Multimarkdown to PDF

As I begin to write longer pieces again, after too long a hiatus, I find myself again not wanting to trust my work entirely to Word. I am not a knee-jerk Microsoft hater, or even one to complain about the bloat in Word. Word is great for any number of things, but it’s not so great at keeping things simple and it’s not so great at being able to have multiple outputs from a single file.

Working with a text editor like [Textmate][tm] has shown me how working with plain text formatted using something like Fletcher Penney’s [Multimarkdown][mmd] means I can not only output to HTML, RTF, DOC, and even PDF, but that I can do so using my own style sheets. (And, yes, I fiddled a bit over the last day or two with going through LaTeX, which produces beautiful output but is far too complicated for me.) The ability to produce PDF output is especially welcome, and the fact that I finally got not only an install of [PrinceXML][pxml] working but I also got a working adaptation of a Textmate command to automate the process is a *huge* step forward for me.

Again with thanks to Fletcher Penney, I adapted the syntax for the convert to Word DOC:

# Process the MultiMarkdowndocument and convert to PDF using PrinceXML

# first figure out a name for the result

#cd “${TM_MULTIMARKDOWN_PATH:-~/Library/Application Support/MultiMarkdown}”
cd “${TM_MULTIMARKDOWN_PATH:-$HOME/Library/Application Support/MultiMarkdown}”
cd bin

./ > “$DST.html”

# Get all this to Prince
require_cmd prince
prince “$DST.html”

open “$DST.pdf”

[tm]: “Home of Textmate”
[mmd]: “Multimarkdown’s Home Page”


[MacTeX Home Page](

[Latex tricks and editing with Textmate and Skim](


[Haris Skiadas’ List of His LaTeX and Textmate pages](

Race Car or Tractor?

As someone who now regularly spends time on a tractor, I think the ad below makes all the wrong moves:


The way I read the visuals of this ad is that Java and XML are the new hotness of Web 2.0 but OH! those databases, they are as slow and clumsy as an old tractor.

Given that I have yet to see a race car bring in a crop I can eat, I think I will opt for the coolness of tractors.

Cory Doctorow’s Tips for Writers

Cory Doctorow is one of those scarily productive writers. I haven’t read his fiction yet, but his work as a columnist for _Make_ magazine and elsewhere has regularly impressed me, and his recent young adult novel, _Little Brother_ is getting amazing reviews. In a recent column for _Locus_ magazine, Doctorow shared some of the guidelines he has for himself that help him be productive. The explanations behind the guidelines are [in the article](, but here are the tips themselves:

* Keep a short, regular work schedule
* Leave yourself a rough edge
* Don’t look up facts while writing but leave a “TK” to mark a spot in need of fact-checking.
* Don’t be ceremonious about where and when you write. Just write.
* Kill your word processor.
* Turn off real-time communications tools: they are the enemy.

Water Leveling

I spent the day with Dwayne Gossen, a rice farmer whose family has long, and as it turns out wide, roots in Roberts Cove. Gossen is, on the one hand, quite typical of so many of the farmers I have met working on this book: he is a gentle man, quiet to the point of seeming shy, but a font of warmth and hospitality when asked an honest question. So many of these men are like this: it makes me wish that everyone took a turn at farming — perhaps rice farming in particular — so that more people would have a similar disposition.

Most of my time was spent with him in the cab of his Case-IH 385 tractor, a giant 8-wheel-drive machine that could pull the twenty-foot-wide blade of a water leveler through some fields almost at an idle. While the work would seem effortless standing by the side of a field, inside the cab Gossen spent much of his time turned around in his seat, his neck craned to check how much mud he was pulling in the blade, how well the tire ruts were filling as he worked the soil.

Water Leveling in Louisiana

The view out the back of the cab as we make a turn.

Gossen was a patient teacher, explaining the intricacies of water leveling, much of which requires the ability to “see” beneath the surface of muddy water. At one point I finally exclaimed to him, “Dwayne, you are describing an intricate topography of hills and holes, of overpulling and underpulling, but all I see is muddy water.” Characteristically, Gossen smiled, laughed, and shook his head. How could a university professor not understand what was so obvious to him?

Mardi Gras 2009


Originally uploaded by johnlaudun

We’re back from Iota where we spent the entire day taking in the small festival the city hosts every year. Despite being very nervous about the folks in Mardi Gras costumes when we first arrived, Lily insisted on staying until the Mardi Gras came into town. Wise of her. As one of the first kids they saw, they showered her with candy.


AppleScript Resources

I spent part of my time with the flu trying to figure out how to convert a collection of old Word documents into Markdown-fomatted plain text files. I determined that `textutil` is close to useless in this regard because it does not maintain *headings*, instead preferring to collapse headings into a styled paragraph. To get to `HTML`, then, I will need to use Word itself, which means AppleScript or Automator. I need to first open a document, then save it as `HTML`.

[Microsoft’s Site for Mac Developers is here.](

UPDATE: It looks like Microsoft does have an Automator Workflow that does what I want, but the bundle of workflows does not come with the Student and Teacher Edition. Thanks, MBU!

Here’s a guy who’s written a book and released [some podcasts]( on *automating* Office.

On the New PhD Exams

I can speak about how I grade exams, and I have some suggestions that I think are reasonably useful in a universal sense, but I must also note that the grading of PhD exams has not been normalized in the department and probably will never be. Thus, every person taking an exam should inquire of their writers what their standards are for evaluation.

Folklore studies has chosen to drop identifications and short essay questions in favor of three long essays. We did so in the belief that the concentration in folklore studies within the department’s generalist program best serves students and future scholars by expanding the framework within which they think and write. And so, we decided that the exam that served that purpose best was one where you required to do just that. There are, then, questions that ask you to write one of three kinds of essays:

1. an intellectual history/history of ideas that pertain to a given topic or term within the domain
2. a synthesis of an array of ideas, terms, or thinkers on a given topic
3. a list of n things having to do with a particular project with an introduction that offers a framework for understanding the list: e.g., an anthology, a museum exhibit, a course syllabus