On this page:
2 The Dialogue System
3 Yo! It’s almost time to go!

2013-09-30: How I wrote my RacketCon 2013 Slideshow

The source for this post is online at 2013-09-30-pkgtalk.scrbl.

At this year’s RacketCon, I gave a presentation on the Racket Package System (pkg). I used a story about a young developer learning about the package system as a way to show how various practical problems are solved by packages.

However, this post is not about the content of the talk, but about how I programmed it using the slideshow system. You may want to download and look at the talk to get a feel for what I’ll be explaining. Although there is a PDF version, it does not contain the movie on the title screen, so there’s a reason to try and run it locally.


The slideshow does two cute things. First, it starts with a movie on the title screen that is continuously looping. Second, it contains a dialogue and command-line interaction scripting system to show a long interaction between the various users. I’ll talk about these two things separately.

1 The Movie

In the slideshow, there is a library for writing finite animations as functions of time between 0 and 1 called slideshow/play. It has a fun model that generates N slides by discretizing and transitioning between the slides.

Unfortunately, this means that it can’t be used to loop an animation indefinitely. (At RacketCon, I wanted to put up the title screen during the break between talks to build anticipation.) However, there is a function called interactive that will embedded a racket/gui frame% in a slide. This is intended to embed an "interactive" element, but I used it to embed a canvas% which I could then dynamically update to draw things.

I could have spent longer and made a movie playing racket/gui widget, but for expediency, I preprocessed the movie and turned it into a sequence of PNGs using ffmpeg.

2 The Dialogue System

The more interesting system was the dialogue. Here’s a snippet of code to give you an idea what it looks like:

 (thought dev1 "I want to write a program to simulate my experience in Narshe.")
 (:emacs '("magitek.rkt"))
 (thought dev1 "Now I need to share my package...")
 (command "scp magitek.rkt server:public-html/")
 (email dev1 "Please try my program at: http://terra.com/magitek.rkt")
 (thought dev1 "I should expand my simulation to include the treasure house.")
 (:mkdir '("narshe"))
 (:mv '("magitek.rkt") '("narshe" "magitek.rkt"))
 (:emacs '("narshe" "lone-wolf.rkt"))
 (command "scp -r narshe server:public-html/")
 (email dev1 "Please try my program at: http://terra.com/narshe")

The functions thought and email create the text boxes formatted for a thought and an email. The function command creates a command interaction and the functions :emacs, :mkdir, and :mv are just thin wrappers around command. Finally, :clear clears the terminal session. Every single one of these functions will generate a different slide.

The way this works is that 6slide is a little programming language interpreter. The programming model is based on mutating a text box, a list of commands, and a file-system.

(struct 6state (last-speech commands fs))
(define init-s (6state #f empty (hash)))

And the commands in the language are values that are created by the functions mentioned above:

(struct *speech (char text))
(struct *command (text outputs))
(struct command-clear ())
(struct fs-set (p v))

The interpreter is very straight-forward:

(define (6exec s a)
  (match-define (6state ls cs fs) s)
  (match a
    [(? *speech?)
     (struct-copy 6state s
                  [last-speech a])]
    [(? *command?)
     (struct-copy 6state s
                  [commands (cons a cs)])]
     (struct-copy 6state s
                  [last-speech (*speech (*speech-char ls) (blank))]
                  [commands empty])]
    [(fs-set p v)
     (struct-copy 6state s
                  [fs (hash-set* fs p v)])]
    [(? list? as)
     (for/fold ([s s]) ([a (in-list as)])
       (6exec s a))]))

It just does one unexpected thing, which is that when a command is a list, they are all executed to completion. This allows me to show multiple command line additions at the same time near the end of the talk where the details start getting looser. For instance, I use the following to show the command associated with an email all at once:

(list (email dev1 "I just updated my package! The new source is...")
      (command "raco pkg update http://terra.com/narshe.zip"))

Since 6exec defines how to run one command, I just wrap them all together calling 6render, which renders the state of the language as a slide, each time:

(define (6slide . actions)
  (for/fold ([s init-s])
      ([a (in-list actions)])
    (define ns (6exec s a))
    (6render ns)

The weirdest part of the system is the way it tracks what files have been created or moved, etc throughout the presentation. I originally intended to display the file-system some how, but couldn’t figure out a good way to do it.

Finally, the way that I generated the character portraits was quite painful. I downloaded sprite sheets from The Spriters Resource. Unfortunately, sheets on that site have no metadata about where the sprites are inside and they are rarely consistent for a given game, even when produced by the same ripper. It makes it very inconvenient to use programmatically. So, I wrote a little program that would open up the sprite sheet and display it as zoomed in a possible and let you move around a cursor in a very exact way to read off the coordinates.

Once I manually did that for all eighteen characters, I entered the data in and wrote a little function (char-portrait) that extracted the appropriate piece of the sheet and then magnified it using a scaling algorithm that does not blur at all.

This was painful to do, but I found it a bit beautiful that I could whip up a Racket GUI program in 57 lines of code that did something very useful for me. Of course, it is based on my Vi-like Graphics Editor, so it was quite easy to do after knowing how to do it already.

Altogether, it took me about ten times longer than the talk itself to implement the talk.

But it was worth it.

3 Yo! It’s almost time to go!

But first let’s remember what we did today!

If you want beautiful, unique, and consistent slides, then you should use slideshow, a domain-specific language for making slides.

If you want to go above an beyond, then use a domain-specific language for making a particular set of slides.