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Richmond Sunlight provides tools for keeping track of what's going on in the Virginia General Assembly.

One feature of the website is tracking bills of interest by associating them with a free user account.  In addition to reviewing the status of the bills through their website, their Photosynthesis service and API makes it possible to gather information about specific bills in an automated fashion.  Details of Photosynthesis service and the API are documented on their website

I recently helped out on a small project using the API to pull and display information on specific bills.  The API is json and the website runs php, so the result was a nice little example of how to retrieve data in json format and display it in php.  I created this write up in hopes that it might help someone looking to do something similar.

Tagged in: JSON PHP Tutorial
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Posted by on in Web Stuff

Joomla is a content management system (CMS) that supports maintaining a website through a browser interface.  It is a free tool and is well-documented on their website.

Joomla offers a good balance of power versus ease-of-use. Users with the proper permissions and little technical knowledge can add and update the website's content.  Setting up and administering a website with Joomla requires a fair amount of technical skill.

There are two views of the joomla system:

Content can be updated through either view. When logged into the front-end, pencil icons show up beside the items the user has permission to edit. Content is added and arranged through the back-end. Unless making a small change to existing content, use the admin interface to manage the website.

Note any changes to the website through the front-end or back-end will be visible immediately on the website.

Tagged in: Joomla Tutorial
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Creating PDF Files

On Windows there are many free programs available to create PDF files simply by printing to a virtual printer.  One of the original free ones is PDFCreator.  Installing this free program creates a printer called PDFCreator on your machine.  To create a PDF file, simply print your document using the PDFCreator printer.  Once the file is printed, PDFCreator will ask for the name of the new PDF file.

Note that a lot of fax machines save faxes electronically as TIFF (.tif) files.  This approach works for converting TIFF files to PDF.

Also note that Microsoft's built-in TIFF viewer is garbage (at least on XP).  I recommend IrfanView for viewing and simple file manipulations on Windows.  When printing TIFF files from IrfanView, be sure to select "All Pages" and not just "Current Page" in the print dialog.

Steps to create PDF files on Windows:

  • Download and install PDFCreator
  • Open the document or file to convert to PDF.
  • Print the document or file (being sure to print all pages) and select the PDFCreator printer for output.
  • When prompted by PDFCreator, specify the filename of the new PDF file.

Combining PDF Files

There are also free programs for combining, splitting, and reordering PDF files.  PDF Split and Merge (pdfsam) performs a number of useful functions and runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

To combine several PDF files into one file using pdfsam, follow the steps below:

  • Download and install pdfsam
  • Start pdfsam from the Start Menu
  • Select Merge/Extract from the list of Plugins on the left side of the program. If Extract/Merge is not visible, click the plus (+) symbol beside Plugins folder to expand it.
  • Expand the window, so all the options are visible (as shown in image below).
  • Click Add to select files to combine.
  • Specify an Output Destination File which will be result of combining the PDF files.
  • Click the Run button.
  • When the progress bar indicates 100% is complete, open your new combined PDF file and make sure it is correct.

The example image below shows the settings for combining files c:\temp\File1.pdf and c:\temp\File2.pdf into a single file named C:\temp\CombinedFile.pdf.

Tagged in: PDF Tutorial Windows
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