// Patrick Louis


Screenshot of my old desktop (Transcript of the podcast)

Get the power back! — or so they say


We’ve had an episode about display servers and libraries, and then we had another episode about window managers and desktop environments, and so the next logical step is to do one about ricing and customization.

This is what we’re going to do today in the company of xero, neeasade, and halfwit.

xero: I’m xero. I hang out on the nixers forums, I’m an OP on the IRC, I also do some text arts, and other stuffs you might know me from, I post screenshots all over the place wether you want to see them or not.

neeasade: Neeasade here, been on the nixers forums for a few years and Rice a bit as well.

halfwit: Alright, I’m halfwit.

So ricing, what’s the deal about? What’s the fuss about?

That’s what we’re going to discuss.

How do you define ricing

There aren’t many definitions around the internet about ricing truly means and what it implies. It’s a sort of vague term.

But here’s what some have to say…

For example on /rice/, on the infinite (8chan), it will describe it as “the art of making your desktop or phone look pretty by installing softwares or modifying configuration files”.

So what do our speakers have to say about this?

neeasade: I’d say rice is about control, ultimately, and that relaxing feeling of knowing that you can edit the visual and programmatic aspects of your system to your liking. Exerting that amount of control that you can have is relaxing.

xero: Rice is that vibe! You see a wallpaper that you really like or you see a colorscheme or even sometimes one individual color and then you have that ability to tweak aspects of the way you interact with your computer to fit that vibe you’re thinking of. So if you’re doing a dark grey scheme you would theme every component of your system to meet and join together in that visual style. Ricing is tweaking your environment to feel a certain way and necessarily look and act that way too.

History (traceback)

This truly sounds poetic but is there a history behind the term rice, can we trace it back?

When did we truly start using it in the computing world. Is it related to eating or growing rice? Or is it related to the car customization culture in Japan?

xero: That ricing car culture. Ricing was a term that they used for when you would sup up and asian type of car. It was like a derogatory term with rice. The ability to sup up a machine and put after-market parts on your car to make it run better and be more efficient. It’s this one to one comparison because that’s what you’re doing to your computer: You’re installing those after-market components to make it run differently and potentially be more optimized or more streamlined, or at least just tweaked to the desire of the person who is in control. I don’t know if it’s true or not, I like the flip to it now where people are now using the term “beaning”, and “ricing” has now become about the visual style while beaning is about tweaking your workflow and your underlying stuff to try to optimize it more than visuals… But I don’t know if that’s true or not.

neeasade: Completely agree! You hit on it being a sort of derogatory term, it was adopted in a kind of cheeky manner. “Haha yeah, totally, ricer over here!”

xero: I also wonder how much of that was derogatory to early screenshot culture. I’ve been a wordy person online and I think that I saw more screenshots of old computers from Japanese people specifically before I saw American or Western culture online but I don’t necessarily know if our term rice has anything to do with it.

venam: I don’t know if the term rice was used the most, why would someone make the comparison “You’re ricing your desktop like you’re ricing your car”, and neither where it exactly appeared, but what’s strange is that it took off - It took off as a sort of meme. Historically we can say that customizzing, not ricing, was there for a long time - as long as Unix probably existed. Customizing your environment has existed for a long time.

halfwit: If you look at something like Winapp from the Windows days, we would have custom skins for that all the time. To me that was probably where it really first started. You have those cool custom skins and it looks crazy good. It kinda took off from there, I guess.

venam: We mentioned ricing, then beaning, and there’s another term “milking”. So how do you define those 3 terms, are there any differences, and where did they come from. I think beaning was probably “invented” on nixers.net.

xero: Yes, that was totally a jmbi word. It was in that one screenshot he did where all the wallpapers had that orangy-brownish kind of color. He had 3 black terminals and one of them had “lolcat” text in big letters that said “BEANS” because everyone was talking about the rice meme. It was an inside joke.

venam: How I personally see it: Ricing would be more visual, beaning woul be more about workflow, and milking would be about low level “milking the machine”, taking whatever resources you can from it.

neeasade: Personally I dismiss the use of the terms that attribute them to levels of rice, system level rice vs visuals/aesthetic ricing. For me that’s all ricing, whatever.

venam: Let’s go back on jmbi’s story, the one where just mentioning beaning in a screenshot to make it take off. It shows how any random screenshot or any event on the internet can spur some new ideas and new memetics/movements. It’s very interesting to think about.

xero: In the rice sub-culture, specifically, it takes a lot of taste, or not - weight. Any one screenshot that is really good and really popular, a thousand people will mimic that setup and do something similar, or just straight up take that configuration from that person and use it on their machine. Because they can! That person gave it away for that exact reason, they wanted someone else to have it. When you go to /r/unixporn in January and it’s all i3 posts, then you go in February and it’s all xfce posts, then it’s all 2bwm or windows utility. We get trends in our scene just like there are trends in the music scene, and other types of life. One screenshot being really powerful and influence all those people that’s that person capturing that magic of rice. They really did make a super cool, super aesthetically pleasing setup that inspires so many other people.

The misconceptions and non-misconceptions

So rice does indeed have a vague definition more anchored in social movements than in standards wiki pages.

Now let’s tackle the misconceptions and non-misconceptions about rice in general.

Is it just a peackock challenge. Is it all just show off? Will people tell you to install gentoo? The “oh I’m going so fast changing those compile flags” meme. Will you look like a 1337 hacker ricing? Does changing your wallpaper and icons make you a real ricer?

neeasade: I think when people make fun of Gentoo it’s like when people think of Arch users “Oh man you made it through the default install” because if you haven’t ever dealt with partitioning or if you’ve only ever been guided by a graphical installer initially then the first time you do that you feel like “oh I’ve just done something foreign and it feels difficult so I better go post about it”. Then enough people did that and it became a meme. That’s where it went from there.

halfwit: It’s almost like a rite of passage for some people. It’s their first point of pride, which might not be interesting, aesthetically as a rice, but it’s their first crack at it. They just want to share.

venam: Talking about the rite of passage, one thing that is not a misconception is that just changing your wallpaper and icons doesn’t make you a ricer. That’s not a misconception, it’s a thing in the movement.

xero: That’s not a misconception, that IS a fact! If there’s one thing that bugs me the MOST is the first screenshot post on /r/unixporn or screenshot threads, maybe I’m a jerk, but I like to downvote those post as a point of pride. When you look at a screenshot where you can tell that the person worked at least a day trying to get every single component of their system to look the same and then you have another person that installs the operating system, hanges the wallpaper, and maybe if you’re lucky, changed their icon theme or installed the wallpaper of another operating system unto theirs. That stuff makes me mad. It’s definitely excitement like halfwit said. People themselves aren’t doing it in a mean spirit, they’re not trying to negate the things that are the good parts of the sub-culture but they’re just so excited because they were finally able to try and do something. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

neeasade: “Thou shall learn through the downvote.”

venam: The non-misconception is that if your desktop is too blend, if it’s too flat, if it’s too “non-special”, then it doesn’t enter the category of ricing.

xero: If you want to be technical then yes, but I think the act of tweaking and changing stuffs is rice. When a person is going through steps to try and get to that point, maybe it won’t be a good rice, maybe it is, “baby’s first rice” as they say, but it’s not a quality rice.

halfwit: The issue for me is that when you go on something like /r/unixporn and you look at all of the high voted posts all of a sudden there’s just that old boring baby’s first rice and it’s nothing interesting. It doesn’t really contribute to the community growing or changing as a whole.

The why you rice

Ok, so you better build a system where every part is nicely fitting with the one next to it to be considered a true ricer.

But why would you do that, why spend the time customizing everything.

Why do you rice? What is the reason behind your ricing? And that I think may depend on how and what you perceive rice to be defined as.

neeasade: I think mine mostly matches up with my definition which was about exerting that amount of control over your system. That’s why I rice, to have a relaxing feeling and working towards the goal, which is usually a visual goal but not necessarily, it’s also about high focus, let’s make all the elements consistent in a certain way to I can that one consistent screenshot and “BAM look hey guys, here’s my goal and I did it all, it’s not completely gross but it’s my kind of gross, my shell scripting”. It’s all wrapped up together.

xero: I remember my first personal computer was an Apple II GS, it didn’t have a harddrive so you had to boot it from a floppy and there was a command prompt where you only typed 2 commands ever to mount the floppy drive and to run whatever program was on it. It had the most heinous blue background with this white text on top of it and I always really wanted to change those colors and I strived to figure out how. My early formative years of trying to learn stuffs about computers was about trying to change the way they looked more than anything practical. When I started using Windows computers later I used hex editors and all types of homemade tools to try and rip apart DLLs and application files to change the colors and images. I had a totally hacked up version of Mirc, different images for the icons, and all the GUI was black. ‘Cause my type of rice is black’on’black or shades of grey. As I moved to Linux, things were designed and setup for you to be able to tweak them the way you want to. You didn’t have to break your computer to try to make it look the way you want to. That’s when I really fell in love with modern Unix based systems, a lot of things were designed for you to come in and edit them and change them.

neeasade: Yes, you can just open an editor and change stuffs without worrying it won’t boot the next day.

xero: So it definitely started with my desire to have things my way but I don’t think that’s the reason that I keep ricing, I’ve already achieved that goal.I keep ricing because I keep getting inspired by seeing life. You look at a painting and you see a movie, sometimes you get inspired to create something from something else that you’ve seen. In my recent screenshot, I’ve seen someone else the same day that had a nature-kind wooden background with 3 of 6 colors of the major palette that were beautiful. So I took those 3 colors and changed the other 3 and made my own better palette that matched a different wallpaper also nature inspired. Then I made a whole theme inspired by someone else’s. I keep ricing because I get inspired…and I get bored with the way certain things are, certain window managers work, or I get too comfy sometimes in a setup, then I need to shake things up. On nixers we have community that just tries to get people involved in doing stuffs and I like to do those challenges. There was a last one where I challenged everybody to make a monochrome colorscheme. So yeah, I keep ricing and keeping other people to rice because it’s fun doing it. It’s a cool way to show your indiviuality and at the same time to have a group dynamic while doing it.

halfwit: For me it was along the same lines. I wanted that absolute control over everything to a point where I’m a little bit anal about it (baby crying in the background - definitely no control over that). The workflow, of let’s say a default i3 always felt cludgy to me and the aesthetic wasn’t quite exactly what I wanted so I started looking, searhing, and finding all these thumbs I could tweak and within a month or two I just felt limited. I started looking into other things, and other things, and ended up on dwm for a while, from there I found window managing utilities, and I’ve gone completely crazy.

venam: What’s special about Unix is that you can put parts together and jam them into a pipeline or if it’s visual you can make them work together. So that’s the best things, the freedom is my main reason. Putting parts together is very interesting it’s like playing Lego, you can get creative with them by finding which parts go with which. Which then later leads to an increase in productivity. The main big, my main reason is about going away from expectations, going away from the boring old things. I hate being limited.

halfwit: It’s fun that you talk about the pipeline and how composable everything is, it’s a part that I also absolutely love. That flexibility to combine these things in novel and interesting ways.

neeasade: Talking about Legos I thought it’s really good when someone makes a modular and flexible Lego, it’s fantastic. About the inspiration part of xero, it is also a source of drive for me when I see nice color themes or different aesthetic or styles. There’s a guy that posted a bevel bar setup, his panel, windows, etc.. were trying to bevel. And that day I wanted a bevel desktop. Then I sat all day trying to send my desktop back into the 80s.

venam: The modularity part is very cool.

The how do you rice

We talked a bit about the why. Now here comes the how? How do you rice, where do you check for resources? Are there steps you usually go through? Some cool tips you want to give to other ricers.

Here’s one tip that I personally want to mention and it’s about consistency, everything in a rice should be consistent.

So please choose the applications that go the best together. That’s why you should avoid using different widget libraries for your graphical programs.

xero: RTFM, read the manual that’s step number 1 in ricing and in using computers in general. If you don’t know how the application works how do you expect yourself to use it properly. It’s like the Lego pieces, if you don’t know how each tools in the pipeline are supposed to work together how do you expect to be able to put them together to work correctly. Research how things work and are supposed to work before you can figure out how you can make a chain of multiple of them work together. For ricing specifically, a lot of the time I look for examples. If the author of the tool gives a config file of their own it’s the first thing I look at before the manpage. If it’s a new tool I’ve seen from a screenshot then the first configuration I’ll try will be the one of the person that made that screenshot for that tool I haven’t seen before. A lot of the time I check the config file before even reading the manpage but reading the manpage shows you other options that undoubtedly aren’t in that config file because nobody hits or rarely have every single option in one file.

neeasade: Agree, the rice channel compiles a list of resources where at the top it’s written “how do you do this” and the first thing is “google it”. Figure out how to read the manual and make sure you’re comfortable and go from there.

xero: That’s true if you want to get support for anything. If you join the IRC channel of any project and you ask them a question about the configuration of their software they expect you to have done your footwork research first and to know the specificities. Or else they’re gonna tell you to RTFM before to even try to talk to you. That’s not always true, not everyone is super mean, but in a lot of cases they do expect you to have done at least some efforts on your own before asking for help, and I respect that.

neeasade: This definitely affect the quality of feedback you receive from questions and their perception of how far you’ve done research on your own. If it’s “Oh my first place to ask was here” then you may not get a warm welcome.

venam: Let’s put things back in perspective. If someone doesn’t know anything about ricing I don’t think they’ll go directly to the configuration, I think they’ll first need to get somewhere to get inspired. There are a lot of those places such as /r/unixporn or 8chan/rice or nixers.net. Then after getting inspired you have the “How do I do this thing” moment. Then comes the time to learn how things work, you get acquainted with your surrounding, you modify settings step by step. Little by little and then reuse and recycle, get inspired and restart. That’s the whole cycle of things.

halfwit: Exactly, a lot of things are about playing with the little knobs and finding out what did what. Eventually you end up on something that you like.

venam: Also, at some point you may want to list the things, a list of actions/configurations/changes you want to apply on your system. There are a bunch of wikis that do that, listing resources about the shells, the window managers, the colors, the fonts, etc.. It helps get ideas about whatever you could possibly do.

xero: That comes out of your perception of how you are artistically crafting your operating system, it comes with your level of knowledge about the system that you’re using. If you’re going to install an OS that has a full desktop environment from the start like Ubuntu or Linux Mint it’s different then when you install a linear system that doesn’t anything other than the base where you’re going to have to install Xorg and install the window manager, etc.. Component by component. A more baseline system like a Debian net install or an Arch Linux type. I started with a setup where you had a system that already existed and to change your window manager was to replace a large component of a system that already existed. It was good in the formative years but now that I already know the window manager and tooling that I want to use to create my own I don’t have to install a lot of other unecessary window managers. At least for the time when I’m focused on one compared to another one. That makes my system smaller and leaner and now I understand every component and there’s low maintenance level. You only have the things installed that you actually actively use. I don’t install things I don’t need otherwise it becomes cruft, it becomes bloat, as we say in the chat rooms. Then the first task in ricing is to decide what components you want your system to have and then to configure them. Inspirationg being a big part of that decision, seeing how different things work through videos and screenshots. That’s the fun and exciting part of ricing, to want to try new things. You then get shown the linuxbbq cream live cd that has 76 window managers pre-installed and configured and it blows your mind.

venam: Definitely starting from scratch is a good tip for new users. Do you have other tips other than “don’t freak out if you think you broke it or that you’re missing stuff”.

xero: Step 1 is about understanding, as said before. Know exactly what you’re changing. You should be able to undo those changes you’ve made and “unbreak” your system. If you keep good backups and you destroy your computer you should be able to recreate it and continue from where your backup was before. A lot of people are really scared about the possibility of breaking something so it keeps them away from taking risks, they’d rather be safe. You’re never gonna succeed in and you’re never gonna make bonds in life if you always play it safe. I originally started with virtual machines, booting an OS in virtualbox or another partition. Partitioning makes it more easy to replace one of the pieces. If there’s one partition with photos, videos, mp3, documents, etc.. then the OS partition can get blown up a 100x and you’ll still have those important files that you don’t want to loose if your computer gets messed up. Proper planning with disaster recovery, backups, segregating what files are where, and understanding what you’re doing are steps that can help take risks and possibly get some gains. You can even continue on that step even further and reach that zen of you having no personal files on your system. You can boot today, boot it tomorrow and it can be it’s own unique beautiful snow flake every single time. To do that you’d have to completely segregate your digital life from the computer. To have a USB drive that holds your small amount of file, or to have a VPS that you would connect to or mount within your own machine. Your computer itself can become transient. I have a lot of friends that are starting to live with Tails where everytime they boot their operating system it’s completely run from a ramdisk. Everytime they boot it’s started over. And they built a layer on top of that where once they boot they apply their layer that sets up their customizations that are autonomous from the operating system.

The extreme cases and stories

Perfect segway to the extreme cases of ricing stories.

We got some nice tips, now let’s discuss our favorite extreme cases in the world of ricing be them positive or negative. The ones that inspire us in a good way or in a bad way.

neeasade: It’s been entertaining to watch z3bra’s path from ricing on desktop to system level ricing, to custom containers, to writing a package manager, to writing a whole bunch of C utilities. It’s fun to check in on him from time to time and see what he’s up to lately.

halfwit: I’m always reminded of that one guy who did absolutely everything in a framebuffer. He had a pdf viewer, a web browsers, and everything, it’s not the most beautiful rice but it certainly fits that.

venam: My personal favorite is vain. vain is that dude who wrote his own window manager, his own terminal emulator, his own bar, his own shell, he did everything from 0 to the end. It’s all his, nothing is not customized.

xero: It’s hard to pick the most extreme examples. I used to love hearing tales about vimrc files where they had over 2K lines in one config file for one tool. The text editor has become its own sentient being. So many config in a single file, you’ve gone beyond the level of ricing to almost writing a new tool on top of your tool. Another extreme is the stuffs you could see on the gdesktop threads before they got banned with all the creepy lolicoon stuffs. I feel like every single window doesn’t have to have an anime character in it. Maybe it does and maybe I don’t understand their state of mind. People can take that stuff to the extreme, using the exact same element on everthing that you have in your OS. The same shows and anime characters in every single window, from web browser, to terminal, the corner of your pdf viewer, that takes it to the extreme.

neeasade: As they say “no wifu no lifu”.

venam: Let’s go to the other side of the spectrum the extreme negative cases. My personal one is the beginner ricer, the one where they “want to go full minimalist” and then you find out that they installed two components of two different desktop environments. Second example is about beginners that follow step by step processes tutorials, the kind of articles “7 easy steps to follow”, and then come on IRC to cry about the broken part of their system.

neeasade: “Hey guys I’m new to this I just installed Arch and Numix icons, isn’t that the best thing ever? I know it is, thanks!”

xero: I want to virtual bitch slap those people! 15 downvotes in one click! In ONE time, drop the guillotine on that stuff.

neeasade: I got a creepy rice story. I did see a screenshot where someone had made an RMS (Richard Stallman) emulator chatbot and they were asking it about their day and stuffs. It was posted on Github at some point. Part of what was feature was the ascii art that brought up the face of Stallman in the terminal to reply to your queries.

xero: I’m all for ascii art… but man, creepy Richard Stallman ascii art talking to you I think I remember seeing that too.

Now what?

Let’s move to the now what. What’s the current state of ricing, where do you see it going. what are the trends we currently see today?

neeasade: The current trend that I see a lot is about people writing their own theming system. It’s been happening for a while in the past couple months. It has increased in frequency. Template systems where you can rotate themes, and they all vary in flexibility and what you can do with it. It’s intersting to see how people can customize their system, be it template, or compile, or meta insertion mechanism.

xero: You’re the trendsetter. You were one of the first person I saw working on a project like that. I have to admit I love seeing the butthurt anger between people’s choice of programming languages or template system in those setups too. And then people create counter projects where they take almost the exact same schema and just changing what the backend is.

halfwit: I find that we’ve been going towards a lot of tools that do smaller things such as wm utilites for example. It seems like it’s going towards programs themselves being modular and controllable.

xero: It’s the Unix philosophy, man! Everything should do one thing and do it well without worrying about the rest of the pipeline or before. It only focuses on its one purpose in life to be exactly and the best version of that.

neeasade: From a desktop/WM perspective it’s very useful. When you stumble upon some utility and you know you have the perfect use for this. “Thank you person who wrote this I’m gonna use it in my script over here”.

venam: There’s definitely a trend for those small utilities that you can jam together. There’s also a trend for removing the control out of the window manager and using a third party. There’s a trend for auto-theme setters. Aestetically speaking we see a lot of minimalist interfaces or on the other side of the spectrum we get that flat-like UI.

xero: Another trend is about custom sysinfo scripts. A little bit of ascii art plus statistics. More people are making their own custom one instead of using the classic screenfetch of archey.

neeasade: Been pretty exciting to notice that.

halfwit: I definitely look forward to what’s coming next. A changing landscape.

xero: I hope we’re gonna keep going in a direction where new ideas arise and people are gonna try new things. Inventing new styles, new utilities and new ways to do things. Let’s continue to progress forward instead of going stagnant and everybody just copying from each other and having cookie cutter screenshots. Let’s have new and innovative ideas in the scene.

venam: It’s only on Unix that you can find the distinction between a dislay server and window manager and all the utilities plus the choices. It’s only on Unix that we can innovate the human computer interface and interaction. I hope in the future we can find new ways other than stacking and tiling. Whatever novel way we can find.

xero: Yeah, for each their own favorite type of interaction.

halfwit: Cater the system to who you are rather than cave to the system.

venam: That’s a positive aspect of rice. That’s what the community brings and it has some value.

  • Music


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