NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, January 2013
Document Your Life with Photo-Graphic Memory
By Phil Sorrentino, Member,
Sarasota PCUG, Florida,
September 2012 issue, PC Monitor


pcugedit (at) verizon.net (click to email author)

A photographic memory is probably something we all would like. And, just think, you can have at least the effect of a photographic memory just by using your camera and your computer to document your activities… your life.

It is amazing how much paper we collect along the way. Most of it goes neatly into file folders and then those folders go neatly into multi-draw filing cases or boxes. Before you know it you have multiple multi-draw filing cases in the den, the home office and/or the bedroom closet. Have you ever looked at the pile of paper you have collected over these many years? It’s not a pretty picture. Now there are some things that we just have to hang on to, like licenses, automobile registrations, titles of any sort, and certain special papers that might have an emotional or historical attachment. But the rest of the pile might be eliminated or at least pared down. (And how about old tax forms? How many years do you have to keep the paper? Or is an electronic copy good enough for taxes paid 10 years ago?)

What I’m suggesting is that with your computer, and a scanner and a camera, you can probably cut the paper you need to save down to a very manageable size, and even eliminate some of those storage cases. The scanner is really the key here. The camera is for unusually large items, or those things that just can’t be copied on a flat-bed scanner. Consider this, review the contents of some of those folders and if you need to know that something occurred, and is relevant, like an award you were given from your last employment. If you have not looked at it since you received it, then you can probably scan it in and throw away the original. I know how difficult this will be for some people, but after a little practice it will get a lot easier. (A very important thing here is that you have adequate “backup” to guarantee that you will never lose the scanned in files. If you don’t have adequate backup, which means multiple copies of the data files of the scanned objects, than this is not going to be a good idea. So before you commit to this, make sure you have a good backup plan in place. Make sure that you can guarantee at least two if not three copies of the scanned in files. The first two copies could be two external or portable disk drives and the third might be on DVD or a flash memory device.) Once the backup plan is in place and you are really using it, the fun begins. Gather your papers, separate the ones that you have to keep and make a pile of those that can be shredded after they are scanned. Do you really need those greeting cards you received 15 years ago?

In order to make sure that you can retrieve any of these “documents”, it is good to establish a naming convention before you start to scan the paper documents; after all, it is no use to have all the data if you can’t access it quickly. As you collect your scanned documents, you will be creating a database. Two popular ways of organizing your database are 1- by date, and 2- by event. If every file that you want to keep has a name starting with “yyyy-mm-dd” and is followed by a descriptive name, then when the digital files are put in a digital folder, they will organize in a chronological fashion. yyyy represents the year, like 2011, mm represents the numerical value of the month like 04 for April, and dd represents the day of the month like 01 for April 1. (For some databases only the year and month may be adequate.) Now, when you go looking for a document, all you have to know is the date associated with the item, and you can just look in the chronological order to find it. Let’s say that if you scanned in an award that you received in June 1976, then you would look in the area of 1976-06, to find that document. Windows Explorer makes it easy to find scanned documents because it shows a thumbnail photo of the file, while you are searching for the file. This is especially helpful because a scanned file is usually saved as a .jpg file, a picture file.

If you do use this naming convention, then you can organize your folders to represent either years (or groups of years), or events. If you choose to be completely chronological, then the folders will be named 1970, 1971, 1972,… you get the idea. Then you could put the 1970s folders into a folder named 1970s, and you could do the same with all other decades. If you choose to organize around events, then the folders might have names like “awards”, “house info”, “car info”, “career”,.. – really, any collection of events or things that makes sense to you and any others who will use the database.

Besides your scanned in documents, you can include photos from your digital camera. If you use the same naming convention with your photos, then you can mix them in with the documents and they all will organize in chronological order. Sometimes that makes a lot of sense when you have both pictures and documents that are part of the same event. This combination sometimes helps tell the complete story of the activities of the specific event.

Another way to organize your database is to organize your folders around event; then you might name your folders “birthdays”, “anniversaries”, “parties”, “weddings”,… you get this idea too. So these would represent those types of events throughout the years. The fact that the files are chronologically named means they would organize chronologically inside the folders, making it easy to find a specific event within an event folder. And you can mix the two types of database folders. You could have your basic folders chronologically named, but inside a year you might have a series of events like “a vacation trip to the Grand Canyon” where the pictures from the trip would show what you saw and the documents you collected like maps and brochures from the particular destinations. As long as each file is chronologically named, the files will organize in a way that will make it easy for you to find a specific document, or group of pictures.

Not only do you save storage space, but once your pictures and documents are in your database, they are immediately available because they are literally at your finger tips (if your fingers are on the keyboard). I bet you’ll be able to impress your friends how fast you can find those awards you received from your first employer. Of course there are always a few items that just can’t be committed to electronic files and there are always a few pictures of the grandchildren that just must be made into an 8 by 10 for the wall. But, just think, with a lot of those paper documents shredded, and all of your photos committed to digital files, you won’t need all of that paper and picture storage. It will probably free up some valuable storage space and maybe you can even make a few bucks by selling those filing cabinets.

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