On exactitude in PDFs

Alex set out to debunk the given wisdom that the maximum dimensions of a PDF are 381 km2, which is smaller than Germany. She presents her conclusions in an article titled "Making a PDF that's larger than Germany," so you know from the outset she succeeded. It's a fascinating example of the disalignment of specifications, implementations and reality. You can make one by hacking the postscript, and while Adobe Acrobat won't like it, other apps will.

If you try to create a page with a larger size, either by increasing the MediaBox or UserUnit values, Acrobat just ignores it…. But unlike Acrobat, the Preview app doesn't have an upper limit on what we can put in MediaBox. It's perfectly happy for me to write a width which is a 1 followed by twelve 0s. If you're curious, that width is approximately the distance between the Earth and the Moon. I'd have to get my ruler to check, but I'm pretty sure that's larger than Germany. I could keep going. And I did.

Borges would be delighted.

. . . In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

—Suarez Miranda, Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV, Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658

Furthermore, she writes, "Eventually I ended up with a PDF that Preview claimed is larger than the entire universe."

So J.G. Ballard would also be delighted.

Needless to say, the complex architecture of the station has ominous implications for us. We realise that the size of the station is a measure, not of the number of passengers embarked—-though this must have been vast—but of the length of journeys that must be undertaken within it.

Previously: Turn web articles into readable, printable PDFs