Netflix for Documents 1

Posted by jcnnghm Thu, 05 May 2011 23:36:15 GMT

Shoeboxed Envelope on Fridge

I hate clutter. I’ve been combatting it for the last year, and I’ve finally got it under control. Initially, I was using a Neatworks Document Scanner, then I signed up for a service called Shoeboxed in December.

The Shoeboxed service automatically scans and categorizes paper receipts, business cards, and documents that are sent to them through the mail. Pictures of receipts can also be uploaded directly from the Shoeboxed iPhone App, though I found that process somewhat cumbersome, and have only used it a couple of times.

I opted for the Classic plan, which includes 12”x9” prepaid, addressed envelopes, just like Netflix. The plan is a little pricey, at $30/month, but with the coupon code SAVE10 it can be had for $20/month, which I feel has been well worth it. With the classic service, Shoeboxed ships 2 envelopes initially, allowing you to always have one on hand. I contacted the Shoeboxed customer service right after I signed up, and they immediately shipped out two extra envelopes, so I’d have a set for both home and work. Customer service was fast and friendly, though I haven’t had any reason to contact them since that call.

The real benefit to a service like Shoeboxed is the transcription. I found that with the Neatworks scanner, I would scan and tag documents, but the receipts and business cards would still pile up on my desk. Receipts are hard to scan, they tend to crinkle in the document feeder, and require time and attention to catalog as well. The Shoeboxed service has generated hundreds of high quality scans, and perfect transcriptions. Everything is human cataloged, and it shows. Sometimes, but not always, they’ll even transcribe the handwritten notes I’ve left. This makes it quite convenient to record who you’ve been meeting with.

I estimate that the service saves me two to three hours of scanning and cataloging a month, which is well worth the twenty dollars. There is also the end-of-the-year benefit of having categorized, searchable receipts that are very easy to access.

Overall, the convenience is the greatest feature. I’ve got the envelope attached to my refrigerator with these Neodymium magnets, so whenever I walk through the door, I empty all the receipts from my pockets into the envelope, never to be seen again. Whenever new envelopes arrive, every couple of weeks, I replace the envelopes that I’m using, and so the cycle goes. Overall, given that I already had an excellent scanner, I was skeptical that I would see value in the service when I signed up. I was pleasantly surprised.

Try it, there’s a free trial. It’s one of those things you’ll kind of fall in love with, just like Netflix.

Say goodbye to paper clutter!

Get In Shape 4

Posted by jcnnghm Mon, 01 Mar 2010 01:09:00 GMT


I’ve been going to the gym regularly for the last seven years, so I thought I would take the time to share some of what I’ve learned in that time.

Why you Should Lift Weights

Besides the obvious benefits, better health, longer life, and better looks, weight lifting has a number of ancillary benefits. Primarily, lifting weights will make you more confident in yourself, which will in turn improve a number of areas of your life. Increased confidence absolutely helps in your sales process, whatever it is that you may be selling. If you are selling yourself to a potential mate, selling yourself to a potential client or hiring manager, or selling some product or service, increased confidence is outwardly apparent. It’s not something that can be faked, it must be built.

In addition to increased confidence, I’ve found that the physical activity that is inherent to weight lifting helps me think significantly better. I generally wait until I encounter a difficult problem in my work, then head to the gym. By the time I am done lifting, I’ve worked through the problem from several approaches, usually solved the initial problem, and worked through the next several issues that would have arisen if I sat at my desk and just tried to power through it. Evidence would suggest that this is caused by the increased blood flow to the brain, which brings me to the next benefit.

I’ve found that weight lifting gives me an energy and alertness spike equivalent to drinking two or three cups of coffee, without the jitters. If I’m feeling tired or irritable, I’ll go the the gym and after twenty minutes or so, I’ll feel much more lively. The extra energy is matched with reduced stress. I strongly believe that my workouts turn stress and tiredness into relaxed raw energy, it’s kind of unintuitive, but it works.

I also learn something while I lift weights. I signed up for a free trial and ended up renewing because it’s the cheapest way to regularly get audiobooks. I get a lot from listening to books while working out because of the increased alertness, and I am a big fan of expanding my mind while I work on my body. In particular, the Freakonomics audio books are quite good as they are ready by the author, as is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

Finally, it delivers a positive message about me to other people. I went to meet with a potential client, and when he recognized me from the gym, he remarked that he already knew that I was motivated and dedicated, and that those are the hardest attributes to gauge. Another client asks every time I see him if I still lift weights. We haven’t gone to the same gym in five years. It’s immediately obvious from outward appearance alone who puts in the time and effort necessary to take care of themselves.

How You Should Exercise

So you’re sold on weight lifting and are ready to put a little pride in your stride, a little strut in your stuff, but you don’t know where to get started. When I first started lifting weights, I had a number of preconceived notions about the whole thing that are well worth dispelling. The primary problem I had with it initially is that I was self-conscious about the amount of weight I was capable of lifting. I didn’t feel strong, and I didn’t want to be embarrassed. I didn’t want the bigger guys to look down on me. Now that I am capable of lifting heavier weights, I realize that these fears are unfounded. The only people I notice or care about are the guys that are doing more than I am. I don’t notice anyone else.

I was also under the impression that the people that routinely lift weights are stupid and unfriendly. Neither of these things are true. They knew much more than me about weight lifting, and often other things as well. In addition, the vast majority are willing to give free advice, and spot you if ask. The guys that have been at it a while know tons of information, and can be a great resource. Don’t start lifting weights in January though, there are a huge influx of people every year at this time that don’t know what they’re doing, and get in the way. They’re mostly all gone by February, so the people that have been around a while assume that these newcomers won’t stick around.

The most important thing as a beginning weight lifter is form. Focus on perfecting the technique, and everything else will follow. Every gym I’ve ever been in has been full of mirrors so you can easily observe your form, so take advantage of this. You can get videos of every lift you would ever want to do online, so you can check them out for an initial reference.

In general, I recommend a few basic things that seem to produce the best results. First, emphasize the lowering of the weights, the negative portion of the exercise. When bench pressing, this would be lowering the weight to your chest. When performing arm curls, this would be lowering the dumbbells from your shoulders to your hips. I try to take two full seconds to lower the weights. This helps strengthen the inverse muscle, your triceps for arm curls, and improves your overall control.

When the weight is fully lowered, explode. Give it all you’ve got. This will empathize the development of your fast twitch muscles. Having said that, never lock out (fully extend) any of your joints. You’re unlikely to hurt yourself locking out with the lighter weights that you’ll start with, but if you get in the habit of it early, you will hurt yourself when you move on to heavier weights. So explode, then purposefully slow down and stop the lift before you lock out.

I always recommend free weights over machines as free weights demand proper form. I feel that the machines can force you into improper positions, and can ultimately lead to injury. In addition, free weights limit your ability to overcompensate with one side of your body, so should result in more symmetric muscle growth.

I perform each lift the following number of times:

15 times at 45% of One-Rep Max
7  times at 60% of One-Rep Max
5  times at 75% of One-Rep Max
3  times at 85% of One-Rep Max
2  times at 90% of One-Rep Max 

Your one-rep max is the maximum amount of weight that you can perform one full repetition with. This isn’t something I would suggest measuring, instead calculate it with the following formula:

weight / ( 1.0278 - ( 0.0278 * reps ))

To use the formula, you’ll want to pick a weight that you believe you’ll be able to lift between two and ten times. Lift the weight as many times as you can, then plug the weight and number of repetitions you were able to perform into the formula, and you’ll get your calculated one rep max. From there, calculate the weights you should be able to lift with the table. I usually round down to the nearest five pounds. For example, if you were able to lift 135lbs seven times, the formula would be 135 / ( 1.0278 - ( 0.0278 * 7 )), returning 162lbs. Multiply this by .45 and you’ll get 72.9lbs, suggesting that your first set of 15 repetitions should be performed at 70lbs.

The magic number for mental fatigue and physical growth seems to be 3 weeks, so I would recommend picking different lifts and recalculating your one-rep max every three weeks. I usually only lift weights three times a week, although I perform cardiovascular exercise every day. I always recommend changing what you’re doing at least every three weeks, it’s very easy to get bored and stop lifting all together if you don’t.

If you are just starting out, you should focus on a core set of exercises three times a week. I’d initially focus on the bench press, squats, arm curls, dead lifts, and shoulder presses. As you gain experience, you can add additional exercises, and focus on specific muscle groups for specific days. Just starting, you will gain muscle relatively quickly, so you should get the best initial results this way.

If you own a lawnmower and start it and run it every day, it’s never going to get stronger. Fortunately, you aren’t a lawnmower, if you lift weights and exercise every day you will get stronger. If you lift weights as I have described, you will achieve tangible results within 9 weeks.

Pantone Huey

Posted by jcnnghm Tue, 16 Feb 2010 08:15:00 GMT

Pantone Huey

Huey on my desk
Pantone Huey

Huey Software

I bought a 30" LG Monitor a bit ago, and out of the box the color was not very good. I was researching a fix when I came across the Pantone huey, a hardware-software combination that will calibrate the color of LCD screens. Since it was less than $60, I decided to buy it and try it out.

The installation process was very simple, after the software is installed, it walks you through the process. The Huey is positioned in front of your monitors, where it measures the light levels. After the light is measured, it's suction cupped to the monitor, where the software flashes different colors on the screen which are measured by the device. The process only took a couple of minutes, and on the LG monitor, the results were stunning, presumably because the color was so far off to begin with.

The device can measure light levels continuously and adjust the monitor colors as the ambient light levels change. I'm not currently using this feature, so I can't comment on it, but I would assume it works as well as the rest of the package. I also found out that there is a pro version available, and that the regular version can be upgraded to the pro version with a $39 software upgrade direct from Pantone. I intend to purchase the upgrade because the results are so good, and the upgrade will let me use the device with all my monitors at once, and will also automatically change the colors with the light levels on all four monitors. Very slick package and very slick presentation.

If you need accurate colors, or just want to maximize the attractiveness of your display, I would definitely recommend this product.

Getting Receipts and Mail Off My Desk

Posted by jcnnghm Mon, 15 Feb 2010 08:35:00 GMT

Change Jar

Change Jar

NeatReceipts Scanner

Receipt Scanner

Receipt Scan

Scanned Receipt



Years ago I had a serious problem with change piling up all over the place. I'd come home and empty my pockets and the change would stay wherever that happened to be. Eventually, I got tired of change being everywhere, so I bought a jar and started throwing change in there. The problem has been solved ever since.

I was walking through Office Depot a few weeks ago and saw the NeatDesk Scanner. I wasn't sure how well it actually worked, if it worked at all, so I went online and read some reviews. They were mixed, as is often the case with tech products, especially when those not-so-technically-inclined have difficulty figuring out how to use a product.

I decided to take a shot and buy the scanner, and I'm happy I did. I had about a years worth of receipts, mail, and business cards piled up on my desk, inches thick. I knew I was going to need somewhere to put all that stuff after I scanned it, so I also ordered a heavy duty cross-cut shredder, the Fellowes PS-79Ci Shredder. The shredder comes with some lubricant, but I also ordered a supply of Shredder Lubricant Sheets so I can keep the machine in good working order without much effort.

I was able to get everything scanned into the NeatWorks software and categorized in about a day. The scanner works very quickly, and can scan both sides of a page in either color or black and white. The really great part about the NeatDesk package is the software. The software automatically performs text recognition on scanned receipts, and is usually very accurate. This makes your scanned receipts searchable, and it also makes it very easily to categorize receipts and make notes for tax purposes. If you don't want to categorize a document right away, you can scan it and categorize it later. It will stay in your NeatWorks inbox waiting for you to place it in the appropriate folders. I usually scan stuff in as soon as it hits my desk, and categorize everything once a week or so, primarily because starting the categorization application is kind of slow.

The Fellowes Shredder is also quite good. It was able to rapidly destroy boxes of documents that I wanted to get rid of, and everything that was on my desk very quickly. It is on casters, so I keep it under my desk and roll it out only when I need it. There are two downsides to this unit. First, it has a very bright blue LCD that drives me nuts. I keep it off most of the time because of this, so it's not a big deal. It also has a poorly designed waste receptacle that tends to rip bags. Neither of these are deal-breakers as they can both be easily worked around, but they are both annoying. The lubricant sheets seemed to work well, and are very easy to use.

All said, I spent about $575 on this endeavor, and I couldn't be happier. My desk is clear of stuff today, and it's been clear for the last month. Presumably, it will continue to stay clear in the future. I know that clutter slows me down, so this upgrade should be well worth the money. If you're self employed and looking for a fast, easy way to stay organized, this is definitely a viable solution that I would recommend.

My Power Duster

Posted by jcnnghm Wed, 10 Feb 2010 12:40:00 GMT

Power Duster Compressor Close
Roomba Red Roomba Red
Power Duster Compressor and Hose

My workspace has been getting dustier and dustier, so I have been wanting to do something about it. I've used canned air in the past, and that seems to work pretty well for clearing my electronics of dust. Unfortunately, the canned air pressure seems to rapidly decrease while it's being used, and the bottles don't last very long at all.

I started investigating the use of an air compressor for cleaning electronics, and a big concern was water condensing in the air lines and shooting onto the electronics that are being cleaned. I learned with some additional research that this problem also occurs when painting with compressed air, so there are a number of techniques for dealing with liquid in the air. Satisfied that I could deal with the water issue, I started looking for a compressor.

I settled on a DEWALT D55140 Heavy-Duty 1-Gallon 135 PSI Compressor. I selected this particular compressor because of the relatively low price and positive reviews. In particular, this model is supposed to be quieter than others, and I've had positive experiences with DeWalt tools in the past.

I also decided to buy an accessory set with a gun attachment and a 25' coil airhose. To deal with the water issue, I purchased an Air Dryer Kit. I placed one of the desiccant dryers at the compressor, and the other at the end of the hose just before the air gun. The desiccant balls turn from blue to pink as they absorb water so it's easy to see that they're working, and the state of each filter.

With this combination of compressor and accessories, I'm able to maintain 80psi bursts of dry air to knock the dust off of my electronics. It does a very, very good job of quickly knocking the dust off of my stuff, and onto the floor.

From there, I use my old Roomba to pick the dust off the floor, and move it out of my office. If you've never used a Roomba before, it's worth checking out. I have both a Scooba and a Roomba, which I run every day. They do a great job of keeping stuff clean.

The total cost for the compressor and the related parts was about $240. I'm pretty happy with the setup so far. It's definitely resulted in less dust being in my office.

How I Learned to Love Monitor Arms

Posted by jcnnghm Sun, 07 Feb 2010 17:08:00 GMT


My Desk


Moved out of the way


Pushed Away from the side


The Arm Structure


Sleek Appearance


Beefy MX Arm


All the stuff that's not on my desk anymore


Windows Monitor Settings

I recently added a 30" LG Monitor to my 3-monitor setup. Originally, I had intended to replace my 24" Viewsonic widescreen, but when I started considering it seriously, I began to see the utility in having a forth monitor, instead of just a larger third.

I was initially unsure of how I would accomplish this, but I had seen a 3M Monitor Arm in Office Depot, so I thought I'd buy it and try it out. Unfortunately, the 3M arm didn't have the lift that I really wanted, so I returned that arm and started searching online for other options. I came across the Ergotron Single Desk Mount Arm and the Ergotron Dual LX Monitor Arm. My thought was that I'd be able to purchase a dual arm, and mount both monitors on the left side of my desk on the arms, one above the other.

Once the dual arm arrived, I was able to get it setup in about 30 minutes. I was somewhat surprised at the ease of the setup. I had to unmount the other monitors from their stands, attach the monitor arms, secure the base to my desk with the desk clamp, and route the wires through the arms. The hardest part was removing the stands from the existing arms, and that wasn't very difficult. I did have to adjust the tension of each arm because of the weight of the monitors. All in all, I was very impressed with the ease of the setup process.

After a day of using the arms, I was so impressed that I ordered a second set for the monitor on the right side of my desk, and the Mx Desk Mount LCD Arm for the center 30" panel. The setup of the 30" monitor was a little more difficult than the smaller panels, but that's largely a function of the size and weight of the display. The desk clamp for the MX arm is larger than the other, and seemed very secure to me. The MX Arm is very solidly constructed, and has no problems whatsoever keeping the large display in place. I wouldn't attempt to use it with a smaller display, it really is designed for heavy displays, and the smaller arms do a fine job.

The cable management system of the arms is very well designed, and actually seems to work. I upgraded all of my DVI cables and power cables during this process to either 10 or 15ft so that the monitors positions could be easily adjusted, so the cables are rather large and inflexible, yet the cable management system still worked fine.

While I originally wanted the arms only to allow the two displays to be elevated, as soon as I got them installed I realized that I had needed these arms for some time, I just didn't know I needed them. For starters, they make dusting my desk significantly easier, as the monitors can be easily repositioned out of the way. Additionally, the appearance of my desk is cleaner than it was before, with the arms really improving the visual aesthetics of my work area; it looks much cooler and more high-tech now, and that counts for something. The arms have also made it easier to reconfigure the display configuration for specific situations. I'll occasionally shift one of the monitors to landscape view, and the arms allow any of the monitors, even the 30" display, to be transitioned.

From a productivity standpoint, I've got 4,096,000 reasons to be happy with this upgrade. The 2560x1600 resolution of the large display allows me to display either 2 or 4 files, plus the filesystem tree, in my IDE simultaneously. This has greatly enhanced my coding productivity. WIth the other three display, two 1600x1200, and a 1680x1050 display, I have a total of 9.7 million pixels to work with. In the upper left I usually keep my email, iTunes, and my project management software open. On the right hand side I usually have a web browser open with the stuff I'm working on. In the lower left I usually have a bunch of SSH windows open, tailing files, running irb, cucumber and autospec. In the center I'll keep my IDE or anything I'm actively working on. This allows me to keep everything I'm currently working on open and on top, so that I can reference things without having to move or change any windows. In particular, it's nice having autospec always running on my project so I can glance over and see any regressions.

All in all, I'm extremely happy with the monitor arms. I estimate the upgrade cost about $600, and my only regret is that I didn't make the investment sooner.

Three Years of Liberty

Posted by jcnnghm Sat, 06 Feb 2010 23:21:00 GMT


Liberty Chair

Worn Out Seat

At My Desk

About three years ago I purchased a Liberty Chair by Humanscale. The chair hasn't held up as well as I would like. With the Vellum cover and the Gel seat, the seat cover has started to tear. This chair was very expensive, about $1,000, and I would not have expected the seat cover to deteriorate.

All in all, I still think it's a comfortable chair, and it's definitely allowed me to log lots of hours in relative comfort. If you're in the market for one of these chairs, you may want to get this chair with leather instead of vellum, since that will hold up better. It's probably also worth considering another brand.

I think the Aeron chairs are probably just as comfortable, and more durable.