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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Bringing paper into the digital world, personal scanning options

SafelyFiled is a great solution for secure, immediate access to your important documents.  But many of those important documents are only on paper.  How can you bring them into the digital space?

The short answer is that you need to scan your documents.  During scanning, you take a picture of your document pages, and get a file (generally a pdf) that contains all the images.  Your scanning options have expanded in recent years.  In this article, we'll review your options for personal scanners.  In a future article, we'll look at other scanning options in your community.

PC/Mac scanners

You can go to your favorite electronics store and have a wide variety of scanners to choose from.  Most of these scanners will work quite well, but you need to consider for a few key features to determine what is the right choice for you.

Page feeding

You can acquire a very portable single page scanner such as the Vupoint Magic Wand for well under $100.   It is cheap and portable, but if you need to scan documents that are many pages, it will get tedious very quickly.  For a cheap and portable solution you probably want to investigate a smart phone solution instead (see section below).

Most larger scanners used to just be flat bed scanners.  You had to place the document on the glass like a copying machine, and press the button to scan.  Again for multi-page documents, this can be quite tedious.  Today many scanners have a auto document feeder (ADF) like the Epson Workforce or the Fujitsu ScanSnap.  You place your documents in the feeder and press start to copy.  Some scanners also provide a duplex option.  That is, it will scan both sides of the page put the results in the correct order in the resulting file.

Scanning software

Scanning will require some software on your PC or Mac.  Make sure that software provided with the scanner you select works with the version of the operating system on your PC/Mac.

The good news is that the usability of scanning software has improved over the years, but software usability still has some issues.   The ease of use of the software is a differentiating feature that is hard to evaluate in the store.  The Fujitsu ScanSnap line has a very good reputation for software usability.  Generally, the difficulty is just in getting things set up.  You may want to consider paying your neighbor's teenager to get things set up and show you which programs to run.  Once things are set up, it is generally a matter of starting up the scanning program on your computer, loading the document in the scanner and pressing the scan button.

USB vs networked

Another selection criteria is determining how your computer talks with the scanner.  All (almost all?) scanners provide a USB interface.  You just plug it directly into your computer.  This is probably the easiest option, but then only one computer can interact with the scanner.  Many scanners also provide a networked option, and today that is generally a wifi option.  If you have wireless set up in your home or office already, then it is just a matter of following the manufacturer directions to connect your scanner to the to the wifi network.  The networked scanners also support USB, but you're probably paying an extra $10-$20 for the networking feature.

All-in-one versus single function

You can buy dedicated scanners, but from a price/performance perspective you should also look at the 3-in-one or all-in-one machines.  These machines do printing, copying, and faxing in addition to scanning, and the cost is competitive with the single function scanning machines.  I recently purchased the Epson Workforce for under $200.  I don't use the fax function, but I do use the copying and double sided printing functions on a regular basis in addition to the scanning.

Smart phone scanning

Your smart phone has a high resolution camera, so it meets the hardware requirements of a portable scanner.  You could just use the camera app on your iPhone or Android to take pictures of your document, but you should investigate scanning apps.  The scanning apps will
  • Combine pictures of multiple pages into one document.
  • Do image analysis to brighten and re-orient your pages.  So even if you are taking pictures in less than ideal light, the resulting page image will look ok
Once you have scanned your document onto your phone, you could email it to yourself (or into your SafelyFiled account).  You could access the file by plugging the phone into your PC and accessing the scanned document file as you would access your pictures and music files.

The two leading scanning apps in the Android space are
 On the iPhone several scanning apps include
These scanning apps are very handy for scanning small documents on the go (like receipts and warranties).  And the quality rivals that of a dedicated scanner, but if you have a document that is 10's of pages long, you will want to find a dedicated scanner with a automatic document feed.

Today you have multiple relatively inexpensive options to scan documents.  For less than $10 you can make your smart phone a very capable portable scanner.  For under $200, you can bring a scanner into your home or office that is capable of efficiently scanning multiple page documents.

Friday, May 10, 2013

From a memory to a tradition - A User's Testimonial

I did it !  I just ordered some ladybugs off the internet and they should arrive in the next 3-5 days.  

 I did this last year also.  I gathered the grand kids and we played with the ladybugs.  We talked about their spots and about what the ladybugs do for the garden and then released them into my back yard.  We enjoyed it so much last year that I knew I wanted to do it again this year but I couldn't remember what the website was that I purchase them from or how much I paid.  I can’t find any of the paperwork.  It is gone.  So I searched the internet again, found what appeared to be a reputable site and placed my order.

Ready for next year

I did something different this year that will help me when I'm ready to do this again next year.  I created a folder on Safelyfiled and called it “Entertainment” and a sub folder “Ladybugs”.   I took a snapshot of the website and my online receipt and uploaded it into my Safelyfiled.com account.   Next year I will know exactly what site I used and how much I paid. (I’m feeling pretty smart right about now)

This idea spurred me on to others

I decided I really liked the idea of storing my fun purchases in Safelyfiled.  So I pulled out some of my Christmas purchase receipts and loaded them in the Entertainment folder.  I filed a copy of the membership cards for the Children Museum,  Kids Commons and Wonder Lab.  My gift receipt of a balloon ride for my son and his wife is now in there along with the gift receipt of the one day Survival training for the men in my life.  This was a great way to document the event, add any special notes to the file and to remember the cost and location in the event we want to do it again.

I am awaiting the ladybugs' arrival and planning on having the grandkids over for our release party which I hope creates a special memory for them.  For me,  I don’t have to remember the who, what, when or where I purchased these special gifts because it is all in my folder. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention - I also set a reminder for me next year this time to order them again. 
Creating a special childhood memory

Thank you Safelyfiled,  you have helped me to make a sweet memory become a tradition!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

SafelyFiled vs Dropbox

We get this question often and it's a legitimate one!  Since it has come up so often, we thought we'd write a blog about it in the hopes that it will help everyone understand there's a need for both Dropbox and SafelyFiled.

Dropbox is a great tool.  With Dropbox, you have a copy of all of your files downloaded on all of your devices so you can access them offline and yet they are backed up for you in the cloud.   Dropbox allows file sharing which is great for productivity with colleagues, family and friends.  They explain that your files are secure both during transmission and when backed up on their servers.  But the files are also kept on your personal devices and they are not encrypted there.   They also allow third party Apps to access your files (user configurable) which could be a risk.  If you want to share a file with someone who is not a Dropbox member then you can do so, but you do that by emailing a link.  Anyone who might have access to your email, like someone who installed a sniffer on one of the servers that help transmit your email, has access to the link and the file.

So What About SafelyFiled?

Here's where SafelyFiled is different.  First, the types of files we're recommending you keep in SafelyFiled are not collaborative work files (although you could do that).  We are a secure filing and organizational system for very important, sensitive, legal and personal files.  Things like your will, insurance policies, estate planning documents, medical records, tax documents, military documents, birth certificates, and the like. Paperwork that you would usually file in a physical safe deposit box or a fire-safe box or other safe place at home. Paperwork that your loved ones or legal representatives might need if something happens to you.

These are not the types of files that you want to keep a copy of on your mobile devices where they could be accessed if the device ends up in the wrong hands or if that device is lost or damaged.  To be honest, files sitting on your computer aren't always as safe as you might think.  Bad sectors on a hard drive can damage the file or Malware and Trojan viruses could infiltrate your files and even transmit them to a bad guy without your knowing it.

With SafelyFiled, everything is uploaded online into our secure servers.  You would simply use a scanner or our mobile App to create a digital image of those documents.  Then the uploads are done simply with drag and drop, like Dropbox.  But you must first log into your SafelyFiled account before you can drag and drop them in.  By logging in, you activate the security and all your files are then transmitted encrypted and stored encrypted.  When you log in to look at one of your files, your files are decrypted and you can view your documents without having to download them first.  You can even view them on your smart phone or tablet, at home or away.

SafelyFiled is also an organizational system.  We provide a unique meta data section where you can not only title your documents, but you can add unique tags, write notes (like you'd do on a sticky note on physical files), add the physical location of the originals of documents that you do need to keep paper copies of (like wills, birth and death certificates which have the original certified seal), and you can specify who the document pertains to (a specific family member for example).  You can set reminders on documents in the event you need to take action on something in the future (like a warranty that will expire) and you don't want to rely on your memory to remind you.  All of this meta data makes it extremely easy to find something very quickly.

Our File Participation Model

We allow file sharing; but it's done very differently than Dropbox.  In SafelyFiled, you can invite others to share files via a simple invitation process.  An email is sent as an invitation, but its not a link to your document, it's a link to SafelyFiled where they must accept the invitation, create their own log in and password, and get validated as the right recipient with an additional access code sent to their cell phone or email address you've input during the invitation process.  When you invite someone, you receive confirmation of their acceptance so you can make sure you're sharing your files with the intended person.  Plus, you can terminate their sharing privileges at any time.  There are activity logs built in too. Any action taken on your account, whether by you or someone you've invited,  is logged.  You can see what was done, when it was done and who did it.  Nothing happens on your files without a record of it.

Dual Authentication

We have dual authentication implemented on SafelyFiled.  You can opt to have that turned on all the time, none of the time, or only if someone (or you) tries to access your SafelyFiled account from a device other than one you've indicated as private (recommended).  Even if someone could guess your log in and password they still could not gain access to your files as they would also need the access code which is sent to your cell phone or email which is on file with us.

Bottom line?  

There is a need for both Dropbox and SafelyFiled.  A good metaphor would be, use Dropbox as you'd use a briefcase and SafelyFiled as you'd use a safe deposit box.  However, unlike a physical safe deposit box you can now access all of your important files from anywhere at anytime and you can give keys to whomever you want.  Even better, invitees with a key can't see every file in your box, only what you give them access to!