Finally moving from Apple’s Keynote to LibreOffice Impress

Apple’s Keynote has been my preferred presentation tool for about a decade. For a long time it felt like the ideal tool, easy to use, powerful and flexible. But at some point, probably around the time when the iOS version of Keynote came along, the Mac version of Keynote started loosing features and became more limited than it had used to be. Since then, I have experienced all sorts of problems, including non-compatibility of new and old presentation file versions, problems with linked video files, crashes, etc.

Even with its increasing amount of shortcomings, Keynote has been one of the few programs that I have been missing after my move to Ubuntu as my main OS three years ago. Keynote has also been one of the few reasons I have often decided to bring along my old MacBook rather than my current Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro workhorse.

Over the years, I have been trying other presentation software. I was an early user of Prezi, and still like the looks and non-linear approach that it affords. However, the lack of a native Prezi client for Linux has been a turn-off, particularly since I never trust the network connections when I am out traveling. I am also somewhat skeptic about not being able to use local media in Prezi presentations, particularly since I often use a lot of video material.

I have also been excited about trying out some markdown-based presentation solutions, including reveal.js and Remark. This has been refreshing, and I like such an approach when working mainly with text-based presentations. I do realize, however, that many of my presentations rely heavily on images, sounds and videos, which make the markdown-based approaches less ideal.

I have been trying Impress, the presentation part of OpenOffice/LibreOffice, on and off for several years, and have, to say it mildly, never been impressed. The design of the software has been ok, not even close to as intuitive as Keynote, but not so far away from MS PowerPoint. The biggest drawback, however, has been its performance, both when it comes to editing presentations, but also when presenting. After all, a presentation software has to be efficient to work with and needs to perform flawlessly in presentation mode.

Luckily, I decided to give Impress yet another try before giving a presentation in Hamburg this week. I exported a Keynote presentation to a .pptx file, and opened it up in LibreOffice Impress on my Ubuntu laptop. To my big surprise it worked very well! Not only did the graphical elements look good, but also the embedded videos worked well. There must have been some major update to the software recently, because suddenly the speed of editing also worked quite fine. There are still some issues when scrolling through a large presentation with lots of multimedia content, but not more than I can live with.

The conclusion: today I held my first multimedia-rich conference presentation using my Ubuntu laptop. Not only did the projector connection work flawlessly (which has not always been the case with Linux systems…), but also the presentation ran without any performance issues whatsoever. A new era has begun in my presentation life! LibreOffice Impress is still not as smooth and solid as Keynote was a few years back, but it is now at a point where it is stable and easy enough that I actually want to use it professionally.

Batch convert RTF files to TXT

Last year I decided to use plain text files (TXT) as the main file type for all my computer text input. There are several reasons for this, but perhaps the most important one was all the problems experienced when trying to open other types of text-based files (RTF, DOC, etc.) on various iOS and Android devices that I use daily. Another reason is to become independent of specific software solutions, forcing you to use a specific software for something as basic as writing text on your computer or device. Along the way I decided to shift my note-taking from MacJournal to nvALT. The best thing about nvALT is that it can unobtrusively monitor a folder of text files, and it allows for quickly searching in old files and write new ones. Since all the files are just plain text files stored in a regular folder (and sync’ed to the cloud), I can of course also use any text editor to view and write the files.

The problem was how to get all my previous notes into my new “system”. I have used a number of different note taking software over the years (e.g. Journler, DevonThink and Evernote). Fortunately, I have been quite careful about exporting all the notes regularly, mainly as RTF files. Having a few thousand such files (and some others), I looked for a solution to quickly convert them to plain text files. There are more complex solutions for converting text files to various formats (e.g. Pandoc), but I found the easiest solution was to use the OSX command line utility textutil. This little line will convert all RTF files in a folder to TXT files:

find . -name \*.rtf -print0 | xargs -0 textutil -convert txt

It will (of course) remove any formatting, but it will preserve all the (text) content nicely.

MultiControl v.0.6.2

MultiControl_062 MultiControl is by far the most popular software application I have created, as can be seen in the web traffic here on my site, and also on the download site at the University of Oslo where the app resides. This is a tiny application that passes on data from a human interface device (mouse, game controller) through either OSC or MIDI. When I first created it back in 2004, there were not so many other options. Today, however, users would typically find more features in an application like Osculator or Steim’s Junxion. Still, MultiControl is downloaded hundreds of times per month, which should indicate that some people think it is interesting and useful.

Unfortunately, I do not have much time for development these days, so I will probably never get around to implement all the cool and exciting features I once wished for in MultiControl. But since it is my most popular application, I feel bad about also abandoning the whole thing. So I will try to keep it updated for the latest operating systems.

I just made a fresh build of the application using the latest version of Max. It works fine here on my Mountain Lion system, and I would imagine that it should also work on Lion (but perhaps not previous versions). Since I have received some feedback about problems with opening zip-files, I have now created a dmg-file instead. To avoid problems with broken links in the future, I will just point to the folder in which the latest version can be found.

Have fun, and let me know if you experience any problems.

New application: “New text file”

This is quite certainly the least advanced computer software I have made publicly available (see here for others), but it may still be useful for some: a small application that will ask for a filename and create a new blank text file with that filename prepended by today’s date:

If you are interested in trying this out, here are the files:

Over the last years I have become more and more vary of the problems of complex file formats, and find myself using plain text files for most things, including to-do lists and note taking. I use nvALT for jotting down notes quickly, which will also create text files directly in my notes folder. However, often I find that it is useful to create text files in other locations as well, and instead of doing this manually with the mouse I now use my little application instead. Call me lazy, but it saves me some seconds and annoyance every time (especially figuring out today’s date each time…), and is a nice addition to the service “Add date” that I use all the time to add a file’s creation date to the filename, and which is very practical for organising, for example, all the files I get from students in chronological order. Yes, I know that it is possible to use Finder/Explorer to sort files based on their creation dates, but I am using enough servers and weird university systems to know that those creation dates are not trustworthy.

For those that are interested, here is a screenshot of the Automator workflow.

LaTeX fonts in OSX

When creating figures for papers written in LaTeX, I have found it aesthetically unpleasing to have different fonts in the figures than in the text. Most figures I create in either OmniGraffle or Matlab, and here I have relied on regular OSX fonts.

Fortunately, I have discovered that it is possible to use LaTeX fonts in OSX. Apparently, this is now included as a feature in the latest version(s) of the MacTeX distribution (?), but I also discovered that it is possible to just download the fonts (as OTF files) and install them directly:

  1. Download the latest Computer Modern (Latex) Unicode fonts, the ones with *otf.tar.xz extension, from sourceforge

  2. Uncompress the archive

  3. Open the OSX application “Font Book”

  4. Drag all the OTF files onto the Font Book

The end result is that the fonts show up in all OSX applications. All the font names start with CMU, so it is easy to find them when opening the font dialogue in your application.

Cmu Font Book