Quickly-made presentations

Some day I’ll go into my document processing workflow, but I have a workshop coming up and that’ll call for a presentation. That’s the theme today. It won’t be a “PowerPoint” — that semi-genericized term for meeting-killing, over-engineered presentation visuals — mind you, but a set of slides that exist as a PDF file, that are much easier to put together.

First, the text, like almost all of my work products, is set down in Markdown, a simple way of marking-up text to use as-is, or to post-process into other formats. (For those in the know, I use Github-flavored Markdown, an extended version.)

For the production of the slides, I use the beamer class within LaTeX. LaTeX is a hoary and rather difficult typesetting engine. commonly used in the hard sciences and mathematics.

But I want something easier, so I use pandoc, a command-line tool that processes a Markdown file through beamer to get the PDF output. Try pandoc through a web interface; beamer tranformations don’t work though.

“The Easiest Way to Make Presentations! (Pandoc + Markdown)” (Luke Smith)

Confused yet? This video should clear it up, and if that doesn’t appeal pandoc has other presentation options. and since it has found a vital place at the core of my document workflow, I’d recommend try it in any case.

Lovely examples of order of service?

Another request. I’m looking for lovely samples of orders of service. Necessarily available in a downloadable format online, and preferably from a small church (of whatever stripe) or one that works with a tight budget. Feel free to chime in, even years from now.

There’s something dispiriting to visit a church and find something that was clearly made with love (I’m trying to be nice here) but is ugly, disorganized, jam-packed with add-ins or otherwise unpleasant to use.

I’d ask the same for newsletters, but those are harder to find in print. Alas.

Printing out sermon or service book pages

My face is still a bit sore from dental work, so another shortish article.

Back in 2015, I shared my workflow for printing out pages of a sermon or service that can be put in an attractive binder using half-size pace protectors. It’s neat and professional looking and not hard to assemble.

Here am I bringing that up to date. I use LibreOffice, which you can download and use for free. I’ve used it for years at home and in my day job, and can attest that it makes a good replacement for Microsoft Office. Since 2015, LibreOffice has added new features. In particular, it supports OpenType features, including the much desired small caps and old-style numerals, if they’re embedded in the font. This is a good tutorial for using this feature, and this is a good reason why you shouldn’t use your word processor’s “small caps” feature, in so far as they’re not true small caps and not good replacements. The Libertine (formerly Linux Libertine) font has those features, and you can now make use them in the standard release, rather than the Graphite text features I wrote about in 2015. Very few fonts support Graphite, so I won’t labor the subject.

I’ve also been modifying the template I use. Here it is to download. Or copy it to your own Google Drive and try it out with one of their available fonts.

Making the most with what you have

This brief blog post exists to frame the one that will follow in a day or two. It will be a tutorial to use newly-released features in some free software to make print items — I’m thinking orders of service and newsletters — more attractive and professional-looking.

I’ll do this because there’s so little cost (time or materials) difference between something that looks ratty and something we can be proud of, and this tool can make one step closer to pride.

But ratty too often wins. I can’t do anything about over-long announcements or pointless minister’s columns written out of necessity on deadline. Or grammatical errors that appear seemingly out of nowhere. (Actually, I could have, because I have done all of these.) But when a task needs to be done, sometimes the only good thing you can say about it is that “it’s done now.”

As churches have to make do with less money, fewer people and less cachet in the community, this tension between “must do” and “it’s not great” will become more pronounced and painful. Surely, some customs may vanish, perhaps the print newsletter. Others may be helped by outsourcing and automation. (Churches are not immune to this, and volunteer time has value.) And some will be improved by better tools and training to use them.

But the goal is not so much the better appearance, say, for print pieces; but greater pride for those who produce and read them.

A new, favorite minister’s binder

So, ministers: how many of you, particularly in the free traditions, have your own “book” — often a three-ring binder — where you keep sermon and service texts, and perhaps a calendar and other flat items? (I keep Geneva bands in mine.)

I’ve written about this subject before and have bought several of these books myself but they tend to be utilitarian and covered in vinyl, and the best-looking of these are perversely the ones that fall apart the fastest.

Cloth-covered board and glazed paper covers are sometimes available. There’s one book I’ve had for years, with a textured surface looking more like leather, but made of paper; it’s falling apart, and no longer for public use.

A few weeks ago I found this binder from the Martha Stewart collection. I got it on Amazon for $6 and the red color seem suitably ecclesiastic. (There is also a teal version.)

The description wasn’t clear but it’s the same kind of pebbled paper that my old standby has and seems sturdy, if a bit stiff. I think it’s going to be a favorite.

Sunday-only calendar for 2017

Back in 2008, I knocked together a Sunday-only calendar as a planning tool for church worship leaders. It has been evergreen at by old blog, Boy in the Bands. And so when I got a request to update it, I couldn’t do other than bring it up to date.

And so I’m crossposting it here. Enjoy.

You can also edit the OSD file in LibreOffice and (so it seems) newer versions of Microsoft Office. I included December 2016 and January 2018.

Low-cost way to launch into church archives

So, can you count the ways you use a smart phone? Here’s another for you: as the working end of an inexpensive DIY image “scanner” for religious texts. This setup, depicted with a workflow, at the Open Siddur Project, might be just the thing for recording church archives or other documents that shouldn’t be lain on a flatbed scanner.

Text Imaging” (Open Siddur Project)

Unfamiliar tools for shared church work

I really was thinking about unfamiliar tools for shared church work; that is, tools where people can work collaboratively without having to all be in the same place. This is normal and increasingly common in business, but well all know that church is slow to change and underfunded. Or slow to change because it is underfunded.

About the time I had this thought, the news cane out the Metro will be shutting down at midnight tonight and all through Wednesday until Thursday morning. I’m just grateful my workplace has some systems — developed before blizzards — to cope, and most of my officemates will work from home. Of course, we will use Google Docs and Dropbox, and I bet many my readers do too.

But can you imagine the possible uses of something like Github, a software development tool used to manage the versions of documents. For churches, perhaps reports and resources, and to keep repositories of documents and graphics files? And webpages (Github Pages) easily stood up to share and promote those products. The humanities has a small presence of Github, but the Open Siddur Project (on Github) is objectively religious and liturgical, and makes me wonder about other possibilities. My sleepy Github account is here.

The other tool I want to point out now is Overleaf, an easy-to-use frontend for the very-powerful LaTeX typesetting software that’s widely used in academia, especially mathematics. Indeed, Overleaf’s market seems to be universitites, and if I were writing a thesis now, I’d be all over it. And if I were to get some people together to make a book or serious journal, I’d start there.

Are there unlikely tools you use that might be used in collaborative church work?