Archive for 'meta'

Role Models

Posted on December 13, 2009, under general, meta.

Consciously, I’ve never been keen on the idea of role-models. Thinking it synonymous with hero-worship, it has always seemed a bit of an anti-pattern to me. Why try to emulate anyone? There are enough people in the world behaving the same as someone else, being different and original is definitely more useful, even if it makes you a bit crazy. When I did a dubious “leadership style” test I came up as “anti-follower”, so maybe it’s just another form of contrarianism on my part.

Over time, I’ve found that the best way to learn is by example, even if it’s a process of unconscious osmosis. And when I’ve spent time on what is sometimes called “personal development” I’ve found that there is real benefit in reading the biographies and the writings of truly awesome people. It certainly seems more productive than reading self-help books that are written in truisms and marketing crap.

I thought I’d share some of the people who I’ve really benefited from reading about, truly amazing people.

Richard P. Feynman

RPF is a legend; a nobel laureate physicist with an uncanny ability to explain complex ideas, an anti-authoritarian maverick who loved to screw with officialdom but most of all an incredibly generous, warm, loving guy (even if a womaniser at times). His writings on physics and his letters to his first, dying, wife are an inspiration.

Robert M. Pirsig

Pirsig, someone genuinely crazy enough to have been institutionalised, still managed to write one of the best sellers of the 20th century and to invent a philosophical system that many consider to have merit. ZMM is amazingly well written, all the more so when you consider that every paragraph was planned out in advance on index cards. Worrying, his narrator in ZMM is the only literary character I’ve ever strongly identified with.

Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper signed up for the US navy during World War 2, and rose (primarily as a reservist) to the rank of commodore/rear-admiral back when this was incredibly unusual. But more than this, she was an excellent experimenter, and kept a rigourous lab-book, despite being mainly a computer scientist. She was a strong believer in getting things done, and coined the phrases “dare to do” and “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission”. Seriously awesome woman. Oh yeah, and she invented the compiler.

Doc Watson

Doc Watson has been blind nearly his entire life, but that doesn’t stop him from being the truly most amazing guitar picker the world has ever seen, or doing crazy things like mending the tiles on his roof. His solo runs and accompaniment are incredibly good, and he’s somehow maintained humility in the face of multiple grammy awards and playing for the president on a regular basis. Another doer, he just kept going and became more productive after the tragic death of his duet partner and son Merle.

Dolly Parton

Dolly is a self-described mis-fit, but she is also a very very shrewd business woman as well as being a dedicated humanitarian and gifted songwriter. She is one of the really great singers, and is emotionally invested in every song she sings (even the ones that sound like bubblegum, listen to how sad she is in “Here you come again”).

CP Snow

CP Snow was basically a troll, but a very very good one. His arguments, lectures and writings weren’t always rigourous and balanced but they were always enlightening, thought-provoking and forward thinking. Most famously he identified the tension between literary and scientific cultures and made a great case for the unfair treatment of science. A scientist and a well-regarded author CP Snow is a great example that it is possible to straddle both worlds.

Peter Watson

Peter Watson is a prolific researcher and writer, the volume of his output and the breadth of his knowledge is unfathomable. I’m constantly reading something of his. He has methodically and thoroughly condensed practically all of known intellectual history, writing about all of the inventions of the human mind. His writing is great, but it also brings home how relatively ordinary our time in history really is, yet serves as a great reminder that so many things we take for granted even had to be invented.

No doubt I’ll think of more now that I’ve put a list together. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some of these people, but I’ve also been even more fortunate in that other people I’ve come across in my life have served as role models (starting naturally enough with my parents). I don’t intend this post as meme, but if you have role-models, I’d be interested in hearing about them. As I mentioned, it’s definitely a great benefit to read about such inspiring people.

HOWTO: Adding a signature/watermark overlay to Photographs using Open-Source software

Posted on January 20, 2008, under meta, photography.

Since launching the new photoblog over at all costs I’ve gotten a few questions about how to overlay a signature, and how I’m doing it.

My Signature, on a photo

I’m a command line type of person so much of the processing software for my photos is python scripts I’ve hacked together, but in this case it’s just some simple ImageMagick which you can do almost anywhere. ImageMagick is much better than using Python’s own Image Library (PIL) because it actually maintains the embedded colourspaces (PIL just strips them).

Step 1: Create the image

The first step is to actually write out the signature, and to take a photograph of it or scan it. I recommend writing it out as big as you can, with a thick marker, on white paper. If you’re taking a photo of it, try to light the paper evenly and take the photograph from directly atop the paper. Once you’ve got an image to start with, load it into the Gimp.

1st step

Step 2: Crop the image

Select what you want with rectangle select tool, and crop, using image -> crop to selection.

2nd step

Step 3: Convert to 1-bit

We don’t want to worry about all of the various shades that are in the image, so we convert to a 1-bit image. Use Image -> Mode -> Indexed to convert.

3rd step
4th step

Step 4: Convert to grayscale

Now that we’ve cheated and used 1-bit mode to quickly go black-and-white, we need to go back to greyscale mode so that we can use transparency and play with the brightness a little. it’s at Image -> Mode -> Greyscale.

5th step

Step 5: Invert the colours

Use Colors -> Invert to transform the image into white on black, which is much better for overlaying onto photographs generally.

6th step

Step 6: Add an alpha channel

Since we need the final result to contain transparency, we need to add an alpha channel. It’s at Layer -> Transparency -> Add Alpha Channel.

7th step

Step 7: Remove the background

Use the colour-select tool at Select -> by Color to highlight all of the black background, and then cut it out using ctrl-x (or edit -> cut).

8th step

9th step

Step 8: Tweak the signature image

Personally I found that using a pure white signature was too strong and distracting, so I lowered the brightness by about 30%.

10th step

11th step

Once you’re happy with the image, you need to have it as a PNG file, so that we keep the transparency information.

Step 9: Applying the signature to photos

ImageMagick makes this fairly easy, all that I use is:

convert -composite -gravity southeast original.jpg signature.png output.jpg

Where photo.jpg is the original jpg of the photograph, and output.jpg is where you want the result.

Step 10: Enjoy the results