The following is a Plus Edition article, written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
One of my ongoing projects involves digitizing most every document that I might need in the future and then having it available at my fingertips at any time. You might consider doing the same. Today's technology makes it simple to have all your required documents available whenever you need them.
For instance, I had a doctor's appointment this morning, and the doctor asked what medications I was taking. In fact, I take several medications, and each has a long name that looks like a mumbo-jumbo collection of random letters. I can't remember the names. Instead, I grabbed my ”smartphone,” touched an icon for my notes program, entered "prescriptions," and then touched SEARCH. A second or two later, a list of my prescribed medications appeared on the screen of the cell phone, which I was able to show to the doctor. Total time elapsed: about twenty seconds.
I have also written recently about my ongoing efforts to digitize most all the genealogy books and magazines in my collection. Indeed, I am not limiting this to genealogy material; I am attempting to digitize most everything I might need ever again: receipts from both online and offline purchases, birth certificates, maintenance schedules for the automobiles, the user’s manual for the new refrigerator, my appointment book, my address book, my driver’s license (it needs to be renewed soon), ham radio license, a scanned image of my passport (encrypted before being stored), lists of URLs (addresses) for web sites of interest, family photographs, insurance policy information, pilot's license, an encrypted list of all my credit cards with the card numbers, expiration dates, and the toll-free numbers shown on the back of each card, eyeglasses prescription, and most all other pieces of paper that arrive in the mail, except for the advertisements. Actually, I have even been known to scan an advertisement or two in cases where I wanted to keep the information. I even scan my incoming bills although I don't receive many of those in the mail anymore. Almost all my bills now arrive by email and, of course, I save those as well.
When a winter ice storm caused a tree branch to fall onto the brand-new fence that had been installed a few months earlier, I quickly snapped some pictures with my cell phone's camera and filed those pictures in my documents folder. When filing an insurance claim (which I also scanned), I printed the pictures and included them with the claim. As the old saying states, "a picture is worth a thousand words." Those were words I didn't have to write on the insurance claim; the pictures show everything. I also scanned the insurance claim and saved it as well.
When I placed the motor home in storage for a couple of months, the clerk at the storage facility asked for a copy of my motor home insurance policy. I normally wouldn't be carrying insurance policies with me everywhere I go but in this case I did have an electronic copy “in the cloud.” I pulled the cell phone out of my pocket, retrieved the images of the insurance policy from the cloud, and asked the clerk, “What's your email address?” He told me and I sent the document to his address, again with my cell phone. Within seconds, he had a copy of the insurance policy in his in-box and he could print it, if he wished to do so. Total elapsed time? About a minute or so.
I find multiple reasons for scanning receipts. First, it's always nice to have receipts available at your fingertips in case there is a question about payment. Even more important, having these documents quickly available greatly simplifies the preparation of income taxes every year.
All this requires a lot of disk space. Luckily, that space is now cheap. One-terabyte disk drives now sell for under $100. This project would have been impossible ten years ago. It would have been difficult and expensive five years ago. Yet it is easy and inexpensive today. Even better, I also store duplicate copies of all the same files “in the cloud” in a highly-secure manner plus additional backups on a local hard drive connected to my computer's USB port. In fact, the documents stored “in the cloud” are probably more secure than the copies kept on my computer's hard drive.
If my local hard drive ever crashes, I have multiple backup copies. In addition, the cloud-based copies are available wherever I am, as long as I have a data connection available on my cell phone. I now have instant access to tens of thousands of documents wherever I am. Just try to do something similar with paper documents!
To make the process work easily and effectively, I also need software that stores the various documents and retrieves them quickly when needed, wherever I am. That software must be able to store and retrieve images as well as text, and do so quickly. Being able to retrieve information when at home is nice, but I find it much more important to be able to retrieve the same information when I am at a doctor's office, a dentist's office, the auto mechanic's, or the accountant's office. In fact, I also often retrieve information when standing in the aisle of a retail store. I even keep my grocery list in digital format and can retrieve it at any time, whether in a grocery store or elsewhere.
The process is simple. All I need is a computer, a scanner (or camera), and some software. In fact, most any computer will do, and most all scanners are capable of scanning whatever documents I need to store. Most of the time, I use my cell phone's camera as "the scanner." The camera works well as a substitute scanner. Most of the time, I am not concerned about super high-quality reproductions. As long as it is readable, it will suffice. Less detailed pictures also consume less disk storage space.
The key to making everything work lies in the software used. In my case, I insist that the mix of software work both at home and elsewhere. The one thing I always have with me is my cell phone; so, I must be able to retrieve and display items on that cell phone at any time and any place. Being able to do the same with a laptop computer and/or an iPad is nice, but not as critical. The cell phone retrieval is an absolute requirement as it is the only device that I always have with me.
I am sure there are at least a dozen different methods of organizing and retrieving the information when needed. I will describe the methods that work for me. Most of the software I use is available free of charge although one program I use costs $6.99.
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