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, “r”, “utf-8”): m = reg.match(line) if m is None: continue entries.append((,, 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 =, “w”, “utf-8”) out.write(svg) out.close()[“inkscape”, svg_path, “-e”, png_path]) return png_path

    def set_wallpaper(path):[“gsettings”, “set”, “org.gnome.desktop.background”, “picture-uri”, “file:///%s” % path])[“gsettings”, “set”, “org.gnome.desktop.background”, “picture-options”, “zoom”])

    while True: tmpdir = tempfile.mkdtemp(“chinese-wallpaper”) entry = get_entry() png_path = create_png(tmpdir, *entry) set_wallpaper(png_path) time.sleep(PERIOD) shutil.rmtree(tmpdir)

  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