God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son." Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on." While I'm certainly not God, and don't aspire (much) to the job, I seem to have no shortage of Abes, people who simply can't believe that we would have the temerity to put out documents on the Web in Adobe's Portable Document Format.

For years well, maybe four or five anyway we, by which I mean "I", took our brochures and promotional material and schedules and turned them, with not enough help from Extensis' ancient CyberPress Quark plugin, into workable, if not exactly brilliant, HTML, a process which took anywhere from a few minutes to the better part of a week, depending mostly upon the level of complete and utter crapola our clients wanted stuffed into their documents. Somewhere along the way somebody in management came up with the idea of offering the same documents as PDFs, for the benefit of Web-site users who might actually want to print them out. It didn't add a whole lot to my workload, it did make a certain amount of sense, and, atypically for corporate America, the person who engendered this brainstorm was high enough on the org chart to avoid being immediately sacked for excessive creativity.

Years passed, as years will do, and I sent up a memo to The Powers That Be to the effect that perhaps it's time we quit duplicating our efforts and concentrated on the PDF stuff. A truly breathtaking example of blatant self-interest, to be sure, but there were valid technical reasons for such a move, and I managed to hit most of them spot-on. TPTB, to my surprise, bought the argument historically, I seem to do better when I don't try to conceal my own agenda and started phasing out the HTML duplicates.

And man, the Web-site users thought we must be puttin' them on. Never mind that the PDFs were getting posted a good two weeks faster than their hand-tweaked HTML variants; never mind that Adobe's Acrobat Reader was free for the asking and in some cases might already be on their systems; never mind that printing a single page from a huge (some of these things managed to hit 900k including graphics) HTML file is only slightly easier than herding cats.

And in the brouhaha that followed, I came to a handful of conclusions:

  • Some people wear their lack of computer smarts as a badge of honor, and they'll never even open up a Help file for fear it will jeopardize their amateur status or something.
  • Some people just naturally assume that the computer is all-powerful, because that's what they were told by some zit-ridden salesgeek. "The clerk at Swillmart" (Where Quality Is A Slogan) told me that this machine had everything I would ever need!"
  • And some people, I suppose, just don't like to deal with any technology more advanced than a leaf blower.

I am not wholly unsympathetic. The poor souls stuck on WebTV, as I have noted before, can't do anything with PDFs because support for the format has never been built into their operating system. And for all I know, we may have one or two Commodore 64 users out there. Most everyone else, however, should be able to install Acrobat Reader 5, or at least 4. So the next time I see Abe, he better run; I'd like to have this fracas done way before Version 61.

Apologies to God and/or Mr Dylan.

The Vent

1 June 2001

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 Copyright © 2001 by Charles G. Hill