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PDF Hacks Sid Steward
Published by O'Reilly Media
312 pages
£ 17.50
Published: 31st August 2004
reviewed by Mike Smith
   in the December 2004 issue (pdf), (html)

Well, I didn't know you could play games with PDF - literally !!

So I think that proves why books are still good. With our friend Google you can know anything - but you still need to know what to look for (like you have to know how to spell in order to use a dictionary, but I digress). Books, because they're written by other people, can cover things you wouldn't expect - and that's where the value is.

How useful playing PDF games is, I don't know, but its one of the great tips in this Hacks book!

I'll give you the usual rundown on what's in it: 100 Tips, broken down into 7 Chapters - ranging from ``Consuming'' PDFs (I take that to mean reading them), Publishing (which is a wider topic than just dealing with PDFs), creating them, performing dynamic operations (like Forms processing) and scripting. There are two other chapters - one looking at collections of PDFs, and another about ``Manipulating'' PDFs. All-in-all quite a varied set of sections - though its not that obvious from the titles what's included in each. So I'll give you some examples.

The first tip is to use Adobe Reader (used to be Adobe Acrobat Reader) to read PDFs. That's pretty obvious! ... but it does set the seen for the opening chapter. There are many other ways of viewing PDFs - OS/X includes a facility to read them, or you can use GSView, for instance.

I like Hack number 4 - how to speed up Adobe Reader by removing any unwanted plugins. I use a little utility to do this, ar-speedup, but you can do it manually.

There's a good tip (16) about creating bookmarks directly to a specific page in a PDF (when you're viewing it online). That's clever.

The chapter on Publishing has some good stuff too - for instance I didn't know you could actually buy ISBN numbers online. Not cheap, but not outrageous either ($244 for 10 of them). I thought that would be restricted to the big publishers, but obviously not. A few tools are also mentioned for creating graphics for embedding in PDFs - like Graphviz, which is great.

There are lots and lots of ways to create PDFs. Of course there are the Adobe tools, but there are plenty of other options. I won't go into them all here (perl, PHP, printer filters ...) Life's too short.

Manipulating PDFs covers a multitude of sins. Splitting and merging is possible. Most people just consider PDFs as a single document, but these days you can attach (or embed) other documents too. pdftk keeps getting a mention - worth checking out - free software that has a lot of functions in this area, and others, in the book. Further tips demonstrate how you can generate PDFs in a variety of ways, superimpose water marks, use templates and other nifty tricks.

There are lots of other good tips - with examples of code too. Really quite a good book with lots of varied techniques ... and eventually we get to Battleships!

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