Category Archives: Hacks

Generating Noise Textures

My current play-with-random-web-tech side-project is is a solitaire game. Well actually it’s a framework for implementing solitaire games because I’m a programmer and a side project is the right place to exercise my desires for needless abstraction. I want a nice felt-looking background texture and the way to do that is you add some noise to an image. Adding some subtle noise to an image is a really common approach to achieving a nice visual aesthetic – as I understand it – I mentioned I’m a programmer.

My project ships as a single HTML file. I’m developing it with in TypeScript with LESS styling but then I can bundle it all up as a single file to scp to a server. I’m not using any external images – Unicode includes plenty of handy symbols and the only other one I needed (a Mahjong bamboo symbol) was only a tiny snippet of SVG. Including a noise texture as an external image or inline as a data: URI is kind of gross. Noise textures by definition don’t compress well.

I was able to build something pretty nice by combining HTML Canvas’ raw pixel data access and Web Crypto’s getRandomValues(). The window.crypto.getRandomValues() call fills a typed array with random data. Actually it’s generated by a PRNG seeded with a little entropy so it’s fast and won’t waste all your hard earned entropy. Canvas’  createImageData() and putImageData() allow you to work with canvas pixels as typed arrays.

The only catch is that getRandomValues() only fills 64k of data. Canvas image data is 32bpp RGBA so all you can generate trivially (without repeated calls to getRandomValues()) is a 128×128 texture. When I use this subtly I don’t notice the repetition.

The completed example is on JSFiddle:

Creepy Flashing Heads

Sharon picked up some cheap styrofoam heads from a store that had previously used them to display wigs for use in a decoration project of hers for this Halloween. I got her to pick up a couple more for me to use. After some discussion and ideas Aaron and I decided that it would be creepy to have lights flashing on them in a random fashion. This sounded like exactly the project I wanted to use my TI MSP430 Launchpad for. I don’t have very much microcontroller experience – pretty much just making lights flash on or off – so that’s perfect.

I managed to get a MSP430 development environment up and running on Linux pretty easily. It was just:

apt-get install mspdebug gcc-msp430

The code is pretty simple. Two digital IO pins drive the LEDs and a watchdog timer wakes up every 32ms to decide if an LED should be turned on or off or left alone. In the end much of the code is overkill for such a simple application, but it does look kind of cool:

Simply logging JavaScript calls.

When debugging complicated JavaScript one thing I find myself constantly doing is using console.log() to print out what functions are being called in what order. JavaScript is single-threaded and event driven so it’s often not entirely clear what functions will be called in what order.

Traditionally I’ve done something like this:

function foo(bar) {

but last night I came up with something better. It’s probably not completely portable but it seems to work fine in recent Chrome / Safari / Firefox, which is really all I’m going to be using for debugging anyway:

function logCall() {
  console.log( + '(' +
    .map(JSON.stringify).join(', ') + 

Just add logCall() to the start of functions and the function call (including serialized arguments) will be logged to the console. Easy and foolproof.

Showing git status in my Zsh prompt

I like Zsh. It’s a powerful, efficient shell. It’s better than Bash by just about every metric (better performance, more features, better sh compatibility). I really have no idea why people keep using Bash.

Anyway, I put together a little piece of zshrc to show my current status in right-hand prompt – a prompt that’s shown right-aligned in the shell. Zsh has a couple of features that make this really easy.

First the prompt_subst options instructs the shell to do variable substitution when evaluating prompts. So if you were to set your prompt to '$PWD> ' then your prompt would contain your current directory. Of course you wouldn’t do it that way, %~ does that much more nicely, but that takes us to Zsh’s second feature, ridiculously powerful variable substitution and expansion. In my prompt I just use the simple $(shell-command) substitution, but there’s a full complement of file-io, string manipulation and more to be had.

Scripting Google Voice in Python

In the interest of getting some of the fragments of code I’ve written off my hard disk and out where someone might find them useful I’ve decided to start dumping them into git repos with some very minimal documentation. Minimal enough that I actually kick them out there.

The first is a simple Python library to access Google Voice’s calling and texting functionality:

% python                  
Python 2.6.1 (r261:67515, Jun 24 2010, 21:47:49) 
[GCC 4.2.1 (Apple Inc. build 5646)] on darwin
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> from googlevoice import *
>>> gv = GoogleVoice('googleaccount', 'googlepassword')
>>> gv.sms('+1415MYNUMBER', 'this is a test')
>>>'+1415MYNUMBER', '18003569377')

The library depends on BeautifulSoup. It’s based on a bunch of work that I found on the internet. I don’t remember exactly whose techniques I ended up using, but there’s a bunch of example code out there, just not much that was simple to use and in Python.