Other posts related to open-source-writing

 | November 17, 2010 11:11 pm

Note: Still working on the book. Hope to be done soon.  More information will be posted when I actually finish.


Image Source: Odds and Ends

To the many kind people who have asked, I am still alive. Yes, I am still working on the book.  Large projects have minds of their own, and I am having a very hard time convincing this one that she should be “finished.”

Every time I think I’m nearing the gate, I discover something else that needs to be done.  Writing a book is amazingly like writing software, at least in that respect.  They are the only two activities I’ve ever done where the inside usually ends up being bigger than the outside.  (Well, that and horse training.  But for different reasons.)

You look at the size of the job and think, that won’t be so bad.  Then, once you get inside it, not only is it worse, but worse on an unimagined scale.  Things take ten times as long and you realize that you need to produce about twice as much material as you thought, only to kill half of it.

Then, you hit every bump in the road, and realize you need another illustration, but there’s no budget. So if you really want it, you’ll have to produce it yourself … which takes a long time, and further destroys your objectivity about the project … To say nothing of image licensing …  You get the picture.

Writing books is hard.

(To the million or so souls who are participating in NanoWriMo this month, I wish you my best.  May you meet your word counts and find inspiration.  And I sincerely hope you are spared from murdering your ideas.  It’s painful.)

But before I get lost in the, "Writing books is hard", rant, there is actually a purpose to this post.  I have favors to request and a couple of things to announce.  So … to the meat.


First things up, I need to put out a request.  One of the chapters in the book is on layout and design using Scribus.  For this chapter, I would like to include nice examples of different document types.  (I’ve written on this before.)

Here is what I’m looking for, specifically:

  1. Double Page Spreads
  2. Flyers
  3. Posters
  4. Research Related Posters

I’ve created several layouts on my own, but for this chapter to work, I would love to have examples from others.  If there is anyone who wouldn’t mind having their layout work included, please contact me at:


Scientific Content

There is also a second part to this request.

I really want to include one or two examples of Research Symposium posters.  The book is skewed toward an academic audience and research posters are the most visually oriented document that students/researchers produce with regularity.  Moreover, few layout/type books talk about their design, nor do they include examples.

(Or if they do, they’re utterly ghastly.  Not just bad, mind you, ghastly.)

Thus, if there are any research scientists who wouldn’t mind contributing examples, I would be tremendously appreciative.  Or, alternatively, if you wouldn’t mind contributing text and images toward an example, I would be happy to help you put one together.  You keep the copyright, a copy of all the template files, and everything else that gets generated. The only thing I need is a right to include a version in the chapter on layout and design.  Consider it free design work, even if the "designer" is mostly just an enthusiast.

(After checking multiple conference websites, AHA Scientific Sessions, HRS, and others, I don’t believe this type of use will cause problems with submissions or "prior publication."   The purpose of the chapter is to show layout, not release scientific content.  Moreover, it will be printed at a size which renders the type mostly illegible.  If you are think this might interest you and you are concerned about your work being accepted due to previous publication, please check the specific conference guidelines.)


If interested, please send me an email.


For the past month or so, I’ve been fighting a losing battle against comment spam.  I’m not sure why, but it seems that Akismet has mostly stopped working.  Yesterday was particularly bad and I had more than 35 variants of:

Great post man.  Love the blog!  (Click here for penis enlargement!)

I’ve already talked about why spam bothers me, so I won’t get into it a second time.  This note is mostly to talk about a couple of things I’ve done, or rather the filters I’ve installed:

  1. TanTan Noodles’ Simple Spam Filter.  This plugin comes highly recommended as a way to catch spam.  I installed it this morning.  It appears to be working.  Since installing, I haven’t seen a single spam comment.  But then, I haven’t seen a single real comment either.
  2. Anti-Captcha.  This is a technological solution meant to kill spam-bots.  It uses a bit of random trickery and nonce key to prevent automated spam submission.  Again, it comes highly recommended.

The reason I am talking about this is because, with new filters in place, I’m worried that real comments might be marked as spam.  And, what is a blog without comments?  I’m an attention whore and this website gives me a (relatively) healthy outlet for those tendencies.  (It also makes me less obnoxious in family, professional, and social gatherings.)

Comments matter to me.  If your comment gets marked as spam, please send me an email.  I’ll try and fix it.  Also, if you wouldn’t mind leaving a comment on this page to say hi, that would also be appreciated.  (I’d like to test the filters and see if they work.)

Poster PDFs

As the last piece of miscellanea, I’ve had a couple of people ask about PDF copies of my posters.  (Not just the maps, which you can find here, but the actual posters.)  There have been enough requests, that I have decided to post them.  Download options can be found on the poster page:


Note: Because those particular posters actually have a specific purpose – to fund the development of LyX-Outline and Time Drive – I am charging for them. The PDF proofs of the maps are still available, and always will be.  If you would like to support Time Drive development, please consider downloading a copy.  Or, you can donate directly from the software development page.

 | August 19, 2010 11:14 pm

Yesterday evening, I gave a presentation to the local Linux User’s Group about how to do research, write, and publish stuff using Linux.  In particular, I tried to provide a detailed summary (oxymoron?) about how many (excellent) open source tools can work together.

I think it went acceptably well.  Which mostly means that there were no death threats and few angry complaints.

Actually, that’s not really true.  Everyone was uniformly wonderful, understanding, helpful and gracious.  People asked great questions and made insightful comments.  It was wonderful a way to spend the evening.

As part of the meeting, I promised that I would share my slides and (rudimentary) speaking notes.  Thus,  as promised, you will find both in the image gallery below.  The speaking notes have been incorporated into the slideshow and can be accessed by clicking on the slide that interests you.

(If you would a PDF version of the slides, you can download those here, sans speaking notes.)

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 | August 17, 2010 4:10 am

Evolution of Abstract ArtOne of my all time favorite charts is entitled “Cubism and Abstract Art.”  It was a lithograph created by Alfred Barr (then director of the Museum of Modern Art) as the catalog cover image for a 1932 exhibit of the same name.

I love the image for three reasons reasons:

  1. It’s simply awesome.  Barr’s chart manages to take 45 years of tumultuous history and condense it down to 13 categories, 80 words and 51 arrows.
  2. The graphic is simultaneously informative, provocative, controversial and insulting.  It stressed the evolution of art at the expense of the people responsible, a significant blow to monumental egos.  Only six artists are even listed by name!
  3. The chart beautifully accomplishes an ambitious goal.  Alfred Barr attempted to map the evolution of artistic ideas and cultural movements, both of which are notoriously difficult to chronicle.  Yet, he manages to provide information about how the trends are related to one another, how they evolved through time, and which influences were internal to the art world (depicted in black) and those which were external (red).

It’s a fantastic example of a concept map, network diagram, and process chart all rolled into one.  (Edward Tufte has a great write up about the chart on page 64 of Beautiful Evidence.)

I was reminded just how fantastic again this morning.

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 | July 6, 2010 2:32 pm

Since posting my thoughts on the integration of notes into LyX-Outline, I have gotten a number of very interesting emails. These have provided tremendous insight into how people would like to use LyX-Outline, while also helping me to better understand the role of notes and content management in the writing process.

There is, however, one point that has come up several times that I would like to address.

A variety of people have pointed out that in my original write-up, I don’t make any meaningful distinction between sources (e.g. the work of others) and new, original thinking. This was not due to an error, or oversight; but rather, I deliberately lumped the two together. Moreover, there was a rationale behind that particular piece of madness.

I understand that the sources of others and our own thinking are not the same thing. I get that using the work of others as our own is Bad Mojo. Even so, I wanted to highglight that from a creative standpoint, they can be extremely similar. The ideas of others, interesting observations of nature, or even misunderstood communication can serve as a springboard for creative endeavors. So while sources, responses, thoughts and other information might not be exactly the same thing, they are certainly on the same spectrum and most definitely related.

The notion that such a spectrum exists is very interesting to me. I originally stumbled across this idea while reading a blog post by JoAnn McNeil of The Tomorrow Museum; but pooled bodies of information can found in many other places. The collective body of scientific knowledge, for example, has long been viewed as a shared pool from which you may borrow or contribute freely (while thoroughly respecting and acknowledging the work of others). Similar “community commons” seem to exist in literature, art and design. In some cases, the shared mythology runs so deep that it is simply impossible to determine where an idea originated, or who should get credit.

Which brings me back to the subject I really wanted to write about.

Trying to figure out how notes should integrate into LyX-Outline and writing a book chapter about open source note/outline tools has given me a chance to really think about where my ideas come from, how they can be captured, and the best way to sort and manage them. While pondering such deep questions, I realized that I have a personal “taxonomy of thought”. It’s a five item list that described both the sources of my ideas and how I should use them. This was a bit of a personal revelation, and since I found the exercise interesting, I thought that I would share it here (with figures and everything).

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