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Quick fix to tame PDFs

By Jaimi Dowdell, IRE training director

A couple of weeks ago, I was teaching at a computer-assisted reporting boot camp in San Diego. The class had been through spreadsheets and databases, and I was finally demonstrating how to deal with pdf's. After showing some online options, I walked the class through my old stand-by: XPDF.

If you've used it before, you know that once you get the hang of it, it's quite simple. But learning it for the first time can be a bit daunting, as it uses the command line. That's right, I said: The. Command. Line. I've learned that newcomers to CAR aren't thrilled with DOS commands or scary, empty windows that don't allow dragging and dropping. This training exercise can return pained, frustrated faces - that is, until now.

Shortly after demonstrating XPDF, Chris Milholland, a senior at San Diego State University, politely leaned over and said something to the effect of, "You know there's an easier way to do this." In the time it took to walk the group through XPDF, Milholland had figured out how to change the properties of the tool to turn XPDF into a thing of blissful simplicity. With a few small tweaks, he'd made XPDF as easy as dragging and dropping your pdf file onto an icon.

No more command line, no more furrowed brows, out spits a text file. Milholland was kind enough to detail how you can conquer XPDF in IRE tipsheet number 3440. You can download it here or contact the IRE Resource Center at Many thanks to Milholland for this new trick. There's no doubt that IRE's strength can be found in its membership. This is just one example of how one member can help us all. We appreciate and need these kinds of suggestions. If you have a tip, trick or even some data you'd like to share, please send it to us.

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