Monthly Archives: October 2007

Google Master: Teleporting or Orienteering

My boss accuses me of being a Google master. Apparently this means that when she can’t find something using Google, she just sends me a request for the same search and I can come through for her. In fact, she claims that she does the “exact same” search that I do and I get results while she doesn’t. While I don’t believe that is necessarily true, I just read a posting on GigaOM that might shed some light on my “skills” (if, indeed, I have any).

Dating back to 1993, researchers have contrasted information-seeking behavior into two types: teleporting and orienteering. “Teleporting” means you try to jump directly to what you’re looking for (kind of like the “I’m feeling lucky” Google button). However, it could simply mean that you find the exact information you were looking for with a single search, even if it shows up down the list of hits. Orienteering is a “hunting” approach where you use local and contextual information to guide you, step-by-step, to the information you desire.

Anne Zelenka, in her GigaOM posting, illustrates this with an example for Jon Udell:

  1. Find [a New York Times magazine article about Olin College, a clean-slate redesign of an engineering school]
  2. Note the date: Sept. 30, 2007
  3. Search the Times archive for Sept. 30, 2007
  4. Restrict that search to the magazine section

I think that my initial goal of a search is to teleport, but more often than not, I don’t even know what I want to teleport to. My boss expects to jump directly to a paper. When she comes to me, she is more vague and expects me to find a foundation for a particular idea that may be spread out over various papers. Sure, I’ve occasionally had to respond by saying that her criteria is far to general to bring up specific information. But, by and large, I am able to hunt around using clues from previous searches to find what she’s looking for.

My final question is, what do you call a person whose search approach would be categorized as orienteering as opposed to teleporting:

  • Orienteerer (tongue-twister)
  • Orientator (don’t like words ending in tator, makes me hungry for French fries)
  • Orienteerist
  • Orienteerperson (as opposed the non-politically-correct orienteerman and orienteerwoman)

Adobe Acrobat PDF Woes

(the blog’s not dead)

I had an unexpectedly arduous task today, actually two. They seemed relatively simple, but as most things that involve Adobe software, it was far from simple.

Task 1: Find a scanned copy of a book chapter that someone in the lab had prepared and send that back to my boss. This was challenging considered that previous members of the lab have left and there is not organized central repository of data produced by those individuals.

REAL Task 1: When found there were individual PDF files for each page. My goal: Merge PDF files. How hard should that be? Answer: If you have Adobe Acrobat (not just the reader), real easy. Other wise, I failed miserably. I tried a couple of things that I scrounged up from Google searches:

PDFCreator: I think this would work just fine, even if the interface and documentation leaves you guessing as to how you are supposed to use this software. I was able to add all my pdf’s in and then highlight them all and click “Combine”. After outputting the pdf file I realized that the original pdfs had been scanned in landscape (11 x 8.5). When combined, they all were squeezed into a profile layout (8.5 x 11), not rotated, but squeezed. After a long while of trying to figure this out, I decided to abandon PDFCreator for this exercise. I even uninstalled it since I have CutePDF for all my PDF creating needs.

pdftk: I downloaded this only to realize that while it seems like a pretty powerful and nifty tool, it was command line based and I was in a bit of a hurry. I may come back and learn to use this one but for now I had to move on.

Eventually, I found a machine with Adobe Acrobat Professional and in less than 5 minutes I had the merged files I wanted. There was in my search a freeware tool called MergePDF, but it was for Mac’s only and I don’t speak Mac.

Task 2: Fill in a form that is only available in PDF. It is not a nice PDF form where you can click on a form element and just type in. Nope, this is just your standard static pdf document. Are there any good free PDF annotators? I have used pdfAnnotator but it has a 30-day free trial. After that, it watermarks your documents if you output it in any way.

FoxitReader, which is my preferred tool for reading pdf files, has the ability to annotate, adding text to the pdf but as soon as you save it, there is an automatic header added to your pages saying it was modified by FoxIt. I couldn’t have that for this form.

I finally just used the typewriter function in Adobe Acrobat Professional but there was a new challenge: Adding a signature to an pdf file before emailing the form back.

My first option was to print, sign, scan, email. Second option would be to have an image of the signature (which I do) and paste it onto the pdf. Guess what? You can’t paste an image on to a pdf file in Adobe Acrobat. You are supposed to go back to the original editor and do it there, at least that’s what I could find out from the documentation. However, you can copy and paste an object from another PDF in Acrobat.

So here’s what you do if you want to paste an image into a pdf. This is also nice because you can preserve transparency in the image if you do this:

1. Use Photoshop to save the image as a PDF.
2. Open the PDF you just saved in Acrobat and select the image you want to copy.
3. Hit control-C or just click Copy from one of menu options.
4. Open up the destination PDF and paste away.

There was one problem I didn’t have time to worry about solving the right way. You can’t resize the image you paste. I just made sure that the original image was the size I wanted it in the original source file.

Whew! Done!

Did you ever notice that the more urgent you need something done, the harder it is to get it finished? Did I make these two issues far to hard on myself? Probably, but the problems were eventually solved and now my solution is documented for future reference. And if anybody happens to comment, I might even have better solutions next time around