Take My Stuff!

I’m divesting myself of a lot of computer-related things that are taking up too much space in my apartment.  Take a look at my stuff and let me know if there’s anything you’d like to take off of my hands.  Anything left after a couple of weeks will go to the electronics recycling center.

Change of Name

On September 27th, 2008, I got married.  As a consequence of my marriage, I gave up my last name and took my wife’s, going from Phillip Gregory to Phillip Gold.  I’ve been asked about my decision a lot; this is my explanation.  [Note that I now go by Piper Gold; the names in this post are what I was using at the time it was written.]

I feel that the prevaling societal standard—the assumption that the woman must go through all the work to change her name and give up the identity she’s had since birth—is unfair and an example of gender inequality.  Rather than simply make that assumption, Rebecca and I discussed our names a lot before the wedding, starting with what we each wanted out of our married names, and working from there to a mutual decision.

I wanted us to both have the same name, as symbolic of our marriage.  I also didn’t want a hyphenated last name, because I feel that those are cumbersome and unwieldy.  Rebecca also wanted to have a Jewish last name, to honor her cultural heritage.  Finally, I was inclined to have a name that started with “G” so my (and her) initials would stay the same.

Our first thought was that we would find a new name that met all of our criteria and both change to that name.  Unfortunately, there are only really two common Jewish surnames that start with “G”: Gold and Green (plus all the variations thereof), and we couldn’t find a variation on Green that we both liked.  We started looking at other Jewish surnames, and I realized that I really did want to keep my initials, if only because I have the username “phil_g” on a lot of sites, not least of which is the email address I’ve had for over a decade now.

So I offered to just take Rebecca’s name because that approach accomplished everything we wanted.  She was a little hesitant, feeling that doing so would require more of me than her, but we eventually agreed that it seemed the best approach given our requirements.

Postscript: Some people suggested changing my middle name to my old last name, as some married women do.  I opted against that approach, because my middle name is the same as my dad’s.  I would never want to give my child the same first name as myself, but I like the subtle continuity of shared middle names.

DVD Video to Matroska Video, Losslessly

I recently had the desire to rip some DVDs so I could watch them on my computer without swapping discs.  I figured I could just pull everything from the DVD into Matroska files, since Matroska supports everything that DVDs do.  When I went looking on the Internet, I found few resources for moving from DVD to MKV, and everything that did talk about it actually reencoded the DVD video to get it into its final destination.  Since Matroska can contain all of the codecs native to DVDs, I wanted to transfer everything losslessly.  This is how I did it.  (Note that I’m using the Linux command line; I prefer Linux to Windows, and the command line to X.)

The programs I used are as follows:

§ Some Background

I don’t know all the details of how data is stored on DVDs, but here’s a rough overview.  The video on DVDs is encoded in either MPEG-2 or MPEG-1 with a variable bit rate.  The audio can be in raw PCM, DTS, MP2, or AC3.  Most DVDs use AC3.  Not all DVD players support DTS.  Subtitles are stored as bitmaps with associated timecodes governing when to show them on screen.

In a DVD, the basic unit of video is a title.  Each title consists of one or more video streams, zero or more audio streams, zero or more subtitle streams, and a list of timepoints to mark chapter boundaries.  The titles on a DVD are grouped together into titlesets.  The grouping may be arbitrarily-chosen by the DVD manufacturer, but all titles in a given titleset must have the same video encoding parameters (codec, dimensions, framerate, etc.).  All of the data for each titleset is concatenated together into VOB format and then split into 1GB chunks.  The net result is that there’s no one-to-one correspondence between files on the DVD and individual titles.  Worse, titles are actually implemented as start and end indices into the VOB stream, so it’s entirely possible for titles to overlap each other.  This often shows up in TV show DVDs with a “play all” option: all of the episodes are in a single titleset and the “play all” menu option goes to a title that spans the entire titleset, while individual episodes are titles that only span the relevant part of the titleset.

If a title has more than one video stream, one will be the primary stream while the others represent alternate angles.  Few DVDs have multiple angles, so I’m not sure how the data for those works; all of the DVDs I’ve seen just have a single video stream for each title.

Also note that not all of the titles on a DVD are the feature content.  Almost every bit of video, including DVD extras like bloopers and “making of” videos, is stored as a title.  The one exception is the DVD menus.  Those are also stored on the DVD as VOBs, but they’re indexed differently, so they don’t show up as titles.  Be aware that DVD easter eggs, including some apparently-longer videos, are often implemented as menus, so they won’t show up as titles.

Any of a DVD’s titles may be encrypted with CSS.  Either the DVD player or the DVD drive must have a licensed CSS decryption key in order to read the encrypted data.  Fortunately, CSS is somewhat weak, and most Linux programs for accessing DVDs use libdvdcss to bypass the encryption.

§ Ripping the DVD

Ripping the DVD isn’t strictly necessary, but it helps to have all of the data on your hard drive for processing.  Even if you don’t copy the videos to your hard drive, you’ll have to mount the DVD and use its IFO files; I’ll get to that later.

The easiest way to rip the DVD is with dvdbackup.  It creates a directory for the DVD and then puts a VIDEO_TS subdirectory in the DVD directory.  The VIDEO_TS directory contains all of the files in the DVD’s VIDEO_TS directory.  (Or, at least, it will if you use the -M option; other options give more restricted results.)

dest_dir=<destination directory>
dvd_name=<DVD name>
dvd_device=<DVD device, e.g. /dev/dvd>
dvdbackup -M -i $dvd_device -o $dest_dir -n $dvd_name

In theory, you could also mount the DVD and just copy all of the files over, but that has not worked well for me in the past, partly because of CSS problems, but also partly because my drive is a little wonky.

You can also just take an image of the DVD with dd.  You’ll need to disable the CSS beforehand.  I’ve found that just running xine on the DVD is sufficient.

dest_dir=<destination directory>
dvd_name=<DVD name>
dvd_device=<DVD device, e.g. /dev/dvd>
xine dvd://
dd if=${dvd_device} bs=2048 conv=sync,noerror of=${dest_dir}/${dvd_name}.iso

If you have pv installed, you can get a fancy progress bar.

dest_dir=<destination directory>
dvd_name=<DVD name>
dvd_device=<DVD device, e.g. /dev/dvd>
xine dvd://
dd if=${dvd_device} bs=2048 conv=sync,noerror |
  pv -s $(fdisk -l $dvd_device |
          perl -nle 'm{^Disk '${dvd_device}': \d+ MB, (\d+) bytes$} and print $1') \

§ Get Disc Info

Whether you’ve ripped the DVD to disk or not, you need to see what’s on it.  Change into your working directory and run lsdvd.  (NB: From here on out, unless otherwise noted, all commands that reference a DVD will work equally well with a device (e.g. /dev/dvd), a disc image (like the one created with dd), or a directory containing a VIDEO_TS directory structure.)

dvd=<DVD device, image, or directory>
lsdvd -a -n -c -s -v $dvd > contents

§ Rip Each Title

The first order of business is to get the title data off of the DVD.  tccat will pull just the given title’s stream out of the DVD.  (Note that the resulting file has the possibility of exceeding 7GB in size; make sure your filesystem can handle files that large.)

title=<title number, e.g. 01>
dvd=<DVD device, image, or directory>
tccat -i $dvd -t dvd -T ${title},-1 >${title}.vob

The information about the title’s chapters isn’t in the VOB, so you’ll have to extract that separately with dvdxchap.  In my experience, dvdxchap never gets useful information for the chapter names (perhaps the DVD only contains the timepoints with no names associated), so you may want to edit the resulting file to put in more meaningful names.  (Note that mplayer will output chapter information if you use its -identify option, but dvdxchap is more precise in its timing and also generates the data in the format that mkvmerge wants.)

dvdxchap -t $title $dvd > ${title}.chapters

I’ve seen DVDs where the TOC info as reported by lsdvd doesn’t match the actual streams in the titles, so it’s good to check the track directly.  Ideally, tcprobe would give all the information about the streams, but while it gives good information about audio and video streams, it doesn’t give all the details we’ll need about subtitle streams.  Thus, we need to use mplayer.  mplayer gives audio stream ids in decimal, not hex, so the first audio stream will show as 128, not 0x80.  It numbers the subtitle streams from zero, though, so you have to add 0x20 to the numbers it gives to get the actual subtitle stream ids.

mplayer -dvd-device $dvd -vo null -ao null -frames 0 -v dvd://${title} 2>&1 | egrep '[as]id' > ${title}.streams

In an ideal world, mkvmerge would be able to operate directly on the VOB, but when I tried that, it had problems demuxing the data and it died halfway through.  So I’ll use tcextract to pull out the individual components.  Video first.

tcextract -i ${title}.vob -t vob -x mpeg2 >${title}.video.m2v

Next up are the audio tracks.  The VOB may contain more than one audio track.  They should be labeled as to to their language, but check mplayer’s info, not lsdvd’s.  mplayer’s info will also tell what format the audio is in.  tcextract wants the audio tracks numbered from zero, but mplayer reports their actual track ids, which usually start at 128 and go up from there.  The lowest-numbered track is track 0 to tcextract, and so on.

lang=<language code>
track=<source audio track: 0, 1, 2, etc.>
format=<extension for audio format; e.g. ac3, mp2>
tcextract -i ${title}.vob -t vob -x $format -a $track >${title}.audio-${lang}.${format}

The VOB also contains subtitles, although most programs that query it won’t see them.  Unlike when extracting audio, tcextract requires that you use the absolute track number, but mplayer reports a relative number.  You will need to add 0x20, or 32 to the value that mplayer reports for the subtitle tracks.  Some of the information for subtitles is stored in .IFO files on the DVD.  Each titleset has its own .IFO file; check the contents file to see what titleset contains the track and use that titleset’s .IFO file.  It will be in the VIDEO_TS directory, named VTS_<titleset number>_0.IFO.

Matroska supports several subtitle formats, but VobSub is probably the easiest to use, because it’s a series of bitmaps, just like the DVD subtitles.  If you’re not happy with VobSub, you’ll need to OCR each image to get its text; there are instructions for doing so elsewhere on the Internet.

lang=<language code>
stream_id=<id of the subtitle stream: 0x20, 0x21, 32, 33, etc.>
ifo=<IFO file; e.g. /path/to/VIDEO_TS/VTS_nn_0.IFO>
tcextract -i ${title}.vob -t vob -x ps1 -a $stream_id >${title}.subs-${lang}.raw
subtitle2vobsub -p ${title}.subs-${lang}.raw -i $ifo -o ${title}.subs-${lang}

Finally, it’s time to bring everything together with mkvmerge.  When I use <title>, I mean the actual textual title for the video, like “Bob’s House of Horror 2” or whatever.  ${title} still refers to the title number on the DVD.

mkvmerge -o <final filename> \
         --title <title> \
         --chapters ${title}.chapters \
         ${title}.video.m2v \
         <audio clauses> \
         <subtitle clauses>

For each audio file, you’ll need a clause giving the file and its language.  The first file you list on the command line will be the default audio, unless you use mkvmerge’s --default-track option to change it.

--language 0:${lang} ${title}.audio-${lang}.ac3

Likewise, you’ll need a clause for each subtitle file.  Since I generally don’t want any subtitles displayed by default, I set things so that there isn’t a default subtitle track.

--language 0:${lang} --default-track 0:0 ${title}.subs-${lang}.idx

And that should do it.  After a fair bit of disk-churning, you should have a Matroska file containing all of the elements from the original DVD title.  You can now delete all of your intermediate files and just keep the MKV on your computer and the DVD in its box.

Auto-locking My Computer When I Walk Away

The other day, while I was wating for several GB to transfer over the network at work, I finally got around to setting something that’s been dancing at the back of my mind for a while: computer-based proximity detection using Bluetooth.

I have a Treo 650.  It has Bluetooth.  I also have a USB Bluetooth Adapter.  I originally planned to carry the bluetooth adapter around and hook it up to different computers whenever I wanted to talk to the Treo, but I’ve only been using it at work, so I’ve been leaving the adapter connected to my Linux computer at work.  The thought occurred to me that I could use the Bluetooth adapter to see whether my phone was nearby and do things based on that information.  At least to start, I decided to have the computer lock itself when I wasn’t around.

I have the BlueZ Bluetooth stack installed.  (On Debian, that’s the bluez-utils package.)  They include a l2ping program, but that establishes a full Bluetooth connection with the device, which makes my Treo turn on the screen, play a little sound, and show a pop-up dialog.  That’s a little intrusive for something that I want checked several times a minute.  Some people use hcitool rssi to find out the strength of the phone’s (or other device’s) Bluetooth signal.  That also requires a full Bluetooth connection.  I ended up using hcitool name, which returns the name of the device if it’s found and nothing if it’s not.  More importantly, it doesn’t cause the Treo to do anything but silently send its response, and it works even if the Treo screen is off.

So I now have a stupid little shell script that looks like this:



while true; do
  if [ "$(hcitool name $PHONE_ADDR)" \!= "$PHONE_NAME" ]; then
    xscreensaver-command -lock
  sleep $WAIT_TIME

There are programs for Windows that do similar things.  Possibly one of the simplest is Blue Lock, which is also open-source (and written in Delphi).  I’m probably just going to write a simple Windows program to listen on the network for a message from my Linux computer to tell it to lock the screen.

New Site Hosting

In the interests of better site availability and less Comcast AUP-breaking, I’ve finally gotten around to outsourcing my website hosting.  I’m currently at NearlyFreeSpeech.net, a webhost committed to the twin goals of free speech and affordable web hosting.

How free is their speech?  Read their Abuse page:

“A NearlyFreeSpeech.NET member site is defaming me or otherwise injuring me civilly.”

Please forward a copy of your legal finding from a court of competent jurisdiction to our contact address. If you have not yet obtained such a finding, a preliminary injunction or court order is also sufficient.

If you are not able to obtain the above, you will need to work directly with the site operator to resolve your differences. We will have to fall back on our members’ contractual assertion that the content they upload is legitimate and therefore we will not be able to get involved

How affordable is their hosting?  You pay only for the bandwidth and storage that you actually use: $1 per gigabyte of bandwidth and $0.01 per megabyte-month of storage.  (Plus the bandwidth cost goes down the more you use.)

They support a variety of CGI scripting languages, including C, PHP, Perl, Python, and Ruby.  Oh, but also Fortran, Tcl, Lisp, Scheme, OCaml, and Haskell.

We’ll see how it goes, but I think I’ll like it here.