Picons Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Picons Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Post by Steve Kinzl » Mon, 26 Feb 1996 04:00:00

Archive-name: picons-faq
Posting-Frequency: monthly
Last-modified: 1995/12/27
URL: http://www.cs.indiana.edu/picons/ftp/faq.html


Steve Kinzler
27 Dec 1995

   An HTML version of this document is available at

    1. What are picons?
    2. Where can I get the picons databases and how are they licensed?
    3. What is the structure of the picons databases?
    4. What are the constraints on individual picons?
    5. How are picons looked up in the databases?
    6. What software and services are available that use picons?
    7. What software is available to help create picons?
    8. How can I submit picons to the databases?
    9. Is there a mailing list about picons?
   10. Who has contributed to picons?



   "picons" is short for "personal icons". They're small, constrained
   images used to represent users and domains on the net, organized into
   databases so that the appropriate image for a given e-mail address can
   be found. Besides users and domains, there are picons databases for
   Usenet newsgroups and weather forecasts. The picons are in either
   monochrome XBM format or color XPM and GIF formats.

   These databases have been compiled in hopes of helping make cyberspace
   a more personable place. With them, software and services can be
   developed to identify persons on the net by face (or, at least, by
   institution logo) instead of by a cryptic e-mail address. Although
   this software is still more potential than actual, much already exists
   (see 6.). The picons databases themselves, of course, are only a first
   step toward this goal.

   The picons databases have been built from the submissions of hundreds
   of contributors across the net, and, as such, their accuracy and
   appropriateness has not been extensively verified. Contributions and
   corrections are welcome and encouraged (see 8.).

   The picons databases that currently are available are:

     * domains, logos for Internet domains
     * misc, picons for common accounts and miscellany
     * news, icons for Usenet newsgroups
     * unknown, default picons for very high-level Internet domains
     * usenix, face images of Usenix conference attendees
     * users, picons for individual accounts (often face images)
     * weather, icons for displaying weather forecasts

   The picons databases have previously been referred to as "faces"
   collections or databases, because they were originally compiled for
   use with the "faces" software. Since they're now used for more than
   this and include more than actual face images, they're referred to as
   the picons databases to make the distinction and to avoid overloading
   the term "faces".



   The picons databases are available via WWW in the Picons Archive at
   <URL:http://www.cs.indiana.edu/picons/ftp/index.html> or via FTP in
   ftp.cs.indiana.edu:/pub/faces/picons/. This archive also includes
   sources for picons application scripts and icon utilities and a set of
   demo window dumps of some picons applications. A picons database
   search facility is also available via WWW here.

   The databases are also mirrored in the UUNET archives in
   ftp.uu.net:/published/usenix/faces/bundled/picons/, where they're
   available via FTP or UUCP. Or they can be retrieved via e-mail -- send
   mail to mails...@cs.indiana.edu with "help" in the body to get

   The databases are updated in these archives each day they change so
   the most current version is always available. Since many of the
   databases are constantly growing, you may want to update your local
   copy of them periodically.

   Most of the databases have a license that places some conditions on
   their use and distribution. Generally, this is just to ensure that the
   volunteer efforts put into the databases are recognized and protected.
   Otherwise, they're essentially freely usable, but see the LICENSE
   section of the README file in the top directory of each database for



   Each database is structured as a directory tree. Each directory deeper
   into a database more specifically references a picon. The databases
   for users and domains are organized by reversed Internet domainname
   components followed by the username. For example, my XPM picon is
   located in the "users" database under my most general e-mail address,
   kinz...@indiana.edu, in the file


   The picon files themselves are always named face.xbm, face.xpm or
   face.gif. If a face.xpm file exists, then an equivalent face.gif file
   will also exist, and vice versa. If the picon applies to the domain as
   a whole and no user in particular, the username "unknown" is used.
   These picons are typically in the "domains" or "unknown" databases,
   for example


   If the picon applies to a specific user in any domain (usually
   standard system accounts), the domain "MISC" is used. These picons are
   typically in the "misc" or "unknown" databases, for example


   Note that, with the exception of the special MISC domain, all parts of
   the path are in lower-case.

   The "news" database is organized by Usenet newsgroup name components
   with an "unknown" username. For example, the XPM picon for
   rec.humor.oracle is in


   Experimentation is being done with alternate bases for picons
   databases. See the libfaces sources in the Faces Archive (see 6.).



   Each final directory in a database may contain one or both of a
   face.xbm file and a face.xpm/face.gif file set. Picons in all formats
   are constrained to be 48 by 48 pixels in size. (An exception is the
   weather database which has picons 64 by 64 pixels). Furthermore, XPM
   picons are in the version 3 format of XPM and must use only colors in
   one of two limited subsets of common colors. This restriction
   minimizes the competition for colormap space for many users and
   usually allows applications displaying picons to do so with the
   standard colormap. GIF picons are equivalent to their XPM counterparts
   with the XPM "none" color converted to "grey75" (rgb:BF/BF/BF) and
   marked as transparent.

   The first color set is that used in the AIcons collection, version
   1.6. See <URL:http://www.cit.gu.edu.au/~anthony/icons/docs/> for more
   about the history and rationale of this color set. The colors in the
   set are (by hexadecimal RGB triplets and X11 color names)

    00 00 00 black              EE 82 EE violet
    2F 4F 4F dark slate grey    FF 00 FF magenta
    70 80 90 slate grey         A0 20 F0 purple
    BE BE BE grey               00 FF FF cyan
    DC DC DC gainsboro          A0 52 2D sienna
    FF FF FF white              CD 85 3F peru
    00 00 80 navy               FF A5 00 orange
    00 00 FF blue               FF D7 00 gold
    1E 90 FF dodger blue        FF FF 00 yellow
    87 CE EB sky blue           D2 B4 8C tan
    E6 E6 FA lavender           F5 DE B3 wheat
    2E 8B 57 sea green          FF FA CD lemon chiffon
    32 CD 32 lime green         B2 22 22 firebrick
    00 FF 00 green              FF 00 00 red
    98 FB 98 pale green         FF 63 47 tomato

   The second color set is a greyscale set for use with photographic-type
   icons when the first color set isn't satisfactory. Its colors by
   hexadecimal RGB triplets and X11 color names are

    00 00 00 black              87 87 87 grey53
    12 12 12 grey7              99 99 99 grey60
    21 21 21 grey13             AB AB AB grey67
    33 33 33 grey20             BA BA BA grey73
    45 45 45 grey27             CC CC CC grey80
    54 54 54 grey33             DE DE DE grey87
    66 66 66 grey40             ED ED ED grey93
    78 78 78 grey47             FF FF FF white

   The transparent or "none" color can be used with both color sets. In
   fact, its use is encouraged as the background color.



   With most applications, databases are searched sequentially according
   to an order specified by a search path. The definition of this path
   will vary from application to application depending on the nature of
   the application and the databases available and desired.

   The recommended order of the picons databases for a search path for
   Internet e-mail addresses is:

    1. your personal database, if any
    2. your local site database, if any
    3. users
    4. usenix
    5. misc (MISC default picons)
    6. domains
    7. unknown ("smoking spy" catch-all default picons)

   Any of these databases are optional, of course, and may be excluded
   for efficiency or because of lack of usefulness. As special purpose
   databases, the news and weather databases are usually used alone or
   with just personal and local additions.

   Each database is searched for a matching picon from most specific to
   least specific. The search typically stops with the first match. Each
   database is searched entirely before continuing with the next one. For
   example, a lookup for the picon for kinz...@cs.indiana.edu would
   proceed with this sequence of checks occuring within each database in
   the search path. The picon used would be in the first of these
   directories containing a suitable one:

    1. edu/indiana/cs/kinzler
    2. edu/indiana/kinzler
    3. edu/kinzler
    4. MISC/kinzler
    5. edu/indiana/cs/unknown
    6. edu/indiana/unknown
    7. edu/unknown
    8. MISC/unknown



   There's a number of programs available that use picons to monitor
   incoming e-mail or represent an e-mail message. Applications are also
   available to monitor print queues, unread news, system mail queues,
   weather forecasts, given addresses and newsgroups, and so on.

   All such software can be found in the Faces Archive available via WWW
   at <URL:http://www.cs.indiana.edu/ftp/faces/index.html> or via FTP in

   The Faces Archive is also mirrored in the UUNET archives in
   ftp.uu.net:/published/usenix/faces/bundled/, where they're available
   via FTP or UUCP. Or they can be retrieved via e-mail -- send mail to
   mails...@cs.indiana.edu with "help" in the body to get started.

   The Picons Search engine at
   <URL:http://www.cs.indiana.edu/picons/search.html> searches the
   picons databases for requested picon sets and displays the found
   picons. As such, it can serve as an icon lookup service for Internet
   users and domains and Usenet newsgroups.

   The WWW-Finger Gateway with Faces at
   <URL:http://www.cs.indiana.edu/finger/gateway> displays picon
   sequences for the users and hosts it fingers.

   The Indiana University Computer Science Personnel Directory at
   <URL:http://www.cs.indiana.edu/people/index.html> uses picons of
   users in indices of its personnel information pages.

   The Bloomington Weather page at
   <URL:http://www.cs.indiana.edu/weather/bmg.html> displays a table of
   picons to summarize the current weather and forecast. Similar pages
   may be set up at other sites for other city's weather.



   There's a cornucopia of software available on all computing platforms
   for creating and manipulating images which can be useful towards
   creating picons. Images can be created by hand or scanned in with a
   scanner. Also, one can scrounge around existing image collections or
   browse the World-Wide Web for images that can be converted and scaled
   to a picon.

   These are some software packages I commonly use for creating picons
   under a Unix/X11 environment:

   XPM, koala.inria.fr:/pub/xpm/
          A library needed by most other software with XPM support.
          A very broad suite of image filters and tools, particularly
          useful for format conversions.
   picons bits, ftp.cs.indiana.edu:/pub/faces/picons/
          Special supplements to NetPBM for picons.
   xbmbrowser, ftp.x.org:/contrib/utilities/
          Great for viewing and managing picons databases and working on
          sets of picons.
   AIcons support environment, ftp.cs.indiana.edu:/pub/AIcons/
          This greatly extends xbmbrowser and other software listed here
          as picons support tools.
   bitmap, X11 archives
          A standard X11 tool for editting XBM bitmaps; the X11R5 and
          later versions are recommended.
   pixmap, avahi.inria.fr:/pub/pixmap/
          An X11 tool for editting XPM pixmaps.
   xv, ftp.cis.upenn.edu:/pub/xv/
          A powerful image processing and conversion tool; shareware
          versions 3 and later support XPM.
   xpaint, X11 contrib archives
          A simple paint program for X11.
   xgrabsc/xgrab, ftp.x.org:/contrib/applications/
          Handy tools for grabbing an image from your display.
   xfontsel, X11 archives
          A standard X11 tool for displaying a text string in various
   xmag, X11 archives
          A standard X11 tool for magnifying a portion of your display.



   Large sets of picons can be packaged and uploaded via FTP to
   ftp.cs.indiana.edu:/pub/faces/picons/incoming/. For individual
   picons or small sets of picons, it's preferable to submit them (or
   their URLs) via e-mail.

   To submit a new or revised picon to a database, mail its XBM or XPM
   file to one of these addresses

     * picons-us...@cs.indiana.edu
     * picons-doma...@cs.indiana.edu
     * picons-n...@cs.indiana.edu

   as appropriate. Alternately, you may mail in, alone in the body of the
   message, a URL referencing the image file.

   In any case, the subject line should contain only the e-mail address
   (in u...@dom.ain format) the users picon is for (eg,
   "kinz...@indiana.edu"), the domain address or hierarchy the domains
   picon is for (eg, "sei.cmu.edu" or "cmu.edu"), or the newsgroup or
   newsgroup hierarchy the news picon is for (eg, "comp.unix.shell" or
   "comp"). Please submit each picon in a separate mailing.

   For picons contributed to the users database, the domain specified in
   the subject should be the most general at which the given username is
   uniquely applicable, even if such a domain isn't valid as a mailing
   address. For example, if "kinzler" is the same user in every subdomain
   of "indiana.edu", his picon would be submitted as
   "kinz...@indiana.edu" even if that's not a valid mailing address.

   The body of mailed files should contain only the picon, preferably
   already within the standard picons constraints (see 4.) and preferably
   as an XBM or XPM picon unpackaged in plain text. A GIF version of a
   picon need not be mailed in if its corresponding XPM version is
   submitted. But, if you do mail in a GIF, or other non-ASCII format
   image, you'll need to package it somehow for mail transfer. You may
   mail in images (or URLs for images) with other sizes, formats and
   color sets, but they may not be able to be successfully processed and
   added to the databases.

   See 7. for pointers to software to aid in creating picons. Any extra
   comments about the submitted picons can be mailed separately to

   After being processed, submissions are deleted from the FTP picons
   incoming directory. They will then appear in the distributed databases
   within the next 24 hours.



   A mailing list is available for announcements and discussion related
   to the faces and xfaces software and the picons databases. See 6.
   about accessing the Faces Archives for these, as well as archives of
   the mailing list.

   Mail sent to fa...@cs.indiana.edu is mailed to everyone on the mailing
   list. Mail faces-requ...@cs.indiana.edu with your requests to
   subscribe to or unsubsribe from the mailing list.



   Steve Kinzler <kinz...@cs.indiana.edu> is the creator and primary
   developer of the picons databases, application scripts, and online
   services. He began around 1990 after installing faces and finding its
   potential limited by the lack of a substantial collection of domain
   icons. He's created or adapted a good share of the picons and
   reviewed, installed and sometimes tweaked all the rest.

   Daniel Glazman <Daniel.Glaz...@der.edf.fr>, Iain Sinclair
   <axol...@socs.uts.edu.au>, Dirk Craeynest
   <Dirk.Craeyn...@cs.kuleuven.ac.be>, Dougal Scott <dwa...@aaii.oz.au>
   and Yuval Kfir <yuval.k...@Indigo.co.il> have contributed a
   substantial number of picons themselves and some of the picons have
   been adapted from Jeff Poskanzer's <j...@netcom.com> bitmap collection.
   Rich Burridge <Richard.Burri...@eng.sun.com> compiled early versions
   of a combined users and misc database. Hundreds of others around the
   net have contributed some number of picons to the databases. Under the
   Usenix FaceSaver project, Dave Yost, Lou Katz, Barb Dijker
   <barb.dij...@labyrinth.com> and David C Lawrence <t...@uunet.uu.net>
   have compiled and made available thousands of face images of Usenix
   conference attendees (available at
   ftp.uu.net:/published/usenix/faces/) which form the basis for the
   usenix picons database.

   Rob Kooper <koo...@cc.gatech.edu> is developing an alternative to
   filesystem-based picons databases and implementing the collection of
   picons via the World-Wide Web.

   These folks are acknowledged for developing applications which use
   picons: Rich Burridge <Richard.Burri...@eng.sun.com> (faces), Chris
   Liebman <lieb...@zod.clark.net> (xfaces), Daniel Glazman
   <Daniel.Glaz...@der.edf.fr> (MEUF), Brent Welch
   <Brent.We...@eng.sun.com> (exmh), Marc VanHeyningen
   <mvanh...@cs.indiana.edu> (WWW-Finger Gateway with Faces), James
   Ashton <James.Ash...@anu.edu.au> (compface), and Axel Belinfante
   <Axel.Belinfa...@cs.utwente.nl> (ircfaces). faces, the software
   which started it all, was itself inspired by seminal work by Rob Pike
   <r...@research.att.com> and David L Presotto
   <preso...@research.att.com> with their vismon program for AT&T
   Version 8 Unix described in Face the Nation.

   And these folks are acknowledged for developing software which has
   been especially important in the creation of the picons databases:
   Davor Matic (bitmap), Lionel Mallet (pixmap), Anthony Thyssens
   <anth...@cit.gu.edu.au> and Ashley Roll <a...@cit.gu.edu.au> (AIcons
   & xbmbrowser), and Jeff Poskanzer <j...@netcom.com> and the NetPBM
   developers (PBMPlus/NetPBM).

   Plus others I'm sure I've neglected to mention.