Tuesday, November 3, 2015

New symbol graphics and better support for mobile devices

Old symbols, scaled up, pixels obvious
[updated 2015-11-03: the set is now available on github.]

I've just upgraded aprs.fi to use my new APRS symbol graphics set. The new symbols are drawn in vector format (as opposed to a raster format at a fixed resolution), allowing them to be rendered at larger and smaller sizes without distortion or blurriness. The new symbols are slightly larger than the old ones, making them easier to recognise on modern displays having smaller pixels than the old ones. They're also available in double resolution so that they're properly sharp on the 4K/retina displays found on many modern tablets, phones and computers!

New symbols, scaled up - no pixelation!
One downside is that they are just a little bit bigger than the old ones, taking up more space on the screen. On the other hand, the old ones were a bit too small on modern displays, and the very small resolution did make it hard to understand what the symbol tried to mimic.

The new aprs.fi symbol set is available as open source on GitHub, in both vector (Adobe Illustrator/PDF) and raster (PNG) formats. Other APRS applications may then use them, too, at no cost. Raster renderings are available in 24x24, 48x48, 64x64 and 128x128 pixel resolutions - drawing from raster sprites in apps is usually quicker and easier than working with the vector source material. Having the vector sources makes it possible to improve them and and replace individual symbols easily. If you need to render other resolutions or make some other fine tuning, you can run Illustrator for free for 30 days. The symbol set release even comes with a little piece of javascript which crunches out the 3 PNG files (primary, secondary, overlay characters) at the 4 resolutions in a few seconds.

Naturally I did not draw all of the symbols myself. Many are loosely or strongly based on the original symbol graphics, primarily to keep the familiar and consistent look. Some symbols I obtained from other sources, such as Wikipedia. In those cases I picked SVG versions which allow commercial reuse (source known, and the work is placed on public domain, or with a CC license which allows adaptation and commercial reuse). In any case, the source and copyright information is documented separately for each symbol.

The aprs.fi symbol graphics set does not contain additional symbols for overlays yet, mostly because it takes lots and lots of time to draw them, and the effort it took to create this set was pretty high already. Maybe later!

There is one obvious difference in the new symbol set: the "ham store" symbol has been replaced with a more generic "store" shopping cart, reflecting the current \h symbol definition in the master index. Please use the 'H' overlay character to specify an amateur radio shop.

To complement the symbol graphics, I've previously published a machine-readable (CSV/JSON/XML/YAML) APRS symbol description index, which is easier to integrate in applications than Bob's master list.

Improved mobile device support

aprs.fi will now work better than before on mobile devices. I fixed the signup/login flow and most of the text and data table views to scale more nicely on small devices, allowing  horizontal scrolling of tables. It'll need some more work to make it very nice, but this is a good start.


Peđa said...

Why Illustrator?
Try Inkscape. It is very capable vector graphic editor, free and open source.

Heikki Hannikainen said...

I tried Inkscape before starting this effort a couple years back, and I think Illustrator is better. I also needed the other apps (photoshop, lightroom, after effects, premiere) in the Adobe suite for other things, and they integrate well. I am a long-time open source user and advocate, so I did not make this choice without consideration.

Helge Hartz said...

Hi Hessu,

thanks for all your efforts and the upgrade today.

ANYHOW: are you aware that the following script doesn’t work any longer?


he_track = "DF1CHB-12,DF1VK-9,DF8HL,DF8LS-9,DF8LS-10,OH6DL-10";
he_maptype = 'p';
he_width = 800;
he_height = 600;

The max of 20 station is known. But now it only indicates the very first station mentioned in the he_track line.

Thanks for advising what to do or expect.

73 de Helge DF8LS / SA7SKY
Administrator Robust Packet Network

Heikki Hannikainen said...

Oops, embedded map loading was broken after the upgrade.

It's fixed now. Thanks for the report.

noseynick.net said...

Remember /h is also the Hamfest symbol - http://www.aprs.org/hamfest.html
I don't think I've ever seen shopping carts at hamfests, but I'll admit I've never made it to Dayton yet ;-)

Heikki Hannikainen said...

/h is a completely different symbol than \h.

/h is in the primary table, Hospital (http://www.aprs.org/symbols/symbolsX.txt).
\h store / hamfest overlap, in the secondary symbol set, is difficult to convey in a single symbol. When I put the store shopping cart in there, I don't think the hamfest was documented.

Edouard Lafargue said...

Excellent news! I am very much looking forward to the release of those symbols on Github, many thanks for leading the way here.