Tiny introduction to GNU Terminator
August 30th 2010

Some weeks ago, I came across this little wonder called GNU Terminator (or "GNOME" Terminator). It is an unfortunate coincidence that there is another similar tool with the same name (Terminator). I am not going to judge which one is "better". I just use the one at tenshu.net, which is the one that Arch Linux ships as package "terminator".

Terminator is a terminal emulator that allows for splitting of the window into several smaller terminals. Its main advantage over just using tabs (which Terminator can also do), is that all windows are simultaneously visible (main obvious drawback: they are smaller). Its main advantage over opening multiple terminals and tiling them is that (except if a tiling window manager is used, which would also have this advantage) is that Terminator automaticaly avoids overlaps, while maximizing the space usage. Some tools, such as the Grid module of Compiz Fusion can arrange windows similarly. Actually, I have been using this module extensively, and I still do. However, Terminator is more convenient, both because it allows arbitrary sizes (Grid allows windows to occupy an integer number of virtual screen sections, in an imaginary 3x3 grid), and because resizing a sub-terminal automatically adapts all the others, avoiding overlapping and wasting space.

I uploaded a short video to YouTube, showing a basic usage of Terminator. Below the video you can read some explanations of what you see:

We start by opening a Terminator window, and maximizing it. Next, we split the window into 4 terminals. We first split the original terminal vertically, with Ctrl-Shift-o (with a "horizontal" line), then we split each terminal horizontally with Ctrl-Shift-e (with a vertical line). We can act on each terminal individually. To navigate the terminals with the keyboard: Alt-Left for left, etc.

We continue by resizing the terminals. The borders separating the terminals are actually grab bars, so we can drag them with the mouse to move those boundaries, so the terminals resize accordingly. With the keyboard: Ctrl-Shift-Left grows the current terminal (the one with the cursor) to the left, etc.

Apart from tiled terminals, we have access to tabs. To open one, right-click with mouse and select "Open Tab" in the context menu, or with the keyboard: Ctrl-Shift-t. Move from tab to tab with Shift-Left and Right.

Finally, we close the terminals we don't need anymore, and the remaining ones adapt, to always maximize the space used. Closing all terminals will, of course, close Terminator.

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Avoiding time_increment_bits problem when encoding bad header MPEG4 videos to Ogg Theora
January 28th 2010

There is some debate going on lately about the migration of YouTube to HTML5, and whether they (i.e. YouTube's owner, Google) should support H.264 or Theora as standard codecs for the upcoming <video> tag. See, for example, how the FSF asks for support for Theora.

The thing is, I discovered x264 not so long ago, and I thought it was a "free version" of H.264. I began using it to reencode the medium-to-low quality videos I keep (e.g., movies and series). The resulting quality/file size ratio stunned me. I could reencode most material downloaded from e.g. p2p sources to 2/3 of their size, keeping the copy indistinguishable from the original with the bare eye.

However, after realizing that x264 is just a free implementation of the proprietary H.264 codec, and in the wake of the H.264/Theora debate, I decided to give Ogg Theora a go. I expected a fair competitor to H.264, although still noticeably behind in quality/size ratio. And that I found. I for one do not care if I need a 10% larger file to attain the same quality, if it means using free formats, so I decided to adopt Theora for everyday reencoding.

After three paragraphs of introduction, let's get to the point. Which is that reencoding some files with ffmpeg2theora I would get the following error:

% ffmpeg2theora -i example_video.avi -o output.ogg
[avi @ 0x22b7560]Something went wrong during header parsing, I will ignore it and try to continue anyway.
[NULL @ 0x22b87f0]hmm, seems the headers are not complete, trying to guess time_increment_bits
[NULL @ 0x22b87f0]my guess is 15 bits ;)
[NULL @ 0x22b87f0]looks like this file was encoded with (divx4/(old)xvid/opendivx) -> forcing low_delay flag
Input #0, avi, from 'example_video.avi':
  Metadata:
    Title           : example_video.avi
  Duration: 00:44:46.18, start: 0.000000, bitrate: 1093 kb/s
    Stream #0.0: Video: mpeg4, yuv420p, 624x464, 23.98 tbr, 23.98 tbn, 23.98 tbc
    Stream #0.1: Audio: mp3, 48000 Hz, 2 channels, s16, 32 kb/s
  .

[mpeg4 @ 0x22b87f0]hmm, seems the headers are not complete, trying to guess time_increment_bits
[mpeg4 @ 0x22b87f0]my guess is 16 bits ;)
[mpeg4 @ 0x22b87f0]hmm, seems the headers are not complete, trying to guess time_increment_bits
[mpeg4 @ 0x22b87f0]my guess is 16 bits ;)
[mpeg4 @ 0x22b87f0]looks like this file was encoded with (divx4/(old)xvid/opendivx) -> forcing low_delay flag
    Last message repeated 1 times
[mpeg4 @ 0x22b87f0]warning: first frame is no keyframe

I searched the web for solutions, but to no avail. Usually pasting literal errors in Google yields good results, but in this case I only found developer forums where this bug was discussed. What I haven't found is simple instructions on how to avoid it in practice.

Well, here it goes my simple solution: pass it through MEncoder first. Where the following fails:

% ffmpeg2theora -i input.avi -o output.ogg

the following succeeds:

% mencoder input.avi -ovc copy -oac copy -o filtered.avi
% ffmpeg2theora -i filtered.avi -o output.ogg

I guess that what happens is basically that mencoder takes the "raw" video data in input.avi and makes a copy into filtered.avi (which ends up being exactly the same video), building sane headers in the process.

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John maddog Hall and OpenMoko at DebConf9 in Cáceres, Spain
May 15th 2009

The annual Debian developers meeting, DebConf is being held this year in Cáceres (Spain), from July 23 to 30. Apart from just promoting the event, I am posting this to mention that the Spanish OpenMoko distributor Tuxbrain will participate, and sell discounted Neo FreeRunner phones. As a masochistic proud owner of one such phone, I feel compelled to spread the word (and help infect other people with FLOSS virii).

You can read a post about it in the debconf-announce and debian-devel-announce lists, made by Martin Krafft. Also, Tuxbrain responsible David Samblas uploaded a video of maddog Hall promoting the event:

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Extracting audio from a YouTube video
January 7th 2008

This HowTo really has two parts:

1 - How to download a video from YouTube
2 - How to extract audio from any video

The second step is not limited to videos obtained in the first step, and the first step can obviously be made for the sake of it.

How to download a video from YouTube

When you play a video on YouTube, the contents of a FLV file are streamed to your screen. Downloading this FLV file is a bit more tricky than it should be, because there is no direct indication of the URL of this file in the code of the page of the video.

Apparently some guys got over it, and they made the software I use to do the job: a Firefox extension called DownloadHelper. Using it is so easy: a three-sphere icon appears to the right of the URL bar of Firefox. When a page contains material that can be downloaded with DownloadHelper (such as a YouTube video), the spheres in the icon are colorful and move (otherwise they are grayed-out, and still). You can then click on the icon to see a list of items to download, and choose the one you want (usually the .flv file).

How to extract audio from any video

It is so easy to do from the command line. First we use MPlayer to extract the audio in PCM/WAV format:

% mplayer filename.flv -vo null -ao pcm:fast:file=filename.wav

Then, we make use of oggenc to encode the WAV into Ogg Vorbis. For example, to encode with quality level 7 (a reasonable tradeoff between quality and size):

% oggenc filename.wav -q 7 -o filename.ogg

And that's all to it!

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App of the week: PDF Cube
July 28th 2007

I just found this little app browsing for PDF software in my Debian aptitude repository contents.

In short, PDF Cube displays PDFs in full screen, adding Compiz-like cube transitions from slide to slide if we want. The following YouTube video shows how it works:

[youtube=http://youtube.com/watch?v=AscU72HOwgM]

You can notice the mixed regular/cube transitions, as well as the five zooming options used in slide 4.

By the way, I have started the Wikipedia article for PDF Cube. I think this little program deserves to be in the Wikipedia.

Incidentally, the above is the first video I upload to YouTube! :^)

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Compiz Fusion effects
July 28th 2007

I have no words. It is trully amazing what the guys behind Compiz/Beryl/Compiz Fusion can do, and how the contributions of free software enthusiasts can quickly surpass any lame Windows (and MacOS) "innovation". From YouTube:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ImW0-MgR8I]

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