Searching for signal… 3 ways to get your external VGA working

While attending the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Sevilla, there’s been quite a good amount of presentations and of course the usual problems with LCD projectors. In some cases we lack the time to access a venue and prepare in advance but most of the time we have no idea what we can do to « save the day ».

ProjectorThis week during the morning lightning talks, which are short presentations and demos shown before the actual spec meetings, a few people could not present due to the feared permanent « Searching for signal » message on the LCD. General reaction has been indifference, shrugging and, shockingly, just laughter. Although people directly involved with this take these issues very seriously, there is still that « RTFM » feeling around when things like this happen. I almost wish anyone laughing about this would be first line support for an important presentation and it happens to them.

Issues with external projectors will get a lot of love as part of the bulletproof-x, simple x-mode selection and other X specs being discussed and drafted for implementation in Ubuntu’s next version. Graphic drivers play an important role here, it will be interesting to see what ATI does knowing that its chipset can’t be supported in the current situation.

There is some extraordinary work coming from the community, but also many people involved from the business side of things. Intel and other important players in this area at UDS, not to mention developers working full time on this. It seems all the pieces needed to have something close to a complete solution are out there and will be put to good use in Gutsy Gibbon.

Meanwhile, here are some ideas to get your presentation going under Ubuntu. Be careful as you may become the « LCD projector specialist » or hero of the day 🙂

Obligatory pre-presentation work

Before making your presentation, rehearse your « steps before having my presentation display ». Cleanup your desktop. Change that wallpaper. Have your presentation one-click away from the desktop. Have a USB key handy with your presentation in both the original format and some other easy to show format like HTML or PDF. If it involves video, try using open formats like Ogg Theora, maybe even have cross-platform media viewers on the stick.

Another good idea is to ask around if there are any other people willing to help.

Generally speaking, I can’t stress enough why you should get all these details sorted out *before* trying to solve the actual PC-to-LCD problems you may encounter.

If you know about LCD projectors, external displays, BIOS options, xorg.conf and general presentation-scenario configurations, by all means register at the front-desk and have an announcement made about your availability to help.

Way #1: reboot while having your external display plugged in.

While not the most elegant, I’ve found this works 100% of the time if the resolution matches or is supported by the projector or external display I am using. Most modern projectors adapt to the signal sent from the feeding video source, although you may not have a local graphic display (on your LCD).

Way #2: Configure your external display and modify your config file to handle multiple layouts

My laptop really has bad suspend support (or should I say none) so I don’t mind booting into text mode for quick access to data. It also lets me choose what graphics setup to use depending on where I am. Here’s how I do that:

  • Configure the internal graphics adapter as usual. Make a backup of the resulting xorg.conf file.
  • Connect an external LCD, reboot. Configure it as usual (sudo dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg. Make sure it works. Backup the resulting xorg.conf file under another name.
  • Combine both xorg.conf files by using ServerLayout sections. Here’ s my example xorg.conf. Reading the xorg.conf man page helps a lot in understading how this works.
  • At boot time, you will be presented with a text login. Once logged in, start your graphic environment by using: startx -- -layout <ServerLayout section identifier>

Way #3 : Pay or feed someone else to do it

This can be done a bit in advance, like the first few hours in the lobby hotel when attending a multi-day event like UDS. Ask the organizer for early access to the LCD projection system (or whatever will be in use) and ask for help to get your setup going, by trying my suggestions or other's. This could be a local hire (like consultants or technical support), many of them are listed in the Marketplace.

Of course here at UDS you can just grab Etienne or me :)


Free those YouTube videos

Visit, read a bit (includes instructions for Windows users). Download the python script and also install ffmpeg2theora (See #2 at my Drupal Video Guide).


  1. Visit your favorite YouTube video
  2. Copy the URL to the clipboard
  3. In command line:
    magicfab@suzy:~$ python
    Retrieving video webpage... done.
    Extracting video URL parameters... done.
    Video data found at
    Retrieving video data... 1897k of 1897k done.
    Video data saved to PcuF7S3r6gM.flv
  4. Convert it (careful, those are TWO dashes before the optimize option):
    magicfab@suzy:~$ ffmpeg2theora PcuF7S3r6gM.flv ––optimize
    Input #0, flv, from 'PcuF7S3r6gM.flv':
      Duration: 00:00:47.3, bitrate: N/A
      Stream #0.0: Audio: mp3, 22050 Hz, mono
      Stream #0.1: Video: flv, yuv420p, 320x262, 25.00 fps(r)
      Resize: 320x262
          0:00:47.33 audio: 36kbps video: 305kbps
  5. An .ogg corresponding file will be created in your current directory.
  6. Profit ?

update: youtube-dl has been packaged since Edgy. Install it using the standard Synaptic package manager or through apt-get in command line, by searching for the youtube-dl package.

usage: youtube-dl [options] video_url

Live from UDS Sevilla – Tapas, Guadalinex, Specs and Great People

It’s 3:21 AM and the hotel lobby is dead quiet. Except for the occasional maintenance and reception staff steps, there’s hardly anything I hear.

I’m really happy to be here after a crazy week ! After a long plane trip from Montreal to Madrid, Etienne and I took the metro, then the AVE high speed train to Sevilla and finally arrived to kick start UDS with a talk at Ubucon. My talk in spanish about Canonical’s support services and how they relate to the community got good comments and went very well. Shouts to my colleagues in Montreal holding the fort!

It’s a great opportunity to meet many people I only know by their IRC nicknames 🙂 Unfortunately I am still unable to remember most names and I can just hope everyone remembers to have their badges on the right side ! Seriously, the friendly atmosphere, the fantastic location and the great people just make it impossible to feel anything but good.

Sevilla is not only home to an important history and architecture, and an amazing variety of bars and cafes, with excellent food – tapas anyone ? It’s also where Guadalinex rocks. It’s an Ubuntu-derived distribution that has been deployed to several hundred schools, totaling almost 400 thousand users! I had the opportunity to visit the Junta de Andalucía where the Centro de Gestión Avanzado de Centros TIC hosts a call center fielding technical support calls, remotely controls and monitors, but also provides hardware certification for all schools and educational organizations using Guadalinex. Oh, and hackers are officially part of the organization. During a presentation one slide specifically gave credit to student hackers for helping out with this massive deployment. Several local companies and freelancers, and also other coming from the Canary Islands partner with local governments to make all this possible. They are great local guides too 🙂

I am working on several specs at UDS, and my job as a support analyst is to attend and contribute to other’s work in easy X configuration tools, Ubuntu server tools, supported packages policy, and many others.

I was particularly both nervous and happy to attend the spec about Ubuntu Planet Editorial Policy. A few minutes after it started Mark Shuttleworth joined us and just as in other sessions it just felt as if he was « just another participant ». It’s nice to see many good things happening from a bad decision on my part when I disclosed information I shouldn’t have. Explaining all the bad consequences of such disclosures on a Planet site is really difficult, but there are many. I think the recent changes and this revised policy will help a lot the Ubuntu members that are Canonical employees (and of course those who are not) have guidelines to prevent futures mishaps.

Tonight we decided to stay close to the hotel, I went out with two colleagues for a good meal and nice walk. It still feels strange to be here and be surrounded by so many people that are working directly or indirectly on almost every piece of software I am using on my computer right now. I guess it’s time to go to bed now that the Bery/Compiz hackers have decided they would stop fine tuning features and building whatever code they were working on all night since I sat here 7 hours ago 🙂 Stay tuned for another update.

Here’s a few pictures I was able to upload tonight.


Un weekend dans le m

Depuis ce weekend le métro de Montréal a mise en service trois nouvelles stations sur le territoire de la ville de Laval. J’y suis allé avec ma petite famille et le temps de quelques heures nous sommes devenus passionés de transports en commun. Nous avons même pu essayer le service de train de banlieue, en allant dîner à St-Jérôme!

Au menu: accessibilité, grands espaces, café, installations modernes, accueil exemplaire.

J’ai moins aimé: les gens qui ont trouvé moyen de jetter des détritus, les caméras de surveillance un peu partout, Les gens qui se bousculaient pour prendre l’ascenseur et passer devant les gens handicappés ou parents avec poussettes.

Je manque un peu de temps alors j’ai mis la plupart de mes photos dans un album flickr.