Unipasta, a Unicode browser

When writing in French I'm always looking for characters that can't be easily typed with a keyboard (like œ, for example). I used to go to copypastecharacter.com for its simplicity: just go to that page, click on a character and boom, it's in your clipboard, ready to be pasted!

But I wanted something more powerful/thorough that would remember my frequently used characters. So I wrote Unipasta!

Unipasta

Here's what you should know about it:

  1. Every input under the selected character (char, code and hex) can be edited and will update each other. Easily jump to any character!
  2. The font metrics (baseline, x-height and cap-height) are auto-calculated and will help you know where the char lives;
  3. Click on the "More Info" link to jump to fileformat.info and access a lot of details about the selected character;
  4. Every character your click will be automatically copied to your clipboard, handy!
  5. Use the "Recent characters" list to quickly access your favorite ones (latest used will always be listed first).

If you think some missing Unicode blocks are important to you or if you'd like to add a new character listing, just ask for it!

Shrink O’Mobile

Remember Shrink O’Matic, the "oh, so easy to use" image shrinker for Windows, Mac and Linux? Introducing Shrink O’Mobile, the "oh, so easy to use" image shrinker for Android!

Because cameras on phones take big pictures and because you might want to send smaller/lighter versions, Shrink O’Mobile is here to help out. Just launch the app, choose the way you want your image to be shrunk, pick your image and BOOM! Your fresh, smaller, new version is instantly stored in your camera roll. Easy as pie.

And did I mention the app is free? It is.

le bureau baroque

As a freelancer I mostly work on AIR apps, but when friends asked me to develop their new website I happily jumped aboard!

Le bureau baroque is an architecture agency in Bordeaux; playing with art, design and — of course — architecture. They're the ones that set up the Pecha Kucha event in Bordeaux and who invited me to show off a bit! Of course they work on lots of other great projects so they needed a site to let the world know what's up.

They wanted a highly visual site that would be easy to update, we considered a few options but quickly came to the conclusion that Indexhibit was exactly what we were looking for. But one thing that was really bugging us is how most (if not all) Indexhibit sites look the same. Indeed they're a great way to show big images and the navigation is damn simple, but hey, why not keep these great qualities but in a more original layout?

Since we're really keen on horizontal layouts we went for this. But something bothers me with this: you get a horizontal scrollbar at the bottom of the page; which is hard to see, because it sits at the bottom of your screen and we — dumb humans — are not really used to it. So I thought: why not have a horizontal layout scrolled by a vertical scrollbar? That seemed a bit tricky at first, for two reasons:

  1. Is that technically feasible?
  2. Isn't that too weird, for the end-user?

Both questions could not be answered without trying, so I tried. And it looked cool!

When the prototype was ready I started taking a look at Indexhibit's guts; and although it looked a bit ugly to me, I realized pimping it was no big deal... A few e-mails and burger-meetings after we were happy with the newly created theme. Christelle Bonnet helped out with her great typographic/balance eye and we were ready to go!

Go see the site live, enjoy those nice projects, play with that side-scroll concept and tell me what you think!

Five years of Google Talk history

My "anniversary" intro

It's been five years (this monday) since Google added the ability to simply chat inside Gmail and to store your chat history, just like your regular e-mail discussions. This poster is a celebration of that, plus a big high-five to my "chat pal" (who hopefully received my package on time), plus a technical and aesthetical look at what we wrote during these years.

Let's make history

Back to the chat history thing... I remember being pretty happy when Google announced it, mainly because I knew I'd use it for later reference, archiving links and thoughts had become much easier.

Here's a copy of the announcement they made:

Chat with your friends from right inside Gmail. There's no need to load a separate program or look up new addresses. It's just one click to chat with the people you already email, as well as anyone on the Google Talk network. And now you can even save and search for chats in your Gmail account.

So it's been five years. And I've chatted quite a lot; mainly with one guy, my buddy Renaud. We chatted around 2,800 different discussions so I thought there might be some interesting data to dig in these archives... So I dug.

But digging thousands of discussions is not an easy task, so I had to take a look on the tech side of things.

Join the tech side of the force

Before digging, I had to retrieve all the discussions we had, in an easy-to-analyse format. I used Gmail's offline feature: applying a new label to our conversations and locally syncing this label. For some unknown reason it would crash on Google Chrome so I had to use Mozilla Firefox. When syncing was done I got a pretty big file in my "Google Gears for Firefox" directory.

Cool thing is, Google Gears stores data as SQLite databases, so I fired up Lita in order to understand what the structure was like... Things looked a bit messy but I eventually found everything that would interest me; and it was in the "MessagesFT_content" table. Here's the query I ran:

  1. SELECT c1Body FROM MessagesFT_content WHERE c0Subject LIKE '%Chat%'

Almost cool. The query still returned a bunch of HTML code, our names, and other useless crap. So I fired up Flash Builder, imported the SQLite file and wrote a few AS3 lines, in order to grab the results and filter them with regular expressions. Bang: plain text! Oh, this useless AIR app is OpenSource, by the way.

Now that the data was clean and ready to be analyzed I had to find a cheap or free way to do it. I chose Primitive Word Counter, not because it's perfect but rather because it's very simple and could handle the large amount of data I was going to feed it (some other apps simply crashed)...

Running it gave me the most used words and phrases, I only picked the most interesting (at least to me) and launched InDesign.

A celebration poster

I decided to go for an A1 poster, mostly focused on those words and phrases but with a tech twist to it. I kept it all secret, got it printed, and sent it to my pal... Happy fifth Google-talk-history-enabled anniversary to him; and to all of you out there that use it on a daily basis!

Okr – Story of a failure

Some projects become real, others never see the light of day. This one is more of an abortion.

Six month ago I've been contacted by an architectural firm to provide some consulting on a project of theirs (I'm not going to name names, you'll understand why). The goal was to find ideas to make a building's front more interesting. The building being a place to help and promote Hip-Hop culture.

So I started working on it and came up with ideas and concepts. The architect I was in contact with seemed pretty happy with it and everything was looking good.

Until I no longer received any answer to my e-mails... Our last interaction is now 5 month old and I think time has come to mourn. What I came up with can be interesting and since it involves an OpenSource project, here are a few bits about it.

At that time I was discovering  GML (Graffiti Markup Language) and Evan Roth's work. Bordeaux hosted Les Grandes Traversées and all of this really inspired me. So I thought of a mash-up between GML's #000000book (black book, open archive of GML tags), a player of my own (Okr), the building itself and Twitter. Here's the document I presented to explain what I had in mind.

The steps are:

  1. Creating and sending a graffiti;
  2. Receiving data;
  3. Converting it to an image;
  4. Projecting it on the building's front;
  5. Photo-shooting of the front;
  6. Sending to Twitter;
  7. Online consultation.

After a few e-mails with Jamie Wilkinson (heads up!) I started working on the core classes writing GMLPlayer and GMLCreator. The goal was to provide both a way to display tags and to create/upload them. I then built a UI around all that (a Flex one, after noticing Minimal Comps didn't work the way I expected).

iframe: <a href="http://toki-woki.net/p/Okr/">http://toki-woki.net/p/Okr/</a>

Note: you'll also find the app on its dedicated page. Try searching for "dasp" or "hello world" for example and play with the settings (the 3 top sliders).

Unfortunately it is only after creating all this that I realized the project would never become real... So I simply stopped working on it. I am well aware that some parts of the code is a bit raw and could be optimized and I haven't built the creation/upload feature into the UI yet. Don't know if I will, but the project is OpenSource so feel free to give it a spin! I also share my initial attempt and a pixel version in case you're interested.

Pretty happy that — even if not feature complete — Okr made it to the GML project gallery, yay!

And just because a project will never see the light of day doesn't mean it doesn't need a proper logo, right?

AIR Application Updater: switch to the 2.5 namespace

I just wasted a few hours on understanding how to update an AIR app from the 2.0 namespace (or earlier) to the brand new 2.5 one. As you may know, two new tags have been introduced ("versionNumber" and "versionLabel") to replace the old "version" one.

To avoid breaking things you have to create an intermediary app version that will smoothly switch from 2.0 to 2.5, here's what you can read on the release notes page:

In order to be able to update from version 1 to version 2, an intermediary update step must be added as follows: application version 1, packaged with AIR 2 and using the 2.0 namespace gets updated to: application version 1.5, packaged with AIR 2.5 and using the 2.0 namespace. This version of the application must include the version of the Application Updater SWC/SWF included with the AIR 2.5 SDK. This gets updated to: application version 2.0, packaged with AIR 2.5 and using the 2.5 namespace.

Where "application 1.5" is the intermediary step.

All of this looks quite simple but really it isn't; or at least it wasn't for me. To be really explicit here are my 3 application descriptors and the update descriptor (version numbers changed to match Adobe's example).

Application descriptor – Version 1 (packaged with AIR 2.0):

  1. <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" standalone="no" ?>
  2. <application xmlns="http://ns.adobe.com/air/application/2.0">
  3. (...)<version>1</version>(...)
  4. </application>

Application descriptor – Version 1.5 (packaged with AIR 2.5):

  1. <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" standalone="no" ?>
  2. <application xmlns="http://ns.adobe.com/air/application/2.0">
  3. (...)<version>1.5</version>(...)
  4. </application>

Application descriptor – Version 2 (packaged with AIR 2.5):

  1. <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" standalone="no" ?>
  2. <update xmlns="http://ns.adobe.com/air/framework/update/description/2.5">
  3. (...)<versionNumber>2</versionNumber>(...)
  4. </update>

Update descriptor (PHP script receiving the caller's current version as "currentVersion" GET variable):

  1. <?php
  2. header("Content-Type: text/xml; charset=utf-8");
  3. echo '<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>';
  4. $currentVersion=array_key_exists('currentVersion', $_GET) ? (float)$_GET['currentVersion'] : 1;
  5. $isNewNamespace=$currentVersion>=2;
  6. $ns='http://ns.adobe.com/air/framework/update/description/'.($isNewNamespace ? '2.5' : '1.0');
  7. $version=$currentVersion>=1.5 ? 2 : 1.5;
  8. $versionTag=$isNewNamespace ? 'versionNumber' : 'version';
  9. ?>
  10. <update xmlns="<?php echo $ns ?>">
  11. <<?php echo $versionTag ?>><?php echo $version ?></<?php echo $versionTag ?>>
  12. <url>http://www.your-site.com/update/your-app-<?php echo $version ?>.air</url>
  13. </update>

Not that simple, right? And this is not only annoying to the developer, but also to the end user. He will be notified of an update from version 1 to 1.5 and when he's done he'll get prompted about the new-new version (2): bang, another update process.

If you're curious of how I send the app's version to the update descriptor, here it is:

  1. _appUpdater.updateURL='http://www.your-site.com/update/version.php?currentVersion='+App.getVersion();

The App class is available in my as3bits repository.

Some helpful links on the subject:

I hope this helps!

A Golden Ratio Tool

iframe: <a href="http://toki-woki.net/p/golden-ratio/">http://toki-woki.net/p/golden-ratio/</a>

I wrote a quick and simple golden ratio tool (dedicated page). Basically it helps you find "golden ratio neighbors" for a given number: every number in the list divided/multiplied by its neighbor = φ.

Pretty straightforward but could come in handy. I'm aware it could be improved; if you have suggestions...

Hey! – A Lego Table

When I moved in I bought an IKEA Ramvik table and while travelling this summer I had an idea (don't ask why): decorate its top with Lego bricks used as pixels. Here are the steps I went through. If you don't care about those steps and want to see a nice time-lapse video, scroll to the end of the article!

Lego bricks

First things first. What are the Lego brick sizes and colors available? Oddly enough this question is not that easily answered. Probably because Lego's site is crappy, or because nobody really cares... I eventually found Brickipedia which happens to be a much richer resource than the official ones. Everything I was looking for was there: the Lego "unit" is 8 millimeters and the color palette is pretty simple.

Table specs

Knowing my table size I had various options, depending on the "pixel size" I'd choose. Of course the number of bricks (and the price) would also vary. So I created a dynamic spreadsheet on Google Docs that'd do the calculations for me... Here it is, with all the options possible (French, sorry).

iframe: <a href="https://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=0AmyvU-n2aOBpdG5oNUN6UW0xcUJ4a2E3eXFrTTJIVnc&amp;hl=en&amp;output=html&amp;widget=true">https://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=0AmyvU-n2aOBpdG5oNUN6UW0xcUJ4a2E3eXFrTTJIVnc&amp;hl=en&amp;output=html&amp;widget=true</a>

I chose the 4x4 option, quite cheap and still offering a cool number of pixels.

Design

36x16 pixels of freedom, that's it. I tried lots of different designs, from lo-fi photos to pixel-art drawings. I decided to go for a Heavy Oblique Futura.

Actual size:

Looking good.

The Lego palette

I set my type to white, on a black background. The anti-aliasing process creates gray-scale pixels to smooth the curves, which is great, but Lego bricks aren't available in all colors! To have a realistic preview of what it would look like I had to create a Photoshop Color Table matching Lego's gray-scales (if you're interested, just ping me [UPDATE: here they are]). Here's a comparison between Photoshop's default gray-scales (left) and Lego's palette (right):


You may notice that Lego's black is a little bit light and the grays are yellowish.

Time to order bricks!

Already? Nope, not that fast. Before ordering I had to know exactly what to order, that means counting the pixels. Well, I'm not this kind of guy. I'm a developer; I hate repetitive chores, you know.

So I fired up Flash Builder and came up with PaletteCounter a simple, OpenSource, app to count pixels of each color. I also added some kind of "assembly instructions generator" to help us build it. Handy.

Time to order!

Really? Yup. I placed an order on lego.com's Pick A Brick and received it a couple of weeks later. Yay!

Let's do this

I'm not going to describe the process (that happened this saturday), just have a look at this time-lapse vid. 1020 pics shot in about an hour, yummy. Thanks to Céline and Julie for helping out!

This page has been translated in Russian by Karina.

SVG to RaphaelJS

While redesigning this blog I wanted to keep the "one color per post" concept I had in the previous version by changing (tweening) the logo's color accordingly to the article being viewed (or scrolled to). I rapidly realized I couldn't achieve this with just HTML+CS+JS and I didn't want to use Flash (mainly because of iOS devices but also to avoid loading a SWF file on every page).

I remembered hearing — a few months earlier — about Raphaël (a JS lib to render vector graphics). At that time I found the concept really interesting but couldn't see where to use it.

OK, so I know what I want to do, I know the tools I'll use, but how do we do that? Raphaël is cool, but its syntax looks a bit cryptic at first. It says it handles SVG, and — guess what — Illustrator can export to SVG. We're getting closer...

SVG is XML, but Raphaël doesn't eat XML, it eats a specific syntax meant to be compatible with SVG and VML. Hum... This is when I fire Flash Builder and start writing code. The goal: accept an SVG XML file as input and spit some "Raphaël-compatible script" out.

Boom (plus a little demo of an output).

I then simply had to export my Ai logo to SVG, open it in SVG2RaphaelJS, copy paste the output, and wire all that to the scroll/color tweening logic. Pretty easy.

Everything worked and looked nice on all browsers and OS's but I realized the sole idea of having a logo changing colors didn't work that well. For purely visual reasons. So I dropped it from my theme and rolled back to the black PNG version you can see right now.

The good thing is, the tool works pretty well (at least with Illustrator SVGs) and is OpenSource. Either use it or modify it, and tell me what you think. I did this in a hasty fashion and I probably won't use it a lot, so don't expect updates or bug fixes... But if you feel like improving it, please do so!

eduMedia’s eBox

Guess what? AIR app! This one's for eduMedia.

An intro

We create and distribute pedagogical simulations and videos, and our school users can download them to prepare and illustrate their lessons. Until now we offered server-side generated ZIP files with an HTML, some CSS and the SWF, but users (who often are not computer geeks) wanted something simpler and more powerful... So we designed the eBox!

The eBox

Basically the eBox is an empty media library waiting to be filled. The first time you launch it, it installs itself (and the AIR runtime, if not already there) and then fills itself with the medias you chose. This happens thanks to AIR's BrowserInvoke logic and removes the "Save As" and "Uncompress" steps.

You can also fill it with "local medias" (of any type) but dragging and dropping files on it, or by browsing and selecting them. If these medias are SWFs they'll be opened within the app, if not the OS will open them with their default app. Handy.

You also have the ability to create directories to organize your library, and to reorder medias (via drag and drop). Pretty common, but cool.

Let's talk tech

Flex 4.1, localized with Lupo (now free and OpenSource!) and designed with Illustrator. Server-side communication is made through AMFPHP. I used some tiny techniques that helped deploy two different versions with only one project (we have a school and an individual version), I might detail that in a next post.

This is my first real-life project with Robotlegs, it helped me learn how to use it and how to write really clean code; with view, mediators and all. I loved it and think I will continue building big projects with RLs, makes you feel pretty.

So?

I'm pretty happy with the final result (not that final, expect updates!), both on visual and technical points of view. Go grab a free media and tell me what you think! We also set up a special page with a nice presentation of how it works, in case you're lost.