Monday, 29 February 2016

Relatório da Hackatona de Design

Durante semana, no mês de janeiro, eu estive no Brasil, no Rio de Janeiro para uma hackatona de design, com os designers de Endless e do projeto GNOME.

Que é o produto de Endless?

O maior produto de Endless é um sistema operativo para mini computadores que eles fazem, o Endless Mini e o Endless (Maxi?). O sistema operativo usa Linux e uma versão de GNOME com algumas changes (mudanças). O uso principal desses computadores é de ter muitas informações sem acesso à Internet. Por exemplo, tem muitos aplicativos sobre viagens, animais e etc que são diretamente dentro do computador, usando Wikipedia como fonte, e uma outra aplicação de receitas, com uma outra terceira fonte.

A hackatona em si

Os dois primeiros dias foram para viajar e visitar os usuários “beta” do Endless computadores, um dia na Rocinha, uma favela do Rio. E um outro dia em Magé, uma cidade rural do estado do Rio.
Os três últimos dias foram para discussões no escritório de Endless.


É uma coisa para fazer testes de usabilidade nos EUA e na Europa, e uma outra coisa de fazer isso num país sem habitude de usar “computadores pessoais” com Windows o MacOS X, mas muita mais habitude com celulares.

Por exemplo:
- Se se tem um mouse, vão dar dublo clique. Não é um problema com teclados sensíveis.
- Dividir a tela para ter um aplicativo ao lado de uma outra é difícil também.
- Se não se tem um acesso à Internet, não vão tentar instalar o acessar outros aplicativos que estão já no computador.
- Não estão acostumados a fechar aplicativos que não usam mais. Um sistema operativo de celular vai fechar os aplicativos antigos de maneira transparente.


Muitas coisas que o Endless ou GNOME podem mudar ou melhorar.

- GNOME tem alguns vídeos para explicar o “overview”. Um jogo ou tutorial podem ser melhor para explicar e ter certeza de que os usuários entendem.
- GNOME precisa melhorar a integração de modems celulares. ModemManager tem as funções que GNOME não usa.
- “Web” precisa de integração com detecção de malware, que ele não tem agora, mas foi uma ideia para o Summer Of Code dos anos precedentes.
- GNOME pode melhorar a primeira tela de todos os aplicativos e do sistema também, especialmente se o usuário não tem Internet para baixar conteúdo.

Muito obrigado a fundação GNOME pelas minhas passagens. Obrigado ao Endless e o Allan Day pela a organizacão. Obrigado ao meu empregador Red Hat pela oportunidade. E, enfim, obrigado à Caro pela correcção!

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Support for "Airplane mode" keys

As we were working on audio jack notifications, and were wondering whether the type of notification we'd pop up in this case could be reused in other cases, I encountered a feature request that could now be solved easily with the rfkill D-Bus service we added to gnome-settings-daemon for the 3.10 release.

If you have keyboard buttons on your laptop to enable or disable Bluetooth, or Airplane mode, you can now use them. Note that the "UWB" toggle key will toggle the whole airplane mode mainly because no in-kernel driver uses it, and nobody remembers what UWB is.

Note that the labels and icons used are still subject to changes. In particular as you can see that the labels are too long for lower resolutions.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

gom is now usable from JavaScript/gjs

Prodded by me while I snoozed on his sofa and with his cat warming me up, a day before the Content Applications hackfest, Florian Müllner started working on fixing a long-standing gjs bug that made it impossible to use gom in GNOME/JavaScript applications. The result of that initial research came a few days later, and is now part of the latest gjs release.

This also fixes using GtkBuilder and json-glib when the libraries create new objects for the benefit of the JavaScript code.

We can finally use gom to store user data in applications like Bolso. Thanks Florian!

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Contents Apps Hackfest 2015

As you might already have noticed from the posts on Planet GNOME, and can find again on the hackfest's page, we spent some time in the MediaLab Prado discussing and hacking on Content Apps.


Following discussions about Music's state, I did my bit trying to gather more contributors by porting it to grilo 0.3, and thus bringing it back into the default jhbuild target.


I made some progress on Videos' "series grouping" feature. Loads of backend code written, but not much in the way of UI for now. We however made some progress discussing said UI with Allan.

I also took the opportunity to fix a few low-hanging fruit^Wbugs.


This is where the majority of my energy went. After getting a new enough version of LibreOffice going on my machine (Fedora users, that lives in rawhide only right), no thanks to COPR, I tested Pranav's LibreOfficeKit integration into gnome-documents, after Cosimo rebased it.

You can test it now by checking out the wip/lokdocview-rebase branch of gnome-documents, grabbing the above mentioned version of LibreOffice, and running:

LD_LIBRARY_PATH=$LD_LIBRARY_PATH:/usr/lib64/libreoffice/program/  gjs org.gnome.Documents

After a number of fixes, and bugs filed in the Document Foundation bugzilla, we should be able to land this so that you can preview and edit word processing documents, presentations and spreadsheets without going through the heavy PDF preview.

A picture, which doubles the length of my blog post

And the side-effect of this work is that we can start adding new "views" to the application without too much trouble, like, say, an epub view.


Many thanks to the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring my travel, the MediaLab Prado for hosting us, and Allan and Florian for organising the hackfest.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Gadget reviews

Not that I'm really running after more gadgets, but sometimes, there is a need that could only be soothed through new hardware.

Bluetooth UE roll

Got this for my wife, to play music when staying out on the quays of the Rhône, playing music in the kitchen (from a phone or computer), or when she's at the photo lab.

It works well with iOS, MacOS X and Linux. It's very easy to use, with whether it's paired, connected completely obvious, and the charging doesn't need specific cables (USB!).

I'll need to borrow it to add battery reporting for those devices though. You can find a full review on Ars Technica.

Sugru (!)

Not a gadget per se, but I bought some, used it to fix up a bunch of cables, repair some knickknacks, and do some DIY. Highly recommended, especially given the current price of their starter packs.

15-pin to USB Joystick adapter

It's apparently from Ckeyin, but you'll find the exact same box from other vendors. Made my old Gravis joystick work, in the hope that I can make it work with DOSBox and my 20-year old copy of X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter.

Microsoft Surface ARC Mouse

That one was given to me, for testing, works well with Linux. Again, we'll need to do some work to report the battery. I only ever use it when travelling, as the batteries last for absolute ages.

Logitech K750 keyboard

Bought this nearly two years ago, and this is one of my best buys. My desk is close to a window, so it's wireless but I never need to change the batteries or think about charging it. GNOME also supports showing the battery status in the Power panel.

Logitech T650 touchpad

Got this one in sale (17€), to replace my Logitech trackball (one of its buttons broke...). It works great, and can even get you shell gestures when run in Wayland. I'm certainly happy to have one less cable running across my desk, and reuses the same dongle as the keyboard above.

If you use more than one devices, you might be interested in this bug to make it easier to support multiple Logitech "Unifying" devices.

ClicLite charger

Got this from a design shop in Berlin. It should probably have been cheaper than what I paid for it, but it's certainly pretty useful. Charges up my phone by about 20%, it's small, and charges up at the same time as my keyboard (above).

Dell S2340T

Bought about 2 years ago, to replace the monitor I had in an all-in-one (Lenovo all-in-ones, never buy that junk).

Nowadays, the resolution would probably be considered a bit on the low side, and the touchscreen mesh would show for hardcore photography work. It's good enough for videos though and the speaker reaches my sitting position.

It's only been possible to use the USB cable for graphics for a couple of months, and it's probably not what you want to lower CPU usage on your machine, but it works for Fedora with this RPM I made. Talk to me if you can help get it into RPMFusion.

Shame about the huge power brick, but a little bonus for the builtin Ethernet adapter.

Surface 3

This is probably the biggest ticket item. Again, I didn't pay full price for it, thanks to coupons, rewards, and all. The work to getting Linux and GNOME to play well with it is still ongoing, and rather slow.

I won't comment too much on Windows either, but rather as what it should be like once Linux runs on it.

I really enjoy the industrial design, maybe even the slanted edges, but one as to wonder why they made the USB power adapter not sit flush with the edge when plugged in.

I've used it a couple of times (under Windows, sigh) to read Pocket as I do on my iPad 1 (yes, the first one), or stream videos to the TV using Flash, without the tablet getting hot, or too slow either. I also like the fact that there's a real USB(-A) port that's separate from the charging port. The micro SD card port is nicely placed under the kickstand, hard enough to reach to avoid it escaping the tablet when lugged around.

The keyboard, given the thickness of it, and the constraints of using it as a cover, is good enough for light use, when travelling for example, and the layout isn't as awful as on, say, a Thinkpad Carbon X1 2nd generation. The touchpad is a bit on the small side though it would have been hard to make it any bigger given the cover's dimensions.

I would however recommend getting a Surface Pro if you want things to work right now (or at least soon). The one-before-last version, the Surface Pro 3, is probably a good target.

Friday, 30 October 2015

C.H.I.P. flashing on Fedora

You might have heard of the C.H.I.P., the 9$ computer. After contributing to their Kickstarter, and with no intent on hacking on more kernel code than is absolutely necessary, I requested the "final" devices, when chumps like me can read loads of docs and get accessories for it easily.

Turns out that our old friend the Realtek 8723BS chip is the Wi-Fi/Bluetooth chip in the nano computer. NextThingCo got in touch, and sent me a couple of early devices (as well as to the "Kernel hacker" backers), with their plan being to upstream all the drivers and downstream hacks into the upstream kernel.

Before being able to hack on the kernel driver though, we'll need to get some software on it, and find a way to access it. The docs website has instructions on how to flash the device using Ubuntu, but we don't use that here.

You'll need a C.H.I.P., a jumper cable, and the USB cable you usually use for charging your phone/tablet/e-book reader.

First, let's install a few necessary packages:

dnf install -y sunxi-tools uboot-tools python3-pyserial moserial

You might need other things, like git and gcc, but I kind of expect you to already have that installed if you're software hacking. You will probably also need to get sunxi-tools from Koji to get a new enough version that will support the C.H.I.P.

Get your jumper cable out, and make the connection as per the NextThingCo docs. I've copied the photo from the docs to keep this guide stand-alone.

Let's install the tools, modified to work with Fedora's newer, upstreamer, version of the sunxi-tools.

$ git clone
$ cd CHIP-tools
$ make
$ sudo ./ -d

If you've followed the instructions, you haven't plugged in the USB cable yet. Plug in the USB cable now, to the micro USB power supply on one end, and to your computer on the other.

You should see the little "OK" after the "waiting for fel" message:

== upload the SPL to SRAM and execute it ==
waiting for fel........OK

At this point, you can unplug the jumper cable, something not mentioned in the original docs. If you don't do that, when the device reboots, it will reboot in flashing mode again, and we obviously don't want that.

At this point, you'll just need to wait a while. It will verify the installation when done, and turn off the device. Unplug, replug, and launch moserial as root. You should be able to access the C.H.I.P. through /dev/ttyACM0 with a baudrate of 115200. The root password is "chip".

Obligatory screenshot of our new computer:

Next step, testing out our cleaned up Realtek driver, Fedora on the C.H.I.P., and plenty more.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Philips Wireless, modernised

I've wanted a stand-alone radio in my office for a long time. I've been using a small portable radio, but it ate batteries quickly (probably a 4-pack of AA for a bit less of a work week's worth of listening), changing stations was cumbersome (hello FM dials) and the speaker was a bit teeny.

A couple of years back, I had a Raspberry Pi-based computer on pre-order (the Kano, highly recommended for kids, and beginners) through a crowd-funding site. So I scoured « brocantes » (imagine a mix of car boot sale and antiques fair, in France, with people emptying their attics) in search of a shell for my small computer. A whole lot of nothing until my wife came back from a week-end at a friend's with this:

Photo from Radio Historia

A Philips Octode Super 522A, from 1934, when SKUs were as superlative-laden and impenetrable as they are today.

Let's DIY

I started by removing the internal parts of the radio, without actually turning it on. When you get such old electronics, they need to be checked thoroughly before being plugged, and as I know nothing about tube radios, I preferred not to. And FM didn't exist when this came out, so not sure what I would have been able to do with it anyway.

Roomy, and dirty. The original speaker was removed, the front buttons didn't have anything holding them any more, and the nice backlit screen went away as well.

To replace the speaker, I went through quite a lot of research, looking for speakers that were embedded, rather than get a speaker in box that I would need to extricate from its container. Visaton make speakers that can be integrated into ceiling, vehicles, etc. That also allowed me to choose one that had a good enough range, and would fit into the one hole in my case.

To replace the screen, I settled on an OLED screen that I knew would work without too much work with the Raspberry Pi, a small AdaFruit SSD1306 one. Small amount of soldering that was up to my level of skills.

It worked, it worked!

Hey, soldering is easy. So because of the size of the speaker I selected, and the output power of the RPi, I needed an amp. The Velleman MK190 kit was cheap (€10), and should just be able to work with the 5V USB power supply I planned to use. Except that the schematics are really not good enough for an electronics starter. I spent a couple of afternoons verifying, checking on the Internet for alternate instructions, re-doing the solder points, to no avail.

'Sup Tiga!

So much wasted time, and got a cheap car amp with a power supply. You can probably find cheaper.

Finally, I got another Raspberry Pi, and SD card, so that the Kano, with its super wireless keyboard, could find a better home (it went to my godson, who seemed to enjoy the early game of Pong, and being a wizard).

Putting it all together

We'll need to hold everything together. I got a bit of help for somebody with a Dremel tool for the piece of wood that will hold the speaker, and another one that will stick three stove bolts out of the front, to hold the original tuning, mode and volume buttons.

A real joiner

I fast-forwarded the machine by a couple of years with a « Philips » figure-of-8 plug at the back, so machine's electrics would be well separated from the outside.

Screws into the side panel for the amp, blu-tack to hold the OLED screen for now, RPi on a few leftover bits of wood.


My first attempt at getting something that I could control on this small computer was lcdgrilo. Unfortunately, I would have had to write a Web UI for it (remember, my buttons are just stuck on, for now at least), and probably port the SSD1306 OLED screen's driver from Python, so not a good fit.

There's no proper Fedora support for Raspberry Pis, and while one can use a nearly stock Debian with a few additional firmware files on Raspberry Pis, Fedora chose not to support that slightly older SoC at all, which is obviously disappointing for somebody working on Fedora as a day job.

Looking for other radio retrofits, and there are plenty of quality ones on the Internet, and for various connected speakers backends, I found PiMusicBox. It's a Debian variant with Mopidy builtin, and a very easy to use initial setup: edit a settings file on the SD card image, boot and access the interface via a browser. Tada!

Once I had tested playback, I lowered the amp's volume to nearly zero, raised the web UI's volume to the maximum, and raised the amp's volume to the maximum bearable for the speaker. As I won't be able to access the amp's dial, we'll have this software only solution.

Wrapping up

I probably spent a longer time looking for software and hardware than actually making my connected radio, but it was an enjoyable couple of afternoons of work, and the software side isn't quite finished.

First, in terms of hardware support, I'll need to make this OLED screen work, how lazy of me. The audio setup is currently just the right speaker, as I'd like both the radios and AirPlay streams to be downmixed.

Secondly, Mopidy supports plugins to extend its sources, uses GStreamer, so would be a right fit for Grilo, making it easier for Mopidy users to extend through Lua.

Do note that the Raspberry Pi I used is a B+ model. For B models, it's recommended to use a separate DAC, because of the bad audio quality, even if the B+ isn't that much better. Testing out use the HDMI output with an HDMI to VGA+jack adapter might be a way to cut costs as well.

Possible improvements could include making the front-facing dials work (that's going to be a tough one), or adding RFID support, so I can wave items in front of it to turn it off, or play a particular radio.

In all, this radio cost me:
- 10 € for the radio case itself
- 36.50 € for the Raspberry Pi and SD card (I already had spare power supplies, and supported Wi-Fi dongle)
- 26.50 € for the OLED screen plus various cables
- 20 € for the speaker
- 18 € for the amp
- 21 € for various cables, bolts, planks of wood, etc.

I might also count the 14 € for the soldering iron, the 10 € for the Velleman amp, and about 10 € for adapters, cables, and supplies I didn't end up using.

So between 130 and 150 €, and a number of afternoons, but at the end, a very flexible piece of hardware that didn't really stretch my miniaturisation skills, and a completely unique piece of furniture.

In the future, I plan on playing with making my own 3-button keyboard, and making a remote speaker to plug in the living room's 5.1 amp with a C.H.I.P computer.

Happy hacking!