It’s a good thing I never made Technology Rant one of my categories, because it has been eons since I’ve visited this subject. I had to do a sidebar search just to find the last one. My technology rants have almost always been done with a healthy dose of self deprecation. I understand I am no “early adopter,” and I’m generally pointing out how much a techno-boob I am, and how technology fails us techno-boobs. This time I am more serious, and the self deprecation meter is set low. I may still be an unwitting boob, but Adobe (maker of all things pdf) has presented me with a serious problem. I’m not happy about it. Hence rant.
First, though, a warm-up rant against Adobe Updater. Adobe is the one application – on any of my computers – that begs to be updated above all others. Like a nagging, insecure boyfriend or girlfriend, Adobe is in a constant state of agitation. I confess I haven’t actually measured the timescale, but it seems to me that Microsoft Word asks to be updated about once a year, Windows asks to install a security patch about once every six months, and various other programs are in line with the semiannual/annual timescale. Not so Adobe, which seems to be asking every other week to update itself. Sheesh, what is its deal? Do it right the first time, and give us a rest. (It’s just popped into my mind, there is one other program with an unhealthy amount of nagging: iTunes.)
So. After that digression, onto the more serious problem with Adobe. To be fair, this rant is against the free Reader, not other, pay-for-it Adobe products (which may deserve opprobrium, but I don’t know). I am applying for jobs. These jobs ask for a copy of my college transcript. Until recently, these jobs asked for the transcript to be faxed in – which was a pain because I had to truck on down to Ye-Olde-Big-Box-in-a-Stripmall Office Supply and use their faxing service. More recently (in fact very recently) jobs are allowing transcripts to be uploaded. So, again, I had to truck down to the office supply chain and scan my transcript into a pdf file.
But there’s a problem… scanning produces images not documents. And transcripts are information dense images – full of watermarks and signatures and so forth. It’s like scanning a dollar bill. And the result was a rather largish file. Ten megabytes in fact, and when I returned to the document upload website …well it had a 3Mb limit. I was seven Mb waayyy over limit.
Allow me to temporarily diverge from my course to address a few things:
- We could stop right here, and there would be no issue or hysteric, middlerage rant, if job websites accepted much larger uploads. Isn’t memory cheap these days?
- You may be tempted to tsk-tsk me for not having a home office with faxing and scanning capabilities. You know, the Upper Mid-West loves to laugh when it snows 1 inch in Atlanta or Phoenix and the city grinds to a halt. But if you get an inch of snow every other year why would you waste budget on snowplows and overtime? Hell’s Bells the schools and city offices being dark for a day is a windfall in utility costs. I don’t have a scanner/faxer because I don’t scan art or do a home business. I rarely have need for these items.
- How come colleges don’t provide you with a low-Mb electronic version of transcripts? Yes, I checked. Mine doesn’t. If yours does, bully for you.
- How come job websites are only recently allowing document uploads? They should’ve been doing this since the mid-90s.
Okay, back to our regularly scheduled rant. So here I am with a too-large pdf file and I get the bright idea that, “Hey this is a color file. Howzabout I save it as a b&w file? That oughta reduce the size.” So I open up Reader, look at my color transcript, and attempt to print-to-file. Only there’s no option in Adobe Reader to convert to black and white, or gray scale. How can this be?? Can there be a more obvious inclusion to document handling software? I think not.
An online search turns up a lot of cures involving Adobe Pro, a rather expensive upgrade from the free Adobe reader. Uhhh, nope. (One legal blog described how to use Adobe Pro to convert color files, because most law offices only have B&W printers. Which left me scratching my head, because I would speculate you can just send the file to the printer. If the printer only prints in black and white, it is going to only print in black and white. Problem solved. Maybe I’m not getting something?).
Anyway, I found out I was lucky, because I have a Mac, and Macs have Preview, which is an Apple specific application that can open all sorts of files and manipulate them. Guess what? Preview has an option to convert to grayscale or B&W. Hello, Adobe Reader, are you getting this?
So I convert my transcript to a B&W pdf, and consequently reduce my file’s size from 10Mb to…
At this point I speculate that it is not the color but the difference between a document file – which consists of layout instructions on the order of kilobytes – and an image file – which consists of gobs of info on the order of megabytes. For each fucking pixel you have: coordinates, color, waist size, bust size, favorite flavor of yogurt.
Well, I have to admit information science – of which I am naive – is kind of cool and interesting. And I think this is also a grand time to bring up robotics. Roboticists talk about how surprisingly difficult it is to teach a robot to fold a towel. As I look at my transcript, my animal pattern recognition and human reading ability can easily see past all of the noise and recognize the signal of textual layout. I see columns and words, credit hours and grades. Instantly. But – to excuse Adobe Reader, robots, and computers in general – computers cannot tell that this suddenly dark pixel marks the beginning of a letter. It’s all noise to the computer.
My next step is to try Preview’s file reduction filter. Also a handy option I wish Adobe Reader had. Alas, Preview’s file size weight-loss plan results in an unacceptably blurry image. The kind of blurry mess that tells a job recruiter to walk on by. Back to square 1.5
Next, I decide to print out the newly created B&W file and rescan it. This works quite well, but not quite well enough. One problem is the scanner inputs each page as a separate file. Now I have two B&W documents, and I don’t know if jobsite uploads will cotton to that. Preview comes to the rescue again, allowing me to merge the two pages back into one pdf file. Yay! The result is a 3.8Mb pdf. Will that be enough to glide in under the 3meg restriction? I am sceptical. Again I tear my hair over the fact my college doesn’t provide low-wattage, electronic transcripts. [shakes fist]
I have one last inspiration. Again, Apple Preview to the rescue; it will allow me to save the pdf as a JPEG file, and we all know JPEG is latin for “compressed picture.” I save out the B&W transcript as JPEG, and the file size is awesomely smaller – down into kilobytes range. However, there’s one, errr, make that two, problems. The JPEG conversion does only one page at a time, so I am back to a two file problem, AND I don’t know if the job websites will accept JPEG files. (Note: it did not seem similarly possible to merge the two JPEGs ala’ the two pdf’s).
I have to say, thank goodness for Apple and their Preview application. The web suggests that Windows users can find similar help with free downloadable software, but for me and my Mac, it was already there. Additionally, the Mac OS is quite similar to UNIX/Linux and one fix I didn’t try was to install Ghostscript. Ghostscript is an open source application that mimics Adobe’s Postscript application. Although I am a comfortable user of Linux and Ghostscript, I am not so confidant of a sysadmin. Thus, I was loath to download Ghostscript and try to do a ‘Make’ command, or whatever, to install it. However, I am curious to know if Ghostscript could do Preview one better and convert a color pdf into a black and white pdf while simultaneously vastly reducing data size.
The end result is that I have two, readable (as in, not blurry) JPEG files substantially under 3 megabytes. I’ll have to get back to you on whether I am subsequently able to upload them to any job apps. For now, the mixed message is – buy a Mac. File under Yay! Macs, and Boo! Adobe.