Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Christmas Flag Vectorization

Mele Kalikimaka kākou! Merry Christmas everyone! By the time this goes up I should be back in California with my family for a surprise visit—thanks Dad!

In the Christmas spirit of giving, have a flag vectorization video too!


This flag is for the small kingdom of Ennarea in eastern Africa, just south-west of Ethiopia. Its formation is shrouded in mystery due to a lack of written records in the area at the time, but it was established by at least the 13th century and survived all the way into the early 18th century before falling to invading Oromo peoples. At the start of Europa Universalis IV in 1444 Ennarea is pretty small, holding only a single province, so it probably doesn't last nearly as long as its historical counterpoint.

Ennarea is just to the south-west of Ehtiopia, circled in green.
This vectorization was an interesting exercise that I've been anticipating and thinking about for a few days. Trying to find a way to represent that intricate filigree work was an exciting challenge, and you can see me trying a few different approaches before settling on something that works for me. I also like the colors in this flag, with the greens and the yellows (brown is just a very dark version of orange or yellow).

Anyway, I probably won't be posting anything for the next week or so, so Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou, Happy New Year as well! A hui hou!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Snow, in Hawaii!

This weekend we had a winter storm, with a strong, steady rain of a kind unusual in Hilo falling from about midnight Saturday till evening Sunday. It made the annual Messiah sing-a-long I attended Sunday an interesting experience in trying to sing over the rain pelting the roof, but it also left behind a nice gift: a beautiful coating of snow on Mauna Kea that I was able to see this morning.


An hour later the clouds had closed in again, so I'm glad I was able to catch this when I did. A hui hou!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Kīlauea Iki Walk

It only took me two and half months, but I finally got around to sorting out my photos and videos from my Labor Day trip to Volcanoes National Park with some friends. I took my old phone along and shot some video footage with it, which I've edited down into a short video showing some of the things we saw along the way. I switched a lot between photos and videos throughout the hike, so I don't really have full coverage with either. It was kind of an experiment.

We decided to hike the Kīlauea Iki trail, which I've hiked twice before, in the opposite direction from the past times I've done it. In the past we'd gone around the rim first, then down the far end, across the crater floor, and back up the steep trail to get back to the trail head at the end. This time we did the opposite, and I enjoyed it a lot more: we went down the steepest part of the trail first, instead of up it at the end of a four-mile walk. It's interesting how much it changes the feel of the trail, and I enjoyed it a lot more (though that may also have had something to do with the weather, which was absolutely amazing).


This picture comes from the crater floor, just after reaching it from the steep trail that switchbacks down the eastern crater wall. It looks across the crater floor, showing the trail we would soon follow in order to ascend the other end of the crater.


This picture shows the main Kīlauea caldera, with the Halemaʻumaʻu crater releasing gasses in it. I should mention that I'm experimenting with a new program called Raw Therapee for processing the raw images from my DSLR, so the color balance on some of these photos may be a little off as I play around with various settings. I'm pretty sure I don't remember those gasses being quite so bright blue, for instance (though I suppose the blue must've been there for Raw Therapee to bring out). This picture was taken after climbing out of Kīlauea Iki crater, and taking a short hike off the trail we were primarily following over to the rim of the main Kīlauea caldera. (“Iki,” by the way, means “small” in Hawaiian.)


After that, we started hiking back along the rim of Kīlauea Iki crater, which has a lot of excellent points for looking out over it. This picture shows Puʻu Puaʻi (“gushing hill”), created by the lava fountains of Kīlauea Iki's 1959 eruption.

We walked up close to the base of Puʻu Puaʻi, near the center of the image, on our way across the crater floor, where I got the following image:


I made a small vertical panorama showing the view from near the base of the hill, and caught my friend Graham in the foreground for scale. It's very imposing standing in the hollow there, with the mass of the hill looming over your head, acutely aware that the lava involved in this eruption emerged from right around where you are.

As mentioned, here's a short video I put together from various bits of footage I had. I took more at the beginning, and it's not very consistent, and the first half or so is only in 420p, and I apologize for the shakiness, but I thought it had some neat moments, such as watching the shadows of clouds race across the crater floor. As I said, it's kind of an experiment. Hope you enjoy it. A hui hou!


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving, 2016!

Not too much to say today, other than hauʻoli lā hoʻomaikaʻi! Happy thanksgiving everyone! I was hoping to put up some pictures from my Labor Day trip to Volcanoes National Park, but I'm still working on touching up the raw photos, so I hope to have those out pretty sure. Have a shot from the rim of Kīlauea Iki out over the crater as a teaser. Now, off to dinner!

Kīlauea Iki crater from the crater rim trail.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Elemental Humor

Have you ever wondered where all of those funny names on the periodic table come from? I'm a big fan of the periodic table—it adorns my shower curtain, in fact—and one morning the thought came to me to that there are many mysterious names on the periodic table whose origins are obscure to the average layman. Thus, I took it upon myself to create the following list, detailing the origins of many of those inscrutable names:
…alright, alright, I can't keep this up any more.

In case it's not obvious, none of the preceding is true; this is what happens when I get bored while looking at a periodic table and letting my mind wander.

Let's go over the actual, correct origins of the names of the aforementioned elements:
  • 3 Lithium is actually named from the Greek word λιθος, lithos, meaning “stone.” This is a reference to it being discovered in a solid mineral, unlike its two fellow alkaline metals known at the time, sodium (known from high levels in animal blood) and potassium (discovered in plant ashes).
  • 18 Argon is named from the Greek word αργος, argos, meaning “inactive,” in reference to its chemical inactivity. It's the least reactive element that actually stills forms compounds, though only a few are known and the first compound, argon fluorohyudride (HArF) was only synthesized in 2000.
  • 24 Chromium, from the Greek word χρωμα, chrōma, meaning “color,” in reference to the intense colors of many of its salts.
  • 36 Krypton, named from the Greek word κρυπτος, kryptos, meaning “hidden” or “secret.” It (like all the other noble gasses except helium) was discovered by successively evaporating components of liquid air, and the name is a reference to it being hidden among all the other gasses that make up air.
  • 44 Ruthenium is named for the Latin name for the region that includes Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, Ruthenia in Latin.
  • 45 Rhodium is named from the Greek word ροδον, rhodon, meaning “rose,” in reference to the rose-red color of one of its chlorine compounds.
  • 52 Tellurium is actually named from the Latin tellus, meaning “earth.”
  • 62 Samarium is named after the mineral it was discovered in, samarskite, which in turn was named after Vasili Samarsky-Bykhovets, Chief of Staff of the Russian Corps of Mining Engineers, who helped procure access to the samples of the (at the time) rare mineral samarskite from the Urals.
  • 64 Gadolinium, similarly, is named for the mineral gadolinite, which in turn is named for the Finnish chemist Johan Gadolin, who discovered yttrium (and was knighted three times, apparently).
  • 67 Holmium is actually named from the Latin name for Stockholm, Holmia.
  • 71 Lutetium is similarly named from the Latin name for Paris, Lutetia.
  • 84 Polonium was actually named by one of its discoverers, Marie Curie, after her homeland of Poland.
  • 97 Berkelium is, of course, not named after any member of the Berke family, but after the city of Berkeley in California, where it was discovered in 1949 at the University of California Radiation Laboratory.
Hope you enjoyed my attempts at humor. A hui hou!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Vectorizing Fezzan's Flag

Well, the wiki contest I mentioned in my last post finished this weekend, and I came in second place! I got a snazzy new avatar for the Paradox forums and a cool 75% off voucher. I also had (a surprising amount of) fun, so in celebration, have another flag vectorization video!

The 'W' is for 'wiki.'

This one is for the flag of Fezzan, a country in what is now modern-day Libya. The region has a long history, stretching back to when it was ruled by the Garamantian Empire from 500 BC to AD 700. By 1444 it was a small independent kingdom, assimilated into the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century (though in Europa Universalis IV the Mamluk rulers of Egypt tend to get it first!).

Fezzan's location and size in 1444.


A nice and simple little flag, and symmetry made it twice as easy to do. Hope you enjoyed it, a hui hou!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Vectorizing Ryazan's Flag

Well, Paradox Development Studios just released a large patch and expansion for Europa Universalis IV last week, and that means it's time to update the wiki! To make it more fun there's a contest with a raffle involved for people who contribute, and one of the ways to contribute is higher-resolution flag images. (The previous such contest, back in April, is what got me started doing it in the first place.)

As such, this is the perfect time to do a whole bunch and upload them, so I've done quite a few this past week, and recorded the process of some of the more interesting ones (some flags are quite simple, which makes for easy, but not-especially-interesting vectorizing). I'll be releasing some more such videos in the next few weeks as I get around to rendering them, but in the meantime I thought I'd share one now.

This video shows the process of vectorizing the flag of Ryazan, one of a number of small independent principalities in the 15th century located in what would later become Russia. The principality of Muscovy was simply one such principality which steadily grew bigger and bigger by assimilating surrounding principalities until it morphed into the medieval Russian state.

Ryazan's location in 1444. (It's the small brown nation in the center.)


As the subject of the video is Russian, I went with some nice rousing Russian music from Tchaikovsky.


No, I don't know why that horse has no ears.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Vectorizing Illiniwek's Flag

The Illiniwek (or Illinois) Confederacy was a group of some twelve or thirteen tribes living in North America, in roughly the area of the state they would give their name to. The name comes from nearby Ottowa tribes, and means “he-who-speaks-the-common-way,” though the Illinois referred to themselves as the inoka, a term of unknown meaning.

Picture of the Illiniwek from Europa Universalis IV as they start the game in 1444.

In Europa Universalis IV the Illiniwek are represented as a single entity, with a no-doubt fictional flag. It's a fairly simple and clean design, though, so one day I got the urge to go about vectorizing it, and here is the resulting video:


Hope you enjoyed it! A hui hou!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Turns out Geckos are Similar to Cats

I was cleaning out pictures from the past few months from my phone yesterday, and stumbled upon a video I'd taken and forgotten about. I'd found a gecko on my monitor, and decided to see if it would notice my mouse pointer. It did. It was really cute. I couldn't resist making the following video out of the footage:


The gecko in the video is a gold dust day gecko, originally native to Madagascar and some of the surrounding islands, but introduced to Hawaii and other Pacific islands relatively recently. They're by far the most common species of gecko I see around here (there're maybe ten or so species of gecko found in the island chain). They like living in and around houses and are active during the day, which helps, though I'd never actually seen one around my computer before; usually I see them on the lanai or in the kitchen.

I found a few more pictures I'll probably want to post soon-ish, plus I still need to get around to looking at the pictures from my trip to Volcanoes National Park on Labor Day…

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Fictional Element Rant

As an astrophysicist, I enjoy a good science-fiction story as much as anyone. That same fact, though, also makes me pretty good at spotting where the authors are playing fast and loose with physics (for anything but the hardest of science-fiction). Many things I can accept as necessary for a story to work (superluminal travel, for instance), but there's one thing that can break my suspension of disbelief faster than almost anything else if handled poorly: fictional elements.

To see why, let's take a look at the periodic table, which summarizes what we know about the elements. To begin with we need to have a definition of elements themselves. Basically, all atoms have an integer number of protons in their nucleus, known as their atomic number. Atoms with the same number are the same element, and have the same attributes.

An element's atomic number uniquely identifies it.
An element's atomic number is so central to its identity, that it's the first thing I want to know about a new fictional element. And thence the problem: its atomic number can't be one, because that's hydrogen. It can't be two, because that's helium. It can't be three, because that's lithium, and so on all the way up to one-hundred and eighteen, the highest the period table goes at the moment (while elements with numbers 113, 115, 117 and 118 are not named yet, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry is expected to approve names for them before the year is out).

And thus we see the problem that a fictional element (in a moderately hard science fiction setting) must overcome: all the elements up to a hundred and eighteen have been discovered already. Having a new element without further explanation feels to me like someone trying to tell me that they've discovered a new integer between 1 and 118; my immediate response is always going to be, “But we already know all of those integers.”

Now, while this is a problem, there are two approaches that I can see to justifying it:

  1. The easy way: give it an atomic number higher than 118. The problem with this is that everything we know about nuclear physics says that anything with such a number should decay so fast it'd be nearly impossible to detect. But this is science fiction we're talking about here. It's pretty trivial to throw in a section discussing why what we thought we knew about physics was in fact wrong, allowing stable high-atomic-number elements to exists. At the very least, lampshade it by having someone remark how they have no idea how such an element is stable, but it'll give the physicists and chemists something to work on! I've seen this done in a free game set in the Half-Life universe released recently called Transmissions: Element 120. They went with the route of explicitly disclaiming knowledge of how element 120 (the putative source of the game's gimmick) was so stable, but it showed to me that they had at least acknowledged that a problem existed and had thought about it, and it didn't break my immersion the way simply announcing some new element would have. (They even used what would be the correct chemical symbol for element 120, Ununbium: Uub).
  2. The slightly odd way: have the fictional element replace a real one. So this universe is like ours, except that, say, ruthenium is replaced by fictitium. I've never seen this used, and it would really only sort of paper over the problem, but it could be interesting if the replacement element is judiciously chosen. Elements that are uniformly highly radioactive and decay quickly might be good choices to replace; no one's really going to notice if astatine didn't exist, whereas history would be very different if iron didn't exist.

Of course, it's painfully obvious that most of the fictional elements that most badly break my immersion were only added to their respective settings to drive the plot (usually through opposing factions warring over it) and had no thought whatsoever given to them. To those needing such a plot driver, might I suggest a third path? Use an existing element, and give it a new property that explains why it's in such high demand. It's much easier to accept that an obscure element has suddenly become much more sought after due to a recent discovery than a totally new, never-really-explained element. Plenty of elements that were simply intellectual curiosities to their 19th-century discoverers are now critical components of modern items and infrastructure due to discoveries in the intervening time that could scarcely be imagined at the time they were discovered. (Various rare-earth metals being important in making high-end electronics, for one example.)

Note that this whole rant really only applies to science fictional settings of at least a moderately hard nature where it can be assumed that the periodic table exists. Mithril in The Lord of the Rings doesn't bother me because it's a fantasy setting. (You could also rationalize it as maybe being some real element that was unknown to any but the dwarves at the time. A light, strong, silvery metal could apply to aluminum, which is normally found in compounds but can very rarely occur in pure form as nuggets, explaining why it's only found in the mines of Moria. Just a fun thought exercise.)

Similarly, I don't mind if all the elements in a series are fictional. Star Wars goes this route, with the Expanded Universe (before Disney disavowed it) having probably dozens of fictional elements and minerals. That's interesting, and it gives you a lot of latitude in coming up with interesting elements. It's mixing real and fictitious elements (without justifying the latter) that really starts the smoke coming out of my ears as my brain tries to reconcile the fictional element with reality (for settings where it's assumed things are like reality unless specifically noted).

To put it simply, in science fiction stories, don't mix your real and fictitious elements without comment or justification, please. One or the other, not both.

Well, I don't know how interesting any of that was, but it's been buzzing about in my head for a while and I wanted to get it out. Sorry if I've now retroactively spoiled anyone's favorite story. A hui hou!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Watching Wild Winds with Windyty.com

Today the rather awesome website Windyty was brought to my attention, which shows these amazing animated maps of various weather conditions over the entire planet, vector maps of wind speed being the default. As I was excitedly ranging to and fro about the whole Earth, I took a look at the Pacific and discovered the rather ominous scene below (you can click and drag to move in, and scroll to change the zoom level):



Those two spiraling vortices are hurricanes Madeline (left) and Lester (right), both Category 3 hurricanes as of the time of this writing, and both bearing down on the location of my abode. Some models have Madeline narrowly missing the Big Island, other have it making direct landfall, but they generally agree that it'll happen sometime Wednesday evening or early Thursday morning. Thankfully, they're also projecting it to drop in strength to a Category 1, or even a mere tropical storm. There are predictions for between 6–15 inches of rain, though we had a little over 6 inches last Tuesday and that wasn't even a tropical storm.

Lester is further out and thus more poorly constrained, but it's possible it could hit as well sometime around the end of the week, though again, it could miss and will likely drop in strength before that happens.

As I've occasionally said before, life's never boring when you live on a volcano in the middle of the Pacific! Looks like the wind's picking up a bit as I write this, and it just started raining as well. While the map above is constrained to show the weather around the time I'm writing this (August 30, ~2:00 PM), the one below is set to the most recent actual forecast, so you can watch it over the rest of the week if you want to watch what the hurricanes do. A hui hou!




Update, August 31, 12:00 PM: The wind pattern picture from this point in time is just so cool I had to share it. Hurricane Madeline is starting to head down south of the island, and it's interesting how the wind speed is high in the ʻAlenuihāhā channel between Hawaiʻi and Maui (famed for its wind-funneling effect) but mostly pretty low over Hawaiʻi itself.

Happy birthday Linux!

Well I've missed the date by a few days, but the Linux kernel (the most basic part of an operating system, that interfaces with the physical hardware) is now twenty-five years old, making it only a little over two years younger than me.

Amusingly, in the post announcing his new project, Linus Torvalds called his new operating system kernel merely a hobby, not intended to be a professional endeavor. Fast-forward to today, and the open-source nature of the Linux kernel has led to it being used in a host of operating systems from basic consumer-oriented distributions to highly-customized distributions running on the most powerful supercomputers on the planet. Linux-based operating systems dominate installations in pretty much every category except desktop computers.

Writing about Linux here reminded me of how I've been using Windows 8 at work lately, and while I generally prefer to say nothing if I can't say something nice, I feel like venting some of the frustration I've been feeling. I'd never actually used Windows 8 before, merely heard about its shortcomings from other, but I've now experienced it first hand. In no particular order, here are some of the irritants I've experienced in the past few weeks:

  • Random freezes for no discernible reason while doing mundane things. Nothing quite like opening up a new instance of your browser after just starting the computer, opening a new tab, and having it freeze on you. Similar freezes have happened a few times in the past few weeks. I think it's probably happened about that many times in the last year on my computer. I got Chrome to repeatably lockup on a simple Source Forge page that (ironically) Internet Explorer opened with no problems.
  • Things not scrolling when you hover over them with the mouse. It's a little thing, but once you're used to it it really breaks your flow to have to click on different windows in order to scroll them. Especially when it's something like opening up a file-browser window and the focus is on the search field rather than on the file window proper.
  • Not having the secondary cut'n'paste clipboard from highlighting text that Linux has. I didn't realize just how much I relied on it for casual cut'n'pasting until I had to go back to Ctrl-c, Ctrl-v for everything.
  • The Start Screen that replaces the Start Menu in Windows 8, and its atrocious design of flat, bright, primary-color rectangles. I'm not even sure how to open specific programs now, and I never know when something is going to switch to opening full-screen in Metro mode. And why are Computer Settings and Control Panel two separate programs??
  • A “Save as…” menu that always defaults to a fixed set of best-guess folders, none of which are ones that I ever want to use, and which necessitates an extra click just to get to a general-purpose file-browser. Was simply opening to “My Documents” by default too difficult or something?

Anyway, you get the idea. I'm really glad I decided to jump ship when I did, from Windows 7. Despite growing up using Windows exclusively, I'm not happy with how Windows 8 turned out, and having grown to love Linux in the meantime I can't really ever see myself going back to Windows. Linux is by no means perfect, but it's less hassle and frustration for me in general. It's like the old joke that says the best operating system is the one that aggravates you least and stays out of your way the most.

Anyway, these were just a few disparate thoughts about operating systems I had recently—a hui hou!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

So I'm a Secretary Now

It's been a bit quiet on the ol’ blog front here, so I thought I'd write something quick to catch up.

Sometime back in…I think June or early July so I heard that my church was looking for a new secretary, as the previous one left back in May. I was persuaded to apply as, although administrative work isn't my preferred job material, it's something I can do and it was proposed to me that it could be something I did for mutual benefit while continuing the job search.

I kinda forgot about it for a while, as I didn't hear anything back from the personnel committee till the end of July, when they invited me for an interview. To make a long story short they ended up picking me, and as of last week I'm now the secretary for Kaūmana Drive Baptist Church on a part-time basis.

Bizarrely, having a job again has somewhat sharpened my thinking regarding my future plans, which has otherwise remained annoyingly nebulous. I'm not making enough at my new job to be long-term sustainable (though it may buy me a few more months), and I either need to find a better-paying job (preferably in astronomy), or see about going to graduate school. Given the paucity of astronomy jobs that don't require having a Ph.D., and the fact that UH Hilo doesn't have a doctoral program in astronomy, either path is likely going to require me to move within a year, a fact I've been desperately trying to avoid facing, as moving means a lot of stress and almost certainly a less-preferable climate. (Ah, the sheer bliss of a climate where 90% of the time it's simply “comfortable!”)

But I've got to do something, and despite just starting a new job the writing is on the wall in regards to having to end it in the near future. What happens next remains to be seen, but there will probably be some big changes for me ahead…

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Comparing Edifices with SVG

I wanted to make a quick post and share some cool SVG files I found on Wikipedia the other day, because they're just too neat not to share. Clicking on either of the following links will open the file in a new window. Each one shows a comparison of multiple related things—the first shows a number of the largest pyramids (including modern skyscrapers that are somewhat pyramidal in shape) and the second shows various large bridges from throughout history.

Pyramids

Bridges

In each case, mousing over either the pyramid/bridge or its name will cause both to light up. Clicking on one will cause it to remain highlighted, allowing you to easily compare two or more edifices. Clicking on the little 'i' in a blue circle near a name will take you to the associated Wikipedia page.

I really love these kinds of comparative schematics, and would love to be able to make something similar someday. It's really quite impressive what you can do with scalable vector graphics. I hope you've enjoyed them as much as I have. A hui hou!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hurricane Darby

I just discovered that, as of yesterday, I've now experienced two-fifths of all the tropical cyclones of tropical storm strength or higher that have ever made landfall on one of the major islands in the state of Hawaii since records began in 1949, as Hurricane Darby made landfall down in Kaʻū on Saturday as a tropical storm. (The other four landfalls were an unnamed storm in 1958, Hurricane Dot in 1959, Hurricane Iniki in 1992, and Tropical Storm Iselle in 2014, the other landfall I experienced.)

While Darby got as strong as Category 3 on its trip through the Pacific prior to arrival, by the time it made landfall it had been downgraded to a tropical storm. While I don't know what kind of havoc it wreaked down in Kaʻū, its effects in Hilo were mostly limited to some heavy rain Friday night and Saturday morning and some intermittant gusts of wind and light rain the rest of the day, plus some cloud cover for most of today.

Anyway, I just figured I'd let everyone know I made it through all right. A hui hou!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Speed-Vectorizing Saruhan's Flag

I've got another flag vectorization video today, this one for the tiny nation of Saruhan.

Saruhan doesn't exist in 1444 when Europa Universalis IV starts, having been long incorporated into the nascent Ottoman Empire. It was one of the Anatolian beyliks, small principalities or petty-kingdoms established in Asia Minor by various Turkish beys (roughly equivalent to the feudal European term “lord”). The beyliks formed in Asia Minor in the vacuum of power left after the decline of Seljuq centralized power following the Mongol invasions; among them was the beylik of Saruhan, on the western coast of Asia Minor adjourning the Aegean Sea.

Saruhan's flag. Saruhan. Not a similarly-named wizard…
The Ottoman Empire itself started as just one among many beyliks, in the north-western part of Asia Minor, before conquering or otherwise assimilating the other beyliks one by one until it began to expand out of Asia Minor. Saruhan was conquered in 1410. In Europa Universalis IV Saruhan doesn't normally exist, but can be released from the Ottoman Empire.

As a possible nation, it needs a flag, and here I suspect Paradox Development Studios (hereafter just “Paradox” for simplicity) of putting in a shout-out to The Lord of the Rings where Saruman's emblem is a white hand on a black background.

You see, the nation of Aragon (eastern third of the Iberian peninsula, historically joined with Castille to form modern Spain) has an amusing mission that can pop up, named “Defeat Saruhan.” The mission involves conquering a province Saruhan historically held, and is described with the following text:
Saruhan sounds a lot like a threat to the Lords of the West. If Aragon is ever to fulfill their destiny Saruhan must be defeated.
Thus Paradox is certainly well-aware of the similarities, and quite willing to add an in-joke to their game. I suspect that Saruhan's flag is another such joke, as it's highly unlikely such an old, minor state would have an actual flag available to use.

Anyway, have a video of me vectorizing the flag:





Since doing the last of these videos I've changed both my screen-recording software and video-editing software, which I figured I'd note here for any other Linux users aspiring to do similar things.

For screen recording I'm now using Simple Screen Recoder by Maarten Baert instead of Kazam which I was using before. SSR is actually much more powerful than Kazam (which is truly simple), but for the majority of cases you can just leave all its default values alone and it'll be fine. It's simple to use, and the additional power and complexity is there if you want or need it. It unfortunately doesn't come as a Debian package so I had to build it from source, which put me off of trying it for a few months, but it wasn't too difficult to build and is well, well worth it in my opinion. (It does come pre-packaged for a handful of other Linux distros, so be sure to check.)

After running into a whole bunch of crashes with OpenShot Video editor which I was using, I scoured the Internet for any available non-linear video editors for Linux, and tried several. None of them fit my needs and I was about to give up until I tried the very last one I'd been able to find, Kdenlive.  This is by far the best video editor I've found, combining simplicity of use (bar a few minor confusing but easily-learned quirks) and powerful editing features, such as the ability to see the background when writing a title to be overlaid on it. (An ability not to be underestimated, and one which every other editor seemed to lack.) Also it makes speeding up clips much, much easier than OpenShot did (and which one otherwise-decent editor I looked at couldn't do at all!).

Anyway, I hope that helps any aspiring video-makers on Linux out there. A hui hou!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Speed-Vectorizing Urbino's Flag

I've got another flag speed-vectorization video today (I really need a pithier name for these things). This one focuses on the flag for Urbino, a city in Italy a bit to the north and east of Rome.

Urbino was part of the lands given by Pepin the Short to Pope Stephen II in 754–56, marking the beginning of the Papal State as a political entity. The city and surrounding area were ruled as vassals of the Papal State until it was finally annexed in 1626.

Urbino is the small blue country circled in the middle. The Papal State is the cream-colored land around it.
I'm not sure why Urbino's flag in Europa Universalis IV is different from the actual Urbino coat of arms shown on the Wikipedia page, though given how small the flags are in-game the real thing might not look very good. It at least looks to be partly inspired by the branches in the real thing.


This map took me the longest of any one shown thus far, about an hour and a quarter. Mostly because I took far too long to realize just how symmetric the branches, leaves, and the… yellow things are. What are those supposed to be, anyway? Berries?

Anyway, hope you enjoyed it. A hui hou!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Happy Tau Day, 2016!

Happy Tau Day everyone! I've talked about tau before, but if you're new (or don't remember), tau is what pi should have been: instead of the ratio of the circumference of a circle to the diameter, tau is the ratio of the circumference to the radius, which is much more natural given circles are defined by their radii. Mathematically, \(\tau=C/r\). Numerically, the first couple of digits are 6.283185… (hence why June 28 is Tau Day!).

For an excellent introduction to tau and why it's a better choice than pi, look no further than The Tau Manifesto by Michael Hartl. He explains much better, and in much more detail than I can here, why tau makes much sense mathematically, and, perhaps even more importantly, how it simplifies learning more advanced math like trigonometry.

I've talked about tau before, so today I'm just going to briefly explain an experiment you can do to estimate tau. This uses a problem known as Buffon's needle, originally posed in the 18th century. The problem can be stated as:
Suppose we have a floor made of parallel strips of wood, each the same width t, and we drop a needle of length l onto the floor. What is the probability that the needle will lie across a line between two strips?
If we assume that the needle is shorter than the distance between two lines (not necessary, but it simplifies things), then the answer (given in full on the Wikipedia page linked above) is simple: the probability P is given by \(P=\frac{2l}{t\pi}\). This formula can be rearranged to find pi: \(\pi=\frac{2l}{t P}\). Remembering that \(\pi=\frac{1}{2}\tau\), we get \(\tau=\frac{4l}{t P}\).

If you drop n needles (or toothpicks, or matchsticks, etc.), and h of them cross a line, then the probability P can be approximated by \(h/n\). This mean you can approximate tau by:
\[\tau\approx \frac{4l\,n}{t\,h}\]The more needles you drop, the better your estimate is likely to be (barring some sort of systematic bias in how you're dropping the needles).

Anyway, that's it for today! Have a great Tau Day, and do let me know in the comments if you actually try this experiment!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Flag Speed-vectorization: Sadiya

Today I've got another speed-vectorization video, this time for the tiny nation of Sadiya in the region of Assam. Historically this kingdom lasted from 1187 till about 1524 when it was absorbed by a neighbor. (The flag shown on Wikipedia looks different from Sadiya's flag in Europa Universalis IV, but I think the one on Wikipedia is actually the coat of arms for the Sutiyah dynasty that ruled Sadiya.)

Sadiya's location and extent in 1444.
While trying to upload it, I discovered Blogger has a limit of 100 MB on uploaded videos, which the original version of the video exceeded. One reason I haven't utilized much video content on this blog over the years has been this hazy awareness in the back of my mind that such a limit existed, and since I think I'd like to have a bit more video content in the future I decided to just go ahead and put videos up on YouTube, then embed them here, so I don't need to worry about trying to keep them small. (Although, amusingly enough, I re-did the video after noticing an error in it and the new version is back below 100 MB.)


Hope you enjoyed it! I've got another such video that I took footage for and just need to edit, and I may do a few more as they're a lot of fun to do. But definitely let me know if you found it interesting! A hui hou!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Problem Solving with Python

Last year I took over the task of finding short messages for the sign out in front of my church building. It's not a particularly frequent or regular task; I usually try to find something new to put up approximately every 2–4 weeks.

Now:
  1. The church building is only about 3/4 mile from my house.
  2. In an effort to get more exercise I prefer to walk there to change the sign (usually in the cool of the evening) rather than driving.
  3. This makes carrying the box containing all the letters impractical, as it's just a bit too large and unwieldy to carry that far by hand.
  4. However, carrying only the letters required (usually a few dozen) is pretty easy.
This all leads to me needing to figure out how many of each letter I'm going to need to take with me every few weeks. This week I finally got tired of counting manually and dashed off a quick script I can use in the future. It's pretty simple, so I figured I'd post here for anyone interested. I've tried to comment it pretty thoroughly (a lot more thoroughly than I normally do, if I'm honest).

#!/usr/bin/python3

# Script to print the number of each letter in a given string.
from string import ascii_uppercase, ascii_letters
import argparse

# Use the argparse module to handle command line arguments.
parser = argparse.ArgumentParser(description='Count letters in a string.')

# Add an argument for the string to be read and counted.
parser.add_argument('count_string', type=str, action='store',
                    help='The string to count the letters in.')
args = parser.parse_args()

# Take the command line argument and convert it to an uppercase
# string.
input_string = args.count_string.upper()

# Create a variable to track the number of letters:
total = 0
for character in input_string:
    # Check if each character is a letter, and update the total if so.
    if character in ascii_letters:
        total += 1

# Check against each uppercase character:
for char1 in ascii_uppercase:
    # Create a variable to store the number of this particular character.
    num = 0
    for char2 in input_string:
        # Check each character in the input against the given character in the
        # list. If they match, increment the variable by 1.
        if char1 == char2:
            num += 1

    if num > 0: # Don't bother reporting zero occurrences.
        # Print the results for the character.
        print("# of {letter}'s: {number}".format(number=num, letter=char1))

print('------')
print('Total number of letters: {0}'.format(total))

exit(0)


A typical output looks like this:

$ char_count 'A simple string to test the new script!'
# of A's: 1
# of C's: 1
# of E's: 4
# of G's: 1
# of H's: 1
# of I's: 3
# of L's: 1
# of M's: 1
# of N's: 2
# of O's: 1
# of P's: 2
# of R's: 2
# of S's: 4
# of T's: 6
# of W's: 1
------
Total number of letters: 31

For the script syntax highlighting I'm trying out this Javascript libary I found called SyntaxHighlighter. It unfortunately doesn't show up while previewing the post, but seems to work well enough in the finished posted product.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Roman Calculus

Ever get one of those crazy ideas in your head that just won't leave you alone until you let it out? Last week I got the exceedingly odd idea of doing calculus with Roman numerals, and couldn't get the idea out of my mind until writing this post.

There are plenty of good reasons why this is a poor idea and why Arabic-Hindu numerals superseded the Roman variants in general usage, which I appreciate a lot more after trying to use Roman numerals. I figured I could do some simple integrals using integers and fractions, so I looked up Roman numerals on Wikipedia to see if they had a system for doing fractions.

Turns out they did, and it is (if possible) even more complicated than their integer system, being a duodecimal (base-12) system instead of the decimal (base-10) system used for integers. (This was apparently in order to more easily handle the common fractions 1/3 and 1/4.) Basically, it used dots to represent 1/12, and the letter S to represent 1/2, and they would just add dots and S's as necessary. (Fractions smaller than 1/12 involved a whole collection of different symbols, many of which I've never seen before, and some that won't even display on my computer.)

The article didn't mention how to actually write fractions and integers, so I used a system where fractions to the left of an integer mean to multiply, while fractions to the right of an integer represent improper fractions. I decided to use y as the variable of integration rather than x, to avoid confusion with X, the numeral, but otherwise used modern conventions such as the integral symbol, the concept of exponents, and using dy for the differential (I considered DY, but that would conflict with D the numeral). The actual integrals used are fairly arbitrary, chosen to be simple but still complicated enough to be interesting.

Anyway, take a look at the madness that results, and feel free to check my work.

\begin{equation}
\begin{split}
\int_\text{I}^\text{IV}y^\text{II}+y+\text{I}\,dy &=
\left[::y^\text{III}+\text{S}y^\text{II}+y\right]_\text{I}^\text{IV}\\
&=\left(::\text{IV}^\text{III}+\text{SIV}^\text{II}+\text{IV}\right)-\left(::\text{I}^\text{III}+\text{SI}^\text{II}+\text{I}\right)\\
&=\left(::\text{LXIV}+\text{SXVI}+\text{IV}\right)-\left(::+\text{S}+\text{I}\right)\\
&=\text{XXI}::+\text{VIII}+\text{IV}-::-\text{S}-\text{I}\\
&=\text{XXXIS}
\end{split}
\end{equation}
\begin{equation}
\begin{split}
\int_\text{II}^\text{IV}y^\text{III}-y^\text{II}\,dy&=
\left[\therefore y^\text{IV}-::y^\text{III}\right]_\text{II}^\text{IV}\\
&=\left(\therefore\text{IV}^\text{IV}-::\text{IV}^\text{III}\right)-
\left(\therefore\text{II}^\text{IV}-::\text{II}^\text{III}\right)\\
&=\therefore\text{CCLVI}-::\text{LXIV}-\therefore\text{XVI}+::\text{VIII}\\
&=\therefore\text{CCXL}-::\text{LVI}\\
&=\text{LX}-\text{XVIIIS}:\\
&=\text{XLI}::
\end{split}
\end{equation}

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Inkscape Education

In the video in my post two weeks ago, I said that Inkscape didn't have a way to make a variable-width stroke. Last week I decided to double-check that, and it turns out it actually can, sort of!

Now, it's still technically true that you can't do a variable-width stroke because of how Inkscape handles things behind the scenes. But to understand, let's talk about strokes, fills, and paths with the help of a visual aid:


So because that's probably clear as mud, let me elaborate. Inkscape works with what are known as Scalable Vector Graphics, or SVG. Objects in SVG have attributes called fill and stroke. Fill is what, well, fills the object, while stroke is the outline around it. These attributes can be simple, solid colors, or gradients (linear or radial), or even patterns.

Lines in SVG can either have the ends connect or not. If they do, you get a 2D-shape called a path (the three objects at the top of the picture that have both fill and stroke are all paths). If not, the line's appearance is controlled by its stroke, where the width is a single number that controls the width at all points. (You can have a fill on an open line, but it will usually look rather strange. It can be used to good effect in some cases, though.) Technically, you still can't have a line with a stroke that varies in width from point to point.

What you can do, however, is use the Powerstroke path effect. (To activate it, go to Path→Path Effects… then click the '+' button to add a new effect.) This changes a line into a path, and adds some handles that can be dragged to vary the width of the path at arbitrary points.

Now, by making the line a path, what was once merely a 1D-stroke is now a 2D-fill, and the new path can have a completely new stroke set (like the purple-stroked path in the bottom-right corner of the picture). And unfortunately, because it's changing the width of 2D-object, the Powerstroke effect sometimes produces rough transitions, as can also be seen in the picture. If you vary the width too much from point to point you'll probably need to do some hand-smoothing of the result. However, it's still the closest thing to a truly variable-width stroke there is, and can be quite handy if used well.

I've actually learned quite a few new things about Inkscape over the weekend courtesy of the nifty website goInkscape, which has a whole bunch of tutorials showing how to things I never knew you could do. For instance, I found out you can create arrays of clones of an object similar to the way can do so in Blender in 3D, which I plan to make use of in the future. If you're using Inkscape at all, check it out! You'll probably learn something. A hui hou!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Flag Vectorization Timelapse

Hobbits, in J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium, give gifts to others on their birthdays, so have a little something from me today! Well, alright, my birthday was Tuesday so it's a bit late, but that's just how it worked out.

After last's week's experiment with narrating a flag vectorization, I decided to try something different and record a timelapse version of another flag sans narration. I vectorized another flag (for the Navajo this time), then sped up the footage by five times (and added some music and annotations).


Making this video turned out to be surprisingly confidence-building. I've watched timelapses of people making art on YouTube and found them rather intimidating, because I wasn't really noticing all the times they rubbed out something they'd just drawn, or went back and tweaked something. I just saw this linear experience where the artist starts with a blank canvas (or whatever) and proceeds to crank out some amazing piece of artwork like an assembly line. When I recorded this video and watched it I realized I'd been missing all those little experimental excursions, all the stops and false starts that make up the finished product because I could see them in my own work, and that allowed me to see them in other peoples' work as well, and that's a surprisingly powerful observation. I've pointed out a few places I missed something or had to go back and fix something in the video, but there are a few more I didn't point out.

Also, apparently the recording didn't pick up the options dialog I was clicking on near the very end of the video, so when it says I'm “fixing” things and apparently randomly waggling the mouse about I'm actually reverting an option I'd changed right before recording out of curiosity. Though watching this video, I feel like I do do a lot of random-mouse-waggling—I guess it's just the computer equivalent of talking with my hands.

Anyway, like with the last video, please let me know how you liked this one! I like this idea a bit more, as it has several advantages: shorter (and thus smaller) videos, and not needing to talk, think, and vectorize at the same time (which turned out to be more challenging than I'd expected!). And I personally prefer the dynamism and action in timelapses, so there may be more of these in the future. We'll see! A hui hou!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

More Flag Vectorizing

Since my last post on the subject I've vectorized some more flags, and thought I'd share some more of the interesting ones. They make for great Inkscape practice—kind of like an artist's quick sketches.

Hsenwi
Hsenwi is a small nation in the Burma region with this cool script on their flag. I was able to copy it using almost entirely circles and circle arcs.

Inca
Inca are, well, the Inca; or Tawantinsuyu as they called the empire (literally, “The Four Regions”). I mentioned it in my first post, but it bears repeating that these flags are primarily for identification of different nations in Europa Universalis IV, as the very concept of a nation-state and a national flag were only really formulated and developed in the time period the game covers. The Inca, for instance, most likely never actually had a national flag.

Khorchin
Khorchin is a Mongolian nation north of Ming China in 1444, with cool script on their flag. This one took a long time to copy due to the varying widths of all those lines. I figured out a much better and faster way to copy them about half-way through, but it still took a while.

Theodoro
Theodoro is a tiny nation in the Crimean peninsula, the only one with Gothic culture still left in 1444. This flag involved a lot of work tweaking Bezier curves on the right side, then copying and flipping it to make the left side.

Tlapanec
Tlapanec is a small nation in Mesoamerica, in modern-day Mexico. This flag involved a lot of playing about with color gradients on outlines (or ‘strokes’ in Inkscape parlance). Each of those toes has a separately-positioned gradient for both the stroke and fill (Inkscape-speak for the interior), for instance, plus another two for the foot and a few more for those shiny effects around the edges of the various circles. There's also some blur effects to create the fuzzy highlights.

Verden
Verden is Prince-Bishopric in the north-western part of the Holy Roman Empire in 1444, now part of Germany. I don't have much else to say about it, but those keys were fun to trace.

Vijayanagar
Vijayanagar, for a change, is a moderately large nation in 1444 in southern India, which historically lasted for around 300 years from the 14th to the 17th centuries. In EU IV it's in a prime position to go on to form an ahistorical early united India and dominate the trade between China and Europe. It's also the first nation I played where I felt I really had a grip on most of EU IV's mechanics and went on to actually do well and expand, leading to the giant green nation in and around India in the screenshot below (and a special place in my heart):

The name is anachronistic now, as Hindu nations now form “Bharat” rather than “Hindustan” as of a few patches ago.

Finally, I also have something completely new for this blog! While vectorizing some of these flags, I had an idea: why not record the screen and my thought process and post it here? I've never tried something like this before, so it's a bit rough around the edges. The flag I vectorized is the one below, for the tiny nation of Khodynt in eastern Siberia. (Calling them a state is a bit of a stretch, as they were more of a migratory tribe than an organized state.)

Khodynt
The video goes through the process of making a vector copy of a flag, accompanied by my rambling and semi-distracted commentary. I don't know how useful it is as a guide to Inkscape (which was part of my intent for it), but if you ever wanted to know what goes into making one of these vector copies it's a decent illustration of the process. I apologize in advance for talking half under my breath half the time. For fun, you can also count how many times I refer to ‘flags’ as ‘maps’ for some reason.

video
I'm interested to hear what people think of this experiment, and if you'd like to see more content like this. I'll probably make some more videos in the future, as it turned out to be a lot of fun. I'd like to try doing a sort of timelapse video where it shows the whole process of vectorizing a flag at an accelerated speed. Just let me know in the comments! A hui hou!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Rendering the Earth

I recently came across a neat tutorial for Blender on how to create a realistic Earth image using real land and cloud images from NASA. Well, all right, we hit “realistic” about half way through the tutorial and went on to “slightly stylized,” but I like how it came out so I thought I'd share it here.



…and looking at it now, I realize you can't actually see any of the land textures because they're all on the dark side of the planet (except Hawaii, which should be visible, but I can't find it even in the full-size image). Huh. Not the greatest composition ever, is it? I do love the night lights effect though, that's pretty neat.

While I could have added a realistic starry backdrop, I was focused on finishing the rest of the tutorial and instead went for a simple random noise texture stretched to get stars. While playing around with different noise textures for the background I found the Voronoi noise texture and thought it was cool enough to save a picture of:


(Incidentally, in this picture you can actually see the land textures…)

Anyway, I now have a fairly simple (minus the stylized parts) way of rendering a pretty realistic Earth, and I bet NASA has similar textures for other Solar System bodies, so I may have to do something with that in the future…

Friday, April 29, 2016

Getting Custom Compose Key Sequences to Work in Debian: The Odyssey

Having just spent a very frustrating afternoon trying to get custom compose key sequences working on my new Debian install, I figured I would write a quick post to help others who might be in the same boat.

(For those who don't know, the compose key is a metonym for a fabulous system in Linux that lets you easily type thousands of symbols not found on keyboards. It usually has to be enabled in keyboard settings and can be set to a wide number of keys, but usually the right Windows or Alt keys are popular. Once you have it enabled, you can simply type <Compose Key>-^-a to get â. Or <Compose Key>-"-o to get ö. Or <Compose Key>-o-c to get ©, and so on and so on. There are typically hundreds or thousands of such combinations available by default, ranging from letters from common and uncommon languages to all sorts of esoteric symbols and punctuation [such as the interrobang, ‽, Compose Key-!-?]. Many of them are set up with key combinations that sort of make sense based on the component parts so it's often easy to guess without needing to specifically remember all the combinations. However, I digress.)

This all started with my desire to type some Hawaiian this afternoon, and for that I needed an ʻokina, the letter ‘ʻ’ at the start of the word ʻokina (which is not a quotation mark, despite how it looks; it's Unicode symbol U+02BB, “MODIFIER LETTER TURNED COMMA” [‽]). This is one symbol that isn't in the extensive list of default compose key sequences, but it's not too difficult to add your own—by default in Linux Mint Debian Edition (and I'm guessing plain Debian) there's a file in your home directory called .XCompose where you can simply look at the syntax of all the other entries and define your own sequence based on that.

This file came over in my transfer to Debian, and from what I could find it was what you used to define custom compose key sequences there too, but my sequence I'd added to print an ʻokina in LMDE simply wasn't working, nor were any of the additional ones I created as further tests. (Testing is pretty simple because the .XCompose file is read by programs each time they start up, so you can make a change, re-open a terminal or another text editor, and immediately try it out.)

From some more Googling and reading around, I found the suggestion to add the phrase
export GTK_IM_MODULE=xim # Warning, see below.
to my .profile file in my home directory. Now I'm not super-clear on what all of this means myself, but as best I can tell IM refers to “input method,” and xim refers to an older and more limited input method used by the X server that handles graphical things on Linux. GTK is a toolkit (bunch of code) for making graphical user interfaces that underlies quite a lot of software, along with another toolkit, Qt, and they apparently both have their own internal input methods that seem to not allow custom compose key sequences.

Anyway, what I'm actually trying to say here, is that the above code does not appear to work anymore, although it apparently did in the past. With it in place my custom compose sequence no longer beeped at me angrily like it did before, but simply silently failed with no output. After several hours of following comments in Stack Trace and nearly a score of reboots and reloggings in a futile effort to get things to work, I finally chanced upon a comment suggesting the use of “uim” instead of “xim” (‘u’ for ‘universal;’ I think it's a newer input mode with more functionality). This finally worked for me so I've added the following lines to my .profile file (I added the QT one for completeness, though I don't know how necessary it really is):
export GTK_IM_MODULE=uim
export QT_IM_MODULE=uim
Once you've done that, you'll need to make sure you have the actual uim package installed; on Debian, run
$ sudo apt-get install uim
Once you've done that, log out and log back in and things should hopefully work now. Hope that helps! As for me:

◦ Confounding compose key conundrum: cracked!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Distrohopping to Debian

Well, after about two months of waffling, I finally went ahead yesterday and installed Debian (short ‘e’ as in ‘bed’ if you're curious) on my desktop like I've been meaning to. And it wasn't even all that difficult, actually!

When I first decided to switch to using Linux as my main operating system over two years ago, I took a look at the dizzying number of distros out there, and…

…actually, let's back up and establish some terminology first. “Linux” isn't an operating system like Windows or Mac OS, per se. It's the name of a kernel—the central core of an operating system, that loads first and handles all the interactions between all of the programs and the hardware. Linux is often used however as a metonym (technically, a synecdoche) for the many different operating systems built on top of the Linux kernel. These usually go by the name distributions, or distros for short. Some popular ones are Linux Mint, Debian, Ubuntu, openSUSE, Fedora, and Manjaro (taken from http://distrowatch.com/). What distinguishes one distro from another could be anything—large things like what kind of packaging system they use (so that software packages created for one distro won't work on another) to cosmetic things like what desktop manager they use (many distros allow you a choice of several) to a million and one little variables that can be tweaked such as the default programs included. There are literally hundreds of distros out there, though the vast majority of them are based on just a handful of main distributions (since it's a lot easier [relatively speaking] to create a new distro by modifying an existing one than it is to create one from scratch). Anyway, back to what I was saying…

When I first decided to switch to using Linux as my main operating system over two years ago, I took a look at the dizzying number of distros out there, and decided to go with Linux Mint Debian Edition, or LMDE. Let's unpack that a bit:

  • Linux Mint (by itself) is a very popular distribution made to be easy-to-use out of the box and good for Linux newcomers. It's based on…
    • Ubuntu, long and widely considered the most popular distribution partly due to a similar reputation, which is itself based on…
      • Debian, one of the oldest distributions, dating all the way back to 1993 and the distribution with the largest number of distros based upon it.
Anyway, as you can see, Linux Mint is basically two steps removed from its original base. A few years ago a new distro called Linux Mint Debian Edition was introduced, based directly on Debian and cutting out the middleman of Ubuntu so to speak. I liked the idea of keeping things simple, and since I was still a relative newcomer to Linux I decided to stick with a distribution with a reputation for user-friendliness.

Fast forward to today, and with a few more years' experience with Linux under my belt I decided to once again ‘cut out the middle man’ and switch directly to Debian itself. I'm no power user, but I know my way around a command line interface well enough, and I feel there's a benefit to using a more widely-used distribution (LMDE was, unfortunately, always kind of a side project to the main Linux Mint version).

Debian apparently used to have a reputation for being difficult to install, but I found the whole installation process for Debian 8.4 “Jessie” pretty simple, even with my setup having root and home installed on different partitions. (Which allowed me to keep all my user data when switching; very convenient!) I had a few wrinkles along the way, to be sure; I've got a separate hard drive for storing all my big files that don't need to take up space on my SSD like photos and music, and had forgotten how my more Linux-experienced friend Graham had mounted and linked it when we first set up my computer (the drive was actually auto-mounted and I could access it, just not the way my shortcuts were set up to expect). Thankfully, Graham was able to swing by after work and get it sorted, and with my current level of experience I think I could duplicate it in the future if necessary. There've been a few more small issues but so far I've been able to solve them all, and it looks like everything is working.

Oh, and to explain the title, it's a tongue-in-cheek reference to “distrohopping,” the practice of trying out lots of different Linux distros, sometimes without any sort of “main” distribution. Obviously, trying a second distro in as many years doesn't exactly qualify. A hui hou!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Vectorizing Flags

The Europa Universalis IV wiki had a contest running for the last two weeks to help get things updated after the new 1.16 patch, but along with all the needed text was a request for higher-resolution versions of a whole bunch of country flags which previously existed only as tiny 192x128 pixel images. I figured it'd be a fun chance to brush up on my Inkscape skills, so I vectorized a number of flags and created higher-resolution versions. I'm pretty happy with how they turned out, so I thought I'd share some of the more interesting ones. These aren't actually the vector images themselves, just PNGs, as SVG images often still don't play well with some web browsers.

Berar
Berar is a small Indian nation that doesn't exist at the start of the game in 1444, but can appear later on. This one was a fun exercise in tracing the entire outer shape, followed by removing the cutouts using the difference operation on a series of paths with the main one. (A path in Inkscape is essentially any arbitrarily shaped object defined by a series of vertices and spline curves between them such that they define either a curve or an area. They can have a large variety of mathematical Boolean operations such as union, difference, intersection, exclusion, etc. applied to them. This lets you build up a path from a collection of smaller paths, or, as in this case, punch out a bunch of holes in a large path.)

Caddo
Caddo is a North American nation from the Mississippi region. Of course, whether they ever actually had a flag like this questionable; all nations in EU IV require a flag for identification, but given that it covers the whole world from 1444 to 1821 there are a lot of little nations that likely never had an official flag, so Paradox Interactive has to come up with something based on…I don't know, really, presumably important symbols in that nation's history and the like. Anyway, regardless of its historical veracity, I like the geometric shapes on this one.

Kazembe
Kazembe is a small nation in the interior of Africa, one of the new nations added in the 1.16 patch in fact. This one was a massive amount of fun to trace for some reason despite (or maybe because of?) the slight asymmetries present throughout the entire thing.

Quito
Quito is a small nation in the Andes, in modern-day Ecuador (and lending its name to Ecuador's capital). This is another nice set of geometric shapes (I did tend to pick ones that would fairly quick to do, rather than ones having complicated images).

Riga
Riga is a tiny nation on the Baltic Sea in 1444, now the capital of modern-day Latvia. That staff on the right took a lot of time trying to replicate all the little bumps in the original image (and having to guess a lot, given the tiny resolution). Most of the bumps are actually small circles added to the path of the staff.

Sioux
Sioux is a nation in the Great Plains region of North America, with some cool geometrical shapes. Getting the rotation and placement of the tipi shapes around the edge was an interesting challenge. (Also, go read the article on tipis on Wikipedia, it's pretty interesting.)

Tarascan
Tarascan is a Mesoamerican nation towards the western edge of the region, and historically one of the largest rivals of the Aztecs. Similar to the Berar flag, this is just a large circle (with a radial gradient) with a whole bunch of shapes punched out of it.

Tyo
Tyo is another of the new Central African nation added in the 1.16 patch. This was a great chance to use a clipping mask; each of the little half-circle shapes is actually part of a full, nearly-circular ellipse, with a copy of the brown background circle serving as a clipping mask so you only see the parts of them inside the circle. This one was quite fun to do.

Yaka
Yaka is the third new Central African nation here (being new, they didn't have high-resolution flags so there were several to do). This was a pretty simple case of vector tracing.

Finally, here's the flag of Kutai, a small nation on the eastern shores of Borneo. This one took a lot longer than the others (which typically took less than twenty minutes) due to the amount of detail present:

Kutai
I did this one because I really liked the original flag, and once played a game as Kutai partly because of that. By the way, here's the original file I was working from (I'm not sure why the tiger's tongue is orange):


Yep, that's the actual size. (Same for all of the other flags, of course.) While most of it wasn't too difficult to vectorize (just time-consuming), I couldn't really recover any detail from that crown thing, so I kind of made something up based on what I thought it was supposed to look like.

All in all, a fun little project, and it's been fun to get back to working with vector images again. A hui hou!