Can Linux cope with 24 Hours of Happy?

I enjoyed Pharrell Williams’ feel-good songs in ‘Despicable Me‘ and its sequel, ‘Despicable Me 2‘. ‘Happy‘, a very catchy ditty he wrote for the sequel, also features in the World’s first 24-hour-long music video, ‘24 Hours of Happy‘, shot in and around Los Angeles and released on 21 November last year. The song is played a total of 360 times over the duration of the video, each 4-minute take featuring a different person or persons dancing (improvised) along streets, in petrol stations, through Union Station, in a church, around a school, in a moving school bus, around a supermarket, in a bowling alley, and so on. Each 4-minute performance was filmed in one take using Steadicam, and the location at the end of each take segues into the next take. You see the sun rise; you see the bright sunlight of the morning and the warm sunlight of the afternoon; you see the sun set; you see the twinkling city lights at night. The concept is simple yet brilliant.

Clips from some of the takes were used to create the 4-minute official music video for ‘Happy’, so you can watch that on YouTube to get a flavour of the takes, although it does not do justice to the full video.

Williams appears in a different take every hour on the hour, and a few other takes have celebrity cameos, but the vast majority of the participants are unknown extras of all ages, races, shapes, sizes and looks. To quote Williams talking to the Los Angeles Times: “We wanted all humanity in there, not just the model-types you might expect.” Some are good dancers, others not so good. But they all have one thing in common: they’re having fun, so they look good. The joy is infectious, and I found myself watching far longer than I would have expected, having to return to the site again and again. Half the fun is watching the bystanders.

When you open the ’24 Hours of Happy’ site, the take that was in progress at the current time of day starts playing from the beginning. However, you can drag the pointer around the clock dial and watch any take from the 24-hour period. There are also buttons you can click on to jump between takes or to jump to each take featuring Williams. The yellow on-screen controls can be made to disappear by not moving the mouse pointer for 5 seconds.

Still from 24 Hours of Happy, showing on-screen controls

Still from 24 Hours of Happy, showing on-screen controls

The Web site is well-designed and fun to use, so I was not surprised it was voted ‘Site of the Month‘ and ‘Site of the Year Users’ Choice‘ by AWWWARDS, and voted ‘Site of the Month‘ and ‘Site of the Year‘ by TheFWA.

It’s impossible to list them all, but a few of my favourite takes are:

01:36  Very perky woman with ponytail.
05:28  Jogger who has to keep pulling his shorts up!
08:24  Woman on roller skates.
09:52  Very cute little girl.
09:56  Woman with some groovy moves.
10:40  Woman in Union Station. Some of the bystanders are particularly amusing.
11:16  Man with cast on foot.
11:20  Boy with an Afro.
11:36  Three groovy old ladies.
11:44  Chubby guy with style.
12:36  Woman with some groovy moves.
13:32  Dancing couple in pink.
14:20  Two cool guys in dinner jackets inside and outside Union Station.
15:00  Pharrell Williams in a church with a gospel choir.
19:04  Woman with a lizard puppet. The lizard does the lip-synching!
19:36  Guy on stilts.
23:40  Woman with LED hula hoop (love it!).

If you want to start viewing a take made at a specific time of day, you can append the time to the URL, like so:

http://24hoursofhappy.com/09h53am

Obviously I think ’24 Hours of Happy’ is fabulous, but why am I discussing it in a blog predominantly about Linux? Because Firefox 27.0.1 (32-bit) running in Windows 8.1 (64-bit) on my new Acer Aspire XC-600 micro-tower PC (dual-core Intel Pentium G2030 @ 3 GHz & 3 MB cache, 4 GB DDR3 RAM) handles ’24 Hours of Happy’ at 720p with ease, but the story is very different on my main laptop running 64-bit Gentoo Linux with KDE (quad-core Intel Core i7 720QM @ 933 MHz & 6 MB cache, 4 GB DDR3 RAM). Both machines are on my home network, connected to the Internet via high-bandwidth broadband (FTTC).

On my laptop, the latest available versions of Firefox (27.0) and Opera (12.16_p1860-r1) for Gentoo, both 64-bit, do not even complete loading the ’24 Hours of Happy’ site: the black progress bar at the bottom of the home page stops about 7/8th of the way across the page and the KDE Network Monitor widget shows there is no network activity. Clearing Firefox’s Web content cache or increasing the cache’s size to 1 GB make no difference. Konqueror 4.12.2 (configured to use the WebKit browser engine rather than the KHTML engine) loads the site and plays it quite well at 720p to start with, but eventually video becomes choppy and I notice a lot of spawned kio_http processes. The KDE Network Monitor widget shows a continuous 3600 Kib/s data stream, which does not stop when I exit Konqueror. Numerous kio_http processes are spawned and remain after I exit Konqueror, and the 3600 KiB/s activity on the network only ceases when I kill all the kio_http processes. The number of spawned kio_http processes increases if I drag the pointer around the clock to select different takes, and the page just displays ‘LOADING’ ad infinitum if I do this several times. To be fair, if I do this a lot in Firefox running in Windows 8.1, I can get Firefox to stall too. I thought I’d try a lightweight browser and installed NetSurf (3.0-r1), but that couldn’t even render the title on the home page, let alone begin to load the video.

So, does ’24 Hours of Happy’ play nicely in your Linux installation? If it does, what hardware, distribution, desktop environment, browser and quality (360p, 480p, 720p or 1080p) are you using?

‘Server not found’ by browser at launch

I haven’t had any significant Linux problems or new requirements in the last few months, hence no new posts here. My last real problem was back in June 2013 when I rolled my Gentoo installation to latest using Portage and found that, whenever I launched Firefox, it displayed the ‘Server not found’ page and I had to click ‘Try Again’, and then Firefox displayed the expected Web site. From then onwards, Firefox would work as expected until I exited the application. Thunderbird was also unable to access e-mail servers on the first attempt after it was launched. The same thing happened in Sabayon Linux when I rolled to latest using Entropy a couple of days later. Anyway, here is how I fixed the problem in both distributions.

First I used Wireshark to see what was going on, and it transpired that Gentoo (and Sabayon) was sending an IPv4 request followed quickly by an IPv6 request, but the reply to the IPv6 request was being received first and was a ‘server not found’ message since my ISP does not support IPv6 and my router apparently does not handle IPv6 requests correctly. Gentoo (and Sabayon) then used an IPv4 address when I clicked ‘Try Again’ in the browser window, and thereafter Firefox always dispayed the expected Web sites.

I should point out that IPv6 is enabled in the kernels I use and I’ve never before had to disable IPv6 in Firefox (or system-wide) on the affected laptops. So why the change in functionality, I wonder?

With Wireshark capturing packets, when I launched Firefox I was seeing a server failure message indicating “AAAA” (IPv6) instead of “A” (IPv4). To stop this happening I could have chosen any one of the three following solutions:

1. I could have used about:config in Firefox (and Config Editor in Thunderbird) to change the value of network.dns.disableIPv6 to true instead of false.

2. I could have disabled IPv6 system-wide by editing /etc/modprobe.d/aliases.conf and uncommenting the line “alias net-pf-10 off“.

3. I could have forced the getaddrinfo() function in glibc to make the IPv4 and IPv6 requests sequentially rather than in parallel.

Just for the fun of it I chose the third option on a couple of my laptops, and, as they use NetworkManager, this is how I did it:

fitzcarraldo@aspire5536 ~ $ su
Password:
aspire5536 fitzcarraldo # cat /etc/resolv.conf
# Generated by resolvconf
domain home
nameserver 192.168.1.254
aspire5536 fitzcarraldo # cd /etc/NetworkManager/dispatcher.d/
aspire5536 dispatcher.d # touch 06-dhclientoptions
aspire5536 dispatcher.d # nano 06-dhclientoptions
aspire5536 dispatcher.d # cat 06-dhclientoptions
#!/bin/bash
echo "options single-request" >> /etc/resolv.conf
aspire5536 dispatcher.d # chmod +x /etc/NetworkManager/dispatcher.d/06-dhclientoptions
aspire5536 dispatcher.d # # Now I disconnect then reconnect to the network
aspire5536 dispatcher.d # cat /etc/resolv.conf
# Generated by resolvconf
domain home
nameserver 192.168.1.254
options single-request
aspire5536 dispatcher.d #

As you can see above, I added a two-line Bash script 06-dhclientoptions in the directory /etc/NetworkManager/dispatcher.d/ that appends the line “options single-request” (without the quotes) to the contents of the file /etc/resolv.conf. The addition of the line “options single-request” in resolve.conf causes the getaddrinfo() function in glibc to make the IPv4 and IPv6 requests sequentially rather than in parallel. With this change, Firefox and Thunderbird no longer have a problem accessing the Internet the first time they are launched.

From “man 5 resolv.conf” under “options”:

single-request (since glibc 2.10)
sets RES_SNGLKUP in _res.options. By default, glibc performs IPv4 and IPv6 lookups in parallel since version 2.9. Some appliance DNS servers cannot handle these queries properly and make the requests time out. This option disables the behavior and makes glibc perform the IPv6 and IPv4 requests sequentially (at the cost of some slowdown of the resolving process).

single-request-reopen (since glibc 2.9)
The resolver uses the same socket for the A and AAAA requests. Some hardware mistakenly sends back only one reply. When that happens the client system will sit and wait for the second reply. Turning this option on changes this behavior so that if two requests from the same port are not handled correctly it will close the socket and open a new one before sending the second request.

I had to use NetworkManagerDispatcher to add the line “options single-request” to /etc/resolv.conf because NetworkManager overwrites /etc/resolv.conf if you edit it manually.

UPDATE (February 4, 2014): As I have recently seen the line “options single-request” occurring more than once in the file /etc/resolv.conf I now recommend /etc/NetworkManager/dispatcher.d/06-dhclientoptions consists of the following:

#!/bin/bash
if grep -q "options single-request" /etc/resolv.conf; then
    exit
else
    echo "options single-request" >> /etc/resolv.conf
fi

Let’s hear it for Konqueror

My browser of choice on the desktop has been Firefox for many years. Firefox uses the Gecko rendering engine. As a backup Web browser I use Konqueror but configured to use WebKit, rather than KHTML, as the rendering engine. I’ve tried Chromium, Opera, Midori, rekonq, SeaMonkey and a bunch of others, but always found them lacking in some way in comparison to Firefox (I find Opera Mobile better than Firefox for Android on my mobile phone, though).

However, Firefox sometimes lets me down. For example, some months ago I wanted to book tickets online for a concert but Firefox would not display the seat map correctly, stopping me from being able to select seats. Konqueror saved the day. And, recently, Firefox no longer displays the video component of trailers on Rotten Tomatoes; only audio works. Firefox correctly plays videos from virtually all other sites I visit (YouTube, IMDb, iTunes Trailers, Vimeo, eTelegraph etc.) so why the sudden inability to display Rotten Tomatoes trailers? Today Firefox wouldn’t play a product video on an Amazon page either. So I launched Konqueror and it can play Rotten Tomatoes trailers and the Amazon video. What gives? They are both running on the same laptop in the same OS (Gentoo Linux) and desktop environment (KDE), using the same version of Flash, the same video driver etc. The only thing I can think of is that the Firefox rendering engine Gecko is the culprit. I assume WebKit in Konqueror is more capable than Gecko, although I don’t know enough to be certain that Gecko is the cause of the problem.

Anyway, if you want to configure Konqueror to use the WebKit rendering engine instead of the KHTML rendering engine, click on ‘Settings’ on the Konqueror menu bar, select ‘Configure Konqueror…’ and click on ‘General’. You’ll see ‘Default web browser engine’ in the right pane. Select WebKit and click ‘OK’. You’ll also need to have WebKit itself installed, of course. I have the packages qt-webkit (the WebKit module for the Qt toolkit) and kwebkitpart (a WebKit KPart for Konqueror) installed.

Playing QuickTime videos in Firefox and Chromium + XVideo bug in AMD Catalyst 11.11 and 11.12 driver

Video problems seem to be perennial in Linux. The latest two to affect me were:

1) Firefox and Chromium could no longer play QuickTime videos on the Apple iTunes Movie Trailers Web site;

2) a bug in the latest two releases of the closed-source ATI FGLRX driver (AMD Catalyst 11.11 and 11.12 for Linux) that causes the X.Org Server to crash when I try to play .mov files using XVideo (Xv) output in media players such as SMPlayer, VLC, GNOME-MPlayer etc. (see e.g. Gentoo Bug Report No. 391193).

The reason I mention these two problems in the same breath is because I encountered the second whilst trying to fix the first. Anyway, below I explain what I did to resolve the two problems.

I first had a problem displaying QuickTime movie trailers in Firefox a couple of years ago. The solution then was to install the User Agent Switcher add-on for Firefox and create a user agent to fool the Apple Web site into thinking Firefox was using Apple’s QuickTime browser plugin instead of mplayerplug-in for Linux. But within a few days Firefox again could not play movie trailers on the Apple Web site. I had to uninstall mplayerplug-in and install the then latest version of its successor, gecko-mediaplayer (which uses gnome-mplayer). All was good again until…

Several months ago I found that, yet again, Firefox could not play movie trailers on the Apple Web site. I tried to view the trailers in Chromium instead but had the same problem. Both browsers just displayed a black box where the video should be playing. A little searching on the Web led me to the conclusion that the problem lay with the latest version of gecko-mediaplayer and gnome-mplayer that I was using at the time, so I gave up and decided to wait for new versions of gecko-mediaplayer and gnome-mplayer to be released.

Now, yesterday I wanted to watch a particular trailer on the Apple Web site, but, despite having installed the latest version of gecko-mediaplayer and gnome-mplayer anyway a few days ago, neither Firefox nor Chromium would display the trailer. A little searching on the Web suggested that I should try mozplugger instead of gecko-mediaplayer, so I uninstalled the latter, installed mozplugger and… the black box in the browser was replaced by a white box displaying the QuickTime ‘Q’ logo and a message that I needed to install QuickTime. Argghh!

So I uninstalled mozplugger and reinstalled gecko-mediaplayer and gnome-mplayer (the same versions that I installed recently, you inderstand). This time my attempts to watch trailers on the Apple Web site resulted in Firefox and Chromium displaying grey boxes and appearing to download the QuickTime videos, but then the X.Org Server crashed, restarted and the Desktop Environment’s login screen appeared. Furthermore, when I tried playing .mov videos in VLC, the same thing happened. Perhaps now you may understand why I mentioned above the bug with the FGLRX driver? It took me a few hours to realise there were two separate problems here.

The work-around to the second problem was to configure media players to use a different output driver rather than the XVideo (Xv) output driver. For example, in VLC this is done via Tools > Preferences > Video and selecting ‘GLX video output (XCB)’ as the Output under Video Settings. For SMPlayer this is done via Options > Preferences > General and selecting ‘gl (fast – ATI cards)’ as the Output driver under the Video tab.

And, most importantly, in order to enable gecko-mediaplayer to display those Apple QuickTime trailers in Firefox and Chromium I had to launch gnome-mplayer, select Edit > Preferences, click on the Player tab and select ‘gl’ as the Video Output under Adjust Output Settings. Actually, clicking on the MPlayer tab and entering “-vo gl” (without the quotes) in the ‘Extra Options to MPlayer:’ box achieves the same result. By the way, the tickboxes QuickTime Emulation, RealPlayer Emulation, Windows Media Player Emulation and DIVX Player Emulation were already ticked on the Plug-in tab.

So, there you have it. After several hours of searching and tinkering I can again watch movie trailers on the Apple Web site. Don’t you just love Linux?

For the sake of completeness, below I list the versions of the applicable packages currently installed on my main laptop:

firefox-9.0
chromium-16.0.912.63
gecko-mediaplayer-1.0.5_beta1_p20111207
gnome-mplayer-1.0.5_beta1
mplayer-1.0_rc4_p20111215
ffmpeg-0.9
libquicktime-1.2.3-r1
xorg-server-1.11.2-r2
ati-drivers-11.12

EDIT (January 2, 2012): I’ve just had a thought: When I used Skype for Linux a few days ago, my laptop rebooted spontaneously as soon as the person at the other end enabled her Webcam in Skype for Windows. This was reproducible consistently. However, I could enable my Webcam, she could see me in Skype on her PC, and I could also see video of me in Skype’s ‘myself preview’ on my laptop. Now, it could be a coincidence but I wonder if the reboot occurred because Skype for Linux uses XVideo? Skype’s Web page for Skype for Linux lists “Video card driver with Xv support” as one of the hardware requirements, which looks pretty conclusive to me. However, this leaves a couple of niggling questions: a) If Skype does indeed use XVideo, why didn’t the ‘myself preview’ video in the Skype for Linux window crash the X.Org Server?. b) If the FGLRX driver bug is the cause, why did my laptop reboot instead of just the X.Org Server crashing, restarting and displaying the Desktop Environment login screen? Furthermore, Skype’s Options > Video Devices > Test does work correctly on my laptop. So perhaps the rebooting problem is caused by a different bug. Suspicious, though. Unfortunately, as far as I know there is no way of switching Skype to use OpenGL instead of XVideo, so I cannot prove that XVideo is the cause of this particular problem I’m experiencing with Skype.

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