Vocabulary learning wallpaper with python and gnome

Here is a simple way to customize your gnome desktop to show random text taken from a file. I use it to learn Chinese, but it can be easily modified for any other kind of textual information.

This is how I did it:

  1. Using inkscape, I made a template SVG file for the background. I started from the default gnome 3 wallpaper, and I added three text elements: one for the Chinese characters, one for the pinyin, and one for the English translation. In place of the text I used "@chinese@", "@pinyin@", and "@english@". Later my script will substitute those placeholder words with the correct values.

  2. I created a input file with all the entries I want to learn. The file looks like this:

    容易 [rong2 yi4] easy
    決心 [jue2 xin1] determination
    期待 [qi1 dai] to look forward
    冷淡 [leng3 dan4] cold, indifferent
    寂寞 [ji4 mo4] lonely
    突然 [tu1 ran2] sudden
    反正 [fan3 zheng] anyway
    招牌 [zhao1 pai] signboard
    討厭 [tao3 yan4] to dislike
    努力 [nu3 li4] great effort, to strive
    原諒 [yuan2 liang4] to excuse, to forgive, to pardon
  3. I wrote this python script. Every 10 minutes, the script would pick a new random entry from my input file, generate a png file from the svg template, and run the gsettings command to use it as a new wallpaper.

    #!/usr/bin/env python
    import codecs
    import os
    import random
    import re
    import shutil
    import subprocess
    import tempfile
    import time
    INPUT_FILE = "/home/guillaume/notes/chinese.txt"
    PERIOD = 60 * 10        # Change image every 10 minutes
    PWD = os.path.dirname(__file__)
    def get_entry():
        entries = []
        reg = re.compile(r"^(.+?) \[(.+)\] (.+)$")
        for line in codecs.open(INPUT_FILE, "r", "utf-8"):
            m = reg.match(line)
            if m is None:
            entries.append((m.group(1), m.group(2), m.group(3)))
        return random.sample(entries, 1)[0]
    def create_png(tmpdir, chinese, pinyin, english):
        svg = open("%s/wallpaper.svg" % PWD).read()
        svg = svg.replace("@chinese@", chinese)
        svg = svg.replace("@pinyin@", pinyin)
        svg = svg.replace("@english@", english)
        svg_path = "%s/wallpaper.svg" % tmpdir
        png_path = "%s/wallpaper.png" % tmpdir
        out = codecs.open(svg_path, "w", "utf-8")
        subprocess.call(["inkscape", svg_path, "-e", png_path])
        return png_path
    def set_wallpaper(path):
        subprocess.call(["gsettings", "set",
                         "org.gnome.desktop.background", "picture-uri",
                         "file:///%s" % path])
        subprocess.call(["gsettings", "set",
                         "picture-options", "zoom"])
    while True:
        tmpdir = tempfile.mkdtemp("chinese-wallpaper")
        entry = get_entry()
        png_path = create_png(tmpdir, *entry)
  4. I added the script to my startup application (using gnome-session-properties).

  5. Log out and log in again. Now my wallpaper looks something like this:

Chinese wallpaper

If you liked this, you can follow me on twitter: @guillaumecherea