Build complex toys and simple tools
by Tony Karp
There's a 3D object on this page and why you can't see it


It appears you don't have Adobe Reader for this browser.
You can click here to download the PDF file.

To view this 3D object, you need to have Adobe Reader installed.
Be patient, it may take some time to load.

Instructions

Mouse: Click and drag to move model on different axes. Experiment with clicking in different places to see the effect. Zoom in and out using the mouse's scroll wheel.

Touchscreen: Touch and drag to move model on different axes. Experiment with touching in different places to see the effect. Zoom in and out by pinching or spreading your fingers

Notes: You can reset the model by reloading the page.

I was curious whether you could actually embed a 3D object on a web page. I was working on some other 3D projects and I thought it would be an interesting adventure. The 3D object, built from some of my pictures, was created in Google SketchUp Pro and imported into a PDF document using Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro Extended.

Now, all I had to do was to find a way to embed a PDF document into a web page and that was it. Or so I thought. The hitch is that you have to have Adobe Reader installed in order to see 3D. No problem. Everybody has Adobe Reader, right? After all, the web is full of PDF documents, and things like cameras now come with their instruction manuals in PDF format rather then printed out.

Not so fast. On some browsers, it worked fine. On others, just a still image of the 3D object or a white rectangle, and on some others, just the alternate text I included that lets you download the object and view it offline. Why the problem? The answer is philosophical as well as technical.

Let's start with the simplest case: it works fine and you can manipulate the object by dragging it. This means that you have Adobe Reader installed, and you are browsing with Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Safari. So far so good.

The first problem shows up with Google's Chrome browser. Guess what? Not only did Google decide to make their own browser, but in a truly great what-were-they-thinking moment, they decided to make their very own PDF viewer. While Adobe controls the PDF format, the details are public, allowing any one to build an application that can open or write PDF documents.

I've done three art books, all interactive PDF documents using every available feature (and a few Adobe doesn't know about). To view them, you have to have Adobe Reader. But that's not a problem, it's free after all, so why not use it? That's the puzzling thing about Google making their own, somewhat crippled PDF viewer and forcing everyone to use theirs.

But there's a way to use Adobe Reader with the Chrome browser. First, of course, you have to have Adobe Reader installed (you can get it from adobe.com). Now go to Chrome's address bar and type in:
chrome://plugins/
Disable "Chrome PDF Viewer" and enable "Adobe Acrobat" and you're done. You have unleashed all of the advanced PDF features including 3D, interactive documents, forms, and a host of other goodies.

I've saved the most interesting for last -- Apple's iPad. Apple, in their infinite wisdom, has locked the iPad from using Adobe Flash and Adobe Reader. A number of technical reasons were given, and if you wish to believe them, that's up to you. In any case, the end result is that iPad users are denied access to a great deal of content, both web-based (Flash), and document-based (PDF).

There are some web sites that translate Flash into an iPad-compatible form, and there are a number of somewhat limited PDF viewers available. There's no real workaround, but perhaps one day Adobe and Apple will get together and open the doors to a world of content that's missing for iPad users.

What about HTML5? Let's take the 3D Object in the PDF document above. Here's a challenge for the HTML5 gurus out there. Duplicate my 3D object in HTML5. There are several problems with this. Many more browsers support Adobe Reader than support HTML5. You will need special libraries, such as WebGL. And the PDF 3d object is a single, locked file. How many files will it take to duplicate this in HTML5?

So what's the takeaway from all of this? As an artist, I look for new ways to create art and display it to as many people as possible. I use technology for the creation and display. It bothers me that here, in the 21st Century, it's actually getting more difficult.

Three years ago, the problems listed above didn't exist. No one used the Chrome browser and there was no iPad. Everyone had a Mac or a PC, and most people had Adobe Reader on their computer. Now it's becoming a splintered, fragmented world.

How's that for progress?
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Copyright 1958-2017 Tony & Marilyn Karp
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About
About Tony Karp
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