Ionică Bizău

Web Developer, Linux geek and Musician

The Amazing Tangram Square

I was 7 years old when I first found out what the Tangram Square is. I saw it in a Maths book and I quickly started to have fun with it.:dizzy:

The Tangram is a Chinese geometrical puzzle consisting of a square cut into seven pieces:

  • 2 large right triangles
  • 1 medium right triangle
  • 2 small right triangles
  • 1 square
  • 1 parallelogram

These pieces can be used to create different shapes (animals, objects etc).

Recently I thought that it's not a bad idea to to bring this game on the WEB, so anybody can play it.

And I did it! You can play it here. :sparkles:

Using svg.js and a bit of math I created the pieces. To make them interactive, I set up the mouse-related events (click, drag etc):

  • Left click: rotate left
  • Right click: rotate right
  • CTRL + left click: flip
  • Hold left click + move: drag

You can build pretty much anything. From hearts... :sparkling_heart: cats :heart_eyes_cat:...

...and a lot of other shapes. Then, once you got it, be creative and create your own stuff.

The source code is hosted on GitHub. Hope you'll enjoy playing this game! :grin:

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How to write a web scraper in Node.js

Sometimes we need to collect information from different web pages automagically. Obviously, a human is not needed for that. A smart script can do the job pretty good, especially if it's something repetitive. :dizzy:


When there is no web based API to share the data with our app, and we still want to extract some data from that website, we have to fallback to scraping. :boom:

This means:

  1. We load the page (a GET request is often enough)
  2. Parse the HTML result
  3. Extract the needed data

In Node.js, all these three steps are quite easy because the functionality is already made for us in different modules, by different developers.

Because I often scrape random websites, I created yet another scraper: scrape-ita Node.js scraper for humans. It's designed to be really simple to use and still is quite minimalist. :zap:

Here is how I did it:

1. Load the page

To load the web page, we need to use a library that makes HTTP(s) requests. There are a lot of modules doing that that. Like always I recommend choosing simple/small modules, I wrote a tiny package that does it: tinyreq.

Using this module you can easily get the HTML rendered by the server from a web page:

const request = require("tinyreq");

request("", function (err, body) {
    console.log(err || body); // Print out the HTML

tinyreq is actually a friendlier wrapper around the native http.request built-in solution.

Once we have a piece of HTML, we need to parse it. How to do that? :thought_balloon:

2. Parsing the HTML

Well, that's a complex thing. Other people did that for us already. I like very much the cheerio module. It provides a jQuery-like interface to interact with a piece of HTML you already have.

const cheerio = require("cheerio");

// Parse the HTML 
let $ = cheerio.load("<h2 class="title">Hello world</h2>");

// Take the h2.title element and show the text
// => Hello world

Because I like to modularize all the things, I created cheerio-req which is basically tinyreq combined with cheerio (basically the previous two steps put together):

const cheerioReq = require("cheerio-req");

cheerioReq("", (err, $) => {
    console.log($(".header h1").text());
    // => Ionică Bizău

Since we already know how to parse the HTML, the next step is to build a nice public interface we can export into a module. :sparkles:

3. Extract the needed data

Putting the previous steps together, we have this (follow the inline comments):

"use strict"

// Import the dependencies
const cheerio = require("cheerio")
    , req = require("tinyreq")

// Define the scrape function
function scrape(url, data, cb) {
    // 1. Create the request
    req(url, (err, body) => {
        if (err) { return cb(err); }

        // 2. Parse the HTML
        let $ = cheerio.load(body)
          , pageData = {}

        // 3. Extract the data
        Object.keys(data).forEach(k => {
            pageData[k] = $(data[k]).text();

        // Send the data in the callback
        cb(null, pageData);

// Extract some data from my website
scrape("", {
    // Get the website title (from the top header)
    title: ".header h1"
    // ...and the description
  , description: ".header h2"
}, (err, data) => {
    console.log(err || data);

When running this code, we get the following output in the console:

{ title: 'Ionică Bizău',
  description: 'Web Developer,  Linux geek and  Musician' }

Hey! That's my website information, so it's working. We now have a small function that can get the text from any element on the page.

In the module I have written I made it possible to scrape lists of things (e.g. articles, pages etc).

So, basically to get the latest 3 articles on my blog, you can do:

const scrapeIt = require("scrape-it");

// Fetch the articles on the page (list)
scrapeIt("", {
    listItem: ".article"
  , name: "articles"
  , data: {
        createdAt: {
            selector: ".date"
          , convert: x => new Date(x)
      , title: "a.article-title"
      , tags: {
            selector: ".tags"
          , convert: x => x.split("|").map(c => c.trim()).slice(1)
      , content: {
            selector: ".article-content"
          , how: "html"
}, (err, page) => {
    console.log(err || page);
// { articles:
//    [ { createdAt: Mon Mar 14 2016 00:00:00 GMT+0200 (EET),
//        title: 'Pi Day, Raspberry Pi and Command Line',
//        tags: [Object],
//        content: '<p>Everyone knows (or should know)...a" alt=""></p>\n' },
//      { createdAt: Thu Feb 18 2016 00:00:00 GMT+0200 (EET),
//        title: 'How I ported Memory Blocks to modern web',
//        tags: [Object],
//        content: '<p>Playing computer games is a lot of fun. ...' },
//      { createdAt: Mon Nov 02 2015 00:00:00 GMT+0200 (EET),
//        title: 'How to convert JSON to Markdown using json2md',
//        tags: [Object],
//        content: '<p>I love and ...' } ] }

Happy scraping! :grin:

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Pi Day, Raspberry Pi and Command Line

Everyone knows (or should know) what the Pi number is. Basically, its value is defined by the division of a circle circumference to its diameter. That's the Pi number! The nice thing about it is its irrational nature. That means it has a lot an infinity of decimals.

Usually, Pi is approximated as 3.14. And today is 14th of March! So, happy Pi day! :)

I have a Raspberry Pi computer around, and I was thinking to use two of my libraries to create something nice: displaying the Raspberry Pi's logo and the Pi number in the command line: it's funny how it basically stands for Raspberry Pi (the raspberry image and the pi number). I wanted one more thing: using the pi number decimals in the output characters. Here's the result (see below how I did it):

How I did it

To display the images in the terminal, I used image-to-ascii. To pass different image urls, I decided to use command line arguments.

To get the first n decimals of the pi number, I used another module I created this time last year: pi. This module returns a good approximation of pi:

const pi = require("pi");

// => '3.141592653'

So, I created a file named index.js and I wrote the following stuff in it (follow the inline comments):

// Require the needed dependencies
// `pi` will be used to return the first `n` decimals of pi
const pi = require("pi")

      // image-to-ascii for displaying the images in the terminal
    , img = require("image-to-ascii")

      // We use this module to stringify the pixel matrix after
      // modifying the internal data (basically, the characters)
    , stringify = require("asciify-pixel-matrix")

// Take the image url/path from the command line arguments
img(process.argv[2], {
    // We turn off the stringifying, since we really want to do
    // some changes before displaying the images
    stringify: false
  , concat: false
}, (err, converted) => {
    // Handle the errors
    if (err) { return console.error(err); }

    // `converted` is an array of arrays (in fact, a matrix of pixels)
    // We use the `converted` matrix to know how many decimals we
    // need: width x height
    // `piNumber` will be a string in this format: "3.14...." (with a
    // lot of decimals)
    var piNumber = pi(converted.length * converted[0].length);

    // We will use this `i` variable to get the current index
    var i = -1;

    // For each row in the matrix
    converted.forEach(cRow => {
        // ...and for each pixel in the row
        cRow.forEach(px => {
            // ...update the character using a pi decimal, in order
            px.char = piNumber[i = ++i % piNumber.length];

    // Finally, stringify everything and display the result! Yay!

The requirements to run this script are:

  • Node.js (I installed it on my Raspberry Pi using nvm)
  • graphicsmagick: sudo apt-get install graphicsmagick (this is optional, kind of: if it's not available image-to-ascii will compile some C/C++ stuff, but it will probably take a long time)
  • ...and of course the npm dependencies: npm i image-to-ascii pi asciify-pixel-matrix

Happy Pi Day!

PS: I posted this article using my Raspberry Pi, connected to the Internet and using a 7" display. Just perfect. :)

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