A fast way to turn lots of images into an Adobe Acrobat PDF file

I have a collection of magazine scans that, inconveniently, came as a series of JPG images rather than as PDFs that are more conducive to reading. I wanted PDFs, so I found a way to turn lots of images into an Adobe Acrobat PDF file.

Building the PDF manually took a good 30 minutes per issue, so I wanted a faster way. Using command-line tools, I was able to convert the entire collection (about 40 issues) in less than 30 minutes. Read more

A good tool for salvaging really bad photographs

I’ve been playing around with the perspective correction feature in Gimp 2.0, and while it’s invaluable, I’ve noticed that it really has a tendency to blur up a picture.

You can reduce this some by not editing JPEGs–it’s always best to convert JPEGs into PNG or TIFF format before editing anyway–but it only reduces the problem. And Gimp’s sharpen tool leaves a lot to be desired.

Enter SharpControl.There’s something of a tutorial available online. To be honest, I really don’t know what most of the things he’s saying mean. What I do know is that I can just load an image into it, take the defaults, and get a better-looking image than with any other program I’ve ever used. And if I fumble around a bit, sometimes I can get lucky and improve it even more.

Hey, I was trained as a writer. I had to stay after class one day to get what little Photoshop training I did get.

The program only speaks TIFF or JPEG, so you’ll have to convert to TIFFs if you decide to load into the program from files. The alternative is to paste the contents of the clipboard into the program, manipulate the image, then copy it back to the clipboard and paste into your imaging program.

It’s a free download, so if you’re playing with fuzzy images, go download it now.

Outages

Yes, I’m still alive and so is my server. Unfortunately (note to self: cue up “I Hate My Frickin’ ISP” by Todd Rundgren in the background) Southwestern Bell seems intent on proving my theory that their technicians’ favorite thing to do when bored is to run around unplugging stuff to see what happens.
What usually ends up happening is my Speedstream DSL modem gets hopelessly confused and I fall off the ‘Net. Although this weekend the problem wasn’t that my modem couldn’t connect, it’s that I couldn’t authenticate. Hello? How could I have changed my password? I was offline!

Now, maybe my Speedstream is a piece of junk. Maybe Southwestern Bell is a piece of junk. Were I in the habit of looking around in toilets, I’m pretty sure I could find a better modem and ISP. Unfortunately, I signed a one-year contract. It expires in October. I look forward to telling them to find another sucker.

Meanwhile, yes, I’ve been on a bit of an unannounced sabbatical. What happened? Well, an editor on a power trip over at Wikipedia turned me off to all writing for a time (Zoe, if you’re reading this, just because you don’t know how to write or research doesn’t mean you need to take it out on the world, OK?) and then I found myself swimming in a video editing project that made me believe anew in curses, because I don’t think I’ve seen so many things go wrong since a weekend about four years ago when Steve DeLassus and I tried to install about 4 different flavors of Linux on his 486SX/20 and turn it into a router. When I finally put that project to rest, my leisure activities tended to drift towards anything that didn’t involve a computer.

So I’ve been tired and just haven’t had the energy or will to write much or deal with questions. It happens sometimes.

I guess the Wikipedia snipe deserves a little clarification. I love the project idea. I love writing history. Unfortunately, the project is tainted by several editors who delete anything they don’t like, often without much reason. An article I contributed to about osteopathy garnered a comment from an overzealous editor saying the article raised more questions than it answered and if those weren’t answered he was going to delete it. Well, duh! A lot of things raise questions. If osteopathy didn’t raise any questions, then allopathy (the medical techniques practiced by your friendly neighborhood M.D.) wouldn’t exist. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know, and if you don’t understand that you really have no business associating with anything with the letters “pedia” in its name.

Working along with one or two others, we were able to answer enough questions to save that article. But I was mad. The osteopathy article had minor problems and was on the chopping block, yet the article on Joseph Smith was so biased and incomplete as to be unusable, but was being ignored?

At one point I got into the habit of checking the historical events of the given day and looking for holes in the linked articles. It was fun, I learned a lot, and I think some articles improved for the better. I fondly recall writing about Joseph Pulitzer (as in the Pulitzer Prize). He’s a very misunderstood figure in history. On one hand, he was one of the biggest innovators in journalism, ever. On the other hand, he and William Randolph Hearst pretty much created the Spanish-American War just to sell newspapers, which is despicable. (Hearst falls a bit lower on the slimeball scale though; at least Pulitzer didn’t ever openly advocate the assassination of a president.) I came out of that endeavor with more respect for Pulitzer than I’d had before though.

But one day I found a photograph of Booker T. Washington at the Library of Congress and uploaded it. It got deleted when I neglected to answer a query as to its copyright status after 24 hours. Was the picture copyrighted? Very highly unlikely. Washington died at the turn of the 20th century and any published work prior to 1922 is now in the public domain. The Library of Congress isn’t willing to guarantee that particular picture is in the public domain, but they provide a huge, archival-quality TIFF for download, suitable for commercial printing use. So they must be pretty certain. You think the Library of Congress wants DMCA-related legal problems? William Jefferson Clinton may be above the law, but the Library of Congress isn’t.

Yet it turned into a controversy. A huge controversy. That particular editor wasn’t interested in improving the quality of Wikipedia; she was on an ego trip. Somehow she got gratification from teaching me and the person who re-uploaded my image (and then replaced it with another one) a lesson.

Meanwhile, an unattributed image of Britney Spears remains.

Of course there’s another lesson to be learned: When you’re trying to be an open-content encyclopedia, you need to attract people. You attract people by having lots of articles. The more articles you have, the more people read you, and the more people you have reading you, the more readers you’ll be able to convert into contributors. The Wikipedia would be a much better place with that editor writing articles and not harassing people who are also doing their best to make it a better place.

I do expect to return someday, but when I do, I’ll be writing the biographies of people like Calvin Schiraldi. Few people besides Red Sox fans care about Calvin Schiraldi, but that’s the point. I’ll get left alone if I linger in the obscure and I don’t upload images. I’m less valuable there, but we’ve already seen what happens when I think about value.

But in the shorter term, I need to find a paying gig. I’ve got a couple of leads on that. I can really use the money, but besides that, it’ll be nice to do some writing for magazines again. For me, writing stopped being about money at about age 19.

01/14/2001

I found a good IE trick yesterday. Go to Tools, Internet Options, Advanced, Multimedia. See that checkbox that says “Play animations?” If you uncheck that, you disable animated GIFs. If you find those distracting like I do, this provides a way to banish them. A little bit of blinky stuff will still get past that setting–some animated ads use Java, JavaScript or Flash. So you can refuse to install Flash and disable Install-on-demand (I forget where I found that setting–I’d better find it) and you can disable Java and JavaScript from Tools, Internet Options, Security. So it’s possible to give yourself a nice, static, animation-free Web. The advantages: less distraction and faster-loading pages and slightly higher stability.

Are you listening, Netscape and Opera?

I’ve dropped off the face of the earth. I’m writing another article for Computer Shopper UK, one that probably won’t surface until the April or May issue at the earliest but I want to get it out of the way. All told, it takes me about 8 hours to write a 4,000-word article from scratch. I don’t know if that’s low or high. Seeing as a single-spaced page of text is about 470 words, that’s probably fairly quick.

Going steady with Computer Shopper UK. Or something like that. I was talking with one of the girls at work–everyone knows I’m peddling my words in the UK these days–and she asked how that was going. I told her I liked the magazine staff and I liked the magazine, and that I wanted to write for them some more, but I couldn’t quite tell if they wanted me to write for them again. And I suspected they didn’t know whether I wanted to write for them again. So we had a stalemate, not unlike asking a girl to a dance in high school, where neither party knows what the other is thinking and neither wants to make the first move.

Well, the stalemate’s broken, and it looks like I’ll be peddling words at Shopper until I run out of ideas. While magazine writing’s not as profitable as writing books that sell, when you’re doing magazine writing, you’re a writer, period. When you’re doing book writing, you may have to do an awful lot of your own marketing, and I’m not so comfortable there yet. I think doing a book some day where I write it, do most or all of the artwork and photography, and do the marketing would be very interesting–and would definitely allow me to leave my mark on it–but the time’s not right for that.

Can I do it? I’m a competent designer, and I have a good eye though I lack a steady hand to match. The computer can compensate for that. I don’t know much about my marketing ability, but when I was talking to that aforementioned girl about an idea I had, she smiled, looked at me, and said, “You’d be good at marketing.” She’s working on a business degree and she’s one of the smarter people I know, so I’ll assume there’s a good chance she’s right.

And in the meantime, Shopper UK gives me a place to further refine my writing and start to define a market.

Drawing diagrams. I’m pretty impressed with a program I found on the Computer Shopper UK issue 156 cover disc. British mags usually come with a CD that contains some programs–a PD utility or two, some commercial demos, and often the full version of some commercial program. Well, issue 156 came with SmartDraw 3.0, a quick-and-dirty diagramming program that competes with Visio but bills itself as a sort of “Visio for the rest of us.”

The idea is, you get these predefined libraries of clipart that you just drop into place. I diagrammed a network by dropping images of three desktop PCs and a server on a page. Then I dropped an image of a hub in. I took the line tool, dragged it from each PC to the hub, then moved the PCs around to make it look decent and balanced, typed labels on each PC, and boom, instant network diagram, elegant and professional. It took me all of 15 minutes to do it, and that included the time it took to figure out where all the menu items are and what they do.

When you’re done, you can export your diagram as a scalable WMF or a raster BMP, PCX, TIFF, GIF or JPEG so the files will work in just about every program imaginable.

The next time I have to do a project analysis or write something that needs a diagram, I’ll be reaching for this.

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