Recently I had to give a math talk about my work. Previous talks I’ve given I just did on the chalkboard, but this being my last math talk for a while, I thought I might finally try Beamer (nice quickstart). And then I realized I should try Prezi. I thought I’d share my exploration with you, in case you try to decide about something similar. If you want to just cut to the chase and see the final Beamer work (pdf or source tarball), or the final Prezi, go for it. If for some strange reason you actually care about the math, you’re welcome to read the paper (pdf or source tarball) my presentation was based on. My final recommendation: stick with Beamer (until Prezi starts handling TeX).
I started off making a Prezi just to see how it worked, how easy it was to use and such. It’s pretty simple to use, which is nice. Of course, as one comes to expect, it doesn’t handle LaTeX. Ok, so, no worries, I’ll just do some TeX to make pictures I need, and insert pictures. Prezi will actually let you put in pdfs. So what you could do is make a beamer presentation, with a very basic template and no titles, and then use “pdftk” to “burst” the pdf, making a single pdf for each frame, and then use ImageMagick‘s “convert” to change the file type, do some cropping and trimming and things (if desired), and then load all those little pictures where you want them. You probably won’t want to use the actual pictures as path steps in your prezi, because it’ll zoom all the way in, but that’s ok, because you can just wrap a hidden frame where you want it.
So I then made another prezi, putting text where I wanted, thinking I’d then go in and make lots of little pictures, and put them where I wanted. This prezi did lots more zooming and twisting, so it was sorta fun, but I did worry a little if it might turn some people off (or make them motion sick :)). And then I realized I didn’t really want to make all of those little pictures, that the fonts wouldn’t match, and that I’d probably still have resolution issues (I couldn’t find an easy way to make, say, svgs, from tex).
Ok, so, maybe I could cheat a little bit. You can get away with a lot if you just use italics for math. I thought maybe I could use this for most of the math, and then rely on fewer pictures to have to insert. Sadly, prezi won’t do italics (or underline, or bold!). That was fairly surprising to me. No LaTeX I basically expect, but no italics? Well, ok, maybe I can cheat another way. Surely there’s Unicode characters for most of what I want, I could just type those in. But no, prezi (I’d happily blame flash here, I don’t know what wasn’t really working) wouldn’t do that either. I’d type unicode characters, and nothing would show up. I’d copy a unicode character typed elsewhere, and try to paste it in, and nothing. Sigh.
I pretty much gave up at that point, and made a beamer presentation. But the prezi urge just wouldn’t die. I decided that if I took whole frames from my beamer presentation, and added those to my prezi, I would (a) have consistent fonts, (b) wouldn’t have lots of tiny pictures to upload, and (c) probably wouldn’t do as much twisting and spinning and zooming, and would maybe, then, end up with a better presentation. One could pdftk burst and convert like I mentioned before, but I think I was having some issues getting good resolution that way (looking back, I question this, so you may want to play around). So I decided I could take screenshots of every frame, when it was in full-screen mode, and use those as my pictures. ImageMagick’s “import” takes screenshots, and with the ‘window -root’ option, it grabs full-screen. I don’t know how to force xpdf to turn the page from outside the program, so I set up a quick little bash script that would beep, sleep 2 seconds, and then import a screenshot. Switch workspace to my full-screened xpdf (put ‘xpdf*FullScreenMatteColor: white’ in .Xdefaults and do ‘xrdb -merge .Xdefaults’ before running xpdf), and just press the spacebar after every beep. Badabing. 2-3 minutes later, and I’ve got a 1280×800 image of every frame from my presentation. Upload to prezi, twist, zoom, and you’re done.
Except, no. Prezi has the dis-fortune of having to work on any screen resolution. I don’t know what they’re magic zoomer does to decide how to zoom, but things don’t go great if you try to present my prezi fullscreen at a different resolution. And, unfortunately, I ended up in a room with a computer whose screen was at a different resolution, and that I wasn’t allowed to change. So I fell back on my beamer talk. People said it was good anyway.
According to the support forums and associated prezi, I maybe should have been able to figure this out. Perhaps converting to pngs was my downfall. I really thought I tried keeping things as pdfs. I’ve been wrong before. Oh well, it’s over now. And I did learn other fun stuff with all this fiddling.
While I was doing all this, I finally figured out how to use pstricks to do text in a circle (or along other paths). I think I’ve tried before, but never quite figured out what was going on with \PSforPDF, even if I was able to put text on a path. But this time I got it, thanks to this presentation [pdf] (which I probably looked at before, too). If you’re working on project.tex, put all the pstricks stuff in \PSforPDF blocks, run latex, dvips, and ps2pdf, eventually outputting project-pics.pdf. Then when you run pdflatex project.tex, since you’re doing pdflatex instead of latex, \PSforPDF probably expands to some sort of \includegraphics[project-pics], and imports the *-pics.pdf (making that -pics assumption about the filename) you just made. Good stuff. LaTeX will probably be one of the things I miss the most about getting out of mathematics in academia.