Saturday, May 14, 2016

Scanning old documents

That which is resisted, persists.
I'm going paperless in my home office. Over my 30+ years of adulthood I have accumulated 20+ filing cabinet drawers of paper records. Plus there's a ton of unsorted bills and junk mail piled up.

My strategy is to tackle the filing cabinets first, then work on the unsorted bills and junk mail. My reasoning is that doing the filing cabinets first will help me set up my taxonomy on Google Docs, making it easier to file the new documents later.

My strategy for scanning my filing cabinets is:
  • Go through each file cabinet drawer and storage box, one at a time.
  • Sort docs into 3 categories: scan & keep, scan & shred, shred.
  • Scan documents to PDF files with a Fuji ScanSnap ix500.
  • Store the scanned documents in folders (with the same name as the original folders) on Google Docs.
  • Put the "keep" documents back into the same folder and cabinet drawer that they came from.
  • Make a backup copy of the scanned documents to a USB stick.
My strategy for deciding what physical items to keep is:
  • Keep official government documents like tax returns forever.
  • Keep items related to tax returns for 15 years.
I've scanned one half drawer so far. It takes a while to scan old documents. Lots of staples to remove.

At this rate it's going to take about six months to scan everything. Yow!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

2015 Year in Review

Here's my take on tech trends in 2015 and predictions for 2016.

Personal trends in 2015.
  • I started using Twitter, following a mix of optimistic tech bloggers, economists and comic-book artists. Always something interesting to read. I don't tweet much. (Nothing to say :-P)
  • Podcasts. I'm following a bunch of tech, gamer, and comedy podcasts. I especially like The Voicemail, Accidental Tech Podcast, Melton, and Guys we F*cked (NSFW) .
  • I switched to a large-sized iPhone 6s+. The big screen is great.
  • I stopped maintaining my "Terminal Emulator for Android" program, because I lost interest in the idea of an on-device terminal emulator for Android. (And I lost interest in maintaining the project in the face of frequent Android UX and build system churn.)

Open Source

I've been doing less open-source software work than in previous years. My OSS work has been driven by emotion and "hack value". This year I haven't come up with any ideas that were exciting enough to work on. Partly this is because we're in the midst of a change from PCs to mobile, and it's not clear to me what needs to be done in the new mobile-first world. And partly it's because things are working pretty well. I feel that I have my basic computing needs taken care of by existing apps.

More than once this year, I came up with an idea for a project, only to find a perfectly serviceable implementation already available for free or only a few dollars. Each time I installed the existing app rather than writing my own version.

Video Games

I found myself playing fewer video games. I bought lots of mobile games, but mostly for my family rather than for myself. My wife briefly held the world record high score for the puzzle game Spl-t.

I'm still waiting for The Witness and The Last Guardian to ship. I may buy a PS4 to play TLG. Or I may just watch the inevitable "Let's Play" walkthroughs. It seems like the kind of game that would be almost as much fun to watch someone else play as to play myself.

Hardware

I bought an Apple TV 4th Gen and an Apple iPad Pro. I'm using both primarily for media consumption, although once I obtain an Apple Pencil I hope to use the iPad Pro for some sketching.

I had hoped to write games for the Apple TV, but the bundled controller is too limited to support interesting games. And the development model is clunky, requiring either two Apple TV units, or a long cable. I think it makes more sense to concentrate on iPhone/iPad apps than Apple TV apps.

Computer Languages

I'm studying Swift, trying to decide if it's good or not. It's a positive sign that Apple open sourced it. I like the "Playground" feature.

I wish I could use Go more, but I don't currently have a project for which Go is suitable.

Similarly, I'm impressed by recent developments in Clojurescript. I wish I had a project idea for which Clojurescript was suitable.

2016 Trends

  • Mobile
  • VR
  • Machine Learning

Family IT Information, end-of-year edition

Just an update on my family IT use.

The T-Mobile family plan has worked great for us. T-Mobile's plans are nice for us because:
  • The third, fourth, and fifth lines are only $10 / month.
  • When the paid-for data is exhausted, the plans automatically switch over to unlimited free low-speed data for the rest of the month.
  • Streaming music doesn't count against the data caps.
  • Free phone calls, texts, and low-speed data in Canada and Taiwan. (It was great using Google Maps to get around Vancouver. I was using many short cuts that I didn't know about when I was navigating using paper maps.)
  • For the last 3 months of 2015 T-Mobile had a special where they gave everyone unlimited high-speed data for free.
I ended up getting used iPhone 5s's for all my kids. I had the kids pick their own otterbox commuter cases. 

My son was initially frustrated at having to give up his rooted and customized Android phone for the smaller, less customizable iPhone. He's grown used to it, and likes it now. Everyone loves the fingerprint unlocking feature of the 5s.

I have the phones set up with restrictions, so that the kids can't install their own apps. I also confiscate-and-recharge their phones and laptops each night. This is fairly foolproof, and gives the kids 8 hours a day to sleep without electronic distractions.

I bought an Anker 6-port USB charger for my bedside table. I use it to recharge everyone's phones while keeping an eye on them. I have the phones on "Do Not Disturb" mode, so they don't bother me over night.

The "Find my Friends" app has proved helpful for keeping track of where everyone is, especially for things like picking kids up at school and at bus stops.

We now have 5 laptops: four 13" Macbook Airs and one 13" Macbook Pro. They work great and last a long time. They are mostly used for web surfing, YouTube and Minecraft.

We have had problems with headphones -- the kids are rough on headphone cables. They've already gone through one set of headphones each. Currently we're using Beats headphones due to them being relatively cheap on sale and/or included in Apple Educational bundles. They look stylish and work OK. Apple has a fairly good warranty repair process for their Beats headphones.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Happiest recent purchases

A few products that made my summer family travels happier:


Anker 4-port USB car cigaret lighter charger.

Car vent phone holder (don't remember the brand.)

Short stereo audio cable. It's ghetto compared to bluetooth, but more reliable.

Family Computers, 2015 edition

As summer draws to a close, I am planning my family's computer use for the 2015-2016 school year.

My plans for this year are:
  • Each family member gets their own mobile phone and laptop.
  • We also have a shared desktop and a few shared tablets.
  • Shared network scanner/laser printer.
  • We print color documents and pictures at the library or at the drugstore.
  • Android TV for shared movie watching.
  • Chromecast for audio sharing.
  • Comcast Business Internet
  • Apple Time Capsule for backup / WiFi / NAT
Note the lack of a dedicated game console. The kids play games on mobile, tablets, and laptops (for Minecraft specifically!).

My two youngest kids are getting their first phones this year. I'm worried about their phones getting lost, broken, or stolen. So for the first six months my kids will use hand-me-down phones. After they've learned to take care of phones, I'm going to give them better phones. (Still used, though!)

To achieve my plan I need to buy one laptop and three mobile phones. For the laptop I'm leaning towards a 13" Retina Macbook Pro. For the phones I'm leaning towards used iPhone 5Ss.

Why a Macbook and not a Chromebook? Build quality and applications. I have a low-end ARM Chromebook, and I noticed that nobody in the family uses it by choice, due to its low speed and poor quality screen. I _could_ get a Chromebook Pixel, but for my family, at that price level a Macbook is a better deal.

Why iOS and not Android? It comes down to ease-of-administration. I want to lock down my kids' phones, and unfortunately experience with my oldest child using Android is that it's all-too-easy for him to defeat the aftermarket Android parental control apps.

For phone service I'm probably going to go with the BYOD T-Mobile Family Plan, because:
  • It is cheap.
  • Unmetered music streaming.
  • When you hit your data cap it switches to low speed data for the rest of the month, rather than charging more.
  • It has free 2G international roaming.

Thoughts on laptops and other legacy hardware

If I were on a tighter budget, or starting from scratch, I'd consider dropping the laptops, the Comcast Internet, and the home WiFi, and going pure mobile. I would get bluetooth keyboards to make typing school assignments easier.

There's (Already) an App for That

Story of my hobby hacking life these days:

  1. Think of an idea for a small application to write to learn a new technology and incidentally make my life better.
  2. Prototype the app.
  3. Plan a MVP, estimate costs in time and money to develop.
  4. Search Play Market and/or IOS App Store, find that reasonable equivalent already exists, and is only $2.
  5. Buy the existing app, get on with life.
This happened to me last week with the concept of a "comic book reader". I wrote a prototype that let me browse my collection. I was starting to list out all the features I needed to add (zooming, panning, sorting,RAR archive support...). And then I did a web search for comic book reader, spent a couple of minutes reading reviews, and bought one of the popular ones for $2. Sure it's got UI issues, and bugs, and doesn't quite work like it should, but I saved myself weeks of development time.

I need to think through how best to spend my hacking time in today's world of super abundance. What's my comparative advantage in this new world? What's my compliment? What am I trying to learn, trying to achieve? What is worth working on? Existential questions on a Sunday morning. :-)


Pixar Non-Commercial Renderman for OS X

Pixar released their Non Commercial version of Renderman. Woo! Hurray for patent expiration dates!

If you don't have Maya and you do have Mac and you just want to play with the command-line version, you have to jump through several hoops:


You need to install XQuartz before trying to install Renderman. (Otherwise the Renderman installer will fail.)

You need to copy /Applications/Pixar/RenderManProServer-19.0/etc/rendermn.ini to ~/.rendermn.ini  (Note the added "." in the front.)

You need to edit .rendermn.ini to add the line

    /licenseserver    ${RMANTREE}/../pixar.license

You need to add these lines to your bashrc (or equivalent, depending on your shell.) 

export RMANTREE=/Applications/Pixar/RenderManProServer-19.0/
export DYLD_LIBRARY_PATH=/Applications/Pixar/RenderManProServer-19.0/lib/
export RMANFB=it
export export
PATH=$PATH:$RMANTREE/bin:$RMSTREE/bin/it.app/Contents/MacOS:$RMSTREE/bin/slim.app/Contents/MacOS

Once you've done that, you can use the "prman" command line tool to render rib files.