The Digital Aviator

For the love of flight

The Digital Aviator has been running since 2006: after a few technical problems I have decided to relaunch within an new environment. Much of my older material has gone to that great electron graveyard in the sky.

As previously any aviation related subject may be discussed but my focus will be on today's Digital Aviator, a description that must at least to some extent include us all. I will try to create a pleasing mix that reflects a passion for flight whilst bringing forth innovations that enhance the flyer's experience. 

Today as never before, learning and information management are crucial skills. Schools and airlines are very  adept at meeting regulator's demands to disseminate information and introduce learning requirements: few tell us how best to  integrate these into our lives. Fewer still have a tight grasp of the technologies available to assist with these tasks. We will progressively address these issues whilst discussing our mutual passion - flight.

TEL4A-04 The PDF

The Portable Document Format (PDF) is an open standard for electronic document exchange. When you convert documents, forms, graphics, and web pages to PDF, they look just like they would if printed. But unlike printed documents, PDF files can contain clickable links and buttons, form fields, video, and audio. When you share a PDF file, virtually anyone can read it using Adobe’s Reader or one of many others. Below are the three major uses of the format for pilots.

  • Flight Crew Technical Manuals.
  • All forms of training documentation, handouts, manual supplements etc.
  • Every imaginable aspect of administration and communication.

The darned things arrive from everywhere - they are easy to make, distribute and refer to. If you don’t utilise careful regimes for control and administration you must prepare to be overwhelmed. You may have a better system for doing the above, if so, please share it with the ’hood through the commenting system.
Adobe, has a stack of deeper knowledge about these little suckers, but here are a few pointers to be going along with.

Multi-platform — You can view and interact with PDFs on virtually any platform, including Windows®, Mac OS, and mobile platforms including Android™ and iOS for iPhone and iPad.

Searchable — When you need to find a particular word or phrase in a PDF, it’s easy to search text and metadata, including scanned text that was converted using OCR[1] technology.

Organisation, Searching, Referring & Bookmarking

Most airlines have either devised or contracted in services to collate and manage their manuals. Vistair’s Docunet™ is one such system. Document management is handled well. Presentation of the hosted PDFs seems to be designed primarily around information delivery[2]. That said, iterations in normal app development cycles keep bringing forward innovations that deliver functionality improvements, it won’t be long before we can highlight, note and scrawl all over the pages.

Another niggle at the user end is born of the very nature of the e-manual. Even when using apps that enable you to express your innate artistic tendencies. Changes in manual content (from Flt Ops/Boeing/Airbus -many and often) trigger amendments which consign your work to the trash. Paper was much the same, our highlighter splashes and scribbles in the margins were lost when we amended (threw away the old) pages. A common workaround involves downloading your manuals as standalone PDFs and using other tools to display, search and annotate them for study. I also keep a ‘base study set’ of manuals to ‘revise the basics’ which tend to remain constant. The detail comes from reference materials hot off the press - the most recent copy of the manual concerned. Everything and Nothing changes eh?

If you have a photographic memory and OCD inspired habits that exert powerful influences over your computer housekeeping, ignore the next few paragraphs.
The rest of us need a repository where we can organise and search our documents, those I would classify as projects and reference materials, not necessarily study notes. There are Windows applications for achieving this, I use Devonthink Pro Office, for the following reasons;

  • Keeps my related data focussed together in one location,
  • Scans my PDFs (and any other document) on import to make them searchable,
  • Devonthink has an IOS app for iPhone/iPad so is available cross-platform.

Whenever any document, graphic or other file is deposited within Devonthink, it is interrogated ’till it weeps - all information within the file is sucked into its ‘brain’ and referenced using AI. Searching using the integrated reader is lightning fast: alternatively, open your desired PDF/document using an app of choice then save it - it lives in Devonthink and your annotations remain in plain sight within the app.
This app does so much, you really need to listen to the organ grinder, not a simple user. An alternative for the Mac is Eaglefiler: it does something similar with a different look-and-feel.

Quickly laying your eyes across the information you require is paramount. We can either know where to look for a file and go to it, or we can search and have it appear in front of us along with many others then sort through them. Excuse the brevity here but battles over methodologies rage across Geekdom as to how this fundamental need is serviced, here is a sensible offering.
Speaking generally, we tend to lean towards one system or the other but Aleh’s reflection is backed by his wisdom and heavy academic use:

Try folders/directories for project files - go to a specific location for your work focus. Tags for reference files - drop everything into a huge tub and search. For files that are both, use both.

The Tag story doesn’t end here, there are different kinds of tags, Open Meta, or for Mac people, Mavericks tags. Here is Brett Terpstra’s sound experience based offering around tagging practice. Here some more from him discussing Mavericks and tagging..

Ever wanted to make a link in your notes that will take you directly to the PAGE within a specific PDF/Manual?
Try this: add this to the url of the pdf you are linking to - #page=your page number . The url below shows you the modification I made to the url to show you ‘page 5’. I believe this trick works on any PDF you can link to, though after experimentation, the success can be browser dependant.

http s://s3.amazonaws. com/ DTWebsiteSupport/download/devonthink/2.7.5/ DEVONthink%20Pro%20Office%20Manual.pdf#page=5 - [I have broken the link for clarity]

Now try this link, it should take you to Page 5 of the Devonthink Pro Office documentation PDF from the Devonthink website.

🚀 Why not create a Textexpander snippet so all you do is insert the page number?

Snippet content: #page=%|
Suggested Abbreviation: pdfpx

Bookmarking PDFs is a gold-star time saver. Adobe’s Acrobat or Preview (OSX) enable you to generate your own bookmarks that snap you back to useful positions within your document. This process has often been carried out by those who prepare the document original, but you can build your own unique set within any PDF that permits it (security settings).

The PDF is amazing, this short post can only scratch the surface. When used with the array of tools available it can be a very powerful tool in your arsenal, understanding it adds to its power.

TEL4A–01 Technology Enhanced Learning

TEL4A–02 The Task at Hand

TEL4A–03 Text Automation & Note-taking

Next: TEL4A–05 Navigating the Infinite Landscape - Webpages

  1. Optical Character Recognition  ↩

  2. Reading apps without a facility for annotation makes using them for study a little convoluted. How do you interact with the information - extract or highlight text for emphasis?  ↩