ImageMagick and Ubuntu 9.04

Using a command line tool like ImageMagick for image processing may sound a really counter-intuitive thing to do but there’s no need to do everything on a case by case interactive basis. Image resizing and format conversion come to mind here. Helper programs are used behind the scenes too with Ghostscript being used to create Postscript files, for example.

The subject of helper programs brings me to an issue that has hampered me recently. While I am aware that there are tools like F-Spot available, I am also wont to use a combination of shell scripting (BASH & KSH), Perl and ImageMagick for organising my digital photos. My preference for using Raw camera files (DNG & CRW) means that ImageMagick cannot access these without a little helper. In the case of Ubuntu, it’s UFRaw. However, Jaunty Jackalope appears to have seen UFRaw updated to a version that is incompatible with the included version of ImageMagick (6.4.5 as opposed to 3.5.2 at the time of writing). The result is that the command issued by ImageMagick to UFRaw -- issue the command man ufraw-batch to see the details -- is not accepted by the included version of the latter, 0.15 if you’re interested. It seems that an older release of UFRaw accepted the output device ppm16 (16-bit PPM files) but this should now be specified as ppm for the output device and 16 for the output depth. In a nutshell, where the parameter output-type did the lot, you now need both output-type and output-depth.

I thought of decoupling things by using UFRaw to create 16-bit PPM files for processing by ImageMagick but to no avail. The identify command wouldn’t return the date on which the image was taken. I even changed the type to 8-bit JPEG’s with added EXIF information but no progress was made. In the end, a mad plan came to mind: creating a VirtualBox VM running Debian. The logic was that if Debian deserves its reputation for solidity, dependencies like ImageMagick and UFRaw shouldn’t be broken and I wasn’t wrong. To make it fly though, I needed to see if I could get Guest Additions installed on Debian. Out of the box, the supported kernel version must be at least 2.6.27 and Debian’s is 2.6.26 so additional work was on the cards. First, GCC, Make and the correct kernel header files need to be installed. Once those are in place, the installation works smoothly and a restart sets the goodies in motion. To make the necessary Shared folder to be available, a command like the following was executed:

mount -t vboxfs [Shared Folder name] [mount point]

Once that deed was done and ImageMagick instated, the processing that I have been doing for new DSLR images was reinstated. Ironically, Debian’s version of ImageMagick, 6.3.7, is even older than Ubuntu’s but it works and that’s the main thing. There is an Ubuntu bug report for this on Launchpad so I hope that it gets fixed at some point in the near future. However, that may mean awaiting 9.10 or Karmic Koala so I’m glad to have the workaround in the meantime.

Ghostscript: **** Unable to open the initial device, quitting.

The above error message has been greeting me when creating PDF’s with Ghostscript on a Solaris box and does need some translation. If you are directing output to a real printer, I suppose that it is sensible enough: nothing will happen unless you can connect to it. It gets a little less obvious for PDF creation and seems to mean that the pdfwrite virtual device is unable to create the specified output file. A first port of call would be check that you can write to the directory where you are putting the new PDF file. In my case, there seems to be another cause so I’ll have to keep looking for a solution.

Update: I have since discovered the cause of this: a now defunct TEMP assignment in the .profile file for my user account. Removing that piece of code resolved the problem.

A way to combine PDF files in UNIX and Linux

My latest adventure in the world computing has led me into the world of automated PDF generation. When my first approach didn’t prove to be completely trouble-free, I decided to look at the idea of going part of the way with it and finishing off the job with the open source utility Ghostscript. It is that which got me thinking about combining bookmarked PDF files and I can say that Ghostscript is capable of producing what I need as long it doesn’t generate any errors along the way. Here’s the command that does the trick:

gs -dBATCH -dNOPAUSE -q -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -sOutputFile=final.pdf source_file1.pdf source_file2.pdf

The various switches of the gs command have very useful roles with dBATCH ensuring that Ghostscript shuts down when all is done, dNOPAUSE removing any prompts that would otherwise be given, q for quiet mode, sDEVICE using Ghostscript’s own PDF creation functionality and sOutputFile creates the output file, stopping Ghostscript from sending it to its default stream. All of this applies to Windows Ghostscript too, though the name of the executable is gswin32c for 32-bit Windows instead of gs.

When it comes to any debugging, it is useful to consider that Ghostscript is case sensitive with its command line switches, something that I seen to trip up others. I am getting initial device initialisation so it strikes me that dropping some of the ones that reduce the number of messages might help me work out what’s going on. It’s a useful idea that I have yet to try.

There is also online documentation if you fancy learning more and have an article that considers other possible PDF combination tools as well. All in all, it’s nice to have command line tools to do these sorts of things rather than having to use GUI applications all of the time.