line kind of supports it, that it came from a visitor we had from the Philippines.) My sister was staying in this for a few days while we had no students and she developed spots. We had no idea what these were, but they were apparently very itchy. It turns out that they were bedbug bites. Wow, I can’t believe I had never seen them before. But we hadn’t discovered this yet. My sister went back to her house in Squamish and a new Korean home-stay student moved in. After her first night sleeping here (poor girl) she woke with the same types of bites my sister had! After she asked around, people suggested bedbugs.

Anyway, to get rid of these nasty predators is very difficult. Everything was taken out of the room in question, transported in garbage bags, gone through by hand outside, then put in different garbage bags. Many seams were painfully combed. Books were baked in the oven for a brief period. And we had an exterminator come over to fumigate the infected and neighbouring rooms. Fumigation must be done three times over three-week intervals to account for any unhatched eggs the previous time. While the fumigation is being done, all people and their pets must leave the house. We were all in a rush that day, picking students up from the bus stop and taking them to my aunt and uncle’s house for dinner that night.

Sky, our cat, had recently been enjoying going outside on our deck. Normally, she doesn’t go outside. We could leave the door open and she would just curiously peek outside, but when we were closing the door, she would quickly run back inside. Anyway, she had recently been interested and comfortable in coming out onto our deck and enjoying the breeze while threateningly staring down squirrels and birds. She rarely strayed from our deck and not far when she did. We put Sky outside on the deck, put a wooden barricade up at the gate, and left some food and water out with her because we would be gone for a while.

We were away for maybe five or six hours. When we came back, Sky wasn’t on the deck and the wooden barricade we had put up was down. I didn’t think much of it and figured she would return soon. My mom later came to my room and told me she had found Sky sitting under a neighbour’s car across the street. She looked injured. Oh no….

I went outside to help my mom retrieve our cat and saw Sky sitting near the wheel. As I approached, I heard a very low growl. I paused and asked if there was a dog in the back of that car. “No, I’m pretty sure that’s Sky,” my mom replied. I had never heard Sky make such a low sound before; nothing even close. I approached more cautiously, not sure of what state she was in. Using a flashlight, I was able to see some blood on her hind feet and many tufts of fur around the car; her white, fluffy fur. But it was difficult to see much else. I lay down at the back of the car and tried to get Sky to come out from underneath. We did not want to reach in to get her. My mom went inside to get some towels. Sky was constantly looking around her. She looked terrified. I just lay there, trying to comfort her by gently talking to her. She eventually made a couple weak, steps towards me, and sat down again. Half-way there. Her back legs, both of them, were definitely injured as she couldn’t put much weight on them. My mom came out with the towels and I put them down, giving sky more space to sit on the towel. After a little more patient waiting and gentle reassurance, Sky hobbled the rest of the short distance out from under the car and onto the towel we had laid out.

We carefully wrapped Sky in the towels and took her inside the house to the bathroom to take a closer look at her. She had some puncture wounds on her stomach and her rear end, and her back legs were bleeding quite badly. We tried cleaning her a little but it was obvious that she needed to go to the 24 hour emergency vet, downtown. Poor cat. I had to wake up and work in a few hours, so I didn’t go. My mom and my younger sister went. I had a sinking feeling that would be the last time I would see Sky….

The vet said that the wounds were typical of a raccoon attack. Maybe they were attracted to the food? Sky was the most harmless creature, and after inspection it looks as if she may have initially been attacked on our deck, and then again at the car across the street where she obviously fled. She didn’t have any experience outside, and she really, really did not deserve this! I didn’t get any sleep that night, and it hasn’t been the best couple of weeks, to be honest. We didn’t have to leave Sky outside on the deck. We could have easily put her in a cage and taken her with us. If we didn’t have these bedbugs brought into our house, this would never have happened to begin with…. But, beating yourself up over things you have no control over rarely does any good. At 3am, Wednesday, September 17th, Sky was put to sleep. She was only 7 years old.

I miss her.


GNOME 3.0 Ideas (Intelligent Desktop)

This is based off of a Summer of Code application I made in 2007, titled “Intelligent Desktop.” Recent discussions have reminded me to at least blog about it. And given my current employment status, I have the time. 🙂

Note: You may also be interested in File List Applet filelistapplet.

Messy Desk

The desktop – this gigantic area of screen real-estate – is a mess. Some people use their desktop to dump random files that they’re working on, or have recently downloaded. Others work tirelessly to keep the pretty background picture visible with minimal icon clutter. Still others find the Desktop useless because it fills up with icons too easily. In the Nautilus Desktop (GNOME’s default), icons can get placed on top of one another either by a bug in placement or simply because there is no space left, which really deters from the usability. Personally, I clump different themed files/folders into the corners of my desktop. When a file is added to the desktop procedurally, there is no obvious place to put it and thus no obvious place to look for it. This is compounded if there is a “hole” in one of my “icon clumps,” in which case the hole may be filled with the new icon making it extremely difficult to locate by both file name and screen location. I recently gave up on having mounted drives displayed on the desktop. Anything dynamic fails miserably as their location changes each time, and sometimes they even end up overlapping other icons. In any case, it seems the desktop requires maintenance to work, when it really shouldn’t.

An Intelligent Desktop would overcome icon clutter automatically and intelligently. It would also be a starting point to looking at potential benefits of a more dynamic desktop view. I’ll explain what I mean by this in a second. This is NOT that silly little notification that your desktop has old/unused icons on it.

Automatically Sorted, Categorized, Updated and Easily Searched

The desktop is a useful place to dump files, but retrieving them is a pain. In fact, browsing the desktop for that particular file (or folder) is a pain without a lot of maintenance. My idea requires an always-visible, on-the-desktop set of UI elements that I will call the Desktop Action Window (DAW). The easiest way to think of the DAW is as a sidebar for the desktop. (Don’t stand up quite yet, sidebar haters.) But rather than the DAW being a collection of meta-information or unrelated widgets, think of it as a controller to the desktop view (formerly just a desktop). Performing actions on the desktop via the DAW simply creates a new view of the desktop. The original/default view that is customized by the user will always be available. If you think in terms of Model-View-Controller, the current desktop is essentially everything. With the DAW, the DAW becomes the controller, the desktop viewing area becomes the view, and the model is partially hidden. The DAW should allow easy management of multiple views of the desktop, some automatic (Images, Movies, Recently Modified), some static (Default, Custom).

And you shouldn’t be concerned about a sizable widget infringing on your carefully chosen background, there are ways around that: the DAW could be hidden when no mouse movement on the desktop occurs (like the controls of a photo slide show), it could be semi transparent until the mouse is over it, it’s location could be customized, etc.

Some quick ideas for different actions in the DAW include:

  • An automatically generated list of types of files on the Desktop. Selecting one of them displays all icons of that type.
  • A text entry for string pattern matching.
  • Ability to easily hide all icons, except ‘always visible icons.’
  • Ability to have custom views displaying only icons that user specifies.
  • Ability to easily open file manager and display all files
  • Some form of icon pager or scrollable desktop view to allow for arbitrary numbers of icons to be displayed per view.
  • Ability to view and manipulate an arbitrary folder, such as Home, in the same way.


This is where I stop the prose and leave you with a couple mockups. The “Overflow” view could probably be replaced with “New” or “Recent” for recently modified files. Anytime new files/folders/launchers have been added, the button could be flashing to grab the user’s attention. Better not to alter the default view at all, I think.

Update 2008/12/04: I’ve started implementing what I was thinking about with the automatic view filter as a GNOME panel applet. Check out File List Applet.


“Netbooks” are a fairly recent thing; smaller and more affordable than a regular notebook PC… What’s not to like about that?! 🙂 Asus first tapped into this market with their Eee PC and it has since gone through its second (I think) generation. Eee PC’s generally get great reviews with the one complaint being their keyboards are a little small for adult hands. Acer recently introduced their AspireOne. I picked up one of these for my mom, who was considering a cheap notebook. For what she does (email, browse the Internet, write documents, and print things), this is perfect. For myself, I installed a few extra applications on it (emacs, ssh-clients), keep some information on a USB key and I borrow it sometimes because it’s just so portable. I chose this over the Eee PC because it seemed to be a better value and has a bit larger of a keyboard (though the bilingual keyboard is kind of annoying).

The trend with netbooks seems to be that the lower end, cheaper models run some form of Linux and if you want Windows XP, then you’ll have to purchase a higher end model. What I don’t like is that sometimes it appears you can’t get the higher end models with Linux. I doubt you could get a Windows rebate for these PCs….

Just today, Dell has released their Inspiron Mini 9 and it seems to compete quite directly in terms of value with the AspireOne. It’s interesting if you compare Dell’s US offering with their Canadian offering of essentially the same thing (I hope those links work). First of all, Canadians don’t yet have the option of selecting Ubuntu Linux as the operating system, nor a model with 512MB or RAM, so I’m comparing the $400 models. (Right off the bat, Americans have the option of going with Ubuntu and 512MB for $350.) Canadians get 1GB RAM in this model whereas that will cost Americans another $25. But if we Canadians want a 0.3MP or 1.3MP web camera, we will have to pay $20 or $40 extra. The American model comes with a 0.3MP and can be upgraded to a 1.3MP for a mere $10. Also, upgrading from 8GB to 16GB will cost Canadians an extra $10 ($50 compared to $40 for US). But the funniest difference: Americans will have to pay $25 more if they want white, but we here in the Great White North don’t incur that penalty. Huh. I wonder what logic compelled these differences.

I might consider the Inspiron Mini 9 over the AspireOne for myself if I had the option of Ubuntu. Wonder when it will be available to us northern folk.