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John Deubert’s AcrobatiX: Two Exotic Annotations

Are people ignoring your sticky notes? Do your spreadsheet files invariable become separated from your financial reports? Acrobat supplies two annotation types that fix these problems and are strangely underused: The Sound and File Attachment tools are well worth knowing about!
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Sometimes, when commenting on someone’s PDF file, you may feel you’re not getting through to the person; sticky notes and text edits just aren’t compelling enough. Sometimes what you want to do is shout, “This is all wrong! Wrong! Wrong!” And then attach a picture of a baboon punching at a keyboard to drive home the point. Well, take a deep breath, count to 15, and carry on writing sticky notes and text edits; it’s more polite

However, it occurs to me that most people don’t seem to know that you can do all that: You can attach sounds—including your own recorded voice—to a PDF file as a Sound annotation; the File Attachment annotation acts as a virtual paper clip, letting you attach arbitrary documents—images, spreadsheets, whatever—to a PDF page. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone use these annotation types other than myself, which is too bad; they can be very helpful at times.

So, let’s see how to use them.

Sound Annotations

When circles, arrows, boxes, and text edits just aren’t enough to decry a document’s problems or cheer its virtues, it’s time to pull out the Sound annotation tool. Nothing says “You could have done better” than a two-second audio clip of an enraged, screeching chimpanzee. Trust me; I know this from experience.

The Sound annotation tool lives among the other tools in the Comment panel (Figure 1), and it’s simple to use:

Figure 1 The Sound annotation tool lives in the Acrobat X Comment pane.

  1. Click on the Sound tool in the Comment panel. The mouse pointer will change to a little paper clip

    Figure 2 The mouse cursor turns into a little speaker icon when you are placing a sound on the page.

  2. Click on the PDF page wherever you want the annotation’s icon to appear. Acrobat will display the minimalist Sound Recorder dialog box (Figure 3). Note in the figure that the Mac version is not only minimalist, but distinctly unattractive.
  3. Figure 3 Acrobat’s Mac & Windows versions display these dialog boxes once you click on the page with the Sound tool.

  4. Click the Record button. On the Mac, this is the button labeled “Record.” On Windows, the little red dot in the dialog box turns into a button when the mouse pointer rolls over it (Figure 4).
  5. Figure 4 The little red dot in the Windows dialog box turns into a button when the mouse rolls over it. This is your Record button.

    Your computer’s microphone is now live; the only visual clue that this is the case is that all the buttons in the Macintosh dialog box are grayed out except Stop (Figure 5); in Windows, the red Record dot turns gray and, weirdly, the little scrolling control eventually darts all the way to the end of its run (also Figure 5). (Some less ambiguous visual feedback would have been nice here; perhaps Adobe decided so few people use Sound annotations that adding better feedback wasn’t worth the implementation and testing.)

    Figure 5 Some seconds after you start recording, the slider control will abruptly shoot to the end of its scale. I don’t know what that signifies exactly, but you can take it as an indication that you’re recording.

  6. Speak, sing, bark like a hyena, or otherwise make noise until you feel you have expressed yourself adequately. Trust me, you’re being recorded. Sound level indicators would’ve been nice, too.
  7. Click the Stop button (the one labeled Stop on the Mac; the little black square in Windows, both visible in Figure 5). The dialog box’s buttons revert to their original state (back to Figure 3), though the little drag control in the Windows dialog box remains at the right end of its track.
  8. Click the OK button. Acrobat thinks to itself for a while (it’s saving the sound into the PDF file) and then presents you with the Sound Attachment Properties dialog box (Figure 6).
  9. Figure 6 You can set some properties for the Sound annotation. Usually you’ll just pick an icon.

  10. Change the annotation’s properties as you wish; in particular, you may want to select a new icon from among the three available.
  11. Click the OK button. The final sound annotation will appear on the page with the icon you specified, as in Figure 7.
  12. Figure 7 The placed Sound annotation will appear on the PDF page as a speaker icon. Double-click this, and the sound will play. Note that there is no way to stop this sound once started, except to close the document.

  13. To play the sound, simply double-click the annotation icon.

Fresh Sound or Canned?

You don’t have to make your own noises to create a sound annotation; you can instead pick a sound file on your hard disk. Just click the Choose or Browse button in the Record Sound dialog box (back in Figure 3). Acrobat will display a standard Pick-a-File dialog box, letting you select a sound file to use for the annotation.

Acrobat is curiously limited in the types of sound files you can use for your annotation. On the Mac, you can pick only AIFF files; on Windows, your annotation sound must be either an AIFF or a WAV file. So, forget about adding your MP3 collection directly as a series of annotations; at the very least, you’ll need to convert the files to AIFF or WAV.

Best for Short Stuff

Sound annotations are not intended for long-running sounds. There are two characteristics that make this so.

Firstly, Acrobat stores the sound data inside your PDF file. As a consequence, adding a long sound can expand the size of the PDF file alarmingly. This is an excellent way of creating a truly huge PDF, so don’t go too hog wild.

Secondly, Acrobat provides no way of stopping a Sound annotation; once the sound starts playing, there is no way of stopping it again short of closing the PDF document. (No, switching pages will not do it.) This is really irritating if the annotation is more than a few seconds long, so keep ‘em short.

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