I am basing my code on existing bits of open source stuff scavenged from various places and cobbled together. At some point in the future I hope to make some sort of point-and-click front end for it, but in the meantime it’s just command-line code, and at the moment, pretty crude.

Here is a slightly updated version of my previous script, which now clears the work folders and downloads from the camera using gPhoto2.

# !/bin/bash
echo “Hello Monkey world”
#gphoto2 —

cd /home/richard/Desktop/RBTest/newtest
rm *.JPG
rm *.jpg
cd /home/richard/Desktop/RBTest/testtemp
rm *.JPG
rm *.jpg

cd /home/richard/Desktop/RBTest/newtest
gphoto2 –get-all-files

x=1; for i in $(ls -t -r *JPG); do counter=$(printf %04d $x); ln “$i” /home/richard/Desktop/RBTest/testtemp/img_”$counter”.jpg; x=$(($x+1)); done

cd /home/richard/Desktop/RBTest/testtemp
ffmpeg -r 25 -i img_%04d.jpg -s 640×480 -qscale 1 -vcodec mjpeg movie.avi

This is pretty clunky but at least it’s getting somewhere. At some point I’ll find out how to reference files case-insensitive.

On some of the older cameras, such as my A620, the camera saves images in discrete folders of only 200 images each, which means a lot of effort in post-production if it has to be done by hand.

I think the next logical steps are to compile multiple folders of images and also to name the destination movie file discretely. The name could be created from some format information, a date/time stamp, and the model of the camera which can be derived from gPhoto2.

Googling something about recursive folders I found this:

However, this does not return them in creation time order and, as far as I could google, there doesn’t seem to be an argument to produce that.

After googling something about Linux pipeline commands I found a reference to xargs, and Bob’s your uncle. I can hardly believe I found it so quickly, but I remember Martyn at Access Space telling me about pipelining so I used a bit of intuition and worked out how to take the results from the find command and sort them afterwards.

Here is my Bride of Frankenstein, which takes a folder full of folders (full of images), lists them in creation order, renames them and compiles them into a movie file. Simples!

# !/bin/bash
echo “Hello Monkey Planet”

cd /home/richard/Desktop/RBTest/testtemp
rm *.JPG
rm *.jpg

cd /home/richard/Desktop/RBTest/newtest

x=1; for i in $(find $(pwd) -name \*.JPG | xargs ls -t -r); do counter=$(printf %04d $x); ln “$i” /home/richard/Desktop/RBTest/testtemp/img_”$counter”.jpg; x=$(($x+1)); done

cd /home/richard/Desktop/RBTest/testtemp
ffmpeg -r 25 -i img_%04d.jpg -s 640×480 -qscale 1 -vcodec mjpeg movie.avi

Well, FFMpeg is a monster. Getting it to work with some default settings was easy, but the number of parameters is breathtaking. I work in professional video on a daily basis but can hardly understand any of the plethora of options. There is extensive documentation on but most of it is meaningless unless you already know what it means.

Below is the basic structure of a Bash script. It requires the #!/bin/bash at the beginning

echo “Hello world.”

This script clears the screen and prints the words “Hello world”.

An excellent beginners’ tutorial is here and I’m not going to to duplicate it.

This process reminds me of teaching myself to program back in the 1980s. In a good way and a bad way. One frustratingly fatal error after another is a real test of application, and that’s the discipline, but teaching yourself may be very time-consuming but it is also very educational.
After some head scratching I got this to work. It’s a bit of a Frankenstein lash-up with bits of code I got from various places, but also with a little bit of my own intuition. I discovered by trial and error how to change the target directory on-the-fly within the script and this made it much simpler.

It’s still a bit clunky and needs the download-from-camera stage adding but it works. I decided to include absolute paths to the work directories and point the script at them in turn, and so far I am running the script using the command ./myscript from the current directory.

# !/bin/bash
cd /home/richard/Desktop/RBTest/newtest
x=1; for i in $(ls -t -r *JPG); do counter=$(printf %04d $x); ln “$i” /home/richard/Desktop/RBTest/testtemp/img_”$counter”.jpg; x=$(($x+1)); done
cd /home/richard/Desktop/RBTest/testtemp
ffmpeg -r 25 -i img_%04d.jpg -s 640×480 -qscale 1 -vcodec mjpeg movie.avi

The next bit I need to add is the download stage using gPhoto2 to get the images from the camera so that I can have a single workflow to download and assemble the thousands of images files in separate directories into a single usable video file.

Some of this coding documentation needs expanding and tidying up, but stay tuned for more soon.

There are some technologies that none of us will miss, such as CRTs, the SCSI interface, VHS and (for me) optical storage media (CDs and DVDs). But one technological era I am particularly glad to leave behind is the 1980s, characterised by cassette-loading or actual typing in of huge BASIC programs, distributed in magazines.

These days we have an embarrassment of riches in the form of the internet. For a programmer, it's a goldmine of free resources. However, something that is often missing is an exhaustive deconstruction of the code, particularly useful to noobs. I'm a lapsed programmer, so I don't find it too hard, but Linux is new to me and has some strange “conventions”.

Anyway, as promised here is some actual code that I found (well, Google found it and I copied it) with some explanation about what the bits and pieces do. I will probably update this a bit and please let me know if you spot any errors.

FFMpeg requires an unbroken sequence of image files starting at 1 and will fail if the numbers are not continuous. This is not optional and so it is best to rename them as a matter of course.

The following two code snippets are from and I've adapted them slightly.

This is the script for renaming the files.

x=1; for i in *jpg; do counter=$(printf %03d $x); ln "$i" /tmp/img"$counter".jpg; x=$(($x+1)); done

And here is the original FFMpeg command from the same source.

ffmpeg -f image2 -i /tmp/img%03d.jpg /tmp/a.mpg


24 seconds to ininitalise the Powershot A640 and another 9 minutes to download 2,595 images totalling 2.7 Gb (over USB 2 on 1st generation MacBook (1.83 GHz Intel dual core) running Ubuntu Linux 11.04.

Sort by creation date/time

x=1; for i in $(ls -t -r *JPG); do counter=$(printf %04d $x); ln “$i” /tmp/img_”$counter”.jpg; x=$(($x+1)); done

The $( some stuff ) contruct eveluates everything within the brackets before using the result. In this case, $(ls -t -r *JPG) returns a list of files ending in “JPG”, sorted by ascending creation time. The for i in $(ls -t -r *JPG) is a loop where i is each file ending in “JPG”, sorted into creation time order.

The snippet counter=$(printf %04d $x) resolves the integer variable x into a 4-digit decimal number with leading zeros and puts it into the variable counter. The leading zeros are necessary in order to maintain the 8-character file names so that they sort alpha-numerically. The snippet x=$(($x+1)) increments the variable x by integer 1 after each renaming operation.

It’s important to get the capitalisation correct and the destination pathname, or it will just fail.

The -t modifier sorts by creation time in reverse order, most recent first. The -r modifier reverses that order to, in this case, change the order back to the correct chronological order.

Canon Powershot cameras automatically number the images files in the format “IMG_0001.JPG” and restarts the numbering after 9,999 images. It will automatically create a new folder every 2,000 images and will create a new folder and restart from 0001 once it gets to IMG_9999.JPG.

Consequently, it is possible that for a timelapse shoot, the file names will not be in continous alpha-numeric order. Sometimes they will be, but it’s as well to assume that they won’t. Also, gPhoto2 does not preserve the folder structure if you download using the gphoto2 –get-all-files command, and will dump the whole lot into a single folder.

In this case, it is very likely that the alpha-numeric order will not be strictly chronological. As a result, it was necessary to include an amendment to the code that will order them into chronological order before renaming them.

More soon.

Rockingham Street Q-Park car park, Sheffield, UK.

After a partially voluntary and partially involuntary hiatus, I am back in flight. After significant work commitments, then getting married with a honeymoon in Barcelona, ES, I am back in Sheffield, UK, the greenest city in England. As this project is currently unfunded, and solo, I’m updating things as-and-when.

I promised you some performance tests and here they are. I’m am perfectly satisfied with the installations of Ubuntu Linus 8.04.1 on blue-and-white G3s and 10.04 on grey-and-white  Macs. As suspected, the GUI is a major burden on the system and opening a folder of about 3,000 jpeg images can take a full 5 minutes because of the overhad loading all the thumbnails.

The solution is simple. Don’t.

For my purposes this is no problem. I want to use these machines as workhorses and don’t need the GUI.

I’m going to be using FFmpeg to convert and compress a folder full of images into a movie. However, I came across a well-documented problem immediately. FFmpeg will not continue if a.) the first file is not numbered xxxxxx1 and will fail if there is a gap in the numbering.

Fortunately, I easily found a Bash script to sort this out, and I found it here:

x=1; for i in *jpg; do counter=$(printf %03d $x); ln “$i” /tmp/img”$counter”.jpg; x=$(($x+1)); done

(Also see the revision below).

This works but note the format of the filename extensions is case-sensitive. Helpfully (not), the script just fails if you do not get this correct. It renames all the images in a folder beginning at xxxxxx1, so if you sequence does not, or it is missing one or more images in the middle, it will not cause FFmpeg to fail. I’ll deconstruct this script in a later blog post.

Even more usefully, Linux does not actually duplicate the binary files, it just creates link files which can be safely deleted afterwards.

These tests were done on a 1 GHz PowerMac G4 with 640 Mb RAM & 21 Gb HD.

Rename 2933 files – 23 seconds

Using FFmpeg:

Encode jpeg files at 1600×1200 to mjpeg – approx 9 min 30 secs – 192.4 MB
Encode jpeg files at 1600×1200 to mjpeg – approx 8 min 11 secs – 192.4 MB
Encode jpeg files at 1600×1200 to mjpeg – approx 8 min 12 secs – 192.4 MB

Encode jpeg files at 640×480 to mjpeg AVI – approx 10 min 15 secs – 40.4 MB – atrocious quality
Encode jpeg files at 640×480 to mjpeg AVI – forgot to time it but similar – 199.5 MB – quality set to 1

This last set of tests was done whilst messing about within the GUI. I don’t really know enough about what is going on under the hood, but it seems that things slow down a lot and this might be due to caching thumbnails or, err, whatever. After a restart performance increased dramatically.

Rename 2,933 items – 1’05’’
Rename 2,933 items – 1’12’’
Rename 2,933 items – 0’20’’ (after restart)

For my purposes the performance seems acceptable at this stage.

One other revision I had to make was to compensate for the original file numbering restarting. Canon Powershot cameras create jpeg images with filenames of the format “IMG_xxxx.JPG” and shooting timelapse with them quickly reaches numbers in excess of 9,999. For consumer-level snap cameras, this number is probably well in excess of a normal user’s needs but I can easily shoot that many in one day. Consequently, the image numbers cannot solely be relied upon to reference the images in the correct chronological order, hence this revision which sorts them into creation order before renaming.

x=1; for i in $(ls -t -r *JPG); do counter=$(printf %04d $x); ln “$i” /Users/richardbolam/Desktop/testout/img_”$counter”.jpg; x=$(($x+1)); done

I’m still a bit of a noob when it comes to Bash scripting, but I will write another post soon that disassembles these scripts, partly for your benefit, but also to help me learn more about what I’m doing. This script was revised with the invaluable help of the technical staff at Access Space. Stay tuned.

“Personally, I liked the university, they gave us money and facilities. We didn’t have to produce anything. You’ve never been out of college! You don’t know what it’s like out there! I’ve worked in the private sector, they expect results.” Dr Ray Stanz, Ghostbusters, 1984, Ivan Reitman.

One of the major frustrations with computers is ambiguous error messages. They’re just machines, and no-one expects them to work without failing occasionally, but give us a break. The next biggest frustration is explicit error messages that give you every detail but nothing you have the remotest chance of doing anything about. Linux tends to fall into the latter category. Windows even gives you hexadecimal memory addresses. Gee thanks.

In Final Cut Pro, Apple’s professional video editor software for Mac OS X, I regularly get a message saying “General Error”. That’s no help at all, and whilst it is quite fascinating to see all the text status messages scrolling up a screen, so beloved of science fiction films, much of it is so minutely detailed, but abstracted from anything remotely helpful, that it might as well just say “FAIL!”.

I’ve worked on Macintosh computers since the early ‘90s and one of the advantages is the relatively small number of hardware configurations. However, even given identical specifications, sometimes things just don’t work for no reason you can identify. My parents would say “you’ve got to hold your mouth right while you do it”. This means that it’s achievable but not necessarily using logical or sound procedural methods, just luck.

Installing Ubuntu Linux on legacy Macintosh computers has been like that.

It was amazingly easy on my knackered and flaky first generation Macbook, running OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. Partially following instructions I found online, I used the included Bootcamp utility (originally intended to allow dual booting of OS X and Windows) to create a partition that I then installed Ubuntu 11.10 on the other partition from a CD boot disk.

However, this is all academic and I have a job to do. Although it’s interesting and valuable to be able to re-purpose otherwise obsolete computers, this geekery is not what the project is about. I need to keep in sight the fact that the only reason I am using the Macs is that they are free and not doing anything else, and the project has no funding. Out in the private sector, where I work, I need achieve some results and get these machine producing something.

I have four working blue-and-white G3s and a 400 MHz G4. I have managed to get two of the G3s to run Ubuntu 8.04.1 and the G4 to run Ubuntu 10.04. I am certain the problems I have had with the other two are peculiar to faults with the individual machines, rather than PowerPC Linux, but I am yet to solve them. I was hoping to get all four G3s working as I have an idea for an art installation and need three, so this would give me a spare.

Anyway, it’s time to move on.

I’m convinced that Linux (rather than MacPorts on OS X) is the way forward, and I’m not going to give up on these working machines, but I have more to achieve.

Stay tuned for performance tests..

Flight of the Phoenix (1965 dir Robert Aldrich)

Flight of the Phoenix (1965) is a rollicking good adventure yarn about a group of heroic failures whose plane crashes in the desert and they attempt to build a new one from the leftovers. It’s a great film and I highly recommend it, although please don’t bother with the bizarre, homoerotic and Hollyoaks-esque 2004 remake.

Here is some detail about my ongoing quest to bequeath a new lease of life to old, wilderness-bound PowerPC-based Macintosh computers.

Having successfully installed Ubuntu 8.04.1 on a blue-and-white G3 (see video), a few days later it refused to boot either from the internal hard drive or the boot CD. I have three other similar G3s and they all refused to boot from the CD. One of them just sat there, making a metallic flapping sound. I still don’t know why.

In a slight aside, sometimes both the G3s and G4s just refuse to start up. No lights, no action, no nothing. A couple of tips I picked up somewhere are 1) try pulling the clock battery and 2) unplug it a leave it for an unspecified amount of time. Both seem to have succeeded for me on occasion.

So, after an initial success, I couldn’t get any of the G3s to boot from the 8.04.1 CD ROM. So I tried the 6.06 Dapper Drake disk and this installed successfully.

However, when I tried to install gPhoto2 and FFMpeg, it could not find the repositories. I guess it’s old and they’ve all moved. However, the G3 would now boot from the 8.04.1 Hardy Heron alternate install disk and I successfully upgraded the system to 8.04.1.

Linux MintPPC seems to have many successful installations but I couldn’t get it to work.

At this point I bet you’re thinking “I’m sorry, but just remind me why you’re telling me all this.”

It’s a long story, but the upshot is that I have a load of old Macs that are doing nothing and I’d like to put them to work. However, Apple OS X has abandoned them although there is life in the old monkeys yet. It’s not just about Macs though, and I have work for lots of computers. Linux is platform-independent and has some very valuable, although almost invisible and ambiguously documented, resources that can be pressed into service. And, in the spirit of open-source, I’m publishing the information as I go along.

I’d like to use the blue-and-white G3s to capture timelapse images from Canon Powershot cameras and for the G4s to collate those images into movies. Although they do not have the horse-power to play the movies back, they do have the monkey-power to capture, collate and compress the stills into usable files that can either be transferred to another playback device, or uploaded to the internet. To this end, I’m testing which systems will work on these old machines and writing shell scripts. Having dismissed the use of MacPorts on OS X (on pre-Intel machines), the next stage will be to write some scripts and test the performance of Linux-based utilities.


Ubuntu 8.04.1 seems viable on blue-and-white G3s, and I have successfully installed FFMpeg, gPhoto2 and ImageMagick.

Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx seems viable on G4s, and I have successfully installed FFMpeg, gPhoto2 and ImageMagick.

Stay tuned for performance comparisons and some actual code.


I first heard the term “fail early, fail often” in a talk by one of the lead animators on Disney-Pixar’s “Ratatouille” (2007, dir Brad Bird, Jan Pinkova), when he explained that they went back to the drawing board with the characterisation and animation nearly a third of the way into the production schedule. If you google the term you can find lots of variations on the same phrase including “fail often, fail fast, fail cheap”, but no definitive attribution. Google fail.

Undeterred after my failure (also known as a “successful test”) installing MacPorts on a old blue-and-white G3 (see below), I installed 10.04 Lucid Lynx on the second drive of a well-cared-for 400 MHz G4. I had already installed MacPorts on the OS X drive but interrupted installation of FFMpeg after two hours.

I managed to limp it over one hurdle by cleaning glib2 with the command

sudo port clean glib2

After that it installed glib2 successfully.

The following day I tried installing FFMpeg again on the OS X and it took all day. No really, ALL DAY. I didn’t time it exactly, but I started it at about 9am and it was still going when I went out at about 3pm.

I returned about 5.30pm to find that it had fallen at the last fence and failed to install FFMpeg itself. I tried the same trick again:

sudo port clean ffmpeg

But it did not solve the problem.

I booted the same machine into Ubuntu Linux 10.04 and it took about a minute to download and install FFMpeg and a few seconds each for gPhoto2 and ImageMagick.

I really don’t know enough about this to know why there seems to be such a bottleneck on the Mac side, after all they are the same libraries, running on the same processor.

What I do know is that MacPorts does not appear to be viable on old G3s or G4s, although I have it running very successfully on more recent Intel Core Duo and Core 2 Duo systems running OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, yet to be performance tested.

After the above shenanigans, I found the following resource online about installing on FFMpeg on Mac OS X, but I don’t think I’m going to pursue this given simpler routes through.


For my purposes, Linux is the way forward on G3s and G4s. Mac OS X 10.4.11 Tiger works fine on these machines, but I couldn’t get MacPorts to work satisfactorily.

I didn’t fail fast, but at least I’m failing often and cheap. More economical failures soon…