PostScript is the precursor to PDF, and at the time it was revolutionary. Coming out of Xerox’s PARC, the idea was to create device- and resolution-independent documents where all the characters, symbols, and graphics are described by their shapes instead of bitmaps. PostScript’s secret sauce was in how it went back to a pixel-based representation for end use on monitors or printers. It’s no exaggeration to say that this ended up revolutionizing the print industry, and it makes sense in the CHM’s collection.
Still, on the trade-secret front, you shouldn’t get too excited. Apparently the code released here only includes a first-draft version of Adobe’s font hinting algos, as evidenced by the early version number. Nonetheless, you’re free to dig into pretty readable C. For instance, vm.c contains the virtual machine that implements PostScript’s almost Forth-like language.
Of course, if you’d just like to mess around with PostScript, downloading a modern open-source interpreter like GhostScript probably makes a lot more sense. Even so, it’s fun to see the original codebase where it all started.
We recently covered the removal of Pantone colour support from the Adobe cloud products, with the two companies now expecting artists and designers to pay an extra subscription for a Pantone plugin or face losing their Pantone-coloured work to a sea of black blocks. Our coverage focused on our community, and on how the absurdity of a commercial entity attempting to assert ownership over colours would have no effect on us with our triple-byte RGB values.
Interview With An Artist And Pigment Activist
It’s fair to say though that in our focus on hardware hackers and open source enthusiasts, we missed its effect on artists and designers. To rectify this omission we needed to step outside our field and talk to an artist, and in that context there’s an obvious person to interview.
Stuart Semple is probably one of the more famous contemporary British artists, but in relation to this story it’s his activism over the issue of colours and intellectual property that makes him an authority. He’s drawn attention to the issue by releasing his own art materials in colours that directly challenge those which companies have tried to claim for themselves, and is perhaps best known in our community for challenging Anish Kapoor’s exclusive licence for VantaBlack, the so-called “world’s blackest pigment”.
Most recently in response to the Adobe/Pantone controversy he’s released Freetone, a free plugin for the Adobe suite that in the words from its web page contains “1280 Liberated colours are extremely Pantoneish and reminiscent of those found in the most iconic colour book of all time. In fact it’s been argued that they are indistinguishable from those behind the Adobe paywall”. I had a phone conversation with him, in which he explained why Freetone had come into being.
Hackaday I understand Pantone is something used by designers, so I’ve worked for companies in the past where the designer would specify a Pantone index and it would appear on the screen, on the printed box, and on everything else identically. But why why do you as an artist use Pantone?
Stuart Well, I use it in lots of ways. So I make a lot of screen prints as part of my art. So you know, if I’m working with a screen printer, I want to know that the print that they make of my work is the colour that I want it to be, so Pantone’s really useful for me for that.
But also, even with within the paints, so I just did a thing where I made some paints, which actually uses the blood of gay men. It was really important to me that the colour of the paint matched the colour of actual blood. So I was working with a lot of people, we’ve been collaborating, and I was working with some friends in New York on it, and we needed a common language.
The red I was talking about was the red they were talking about, and Pantone is super useful for that. In fact, it’s the go-to for that. I just did a record cover for Placebo, the band, that was produced for me by someone that prints, so I had to tell them what spot colours I wanted. So I had to tell them Pantone references, it’s the language they understand.
Hackaday So my next question relates to Freetone. Obviously, as as you’ve distributed it, it’s a Adobe plugin. How does it solve the problem? Because obviously, I can specify a Freetone colour, and anybody else with Freetone can tell yes, that’s that colour. But how do I then go to a printer who buys his inks with Pantone specifications and map one to the other?
Stuart How it works is, if you download Freetone, you’ll find colours in there, and one of them will be called Sempletone 648C. Well, it’s exactly the same as Pantone 648C. If you do your work on the screen, use the Freetones, and then when you send it to the printer, it’s actually blatantly obvious to anyone that 648C is clearly apparent. If you’ve got the Pantone fan book and you look at the colours, it’s the same. 846C in mine is the same as 846C in the fan, in the Pantone book. I’d like to see them try and argue that they own it, but I don’t think they do in the name or the Pantone trademark, but these are Sempletones with a number. So I think it’s gonna be hard.
Hackaday My next question is probably getting more into the technology of it all. Do you think it will be possible to replace Pantone’s service completely? So if you took every Sempletone colour and threw it at a spectrometer and published the spectrum, would you then be able to say to an ink manufacturer or similar, here are the full technical details rather than just a colour, and does your paint correspond to this spectrum? I’m curious how far you could push open source in this line.
Stuart That’s really cool. I love it. Like, if you could just give them that spectral data, and if they’ve got a spectrometer they could measure it a their end. But there’s nothing that advanced at the moment, a lot of action is done by eye still. My answer is, I don’t see why not if there was a cool enough device. I don’t know if the spectrometer would be good enough to match it. I don’t see why not, I don’t see why you couldn’t publish the data. But it would have to be the whole spectral information and not just like an RGB value.
(At this point the interview digressed for a moment into a discussion of open-source spectrometers such as the Raspberry Pi project we featured recently, as Stuart’s lament was that a spectrometer can be an extremely expensive instrument. It isn’t the job of an interviewer to lead their interviewee so we’re skipping this part of the transcript, however I think we can all look forward to whatever uses Stuart makes of an affordable spectrometer. We’ll pick up the interview at the next question.)
Hackaday One of the real problems with the whole Adobe suite, and this has happened in world as well with for instance the Autodesk CAD packages, is that they have gone into the cloud and become software as a subscription. So I understand completely, the frustration of artists at suddenly being told they have to pay an extra subscription to keep their Pantone support, and I’m particularly shocked to find that Photoshop isn’t just displaying black pixels over Pantone colours, I’m told it’s wiping out the Pantone information on saving. Do you think that anything in the open source software ecosystem comes close to replacing proprietary products like the Adobe suite for you as an artist?
Stuart Yes, 100%, there’s loads of stuff. I think open source is just the answer, I believe in freedom. And freedom means freedom to express yourself and freedom to own the thing and tweet the thing and change the thing and all the rest of it. So yeah, 100%. I think there’s actually better things than Photoshop, the problem we’ve got is that Adobe have the industry stranglehold. And if you want to work with someone, you have to be talking that language. And that’s still the problem. It’s like an operating system, but it’s got the monopoly.
So there are other things, for instance, on a Mac, there’s something called Pixelmator, which is as good as Photoshop in my opinion, I use it every day. It’s not free, but you buy it once, and that’s it, free updates. Like software used to be. And there are other things, like GIMP is amazing. It’s awesome, but it doesn’t really replace Photoshop.
Hackaday Here at Hackaday we can make noises about how wouldn’t it be great if the developers of GIMP or other software could stick Freetone into their products, because they don’t have Pantone as it’s licensed?
Stuart Yeah, that’d be a dream, wouldn’t it? I mean, why not? I made it for everybody. As far as I’m concerned, it’s out there, use it, change it. incorporate it, the more people the better, I think.
A lot of people use GIMP, and it’s good. Really good open source stuff that always has been. We know the future is in the open source stuff, proprietary stuff just won’t last, it’s just not adaptable. It’s putting greed and profits above the user, it can’t work. There’s no freedom in it.
Hackaday To me the most egregious thing is that as I understand it they will delete the Pantone information from your PSD. This really shocked me.
Stuart They’re literally holding it hostage. It’s like 20 quid, or delete from your work, which is, wow. They’re not giving me anything, anyway. I’m renting the software, paying to use the software every month, it’s not free. And the licence fee is a lot. We’re already spending hundreds and hundreds a year on this software, probably about 800 quid a year. Another 20 quid, just to pen the work we make before. I mean, it’s our work! It’s pure corporate greed, isn’t it.
Hackaday Thank you very much for the interview.
As we wrapped up, I asked him about his Black 3.0 pigment, produced as a reaction to VantaBlack and Anish Kapoor. I was curious whether it might have a specially good infra-red response for headsinks or solar collectors, but sadly he informed me that it’s primarily a visual colour for artists. It’s very cool stuff, incredibly black, and I really want to get some to play with, but probably no better than a rattle can for heat purposes. Never mind, an engineer’s curiosity satisfied.
What’s Next, For Both Artists And Engineers?
Following the interview, it’s worth looking at the Freetone project from our side of the table as well as his. If we as a community would like to ensure that colours do not become ever more proprietary, then it is probably on us to ensure that where appropriate it is supported within our sphere. GIMP support for instance would at a stroke make open source software an easier choice for millions of artists and designers, and could I think be done relatively easily through its existing palette support. There’s SwatchBooker which appears to perform the necessary interchange, and I found the ASE2GIMP project which imports Adobe palettes into GIMP, but sadly I couldn’t make it work here. If GIMP shipped with a Freetone palette built-in, would that be too much of a development task to contemplate?
From Stuart’s side, having sat down and played with Freetone, if there’s one thing I could ask him it would be to release it as more than just an Adobe plugin, and to give it an open source licence. As it stands it’s a binary available for no charge through his web shop, I think that releasing it as a straightforward list, perhaps even as simple as a CSV file, would make it so much more accessible to developers. And coupled with an open source licence that allowed them to include it within their software, I think it would be unstopable. We’re not open source licence nerds here at Hackaday, but I’m guessing something that does the same for a palette as a library licence such as the LGPL does for libraries would be appropriate.
In our world we’re wrapped up in electronics and code, and it’s sometimes easy to forget that the work we do reaches way beyond our workbenches. If you’ve spent enough time in a hackerspace you’ll know that art and engineering are almost the two sides of the same coin, so it’s pleasing to find such a moment of crossover. Let’s hope Freetone support can find its way into the open source movement, and together we can keep the tentacles of yet another IP land grab at bay.
Trouble for Nintendo in the EU? It looks that way, as consumer groups have made the case to EU regulators that Nintendo’s wildly popular Switch consoles are showing unacceptably premature obsolescence with the notorious “Joy-Con drift” issue. The problem, which manifests as players being unable to control a game due to constant movement despite no inputs on the joystick-like controller, requires a repair, one that Nintendo initially only did for free as warranty service for consoles less than a year old. For consoles out of the warranty period, Nintendo was charging €45, which is approximately the same as what a new controller would cost. This didn’t sit well with regulators, and now they’re breathing down Nintendo’s neck. They now offer free repairs for up to two years, but they’re still under the EU microscope. The interesting bit in the linked document is the technical reason for the problem, which is attributed to premature PCB wear — possibly meaning the traces wear away — and inadequate sealing of the Joy-Con mechanism against dust intrusion.
Last year looked as though it was going to be an exciting one with respect to some of our nearest solar and galactic neighbors. For a while there, it looked like the red giant Betelgeuse was going to go supernova, which would have been interesting to watch. And closer to home, there were some signs of life, in the form of phosphine gas, detected in the roiling atmosphere of our sister planet, Venus. Alas, both stories appear not to have panned out. The much-hoped-for (by me) Betelgeuse explosion, which was potentially heralded by a strange off-cycle dimming of the variable star, seems now to be due to its upper atmosphere cooling by several hundred degrees. As for Venus, the phosphine gas that was detected appears actually to have been a false positive triggered by sulfur dioxide. Disappointing results perhaps, but that’s how science is supposed to work.
Amateur radio often gets a bad rap, derided as a hobby for rich old dudes who just like to talk about their medical problems. Some of that is deserved, no doubt, but there’s still a lot of room in the hobby for those interested in advancing the state of the art in radio communications. In this vein, we were pleased to learn about HamSCI, which is short for Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation. The group takes to heart one of the stated primary missions of amateur radio as the “ontinuation and extension of the amateur’s proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.” To that end, they’ll be holding HamSCI Workshop 2021, a virtual conference that will be focused on midlatitude ionospheric science. This appears to be a real science conference where both credentialed scientists and amateurs can share ideas. They’ve got a Call for Proposals now, with abstracts due by February 15. The conference itself will be on March 19 and 20, with free admission. The list of invited speakers looks pretty impressive, so if you have any interest in the field, check it out.
Homes in different parts of the world used to look different from each other out of necessity, built to optimize for the challenges and benefits of local climate. When residential climate control systems became commonplace that changed. Where a home in tropical south Florida once required very different building methods (and materials) compared to a home in the cold mountains of New England, essentially identical construction methods are now used for single-family homes in any climate. The result is inefficient and virtually indistinguishable housing from coast to coast, regardless of climate. As regions throughout the world are facing increasingly dire housing shortages, the race is on to find solutions that are economical and available to us right now.
The mission of CalEarth, one of the non-profits that Hackaday has teamed up with for this year’s Hackaday Prize, is to address that housing shortage by building energy-efficient homes out of materials already available in the areas that they will be built. CalEarth specializes in building adobe, or earth, homes that have a large thermal mass and an inexpensive bill of materials. Not only does this save on heating and cooling costs, but transportation costs for materials can be reduced as well. Some downside to this method of construction are increased labor costs and the necessity of geometric precision of the construction method, both of which are tackled in this two-month design challenge.
Flash is all but gone already, but as we approach the official Adobe end-of-life date on December 31st, it’s picking up traction one last time as people reminisce about the days of Internet past. Back in July, [Jonas Richner] created an impressive website that catalogs not only almost 20 years of Flash games, but also testimonials for the software from dozens of developers who began their careers with it.
Flash started in 1996 with the intention of being a standard for animations and vector graphics on the early Web. With the release of Flash Player 5 in August of 2000, Macromedia (later acquired by Adobe) presented the first version of ActionScript, an object-oriented scripting language meant to bring interactivity to animated Flash movies. Since then, thousands of games made with the platform were released online through websites like Newgrounds and shared all over the world, with the most popular games easily reaching tens of millions of plays.
These games became popular in part thanks to how quickly they could be created with the Flash authoring tools, but also because it was so easy for players to run them. With a single plugin for your web browser of choice, the barrier of entry was extremely low. Most home computers from the mid-2000s were able to run Flash software without needing dedicated graphics hardware. This prompted a “creative chaos” as [Richner] puts it, spawning millions of games and animations which started genres and careers lasting to this day.
Unfortunately, browsers have been dropping support for the plugin due to vulnerabilities in the most recent iterations of its scripting engine and Google no longer indexes Flash files. It would seem this particularly creative era of the Internet is coming to an end. However, you can still relive old games and animations made with plugins such as Flash and Shockwave with [BlueMaxima]’s Flashpoint, and like [Richner], we also hope that the people building today’s platforms and technologies keep the lessons from Flash in mind.
New grounds were paved and anyone who wanted to become an animator or a web designer could manage it in a few tutorials. Only a few years before Flash took off, people had started talking about computers as a source for art in mostly theoretical terms. There were demoscenes, university studies, and professional communities, of course, but were they truly public? Suddenly Flash made computer art an everyday thing. How could computers not be used for art? In schools and offices all over the world people of varying technical skill would get links to games, animation, and clever sites sent by their friends and colleagues.
For 23 years Flash has had this incredible creative legacy. Yet it’s not perfect by any means. It’s a constant headache for our friendly neighborhood super-conglomerates. Apple hates how it drains the battery on their mobile devices, and that it’s a little village outside of their walled garden. Microsoft sees it as another endless security violation. They all saw it as a competitor product eating their proprietary code bases. Continue reading “Blend Your Last Frogs. Google Turns A Blind Eye To Flash.”→
[Fran Blanche] is on the team of elite hackers that has been offered a chance to contribute to [Adam Savage]’s Project Egress, a celebration of the engineering that got humanity to the Moon 50 years ago this month. By the luck of the draw, she landed a great assignment: building a replica of one of the fifteen latches that kept the Apollo Command Module hatch dogged down against the vacuum of space, and she’s doing a great job documenting her build with some interesting videos.
The first video below is mostly her talking through her design process, materials choices, and ideas about fabricating the somewhat intricate pieces of the latch. All 44 makers involved in the project get to choose what materials and methods they’ll use to make their parts, and [Fran] decided to use wood. Her first inclination was to use oak and brass, a nice combination with an 80s vibe, but in the second video, which covers more of the initial fabrication, she explains her switch to walnut. Unfortunately, the only CNC option she has is a Shaper Origin, which presents some difficulties; the handheld tool requires some complicated fixturing to safely machine the small parts needed, and its inability to read STL files means that [Fran] is stuck with a complicated software toolchain to drive the tool.
There are more videos to come as [Fran] gets further into the build, and we’re looking forward to seeing how her part and the rest of the makers’ builds come out.