Public Domain Comics





Comic Books Plus and the Digital Comic Museum are both excellent sources for comic books in the public domain.

I’m a huge fan of comic books , even the old ones. A 75 year old comic book is a hard sell mine do get checked out occasionally. I have successfully used them a couple of other ways.

Remix for class projects

I’ve used old comics for technology lessons on desktop publishing and writing story arcs. I take them apart using GIMP and have the students reassemble them in Google Draw or similar. The kids like the style and it saves them stress of having to draw their own.

Primary sources for reluctant readers

The Common Core emphasis on primary sources can be a challenge for reluctant readers. There are quite a few comic books from World Word II, the Korean War and the Cold War era.

Comic Books Plus and the Digital Comic Museum

Description: Sources for old public domain comic books.

License: public domain

Usefulness: maybe

Desktop Publishing with LibreOffice Draw – a school “newspaper” template

 I frequently use LibreOffice Draw for desktop publishing as I previously blogged about here.  I think this makes me unusual  since Scribus is the more-powerful, better-known open-source DTP tool.   But,  for one- or two-page items printed on a school/home printer, I find Scribus a little bit of over-kill.   (I’m not bashing Scribus!  I plan on leaning it better and reviewing it later.)

Anyway, I decided to contribute to the commons with a “newspaper” template for newsletters.  As an exercise in open-source discipline, I strictly used only open or free fonts and graphics.

iconAlthough I used LibreOffice Draw to create the template, it should work flawlessly in OpenOffice Draw (but I have not tested it.)

Although I’m pretty good with LO Draw, it still was a learning experience.  One of the biggest lessons I learned was that if one uses the “Styles” feature, every element (headline, subhead, body text) must to be in its own frame.  (frames can be joined)  I tend to do this, anyway, so it’s no big deal but this could be a deal-breaker for some.

You can preview the Newspaper Template with this PDF file.

I am keeping the file at Archive dot org since they get a lot more traffic than my site.

Here is the Newsletter Template page.   Here is a direct link to the zip file (will all fonts).





Calligra Suite – ambitious but uneven office and productivity tools

Calliga_logoI spent a few days playing with the Calligra Suite and am very impressed with the variety of its modules. It’s one of the most ambitious open-source applications I’ve seen.

It is a project of KDE and has Windows, tablet and phone versions but I only tested the Linux version.

As expected, it offers the standard modules: word processor (“Writer”); spreadsheet (“Sheets”); database (“Kexi”); and presentation (“Stage”), compatible with the OpenOffice file standard.

What makes Calligra so impressive is the other modules it offers: mind mapping (“Braindump”); flowchart/diagramming (“Flow”); vector drawing (“Karbon”); project management (“Plan”); paint (“Krita”); and eBook composer (“Author”).


I played with the modules that might be useful in a library setting. My impression varied a lot depending on the module. One module worked very well, a couple were OK and others are just not ready.

Writer requires a bit of a learning curve because it’s organized around frames, somewhat like Framemaker. (Calligra calls them “shapes”) It’s not difficult but requires un-learning MS Word or LibreOffice Writer. Shapes/frames allows a higher level of formatting control which I appreciate. I find graphics in MS Word extremely frustrating. Mixing text and graphics is almost effortless in Calligra Writer.

Calligra Writer imports and exports to the standard formats and directly imports (only) from Google Docs. This worked fine with a relatively simple document.

But other things don’t work so well. Writer behaved erratically at times, even considering my inexperience with the product. It crashed once. I was excited to see that Writer exports to both ePub and .mobi (Kindle) but I was disappointed with the results.

My suggestion to the developers: Writer should be positioned as a desktop publishing program and Calligra should add a lightweight, super-easy, word-processor. Just the basics. This would give users a less-painful way to start using Calligra. The suite could also use Dreamweaver-type web authoring module.

I was excited to try the Author module which is designed to create ebooks and textbooks. The world needs an ebook authoring program where a single master document can be exported to multiple common formats (ePub,kindle,html,PDF,doc,etc) with a click or two. I was motivated enough to endure about four or five crashes, when one crash is too many. The web site acknowledges that Author is an early release.

Sheets was the same — it seems more developed but had erratic behavior and a crash. Braindump worked well-enough but wasn’t what I need in a mind-mapping program. Mostly it’s just a drawing program when I need a program that guides thinking and adds structure to brainstorming. It does use an interesting-but-initially-confusing, expanding “white board” approach.

Krita — the stand-out in the suite

Calligra_krita_example_womanAfter all that, the Krita paint program was a delight! It’s the one module that I will keep using. You may consider installing this as a stand-alone program.

It worked perfectly with my drawing tablet, never crashed and the features were intuitive.   I’ll write a longer review after I use it more.

See the Krita website for some impressive examples of what can be done with this module.  The site includes some interesting interviews with artists using Krita.

Conclusion – an A for effort

I didn’t play much with all the other modules but I doubt my impression of Calligra would change — it’s not ready for work or school. If you use it, consider yourself a beta user. This may not be true for all the modules (like Krita) but others are just not ready.  By the way, being a beta user is good citizenship in the open source community.

That being said, I want to affirm the Calligra development team. This project has impressive potential and should be developed to maturity. I’ll be checking back!

Tool: Caligra Suite 2.6
Description: office and productivity suite
License: GPL
Alternatives: LibreOffice, Sigil, GIMP, Inkscape, more
Rating: mostly not useful.

Educational Technology Clearing House – art and photos for schools








The Educational Technology Clearing House provides clip art, stock photos, presentation art and maps, all organized around educational themes. The organization is especially useful, allowing teachers to browse according to subject.

Most of the clip-art (“ClipArt ETC“) is similar to what you find in the famous Dover books/CDs.  In my youth, during the Golden Age of Photocopying, I had great fun with Dover but I don’t see kids using it much these days. Even so, ClipArt ETC attractive and potentially useful.






The “ClipPix ETC” section  is organized into twenty different categories and is very high quality although, I suspect, most students would have better luck finding exactly what they want on Wikimedia.

Presentations ETC is potentially the most useful, providing 20,000 different items for themes/backgrounds/buttons/letters/etc. The themes I looked at were very attractive and imported nicely into LibreOffice Impress. I didn’t test them but they also have themes for the Mac-based Keynote program.

If, like me, you prefer to build your own themes, the site also provides some very nice backgrounds and buttons.

Unfortunately, most of the designed are very corporate-looking, perhaps better for teachers than students. One would have hoped that an educational site would have lots of youthful designs.

The least useful is probably the map collection (“Maps ETC“)  since most are old but they are organized nicely, should you need an old map.

This service is provided by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, part of the College of Education at the University of South Florida. The license for students and teachers is clearly stated on the front page, typically limited 25 or 50 items per project.

Tool: Educational Technology Clearing House
Description: Well-organized photos, clip art, presentation graphics and maps
License: free with quantity limitations
Alternatives: Wikimedia, Flickr
Rating: useful

The LibreOffice challenge — learn it this summer!

LibreOffice WelcomescreenWhy not learn LibreOffice this summer? Install it on your laptop and learn it at the beach! If you have even a passing interest in the open-source world, this is the place to start. For educators, there is no better tool.

Once you have learned it, make LibreOffice files one of the formats you accept for assignments. It could be your first step to solving the chronic problem of students giving you files you can’t read.

LibreOffice is a split from OpenOffice because of some sort of dispute. You can think of it as essentially the same product but definitely install LibreOffice rather than OpenOffice which hasn’t been updated for awhile. This may change, of course. As far as I know, all the file formats are the same. Usefully, Google Docs imports/exports to LibreOffice file formats.

The components of LibreOffice are:


A word processor with similar functionality and file support to Microsoft Word or WordPerfect. It has extensive WYSIWYG word processing capabilities, but can also be used as a basic text editor.


A spreadsheet program, similar to Microsoft Excel or Lotus 1-2-3.


A presentation program resembling Microsoft PowerPoint. Presentations can be exported as SWF files, allowing them to be viewed on any computer with Adobe Flash installed.


A vector graphics editor and diagramming tool similar to Microsoft Visio and comparable in features to early versions of CorelDRAW. It also includes features similar to desktop publishing software such as Scribus and Microsoft Publisher.


A database management program, similar to Microsoft Access.


An application designed for creating and editing mathematical formulae. The application uses a variant of XML for creating formulas, as defined in the OpenDocument specification.

(From Wikipedia

I suggest you first learn “Writer” “Draw” and “Impress”. If you are a math teacher, you’ll surely want to learn “Math.”

I use Writer the most. (I’m using it right now.) Writer reminds me of Microsoft Word 95.

For class presentations I use Impress. Nobody seems to notice that I’m not using PowerPoint. I put my presentation on a thumb drive along with a portable version of LibreOffice. While other students often struggle getting their presentations to run, mine always go flawlessly

For desktop publishing I use “Draw.” It took me awhile to learn “Draw” but I can now do almost anything with “Draw” that I did with Microsoft Publisher.

I have yet to learn “Base”. I’ve tried! The learning curve is steep.

I use “Calc” as well, but not for teaching. Like Word, it seems like Excel from about ten years ago.

Seeming like a 10 year-old Microsoft Office is not a bad thing. If you are like me, I don’t need all the fancy menus and extra features of the current version of MS Office. I find the old-style menus more intuitive. If you are super power user, LibreOffice is probably not for you.



LibreOffice Portable for your flashdrive

Description: a free office suite available for Windows, Mac and Linux. Reads and writes to MS Office and Google Docs.

License: free, GNU

Alternatives: GoogleDocs (free but not open-source)

Rating: very useful