Saturday, August 20, 2011

Creating PDF Sheet Music v2

With the new release of ForScore for the iPad, I've been re-inspired to work on scanning more of my music.  After all the linux fun that was had at the Partimus install day I've also been inspired to work in Linux more.  So I've been playing with some new tools to turn my music into PDFs.  

In windows, I still use Windows Fax and Scan to do the initial scanning.  The included Document preset is good.  I like to scan at 300 dpi.  Going down to 150 dpi results in jagged staff lines, which I find distracting.  Fax and Scan also has an easy cropping tool.  Since I’m preparing these gig books for reading on the iPad, trimming out the extra dead space is essential to maximizing the size of the actual music.

cropped scan

From there, if I were creating a Journal file to use on just the Windows tablet, I would paste the scanned images in page by page.  This has worked fine for shorter piece, but this time, I wanted to scan serveral 40 page gig books for just reading as PDFs on the iPad.  Finding a program that will turn the scanned images into a PDF should be an easy google search, but most of what comes up are trialware programs that will leave a watermark during the trial and then cost $30 or more to buy.  The thing is, I haven't found one that's worth it.  They've all been clunky or buggy during the trial and I've not found one that I've wanted to keep using.

Until I stumbled upon a little free utility.  The download is just  a zip containing the exe, you don't even have to install it - just as it should be; a simple program for a simple task.  The utility imports the scanned images by folder.  A little rearranging later and you're ready to export the PDF.  I've found that this one even generates the PDF much faster than the trialware options, and even exported some larger ones that the trialware errored out on.  

jpg to pdf tool

From there, the PDF goes into Dropbox to be made available to any machine I would want to read it from.  Conversion to a Windows Journal file is as easy as using the Journal Note printer from any PDF reader.  (Journal installs a virtual printer that can be accessed from any program).  This will still get me to a Journal Note faster than pasting each image into a page.  With the PDF in Dropbox, I can also open it from ForScore or UnrealBook on the iPad.  

Another great scanning tool was put into use this weekend when an orchestra sent practice parts as copies on loose paper.  That presented the perfect opportunity to test the NeatDesk autofeed and PDF creation tool.  The NeatDesk can feed through up to 50 loose sheets front and back and turn them into a PDF.  It's great to set all the pages in the NeatDesk, press the PDF button and let it do its thing.  The only problem that came up was that it decided that page 4 (of nearly 30) should be landscape.  All of the other pages came out oriented correctly, but page 4 would need to be rotated.  I just use the free Foxit reader in Windows, and that will only rotate the entire file, not a single page.

A google search for PDF tools turned up the same mess of trialware that may or may not actually do that one simple thing I needed - rotate just one page and leave the rest the way they were.  

This is where I go to Ubuntu.  I had also been playing with scanning options there.  A search for PDF in the Ubuntu software center yeilds lots of helpful tools, all free and open source.  In addition to the already installed scanning program, I found a JPG to PDF conversion utility, a scan to PDF program, and two tools that allow you to rotate, rearrange, add, and delete pages within a PDF.  Both tools were fast, simple, easy to figure out, and did exactly what I needed with zero hassle - allow me to rotate one page while leaving the rest alone.  After the mess of results google gives for windows software, it was refreshing to search for "PDF" and get these two great utilities as the top two results in the Ubuntu software center.

Screenshot-Ubuntu Software Center


Xournal does an equally good job in linux of importing and annotating PDF's.  The only drawback vs Journal in Windows is that I don't yet have it set up to see the eraser end of the pen as the erase, so you have to select the eraser tool from the menu bar rather than just flipping the pen over.  I have not yet tested it with the foot pedal, but as it just sends page up or page down, I'm sure it will work fine.

Ubuntu actually runs faster and lighter on my hardware (Lenovo x61t), and would make a good option for both scanning and reading music.  The other two drawbacks I've run into are that Neat does not provide linux drivers for their scanners and there are no open source ones available, so I'd have to manually swap pages on the flatbed scanner, and that battery life is a little less under Ubuntu than when running Windows.  

But now I have several options for turning my paper music into PDFs using free tools.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Partimus Install Day - Setting Up Ubuntu Machines for an SF School

It's fun to talk about the latest and greatest tablets and debate the merits of various hardware for educational uses, but this weekend, I got a good look at the reality of technology in the classroom.  I read about all these initiatives to get computers in the hands of the students, and I think they're great, if your school can afford it.  Students should have as much exposure to computers as possible, as they are a reality at about any type of job out there, and will only be more ubiquitous in the working world as these kids get closer to graduation.

This past weekend, I had the privilege of helping a school that can't afford any amount of classroom computers, beyond the lab they got a grant for, get set up with some classroom computers.  KIPP Bay Area is a middle school level charter school in the San Francisco public school system.  This is one of the top charter schools - one that parents hope to get their kids into.  And they had no computers outside of the grant funded lab.  Partimus, a non-profit organization that provides repurposed computers running free and open source software to students and schools which need them, has donated dozens of machines to get these classrooms (and those at several other area schools) into the digital age.

The video station installs in progress.
Our task for the day was to set up machines in 3 different classrooms.  A social studies teacher got six machines so her students could go online to do research.  A math teacher got 6 machines so his students could do online math programs.  The final classroom was set up with two of Partimus's better boxes to do video editing.  And all of this at no charge to the school.  The hardware is donated and the software is free.  We spent the day getting piecing together working sets of towers, monitors, power cables, mice, keyboards, hubs, switches, and ethernet cable, and then installing and updating Ubuntu 10.04.3.   This is the long-term support version and will be current until the next LTS release comes out in April of 2012.

Many of the machines were already running older versions of Ubuntu, or Xubuntu, and I think we did encounted one that still had windows of some vintage on it.  In 14 machines, we only encountered one bad hard drive.  It's amazing what older hardware is still capable of, especially with the lighter running Ubuntu.

Just as we were cleaning up and heading out of the social studies room, the teacher arrived to do some set up and she was so happy to have internet access for her students to be able to do research.  It didn't matter what kind of computers she got, or what OS they were running, she was just so grateful that her students would have access to the whole internet's worth of information.

It was great to get to be a part of something like that.