Going paperless: is it (finally) time?

For years now, I’ve held onto the dream of going paperless — a dream that was usually shattered with an afternoon of clumsy scanning on a substandard consumer scanner and a few paper cuts. Every couple of years, I check back in on the state of the art and think about giving it another try. In the past, I’ve mainly been scared away by a very simple barrier: the lack of a reasonably-priced scanner with a document feeder that works consistently. I definitely didn’t want to spend my limited spare time placing documents on a flatbed scanner.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing my latest round of research on going paperless and nearly every success story I’ve seen has one scanner at the center of it: the Fujitsu ScanSnap (if you’re using a Mac, the specific model is the Fujitsu ScanSnap S500M). By all accounts, the Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner is the iPhone of document scanners (or, judging from the near-universal praise for the ScanSnap — which has been around for a while — the iPhone is the ScanSnap of phones?) No scanner seems to come close for going paperless.

The ScanSnap can scan up to 18 pages per minute (double-sided, so that’s really 36 pages) and the feeder tray can hold 50 pages. Judging from what I’ve read about the scanner, you can clear out your filing cabinet in fairly short order with this little workhorse. It’s definitely not cheap (~$450), but it does come with a full version of Adobe Acrobat 7 Standard (the latest version of the ScanSnap for Windows users, the S510, comes with Acrobat 8, but I couldn’t find an update to their Mac scanner).

Some other random notes from my research:

People who use the ScanSnap with the Mac seem to highly recommend DEVONthink Pro Office, a piece of software with the tagline “meet your second brain.” I’ve run across many mentions of DEVONthink in my occasional GTD spasms, so it might be time to check it out seriously. Wally Grotophorst, a librarian at George Mason University, writes a bit about the magic of DEVONthink and the ScanSnap. According to Wally, DEVONthink has a nice “see also” function as you’re browsing your documents, so if you’re looking at one of your scanned documents (which DEVONthink fully indexes for search), the software will recommend related documents. Compare this to flipping through a filing cabinet.

Other people seem to really like Yep, which is billed as “iPhoto or iTunes for documents.” Yep supports tagging of documents (it can determine the tags algorithmically from the content of your scanned documents) and even has a built-in tag cloud. While a tag cloud with terms like “insurance” and “taxes” isn’t as sexy as a Flickr tag cloud, it’s certainly more useful. Chris Gulker has a nice mini-review of Yep — check it out.

I’ve collected a few links to ScanSnap resources tagged as scansnap in my del.icio.us feed. Needless to say, I placed my order today and hope to be posting more about my paperless experience soon (and posting more in general — what a busy 2007 this has been!)

Subscribe to my blog via email

I love FeedBurner. Every now and then, I check out features I’m not using and try a new one out. Tonight, I added the ability to subscribe to my blog via email using FeedBurner email. The form is permanently in my blog template now, but here’s what it looks like for all you RSS-only readers:

To subscribe to my blog via email, enter your email address below:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Enjoy.

Unix cal command: a key part of my calendaring solution

I noticed both Tim Bray and John Roberts‘ recent ruminations on the perfect calendar solution, and while I don’t have the answer, in thinking about it I realized that I have a quirky calendar-related habit that has stuck with me for over a decade, throughout all my own various experiments with Palm Desktop, Outlook, iCal, etc. On a daily basis, I use the Unix cal command to help schedule my life. I don’t know what I would do without it.

When looking at broad swaths of time (say, a whole year), nothing beats the good ol’ cal command for quickly giving you a lay of the land when you’re making scheduling decisions far in advance (for conferences, vacations, etc.) Just type “cal 2006″ and you’ve got the whole year laid out before you:

Of course, the Unix cal command is a read-only environment, so once I determine whether a particular date works for whatever I’m doing, I have to put my commitment on a writeable calendar somewhere — but I still couldn’t do without my cal.

Anyone else out there do this?

VNC vs. WebEx: VNC wins!

I’m running a little activity at work tomorrow where I need to allow several remote people to show demos (mostly web-based and likely on Firefox) on a laptop hooked into a projector in a conference room full of people watching the demos. This sounds like a job made for WebEx, right? I hadn’t used it in a while and thought maybe it was a good idea.

Wrong. Bad idea.

After messing around with WebEx for two hours and getting absolutely nowhere (on a 1.8 ghz machine with 1GB RAM), I gave up. I tried starting WebEx in Firefox (it worked, but my colleague couldn’t join the meeting, Firefox stopped responding, and I had to kill the Firefox process), then tried starting WebEx in IE (where it insisted that install an ActiveX control — yuck — and froze my machine). It broke in lots of different ways, and I had to reboot my normally quite stable XP machine.

I decided to give the RealVNC Free Edition a try. Within about five minutes, a colleague across the Internet was remote controlling my laptop (through a couple of layers of NAT). Easy, easy, easy. The only downside is that the sharing is one-to-one, but that’s all I really needed in this case (since the projector will handle the one-to-many sharing).

It looks like WebEx just isn’t particularly Firefox-friendly ( James Governor suggests MS Live Meeting instead of WebEx if you’re using Firefox). If you search for Firefox in the WebEx Knowledge Base, though, you’ll find a page (Article ID WBX21942 — can’t figure out their URL scheme to link to it properly!) that says you just need to download the “Meeting Manager Installer for Netscape Navigator” and install the Firefox User Agent Switcher and tell Firefox to announce itself as Netscape 4.8. Maybe I’ll give that a try the next time I use WebEx — if I ever use it again.

ecto for Windows (alternate title: Windows install dependencies suck)

About a year and a half ago (in what seems like another life now), I wrote about my first (good) impressions using ecto for OS X. It was a different job, a different blog platform (Movable Type), and a different OS. Now that I’m doing Windows again at work (still OS X at home), I decided to try ecto for Windows against a WordPress blog.

I downloaded ecto for Windows (zip file, ~3.9MB) and was slightly annoyed when the readme told me I needed to download something else, Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 SP1, which is about 10.5MB. I downloaded it anyway, but got this error message when I tried to install it on my stock Yahoo-issued laptop (which has been rock-solid since I got it just over three months ago):

The upgrade patch cannot be installed by the Windows Installer service because the program to be upgraded may be missing, or the upgrade patch may update a different version of the program. Verify that the program to be upgraded exists on your computer and that you have the correct upgrade patch.

Oh well. I noticed on the .NET Framework 1.1 SP1 page that there was a link to .NET Framework 2.0, so I downloaded that (almost 23MB!) My first thought was, “if this thing installs, there is absolutely no way I’m going to get away without a reboot.” My second thought was “there should be backwards compatibility — maybe it will work.” It installed — with no reboot required. Wow.

Then I tried to install ecto again and got this message:

Microsoft .NET Framework v1.1 SP1 is not installed. Please visit Microsoft website to download and install the framework before installing ecto.

For the heck of it, I tried installing v1.1 again, and got this message again:

The upgrade patch cannot be installed by the Windows Installer service because the program to be upgraded may be missing, or the upgrade patch may update a different version of the program. Verify that the program to be upgraded exists on your computer and that you have the correct upgrade patch.

Deciding that the .NET Framework 2.0 was of no use to me, I went to Add/Remove Programs to remove it and got this message: “Uninstalling Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 might cause other programs to stop working correctly. Are you sure you want to uninstall Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0?” Ugh. What “other programs” are we talking about? I didn’t really feel like blowing up my laptop, so I stopped right there. The ecto for Windows FAQ addresses this requirement: “Q2: Is the .Net Framework really necessary? ecto for Windows is developed entirely in Visual Studio .Net 2003 using C#. This allow rapid development of new features and debugging.”

My verdict on ecto for Windows is simple: making it easy to get past the install process relatively painlessly would be a nice start. I never got past the first dependency. I shouldn’t have veered off the script and upgraded to .NET Framework 2.0 for the heck of it, but should it really be this painful and require a secondary download that is 3x larger than the software itself to get going? I loved ecto for OS X. I guess I’ll have to wait to see how it works for Windows until ecto works with .NET Framework 2.0.

Update: for those of you who don’t read the comments, Alex writes in with the following excellent news (and barely ten minutes after I posted!):

Support for .Net 2.0 in the installer will be added soon. ecto is .Net 2.0 compatible, it is just that the installer needs to be updated to check for that. A maintainance update will be released this weekend to include .Net 2.0 compatibility.

As a matter of fact, the next major update will require .Net 2.0 framework.

I’ll write more about ecto itself when I get it installed. . . but I certainly admire the rapid response.

Update 11/28/05: Alex Hung e-mailed me on Thursday to let me know that ecto had been updated to include .Net 2.0 compatibility. I just installed the new version of ecto with no problems and am using to update this blog post. Thanks, Alex!

First impressions of Measure Map from Adaptive Path

I got my invitation a few days ago to try out the alpha release of Measure Map, the blog stats service from the folks over at Adapative Path. After a few days of using it, I’m generally impressed. The quickest (but also crudest) way I can think of to describe the service is WebSideStory’s Hitbox or Omniture Site Catalyst for bloggers, since (like Measure Map) both of these services leverage the placement of Javascript code in a site’s pages to deliver reporting, freeing sites from the laborious crunching of log files, filtering out spider/robot traffic, and the many other annoyances of old-school methods of traffic reporting on the web. That being said, even if WebSideStory or Omniture decided to create a blogger offering, you can bet it wouldn’t be as simple, elegant, and useful as Measure Map. Even though it’s alpha, it looks like they’re building the right half of a product, but not a half-assed product. The tag line is “get to know your blog,” and that’s what Measure Maps is already helping me do.

Setup was easy for WordPress. I have no problem editing my templates based on rudimentary written instructions, but I still appreciated the clear visual guidance the Adaptive Path folks give in their instructions. Here’s an example:

Measure Map template editing

Almost immediately, the numbers started rolling in, and I found myself checking my Measure Map stats as often as I had grown accustomed to checking my Feedburner stats (incidentally, I consider these two services complementary at this point, since Measure Map measures non-RSS traffic, and Feedburner measures RSS traffic). Here’s a sample screen, the “Links” screen which tells me inbound links, outbound links (how else are you going to get that info without a bunch of ugly redirects and log crunching?), and search terms used to get to your site.

Measure Map links screen

The outbound links tracking is cool because it includes everything on your blog page, so you can see exactly which photos people are clicking on your Flickr badge, for example. The search terms section lets you know what words people are using to find you on search engines. Like everything else in Measure Map, the information is updated fairly instantly as activity occurs on your site.

Other stats I quickly learned:

  • the browser breakdown for my blog (58% Firefox, 26% IE, 12% Safari, 4% “other”)
  • the geographical distribution of visitors (73% U.S., 5% UK, 5% Canada, 5% Australia, 4% India, the rest spread among 12 other countries)
  • peak usage times (7-9am, 1pm, 5pm)
  • My top 10 posts (#1 is “Super-mashup with Yahoo! APIs: event browser“)

Bottom line: though only in alpha, Measure Map is already quite useful to me. Only one significant glaring hole that I noticed in the materials: no mention of an API on the Measure Map alpha status page under “feature set”: We’ve got a few great features coming soon, including stats for your RSS feed, tracking interesting events in your stats, and deeper tools for understanding search engine traffic. This might very well be on the way, but it would be nice to see it explicitly mentioned. After all, the service itself is being developed on top of some sort of API — why not start surfacing it early? It would be great to be able to do some remixing with the Feedburner API, for example.

Update (for those of you who don’t keep up with the comments): Jeff Veen from Adaptive Path writes: “We’re already working with Feedburner, with the intent of hooking your accounts together and merging the stats. Also, our first peek at a public API will be coming very soon now.”