Day 16, 31 March

(Rube) Goldberg variations: Scanning without a scanner

My scans were always perfect. I tamed the photocopier scanner to behave as I wanted, and I made beautiful 300dpi scans of homogenous page size to stick through ABBY Finereader for text recognition. I found it useful when preparing teaching notes to highlight sections of text to work with; students did too.

Then last week Wednesday came the orders: nobody on campus anymore without asking for permission in advance. I understand and support the order. But darn it, I wanted to share the English translation of Hendrik Hamel‘s journal with the students for my Korean history class. Hamel and the people on board the Sperwer (“Sparrowhawk”) were shipwrecked off the coast of southern Korea in the seventeenth century. The journal he wrote, and the description of Korea, were Europe’s first introduction to the kingdom of Chosŏn [Joseon]. An important document, but not available in digital format, and I had the interlibrary loan right here with me.

My iPhone has limited capacity, and the lens isn’t too good. The iPad Pro is good, but requires two hands to stabilize and take a picture, and I’d need another pair of hands to hold the book stable. That would be way to close for comfort in these days of physical distancing needed to break the spread of Covid19. So… what to do?

I have a little desktop shelf, originally for keeping my carnivorous plants in hibernation near a cold window. I placed the iPad flat on top, camera pointing down, and pinned the iPad in place with a stack of sturdy books. Then I grabbed my bookstand and put it all the way flat. I put the book down, and pinned the left page with my bookbone for extra security. After some adjusting of the location of the book and the iPad’s camera, I simply photographed the pages I needed.

Next step up was to get the photos to my iMac for processing.

  1. Turns out that Airdrop is pretty fast.
  2. Preview allowed me to export the files as PDFs.
  3. I then opened up PDF Expert, opened the first PDF of the series, into “Page thumbnails” view
  4. Added all the other files with drag and drop to create one PDF file.
  5. Saved the new file.
  6. Opened the new file in Finereader, and ran the text recognition
  7. Export the file as a new PDF, now with OCR.
  8. Tadaa! Machine-readable(-ish) PDF!

Not the most homogenous scans, not perfectly nice OCR (Hamel became Hamer…), but overall pretty good and pretty fast, considering circumstances. And I just had the idea I may be able to use my music stand to balance the iPad if I need a different ratio/zoom than I can reach with the desktop shelf 🤔

What have you recently hacked? Let’s share our quick fixes, dirty tricks and simple solutions that support our remote teaching.

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