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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pivot Monitor

PDF files are a pain.

They are a staple of electronics engineering. For every integrated circuit that a company produces, there is a bunch of technical information that goes along with it. Engineers use this information to design electronic circuits. The amount of information required to make use of a chip (an integrated circuit) varies widely. It may just be a single page or it could be hundreds of pages. The information on the processor I have been working with has 28 chapters, each of which is around 50 pages long for a total of over a thousand pages.

The companies that make these chips used to publish "data sheets" about their chips. The data sheets from just one company for one year could easily fill a bookshelf. Now companies put this information into PDF files that you can download from the web. It is nice that companies make technical information available on the web. It saves having a bookshelf full of data sheets, most of which you won't need. On the other hand, these documents arePDF files, and are typically formatted to be a page in a book, i.e. long way up, or, as the Windows printer setup dialog calls it, "portrait orientation".

Portrait orientation does not agree with your typical computer monitor screen, which is wider than it is tall (also called landscape orientation). Adobe Acrobat (a computer program used for viewingPDF files) has two basic settings:
  1. Fill the whole width of the window (or screen) with a page of the document, or
  2. Fit the whole page on the screen.
If you opt to have the whole page on the document, it only fills a little more than half the width of the screen, plus the document has to be shrunk so the whole thing will fit, which can make the text too small to read, and even if the text is not too small to read, it is almost always too small to read easily. I hate having to squint to read the fine print.

If you choose to have the width of the document fill the width of the screen, the text is much larger and easier to read, but you can no longer see the whole page at a glance. The bottom half is cut off. To see the bottom half of the page, you have to scroll down. If you start scrolling down a screenful at a time, the page breaks start moving into the middle of the screen. I don't want the page breaks in the middle of the screen. I want the page break at the top or the bottom. So I click on Next Page to see the top of the page, and then I scroll down one screen's worth to see the bottom of the page. Then to maintain synchronization, I click Next Page again. So I am constantly shifting back and forth between the scroll bar and the Next Page button. Bah.

But wait, this document is formatted like a printed page, and I have a printer. I could print it! So I did print a couple of chapters. Using the print odd pages only selection on the printer dialog, followed by turning the paper over and loading it back into the printer and then using the print even pages only selection, I was able to produce a two sided copy, which means fewer notebooks full of paper.

When I worked in Beaverton I would occasionally have Kinko's print a copy for me. They could do the double side printing and the three hole punch for no more than a regular copy. Only problem was I had to burn thePDF onto a CD-ROM and then hand carry it over there. They were supposed to have some fancy corporate upload system, but I never got it to work. I did find one copy house that would accept PDF's sent via e-mail, but they managed to screw up the holes punched in edge of the document.

So I'm trying to print my own documents. The first chapter comes out okay, but the next one I manage to botch. Not once, but three times. Printed the second side on top of the first, printed the second page upside down, printed the second page in reverse order. Come on, dude, get it together! Finally get my ducks in a row, and the printer runs out of ink! Hey I just put that cartridge in there! Fine, I'm working, I can afford a new cartridge. Run down to Office Depot and pick up a pair (color and black & white) for $50. Over the next month or so I print 3 more chapters and I am out of ink again. Uh, this is going to get expensive, maybe there's another solution.

Well, yeah, LCD flat panel displays are pretty cheap. You can buy one for about $200. Can I get one that would be tall enough? My current display is 1280 x 1024. 1280 is wide enough, but 1024 is not tall enough. 1280 pixels for an 8 and 1/2 inch wide sheet of paper works out to about 150 pixels per virtual inch. So we would need about 1650 lines to show the whole page, top to bottom, at a resolution that would be readable. Looking on Newegg, there are no monitors with 1650 lines (look under Recommended Resolution in the left hand column). The highest they have is 1600 lines, and those monitors are all over $1,000.

Hey! Here's an idea: how about if we turn the monitor sideways? That would do the trick. Of course there is probably gonna be some glitch with the driver, but that's just software, I'm sure someone has a solution for that. So does anyone make a monitor with a bracket that will allow you to turn it sideways? That took me a couple of days and several inquiries to get an answer. Turns out, yes, but you have to hold your mouth just right when you ask the question, or you won't find nothin'.
SAMSUNG 2243WM Black 22" 5ms 16:9 Widescreen LCD Monitor w/Height Adjustments
Thanks to my friend Marc and Bryan Paulsen of Portrait Displays, I discovered the key to finding displays that can be turned sideways. (Okay, you can turn any display sideways, it's not like they are sensitive to gravity or anything. But I want one with a bracket that supports this kind of thing. I don't want to have to cobble together my own bracket.) The key word, at least inNewEgg-land seems to be Pivot. There are displays the Swivel, displays that Tilt, and displays that Pivot. I understand Tilt to mean the display can be moved around an axis that is horizontal and parallel to the screen. But what's the difference between Swivel and Pivot? Don't they both mean the same thing?

Ah, bucky, now that's what separates us from the brainiacs at NewEgg. They know that Pivot and Swivel mean different things. Actually, they are morons. Pivot and Swivel do mean the same thing. They just chose to have them mean different things and then didn't tell anybody what those secret meanings were. Of course they don't care. For every techo-geek who wants a monitor than can be turned sideways, there are ten thousand slobbering video gamers who just want a bigger, better, wider display. We (the techo-geeks) are lucky that anyone even make displays that Pivot.

So I did some more searching at Newegg. I found four monitors that had a resolution of at least 1650 by 1280 but they were all over $2,000. Their resolution was also almost twice what I needed (2048 x 1536 or 2560 x 1600). If I relax my requirements slightly, we find some that can be purchased by mere mortals:
Ok, so it looks like I could afford to buy a monitor that Pivots and is large enough to clearly show a full page of a PDF file. So now all we need to do is tell the video driver we are going to turn the display sideways, right? Well, maybe not. I look under display settings and I'm not finding anything. Maybe that's why Portrait Displays sells Pivot Software.

While I am poking around on NewEgg I discover that one of the Samsung Monitors includes "Magic Rotation S/W (Pivot)". Now that would be a deal!

Update January 2017 replaced missing picture.


Unknown said...

Thanks for this article! I'm a macbook pro 13" (aka tiny screen) user hoping to upgrade to a separate monitor, mainly for pdf viewing, proofreading etc. It's practically impossible to find good information on the "pivot" monitors online, so your blog is a breath of fresh air!

Chuck Pergiel said...

Thank you, Anneliese. You made my day.

Anonymous said...

Samsung pretty clearly states the difference between pivot and swivel In their FAQ.

Chuck Pergiel said...

OK, that's really weird. The date on the Samsung page is one day after the date on this post. Coincidence? Or conspiracy? I'm pretty sure it's a conspiracy.