Update on Press (the PDF compiler). I haven’t worked on it at all lately, but I wanted to document its current state for history’s sake, and as part of working in public. (I’ve also been sitting on this post for over a year.)
Back in 2017 I did end up re-architecting Press to use Low Ink as an intermediate page description language. In the process, Low Ink changed from a JSON-based idea to this:
It was intended to be a fairly low-level wrapper on the PDF format, with the idea being that other libraries/apps would provide more ergonomic abstractions on top of it.
I initially used Python because Press started out as a library, but with the pivot to a compiler model, I think Go or Rust would probably end up being a better choice (Rust would make integrating HarfBuzz a bit easier, at any rate).
To my 2021 eyes, the language design isn’t particularly elegant. I like that the parameters are named (clarity), but for most of the commands there aren’t actually that many parameters, because many of the settings that would normally be parameters are separate commands. For parameters that are clearly unambiguous, the names hamper readability. For example, I think something like this might be better:
:line 0,0 to 1080,0
I’ve also thought that push and pop could potentially be clearer as curly braces, and that the initial colons aren’t really necessary:
line 0,0 to 1080,0
font 14pt helv
text 1085,-3 "ascender"
My initial reason for building Press was to have an easy, programmable cross-platform way to create language chart PDFs (so I could move away from PlotDevice/DrawBot), and what I’ve realized (acknowledging that I haven’t really been making language charts in recent years) is that there are some other, better options now.
One that seems decent is SVG, converted to PDF by way of Inkscape. Initial tests here seem like it would probably work fine.
Another promising option that I admittedly haven’t looked into very much yet is Paged.js. HTML and CSS are already great for declarative typesetting, and the more I’ve thought about programmatic typesetting, the more this model seems to be the future I’d want to work with (and not just because of parity with web, though that makes it much more compelling).
tl;dr I don’t see myself continuing on with Press, so we may as well call a mortem on it.
Ziglings. Learn Zig by fixing small bugs in small programs. (Inspired by rustlings, though those exercises seem to be broader than just fixing errors.) A good way to learn a programming language, I think.
As schoolwork starts to wind down, I’m finally starting to make progress on the creativity tools and HCI explorations I talked about back in September. This week I’ve also realized that graphical tools for art and design are what I want to focus most on. (I do still intend to explore textual interfaces, but they’re on the backburner for now.)
In the spirit of working in public, then, Cirque is a small WIP web app I’m building for making patterns via circle packing:
This is very much a rough initial MVP. You can tweak some settings, generate new patterns using a simple circle-packing algorithm, and export SVG (with the turbulence/displacement filters enabled by default), but that’s it. Some of the features I’m planning to build next:
Replace the settings text box with, you know, good UI (I’m also excited to explore color picker design here)
Add the ability to manually place both circles and anticircles (so artists are able to create intentional negative space)
Add a way to programmatically set the circle colors (probably via something like shaders, so you could say all circles smaller than a certain size get one color and the rest get another, or circle color is dependent on position or something else)
I ended up tweaking my Vim syntax highlighting earlier this week (after my first post), to be more in line with what Ben had posted. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far (with the disclaimer that all of this code is internal and wasn’t written with the expectation that it would ever be seen by anyone else) (and I’m also still fairly new at writing Go and Rust):
And some Rust, Go, and HTML:
These are certainly more soothing to my eyes, which was something I didn’t realize I needed. While these aren’t perfect in the least — with enough variation between languages to look almost like entirely different color themes, though I think I see that as a feature and not a bug — I’m happy with the tweaks for now and plan to stick with them.
Last night I finished writing a ray tracer for class. Super basic, no antialiasing, only a couple primitives, but still fun.
It was also my first real project in Rust. Overall, great experience. The borrow checker was mystifying at first (and admittedly still is to some degree), but it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. And the language itself is lovely to code in. Great ergonomics, even if the syntax is occasionally intimidating. I’m excited to do more with it. (I’ve been thinking about possibly rewriting md2epub in either Rust or Go at some point.)
Tectonic is an intriguing modern TeX engine written in Rust and powered by XeTeX.
What exactly that last bit means, I’m not entirely sure. But what I do know is that Tectonic is a much smaller install than MacTeX, and my initial tests came out with no problems whatsoever. Also, by default it doesn’t write out those intermediate .aux/.log files. I’m planning to use it instead of MacTeX going forward.
Switched from Chrome to Firefox yesterday. (I don’t really trust Google anymore and figured it was finally time to make the move.) Other perks: multi-account containers, theming via userChrome.css, supporting Rust. Happy so far, though it’s admittedly only been a day.
As mentioned on Twitter, I’ve decided to write my own typesetting engine, called Ink. Apparently I’m crazy.
The details are still very much in the air, but here are some quick notes:
Written in Rust (for speed)
Programmatic (sort of like TeX)
Intended for use in typesetting book interiors, covers, and charts
Possibly some kind of template/data division
Full OpenType feature support (shaping via HarfBuzz)
Custom PDF generation library (inkpdf)
Reasons for doing this insane thing:
PlotDevice only runs on OS X and I want the source of my language charts to be usable on other platforms.
I’d like to open source the books I typeset, so InDesign isn’t a great solution.
TeX is powerful and well-seasoned and all, but it’s not exactly pleasant or easy to work with, especially for the kind of stuff I do.
I’ll learn a lot and have fun while I’m at it.
The initial roadmap, not necessarily in order:
Write inkpdf in Python (which I think will be a better fit for the charts anyway)
Get familiar with HarfBuzz
Port inkpdf to Rust
Plan out the Ink language (I’ve started on this and it’s looking promising)
Figure out how scripting is going to work and embed the interpreter
I’ll document the process on this blog, of course. First steps: reading the PDF spec and figuring out how to make PDFs by hand.
(For those who’ve been reading for a while, Ink was also the name of my static blog engine. That’s now ink-static, and at some point I’ll either retire it completely or change the name to something unrelated.)