Tips on navigation in pdfs

I remember a conversation with the all-wise Ken Melville, perhaps 15 or 20 years ago, in which I excitedly shared my progress converting years of handwritten nature journals to searchable pdfs, illustrated with scans from my old 35mm slides, and retrofitted with maps from GIS. He listened with amusement, then asked:

“And what do you think, Richard, will be the pdf of 2050?”  If I was really serious about saving my work for future generations, he advised, I should print everything I create on archival paper, and lock it into a fireproof safe. By way of illustrating the naivete of dependence on digital-archiving (an oxymoron?), Ken told me about movies he made as a college student on some antiquated medium that almost nobody in the world was capable of retrieving, 4 decades later.

Sample pdf viewed in Acrobat Pro, with header configured for ease of navigation. Regular (unpro) Acrobat Reader offers most of these tools. Right click on header to customize, pulling off unused tools and loading these super-useful ones. From left to right (give or take): Expandable TOC (table of contents, or “bookmarks” sidebar) useful for visual navigators ●  AWESOME binocular search tool creates list of sentences where the word occurs. You can also ask it to search all pdfs in a folder. ●  Get rid of that silly one-click-at-a-time +zoomtool and load the ‘marquis’ or dragbox tool for precision one-step zooming. Especially handy for map-heavy JuneauNature pdfs with highres labeling  ●  Then quickly relocate your place in the text with the back-arrow previous-page tool  ●  On large screens it’s sometimes nice to see both pages of a book-layout pdf  ●  More tools on the right of my header for exporting, extracting, and  annotating. Globe and measure tool are for geopdfs, which abound on JuneauNature. These are intended mostly for field navigation on small devices, but you can certainly view them on computer, copy coordinates, etc.

So, here we are in 2021 (and counting), ever deeper into our dependence on digital media . . . And pdfs, for now, while so much else has withered or crashed, seem alive and well. Granted, epub evangelists like to frame pdfs as moribund and unidimensional, unable, with death of Flash, to embed movies or audio, and incapable of reflowing text across the pocketable devices they think everyone will soon be reading on. (Currently, for JuneauNature, views are 62% desktop, 34% mobile, & 3% tablet; maybe reflecting my senior-heavy readership?)

Future of reading

I briefly considered titling this category-page “Wither books?” There’s nothing inside our smartphones that’ll ever replace the feeling of flipping paper pages. Books are especially dear to hearts of folks like me who’ve written them. But paper-books kill trees, and occupy limited space in tiny apartments. For more than 20 years I’ve grappled with the ironies of digital communications, with all their inherent distraction and attacks upon our attention span. How can we recover, in the electronic reading experience, that meditative state achieved so easily in the company of good books? Doesn’t seem likely sitting at a keyboard, in front of a large screen.

One ‘partway’ solution is tablets. They’re roomy enough for a rich visual experience, with more brilliant color than the best colorplates a book can boast. They play movies and, with decent earbuds or headsets, wonderful sound. Liberated from demanding keyboards, tablets let us kick back in bed or on the couch, diving into prolonged reading sessions, free of popups, or (with judicious settings-adjustment) oversight from the surveillance economy.