Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Analysing input events with evemu

Over the last couple of years, we've put some effort into better tooling for debugging input devices. Benjamin's hid-replay is an example for a low-level tool that's great for helping with kernel issues, evemu is great for userspace debugging of evdev devices. evemu has recently gained better Python bindings, today I'll explain here how those make it really easy to analyse event recordings.

Requirement: evemu 2.1.0 or later

The input needed to make use of the Python bindings is either a device directly or an evemu recordings file. I find the latter a lot more interesting, it enables me to record multiple users/devices first, and then run the analysis later. So let's go with that:

$ sudo evemu-record > mouse-events.evemu
Available devices:
/dev/input/event0: Lid Switch
/dev/input/event1: Sleep Button
/dev/input/event2: Power Button
/dev/input/event3: AT Translated Set 2 keyboard
/dev/input/event4: SynPS/2 Synaptics TouchPad
/dev/input/event5: Lenovo Optical USB Mouse
Select the device event number [0-5]: 5
That pipes any event from the mouse into the file, to be terminated by ctrl+c. It's just a text file, feel free to leave it running for hours.

Now for the actual analysis. The simplest approach is to read all events from a file and print them:

#!/usr/bin/env python

import sys
import evemu

filename = sys.argv[1]
# create an evemu instance from the recording,
# create=False means don't create a uinput device from it
d = evemu.Device(filename, create=False)

for e in
    print e
That prints out all events, so the output should look identical to the input file's event list. The output you should see is something like:
E: 7.817877 0000 0000 0000 # ------------ SYN_REPORT (0) ----------
E: 7.821887 0002 0000 -001 # EV_REL / REL_X                -1
E: 7.821903 0000 0000 0000 # ------------ SYN_REPORT (0) ----------
E: 7.825872 0002 0000 -001 # EV_REL / REL_X                -1
E: 7.825879 0002 0001 -001 # EV_REL / REL_Y                -1
E: 7.825883 0000 0000 0000 # ------------ SYN_REPORT (0) ----------

The events are an evemu.InputEvent object, with the properties type, code, value and the timestamp as sec, usec accessible (i.e. the underlying C struct). The most useful method of the object is InputEvent.matches(type, code) which takes both integer values and strings:

if e.matches("EV_REL"):
   print "this is a relative event of some kind"
elif e.matches("EV_ABS", "ABS_X"):
   print "absolute X movement"
elif e.matches(0x03, 0x01):
   printf "absolute Y movement"

A practical example: let's say we want to know the maximum delta value our mouse sends.

import sys
import evemu

filename = sys.argv[1]
# create an evemu instance from the recording,
# create=False means don't create a uinput device from it
d = evemu.Device(filename, create=False)

if not d.has_event("EV_REL", "REL_X") or \
   not d.has_event("EV_REL", "REL_Y"):
   print "%s isn't a mouse" %

deltas = []

for e in
    if e.matches("EV_REL", "REL_X") or \
        e.matches("EV_REL", "REL_Y"):

max = max([abs(x) for x in deltas])
print "Maximum delta is %d" % (max)
And voila, with just a few lines of code we've analysed a set of events. The rest is up to your imagination. So far I've used scripts like this to help us implement palm detection, figure out ways how to deal with high-DPI mice, estimate the required size for top softwarebuttons on touchpads, etc.

Especially for printing event values, a couple of other functions come in handy here:

type = evemu.event_get_value("EV_REL")
code = evemu.event_get_value("EV_REL", "REL_X")

strtype = evemu.event_get_name(type)
strcode = evemu.event_get_name(type, code)
They do what you'd expect from them, and both functions take either strings and actual types/codes as numeric values. The same exists for input properties.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus 2 and the missing support on Linux

The following was debugged and discovered by Benjamin Tissoires, I'm merely playing the editor and publisher. All credit and complimentary beverages go to him please.

Wacom recently added two interesting products to its lineup: the Intuos Creative Stylus 2 and the Bamboo Stylus Fineline. Both are styli only, without the accompanying physical tablet and they are marketed towards the Apple iPad market. The basic idea here is that touch location is provided by the system, the pen augments that with buttons, pressure and whatever else. The tips of the styli are 2.9mm (Creative Stylus 2) and 1.9mm (Bamboo Fineline), so definitely smaller than your average finger, and smaller than most other touch pens. This could of course be useful for any touch-capable Linux laptop, it's a cheap way to get an artist's tablet. The official compatibility lists the iPads only, but then that hasn't stopped anyone in the past.

We enjoy a good relationship with the Linux engineers at Wacom, so naturally the first thing was to ask if they could help us out here. Unfortunately, the answer was no. Or more specifically (and heavily paraphrased): "those devices aren't really general purpose, so we wouldn't want to disclose the spec". That of course immediately prompted Benjamin to go and buy one.

From Wacom's POV not disclosing the specs makes sense and why will become more obvious below. The styli are designed for a specific use-case, if Wacom claims that they can work in any use-case they have a lot to lose - mainly from the crowd that blames the manufacturer if something doesn't work as they expect. Think of when netbooks were first introduced and people complained that they weren't full-blown laptops, despite the comparatively low price...

The first result: the stylus works on most touchscreens (and Benjamin has a few of those) but not on all of them. Specifically, the touchscreen on the Asus N550JK didn't react to it. So that's warning number 1: it may not work on your specific laptop and you probably won't know until you try.

Pairing works, provided you have a Bluetooth 4.0 chipset and your kernel supports it (tested on 3.18-rc3). Problem is: you can connect the device but you don't get anything out of it. Why? Bluetooth LE. Let's expand on that: Bluetooth LE uses the Generic Attribute Profile (GATT). The actual data is divided into Profiles, Services and Characteristics, which are clearly named by committee and stand for the general topic, subtopic/item and data point(s). So in the example here the Profile is Heart Rate Profile, the Service is Heart Rate Measurement and the Characteristic is the actual count of "lub-dub" on your ticker [1]. All are predefined. Again, why does this matter? Because what we're hoping for is the Hid Service or the Hid over GATT Service service. In both cases we could then use the kernel's uhid module to get the stylus to work. Alas, the actual output of the device is:

[bluetooth]# info C5:37:E8:73:57:BE
Device C5:37:E8:73:57:BE
      Name: Stylus1
      Alias: Stylus1
      Appearance: 0x0341
      Paired: yes
      Trusted: yes
      Blocked: no
      Connected: yes
      LegacyPairing: no
      UUID: Vendor specific (00001523-1212-efde-1523-785feabcd123)
      UUID: Generic Access Profile (00001800-0000-1000-8000-00805f9b34fb)
      UUID: Generic Attribute Profile (00001801-0000-1000-8000-00805f9b34fb)
      UUID: Device Information (0000180a-0000-1000-8000-00805f9b34fb)
      UUID: Battery Service (0000180f-0000-1000-8000-00805f9b34fb)
      UUID: Vendor specific (6e400001-b5a3-f393-e0a9-e50e24dcca9e)
      Modalias: usb:v056Ap0329d0001
So we can see GAP and GATT, Device Information and Battery Service (both predefined) and 2 Vendor specific profiles (i.e. "magic fairy dust"). And this is where Benjamin got stuck - each of these may have a vendor-specific handshake, protocol, etc. And it's not even sure he'll be able to set the device up so it talks to him. So warning number 2: you can see and connect the device, but it'll talk gibberish (or nothing).

Now, it's probably possible to reverse engineer that if you have sufficient motivation. We don't. The Bluetooth spec is available though, once you work your way through that you can start working on the vendor specific protocol which we know nothing about.

Last but not least: the userspace component. The device itself is not ready-to-use, it provides pressure but you'd still have to associate it with the right touch point. That's not trivial, especially in the presence of other touch points (the outside of your hand while using the stylus for example). So we'd need to add support for this in the X drivers and libinput to make it work. Wacom and/or OS X presumably solved this for iPads, but even there it doesn't just work. The applications need to support it and "You do have to do some digging to figure out to connect the stylus to your favorite art apps -- it's a different procedure for each one, but that's common among these styluses." That's something we wouldn't do the same way on the Linux desktop. So warning number 3: if you can make the kernel work, it won't work as you expect in userspace, and getting it to work is a huge task.

Now all that pretty much boils down to: is it worthwhile? Our consensus so far was "no". I guess Wacom was right in holding back the spec after all. These devices won't work on any tablet and even if they would, we don't have anything in the userspace stack to actually support them properly. So in summary: don't buy the stylus if you plan to use it in Linux.

[1] lub-dub is good. ta-lub-dub is not. you don't want lub-dub-ta. wikipedia