Monday, August 9, 2010

OS X and the Life of Reading

In my first post I wanted to evaluate the functionality Mac OS X in terms of my workflow of digital reading, which occurs mainly in the form of PDF and multi-page TIF files (the latter contain scanned journal articles which I write abstracts for).

1. The ability to annotate a text is necessary for any kind of serious reading, electronic or analog; the process of marking a text and writing notes is bound up in my ability to fully digest and comprehend a text.  (To judge by the extensive record of readers' marks and marginalia in printed books going back to the fifteenth century, this kind of active engagement with the text has long been a hallmark of reading for others too). Indeed, Preview is touted for its ability to annotate PDFs.  But I was not more than a day into using my new Mac last December before I realized that my PDF annotations were not being saved to the PDF file in such a way that other applications could read them.  In searching for alternatives I quickly came across Skim.  But Skim saves all annotations to a separate file in the same directory with the PDF.  Thankfully this app allows the user to save annotations permanently to the PDF file so that other software can see them.  But this option is not automatic and must be manually selected from a menu.

When I was using Windows I really fell in love with PDF-XChange.  This was the first PDF viewer that I used which could truly annotate my readings.  Like other enhanced third-party viewers and editors, as well as Adobe Acrobat itself, PDF-XChange can highlight text and add notes, whether in the form of embedded speech-balloons or direct writing in the margins.  But unlike many other apps, PDFXChange allows you to draw semi-transparent boxes that can be used to highlight text in image-based PDFs.  All highlights can be double-clicked in order to add embedded notes.  Everything that I do in PDF-XChange appears without a hitch in other PDF viewers, including Preview and Adobe Acrobat Reader.

I knew from my experience using Ubuntu that PDF-XChange ran very well under Wine in Linux.  As it turns out, it also runs very well in under Wine in OS X.  And it is currently my PDF viewer and annotator of choice.  (N.B. This tutorial provides a good explanation for how to install Wine in OS X).

Another feature that is important for PDF readers that are used for long-form reading is the ability of the software to remember your place in a document between sessions.  PDFXChange is generally very good at this, but I noticed this evening that if you move your PDF document into another directory on your computer the program will proceed to forget your place in the document.  Of course, for more serious marking of one's place in the text it is also possible to bookmark.

2. TIF handling seems to particularly poor in OS X.  If you open a PDF file in Preview, you can set a zoom level and the option to display pages continuously and not just one at a time.  However, a multi-page TIF file must be viewed page-by-page, and the zoom has to be reset for each new page.  One natural solution to this predicament is to just convert TIF files to PDFs.  Preview in fact gives you this option from the "Save As" menu.  However, the app invariably crashes when it tries to convert large TIF files running to a hundred pages or more.  I initially tried to find an alternative native application that would allow me better TIF viewing and PDF conversion.  Nothing (e.g., CocoViewX) seemed to work any better than Preview.  Finally I found a Windows application, Advanced TIFF Editor, which I was able to run via Wine instead.  This works perfectly without a hitch!  It can easily rotate images and convert TIF files to PDF.

3. One way that I record excerpts from books on the fly when I don't have use of my scanner is by taking pictures using a digital camera.  This method obviously requires post-processing of the image files, and in particular the ability to rotate images.  Preview has difficulty rotating a set of images en masse.  I have not found much discussion of this problem around the Internet.  (I am using 10.5.  I realize that Snow Leopard may have fixed this problem).  Preview has no problem rotating JPG or GIF images individually.  However, if I try to open a series of these files at once, select all of them and press command-R (or -L), the images all appear to rotate.  I then select "Save All" from the file menu, and it appears that each file is being saved.  However, if I try to open any of these files after closing the current Preview window, the images are still all unrotated.

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