Gone for a week

Hi All,

I'll be out of town in Asia for the week from Jan 23 to Feb 1.  It's a real whirlwind trip (Singapore, Malysia, Hong Kong and China) so support and answering emails will be very slow to non existant because:

  1. I don't have a Mac with me.
  2. I have no idea when I'll get internet access

I have a goal of photographing everything I eat on this trip so I'll hopefully put some pics up when I get back.


Convereting old DV footage to digital

I've been spending the last few days converting some of my old DV footage to digital format. I've got maybe 30 or 40 tapes and I really have no idea what is on any of them are so my hope is I can import the into a digital format and have them actually available in to enjoy and share.

One of the problems is the DV import process in iMovie brings them in as 'DV' files that are *huge* (several hundred MB easily). My 30 odd tapes will end up chewing through a unreasonable fraction of my TB hard drive so I've spent some time looking for how to compress them to more modern formats.

Initially I thought I could use an automated tool like Handbrake of VisualHub to quickly convert them but the results were less than perfect. I finally sat down and did a direct comparison. For Visual Hub and Handbrake I spent some time playing with settings trying to really optimize them, for Quicktime (using Quicktime X) there are no real settings to speak of.

The results (below) speak for themselves. Even when I upped the bit rate to Handbrake or Visual Hub I couldn't get it even close to what Quicktime can do. In terms of speed they all seemed pretty close (I didn't time them but my perception was the speeds of conversation were all about the same).

On the pictures below note especially the horizontal and vertical lines -- What you can't see from these grabs is some of odd interlace problems while watching the movie in everything but Quicktime.

Raw DV Footage
Raw Footage
Quicktime to H.264
Handbrake (Custom settings)
Handbrake Custom Settings
Visual Hub
Visual Hub to H.264

One of my initial concerns with using Quicktime was there was no Batch process. I initially loaded the movie into quicktime and used the 'Export' feature. Fortunately I came across a great solution to that: Create a service to do the conversation.


Now I can just select a bunch of movies, select services->convert to Quicktime and they show up on my Desktop, Nice!

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Paperless pays off!

If you have followed my blog for the past several weeks you have seen me on a bit of an organizational/paperless tear.

Today it payed off -- I had ordered a gift for someone and the first thing I did when I got the package was scan the packing information (essentially receipt) and saved it in my 'Receipts' DropBox folder.

Today I learned that the person I bought the gift for is already getting the item -- Instead of waiting until I got home, trying to find the details, and then trying to call them the next day to process the return I was able to pull up my receipt off of DropBox (I sync my Work computer to DropBox also but I could have easily grabbed it off the DropBox web interface), call up the vendor with all the details and get a return processed.

This whole process works due to a couple of thing that are available today but weren't available even a few years ago.

  • Painless Scanning -- My ScanSnap makes scanning completely painless.  If you have never used one it's impossible to describe but scanning a document is so simple, foolproof and fast that you don't ever think 'is it worth it' -- It's actually less work to scan then to think "Where do I store this"
  • Files Everywhere (& backed up) with Dropbox.  I have the 50GB account but I only use about 5GB so far -- This is after scanning like crazy.  The fact is scanned PDF's just don't take much space and with Dropbox I can always get at my files.  The nice thing about getting a paid account is that they keep backup versions (Forever?).  Even if you later delete it to get more space you can go back later and retrieve it via the web interface.
  • Evernote.  I kept track of my return number and dragged a copy of the receipt into Evernote in my 'To Do' folder.  In the next few days I'll mail the item back (Scanning my proof of shipment of course), add it to the note (so it has: my original receipt, my notes talking with the CSR on return details, and proof of mailing in a single Evernote note)  -- This note will drop into my 'Completed' folder once my credit card is returned.

It may sound like I'm a serious type-A which is generally not the case.  I like being organized as much as the next person but generally don't spend the energy to actually do much about it.  With these tools however it's really pretty painless.  What makes Evernote & DropBox especially attractive is they are not tied to one computer.  They are at Work, at Home and on my Phone.

Finally I want to comment on the ScanSnap.  I really hesitated on buying it: $400 for a scanner? but it's one of my better purchases of 2009.  It completely exceeded my expectations and I've long forgotten the money I spent on it.


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To Do Management with Evernote

The title of this post is grand, perhaps too grand.  It's really just a simple change I've made recently as part of my paperless office drive (which really should be called a simplify your life drive).

One of my torments has been todo lists.  While I generally am pretty good at using them it drives me batty that I don't have a consistent way to keep track of them.

At work I've used Outlook to-do's a lot but they are generally unavailable at home.  At home I've tried the built in mail to-dos as well as various services such as remember the milk and the ilk but I never found a solution that worked for me consistently everywhere.

Before I go too much further I should explain that the way I do tasks lists/todos is they tend to be associated with a bunch of other media -- For instance if I get a bill I need to call about during the week I'll scan it in (with my SnapScan of course) so I have a copy to refer to when I call.  Or I might have a screenshot or just a bunch of notes.

I've settled on a solution in the last 3-4 weeks that really seems to be working for me.  Evernote.

I have two notebooks, one is called 'ToDo' and one is could "Closed out ToDos" - I simply put notes in the "ToDo" list and drag them out to "Closed Out" when I'm done.

This is tremendous because notes in Evernote can contain Rich text, images, PDF's and any other sort of file so I can toss any any supporting items to my todo.   As I make progress on it I can also make notes on where I am and when it's closed I can archive it for posterity sake.

Since I have Evernote everywhere (phone, work, home and web) I can always get access to work on them or close them out.

The key to this working is I have Evernote open all the time anyway so it's not a new tool I need to get into -- It's the tool I already use.
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In defense of the app store process

I'll admit it -- I've been (privately) pretty down on the app store process.  After my first app was released (MovieFlick) I swore never again as the pain of trying to push out updates was too much.

I eventually did a second app (DreamApp).  The 1.3 version has been about two months getting out and I was ready to explode today when I got what I thought was another rejection but it all worked out fine.

My first release of 1.3 had a real problem with new user accounts that I never tested and the Apple team found it so although it's frustrating to wait 3 weeks to find out they did a good job of finding a real problem.

My second submit was rejected for using 'undocumented API's'  -- you may have heard that Apple has a new static analysis tool for finding usage of non supported API's and my app was caught in that.  It turns out that one of the libraries I use did have calls to unsupported API's but only for testing purposes (of the framework) - I never actually used them in my code.

grumble, grumble ok submit again… Tonight I got *another* letter about unsupported API's and I was about to explode but then something odd happened…. I got an email saying 'Your app is now for sale'.

It turns out the third letter pointed out the use of a non supported api (NSHost hostWithName) but instead of rejecting it they said "We'll let it go but please fix it for the next release" -- When I first read it I hadn't noticed that fine print but true to their word it's now available.

So in this era of dog piling on top of Apple and the app store process I have to get them some credit for being pragmatic about this… They made a decision to release it but asked nicely for me to fix it next time.


ScanSnap Safety Tips part deux

A video summary of ScanSnap safety issues

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Scansnap Safety Tips

My ScanSnap arrived today (I'll write up about it later) but with it came a 50 page 'safety precautions' book.  It struck me as odd because I couldn't imagine that scanning was a particularly dangerous activity.

Boy was I wrong.  I'm really glad I decided to read the book as there are a number of really good safety tips including:

  • Don't use scansnap while driving a car
  • When handling documents be careful not to cut your fingers
  • When carrying the ScanSnap outside avoid rain and snow
  • Avoid getting a necktie caught in the scansnap
That's just a few of them -- I wish I had known how dangerous this would be before I purchased the ScanSnap

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Going paperless

My wife and I were cleaning our house this weekend and it struck me just how many piles of paper we had.  For lots of good reasons you get paper and want to keep it (sometimes it has important info, sometimes it's a keepsake) but I was shocked by how cluttered our house was by the various bits (including copies of bills long paid, expired coupons, etc.) 

Even after brutally going through and recycling there were still lots of stuff we 'had to keep'.  I made a decision this weekend to see if I could transition my household to be largely paperless.

My first step started with a purchase and a change in bill paying:

My purchase was a Fujitsu SnapScan s1500m -- I've seen Fujitsu at Mac world for several years and while I've always kind of liked the idea the price (~$404 at Amazon) was always more than I wanted to pay.  That changed when I spent almost an hour trying to scan in documents with my trusty HP all in one.  The HP is fine for a few items but for any kind of volume it's pretty horrible -- It's slow and can't reliably feed more than a few sheets at a time.

I'm hoping the Fujitsu SnapScan fixes all of that.  My plan is to shove everything I can find that I don't want deleted in there and pdf it up.  For some of the docs I'll keep them in Evernote but for most of them I'll probably just store them away (maybe archive them off every year or so)

For bill pay I enabled a feature that's been on my account for a while.  I switched from Quicken for the PC to doing finances online recently and as part of the switch I went to web based bill pay  -- One feature of online bill pay is they can send the bill directly to your account and you can view & pay online (no more paper -- Get rid of it at the source!)

I'll report back in a few weeks on how things are going..


Even Easier Scanning into Evernote

In my last post I showed a easy way to get images from Image Capture into Evernote.  While that worked great it had one problem:  Image Captured tends to 'forget' the selected application and you need to go find it again.

Fortunately there is an even easier way to integrate Evernote into Image Capture using Automator to create a 'real' Image Capture plugin. (and finally, I get to use Automator for something real!)

Setup is quite easy:  Run Automator and select new 'Image Capture Plugin' .

Then add a single item to the flow -- Run Applescript with the following applescript.

on run {input, parameters}
tell application "Evernote"
create note from file input
end tell
return input
end run

Save it to to the default location and call it something like 'Evernote' and Voila, it shows up in Image capture as a first class citizen (and will never disappear).  Note that this is for Snow Leopard (10.6) - I don't know how if or how this trick will work on earlier version of OS X.

Even Easier!

Scanning Into Evernote with Image Capture

I've got a funny history with Evernote -- Around the time Microsoft came out with One Note, a small company started making something called Evernote.  I actually preferred Evernote over One note but in reality I didn't use either of them much because the data was stuck on one computer.

Since then I've gone through lots of these (Yojimbo, Circus Ponies Notebook, etc.) and while I love the concept I've always given up since my life is just too dynamic.  

I spend a lot of time at work on a PC, then I come home to a Mac but on the road it's all iPhone baby.  With the amazingly good syncing of Evernote and the great native clients (not to mention the web) I've really started to rely on Evernote.

One thing I've started to do a lot of is scanning documents -- A typical use case is I'll be doing bills on a Sunday night and realize I need to call someone during business hours (say to get something corrected or ask a question).  I've started scanning the bill into Evernote, adding a few quick comments and add it to Evernote.

The sync in Evernote works so well that I don't even think about it anymore -- I just add it and forget about it.  Monday morning when I get to work the info is right there and I can make the call to fix the problem (and if it's complicated I can keep a running log of discussions in that note -- Since it includes the original bill I've got it all in one spot -- A lifesaver if you are dealing with insurance companies!)

The one thing that Didn't work as well as I would like was getting the scan into Evernote in the first place.  I would:

  1. Open Image Capture
  2. Scan to PDF
  3. Drag PDF to evernote
  4. Add comments
Fortunately there is a better way (in Snow Leopard anyway) -- It's also dead-easy to set up.  As a one time step step you have to select the 'scan to' drop down in image capture and navigate to the Applications directory and select Evernote.  It will then show up in the drop down (like iPhoto, preview & Mail do by default) -- It becomes a first class citizen in Image capture so you can scan directly into Evernote.  My work flow is now

  1. Open Image Capture & Make sure Evernote is the selected as the Scan To Target (which it is)
  2. Scan and add Comments


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