Older blog entries for bernhard (starting at number 12)

Downloaded the beta of Deneba's Canvas and played around with it a bit. Like Corel's ports of their windows applications, Canvas uses WINE, but the executable itself is a native Linux ELF executable, WINE is only used as a library.

First impression: It's awfully bloated and slow and uses 100% CPU constantly. It's certainly slower than Sketch, at least it feels like that. Well, it's a beta version, so maybe the final version will be better in this regard. On the plus side, it didn't crash so far...

Second impression: The user interface is a bit of a mixture between that of Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw. It has tons of features of which I've only tried a few so far, but it seems to be strangely lacking in some areas. It has import filters for a variety of raster image file formats but absolutely no vector import filters (apart from its own file format).

After Mediascape's Artstream, this is the second commercial vector drawing program that's available (at least in beta) for Linux and Corel Draw will follow in the summer. Makes me wonder when Illustrator will follow.

What does this mean for open source drawing programs like sodipodi, KIllustrator, GYVE or Sketch? I have no idea, but it depends on what the users will do. Will they even look at open source alternatives or will they just use what they already know from Windows or Mac? Here, "users" mainly refers to Linux newbies who come to Linux because its an alternative to Windows, e.g. because it's more stable and cheaper but not because they prefer open source software on principle. Can these users be convinced that open source is better even for end user applications, not just for the infrastructure (e.g. OS, servers and the like).

Not that the above mentioned programs don't have users or aren't successful (Hmm, I haven't heard much about Gyve lately), but I do wonder how the availability of commercial applications, especially those that can be downloaded for free, will affect the open source end user programs.

Of course, much of the above applies to all end user software. In the particular case of graphics applications, there are some prejudices to overcome and technical problems to solve before the open source solutions are even acceptable for professional artists.

Many professional artists seem to think that only Illustrator and Photoshop and perhaps Freehand are tools for real computer artists. Corel's programs, for instance, are only toys. Is there a chance that they might be persuaded to use open source tools?

At the moment, no open source graphics program really fits their needs, not even GIMP. The most important missing feature usually being support for pre-press stuff like separations/CMYK/process colors. Supporting commercial color models like Pantone may even turn out to be impossible or at least difficult in GPL programs, but I haven't even looked into that yet.

Enough of this rambling. There is more that I could write about this and I have the feeling that there's an article in here, if I only could frame my thoughts more coherently. Well, if I find the time, I might try my hand at an article.

Diaries

Everybody seems to be commenting about the advogato diaries, so now might be a good time to share my thoughts about them.

What makes the diaries here on advogato so interesting is that so many people keep their diaries in one place. Before advogato, there were already some hacker diaries, the best known ones are probably Alan's and Miguel's, but they were kept separately. Here, people read each other's entries and comment on them in their own entries.

Suggestions

I think it would be nice if it were possible to directly refer to one specific diary entry of another person, so that it I wanted to point out that Ankh's diary entry was really ugly, I could refer to that so that it's clear which one I'm referring to (At the moment it's very clear which the ugly one is, I think).

This one would be relatively simple to implement, I guess. If the entries are numbered, you could just use a url like "/person/name/diary/123".

Furthermore, it would be cool if such references were also visible the other way round. That is, if I were to put a comment about one of raph's entries into one of mine, there would be a link under raphs entry pointing back to mine. This would be a good way to find out what other people think about an entry, and whether anybody comments on your own one.

For a start, it would perhaps be enough to scan diary entries for links to other entries when an entry is added or modified and use that information to generate the links under the referenced entries.

Perhaps I should also have a look at mod_virgule...

There's a discussion going on on comp.lang.postscript under the subject "Will Adobe ever complete PostScript" about translucency/alpha channels in PostScript and why Adobe hadn't put it into language level 3 and why it's difficult or not so difficult to implement.

There's certainly demand for this, but unfortunately it does seem as if any good implementation of this will require lots of memory, either to hold the entire page in at least 24 bit color in printer resolution in memory or to hold an arbitrarily large display list. Then there's the question in which color space the color blending should take place.

So far the people who maintain that it isn't difficult haven't provided any good argument AFAICT. Even if only gray-scale output is required you probably still need a full color image in memory.

Sketch News:

I've put the first draft of an FAQ list on the web-page.

Over the last several days, I've received several interesting drawings from a Polish user of Sketch. I think I'll add some of them to the Gallery if he doesn't object. So far he's been insisting that I can do with them whatever I want...

Much ado about a "sex link" on the home page of the Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend (brief translation: Ministry for Family and Women) today here in Germany.

Said web-page features a "link of the month" and this month it pointed to a webcatalog for women that among other things indirectly contained links to sex sites.

The issue was raised by the Bild-Zeitung (the leading German tabloid), and the major opposition party, CDU. Needless to say, you can also indirectly reach a sex site from the CDU home page...

Sketch 0.6.6 should be available in a few days. The main thing that's missing is the Spanish translation and I've received the first update for that. The rest will be done soon, I hope.

I think I'm also going to include most of the scripts that were posted to the Sketch list yesterday. One of the scripts creates a rough approximation of an Archimedean Spiral. I'm not sure whether that's the correct English term, but mathematically, it's the set of all points whose polar coordinates satisfy r = k * phi where k is a constant.

I'm not sure whether it was meant to be an approximation of that particular kind of spiral, but as I wanted to work out how do that approximation for quite some time, I finally put pencil to paper and did it. Today, I posted a better approximation to the list. Even though there is one part that may not be exactly correct, the difference between a spiral approximated with my version and a polygon approximation is negligible.

The part I'm not sure of yet is a "magic" factor that I just took from the circle approximation. It should be correct in the limit phi->infinity because then a quarter revolution of the spiral is just a quarter circle. It seems to work for small phi as well.

Not much Sketch hacking today, but I read an interesting Article in the new issue of c't (no link to the article this time, as it's not online), which I suspect might be an April Fool's Joke. If it is, it's a pretty good one.

A c't reader discovered some strange artefacts in an American DVD called "The March Is Over"[1]. The c't team investigated this and couldn't find anything at first, but eventually saw some flickering out the corner of the eye. Stepping frame by frame didn't produce any results but after they'd filmed the screen with a video camera they found the slogan "Don't drink and drive" on one image and they found two other such subliminal messages in two other scenes.

They surmise that the slogans are "subpictures" which are usually used for subtitles. Subpictures are normally not shown when single stepping.

Interestingly enough, these messages weren't present in a copy they created with DeCSS, although they should have been, so the question remains, just how they are embedded in the DVD data. Even though subliminal messages don't work, if this is a true story, things like this would be another good reason to be able to use DeCSS or similar tools legally.

The article goes on with some conspiracy theory that behind this is a scheme for mass manipulation and that this might be just another reason for DVD-Consortiums use of region codes.

[1] I had written most this entry when I realized, that this title alone is the strongest hint that it's indeed an April Fool's Joke...

On wednesday, I announced the new Sketch user documentation that Yves Ceccone and Frédéric Toussaint are working on. What they have so far is already better than what Sketch currently has to offer in some places. It also includes some beautiful cliparts in an objects and a typography section.

The documentation is in French because it's going to be used with young students in France. One of the reasons for the announcement was that we need to translate this into English and it seems we have found someone for this job.

Yesterday, I made another preview release for Sketch 0.6.6. There were more last minute changes than I expected, otherwise I might have released 0.6.6 immediately. On the other hand, the Spanish translations aren't updated yet.

Today, I made a new development release, 0.7.6. One 'new' feature is the reenabled support for PseudoColor visuals. François will like this.

Found and fixed a glaring bug in Sketch today. AAAARRRGGGHHH! If anybody wants to reproduce it: Assign an axial gradient to two objects at the same time and then transform one of the objects. The other object's gradient will also be transformed. You may have to force a redraw.

Yesterday, I learned about a newly introduced bug of the "brown paperbag" variety in the prerelease that would break loading of raster images on a lot of installations. I'm glad I did make a prerelease.

Google finally seems to have found Sketch's new home and "feeling lucky" again takes you directly to Sketch's homepage. Interestingly enough, it only works in the normal search engine, not in linux one, which takes you to the LinuxFocus article.

A busy week in Sketch development. The amount of email I get on the Sketch email address is increasing, but unfortunately the amount of spam also.

I'm preparing a new stable release and on Friday I finally managed to get a prerelease out. I wanted to do that a week ago, but somehow several users started sending bug reports and suggestions just then and I postponed it to get those in. I hope to release 0.6.6 in a week.

The current issue of c't, perhaps the world's best computer magazine and IMO certainly the best in German, has been out for a week now and the next is due in another and I've only a few of all those interesting articles so far. How am I supposed to keep up with that? ;-)

About two and a half years ago c't switched from a monthly schedule to a fortnightly one, partly to make the issues of "Germany's thickest Men's Magazine" thinner again. Well, nice try. The current issue is just as thick as the slimmer issues in those days, but it's still a few millimeters short compared to the December or CeBIT (April) issues.

One of the articles I did read is the followup article about the quality of MP3s. The gist is that MP3s with a sufficiently high data rate, which means 256kbit/s or better, and created with a good encoder are indistinguishable from audio CDs, even to the ears of music professionals.

This afternoon, I went to the meeting of the Hamburg Linux User's Group. Since it didn't rain for a change, I went by bike. This was the first time I attended any of their meetings, so I had no idea what to expect, but it turned out to be interesting.

It did rain, of course, when I left, but with appropriate rain gear this wasn't much of a problem. As they say here in northern Germany, there's no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.

Work on Sketch's documentation seems to be progressing quite nicely. It already covers much more than my own rather sparse documents.

The docs are written by two French teachers who need it for their students, so they're written in French, but they're going to be translated into English when they're finished. Those two years of French as a third foreign language in school were not wasted after all...

Finally, Sketch was mentioned in an Slashdot article.

The bug in the CMX filter I found a few days ago turns out to be a bug in the file itself, as far as I can tell. CorelDraw behaves just like Sketch in this particular case.

Worked a little more on the Sketch FAQ list. To play around a little more with XML, I converted what I had written so far to XML and also wrote a little python script that converts this into a more suitable format for inclusion on the webpage and also takes care of numbering the faqs and keeping cross references between them straight.

Sketch's tree view is actually usable now, although there's still quite bit of work to do. It now reflects the current selection in the current document and can be used to select and unselect objects. This makes it much easier to select objects contained in groups, for instance. Unfortunately, it also means that it's easy to create selections that impossible with the normal interface in the canvas window and that may of course trigger some sleeping bugs.

The german keyboard layout sucks. At least when it comes to programming. I was reminded of this yesterday night when I booted into windows and couldn't use the left windows key as a second AltGr key as I can under X thanks to an xmodmap hack.

On a German keyboard, {, [, ], } and \ are only reachable by holding AltGr, which replaces the right Alt key of the American layout, and pressing 7, 8, 9, 0 and ß (right next to 0) respectively. You either have to twist your right hand to reach both keys at the same time with one hand or hold AltGr with the right and press the other key, which is normally pressed with the right hand as well, with the left. Urgh!

This makes me wonder whether any of the regulations for an ergonomic workplace has something to say about keyboard layouts. The Bildschirmarbeitsverordnung[1], for instance, which is relevant for most computer work places here in Germany doesn't make any statements about the positions of the keys on the keyboard at all, although it talks about e.g. their form and the legibility of their labels.

[1] Mark Twain would have loved this word, although he probably would have liked Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz even more.

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