OK, y’all wore me down. After multiple messages per week from friends and strangers urging me to put my work on hic et nunc, and many long, drawn out debates with people I respect, I finally gave in and created an NFT.
At some level I feel like a sellout. On the other hand, I was feeling way too stubborn and dogmatic about my resistance to try it. It was a serious internal struggle for the past few months.
Long story short, people seem to want to give money to digital artists via NFTs. Lots of money. But not any other way. I still have misgivings, but I’m going to assume that people know what they are doing and if they want to support me in this way, I’ll accept it.
I’m starting a newsletter. I’ve been hearing more and more buzz about newsletters these days. I always assumed these were just cheap marketing gimmicks. “Sign up for my newsletter so I can spam you with info about this thing I’m trying to sell.” But apparently it’s become the replacement for RSS for a lot of people. Who knew? Probably everyone but me.
Anyway, I’m going to start one. For the most part it’s going to be quick summaries and links to stuff that I post right here, with maybe one or two other links or items of interest. I thought about doing more complete articles in the newsletter, but I’d rather keep my content centralized here, so summaries and links it is.
For now, it’s totally free. If it takes off and people seem interested, I might experiment with doing some kind of additional paid content. Undecided at this point. One step at a time. Anyway, sign up here:
I’m a firm believer that creative coding is a very different activity than the kind of coding that most people do for their day jobs. In feature / application / systems programming, there’s usually a fair amount of planning, scoping and architecting that comes before you start coding. Ideally, when you start coding, you have a pretty good idea of what you are going to make and how you’re going to make it.
But creative coding, for me at least, starts with “what would happen if I did this…?” and generally follows that line of logic all the way until I have something published.
So I’m always going to this value or that, deleting “true” and typing “false” or vice versa. Or, I’m using a sine function and want to see what happens if I use cosine. Or tangent. Or I want to swap greater than with less than and see what that does. Or change plus to minus or minus to plus.
After way too many times doing this type of thing, I figured there must be some plugins that would make this easier. And so there are! I use vim, and found several. I tried a few and had almost settled on vim-toggle and then checked out switch.vim, which I found to be the most powerful of the lot.
I recognize that most people probably use VS Code or Sublime Text or other editors. A quick search informed me that there are similar plugins for those editors as well (all links below). I haven’t tried the non-vim ones, so I can’t vouch for their quality, only their existence. There may be better ones, so do your research.
The way these work is you put your cursor on the word or symbol you want to change and hit some keyboard shortcut. For switch.vim, that’s gs. Each time you hit that shortcut the word will toggle back and forth between, say, “true” and “false”. Or “on” and “off” or “1” and “0”.
Most of the plugins come with several obvious definitions pre-defined. But make sure you find one that will also allow you to set up custom toggle sets. Some of the plugins only support binary switching between two options, but some, like switch.vim, will let you specify a list of as many items as you want. It will cycle through all of those options when you hit the shortcut key over any one of them. Here’s just a few of the custom toggle sets I set up:
And there are more niche ones I use in my day to day creative coding using cairographics bindings for Golang (blgo). Sometimes I’ll be making a piece where the background is white and the foreground is black. I use a function, ClearWhite to clear the surface to white, and set the drawing color to black using SetSourceRGB(0, 0, 0). but occasionally I want to invert these to use a black background with white shapes. So I set up some toggles like so:
I’ve come to be somewhat known as a “math guy” in creative coding. It’s one of my impostor syndrome items because I’m really not any kind of expert in the field. I took Algebra and some Precalculus in high school banged my head on a formal Calculus course, but never made it through. Most of what I know has been self-taught and pretty seat-of-the-pants.
Here’s a tutorial on a really neat and powerful math art technique that I first came across years ago in the book, Computers, Pattern, Chaos and Beauty by Clifford Pickover. It’s described in Chapter 14, entitled Dynamical Systems. More recently I’ve seen it described as “Popcorn”. I’m not sure where that name came from, but there’s a good chance it originated with Paul Bourke, who used the term back in 1991 in this article.
The technique is based on some very simple formulas – just using a couple of trig functions (sine and tangent in this example) to transform an x, y point repeatedly. But it creates some amazingly intricate, complex and beautiful images. It’s also open to a nearly infinite amount of hacking by changing the few constants used or swapping out which trig functions you use or how you compose them.
Almost exactly two years ago I bought my last phone, a Pixel 3XL. The phone I had before that was a Samsung Galaxy S8. It was two years old and was in good condition, but I didn’t like it that much. All the extra Samsung garbage was not to my taste. I like stock Android or as close as I can get.
After two full years, I was totally happy with the Pixel. I had no plans on upgrading or changing until I had to. And then… I had to. The first sign was the the volume buttons weren’t working. I have one of those rubber bumper cases. When I took it off, the volume worked fine. But not with the case on. The case seemed fine, and then I took a closer look at the phone beside the volume keys.
Here you can see the back cover has separated from the phone. The whole back plate was swelling out. That’s why the volume wasn’t working. The buttons on the case were no longer aligned with the buttons on the phone.
I had noticed that it was seeming to get pretty hot when I wirelessly charged it but hadn’t thought too much about it. Obviously the battery was on its last legs and getting ready for some kind of catastrophe. I kept an eye on the phone the rest of the day and started looking for a new device.
I was really pretty bummed out about this because I didn’t actually WANT a new phone. And I had to get one quick and didn’t have a chance to do a bunch of research. I was curious about the Oneplus line. Their flagships go for $600 – 900 or even higher. I didn’t want to spend that much when I wasn’t really sure what I wanted. Maybe I wanted a Pixel 6 when it came out. What to do? What to do???
I finally wandered across the Oneplus Nord n10 G5. It was under $300 but decently specced for that price. I watched a few Youtube reviews and while nobody was raving about how great it was, the consensus was that it was a pretty good phone for its price. I crossed my fingers and ordered it with next day delivery.
In the meantime I wondered if I could possibly replace the Pixel’s battery. Quick search revealed a few Youtube videos that made the process seem not too formidable, and a number of under $20 replacement kits. Worth a shot, right?
The repair kit came the same time as the new phone. I set up the Oneplus, got my sim card in it and all my apps. It looked and felt pretty nice. No regrets. Then onto the battery repair.
The toughest part was getting the back off. You need a heat gun (which I have, luckily) and a lot of time and patience. You apply heat to the back of the phone judiciously so as to not damage it. This softens up the glue, then you pry the crap out of back of the phone. The kit had tools and a suction cup. It took a good half hour of heating and prying, heating and prying – and I had a head start since the battery had already started the job – but eventually I got the back off.
Then you have to pry the battery out. It’s also glued in. That was a bit easier, but not… easy.
Finally, the recharging coil is just like a piece of thick paper with the coil inside, glued to the battery. You have to carefully pry that off. If you’ve ever tried to peel a glued-on paper label off of something, you can imagine how that went. I got all of the coil and about half of the paper backing, but I was pretty sure I had wrecked it.
Then you put it all back together. The kit also came with glue strips to put the battery back in with. Stuck the coil back on the new battery, plugged everything in. Cleaned up all the old glue. Crossed my fingers and turned it on. It worked fine. Put it on the charger. It charged right up. Didn’t even get hot. And it held its charge really well.
The last thing I needed was some glue to put the back on again. I ordered that and finished up the next day. But since then it was working fine, holding a charge and charging just fine. Now I had some options:
Keep using the Oneplus and keep the Pixel as a backup.
Go back to the Pixel and return the Oneplus.
Go back to the Pixel and keep the Oneplus as a backup.
I had a good 2-3 days in on the Oneplus, which gave me a good idea of how much I liked it. In general, I did like it. I concur with all the reviews – it’s a great value for it’s price. But there is no doubt that the Pixel is way better. Some details:
Performance. Pixel wins hands down. Opening apps takes probably 1.5-2x longer on the Oneplus. Random scrolling around is obviously way smoother on the Pixel. But this was really only noticeable on a side-by-side comparison. I could have lived with the Oneplus’s performance easily.
The Oneplus screen pales in comparison to the Pixel… LITERALLY! (sorry) Not surprising. The Oneplus is an LCD whereas the Pixel has OLED. Again though, wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me.
Bluetooth performance was not good. I use Galaxy Buds Plus and love them. They have been virtually 100% flawless on the Pixel. On the Oneplus, I had various issues:
Garbled sound. I’ve had that on cheaper BT earbuds, but never on the Galaxy Buds. I was getting it regularly every time I used them on the Oneplus.
Unresponsive controls. The tap to start / stop failed multiple times. Never recall it failing while on the Pixel.
Connection. I think it failed to auto-connect once in the couple of days I used it. I don’t recall it ever having a problem on the Pixel.
Touch responsiveness. Very noticeable on one of the puzzle games I was playing. Tapping on on-screen items would fail close to 50%, requiring multiple taps. Never experienced it on the Pixel and when I retried the same game on the Pixel again, it was night and day.
To be fair, those are the only negative performance points I could come up with on the Oneplus. I would add that Oneplus have started creating their own UI stuff. A customized settings app, a custom launcher, a bunch of preinstalled Oneplus apps. I was under the impression that Oneplus was close to stock, so this was a bit disappointing. Not as bad as Samsung, but not a plus.
But overall, not bad. The Bluetooth and touch screen stuff were the only points that really pushed me over the edge to going back to the Pixel.
I am really happy to be back to the Pixel though and have a renewed appreciation for what a good phone it is. As I said, I didn’t want to switch phones to begin with and I’m happy that I don’t have to.
I’ve decided to keep the Oneplus though as a backup. I don’t know how long my Pixel surgery is going to hold up. So far it’s flawless, but who knows what the next few weeks or months hold. If the Pixel does crap out on me, I’ll have something to switch over to instantly. Maybe I can last long enough to see how the Pixel 6 does and maybe even long enough to see it come down a bit in price from its initial release.
If you’ve been following along #awegif2021 on twitter, you’ve seem me post a few animated gifs that look like the image above (days 1-6 specifically). These are known as Chladni figures, named after Ernst Chladni. He described the formulas that create the patterns that result when you use soundwaves to activate sand or powder on a flat surface. You can find a ton of videos on Youtube that feature real world examples of this. But it’s also fun to do in code.
One of the things that’s plagued me since I’ve been doing creative coding is managing the code I use to create images and animations (or whatever else). Of course, standard source control management comes into it in a big way. I’ve been using git for ages. I remember having arguments with coworkers who refused to see how git was better than SVN (at least they had moved off of CVS). So yeah, you put your code in a repo and you check in your changes, etc.
But most source control workflows are really made for building applications. You decide on a feature, you make a branch, you do the work over a few hours or days or whatever, and you merge your code in. Or the same for a bug.
In creative coding though, the update/render cycle is a few orders of magnitude faster than that.
Change a variable, render.
Change it a bit more, render.
Change another variable, render.
Put the first one back to where it was, render.
Ah! I like that one. Publish the image to twitter, or a website or wherever.
Change some other variables around, render a bunch of times.
Find another one you like, publish that image.
Repeat several times.
Done for the day, check in the code to git.
The problem is, tomorrow or next week or six months from now, you want to recreate that first image you published. What were the exact variable values you used to create it? Who knows? Even if you didn’t change the code, it might be nearly impossible to rediscover the exact parameters to recreate a specific image.
Git branches are too cumbersome for this fast workflow. You can make a new branch when you find some parameters you like, but as soon as you change some other values, that branch no longer represents that first image. There are ways to work around this, but again, it gets cumbersome. But I finally figured out a good solution, along with a custom shortcut that I’m really happy with: Tags.
A git tag is a permanent, unchanging reference to a specific point in time of your code base. Tag your code at a certain point and you can always get back to that exact point. It’s never going to change unless you delete the tag and create a new tag with the same name.
So, when you come up with an image that you want to save and publish, you do the following:
git add . to add all the changed files.
git commit -m <some message> to commit those changes.
git tag <some name> to create the tag to that exact commit.
git push to push it to the main repo (if you have one).
git push --tags to push the tags to the main repo.
All good, but that’s still five steps. Still a bit cumbersome. So I made a bash script that does all this in one shot:
I named this file tagit, made it executable (chmod +x tagit) and put it in my path. If you’re not totally up on shell syntax, $1 stands for the first argument given when the script is called. So now, when I want to save the state of my work, I jump to a shell and type tagit coolpicture or whatever tag name I want to give it.
This adds the files, commits them using coolpicture as a commit message, tags the commit with the same label and pushes to the main repo, and then pushes the tags to the main repo.
Now, six months from now when you want to see the settings you used for that cool picture, you just say git checkout coolpicture and there you are. Obviously, you want to name your tags something a bit more memorable. Some kind of timestamp or sequence is a good idea. I usually name the image or animation file the same as the tag name, so 210801a.png is the image that was created in the tag 210801a. You could even automate this if you wanted, to generate that image/tag name and rename the image when it creates the tag.
One other point that I know someone will ask.
Can’t you just say:
git push --tags
and ignore the
You can if you want. It will push the current code that is in this tag to the main repo. But it will not push the current code in the current branch to that remote branch. So your remote master branch (or whatever branch you are on) will not line up with your local branch. But your tag will still be saved as expected. It’s up to you which behavior you want. Maybe you only want to push the tag, not commit to the branch at that point. Or maybe you want to save to the branch and the tag every time.
Also, you could change:
git push --tags
git push origin $1
This will only push the specific tag you just created. There might be slight advantage to this in terms of speed. I suspect not. But, if you have other local tags hanging around that maybe you don’t want to push, you should go this route.
Anyway, use this script as is, or change it to fit your needs. Hopefully it saves you some time and frustration one day.
Back in the day, I was a big fan of Google Reader. There were lots of blogs and feeds I followed and Google Reader kind of set the standard of what an RSS reader was supposed to work, and what it was supposed to look like
I’m one of those people who will never fully trust Google again – but only because they shut down Reader.
When they did that, I looked at what was available and wound up on Feedly. The other main option was The Old Reader. And for whatever reason, I liked Feedly better.
And I’ve used Feedly pretty much every since. I’ve gotten used to it, but there was a lot I never really liked about it.
One thing that really bugged me about Feedly was it’s in-your-face upgrade call to actions. There’s a bright orange upgrade button front and center. There’s stuff all over the place about using “Leo” which is apparently the AI assistant that helps you … manage your feeds? Discover new content? At any rate, you have to upgrade in order to use it, and every time I’ve looked at it, it held no interest for me.
Also, in spite of years of using it, I can’t say I really ever understood the UI. There’s a “Today” section and an “All” section, as well as layouts and sorting and sharing and read later and boards. And sometimes things open up in this kind of tab container, but there’s only one tab ever… I really only ever wanted to just show my unread and sometimes my read feeds and just ignored all the other stuff. And a lot of the advanced features which are stuck out begging you to click them wind up telling you you need to upgrade anyway. I often did think about upgrading and paying something for the app, but there was nothing in the paid features that I really needed or wanted.
Tiny Tiny RSS
So a couple of months ago, I started looking at alternatives. I wound up self-hosting tt-rss. It’s fully open source and free. There’s a mobile app (like Feedly) and there are no calls to upgrade, which I liked.
The UI however, was not a whole lot better than Feedly in a lot of ways. There are various layouts and sorting and sharing options. But there’s also the concept of “Fresh” articles and “Adaptive” filtering, which I never really figured out. It reminds me of Twitter’s timeline algorithm where they try to figure out what you want to read. That annoys the hell out of me and The fresh and adaptive stuff was starting to do the same.
I was reworking my server last week and rather than setting up tt-rss again, I decided to have another look at what’s out there.
I tried going back to Feedly for about 10 minutes, but quickly remembered all the ways it annoyed me. I checked out a few others. The Old Reader is still out there. I still didn’t like it. Then I ran across Inoreader, which I had never used before.
I imported my OPML and started using it and was totally hooked. I really love this app. The UI is exactly as simple as it should be, but there is enough under the hood to make it look and work just like you want it to.
The free tier really had all I wanted, but I loved it so much that I upgraded to the supporter plan for a dollar-something a month. This gives you more available feeds (I wasn’t even close to the limit on the free tier), custom CSS capabilities, and the ability to add a newsletter subscription. For $5-something a month, there are a bunch of other filtering, searching, collaboration, etc. features that I don’t really need. The mobile app is also really good and just as usable.
I know it’s just an RSS reader, but I just feel like they nailed the UX so well, that it really is a joy to use each time I open it up. Nothing there confuses me. It’s exactly what I want it to be and works exactly like I expect it to. Any up-sell is subtle and I haven’t run across any sneaky elements that are just features you don’t have, hoping you’ll click on them so they can try to get you to upgrade.