New Music – June 2016

My listening habits in June have been dominated by two records:

Mark Kozelek – Mark Kozelek Sings Favourites
Minor Victories – Minor Victories

These two records belong together, with the singer from each project guesting on the other. Between them they feature a great many of my favourite musicians, and I didn’t feel I need anything else to listen to much else during the first half of June.

A few other things from June (mostly towards the end):

Cat’s Eyes – Treasure House
Alexis Taylor – Piano
Public Service Broadcast – The Race for Space (remixes)
John Zorn – The Mockingbird
Nice as Fuck – Nice as Fuck
Nova Express Quintet – Andras: The Book of Angels Vol. 28
The Body – No One Deserves Happiness
Mitski – Puberty 2
Margaret Glaspy – Emotions & Math

Simple CCTV setup using a Raspberry Pi

This weekend I’ve been setting up my latest Raspberry Pi (a version III, in a blue lego case, running Ubuntu) to display a video stream of what’s going on outside my house so I can watch out for deliveries etc.

It’s something I’ve done before on different hardware, but I thought it was worth documenting as it’s a good project for any model of Raspberry Pi, and requires nothing more than the Pi, a USB webcam (or camera module), and 15 minutes of your time. I’m using a piece of software called motion which is available in the Debian/Raspian/Ubuntu repositories.

Install motion:

sudo apt-get install motion

Enable motion to start at boot:

sudo nano /etc/default/motion

Find the line that says start_motion_daemon=no and change it to start_motion_daemon=yes.

Enable the stream to be viewed from other computers on the local network, and also make the output a little bigger:

sudo nano /etc/motion/motion.conf

Change the following values:

daemon on    
width 640     
height 480     
framerate 100     
stream_localhost off    

Reboot, and then browse to port 8081 on the computer you’ve set it up on.

Making professional presentations

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been writing a presentation that I have to give as part of my ILM5 qualification. I give presentations fairly regularly (in fact I’ve given two since I started writing this one), but this one is different in that I’m being assessed on every aspect of it, and the assessment criteria is fairly specific.

As part of this process I attended a one day workshop covering all the key aspects of presentation skills, and also giving us the opportunity to practice standing up and talking in front of other people who then provided feedback. I found this useful, and none of the feedback I received was a surprise. I think the only thing I could look to change related to delivery of presentations is the amount I move while I’m presenting, but I suspect I’m not going to be able to move less without feeling really self conscious and detracting from the quality of the presentation – I’m certainly willing to give it a try though.

We didn’t have to create slides as part of the training, but the other piece of feedback I generally get is around my slides, and specifically how they don’t contain a great deal of text and therefore often require further information to make sense to anyone who wasn’t actually at the presentation. I’ve not changed the style of my slides as result of this, but I have worked on ensuring they flow in a sensible chronological order, and I’ve also prepared a longer slide set that intersperses the slides I’ll be showing with slides containing what I’ll actually be saying. Hopefully this version of the presentation will be useful as a handout, and will add context to the slides I’ll be showing (which are largely diagrams, graphs and charts). I’m a big believer that slides should enhance a talk rather than acting as a script, and I’d much rather the audience were listening to what I say rather than reading it off a screen.

Over the years I’ve experimented with a few different ways of creating slides, although in recent years I’ve either presented from a PDF file or created them straight in Keynote (for more complex presentations). This time I ended up doing a bit of both, as I wanted to create the slides/notes as markdown files, but also wanted to take advantage of Keynote’s presentation mode. I created my slides as a markdown file, and converted them to a PDF using Pandoc and Beamer (the process is detailed here), and then I used a tool called PDF to Keynote to convert them. I prefer working in markdown because it allows me to convert the same file to a Word document, PDF, ebook and presentation, but it means I have to go through as couple of extra layers of processing to be able to present from Powerpoint. I’ve made sure I can do that this time, although it’s not usually something I’ll bother with, especially if I’m the only person presenting.

My plan is to present from my laptop in Keynote and to use my phone as a remote (or just to use the trackpad of the laptop as it’s a fairly small room). Mitigations for technical difficulties include PDF, Keynote and Powerpoint versions on a USB device and in Dropbox, a second laptop in my bag, and adaptors to allow me to connect either my phone or iPad to the projector and present from that (I had to do that once when my laptop decided to reboot just as I was about to present). I’ll also have the source markdown with me so I have the ability to create slides on the fly should I need to. A lot of this may be overkill, but I’d rather be prepared.

An updated guide to using Pandoc for document conversion

I wrote about Pandoc last year, but I’m using it more and more and I’ve found myself editing the original post a fair few times. This is the updated 2016 version that gathers together useful commands I’ve learned so far.

Last year I found myself needing to do a lot of document conversion, and maintaining documentation that needs to be available in a variety of formats (HTML, Word documents, Markdown and PDF). My tool of choice for this sort of thing is Pandoc, which is available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux, although most of my usage so far has been on Linux and Mac OS X (it’s a command line package that can output to Dropbox, so it doesn’t matter where it runs really).

There are instructions for installing Pandoc on quite a few platforms. I’ve found that following these is generally enough, although it’s worth installing the latest version of the .deb packages rather than the one in the repositories.

On Debian/Ubuntu I also add the texlive-latex-extra package, but that’s largely because it gives me a specific Beamer theme I like to use.

If you’re using Pandoc on Mac OS X there is one more command you’ll need to issue prior to the first time you want to create a PDF file:

sudo ln -s /Library/TeX/texbin/pdflatex /usr/local/bin/

This will ensure Pandoc knows where to find pdflatex. If this step isn’t followed then you’ll likely get an error message along the lines of pandoc: pdflatex not found. pdflatex is needed for pdf output.

Pandoc works for me because I write everything in markdown, and Pandoc is great at taking markdown and converting it into almost anything else. It’s also good if you need to create a PDF, a Word document and a slide show from the same document. The syntax is fairly simple for most document types:

For example:

pandoc -s -o output.docx
pandoc -s -o output.html
pandoc -s -o output.epub

Conversion to PDF works the same, although I’m not a fan of wide margins, so I tweak it slightly:

pandoc -V geometry:margin=1in -s -o output.pdf

For a Beamer slide show you’ll need something like:

pandoc -t beamer -V theme:metropolis -o output.pdf

Pandoc does a lot more, but the documentation is great, and the commands above should be enough to get you started. If you want to try out the functionality in a web browser then should be able to handle most types of conversions.