The Less Paper Home

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I can remember all the stuff about the “paperless office” quite well, and even at the time, I didn’t believe it. Nor did I necessarily think going totally digital was a viable option for me. I still don’t.

I like paper.

It’s portable and doesn’t require electricity for operation. I can write just about anywhere with a notebook and a pen.

High quality paper, as any Medievalist will tell you, is durable and if stored properly, makes a decent archive media.

High quality paper and printing are sometimes easier for me to read than the screen; it depends a lot on the typesetting, the local light conditions and how heavy the thing is I’m reading.

But much as I enthuse about paper, I don’t want to have to keep filing bills and receipts. For one thing, it’s time consuming, it takes up physical space we really don’t have, and it’s hard on my hands.

We already receive as many invoices and statements as we can via email / .pdf. I’ve started scanning and OCRing the others. I’ve tried using my iPhone to photograph and OCR cash register receipts but it’s not worth the effort; they’re often just too hard to read as digital images, never mind OCR. So cash register receipts I need to retain are going into envelopes by month and date, and they’re going into a shoebox (I know, just like grandma !) after the data goes into a spreadsheet.

My goal is to create a backed-up, cloud-synced, searchable archive of digital business/tax related documents, where I scan it on receiving it (or as soon after as possible), and store the digital version as a searchable PDF.

Once I’ve wrangled the secular materials into a digital archive with redundant backups, I’ll start on a digital migration for scholarly files.

Standing Bird Desk

Currently I do most of my writing on my MacBook or a Chromebook, while sitting on the couch. I do some work standing up using an older iMac, but I really hate the Apple A1048 keyboard so I don’t use it as much as I might. I use the Chromebook a lot for writing-on-the-go in places like the library; it’s lightweight, extremely portable (as long as their’s WiFi) and it runs a very long time on a charge; longer even than my iPad 3 with the Brydge keyboard, by two or three hours, depending on what I’m doing (the iPad runs out of juice long before the keyboard).

I’m pretty sure I’ll be buying an Ergo Depot Jarvis Junior. I’ll probably wait until I’ve moved to an iMac as my principal computer, and that move depends in part on how long I can see well enough with my spiffy high-end reading/writing glasses to use a laptop.

We’ve recently put up two bird feeders, at two different windows, and that’s got me re-thinking how and where I write.

One of the bird feeders is attached to a window in an alcove that has lots of natural light. It’s a super spot for a bird feeder. It got me thinking about a way to write standing up where I can see the feeder (and the birds!), which is a bit more difficult for me to do at the other feeder near the couch where I write a lot, because I can’t really get quite close enough to the window to see the birds clearly (there’s a reason they don’t let me drive . . . ).

So I’m trying a different standing desk experiment; one that has me rotating on a regular basis to writing in front of the window with the bird feeder. I’ve created another ersatz standing desk; this one involving a small plastic set of drawers resting on top of a low table, previously used by a sleeping cat and houseplants. I’m looking at this page for ergonomic guidelines about height and standing desks and this site’s nifty standing desk ergonomic calculator.

I’m mostly using the Chromebook; it’s a good way to continue looking at how much of a difference writing in the Cloud will make when it involves not only short form writing, like articles and blog posts, entering data in Google Sheets, and web-writing in general, but what it’s like working on long-form writing in the Cloud. I’m also using my iPad and Brydge keyboard (mostly, using Pages and Google Docs; I’m avoiding Microsoft Word unless a publisher requires it).

I could use it with my MacBook, but likely won’t. I’ve been using my bird feeder desk since March, and so far, it’s working better than I expected. Frankly, the birds are a huge motivation for me; they help me remember to shift, so I’m not standing rigidly, and they help me change my focal length, which is particularly important for my specific vision issues.

One thing I learned about my previous experience with standing desks: standing on hard floors isn’t fun, and dated carpet doesn’t count. I’m definitely buying a mat; a good one. The one my friends recommend is the Imprint CumulusPro. They’re now making the mat in a smaller 20″ x 30″ inch size, which makes it much more affordable; c. $45.00 rather than c. $72.00 for the 24″ x 36″ size. I note that The Wirecutter also favors the CumulusPro as a standing desk mat.

I’m contemplating wearing clogs or running shoes, because extra arch support makes a huge difference when you’re standing, though shoes/shoeless depends on the feet in question. Right now, I’m wearing a pair of Merrill hikers I bought for working with horses, and it’s made a huge difference over bare feet.

Mostly though the bird feeder is a super addition; it gives me an extra incentive to use the standing desk, and it helps me remember to change my focus from the computer screen to the window on a regular basis.

Standing Desks Part II

I first wrote about standing desks four years ago. I couldn’t find the kind of standing desk I wanted then under $500.00. At that point, I was looking for a standing desk in the purest sense; one that was used only when standing. So I opted for a couple of ersatz standing desks from repurposed bookcases, instead of buying a desk that wasn’t quite what I wanted.

So I’ve done due diligence in trying before buying; I know I want to use standing desk, and I want to alternate between sitting and standing.

Since then we’ve learned a lot more about using standing desks. First, sitting and standing in alteration is a much better option, long term; hence the phrase “sit-stand desk.” Moving around, instead of sitting or standing for long periods, being able to switch between sitting or standing, or adjust position while standing, is important. Mobility is key; it’s not the standing that’s the issue, is that I’m not just sitting.

Now, I’m looking for a more permanent solution, one that will continue to work in the future. My MacBook is approaching end-of-life, and I’m increasingly having problems seeing beyond the ability of adaptive tech or glasses to compensate, hence looking at a larger screen iMac for the future.

There are do-it-yourself standing desk solutions; like this $200 do-it-yourself convertible standing desk designed by a friend at Instructables. There are a number of Instructable-do-it-yourself standing desks; this one is an Ikea Standing Desk Hack or this one that is electronically adjustable. For those of you who have a desk or table already, there are options like The Standesk 2200, a $22.00 IKEA hack.

ergo_depot_jarvis_juniorI’m not all that handy (being able to see strikes me as a positive in terms of using hammers and saws) and don’t currently have a desk at all, other than my converted bookcases, so I’m looking at pre-made standing desk solutions, and preferably, ones that are adjustable (I’m short) and that can switch between sitting and standing.

I’m resigned to the fact that a durable high-quality adjustable sit-stand desk is going to be in the neighborhood of $700.00 to $1000.00.

The Wirecutter, my go-to site for reliable, thorough reviews, likes the Ergo Depot Jarvis Bamboo. I do too (especially the bamboo top!), but it’s c. $700.00, which is really not an option for me. Ergo Depot sells the Jarvis frame separately, as well, but honestly, I’d likely be putting something like the Bamboo top on it in any case.

Ergo Depot also makes a smaller version, the Jarvis Junior that is awfully tempting, Just the frame is $499.00. If I add the Bamboo top in the medium size (36” x 27”) $25.00, the digital memory switch to raise and lower the top (and remember settings, so it can be easily used by more than one person, standing and sitting) is an additional $35.00, locking canisters (so it can be moved to different locations) are $29.00, a solution for wire and cable management (we have a cat) is $39.00, and a pencil tray (cat) is another $29.00. The total, before tax (shipping is included) to $656.00. If I go with the largest top available on the Jarvis Junior (42” x 27”)  that brings it to $680.00 before taxes (I’m pretty sure I’d be fine with the medium 36” x 27”; that’s a lot of space even with an iMac, keyboard and trackpad/mouse).

That’s under $700.00, with either configuration, and not bad, particularly given the high quality and warranty. At this point, that’s a target for me, so I’m going to be trying a different temporary standing desk, one that comes with a birds-eye view.


2016: It’s a New Writing World in the Cloud

I’m still adjusting to a career as a full time writer.

I’m not complaining, mind, it’s work and it results in pay. But it’s not something I envisioned doing for a career.

I’ve made some of the changes I wrote about last year. I’ve reduced the number of sites I run for other people. That’s been a welcomed decrease in workload.

I’m  using TextExpander even more now, for a variety of different writing projects and lots of site admin-related work.

I’m currently using an older 13” Aluminum MacBook as my primary computer, with regular recourse to my iPad with a Brydge keyboard case, and lately, to a older model Chromebook hand-me-down.

I generally do most of my email triage on my iPad, reading and sorting (and deleting) mail I need to keep, mail I can answer immediately, mail I can delete, and mail I need to answer as a separate task.

I haven’t touched Microsoft Word in a bit over three years, and that’s been wonderful. I’m using Pages via iCloud quite a lot, even on the Chromebook.

I’m also using Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets, on the MacBook, the iPad, and the Chromebook.

I’ve finally purchased Numbers for OS X and iOS, and I’m using it via iCloud and my MacBook and iPad for documents that Google Spreadsheet struggles with. I’m new to Numbers, so this has been interesting.

I’m still using BBEdit for heavy lifting in terms of complicated HTML or CSS, cleaning up text files, Perl, and Regex, but I’m using Markdown more than last year, which BBEdit handles.

I hadn’t expected how much, because of iOS 9 and Yosemite and Handoff, I’d be using TextEdit and the new version of Notes via iCloud. I wrote an AppleScript to count words in a TextEdit document, but I need to figure out how to trigger it from the AppleScript menu, and that means finding out where the heck the AppleScript menu has gone. It disappeared when I installed Yosemite.

I’ve gotten deeply into using <a href=””>Scrivener 2</a> and Scapple, because of a new non-fiction book and non-technical book I’m writing. Scrivener makes dealing with primary resources very straightforward; I can have them all in a single file, a file that I can backup easily, and Scrivener offers me a number of ways to organize my research and the current draft. Scapple mostly out of curiosity; I’m not given to mindmaps in general.

I’m breaking my writing sessions into two or three hour chunks, and often, even smaller sessions of 90 minutes or so.

I’ve been writing at libraries more, partly because of the need to do research using non-circulating materials. I’m also deliberately choosing to write away from home, because the walk and the different environment is good for me in multiple ways.

I’m using my iPad 3 and Brydge Keyboard more than I expected to, partly because I can read the iPad screen more easily than my MacBook’s or my Chromebook. I plan to look at Editorial, but so far, it’s been baffling. I’m interested in reducing workflow steps and processes, and Editorial seems to want to add both.

Having rejoiced about being Microsoft Word free, I probably should take a look at the “cloud” versions of the Office suite, Office 365. It includes a terabyte of Cloud storage on Microsoft’s .servers, as well as the full suite on iOS, Android, OS X and Windows. I’d still want local options though, given outage issues common with Cloud services from, well, anyone.




iPod 2001 still going

I celebrated the tenth anniversary of the original iPod.

The initial iPod was released on October 23, 2001. I’m pleased to note that mine is still going strong 14 years later. It’s funny now to look back and remember that I was absolutely sure I’d never be able to fill up five gigs with just music, or as Apple put it “1000 songs in your pocket.”

I used my first iPod a lot for just listening to music, especially on the bus or working in the library, but I also used it for teaching. The fact that I could mount it as a drive via FireWire meant I could show students short film clips of plays or play audio files via the lecture hall’s sound system or workstation.

Now, I have music on my iPhone, but not so much as I used to; I’m streaming a lot more via local WiFi. Instead, that storage that might have been used for music is now being used for photos and ebooks.

I predicted that we’d be reading ebooks more; I missed entirely how much we’d be taking photos with our phone—though I used the cameras a lot on my iPhone 1 and 3, I mostly used them to take pictures of things I couldn’t see well, like street signs or small text on boxes. Now, I’m using the iPhone 5 camera more than my dedicated camera—and it’s changed the way I take pictures.

No, I’m not taking selfies, but I am taking a lot more spontaneous shotsbecause the iPhone is right there, and I’m still using the iPhone camera as a visual aid, even though new plastics have made distance and close reading glasses possible for me. But I’m sending friends and families more photos than I ever did before—and seeing more in response, too.