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How to fill out and edit any PDF form in 5 easy steps….for FREE!

Filling out forms is central to everyday life in the internet age. A whole host of forms in PDF format are available on the web, ranging from job applications to business forms to official court filings.  We use PDFs to directly collaborate with colleagues, government agencies and business associates. Unfortunately, many forms are not editable or savable. Frustratingly, incorrectly created fields within forms might not display information correctly. How many of us have screamed in frustration when there was no field to fill out comments in an “additional comments” section?

Despite the ubiquity of PDF forms, most people still lack the appropriate software to fill out forms primarily due to cost. A license for Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro can cost approximately $400 per person. FoxIt’s PDF editor costs $99 per person. These costs throw unneeded complexity into the software acquisition process, especially when IT budgets are strapped and “unnecessary” purchases are frowned upon. Even if you can purchase the software, bureaucratic hurdles often prevent the timely installation of software. Discovering that you can’t edit an important PDF an hour before a business deal must be closed is unacceptable in a business environment.

This sorry state of affairs has driven some to fall back on old versions of forms. They are often ugly and look nothing like current official forms, since they were either created by hand, OCR’ed or converted by cheap “PDF to DOC” converters. “PDF to DOC” and OCR technology simply do not have the accuracy or polish to be used in a professional production environment to create complex forms.

To the horror of professionals everywhere, businesses and individuals have resorted to using freeware PDF editors that leave a watermark on printed or saved forms. These watermarks look unprofessional and could possibility result in a filing that would be rejected because of an obscuring watermark. Not to mention the thorny liability issues that can arise when a business uses freeware products only intended for home or personal use.

Luckily, there is an easy way to edit most PDF files* for free by using two gems of the open source software community, The GIMP and Oracle’s OpenOffice.org Draw programs. Both products are entirely free to use and don’t have restrictive licensing, allowing headache free use in  business environments. Individually, The GIMP is an amazing Adobe Photoshop substitute and OpenOffice.org is a fully featured Microsoft Office replacement. Combined, they are the secret tool to edit PDF files that Adobe doesn’t want you to know about.

The process to create and edit a PDF is relatively simple, but requires some old-fashioned footwork. Simply open the PDF file with The GIMP, type in the the form using the text tool, save each page of the form as a jpeg image file, collate the pictures by dragging and dropping each picture into Openoffice.org Draw, and then export the file back to PDF.

1) Open PDF file with The Gimp:

The first step is to open the PDF file using The Gimp. You can either launch the program first and open the form from the file menu, or by right clicking on the form using “open with” and selecting the application. The “Import from PDF” window appears. Select the page you want to edit by clicking the individual page. I don’t recommend importing more than one page at one time since problems can occur.

On the same window, make sure to change the dropdown field where it says “Import Pictures As…” to images, not layers. If you don’t, when you type, the words will be invisible. Then click the import button, and the page will open into a separate window.

2) Edit image files with the text tool:

Before starting to add text to the image files, make sure the image is zoomed into 100% by clicking in the lower left hand corner and selecting the correct zoom percentage.

Then in the toolbox window, click on the icon that says A. This is the text tool.

To use it, click where you want to type on the image. Once you click, you can type in the text editor box that pops up. If the text isn’t lined up properly, move your mouse to the center of the field until the cursor becomes a crosshatch and click and drag your text. You can also click and drag the text box before typing to make sure everything is centered.

You can easily change the font by selecting the font tool in the tool box by clicking on Aa and selecting the font you would like to use from the drop down menu, like Arial or Times New Roman. You can also change the size and color of the text.

3) Save as JPEG:

When you have finished adding text, go to File—>Save As. Choose the correct folder to save the image to and then click on “Select file by type” and choose JPEG. Remembering to save image file with a different name indicating the corresponding page number such as “form pg1”, “form pg2”, etc.” Click Save. Then when prompted, select Export.

Repeat steps 1 to 3 for each page of the PDF document you are editing.

4) Collate the pictures by Dragging and dropping each picture into Draw:

Open OpenOffice.org Draw. On the left hand column, right click below where it says Slide 1, and select new page. Make enough pages for each saved jpeg. Click on the page you want to fill on the left, and then drag and drop each jpeg from the saved folder into the appropriate page in the right page order. You might need to click and drag to center the picture within the borders.

5) Export to PDF:

Then select File—->Export As PDF and click Export, select the folder you want to save to, name the file, and click Save.

There you have it! You have a PDF file that is filled out and type written perfectly.

Now the completed PDF file can be printed and signed. One copy for your records, and another to be mailed. The signed forms can be rescanned for electronic submission. I don’t recommend the practice of keeping a signature image to drag and drop onto signature lines, but if you must, you can drag your signature image onto the form in the GIMP.

* Please note that you will NOT be able to edit password protected or encrypted PDFs using this method. Don’t give up hope though; if you have the password, you can still possibly edit the PDF. If you’ve lucked out and the form is mostly text, you can open the file using a pdf reader and copy and paste the text directly to a word processing document. Otherwise, you can print the PDF and rescan it as a JPEG, and follow the directions above from step 4. If the PDF is not printable, simply click your keyboard’s print screen key and paste the image into a new file in The Gimp. Use the rectangle select tool to surround the form, then click copy in the edit menu, then “paste into new”. Save the file as a JPG, and continue with Step 4.

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How To Use a Computer Like A Pro! *Updated 5-24-2010*

Ever wonder how your political junkie friend can surf the web and glean so much information in a short period of time?  Ever wonder how your technically savvy friend never seems to get computer viruses?  Ever wonder how you can stop being overwhelmed and run over by data on the information super highway?  Let me tell you how to use a computer like a pro.

Side Note:  I am assuming that you are running Windows XP or Windows 7 on your computer.  I am also assuming that you are updating Windows to the latest Service Packs when they are available.  If you are running Vista…upgrade to Windows 7.  There is no need to suffer under Vista.  If you can’t upgrade to Windows 7, or downgrade to Windows XP, then consider upgrading to Ubuntu Linux.

Also, I recommend that everyone have high speed internet.  IMHO, cable internet is the most affordable choice, FIOS is amazing if you can afford it (you can keep Verizon from ripping out your expensive copper phone lines by getting traditional landline service from another telephone company), and $15 DSL from your phone company is a bare minimum.  No one should be using dial-up internet anymore.  And for G-d’s sake, cancel that AOL account.  It is absolutely worthless and a waste of money and marks you as a total n00b and computer retard.

Computer Geeks Use Free Software

Paying for software is for suckers.  There are tons of safe and free software applications that do the same job as popular expensive commercial software. For example, most people don’t need Microsoft Office when Oracle’s OpenOffice would suffice.  The only time you should pay for software is when a free software solution doesn’t work well for your purposes, or if it required at your workplace, or there is no viable free solution.

Beware of programs that really aren’t free.  Many commercial software applications disguise themselves as “freeware” or “shareware”, that are only partially functional, or are burdened with restrictive licenses.  Free software doesn’t nag you to upgrade to a paid version or require you to register.  Free software liberates its users by allowing modification and distribution by anyone.  It also allows scientific peer review of the underlying computer code to protect the user.  Proprietary software limits your freedom by only allowing corporate insiders access to the code, so if there is something wrong, like a security problem, you could potentially find out years later. Thus, you should only use proprietary software when absolutely necessary.

Truly free software is known as “open source” and is downloaded from websites like Sourceforge.  Free software is usually recommended from a trusted geek or computer magazine or a trusted technology website.  Never trust pop-up or banner advertisements on the web, or unsolicited instant messages or emails.

How can you tell if your software is truly free?  Look for the words “Public License” or “Open Source” when downloading software.  Three of the most common licenses are the GNU General Public License (GPL),the Mozilla Public License, and the MIT license.  Most of the software I recommend is Open Source, but occasionally I recommend a freeware commercial software, like Avast! or AdAware when there is no truly free solution.

First Steps

Before listing my favorite programs, one word of advice.  STOP USING INTERNET EXPLORER.  Not only is it slow, it is DANGEROUS. Surfing the web with Internet Explorer is like having sex with a hooker without a condom.  Seriously.  It is a good way how to get a virus.

If you haven’t already, download and install a copy of Firefox.  I mean it, do it right now, or don’t bother reading the rest of this blog.  And make sure to download the latest versions of Firefox when prompted.  Firefox is the safest web browser to use on the internet, since it was built with security in mind.

Also, make sure to browse the web using tabs.  It speeds up your surfing experience.  Hold down the control key and then left click on a link.  [You can also open up a tab by clicking with the scroll button on your mouse.]  Note that you stay on the same page.  Open up all the links you want to read, then read them.  It will save you lots of time, since it allows you to read one web page fully, and then move on to a new one. 

After installing the virus software I recommend in the next section, download and install these Add-ons using the Tools—->Add-on menu.  Those add-ons which I consider absolutely essential are designated with a **, essential *, and those that are optional are designated with a -. 
**Adblock Plus (choose EasyList after restarting the browser)
-Advanced Dork (makes searching google super easy)
-Chatzilla (For chatting on IRC)
**Better Privacy (Deletes really obnoxious Flash based cookies)

*Copy Plain Text (Never worry about pasting 48pt italic fonts when pasting into emails again)
-Delicious Bookmarks (Never have to import your bookmarks again!  This add-on works with del.icio.us to help add and recall bookmarks online - I recommend signing up for an account and using the classic mode)
*Download Statusbar (provides a neat little downloading interface without the download window getting in the way of your web browsing.)

-DownThemAll! (Great download manager and accelerator that allows you to save entire galleries of pictures from websites to your hard drive.)

*ErrorZilla Plus (Gives you a variety of choices when a webpage comes up unavailable)
-Firefusk (When you want to see a series of images like IMG_0001, IMG_0003, but don’t want to type all that crap out in the address bar and just want to see it displayed on a webpage.  This is a hack known as fuskering.)
-Flagfox (warns about mismatched international domains and tells you what country the website your visiting is in.  Usually its not a problem but sometimes it is a warning that something fishy is going on)
-Gmail Manager (Manage all of your gmail accounts using this extension.  It tells you when you have mail, no matter where you are online.  What, you don’t have gmail?  You’re still using Yahoo and AOL?  Seriously…migrate to gmail today.  And in your gmail settings, make sure that you choose always use SSL)
-Header Spy (Lets you see what type of server and OS a website is running)
-Page Title Eraser (For when you’re at work and don’t want co-workers to see what website you are browsing in a hidden tab)
-Flashgot (For downloading flash (flv) videos from youtube and other sites)
-Undo Closed Tabs Button (I’m constantly closing tabs before I have finished reading them)

Virus Software

It is vitally important to get rid of Symantec or any commercial virus software.  Popular antivirus applications just don’t work! For Windows XP, I recommend downloading and installing both Avast! and Clamwin and run them both at the same time.  For Windows 7, download and install Microsoft Security Essentials and Avast!.

Secondly, you need to install spyware protection.  Download and install Spybot Search & Destroy, AdAware, and Windows Defender.  Run them all at least once a month.  If you ever run into serious spyware problems, download Hijack This! and Rootkit Revealer and send the output results to your closest geek friend.

Must Have Free Software Programs

After you’ve installed Firefox and Virus software, you can download these great programs that will help your productivity:

Word Processor/Database/Math/Office Suite:
OpenOffice (by Sun Microsystems)

Picture Viewing:

Image Editing:
The Gimp

Instant Messanging:
Pidgin (formally known as Gaim, it allows you to chat on yahoo, aol, jabber, icq, irc all in one messenger)

Meebo (allows you to chat on yahoo, aol, jabber, icq, irc, myspace and facebook, all in one browser based messenger.  Use this at work with the https: secure link so that your corporate IT department can’t eavesdrop on your IM conversations.)

Sound Recording and Editing:
EAC Exact Audio Copy for CD burning

Data Encryption:

Atomic Clock:
D4 I love this utility since it syncs my clock to the exact time.

Bittorrent (Download movies, music, and Linux):
Vuze (formerly know as Azureus)

Movie Player:
VideoLan VLC (Plays DVDs too!)

CD Burner:
CDBurnerXP Pro (Will burn all sorts of CDs, including ISOs)

Convert Movies so they work on your MP3 player:
MediaCoder Transcoder

Calculus/Algebra solving and graphing:

Secure Data Deletion:
Eraser Absolutely essential for securely deleting data from old hard disks you are tossing into the garbage or for complying with HIPAA or other regulations or disposing of files with trade secret or attorney client protected information which no longer need to be stored.  Failing to protect this information from falling into the wrong hands is negligence in my book.

More Smart Web Browsing Tips
Sign up for Pageflakes or Netvibes and add your favorite website’s RSS feeds.  RSS feeds are a way to read and to subscribe to all of a webpages content when you aren’t on that webpage.  When you see a little orange box on the address bar, that website supports RSS.

Don’t use Google to navigate to websites you already know!  If you want to go to Bank of America’s website, don’t type Bank of America into google!  Type bankofamerica.com into the address bar directly.  The address bar is the top most white space in Firefox.  Also, never click in links in e-mails.

Use yubnub.org to do fast searches.  It is a command line interface for the world wide web.  But typing “wp monkey” is easier and faster than navigating to wikipedia and then finding the search box and typing monkey.

Helpful and Useful Websites

Now that you have the tools and knowledge about how to use the web, you need some websites to go to!  Add these to your RSS reader, or just visit them the old fashioned way.

National News:
http://www.cnn.com - http://www.northjersey.com - http://www.nytimes.com - http://news.google.com/?topic=n - http://www.baristanet.com

International News:
http://www.bbc.co.uk - http://www.cbc.ca - http://www.rferl.org - http://www.janes.com - http://news.google.com/?topic=w

http://www.memeorandum.com - http://www.dailykos.com - http://www.politickernj.com - http://www.slate.com - http://www.factcheck.org - http://www.fivethirtyeight.com - http://www.field-negro.blogspot.com

http://finance.google.com - http://news.google.com/?topic=b - http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com

Bizarre and Interesting News:
http://www.reddit.com and http://www.digg.com

War Blogs:
http://www.michaelyon-online.com - http://www.michaeltotten.com

http://www.scienceblogs.com/denialism - http://www.scienceblogs.com/insolence - http://badidea.wordpress.com

http://archaeoporn.wordpress.com - http://www.sciencedaily.com - http://arxivblog.com - http://focus.aps.org - http://www.epiwonk.com

Technology and Computers:
http://www.techmeme.com - http://www.slashdot.org - http://feeds.ziffdavis.com/ziffdavis/pcmag/dvorak - http://www.tuxmachines.org - http://www.maximumpc.com - http://linuxhaters.blogspot.com - http://www.distrowatch.com

What is That Linux Thing I See You Using At Starbucks?

If you’ve ever run into me at Starbucks*, or on the bus to NYC, or at the library, you’ve seen me working on a very tiny 2lb laptop called the Asus Eee PC.  Instead of running Windows XP or Vista, it runs an advanced cutting edge operating system called Linux, which is very much like MacOS X.  Except that it is free and open source and runs on whatever software you want it to. I run a custom version of Linux called eeebuntu on my laptop.

For hard-core geeks, and even casual computer users, Linux is a viable option instead of using Windows.  I highly recommend downloading and burning an Ubuntu Live CD.  Once you have burned it to CD, restart your computer and the computer will automatically boot into Ubuntu, so that you can try it out, without installing it to your hard drive and potentially harming your computer.  After a test run, you can install it by following the directions here.  If running a live CD makes you nervous, you could always install Virtual Box and run Linux virtually under Windows by following these easy directions.

One of the neat things about Linux is the much hated and maligned command line.  Yea, having to type ‘sudo apt-get install gimp’ is annoying just to install an image manipulation program, but graphical install tools make the Linux experience easy and enjoyable.  But every once in a while the command line is amazing, like when you just want to read the news, and ignore the pictures, because your internet connection is slow.  Browsing the web in only text by typing ‘w3m http://www.cnn.com' is a refreshing way to browse the web.


By following my computer and websurfing advice, I hope that you will have a much better computer and internet experience.  Of course, my tips and tricks might not work for you, but you won’t know until you try!

Please Comment!

If you enjoyed reading my guide, or if it helped you, or if you think it needs improvement, or if you have a suggestion…or if you just want to say hi, let me know in the comments!

Remember, I won’t know that you read my guide unless you say hello!  Plus, it will stroke my already over inflated ego.  Help a guy out here!

Important Legal Warnings and Disclaimers

Remember, these instructions are AS IS, and I don’t guarantee or warrant that the results will work or that they won’t fry your computer.  Use these instructions AT YOUR OWN RISKALL EXPRESS AND IMPLIED WARRANTIES, INCLUDING IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY OR FOR FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE ARE HEREBY DISCLAIMED. I accept no liability for any direct, special, indirect or consequential damages, or any other damages of whatsoever kind resulting from whatever cause through the use of any information obtained either directly or indirectly from this website. Your sole remedy is to discontinue using this website.

This post to tumblr is released under the GNU Free Documentation License

*Hat tip to Bruce F. who I met at the Upper Montclair Starbucks today who inspired me to write this blog entry.  This entry started off as an e-mail list of interesting websites…but turned into a guide that I wanted all of my friends, relatives and acquaintances to read.  Thanks for the inspiration.

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Flashback to 1994

I’ve read a few hypothetical articles over the past few years about what life would be like without the internet. Now I am living that life, at least during the work week. The current project that I am working on doesn’t allow us to have world wide web access at our computer stations. So, for the most part, we sit, and do work, listen to music on headphones, and talk among ourselves. Luckily, we have access to e-mail on our computers which allows us contact with the outside world, and one shared community computer that has full internet access. Sadly, the e-mail is filtered, so cute tricks like surfing the web via e-mail don’t work, and swear words cause the e-mails to get shunted to never never land. Theoretically, I could ‘hack’ the machine by installing Firefox by usb, but the risk of detection is not worth it. So, what can we do by e-mail? Send e-mails, of course. That includes sending “texts” by email to phones, which is handy in keeping in contact with people, since they can sms back. I need to figure out if its possible to send updates to facebook or twitter via e-mail, but my initial investigations don’t look promising. Thankfully, tumblr has e-mail posting capabilities, and with any luck, the e-mail will get through and allow me to blog from my desk, which would be a nice outlet from daily workday grind. I’m just an ‘alt-tab’ way from an Outlook window, which will allow me to blog about my day. I can record my thoughts and feelings about the news…but wait, I don’t have access to the web, so I guess I’ll have to reference events broadly. I guess I can also talk about the interesting things that people say at work or blog about my “revolutionary amazing insights” that I have while I am at my desk working. So, if you have any ideas about how to survive with limited internet access, let me know by posting a comment. It will be appreciated! P Please consider the environment before printing this email. ***Privilege and Confidentiality Notice*** This electronic message contains information that is (a) LEGALLY PRIVILEGED, PROPRIETARY IN NATURE, OR OTHERWISE PROTECTED BY LAW FROM DISCLOSURE, and (b) intended only for the use of the Addressee(s) named herein. If you are not the Addressee(s), or the person responsible for delivering this to the Addressee(s), you are hereby notified that reading, copying, or distributing this message is prohibited. If you have received this electronic mail message in error, please contact us immediately at 212-907-0700 and take the steps necessary to delete the message completely from your computer system. Thank you.

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It’ll Blow… (via joezandstra)

It’ll Blow… (via joezandstra)

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Open-mindedness (via QualiaSoup)

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Conservatives ask, “Now WOT?”

Conservative bloggers are up in arms about a supposed Obama administration re-branding of the “global war on terror” to “Overseas Contingency Operation”.

The whole kerfuffle is over an alleged OMB e-mail memo that states:

"this administration prefers to avoid using the term ‘Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror’ [GWOT]. Please use ‘Overseas Contingency Operation.’"

According to the OMB, the email does not represent official policy.

The term “Overseas Contingency Operation” has been around since 1997. A google search of military and government websites for “Overseas Contingency Operation” yields 100 hits, none that include any official memos or statements.

The term has been used by a Marine General in a letter and in an Air Force memorandum about force deployment in 1998 and 2000 respectively.

Of course, I couldn’t find any official statements by anyone in the Obama administration using the term “Overseas Contingency Operation” as a substitute for GWOT.

Why are conservatives up in arms about this?  Its silly.  The term is used in budgetary legislation that former Pres. Bush wanted…very very badly.

The Overseas Contingency Operations Transfer Fund (OCOTF) is a “no year” transfer account, that allows the DOD flexibility to meet operational requirements by transferring funds to resources based on actual execution experience as events unfold, without disrupting approved programs or force readiness.

Sounds exactly like the kind of stuff that our military needs, right?

Of course, this has nothing to do with logic.  This is about politics and conservative angst that their framing of our foreign policy debate is being ignored.

Lets forget about names.  Lets go out there, stop terrorisism and bring stability to the world.

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