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Dylan McCall: My GSOC 2013 project: a new break timer application for GNOME


Published Jun 12 2013 via RSS

GNOME accepted my proposal for GSOC 2013, so this summer I will be working on a brand new break timer application for GNOME with the guidance of Jasper St. Pierre! We’re going to spend some time filling out the wiki page for the new break timer design, and from mid-June to mid-September I will try to implement it as well as I can.

A break timer application is pretty well what it says on the tin. It’s an application that times your computer use and reminds you to take a break every now and then. Things get a little tricky when we start thinking about how to make it effective. Among other things, gauging activity is kind of fiddly, and people don’t really enjoy being interrupted all the time. I really like how Workrave does rest breaks and micro breaks, and keeps track of activity across computers and sessions, and that’s certainly no simple task. If it’s done well, though, I think anyone can benefit from this type of application. Taking regular breaks isn’t just healthy for the body: it can keep your mind happy, too.

I’m excited about this project for a few reasons. First, I have been meaning to get involved with GNOME for a while, and I’m aiming to work with a few different GNOME components in order to produce something seamless. This is also an itch I have wanted to scratch — I really want a good, shiny and new “take a break” app for a variety of reasons — and it’s an opportunity to tie up a loose end from a while ago. I actually already started on a new break timer app, but I never quite reached a releasable product. With this project I’m going to be starting with (some of) what I already made, which will allow me to iterate efficiently and, I hope, to have something beautiful and releasable by the deadline.

For the time being, I thought it might be fun to actually point people at Brain Break, even though I think it’s broken and unfinished. If you’re interested in a take a break app made for GNOME 3 (and yes, that includes Unity), that uses GTK3 and notifications (and not the old system tray), perhaps you will find it interesting? I started it because I thought the existing options for break timer software were a little ugly, but also because those options didn’t really work for me: when there was a Skip or Postpone button, I got into the habit of pressing it as soon as I could. (I’m a computer nerd. Workarounds are my middle name). When there wasn’t, I would get angry at the software for interrupting me and I got into the habit of disabling it proactively (and then forgetting to turn it back on).

Brain Break doesn’t have a Postpone button or a Skip button, but it makes up for it by having a “Take a break” overlay that blocks your screen without blocking input. So, you can finish that one last thing, or pause your game, without needing to postpone or skip the break (or, for that matter, lose your train of thought). Because there’s no easy way to make the “Take a break” overlay go away, Break Break is hard to ignore, but it’s nicer about it than some other applications.

Brain Break's settings tool Brain Break's "take a break" screen is gentle, but hard to miss

Brain Break is on Launchpad at launchpad.net/brainbreak. If you’re using Ubuntu, you can install it very easily from its PPA, launchpad.net/~brainbreak/+archive/daily. Just open a terminal and run sudo add-apt-repository ppa:brainbreak/daily, then sudo apt-get update; sudo apt-get install brainbreak.

The new break timer app probably won’t be the same as Brain Break, but I think there might be something to learn from its approach. Please, try it out, and share your thoughts in the comments! You might like it, and either way I would love some feedback to get ideas flowing.



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