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

For week beginning 15 July 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.


Master Class in Session: Our latest promotional contest in collaboration with Peachpit Press is now officially underway. For each of the next four weeks we'll give away to two randomly selected winners a copy of "Adobe Acrobat 5 Master Class," a just-released book by Pattie Belle Hastings, Bjorn Akselsen and Sandee Cohen. As the book's subtitle aptly describes, the focus is primarily on 'Interactivity and Multimedia for PDF.'

We have a pair of excerpts that offer a free sample of the book's content -- one on "Embedding Page Transitions" that we've already posted, and a second that we'll add around the midway-point in the contest. ARTS PDF Tools In the first Chapter 10 excerpt, there's also a section by Pattie Belle in which she describes her use of and fondness for ARTS PDF Tools, a plug-in that adds a customizable toolbar to Acrobat 5 (both Mac and Windows). In light of that, we asked our associates at ARTS if they'd be interested in contributing a few copies as extra contest incentives -- and they've agreed! So not only will our randomly selected winners -- a total of eight when the contest ends in a month -- get their own copies of a great book, but they'll be able to find out for themselves why Pattie Belle included an unsolicited testimonial for ARTS PDF Tools. (And of course, I should note that there are free demo versions available at the ePublish Store.)

There are still more opportunities to win even if you end up not being one of our lucky eight. Peachpit has agreed to offer a special discount for the Planet PDF community -- not only on "Acrobat 5 Master Class," but also on several other popular, timely books dealing primarily with Acrobat and PDF. Here's a good chance to save a few dollars on one or more books if you're not feeling particularly lucky, or want to get started reading and learning ASAP!

The contest is similar to others we've hosted in the past -- you can enter by simply providing some basic contact information in addition to answering one of three qualifying questions. The short-answer questions deal with some aspect of you interest in and/or work with Acrobat/PDF. When the contest is completed, in addition to publishing our list of winners and their qualification responses, we select and publish a subset of other participant answers. Submitted user information is not used for any other purpose by Planet PDF or provided to third parties (other than the winners' shipping information to Peachpit).

If you do the math, you'll realize that the odds of winning favor early entrants -- all entries remain in contention throughout the contest, so those who submit in the first week have eight chances (with less competition early on). In past contests, we've also had winners who entered only the final week, so going against the odds sometimes pays off, too. But one thing is certain -- if you don't enter, you won't win.

NOTE: We've had the first two entries in the time it's taken to write this Weblog entry, so your (friendly) competition is already in the running!

Master Class

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Rarified PDF: Vagabond technology columnist Andy Ihnatko, who admits to working for "anyone foolish enough to pay him" -- and quite a few publications and organizations have during his career as a "geek and writer" -- appears to have developed a belated fondness for PDF. In his current role as a technology writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, Ihnatko shares his new-found Acrobat devotion this week in a Work Tech column titled "Adobe's splendid idea right up there with air." He opens his born-again PDF advocacy with:

"I began this spate of increased awareness after I realized what an idiot I was for relying so much on Adobe's Portable Document Format while thinking so little about these files. You're all idiots, too, by the way. Like me, you use PDF files all the time."

The folly of many users, he continues, is being slow to realize the differences -- in capability and achievable degrees of Nirvana -- between the free Acrobat Reader and the full commercial Adobe Acrobat product. The Real Acrobat, he says, "doesn't provide the single feature of moving a file from one machine to the other ... it provides a new, fundamental Function." In Ihnatko's choice of terminology, that would be "digital paper." In Adobe's official corporate lingo, that would be "ePaper." Same principle and theme.

Ihnatko counts the ways that Acrobat/PDF make life more wonderful, recounting the virtues already well-known to longer-term disciples of the format: Cross-platform portability, fidelity, collaboration, security, forms, etc. He seems practically incredulous to realize all of this is available from within one application, leading him to conclude:

"As is, Acrobat's a simple idea that can create a boatload of solutions."

The only thing missing, he believes, is having Acrobat "run on a Tablet PC," something that's already being shown by Microsoft, as we reported recently in this Weblog.

All in all, at Planet PDF we find it a tad awkward to find fault with people who appear to appreciate the complexities and multiple applications of a product like Acrobat and its portable document format. Yet there's something odd about someone being paid as something of a technology savant -- self-described as "America's 42nd most-beloved industry personality," Ihnatko has written for a variety of Macintosh-oriented publications, among others -- to be raving about a product that's been commercially available (Acrobat 5.0) for well over a year. Many of the features that dazzle him were also available in earlier versions.

We concur that PDF is a splendid idea -- but like many of you, we've thought that for quite some time now. Personally, as a long-time Mac devotee and follower of Ihnatko's varied journalistic efforts, I'm well aware he's not exactly new to PDF. [SEE: The Original MacQuarium and Andy Ihnatko's Complete Guide To Online Etiquette.] So while the belated enlightenment he conveys in this July 16, 2002 sermon on PDF is surprising and seemingly out-of-character, the intent should be appreciated nonetheless.

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WTC 1964

PDF Sky Boxes: An old TV series, filmed on the streets of New York and focused on the lives of average folk among the city's huddled masses, was based on a simple premise: 'There are eight million stories in the Naked City ... this has been one of them.'

The "Naked City" program first aired in 1958, some eight years before New York broke ground for construction of the World Trade Center on August 5, 1966. The twin peaks, which became a symbol of NYC and of financial prosperity internationally, were completed in 1972. Today there are a lot more folks who call The Big Apple home. Ironically in 2002, despite the considerable population growth, there's really ONE story -- with various sub-themes -- that dominates all others. It was in the headlines again today.

WTC development plans With its major clean-up challenge behind it, NYC now has to figure out what to do with this huge gap in its famous Financial District. A half dozen possibilities for redeveloping the former World Trade Center site were laid out for review and critique by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. today -- and not surprisingly given the strong emotions and high expectations involved, got mixed reviews. This weekend they face a second round of public analysis at a special "Listening to the City" hearing.

All of the proposed plans include some sort of memorial to those who lost their lives, or loved ones, following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the now-vaporized twin towers that once anchored the city's's skyline. None of the proposals include any structures as tall as the 110-story WTC, nor do any suggest building directly on the "footprint" of the former skyscrapers, which is now considered "hallowed ground." The six "concepts" are also available for download in PDF from the LMDC Web site, which is soliciting feedback.

WTC models

If you'd like to build your own memorial to the former WTC towers, there's another set of freely available PDFs from a different site that when printed can be used to build basic small-scale models of the 16-acre site as it looked prior to 9/11. A more complex version is also available for purchase. You'll no doubt have plenty of time to enjoy your paper-version before any of the newly released proposals, or some variation that merits wide-spread approval, takes its place near the spot where the majestic pair of 1362-feet-tall spires once stood. Gone, but -- whichever blueprint is finally accepted -- never to be forgotten.

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PDFs In Summary: Recently we re-visited the periodic lamentation from some critics of PDF that they are great for printing, but allegedly illegible as far as suitability for reading on screen is concerned. That, of course, has been shown not to be an inherent flaw in the file format, but rather more likely either a lack of proper foresight by the author (on the file's primary use, for example), or failure to implement proper navigation features that are readily available.

That's not to say the skeptic's initial premise doesn't have some merit -- there *are* PDFs that are difficult to read. But sometimes that has as much to do (or *everything* to do) with the content itself as the presentation and/or format choice. Sometimes a user has an interest in a given topic, but is not nearly as keen on fine details as an author who wrote at great length on his or her favorite theme. And sometimes the writing itself becomes a challenge to comprehension. These flaws are not by any means limited to documents published in PDF; but there are PDFs that offer more depth and/or verbosity than some have the time or interest to absorb.

Don't you wish there was a plug-in or utility that could summarize the content of such documents, delivering the high points but sparing you from having to digest the paid-by-the-word version? [If your answer here is "NO," you can stop reading this particular Weblog entry!] Well, it seems there is, as I discovered only recently.

The motto of the "Copernic Summarizer" is to "make the most of your reading time." The tool's capabilities are described in its Help file:

"Copernic Summarizer (CS) acts on your behalf as a personal assistant to read and summarize texts in English, French, German or Spanish from various applications, producing instant summaries. The artificial intelligence technology integrated into the product allows it to 'understand' document contents and extract key concepts and sentences."

One of those applications is Acrobat -- actually, TWO are Acrobat, as CS works with both the full commercial Adobe Acrobat and with the free Acrobat Reader. After installation, it adds a floating bar that offers instant and constant access to the software's main features, including the ability to drag and drop a hyperlink, or text contents from any application, into its "drop box." In addition, it adds a "Summarize" command to the Tools menu in to Acrobat (Windows) v.4 or 5 or Acrobat Reader (Windows) v.4 or 5, and a corresponding button to the toolbar. This adds the capability of summarizing an open PDF file.

Copernic in Acrobat

Summarizer performs a statistical analysis of a document's text to determine its key concepts. Concepts It then uses that to identify the most important sentences. You can modify the length of summary, based on percentage of the original or on a specific word count; experimentation would help determine the best 'fit.' And in addition to Acrobat, during installation you can choose to have its features added to other software apps, including also add summarizing features to client applications including Microsoft Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, Word, Outlook, Outlook Express and Qualcomm's Eudora.

Summary reports can be exported/saved in various file formats, printed and/ sent via e-mail; or they can be copied into other documents or databases.

One quick example: After downloading a government document in PDF -- an eight-page transcript of U. S. House Judiciary Committee testimony given last month by Adobe's James Alexander on "Digital Rights management in Electronic Books: Preventing Piracy while Preserving Consumer Use Rights" -- we opened it within Acrobat 5.

Copernic PDF Summary

Under the Tools menu, we chose the new "Summarize Using Copernic Summarizer" option. Within a matter of seconds the Summarizer's own window opens, displaying its summation [shown above - click image for larger version] as well as highlighting the determined key concept terms. The default summary length of 25 percent produced a 790-word account of the file's contents; you can adjust it on the fly to get other pre-defined percentages or specific word counts. At this point you can search the summary, copy it to the Clipboard, export it, send it as an email message directly from the Summarizer window or print it.

In summary: A nifty little tool! Free trial versions are available from the Copernic Web site; version 2.0 is also available for electronic delivery for $59.95.

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ALL the News Fit to Digitize: If you've ever scanned assorted newspaper or magazine clippings -- especially old ones -- to create digital versions, you have a sense of how challenging it can be to get consistent, useful and manageable results. There are a lot of variables involved and that must be tamed, especially if the end goal is some sort of searchable collection.

So you have to be impressed when you read that the entire archive of The New York Times newspaper -- which dates back to its first issue in 1851 -- has now been digitized and is available (by subscription) to educational institutions and libraries around the world. ProQuest, a company based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, announced today that the Times is the first paper fully digitized in its "Historical Newspapers Program." The effort involved scanning, digitizing, zoning, and editing more than 3,400,000 pages from microfilm into digital files.

"This was an unprecedented conversion effort, comprising nearly three million pages and over 25 million articles covering 148 years of history," said Joe Reynolds, President and Chief Executive Officer, ProQuest Information and Learning. "Newspapers present unique challenges for conversion, given their large page format, multiple article types, varying lengths, and page jumps. To accomplish the conversion, we pioneered new techniques in digitization, zoning (identifying areas of relevant text and relating them to each other), and image quality enhancement. The result is a fully searchable file that allows users to view articles in their original context. It is the most ambitious newspaper conversion project undertaken, and we are excited about the quality of the resulting product. It will allow researchers to find information about every aspect of American history from 1851 forward."

According to the ProQuest Web site, which includes a demo of its Historical Newspaper project, the process of converting pages from the Times and other newspapers involved includes "deskewing and despeckling the scanned images with the latest digital technology. This enhances the quality of the original image captured on film and improves the accuracy of the OCR process so users get the best images and the most precise retrieval."

NYT Digital Archives

Content can be searched and displayed in several ways, one of which is to view an article or entire newspaper page in PDF. According to the newspaper project demo, articles are stored as TIFF files and converted on-the-fly to PDF when requested by a user, viewable with the free Acrobat Reader. "We've used Adobe [Acrobat] Reader because of its widespread application in libraries - which minimizes downloading plug-in software headaches - and its versatile functionality."

Other major newspapers involved in the project include The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor and The Washington Post.

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