A Weird Imagination

The clipboard in the command-line

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X clipboard

The X Window System, the basis for the GUI on most desktop Linux systems, defines how the clipboard works for copying and pasting between applications in Linux. One notable quark of X clipboard is that there's actually two clipboards in common use: the one you expect explicitly accessed via Copy and Paste menu items or key shortcuts called the CLIPBOARD and another one where you copy by selecting text and paste by pressing the middle mouse button called the PRIMARY selection.

X clipboard utilities

Occasionally it is useful to be able to read or write the clipboard at the command-line. For most uses, your terminal emulator's copy and paste options are probably enough. The primary use case I have for using a command-line program to interact with the clipboard is when I am uploading a file as a Gist:

<file xclip

The xclip utility will copy the contents of the file onto the clipboard (PRIMARY, not CLIPBOARD, by default) and then I can paste it on the Gist website.

My system also has xsel which is very similar to xclip. Wikipedia actually lists several such programs, including the unfortunately named xcopy, not to be confused with XCOPY.

GNU Screen copy mode

GNU Screen provides its own clipboard for copying information between the different windows of a screen session. ctrl+a, [ enters copy mode. In copy mode you can move the cursor using the arrow keys and page up/page down keys. Screen keeps a history (of configurable size), so you can scroll back pretty far. In fact, I use Screen's copy mode far more often for viewing the history in a terminal than for actually copying anything. You can exit copy mode either by using esc to cancel or enter once to mark the start of the selection and again to mark the end of it. Once you have copied something, ctrl+a, ] pastes the contents of the clipboard.

Listing files into a file

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The problem

$ ls > file

doesn't do what you expect:

$ touch foo
$ touch bar
$ ls > filelist
$ cat filelist
bar
filelist
foo

You probably didn't expect, or want, filelist to be listed in filelist.

The solution

$ filelist=$(ls); echo "$filelist" >filelist

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Blend effect slideshow using shell

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The goal

Given a series of images, present them in a video with a blend effect between the images. The frames between the input frames should gradually transition between the previous and next image. This, and other transition effects, could likely be implemented using a slideshow generator, but it can also be done quite easily using a shell script.

The script

The final script I wrote is blend.sh. The following commands fetch and run it:

$ wget https://gist.githubusercontent.com/dperelman/2b4b86233aa13d13c0ab/raw/91c7988e27288af8aeb25ade11d0cab90355702f/blend.sh
$ chmod +x blend.sh
$ ./blend.sh slideshow.mkv first.png second.jpg third.gif
$ mplayer slideshow.mkv

The input images may be in any format. The extension of slideshow.mkv will be used by FFmpeg to guess the desired video format (H.264 in a Matroska Multimedia Container for .mkv).

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Which command will be run?

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The problem

While trying to develop a modification to the Pelican source, I was unexpectedly having my installed version of Pelican get run instead of the local version:

$ which pelican
/usr/local/bin/pelican
$ command -v pelican
/usr/bin/pelican

For some reason, which was pointing to the executable I was expecting bash to run, but the Bash builtin command was telling me that bash was running the installed version instead.

The solution

Use the hash builtin to clear bash's cache of the location of pelican:

$ hash -d pelican
$ command -v pelican
/usr/local/bin/pelican

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Reverse sequence for tr

The problem

If you take the word wizard, reverse the order of the letters and reverse the alphabet:

From: abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz
To:   ZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJIHGFEDCBA

then you get the word wizard back, an observation made at least as early as 1972.

Now let's write a shell script to verify this so we can find other words with similar interesting properties. The obvious shell script to verify this

echo wizard | tr a-z z-a | rev

unfortunately fails with the error

tr: range-endpoints of 'z-a' are in reverse collating sequence order

The error is by design: it's not clear what a sequence in reverse order should mean, so POSIX actually requires that it not work.

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Floats in shell

The problem

Given a file which contains a list of floating point numbers in IEEE 754 single-precision format stored in big endian byte order, how do you view and manipulate this data using command-line tools? This is an actual problem one of my officemates had.

The solution

$ od --endian=big -f file
0000000   1.7155696e-07   1.0432226e-08    4.563314e+30    6.162976e-33

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Changing Pelican URL scheme

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The problem

I changed the URI scheme of this blog recently from /posts/YYYY/MM/slug/ to /YYYY/MM/DD/slug/. The latter looks better and makes the actual day of the post more visible.

But I already had posts using the old scheme and cool URIs don't change. Luckily, someone wrote a Pelican plugin called pelican-alias which allows articles to be tagged with additional URIs to redirect to their canonical location. All I had to do was add an Alias: /posts/2015/02/... line to the top of each of the posts I had already written and the plugin would take care of the rest.

Automating the aliasing

The non-trivial part of automating this is that the URIs include the article's slug, which may have been generated by Pelican from the title, so Pelican has to be involved in generating the correct redirects.

There are two ways I could have automated this process:

  1. Modify the plugin to add a redirect from the old scheme to the new scheme for every article. Unless somehow controlled, this would result in creating redirects for new articles which do not need them.
  2. Write a one-off script to get the slugs out of Pelican and write the Alias: lines into the blog posts.

I took the latter approach because it was simpler and involved no new code to maintain.

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Type your SSH passphrase less often

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The problem

SSH public key authenication can make SSH much more convenient because you do not need to type a password for every SSH connect. Instead, in common usage, the first time you connect, GNOME Keyring, KWallet, or your desktop environment's equivalent will pop up and offer to keep your decrypted private key securely in memory. Those programs will remember your key until the next time you reboot your computer (or possibly until you log out completely and log back in).

But those are tied to your desktop environment. If you are not at a GUI, either using a computer in text-mode using a console or connecting over SSH, then you do not have access to those programs.

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256 color terminals

The problem

By default, terminals on Linux only use 8 colors (or 16 if setup to use bright variants instead of bold text). Everything else on a modern computer uses 24-bit color, allowing for millions of colors. More colors in the terminal would allow for better syntax highlighting and color output of various commands to be more readable.

In practice, while a few terminals support full 24-bit RGB color (at least Konsole does), it is not widespread enough to be used much. On the other hand, most terminals support 256 colors, which is significantly better than just 8.

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Compile on save

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The problem

When developing code or creating visual artifacts in non-WYSIWYG systems, it is very useful to constantly be aware of the output of the compiler and the appearance of the artifact you are creating, whether it is a GUI, a chart, a graph, or a paper. The common way of doing this is to have an IDE specialized for the system you are using; for example, LyX provides a WYSIWYG editor for LaTeX. Similarly, there may be plugins for your text editor to support whatever kind of development you are doing. On the other hand, we can use the shell to create a solution independent of the text editor and the availability of plugins for the particular system being developed for.

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