05 February 2003

Well, the latop (and therefore my willingness to update this site) is back online with a new IBM hard disk. I’ve returned the old broken hard disk (minus all of my data, and full of random characters to IBM within the specified seven days, which hopefully means they will stop threatening me now. It turns out that Li-Ion batteries only have a rated life of 18 months, which is why I am going to have to wait four weeks for IBM to get another one in for me.

That sucks, as it means I wont have a laptop battery which works whilst overseas. Oh well, there’s nothing I can do about it now…

In the evening I got some interesting email from the linux elitists mailling list I am subscribed to. It turns out that a lawyer in the US who happens to blog has been asked to provide an opinion on whether MS Word is a better format than PDF for online publishing of legal opinions. I hope my response wasn’t too rude…

      From mikal@stillhq.com Wed Feb  5 20:07:42 2003
      Date: Wed, 5 Feb 2003 19:53:39 +1100
      From: Michael Still <mikal@stillhq.com>
      To: Jay Sulzberger <jays@panix.com>
      Cc: linux-elitists@zgp.org, appellateblog@hotmail.com
      Subject: Re: [linux-elitists] Suggestion to publish court opinions in
          secret Microsoft word processor format
      
      On Wed, 5 Feb 2003, Jay Sulzberger wrote:
      
      >    Since you recommend PDF, I am wondering how you suggest courts
      >    deal with accessibility issues. As I am sure you know, PDF is not
      >    considered an accessible format, as a PDF document is essentially
      >    an image.
      
      What can I say? This is simply wrong in so many ways. PDF is a page markup
      format. It can contain text, images, sounds, annotations, and multimedia
      thingies. The reason that many PDFs viewed by the public are images is
      because they are scanned before PDF generation as they come from dead tree
      form.
      
      You can test this for yourself -- turn on the text tool in Adobe Acrobat
      (the T), and select some text. If it's an image, then that wont work.
      
      >    While I realize that Adobe has recently come out with a
      >    version of PDF that is supposed to be able to be read by screen
      >    readers, my understanding is they are not very good and that
      >    documents have to go through an extraordinary conversion process.
      
      Checkout the PDF specifications at http://developer.adobe.com -- there has
      been no change like this that I have seen reference to. There is a plugin
      for Acrobat (the reading application), which aids accessibility, but there
      are many longstanding tools to extract textual content from PDF documents.
      
      >    When attending an accessibility seminar for Government employees
      >    held recently in Washington, the recommendation was to avoid the
      >    use of PDF unless an alternative version of the same document
      >    could also be provided.
      
      Is there any online documentation about this seminar? I am sure Adobe
      would have something to say about this FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt).
      The specifications for PDF are also freely available at
      http://developer.adobe.com, for those who would like to research further
      before making incorrect statements in public.
      
      Most electronic document management vendors would strongly recommend PDF
      for this sort of activity.
      
      >    Do you know if most courts that provide
      >    PDF versions also provide an alternative format? If so what
      >    format seems to be the primary choice?
      
      Australian legal documents are provided in PDF, HTML and text. Checkout
      http://www.austlii.edu.au for more information. Patents and Trade Marks
      are made available primarily in PDF format.
      
      >    Thanks for your time and thoughts on this matter.
      
      Another thing to bear in mind is that PDF is an excellent archival format
      because the specification is open, well known, and understood. There are
      many open source applications which implement the specification, including
      xpdf, ghostscript, and panda. There are hundreds of commercial tools as
      well -- checkout places like http://www.pdfzone.com for more information.
      
      On the other hand, MS Word is effectively a single vendor format, which is
      not well documented, and changes with each release. Having worked on some
      Word format hacking, the format is rife with embedded COM objects, which
      are non trivial to parse.
      
      > If any of my technologically proficient readers have thoughts to offer in
      > response to the questions posed in this email from the Webmaster for the
      > Washington State Courts Internet site, please send me an email, and I will
      > collect and forward on to the Webmaster of the Washington State Courts
      > system the most useful comments that I receive.
      
      [ I wouldn't normally include something like this, but credentials might
      help with the discussions with court officials ]
      
      Former imaging specialist for the Australian Patent, Trade Marks and
      Designs offices, software engineer at a leading electronic document
      management software vendor, author of a PDF generation libary, a PDF
      parsing library, and a (soon to be announced) PDF editor and viewer.
      
      Cheers,
      Mikal
      
      --
      
      Michael Still (mikal@stillhq.com) | Stage 1: Steal underpants
      http://www.stillhq.com            | Stage 2: ????
      UTC + 11                          | Stage 3: Profit
      

Well, it’s long, but I was trying to make a point…

Catching up on my shameful email backlog…