Creating Posters with Scribus

Now that I've got the large-format printer set up in the BCRC, I'm exploring ways to use it most effectively. Most of grad students making posters have been making them using Powerpoint. Powerpoint is simple, but it's not a good tool for making a good poster. I'm going to have my students print posters in the writing class using Scribus, an open-source page-layout program. I've spent the past week learning how to use Scribus and have written a wikidocument with hints on creating posters using scribus.

I've tried learning to use page-layout programs before, but never really got the hang of them. The key thing to remember is that you're building a workflow and not just trying to format a bunch of stuff. It pretty much forces you to create styles and then apply them. Once you get the hang of it, it really rocks. I'm glad to be getting the experience with another of the free graphics applications that will be represented at the Libre Graphics conference in Montreal next month.

Breakfast with Deval Patrick

This morning was the annual Chamber of Commerce breakfast with Deval Patrick. I haven't normally attended these things in the past, but with Alisa on Select Board, I should probably assume I'll be going to more and more of them. It brought about 500 of the Amherst government and business leaders together to hear Deval speak.

Deval offered a different perspective to the business community than the one he's given in the other places I've heard him speak (to ADTC, to Higher Ed, and at a press conference). Many of the same themes were there, but spun from a different perspective. He made the case for education and infrastructure emphasizing the need to compete with other communities around the world that are positioning themselves to attract business. He did emphasize that he doesn't see education as a "workforce training" issue, but as a vehicle to an informed and active citizenry that can enable the commonwealth to achieve it's potential. He also emphasized education that builds and encourages creativity. It was a good speech.

I saw a few familiar faces: Jack Wilson, the president of the UMass system was there, Stan and Ellen (our legislators), and many of the people who supported Alisa's campaign. I'm always suprised, however, by the people I don't see. I essentially didn't see anyone from UMass Amherst. No chancellor or provost. No other faculty either. Maybe someone was there, but if they were I didn't recognize them.

Printempa neĝo

Printempa NeĝoNeĝis dum la vespero. Hodiaŭ matene la grundo kaj la branĉoj refoje blankas pro malseka neĝo. Verŝajne estos la lasta neĝo de la vintro. Kaj jam, eĉ je tagiĝo, la neĝo degelas. Kiam mi iros hejme vespere, malmulte da neĝo plu restos. Mi vidis la arbflorojn kovritaj per neĝo kaj memoris ke mi havis la fotilon. Mi ofte forgesas aux ne portas.

Plaĉas min ke mia kurso fartas bone. La studentoj presos grandajn afisxojn post du semajnoj. Mi trovis interesan softvaron kiu nomigxas scribus. Mi lernas kiel uzi ĝin kaj instruas ĝin al miaj studentoj. Mi ĝojas ke mi ne devas proponi ke ili faru afiŝegojn per Powerpoint.


Charlie kaj PennyI saw an article about an interesting trail in the Berkshires. It's a trail that goes to some interesting keystone bridges that were made with cut stone laid dry in the 1830s. A few are still in use and three were destroyed during a flood in 1927, but there are two unused out in the woods -- they changed the course of the railroad to make gentler curves to allow trains to go faster. Charlie and I drove out this afternoon to explore the trail. We found that the trail was still snowcovered (or ice covered) in places, and very muddy, so we didn't hike all the way out to the bridges. But we still had a great hike.

The engineer who designed the bridges, interestingly enough, was Whistler's Father. (And not the Whistler in the Blade movies either). The one we could see was beautiful and still looked like new. We'll have to go back when the trail will have dried out and hike the rest of the way out to the bridges.

Penny had a great time. There was no-one else out there, so we didn't feel guilty about letting Penny off the lead. She ran and ran and got lots of sniffies. Charlie worried that she might fall into the river, but with her four feet, she's not in any danger. She didn't like it when trains would go by, however. The trail runs parallel to the active tracks and we saw (and heard) three trains go by. Penny hadn't ever experienced a train before -- she hated it. Poor Penny!

People unhappy with windows vista

We need to get a new laptop for Alisa. We'll probably just buy her a macbook, but I thought I'd look at inexpensive laptops that could run Ubuntu for comparison. It's not possible to find a cheap laptop with Linux (as far as I can tell) -- but Circuit City and Best Buy both have laptops for $450 (like the Acer Aspire and Compaq Presario), so I was looking to see if they were well-supported by Linux. What I'm finding however, are page after page of people trying to get rid of Vista and install Windows XP (or linux). And I'm reading things like "the worst computer I've ever used" and "dump vista as fast as you can". Hmm. The macbook is sounding better and better. I've used Ubuntu and I'm sure it would be fine for what she needs, but I don't want the headache of trying to go off and look for drivers to run dodgy hardware. Ugh.


Recently, I've come to like Naruto. They show it on the cartoon network. At first I thought it was just another dumb ninja cartoon, but I've really come to appreciate it -- enough so, that I bought box sets of the uncut first two seasons on DVD. I can't stand to watch it as a series (and it's hard even on DVD) because it takes FOREVER to tell a story. Each episode, they devote a quarter to retelling what happened in the last episode -- its really painful sometimes. But the characters are interesting and compelling. I've gotten hooked. Unfortunately, I have the only first 25 episodes and there are something like 200. Sigh...

Cable modem replaced

On Monday night, the network in our house failed. The network inside worked, but we had lost connectivity. I hoped for a while it would just start working again -- and they don't exactly advertise how to get in touch with them. Today, we got through and they sent someone out who replaced our cable modem. The network in the house still wasn't working, however, so I came home a bit early to work on it. It took me a few tries to get it work properly -- at first, it would assign 192.168.100.x addresses to the router, as if the modem was trying to NAT for us. But after a few powerycles and resets, I got it to assign us a real address and now everything appears to be working fine. I don't know what will happen if it loses power, though. I was pleased with the previous modem because it seemed extremely stable.


In the March 27 townwide elections, Alisa trounced the competition, receiving twice as many votes as her opponent. She will serve a three-year term on the select board starting immediately. We're both very gratified by the support of the many volunteers and voters who turned out to make her candidacy possible.

The election got ugly as the other side became increasingly desperate. I was pleased that Alisa ran a very clean campaign. She did everything right: got out an early letter to solicit donations, made an early reservation for a good spot for a signature ad in the paper, got the lawn signs out first, and got two mailings out: a brochure early, and a reminder postcard just before the election.

People have been offering me their condolences - since I will now be a "select board widow", but I don't think it can be any worse than when Alisa was on the school committee and chair of comprehensive planning. And, hopefully, she can slow down for a few weeks before things will need to ramp up again for the override. On May 1st, the town will vote on whether to have a 2 1/2 percent tax override to offset the structural deficit in the Amherst town budget.

Geek Dad and DoggyMups

Phil send me a link to the Geek Dad blog. I particularly liked the bit that serves as a manifesto. I thought that was perfect. I'll have to watch the blog for ideas.

The thing Charlie and I have been working on is a new card game version of DoggyMups. It was originally the theme of the Muppyville MOO that we set up, but early on Charlie had the idea of making it a video game or card game. We thought about it being a "collecting" game, where people would collect different cards, but eventually settled on the idea of having a single deck of cards that players would share and draw from. Charlie and I tried it out last night. It works great! I want to tweak it just a little more, we need to work on the directions, and we need graphics for the cards, but the game is very playable as it is.

The game is played with a deck of cards -- we have about 30 cards right now. Cards can be either doggymups or items. Each doggymup has an attack score (most as xD6), a defense score, a type (light, dark, water, fire, and legendary), and some have a special ability. The items do a variety of things: turn on special abilities, remove an opponent's doggymups, counter attacks, etc. So far, the game play is pretty good -- games only take 15-20 minutes and there's a good sense of back and forth and not being able to predict who's going to win with any great certainty. Let me know if you'd like a PDF copy of the cards to print out and play.

Libre Graphics

At the beginning of May, I'm planning to attend Libre Graphics in Montreal. I've been an avid user of Inkscape and Gimpshop for a couple of years now. I'm hoping to talk to people about creating an iconology for building free textbooks in biology using SVG. I think that a lack of sharable imagery is the primary thing that's holding back the creation of free textbooks in many fields.

While I'm there, I'll also be meeting with the Montreal organizers of the 2008 Landa Kongreso de Esperanto and the TutAmerika Kongreso de Esperanto. I agreed to be the representative from ELNA and this will be a good chance to talk about timelines and places and stuff.

I'm looking forward to visiting Montreal -- I've wanted to go for years, but haven't had a good excuse to go. It should be a good time.


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