Goodbye Paper User Manuals

Philips Sonicare ProtectiveClean 4100 electric toothbrush website manuals and documentation

I have to admit, I enjoy reading user manuals to find everything out about a particular gadget. There is usually a couple hidden features or some helpful maintenance tips to increase the devices longevity. The problem is those manuals are usually bulky, awkwardly shaped, and have very thin pages. Scanning them would be tedious and not worth the effort.

I’ve noticed a growing trend of companies offering user manuals online. While cleaning up my stack of papers I realized all of them had nice digital PDFs available online! In addition, they were mostly identical but I noticed some of them had made minor corrections since my edition was printed. That allowed me to toss them all after saving their online copies. So next time you’re presented with a physical paper user manual, check if the company hosts a digital version online.

Many companies provide digital user manuals.

Some products I’ve used and found online:

I realize some devices, like the Google Pixel smartphone and Amazon Kindle e-ink reader, haven’t included paper manuals for years. Instead they usually print out a URL to visit. This has the double benefit of reducing cost and not wasting paper. I suspect going forward this trend will increase as digital files becomes more preferred to the average consumer.

Quickly Trim Down an Overflowing Email Inbox

Man in pile of emails

Here’s a quick tip I’ve found to rapidly trim down my email inbox and slow down my rate of new emails at the same time. It’s a simple three step process:

  1. Find an email you identify as junk. For example, I created a Pinterest account and started receiving spam from them automatically.
  2. Search for an unsubscribe link or navigate to the site to unsubscribe from all emails.
  3. In the email, look for a common “to” or “from” field. For example, the Pinterest emails were coming from “”. Now search for “”, do a quick scan to verify all emails in search list look like junk, select all, then delete all the emails, not just the single email.

By doing this my delete or archive actions have a multiplying effect so I don’t waste time making the same decision for similar emails over and over again. Rinse and repeat until I can’t find any repeating emails. I’ve found I can quickly trim down my neglected inbox to a small fraction of what it was before, giving me more time to focus on the important emails.

Don’t Use Linux to Scan Photographs

The captured image from my flatbed scanner in my previous post appeared to be more washed out compared to the original physical copy (you can see the more accurate color in the sample using my smartphone with flash enabled). Was it a limitation of the hardware or could the software be tweaked to improve quality? In this article I investigate the root cause and see if I can find a more true to life color accuracy.

Tweaking Scan Settings

First, I started adjusting the default contrast and brightness scanning levels but at any values the same washed out color issue was present. There wasn’t a significant difference if I tweaked the levels at scanning time or to the JPEG after scanning.

Changing Drivers

Next, I started thinking about the lower level driver support. Ubuntu automatically recognized and setup the scanner when I plugged it in so I hadn’t really thought about drivers. Doing some digging online lead me to find out Canon doesn’t support this particular all-in-one printer on Linux—well sort of. They don’t offer any Linux drivers on their United States website, but mosey on over to the Canon Europe website and you’ll find it! Why don’t they list them on their U.S. website? I’m hoping someone from the Europe can chime in. I’m guessing there’s some legal requirement there and not in the U.S.

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Digital Minimalism Book Summary

Digital Minimalism book cover

This post contains my carefully crafted summary of Cal Newport’s new book titled Digital Minimalism, choosing a focused life in a noisy world. If you’re interested in my review see my previous post.


Modern digital life is exhausting. The urge to check Twitter or refresh Reddit becomes a nervous twitch that shatters uninterrupted time into shards too small to support the presence necessary for an intentional life. There’s a collection of distressing concerns: addiction, reduction in autonomy, decrease in overall happiness, incentive to stoke darker instincts, and distraction from more valuable activities.

The author has become convinced that what you need instead is a full-fledged philosophy of technology use, rooted in your deep values, that provides clear answers to the questions of what tools you should use and how you should use them and, equally important, enables you to confidently ignore everything else. He calls it digital minimalism, and it applies the belief that less can be more to our relationship with digital tools.

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Digital Minimalism Book Review

Digital Minimalism book cover

I recently read a new book from Cal Newport titled Digital Minimalism I thought my readers would enjoy. He argues the rise of our hyper-connected digital life has evolved into a threat to our society’s stability. The combination of unintended and intended addictive behaviors at play have caused us to be feel more anxious than ever before and is stripping us of more rewarding activities. He suggests we combat it with a “digital minimalism” philosophy, carefully evaluating if a digital tool is beneficial and extracting only it’s essentials while avoiding it’s addictive traps.

I found the book wonderfully written with compelling examples, as is usual from Cal Newport. The repetition and examples really drive home his points but the core content and suggestions fit on a few pages, which I’ve summarized in a later blog post for a quick reference. I’d still recommend reading the full book if you’re looking for an enjoyable read.

I won’t be switching to a flip phone any time soon, but the book refined the way I look at attention seeking apps and made me more conscious of their addictive behaviors. The most impactful section for me wasn’t specific to digital minimalism, but instead on how I’m spending my leisure time. I love the idea of planning “high-quality” leisure to bring more fulfillment rather than falling into “low-quality” leisure activities every day like watching TV for hours. I’ve already began implementing this practice in my daily life with success.

The book obsesses too much about social media and smartphones as the root of all evils and reducing our digital usage as much as possible. More and more of my high-quality time is digital and that trend will continue in the future and with future generations. For example, drawing an original work of art has similar benefits to the artist whether it’s done digitally or with physical drawing materials. Digital isn’t the enemy, the real enemy is not living intentionally in all aspects of my life.

Interested in more book reviews? Follow me on Goodreads. Want to read a full summary of the book? Stay tuned for my book summary in a follow up post.

Flatbed Scanner vs. Smartphone Camera: Photographs

Collection of photos on table

This is part two of a two part series comparing a traditional flatbed scanner to a modern smartphone camera. My previous post was part one covering text documents.

In the previous section we favored convenience and readability over precise details because we were only looking for information out of the documents. Photos on the other hand can be very precious and retaining high resolution detail is important. Can I get away with only using my smartphone camera to archive printed photographs?

Unlike my previous post, the photograph I’ll be using is a real example. It’s my grandma at her 90th birthday party who has since passed away. The photo is very important to me so I’d like to preserve the original quality as much as possible.

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Flatbed Scanner vs. Smartphone Camera: Text Documents

I made some progress scanning documents with my phone, but I began to wonder if it would be worth scanning documents with a traditional flatbed scanner instead. Luckily I still had one in storage to test.

This is part one of a two part series comparing a flatbed scanner to smartphone camera. In part two, I cover scanning printed photos.

Flatbed Scanner Specs

Canon PIXMA MP250 Inkjet All-In-One Printer

My all-in-one printer came out about 9 years ago, weighs a hefty 12.7 lbs, and has clunky dimensions of 17.5 W x 13.1 D x 6.1 H inches. But the scanner works perfectly and scans at a resolution well beyond the 300 DPI we need. I found the original specs posted on the Canon website:

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Purpose of Digital Tidying

On my digital tidying journey I began to wonder, what’s digital content’s purpose? What’s the end goal of digital tidying? Is all this tidying going to be a benefit in my life? I needed a guiding principle to keep myself in check and track if it’s beneficial to my life. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that digital tidying’s main job to be done is to enrich our analog life.

Think about some of the activities you do with your content. Everything you do eventually ties back to your analog life. For example, you might spend an hour one day curating an awesome workout or study playlist. Why bother spending that time? You’re making a prediction that your work is going to payoff in some form by enriching your analog life, whether it’s pushing through a tougher than normal workout or staying in flow longer while studying. You’re attempting to maximize you’re analog life by digital tidying.

Will this digital tidying enrich my analog life?

This is the question I’m beginning to ask myself before embarking on any tidying. It makes you question if something is really worth tidying just for the sake of tidying or if it’s really important to your life. If the answer is yes then the solution is obvious, tidy away! If there isn’t any benefit to your analog life, you should remove the content from your life.

Ideal Document Archive Resolution

Messy stack of papers.
My messy stack of papers.

I started scanning away physical documents at high resolution and found each page was coming out to about 290-330 KBs. A 3 page document could cost me 1.05 MBs to store, which sounded higher than it needed to be. That would start to add up quickly when you have hundreds of documents to scan. Could I save some storage space by scanning at a lower resolution? Here are my current storage size estimates:

PagesStorage Size
1310 KB
103.1 MB
10031 MB
1,000310 MB
10,0003.1 GB
100,00031 GB

The fine details of most documents I’m scanning aren’t that important, all that matters is that the text is legible. For example, I like to keep a history of my car maintenance and most shops only provide a physical copy. A smog check receipt is important to save but the quality only needs to be good enough to verify some key text like certificate number, location, and date. It’s not a document I’m going to refer back to regularly, and may never even need to look at again, so it doesn’t need to have crisp text.

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Konmari 🤖 Does Not Compute

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up book cover.

I want to first clarify that I love Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and it had a strong impact on me when I read it in 2015. It inspired me to spend several weekends “konmaring” my apartment and discarding (including selling, donating, or recycling whenever possible) more than 10 large trash bags of items that previously only served as clutter. For a little while I felt at ease, my apartment was a zen peaceful home as promised. But the feeling of clutter started to creep back in when I realized I only addressed part of my life, my physical things. My tidy analog life was in stark contrast to my messy unfocused digital life, arguably where I spend more of my time.

Does Konmari apply to the digital space?

Yes and no. Many of the book’s basic principles are general enough to be re-used in the digital domain:

  • Apply “sparks joy” test on an item to decide whether to keep or discard it.
  • Organize by category, not by room.
  • Start with easiest to hardest categories.
  • When starting a new category put all items from that category together in one area.
  • Don’t discard items others own.
  • Don’t let others see what you are discarding.
  • Thank an item when discarding it.
  • A gift giver wouldn’t want you to hold on to their gift if it’s causing you stress.

But the system starts to break down when attempting to apply specific techniques. How do you test that an item sparks joy if you can’t touch it? What are the categories and their order? Is there a digital equivalent of the humble shoe box? Do you really want to optimize for putting away, or is quickly looking up information more important? A lot is left to the reader to figure out.

In addition, the book completely ignores any of type of digital solutions to decluttering. If you have too many books, how about switching to eBooks? Maybe hoarding hundreds of eBooks sparks joy because they aren’t taking up too much space anymore. Paired down your physical documents to a manageable size? Why not take it to the next level by scanning all of them that don’t require the original copy to get it down to nearly zero.