Improvement in converting video/audio files with VLC

VLC Media Player has the ability to convert video/audio files into various formats it supports, since a long time. There is a dedicated “Convert/Save” menu for converting single or multiple files at once into a different format, with limited ‘editing’ features such as specifying a start time, caching options etc. It is quite useful for basic editing/cropping of multimedia files.

As an example, one of the easiest ways to create a custom iPhone ringtone is to create a “.m4r” (AAC format) file exactly 40 seconds long. It is a matter of selecting your favourite music file and doing a “Convert/Save” with appropriate “Profile”. A “Profile” specifies the video/audio encoding to be used, which can be easily customized by selecting different audio and video codecs.

The options “Caching time”, “Play another media synchronously” (think adding different sound track to a video clipping) and a “Start time” etc can be specified under “Show more options” button and even more advanced functionality is available by making use of the “Edit Options” line. Internally, all the options specified at this line are passed to the converter.

There was one thing lacking in this “Convert/Save” dialog though – there was no possibility to specify a “Stop Time” akin to the “Start Time”, in the GUI (although it can be manually specified in the “Edit Options”, but you need to calculate the time in milliseconds). VLC 2.x series convert looks like as follows – notice the lack of “Stop time”:


Being bugged by this minor annoyance, I set out to add the missing “Stop-time” functionality. Going through the codebase of VLC, it was relieving to see that the converter backend already supports “:stop-time=” option (akin to “:start-time=”). It was then a matter of adding “Stop Time” to the GUI and properly updating the “Edit Options” when user changes the value.

A working patch was then sent to vlc-devel mailing list for review and feedback. After 5 rounds of review and constructive feedback from Filip Roséen the code was cleaned up (including existing code) which is now committed to the master branch. This functionality should be available to users in the upcoming 3.0 release. Screenshot below:



Convert iPhone contacts to vCard

On a recent troubleshooting attempt, I lost all the contacts in my Android phone. It had also received a recent update which took away the option to import contacts from another phone via bluetooth.
I still had some contacts in the old iPhone, but now that mass transfer via bluetooth is gone, it was a question of manually sending each contact in vCard format to the Android phone. That means I should probably find a less dreadful way to get the contacts back.

Here is one way to extract contacts en-masse from iPhone into popular vCard format. The contact and address details in iOS are stored by AddressBook application in a file named ‘AddressBook.sqlitedb’ which is an sqlite database. The idea is to open this database using sqlite, extract the details from a couple of tables and convert the entries into vCard format.

Disclaimer: the iPhone is an old 3GS running iOS 6 and it is jailbroken. If you attempt this, your mileage would vary. Required tools/softwares are usbmuxd (especially libusbmuxd-utils) and sqlite, with the prerequisite that openssh server is running on the jailbroken iPhone.

  1. Connect iPhone via USB cable to the Linux machine. Run iproxy 2222 22 to connect to the openssh server running on the jailbroken phone. iproxy comes with libusbmuxd-utils package.
  2. Copy the addressbook sqlite database from phone:scp -P 2222 mobile@localhost:/var/mobile/Library/AddressBook/AddressBook.sqlitedb .Instead of steps 1 and 2 above, it might be possible to copy this file using Nautilus (gvfs-afc) or Dolphin (kio_afc) file manager, although I’m not sure if the file is accessible.
  3. Extract the contact and address details from the sqlite db (based on this forum post):sqlite3 -cmd ".out contacts.txt" AddressBook.sqlitedb "select ABPerson.prefix, ABPerson.first,ABPerson.last,ABPerson.organization, c.value as MobilePhone, h.val ue as HomePhone, he.value as HomeEmail, w.value as WorkPhone, we.value as WorkEmail,ABPerson.note from ABPerson left outer join ABMultiValue c on c.record_id = ABPerson.ROWID and c.label = 1 and 3 left outer join ABMultiValue h on h.record_id = ABPerson.ROWID and h.label = 2 and = 3 left outer join ABMultiValue he on he.record_id = ABPerson.ROWID and he.label = 2 and = 4 left outer join ABMultiValue w on w.record_id = ABPerson.ROWID and w.label = 4 and = 3 left outer join ABMultiValue we on we.record_id = ABPerson.ROWID and we.label = 4 and = 4;"
  4. Convert the extracted contact details to vCard format:cat contacts.txt | awk -F\| '{print "BEGIN:VCARD\nVERSION:3.0\nN:"$3";"$2";;;\nFN:"$2" "$3"\nORG:"$4"\nEMAIL;type=INTERNET;type=WORK;type=pref:" $9"\nTEL;type=CELL;type=pref:"$5"\nTEL;TYPE=HOME:"$6"\nTEL;TYPE=WORK:"$8"\nNOTE:"$9"\nEND:VCARD\n"}' > Contacts.vcf
  5. Remove the empty content lines if some contacts do not have all the different fields:sed -i '/.*:$/d' Contacts.vcf

Now simply transfer the Contact.vcf file containing all the contact details to Android phone’s storage and import contacts from there.

Attaching debugger and ptrace_scope

In Fedora 22, if you try to attach debugger to a running process, even if by the same user, gdb will politely refuse with error message:

ptrace: Operation not permitted.

The reason is a newly enabled security feature YAMA to specifically restrict inspecting memory of other programs. See the RH bug 1196825 for original discussion. This information is yet to reflect on the Fedora security features matrix.  On why this restriction is a good thing, read the Linux kernel documentation. Note that this restriction doesn’t affect program started by debugger, such as “gdb myprogram”. To enable debugging running programs, as root do:

echo 0 > /proc/sys/kernel/yama/ptrace_scope
To enable that permanently, do:
echo kernel.yama.ptrace_scope = 0 > /etc/sysctl.d/10-ptrace.conf

That heisenbug in touchpad KCM is fixed

KDE touchpad configuration module supports both Libinput touchpad driver and Synaptics driver. Newer versions of distros like Fedora 22 comes with both libinput and synaptics drivers installed, where libinput driver is chosen by default for touchpads. Some users wanted to use synaptics driver and tweak all options exported by it using the touchpad KDE control module. To do so, simply uninstall the libinput driver (xorg-x11-drv-libinput) and touchpad kcm uses synaptics driver which makes all the kcm options tweak-able. Some of those users reported that after uninstalling libinput driver but keeping synaptics driver (xorg-x11-drv-synaptics), touchpad KCM displayed the error message “No touchpad found” and no options were editable as reported in this bug.

This wasn’t easily reproducible in my system though I have seen it once or twice. On a fresh Fedora 22 KDE spin installation which comes with both libinput and synaptics drivers, I was able to reproduce the issue by simply uninstalling libinput driver which helped to debug the issue. The XlibBackend class first checked for the presence of X atom “libinput Tapping Enabled” to determine if libinput driver is active. In that case, the XlibLibinputBackend was instantiated which handled the configuration. Otherwise, fallback to synaptics driver and instantiate XlibSynapticsBackend.

The issue, turns out that X atom “libinput Tapping Enabled” is active even after libinput driver is uninstalled! This was verified by checking the list of initialized atoms, with a nimble tool “xlsatoms” from the xorg-x11-utils package. With and without libinput driver installed, the output of this command were something like:

$ xlsatoms | grep -i tap
316 libinput Tapping Enabled
$ dnf remove xorg-x11-drv-libinput
(logout/restart and login again for X to use synaptics driver)
$ xlsatoms | grep -i tap
313 libinput Tapping Enabled
342 synaptics Tap Action

Which clearly shows the libinput atom is active even when driver is not installed. That caused the KCM code to try to instantiate XlibLibinputBackend which is non-existent and fails with error message “No touchpad found”. This seems to be a bug in Clutter, Mutter and Gtk+ as found out in this Fedora bug ‘touchpad not found’ . Those toolkits inadvertently created this atom while the intention was to check its existence; but I don’t know if kcm_touchpad code was also creating this atom.

With that finding, kcm_touchpad code is revised to first instantiate XlibLibinputBackend and checks for failures. If it fails, we try to instantiate the XlibSynapticsBackend. It is a small fix, yet solves an issue that affected many users. This fix is confirmed by some testers and is now pushed to plasma-desktop. The code adds a couple of error messages, so it is not available in 5.3.2 release but will be available in 5.4.0.

Libinput support added to Touchpad KCM

libinput is a library to handle input devices in Wayland compositors and to provide a generic X.Org input driver. It provides device detection, device handling, input device event processing and abstraction so minimize the amount of custom input code compositors need to provide the common set of functionality that users expect.

libinput is expected to replace input drivers such as synpatics in the future, and there’s already a drive to move input stack in Fedora 22 to libinput as can be seen in the discussion here. Most of the software would transparently work, except – as quickly noted in that discussion – the KDE touchpad configuration. Tochpad KCM exposes almost every knob present in the synaptics driver. In contrast, libinput exposes very few options to configure – such as tap-to-click and keeps most of the other options enabled by default – such as disable touchpad while typing. This is more sensible and efficient to do – when using synaptics driver, disabling touchpad while typing was accomplished by the synclient daemon.

As an aftermath of the discussion in Fedora, libinput maintainer Peter Hutter contacted KDE developers, including yours truly who is guilty of porting the kcm-touchpad to KDE Frameworks 5. As I know nothing about input stack or touchpads in general (phew), Peter was kind enough to step up, clone the kcm-touchpad and add support for libinput in addition to (existing) synaptics driver. All I had to do then, is to port it again to Frameworks 5.

Tochpad KCM running on libinput

Tochpad KCM running on libinput

As of last week, the review request to do that has been reviewed by Martin Gräßlin and David Edmundson and merged into the master branch – in the meantime I have obtained KDE developer commit access. In other words, Touchpad KCM now supports both libinput and synaptics drivers! If both are installed, libinput is preferred and exposes only the relevant options. As the KCM user interface exposes a lot of options, most of them remain disabled. Ideally, it should be re-designed – for example the GNOME mouse/touchpad configuration (including GNOME Tweak tool) exposes very few options. Alexander Mezin, kcm-touchpad maintainer has mentioned plan to rewrite it, I hope he will be able to find some time.

The updated kcm-tochpad packages for Fedora 20, 21 and Rawhide (what to become F22) are available for testing in the copr in Fedora repositories. For some caveats such as edge scrolling available only on single-touch touchpads, see the discussion and associated bug here. There’s still some issue with edge scrolling setting, I’m investigating it.

Bluetooth NAP tethering support in KDE Plasma NM

Recently, Plasma Network Management applet gained ability for bluetooth tethering. The initial support was only for DUN (Dial Up Networking), but not for PAN (Personal Area Network) or NAP (Network Access Point).

Sat a whole day staring at KDE networkmanagement code and GNOME network-manager-applet to figure out how to extend this to NAP (my phone seems to support that); and with help of Lamarque, a few lines of code did the job.

Plasma NM Bluetooth NAP tethering

The patch to implement this is under review. It has had only limited testing from my end. Note that this will work only if you have applied patch for Solid to support bluetooth devices in kdebase-workspace. I’ve updated the kde-plasma-networkmanagement and kdebase-workspace RPMS and uploaded here. Binary RPMs are only for x86_64; for other architectures, rebuild the SRPMs. If there are brave souls out there to test it out, here’s the procedure:

  1. Update kdebase-workspace with the above ones
  2. Update kde-plasma-networkmanagement*
  3. Run “/usr/libexec/kde4/networkmanagement_configshell create --type bluetooth --specific-args "A1:B2:C3:D4:E5:F6 nap“. Replace A1:B2:C3:D4:E5:F6 with the hardware address of your bluetooth device (can be found out easily from BlueDevil).
  4. That’s it, the connection should automatically be set up and appear in Plasma NM.

Update: The patch is upstream. Lamarque has adapted and integrated it.