Speed-reading PDFs with jetzt and pdf2htmlEX

I'm a big fan of the rapid serial visualization presentation (RSVP) method of speed-reading. The basic premise is that you present words in the same location in rapid succession, with the idea that your reading speed is largely limited by how quickly you can move your eyes. By quickly presenting words in the same place, you don't have to move your eyes, and can read much more quickly.

I've used a bunch of tools for speed reading in the past. One was "dictator" which is a standalone application. I used others before it, but dictator was the best and really the only one I can remember. I used to use it to read PDFs, but to use it this way I'd have to copy an entire page, paste into dictator, and repeat for each page. This got somewhat annoying.

Later, I found jetzt, which is a Chrome plugin that mimics Spritz, a company with a modified RSVP presentation. jetzt is great for reading webpages. The only problem with it, though, is that it doesn't work on PDFs.

To get around this, we can convert PDFs to HTML files using the fantastic pdf2htmlEX. Installing it on Debian is as easy as sudo apt-get install pdf2htmlex.

Because jetzt is a Chrome plugin, really all the magic happens in a JavaScript and CSS file. By embedding these into our converted HTML file, we can add speed reading capabilities to our PDF!

Here's an example with Alice in Wonderland from Project Gutenberg. Just press "r" on a page to speed read it. It'll look something like the image below. You can speed up or slow down the reading rate using the up and down arrow keys, respectively.

Speed reading Alice in
Wonderland with jetzt

Converting PDFs is fairly straightforward with this bash script (shown below) that automatically adds a link to readPDF.js in the PDF HTML file. It'll use rawgit as a CDN for the following Gist, so you won't even need a local copy of readPDF.js.

I currently use this as a method to skim books and scientific articles. Reading without it now seems super tedious. =P

Hey, they got rapid serial visualization presentation. And here I am moving my eyes like a sucker.