Mobile Scanning with A Transforming ScanSnap

Posted by TechyDad on July 7, 2015 under Review, Technology

Since the advent of scanners, people have been taking paper documents and converting them to digital files.  These files have many advantages over paper.  They take up less space, are easier to search through, can be quickly sent to friends and family, and allow for simple backing up.  The only downside of scanners is that they take up a lot of room, require a computer to be hooked up to them, and can require a lid to be lifted and lowered every time the paper to be scanned needs changing.  (The latter of which can make multiple scan

Enter the ScanSnap iX500.  Where other scanners offer a flatbed approach which takes up a lot of space, the iX500 starts off as a relatively small shell.  This compact shape means that it takes up much less space than a conventional scanner.

scansnap-folded-up

When you need to use the scanner, however, the scanner’s shell unfolds until the full scanner is revealed.

scansnap-unfolding

scansnap-ready-to-scan

When I showed this to my boys, they exclaimed that it’s a transformer and it sure is.

Another annoyance about some scanners is that you need to hook your computer up to them with a cord.  Sure, USB cords are handy and pretty standardized, but they are still cords.  The iX500 takes a wireless approach.  After an initial corded setup, during which the iX500 obtains your network’s wireless credentials, the iX500 can be accessed from the wireless network without any cord connecting the scanner and the computer.  In fact, you can use an iOS or Android app to wirelessly scan to your mobile phone or tablet.

scansnap-mobile-app

You can even edit the resulting PDFs to delete pages or rotate pages (for example, if you accidentally put the paper in upside down).  As with anything on a mobile device, the resulting file can easily be shared with some other app or service.  You can quickly attach the PDF to an e-mail, upload them to a cloud server, or just open them for reading.  The generated PDFs are nice quality also.  Here’s a recipe that I scanned in for Bon Bon Cookies.

Finally, the scanner’s feeder setup means that you can load in a small stack of papers and have the scanner pull them through one at a time until all of them are scanned.  This winds up being much simpler and quicker than replacing papers on a flatbed scanner.

As I mentioned before, my boys were amazed when they saw the scanner transform.  Once they saw the little blue "Scan" icon on my phone, though, they were itching to scan something.  They grabbed artwork that they had made, award certificates that they earned, and more.  One by one, they fed them into the scanner and presses the scan button on my phone.  One by one, the papers came out and the PDFs appeared on my phone.  Eventually, I had to stop them due to a combination of running out of papers to scan and a bedtime that had passed.  I’ve shied away from scanning in the past due to the time it took to boot my computer, hook up the scanner, and hope it all worked.  With the ScanSnap, however, all I need to do is flip open the shell, place in the paper, and use my mobile device to scan in the document.

Quick.  Easy.  And doesn’t take up much room.  The ScanSnap definitely is a scanner that will be getting plenty of use.

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Trump And The Cost Of Web Development

Posted by TechyDad on June 30, 2015 under Web Development

dollar_computerRecently, Donald Trump entered the Presidential race. In his announcement, he said a lot of silly things. (Alternately: terrifying things if he stood a ghost of a chance of being elected.). As a web developer, one of his statements stood out to me:

And remember the $5 billion website, 5 billion we spent on a website, and to this day it doesn’t work. A $5 billion dollar website.

I have so many websites. I have them all over the place. I hire people, they do a website. It costs me $3.

Now, you might be able to argue that the government’s health care website cost too much. Perhaps it could have been developed for a quarter of that amount.  But could Trump really remake the site for less than the price of a Chicken McNugget Happy Meal from McDonald’s?  For that matter, could anyone make a website for $3?  The short answer is yes and no.  (What?  You didn’t think I’d give a clear answer quickly, did you?  Read on for the details!)

Domain Names

Let’s say you’ve decided to set up a website.  Congratulations!  Time to get down and dirty designing your page, right?  Wrong.  First you need a domain name.  A domain name is basically the Internet’s equivalent of a street address – it helps web browsers know just where to get content from.  Domain names are purchased from Registrars.  Some of these cost more than others.  Network Solutions charges about $20 a year.  My registrar, DirectNIC, charges $15 a year.  Others charge less.  (I stick with DirectNIC thanks to good customer service.  I could probably save a small amount of cash elsewhere, but might get worse customer service in exchange.)

You could also get a free domain name by getting a subdomain.  For example, instead of registering SomeWebsite.com, you might get SomeWebsite.FreeWebSites.com.  The benefit here is, obviously, that it is free.  The downside is that your website constantly advertises the free service alongside your brand.

Hosting

I went over hosting options last year.  To summarize that post, you can get an inexpensive shared hosting, a slightly more expensive but more stable virtual private server, or the most stable but most expensive dedicated server.  Which option you choose depends on your needs.  A new website might start out on one hosting option and move up through the options as it grows.  There’s also a fourth option: The free website hosted by a service such as WordPress.com.  This often comes with a free subdomain (see the previous section), can have reduced branding options, and may or may not require you to show ads that profit your free host.

Writing A Website

Now, you’re finally ready to build a website.  At this point, you could install WordPress, grab a free theme, add your content, and call it a day.  The total cost for this would be nothing (except for your time).  If you needed any custom work done – including if you were hoping to construct a massive web application, this would require hiring a web developer, such as myself, either full-time or as a freelancer.  You might also need to hire a designer – to craft your site’s look and create your site’s images – and an SEO expert – to make sure you rank as high as possible in the search engines.  Either way, this would cost you a lot more than $3.

If someone asked me to build them a website for their business with a budget of $3, I’d spend a couple of minutes laughing before declining the position.  If someone claimed they could build a massive web application that would serve millions of users – for the price of a couple of Starbucks coffees – I’d seriously look into what massive corner cutting was going on.  About the only way I could see a major website being built for $3 is by outsourcing to a country (such as China) that has a population of technical people who are very poor and don’t have any minimum wage legislation.  Even then, I’d wonder what those web developers were doing on the side – perhaps saving a copy of secret company data to sell later.

 

In the end, the price of your website depends on how much work needs to be put into it.  Building a website doesn’t need to break the bank, but in all but the most casual of cases, though, building a website will definitely cost you more than $3.

NOTE: The image above was created by combining "Dollar symbol in 3D" by vijayrajesh and "Cartoon Computer and Desktop" by DTRave.  Both images are available from OpenClipArt.org.

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Happy Anniversary To My Wonderful Wife

Posted by TechyDad on June 24, 2015 under Anniversary, B

WeddingDancingFourteen years ago today, I walked down the aisle and became the luckiest man in the world because B & I were married.  I thought our lives couldn’t get any better, but then along came NHL and then JSL.  Over the years, we’ve had high times and lows.  Excitement both of the good and bad kind.  Scares and joyful moments.  Through it all, B is the rock I’ve clung to.  Every time I think I can’t take one more thing that life has thrown my way, B is there to provide support.  I wouldn’t be the man I am today without her.  I couldn’t do half of the stuff I do without knowing that she’s there for me.  Whenever I think that I can’t love B any more, I find that I was wrong – I can and do love her more each and every day.

Happy anniversary, B!

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It’s Been A Crazy Week – And Not In A Good Way

Posted by TechyDad on June 22, 2015 under Blogging, Life, Medical

ECG-heartIt’s been a crazy few weeks and, unfortunately, not in a good way.

Three weeks ago, I suddenly got a bad neck and back muscle spasm.  It hurt to move, turn my head, sit down, or get up.  I’ve gotten these before.  They usually  appear in stressful situations and disappear in a day or so.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the pain continued for an entire week.  Just when I would think it was gone, the pain would return and pain medication only helped a little.  The pain would even spread down my arms. One night, the pain across my body kept me up so late that it triggered a late night panic attack.  Still, as difficult as this was, it was nothing compared to the next event that turned our lives upside down.

Friday June 12th was my mother-in-law’s birthday.  It was also the day when she was retiring.  Needless to say, we went out with B’s parents for a celebratory dinner.  We ordered our food and began talking, but B’s mother kept rubbing her upper chest area – just under her neck.  She explained that her chest hurt bad.  We were worried, but she assured us that she was fine.  B began looking up some symptoms on Google while mom also noted that she felt sweaty.  She thought it was indigestion and took some medication for that, but the pain just got worse.  NHL, sitting next to her, was getting worried (as were the rest of us) and kept rubbing her back and asking if she was alright.

By the time the food came, she was pale and looked like she was going to pass out on her plate.  We finally decided that she needed to go to the hospital.  She tried to argue but we countered that we’d call 911 if she didn’t go immediately.  Besides, we would rather she go to the hospital and have it turn out to be nothing than not go and have it turn out to be something!  My father-in-law exited the booth, followed by NHL, and my mother-in-law slowly exited.  (NHL kept trying to hurry her up so she could quickly get the help that she obviously needed.)  My wife saw them out to their car while I sat at the table with the boys.

With their food served and their grandparents gone, the boys dug in.  B came back but (for obvious reasons) didn’t feel like eating.  I was worried but had the opposite reaction.  When I’m worried, I stress eat.  Even more, I wasn’t sure if we would need to run out of the restaurant so I gobbled my food down quickly.  (Given that I eat quickly to begin with, that’s saying something.)  We got B’s food and her parents’ food wrapped up to go, paid the bill, and hurried to the car.  B went to see her mother in the ER while I took the kids home to get them ready for bed.  That night, B didn’t get in until well after midnight.

The next morning, B went back to the hospital.  By this point, we knew what was going on.  My mother in law had had a heart attack.  It was a mild one, but a mild heart attack is still a heart attack.  We knew that she would be in the hospital for quite a few days as they observed her and ran tests.  Those next days went by like a blur.  B’s brother came into town to visit his mother.  I kept the boys busy while B stayed by her mother’s side.  The boys and I even visited mom in the hospital a few times.  (Since they saw her looking so weak and sick during her heart attack, we knew it would be important for them to see her feeling better even if it was in a hospital bed.)

Finally, after some confirmation that her heart was alright, she was released on Tuesday.  Of course, she’s still going to need to take it easy for a bit, but she’s already doing better.

There are a couple of lessons here.  First of all, Dr. Google can often get a bad rap.  Yes, looking up random symptoms can lead you to hypochondria or make you think you have some disease that you don’t have.  However, it can also help you discover the symptoms of something serious when you would otherwise just write it off as nothing important.  Secondly, heart attack symptoms in men differ from those in women.  The classic "movie heart attack" is a guy clutching his chest, perhaps complaining of pain in his left arm, and then collapsing on the floor.  The real life symptoms of a heart attack can include heartburn/indigestion, sweating, arm pain in either arm, toothache, and even general malaise.  Knowing the real symptoms and getting help quickly can be the difference between life and death.  Finally, never be too proud to seek help or write off your suffering as not important enough to get medical attention.  Time can be a big determining factor in the outcome of heart attacks and many other medical issues.  The quicker you get medical help, the better.

Once B’s mother was on the mend, you’d think that our lives could return to normal, but B developed a sinus infection and then an ear infection.  The pain and the antibiotics took their toll on her.  She’s still in pain and having trouble hearing out of one ear, but hopefully she is getting better.

After a month of medical issues, I’m ready for a nice, quiet, boring stretch.  Stay safe, everyone.

NOTE: The "Heart ECG Logo" above is by juliobahar and is available from OpenClipArt.org.

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Extreme Geekery: Wrecking Havoc on Society with Instant Transportation

Posted by TechyDad on June 17, 2015 under Extreme Geekery

TeleporterIn my Extreme Geekery series, I often focus on some scenario that requires science and math to solve. Given my love for science fiction, though, I also love imagining scenarios when science and technology ARE the problem and society needs to figure out the solution.  When the telephone gained popularity, there was a shift in communication abilities.  No longer did you need to wait for weeks for a letter to arrive at its destination.  Conversations across great distances could be accomplished in real-time instead of over months.  With the Internet, this was greatly amplified.  Now, someone in the United States could communicate with someone next door just the same as if they were half a world away.  Businesses could also sell to people even if those people didn’t live anywhere near the shop.  In fact, the Internet revolution had such an impact, that many stores don’t even have a physical shop.  While there was an equivalent pre-Internet in catalog sales, the Internet took this phenomenon to the next level.  Societal shifts of this nature can create many more opportunities for people and businesses, but they can also destroy the old ways.

My question now is: What would happen if we developed instant transportation.

For the sake of this thought experiment, we won’t bother with the "how" of the teleportation.  Let’s just assume that there is a new smartphone application that can teleport you (and your family/luggage) from where you currently are to any place you want to go.  You select where you want to go on a map, click a button, and there you are.  We’ll assume that the transportation method is safe, effective, easy for anyone to use without incident (i.e. not so hard that someone selects "the mall" and winds up 100 feet above the mall plummeting to their death), and inexpensive enough so that pretty much everyone can teleport.  What would happen with society?  Would this be a boon or the beginning of the end?

"Snail Mail" Travel

The obvious casualty of this technology would be the transportation industry.  Why would you get on an airplane – dealing with security, baggage fees, cramped seats, and tiny bags of peanuts – when you could just click and be at your destination?  Airlines and trains would go out of business as people teleported to their destination the same way that people sent less letters via snail mail once e-mail was widely used.  Obviously, there would be some people who still used the slow mode of transport.  Perhaps they liked the trip or perhaps they didn’t trust the new technology.  In any event, the companies might not go completely out of business, but they would need to radically change their service.  Perhaps the availability of instant travel would usher the return of 1950’s style airplane rides.  When it came to shipping goods, companies like FedEx might ditch the fleet of planes and trucks.  Instead, a carrier would pick up your package, zap himself to your house to drop it off, and then zap back for the next package.  Ordering online could mean getting your items in a matter of hours instead of days.

Going On Vacation

With instantaneous teleportation, tourism would increase dramatically.  Want to vacation in Disney World?  Just zap yourself there.  Get the urge to spend an evening in Hawaii?  You’re there.  Get the urge to visit Australia?  Urge satisfied.  You might think that, despite the increased travel, hotels would suffer.  After all, why stay someone else when you could just zap yourself home and sleep in your own bed?  Then again, at home there might be dirty dishes in the sink, a rug that needs vacuuming, sheets that need cleaning, and garbage that needs to be taken out.  If you are going to have some vacation time, why not get away from those chores and let the hotel staff take care of the room for you?  Vacations might wind up taking two forms.  For the quick pop out – for example to have lunch in a nice little restaurant in Italy before getting back to work in New York – you wouldn’t book a hotel stay.  However, if you were planning to get away from it all for awhile, a hotel would definitely get your business.  (Though, forgetting something at home would just mean a quick teleport home to retrieve it.)

A Walk On The Shady Side

While instant travel would make many people’s lives easier, it would have a dark side as well.  Right now, borders are more or less controlled.  If you want to enter or leave a country, you need a passport and you need to pass through the country’s security checks.  With instant travel, a person could just zap themselves deep within the country for whatever reason good or bad.  Criminals sent to jail could have a conspirator on the outsize teleport in, grab them, and teleport back out with them.  Imprisoning lawbreakers would quickly become an ineffective means of punishment.  For that matter, criminals could teleport into a house, grab whatever they want, and then teleport away.  Far, far away.  Burglaries would be impossible to prevent.

Finally, though perhaps least serious, charging admission fees would become obsolete.  Take Walt Disney World for example.  Suppose you want to visit the Small World ride in the Magic Kingdom.  First, you need to purchase an admission ticket.  This ticket is checked before you get into the park.  Once inside, you can go on rides like Small World.  With instant teleportation, though, you could just appear inside the gates, go on the ride, and then teleport back home.  No ticket required.

All of this would quickly mean that laws would be passed requiring teleportation blocks of some kind.  Disney World might block teleportation within their parks from outside the parks.  So you could teleport from Small World to Space Mountain, but not from the parking lot to Big Thunder Mountain.  Furthermore, laws might be passed to limit teleportation liabilities.  Right now, if someone falls in a building, the building’s owner might be sued.  What would happen, though, if you teleported to the top of the Castle in the Magic Kingdom and wound up falling to the bottom?  Would your family be able to sue Disney for not limiting teleportation enough?  Or would lawsuit-shy executives make sure that there were only preset teleportation points for people to use?

Instant teleportation would also be a huge pain for celebrities. Paparazzi wouldn’t need to stalk outside of a celebrity’s compound, but could teleport right inside to take photos of them in their most private moments. Furthermore, overenthusiastic fans would be able to see their favorite celebrities at any moment. If the hotel room that a popular band was staying in was leaked on social media, it would suddenly become packed with screaming teenagers.  For that matter, non-celebrities might find themselves beset by intruders.  Does that guy you’ve told you don’t want to see anymore keep knocking on your door?  Bad news, he can now teleport through it.  Does that ex-girlfriend not get the hint that you’re over?  Unfortunately, she can teleport herself into your bedroom any time she wants to.

Overall Reaction

Given the downsides – both to entrenched businesses and to people/businesses wishing to avoid criminal activities, the development of teleportation capabilities would likely be strictly regulated if not banned outright.  However, technology bans never seem to last in the long run.  Eventually, the technology to teleport would leak out.  For better or worse, teleportation would get out and – like with any other technology – society would need to adapt.  Children would grow up knowing only a world with teleportation.  Elders would remember the "good old days" before people could teleport, but would eventually be replaced in positions of power by people who accepted teleportation as a fact of life.  Before long, mankind wouldn’t be able to conceive of not teleporting the same way that people nowadays can’t imagine not being able to drive where they want to go.

NOTE: The "Teleporter" image above is by qubodup and is available via OpenClipArt.org.

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