Don’t Let Your Software Control You

Every so often I read something and I say to myself, I wish I had written that. I had that experience recently when I read a post on PDF for Lawyers.

In the post, Ernie explains:

Remember this joke?  Guy goes into see the doctor, and the doc asks “what seems to be the problem?” The guy says “Doc, it’s my arm.  It hurts when I do this.” And then the doctor says “well, then don’t DO that!”

I mention this joke because it’s basically what happens when people fail to make any attempt to set the preferences for their applications.  Technology trainers are constantly hearing lawyers complain that Word wants to auto-correct certain words.  In the attorneys’ view the problem is irresolvable; it’s a bug in the program that simply can’t be fixed.
He then notes:
Computers seem to make people dumb. Imagine picking anyone out of a crowd and telling them that they’d get to live in a mansion with a butler for a week.  The first time the butler does something that is annoying or not to their liking, do you think they’d be at a loss as to how to fix the problem?  No, they’d pipe right up and command the butler to do what they want. Even if they never had a butler before.
But these same people when they get a new program seem to think that the designers of the program have configured it just for them.  And so therefore they should expect it to work perfectly in the way that’s most natural for them. If it doesn’t then they curse the program.

I run into this problem all of the time. For example, I will ask someone why they didn’t use the automatic paragraph numbering feature in Word. They’re response is typically something along the lines of “I don’t like how Word does it.”

Not liking Word’s default formating for automatically numbering paragraphs is a reasonable position to take. Rejecting automatic numbering as a result is not. If you don’t like how a program does something, change it. Don’t suffer in silence. Every program out there has some options for you to change the default settings. Most of the time you can change the program to work as you desire.

Admittedly, there are some things that you can’t change about how a program works. If that is the case, I urge you to not simply throw up your hands in frustration and curse the programmers. If there is a feature you want, or a setting you want the ability to change, you should contact the publisher of the program. I can’t guarantee that the publisher will listen to you. However, I bet that you will find that most companies are more receptive to user suggestions than you would expect. Certainly you are more likely to get your issues addressed with a smaller company rather than a large company.

However, if you have an issue with a piece of software, do not suffer in silence. If no on ever complains, chances are, the problem will never be fixed.

If you are interested in learning how to customize the features in Acrobat, check out the rest of Ernie’s post. If you want to learn how to control what your information in Word looks like, check out my series of posts on formatting in Microsoft Word. If you want to control whether a PDF opens in your web browser of Acrobat, see my post here.

Making a Useful Signature Stamp

At PDF for Lawyers, Ernie the Attorney provides a great tutorital on creating a digital signature in Adobe Acrobat. The problem with using a digital signature in Acrobat is that most people don’t understand them. In addtion to your name, the digital signature contains other information that verifies that you signed the document and that it has not been changed since.

Ernie explains:

A signature, digital or not, has to satisfy two elements: (1) non-repudiability, and (2) acceptance by the receiving party.  In other words, the point of signing a document is so the recipient knows it’s from you, and that you can’t deny it’s from you (i.e. you can’t repudiate authorship of the document).  Digital signatures are far superior to regular signatures in this arena.  Where they fail miserably is in the ‘acceptance’ part.
Because digital signatures are not familiar to most people they freak out if they see a bunch of numbers where they’re used to seeing indecipherable human scrawl.  So, how to remedy this problem?
The quick and dirty fix is to do what I outline in that blurb I mentioned a few sentences ago. Just create a stamp and slap that on the document you want to ‘sign.’  It won’t be secure like a real digital signature (and if you want to repudiate it you can say your secretary exceeded her authority and stamped it without your knowledge).  But, let’s say you’re a fair-minded, by-the-rules kind of guy (or gal).  Is there another option?

Fortunately Ernie has solved this problem. Simply go to his post and follow his few simple steps to create a digital signature with an appearance that won’t freak people out.

PDF Tips and Tricks

Recently PDF for Lawyers pointed to a great article on How to Do Everything with PDF Files. I don’t know that the list actually covers how to do everything. However, it is a pretty comprehensive list with several different tips, including several for creating PDFs without using Adobe Acrobat. The first few tips include:

Q: First things first – How do I create PDF documents on my computer without Adobe Acrobat?

A: Get a copy of DoPDF – it installs as a virtual printer driver on your desktop just like Acrobat and lets you print PDF files from any Windows application including images, documents, emails, websites, etc.

Q: I don’t want to install software just for converting a bunch of documents to PDF. Do you know of any alternative?

A: Upload your documents to Google Docs via the browser and then export them as PDF files. Simple.

Q: A client just sent me a PowerPoint presentation by email. Since I am travelling without the laptop and my mobile phone cannot read PPT files, what should I do?

A: Forward that email message (with the PPT attachment) to – they’ll convert the presentation to PDF and email it back to you immediately. Most mobile phones can read PDF files.

Check out the article for the entire list. The list contains some excellent tips for manipulating PDF files if you do not have Adobe Acrobat.

Now I, like Ross Kodner, believe that the best PDF solution available is Adobe Acrobat. Further, as Ross explains, multiple ways exist to get a full version without paying list price. Additionally, when compared to other similarly powered software solutions, the street price of Acrobat is not out of line.

Despite my believe that everyone should have a full version of Acrobat. I recognize that the solutions in this list are useful for two groups of people. First, there is the large number of people who can’t or won’t purchase a full version of Acrobat. Second, are those who have a full version of Actobat but who are stuck working on a different computer because of travel, etc. In either situation, the tips here give you a great option to create or manipulate PDF files.

Note: I recently installed and begin using Nitro PDF and am in the process of evaluating it. I will be providing a full review on it in the near future. In the meantime, I would note that it has many features not found in other PDF programs and I am enjoying trying it out.