Technical Difficulties

Like a normal tech podcast, but broken.

Gabe and Erik explore their document scanning systems, from hardware, to software, to mobile workflows.

Do you scan much?

Listen to this section on SoundCloud: 0:00

Erik and Gabe talk about general scanning workflows, Erik tries (and fails) to remember what the stuff the postal service delivers is called, and Gabe reveals a deep-seated hatred for paper on his desk. We judge.

Look Out

The first rule of Gabe’s desk is that nothing goes on Gabe’s desk.

  • Once it’s set up, the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 can connect to your computer via WiFi, allowing your “scanning pedestal” to be free of wires.
  • Erik’s “legacy” ScanSnap S1500M retains most of the same capability as newer models, but is a strictly USB device.

ScanSnap iX500 Legacy Model

  • The only time the computer is needed is to change the scanner’s configuration, which means your desk can be a paper-free zone

“Because I don’t like stuff on my desk”

Crazy Neat Again, Crazy Neat Crazy. Not neat.


I’m convinced Gabe’s pictures were staged.

Nobody’s desk is that neat.

Scanning Workflow at the Desk

Listen to this section on SoundCloud: 1:12

  • The linchpin of Gabe’s system is to process incoming paper according to GTD principles.
  • Anything that is not sensitive in nature can be scanned, and by Gabe’s default, will go right into Evernote.

Evernote Inbox

Like Gabe, I have my ScanSnap import to Evernote by default. Beyond the ScanSnap itself, the key to keeping my scanning workflow as easy-to-use and frictionless as possible is maintaining an “Inbox” notebook so I can decouple the scanning and processing stages of my workflow.

With a dedicated Evernote inbox I can quickly scan in several document sets, then figure out what to do with it all (what to call the notes, what to tag them, where to file them, etc.) at a more convenient time – usually “later”. If you find yourself being lazy like me and leaving a lot of time between processing periods, Evernote’s OCR saves you by allowing full search of the PDF whether you’ve figured out where to file it or not.

This kind of search (especially while mobile) is what makes Evernote practically irreplaceable for me.

Filesystem Inbox

Like Erik, I also have “legacy” ScanSnap, but I’m not an Evernote user. I like batch processing as well, so my ScanSnap just dumps the OCRed PDFs into a folder within my Dropbox that I’ve set up to act as an inbox.

Incidentally, the Fujitsu scanning software can be set to OCR after each scan using ABBYY FineReader, which Fujitsu includes with the ScanSnap. You can also use FineReader to OCR your PDFs in batches later, and the accuracy is very good either way. What I like is that the OCR data becomes a part of the PDF, making it searchable by more than just Evernote.

  • For any documents that are better off encrypted, you can change the configuration on the Mac so all scans can be secured manually.


There are many ways to encrypt the scanned data at this point. Each PDF can be separately encoded right in OS X or in an app like PDFpen.

Preview PDFpen

You can also keep all sensitive information in a disk image that be encrypted natively by OS X or by using an app such as Knox.

  • If you’re using an encrypted disk image, DEVONthink can process the scans into the disk image once you’ve unlocked it, as Gabe describes.

More on DEVONthink

Erik and Gabe spent some time with Jim Neumann of DEVONtechnologies on Generational 042, and it’s a great way to learn more about DEVONthink.

  • Opinions vary on what to keep, but often, hard copies are more convenient to reference later. As for where to keep them, there are plenty of fire safes out there, but this SentrySafe has been a great choice for many years.


The question of what to keep in hard copy has always bothered me, so I keep more than I should. In general, taxes probably represent the area I have been most paranoid about meticulous record keeping, but that doesn’t meant that you need to keep shoe boxes full of receipts around for years to come. The IRS has some guidance on what to keep, but, “The IRS does not require you to keep your records in a particular way. Keep them in a manner that allows you and the IRS to determine your correct tax.” This seems surprisingly reasonable to me.

Scanning Workflow on the Go

Listen to this section on SoundCloud: 13:58

There are many good apps for scanning on the go, and depending on your needs, an iOS device can be your only scanner.

A Bad deal?

Unless I am bad at math (maths, @imyke), the package deals will waste some of your hard-earned pennies.

  • Genius Scan by The Grizzly Labs - Their other app Genius Fax can (unsurprisingly) be used to fax. It offers better package pricing than Scanner Pro.

A Great Hack

Erik’s comment about the “steam cleaner” scanner form factor brought this hack to mind. Overlap and image stitching managed by python? Pretty cool.

OCR on iOS has come a long way since Gabe’s “not great” OCRKit, and new apps offer a very reliable way to create searchable documents.

You could always just keep your receipts

“My in-stack is waiting”

Until next week

If you have even the slightest desire to learn more about this topic, I highly recommend David Sparks’s Paperless iBook. It is excellent.

Well, that’s all for this week. If you have anything that you’d like to add to or correct in the show notes you can find me on Twitter @potatowire or feel free to send an email to me at potatowire dot com.

[Download]( Gabe’s iThoughts mind map on this week’s topic.