Strategies to organizing physical documents - 30 years later and little progress

A few days ago I read a nice Lifehacker post 'How Do I Organize My Piles of Paper Into Something Manageable?'. I find it interesting to read comments and see how are other people approaching this problem:

It's only 1 of these categories
Action and trash
Action and archive

It [solution] would have involved a match and the "something manageable" would have been a pile of ash. The management strategy would have been to brush the ash into a dustpan and dump the dustpan into a trash can. 

Super Simple 2-Hole Punch Filing System

a) Get an accordion file with 1 pocket. I use a different file for each year.
b) File paper docs, bills into it in the order they are received. Statements, receipts are kept in the order-of-arrival. That is close enough. Consumable cash receipts are trashed - never filled.
c) Bills + receipts for non-trivial items are entered into Quicken (or your tool of choice). That's the chief organizing database. There's a date for every record.

Get yourself a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500. It makes short work of huge stacks of paper (something like 30 pages per minute, both sides), and comes with software to OCR it all. 

I'm a filer myself. I file everything in fascicles and folders in a few categories such as 'bank stuff', 'insurance stuff', 'NHS stuff', etc. Call me crazy, but I even filed all receipts from stores and match them to my bank statement. I don't do it any more (saving just important receipts for warranties). The three main features of a filing systems need to be:

  • simple (no significant mental effort)
  • efficient (things need to be found when needed)
  • no time consuming

Mine complies with them (after ditching receipts filing ;)). If I can't decide whether I'll need the document in the future or not, I just file it. There are always opportunities to bin it later, as I take time and clean my archive a few times a year. I decided not to have more than 3 fascicles and I stick to it. Whatever is of lowest priority gets binned.

I was also surprised at how many people want to go digital. Using software such as Evernote, Quicken, etc. As for myself, I think scanning is not an option. It conflicts with my 'no time consuming' principle. Maybe I'll change my mind in the future. Although I try to go paperless wherever possible (e.g. bank statements).

So! Did something changed in the past 30 years? Not really. We only added digital information besides physical. Is information management any different? Reading again the two well known studies on how people organize their physical information: NOT REALLY. It looks like digital (r)evolution just avoids (physical) information management :).

Happy reading:

ImagePlot visualization software: explore patterns in large image collections

I already explored a few available visualizations for email context in everyday usage. I just discovered another interesting piece of software called


that visualizes patterns in image collection. Not that it can't be done with other software. But this one is so much photos oriented (based on ImageJ). And it works on all major OSes. The interface is a bit confusing though :(. Download it here.

Make Skype (5.3 OS X) show your contacts instead of recent history on the left sidebar

The new version of Skype for OS X (5+) received a lot of negative comments from users. It is getting better but I was still missing to see all my contacts at once.

I know it is possible to open the Contacts monitor, but that is a separate always-on-the-top window. Instead I wanted to see all my contacts on the left sidebar. On default, the left sidebar or sidepanel includes the most useless information possible: a log of my last conversations - my history of Skype usage. I couldn't care less who I called. I call people when I need them and not based on looking at my history ;).

However, it is possible to have all contacts on the left if they are added to favorites (as of version 5.3):

1. Click on the Contacts on the left side below the username

2. In Contact list click on the white star on the right of the first contact's name (it becomes grey after a click)
A new category Favorites shows in the left sidebar.

3. Keep clicking until all your contacts are on the left

Not the fanciest solution, but it works.

Now the dial pad windows pops up automatically every time I open Skype, but I'm not giving up on new UI yet :)

Google Desktop Search not supported anymore - affecting PIM?

With Yahoo! Search in the market and indexing integrated into new windows versions, Google decided to ditch Google desktop. Their announcement claims that people are more trusty of a cloud computing nowadays and keeping the desktop version is not necessary anymore. However this can not be the real reason. While cloud computing is becoming more present in everyday life, desktop is not going anywhere soon for at least 4 reasons:

  • SATA drives are faster.
  • ISPs all over the world are putting caps in their plans.
  • I can't think of any moneywise online solution to store my 300GB of data I accumulated over 20 years.
  • A lot of people trust their local storage more than the cloud. Local storage is always available while cloud might not be sometimes.

I'm not saying it is not going to happen. I just don't see it happening right now. So there must be something else behind their decision. The one I can think of is no viable monetizing solution of the product (could they access private data for advertising??).

Whatever the reason, this can not drastically change the way people manage their information (and Information Retrieval as a part of it). As mentioned, there are other solutions available.

However, I'm surprised Google is putting all their bets on cloud and nothing else. Wouldn't it be better to combine cloud and desktop together (such us Ubuntu One for example)? On the other hand they are allowing to use their apps offline keeping local copy of information on the desktop! Am I the only one who sees the conflict here?

OS X equivalent to lsusb

This is one of the (not many) annoyances using a Mac computer :). Not all Linux/Unix terminal commands work. One of them is lsusb. I tried it and got "command not found". Then I tried to install it via MacPorts (sudo port install usbutils with no luck). Then I checked the web and found out that some people compiled the code and apparently it works (read comments). But I did not want to compile anything. I knew there should be a OS X equivalent. I found this French and this German page (both languages that I don't understand) and found this command:

$ system_profiler SPUSBDataType	

PCI Vendor ID: 0x8086 Bus Number: 0x3a USB Bus: Host Controller Location: Built-in USB Host Controller Driver: AppleUSBUHCI PCI Device ID: 0x2830 PCI Revision ID: 0x0003 PCI Vendor ID: 0x8086 Bus Number: 0x1d  ..........

I wanted to share this in English as well.

And yes, the output is not the same as with lsusb.

EDIT (26. 7. 2012): Takaite (comments) shared the tip to get this info graphically:

  1. Click on the Apple in the left top corner
  2. Select About this mac
  3. Click on the button More info
  4. In the contents select Hardware->USB

Or you can go to Applications->Utilities->System profiler