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Trying out the SuperNote A5X

| geek, drawing, supernote

W- was happy with his SuperNote A5X, so I ordered one for myself on July 18. The company was still doing pre-orders because of the lockdowns in China, but it shipped out on July 20 and arrived on July 25, which was pretty fast.

I noticed that the org-epub export makes verse blocks look double-spaced on the SuperNote, probably because <br> tags are getting extra spacing. I couldn't figure out how to fix it with CSS, so I've been hacking around it by exporting it as a different class without the <br> tags and just using { white-space: pre }. I also ended up redoing the templates I made in Inkscape, since the gray I used was too light to see on the SuperNote.

It was very tempting to dive into the rabbithole of interesting layouts on /r/supernote and various journaling resources, but I still don't have much time, so there's no point in getting all fancy about to-do lists or trackers at the moment. I wanted to focus on just a couple of things: untangling my thoughts and sketching. Sketchnoting books would be a nice bonus (and I actually managed to do one on paper during a recent playdate), but that can also wait until I have more focused time.

I've had the A5X for five days and I really like it. Writing with the Lamy pen feels like less work than writing with a pencil or regular pen. It's smooth but not rubbery. I've still been drawing in landscape form because that feels a little handier for reviewing on my tablet or writing about on my blog, but I should probably experiment with portrait form at some point.

So far, I've:

sketched out my thoughts
I used to use folded-over 8x14" to sketch out two thoughts, but scanning them was a bit of a pain. Sometimes I used the backs of our writing practice sheets in order to reduce paper waste, but then scanning wasn't always as clean. I really like using the SuperNote to sketch out thoughts like this one. It's neat, and I can get the note into my archive pretty easily.
sketched stuff from life
This is easier if I take a quick reference picture on my phone. I could probably even figure out some kind of workflow for making that available as a template for tracing.
received many kiddo drawings
A- loves being able to use the eraser and lasso to modify her drawings. Novelty's probably another key attraction, too. She's made quite a few drawings for me, even experimenting with drawing faces from the side like the way she's been seeing me practice doing.
received many kiddo requests
A- likes to ask me to draw things. She enjoys tracing over them in another layer. More drawing practice for both of us!
used it to help A- practise coding, etc.
A- wanted to do some coding puzzles with her favourite characters. I enjoyed being able to quickly sketch it up, drawing large versions and then scaling down as needed.
played a game of chess
I drew chess pieces just to see if I could, and we ended up using those to play chess. I should share these and maybe add other games as well.
referred to EPUBs and PDFs
I put our favourite songs and poems on it. I've also started using org-chef to keep a cookbook.
doodled sketch elements
boxes, borders, little icons, people… Probably should organize these and share them too.

I've figured out how to publish sketches by using my phone to rotate them and sync them with my online sketches. Now I'm playing around with my writing workflow to see if I can easily post them to my blog. At some point, I think I'll experiment with using my phone to record and automatically transcribe some commentary, which I can pull into the blog post via some other Emacs Lisp code I've written. Whee!

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Making a menu of activities

| sketchnotes, drawing, parenting, play

A- wants to be with me almost all the time. This can be challenging.

A multiple-choice question is easier than a fill-in-the-blank one, especially when it comes to "What do we do now?" A- seems less grumpy throughout the day when she can go from one activity to another of her choosing. I like letting her take the lead. I also like not having to come up with stuff. During bedtime, I sketched this menu:

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Kindergarten means I get to learn how to write, too

| drawing

A- wants to learn cursive, probably because it's extra-fancy and the sort of thing Elizabeth Bennet would have done. There's some support for teaching cursive in kindergarten, so it's not totally crazy. It's a good opportunity for me to improve my lettering skills, too. She usually likes it when we do the same thing at the same time, so working on letters together is a good way to nudge her to practise fine motor skills. We did a brush lettering worksheet for "Aa" from Amy Latta Creations. This one is my worksheet.

I've got lots to learn about controlling a brush pen. Doing lots of drills will probably help me get my up-strokes to be as thin as the samples.

A- often asks me to connect my letters. I think I'll make our own worksheets so that she can connect letters too.

At bedtime, I drew in my sketchbook while she read independently. When she noticed what I was doing, she said she liked the 3D letters and encouraged me to do more. She pointed to blank spaces on the page and suggested things to add.

Not that different compared to my lettering experiments from 2013:

But hey, I'm learning stuff!

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Using Org Mode, LaTeX, Beamer, and Medibang Paint to make a children’s book

| drawing, emacs, geek, org, publishing

Story

  • It’s time to make a smoothie!
  • I pour blueberries into the blender.
  • Mama adds hemp seeds.
  • I add spinach.
  • Mama blends it all with some water.
  • I peel and add a banana.
  • I add some yogurt.
  • Mama blends it again.
  • Yum yum!

Thumbnails

spread0.png spread1.png spread2.png spread3.png spread4.png spread5.png

Process

  • Prerequisites

    • ImageMagick
    • Texlive (probably)
    • latex-beamer
    • Org Mode and Emacs
  • Set up Org Mode export to Beamer

    (eval-after-load "ox-latex"
      ;; update the list of LaTeX classes and associated header (encoding, etc.)
      ;; and structure
      '(add-to-list 'org-latex-classes
                    `("beamer"
                      ,(concat "\\documentclass[presentation]{beamer}\n"
                               "[DEFAULT-PACKAGES]"
                               "[PACKAGES]"
                               "[EXTRA]\n")
                      ("\\section{%s}" . "\\section*{%s}")
                      ("\\subsection{%s}" . "\\subsection*{%s}")
                      ("\\subsubsection{%s}" . "\\subsubsection*{%s}"))))
    

  • Set up image directories

    mkdir text-pages blank-spreads drawn drawn-pages
    

    text-pages Will contain one image per page of just the plain text.
    blank-spreads Will contain text spreads ready for drawing
    drawn Export one image per spread (without the text layers) from your drawing program
    drawn-pages Will contain one image per page combining text and drawing
  • Tweak the header.tex

    This file gets included in the LaTeX file for the children’s book. Tweak it to change the appearance. In this example, I use black serif text at the bottom of the page.

    \geometry{paperwidth=7in,paperheight=8.5in,left=0.5in,top=0.5in,right=0.5in,bottom=0.5in}
    \setbeamercolor{normal text}{fg=black,bg=white}
    \setbeamercolor{structure}{fg=black,bg=white}
    \usefonttheme{serif}
    \setbeamertemplate{frametitle}
    {
      \begin{center}
      \vspace{0.7\textheight}                    
      \noindent
      \insertframetitle
      \end{center}
    }
    \usepackage[noframe]{showframe}
    \renewcommand{\maketitle}{}
    

  • Write the story

    I used Org Mode to make it easy to write the story.

    Some considerations:

    • Because we’re printing this as a saddle-stitched booklet, the number of lines should be a multiple of four. Sixteen is probably a good maximum.
    • The first heading is actually for the last page.
    • The second heading is for the cover page.
    • The third heading is for the first inner page, the fourth heading is for the second inner page, and so on.
    #+OPTIONS:   TeX:t LaTeX:t skip:nil d:nil todo:t pri:nil tags:not-in-toc author:nil date:nil
    #+OPTIONS: H:1
    #+startup: beamer
    #+LaTeX_CLASS: beamer
    #+LaTeX_CLASS_OPTIONS: [20pt]
    #+BEAMER_FRAME_LEVEL: 1
    #+LATEX_HEADER: \input{header.tex}
    #+PROPERTY: header-args :var pages=12
    
    * Story
    
    ** 
    ** 
    ** 
    ** It's time to make a smoothie!
    ** I pour blueberries into the blender.
    ** Mama adds hemp seeds.
    ** I add spinach.
    ** Mama blends it all with some water.
    ** I peel and add a banana.
    ** I add some yogurt. 
    ** Mama blends it again.
    ** Yum yum!
    

  • Make the tex, PDF, page PNGs, and spread PNGs

    1. Go to the subtree for the story and use M-x org-export-dispatch (C-c C-e) with the subtree option (C-s) to export it as a Beamer file (option l b).
    2. Use pdflatex to convert the .tex to PDF.

      pdflatex index.tex
      

    3. Create one PNG per text page with:

      convert -density 300 index.pdf -quality 100 text-pages/page%02d.png
      

    4. Create spreads to draw on with:

      montage text-pages/page*.png -tile 2x1 -mode Concatenate blank-spreads/spread%d.png
      

    5. Optionally, create a layered PSD with:

      convert blank-spreads/spread*.png \( -clone 1,0 -background white -flatten -alpha off \) -reverse spreads-for-drawing.psd
      

  • Draw

    I imported the PNG layers into MediBang Paint on a Samsung Note 8 Android phone, and then:

    • imported photos
    • traced them
    • painted and shaded them
    • hid the text layers
    • exported one PNG per spread to QuickPic, renamed them, and uploaded them to Dropbox, because I couldn’t figure out how to export to Dropbox directly

    Layer folders were handy for organizing spread-related images. I couldn’t seem to move all of the layers in a layer folder together on Android, but the iPad was able to do so. If I didn’t have the iPad handy, I combined the layers by exporting a PNG and then importeing it back into MediBang Paint.

    This was a decent setup that allowed me to draw and paint even when I was in bed nursing A- and waiting for her to fall asleep. I held the phone with one hand and rotated the canvas as needed so that it was easier for me to draw lines with my right. Because of the awkward position and the small screen size, the lines are not as smooth as I might like, but the important thing is that they’re there. Whee! =)

    It turns out to be possible to use the free MediBang Pro drawing program under Wine on Linux to import the PSD and save it to the cloud. I was also sometimes able to switch to drawing with iPad Pro with Pencil, but it was harder to find time to do that because that usually made A- want to draw too.

    Anyway, after I drew and exported the PNGs, the next step was to…

  • Convert the drawn spreads back to pages and combine them with the text

    Here’s some code that combines the drawing and the text. Keeping the drawing and the text separate until this stage (instead of exporting the PNGs with the text) makes it easier to change the text later by recreating the text PNGs and running this step.

    (defun my/combine-spread-drawing-and-text (page num-pages)
      (let ((gravity (if (= (% page 2) 1) "West" "East"))
            (spread (/ (% page num-pages) 2)))
        (shell-command
          (format 
           (concat "convert \\( "
                   "drawn/spread%d.png -gravity %s "
                   "-chop 50%%x0 +repage \\) "
                   "text-pages/page%02d.png -compose darken "
                   "-composite drawn-pages/page%02d.png")
           spread gravity page page))))
    
    (cl-loop for i from 0 to (1- pages) do
             (my/combine-spread-drawing-and-text i pages))
    

  • Create print spreads for saddle-stitching

    This code pairs up the drawn pages into a PDF that can be printed duplex. Make sure to choose the option to flip along the short edge. I hard-coded the page orders for 4-, 8-, 12-, and 16-page booklets.

    (let* ((page-order
            '((0 1 2 3)   ; hard-coded page sequences
              (0 1 2 7 6 3 4 5)
              (0 1 2 11 10 3 4 9 8 5 6 7)
              (0 1 2 15 14 3 4 13 12 5 6 11 10 7 8 9)))
           (sequence
            (mapconcat (lambda (d) (format "drawn-pages/page%02d.png" d))
                       (elt page-order (1- (/ pages 4))) " ")))
      (shell-command
       (format
        "montage %s -tile 2x1 -mode Concatenate print-duplex-short-edge-flip.pdf"
        sequence)))
    

  • Print and bind

    After printing and folding the book, I used tape to make the book hold together. Tada!

  • Create on-screen PDF for reading

    A little bit of manipulation so that the last page is in the right place:

    (shell-command
      (format "convert %s onscreen.pdf" 
        (mapconcat 'identity (cl-loop for i from 1 to pages 
          collect (format "drawn-pages/page%02d.png" (% i pages))) " ")))
    

  • Create thumbnails of spreads

    (cl-loop
     for i from 0 to (1- (/ pages 2)) do 
     (shell-command
      (format 
       (concat "convert "
               "\\( blank-spreads/spread%d.png "
               "drawn/spread%d.png "
               "-compose darken "
               "-resize %dx -flatten \\) "
               "\\( +clone -background black -shadow 50x1+%d+%d \\) "
               "+swap -compose src-over -composite "
               "thumbnails/spread%d.png")
       i i width shadow shadow i)))
    

  • Ideas for next steps

    • Better thumbnails for easy previews
    • PDF for online reading
    • More layout possibilities (photos, verses, etc.)
    • Smaller books:

      • crop marks on a full-page print, or
      • the right imposition rules to print more pages on a sheet
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Making books for A-

| drawing, parenting, publishing, writing

A- loves being read to. She picks up new words and ideas from the books we read, requests both favourites and new books again and again, and can identify objects in photographs and drawings. I borrowed a few children’s books from the library in case reading about upcoming changes or challenges helps her understand. The books were okay, but didn’t quite fit the words we use or the way we like to handle things. So this week, I decided to make my own books for A-, especially since there are few books that cover things like microphthalmia.

The first book I made was about night weaning, since we might have to do that in preparation for dental surgery under anaesthesia. I sketched it using ZoomNotes on my iPad, exported the SVG, tinkered with it in Inkscape, exported PNGs, combined the PNGs with ImageMagick, and created a 12-page PDF with 7″x8.5″ pages. That let me print the book out on legal-size paper (8.5″x14″), 2 pages per sheet, duplex printing set to flip on the short side, using this page order:
12, 1, 2, 11, 10, 3, 4, 9, 8, 5, 6, 7. I folded each sheet in half. Instead of hand-sewing the binding, I just taped the pages together. And just like that, I had a book that I could page through properly: “No More Nursing, Time to Sleep.”

I read the new book to A-. She asked me to reread it several times. She pointed to the book and said, “A-!” She pointed to the stick figure for me and said, “Mama!” Success!

The next thing I wanted to try was printing in colour. We recently replaced our printer with an HP M277dw colour laser printer that could print duplex, so I was looking forward to giving that a try. I wanted to make a book about the conformer in A-‘s little eye. This time, I drew the pages of the book using layers in Medibang Paint. I drew on the bus home from Riverdale Farm, working around a sleeping A- snuggled in my carrier. I exported each layer as a PNG, used ImageMagick to convert pairs of pages into what I needed to print (page order: 8, 1, 2, 7, 6, 3, 4, 5), combined those into a PDF. I couldn’t figure out how to get the HP app to properly scale the document and print in duplex, but printing from Linux worked fine. I quickly had another book in my hands: “My Conformer.”

She’s starting to echo phrases from the to books, and it’s been only a few days. Wow!

I’m working on a third book now. Time for something fun: “Let’s Make a Smoothie,” since she enjoys making and drinking them. She already knows all the words, so this is more about enjoyment. This time, I’m going to make a workflow that lets me draw on two-page spreads. I don’t have any wide drawings planned yet, but it could be handy for later. I made an Inkscape template to help me keep margins in mind. I learned how to use Medibang Paint’s folders to organize all the layers, and I’m getting the hang of digitally tracing and painting the photos I took.

I’m looking forward to making even more books and refining my workflow along the way. Here are a few things I want to try:

  • Flat colour
  • Painting
  • Programmatically adding text
  • Printing photos
  • Two-page drawing
  • Parametric templates
  • Smaller format by cutting
  • Programmatically adding photos
  • Heavier-weight paper
  • Board book replacement
  • Printing at Staples or similar
  • Print-on-demand book
  • Handstitching
  • Binding with a cover
  • Smaller format by folding and gluing
  • Mobile workflow
  • Vector drawing

And a few quick ideas for possible next books:

  • Potty Time
  • Brushing Teeth
  • Feelings
  • When I Feel Nervous
  • When I Feel Sad
  • Going to Sleep at the Dentist
  • My Life
  • My Day
  • Going Out
  • At Home
  • I Can…
  • I Can Draw
  • Waiting
  • Try Again
  • Dressing Up
  • Alimango sa Dagat
  • Leron Leron Sinta
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Reflecting on my process for visual journaling

Posted: - Modified: | drawing

Over several nursing sessions, I flipped through all 750+ of my sketches from 2016 on my phone. It was a quick and wonderful overview of the past year. It’s amazing to see how much ground we’d covered one day at a time.

Taking 5-10 minutes at night to draw a visual journal worked out well. It was my second year with daily/weekly/monthly sketches, and my workflow held up to the demands of caring for a newborn. Some nights I fell asleep before A- let me sneak away, but the text notes I jotted throughout the day helped me reconstruct events even after several nights. I really liked having a record not just of what happened, but also what I was thinking about, and the little moments that would have been hard to capture in a picture. When we were dealing with lots of uncertainty, thinking out loud helped me untangle my thoughts and feel like things were manageable. Looking back over the past year, I think I like the person I was and the person I’ve grown to be.

I didn’t have much time or energy to dress up my sketches or go beyond a simple style. It was nice to see the sketches I spent some time colouring for presentation, though, and the drawing practice I occasionally indulged in. My copies of characters from the books I read to A- reminded me of those stories, and rough sketches of her (mostly sleeping, since that was the only time I could draw from life) made me smile. I think I’d like to make more time for drawing, not just capturing thoughts.

Still, it was so useful to have a tool for making sense of my fragmented thoughts. There was so much to figure out about parenting, time, uncertainty, anxiety, boundaries, philosophy, plans…
I found it easy to go through my sketches and remember what it was like at that point in time. Sometimes I wasn’t sure what a cryptic note on my sketch meant, especially if I didn’t cover it in my weekly review, but that’s okay.

I’m looking forward to continuing this habit in 2017. I’ve been experimenting with jotting down sketch ideas on my phone, so I can move more of the thinking out of my limited computer time. I’d like to make sure I play with more formats than just lists, though, since the nonlinearity of drawing can support thinking in a different way compared to writing. It would be nice to mix in more non-journal sketches, and more actual sketches and drawing exercises too. Maybe a daily cycle, to prompt me to expand…

I still haven’t finished my yearly review, but having all those weekly and monthly sketches sure made the process easier. Onward!

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Building a simple sketch navigator for myself

Posted: - Modified: | drawing, geek, organization

In 2015, I built the habit of drawing daily index-card-sized thoughts. Some days, I reached (or blew past!) my target of five index cards a day. Other days, I backfilled my daily journal entries based on fuzzy memories and my time logs. In February 2015, I started using a yyyy-mm-dd<letter> naming convention so that I could easily refer to individual cards. For a while, I tried to be fairly disciplined about organizing sketches into outlines and building up chunks into blog posts. That fell by the wayside when I found it difficult to concentrate, but I kept drawing anyway. I saved the images to my hard drive, started tagging them with keywords in the filenames, and uploaded my sketches to Flickr as a way to back up and share my files.

I’ve recently been exploring ways to take advantage of the Samsung tablet that W- bought some time ago. It works wonderfully as a second screen that I can use to review an old sketch while I draw another one. The FlickFolio app lets me do a random slideshow of the past 2000 images in my photostream or in an album. This turns out to be an excellent way to jog my memory and prompt me to revisit questions or decisions.

2016-01-22d What do I want from my idea pipeline -- index card #zettelkasten #ideas #thinking #questions #index-cards

2016-01-22d What do I want from my idea pipeline – index card #zettelkasten #ideas #thinking #questions #index-cards.png

Now those fragmented thoughts are starting to pay off. Many of my old index cards are on topics I haven’t thought about in a while. It’s fun to see what I’ve learned in the meantime, or to follow up on things I’ve forgotten. It’s like I’d been filling an idea pipeline or seeding an idea garden. I get this steady stream of questions, decisions, observations, memories, ideas, and notes, and I can build on those prompts instead of having to start from scratch.

2016-01-18g How do I want my sketches to help me think -- index card #drawing #sketches #zettelkasten #notes ref 2015-11-18a

2016-01-18g How do I want my sketches to help me think – index card #drawing #sketches #zettelkasten #notes ref 2015-11-18a.png

I want these index cards to help me shuffle ideas and possibly see serendipitous combinations. They’re small, so capturing thoughts on them doesn’t require as much effort as, say, writing a blog post. They’re a good way to smooth out and organize thoughts, and I can chunk up those thoughts into longer posts. The sketches are easy to review, too, so they work well as digital footprints. I re-read the year’s blog posts as part of my annual review and sometimes I reread my posts on a monthly basis as well, but it’s not as immediate or as wide-ranging as flipping through a random selection of images.

A random slideshow is a good start, but I’ve been meaning to make a sketch browser that’s a little more tuned to what I want.

2016-01-18d What do I want in a sketch browser -- index card #drawing #coding #plan

2016-01-18d What do I want in a sketch browser – index card #drawing #coding #plan.png

I wrote a simple NodeJS server that I can run on my laptop and access from the tablet (or other devices) while I’m on my home network. At first, I was trying to figure out an interface that would let me navigate by month/week/day, but then I realized that something simpler might be a more useful way to begin.

I started off by making it display random sketches:

Screenshot_2016-01-22_17-16-34

Then I extended it to let me browse by tag:

Screenshot_2016-01-22_17-19-33

And then to see a list of tags by frequency:

Screenshot_2016-01-22_17-17-12

Or by alphabetic order, since that might be handier if I’m trying to look for something specific on a mobile device

Screenshot_2016-01-22_17-17-23

I like distinguishing between daily/weekly/monthly/yearly reviews and non-journal sketches, too:

Screenshot_2016-01-22_17-16-43

Screenshot_2016-01-22_17-18-04

Screenshot_2016-01-22_17-17-34

It’s nice to be able to build custom little tools like that. =)

Here’s the script on Github, in case you’re curious or you want to build on the idea.

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