The Digital Municipality

May 30, 2007

Guerrilla Technology Tip #5: SVG and Inkscape

Filed under: Guerrilla Technology — codecorps @ 11:34 am

Continuing on the theme of graphics, let’s talk about vector images.

In the previous post, I discussed the difference between vector images and bitmaps (sometimes called raster images). Things like digital photos are intrinsically bitmaps. However, most logos ideally are vector images, so you can shrink them down (e.g., for an envelope return address block) or blow them up (e.g., for a poster) and have them still look good at all sizes. Hence, if nothing else, you want to have graphic designers give you vector images for logos or things of that nature. (more…)


May 23, 2007

Guerrilla Technology Tip #4: Paint.NET

Filed under: Guerrilla Technology — codecorps @ 11:57 am

Microsoft Windows has had painting tools since at least Windows 95, and perhaps earlier (my memory fails me…). Originally called Paintbrush, then later Paint, Windows’ tool would allow you to make simple drawings that are “bitmaps”.

A quick aside on the difference between “bitmaps” and “vector drawings”. Let’s suppose you want to make a crude drawing of a (little red) wagon, with four wheels and a handle. With a bitmap tool like Paint, when you draw the rectangle for the body and the circles for the wheels and the lines for the handle, what you’re really doing is laying down a bunch of dots. Those dots form the picture, and you can make light adjustments to the picture by erasing dots or adding other dots. When you use different tools to create a “vector drawing”, when you draw the rectangle, circles, and lines, the drawing actually knows them as shapes, not just a collection of dots. This makes fine-grained editing a bit tougher. However, you get a big advantage: you can shrink or expand the drawing as you see fit and it will look just fine. Bitmaps don’t look nearly as good when you make them much bigger or smaller than the size they started at.

Note that digital photographs are bitmaps, so you can use Paint to adjust a photo. Since Paint doesn’t have much in the way of features aimed at adjusting photos, you’re going to be limited in what you can do (e.g., use the spray paint can to paint a mustache on somebody).

Now, back to Paint. The built-in Paint program works, but it’s pretty wimpy. If you’d like a better bitmap tool, check out Paint.NET. It is free and let’s you do more powerful stuff than the built-in Paint tool, including more stuff for photo manipulation (rotate, zoom, red-eye removal, brightness/contrast adjust, etc.). For Windows-based bitmap drawing, it’s the best thing I’ve found.

In the upcoming weeks, though, I’ll cover other options for related free (or inexpensive) tools, for drawing vector images, tools aimed strictly at photo manipulation, diagramming tools (for organization charts and whatnot), etc.

May 15, 2007

Guerrilla Technology Tip #3: PDF Forms

Filed under: Guerrilla Technology — codecorps @ 12:28 pm

Ever download a form in PDF format off of some site, like the IRS, and wish you could fill out the form using your PC, rather than by hand or by a typewriter? Well, if the PDF has been specially created, and you have the right software, you can!

The PDF file format includes rules for creating actual forms, with fields and such that you can type into. However, not everything that looks like a form is a true PDF form. For example, if you have a printed form and scan it in using a scanner that creates PDF file, that PDF file cannot be edited as a form. The scanner doesn’t know that you’re scanning a form and not a photo or memo, and so it has no means of knowing where fields should go. But, with the right tools, people like the IRS can create PDF files that can be filled in as forms.

The catch is that not all PDF viewers can work as editors, letting you fill in the form and save and print the result. Foxit Reader is one that does, and it’s free for download and use. From their Web site:

Interactive form filler: Now you don’t have to print out PDF forms first and then manually fill out paper forms. Instead, you can use PC to fill out interactive forms directly, and then print them out. These basic features are free for personal and non-personal usage. Moreover, Foxit Reader supports advanced form operations such as saving filled-out forms and import/export forms.

Foxit Reader is a full-fledged PDF viewer which you can use in place of, or alongside of, Adobe’s Acrobat Reader. Another inexpensive option is CutePDF’s Form Filler, which works in conjunction with Acrobat Reader, but costs $29. Or, you can purchase the right level of Adobe’s Acrobat and use that, though this tends to cost still more.

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May 10, 2007

Guerrilla Technology Tip #2: CutePDF

Filed under: Guerrilla Technology — codecorps @ 12:02 pm

I always recommend to people that they distribute documents outside their organizations as PDF files for viewing by Adobe Acrobat or other tools. While it’s certainly easy to send around Word or Excel files, there are two problems with it:

  1. Not everybody will be able to view those files properly, either because they don’t have the right versions of Word or Excel, or they simply don’t have those programs
  2. Everybody can modify those files. For many documents, like emailed invoices or legal terms, you don’t want people modifying them

That’s why it’s important for everybody to be able to create PDF files from Word, Excel, and other tools that you use on a daily basis.

The easiest answer for simple PDF files is CutePDF Writer. This is completely free (no ads, watermarks, nag messages, or the like). It sets up a “virtual printer” called CutePDF Writer. When you print to that “printer” from, say, Word, it will pop up a Save As… window for you to name and place the PDF file, then it will create the PDF file for you. So, instead of printing to paper, you print to a PDF file. This even works with color!

There are two pieces to CutePDF Writer, the “download” and the “converter”. Download both pieces, install the converter, then install the “download”.

For fancier PDF work, such as supporting multiple layers from AutoCAD turning into layers within a PDF file, you may need the full version of Acrobat from Adobe.

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May 4, 2007

Guerrilla Technology Tip #1: Google Calculator

Filed under: Guerrilla Technology — codecorps @ 11:04 pm

Inevitably, you will run into times when you need to convert between units, whether it is cups to liters, or acres to square feet, or whatever. Unless this comes up for you a lot, you then have to rummage around to find a chart, or use a calculator that has unit conversions, or some such.

There’s an easier way.

If you need a unit conversion and you’re in front of your PC, just type in the desired conversion into the Google search box, such as on the Google home page. For example, I typed:

1 meter in inches

and it reported:

1 meter = 39.3700787 inches

It knows a wide range of units (miles, acres, fathoms, leagues, cubits, pounds, calories, cups, teaspoons, degrees, astronomical units, kilograms, etc.). It can also perform calculations using normal arithmetic operators.

The one thing to note is that it uses spaces as the thousands separator rather than commas, so a search for “20,000 leagues in cubits” yields “243 044 619 cubits”, meaning a shade under a quarter-billion cubits.

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April 24, 2007

Welcome to the ‘Corps!

Filed under: Uncategorized — codecorps @ 11:43 pm

This blog is meant to be an asset to those interested in MuniCorps as an organization, particularly to municipal governments.

Near-term, the blog will focus on how your typical not-funded-as-well-as-you’d-like municipality can get useful technology for cheap or free. Some of the solutions presented here will be well-known, while others will be comparatively obscure. However, all will let you get more bang for your limited computer-related expenses. We refer to this approach as “guerrilla technology”, modeled after the various works of Jay Conrad Levinson (Guerrilla Marketing, Guerrilla Negotiating, etc.).

If you like the blog, you can subscribe to it either by email or by a blog “feed reader”, such as Bloglines. We’ll talk more about feed readers and how they can be useful to you in a later entry in this very blog!

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