I’ve done a lot of things for a living over the years, and after working with outer space and virtual reality I dove into the creative half of my brain. I was an artist before switching to math and tech, and I combined my art background and my programming background by working at Khazai Rug Gallery.
Cool Job, Part 3: Floor Show
The oriental rug industry certainly seems like an odd fit for developing custom software, but there was a small market of companies that needed to be able to design rugs on the computer quickly. This was back in the days of Windows 3.1. The software was essentially a cleverly disguised MS Paint, with some custom add-ins that we’d written.
What we created was a very primitive version of the modern photoshop. It could do a variety of common image tricks, and some that were more useful for rugs than for general images like copying and flipping rug sections (take take a corner design and mirror it into a full rug), simplify the colors (to use fewer yarn colors), and such. It could even randomize some of the threads to create “mistakes” in the weaving, making them more quaint and obviously hand-woven, right?
The end result was that the software would spit out a “rug map” — the thread-by-thread instructions for how to weave that particular rug. The rug map was made up of large colored squares, that individual craftsmen would use as a guide. If you’ve ever seen a cross-stitch pattern book, it’s sort of like that.
It was cool to travel to various rug design firms and demo the software. (I found out that New York City has a “rug district” where everybody who’s anybody in rug design had to have a building. Who knew?) I even got to use my art skills as a contractor designing rugs for a few weeks at such a place in Atlanta.
Thanks to writing this software, I gained the geek skill to look at any color, and take a pretty good guess to its hex value.
In a computer, colors are based on red/green/blue combinations, with values going from 0 to 255 (or 00 to FF in hexadecimal terms). So pure red would be FF0000, green would be 00FF00, and blue 0000FF. White is FFFFFF (all the colors at once), and black is 000000. All other colors fall somewhere between 00 and FF in those three
My color-hexing skill has waned over the years, but by guesstimating the RGB makeup of a color, I can still come relatively close much of the time. I’m told that many professional artists and designers can do the same thing with pantone colors (another way to uniquely identify a color).
What’s cool is that the idea of punch cards actually came from the weaving industry. So that means the software I wrote could be used to control the predecessor of computers. As Homer & Jethro once sang, “I’m My Own Grandpaw.”
The Louisville Science Center has a kiosk showcasing that software project. The similarity between pixels and thread maps is a strong one, and finding the right match from one technology to another is still a force for innovation. “I think I see a pattern here.”