Sunday, October 07, 2012

Tech penalty: Switching from Canvas to Keynote

I began writing curriculum materials in 1986, deciding early on to author in Silicon Beach Software's SuperPaint. SuperPaint was a groundbreaker in 1986 because it combined the bitmap capabilities of MacPaint to the vector graphics capabilities of MacDraw.

I could have gone with a word processor (Apple MacWrite, Microsoft Word, etc.), but I chose not to. I wanted more canvas than typing paper: an application in which graphics took priority to words. Desktop publishing software was on the rise, but Aldus PageMaker and Manhattan Graphics Ready Set Go! struck me as kludgey and unappealing. Besides, they didn't allow for creation of graphics, they were all about layout.

SuperPaint was my program for nearly everything. But as it went through upgrades, it got worse. Developers added more and more features, Silicon Beach sold it to Aldus. It got buggier and slower. And by 1992, I had to give it up. I switched to Deneba Canvas.

Canvas employed layers in a way that allowed me to write worksheets and labs in one layer, then add answer keys in a second layer. The layers were like sheets of glass: you could write and draw on them while still seeing the layers below. Two layers were all I ever needed: student worksheet and answer key. You could print a single layer or both at once. Brilliant! No need to have two separate documents, one student version and one teacher version.

From 1992-2012, Canvas was my workhorse. Nearly everything available as a PDF at was originally written on Canvas. Well over 1000 pages of schtuff. I found 1992's Canvas 3.5 to be great. I dutifully upgraded to Canvas 5 in 1996 and found that Deneba seemed to following in the disastrous steps of Aldus. Canvas 5 was feature-laden and slower on the draw (!). I skipped versions 6, 7, and 8. But I did upgrade at 9 and X. Canvas X worked in Apple's new UNIX-based Mac OS X.

In 2003, Deneba was bought by ACD Systems. On the eve of the introduction of Apple's iPhone in 2007, ACD decided that Macintosh was too niche. So although Canvas was born on the Mac OS, it would move forward as a Windows-only product. No amount of wailing or gnashing of teeth among Mac Canvas users would deter ACD. No amount of Apple becoming the dominant tech company worth more than the United States of America would compel them to reconsider.

I knew my days with a functional Canvas were numbered. I began searching for alternatives. Everything I looked at came up short. With Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, Apple discontinued Rosetta, an otherwise invisible bit of operating system code that allowed older (Motorola CPU-era) apps to run on newer (Intel CPU) Macs. In a way, that numbered my days of usable Canvas to zero. Canvas will not open on my new MacBook Pro, meaning the bulk of my physics curriculum is inaccessible from my computer.

And that's simply not going to work for me.

One app that I've been using for nearly a decade is Apple's Keynote. It's Apple's answer to Microsoft PowerPoint (which, like Excel, was originally a Mac-only application). As it is in so much of the computing universe, the Apple approach is superior to the Microsoft approach. And it can be taken as evidence of my fanboism that I had no interest in creating/using presentations (presos) until Keynote offered an alternative to PowerPoint.

I've learned to bend Keynote to my will. So I pondered, "Can I convert my Canvas docs to Keynote and maintain their original functionality?" On the face of it, the question is ludicrous. Canvas was a graphics/DTP program and Keynote was designed to make Steve Jobs look cool when he pitched new products at MacWorld.

But the answer turned out to be, "Yes!" (At this point, I'm convinced I can do virtually anything in Keynote.)

The process is tedious, time-consuming, labor-intensive, and did I mention tedious? But it is possible. So I am going through the process, item by item, document by document, image by image, text box by text box. Each PhyzGuide, Springboard, Demo, Lab, Video Sheet, etc., that I finish can be opened on the new computer. Since each document has to be rebuilt in Keynote, some changes have been made to certain documents in certain places. And I've switched fonts on my headers in demos (Showboat's out, Ringmaster, Zebrawood, and Black Oak are in). I've had to buy/re-buy some fonts that didn't function properly in Keynote. Long is the tale of transition woe.

Dropbox has been key in this process. All Phyz curriculum files are in my Dropbox. I access the Canvas docs on my old MacBook Pro (2008, Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard), port them to Keynote (each one takes about an hour of work), and save the Keynote version. Next time I open the new MBP, the Keynote doc is in the Dropbox and ready to go.

But there are miles to go before I sleep.

All of this to say that if you find me even more anti-social and withdrawn than usual (and honestly, how would you even know?), that's the reason.


Kelvin Dueck said...

On behalf of the nameless internet masses that regularly use your materials for teaching and inspiration, thanks for your work!

"You really are the kindest guy
You really are our hero
We thank you as 1 over y
As y approaches zero."



Unknown said...

Where do I find the files? I love the pictures! I love using them for quick warmups!

Dean Baird said...

Book of Phyz materials can be found via

Anonymous said...

So true

Eric Plett said...

Interesting read and 'look behind the curtain'.