Less paper

I’m a pretty big fan of paper. There’s nothing more portable than a pad of paper and nothing more flexible for input than a pen or pencil. And when I need to review the design of a machine or a building, no screen can compare to laying out several D-sized drawings on a conference room table.1

But there’s a time and a place for everything. No one wants to search for a word through a ten-inch stack of paper. Or carry boxes of file folders on a business trip just to be sure you have the one you need in a meeting. And printing up bunches of stuff that no one will ever read is just sinful.

I’ve been thinking about changing my project notes system from its current wiki-like HTML to a more flexible system of searchable PDFs. The wiki works fine for projects in which I create all the notes in my office, but it’s far more common for my notes to be a mixture of field sketches on paper, PDF reports, emails, and scanned or paper documents from my clients. Only PDF can handle all those document types at once.

Apart from receipts, I don’t do a lot of scanning or other PDF manipulations, which is why I was looking forward to David Sparks’s Paperless. Lawyers have thoroughly embraced PDFs, and I knew David—unlike many lawyers I’ve dealt with—would have figured out how to handle PDFs smartly and efficiently.

It was disappointing when Paperless came out in iBooks form only and was restricted to the iPad. I understood why: there’s a lot of multimedia packed into it, and it probably would be way too cramped to be useful on an iPhone. But since I don’t have an iPad, I was locked out.

No more. Today David announced the availability of Paperless in a new format: a zip file containing a PDF (naturally) of the text and static images and a folder of movies with screencasts and demonstration videos.

Okay, Paperless PDF is now for sale. macsparky.com/paperlesspdf/
  — David Sparks (@MacSparky) Mon May 21 2012

The new form is available at the same price as the old: $5. The download weighs in at nearly 900 MB and expands to just over 1 GB. The PDF is only 145 MB; the rest is video. As you might expect, the zipping doesn’t do much compression. It’s more for combining all the files into an archive for easy downloading.

I haven’t read every word yet, so I can’t give an opinion on the content.2 Still, if you’re interested in the topic at all, you probably read the complimentary reviews of the iBooks version. The PDF version says all the same things. Here are my impressions of the format:

  1. The pages are laid out in a two-column landscape format. I was surprised initially to see the pages in landscape, but I shouldn’t have been. It works perfectly for reading onscreen.
  2. The text is easy to read and the images are crisp and well-chosen. The whitespace between the text and the graphics is a little too thin for my taste, but it doesn’t hurt the readability.
  3. Internal links and links to websites work fine. What appear to be links to the movies aren’t. I had hopes that you could launch a movie in QuickTime (or Safari), but no such luck. You need to take note of the movie’s name or number and launch it from the Finder or QT directly.
  4. The very first movie referred to in the book, Screencast 2.1 on Page 12, wasn’t included in the zip file. David says he’ll fix that oversight in an update. (Update: David tells me Screencast 2.1 is now in the zip.)
  5. Embedded image galleries don’t work; they show only the first image.

    Paperless ScanSnap

    Gallery 3.2, for example, has no more interactivity in the PDF than it does here in my screenshot. This isn’t a big deal for photo galleries, but there are some galleries of software preference screens, where seeing every image would be helpful. Maybe David could add those images to the zip file in an update.

  6. The text is searchable and selectable. If you have a passage you want to copy into an email or a note to yourself, you can do it.

Obviously, I can’t truly judge the difference between the two versions of Paperless because I can’t use the iBooks/iPad version. The PDF does have the advantage of being readable on any computer you own. But I think it’s clear that David built Paperless as an iBook and set it up to take advantage of the form. The PDF is a compromise to help out people like me. It’s a compromise I’m happy to live with to get the information, but if I had an iPad I’d certainly buy the original version.

  1. Before you write an angry comment about dead trees, let me point out a few things:

    1. I’m not advocating the waste of paper, I’m advocating its use when it’s the best solution.
    2. Pulpwood trees are grown and harvested specifically to make paper. Complaining about dead trees when you see paper is like complaining about dead cotton plants when you pull on your socks.
    3. I’m not convinced your iPad and Kindle are any kinder to the environment than a roomful of books.

  2. The parts I have read, mostly in the Capture section, are well-written and to the point. David doesn’t clutter up his writing with footnotes and other ephemera.