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How To Get Those Textbooks On Your Tablet PC



Are the textbooks you lug around too heavy? Isn’t that what the benefits of having a Tablet PC are all about? Then follow along in this guest article by GBM Forum member McKay Whitney (AKA Tablet Law Student) on how he gets his text books into his Tablet PC. McKay has owned and used lots of Tablet PCs including those from Toshiba, Gateway and HP. Take it away, McKay.

Books are heavy. Their margins provide only so much space to write in. I love tablet technology. These three truths motivated me to be a paperless law student. It is totally worth it. There are two good methods to make books digital:

1. Cut and Scan

At your copy store, like Kinkos or Office Max, they will cut the bindings off your books for super cheap. They charge something around $3.00/inch, so it’s usually $3.00 a book. The charge is based on the typical price for paper cutting in their massive shear. Depending on who is working, you will not be allowed to put a hard-back book in the shear. That problem is easily solved by neatly cutting or tearing the cover off so you are left with a coverless stack of bound pages. They then chop the bindings off. You then have pages that you can feed through a scanner.

Next obstacle: I’ve never had a Kinkos allow me to scan my unbound books. They are worried about copyright infringement. Being a law student, I researched the copyright issue. As long as you own the book, you are free to do what you want with it, including scan it for your own use. As long as you don’t sell your copies or loan them out or post them on your website, you are within the law. You also must get rid of your digital copy if you ever sell your paper copy. I understand most people don’t have private access to a high volume two-sided scanner. Most libraries have such scanners available, but use of these is not very good because of formatting issues (how do you get it from their scanner to your hard drive) and the librarian not understanding the copyright laws. There are a few scanners you can buy that have a feed tray, and I believe those are a few hundred dollars and would take something like 3 hours to feed in a whole book. Luckily, when I used this method, I still worked in an office where I could go in after hours and use their super duper commercial scanner/copier and scan to my heart’s desire. It would scan to the server in the office, already in PDF, then I would save the PDFs to my flash drive and take them home. This gave me lots of nice looking PDF law books.

After the semester is over you can return to your unbound pages to the copy store and have them re-bind the books for around the same cost. They spiral bind them instead of the nice looking traditional glue binding, but it works for reselling books to other upcoming students.

Many won’t have access to a commercial scanner. Many will not be patient enough to have their personal scanner feed 4 pages a minute. Many will freak out at the idea of Kinkos chopping up their expensive books. For these people, option two is probably more appropriate.

2. Photograph and Convert

I have had to photograph and convert after I finished my first semester, because after starting school I no longer worked at the office with the super scanner.

clip_image002It’s basically like it sounds. You take digital photos of the pages and convert the images to PDF. I use a $15 monopod I got off E-bay. A monopod is a camera tripod, but with only one leg instead of three. This single leg consists of a clamp, a nine inch flexible arm, and the camera mounting screw. I get good results by clamping the monopod to the high back of a chair, then sitting on the chair backwards with the book on the table. I can then see the book’s pages in the camera’s view finder display and I snap a shot, then turn the page and snap again, etc.

The camera I use is our family’s point and shoot Nikon that we have had for a few years. It is your typical family camera and is definitely nothing fancy. My only problem is that I run out of batteries when using the flash on every shot. But since the flash makes the text in the images so much more readable, I just leave the Nikon plugged in during shooting. I have tried shooting in 4 megapixel mode, but it makes the PDFs too huge (imagine 1200+ pages of high quality PDF images in a single document) and really bogs down my computer when trying to open the files and turn pages. I have since shot in 2 megapixel mode. It’s way smaller in file size and the quality is still good enough to read and underline the PDFs.

clip_image004I have experimented with Snapter. This software (free thirty-day trial) allows you to take a single shot of the book open, and it finds the lines around the pages, flattens the image, and cuts it into two pages for you. My success was only limited with this because I have to put a finger on the page to keep it from turning while I shoot it, and Snapter doesn’t like that very much. It claims to be ok with fingers on pages as long as they are on the left or right instead of the top or bottom, but my success was only limited. I have had better results by just paying close attention to zoom the camera perfectly to capture one single full page of text at a time. I even rotate the book so I am taking pictures in landscape mode and the pages fit perfectly into the view finder display. I then shoot one page at a time. I find this process takes a bit longer while shooting, but saves so much time while converting the jpgs to PDF that it pays off in the end.

I use Adobe Acrobat Pro 8.0 to convert the files. I have had it a few years and I remember it being pretty pricey, like somewhere around $200 maybe. Acrobat lets me combine all the images into one PDF ““book” and also easily rotates ninety degrees counter clockwise all the pages at once since I shoot them in landscape instead of portrait. I then have my books all in PDF.

I still battle with huge file sizes, but I have solved that problem by sending single reading assignments to Onenote. For example, the typical reading assignment will be thirty or so pages. I open the PDF text for that class, push print, and only choose those pages in the assignment. From the available printers I select the Onenote printer. Thirty pages printed to Onenote is much easier to deal with than 1200+ pages in PDF. Also, Onenote recognizes the text within images, so I can search for specific key words. I am also more powerful in Onenote because of ink (aren’t we all).

A lot of times in law school we will have more readings than just the text, like constitutions or statutes or the Commercial Code, etc. Most of those documents are already in PDF and available free from the Supreme Court’s website. So I use Acrobat 8.0 to grab the relevant pages from those documents and print them to Onenote too. I use the Onenote printer a lot. I hope this helps any aspiring students to become paperless. It is a time consuming process. It probably takes me three hours to convert a one-thousand-page book into PDF by the photograph and convert method. I didn’t say that it would be easy, just that it would be worth it.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Rich

    12/05/2008 at 3:02 am

    Is there a way of exporting your inked oneNote file as a PDF, where the content is searchable?

    I often print scientific journal PDFs to my oneNote, annotate them with ink and then export the pages as a PDF. Problem is I can’t seem to search for words then…

    CHeers RICH

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