General Evans Above Archive for Apr 21, 2016

A workflow for archiving and backing up important papers and memories with the ScanSnap iX500

Apr 21, 2016permalink

We’ve all seen the news story where a person who has just been the victim of a disaster cries out that everything is gone and all of their memories are lost. We know about the natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and floods. We know about the fires, natural gas explosions and man-made flooding caused by aging infrastructure. We also know that geopolitics, terrorism and unrest can also put our personal information and memories at risk.

Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500

Fujitsu’s ScanSnap iX500 can help reduce the mountain of paper in your home and safely archive your important papers.

It’s not just the memories that are gone. A person may be thinking about the old letters their great grandfather wrote home when he was in the military, but perhaps the immediate issue at hand is the important papers asked for by the insurance company or local government office. There’s a way to take care of both the memories we want and the important data we need. It does require some time. It does require some planning. However, if you ever face the day when a CNN reporter is standing where your house used to be, you can be the person who’s able to say, “We’re alive. A house can always be rebuilt and thankfully all of our memories and documents are backed up and safe.” Isn’t that worth a little time and effort?

Yes, I said it. Time and effort. It’s going to require both at first, because you’re going through your home and collecting all the paper debris that clutters our space and minds. If you do it right, the real “heavy lifting” occurs just once and then after that you’re just updating as the papers come in or, say, once a week. The peace of mind is worth the price of admission.

The good news is that the hardware exists to make the job easier. As part of our research into this article, we were given the chance to review the Fujitsu iX500 ScanSnap scanner, which is consistently rated as one of the top picks for small office/home office scanners. I am not exaggerating when I say the scanning was the easiest part of this process. Once you collect all of your life on paper, the ScanSnap iX500 will make it a breeze to capture it digitally. Let me say it again: I actually found the scanning part to be fun.

We wanted to give this process the full test. We went through filing cabinets and shelves, drawers and cupboards, wallets and closets until we collected all the paper hiding in our home. We then categorized it and sorted it by date. We had bank and credit card statements going back years. We had university lecture notes, essays and exams. We had tax documents. We had Christmas cards and birthday cards and photos and product warranties. We ended up with the proverbial mountain of paper.

Collecting the paper is one thing. Organizing it is the real task.

Let’s take those various statements that you get monthly from your bank or broker. Or the tax statements that you get from the government. Clear off a table or put something down on a bed or floor as some of your older documents might be a little dusty. The main thing is that you need room.

First off, organize them by category. You might have literally grabbed a foot high stack of paper from a shelf or old box that’s completely unsorted. Now is not the time to sort it by date. That will just slow you down. You want to go from big picture to small detail, macro to micro. So grab that first pile of papers and put all the statements together by company. You’ll soon have a pile for each company or government that you deal with.

You’re not done. That was just the first pile you grabbed from somewhere in your house. You know when you watch a police drama and they smash into a home looking for the bad guy? They go from room to room checking for their suspect and yelling “clear” as they sweep each room. Okay, you don’t have to yell “clear”, but sweeping room by room is a good idea. Why? You might think you only have papers in one room. You don’t. You might have forgotten, but you quickly grabbed that credit card statement you left on the table before Thanksgiving and shoved it into the dining room hutch as the guests arrived early. That letter from your bank? You put that in the sock drawer so you wouldn’t forget it on Monday. (You did.) The report card was shoved into the kitchen drawer by the phone after you suddenly remembered you had to run out for groceries. To paraphrase the old saying about cockroaches, if you can see one piece of paper out in the open, there are probably dozens hiding elsewhere in your house. So sweep each room and then take those piles and add them to the piles you’ve already got on the table.

If you’re running out of table space, it’s okay to consolidate similar statements for now. You might have gone through a few different insurance companies or banks. In that case – for now – put all of your bank statements together if it gives you more room on the table for other categories. Once you’ve finally swept your house, you’re ready for the next step.

A quick message of support. You can do this. It seems like a pain right now, but the good news is that you only have to do this once if you do it properly and then setup a process for future incoming paper. This giant scanning dump will then be replaced by a “scan it as you get it” or weekly scanning run that will keep things under control and keep you prepared for anything.

Okay, so you’ve got everything in piles. Grab one of the piles. Organize it by month and company. Do the same for the next pile. And the next. Suddenly your table is full of organized piles of paper. We’re finally at the step where we can start scanning.

The ScanSnap iX500 is incredibly easy to use. With such a wonderful tool, the scanning is easily a one person job. Yes, you can climb this mountain of papers without anyone else. While the iX500 is scanning a pile of paper, you can be grabbing the next one and tidying it up. As the iX500 whips through the scanning, you can watch the scanning progress pop-up for any error messages (you will hardly ever see one) and name the newly scanned file before inserting the next pile of papers. Rinse and repeat. The ScanSnap iX500 scans quickly. It will go through your papers so fast that all the sorting and preparation will make the scanning seem anticlimactic. Does it have to be a solo job? No. If you’ve always looked at a friend or family member and thought they’d enjoy scanning, invite them over to make it a scanning party. Then wonder why you think about scanning so much.

How should you group and name the files? You might have papers going back years. Your process will be slowed down if you do the really old stuff by month. I’d grab a year of old statements, sorted by month, scan them and name them something like this:

Year-Name of person-Name of company and type of statement.pdf

So John Doe’s ABC Bank VISA statement files might be like this:

2001-John Doe-ABC Bank VISA statements.pdf, 2002-John Doe-ABC Bank VISA statements.pdf, etc.

The year makes it easy to find if you suddenly need to grab all the files for a certain year. Need all the 2009 files? Search your computer for 2009*.pdf

You might be thinking, “I’m single, I don’t need the name.” Well, one day you might be a couple or a family and it might be great to have files like 2001-John Doe-ABC Bank VISA statements.pdf, 2001-Jane Doe-ACME Company paystubs.pdf, and 2020-Billy Doe-report cards.pdf. A second creating a good file naming scheme now saves you minutes in the future.

Let’s say you’re part way through the year. I’d still save all the statements you have for the current year into a file named for the year. With the iX500 scanner and its ScanSnap Organizer software, when the latest statement arrives, you can open the current year’s file and scan the new statement directly into it. If you are using another scanner or software, there are PDF merge utilities out there. After using other scanners and software, I’d really recommend the ScanSnap iX500 for its ease of use and features.

Here’s another reason why scanning documents is great. I call them the “one offs”. Tossing all of your bank statements into a filing cabinet is easy. But what about all the pieces of paper that you only have one of? Are you going to toss them into a giant overflowing physical file folder called “Miscellaneous”? Probably not. But need to prove that you were called for jury duty a few years ago? Scanning that jury notice as 2014-John Doe-Jury Notice.pdf can easily be found on your computer with a search for jury.pdf. I’d also recommend scouring the web for downloadable copies of the manuals you have. Can’t find it online? Carefully cut up the manual and scan it. Now you’ll always have the instructions for your vacuum cleaner handy.

The ScanSnap iX500 comes with a carrier sheet that can be used for more delicate documents. In simple terms, it’s two joined plastic sheets that you can put delicate items into so the plastic takes the brunt of the rollers that bring the documents into the scanners. I’d use it for delicate items like old paper birth certificates, newspaper clippings, old family letters and photographs. You can also use it to help scan old birthday cards or the drawings your kids have up on the fridge.

Let’s digress for a second and discuss photographic prints. Yes, the ScanSnap iX500 can scan photos. Yes, it has a carrier sheet to protect the photos as they go through the automatic document feeder. Yes, the highest colour resolution of 600dpi will do a good job of scanning your prints. As a photographer, I still find myself partial to a flatbed scanner for prints. That’s just me. If you’re going to use the iX500 for photographs, check it out with a few photo prints and see how you feel about it. If you’re happy, I’m happy. If you find that you’re family has a lot of larger prints or even books you want a record of, you might want to invest in a contactless scanner like the Fujitsu ScanSnap SV600 Contactless scanner.

Here’s another thought about photos. Why not leave them for scanning after the papers are out of the way. A credit card statement from 2014 or a report card from 1972 is pretty self-evident. But maybe you found a box of photos in the attic that you vaguely remember. Why not get together with your family historian? You know, the parent, cousin, aunt or grandparent who remembers everything and everyone. After you’ve grouped the photos and scanned them, why not invite your “historian” over and have them tell you the people in the photos or the stories behind them. This way, you can create a digital memory book. There are various print-on-demand services that can even help you make a nice bound book full of the photos that you could give as presents to family members. If you’re one of those people who has a hard time coming up with gift ideas, I’m giving you a great one here. This is gold ticket stuff. You can thank me later. Oh, and if you see me, I take my coffee black. Just spit-balling here, but you could also use slideshow software that allows recordings and actually record Grandma talking about the birthday party photo that ended in a food fight. You can be your family’s Ken Burns.

Okay, back to your files. You probably don’t want to have one giant folder full of scanned files on your computer. Yes, you can use the search to find a file, but give yourself a head start by creating a hierarchy of folders in your documents folder. Do what you feel works best for you. You could have folders based on name and then category so, for example, you have a John Doe folder with Tax, University and Banking folders inside. Or you create category folders and then have separate folders for each family member inside them. See what works best for you. I tend to lean towards names followed by categories, so when Billy Doe moves out you can easily grab all of his files in one swoop for him to take.

What’s next? You’ve scanned all of your documents. You’ve worked out that you may want to shred some of the documents you no longer need hard copies of in order to reclaim some space in your home. Before you go on a massive shredding binge, I’d strongly recommend backing your files up. Your hard drive is perfectly timed to die the second you shred a file you haven’t backed up.

Backing up, like visiting the dentist, is one of those things that we intend to do but always put off. However, what’s the point of scanning all of your paper documents if your computer can be destroyed in the same disaster or accident that would have destroyed the paper original? So you need a backup.

Backing up to a second drive in your computer or home is a start, but not a solution. That sort of backup is good if one drive dies a natural death as you can quickly be up and running by restoring the data from the second drive. But again, if a fire or flood or theft destroys one drive, the second one isn’t going to be miraculously safe just because it’s a backup. You need an offsite solution. That solution can be physical, in the cloud, or preferably, both. For example, you might backup all of your scans to an external hard drive and put it in a safety deposit box. Chances are that you’re not going to keep going back and forth to the bank to update the drive and yes, the natural disaster that hits your home could hit your bank too. So a remote backup and/or a cloud backup is a much better solution.

The cloud is just an easier, friendly marketing term for a collection of networked computers securely accessible through the internet. So when people say “Why not backup your scans to the cloud?”, they’re suggesting that you use a service that will securely keep a copy of your backups on remote, geographically-dispersed computers. There are many services out there like Backblaze, Carbonite and Crashplan, just to name a few. Typically you sign up for the service, install a small piece of software and sit back as your computer backs itself up the cloud automatically. Depending on the size of your files and the speed of your internet connection, the initial backup might take hours, days or even weeks. So again, hold off on that shredding party until your initial backup is done. Typically these services cost about $5 a month or so. So for the price of a fancy coffee, you can have a backup process that works silently in the background. Isn’t that worth your piece of mind? You did all that hard work getting your papers ready to scan, so take the extra step and make sure those scans are safe to. Again it’s all about piece of mind and having information at your fingertips.

Information retrieval is another area where this whole collect and scan process can help you. The ScanSnap iX500 can use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to “read” your scans and save them as searchable PDF files. So now you can search your computer for “calcium” and it will find all the references to calcium that were in those newspaper and magazine articles you scanned. Or use it to find certain charges in your credit card statements. Your life is getting easier already.

In just a few work sessions, you have saved your important documents, saved your even more important family memories, and earned some peace of mind and maybe even some extra space in your home. I can’t stress enough that though the project may seem daunting at first, a wonderful tool like the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 can make the project easy to accomplish.

The Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 scanner makes scanning effortless

Apr 21, 2016permalink

I was recently given the chance to take a look at the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500. I was planning an article on the need to scan and backup important documents and memories and my initial research showed that the ScanSnap iX500 was routinely on top of the list when it came to SOHO (Small Office Home Office) scanners. I’ll get to the nuts and bolts in a second but first let me give you my initial reactions to the iX500.

Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500

Fujitsu’s ScanSnap iX500 makes scanning a breeze.

The ScanSnap iX500 is so easy and convenient to use that it quickly becomes an indispensable part of your computer/office setup. Some other scanners I’ve used require launching the software, adjusting settings, doing a prescan and crop and then the actual scan. The extra steps can sometimes lead you to put off scanning tasks and we all know how easy a deferred task soon becomes a forgotten one. With the ScanSnap iX500, you can set up a preferred workflow, e.g. always scan to a searchable PDF file, and then just insert the paper, press one button, and name the resulting file. It becomes so easy to return home and scan receipts or grab the mail and scan that new financial statement. That ease of use lends itself to one of the principles of David Allen’s GTD (Getting Things Done) productivity method, which is if a task can be done in less than five minutes, do it now. The ScanSnap iX500 makes keeping up with your paper life so easy that your inbox never turns into a mountain. I’ll have more on that in my backing up memories and documents article.

Let’s put it another way. If the ScanSnap iX500 was a friend, I’d invite it to parties. If I knew when the unit I’m using was manufactured, I’d get it a birthday cake. The thought of scanning filing cabinets full of documents was scary, but the ScanSnap iX500 made the task simple and, dare I say, fun.

Let’s take a look at the technical specifications of the ScanSnap iX500. It has an auto-document feeder which can hold up to 50 pages at a time. It’s a duplex scanner, which means that it scans both sides of a page in one pass, which is great for documents like credit card statements that try to cram as much information into as few pieces of paper as possible. In Normal scanning mode, the ScanSnap iX500’s scanning resolution is 150 dpi (dots per inch) for colour and grayscale and 300 dpi for monochrome. Best mode takes it up to 300 dpi for colour and grayscale and 600 dpi for monochrome. At those resolutions, the ScanSnap iX500 is able to whip through the pages at 25 pages per minute, which means 50 pages if you’re looking at a double-sided source. The only time that scanning speed is reduced is when you crank up the resolution to Excellent. It will then slow down to 7 ppm but in return you get a scanning resolution of 600 dpi for colour and grayscale and 1200 dpi for monochrome.

The ScanSnap iX500 is excellent at recognizing paper sizes automatically, though there are adjustable guides to steady the paper flow. Without any assistance, the feeder is able to handle A4, A5, A6, B5, B6, business card, letter, legal and custom sizes from a maximum of 216 × 360mm to a minimum of 50.8 × 50.8mm. Using the carrier sheet, which is a see-through plastic handler, you can scan delicate pages and photographs as well as A3, B4, and double-letter pages. You can even carefully fold a page that is too big for the scanner in half, scan both sides, and the ScanSnap software will stitch the image together for you.

The ScanSnap iX500 weighs about 3 kg and when in its off mode (which means the paper holders are closed) it takes up a mere 292 × 159 × 168 mm (W x D x H). It’s very sleek looking when it’s closed and could best be described as looking like Darth Vader’s lunch box. When you open it to reveal the paper feeder and scanned document output tray, it is still not something that is going to take up a lot of space on your desk or shelf. Opening the device powers it on and closing it turns it off. I really like the fact that the indicator LEDs are only illuminated when the device is on. The ScanSnap iX500 knows it’s cool and doesn’t feel the need to brag that it’s around by illuminating the room with bright airport landing lights when it’s off like so many other devices these days. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Mr. TV.)

How do we get started with the ScanSnap iX500? After excitedly removing it from its box, you open the unit and take out the protective packaging (a few small pieces of foam taped to the unit) that protect the scanner’s more sensitive areas. Before attaching the ScanSnap iX500 to your computer, use the ScanSnap setup DVD to install the required software. You then attach the ScanSnap via USB or follow the instructions to connect it to your computer via WiFi. The ScanSnap iX500 has a USB 3.0 connector (and is USB 2.0/USB 1.1 compatible) and on the WiFi side can connect via 802.11b, g or n.

The WiFi abilities and its built-in dual core CPU means that the ScanSnap iX500 is able to act independently of a connected computer. What does that mean? It means that if you’re about to head out the door and want to quickly scan a document to your iOS or Android tablet or smartphone, you just fire up one of ScanSnap’s free apps, put the paper into the scanner, hit the scan button in the app and in seconds the document is in your tablet or phone even if your home PC is off. Again, that makes scanning convenient and easy to do as needed.

The ScanSnap iX500 also comes with a suite of software:

  • ScanSnap Manager allows you to easily change the settings and workflow for the one-button operation of the scanner.
  • ScanSnap Organizer (Windows only) allows to view your PDFs and JPEG files and arrange the files in folders.
  • CardMinder allows you to quickly go through that mountain of business cards that you may have collected over the years. The software uses intelligent text recognition to grab the data off the cards and assist you in placing them into a contact database that can also be linked to a wide variety of other applications.
  • ABBYY FineReader for ScanSnap performs OCR (optical character recognition) on your scanned files and enables you to convert that data into Word, Excel or PowerPoint files.
  • Evernote is a program with a rabid fan base. It allows you to collect notes, images and web pages and store and access them in the cloud via the web or app. Since you’re using the ScanSnap iX500 to scan a ton of paperwork and images, Evernote is one tool that can be used to access and search the resulting information.

If you wondering what the heck the cloud is, it’s just a term for networked storage of documents on servers hosted on the internet, which means you can generally access your files anywhere you are. Besides Evernote, which goes way beyond simple cloud storage, the ScanSnap iX500 also comes with software to access the popular cloud services SugarSync and Dropbox.

On the “Windows only” side of things, the ScanSnap iX500 also comes with an application to scan files to Microsoft SharePoint and Office Live, a trial version of Rack2-Filer Smart, which is a digital document manager, a trial version of Magic Desktop which enables you to sort scanned data or mobile created documents into work and personal groups. The ScanSnap iX500 also comes with the global standard for creating, manipulating and editing PDF files, Adobe Acrobat X Standard. Our review unit did not come with Acrobat, so I won’t be discussing that.

I’m a huge fan of the ScanSnap Organizer software. You can quickly view and edit a PDF file from its built-in viewer and rotate or delete pages that you don’t need. I also like the ability to import a PDF that was previously created by the ScanSnap iX500 and add pages to it with a new scan. You just import the PDF, open it in the built-in viewer and then hit the scan button on the ScanSnap iX500. It will then ask you where you want to append or insert the new scan. This is great if you create a PDF for, say, the current year statements of an account and want to add the new new months in as they arrive.

The Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 is easy to setup and even easier to use. I can see why it has been so heartily recommended. Great tools and services reduce friction, the impediments to getting a task done that cause you to delay or abandon the task. The ScanSnap iX500 smooths the process and can help you reduce the clutter and increase the productivity and peace-of-mind in your life.

It’s also the perfect tool for our article on backing up and archiving the important documents in your life.