Category Archives: Internet

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!


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!

Google Shuts down Helpouts

google helpoutsSo long, Helpouts. We hardly knew ya. Google Helpouts,  the service that tried to put you face-to-face with a subject matter expert via Google Hangouts is being discontinued today, as stated in an email going out today.

Hi David,

We have some sad news to share with you today: Helpouts will be shutting down onApril 20th, 2015. While this announcement was just posted on our site, we wanted you to hear the news directly from us.

Since launching in 2013, Helpouts has been a home for people to connect with experts on topics they want to learn about or seek advice and solutions to everyday problems. The Helpouts community includes some engaged and loyal contributors, but unfortunately, it hasn’t grown at the pace we had expected. Sadly, we’ve made the tough decision to shut down the product.

Starting April 20th, you’ll be able to download your Helpouts history using Google Takeout (available until November 1st, 2015). Until then, you can email us with any questions or concerns you have about your account or take a look at these FAQs.

We want to thank you for your support—both the providers who shared their expertise with the world, and the people who needed some extra help or advice along the way. You’ve had a lot to contribute—and we’ve loved learning alongside you.

Our best wishes,
The Helpouts Team

Can’t say I’m surprised, and I’m glad I didn’t invest any time into this endeavor.

The best eFax alternative: FaxZero

Fax Zero - The best eFax alternativeIf you’ve ever tried using eFax, you’ve probably learned to hate it by now. Between their unscrupulous billing practices, and their outrageous price for fax services, they are now labeled as nothing more than a huge scam in my book.

These days, I only need to send a fax two or three times per year.  Nobody I know owns a fax machine (let alone a copper telephone line to send it over).  The biggest problem, however, was that until recently, there was no good alternative to eFax.

Now, like a bright ray of light descending from the heavens, we have Not only is their process simple, clean, quick and easy, but it is also…. FREE! No trial periods, no hidden fees… just FREE for faxes that are 3 pages or less.  If you have more than 3 pages to send, the cost is a fixed $1.99 per fax.

I do not make any commision with this post… I am just a happy customer after using their service for the first time today.

I can’t wait for the day that fax machines exist only in museums, but until then, just save yourself a HUGE hassle with eFax and use faxZero.


Parents of Facebook: Respect your child’s right to privacy

kid_sucker_catAs a guy in my mid-thirties, my Facebook feed is filled to the brim with parents posting about what is most important to them: their children. Facebook is, after all, a great tool to socialize, share pictures with family, and stay in contact with people in your lives – even if they didn’t play a huge role in your life. I have plenty of Facebook friends that I was never close to, but I love seeing their updates because they are awesome, interesting people.

And while I usually smile at the adorable pictures of these kids (some of which are a spitting image of a high school classmate I haven’t seen for 15 years!), I also get a sinking feeling in my gut. Parents on Facebook today are ruining any chance that their child has to make choices of their own about their online presence.

Parents: consider the following before posting:

  • Anything that gets posted to the internet will be around forever. Let that sink in. It doesn’t matter if you delete your Facebook profile, or remove that embarrassing picture from Instagram.  The data is out there, and it has already been replicated across other systems or websites.  You are posting something to a permanent public record that will be very easily accessible until the end of time.  In fact, as years go by, data storage gets cheaper, and technology will emerge to make historical data more accessible and searchable.
  • Your children are going to be real adults one day, facing the same struggles you are facing, but with the added threat of their digital past coming back to haunt them. Respect your children. In the blink of an eye your child will be a young adult in high school, and every classmate will have instant access to all the comments and pictures that were posted by everyone’s parents.  Fast-forward to when your child is interviewing for his first real job. Why introduce the unsettling possibility that the employer may have read the posts about the temper tantrums he was fond of throwing as a kid?

Reconsider posting personal details about your child to social networks.  If that is absolutely not an option for you, at least be sure your Facebook privacy settings have been modified to restrict your posts to friends and family.  And although this should go without saying, do not post something that will be embarrassing for the child 20 years later.

I grew up in an age before the internet. When MySpace rolled out, I was 24 years old. I was given the luxury of choice when it came to building my online presence.  I opted to be very public in almost all aspects of my online life, but that was my own adult decision.  Everyone should have the same choice.

Google Hangouts kills the ability to place outbound calls

google_hangouts_callingLike many, I use Google services for email, voice, and messaging… it is pretty much my primary mode of communication in one form or another.  I’ve been very happy for years with my Google Voice + Gmail + Gtalk setup…. until today… when I realized that I could not dial into my conference bridge for my 8am meeting.

“Wait- there’s GOT to be a way to do this”, I thought to myself.

Nope. After digging around on the Google Voice forums, it was confirmed: You can no longer place outbound calls from Google Hangouts, Gmail, or the Chrome extension.

Google is moving real-time communication to their new “Hangouts” platform (or at least the look-and-feel). This means that Voice, SMS, chats, video calls will eventually all be contained in Hangouts, instead of having different interfaces all over the magical world of Google applications. This is a great thing… but it doesn’t seem like they are ready for prime-time.

The official response from Google:

“Today’s version of Hangouts doesn’t yet support outbound calls on the web and in the Chrome extension, but we do support inbound calls to your Google Voice number. We’re working hard on supporting both, and outbound/inbound calls will soon be available.”

I guess I’m just thankful they aren’t dropping Google Voice entirely, which is a valid concern these days when it comes to Google.


How to get your money back from eFax

eFax is a huge scam. That isn’t news to anyone. Between the harassing calls from eFax and their shady billing practices, I’m not sure how they are still in business. After trialing their service, and then cancelling within my trial, I received a cancel confirmation email. But this didn’t stop eFax (J2 Global Inc) from charging my credit card 15 days later (charge appeared as “J2 *EFAX PLUS SERVICE 323-817-3205 CA”).


The chat and phone support provided by eFax is awful, and you won’t get anywhere by contacting them. If eFax scammed you, here’s how to get your money back very quickly:

  1. Document any contact with eFax support. I saved the chat logs, and all emails from them.
  2. Request a refund with eFax: If eFax wrongly charged your card, request a refund via their online chat. Save this chat log by copying and pasting. If you’d rather call, the number is 800-287-3499. Keep in mind you can not legally record the conversation without telling the other party on the phone.
  3. Submit a BBB complaint: You need to do this on the local BBB site. For J2/eFax, it is the LA office. First, look up the company using this information: J2 Global, Inc – 6922 Hollywood Blvd. Suite 500, Hollywood, CA 90028. Phone: 888-760-1112. Be very detailed. Outline the date that you signed up, the date that you cancelled, and when your card was charged. Demand that the company issue a full refund and close your account as a resolution.
  4. Do a charge-back: After submitting the complaint, I got a full refund to my card the very next day. If you do not get any results with the BBB after a week, or if you don’t even want to bother with any of it, just contact your credit card company and dispute the charge. If you have a half-way-decent credit card (Amex), they’ll just refund your money without too many questions.
  5. Small claims court: If you really want to screw with this company and have a well-documented case, consider a small claims case. You can file in your local court (you don’t need to fly to California). Small claims courts are designed to proceed without lawyers, so just bring your documented case. The company may ask for the case to be moved to a higher-level court, but it will at the very least create a headache for them.

Here is the response received from eFax within 24 hours of filing the BBB complaint:

Our customer contact data shows that the consumer had contacted eFax® support via chat on December 18, 2012, and requested to close his account. However, due to anomaly the cancellation was not completed and the consumer mistakenly incurred a charge. We have since corrected the error and completed the closure of the consumer’s account. Additionally, we processed a refund of $16.95 (consisting of all charges incurred) to the consumer’s affected credit card. The Collection Number for the reimbursement is XXXXXXX. The refund should be reflected on the consumer’s account shortly and is dependent on the consumer’s credit card provider. We apologize for any misunderstanding and any inconvenience it may have caused. We appreciate the consumer’s patience, as well as understanding in this matter.

Google’s first server was made of Lego

In a Stanford basement lab in 1996 the world’s first search engine was born. But did you know it was built in a Lego enclosure?

Google's First Lego Server

The text reads:

The Original Google Storage

In 1996 Larry Page and Sergey Brin, then PhD students in Stanford CSD, working on the Digital Library Project, needed a large amount of diskspace to test their Pagerank algorithm on actual world-wide-web data. At that time 4 GB disks were the largest available, so they assembled 10 of these drives into a low-cost cabinet.

In Nov 1999, Google Inc., by then operating one of the primary search engines on the web, provided replacement storage capacity to the Digital Library project so that we could move this original storage assembly into our history displays.

As of September 2000, Google, now located in Mountain View, operated 5000 PCs for searching and web crawling, using the Linux operating system.


More info and pictures can be found here.