Planet PDF's AcroPDF Weblog
A daily chronicle of Acrobat/PDF-oriented newsbits

For week beginning 13 May 02
By Kurt Foss, Planet PDF Editor

Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday


NOTE: Previous Weblogs will be archived at the end of each week, and start fresh here.

MONDAY

The PDF Filing Format: If you're the sort who -- for work or personal enjoyment -- likes to browse court proceedings to learn the nitty gritty details about cases in the news, you might spend a lot of time linking from one court Web site to another trying to find the sometimes juicy filings for a particular legal matter. Or you could just visit Findlaw.com and find much of it in one location, ready to download, most often in PDF. The site also maintains extensive archives of previous, but still-newsworthy courtroom dramas.

Want to get the skinny on Russian tennis star Anna Kournikova's complaint for defamation and invasion of privacy against the owners of Penthouse magazine, who recently seemed to believe they had exclusive naked photos of the professionally winless, but still widely recognized hearthrob -- only to discover after publication they were of someone else. (That individual is also suing!) Or perhaps the seemingly bizarre case of former child television star and TV/movie actor Robert Blake, accused of hiring a thug or two to kill his wife? And/or maybe infamous "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, whose attorneys have their hands -- and briefcases -- full these days, considering their client's link to Osama Bin Laden and, at least by association, to the September 11 terrorism attacks. If the legal maneuverings of corporate scoundrels is more your area of reading interest, the Enron debacle and the related Arthur Anderson scandal are generating a lot of court filings -- not everything of interest got shredded, it seems.

Arthur Anderson

Given the proliferation of court proceedings and trials in the news, there's a steady flow of new material at Findlaw.com. The site even offers an email newsletter service to notify subscribers when new "Breaking News" documents get posted at the site. One mildly annoying aspect of Findlaw's efforts to improve the accessibility of court documents is that it adds its own self-promotional watermark conspicuously to the front page of each document, and then sets the PDF security feature (documents that were in many cases not protected originally) within Acrobat so that it can't be easily removed. Here's one for the legal eagles: Is it legal to circumvent the security settings of a PDF file when the security was added by someone other than the creator and owner of the document? Seems the DMCA could not be applied here, since Findlaw.com has no copyright claims to protect on these files. Just wondering ... got an opinion?


   

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TUESDAY

Portable Document Details: One way to judge the increasing popularity and use of Adobe Acrobat 5 is the number of new books available to help users become more efficient and proficient. Authors (and publishers) -- with a couple exceptions -- pretty much stayed away from Acrobat in its early iterations. No matter the reasons, for users the pickings at the local bookstore (and online counterparts) were even up through version 4.0 were slim. The good news: There was little debate about *which* book to get, as there often is about more general software products or related tech topics; finding a book about Acrobat was an accomplishment. More good news, as we reported in an earlier edition of our AcroPDF Weblog: Times have changed!

We get questions periodically now, and see similar ones posted online, asking about the *best* book if one could purchase only one to try to learn Acrobat. Of course, there's no easy, guaranteed-to-work answer; and in addition, we try to support all publishing efforts aimed at educating users, and prefer not to single out a specific author, book or publisher as THE one for everyone. One fact that makes it easy to resist favoritism: There are some very bright and talented folks now writing books about Acrobat. It's a complex and multi-faceted program, after all, requiring a lot of upfront work by anyone endeavoring to explain it to others. Each author is also going to have his or her own areas of specific mastery and interest. During the past few months, we held a number of promotional contests for different Acrobat 5-oriented books, with randomly selected members of our Planet PDF community winning free copies, provided by the respective publishers. But with each book, we also request from the author and publisher a sample chapter we can publish, allowing users to judge for themselves the merits of currently available books -- and ideally to pick up a few new tricks at the same time.

We're back with another book, and soon another promotional contest. We first encountered Donna Baker during the research of her now-released "Adobe Acrobat 5: The Professional User's Guide" from Apress. We got the distinct impression she was deeply and enthusiastically immersed in the project, and was researching the sort of timely details that often don't get covered -- or at least not in much depth -- but that many users want and need. Having had the chance to peruse her finished work recently, we were pleased -- though not surprised -- to realize our first impression was accurate. One of the other questions we're increasingly asked now comes from people who've been working with Acrobat for awhile. They tell us when they look at many of the available books and guides, they don't see enough of the kind of advanced material to take them to the next level, or to help them truly understand how or why certain features work. Donna Baker, a self-described power user and fanatic for detail, goes where other Acrobat books have so far feared to tread, well beyond the basics and often into feature nooks, technical crannies and advanced functions many users probably didn't even know existed.

We're delighted to be able to offer a sample chapter from Baker's 'User's Guide' on Planet PDF. We've also included a link to her Apress publisher's Web site, where a second free chapter can be downloaded. Next week we'll announce a new promotional contest offering a chance for up to eight of you to win a free copy. Watch for that!


  Professional Users Guide

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WEDNESDAY

The Name of the Game is Reviews: While most adults think of comic book super hero Spider-Man as the latest hit on the big screen, to a younger generation the Peter Parker-turns-Web-spinner character may be likewise recognizable as the lead wall-climber on screens of a variety of other sizes -- computer monitors, TV monitors connected to PlayStation 2, GameCube and XBox systems, and even on the small, hand-held GameBoy Advance portable gaming devices.

Look no further than the launch version of IGN Monthly Review, a new PDF-based monthly from the IGN gaming and entertainment empire that organizes all reviews of gaming products designed for various devices and systems in one handy publication. Among the range of recently released products included in the first issue, there's no fewer than five variations of games based on the high-flying arachnid of recent movie fame, previously known from the Marvel Comics stable of genetically altered, super-powered crimefighters.

Spiderman

The motto and stated premise of the free publication, available for download as a PDF or slightly compressed .ZIP file: "...there are no poor games, only bad ones that the IGN editors are forced to play at gunpoint so that you don't have to waste your hard-earned cash." IGN.com encourages visitors to register for (free) or subscribe to its IGNInsider service, which includes among other things its IGN Unplugged magazine, also offered in PDF. Paid access provides enhanced benefits and expanded download opportunities for the site's guides, cheat sheets, etc. None other than Spider-Man was the cover creature and feature article (on the development of the movie) for issue #12 of Unplugged; #13 is the current edition.

The IGN take on the film and game versions:

"For once, a game and the movie it's based on, are both looking good. It's rare when a videogame that's based on a movie is in any way respectable. Ninety-nine percent of the time they suck. Every single year see a dozens of videogames that are conceived in a box, usually adhering to a preconceived storyline, and certainly contained by the movie studios to stick with the movie. They're conceived as complements to the movie, not actually games on their own merit. And we get to review them. Blech. Spider-Man bucks the theory. It's loosely based on the movie, focusing on Peter Parker's coming of age as a young man confronting his split super-hero personality, yet the gameplay is anything but canned."

The fine print in the upper right corner of IGN's PDF-based online magazine: "Staples Not Included."


  IGN Review IGN Unplugged

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THURSDAY

Web Capture Rescue: For all Adobe's slogans and efforts to encourage spendthrift users of the free Acrobat Reader to consider making the leap to the full commercial version of Adobe Acrobat, I've never seen them highlight the feature that I personally find well worth the investment (and considering all the other things one can also accomplish by graduating from the no-cost, read-and-print only product -- Acrobat on "training wheels" at best).

Acrobat's "Web Capture" feature -- under the 'Tools' menu item, for anyone who needs to know -- is so useful that it's actually surprising it was added to the main application rather than sold as a plug-in or add-on, for-pay tool. (Hopefully Adobe learned not to view existing features as potential cash cows from the flap a while back over its now-you-see-it, now-you-don't attempt to remove the Paper Capture plug-in -- a misguided effort to lure owners of the full product to Adobe's new online commercial version instead. The plug-in was later re-introduced, even upgraded, for Windows users, although it sadly remains a missing link for us Mac folks.)

I most recently fired up Web Capture, which has become my primary PDF authoring tool, on following a link to an article of interest on the PC World Web site titled "The Straight Story on Search Engines," a comprehensive review of well-known and barely known tools for finding information on the Net. While a quick glance at the piece proved it was a keeper, there was a hitch -- it was spread across 14 HTML pages, requiring a lot of page loading merely to read -- much less save -- the article. And at the time of discovery, I didn't really have the time to wade through the entire feature, but I knew if I simply created a bookmark, I might never get back to read it (or as happens at many informational sites, it would have rolled into the site's pay-to-read archive by then. (This seems to be a common use of Web Capture on some educational sites, I've noticed, as evidenced by finding the full-text of often-copyrighted, no longer freely available articles preserved by Web Capture and later posted by educators for downloading by students. Legally speaking, it's very doubtful this qualifies as "fair use.")

Some sites, including PC World, make the process even easier by providing a link to a "printable" version of lengthy articles. In such cases, it's simply a matter of copying that Web page's address into Web Capture's URL field and turning it loose. In most cases, a PDF file is generated very quickly (dependent on certain user-specific variables). There also are various conversion settings that can be tweaked (prior to use) if you want to enhance the resulting PDF file with bookmarks, page headers and footers, and/or PDF tags. Links in the original article become active hyperlinks within Acrobat -- and they can be subsequently followed and added to the new PDF version, or opened in a Web browser.

And if you're using Web Capture, you clearly have the full Acrobat and thus can use the Catalog tool to create a searchable index of the PDF article library you'll soon find yourself wanting to build.

If you're using Mac OS X, however, hold -- or ignore -- that last thought.


   

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FRIDAY

No Post Today: Vacation Day (deserved or not)


   

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