Making POSSE Print materials, or: Mel becomes a LaTeX ninja

February 28, 2011 – 4:55 pm

I’ve been remiss at blogging updates on the (fast and furious) work going on at Teaching Open Source to shape up the POSSE workshop program prior to our big SIGCSE 2011 launch date, so here’s the first of what I hope will be many ongoing notes on various aspects of our progress.

A bunch of us have bemoaned the lack of quality design/layout for POSSE materials – we want a snazzy little bunch o’ dead trees we can be proud to hand out to people at conferences and workshops! – and so Sebastian and I pinged Emily Dirsh, Fedora Design Ninja, a line asking about what it would take to come up with some open materials for the Teaching Open Source community. Mmm, contributing to the ecosystem.

Here’s the current gameplan after Emily and I talked today; our full logs can be found here.

  1. All designs and materials will be released under an open content license (probably cc-by-sa) made in open formats using open tools (LaTeX, Drupal, etc) and generally be free and open all the way through. This was important to us.
  2. We want content both for print (pdf) and web; given that our primary audience is technical academia and we’d like the sources to be tweakable by others, LaTeX seemed like a good choice for markup.
  3. The first thing we’ll do is create a stylesheet we can use to generate good-lookin’ print materials from that LaTeX markup. Think something like Mo Duffy’s Inkscape tutorials (see the 2 pdfs at the end of that blog post) as an end product. We’re hoping to have this done before SIGCSE so we can generate and distribute some sample materials using it.
  4. The next thing will be to work on a LaTeX-to-html/css stylesheet to generate the web content.
  5. Finally, the whole thing will be slipped into a CMS (Drupal) and skinned. Voila, a professional web presence and layout for all things POSSE, with plenty of open-fu all the way through.

This pretty much dictates the rest of my evening. Emily has asked for sample markup with all the syntax we’ll be using, so it looks like I’ll be refreshing my LaTeX memory shortly. LyX has spoiled me – it’s been a while since I cranked open a text editor and wrote TeX with my BARE HANDS! grunt, grunt – but it shall be done. Elements this document has to include, because the POSSE handouts will almost certainly include them:

  1. An abstract/summary at the beginning
  2. Section and subsection headers
  3. Graphics (mostly screenshots) with captions
  4. Code snippets
  5. Terminal input (distinguishable from a code snippet!)
  6. Lists and bullets
  7. A few styles of asides (“Did you know?” sidebars – as in “Did you know? Penguins don’t like cheese!”)
  8. A styling/numbering for “homework assignment”-type problems at the end


Am I missing anything? Let me know! Favorite LaTeX tips and stylesheets, tutorials, and whatnot are also extremely welcome.

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  1. 3 Responses to “Making POSSE Print materials, or: Mel becomes a LaTeX ninja”

  2. Sounds like a fun documentation project. One criticism, though: while your target audience may be technical, your desired output is going to look nothing like an academic paper in Computer Modern font and filled with funny symbols. Have you asked around to verify that LaTeX passes the raptor/bus test in Fedora (as opposed to other tools like DITA and DocBook)?

    By DJ on Mar 1, 2011

  3. I’m glad you brought that up – making sure things are raptor/bus proof is important. I didn’t mention this, but there are at least a handful of other LaTeXers in both the Fedora and Teaching Open Source community (turns out a lot of us have encountered it in our CS/engineering academic past or present), so I think we’re set on this front.

    Actually, there was some Docbook XML-vs-LaTeX discussion. I could have gone either way on it, honestly… the languages seem pretty decent at feature parity and there are a number of Docbook-LaTeX converters, so in the end it didn’t feel like we were getting locked in. And I personally find LaTeX syntax far more intuitive to write, but maybe that’s just me. :)

    By Mel on Mar 1, 2011

  4. First version of the .tex template for Emily to work on is up – http://mchua.fedorapeople.org/posse/lessons/posse-lesson-template.tex has the latest.

    By Mel on Mar 4, 2011

What do you think?