Time to do something else. (and typewriters aren’t so bad…)

As you have likely heard, OLPC is having a tough time. I’m one of the many casualties.  If you know of an opportunity that I’d be interested in, please do let me know.

Most of the last month since then went in a different direction having nothing to do with anything of general use and of limited interest:  filling out forms for my kid’s education, and helping my wife with the kids while she dealt with finishing up her master’s degree for middle school math teaching. Andi had Lyme disease in December,  so that had to get finished up, along with our taxes and all this paper work.  Ugh…

While these forms were primarily for my daughter’s secondary school education, I’m amazed that in 2009 the systems can possibly be so painful.  The only part of this that seems remotely standardized across schools are recommendation forms.

Since we’ve long since either given away or lost the one typewriter we had, filling out forms was a PITA.  Doing it by printing longhand wasn’t reasonable either, as both my daughter and I have terrible handwriting.  You might have thought schools would have automated this by now, or at least be using PDF forms so that you could fill them out electronically (like even the U.S. government has done for many of its tax forms….

I finally found a laborious (much more than what filling them out with a typewriter) method that was esthetically acceptable, even if time consuming.The other cookbooks didn’t do quite what I wanted. To help others out with similar pain (and so I wont’ forget myself in the future), I document it below…

I converted PDF’s of the forms to PNG images using ImageMagik

convert -density 300×300 -resize 2550×3300 $1 $2

This gets you a 300dpi png image (if the output file name is .png, anyway), without the horrible artifacts of scanning paper.

  1. Then, in OpenOffice 2.4, I created a new document.
  2. Now we set up styles.
  3. Format->Styles and Formatting (F11); Brings up a dialog; select page style; the terrible dialog has a little page icon.
  4. Create a new style; give it a name, such as page 1.
  5. Select the background tab.
  6. Background as graphics; browse and find the page image you want as a background and use it as the page background
  7. Go to the page tab, and clear out the margins; otherwise your page image will get chopped to the margins
  8. Repeat the process (and have page 1’s style then invoke page 2’s style using Organizer->Next Style

Then, go back to the document, and “Insert->Manual Break->Page break” for each page. Then you can use the graphics tools to put text fields wherever you need them; you can expect lots of fussing to try to get the paragraph spacing to match the underlying form.  And more fussing to make it neat.

So you then can finally have a presentable document that some other mortal might be able to read. If you have one of those old things called a “typewriter”, I recommend that over what I had to do…

There are possibly/probably other tools that might make this easier (scribus??), but this is the method I figured out.

5 Responses to “Time to do something else. (and typewriters aren’t so bad…)”

  1. Russ Says:

    inkscape is by far the best tool for this. I just filed for an LLC and it was a cinch. Not only does it permit you to type on the PDF, but you are actually editing the PDF.

  2. Patrick Wagstrom Says:

    Another option, which may have been a bit more straightforward is to use FLPSED:


    It takes in postscript or PDF files and allows you to add arbitrary text to the file itself. Seems to work pretty well, and it’s what I used for filling out grad school apps many many moons ago.

    Another option that folks seem to like is Jarnal:


    Designed for tablet systems, but works fine with a keyboard and mouse. Just create text segments where you need them. The spacing can still be a bit of a pain for both tools. Basically I’d figure out exactly what I’d want to say, then make a separate text box for each line.

  3. Christoffer Says:

    Just wanted to tell you that we in Denmark can fill out tax forms in a browser.

    It has worked in any browser including linux browers for more than 5 years.

    Too bad that you cannot fill out this online. Really sucky.

  4. washburnello Says:

    I also recommend Inkscape. it can be a little weird typing with a graphic app, but it fits the bill nicely.

  5. Med Says:

    jg, looks like someone mentioned jarnal, which I’ll have to have a look at. I use a linux app with nearly identical phonetics called “xournal”.


    I use it, generally, to annotate PDFs. Some coursework I have is delivered in PDF and I just complete the coursework in xournal. I don’t use a tablet or wacom, just a generic mouse. Folks I’ve seen using tablets though LOVE xournal.

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