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

For week beginning 11 November 2002
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. You can also catch up on last week's Weblog.

MONDAY

'ePaper' Lion, PDF Perform on Broadway: There's little else to do while waiting in an interminably long line than to contemplate the meaning of life and your place in it -- while hoping your place in line moves quickly forward. Depending on the perceived popularity of a ticket-taking event, where people sometimes camp out days in advance or work the telephone's auto-redial to its limits, you may have sufficient time to contemplate the complete "Circle of Life." Worst of all, in some situations you may come away empty-handed -- tickets are sold out before you reach the front -- despite your standing-in-place and/or chronically on-hold efforts.

The Lion King

PDF-savvy fans hoping to purchase ducats for a performance of Disney's wildly popular "The Lion King," set to mark its fifth anniversary on Broadway at the historic New Amsterdam Theatre this Wednesday, November 13, can avoid the feet- or ear-numbing ordeal. Since its 1997 Broadway opening, "The Lion King" has spawned eight productions worldwide, with more to come.

While obtaining tickets the old-fashioned for popular Broadway performances can be a challenge, with an Internet connection and a copy of the free Adobe Acrobat Reader, you'll be humming the show theme song and philosophy "Hakuna Matata" ('No Worries') while you purchase, download and print your own PDF-based, barcoded tickets.

The award-winning musical is the first to implement Ticketmaster's ticketFast ticketing technology, already in use for a range of sporting events and other public events at select venues. Ticketfast Ticket It's apparently the only Broadway show currently offering this technology, designed to allow customers "to print your tickets at home or work so you can get your tickets in your hands right away." Convenience has its price. TicketMaster charges an additional fee per order -- $1.75 via the Web or $5.00 for phone orders -- for the service of having *you* print your ticket(s) rather than them. Each ticket has a unique barcode; only venues equipped with the proper scanning technology are able to offer the Ticketfast delivery option.

The Reader-required Ticketfast solution also provides an additional revenue opportunity, with two slots of advertising space available on each PDF document


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TUESDAY

Deja Vu - Revolutionary Review and Comment: Several months back in this Weblog we noted a couple of the most recent marketing efforts by Adobe Systems to raise awareness of the many capabilities of Adobe Acrobat. The personal observations were based on a pair of print advertisements appearing in The New Yorker magazine in August.

The first commentary -- dubbed "Peaceniks for PDF" -- referenced a two-page ad in the publication's August 5 issue featuring the peace symbol as a prominent visual element to support the theme of "platform compatibility." This particular ad and its message didn't quite connect for us. On the other hand, our subsequent reaction -- titled "The PDF Commandments" -- to another Acrobat ad cited a couple weeks later, published in the magazine's combined August 19/26 issue, was considerably more enthusiastic. It conveyed many of the attractive qualities of the portable document format with an illustration of Moses and the biblically famous stone tablets: "Some presentations you don't want messed with." Extra points for humor and execution, and point well made.

The November 11, 2002 issue features a different two-page ad featuring Acrobat's "Digital Review and Comment" tools and applications. We may not need to describe it in as much detail as the first two because, well, it's an idea and concept we've already used ourselves in this Weblog! For our July 2 entry we featured a U.S. Independence Day theme, offering a variety of URLs that offered differing PDF-based presentations of the important historical document that we described as "the collaborative document that Thomas Jefferson and some of his contemporaries (including one signer whose 'John Hancock' actually *was* John Hancock) developed in tandem that set the course for what the country has become."

In our research for that newsbit we were reminded of the effort required in the 1776-era by primary author Thomas Jefferson to distribute copies and solicit feedback from his patriot associates and eventual document signees. How different things might have been, we speculated, if they'd had access to some modern electronic document tools:

"Too bad Jefferson, who wrote the first draft, and his Second Continental Congress colleagues, who subsequently nitpicked, annotated and re-wrote portions of the initial version to eventually create the final version over a three-day period, didn't have access to a few copies of Acrobat and a WebDAV server! If they had, their collaborations might have gone more smoothly and we might be celebrating Independence Day earlier than the *4th* of July (Jefferson reportedly began writing his initial draft on June 11)!"

Declaration of Independence PDF Note

We cited a bit of our research to underscore the low-tech approach to review and comment in 1776:

"'Jefferson's draft was revised first by Adams, then by Franklin, and then by the full committee for a total of forty-seven alterations. After voting for independence on July 2, the Congress continued to revise the document, making thirty-nine additional changes to the committee draft before its final adoption on the morning of July 4.'"

Seeming to build on this notion, the Adobe ad in the recent issue of The New Yorker features a full-page color image of the Declaration of Independence -- in PDF with a couple digital sticky notes (aka annotations) added, one presumably from the author himself: "This draft feels pretty sweet. What do you guys think? - T.J."

The headline for the ad:

How do you get feedback from 52 busy partners over 4th of July weekend?

As with the memorable 'Moses' ad in August, we're fond of this latest Adobe Acrobat print promotion -- as we were in July when we first speculated about Jefferson (aka "TJ"), Ben Franklin, John Hancock and the rest of the quill-pen generation of American revolutionaries enjoying the benefits of PDF (Patriot Document Format?).

If you're curious to know more about the 56 delegates who eventually signed the Declaration of Independence, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) hosts a special "Join the Signers" Web site that includes a PDF version of a document titled "Signers of the Declaration of Independence" and another document "A Note on the Signers of the Declaration of Independence" from InvestigativeJournal.com provides additional details. Also, head here to try an annotate PDF tool.


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WEDNESDAY

Portable History: Aside from yesterday's Weblog entry that speculated on the likes of Thomas Jefferson having access to today's portable document technologies, the reality is, of course, that important U.S. government documents like the Declaration of Independence were created and existed only on paper (or another analog storage method for preservation purposes) for most of the country's history.

It wasn't until the presidency of Bill Clinton -- coincidentally rather than intentionally -- that the federal government began to get serious about the advantages of digitized documents and records. Legislation such as the Paperwork Elimination Act have helped to focus government agencies on the importance of harnessing new technologies, including Adobe Acrobat and PDF, to become more efficient and effective.

While we tend to think most often about the conversion of ongoing services such as the IRS' tax forms or the FDA's streamlined drug approval procedures, there are other agencies charged with digitally preserving the country's past. OurDocuments.gov A new Web site -- part of a new initiative called "Our Documents: A National Initiative on American History, Civics, and Service" announced by Pres. George W. Bush on September 17 -- is a great example of these latter efforts.

Each week the OurDocuments.gov site features three so-called "Milestone Documents," important historical records intended to help users "relive defining moments in our history." Featured this week, for example, are the following:

  • President Andrew Jackson's Message to Congress 'On Indian Removal' (1830)
  • Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848)
  • Compromise of 1850

A thumbnail preview image and a brief description of each document is provided, along with a detailed citation that references the source of the information. The particular document and the historical incident and/or issue it represents can be further explored by following the provided links, offering the following options:

  • Learn More About this Document: Background on the particular historical topic
  • View Larger Images of this Document: Zoom in and view larger images
  • Read the Transcript of this Document: Easily read all of the text contained within the document
  • Download Printer-friendly PDFs: High-resolution, image-only PDFs (created with Adobe Photoshop) formatted to print on standard 8-1/2-inch x 11-inch paper

Declaration of Independence

The site features a list of 100 milestone documents, compiled by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and which cover American history from 1776 (Declaration of Independence) to 1965 (Voting Rights Act). According to the site ...

"The remaining milestone documents are among the thousands of public laws, Supreme Court decisions, inaugural speeches, treaties, constitutional amendments, and other documents that have influenced the course of U.S. history. They have helped shape the national character, and they reflect our diversity, our unity, and our commitment as a nation to continue our work toward forming 'a more perfect union.'"

The site emphasizes the educational use of these historic documents, and features appropriate resources designed to help teachers integrate them into classroom projects and offering relevant educational competitions for students. The site links to NARA's "Digital Classroom" project and to the National History Day site. Available for download is a large, suitable-for-printing "Our Documents" poster, and an information kit, both in PDF.


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THURSDAY

Altavista joins PDF Search: Just when it appeared that Google was the clean winner by knockout in the heavyweight category for Internet search sites and solutions, Altavista appears to have staggered back to its feet. The one-time king had faded badly, losing a lot of ground in recent years -- not unlike other search sites -- to Google.

As Altavista had once been a personal favorite, I was curious to see the results of the many changes and enhancements reported in a recent news release -- in particular its claim to now offer the "ability to search documents stored in .pdf file format on web sites."

You have to locate and follow the homepage link to Altavista's "Advanced Search" page to gain access to the ability to search exclusively for PDF files -- and even then you may not notice it at first, depending on your screen size and browser settings. If you don't see an option for choosing "File type" on the screen, scroll the page down to locate it, then click inside its box to select "Only Adobe Acrobat PDF." Then enter keywords or phrases relevant to your search in the appropriate fields -- there may also be some other options you'll want to invoke.

AltaVista Advanced

Having long since been displaced by Google in part due to Google's ability to index and search PDF-based content, we wanted to see how Altavista stacked up. As the saying goes, to displace an entrenched front runner, you have to deliver not just an alternative that's as good, but one that's better. Otherwise, there's no real motivation to switch. Judging by that standard, and admittedly after only a few unscientific practice search comparisons, it appears that specifically in terms of PDF Searching, at this time Altavista isn't even as good as, much less better than, the current standard bearer in the field.

From the user perspective, the first BIG reason I'd never even consider swapping allegiances is Altavista's practice of placing sponsored links at the top of every page. Now I realize this has to be a profit-making endeavor, but if you never get me to use your service because of such turnoffs, the rest is moot. That significant difference aside, judging purely by relevance of hits returned from a pair of searches (using keyword phrases) seeking only PDF matches, Google's results were simply better -- at least for my purposes and expectations. The number of PDFs each site has indexed at this time may be a critical factor. Further testing of a more analytical nature would be required to achieve a statistically supported opinion. But as in life, perception is reality. And that reality viewed from here is that while it's great to see Altavista become a player, it has its work cut out if, as stated in its news release, it plans to "reasserts its leadership position" in the field of Internet -- ALL file formats -- searching.


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FRIDAY

New Issue, New Approach: We're sure it seemed like a genuinely good idea at the time, even though at the time we sent a note to the staff of MacBase, a PDF-based publication launched several months ago, suggesting it probably wasn't. Its inaugural issue was freely distributed on the Internet -- with a slight catch.

MacBase Nov 02

The magazine's ambitious publishers chose to utilize Acrobat's built-in security, but implemented it in a less traditional way. The PDF file for the first issue required the use of a password simply to open the file; in order to obtain that password, one had to subscribe to MacBase's mailing list. The approach has a high nuisance factor, we conveyed via email, since one is forced to remember and use the password every time the file is opened.

On top of that, given the current state of email abuse and the growing problem with inappropriate sharing and sales of email lists subscription information, we had serious doubts this solution would pass the user test. From the looks of the just-released, security-free second issue, it seems likely others provided similar feedback. The 25-page November issue explains the new direction:

"Now MacBase will be completely free, no password, no requirements. We will encourage mirroring, distributing; and all other forms of sharing the MacBase magazine."

They note in the separate media kit that more than 4,000 initially subscribed to their email list, but add that "the reader count is well over 10,000 people due to sharing of our password." Apparently a number of Web sites posted the "Open" password, thus making it possible to gain access to issue one without having to subscribe to the Macbase mailing list, exposing another shortcoming of that approach to document security.

Download the November issue -- still in PDF, but no obstacle course to get to the content. That may or may not prove more lucrative in the end, but if the publishing effort isn't successful in the long term, at least it will have been judged on the merits of its content rather than on the limitations and barriers imposed on users by an impractical security measure. While a publication with a solid reputation and user base might pull off such a feat, it seems highly improbable that a new publicly available publication without a loyal subscriber base -- such as MacBase -- could build one by requiring the use of Acrobat's "Open" password feature.


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