Ben's Website

PDF Tools I Use

PDFs are a staple of academia and industry, but they’re neigh-intolerable without the following:

  • Foxit Reader – I’ve used Foxit for years; it’s plain better than Adobe, allowing all sorts of commenting, highlighting, and manipulation tools that Adobe restricted.
  • PDF XChange – I was first encouraged to it by Docear and find it as capable as Foxit.  Recently I needed to OCR a scanned book; Foxit doesn’t have this in their free version but PDF XChange does, so it’s nice to have multiple tools.
  • Both of the preceding allow you to replace the document colors; pure inversion of white & black is an improvement, but I typically reduce the contrast by choosing a ~50% gray background and black text.  Without this change you end up staring at a 200W light bulb all day…
  • PDF reDirect – This is a pdf printer with a gui.  The gui makes it easy to batch combine and/or re-order pages in pdfs.  So as long as we have to communicate in PDF, this is a useful utility.
  • …and some things have to be done by ghostschript (Unix).  Four lines of python, a call to gs, and a secured PDF no longer prevents highlighting and commenting.

And because 1000s of PDFs in a hierarchy of folders is a huge pain, I use both Mendeley Desktop and Docear to manage organize the library.  I’m not content with either: Mendeley is owned by Elsevier, so it should be avoided, Docear is open source, having lots of feature requests and understaffed (volunteer) developers.  I’ll keep Mendeley around until Docear has a good cross-library pdf text search.  I love how visual Docear can be, I just wish it was able to auto-categorize.  Some of the most useful views are the most tedious to create by hand: consider a web showing who cited whom – the info is in the .bib and in the DOI/Google Scholar link but isn’t currently brought in and presented.  Since Docear’s open source and written in Java, I should be able to see how this might be done…perhaps this summer.



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