A Weird Imagination

Useful global keyboard shortcuts

Most desktop environments provide options for customizing keyboard shortcuts. In XFCE, there's settings panels for both for window manager shortcuts and application shortcuts. While the term "application shortcuts" suggests using them for launching applications, and many keyboards do have special keys for launching a music player or a calculator that I do have set up, I don't find myself using those much. I have buttons on my panel for applications that I launch often; if I'm going to be clicking away into a new application, I don't find clicking on the panel to be an additional inconvenience.

On the other hand, "application shortcuts" can be used for launching arbitrary scripts, including ones don't involve switching contexts.

Keys to use

Many keyboards have extra keys intended for global commands labeled with various symbols. If you have them, you can be creative about what you want them to mean and even combine them with modifiers (Shift, Ctrl, etc.) to get more inputs. On the other hand, if you have a more traditional keyboard layout (which is likely the case on a laptop), your choices are more limited. To avoid confusion, it's generally best to use the Windows key (usually called the Super key in Linux) for global shortcuts as it is not usually used for anything else.

Shortcut ideas

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Reacting to screensaver starting/stopping

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The problem

I want my computer to act differently when I'm actively using it as opposed to away from. I almost always lock the screen when I step away from my computer, so I want to have the same signal do more than just start the screensaver.

The solution

Save the follow script which is slightly modified from the example in the man page for xscreensaver-command as watch-xscreensaver.pl:


my $blanked = 0;
open (IN, "xscreensaver-command -watch |");
while (<IN>) {
    if (m/^(BLANK|LOCK)/) {
        if (!$blanked) {
            system "on-xscreensaver-lock";
            $blanked = 1;
    } elsif (m/^UNBLANK/) {
        system "on-xscreensaver-unlock";
        $blanked = 0;
if ($blanked) {
    system "on-xscreensaver-unlock";

Either call it from your ~/.xsessionrc file or just manually run from a terminal in your X session. I run it from a screen session so I can reattach to it and see the output:

screen -d -m -S xscreensaver-watch watch-xscreensaver.pl

My on-xscreensaver-lock and on-xscreensaver-unlock scripts are below and may be a good starting place, but yours will probably be different depending on your needs.

The details

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Serverless WebRTC

The problem

While in my last post, I said serverless WebRTC was too cumbersome, I wanted to try to see how streamlined I could make the process. While researching, I did find a variant of serverless-webrtc called serverless-webrtc-qrcode as well as a similar demo, webrtc-qr that both use QR codes as an easy way to transmit the offer strings. But both require that both sides have a camera to scan QR codes, while my use case is a WebRTC connection between my desktop without a camera and my smartphone.

The solution

minimal-webrtc now has a checkbox to enable serverless mode. In that mode, the QR code shown by the host is a much longer URL that includes the initial WebRTC offer. Opening that URL on another device (or in another browser window) will show another QR code along with a "Copy" button. With the first device, either press the "Scan QR code" button and point it at the QR code or use some other mechanism to copy the text and paste it into the text area labeled "Paste offer here:".

To run it locally, download the source code and run a web server to serve the wwwroot/ directory. If both devices can run a web server, then you can just access it via localhost on each, but, as before, because WebRTC requires HTTPS, to run it on your local network, you may need to set up a self-signed certificate.

The details

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Lightweight multiseat X

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The problem

I hosted a LAN party1 a little while ago and ended up needing to loan out multiple computers to guests in the interest of having no one try to lug their desktop over. As it turns out, I don't keep multiple of spare gaming-ready laptops around, so I needed to get more computers somehow.

The solution

My desktop has three screens attached to it (two monitors plus a projector), so given an extra keyboard and mouse (or two), it should be possible to run multiple instances of the game on it at the same time to let multiple people play using the same computer.

The script from this forum post makes it easy to set up multi-pointer X so a second keyboard and mouse will get its own mouse cursor. Then each keyboard and mouse pair can interact with its own instance of the game.

As an additional aid, I wrote monitor-lock.py which allows you to assign a mouse to a monitor, so it cannot be moved off that monitor to prevent accidentally interacting with the other player's instance of the game.

The basic usage is that you first run it with no arguments to get the available screens and pointers getting an output something like this:

$ ./monitor-lock.py 
Available screens:
screen 0: {'x': 0, 'y': 0, 'width': 3840, 'height': 2160}
screen 1: {'x': 3840, 'y': 0, 'width': 1920, 'height': 1200}
screen 2: {'x': 3840, 'y': 1200, 'width': 1920, 'height': 1080}

Available pointers:
device 2: Virtual core pointer
device 17: second pointer

USAGE: ./monitor-lock.py [device] [screen]

and then in a screen session (so you don't have to worry about accidentally doing this on a monitor you've locked your pointer away from), run

./monitor-lock.py 2 0


./monitor-lock.py 17 1

to lock the primary pointer to the first screen and the second pointer to the second screen.

Just use Ctrl+C to kill the process when you want the pointer to be able to move freely again.

The details

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Detachable X sessions

X forwarding

Normally with X, it's easy to run an application on a remote computer just by using X forwarding:

local:~$ ssh -X host
host:~$ echo $DISPLAY
host:~$ xterm

The xterm will appear on your local computer.

But if you want to continue working with that application on a different remote computer (or once you are physically in front of the computer it is running on), then you're out of luck.

For an application running in the terminal, you can start it inside a GNU Screen (or tmux) session which you can detach and then attach to again on another ssh connection.

GNU Screen for X

xpra (X Persistent Remote Applications) lets you move graphical applications from one computer to another in addition to fixing other problems with X forwarding. If you instead use xpra for the forwarding, then you can detach and reattach to the session at will.

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The clipboard in the command-line

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X clipboard

The X Window System, the basis for the GUI on most desktop Linux systems, defines how the clipboard works for copying and pasting between applications in Linux. One notable quark of X clipboard is that there's actually two clipboards in common use: the one you expect explicitly accessed via Copy and Paste menu items or key shortcuts called the CLIPBOARD and another one where you copy by selecting text and paste by pressing the middle mouse button called the PRIMARY selection.

X clipboard utilities

Occasionally it is useful to be able to read or write the clipboard at the command-line. For most uses, your terminal emulator's copy and paste options are probably enough. The primary use case I have for using a command-line program to interact with the clipboard is when I am uploading a file as a Gist:

<file xclip

The xclip utility will copy the contents of the file onto the clipboard (PRIMARY, not CLIPBOARD, by default) and then I can paste it on the Gist website.

My system also has xsel which is very similar to xclip. Wikipedia actually lists several such programs, including the unfortunately named xcopy, not to be confused with XCOPY.

GNU Screen copy mode

GNU Screen provides its own clipboard for copying information between the different windows of a screen session. ctrl+a, [ enters copy mode. In copy mode you can move the cursor using the arrow keys and page up/page down keys. Screen keeps a history (of configurable size), so you can scroll back pretty far. In fact, I use Screen's copy mode far more often for viewing the history in a terminal than for actually copying anything. You can exit copy mode either by using esc to cancel or enter once to mark the start of the selection and again to mark the end of it. Once you have copied something, ctrl+a, ] pastes the contents of the clipboard.

256 color terminals

The problem

By default, terminals on Linux only use 8 colors (or 16 if setup to use bright variants instead of bold text). Everything else on a modern computer uses 24-bit color, allowing for millions of colors. More colors in the terminal would allow for better syntax highlighting and color output of various commands to be more readable.

In practice, while a few terminals support full 24-bit RGB color (at least Konsole does), it is not widespread enough to be used much. On the other hand, most terminals support 256 colors, which is significantly better than just 8.

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