29 September 2009

The Ongoing Pursuit of a Paperless Seminary Reading Workflow

In seminary, we read a lot. Like, probably more than we do anything else--including playing intramural sports (a surprising but deeply rewarding time sink), praying (though we've received tremendous support in this respect), sleeping (at least it feels that way), and complaining (a necessary thing sometimes, let me tell you).

And--as any humanities major knows but us engineering students are always too busy with problem sets to notice--retaining even a small fraction of that reading is a matter of no small challenge or importance. The old middle school "reading notes" model is an almost laughable prospect due to the shear number of pages we're talking about here. The highlighter, I've been told, is my friend. I have come to agree whole-heartedly.

However, because this school thankfully realizes that part of being good stewards of God's creation is to learn to use less paper (and because--let's be honest--who reads paper copies of anything these days, except maybe for actual books?), I find myself with a quandry: how do you highlight PDFs?

You may know that this is a maddeningly difficult question to answer. Trying to do so may be the one thing I'm spending more time on than the actual reading. The problem, as I see it, is that it's impossible to justify spending the money on programs like Adobe Acrobat or Foxit Editor when all you want to do is highlight some text in any damn document you please. I'm not an expert in digital copyright or fair use, but I really don't think this is too much to ask.

In a move we're apparently supposed to interpret as magnanimous, Adobe now allows Reader users (people like me who aren't willing to pay for Acrobat) to do some basic markup on files with "document rights...enabled." The problem--and surely the people at Adobe know this--is that I have never, ever, been given a PDF course reading with document rights enabled. Again, some of this may be a matter of legitimate intellectual property concern. But if these files are being used for educational use (and clearly that's why my professors are allowed to distribute them as PDFs via course management software in the first place), it seems like merely applying a "highlight filter" to a local copy of the document ought to be fair game. Am I off base here?

Anyway, enough complaining...let me tell you what I've converged to and then put out a plea for anyone who finds this post and has a better solution to please help me out. After playing quite a bit with PDFedit and finding it summarily difficult to use (or maybe the Ubuntu distribution is just buggy?), I've settled on the more user friendly but still unsatistfactory flpsed. Basically, this program lets you do text annotation. As you can see in the screenshot below, the text manages to remain persistent even if you view the re-converted PDF in a program like Evince, which is handy. But this workflow still requires a lot of typing, when all I really want to be able to do is highlight. I'm encouraged by early experiments with Scribus, but I'm still fighting the learning curve.

Am I overlooking a simpler free (or cheap) solution? It wouldn't be the first time. If so, please enlighten me. Is anyone else as perplexed as I am about this stunning lack of obviously useful functionality?

03 September 2009

DC Must-Sees?

Hey everybody, this instalment of the video blog includes a request for tourist destinations for me to take the folks this weekend. Please chime in in the comments if you have favorite places. Thanks!