Entries for September 2007

September 27, 2007

Idea: The Histogram as the Image

Yesterday, I posted the image seen here and told you that there is another picture hidden somewhere within it. I challenged my readers to find it. After a bit of confusion in the comments, someone finally declared that they found it: “Hahahaha! Cool! It’s the NY skyline!” Another reader noted, “The first thing I did was to try to tweak the image using the Levels command. I was greeted with a surprise right there in the dialog.”

Yes, the New York City skyline is hidden in that picture’s histogram. It looks like this:

Several people have asked how I did it. So I’ll explain, but I might get a little longwinded in my attempt to be clear. Feel free to just skim and look at the pictures if you don’t want to read it all.

The idea for this project started with a question: Is it possible to create an image that depicts its own histogram? (A histogram, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a bar graph representing all the tones in an image — it typically looks something like a mountain range). I played around a little bit in Photoshop and the closest thing I came up with was this image:

…which has this histogram:

Yeah, okay. That was neat I guess. But I couldn’t come up with any other shapes that worked. But all this thinking about histograms and what they represent got me wondering if I could control what a histogram looks like by manipulating the image. Could I create something recognizable? To try it, I would need to find something that would be entirely black, horizontal in orientation, and not require any holes or vertical gaps. A skyline seemed perfect.

I did a Google Image Search for “manhattan skyline silhouette” and was tickled to see that the perfect image came up in a result from my own site! I once posted an entry about New York City as depicted in the animated film Antz. Google showed me this image from that entry on the first page of search results:

A typical 8-bit grayscale image can have 256 possible shades of gray. A histogram represents the amount of pixels at each level from 0 to 255, and is 256 pixels wide. So the first thing I did was shrink down the Antz skyline to 256 pixels wide. This meant that each vertical band of black pixels in the skyline represented a value from 0 (black) to 255 (white).

Then I created a new document. The first column of pixels in the skyline image represents value “0” and has 43 black pixels. So my new document needed 43 pixels with the value “0.” Column 2 of my skyline represents value “1” and has 46 black pixels. So my new document needed 46 pixels with the value “1.” And so forth.

Another way to think of it is to say that I took all of the “skyline” pixels from this image:

…and put them in a new document, with no other pixels. Then I rearranged all those pixels into a square from dark to light. The result was very close to perfect. The histogram looked pretty much like the skyline, but it was stretched vertically.

Normally, a histogram is scaled vertically so that whatever value has the most pixels reaches all the way to the top of the graph, and everything else is sized proportionately. In this case, it is the shade of gray which forms the World Trade Center antenna that has the most pixels. So this is roughly what the histogram looked like:

I was thrilled that it worked, but I didn’t want it stretched vertically like that. In order to prevent the WTC tower from being too tall (and everything else scaling upwards with it) I had to put extra pixels of one value in my image, so there would be more pure of that value than any other value, which would push the others down so that the graph remains proportionate. I chose pure white, because this creates a thin black line at the far right side of the histogram where you don’t notice it.

I could have added this row of white pixels at the bottom of the new image, but instead I typed my website name in white, and placed it within the image. In doing so, I copied over some other pixels, which altered the skyline. So I had to put it in a place where the “damage” to those buildings wouldn’t be that noticeable. It took trial and error, but I found a good spot. It changed the skyline on the left side a little bit (compare to the “Antz” image). But it still looks like buildings, so I accepted it. Also, this way I get some credit if the image gets passed around without attribution.

I did it all tediously by hand, but I think with a little tinkering, someone could write a program to simplify the process, taking a 256 x 100 silhouetted image and extrapolating a new image with that as the histogram. And the final image file doesn’t need to be a square with a gradient, either. Those pixels could be in any order. They could be completely scrambled. Or they could be laid out in a way that shows an image of an Apple (as in “The Big Apple”). As long as no new pixels are introduced or deleted, the histogram remains the same. But that is a lot more work than I was prepared to do.

Oh, I almost forgot: I doubled the image size so it would look a little better on the website. As long as I resized it using the “Nearest Neighbor” method instead of some other interpolation method, every pixel (and therefore every shade represented in the image) would be duplicated identically, keeping the proportions in the histogram the same.

Update: A reader has taken this idea even further!

September 26, 2007

Puzzle: Find the Hidden Picture

The below image looks like a simple gradient with my website’s name on it. But it’s more than that. There’s a picture hidden in that gradient. Can you find it?

I’m not sure if this is a cool way to hide an image, or just a gimmicky parlor trick. And I don’t know if this will be easy or difficult to solve. But when you figure it out, post the answer in the comments.

If nobody figures it out in a day or two, I’ll post the solution.

Update: I’ve written a follow-up post which explains the answer, and includes a detailed explanation of how I did it.

September 19, 2007

Book Trend: A Novel

Sure, I’ve seen book covers that identify the book as “A Novel.” But I never realized just how ubiquitous it is until a recent visit to my local brick and mortar bookstore. It’s on practically every novel! All of the below images are details from the covers of books currently on the New York Times Bestseller Lists for hardcover or trade paperback fiction. You can click on each image to see what book it’s from:

I guess just being a work of fiction isn’t enough anymore. You have to emblazen your book with a category on the cover so the book superstore employees know where it belongs. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha wind up in the religion section.

September 17, 2007

Idea: Color Photos with the Game Boy Camera

Note:I wrote this article in 2001. At the time, Nintendo had a camera add-on product for the Game Boy that took low-quality black and white pictures. Small, cheap, color digital cameras were not nearly as prevalent as they are now. I originally posted this on my photography website. There has been a link to the article from Ironic Sans in the sidebar on the front page, but I’ve decided to integrate it as a regular Ironic Sans entry and remove the sidebar link.


All colors of the visible spectrum can be broken down into combinations of just three colors: Red, Green, and Blue. In fact, if you look at your computer screen under a magnifying glass, you will see that it is made up of tiny red, green, and blue lights that are varied in combinations to create all the colors you see on your screen.

Every color picture can be broken down into three separate black-and-white pictures which represent the amounts of red, green, and blue that are used to make up that picture, as in this example:

The Theory

If a color picture can be made from three black and white pictures, I could use the Game Boy Camera to take three separate black and white pictures (using filters to capture the red, green, and blue values of a scene) and then use the computer to combine them into a single RGB image. A more elaborate version of this process is commonly used in high-end digital cameras used by large photo studios, so I saw no reason why it wouldn’t also work with the Game Boy Camera. [*note: three-pass digital cameras aren’t really used as often now in 2007 but they were at the time I wrote this]

The Process

I picked a location in my apartment where I could make sure the Game Boy could sit absolutely still (so I could take three identically-posed pictures) and picked a small colorful object to photograph. One of the first objects I tried photographing was a Snapple bottle, Kiwi-Strawberry flavored, with a colorful green and pink label.

To capture only the red light reflecting off the Snapple bottle, I was going to need a red filter that I could place in front of the Game Boy Camera, so that only red light would reach the lens. I went to a local photo-supply store and obtained a free book of filter samples, containing dozens of various colored filters. I picked a red filter and held it in front of the lens and took a picture. I repeated the process with a green filter, and then a blue filter, careful not to move the camera or the bottle in between shots.

Using the Game Boy Camera PC Link from Mad Catz, Inc., [no longer available in 2007] I transferred the images to my computer, where I ended up with these three images:

I thought I had done everything right, but when I pulled the images into Photoshop to create my RGB composite from these three images, I came up with a picture that looked like this:


Obviously, I didn’t have the full color photograph I had anticipated, although there was a hint of color in the image. If my theory was correct, though, it should have worked. A little bit of research on the internet brought me to the cause of the problem. It turns out, the light-sensitive chip inside the Game Boy Camera (it’s called a Mitsubishi M64282FP chip) is sensitive to infrared light, which isn’t visible to the human eye. While I was succesfully filtering out red, green, and blue light, infrared light was still reaching the lens of the camera.

This was easily provable by pointing my Game Boy Camera at my TV remote control and pushing a button on the remote. Even though nothing seemed to happen that I could see with my eyes, I could see the front of the remote light up on the Game Boy screen! I would have to filter out the infrared light reaching the Game Boy Camera in order to get my full color photograph.


Apparantly, most digital cameras are sensitive to infrared light, but contain a built in “hot mirror” filter, which blocks infrared (something I learned through a little research on-line). So I went to my local camera shop and bought a hot mirror filter (which was more expensive than I thought it would be, but I was now determined to take color photos with my Game Boy Camera, so I bought it anyway). I held it in front of the Game Boy Camera and repeated the remote control test, and could no longer see the light of the remote light up. I had a good feeling about this. I attached the hot mirror filter to the front of the Game Boy Camera using masking tape, and picked a new test subject to photograph: a Garfield Pez Dispenser.

Repeating the three-pass process of photographing an object with the red, green, and blue filters, I came up with these images:

Already I had a good feeling, as these images were more in line with what I was expecting than with the previous tests.  So I again transferred them to Photoshop, created a composite RGB image, and this was the result:

The World’s First color photograph taken with the Game Boy Camera!

More Pictures

October 31, 2001 - Okay, I know that they are not the most exciting subjects, but the following photos (plus the Pez Dispenser above) are the World’s First color photos taken with the Game Boy Camera. I just shot whatever was around to be used as test subjects.

November 10, 2001 - My first outdoor attempts. First off, notice the vignetting in these images (the halo that seems to be around the pictures). This is caused by the camera itself reflecting in the Hot Mirror filter. I’ll have to use a black magic marker or something to make the GB Camera black so it doesn’t reflect (I think it wasn’t a problem indoors because the camera didn’t have such bright light on it). In the picture of the trees, the blue sky came out nicely peeking through the top. I’ll have to solve the halo problem before my next attempts.

[That’s it. I never got the motivation to shoot any others in this series, as cheap color digital cameras became more prevalent, and the novelty of taking low quality color pictures with a cheap handheld device wore off].

Adam Rex Contest: The Winner

Congratulations to “Jon the Geek” for winning the Adam Rex “Character in Search of a Story” contest. Jon’s suggestion for a character was “AMBIGUGUS, The Remarkably Unmemorable Man.” Wow, you people really took the notion of abusing the artist seriously. How Adam is going to draw a remarkably unmemorable man in an interesting way, but without any features that make him memorable, is beyond me. That’s quite a challenge!

But Adam says he’s up to the task and he’ll have the character posted on his blog in the next day or so. Congratulations, Jon!

September 13, 2007

Adam Rex Contest: Vote for the winner

Wow, there was a great response to the contest! Lots of entries are really funny. Some of you took the notion of abusing the artist pretty seriously!

Now you get to pick the winner. Vote for whichever one of the following is your favorite, the one you would most like to see Adam Rex draw. (The voting will close at Midnight EST Friday night).

Oh, and remember to check out Adam’s new books Pssst! and The True Meaning of Smekday

[Note: If you read this blog through an RSS reader and you don’t see the vote above, come to the site to make your opinion count.]

September 10, 2007

Contest: Win original Adam Rex artwork


A Contest in Search of a Winner

I’m excited to announce that author and illustrator Adam Rex has joined with Ironic Sans to hold a contest where the prize is an original custom drawing by Adam. If you’re not familiar with Adam’s work by now, he is a children’s book author whose books are marketed for kids, but contain humor and details that are definitely of a level aimed at grown-ups. His 2006 book Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich became a New York Times best seller, and is well on its way to becoming a Halloween classic. This fall, Adam has two new books out:

The first book, Pssst!, is an imaginative picture book that tells the story of a girl who goes to a zoo where the animals make some unusual requests. Pssst! is available now.

The second book, called The True Meaning of Smekday, is Adam’s first illustrated novel for kids. It tells the story of Earth’s takeover by an alien race called Boov, and one girl’s journey to Florida — the only place the Boov have left for Americans. The True Meaning of Smekday comes out October 2. More information, in the form of a puppet show, a guide to Boovish uniforms, an excerpt from the book, and more can be found at the book’s website Smekday.com.

Now on to the contest!

Adam has a recurring series on his new blog Editpus Rex called Characters in Search of a Story. He’s been sketching some great characters, like “G.I. (tract) JOE, The Cuddliest Tapeworm,” and “MR. BABY, The Boy With No Birthday” (seen at right). The winner of this contest gets to invent a new Character in Search of a Story for Adam to draw, and that person will also receive the original artwork!

How to enter:

Step One: Visit Adam’s blog Editpus Rex. Look at the other Characters in Search of Stories to get an idea of what the series is like, and get inspiration for your entry.

Step Two: Come back here, and suggest your own Character in the comments. You have until Midnight EST on Wednesday night to make your suggestion. You must make your submission with a valid e-mail address to be able to win. Limit one suggestion per e-mail address. Anything profane will not be considered.

Step Three: On Thursday, I’ll round up all the suggestions and put up a poll where you can all vote on your favorite. Voting will continue until midnight Friday night, and a winner will be announced on Monday. In the event of a tie, my vote will decide the winner.

Step Four: Adam will post a drawing of the winning entry on his own site, and he will send the original artwork to the winner.

Adam says, “I kind of like the idea that I wouldn’t be involved in the selection process at all, so that I don’t end up just picking something I like drawing already, or that’s easy to draw. So that if, God forbid, the winning entry is PICKLEHEAD, THE MAN WHOSE HEAD IS ONE THOUSAND AND ONE PICKLES or something, there would be a fun ‘abuse the artist’ aspect to it.”

So if you’ve ever wanted to abuse an artist, here is your opportunity. The contest is open to entries now!

Previously: Interview with Adam Rex

September 3, 2007

Idea: Celebrity middle finger coat hooks

Middle Finger Coat HooksI think a kitchy home accessories designer should license historic photos of celebrities giving the middle finger and turn them into 3-dimensional coat hooks. At right is an artist’s rendition of how such a coat hook might look using a famous photo of Johnny Cash.

A coat hook like this would be the perfect thing to put in your rebellious high school son’s bedroom. He’ll enjoy it so much you can be sure he won’t come home from school and just drop his jacket on the floor any more!

Other celebrities who have been caught on film giving the middle finger, making them great candidates for the coat hook conversion, include Abbie Hoffman, Willie Nelson, and, um, George W. Bush.