On exactitude in PDFs

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2024/02/01/a-pdf-the-size-of-germany-or-the-universe.html


Why would Borges be delighted? She didn’t create a map with a 1:1 scale – only a giant empty PDF.

Why would Borges not be delighted? Is Borges only satisfied when his art becomes reality?


Sure, I suppose (the sprit of) Borges could be delighted when something happens that’s unrelated to anything he wrote.

Someone created an empty PDF that’s larger than Enceladus – Borges would be delighted!

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fwiw, i asked. he laughed. ( but he’s oddly parsimonious with his words now, so we’ll still have to make some assumptions on his meaning )

Yes Yes Halloween GIF by Hunter Preston

more seriously, can anything digital be at scale? the world fits on my phone now, and so long as my phone fits in my pocket it’s extremely useful. a phone the size of the world, rather less so


Why not? You’re just sliding a window over it, basically.

PDFs sure can’t, since they are flat (no Z dimension).

Even if the linked post were talking about a Borgesian 1:1 PDF map, which it isn’t, any such map would be distorted to a greater or lesser extent (depending on the area covered).

But what if it’s a Geospatial PDF? Yeah, no Z dimension, but projection info


That’s a good point.

everything digital is, in a way, dimensionless because it has no physical reality only physical analog.

ceci n’est pas une pipe", and all

ah true. a 1:1:1 map maybe.


But a map is already an analog. Does taking the analog of an analog fundamentally change it?

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maps until recently have been physical objects. so they have a true scale. 1 inch is a mile, or whatever. they’re a representation, yes, but a tangible representation that can be measured

it’s not possible to measure the true scale of a digital map because they’re not physical objects. even measured in bytes, the size of the container that can hold those bytes shrinks year by year.

they still represent a territory like a “real” map does, but not one i can use a ruler on.

( how could borges not be delighted by this conversation? )


The conversation, yes.

The original post – which had nothing to do with maps – I doubt it.

Anyway, I just tried making a Borgesian 1:1 PDF map of New Jersey. It doesn’t seem to be possible with my current technology. I can create the giant canvas, just like the article explains, but I can’t scale my map to fit the canvas.

But you’re comparing the physical implementation of the analog to another analog. The scale of images can easily be part of the container, and often is.

Another way to say it, does this add anything to the original?

you’ve got a representation of the scale. you could get out a ruler, place it on your phone and make them match. but that’s entirely optional.

a digital map has real information ( in so far as anything does ) but it doesn’t have real dimension

i think maybe the delight comes from the reaction? it was the impression in our minds ( and the resultant conversation ) which was important to him ( presumably ).

( the image in our minds and our conversations are maybe always the important bits, which is why a map - or a phone - the size of the territory is so useless. because it’s no more accessible to our self than the territory is )

eta for some clarity on that last part

You print it out and slide a mask over it that’s the size of the phone is inherently different than scrolling the image on the phone? Why? There’s no loss of fidelity of the representation at all.

i feel ive already monopolized the thread, so i should probably let it go. it’s a question about the nature of reality and there’s no “true” answer. one could boil it down as “is something digital ever real” - maybe :person_shrugging:

i asked:

more seriously, can anything digital be at scale?

and you said:

You print it out and slide a mask over it that’s the size of the phone

if you print it out, its no longer digital. if you print it out at the intended scale, it would have the intended fidelity. but you still have to make that choice. before that moment of printing it wasn’t an object at all. it would have gone from something dimensionless to something with dimension

( three of them, even though the third is generally rather thin )

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Umm - I think maybe you guys have all gone down a very philosophical rabbit hole and you do not have a map of the burrow it leads to.


At least one of the waypoints on this journey is the incredible “Godel, Escher,Bach, an eternal golden braid”.


Consider the the observable universe. It’s mostly empty space. There are superclusters, and great walls, and galaxies, and stars, but in terms of volume, those occupy the tiniest faction of the available space.

Can you create a projective map of the universe that’s stiil detailed enough to differentiate it from a totally empty space? I doubt that a factor of 75000 is even close to being sufficient.