Saturday, February 23, 2013

Handy pdf tools

I used to dislike PDFs. I couldn't copy and paste and scrolling was a mess. Lately I have been warming to the format mostly because of Amazon's Kindle. With the reader I can stack a bunch of documents in one place and avoid printing physical pages. Though primitive, the zoom feature allows me to zero in on a desired image (I still use Kindle 2). Reading the whole document still requires a larger screen, but that is another story. What I want to post today  are some shoutouts to handy PDF tools that I have come across during my research. Not absolutely the best, but the best I've seen.

All of these are free and lightweight.

Windows reader

Sumatra PDF is the best alternative that I have found to the standard Acrobat Reader which has become bloated over the years. It is both snappy and lightweight. Foxit is a common alternative, but I find Sumatra better as it doesn't try to sneak in extra toolbars and other rigmarole.

* to PDF converter

DoPDF allows you to convert any printable document to a PDF. It is very basic, but allows you to select the output resolution. It works by installing itself as a printer driver that you can invoke with the regular Control+P shortcut. If you need to convert a HTML page (regular Internet webpage) to PDF a better alternative is…

Google Chrome

Because it avoids truncating images at page breaks, is faster (usually not a problem) and can generally output a smaller file.

Screenshot Captor

This one is one of the most versatile screenshot programs out there. It has a screen-to-pdf feature that does the job


PDFescape is an online tool that has a whole array of editing functions. Add text anywhere, fields and free-form. It can also rotate your documents and split or merge them. It is limited to 10 MB/100 pages. You can work around this limitation by working on a smaller subset at a time and then joining all the parts together on your system; for that last part there is…

Merging and splitting larger documents

PDF split and merge (PDFsam) is a downloadable open-source program. Donations starts at €1. This one installs a non pdf browser toolbar in the express settings, so be careful.

Sometimes one needs to merge or stich many pages into a single page in a manner of a long piano roll. That can be done too! The online service PDFdu provides the service hassle free. 


So far I have not had good results with the few tests I've made, but if your pdf is mostly text,  you might want to try out this one.

Scripting tools

If you know a scripting language that has a module repository such as Perl with CPAN or Python with Pypi, you might want to check what is available there. Not tried it myself yet, but I believe that with those you might come up with better custom tools for your needs.

Search engines

Surprisingly enough there are dedicated search engines out there:

Watch out! Google/webutation apparently do not like this site

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Post-processing a podcast: volume leveling

Have you ever listened to an audio program or recorded musical piece where one segment is so low in volume that you have to crank up the volume yourself and then, the next thing you know, the following segment is so loud that you have to turn the volume back down only keep going back and forth or else suffer it through? Well, I have; and recently this had become annoying as some podcasts that I listen to have disparate microphone pickups at recording.  Most hosts are not pro sound engineers and can be forgiven for that, but the issue still remained. So I set myself to solve the problem, at least for myself, and came up with this solution.

What I do is run the audio  through a digital compressor before syncing. In my case I use the one included in the Magix Audio Cleaning Lab, of which I have talked of some times before. Most of the time the results are just what I was looking (or listening) for. When it doesn't, and it usually means that I turned the ratio knob too far to the right.

With the batch processing feature it only takes me some extra minutes, but it is pain free and now I can listen without the risk of having my ears blown off by a sudden yelp of exaltation from the host.

This program can be tried for free, but there are surely other good alternatives out there.

Oh, there's a good article on wikipedia too about compression:

Update 10/12/15

With the rise of smartphones and the podcast clients it is now more difficult for listeners, or at least for me, to pull the leveling in such a straightforward fashion. As you can tell, the proposed solution depended on having iTunes on a PC and an iPod to sync to. I believe that for the majority now, this is no longer the case. Podcast client programmers have not wised up to volume leveling, but maybe sometime in the future? On the other side of the equation, since the original posting, and surely not thanks to it, I have seen (heard) podcasters take this area more in consideration. First it was the elimination of ambient noise and better recording equipment, now, more closer to us, volume leveling.  if you're a podcaster the tools are within your reach to make your show better for your listeners.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Two star audiobooks

title: Roman snail; source:; taken by:Magnus Rosendahl
Sometimes you find pearls in the mud, sometimes it's the other way around. So far, I have found many great audio books at audible. Yet, there are some that I regret purchasing (well maybe regret is too strong a word). Here are four books that I cannot rate higher than two stars.

Love and sex with robots by David Levy

I admire Mr. Levy because he's the hero of the famous Levy bet. Since then he has been an expert in artificial intelligence. In this book he presents what may become the biggest wave in the field ever. Although the theme is alluring, the book ends up being too dry and not very appealing. Oh, and it may be outdated very soon as new technological developments unfold.
Still, it may be worth a read only if you have special interest in the area.

Coal by Freese

Nowadays there seems to be a plethora books that try to unearth the fascinating stories behind the mundane like Mary Roach's Stiff or Bryson's At Home. On the whole, and in my opinion, this has proved to be a fertile field with many nice titles out there. Coal is not one of those. It relates the story of this important energy source but in the end it doesn't rise above ground by much and remains boring. I mainly blame the writing which reads more like a Chamber of Commerce briefing than a spellbinding account of the topic.

Selling the fountain of youth by Weintraub

This book is not an account of the beauty cream industry as one might surmise from the cover art. It is rather an exposé of the unregulated anti-aging industry. The seemingly unending stream of ploys and cases makes me wish, for once, to have purchased the abridged version… Oh wait, just checked; there is no abridged version. Once more, it might be of interest if you are involved to the subject matter in some sort or fashion; say, if you're a doctor, regulator, patient or family member of a patient; otherwise, it is better to spend your credits on something else.

The new new thing by Michael Lewis

This one presents us the story of Jim Clark, the founder of Silicon Graphics and Netscape. One expects to get a closer look at a critical period of the information age out of this book. It somewhat delivers, but the central figure is unlikable and the book spends too much time relating the antics of his computerized yacht. Better than the other three, but just barely.