Why Do Printers Still Suck?

The Installer failed and looped endlessly. You should be ashamed.

Recently I bought an HP Photoshare 7510, a pretty nice printer/scanner that brings me up to the wireless age.  I’ve had a few problems setting up the software though. My Mac had a few hiccups with the scanning from the printer feature, and Karey’s Windows 7 laptop refuses to have the printer installed. After spending an hour with it, I told her to simply email the printer a PDF to print, the software is just hopelessly broken.

Frustration © by music2work2

How broken? Well after downloading 3 different files from HP, the last being a wizard, the software just endlessly loops through the entire installation, saying “Downloading drivers”, then when that install fails, the same wizard picks up again and says “Downloading drivers” and launches the install all over again. This prompted me to leave the above snarky-yet-true quote on HP’s web survey. It didn’t help that pressing the “Details” button on the installer error page just brought up a dialog box that said “Installation Error”. Those are some deep details.

But the bigger issue – can anyone explain to me why in the last 10 years we’ve made enormous advances in all areas of technology except printer drivers? They’re still bloated and buggy, even as the hardware has gotten better. The software simply is horrendous.

Better yet, the companies are still in the mindset of “Bloat it on up, we don’t care if it drags the computer down”. Windows installers are horrible in this respect. The HP installer I just looped through 5 times required me to press a button to show checkboxes, which I could then uncheck, for a bunch of useless things I knew Karey wouldn’t want on her computer. It was purposefully built to be a pain to do.

Oddly enough, the Mac version of the same software had far less bloatware (i.e. nearly none) and all its optional stuff was “opt-in” (i.e. I had to check it to get it to install). All i can figure is that the Mac software is programmed by Mac users who think “I wouldn’t want this junk on my system” and disregard upper management’s “Make them opt out” cries (call it “corporate disobedience”). While the Windows software is programmed by someone who is an inch away from unemployment and will do whatever horrible thing upper management says. Reminds me of a car dealer mechanic once who confided in me that he felt horrible drilling holes in brand new cars just to screw on a dealer nameplate. He knew no one cared to advertise where they bought their car for free, but if he didn’t screw that sucker in, he’d be in the unemployment line. Probably the same for the Windows guys (since there are obviously more of them on the market than the Mac guys – something related to that huge number of people who use Windows over Mac OS)

In the end as much as I hate to admit it, I have to print things sometimes. I also have to scan things (a lot). I can’t get away from these monsters anytime soon. I just wish companies would get a clue about how to build decent non-dysfunctional software.

The Pirate and The Butterfly (And The Man)

So those of you who noticed my Short Story of the Day project a few months back probably realized that I am much more comfortable with writing than drawing. I tell the anecdote time and time again that I have no idea how someone who has artists for parents can’t muster up more than a decent stick figure. But last night I found an app that gives me hope (Well, one of many apps that help out loser artists like me): My Story Creator, an app that recently went from the horribly high price of $0.99 to free, so I downloaded it.

And here’s my first story. It’s a work in progress, and has a cliffhanger ending for sure! (Click each picture to enlarge)

The Cupcake Diet


By Dr. Jonathan E. Westfall

(Totally a real Dr… Just not a Medical one…)

Cupcakes Are Your Savior

So you’re fat. How do I know that? Well because you’re reading a diet book. Well, I guess you might just want something interesting to read while on vacation, or perhaps you know me personally and are curious about this whole Diet book thing.

But I’d like to think you’re fat, because I’m fat, and we all know from pop culture that fat people are losers who like to hang out together because somehow that makes us feel better. At least skinny people think that, and we shouldn’t burst their bubble.

So seriously, we’re all fat here, and we want to lose some weight for some reason or another. Maybe we want to look better, or be able to do more, or we don’t want to die 2-4 years earlier than our skinny friends (Because some amazing things are sure to happen to us in those last 2-4 years. Presidential Elections, senior discounts, advances in fiber sciences, etc…). And at one point or another, fat people want to find something that works when it comes to weight loss. Well friends, I’m here to share an amazing secret with you – the answer is, seriously, cupcakes. Continue reading “The Cupcake Diet”

And Now, A Lipton Tea and Honey Mango Pineapple Iced Green Tea Contest Sweepstakes Thingy

Yesterday I wrote an article about my magical influence over Drinks. Today I’ve decided to follow the Mommy Bloggers and run a CONTEST! Ooohhh… get ready ya’ll, you can win some free stuff!

Lipton Tea & Honey Mango Pineapple Packet
Lipton Tea & Honey Mango Pineapple Packet

Here’s the prize:

  • At least 2 Lipton Tea & Honey Mango Pineapple Iced Green Tea packets!
  • Other packets of some sort (perhaps Splenda? who knows!)
  • Some sort of freebie item from Karey’s & My “Goodwill” pile! (We don’t even know what you’ll get yet!)

Sound good? Of course it does. It’s FREE. How could it be any better? It can’t be any better. I assure you.

Here’s How to Enter:

  1. Follow me on Twitter, because even though I have 200 followers, I suspect not all of them are real people. Plus I’m pretty sure all contests now require you to follow something on Twitter.
  2. Tweet something like this (Required parts in Bold)
    “I just entered to win some Lipton Tea & Honey Mango Pineapple Iced Green Tea from @jonwestfall http://wp.me/p11t7J-1gc”
  3. Pray no one else enters!
Here’s The Requirements
  • You must have a shipping address in the U.S. No way I’m doing a customs form for tasty Lipton Tea & Honey Mango Pineapple Iced Green Tea.
  • It must be legal for you to enter contests and if you’re under age (or still living with the ‘rents), you must have permission. No way I’m going to jail over stupid old Lipton Tea & Honey Mango Pineapple Iced Green Tea.
  • You must agree not to be disappointed (I mean, how can you – you’ll get at least 2 packets of… ah you know…)
The contest runs from now to Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 11:56 PM EDT. At that time, likely, no one will have entered and I’ll just drink some tasty Lipton Tea & Honey Mango Pineapple Iced Green Tea that I don’t have to give away. Or perhaps 1 person will enter, and I’ll contact them via DM on Twitter (since they’re following me!). Or perhaps more than 1 person will enter and I’ll find some way to randomly choose someone.
Good Luck!

An Influential Drinker Reviews Lipton Tea & Honey Mango Pineapple Iced Green Tea

Beverage
Lipton Tea & Honey Mango Pineapple Packet
Lipton Tea & Honey Mango Pineapple Packet

This is a story that begins with a very odd little service / company named Klout. In their own words…

Our friendships and professional connections have moved online, making influence measurable for the first time in history. When you recommend, share, and create content you impact others. Your Klout Score measures that influence on a scale of 1 to 100.

So being the glutton for punishment I am when it comes to services I can sign up for, I connected Klout up to my Twitter account and got a score. The score was interesting in that it rarely changed, so I hardly checked it, until recently when Klout introduced Perks. To save you the time of reading their page, this is exactly what it sounds like: I’m ‘influential’ so I get some free stuff because brands want to know what I think.

Recently I noticed my first ‘perk’ was available from Lipton. You see, apparently I’m influential about certain topics (As of this writing, 8 things specifically, including for some reason, Amtrak). One of those topics is “Drinks”, which I can only imagine I’m influential about because…

  1. I require hydration
  2. I drink things to fulfill this need
  3. I apparently talk about it in some way.

So Lipton sent me a bunch of these little packets (pictured above) so they could enjoy and bask in my measurable (thanks to Klout) influence. But before I tell you what I think of them, I gotta say this (because the little card included with the packets says so)

[notice]I was given a free product or sample because I’m a Klout influencer. I am under no obligation to receive the sample or talk about this company. I get no additional benefits for talking about the product or company.[/notice]

So that’s what I have to say, but ya know, I feel like going the extra mile.

[notice]By getting something for free, I feel no obligation to post about it in a serious or mocking tone at all. My parents raised me to believe that reciprocity was an evil concept that had no value in the world. Further, social interactions have never subtly hinted a quid pro quo norm to me, probably because I live under a rock. [/notice]

So anyway, what did I think of the product? Well let’s see.

First I got myself some regular tap water and put it in a large cup I recently acquired on a trip to an indian casino. I opened the flavor packet using the pre-cut notch (which initially I thought my evil cat had bit into the packet. While I applaud Lipton for providing this easy open interface, my cat does not appreciate the near scolding I almost administered). I then proceeded to dump the contents into the large cup, and stirred the sh*t out of the liquid with a knife (because that’s how I role). Eventually said packet contents integrated with water, producing a honey brown liquid which smelled vaguely tropical.

Beverage

[notice]I was not asked by Apple, Sony, Twelve South, or Jimmy Buffett to include their products in the photo above. Neither was I asked by HTC to take said photo with my MyTouch 4G Slide, although I did it anyway.[/notice]

So once I had my libation ready to sample, I sat down and carefully picked up the glass. I took a sip, and came to the conclusion that…

This stuff ain’t bad

That’s my exact reaction. I’m an influencer, and I’m influencing that the Lipton Tea & Honey Mango Pineapple Iced Green Tea is pretty tasty. Although if it weren’t I’d be seriously surprised. Do you have any idea how much money gets put into developing a product at subsidiary of Unilever? If this thing had tasted like crap, it never would have made it out of QA (probably…). Anyway, I’m fairly happy with my free tea. I even paired it with a tasty food item

Bananas & Peanut Butter on Toasted Bread

[notice]I was given a free banana & peanut butter bread treat by my wife because I’m awesome. I am under no obligation to talk about this. I get no additional benefits for talking about it, although even if I did, I might not tell you since it’s none of your business.[/notice]

Seal of Approval

 

Day in the NYC Life

I’m writing this from the window seat of Metro-North Railroad’s car 6306. Almost 3 years ago when I started taking these trains I kept a list of the cars that I’d been on, curious when I’d repeat cars. It took about 2 weeks. I’ve probably been on 6306 many times over the past years, mostly because it’s in the ‘right’ position on the train for me to be right at the exit when I arrive at my station. Those who work or live in NYC know that drill well – we always know what car to be in to reduce any wait in our lives.

Train List kept in June 2009
Commuters wait for the 6:24 train at Cortlandt Station. Car # is 6302.

And why not? After all, they’re pretty jam-packed. I woke up at 5:30 this morning (Well, 5:21 to be exact) and was on the train at 6:24 (Well, 6:26 this morning – it’s never exactly on time). At 7:15 or so I arrived at the upper-most tip of Manhattan, which is actually physically part of the Bronx (don’t ask, it’s a long story – suffice it to say, it wasn’t always physically connected to the Bronx). By 7:40 I was walking from the 116th street 1 line station to my office in Uris Hall, right behind Low Library on Columbia’s historic Morningside campus. I like getting in to the office at 7:45 – it’s quiet there, a good time to get some work done before the rush.

A 9 AM meeting ran till about 10 to 10, an 11 AM interview with a prospective lab manager, and a quick rush down to the in-building deli at noon to buy some passable pesto pasta – NYCers never admit food is good unless it cost about half an arm or leg. My lunch today was a container of pasta, some garlic bread, and a fountain Coke Zero. It cost about $8.60 after tax, considered ‘not bad’ in NYC for lunch. Anywhere else I would have paid around $5 or $6. But hey, I’m in the greatest city in the world, right?

At 3:15 I had another interview, so I spent the early afternoon ranging with a statistics problem in my little cubicle with 6′ high walls. It’s small and has no windows, and there are others around talking, but it’s home.

Jon's Desk at Columbia

The 4-5 of us in the office at once tolerate each other, for the most part. 3:15 rolls around and I find that the person to interview is running late – she marked the wrong time on her calendar. Now the interview is at 4, which is somewhat vexing. I am later forced to excuse myself at the end of the interview to take a call I’d been expecting – my caller not aware that my schedule had juggled, obviously.

At 5:15 I leave my desk to go to a talk. The room is booked as ‘ours’ in the scheduler, but apparently another professor always has a class there at this time. The scheduling office never blocked it off, so we were able to reserve it. We hastily consult my phone, looking at the master schedule. We find a ‘soft’ reservation on another room. It’s open, so we steal it. They probably weren’t going to use it anyway. Inside that room 8 faculty or postdocs sit and listen to a 9th present work that 5 of them are intimately familiar with. A strange talk, but the cheese, crackers, and dried fruit platter at least make up for the oddity in attendance. Outside MBAs play music in other rooms – it’s their Thursday night happy hour, and they’re busy networking and creating relationships that are sure to help them seal the ‘big deal’ later in life.

View from the Marble Hill Metro-North Station. Going into Marble Hill costs substantially less than Grand Central.

A moment ago the conductor signal on the train beeped incessantly. No one pays it attention – we know it’s the yard crew unhooking the emergency brake. It makes a loud thud throughout my car, no one cares. On summer days when tourists are nearby, perhaps we’d get a few shocked looks. Vets long ago lost interest in these occurences.

After the talk I decide to take the long way home, avoiding a return trip to the Bronx (A trip recently made longer because my normal subway station has the uptown platform closed for 6 weeks for rehabilitation) and decide to go down to Grand Central Terminal. For the first 2 months I lived in NY I trained into GCT, so I know the layout of the terminal well. I come off the Times Square shuttle and make a run to Rite Aid to pick up a greeting card for a friend. It’s her last day next Friday and tomorrow Karey and I are taking her out to dinner. She was my first full-semester intern at Columbia, and I’ll be sad to see her off. We all must move on, but that doesn’t make it easier.

The card is easily located, while the line at the 3 register stands is at least 10 people long. It moves fast – most are commuters buying a snack and drink for the train. I get to the front and give a young, new (according to his name tag) associate named Timothy the card and a $20. He apologizes for the delay making change for me. This delay is less than 20 seconds, but for native New Yorkers, it’s worth apologizing for. Life moves fast in NYC – we don’t just say that, we live it. Timothy hands me my change and I leave. I don’t ask for a bag – I just slip the card into my bag. Everyone carries a bag in NYC, men and women alike. We all have things to take places, stuff to do.

Car 2272's Interior, an R62A car on the #1 Line

A conductor just took my ticket from me. Because I am leaving from Grand Central and not Marble Hill, I need to buy a second ticket to augment my monthly commuter pass. She punches the second ticket and takes it, however a simple wave of the monthly suffices. Monthlies arrive in different colors each month, printed on the back of a MetroCard. They’re my one card that gets me into the city and through it, thanks to an Unlimited MetroCard for the subways and non-express busses.

But back to my shopping trip. I leave Rite Aid and go passed a bakery that serves fresh bagels in the morning (a nice NYC treat). Karey loves when I bring things from there home. Tomorrow she’ll be in GCT, so perhaps she’ll get something herself. I duck into a small alcove with TVMs (Ticket vending machines). I buy my One Way Peak ticket for $7.50 – tickets to GCT cost quite a bit more than a ticket to Marble Hill. Each time I decide to leave from GCT, despite it taking the same amount of time to get home, I foot an extra $5.50 or $7.50, depending on if it’s peak or not. Tonight the shopping trip made it fine to spend the extra cash.

Ticket in pocket, bag on back, I cross the terminal to the Apple store to buy a few iTunes gift cards for my former intern. I walk in, find my items, and a young man scans them and sells them to me. We chat a bit, and the entire transaction takes less than a minute. No line, no waiting, the norm for the clientele. I leave the Apple store, gift cards in my hoodie pocket, and cross the terminal once more to another commuter staple: Starbucks. The baristas ring up my Grande Iced Coffee Sweetened with Soy (an order I could probably make in my sleep), bag me up a cookie (a rare indulgence), and scan my Android phone for payment. In three transactions I’ve gone from paper money, to credit card, to phone (Well, technically an iPhone was involved in the second transaction). Increasingly more efficient ways to buy things.

A man looks up at the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal, 10/19/2009

Drink and cookie in hand, gift cards in pocket, bag on back, I make my way to Track 35 (which is actually rather close to Starbucks). I get in old 6306 and sit down in the window seat. A man in a suit soon joins me in the aisle seat, and we start our journey. We’ve just reached Harlem-125th street, as I write these lines.

I’ll arrive at Cortlandt, the station I park at, around 8:43 according to the time table. 15 minutes or so for me to get to my car and drive home, and I should be walking in the door to my 1-bedroom apartment in Peekskill around 9 PM, only 15 hours after I left. While today was a bit longer than usual, it certainly wasn’t that abnormal. Usually at least once every two weeks I’m in the city later than my usual schedule. Usually I’m only out of the apartment for 11 and ½ hours, arriving home at 5:15 PM. Tonight Karey has waited to have dinner until I arrive, so a hot meal awaits me. Some nights we do this, others it’s just a free-for-all if I’ll be home late. We’re flexible, we have to be.

Will I miss all of this when my postdoc ends? Yes and no. I will miss the experiences, the people, and the feel of living in New York and working in New York City. Manhattan is a frenetic mess of activity any hour of any day of any week in the year. Each season brings about fresh new adventures

Karey taking photos of geese on a trip to the beach, July 2, 2011

along with tried-and-true experiences that the natives will roll their eyes at. This is one of the few cities where people pride themselves on how unshakeable they are. How nothing surprises them. How anything can and does happen. New Yorkers are tough, and I feel as though after 3 years I’ve been semi-adopted as one. It’s an experience that’s invaluable, and one I’ll cherish forever.

But, on the other hand, it’s highly dysfunctional. Humans aren’t meant to live and work at this pace. Our time is valuable, yes, but we are not machines to be quantified in terms of productivity or even how fast we can move from one part of the city to the other. Slowing the pace would probably benefit the masses, after they adjusted. But it’s blasphemy to the NYC native – why do anything slower than absolutely necessary. Stopping to smell the roses? Eh you probably can’t smell ‘em anyway over the sweat of millions of men, women, and children bustling about.

NYC is an experience, a life, and a vocation. It teaches you how to shrug off surprise. How to prioritize. How to multitask. And how to drop your humanity in the face of immediate need (sometimes to ugly results). And as long as you take a step back every so often to put things into a non-NYC perspective, it’s an experience everyone should have. In moderation.

To Do Lists For Sanity’s Sake!

So I’m not normally a forgetful person. In fact, sometimes I recall things that surprise others around me (i.e. random birthdays, etc…). And one thing I’ve never had trouble remembering is the tasks that I have to get done, both long and short-term. Major parts of my job(s) don’t fall through the cracks. So why do I use a to-do list service? The little things that go bump in my head… Continue reading “To Do Lists For Sanity’s Sake!”

What is Jon’s “Short Story A Day?”

List Updated Through #70!

For the past month two and a half months I’ve been posting a variety of original stories and poems here. If you aren’t a regular visitor, you probably haven’t noticed them since I haven’t published them to Twitter or any other network. But since we’ve gotten to the 1 month mark (even if it is a small month), I figured I’d unveil them to the public.

We’ve got 29 stories so far, if you want to check them out. A few focus on a cast of recurring characters that live in the Woods, a few are serious, and some are quite odd poems. Here’s a quick roadmap based on grouping. Enjoy!

The Jim The Bunny Series

The Stories

The Poems, Drawings, and Other Stuff!

There you have it – the first month. I do have a goal in mind for how many Short Stories of the Day to write. But for the immediate future, feel free to check back here regularly to see what new things I’ve written in the series. I’d love to hear your comments as well!

Update! We’re now up to 70(!) stories, many more than the 29 I wrote about in February! Here’s the new items!

The Jim The Bunny Series

The Stories

The Poems

Encryption – It’s Not Just For The Paranoid

Recently I purchased a few external hard drives for backup purposes, and the first thing I did with them was to encrypt them using TrueCrypt. When I mention this to people, I generally get a sorta weird look. Sort of a “If you aren’t doing anything illegal [which I’m not, if you care], why do you need to encrypt your drives?”. While one could use encryption for nefarious reasons (and claim 5th amendment rights against forced decryption), there are a number of reasons why encryption of even non-sensitive data (i.e. my music collection) makes sense.

First, let’s talk about the costs of doing this. Using TrueCrypt, my product of choice (and a proven and secure open-source solution), the cost in dollars is $0. TrueCrypt is free, and runs on pretty much any operating system. The only other cost is time. On my computer, I was able to encrypt an entire 1 TB drive in just under 12 hours. To read or write files to this drive, I must mount it in TrueCrypt (Which takes about 5-10 seconds), and unmount it when I’m done (5-10 seconds). The speed of data writing/reading is a bit slower, however since I’m storing files there (and not doing video editing), it’s a negligible difference.

So those are the costs – a few seconds here and there, and an initial 12 hour investment if you want to encrypt an entire 1 TB drive (Encrypting smaller drives, or creating encrypted ‘containers’ (which look like files but act as small encrypted drives within a drive) takes less time).

And here are the benefits:

  1. Peace of Mind with Offsite Backup. You’ve probably heard before that you should keep a copy of your data ‘offsite’. This means, practically, ‘not in your home’. While online services are out there that can do this, for large chunks of data that you want to keep handy, the easiest way I know to do this is to keep a copy at your office or place of business. If that won’t work, your car (assuming it wouldn’t get burned up in the same fire that got the house), or a friend’s / parent’s house would also work. (Fireproof safes, while a good idea, shouldn’t be your only line of defense. Even if they protect the data, it might take days or weeks post-fire to get into them, so a true offsite solution maintains data security and data availability).So you have your offsite location picked out, and you have your external hard drive sitting there. Great. Now just schedule a task or calendar appointment to remind yourself to back up to it regularly, and you’re good to go – right? Well, maybe not. Most of us don’t have exclusive control of our workplaces. While we might have desk drawers that lock, or private offices, someone else usually has a key or can easily obtain one (If you don’t believe me, check out this site that will sell you any desk key you want, provided you can give them the number from the outside of the lock. Not exactly hard to get information!). Now imagine that someone gets into your desk, finds your external hard drive, and decides to power it up. Now they have access to your files, and while you might not have anything all that important in them, do you really want a stranger to have unbridled access to those files? They could peak at your resume, your vacation photos, your home movies, any backed up emails, word documents, budgets, etc… Nothing that will cause you to go to jail or compromise state security, but still – unsettling stuff.
  2. No Worries When Obsolescence occurs. So eventually that shiny 1 TB (or 2 TB, or 3 TB or whatever) drive is going to seem just as great as a 100 GB drive did 5 years ago. When that happens, do you really want to go through all the work to securely erase all of your personal information off of it? Or are you content to throw it out and let someone access everything because all you did was a quick format? If the data is encrypted in the first place, it’s never in danger or in need of secure deletion, provided the key is unretrievable by the finder.
  3. Got company data worth legal action over? Have you ever signed a Non-disclosure agreement? Ever read the fine print about what a company could do to you if you ‘leak’ out any of their information / databases / lists of customers / etc…? No one intends to break a NDA, however one of the most unfortunate ways one could be broken is through unencrypted hard drives. If you’re storing company backups with your own (because, say, you’re the IT guy at a small shop and it’s just easier to have a copy of the backup for piece of mind), then you need to secure it. Otherwise, bad things could happen.
  4. What’s the downside, exactly? So I’ve just made three good arguments for keeping your data secured. I told you that it takes me about 5-10 seconds to open my encrypted drive, and that read/write speed isn’t greatly impaired (If you’re encrypting a system partition, you might take care to use just 1 level of encryption with TrueCrypt, such as simply AES, since it’s secure and reasonably fast). So really, what is the excuse for not using some form of encryption? Remember, if someone gains access to your data, you can’t simply tell them “Sorry, I was ignorant and too busy to secure this stuff – can you please delete it and give me a second-chance?”.

So there you have it – some very good reasons why you might want to take a bit of time this week and encrypt your backup hard drives. It’ll give you some piece-of-mind, if nothing else.

Selling You on Evernote

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that he was going to try to start using Evernote again. As someone who went through the same on-again-off-again thing with Evernote for a few years before falling in love, I figured I’d share how I got Evernote to be a useful addition to my life.

The secret, not surprisingly, is actually using it on a daily basis. But for a new user, that can be daunting.

When I look at my oldest notes, I find they’re mostly scans of paper documents or paper notebooks. I figured Evernote, with it’s OCR abilities, would be the best place for these, as opposed to just a bunch of JPEGs and PDFs lying around my hard drive. I started by manually entering these in, but soon realized it would be super useful to do this automatically, so I did – and I wrote about it here.

It was at this point that I realized that automating things into Evernote was probably the best way to get certain things in that I, honestly, would never get around to putting in. But that can only take you so far – you need to actually start entering your notes into Evernote. What are good examples of notes? Well, now after 2 years of heavy use, I can tell you the following benefits I’m reaping:

  • About once or twice a year, I have to perform some archaic tech task (i.e. something I don’t do all that often, things like password audits, CSR generation, installing a new version of some picky software). I used to rely on my memory for these tasks, and I dreaded doing them, afraid I’d forget a step. Sometimes I’d jot down a few commands in notepad, but I’d invariably lose the text file I created. So about 2 years ago I started forcing myself to write down each step, tutorial style, in Evernote. Now these tasks don’t suck anymore – I have my own guide on what to do, what not to do, etc… The tasks take substantially less time because I’m not trying to remember the exact command line syntax, I’ve got it already. And I don’t have to worry about doing it ‘differently’ than last year.
  • Evernote has also been my repository for tutorials, tips, and cheat sheets on the web. I used to simply keep bookmarks to the web page or forum post I’d need to reference. Then more than once I found sites going away, forums being pruned (or taken down) and information lost. Now everything I use to solve a problem goes into an Evernote web clipped note. Even things I think might be useful later get sucked into Evernote. For example, today I grabbed a forum post on how to use dd – a command I rarely need but when I do, I want to know that I’m using it right. I also keep chunks of code, PHP and R primarily, in Evernote, for reference when needed.
  • Evernote is also my repository for digital ‘keepsakes’ (i.e. paper greeting cards, handwritten letters, funny photos, etc…). It’s easily searchable, and again removes the ‘plethora of JPEGs and PDFs’ problem. I know that if I ever need to, I can export the note and get the PDF/JPEG. This is a plus for me.
  • Last semester when I taught, I kept each days’ attendance forms, records, student notes/excuses, and such in Evernote. I got in the habit of going straight to the scanner before I got to my desk, scanning in all the paper from that class meeting. Over break, when I was submitting grades, I was really glad I had all of that in Evernote – it saved me trips to my office to look for 1 piece of paper among a few hundred.
  • Bills are nice to have in Evernote as well – either statements or Receipts.
  • I also use Evernote to keep track of software development notes. Pending restaurants for FFCAL get placed there, for example, as do notes on distribution, analytics, changelogs, etc… I can then copy/paste them where needed, keeping the master copy in Evernote.

Those are largely the things that I manually enter into Evernote. Since I can easily tag things and sort/search as needed, I also automate a bunch of other things into Evernote using either GMail labels or IFTTT. Here’s how I play digital packrat:

  • Every time I check in on Foursquare, I have it record to Evernote. Months later I can easily remember memories of a given day. Also helps in the rare event I need to reconstruct when I did something, roughly.
  • Every time I’m mentioned on Twitter, I have it recorded to Evernote.
  • I have a special Tag in Google Reader that goes straight to Evernote.
  • Each time I mark something read in Read It Later, a link and time is entered into Evernote, so I can easily share articles out with others later.
  • I keep an FYI label in GMail for important email threads. Each time I mark something FYI, it goes to Evernote. This provides redundancy for important messages, and lets me keep an easily searchable offline copy.
  • If I tag something in GMail as a receipt (using a label) it goes to Evernote. I combine this with rules in GMail that categorize receipts automatically (The search term I use looks like this: Has The Text “order receipt” OR “your receipt” OR “Your Amazon Order” AND -“minimize your receipt” (I think the last one was because of some company I deal with saying “we send you these notices to minimize your receipt of paper…”, so you could probably remove that part)
  • Everything I share on my Tumblr blog (Shared By Jon) gets copied to Evernote for redundancy.

As you can see, some of the Evernote notes I have are just simple redundancy (I’m paranoid like that), others are digital memories, others are useful notes, others are tutorials, and still others are just static records I might need some day! At present I have 750 notes, although this really jumped after the Read It Later List rule took effect – before that it was just 400 or so. I’d say Evernote got really useful after I hit 200+ notes.