You should try: systemd and KDE activities

Not really a very informative post, but I thought you’d be interested into the following:

I moved most of my computers to systemd. On most of them, the boot process is tremendously faster. I haven’t noticed any problem (with somehow heterogenous hardware – but all i686/IA64/AMD64 though). Plus logs got more relevant messages. Have a try!

Also, I finally understood what KDE activities are for. It’s, contrarily to what I assumed beforehand, not a bigger subset of virtual desktops. It’s some kind of mini-session instead. For instance, each morning, I usually browse 5 or 6 news websites. Before KDE activies, either I typed their URL in my Konqueror page or I used bookmarks. I only created an activity “News” with a Konqueror open on each news website. And, now, I just fire and shut down this activity whenever I want to read news and that’s it: it’s fast to start and shut down and it saves me lot of clicks or keystrokes. Other example? I also created an activity to watch vidéos. I fire it up and, tada!, I get plasmoids that give me direct access to the relevant directories where I store such files. Really neat. It’s fast. It just lack a bit of polishing/KDE integration. But I’m sure that a work in progress.

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Accessing video/audio from a computer with a Freebox (using UPnP)

Nowadays, you would think having a network device like a TV box accessing data from your unix-based system easy going. I mean, we have NFS, Samba all-right, how hard could that be to devise an interface to access at least one of the many network shares, provided a user/password or based on it’s IP?

But no, it won’t work that way. It’s supposedly too complex, so instead, people promotes zeroconf and such, stuff supposed to work out-of-the-box that actually may not work at all. For instance, to access movies/music from your computer with your Freebox HD (TV box) v5, and I assume it’s the same with many similar boxes from others ISP, you can forget about using NFS/SMB/http or whatever protocol you already had working or think easy to put in motion. No, you’ll have to use UPnP, standing for Universal Plug and Play, words that truly often refers to Plug and Pray instead.

From the computer…

So, let’s go getting our hands dirty. The setup I’m working with is quite simple: a Freebox HD v5, a single computer with a single user having some videos, some with subtitles (mostly .srt), and audio files. It’s basic but it took me a while to figure it out.

I did test plenty of UPnP servers. I tried Mediatomb but it did not work – plus the gothic interface seemed weird. I tried XBMC and it worked nicely but only to show empty folders, and no obvious way to have it up without the CPU consuming interface. Then I installed MythTV and I did not even understood how it is supposed to work in regard of UPnP.

So I tried minidlna, the lightweight one I avoided from the start because it’s not known to properly support subtitles files. And, tada!, it actually works almost out-of-the-box. Yeah, almost. That’s the funny thing, even if you claim to aim zeroconf, when it comes to share files, at some point you’re still in need to list what you actually wanna share. Whatever. So I did apt-got minidlna. Then I edited /etc/default/minidlna:

START_DAEMON="yes"
USER="thisguy"
GROUP="thisguy"

As there’s only one legit user on this box, I wanted the daemon to be able to access his files with no specific consideration for privileges/ownership. I implied doing then:

chown thisguy.thisguy /var/lib/minidlna -Rv

Then I modified /etc/minidlna.conf as follows:

media_dir=V,/home/thisguy/Films
media_dir=A,/home/thisguy/Musique
media_dir=P,/home/thisguy/Photos

log_level=info
network_interface=eth0
friendly_name=thisserver
inotify=yes

… to the box

I restarted the daemon (and made sure it’s included in /etc/rc2.d). And that’s all (I modified also the firewall setup but I’m not sure that’s relevant considering that UPnP implies that it advertises itself to other devices when it’s up and not the other way around – so firewall is an issue only if you have one that blocks connections from the inside to the outside).

By that’s all, I meant: it was enough to get access to movies on the Freebox HD for the first time; but not with the subtitles.

I googled around: the minidlna version I had was supposed to properly give access to .srt along with videos. The Freebox HD itself supports .srt files with the same name of the video, when you access video over an USB device. But apparently plenty of implementations of UPnP have no consideration for subtitle files and the Freebox’s one is probably one such. So having separate .srt or .sub or whatever is a no-go.

Then, I gave a try to Matroska files (.mkv) despite the fact that I always had bad experience with it. Most notably, I usually implies videos costing tons of CPU time to decode and render and videos players usually fail to properly keep video in sync with audio – yeah, that’s really nasty. But Matroska allows to embed subtitles in the file without touching the video stream, which is neat. So I did that. Long story short, Matroska files, 9 times out of 10, freeze the Freebox HD: and I’m talking about Matroska files that are not bigger than the original .avi that run well on the very same Freebox, and I’m talking about Matroska files that run well on the computer with VLC or mplayer. So that’s a no-go too.

So I ended with the worse solution: altering original files, with mencoder to incrust subtitles within. Yeah, it’s kind of definitive and if you don’t want to spend hours of CPU time to do it, it implies quality loss. But, at least, it works. So here it goes, I wrote the following script to ease the process, assuming that video files along with .srt where originally on an USB device called HERMES and then copied to thisguys home:

#!/bin/bash

DEST=/home/thisguy/Films
ORIG=/media/HERMES

# go thru the list of videos
find $ORIG -name "*.avi" -or -name "*.mpg" -or -name "*.mp4" |
while read video; do
  # find out basename
  basename=${video%.*}
  format=${video##*.}
  endname=`basename "$basename"`-WS.$format

  echo $endname

  # use french subtitles in priority over english
  subtitle=0
  if [ -r "$basename"_en.srt ]; then subtitle="$basename"_en.srt; fi
  if [ -r "$basename"_fr.srt ]; then subtitle="$basename"_fr.srt; fi
  if [ -r "$basename".srt ]; then subtitle="$basename".srt; fi

  # no valid subtitle found at this point? skip the video
  if [ ! -r "$subtitle" ]; then continue; fi

  # now create to relevant directory if missing
  enddir=`dirname "$basename" | sed "s@${ORIG}@${DEST}@g;"`
  if [ ! -d "$enddir" ]; then mkdir -pv "$enddir"; fi

  # proceed only if the file is missing
  if [ -r "$enddir/$endname" ]; then continue; fi

  # if we reach this, go for it
  mencoder "$video" -subpos 92 -sub "$subtitle" -o "$enddir/$endname" -oac copy -ovc lavc

done
# EOF

Yeah. Plug and play my ass.

Locking KDE (plasma) desktop

(Not talking about the whole desktop environment, just the desk, actually) You have plasmoids and a consistent layout. Nice. Then you have end-users, a bit clueless. And after a few month, their desktop is an absolute mess and they don’t even know why, it’s not even like they wanted to change anything to it. But you had set “lock plasmoids”. So you’re obviously locking for a way to remove the “unlock plasmoid” option.

You can do so following this advice:

you’ll have to add [$i] in the first (blank) line into the plasma-desktop-appletrc

Great! Except it looks like a dirty hack so I wonder if it will still work in the long run. I’d gladly take any further advice.