Planet PDF Weblog for the week of July 29, 2002
A daily chronicle of Acrobat/PDF-oriented newsbits

For week beginning 29 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. If you missed it, catch up on last week's Weblog.

MONDAY

Cutters, Posties and PDF: A couple decades before Lance Armstrong was a mere American bicycle racer with dreams of riding among the sport's elite, there was another great white hopeful: Dave Stohler. Unlike Armstrong, whose athletic tenacity and U. S. Postal Service teammates propelled him to his fourth straight victory in the Tour de France last weekend, Stohler's name isn't memorialized on any of cycling's great trophies. Yet watching the leg-strong Armstrong crush the world's best field over the grueling 20-plus day competition this past Sunday, a few interesting similarities -- as well as some blatant differences -- between the two come to mind.

One key difference: Armstrong, despite what his miraculous four-peat at the world's most challenging individual sporting event might suggest, is the real deal; Stohler, on the other hand, is a "reel" deal, a midwestern cycling fanatic who exists only in Hollywood cult film lore.

Filmed entirely in small-town America (Bloomington, Indiana) "Breaking Away!" features Stohler and a small group of misfit pals, all with a similar curse and burden in the midwestern college town: they're home-grown and, worse yet, descended from lowly stone quarry laborers. In the local lingo, they're disparagingly called "Cutters." Stohler is the default leader of the otherwise clueless castaways, primarily because he's the only one with any semblance of motivation: he wants to be a great bike racer. Prospects of redemption for the maligned group comes in a classic showdown with an athletic four-some from the local university in the city's annual bike race. Sadly, Stohler's genuine individual talent and desire appear no match against a team of well-conditioned college studs (where's Armstrong when he needs him!); he's burdened with his 'wake-me-when-it's-over' mates, who waver between appalling and appealing. Alas, there's just enough of the latter to give the Cutters one last, long shot at an unlikely comeback victory. (This is Hollywood, after all.)

Armstrong Trek

Unlike Stohler, Armstrong didn't have to tape his shoes to his pedals for a final solo assault. Instead, he and his "Posties" teammates worked the field like a moving chess board as the Tour circumnavigated much of the French countryside -- including numerous dramatic mountain ascents (and descents) during their demanding, commanding three-week performance. Like Stohler, Armstrong was fueled by a group of early leaders who prematurely (and falsely) sensed the defending champion's vulnerability after a lesser outing -- for Armstrong -- one or two days. At the opportune time during a mountain climb in Stage 11, Armstrong acted the lead role in his own 'breaking away' script, running down a daring pretender with a ferocious burst of biking power. He never looked back again, at least not with any serious concerns, until crossing the finish first in Paris.

With family there to support him, Stohler rode a triumphant victory lap to the cheers of his fictional fans, even earning the grudging respect of his challengers. Ditto Armstrong this past Sunday, after claiming his incredible fourth straight Tour victory with numerous laps past the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. As the product of a screenwriter's imagination, Stohler never needs to saddle up again to defend his honor. His made-for-the-big-screen achievement is immortalized at local video rental stores. Ciclismo Lance Armstrong

Ironically, as good as the "Breaking Away!" script is acknowledged to be, it is Armstrong's too-good-to-be-true life story that's ideally suited to becoming a movie. No script writer would have dared submit such a tale with any expectation of believability: young man from single-parent family battles with and overcomes cancer (given a 50/50 percent chance of survival), eventually resumes grueling training regimen and, with an overpowering sense of determination, eventually goes on to win the world's most arduous athletic event ... four consecutive times. (And possibly more yet to come.) Meanwhile, he raises millions of dollars for cancer research, marries and starts a family, earns millions more as a product endorser, is lauded as a national hero by U.S. government proclamation, has a bikeway (below) named for him in his home state, and so on.

Lance Armstrong Bikeway

One final likeness: Recent adulation aside, despite his bona fide American hero status, Armstrong's accomplishments and sport are more appreciated outside the U.S., in countries like France and Italy where bike racers are considered true sporting legends. It's an irony Cutter ace Dave Stohler knew all too well.


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TUESDAY

PDF for eBooks -- Pros & Cons: Seems hardly anyone -- even Adobe Systems -- is talking much about PDF-based electronic books these days. That'll probably change at some point next month when the first criminal case involving the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is scheduled to go to trial. The focus of that case, as anyone who can spell "eBook" likely knows, is Adobe's copyright protection scheme built into its Content Server solution for publishers. More specifically, the case results from the development and sale of a software tool -- by ElcomSoft Co. Ltd. of Moscow, Russia -- that could decrypt Adobe's PDF security for eBooks, thus violating the DMCA's ban against circumventing copyright protection. After denying several motions from ElcomSoft's legal team earlier this year to have the case dismissed, a U.S. District Court judge set a trial date of August 26 for U.S. Department of Justice v. ElcomSoft (Adobe is not a party in the case).

Somewhat surprisingly, one company that *is* talking alot about Adobe PDF-based eBooks these days is none other than ElcomSoft. Today it publicly filed its third in a series of vulnerability reports alleging a variety of flaws and shortcomings in Adobe's eBooks technologies and model. The timing of such attempts to discredit Adobe certainly is curious, given the approach of the trial. Equally unsurprising is that several published news accounts of the reports cite ElcomSoft's recent actions and reports as "more eBook hacking tricks," an "attack on Adobe," an attempt at "getting even with Adobe," a "happy anniversary flip-off to Adobe from Russia" and ElcomSoft "thumbing its nose at the company that landed one of its employees in jail." (The latter comment refers to Dmitry Sklyarov, the ElcomSoft programmer initially arrested and charged in the case.) One recent article suggests the series of recently distributed vulnerability reports may be "crucial to Elcomsoft case," but never explains why or how. ZDNet's coverage suggests a possible motive that could come out in the trial -- ElcomSoft asserts that Adobe "has been reluctant to fix other flaws." Time will tell -- but ElcomSoft apparently will not, so far declining our invitations to explain its motivation.

So we'll switch our/your focus to another discussion/debate on the general theme of using PDF for eBooks, this one from Electronic Book Web. Excerpts from an online "conversation" -- part discussion, part debate -- on the pros and cons of PDF as an eBook format between Michael Patrick of Ansyr Technology Corporation, and Colin Haynes, a professional writer with a keen eBooks interest, move beyond the security issues to look at other factors and features.

Depending whom you ask often can be the deciding factor as to whether a particular feature of PDF -- i.e. preserving the look of traditional print books -- is a pro or con for eBooks applications. And in some eBook circles, just the mention of PDF as a viable option creates sparks. Judging from the conversation excerpt, Haynes seems to have an anti-PDF (and anti-Adobe) attitude going at times. The phrasing of some questions and/comments make clear he finds PDF a dubious option. He's forced to deal with facts by Ansyr's Patrick who, as the company's co-founder and chief technology officer, is as knowledgeable as anyone on issues and technologies related to delivery of digital content on portable devices. Patrick, a frequent speaker at industry conferences and events, knows PDF well -- but he's a realist, not an apologist. He knows where it fits, what other formats and tools offer, and why (or why not) PDF 'works' for certain applications. The opinionated pairing makes for an interesting give-and-take.

For example, when Haynes expresses his "concern that .pdf is becoming a dominant format for digital publishing and so [is] putting a brake on the development of ebook technology and creativity" -- because some find extracting content for re-purposing to be a challenge -- Patrick calmly explains varied conversion/extraction options, carefully noting different factors that can come into play. As he correctly points out, extracting the content from a PDF should *not* be the first choice in all but the simplest documents:

"If the original application file is unavailable for some reason, this might be an approach, for some fairly simple types of content. And the success will vary depending on the PDF version, and, above all, the authoring application and the PDF creation software. In the end though, the PDF file should be considered an endpoint, and not an intermediate step. The original authoring application should be used to multi-purpose to TXT, RTF, XML/HTML, or various forms of PDF with style information optimized for suitability on the viewing platform."
Patrick points out the impact and implications of different authoring applications, method or software used to generate the PDF, and other critical details.

Haynes shows his anti-Adobe bias again in the following exchange:

Haynes: "I wrote the original McGraw-Hill manual on paperless publishing and over the past ten years have watched with concern as Adobe tries to adapt its product to exploit the new commercial opportunities."

Patrick: "If I were an Adobe shareholder, I'd be concerned if they WEREN'T adapting their products to exploit the new commercial opportunities. And realistically, since Adobe products dominate the authoring, illustration, pre-press and press processes of the existing print industry, they are by default the most influential in extending these applications and standards used. They seem to be well represented and active on almost every relevant industry and standards committee. I've been building products to the PDF specification for over three years, and it has grown in capability dramatically to meet existing and emerging needs."

They find many things to agree on as well, and Patrick proves he's not merely a shill for Adobe or its portable document format, noting at one point in the excerpt that "PDF is NOT the be all, end all" and later that "the Acrobat interface is complicated and hard to use, especially as a browser plug-in. But there are alternatives there also."

The complete excerpt is available at the eBookWeb site. Well worth a look!


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WEDNESDAY

CE Does PDF: Yesterday Microsoft released details of Windows CE .Net Version 4.1, the next version of its embedded operating system -- a special "light" edition of Windows used to power handheld computers and a multitude (Microsoft hopes anyway) of other devices.

ZDNet reports an interesting addition to the new version that ought to be of interest to purveyors of PDF -- at least those who currently are or may be contemplating becoming CE-empowered:

" ... devices running the new operating system will also be able to view documents in various PC formats, including Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Adobe Acrobat, as well as GIF, BMP and JPG graphics formats."
How so?

According to Microsoft, "Windows CE .NET now includes File Viewers that support the most popular office documents, including Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint, Adobe Acrobat, and image files without the need for file conversion."

What next from Bill and Friends? Perhaps a PDF file viewer built into the full Windows OS?


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THURSDAY

PDF By the Numbers: The odds of being successful launching a new print magazine aren't exactly encouraging these days, yet those who believe they have a good plan and a viable (profitable) market are still willing to challenge the statistics. baseline_piracyissue One example: last October Ziff Davis Media, Inc. launched Baseline -- and its complementary "Baseline Online" site -- as "a new monthly publication providing senior-level information technology and corporate executives with in-depth analysis and in-the-trenches reporting on how to cost, deploy and manage information systems in today's increasingly complex business environment."

Having done the numbers on the long-term prospects for such a publication, Ziff Davis is obviously aware of the importance of such information to IT managers. In fact, it built that into the format for Baseline. Each month's issue includes a section called "By The Numbers," which is described as "a data bank for those who devise and implement IT strategy." In other words, it's a mix of statistical information relevant to the technology business, gleaned from a variety of industry sources.

Baseline PDFDetailed charts often don't work effectively presented in HTML, so Baseline also offers every issue's "By the Numbers" page as a free PDF download -- identified prominently by a special graphic icon (shown at right) -- beginning with the inaugural October 2001 issue to the current one.

Topics in the July 2002 "By The Numbers" include up-to-date findings on issues ranging from organizational effectiveness to e-markets to software piracy. On the latter matter, Baseline includes a graphical chart from a Business Software Alliance (BSA) report stating that "two out of every five business software programs is pirated, with nearly $11 billion in worldwide revenue lost in 2001." The BSA claims to have recovered "$5.8 million in settlements from U.S. companies during the first five months of 2002 and an additional $4.7 million from companies in other countries."

baseline_piracy_chart

While we're talking about going 'by the numbers,' we should note here that some BSA critics have faulted the advocacy organization's statistics, charging that the BSA wrongly -- but intentionally -- uses a software product's retail cost in determining overall company losses due to piracy. Moral: When making decisions 'by the numbers,' make sure you have the right ones. [Insert favorite Enron or Worldcom joke here.]


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FRIDAY

No Post Today: Vacation Day


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