Trimming PDFs

More a note to myself than a blog post, but others using desktop Linux might find it useful.

So you scan a book -- say, an antiquarian piece of obscure liturgy -- but the flatbed glass is much larger than the book, so you get a big black box where the book ends. That's a problem for two reasons: should I ever want to print out a copy of the PDF, the text will be small and the black box will use up tons of toner. Got to crop the text to the size of the book.

I've used command-line tools, but I've misplaced the recipe -- should I find it or rediscover it, I'll put it right here.

But a graphical interface can be good too. So I used PDF-Shuffler. It's in the repositories/software center if you use Ubuntu Linux.

After I loaded the PDF I wanted to trip, I right clicked over one page -- they all needed the same trim -- and with trial-and-error decided what the right amount should be: it's a percentage removed of the original document. Then I moused over the other pages, selecting them, and made the same crop. Don't worry about double cropping a page; it only crops a percentage of the original size. Then -- and this is not obvious -- I exported the newly cropped doc with a new name.

Easy peasy.

The $10 church computer

Something of a thought experiment.

USB sticks have gotten ridicuously cheap and Linux desktop software has gotten rather robust and mature. Why not combine the two, and create a live USB drive -- where the entire computer system with operating system, all software and files -- can be booted up on pretty most any computer without affecting what's already installed there?New software and files can be saved to the USB drive.

I bought a 4 gig USB drive for $10 plus tax. (Both Staples and Radio Shack is having sales.) I'm installing Bodhi Linux, an unofficial variant of Ubuntu Linux using the lightweight Enlightenment windows manager. (So some Linux love to the Buddhists reading this.) I'll fiddle with it to make it more useful to a church; in particular, the kind of church I intend to plant, but will note other software for other religious communities. (I don't know of any software for religious Humanists though!)

This is technically possible now. I'll report on the additions and give away the USB drive when I'm done with my testing.

gLabels template for file folder labels

This is for my Linux-using chums out there, and a tiny piece for church administration -- provided you use the Gnome desktop, like Ubuntu Linux.

gLabels -- "a program for creating labels and business cards for the GNOME desktop environment" -- is the easiest way I've ever found to create and print labels, and can merge information from a CSV (comma-seperated values) spreadsheet onto little bits of paper, sticky or otherwise. It can even add barcodes. In the next few weeks, I'll show how to make tickets, flashcards, name tags and membership cards using nothing more than ordinary office paper and index cards. Call it a hobby of mine.

The program has hundred of standard label templates, including one for the Avery 5202 and identically-sized file labels. These are the handy sheets -- 4"x6" -- with seven labels for manila file folders. Between work (yes, I use Ubuntu Linux at work) and home, I use hundreds of labels each year, and I prefer them to be nicely printed.

But I think I have a problem with my printer. Though it can hold the 4"x6" label sheets, it interprets the medium as being letter-sized and so almost completely misses printing on the labels. I suppose I should have fixed that problem, but seems like over-engineering, seeing as all I wanted was tidy file folders.

My solution: to create a template that thinks the 4"x6" sheet is part of a letter piece of paper. Top and center. That one works like a charm, and since I've already made it, I want to share it.

Download here. Right-click to save the file, or click to review it; it's simple XML.

Place it in ~/.glabels -- in my case, that's the directory (folder) /home/wells/.glabels (If you use the default Nautilus file manager, be sure to View > Show Hidden Files.)

Improvements and variations are welcome.

Disclaimer: Avery is a trademark and I don't own it. Also, I don't make any warranty for the template.

Linux Bible software problem

So I've installed two Bible reader software packages: BibleTime and Xiphos (formerly GnomeSword). Both are based on the SWORD Project, where the former is native to the Kubuntu distribution (flavor) of Linux, while Xiphos is native to the mainline Ubuntu distribution I use. (If the difference between Ubuntu and Kubuntu doesn't mean anything to you already, don't let this be your introduction.)

Now, Xiphos requires a text package to be installed from a remote server in order to be use. Unfortunately, the only one available -- even though there are many Bible translations and commentaries available for the software -- is the NET (New English Translation) version, but I have misgivings about its doctrinal underpinnings -- its roots lie in Dallas Theological Seminary --and its copyright status which makes it dubiously free, even though that a feature it markets on. So I resisted installing it, if even to uninstall it later. And what good would this stricture do a non-English reader? I was caught and a little irritated.

So I installed BibleTime, which as I expected gave me an assortment of choices, including the Bible in Esperanto (London version). This I installed. Lo and behold! it then appeared in Xiphos, allowing me to proceed and add other Bibles. What the hay?

I'm posting this to see if anyone has had this problem, and to see if there's a solution.

Unitarian Universalist paper cuts need fixing too

My preferred computer operating system, Ubuntu Linux, upgrades later this week. One approach for improving usability was for the community that supports it to attack "a hundred papercuts" at the same time others improve more complex systems.

The project, defined:

A paper cut is a trivially fixable usability bug that the average user would encounter in default installation of Ubuntu or Kubuntu Desktop Edition.

100 paper cuts were drawn from 1,600 submissions (some surely duplicated or filed in error) and of these 76 were fixed for the version about to come out. The project begins again with the new version -- another 100 to resolve! -- and related free software projects have adopted the model.

Some of the not-major fixes included:

Small things that needn't be a issue, and which can be fixed with little effort.

Which makes me wonder: what paper cuts within the UUA can be fixed before the end of 2010? Problems that might not be seen with 25 Beacon Street -- they're too close or of low priority -- and would ordinarily be though trivial, but annoying, by "average users."  (The same thing can be said about any congregation, so consider that too.)

And who is an "average user"? I'd include those who have to work with a UUA office, or with a UUA resource, on a more than casual or infrequent basis, but less than a constant or expert basis. Congregation presidents, students seeking fellowship, district board members, ministers looking for settlement and resource developers are a few I can easily imagine. But not, say, occasional, unaffiliated readers or members of the UUA staff or Board of Trustees.

The method of resolving paper cuts doesn't quite map from Ubuntu Linux to the UUA, but otherwise this could easily lead to easy efficiencies and better esteem among stakeholders.

What would be on your list of paper cuts?

New Ubuntu Linux on Thursday

In brief, I'll see if "Karmic Koala" -- the soon-to-be-released version of Ubuntu Linux -- passes the ease-of-use test for novices. There are conflicting reports, but either way I'm keen to see the changes. Here's one video report from the BBC.


The best PDFs in review

I recently backed up my home computer, reinstalled Ubuntu Linux and decided the terabyte-sized external hard drive was a must. (I recall my younger self backing up with floppy disks. A quick calculation suggests it would take 7510 pounds of those old disks for my current data. And I'm nowhere close to using up that terabyte.) So I've taken all my CD and DVD backups and am making one grand version of my data. This will take a while to clean up.

Among those files, I have collected more than 4,000 unique PDFs. Surely some are of use to my reader, so as I review them, I will post them if they're in the public domain, or point to where you can download them if not.

PDF scanning the booklet

Notes from my scanning workflow from yesterday.

I've had my Epson Perfection 3490 Photo scanner for years -- a gift from Hubby, Christmas 2003 or 2004, I think -- but it never played happily with whatever Linux set-up I had at the time. But there's a maxim that Linux distributions (editions) work better with older equipment, so I decided to give it another try. (The maxim, however, is breaking down as manufacturers begin supporting Linux.) Even now, I needed a proprietary driver from Epson.  Entries 46 and 59 of this thread at was all I needed to get my scanner to work.

Now for software. I've never liked the xsane frontend -- it's too dang hard to use; through thanks to the developers for leading the way -- so I immediately sought an alternative.  Installed and tried and tried to make GNOME Scan (flegita) work. PDG images came out fine, but when attempting to scan for PDFs, I could only get my scanner to make a little fragment of the selected area. Fail. With Gscan2PDF, which you can add the usual way, I had a winner -- a surprise to boot: integration with tesseract-ocr, an optical character recognition system. And not just any one: the system that Google Books uses, and which now Google supports.  If you're running the Intrepid Ibex (8.10) version of Ubuntu Linux, get tesseract-ocr in universe; grab language support, too: tesseract-ocr-eng for English.

Started gscan2pdf -- it's in the main Applications menu under "Graphics" -- and selected "Scan" using either the menu or icon. This pulls up a dialog box. Under the "Scan Options" tab, I found "Paper Size", which I edited to create a new size for the opened Liberala Himnaro, with the sizes in millimeters. This saved scanning and cropping time.  Back to the "Page Options" tab, I selected for "Post processing" a rotation of 90 degrees (because that's how it fit on the scanner) and "clean up".   Then I scanned all the pages.

The Save dialog allowed different color (color, gray, line art) and resolution options and I tried a few until I got both a  file of a manageable size for sharing and a robust one for archiving. Note: this is a pretty slow process.

There was an option for OCR under "Page Options" which  didn't use since Esperanto isn't a supported language. But I'll rummage through my archives to find a scan -- and perhaps an OCR -- worthy of my readership.

CrunchBang Linux gets own home

My favorite lightweight distro (edition) of Linux is Philip Newborough's young CrunchBang Linux, an unofficial variant of Ubuntu Linux using the OpenBox window environment. Now that it's moved past its wobbly fawn phase, Newborough's moved it from his CrunchBang blog to Bookmark and savor.

But who would make the most of this distro? Perhaps someone who already knows his or her own way around Linux desktops: some of the settings need to be made in text files, with skill equal to someone who maintains a simple Web site. Perhaps someone who has a spare old (but not antiquated) computer that needs to be pressed into service and needs to be more than an Internet appliance. Someone who demands a desktop have a certain aesthetic cachet. A CrunchBang machine might act like the resurrected Lazarus, but ought not smell like him. It might become a no- or low-cost gift in the spirit (or necessity) of a recessiontide Christmas. Or a job-hunting workhorse for a fellow church member who otherwise might be tempted to go into debt for a computer, provided you're willing to help if bugs rise up.

Model: Ubuntu Open Week — what if churches . . . ?

Fascinating. Announced today:

We are really pleased to announce Ubuntu Open Week!

Ubuntu Open Week is a week of IRC tuition and Q+A sessions all about getting involved in the rock-and-roll world that is the Ubuntu community. We organise this week for the beginning of a new release cycle to help new contributors get involved.

IRC -- Internet Relay Chat -- is an old (pre-Web) conferencing model, like IM for groups. Chat rooms, if you're of a certain age. So we're talking about opt-in lessons at what I'm thinking will be low cost.

Check the calendar. It reminds me of General Assembly in a way, which would be a plus, even if you intend to go to Salt Lake City.

Later. This is post #2500.