How to Digitize Your Life


A Step-by-Step guide to scanning, organizing, and storing your paper documents and photos

My life has changed (for the better) by digitizing my personal files that I’ve been lugging around for last 20 years. Not only did I rid my home of three bulky, overflowing file cabinets, I’ve also enhanced the way I access these documents and photos. Imagine being able to:

  • Find information that was in an old hand-written note from a college class you had 10 years ago…. Instantly. From your cell phone.
  • Locate all pictures you’ve ever taken that included a dog – without ever manually specifying that the picture contained a dog!
  • Quickly see all pictures of your great-grandmother, even her baby pictures, all without having to waste time tagging photos.
  • Type a month and a year into Google search, and instantly pull every single piece of mail received during that time.

I’ve outlined the process I’ve been using for almost 8 years below. There are some alternate ways of scanning these days: iPhone apps where you just take a picture using your phone, for example. But I have found that to consistently get uniform and quality results, a desktop scanner is still the way to go.  I also believe it is much faster to use a scanner if you have stacks of documents. The scanner listed above can scan the front and back of about 40 pages at a time. That would take forever on an iPhone!

Step One: Get the gear

I’ve gone through 3 scanners and 2 different shredders in my life, but my recommendations below show you the items that have worked very well for me (multiple years of heavy use without issue). This is the set up I use nearly every day:

  1. A good duplex scanner. This is the most expensive part, but will pay for itself over time, and with a gentle touch, will last for many years. I use (and recommend) a Fujitsu ScanSnap.
  2. A solid shredder (or a secure shredding drop-off service).
  3. A rubber “SCANNED” stamp – this seriously comes in handy!
  4. A free Google Account. We are going to use Google Drive to store your files in the cloud. There are other services available, such as DropBox, OneDrive, or Evernote, but this tutorial will focus on Drive, because I’m very familiar with some of the undocumented “gotchas” when it comes to searching documents in Drive. We will also make use of Google Photos to store and organize our photos, and its nice to have everything on one service, right? For Now, just bookmark and


Step Two: Plan

For documents, there are two things we need to work out before getting started: our folder structure and our file name convention as they will be stored on Google Drive. This is the hardest part, so don’t skip ahead until you’ve really digested this. While most of this process can be adjusted and “figured out” along the way, screwing up your organization strategy is a royal pain to fix later.

2-1: Deciding a folder structure (or deciding not to have one):

I’d guess that 90% of the time, most people SEARCH to find what they are looking for in Drive (instead of clicking through a hierarchy of folders). But from time-to-time, I like to be able to go into a specific folder and see everything in it – just like a real file cabinet.  I also enjoy the added organization a folder structure gives to my digital file cabinet. Also, if you choose option a, you will find yourself spending much more time on your filename convention. For example, if you do not rely upon a folder structure, you can’t just name a document “2008 Insurance Policy” – without a folder structure, you wouldn’t know anything about that document.. is it a home insurance or car insurance? Was it with State Farm or Progressive? With option a, you’d end up having to specify all of that in filename for every file, and that gets old real fast.  Now choose wisely:

  • Option A: Skip folder organization altogether (not recommended). Simply rely on good filenames and searching the text within the document.
  • Option B: named folder hierarchy for easier browsing / contextual clues

I would recommend Option B for a few reasons:

  • Sometimes it is useful to have a folder full of otherwise unrelated documents (like tax documents for each year)
  • I like to store my receipts by year to make them easier to browse
  • Storing thousands of documents in a single folder causes weird problems

Here is what my tax folders look like (click to enlarge):

When you first open your Google Drive account, there wont’ be any folders listed.

2-2: Deciding a file naming convention:

A few years ago, Google changed the way searches worked within Google Drive. When I started down this path, I chose the following format (don’t do this – keep reading):

YYYYMMDD_DirectCategory_Document_OptionalDetails.pdf (bad – do not do this)

This allowed me to search by date… for example, if I wanted to see everything from May of 2008 (across all folders) I could just search for “200805”

BUT Google has since changed how this works, and does not search within contiguous blocks of text. In other words, the search of “200805” will not result in anything now (unless it was found within the document).

So here is my recommendation for anyone just starting out:

YYYY MM DD DirectCategory DocumentName OptionalDetails OptionalNumber.pdf 

Some examples: 

  • 2017 08 15 New York Life IRA Statement.pdf
  • 2017 09 01 Receipt Walgreens 1.pdf
  • 2017 09 01 Receipt Walgreens 2.pdf  (Two Walgreens receipts in the same day)
  • 2017 09 16 Receipt Target Corner Table.pdf

Add dashes to your personal preference, but just remember to use spaces to make the titles searchable:

  • 2017 08 15 – New York Life – IRA Statement.pdf
  • 2017 09 16 – Receipt – Walgreens.pdf

This format allows searches like “2008 05” to find all May 2008 documents.

Step Three: Scan

My own personal process is as follows:

  • Use the ScanSnap manager  / button on the scanner to scan an indexed PDF, name the file properly in ScanSnap interface.
  • Once file is saved to disk, I open it in Adobe acrobat to make any adjustments – including deleting blank pages, fixing the orientation of some pages, etc. Save file again.
  • Once I am done scanning for the day, I use the Google Drive web interface to upload the files.
  • I move the uploaded files off into an archive directory that I keep around for a few months before deleting.

Some other tips:

  • Last I checked, Google won’t index PDF files larger than 10MB. Adobe Acrobat has a nice feature which allows you to split a PDF by size.  When scanning in a large document or notes from a class, I first make the monster PDF, then break it down in MB chunks, and then upload both versions.
  • Organize your pile of documents before scanning. Scanning single papers at a time is a real time killer.
  • Keep your scanner oiled – you also may need to replace the rubber roller feeder after your first 100k sheets or so.

Step Four: Upload

  • I recommend using the Google Drive web interface to upload your files.
  • After a near disaster using the Google Drive windows application, I’ve grown to distrust any sort of synchronizing mechanisms when it comes to huge libraries of files. Moving around thousands of files (or renaming folders) on physical disk could possibly take a long time. Trying to sync to Google while that file copy or move operation is in flight is a recipe for disaster. Google will think half of your files are gone, and creates a real mess.

Step Five: Shred

For security purposes, I like to shred nearly everything once I’m sure my library is working well. A few physical items I hang on to:

  • IDs (duh)
  • Any kind of certificates (professional certs, etc)
  • Anything notarized
  • Anything sentimental – sometimes its nice to actually hold the newspaper article or whatever

Step Six: Back up

Coming soon!


iPhone Update Version 9.3.5

Update your iPhone right now

iPhone Update Version 9.3.5A chain of Zero-day exploits was used to target a human-rights defender in the United Arab Emirates.  The researchers describe the process of simply texting a link to an iPhone, allowing them to remotely install malicious spyware to any iPhone from iOS 7 to the brand new iOS 9.3.4! Remotely jail-breaking an iPhone from a link or SMS is about the worst kind of exploit you can have.

And there is, of course, no doubt that OUR government makes use of these kind of back-doors all day long, but with this one being discussed in the wild, it is only a matter of time before it spreads like wildfire. Apple responded promptly to the notification given by the research team, and have pushed iOS 9.3.5 in response.

Anyway, go to: Settings->General->Software Update and get 9.3.5!


Clearwire is dead (officially).

Clearwire DriversAfter a few months of uncertainty, Sprint is finally shutting down the Clear and Clearwire WiMax networks across the country.  My Clear Hub Express no longer gets a signal here in NYC.

In the meantime, the former Clear websites are no longer hosting anything, and all requests result in a “page not found” error.

If you’re looking for drivers or firmware updates for the old WiMax devices or laptops, it seems the only way to get them now in this post-Clearwire world is the Clearwire Drivers Archive site:

Clearwire Drivers

So long Clearwire. Farewell, WiMax! It has been a good run! Hope you find your way to “Obsolete Network Technology” heaven!

Latch failed to open

Surface Book Latch Issues – “Latch Failed to Open”

Surface BookGot the Microsoft Surface Book this morning, and have been fairly impressed so far with this new device.   After playing some games, streaming my Xbox-One, and doing some work on it, I am really liking the specs of both the full unit and the detached tablet.

And although the hardware feels solid, I seems to be having a great deal of trouble with the latching mechanism between the tablet and the keyboard.  Here are my problems:

“Latch failed to open”

My “detach” button is unlit (not green or red) at all times (except when I press the key).  If I press the key, nothing happens.  If I hold the key in for about 2 seconds, it quickly flashes green (giving me about 1 second to pull the tablet out) and then almost immediately gives me this:

Latch failed to open


Here’s a video I made of this happening.  Maybe this is expected behavior, but I feel like 1 second is not enough time to bring both hands up to gently remove the tablet.

This wouldn’t be so bad, if it weren’t for my second problem….

Tablet Reattach / Loose connection of tablet to hinge issue

So after I plop the tablet back onto the keyboard, it goes crazy with the “device connected” and “device disconnected” sounds.  I feel like there is a loose connection somewhere because the sounds fire off everytime the screen (tablet) is adjusted or touched when it is on the hinge.  See video number 2:

And there you have it.  I’m hoping I just got a rare defective unit – please comment below if you’re seeing this error as well. I’ll be heading to the Microsoft store tomorrow morning to see what they say.  My online support experience today with Microsoft has been an absolute disaster on their part… but that’s a post for another day.

Update: Yes, I’ve installed the day 1 windows updates – it was the first thing that happened out of the box. And yes, I’ve been rebooting / shutting down to no avail.

Tempurpedic Ergo Plus Remotes

How to program two remotes to a TempurPedic Ergo Bed

Tempurpedic Ergo Plus RemotesProgramming an additional remote to operate our TempurPedic Ergo Plus adjustable bed was not very intuitive, so here are the instructions on how to add another remote control to your unit:

  1. Buy an extra remote, install batteries.
  2. Under the bed, press and hold the LEARN button on the control unit  – hold this for 3 seconds.
  3. Now let off the button for about 1 second, then press (not hold) the button 2 times. This activates the second channel for association.
  4. Press any button on the new remote control.
  5. If the process succeeds, the LEDs on the power brick and control unit will turn off.
  6. Wait 10 seconds and then test.

Hopefully this saved you a call into their 800 number. No more fighting with your spouse over who gets the bed remote! Rejoice!

Synology NAS SMTP Email Settings for Verizon FiOS

Synology NAS Verizon FiOS Email SettingsIf you have Verizon FiOS and a Synology NAS, these are the settings you’ll need to relay mail through the Verizon SMTP server.  Also see the important notes below!

SMTP server:
SMTP port: 465
Authentication Required: checked
Username: <your Verizon username>
Password: <your Verizon password>
Secure connection (SSL/TLS): checked

Important Notes:

  • This set up will fail with authentication errors if you do not have an email address set up associated to the username supplied.  The first thing you need to do is to go to the MyVerizon dashboard, and create the address from there. This caused me a few hours of troubleshooting, as I had already created a verzion email, but I did NOT do it from the MyVerizon dashboard, which causes auth hits to the SMTP server to fail for some reason.  Once I re-“created” my email, the authentication for mail relay starting working instantly.
  • For security purposes, I would recommend creating a “sub-account” on the MyVerizon dashboard, generate an email account associated with it, and then use that user/pass combo for mail relay instead of your main billing account.
  • Despite what older forum posts across the net say, these settings can be used to send mail from any address (does not have to be @verizon).  No need for the server… just use
DJI Phantom 3 Professional Multicopter Drone

DJI Phantom 3 Pro Review: A damn near perfect drone

DJI Phantom 3 Professional Drone Multicopter Review

The Phantom 3 quadcopter may look nearly identical to DJI’s previous Phantom 2 model, but these two devices are worlds apart.  I’ve owned the Phantom 2 for well over a year, and have had the Phantom 3 since April 2015. I’ve travelled the world with both of these drones and have many hours of flight time into both models.  The Phantom 2, for the most part, has felt like an experimental product. Phantom 3 feels like the future.

About the author: My passion is photography and videography.  I have never been interested in any kind of remote planes / multicopters before getting my hands on a Phantom drone. While there may be better/faster drones out there for the multicopter or RC enthusiast, I am writing this review from the viewpoint of an amatuer photographer.  I have no affiliation with DJI.

What makes the Phantom 3 so different?

Before going into detail of the camera, copter specs, or anything else, take a look at this picture:

Flying the Phantom 3 Professional with a Nexus 9 tabletOver the 4th of July weekend, I was able to show my 94-year old grandfather his property from 1000 feet in the air – in real-time 720p resolution.  This image so perfectly sums up what I love about this drone: Out of the box, this thing is amazing.

Yes, there are many ways to do a live-view with the Phantom 2 or other drones, but DJI has this working out of the box on the Phantom 3.  You just supply your own tablet (The Google Nexus 9 shown in the picture is my preferred choice).  The streaming works incredibly well:  I’ve flown the drone from indoors, from behind buildings, and even while in a moving vehicle travelling at 40 mph down a mountain road… and everything just works.

The Controller – Now with HD Live view!

Flying the Phantom 3 is a blast.  Within 30 minutes, any adult that has ever played a video game will get the hang of the controls.  In addition to the flight sticks you would expect, the controller also has a dial to control the angle of the video camera in real-time, among other customizable buttons.

DJI Phantom 3 Drone Controller

The previous Phantom 2 had this camera angle slider/dial as well, but it was difficult to keep calibrated,  and the sliding mechanism was inaccurate. The only way to know where the camera was pointed on the Phantom 2 was to bring the drone back down close enough to see the camera.  This entire situation is resolved with Phantom 3’s live view.

The controller has a built-in battery that uses the same battery charger used by the drone LiPo batteries. One minor annoyance is that DJI does not recommend charging both the controller and a drone battery at the same time.  The cord is split out to make this possible, but for some reason DJI advises against this.  But in the last two months I’ve only had to charge the controller twice – not a big deal.

Currently the DJI app and controller are only compatible with a handful of devices:

If you don’t own one of these devices, you’ll need to buy one to get the most out of the drone. While the iOS app seemed to work okay on my iPhone 6+, I loved the extra screen space provided by the Nexus 9.

The DJI Pilot App – Everything but the kitchen sink

Maybe I’m just getting old, but mobile apps these days on both iOS and Android seem less stable than most traditional desktop applications. So when I heard the Pilot app was going to not only feature a live 720p video stream and flight tracker, but also have a fully functional video editor built in, I almost didn’t even want to pull the trigger.    “There’s no way this app is going to be anything more than a bloated, unstable pile of crap”, were the words that came out of my mouth when I found this out.

Fortunately, I’ve never been so wrong.  This app is the most impressive mobile app I’ve ever used.  DJI absolutely nailed it.

The app is divided into a few major areas: Flight Mode, Pilot Log, and Director (video editing!)

Flight Mode has two different views – a map-centric view, and a camera-centric view. The map won’t help you much if you are somewhere without a cell signal or wifi.

The memory card onboard the drone captures video in 4k, but the app does a fine job of capturing the live feed from the drone directly to the mobile device (albeit, in 720p).  This means that there is a cached video of your flight on your tablet or phone as soon as you are done flying.

Using the Director, you can then choose clips and some background music and within 10-15 minutes, have something fancy to show whoever is around.  I can not express how cool this feature is.   The templates provided in the Director app are limited, and you won’t be making anything “professional” without a real video editor, but you can show off your shots in style if you’re just buzzing around your friend’s house.

And there are many more corners to this mobile application.  You can change drone settings, camera settings, log your flights, view your real-time battery charge. Even taking off is as simple as a flick of your finger (I love the auto-take-off feature!)

Here’s is an example of what can be made all from within the DJI Pilot app:

The Camera

Phantom 3  Professional CameraAt first I wasn’t thrilled about getting an integrated camera. I like being able to easily swap out the GoPro on my Phantom 2.  But once again, DJI surpassed my expectations with this powerful camera.

The resulting videos are clear, vivid, stable, and just amazing to watch on a 4k display. Although you can take both stills and video from the app while in flight, the picture of my neighborhood above is actually a still frame from a 4k video.

The 12 megapixel camera on board shooting in 4k on the Professional version, and 1080p on the Phantom 3 Advanced.  The Professional version sports a f/2.8 lens with a 94⁰ viewing angle. The first thing I noticed is that the distortion you usually see on GoPro cameras didn’t exist. The horizon appears flat – very different than that signature GoPro curve. Phantom 3 Drone Neighborhood Shot

Compared to my Phantom 2, the video footage I get out of the Phantom 3 is much more stable. The gimbal does such a nice job stabilizing that long-exposure shots are possible from mid-air!

Vision Positioning

Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you should. I feel like this still applies to one of the top features being marketed with the Phantom 3 Pro and Advanced: Vision Positioning. The Phantom 3 has a new camera and ultrasonic sensor facing the ground so that it may track its position without GPS. It looks for patterns on the ground! Yes, this means indoor flying.  But just because you can fly this thing indoors, why would you want to?

The DJI commercial shows a wedding being filmed with a drone in a church.  If you’ve ever heard a Phantom drone flying above your head, you’ll understand why the idea of using this (admittedly cool) technology in a church is laughable.

My experience with vision positioning so far is limited to my living room, and it probably won’t go too far beyond that. I’m sure there are use cases out there for some of us, but I’m guessing most of us won’t be flying a drone through a church anytime soon.


Pricing and Summary

The Phantom 3 Pro has changed the way I take photos and shoot video.  Getting out the drone is no longer a chore, and being able to see what you are filming in real time while whizzing down the highway in a car makes me feel like some kind of wizard from the future.


  • Paying between $1200-$1400 bucks for a tech gadget on the surface seems steep, but with the awesome 4k camera, gimbal, controller, and the crazy robust apps for the smartphones, I see the value.  I consider this purchase as one of the best I’ve made in the last several years — Especially considering this was the cost of the Phantom 2 at release.
  • 4k video with setting that you can control while in flight. The 3-axis gimbal seems more stable than anything I had on Phantom 2.
  • HD real-time video from your drone from up to a kilometer away – changes the way you film.
  • The mobile app for flying, tracking, and editing your video is top-notch.
  • SDK  – Develop your own applications and automation for the drone!


  • The battery life is still about 20 minutes, and extra batteries cost $175 – ouch.
  • The safety features may be an annoyance to some.  There are a lot of things that could go wrong on an automated flight home.
  • Updating firmware (as of July 2015) is kind of a pain.

DJI has this market cornered – with good reason.  The Phantom 3 Pro is an amazingly polished piece of technology. So if you’re looking to add some excitement to your vacation (and your vacation videos)…  and want a reliable experience out of the box, go with the Phantom 3.

Here is what my drone travel kit contains (as of July 2015):


Gear List

Gear List

Here you will find my updated photography / videography gear list – these are products that I personally use and rely upon in the field while taking pictures or making videos.  This list is updated regularly as I upgrade to new equipment!


Gear List  – Updated July 2015

Multicopter / Aerial Photography: DJI Phantom 3 Professional Drone

DJI Phantom 3 Professional Multicopter DroneThis drone is absolutely amazing – it has drastically changed the way I make videos and take photos.  I had mixed feelings about the Phantom 2, which I owned and used for one year, but the Phantom 3 Pro, with the built-in live view and companion app blows the former model out of the water. The 4k video camera attached is also very good. Review coming soon.


Primary Camera: Canon 6D

After coming from a 40D, I made the jump to a full-frame sensor with this camera. At the time of purchase, I wasn’t too interested in video, but boy am I glad the 6D has full 1080p video capabilities, because it is what I now use as my primary body for both still and video.

Canon Camera Lenses:


Video and Photography Accessories:Gear List

Apple Watch vs Moto360

Moto 360 and Apple Watch Side-by-Side

Got my 42mm Apple Watch today, and the first thing I did was put it side-by-side next to my Motorola Moto 360 Android watch.  The 42mm actually seems a bit smaller than the Moto 360, but I don’t really mind. I think the Apple Watch is a bit more polished, and just looks better.

Apple Watch vs Moto360

If there was any doubt that the 42mm might be too big (compared to the 38mm), that doubt is now gone. 42mm is not big. Feels “just right”.

Bluetooth Headphones

Bluetooth headphones to use with your Apple Watch – Only $22

Bluetooth HeadphonesIf you were lucky enough to get in early on the pre-orders, your Apple Watch should be arriving later this week!

One of the cool features about the watch is that it comes with its own storage, and Bluetooth capabilities. What this means is that YES, you can finally have music on your run when you take ONLY your watch!

If you need a pair of decent Bluetooth headphones for workouts / jogging, Amazon has a great deal on these today.  Regular $69, on sale for $22 after using code PDB68PMR.

I’ve been waiting for a deal like this. This should also work with Android Wear.

Link to purchase