Musings on Photography

Rules and PDF Size

Posted in Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on May 31, 2009

Graham writes:

What the hell is this?

Is this about photography or computers? I’ve just spent heart and soul creating something artistic, and now I need to worry about the computer science aspect of it? I do that all of the time at work, and even in my normal recreation time at home. I’m involved in the SoFoBoMo event, trying to do something different. A size sample PDF of what I might produce runs around 38M. By the sounds of it, that’s no good.

It’s about photography and computers, not one or the other. I certainly appreciate that you’ve invested heart and soul in your SoFoBoMo project – everyone who is participating appreciates that. But the project is not just making a set of 35 photographs, it’s also assembling them into a PDF book. And part of that is, as you’ve put it, the computer science aspect of it. So, yes, you need to worry about the computer science aspect of it.

I’m sorry you find this annoying. It’s not been hidden, however, and it’s not a surprise. If there’s a SoFoBoMo participant who’s finished and has NOT banged his or her head against the vagaries and gotchas of PDF generation, I’ll be mightily surprised.

In other words, you’ve discovered that there are hurdles to overcome for SoFoBoMo that you didn’t foresee. That’s part of the point – when we envision doing something, there’s the expected stuff, which makes up 99% of the work. And then there’s the unforeseen stuff – the part we didn’t know about in advance, and for which we didn’t plan – and that makes up the other 99% of the work.

I’ve fixed bad kernel sources for Linux, turning an uncompilable lump of source into a working piece of binary code. I’ve earned the label “Mad Scientist” from upper management to outside contacts (international business partners and nine-figure sponsors) for the things I can do with math and computers. In contrast, check my blog. Today I, the consummate introvert, spoke to complete strangers, giving all I could of myself to give something back to some real heroes. That’s not to mention what I did to get permission to take photos hassle-free in an airport, post 9-11, and actually end up chatting with both TSA inspectors and their manager.

Good for you. Seriously, and I’m not being the least bit snarky here, good for you. SoFoBoMo has stretched your limits – that’s a good thing. SoFoBoMo has goaded you into tackling things you wouldn’t have tackled before – that’s a good thing. I don’t need to check your blog, I’ve been following it all along, along with all the other blogs.

“Oh, that’s no good. Your PDF is too big.”

The rules were one month, starting no earlier than May 1, ending no later than June 30, do all of the work in that time, create a book in a PDF form that has at least 35 photographs. Have we this secret size limit too? Are others allowed to make and/or change the rules as per their sensibilities?

I have other things to do with my time. What are the rules?

No one has changed the rules. The rules remain the same. If you’ve got a PDF that contains your book, regardless of the size, you’re done. You’ve finished. You’ve created a photo book in one month, start to finish – no small feat. I hope you’ll accept my heartfelt congratulations.

Now, if you’d like to upload a copy of your book to the website, it appears there’s some work to be done. We’ve set a size limit. Some people are hitting that size limit and it’s generating a bunch of frustration.

Why is there a size limit? There’s a size limit because:

  • bandwidth for the website is a finite resource, paid for by a private individual who’s contributing it directly from his own pocket, and if everyone makes their PDF humongous, the costs will be prohibitive. Understand that last year, we didn’t host PDF’s at all, and in general people agreed that some sort of hosting arrangement, however limited, would be a good thing overall, and we ended up where we are now. It might be that the current limit is set too low, although I don’t believe that’s the case. But we will see how it goes, and adjust as we go along, and in the end it will all work out.
  • if the PDF file is too big, people will not download it. Since the goal of uploading it to is to allow other people to see it, it makes sense to keep the files small.

People who have some experience with generating PDFs set the limit, thinking it was not unreasonable. Those people are highly interested in adjusting things so that everyone who’s finished can upload a version of their book to the website, and then other people can download it and see the books that have been made. In some cases, those adjustments might need to be made on the end of things. In some cases, they might need to be made on the participant end of things. We’ll see.

No one is going to be labelled a ‘non-finisher’ because they got caught out while we figured it out. In fact, since participants are pretty much responsible for deciding if they’ve succeeded or not, such a thing isn’t possible.

Please understand that this entire shebang is strung together by a very small handful of volunteers who are (in addition to doing their own SoFoBoMo books) putting together the website, running it, dealing with problems, answering questions, etc. They’re doing this in the midst of busy lives with commitments just like the ones you have. They’re getting the work done from all over the planet, in some cases doing it from on the road during their vacation, literally. Not a single one of them is earning a single penny, and some of them are in fact putting their own cash into the pot to make it all work.

And all of them very much want you to be able to upload a copy of your book to the website, so that other people can see it.

Bottom line:

It will work out. Some adjustments are probably going to be needed on the participant end. If you have insights into getting PDF size down, please share them. If you’re having problems getting your PDF size down, ask for help. If you see someone asking for help, try to help them.

And if we have to make an adjustment to the limit on what size can be uploaded to the website, we’ll work that out, too. But first we’re going to give folks a chance to get the size down on their end. This is not unreasonable. Please be patient while we work out the details, and understand that some of the solution is going to be adjustments on your end.

Bottom Bottom Line:

If you have a PDF file that contains a photo book that conforms to the guidelines on the website, and you met the time limits, you’ve finished. Congratulations!

2 Responses

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  1. Graham said, on May 31, 2009 at 8:27 am

    Okay, thank you. Now that makes sense. I’ll make the adjustments so that once I have finished my PDF, it will be within limits for upload. I do appreciate what you and others have done to make all of this happen, organizing it, providing the resources for upload and distribution of PDFs.


  2. Martin Doonan said, on May 31, 2009 at 8:42 am

    On my latest post on the subject ( I’m inviting comments on settings on whatever software people are using. Hopefully the sum of the stuff I’ve blogged on this can turn into some sort of guidance we can post on the SoFoBoMo website in due course.

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