Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Two Adobe Reader alternatives


I deal a lot with PDF files in my work. Like most people I use Adobe Reader to view them. Adobe Reader has recently hit version 8. It works, looks and feels sleeker than the previous versions. However, Adobe Reader 8 is not problem-free. It can be slow at times, and I really dislike the way it downloads and installs updates automatically (God knows what the Adobe people are sending into our hard disks). Despite those annoyances, Reader 8 (according to some professional opinion, like people in publishing) is the best viewer/renderer of PDF. No surprises here, Adobe is after all the creator of the PDF.

Thank God nowadays we have other ways of viewing PDF files. If Adobe Reader isn't up to your expectations, there's at least two other PDF viewers for Windows you can try. They might others out there, but I've tried these two out and I'm currently using them.

Foxit Reader 2.0

Foxit Reader is not only small and fast, it doesn't require any installation. I loaded Foxit Reader into my USB drive and used it on a friend's laptop who didn't have Adobe Reader. No more worries about PCs without Adobe Reader installed.

Foxit Reader comes with one interesting feature: the typewriter tool. This tool allows us to type in text onto the PDF files like in a word processor (MS Word, and other similar software). I'm not sure if the new Adobe Reader 8 has this feature.

It tested the typewriter tool on a PDF application form, which was basically the PDF version of the hard copy. Typing in simple text strings like names and addresses was straight forward, but getting the I/C no. digits into the separate boxes required a bit of spacing manipulation. It turns out that typed in text using can't be edited or deleted easily, so it's a good idea to use a copy of the original form, not the original.

My issue with the earlier Foxit Reader version was its PDF rendering capability. Compared to Adobe Reader, the the texts PDF files viewed using Foxit Reader 1.0+ sometimes looked jagged (anti-aliased). But the new 2.0 version's rendering capability is comparable to Adobe Reader. Hat offs, Foxit, for the major improvement.

Now for the not-so-good news. Foxit Reader's text selection tool is not as responsive as Adobe Reader's. I had problems selecting texts in the middle of a paragraph in Foxit Reader. If you copy a lot of text from PDF files like I do at work, I strongly suggest you stick with Adobe Reader for the moment.

One of the features I look for is full screen view, which allows us to view the PDF document sans everything else on screen. It helps me to concentrate on reading them. In full screen view, Foxit reader will display an icon on the top left of the screen that will revert the interface to normal view when clicked. I find the medium-sized icon distracting and obstructive, since it does cover the text underneath it (if there's any).

Overall, Foxit is a good PDF viewer. Its typewriter tool feature is a nice one, but still in need of further improvements. The main reasons to have (and love) Foxit Reader are because it's portable, it's free and can do most of what Adobe Reader is capable of.


If Foxit reader is Speedy Gonzales-fast, SumatraPDF can run at Sonic the Hedgehog speed.

Sumatra is an open source PDF viewer, something that'll interest you if you're software development. If you're a user like me, you'll be just happy to know that SumatraPDF is a freeware. It's currently in Beta version 0.5.

SumatraPDF is a PDF viewer, no more, no less. Besides common functions like printing, it doesn't do anything else. Totally bare bones.

In the rendering department, SumatraPDF is a shining star, thanks to the MuPDF rendering engine. The graphic and fonts rendering is at par with Adobe and Foxit. I also find it's interface to be simplest and the least cluttered.

On the other hand, SumatraPDF doesn't have any selection tools for text or image, a major reason why I can't use it extensively for my work. Unlike the portable Foxit Reader, SumatraPDF requires installation. And sadly for me, there's no full screen view option. However, it doesn't do any automatic updating like Adobe Reader and takes very little hard disk space.

UPDATE 1: I just found a really clever thing about SumatraPDF. It remembers the last page of the PDF document that I read and opens it on that page the next time I view it. For example, I'm reading a long article in SumatraPDF until page 9 before I exited. When I view the article again, SumatraPDF will start displaying at page 9, not at the beginning. This is great for those long (100 pages or more) PDF documents.

UPDATE 2: (Just found that Adobe Reader also has this feature...)

SumatraPDF does the one thing it's supposed to, but does it very well. Everything a PDF viewer should be, minus the extras, plus the speed.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Goals. Need 'em

I'm learning something new about myself. As a worker, I'm quite lost without goals. I've seen/felt this before actually, just hadn't realised at those times.

I practically begged my employer for a definite goal. Should I do this? How about this? How many? Would you like to pick which ones or leave that to me?

My employer's reply: do task#1, and task#2, #roundnumber much, you pick, up to you.

Immediately after that I feel my motivation surging up. I feel like I've been lost in a cavern for days and finally standing several feet away from the entrance. I see light. I see possibilities. I see a place to where I can go.

Friday, 23 March 2007

Hataraku otoko (working man)

For the past several weeks, I've been working as a research assistant at my school. It's a temporary, part-time job, to help put together a paper for a development conference this June in Vienna. I'm not going, only my employer.

I'm also learning first hand the pros and cons of working from home and at one's own schedule. It's tougher than most people think. The key is discipline. (Something I badly need.)

I'm grateful to Allah for this opportunity. My employer is very flexible and understanding. In fact, when during the early weeks when I was absent because of flu, she blamed herself. Got it from her, she insisted. Rest and see you next week. My God (bless you).

All this sometimes makes me feel undeserving of the pay. Flexibility for the undisciplined can be like salt for a snail. Insya-Allah, I plan to do better from now on. Please pray for me, bro and sis.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Helping a friend? Giving only the beta version

A friend of mine got into trouble in a first year subject. It was a programming subject where a project is given and a large chunk of the total marks is assigned to it. My friend did the assignment by himself while others preferred to do it in small groups.

Shortly after my friend completed the project, a classmate whom he's not close with came asking for a copy of the completed source code. Something to refer to, the guy said. My friend was gave him what he asked.

When my friend submitted the project, it turned out that the classmate's group had submitted the exact, same source code. The tutor called them and asked who copied who. Since the the real culprit refused the fess up, all of them got low marks for the project (the tutor almost gave them zero).

My friend related this incident to a motivational speaker who came to our school. The speaker listened to my friend's story and told him the following advice: in situations like these, only give them the beta version.

In other words, the 70% or 85% completed version. But never the completed one.

This is actually applicable to virtually any of kinds of problem, not just programming assignments. The way I see it, this beta version advice is helpful in at least two ways. One, we can avoid any accusations of plagiarism. We can work on the unfinished version until it's finished and submit it, while the other guy works on his version. If both people continue to work on their own, then it's likely the end result is two different (although similar) outputs. In case we need to eliminate any apparent similarities, give the friend the 50% (or less) completed version.

Two, this gives our friend the chance to not copy but to figure out the solution for himself. If he chooses to do so, he'll be helping himself to learn. And that's a win-win outcome.

Friday, 9 March 2007

Say it already

NY Times' Manohla Dargis has this to say about the upcoming anime movie, Paprika:

Evidence that Japanese animators are reaching for the moon, while most of their American counterparts remain stuck in the kiddie sandbox.
Thanks for saying what's on my mind for ages.

I mean, after so many, many years, American animation has manage to bring us... well (in the nicest way I can think of) nothing much that can't even compete with the average-quality anime. No wonder they are no longer appealing to many: too juvenile and mostly male-oriented. As an observer, I find this situation baffling. Mistakes I see them make often include spending too much on technology (CGI) and trying too hard to be funny, while neglecting the most vital ingredients, i.e. the story, characters, plot and so on. Anime, on the other hand, owes its success to these elements.

Meanwhile, the trailer of Paprika looks incredible, as if director Satoshi Kon took the Matrix idea and made it several hundred times more amazing.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Divorce pain? It could be transactive memory loss

In Malcolm Gladwell's book, The Tipping Point, I stumbled upon an interesting concept proposed by psychologist Daniel Wegner called transactive memory. The idea of transactive memory may help explain the feelings of pain and lost experienced by people when they get divorce or lose a spouse.

Transactive memory explains the concept of the knowledge that already exists around us externally and explicitly. I read about its discussion in Psychology of Everyday Things as a way to reduce errors made by users and lessen the burden of remembering things to do. This can be in the form of signages, labels, meters and so on.

We tend to remember very important things, like our home's or parent's telephone numbers and our I/C number.

For less important things, we deal with them a in slightly different way. We remember where we might find them instead. For example, we might not memorise the number of the contact number of our suppliers, but we do remember where we keep them. For that reason, we use notebooks, phone directories, business cards, software and other people.

In Wegner's experiment, he tested 59 dating college students couples who have been seeing each other for at least 3 months. They were then separated into two groups: those paired with their partners and those paired somebody else (people they don't know). The were asked to read 64 statements like "Midori is Japanese melon liqueur" and "Luke and Laura got married on 'General Hospital'". After 5 minutes, the pairs were asked the write down as many statements as they could remember.

Wegner found that pairs that know each other got significantly more statements right than the pair who don't know each each. He theorises that when people who are in a relationship for some time develops a joint memory system. This system only helps them to remember more things but also 'organises' the remembering process according who has the best understanding.

The idea of transactive memory may also not be exclusive to intimate, romantic relationship and probably observable in other relations like among colleagues in a team. This idea is still new and in need of further research to see, for example, how transactive memory takes place in a workgroup or department and in couples who have been married for a long time (a decade or longer).

Regarding the pain experienced by divorced people, Wegner writes:
Divorced people who suffer depression and complain of cognitive dysfunction may be expressing the loss of their external memory systems... They were once able to discuss their experiences to reach a shared understanding... They once could count on access to a wide range of storage in their partner, and this, too, is gone... The loss of transactive memory feels like losing a part of one's own mind.
I can't help to wonder if transactive memory explains why sometimes spouses are able to finish each other's sentences. Any thoughts, dear married readers?

(Picture from anyjazz65's flickr set, licensed under Creative Commons.)

Friday, 2 March 2007

Kesabaran tunjang kekuatan dan kebahagiaan

(Terima kasih, Hash, atas emel ini. Buat ingatan untuk semua di sini, dan khasnya buat saya yang sering dipesan oleh orang sekeliling supaya, "cuba la bawak-bawak bersabar.")

"ABU Hurairah dan Said Al-Magburi meriwayatkan: Ada seseorang lelaki memarahi Saidina Abu Bakar. Ketika itu Rasulullah duduk di sebelahnya. Nabi diam saja, begitu juga Abu Bakar.

Selepas orang itu selesai memaki hamun dengan mengeluarkan kata-kata kesat, Abu Bakar membalas makian itu, tetapi Rasulullah bangun dan beredar dari situ. Abu Bakar hairan dan terus mengekori Nabi Muhammad sambil berkata: "Ya Rasulullah, dia memaki saya dan engkau pula diam. Ketika saya menjawab maki hamun itu, tiba-tiba engkau bangun lalu pergi."

Rasulullah lantas menjawab: "Sesungguhnya malaikat mengembalikan semua makian orang itu kepadanya ketika engkau diam, tetapi ketika engkau membalas makian itu, maka malaikat pergi dan syaitan pula masuk dan saya tidak suka duduk bersama syaitan."

Rasulullah kemudian bersabda lagi: "Allah akan memuliakan hamba-Nya ketika sedang dianiaya lalu memberikan kemaafan sambil mengharapkan keredaan Allah."

Abu Said al-Khurdi pula berkata: Rasulullah ada bersabda: "Awaslah kamu daripada sifat marah kerana marah itu menyalakan api dalam hati anak Adam.

"Maka sesiapa yang berasakan demikian ketika berdiri, hendaklah dia duduk dan jika dia duduk hendaklah ia berbaring."

Abu Hurairah al-Bahili berkata bahawa Rasulullah pernah bersabda: "Sesiapa yang pemarah tetapi dapat menahan marahnya dengan sabar, maka Allah akan mengisi hatinya dengan keredaan pada hari kiamat."

"Kesabaran adalah tunjang kekuatan dan kebahagiaan di dunia mahupun akhirat...."

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Naruto new season. Now with Sasuke

(Warning: image-heavy post.)

It's a natural progression. Dragonball went on to become Dragonball Z. Sailor Moon preceded Sailor Moon R. And Saiyuki spawned Saiyuki Reload. Sometimes in anime, a new season means we get to see additional letters or words in the original title.

And Naruto becomes Naruto: Shippūden (Hurricane Chronicles). The new season premiered on 15/2 on TV Tokyo.

Hurricane because, as discovered recently in the manga, Naruto is a wind-element ninja.

The new season opens with a one of pivotal scenes in the Naruto saga. It's more of a preview because it's not supposed to take place until later in the season.

Now's here the quick update: two and a half years has passed since Naruto's former teammate, Uchiha Sasuke severed his tie with the ninja village of Hidden Leaf to become a follower's of Konoha's enemy, Orochimaru. Sasuke is seeking to avenge the death of the members of the Uchiha clan at the hands of his brother, Uchiha Itachi, an Akutsuki member. To become stronger, Sasuke has chosen the darker path: to train under Orochimaru. Naruto meanwhile trained under Jiraiya, a master of Orochimaru's calibre as well as his former teammate.

In a mission to infiltrate Orochimaru's secret underground hideout, Naruto and Sakura ends up in a unexpected reunion with Sasuke.

Chills down my spine, this one. A good way to kick off the new season, since Sasuke has been missing from the series for some time now and many (including myself) have been waiting for his return, which will definitely shakes things up.

Bring on the next episode of Shippūden!
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