Preparing to have my wallet stolen

This post is from the "random life-hacks department."

I don't like worrying about losing my wallet. I don't really carry anything of great significance in it...little or no cash, some ID, and a few credit cards. But in the past I also knew that if I lost it or if it was stollen, I'd spend some anxious time trying to remember exactly what was in it, and then even more time searching around for the right phone number to call to get things canceled and replaced.

And it felt like there were more important things to worry about.

Ever since I started using 1Password, I don't worry about this as much any more.

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Updesk SetupI'm trying to live a paperless lifestyle as much as possible. A few things I'm doing to that end:

  • I try to avoid printing anything that I can view on a mobile device or computer instead.
  • I ask vendors and financial institutions to avoid sending me paper documents when they can send me electronic versions instead. When they don't offer that option, I search for comparable alternative vendors/institutions I can use.
  • When I'm at conferences, festivals or other events, I try to avoid taking little bits of paper that I'll just have to deal with later - flyers, stickers, postcards, business cards, etc. If I really want to remember something I'll get a hi-res photo of it with my mobile phone and then extract the useful information later.
  • I cleared all sticky note pads and scrap paper off of my work spaces so I could force myself to use digital tools.
  • When I do receive paper documents I want to maintain access to but don't need physical versions of, I scan them with the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M document scanner. It does really fast double-sided scanning of lots of documents at once, directly into PDF files on my computer, and comes with some great software tools for organizing and searching the scans. Its output is also recognized by the IRS and similar entities as valid for purposes of legal document retention requirements. A newer version of the scanner offers even more options.
  • When a document requires my signature, I try to have it emailed to me instead of postal mailed or printed. I use Adobe's electronic signature tools to place a verifiable and legally binding (in most places) digital signature on the document and then send it back to the other party.
  • I use a tablet and Dropbox to bring relevant electronic documents to meetings with me instead of printing them off or asking for a copy when I get there. If I need to annotate a document or take notes, I either type those in during the meeting or use a small notebook I carry to write them out, and then immediately type them in after the meeting.
  • I have a system of paper folders in my home office for filing documents immediately as the mail comes in or as I clean out my pockets for the day - "to scan," "to file," "to shred" and so on. I find organizing paper documents as soon as they get to me shortens the time they stay in my life.
  • I regularly organize and purge the paper files I do keep, and I try to reuse paper a few times before finally putting it in the recycle bin or my diamond cross-cut shredder.
  • I make sure I name my digital documents consistently so that I'll be able to find them later with simple searching (usually "YYYMMDD-name-tags.pdf").
  • If a printed thing is sentimental in nature but I can't imagine myself pulling it out in a few years to caress it, smell it, re-read it, etc. I'll just take a picture of it instead and revisit it visually as needed.
  • I make sure my digital documents are backed up to multiple places in multiple ways.

Some aspects of going paperless that I'd like to see improve:

  • I still get receipts for gas pump activity and various credit card and cash retail transactions (unless they're using Square or something similar that will email me my receipt). I don't want to not have these at all because I'd like a way to verify the amount I was charged is correct (I've seen errors before), but I don't necessarily want to scan each one in or have to deal with filing or trashing them later. It would be nice if there were a global standard for having receipts transmitted electronically - not just emailed to me, but stored in some place of my choosing like a private Dropbox folder.
  • I wish important paper documents like vehicle titles, real estate transaction documents, passports, etc. had some easily accessible and widely accepted digital alternative so that we didn't have to place so much emphasis on storing and protecting these things carefully.
  • When I go to performances, lectures or religious services, some way to give people a program or bulletin they can view without disruptive mobile device screen activity. Surely with e-paper technology and related tools we could create this - and just think, no need to print separate LARGE PRINT VERSIONS when you could just scale up the font size!
  • The one place I would like to see paper used more? Electronic voting.

Have you gone or are you going paperless? What tools and techniques do you use?

Toothpaste tube UX improvement

Shortly after a new tube of toothpaste goes into use, I start rolling the tube over on itself and putting a binder clip on the end:


The result is an "always full," strangely satisfying, easy-squeezing user experience throughout the life of the tube, and (I hope) less wasted toothpaste. Hat tip to my grandfather who I believe did a version of this, probably with rubber bands.

When a tube is done, there are lots of things you can do with it before throwing it away.

Getting rid of all my books

Tech BooksOkay, not ALL of my books.  But a few months ago I did start trying to significantly reduce the number of printed edition books that I was storing at home.  It was one part of an overall attempt to minimize the amount of physical stuff in my life. Here I'll share a few thoughts on how it worked.

I'm not quite sure when I made the mental shift toward being ready to get rid of a bunch of my printed books.  In the past I've always been someone who was skeptical of digital books and book-reading as a long-term substitute for printed books (though apparently I started changing my mind on that in 2011).  I've also always told myself that it's been worth the shelf space, moving boxes and related effort to own and carry around a healthy book collection.

If there was a book I thought I might ever want to reference for anything ever again, I should keep it.  A book that felt like it would be worthy of loaning out somewhere down the road was surely a keeper.  If I thought I could feel or seem a little smarter or a little more well-rounded by owning a certain book, it stayed on the shelf.  If a book was a gift or had an inscription from a friend or loved one, I felt obligated to keep it forever to honor that history.  If there was a book I hadn't gotten around to reading or finishing, I told myself it was better to hold on to it for when my interest returned.  Books on hobbies long since abandoned and ways of thinking long since changed were all there, just in case.

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My programmable world

Unboxing the Twine sensor

I've always enjoyed hooking together pieces of technology in new and interesting ways.

When I was a kid I rigged up a small water pump to a series of pulleys, rope and switches to squirt water at anyone (read: my younger sister) who opened my bedroom door without using a special trick to disable it first.

In junior high school I may or may not have programmed my 1200 baud modem at home to make a certain classroom's phone ring during a certain class I didn't mind having interrupted.

In my first apartment after college, I had motion sensors rigged up to turn on lights in rooms I walked into, and turn them off again when motion stopped.

I like figuring out how to make real world things talk to each other.  Which is why it seems I was destined to live in the emerging "programmable world," this Internet of Things that has developed and flourished in recent years.

I thought I'd share some of the different things I've rigged up to talk to each other in my programmable world.  Some of these have practical uses, many of them are just for fun.  Some of them are products you can buy yourself, some are tools I've created or enhanced with my own software.

Oh, and you should consider consulting with your spouse, partner or housemates before deploying these technologies in a production living space.

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Do you have enough time in the day?

Support StructureRecently I've heard some people make the all-too-common assertion that they don't have enough time in the day to get done all of the things they want or need to get done.  I was reminded of an exercise I went through about a year ago, during a period when I was making similar statements, sometimes out loud, sometimes just to myself.  I wanted to do the math to see how the hours really did add up - did I have enough time in the day to do what I wanted to do, or was I actually overbooked and trying to make 1 + 1 = 3?

It's a pretty simple exercise in the end.  Make a table of all of the things you spend time on in a week, and compare that to the total hours available.  If you're over, then you have to change something.  If you're at or under the available time, then you still might need to change something to be happy, e.g. increasing the amount of time available for fun, sleep, or just relaxing.  Or you may find that you spend time exactly the way you want to!

Here's what my chart looked like, in no particular order:
Continue reading "Do you have enough time in the day?"