LaTeX Beamer Theme Previews

May 19, 2009

Update (09/07/2010): It was brought to my attention that the help message printed by beamerizer referenced \include instead of \input. I updated the the help message to now use \input which is the better choice. Thanks to ArkanoidX for pointing this out 🙂

I have been using LaTeX beamer for a little over a year now to do my “PowerPoint” like presentations for math and computer science classes. I really like beamer a lot and I find it easy to put together a nice looking presentation that is not bogged down in special effects and gimmicky animations. One of my main problems with beamer is that I never know what theme to pick because I never know what the themes look like ahead of time. This is what made me think that it would be nice to have a script that automatically builds my presentation with every possible theme and puts them in one giant pdf file.

It turns out that by using Python and some nice Linux tools it is fairly easy to achieve this. I call the little script I wrote “beamerizer” and it takes a directory of LaTeX themes and a LaTeX source file. Then, it builds that source file with every possible theme. It’s a pretty simple idea, but it gets the job done. I have also used this script to produce a nice sample document that was built using the standard LaTeX themes. Both the beamerizer script and that sample document are included in this post. Hopefully this will help someone out who needs to see all the different beamer themes 🙂 .

Beamerizer Python Script: beamerizer.tar.gz (requires that “gs” and “pdflatex” be installed)

Theme Preview File: BeamerThemePreview.pdf

(For those of you who are interested: all beamerizer really does is generate a pdf file for each theme and then use the “gs” command to concatenate all the pdf files together)

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Sorting My Thoughts with Freemind

May 17, 2009

Recently I was introduced to a nifty little Java program called Freemind. The purpose of Freemind is to help you map out your thoughts into a form which then allows you to manipulate them freely. Sometimes I have too many ideas in my head to put them all together in a coherent way and a program like Freemind helps me to sort through them all. Basically, I use it as an extension of my memory, and I have been looking for software that does this for quite a while now. Before Freemind all I had was a pencil and paper. This solution is not terrible, but I do almost all of my work on the computer so having a digitized solution is always prefered. Here is a screen shot of Freemind:

Screenshot of the main application

Screenshot of the main application

One of the main things I like about Freemind is that once you get the hang of the keyboard shortcuts you can control everything about the program from the keyboard. This is really handy for me since I can just type away and keep adding ideas without having to give too much thought in to the use of the computer itself.

In Freemind a file is called a “Mind Map” and it is basically a single unifiying topic for what you will be organizing your thoughts on. Off of that one supplies “nodes” which have snippets of text in them describing whatever you please. Nodes can, of course, be placed off other nodes and this is how one builds a mind map. The nice thing about Freemind is that these nodes can be moved around quite easily with keyboard shortcuts. This allows one to quickly rearrange ideas.

Finally, Freemind lets you place little graphics next to the nodes which one can use to indicate various things about nodes. For example, I was using Freemind to keep track of bugs in this small program I was writing, and I would use the check mark graphic to indicate when I had solved one and written unit tests for it.

All in all I really like Freemind and it is a great way to put my thoughts together in a coherent way. I hope to find new and interesting uses for it in the future.


Web Based TODO List: TaskFreak!

May 11, 2009

For the past year or so I have been keeping a digital copy of the list of things I need to get done (aka my todo list). Originally, this was simply a text file that I stored on the computer science lab computers at my college. This was handy because I could always access the computers via ssh and retrieve my todo list. Eventually, that became too annoying to manage and I installed the program gtodo on all my computers. I use sshfs on all my machines so that I could store the todo list on those same computer science machines. This was a great system, but now I must graduate from college, which also means that I have to leave my account as well. Since I recently purchased a domain and web hosting I figured a web based solution would be perfect for my needs. That’s how I discovered TaskFreak!

TaskFreak! has exactly the features I need and one or two extras. Those features are: it lets me enter a new item, associate it with a category, give it a priority, give an optional deadline, and indicate when it is finished. On top of all that TaskFreak! lets you give a description of the task, which can be displayed when clicking on a given task. TaskFreak! lets you sort your tasks however you choose simply by clicking the first cell in each column of the table. Setting it up was fairly straightforward as all I had to do was create a new MySQL database on my web server and tell TaskFreak! how to contact that database.

At the end of the day TaskFreak! is exactly what I need it to be and not much more. I wanted a simple, web based way to access my todo list. TaskFreak! delivers perfectly. I should also note that there are multi-user versions of TaskFreak! if that is the kind of solution one desires. Finally, I leave with a screen shot of the UI (as rendered by FireFox 3):

Screenshot of the UI

Screenshot of the UI (Click to see full size)


Back Home Again

May 8, 2009

Well, it seems as though the school year is basically over. I am still waiting to get grades in two of my classes, but I don’t expect any surprises from either of them so I guess that means I will graduate! I’m glad that I was able to get through college in 4 years. About half way through I decided to add Math as a major in combination with Computer Science. During the time I had to deal with the coursework, I second guessed my decision, but I am glad that I choose to do that. Certainly I plan to find a computer science related job, but I think the skills I have learned from my math classes will come in handy depending on what I do with computers. Even if they don’t, learning mathematics has taught me to think much more logically than I used to. As many programers know, being able to think logically is quite helpful when writing code.

The feeling of being “done” with school hasn’t fully set in though. I’m sure it will eventually, but I can’t really predict when that will be. Right now it just seems like another semester has ended and I have gone home to try and figure out what to do for the summer. Though, in my case, it’s what to do in terms of a job. I still have some time from now until there are a couple senior events and then graduation. I hope to make some more posts and work on my personal webpage in that time. Those plans aren’t really set it stone though so I may up doing something else instead.

It’s good to be back on Lightflame (my desktop computer) again. For the past weekish I was using only my laptop since I wanted to bring the motorcycle back to school and needed to bring Lightflame home when I had the car out at college. It was fun having the bike at college though, so it was worth forgoing the full power of my computer for a time.


New Domain

April 30, 2009

This is just a quick note that I finally got around to registering jintoreedwine.com and I plan to host my blog there. Since I already have this wordpress account and am continuing to use wordpress as the platform on my domain I will probably post all of my articles to both places at once. If you are a consistent reader it would probably be best to simply view the blog at the new domain. Finally, here is the URL: http://jintoreedwine.com/blog/

I know I haven’t written much lately, but hopefully I can find some time to write something interesting in the next week or two. I have a long list of topics… just need to find the time to write about them.


Google Street View — Cool or Creepy?

April 11, 2009

Most people reading this are probably familiar with Google Street View. Indeed, Street View has been around for a while now, at least in internet terms, but I have just gotten around to summarizing my thoughts on it now. Basically, Google Street View is where Google goes around in fancy cars and takes lots of pictures of the surrounding area, and then allows users to view a 360 degree view of the area just off the road. Some of the advantages to this sound appealing: such as being able to figure out exactly where a restaurant you are going to is located, or trying to view a particularly nasty intersection in advance. Still, I tend to find Google Street View to be more an invasion of privacy than anything else.

Certainly I am not the first person to point out the privacy issues with Street View. Clearly it would be infeasible for Google to go through and edit everyone out of the pictures in Street View so they just leave them all in there. This might not seem like a problem as what you do in public can be seen by anyone walking around anyway. That happens to be the argument of some, but I think it is flawed. That is, if you do something stupid in public only the people in the immediate area have even a chance of knowing what happened. With Street View, you picking your nose could be immortalized for all internet users to see.

Google responds to privacy complaints by saying that as long as you let them know which picture you don’t like they will take it take down. Honestly I think that is kind of lame. There is no way one would have time to go through the ever changing pictures to make sure there were not any unwanted photographs of them. Even though Google’s offer sounds all well and good they must know that very few people will actually have the mix of time, dedication, and luck to find the pictures they wish to be removed from Street View.

Finally, the argument has been given that someone, like a thief, could use Street View to plan their next robbery. At first I was 100% on board with this point, but now I am not so sure. Let us try and reason this out a little bit. First off, if someone is going to use Street View to plan this out we can assume they are already more advanced than the average robber. Next, if someone is going to rob your house it is likely that they are already near by, within short driving or walking distance. If they are not then it would be too much hassle to rob you when they could go somewhere closer. Since they are already close to you they could simply drive by your house and take their own pictures. After all, if they can use the internet we can assume they can use other forms of technology such as a digital camera. Therefore Street View doesn’t really aid a would be robber that much. Maybe it can help them decide whether to rob your house over your neighbors house, but chances are that they could have done it just as easily without Street View.

At the end of day I don’t really like Google Street View because I don’t think Google has solved all of the privacy issues with it. If there were a way for them to blur out all the people in it, or just remove them than I wouldn’t have any problems with it. However, it is unlikely Google would be willing to do that. Regardless of my feelings on the matter it doesn’t seem like Street View is going anywhere. I guess I will just duck if I see the Googlemoblie driving by… 🙂 .


A LaTeX User in a Microsoft Office World

April 2, 2009

It has been quite a while since I wrote my last post, but school has been keeping me as busy as always. Thankfully I have had more free time this semester than in past years, but I still seem to keep myself quite busy, and too burned out at the end of the day to write anything terribly thoughtful on the blog. However, I still keep a list of topics to write about for when I have the motivation 🙂 .

Today I wish to write about a recent trouble I have had relating to my usage of LaTeX. I have been using LaTeX for a little over 3 years now and I love every minute of it. The level of control that it gives me over documents is perfect for my needs. Table of contents, works cited, picture placement, and many other time wasting tasks are mostly automated by LaTeX. As such I can focus in on the true content of my document, which is usually all I care about anyway. Also, with the use of packages such as LaTeX Beamer I can also do PowerPoints with LaTeX. Finally, the fact that you can define custom commands is another huge time saver, and for a programmer, who loves functional decomposition, this is a wonderful tool.

So, now we have established why I use LaTeX, but here is where the trouble with LaTeX lies: most people don’t use LaTeX (shocker… I know). In many situations this does not matter due to the ubiquity of the PDF file. However, there have been times when I have been expected to simply have things in .doc (or these days .docx) format. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I wrote a history paper in LaTeX and right before the due date our teacher said that we needed to send our paper, in .doc format, to someone in the class for peer review. Thankfully it was only a history paper and didn’t need much modification to get into OpenOffice. Still, it was an inconvenience and it was due to the assumption that “everybody uses Microsoft Word”. In another instance, I have seen companies that will only accept your resume in .doc format, which seems a little funny considering these are all technology companies I am applying to and I would hope they could accept a PDF file at least. Luckily I had known this in advance and have my resume typed up in OpenOffice.

At any rate the point of all this is that it seems I may be forced, at some point, to use either Microsoft Word directly or preferably something like OpenOffice. It is not as though I cannot use these tools, but that I think LaTeX is far superior to them. This is a disappointing realization, but hopefully I will still have chances over the years to use LaTeX so that my skills won’t grow dull. I realize that LaTeX looks intimidating to new users, but it is quite empowering once one gets the hang of things.

Well, that’s all I have to say for now 🙂 .