augmented (reality) book cover

If you ever want to quickly explain what augmented reality could be to a person not knowing yet, you might want to use this (and other) use cases for a visual explanation:

I achieved this by separating the artwork and text into many individual layers, that I placed in receding layers of 3D depth, in a 3D program on the computer. And made sure everything outside the borders of the book is excluded, to give it the ‘portal’ effect.

Augmented Reality Book Cover by Alexander Wand

PixelFed – Federated Image Sharing

In search of alternatives to the traditional centralized hosted social networks a lot of smart people have started to put time and thought into what is called “the-federation”.

The Federation refers to a global social network composed of nodes that talk to each other. Each of them is an installation of software which supports one of the federated social web protocols.

What is The Federation?

You may already have heard about projects like Mastodon, Diaspora*, Matrix (Synapse) and others.

The PixelFed project seems to gain some traction as apparently the first documentation and sources are made available.

PixelFed is a federated social image sharing platform, similar to instagram. Federation is done using the ActivityPub protocol, which is used by Mastodon, PeerTube, Pleroma, and more. Through ActivityPub PixelFed can share and interact with these platforms, as well as other instances of PixelFed.

the-federation

I am posting this here as to my personal logbook.

Given that there’s already a Dockerfile I will give it a try as soon as possible.

retrofuturism sketches

On twitter and artstation I’ve came across Sheng Lam. An artist with a quite fascinating way of sketching. Take a look and be inspired:

Concept artist with AAA experience. Currently working on Star Citizen at Cloud Imperium Games. Mostly draws and likes to eat delicious food.

Sheng Lam on ArtStation

I don’t like the long-tail Windows 10 default cursor

The first device in my household recently has updated itself to the newest Windows 10 1903 build.

On the very first moment of the login screen appearing and logging in I could tell that I hate one specific change that has made it into this latest update.

And it’s the default mouse cursor.

Back in the Pre-Windows Vista days, when I used to work for Microsoft, I was using the latest internal build of Windows and just around the first RTM (release-to-manufacture) build they touched up on the final designs.

I remember vividly when the mouse cursor had changed from the one we new and used since Windows 3 to a shorter tailed more “high-def” looking one.

Since then there were a couple of changes on the cursor but the general design was kept.

Now apparently with the latest Windows 10 update from 1803 to 1903 I got a new – old default mouse cursor.

left: like!
right: booh!

By reflex I changed it back to the one I love and stored safely in a backup. I cannot stand the long tail and the weird pixel-ness of the cursor. It just looks kinda weird to my eyes.

the “new” cursor in 1903
the beloved cursor.

Which one do you like better?

a red triangle on the window

When you walk around in Tokyo you will find that many buildings have red-triangle markings on some of the windows / panels on the outside.

some of the windows have red triangles pointing down
do you see the triangles pointing down on the upper right wall?

I noticed them as well but I could not think of an explanation. Digging for information brought up this:

Panels to fire access openings shall be indicated with either a red or orange triangle of equal sides (minimum 150mm on each side), which can be upright or inverted, on the external side of the wall and with the wordings “Firefighting Access – Do Not Obstruct” of at least 25mm height on the internal side.

Singapore Firefighting Guide 2018

The red triangles on the buildings/hotel windows in Japan are the rescue paths to be used in case of fire. All fire fighters know the meaning of this red triangle on the windows. Red in color makes it prominent, to be located easily by the fire fighters in case of a fire incident. During a fire incident, windows are generally broken to allow for smoke and other gases to come out of the building.

Triangles in Japan

グランツリー武蔵小杉 and Park City Forest Towers on canvas

I’ve blogged about those pictures taken day- and night-time before. I’ve also blogged about how they where produced.

With a picture spot freed at one of the walls in our house we decided to print the day and night pictures on canvas and have them side-by-side. And it looks great, I think.

I might want to take the night picture again with the slightly different perspective
close up on the canvas structure

Bitmap & tilemap generation with the help of ideas from quantum mechanics

You can get a grasp at the beautiful side of science with visualizations and algorithms that output visual results.

This is the example of producing lots and lots of complex data (houses!) from a small set of input data. It is widely used in game development but also can be helpful to generate parameterized test and simulation environments for machine learning.

So before sending you over to the more detailed explanation the visual example:

This is a lot of different house images. Those are generated using a program called WaveFunctionCollapse:

WFC initializes output bitmap in a completely unobserved state, where each pixel value is in superposition of colors of the input bitmap (so if the input was black & white then the unobserved states are shown in different shades of grey). The coefficients in these superpositions are real numbers, not complex numbers, so it doesn’t do the actual quantum mechanics, but it was inspired by QM. Then the program goes into the observation-propagation cycle:

On each observation step an NxN region is chosen among the unobserved which has the lowest Shannon entropy. This region’s state then collapses into a definite state according to its coefficients and the distribution of NxN patterns in the input.

On each propagation step new information gained from the collapse on the previous step propagates through the output.

On each step the overall entropy decreases and in the end we have a completely observed state, the wave function has collapsed.

It may happen that during propagation all the coefficients for a certain pixel become zero. That means that the algorithm has run into a contradiction and can not continue. The problem of determining whether a certain bitmap allows other nontrivial bitmaps satisfying condition (C1) is NP-hard, so it’s impossible to create a fast solution that always finishes. In practice, however, the algorithm runs into contradictions surprisingly rarely.

Wave Function Collapse algorithm has been implemented in C++PythonKotlinRustJuliaGoHaxeJavaScript and adapted to Unity. You can download official executables from itch.io or run it in the browser. WFC generates levels in Bad NorthCaves of Qudseveral smaller games and many prototypes. It led to new research. For more related workexplanationsinteractive demosguidestutorials and examples see the ports, forks and spinoffs section.

Tilt your head, be more aggressive

“We show that tilting one’s head downward systematically changes the way the face is perceived, such that a neutral face—a face with no muscle movement or facial expression—appears to be more dominant when the head is tilted down,” explain researchers Zachary Witkower and Jessica Tracy of the University of British Columbia. 

A Facial-Action Imposter

N8.5 – Tokyu White

It always seems to me so much easier to meet a Hackers in Japan than anywhere else. Maybe social-gravity works different there. Or there are more of them.

Whatever the reason, I keep crossing paths with people that more or less deep-dive into topics and understand systems in ways and in details that you would normally not expect.

And todays example is a detail you would normally not think about:

The footbridge that was newly built in Shibuya was painted in N8.5. This is commonly known as “Tokyu White”…

はらしょ‏ on Twitter

“Tokyu White”, N8.5, … of course…if you would need a bucket of this you can order it online.

look at the earth

Watch sunlight and weather patterns move across Earth throughout the day, and bask in the glory of our blue marble in real time.

Every 20 minutes (or every hour, you pick), Downlink updates your desktop background with the newest images of Earth.

Choose from 8 different views of Earth, including stunning full disk images from 3 different geostationary satellites.

Downlink is a macOS application which downloads the most current image taken by earth orbitting satellites. So what you see is as accurately depicting reality as technically possible right now.

Interestingly all this data comes from public domain sources. And the makers of the app have documented their sources:

Thanks to NASA, NOAA, JMA, Lockheed Martin, Harris Corporation, ULA, MHI, and everyone else who designed, built, launched, and operate GOES-16, GOES-17, and Himawari-8.
If you’d like to use the sources Downlink is built on top of, here is the file pointing to those resources. Use it, and tell me what you’ve built!

I am using macOS as well as Linux as my main desktop operating systems. My macs are set with Downlink. But what about my Linux machines?

Easy! The file referring to the sources looks like this:

With some simple steps on Linux we can grab the URL we want, download the image and update the desktop background.

Step 1: Getting the URL from this JSON.

Install jq, curl and xargs and in your shell run this:

curl -s http://downlinkapp.com/sources.json | jq -r '.sources[2].url.full' 

This will give you the URL “full” of the 2nd source in the list (Hiwamari-8).

Step 2: Download the image.

curl -s http://downlinkapp.com/sources.json | jq -r '.sources[2].url.full' | xargs -I{} curl -s -o background.jpg {}

By simply adding the xargs and curl call it will take the URL output from the command in front as input to the second curl call and download it. It also will store the file as “background.jpg”.

Step 3: Setting as background image.

Setting the background image of your desktop depends on what desktop software you are using on Linux. Depending on that you will need to look up in the manual how to set the background image from the command line.

But for most use cases there’s a tool that helps. It’s called Variety.

Variety is an open-source wallpaper changer for Linux
Variety is packed with great features, yet slim and easy to use. It can use local images or automatically download wallpapers from Unsplash and other online sources, allows you to rotate them on a regular interval, and provides easy ways to separate the great images from the junk. Variety can also display wise and funny quotations or a nice digital clock on the desktop.

procedural generated traditional Chinese landscape scrolls

{Shan, Shui}* is inspired by traditional Chinese landscape scrolls (such as this and this) and uses noises and mathematical functions to model the mountains and trees from scratch. It is written entirely in javascript and outputs Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) format.

https://github.com/LingDong-/shan-shui-inf

This is quite impressive and I am thinking about pushing that into the header of this blog :-) It’s just too nice looking to pass on.

let AI convert videos to comic strips for you

Artificial Intelligence is used more and more to achieve tasks only humans could do before. Especially in the areas that need a certain technique to be mastered AI goes above and beyond what humans would be able to do.

In this case a team has implemented something that takes video inputs and generates a comic strip from this input. Imagine it to look like this:

Input
Output

In this paper, we propose a solution to transform a video into a comics. We approach this task using a
neural style algorithm based on Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs).

Paper
click to read the paper

They even made a nice website you can try it yourself with any YouTube Video you want:

Panoramic Images free (-hand)

I really like taking panoramic images whenever I can. They convey a much better impression of the situation I’ve experienced then a single image. At least for me. And because of the way they are made – stitched together from multiple images – they are most of the time very big. A lot of pixels to zoom into.

The process to take such a panoramic image is very straight forward:

  1. Take overlapping pictures of the scenery in multiple layers if possible. If necessary freehand.
  2. Make sure the pictures overlap enough but there’s not a lof of questionable movement in them (like a the same person appearing in multiple pictures…)
  3. Copy them to a PC.
  4. Run the free Microsoft Image Composite Editor.
  5. Pre-/Post process for color.

The tools used are all free. So my recommendation is the Microsoft Image Composite Editor. Which in itself was a Microsoft Research project.

Image Composite Editor (ICE) is an advanced panoramic image stitcher created by the Microsoft Research Computational Photography Group. Given a set of overlapping photographs of a scene shot from a single camera location, the app creates high-resolution panoramas that seamlessly combine original images. ICE can also create panoramas from a panning video, including stop-motion action overlaid on the background. Finished panoramas can be saved in a wide variety of image formats,

Image Composite Editor

Here’s how the stitching process of the Musashi-kosugi Park City towers night image looked like:

select images
choose projection method
crop the projection – maybe use “autocomplete”
export the final panoramic image
zoom in :-)

Purple Tentacle

There are some things that influenced us over time. I’ve never played a lot of computer games. But I’ve played adventure games. Most notably those of LucasArts.

The “Day of the Tentacle” – being the sequel to “Maniac Mansion” – was one adventure game that I have a lot of great memories of. I have played it through a lot of times since it’s release.

At the beginning of the game the main villain (the purple tentacle) of the game is making a statement:

Bernard: Ok, you’re free to go.
Green Tentacle: Thanks Bernard!
Purple Tentacle: Yes, thank you, naive human! Now I can finish taking over the world! Ha ha ha!
Green Tentacle: Wait!
Bernard: Oh, yeah. Now I remember. He’s incredibly evil, isn’t he?
Green Tentacle: Uh… I’ll try to talk him out of it.

LucasArts (June 1993). Day of the TentacleDOS.

And because of his aspiration to take over the world the picture of the scene this is being said ended up as my phones unlock screen background (and if lots of other places) ever since.

With the help of the internet, you can have it on yours as well. And since screen resolutions improve over time, have it in timeless vectors:

vectorialized by Chalda Pnuzig

The vectorized purple tentacle above has been kindly provided by: Chalda Pnuzig

all macOS wallpapers in 5k

Every major version of Mac OS X macOS has come with a new default wallpaper. As you can see, I have collected them all here.
While great in their day, the early wallpapers are now quite small in the world of 5K displays.
Major props to the world-class designer who does all the art of Relay FM, the mysterious @forgottentowel, for upscaling some of these for modern screens.

https://512pixels.net/projects/default-mac-wallpapers-in-5k/

“kachung” + shutter sound

When you take a picture with an iPhone these days it does generate haptic feedback – a “kachung” you can feel. And a shutter sound.

Thankfully the shutter sound can be disabled in many countries. I know it can’t be disabled on iPhones sold in Japan. Which kept me from buying mine in Tokyo. Even when you switch the regions to Europe / Germany it’ll still produce the shutter sound.

Anyway: With my iPhone, which was purchased in Germany, I can disable the shutter sound. But it won’t disable the haptic “kachung”.

look ma! no mirror! (yes this is an iPhone 6)

It’s interesting that Apple added this vibration to the activity of taking a picture. Other camera manufactures go out of their way to decouple as much vibration as possible even to the extend that they will open the shutter and mirror in their DSLRs before actually making the picture – just so that the vibration of the mirror movement and shutter isn’t inducing vibrations to the act of taking the picture.

With mirror less cameras that vibration is gone. But now introduced back again?

Am I the only one finding this strange?

sakura season forecast

I am visiting Japan for almost 7 years now but I’ve never actually been there when the famous cherry blossom – or sakura – was in full force.

As every year there’s a forecast map for this years season and it gets updated frequently:

picture not showing japanese cherry blossoms

Instagram – until now

I’ve had already added a couple of pictures to my instagram account – mainly while abroad. Pictures that I consider nice enough to be shared.

Of course my latest switch away from those public silos will include having those pictures posted mainly on this website and maybe as a side-note on those services as well.

To begin with I will have a separate page created that will host those pictures I consider nice enough to be shared.

[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”5″ display=”basic_thumbnail”]