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.
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.
I was finally able to launch my new product, Multi Bit Shift, a Flex multiple file upload applet complete with a Rails plugin to ease the integration. I learned a lot from this project, since this is the first that I have made use of project management software, in particular FogBugz, which I would highly recommend.
In particular, I learned that I grossly underestimated the amount of time required to produce proper documentation, the MBS website, and the product screencasts. Proper documentation is really what separates real, professional products from amateur contributions, so it is absolutely vital to dedicate whatever time is necessary to make sure everything is both well and thoroughly documented.
The website, and to a lesser extent the screencasts were also quite time consuming. I had my company, Compucated Solutions produce the design and integrate it with software that I wrote to manage the site. I am very pleased with the design and presentation at this point, but I must admit that I did spend considerable time writing and formatting content, as well as coding up the necessary software bits. I look at this kind of as an investment though, because when I go to release software in the future I have a very flexible engine that I can now quickly roll products out on.
The screencasts were also quite time consuming. I ultimately settled on the TechSmith’s Camtasia Studio product, as recommended by Jeff Atwood to produce the video. I am quite pleased by the results although I would like to be able to set the background color of the video files, and perhaps tweak the appearance a bit. While the software was a little pricey at $299 considering there are lots of competitors and viable alternatives, I ultimately settled on this particular product because it does what it does so very well. If you need to produce screencasts, seriously consider Camtasia, it is worth the premium. If you don’t need to produce screencasts, I suggest that you reconsider because they are a really excellent way to quickly convey complex information.
Besides just creating the screencasts, I also decided to make use of Amazon’s Simple Storage Service to host them. While I probably have ample bandwidth to host the screencasts on my equipment, I ultimately came to the conclusion that the users would have a better user experience if they were hosted by someone else. I have to say that, at this point, I am extremely impressed by the Amazon S3 service. It’s fast, reliable, flexible, easy to use, and inexpensive. I’m currently using the Firefox S3Fox plugin to manage the storage space. It really doesn’t get much easier.
All said and done, I believe I spent just as much, or even more time, documenting and launching this software than I actually did on the design and coding. In the future, I believe I’ll have to give much more thought in the product planning stages to the actual launch requirements (like a website, screencasts, docs, etc…) and the time required for their production.