"Linux Gazette...making Linux just a little more fun!"

The Graphics Muse

By Michael Hammel

  1. v; to become absorbed in thought 
  2. n; [ fr. Any of the nine sister goddesses of learning and the arts in Greek Mythology ]: a source of inspiration
© 1999 by mjh

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Welcome to the Graphics Muse! Why a "muse"? Well, except for the sisters aspect, the above definitions are pretty much the way I'd describe my own interest in computer graphics: it keeps me deep in thought and it is a daily source of inspiration. 

[Graphics Mews][WebWonderings][Musings][Resources]

This column is dedicated to the use, creation, distribution, and discussion of computer graphics tools for Linux systems.

This month is a slightly abbreviated version of the Muse.  Although I do have a decent discussion in Web Wonderings, I didn't have time for any of my normal Musings.  That means there won't be any discussion on 3D Modellers as I had planned.  I'm going to work with Ivan Reyes over at LinuxArtist.org to try to bring that discussion to you in September.

Things are very busy right now.  I'm chairing a committee which is planning a Linux expo in Colorado next year and I just started my own business.  That latter bit of news will become more apparent to my regular readers in the fairly near future.  In fact, because of the work I'm doing to get my business started, there won't be any Graphics Muse column next month.  Sorry, but I need to find a way to pay the bills.  Even I can't go more than a year without a job.
In this months column you'll find:
  • Cataloging and Clipping - a discussion on automated gathering of online data.

The companion site to
The Artists' Guide To The Gimp.
edited by
The Graphics Muse - Michael J. Hammel.
The Artists' Guide to the Gimp
Available online from Fatbrain, SoftPro Books and Borders Books.  In Denver, try the Tattered Cover Book Store.

Other Announcements:
 Panorama Tools 1.8b1 for Mac/Win/Linux 
 Joffer's Linux Guide to new graphics card is back! 
 New Quick Mask Tutorial for the Gimp 
 GIMP 1.1.7 
< More Mews >
Disclaimer: Before I get too far into this I should note that any of the news items I post in this section are just that - news. Either I happened to run across them via some mailing list I was on, via some Usenet newsgroup, or via email from someone. I'm not necessarily endorsing these products (some of which may be commercial), I'm just letting you know I'd heard about them in the past month.

gd library pulled from circulation


The gd library has been temporarily removed from circulation. We will at some future date, make a new version available that either (a) does not contain any GIF-related code or (b) is offered only to parties holding a license from Unisys to use the LZW compression algorithm. 

Apple Open Source QuickTime Streaming Server Now Supports Linux
From NewsAlert

The Apple Open Source Streaming Server code has been updated to support Linux on Intel-based systems. Developers can now create Linux-based streaming server products without making additional modifications to the source code.

Full story

SGI Announces Project Mongoose: IRIS Performer for Linux

We've been hinting that something big is on the horizon -- and if  you haven't already heard the buzz that's swept through the IMAGE conference, have we got something exciting to tell you!

Yesterday, SGI announced that work is underway to make IRIS Performer available for the Linux platform. The project (codenamed 'Mongoose') is based on the existing IRIS Performer API and targeted for release before the end of 1999. Results are already very promising.

We anticipate you'll have many questions about availability, platforms, compatability, distribution, beta copies, etc -- we'll announce more details during the Friends of Performer meeting at SIGGRAPH.

For comments, feedback, or question you'd like addressed at the meeting please send email to mongoose-feedback@corp.sgi.com.

See you at SIGGRAPH!

Allan Schaffer allan@sgi.com
Silicon Graphics http://reality.sgi.com/allan


Easy Software Products Releases ESP Print Pro Beta 1

Hollywood, MD (July 16, 1999) -- Easy Software Products today announced the first beta release of ESP Print Pro, a completely new printing solution for UNIX®.  The new product is based on the company's Common UNIX Printing System technology and supports Digital UNIX, HP-UX, IRIX, Linux, and Solaris.

comp.os.linux.announce posting


COMPUTER GRAPHICS FORUM is the journal of Eurographics, the European Association for Computer Graphics. Each year we have the opportunity to change the picture appearing on the cover of the journal. We therefore organize a competition for a new cover picture. The first prize winner gets 300 Swiss Francs, but the biggest prize is of course the fact that your picture will appear on all the 2000 issues, including the conference issue.


To give you an idea what we are looking for, visit our Web page, http://www.cwi.nl/~behr/Covercompetition.html. This page also gives you the information about this competition.

Apart from sending in images via email, or uploading them to our ftp-site, you can also send mounted slides, or drawn or scanned images, to the address below.

Information about EUROGRAPHICS can be found at: http://www.eg.org/

Prize Coordinator:
Behr de Ruiter
Centre for Mathematics and Computer Science
Kruislaan 413
1098 SJ Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Email: behr@cwi.nl

Blender News
July 2, 1999

- Free T shirts!
NaN celebrates its first anniversary by giving a free Blender shirt with every C-key purchase in july.  Thanks to the support of the growing Blender community it was an exciting first year! With the Siggraph exhibition in august I expect to gain serious interest by the international computer graphics community. A good start for the 2nd NaN year...

Blender 1.65 out

Check the changelog: http://www.blender.nl/stuff/blenderbeta.html

- Plugins freeware
As promised, some of the C-key features will be freed after a period.  We start with releasing the plugin development kit in the 2nd half of august.

- Python scripting
Because of Siggraph preparations and holidays the Python release is postponed a month.  The Python interface is shaping up quit well. We didn't expect it to be so powerful! When things work out as expected this system acts as a true API and outperforms a traditional plugin-API completely. And best of all:  scripts are cross-platform and in their nature 'open source'.


Xi Graphics Announces latest version of maXimum cde

In an effort to help the Linux operating system break into the mainstream corporate computer market, a Denver-based company is packaging the free operating system with a commercial quality GUI, or graphical user interface.

With its new maXimum(TM) cde for Linux, Xi Graphics, Inc. (www.xig.com) is offering Linux desktop and laptop users a powerful graphical user interface -- one that's already an industry standard for UNIX workstations offered by IBM, HP, Digital, Sun and others. The fully integrated package includes Motif and CDE built on the Accelerated-X Display Server and running on the Linux operating system.

Xi Graphics has also completed updates adding new desktop support for the Matrox G400, 3dfx/STB Voodoo3-2000 and 3000, the Diamond Viper 770 Ultra (nVidia Riva TNT2) and Diamond viper 550 (TNT) and adding the portable computers HP Omnibook XE, Hitachi M120D, CTX EZBook 700G.  comp.os.linux.announce posting


New Site: Linux Video and DVD project
   Jul 15, 1999, 13:14 UTC
From LinuxToday

Thanks to Matthew R. Pavlovich for this announcement.

The goal is to bring support for video capture, tv out and dvd playback to Linux. The primary focus will be with Matrox products, but as the project grows, so will the supported hardware.  The Marvel, Rainbow Runner, TV Tuner and DVD module are all prime targets.

First order of business will be the DVD support, because we have docs and its the coolest.  Also on this site, there is very pre-alpha work being done for the MJPEG encoder found on the Matrox Marvel and Rainbow Runner. Its in cvs, module mgavideo. It is the same chipset found on the LM33 module, so a lot of the driver can be reused.

I need lots of help. If you want to contribute, please contact me.

Did You Know?

...there is a web site for AC3D Users?  For more information, to a look at http://www.eilers.net/ac3d/.  The page is sponsored by Hartmut Eilers and includes a mailing list.

...there is a Perl module for generating 3D Pie charts?  Look on the CPAN mirrors for "ThreeD-Chart".

Reader Mail

Ariel Rios Osorio wrote:
I'm working in a web editor called galway that includes support for script-fu.  I think this is the only tool available for this purpose. It is programmed using guile scheme. Please take a look. Suggestions are welcome!
'Muse:  Ok, I'll post it in the Muse.
By the way, besides Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, there other great Scheme books that I recommend to you, The Scheme Programming Language by Dybvig, the Little Schemer, the Season Schemer.
'Muse:  I had a few other emails regarding this subject.  I've posted the information I received in TheGimp.com's Tips and Tricks section, under "Useful Printed Texts."

John Vincent <john@lusis.org> wrote

I've been reading your column since LG started publishing it. I also have your GIMP book which is great. I wanted to make a comment about video formats that you may not have been aware of. Newer sites that have quicktime movies are probably using QT4. This codec isnt supported under linux yet. The java version of the player from apple won't even run under linux. This was a highly debated subject on slashdot when the 2nd starwars trailer came out. Slashdot being a community of mostly linux users, as you know, were hunting for formats that could be read under linux. Just thought I would pass that tidbit on. Thanks for all the great articles and all the great work.
Similarly, Moritz Bunkus <m.bunkus@tu-bs.de> wrote:
Quite good article about playing video files. Just one remark.

You said you weren't able to find videos which xanim wasn't able to play. Unfortunately one rather popular movie, the second Star Wars - Episode 1 trailer, comes in Quicktime format and uses a Sorensen codec which is not supported by xanim.

'Muse:  Thanks for the feedback.  I'd heard about this but until Moritz passed me the URL I hadn't seen the trailer.  I didn't try this trailer, however, since it's a 14Mb download and my littl'e 28.8 throughput just can't deal with it while I'm working on other things.  Maybe I'll start the download one night before going to bed.

Cort <ccww@cyberway.com.sg> wrote

It's probably not very important, but in your review of MpegTV you did not mention that the command line version (mtvp) is freeware.  Also, the SDL library does not have to really be in /usr/X11R6/lib, a symbolic link works fine on my system.

As for playing VCD, I use

xreadvcd | mtvp -ac0 -aq2 -
but some VCD requires
xreadvcd -a 1 | mtvp -ac0 -aq2 -
'Muse:  The symbollic link didn't seem to work on my box, but maybe I didn't set things up quite right.  I install quite a bit of stuff on my box, so it's not hard to imagine I got something wrong.  As for these other options for playing VCD's, they still don't work for me.  I can't seem to get mtv, with or without xreadvcd, to play these disks.  Too bad.  I'd love to see what's on this Sheryl Crow CD I have.

Lorenzo Del Pace <pa0214@panservice.it> wrote in with this important question:

My name is Lorenzo, and I am italian.  I read with much pleasure and interest the articles of The Muse, appreciating them very much.
'Muse:  I'm glad you find them useful.
But now, I have a question, and I hope that you can answer it: I read on this month's Linux Gazette that you use a pretty old SVGA (a Mystique) along with a Commercial X server.

I wonder wether is the case, for the medium Linux user as I am, to buy a good graphics card (such as the TNT fron nVidia, with OpenGL hardware support), or to spend my money for a commercial X server, given tyhe fact that I cannot afford them both!

This is not a silly question for me, for I am still a bit confused on when is good (or even necessary) sacrifice some money to get commrcial products for Linux and when it is not.

'Muse:  That is a good question.  The simple answer is actually a question:  what do you need to do with your computer?  What you plan on doing with your computer will determine what you need to spend money on.

If you can only spend money on the hardware OR the software (but not both), and you REALLY need 3D graphics, then spend the money on the video card.  But, do you REALLY need 3D graphics?  What tools do you use that require it?  Are you doing graphics development?  Is it 3D graphics development and do you have to have a 3D, interactive modeller (like Side Effects Houdini)?  The only other big need for 3D graphics are games, and right now there aren't many that require 3D video cards for Linux.

This curiosity has arisen in me reading your article: you must be a professional (?) graphics user, so before making your choice you must surely have evaluated the variuos opportunities.
'Muse:  My purchase decisions are based on two things: what do I need to do right now, and what will benefit me in the long term.  I spend more up front for hardware in the expectation that the extra expense will allow me to use that hardware for a longer period (thus I won't have to keep upgrading hardware every few months or even every year).  I spend less up front for software because my software needs vary fairly often.  Thus, I spent more money for the Matrox Mystique a few years back, and it's still working quite well 2 years layer.
May I ask you what do you really think of Commercial X Servers (like the ones of Xi Graphics), and to whom you'd suggest one?
'Muse:  I recommend end users buy low end video cards and spend the extra cash on a commercial X server.  I've used XFree86 servers but was not satisfied with their quality.  Take that with a grain of salt, of course.  It's been 2 years since I've used XFree86 with anything other than my Matrox Mystique.  However, I tried the SVGA server from XFree86 last year in order to make use of it's support for XInput (so I could use my drawing tablet), but it produced some artifacts on my display, enough that I finally decided to go back to my AcceleratedX server and forget about the drawing tablet for now.  I've heard Xi has added better tablet support in their latest releases, but I don't have a copy of that so can't say if it's any better than the version I have now (which doesn't support X Input for use with the Gimp at all).

Most end users have no need for 3D - even most games on Linux don't make use of hardware acceleration yet.  If you're not doing 3D work, then you just need a fairly fast 2D card, and most of the cards available today handle 2D drawing quite well.  Spend a little extra on extra memory on the card so that you can have high resolution running with a Truecolor visual (ie 16 million colors).

Of course, high end users - like the folks at Digital Domain trying to do effects for films - really do need that hardware acceleration.  I don't often get asked by those folks what I recommend.  They know what they need, and are even in a position to help push the advancement of 3D support for Linux better than I am.

As to which commercial X server, I'd recommend Xi Graphics.  There are only 2 commercial X servers for Linux currently:  Xi and Metro Link.  Metro Link's servers are fairly good, but I wasn't impressed with their installation tool.  X servers are a strange bit of software - end users only deal with them once and seldom have to muck with them after that.  So the installation tool is one of the most visible aspects of the product.  Being able to select a video card or monitor by name makes life easy.  All of the X server configuration tools (including XFree86) allow this, but I like Xi Graphics the most.  I especially like the text based installation tool - none of the X based tools (for any of the X server vendors) is very easy to use.

Still, the decision on which to use should depend on how well that product supports your hardware.  You need to be able to try it out - both Xi Graphics and Metro Link allow you to try demos of the server to see if it will work with your hardware.  But you should also check to make sure they have money back guarantees that extend at least 30 days beyond the date of purchase - preferrably 60 days.  Sometimes it may take a while to find strange behaviours in the server until you get the right combination of applications running at the same time.

This would be an important answer for me, and still an important one for the Italian *.comp.linux newsgroup, that usually gets involved in discussions of this kind, but without any owner of a commercial server...
'Muse:  To my knowledge, none of the X server vendors have any native italian speakers working for them.  Metro Link and Xi Graphics are mostly english speaking (although Thomas Roell at Xi is German).  I'm not sure about XFree86, since they have developers from many parts of the world involved in their project.  It might just be that none of them has time to follow newsgroups anymore.  I know I don't.
Thank you in advance, and excuse me for my intrusion in your mailbox.
'Muse:  No problem.  It's no intrusion.  You ask a very important question that I'm sure many of my readers have also wondered about.
With best wishes and compliments for your work,

Lorenzo Del Pace


The "News" part of the Muse's columns is fantastic: lots of people (me too) have discovered products freely available they only dreamt of before!

'Muse:  I'm glad you find it useful.  You should also keep an eye out to freshmeat.net. That's where I pick up many of the announcements I post in the Muse.

Cataloging and Clipping - gathering online data

One of the projects I've been working on lately has had to do with gathering information from the Web.  At first glance the information can seem difficult to collect - so many different pages with so many formats.  How does someone make sense of all that data, especially when it's wrapped inside the sometimes incomprehensible world of HTML?

Well, that was my dilemma originally.  I knew that many of the popular Linux sites (freshmeat and slashdot, for example) have much of their data in standard text files that can be parsed manually.  And I knew that there were some tools available for parsing those files.  Perhaps those tools could be extended for parsing Web pages.  So, my first step was to start looking for these site-specific tools over at Freshmeat.net.

Most of the tools at freshmeat were perl or python scripts, and many were capable of processing various popular sites.  The tools included names like sitescooper, pagesucker, as-news, etc.  One wonders what people drink before naming their projects.

One of the tools I found was called DailyUpdate, a perl based parsing system.  DailyUpdate was originally a free package but now has been renamed NewsClipper, a commercial open source product.  The product's open source version is free, with personal versions running $29.95US and corporate versions running $299US.

NewsClipper is rather slick.  It's a perl script that makes use of a series of existing Perl modules (the complete list of dependencies is provided in the README and can be downloaded via the automated CPAN archives).  A template file is created of an HTML output file that includes NewsClipper command embedded in HTML comments.  NewsClipper reads the commands, fetches and parses the specified sites on the Internet and replaces the commands with appropriate HTML in an output file.  You can specify the name of the input template and output HTML files on the command line as well as have NewsClipper download updates to any existing handlers you might have that have recently been updated.

The trick to NewsClipper is it's use of three types of handlers:  acquisition, general, and output.  There are over 190 handlers available from the NewsClipper site.  Handlers are just perl scripts that filter the data either as it is retrieved from the remote site, after it's been retrieved but before output to HTML, or as it's being output.  By far the majority of handlers are written for acquisition - the retrieval of data from Web sites.  A few stock general and output handlers are provided as well.  As you'll see, I was able to use these latter filters without modification, allowing me to focus on the acquistion filters completely.

[ More Web Wonderings ]

Downloading from CPAN:
One of the interesting things I learned while playing with NewsClipper was how easy it is to update my Perl modules.  In order to link NewsClipper to a database, I installed mSQL.  In the book, Official Guide to MiniSQL 2.0, by Brain Jepson and David J. Hughes there is a chapter on using mSQL with Perl.  Here I found the little pearl which made updating my Perl modules a breeze.  I simply run
% perl -MCPAN -e SHELL
and I get into a shell hooked to the CPAN archives.  I can then just run
cpan>  install <module>
where <module> is the name of the module you want to install.  What's really nice is that any prerequisite packages are also installed.  There are cases where you might not want to install the prerequisites (none came up when working with NewsClipper or mSQL, however), but for most cases this little trick will be a real time saver.  If you use this, be sure you're logged in as a user who has write permissions to the directories where existing Perl modules are installed.  Normally, this would be the root user.  I did wonder if running this as a root user with a connection across the Internet was a possible security violation for my local system, but since I don't do it often I didn't worry about it.

No Musings this month.

Those two big projects I'm working on are taking quite a bit of my time these days.  I'll have the 3D Modellers review soon.  But be prepared - major changes are coming to the Muse!

The following links are just starting points for finding more information about computer graphics and multimedia in general for Linux systems. If you have some application specific information for me, I'll add them to my other pages or you can contact the maintainer of some other web site. I'll consider adding other general references here, but application or site specific information needs to go into one of the following general references and not listed here.
Online Magazines and News sources 
C|Net Tech News
Linux Weekly News
Linux Today

General Web Sites 
Linux Graphics
Linux Sound/Midi Page
Linux Artist.org

Some of the Mailing Lists and Newsgroups I keep an eye on and where I get much of the information in this column 
The Gimp User and Gimp Developer Mailing Lists
The IRTC-L discussion list

Future Directions

Next month:  No Muse next month.  But expect some big changes in the near future!

Let me know what you'd like to hear about!

© 1999 Michael J. Hammel

Copyright © 1999, Michael Hammel
Published in Issue 44 of Linux Gazette, August 1999