Jun 16

IMG_20150611

You may have had to scan parts of books before so you know what it’s like to try to position a page on the flatbed scanner platter and scan it. It doesn’t always work out well first time with parts of the page missing, slanting pages, some pages upside down, etc. I’ve spent a little time scanning indexes from cookbooks recently. About half of my cookbooks are indexed on the website Eat My Books but for those that weren’t, I decided to scan those indexes as PDFs and send them to Evernote for a more complete record of all the recipes in my books. So here’s a few tips I learned about flatbed scanning along the way.

Clean the scanner platter

We’re going to be doing OCR (optical character recognition) on the scans to convert PDF images to text so the first thing is to make sure the platter of the flatbed scanner is spotlessly clean. Any specks of dust, dirt or smudges will lower the quality of the scan and possibly hinder the OCR and word recognition.

Prepare for scanning

If your scanner has a side-hinged lid as mine has (see image at top), this is going to hamper laying the pages of large books such as cookbooks on the platter, unless the lid is detachable. Check if yours is. If not, and you’re scanning single pages from large books, you will have to turn the book through 180 degrees for each page to avoid the lid. No such problem with an end-hinged lid. If you’re scanning indexes (usually at the end of books), or thick books, you’re probably going to have to somehow support the heavy side of the book as you scan the page on the light side (again see image above). You can help support one side of your book by finding a shoebox or some other support which is the same height as the scanner platter and laying half of the book on this while you scan the other page.

Know your scanner software settings

Anyway, for a multi-page scan to a PDF on a flatbed scanner with a side-hinged lid, you’re going to inevitably end up with a PDF where pages are alternately inverted and right way up. Check your scanner software settings to see if inverted text can be automatically corrected. I use a Canon Pixma MP280 multifunction printer with Canon MP Navigator software and I found I could change the settings to correct this. Here’s the initial screen I see when I select Save as PDF file

Canon MP Navigator - scan as PDF

The scan settings at the top of the screen can be changed depending on what you want. I’ll deal with the Resolution a little later. The important part here is to select PDF (Multiple Pages) obviously for a multi-page scan, then click Set. This brings you to this screen with some important settings:

Canon MP Navigator - PDF settings

Check Enable keyword search for OCR. Check Detect the orientation of text documents and rotate images to correct the alternate inverted pages in your file, and check Correct slanted document so you get a scan with nice horizontal text. You’re scanner software may have a different layout but dig around in the settings until you get it set up correctly.

Another couple of points. If the font size of the book text is small, try increasing the image resolution to 400 or 600 dpi to improve OCR (on the first screen above). But even doing this, I still found that some text was not recognized when searching the PDF later using Ctrl-F. Coloured text background and contrast between text and background also have an effect on the quality of the OCR.

Finally, when you are struggling to position and hold a heavy book on the platter with one hand and reaching for the mouse to click Scan with the other, I found that it was easier to just hit Enter on the keyboard as that would activate the scan and also restart the scan after a new page had been selected in a multi-page scan.

The multi-page PDFs were saved to my hard drive and after that it was just a case of opening a new note in my Cookbook indexes notebook in Evernote and dragging the PDF there. I do know it’s possible to scan books directly with your smartphone straight into Evernote and I’ll tackle that in a later post and link to it here when that post has been added.

Do you have any tips for scanning books on flatbed scanners? Drop a comment below.


Sep 25
Organizing all those Chargers
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Tech tips | icon4 September 25, 2013| icon3No Comments »

device charger organizer

If you’re anything like me, you’re gathering an ever increasing number of device chargers scattered around the house for all your tablets, smartphones, etc. Not just yours but probably all your family’s devices as well. I can count six here and a whole bunch for old tech lying around. I googled for solutions to organize and store these battery chargers and liked the ideas I saw on Pinterest, particularly behind-the-door shoe organizers. These seem to be just the right size for our chargers. I searched ebay for hanging shoe organizers and came up with the 20 pocket one shown above for £5.88. Some people suggest pinning a photo of the gadget to the front of the pocket but I just used my Brother P-touch 1000 labeller to label each pocket.

To store your charger, I found it best to loosely coil the cable, shove that down into the pouch first then the charger itself at the top of the pouch. That way you can pull out the charger hopefully without getting a tangle of cable.

How do you deal with all your chargers? Drop a comment below.


Dec 29
My Top Tech Finds of 2012
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Tech tips | icon4 December 29, 2012| icon31 Comment »

collage2012

Seeing as it’s nearing the year-end, I thought I’d round up the best web apps, services and tech podcasts I’ve come across during the year and which I’m still using and enjoying. Follow the links in each category for more information.

Tech podcasts

I haven’t tracked down a great many new tech podcasts this year and unfortunately, some of my favourites have faded away or are in limbo. The best new podcast I can recommend is the Ask Lifehacker Podcast which started up in February and has become one of my regulars. They offer great tech tips, favourite downloads and answer readers’ tech questions. If you listen to podcasts, give this one a try. And if you can suggest a great tech podcast, let me know in the comments.

WordPress plugins

Best find here has been the nRelate plugin which shows thumbnails of related content below all your posts. Have a look below this post to see it in action.

Web apps

I discovered Trello this year, a great project management app – and you don’t have to be part of a team to use it either. Great if you have to keep tabs on what stage each of your projects is at.

Top find

I kept the best until last – Reddit. Strictly speaking, not a new find as I’ve known about it for a few years, but this has been the year I really came to appreciate it. I found a great set of subreddits and started reading regularly and trying to contribute when I could. I think the secret of Reddit is finding those subreddits that really appeal to you – there are thousands out there. Once you’ve done that, you’ll start getting a lot out of it and you’ll find many of the conversations really stimulating. I’m also finding that I’m starting to pick up great tech tips on Reddit to rival my RSS feeds, and I never thought that would happen. So try putting Facebook aside for a while and have a look at Reddit.

What are your best tech finds of 2012 that you are still using? Drop a comment below.


Aug 9

If you’ve been following my series of posts on scheduling automatic backups to the cloud, you’ll have read how it’s possible to select just the daily, changed files for backup. It occurred to me when setting this up that what I also needed to be able to do is delete files older than a certain age from the backup folder.

Why delete files?

Well for me, my main backup location is my external hard drive. As a secondary backup, I backup all important daily business files to my cloud storage until a client job is satisfactorily completed, then I can delete them from this secondary storage. Another reason for deleting files is when a business client specifies that I delete them a certain number of days after job completion. Finally, most cloud storage providers only give you a limited amount of free storage, so it’s useful to be able to delete files older than a certain age to prevent going over the free quota.

Batch file to delete old files

A quick Google search revealed that Windows includes a program called forfiles which will do this job – I had no idea about this! Here’s the basic line you’ll need to add to your backup batch file:

forfiles.exe /p “C:\<directory with files>” /s /m *.* /d -<number of days> /c “cmd /c del @file”

Looks daunting, but it’s just the program name followed by a number of parameters. What follows /p is the path to the files to delete; /s tells the program to delete from subfolders as well; what follows /m specifies the file types to delete; what follows /d is the key parameter here and selects files with a last modified date earlier than or equal to (-) the current date minus the number of days specified, e.g. /d –45 would delete files older than 45 days; what follows /c runs the specified command on the path specified earlier. Command strings are enclosed in quotation marks.

I’ve added this to my scheduled batch file given in the earlier post so it now backs up encrypted daily files and also deletes all files older than 45 days. These changes are then synced to my cloud storage.

Finally, a word of warning. Deleting files is dangerous, especially when you are setting up scheduled automated deletion. Be sure to back up all you data before testing and implementing this routine.


May 29

It’s important to check your PC regularly and carry out maintenance – deleting temporary files and unnecessary files, checking for malware and updating software. I’ll run through my weekly maintenance routine here, built up and refined from years of practice and from reading tech blogs and listening to PC repair podcasts. By the way, if you have to download any of the following free maintenance utilities, be careful not to install any unnecessary or unwanted toolbars during installation. Read the installation screens carefully.

Pre-maintenance steps

1. Back up your data, just on the slim chance that something goes wrong. I’ve already gone over my PC backup routine recently.

2. Create a restore point, again just in case. I use Quick Restore Maker to quickly generate a restore point.

3. Close your browser/s. You’ll need to do this anyway later so that all temporary internet files can be deleted during maintenance.

PC maintenance steps

1. Run the CCEnhancer/CCleaner combo to delete temporary files, internet history, etc. CCEnhancer adds support to CCleaner for cleaning 500 additional programs. Run CCEnhancer first, it will download the latest definitions then it will ask to start and run CCleaner. Another good alternative to CCleaner is Glary Utilities. Carey Holzman has recommended this in the past so that’s good enough for me. It includes a number of nice routines including Disk Analysis (showing the space occupied by your files and folders) and Duplicate Files Finder.

2. Run a quick scan with Microsoft Security Essentials. This has been my first choice anti-virus program for a couple of years now. It’s free if you’re running Windows.

3. Run Malwarebytes Antimalware Free and SuperAntiSpyware. I regularly listen to Podnutz podcasts for repair techs and for many techs, these are the two mainstay utilities for identifying and removing malware. I have the professional version of SuperAntiSpyware which is resident at all times for real time blocking of threats so I just run a quick scan with these two programs to make sure there’s no malware on my system. I do find that SuperAntiSpyware picks up and lets me delete cookies which CCleaner and Malwarebytes ignore. They aren’t really threats but I like to remove these trackers anyway.

4. Run the Kaspersky free anti-rootkit utility TDSSKiller to check for rootkits. Be careful about quarantining what it finds. On my system it flags a hidden Akamai Netsession file as suspicious but googling the filename suggests it’s actually okay. Check everything out before quarantining anything.

5. Run JavaRa to check for Java updates and to remove old unnecessary Java installations.

6. If you use Chrome, run OldChromeRemover to remove obsolete versions of the Chrome browser.

7. Update your software with the latest versions. There are a bunch of software updaters out there. Here’s a few: Patch My PC, SUMo, FileREX, and Secunia PSI, but I do find that they tend to occasionally misreport your current software versions and suggest updates when they sometimes aren’t needed. If you’re in doubt about a suggested update, open the program and look under About for information on the software version. The one software updater I do like is Update Checker from FileHippo – it usually gets it right each time but on the downside, it doesn’t update as many programs as some of the others. It also clearly indicates beta software releases but it’s up to you if you want to try these.

What I don’t bother with in my PC maintenance

Up until a couple of years ago, I used to clean the Windows registry using CCleaner. When you read around, you’ll find opinion is divided on the benefits of cleaning the registry. I never really saw a performance benefit in it and now subscribe to the view, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. The same applies to driver updates for me. If my system is performing well with no obvious problems, I just leave driver updates alone.

Defragging the hard drive is another routine I used to carry out every 3 or 4 months but again, for the last couple of years, I haven’t bothered. Lifehacker says: Windows Vista and 7 automatically defragment your drive, so there’s no need to do it yourself. So I tried defragging my Windows 7 PC recently before writing this post using Auslogics Disk Defrag and it reported only 1% defragmentation before I started, and I hadn’t defragged for a couple of years, so it really doesn’t seem to be necessary with Windows 7.

So what’s your PC maintenance routine? Which utilities do you favour? Drop a comment below.


Jun 20

maximumpc

One of the top monthly PC magazines, Maximum PC, has a pdf archive of back issues which you can read online or download if you wish. Obviously you won’t find the current issue there as this is only for subscribers and retail so the latest available issue in the archive is generally 3 to 4 months old but really that’s no problem. Many of the articles aren’t time-sensitive, for example Windows tips and how-tos, etc. And of course, the pdfs are searchable.

So download some back issues and see what you think. Do you know of any other tech magazines which have pdf archives? Drop a comment below and let us know.


May 4

Tech tweets

I recently published my list of great tech bloggers. Now here’s a list of folk to follow on Twitter who consistently tweet great tech links. I follow many tech bloggers on Twitter but so that I don’t get overwhelmed with tweets, I send everything through SiftLinks to Google Reader. SiftLinks checks your Twitter stream every 30 minutes and stores the last 50 links that it finds. That way I get a nice feed of tweets with links. Over time, you get a feel for the people whose links you are clicking, retweeting and bookmarking the most and here they are:

@BlogPowerTool

@mrpaladin

@sujith_web

@WebTechWise

@dollars5

@Flipbooks

@TechZader

@Jankovitch

@2cre8

@kovshenin

@ruhanirabin

They’re all in my Twitter Tech List so you can follow that list if you like. And please add @techandlife too. I try and regularly tweet the best of what I see around the web – web apps and services, Windows, Linux, Photoshop, WordPress and blogging tips.

Do you follow anyone who tweets great tech links? Drop a comment below.


Feb 18

If you use Google Calendar to plan your appointments, etc., you’ll know that scheduling anything more than 6 months ahead takes time as there isn’t a button along the top to switch to Year View. Well in fact, there is a way to get to Year View but it’s hidden away at the moment. Here’s how to enable it.

Google Calendar1

Open Google Calendar and click the little green flask icon as highlighted above. This will bring up a list of experimental features and on it you’ll find Year View – although why it’s experimental I’ve no idea. Enable it, and try other features if you like. I’ve enabled Jump to Date as well. When you return to the calendar view, these features are shown in a new column on the right. Now click Go on Year View and you’ll get the full year on screen so you can quickly click straight through to any day on the year of your choice to schedule an event.

By the way, if you close the right column by clicking the button at the top right of the column, you’ll have to re-enable the features again as before. But you can toggle the column on and off by clicking anywhere on the vertical blue bar separating it from the calendar.

Doubtless, Year View will have a button along the top in a future update – I can’t understand why it’s not there already.


Nov 3

doPDF

I was given a 300 page 13MB PDF today and had to extract a single page from it as a PDF. I don’t have Adobe Acrobat so had to find a quick, free way to do it. A Google search identified a number of free utilities but I wanted to make use of what I already had on my PC. Then it struck me. I already had the utility doPDF to ‘print’ Word files as PDFs and I’ve blogged about this before. So I could probably also extract a single page PDF from my multipage PDF.

And it worked. Once doPDF is installed, and you open the multipage PDF in your reader, an option to print to doPDF is added to your Print menu so that anything that goes to your printer can also go to create a PDF file – so on your Print menu you select either a single page or a range of pages to print to a PDF file. I use Nitro PDF Reader as my PDF viewer but I’m sure this will also work with Foxit Reader and other pdf viewers.


Nov 1

You’ve probably sometimes entered a search phrase on Google and it’s returned a number of hits where that search phrase perhaps isn’t in the title of the webpage, but occurs somewhere on that page. If you’ve actually searched for a phrase by enclosing your keyphrase in quotes and it’s a long page, it can be time consuming to find the phrase on the page, but there’s a quick way to do it. Install the Google Quick Scroll extension in Google Chrome browser and once you choose a page from the search results, a box will pop up in the bottom right corner of the browser window enabling you to click the phrase and jump straight to the first occurrence of the phrase on the page. And if you haven’t enclosed your keywords in quotes, the extension will search for the best matched fits to your keywords on the page.
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