Sunday, January 20, 2013

How to do math slides with LaTeX and Scribus – and not with Beamer

Yeah, I keep (really) hating  LaTeX/Beamer. Thankfully, there is a better way to make slides with LaTeX on a WYSIWYG software. It is Scribus running LaTeX as a external tool. Here is how to get started.

Yesterday I got a comment from wipeout on a remix of a math presentation I did in 2011. He asked if it could be done all in Beamer. I did research and ended writing this post. I have been using LaTeX for more than 10 years. It is a beautiful tool to typeset beautiful math. But LaTeX is neither a word processor, a desktop publishing tool, nor slideware. In words of its creator
Producing good slides requires visual formatting, which means LaTeX is not well suited for the task.
                                                                       – Leslie Lamport
LaTeX/Beamer doesn't create the visuals you need, but rather the ones it can. It limits your control of at least 3 things: Positing, Alignment, and Color. Oh and add Imagery to it. Speaking of design elements, I get the idea behind templates. They try to help bringing unity to the overall slide stack. The problem with Beamer's templates is that they are meant standardize, be unnoticeable, exactly the opposite of what a presentation should be…

There is a better cross-platform and free way to typeset math in LaTeX and stil make effective visual. Introducing Scribus, a professional layout and publishing software supporting EPS and SVG import/export, and PDF support.  The following example is an exaggeration, but it shows the potential of Scribus and LaTeX to build other type of visuals. 

  I'll just show the LaTeX relevant steps.

  1. Open Scribus's Preferences and go to External Tools. Check that the pdflatex command is the right now. In my case it is located /usr/texbin.
  2. Insert a Render Frame  ("D" is the keyboard shortcut). Click and Drag to define define the position and size of the frame. If the pdflatex path is right, Scribus renders a LaTeX sample. Right-Click on the frame selected "Edit Source…". The Editor will  open.
  3.  Stretch the Editor's window and make the "Enter code" field bigger by moving the field's right border to further to the right. The screenshot shows the "Font/Header" tab. That's where the interesting configurations are.

    Basically you need two (three) additional packages, anyfontsize to make the LaTeX render slide-big (like in the example). The set the size by enter the command \fontsize{<size>}{<leading>}\selectfont.  Leading is the distance between two consecutive line's baseline. It should larger that the size.

    In addition to the size you need the color packages.  Check out the xcolor documentation here
That's it. Click on "Update" instead in "OK" to re-render without closing the Editor window.

Obviously there is fine print. When are done with your stack, save it as pdf. As for Scribus 1.4.2. (on Mac) a error message is displayed: "Object is a placed pdf background." Ignore it. But make sure to click on "Embed PDF & EPS files" on the "Save as PDF" window.

A neat feature is you can modify most of the LaTeX's Render Frame window options. There are written on a  XML file usually under the name latex.xml. On Mac OS X 10.8.2 and Scribus 1.4.2. it is located at /Applications/

Still interested? Take a look at these two links on Scribus as PDF Presentation tool and Render Frames.
Water drop image from Wikimedia Commons by Sven Hoppe  under GNU Free Documenation License.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Wanna rock an audience? Be you!

It is easy to get lost and think that pretty slides take for a better talk. They don't. What makes a good scientific talk, at least to me anyway, is that sense of awe – "Wow, it is really possible?!" – that a carefully crafted and rehearsed message (stories, explanations, open questions, problems, meaning, …) awakes in the audience. To create that awe one has to be honest, open, naked, true to oneself, or however you want to call it. Case in point, Supermodel Cameron Russell's TED talk. Enjoy!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Improve your slides now!

There is one thing you can do right now that will boost your slides: reduce the number of words per slide. It is that simple. By reducing the number of words you make your audience happier because first, you'll naturally increase the font size of the text, and second you will stop reading your slides even start looking at your audience.

The fastest way to reduce the number of words in a slide is by splitting its content into several slides. There is no country in the world with a slide tax, so don't worry if you end up with 3 or 4 times more slides. This might even be good, for it might help scoop the unnecessary detail.

Split the content until you have one idea per slide, in other words make your slides atomic. After you have done this, use 6 or less words but no bullet points! Remember that you don't need full sentences, but just enough text to communicate that atomic idea. 

Light Bulb designed by Shane David Kenna from The Noun Project

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Animate SVG with the help of Inkscape

 I feel guilty. I know, I shouldn't be writing about animations. But now again, knowing the available tools it is an integral part of making good presentations. After all, I know people who still draw their diagrams on PowerPoint. I'm going to pass that and assume you have opened Inkscape and know what SVG means. If you don't, google those two words "SVG" and "Inkscape". It will blow your mind, that is, if you're still using PowerPoint or alike to do your diagrams.

Do you wish you could animate the diagrams you have made using SVG? I have news for you. You can, but it is painstaking. The keyword is SMIL (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language), and with the help of Inkscape, some inspiration and patience you can get nifty results.

A couple comments. Some browsers, like Firefox, can display SVG. This is important because slideware will necessarily support this format. So you have at least two options. You can link an slide's object to the browser. Note the URL will start with "file://" instead of with "http://" This is cumbersome, and not that professional. The other way is make a screencast of the animation, and include the resulting video in your presentation stack.

Now, obviously this whole animation process is time consuming, and it will yield at the most one minute of the presentation time. But knowing that the tools are available and are free is worth knowing about.