Category Archives: General

The category for uncategorized stuff. ;)

Distracted Driving

Saw a new type of distracted driving today on my commute. A guy was trying to drive on the highway, exceeding the speed limit, all while trying to write on his hand with a pen. Oh well, at least he had two hands near the steering wheel.

Messy Desk from mrsdkrebs on Flickr

Going Paperless using Evernote and a Canon All-in-One Printer

Recently I came across a post on Lifehacker entitled How I Went Completely Paperless in Two Days and it reminded me of my half-assed attempt to go paperless. Paper is by far one of the biggest problems in our house. Various things get stacked and tossed in different piles.  Most of the time it’s not an issue but then there will be times like at Christmas when I couldn’t find an important notice from my RRSP provider. Ugh.

What is Evernote?

EvernoteEvernote is a fantastic application which allows you to keep notes on anything.  It’s web enabled so you can login to the website or install any of the desktop or mobile apps and view/edit/create notes from anywhere. It’s also FREE!

Yes, this process of going paperless with Evernote can involve putting your stuff “in the cloud” and using Evernote may not be for you if that is a major concern. I say can because it’s possible to just digitize your papers and use a local notebook in Evernote and then nothing gets sent off of your computer. The downside of that is then you don’t get the built-in backup solution offered by syncing your documents with the Evernote servers. Evernote has gone to great lengths to show it is security minded. If you are still hesitant then it’s possible to encrypt notes before syncing but maybe going paperless this way isn’t an option for you.

If you don’t already have an account, go to Evernote and signup for the Free account and then download and install the application on your computer. Oh, I have a note about free vs premium accounts later.

You need a scanner!

So Lifehacker recommended the Doxie One or Doxie Go but both of these seem expensive for single function scanners that don’t make it easy to zip through multi-page documents. What you need is something with an Auto Document Feeder (ADF) and even more important, something that will scan double sided! You could go and shell out $450+ on a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 (which is one of the Evernote partner scanners) but I have a better solution that costs much less and offers much more.

We have a Canon Pixma MX882 (the Canon Pixma MX892 is the current model with a few more features) which is an all-in-one printer/scanner/copier/fax. There are four fantastic features of this Canon all-in-one that make it great for going paperless:

  1. It has a 35 page Auto Document Feeder (ADF)!
  2. It can scan letter or A4 sized pages double sided (duplex) from the ADF!
  3. It has wireless built-in!
  4. The included Canon MP Navigator EX software will actually create searchable PDFs!

All of this from an all-in-one that can be picked up for less than $150 when it’s on sale (It’s on sale a lot at places like Staples). There are some older/cheaper multi-function Canon scanners that may provide some of the same features. I can’t really comment on others though as when I was searching for a scanner that did duplex scanning from an ADF, it was damn hard to find out that the Pixma MX882 did.

Oh, and keep in mind that you are also getting one of the Premium Evernote features included with the Canon MP Navigator EX software - searchable PDFs! This is extremely powerful as Evernote will then be able to search the content of your PDFs, even without the Premium account.

Setting Up Evernote

The Canon Pixma scanners are not “integrated” with Evernote like the Fujitsu ones or some other brands. That’s not a problem because Evernote offers the ability to monitor a directory on your computer for files to be imported automatically to Evernote. All you have to do is put your newly scanned documents into that folder and they get imported into Evernote.

First, create a new notebook in Evernote called something like “Unsorted“. This is where our new PDFs are going to get imported. If you don’t want it to get synced, make sure it’s a local notebook. An advantage of making it a regular (synced) notebook is then you can sort and tag the contents anytime from anywhere via the web interface. This is also handy if you just scan everything as it shows up and then sort/tag the documents at a later, more convenient time.

Next, create a folder on your computer that will be your “For Evernote” folder. I just have this on my desktop but it can be anywhere that make sense for you.

Once you have the new notebook and new folder created, go to Tools -> Import Folders… which will allow you to add a new folder for Evernote to watch. Oh, and yes, I’m still running Windows XP on my PC so the screen shots I’ve included may look different on your computer.

Evernote Import Folders dialog box

Hit the Add button and navigate to your “For Evernote” folder. Then you just set Evernote to import into your “Unsorted” notebook. To have Evernote cleanup after itself, set the Source to “Delete” instead of “Keep”. This way your “For Evernote” folder will always be empty after Evernote had imported the new PDFs you add.

Evernote Free vs Premium

I haven’t needed the premium account as the amount of stuff I put into Evernote seems to stay under the monthly 60MB maximum. If you are going to scan everything at once, you may consider the premium plan for at least a month to get the 1GB/month of uploads. With the method described above, the worst case is your “For Evernote” folder has files left in it when you run out of upload allowance. At the start of the next month cycle they should just get uploaded like normal.

Evernote Monthly Upload Limit dialog

 

Setting Up the Canon MP Navigator EX Software

Open the software and hit the Preferences button (it’s in the top right corner of the application in my version). Under “Save Settings”, you can do one of two things – either set the “Save In” folder to be the same “For Evernote” folder that you created before, or create a second folder that’s your temporary scan destination.

Canon MP Navigator MX Setup dialog

Personally, I use a secondary folder because this gives you the opportunity to verify scans. You can use the built-in PDF editor in the Canon software to fix any PDFs that might have had extra blank pages added (due to duplex scanning from the ADF). Then you just manually move the scanned file(s) in to the “For Evernote” folder and watch Evernote import them.

Start Scanning!

Now all you need to do is start scanning your documents. Unlike in the Lifehacker article, you can toss a multi-page document into the Canon Pixma’s ADF, hit scan and walk away until it’s time to load the next document. This is very handy as each document you scan gets saved as exactly that, one document. There is no manual post processing required to group scanned pages together.

To make the most of this I try to toss a new document into the scanner as soon as I get it. Hit scan, walk away. Then I can come back later, verify it and move the PDF to the “For Evernote” directory to be imported by Evernote and stored forever. I can then grab the paper document and toss it into the shredder. Done!

Once the document is in Evernote you can then move it to a different Notebook, add any tags you want or add extra text to the note.  You have all the power of Evernote at your finger tips.

Top image credit: mrsdkrebs

Image of Canadian cash in multiple denominations

Cheap Smartphone Plans in Canada

After managing to snag myself a Google Nexus 4 in the second round of offering, I found myself searching for a suitable cell phone plan here in Canada. As an avid Mr Money Mustache reader, I was astounded to see that he was able to get a $10/month plan in the US. Seeing as I’m cheap, I had to find the best cheap smartphone plan I could in Canada. This has proven difficult.

In Canada, there seems to be two main factors when trying to determine what is a suitable cell phone plan:

  1. Your Location
    • If you live in a major metropolitan area in Canada, you have a couple really fantastic options that give you pretty much unlimited everything.
    • If you live outside those metropolitan areas, or leave them on a semi-regular basis, you’re screwed.
  2. Your Usage
    • If you are a reasonably heavy user, there are lots of plans that offer huge blocks of minutes and multiple GB of data (or even unlimited everything) for all roughly the same price. It’s not exactly cheap but if you plan on using the smartphone that much, you’re stuck paying the price.
    • Unfortunately, if you are  a rather light user who only makes the occasional call when you’re late for a meeting or trying to arrange who’s picking up the kids from where ever, you’re screwed.

Now, if you are one of the “lucky” ones, you live (and work and stay) in a major metropolitan area and are a reasonably heavy user. In that case, just go get yourself one of the unlimited plans from Wind Mobile or Mobilicity and stop reading this post since you aren’t going to find anything cheaper. For ~$40/mon (or less depending on the current offering) you’ll get unlimited everything. I’d be all over that and we’d get rid of the home phone if we could get those smartphone plans for those prices where we live.

If you are a heavy user and don’t live in an area covered by Wind Mobile or Mobilicity, well, you’re screwed. Rogers* or Bell* might be your best options, especially if you can bundle your service with existing home TV or internet to get discounts. Telus* is another option. You can keep reading and consider one of the options below but heavy users are going to pay a lot. Sorry!

For those of us who aren’t heavy users and/or who don’t live in major metropolitan areas in Canada, keep reading.

Analysis Criteria

Due to the two main factors, I’m going to create a hypothetical user who we’ll call, uh, Jeff. Yeah, hypothetically.

Jeff needs coverage both in a metropolitan area and in a more rural area. His voice usage is typically less than 5 minutes per week because he is either at work with a desk phone or at home but he does have a very non-Mustachian commute. Due to his need for rural coverage though he does need to make or receive an occasional long distance call, lets say once a week for 1 minute. He averages 10 outgoing texts a week (and receives more than he can count). Since Jeff is typically bathed in the warmth of WiFi at home or in his office (and he hunts for free WiFi everywhere), he doesn’t really need much in the way of data. 100MB or less of data in a month would be more than sufficient.

Now, one feature I, err, hypothetical Jeff, has to have is call display. If the plan doesn’t offer call display, I haven’t even considered it as I won’t pay extra for a basic service like that.

All in, this is a very basic user that seems very typical based on my sample of co-workers and friends. If this isn’t the type of user you are then what follows probably doesn’t apply fully to you.

Cheapest Prepaid Option with Data

For $5-10 you can get a prepaid SIM card from Virgin Mobile and get the $0.35/min and $0.20/text prepaid plan. Another $10/mon for the 100MB/mon data add-on and presto, you have what might be the winning cheap smartphone plan available in Canada. Well, sort of.

Based on Jeff’s usage, this is going to cost him $10 + ($0.35 * 5 + $0.35 (for the 1 minute of long distance) + 5 * $0.20 ) * 4 weeks = $22.40/month. WTF? That’s not cheap!

No, it’s not cheap and if you happen to increase your voice usage or texting for any reason, you can quickly chew up your prepaid credit. And of course, 100MB of data isn’t going to go far if you aren’t careful so be prepared for the $0.15/MB overage fee.

Cheapest Prepaid Option with No Data

If you decide that you don’t need data at all, the cheapest basic cell phone plan I could find with no data was from Petro Canada Mobile. Well, as far as I can tell they don’t have a data option. There is a $10/mon browsing add-on but those typically don’t allow “full data access” on a smartphone.

Anyways, for $15 you get a prepaid SIM and their rate is $0.25/min for voice and $0.10/text. There appears to be a $1.25/mon fee for “911 services” but it’s not clear on the website how that is billed.

Cheapest Postpaid (Monthly) Option with Optional Data

At the moment this appears to be Virgin Mobile with their $20/month plan – 50min/month, unlimited text. Although Koodo Mobile offers a very similar plan.

Now, it’s not actually $20/month as that plan doesn’t include data but it does have the “Pay Per Use” data option so if you don’t use data in a month, there is no cost. It’s $5/mon for up to 25MB and $10/month for up to 100MB of data but if you go over that, the tiered rates aren’t too painful. So lets call it $30/month.

One nice feature with the current Virgin offer is that the 50 min/month is also valid for long distance calls within Canada. Very handy for Jeff’s situation.

As mentioned, Koodo Mobile offers a very similar plan but their tiered data rate sort of sucks in the off chance you “need” to use more than 250MB of data one month. Some of the other carriers also have a similar $20/mon plan but they don’t seem to offer the tiered data which means they become $30/mon plans for 100MB with hefty overage charges.

Finally, Virgin Mobile is currently offering a 10% discount on monthly plans if you bring your own phone. That’s a nice little differentiator which would turn this into a $27/mon plan with <100MB of data. That’s a whole $3/mon less than anywhere else I could find.

It looks like Virgin Mobile’s offering is the (current) cheapest smartphone plan in Canada.

Some Final Notes

I’m currently a Virgin Mobile prepaid customer and have been for a really long time. I’m currently using my Nexus 4 on Virgin Mobile Canada Prepaid but I haven’t enabled the data plan yet. It is possible (I checked before getting the Nexus 4) but they make it sort of difficult to do and I haven’t had enough time to set it up.

This exercise to find a cheap cell phone plan surprised me as I wasn’t expecting Virgin Mobile to be the “cheapest” option, especially considering they are now fully owned by Bell.

$20/month appears to be the cheapest option for 50-75 minutes of voice with unlimited texting and no data. Multiple companies have this but Virgin and Koodo have the tiered data rate whereas the others don’t.

I’d love to hear your feedback and if you have any comments and/or corrections. If you find anything cheaper, please, add it in the comments below.

Title Image Credit: feverblue

* I won’t give any direct link love to Rogers, Bell or Telus. I don’t think any of them offers reasonable pricing for any of their services. Oddly, Virgin is owned by Bell and Koodo is owned by Telus so I’m not sure how they can offer such different cell phone rates.

Picture of the mantle in the main lobby of the Great Escape Lodge, Queensbury, NY

Six Flags Great Escape Lodge Waterpark

In February we went to the Six Flags Great Escape Lodge and Indoor Waterpark in Queensbury, NY. Again. This is the second time we’ve gone to the Six Flags Great Escape Lodge in as many years because it’s the second time we managed to find a major discount code online! We will probably go back again next year if we find another discount code.

As mentioned in the previous post, this time we stayed for two nights instead of only one and the experience was much less hectic. We weren’t in as much of a rush to get to the waterpark to take advantage of the early entry for hotel guests this time.  This allowed us to enjoy the wonderful drive through the Adirondacks. Ironically, for February, there was more snow back home than there was in the mountains!

Once we arrived at Six Flags Great Escape Lodge, we were able to check in early. As February appears to be a bit of a low season and we were checking in on a Sunday, it seems they had time to have our room ready for us. Posted check in time is 4PM but we were into our room just after 2PM.

One thing we tried to catch this time was the 8PM bedtime stories by the fireplace. This is a neat little thing where one of the characters comes along with a companion and the companion reads a couple books for the kids. Well, stress that we tried to catch the bedtime stories.  The first night we missed them completely as we got there at about 8:12PM and the girls caught the last pages of the last book and woosh, off went the character and companion. The second night we made sure we were there early and that worked much better but still, the whole thing doesn’t last very long. There was a decent crowd of people there both nights so coming sort of early makes getting a seat easier.

The waterpark itself was good again this year. We convinced friends of ours to join us this year and our kids were all old enough to do many of the attractions on their own. Lots of fun.

Picture of the indoor water park at the Great Escape Lodge, Queensbury, NY

One big difference this time was the water temperature was much better this year. I don’t think we ever found out why but last year when we were at the waterpark, the water was really cold and made things like the lazy river not enjoyable. This time the lazy river was much better as you could actually stay in the water without shivering.

Spending two nights really made for a much more enjoyable time. The downside was the discount only applied for Sunday-Thursdays when we booked so we stayed Sunday and Monday night. Not a huge problem as this also had the advantage of the waterpark being less crowded most of the time. As mentioned in the previous post, the logistics of checkout time are a little tricky. This time we skipped getting a locker and I just didn’t go swimming on the checkout morning. This is much easier as one parent can manage two older kids without too much difficulty and the second can manage getting the clothes, etc. from your car when you’re done swimming. Of course, we also had an infant this time that one of us had to look after so he and I enjoyed the, uh, scenery.

For a quick winter break only a few hours from Ottawa, ON, we will likely go back to the Six Flags Great Escape Lodge again next year. It’s well worth it to watch for the discount codes from the travel sites as long as you have a flexible schedule because they are rather short notice (like 3-4 weeks in advance for us and we booked the last possible dates at that time).

Picture of LED Christmas lights that are missing one bulb

LED Christmas Lights Should Be Taken Down Before Spring

I’ve often read that you should take your LED Christmas light down before spring comes but I always assumed it was one of those things to not be “tacky”. Well, here is a good reason to take your LED Christmas lights down before spring.

Yes, one of the local squirrels appears to have decided to take one of the bulbs off of the string of LED lights. This string of lights was on the tree in our front yard and I guess it looked nice and tasty. Too bad the lights weren’t on at the time the squirrel ate through the wires.

Oh, and don’t worry, the lights have been off the tree for a few months now. If they were really still up at the end of June, they may as well stay until the next spring.

The good part about this is I had been contemplating a conversion of one of the sets of lights into a solar LED light set. Now I don’t have to “sacrifice” a set as the squirrel did that for me already.