Tag Archives: PDF

Should academic paper publishing embrace EPUB?

Sometime last year I was considering home improvement options to our house, I was thinking about building a large, built-in bookshelf in our upstairs study area. I always loved to see lots of books on the wall, and really enjoyed pulling down a book to have a browse on whatever subject interested me from my own personal library. But there was all this discussion regarding ebooks, and I was thinking if this ever caught on big time, then printed books would eventually go the way of the dodo – the end of their 400-year cycle of greatness was at hand, and the new way to read anything was going to be on a digital screen.

I’ve since come to my senses. I love books – the binding, the texture of fine paper, the fact that it doesn’t require a battery or power cord, and even the smell are all plusses in my book. Books have been around a long time, and they’re here to stay. Ebooks are just another channel of distribution for such content, and I believe that both have their place in the modern era.

However, for academic research papers, I think we can safely kill the paper. Particularly, I think it should all begin moving towards the EPUB format. I read a lot of academic papers in my work, and I find myself wishing that more of this stuff were published as EPUBs. In contrast to my love of books above, I think academic research would largely be much better served in a purely electronic format. It’s already going that way from the reader’s point of view, right?

Typically, when academic papers get published electronically, the format of choice is PDF. Or in earlier days, PostScript. If you’re lucky, someone had the foresight to publish their paper as HTML. The advantage of a flexible format such as HTML is that you can resize the fonts. Text can flow. It’s easier to get a clean copy of a text or data segment out of HTML than it is from PDF for quoting in one’s own paper, because copying from PDF tends to yield horrific line break issues and other artifacts on the clipboard.

PDF is, I’m sorry to say, hard to read on smaller screens. PDF expects paper, and refuses to reflow itself into smaller screen sizes such as an iPhone or Android device form factor. It barely passes on the 1024 x 768 iPad screen. Anything smaller, such as most ebook readers, is going to be unacceptable. Having to zoom in and scroll left to right to read one line of text at a time on a mobile device is not what anyone would call a user-friendly reading experience.

EPUB by contrast works great on mobile devices. Using the Stanza reader on iPhone is quite comfortable. iBooks on the iPad platform is a joy to use.

After reading this tweet by Dave Gutelius today, I was reminded of how much I hate printing out all my academic papers in preparation for travel. Flying is reading time, and printing this stuff out and stuffing it in my backpack is time consuming, a waste of paper, and added weight that I don’t want to carry.

Stuffing those papers onto my iPad and using GoodReader is a step in the right direction. But still, all too often the PDFs are formatted for paper, not for screen, and I am still cursing the format. PDF usually assumes letter-sized or A4-sized paper, and most ebook readers have physically far smaller screen sizes. Far better I think to start providing EPUB options for academic research, so that folks like me who need ginormous fonts and such can read with greater ease.

Or, should it just go to straight HTML? At that point, papers might even be able to add a little functionality to the electronic reading experience – change variables in information graphics, show rendered 3D representations of models, and so on. EPUB doesn’t support anything fun like HTML5 DOM handling or Flash, although CSS3 might work depending on the EPUB reader’s implementation. Either way, PDF ain’t fitting the bill ebook readers, and I think this sort of format will be far more important in the coming months and years as ebook-capable mobile devices become more and more commonplace.

Finale PrintMusic: Can’t RTFM?

This is such a simple thing, and I call this a major oversight on the part of the software vendor: I kept getting errors when trying to access the user manual or tutorials from within Finale PrintMusic 2006, getting errors that read something like “Could not open PMTOC.pdf”. I found the file after a quick search via Spotlight on my machine and it launched into Preview as this is the default Mac OS X handler for PDF. I got a table of contents, but it was only that. None of the links worked and it was essentially useless. I then noticed that the entire documentation was broken out into separate files. Linking to other local files apparently isn’t supported in Preview, or it doesn’t use the same protocol as Adobe Reader. Would have been better to make one PDF document, where anchors are supported in both Reader and Preview.

I hate Adobe Reader (and when the hell did they start calling it “Reader” instead of “Acrobat Reader”), but I suspected that this wasn’t going to work otherwise. There was no readme file to suggest that Acrobat was a requirement, so I’m guessing at this point. I grudgingly went and downloaded the Acrobat Reader from the Adobe site and installed it, and I’d like to take a moment to lament on Acrobat Reader’s strange installer: You download a download utility and it downloads another installer. Geeks will say “WTF? OK, whatever…” Non-geeks will just wonder what happened and why they still can’t open PDFs. Just make one installer, or one binary app that can be dragged to one’s hard drive.

And now everything works fine, except I have an extra PDF-reading program that I hoped I would never need.

Documentation has always been a tough subject. We have seen the demise of printed manuals. Electronic equivalents have been formatted to PDF, HTML, Flash, and so on, and sent to browsers, PDF readers, operating system help programs, or displayed within the programs own constructs. Vendors often will switch the tools they use, and wildly, between software version releases. It’s nutty how many ways it can exist, and I don’t know of any solution to this madness or even if there is one. My favorite method is the style that is used by PHP, complete and updated frequently as it lives online, with printer-friendly formatting and downloadable archives, and a number of freely-available tools that make it easy to use including Dashboard and Konfabulator Widgets.

Digital Booklet

U2: How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

The cool thing about this kind of album download like U2’s new album above is the addition of a PDF of the CD‘s liner notes. This always has been a complaint of mine about digital downloads – no album info. I usually want to know who was playing on which tracks, especially in jazz recordings, and want any lyrics that might be available, or at the very least just enjoy the album art. Stuff like that makes my digital downloads much more enjoyable. Hopefully we’ll see more of this.