Making your own page-a-day calendar

Anomalously, today's post is about a DIY physical artifact.

A while back, I made a custom page-a-day calendar as a gift for my girlfriend. Each page tears off and has a picture on it. (Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of the finished product.)

With just a little effort, you can make one of these things and have it look quite professional. You can fill the pages with whatever photos, comics, etc. you want. And, I can virtually guarantee you, your recipient has never had a page-a-day calendar typeset in Computer Modern.

Here are skeletal instructions for making your own. You'll need a printer, ink or toner, most of a ream of paper, some padding compound, a paper cutting device/facility, cardboard, LaTeX, and time.

1. Get source images

Acquire 365 images from Flickr, your photo collection, your favorite CC-licensed webcomic, or whatever strikes your fancy. This post on curl may come in handy. Some notes: (1) Layout is much easier if the images are the same aspect ratio. (2) Consider upsampling the images if needed, e.g. with imagemagick, so you can print at a respectable DPI. Henceforth I'll assume you've named the images imgs/001.jpg, imgs/002.jpg, etc. If this is not the case, simply adjust the code in Steps 2 and 3 accordingly.

2. Use this LaTeX skeleton

Make a new TeX file and fill it with this:









\newcommand{\daypage}[6] {
    \Large{#2} \\
    \HUGE{\textbf{#3}} \\



  % Cover page


Salient points:

  • The \daypage command generates a new page. You supply arguments specifying the parameters for each page: the filename of the image to include, the day and date, a line indicating whatever holiday it might be, etc. Play around with the layout, especially if you're using images of different aspect ratios than I did or if you have a calendar stand of a particular size.
  • If you want a cover page, supply a cover.png; otherwise, remove the corresponding lines from the template.

3. Generate the pages

The template above includes tex-days.tex, which might look something like this:

  \daypage{182}{Sunday}{03}{Jul 2005}{~}{~}
  \daypage{183}{Monday}{04}{Jul 2005}{Independence Day}{~}
  \daypage{184}{Tuesday}{05}{Jul 2005}{~}{~}
  \daypage{185}{Wednesday}{06}{Jul 2005}{~}{~}
  \daypage{186}{Thursday}{07}{Jul 2005}{~}{~}

You can generate a skeletal version of this, sans holidays, with a quick Python program. I've provided a sample tex-days.tex file for the year 2010.

The first argument on each line indicates the filename, e.g. 182 indicates that 182.jpg should be included. Make sure these match the filenames you are using. The sample file assumes your images are named 1.jpg, 2.jpg, etc. If this is not the case, either create your own version or rename your files.

If you're interested in embellishing the output, the 5th and 6th arguments on each line provide supplementary text to go on each page (#6 is printed in smaller type than #5). You can fill in, by hand or programmatically, whatever notations you want here, e.g., holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, or a countdown to whatever.

Arguments 2, 3, and 4 give the day of week, date, and month/year respectively that are displayed, in case that wasn't clear.

4. Produce and print

Run the file through pdflatex and print it! Make sure the alignment is consistent across pages.

The showtrims argument in the template file makes LaTeX print trim marks on each page. However, you really only need trim marks on the first page. If you're obsessive-compulsive, you could print the first page with trim marks and the rest without to guarantee the marks won't show on the finished product.

5. Trim it

I took the stack of paper, with pieces of thin cardboard above and below it, to my local Kinko's (now Fedex Kinko's, I guess). I asked them to cut the stack along the trim marks (2 cuts, since 2 of the edges already run up again against the page edges). They did this for a fee of just $1/cut.

6. Bind it

Get some padding compound, e.g. Sparco padding compound. (I bought a quart, so I can probably make gift calendars/notepads for years.) Align the cut pages, leaving one piece of cardboard on the bottom, and put the stack in a vise. (In a jam, "under a pile of hardcover books" will do.) Using a paintbrush, paint the top edge of the stack with padding compound. Wait for it to dry. Paint another coat.

If you have random loose paper, padding compound is also handy for recycling it into notepads.

7. Mount it

This is not really needed, but is a nice touch. Find an old stand for a page-a-day calendar. Glue the cardboard backing in.

I hereby place the LaTeX template and LaTeX snippets in this post into the public domain.

A different approach to fighting phishing

We are usually advised to avoid being phished by looking carefully at the address bar for discrepancies. Unfortunately,

The web page; the URL; the SSL certificate (if any); indeed, all information displayed to the user; is information chosen by the attacker. The user is then asked to discover discrepancies in information that has been carefully designed for deception. This type of game is better suited to a book of puzzles than a secure user interface. —Tyler Close

The problem is that humans are notoriously bad at detecting rare and non-obvious events.

The Petname tool is a nifty alternative way to detect and expose phishing. It's a Firefox extension that lets you enter short messages (e.g. "stock trades") to be associated with a site's CA public key and distinguished name (DN). Those messages are only subsequently displayed to you when you return to the site if the key and DN match.

This is somewhat similar to the approach used in SSH. That is, on the second and subsequent transactions between you and another party, it's not quite as valuable for you to know simply whether some trusted CA will vouch for that party. What you really want to know is that you are talking to the same party you were talking to last time. (As with SSH, man-in-the-middle attacks on the second and subsequent logins can be detected... even if the user didn't properly verify the authenticity of the remote party on the first login!)

Of course, all this is of little use if the human doesn't check the petname before entering his password. For that, the author suggests that web browsers be made to automatically manage credentials on our behalf...

Further reading: W3C workshop paper

Chrome is blazing

I've been using the Chromium builds off and on for some time now and finally changed my default browser to Chromium. The two major reasons that sold me:

One. It is blazing. In comparison, Firefox 3.5 is now intolerably slow. I don't even want to try Firefox 3.0. This is both for rendering time and startup time. (Startup from a cold cache: 1 sec for Chromium, 10 sec for Firefox. That's right, Chromium loads in one second on my 8 year-old computer.)

Two. The "omnibox" (the unified area for selecting URLs, searches, and bookmarks). It works fantastically. Now, Firefox's implementation (the "awesomebar") is pretty admirable. They too support searching bookmarks and history and have a fairly sophisticated filtering language for narrowing the suggestions. But, as far as I can tell, in order to actually use any of the suggestions you have to move your hands away from the home row, down to the arrow keys to press "Down".

From a UI perspective, this is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. (In Chromium, pressing Enter in the omnibox selects the first completion.)

Chromium is still a no-frills browser, and I still miss some Firefox extensions (okay, okay, only one). But it's already good enough that using Firefox regularly is just unbearable now. Hats off to the Chromium engineers!