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PD-F This! Scanners Too: The Ne(xt) Order

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The last time I actually posted to this blog (notice the liberal use of guest bloggers, which means I have been able to sleep more and to go to the gym more regularly, which means my mind is more sharply focused for when I do blog; see how this all works, and what I do for you?) , I considered a question that has been asked of us over and over again, it seems, of late: How do I access mentors? Well, this time around, I have discovered another frequently asked question, which has been, of late, general, as snow at Christmastime, all over Ireland: How do I do the scanning thing?

(So, maybe I’m just dense. Should more people be yelling at me more? I don’t know. (What?) But, here I am, with crazy blog fodder flying at me everydays, just assaulting me, and I’m just letting it ride. For months. Alas.)

Along with the mentoring query, this question of scanning, and all of the attendant sub-questions that respect scanning, has become the most frequently asked question that I do not yet have a pat and ready answer to. That means that, after I meet with clients, and shoot out a summary email of our meeting, I actually have to write my observations down anew every time, instead of just linking out to a blog post. Not. Cool. When you’re trying to work smarter, and not harder, you really do need stock answers to these sorts of most-often-asked questions.

So, here’s how you do the scanning thing:

First, quite obviously, you need a scanner. But, Which scanner? Well, we’ve written previously about a bundle package that we believe represents a nice value, if you’re not doing massive amounts of scanning. You can review our take on the Fujitsu ScanSnap-Adobe Acrobat bundle here. And, the answer to the first stage of this question is as alluded to above: How much scanning are you going to be doing? If you’re in a scanning-heavy practice, or can translate, in your mind, your paper-heavy practice to a scanning-heavy practice, you’ll need something with a good deal of horsepower, that’s capable of batch scanning larger numbers of pages at one time (the less feeding you’ll have to do). More horsepower usually equals a larger machine usually equals a pricier model. But, the space you’ll save and the efficiency advances you’ll make, when you move your paper documents online, are likely to be worth the cost outlay, unless you want a scanner with gold-leafing, or some other sort of crazy-old-rich-man bling. (Incidentally, if you’re interested in the overarching concept of the “paperless office”, we addressed that previously at the blog, as well, here, specifically.) Now, I can’t recommend any specific product purchase, because that depends entirely on your expected usage patterns, business needs and budget; however, I can recommend companies that have produced scanners that I have used effectively, or that have produced scanners that have been used effectively by people whose judgments I trust. For top-of-the-line scanners, I think that you’re looking at a few companies (not an exhaustive list), as follows: Fujistu, Kodak and HP. For the best bargains (i.e.–products that do all/most of what you need, for a reasonable price), try: Brother or Lexmark. If you want a scanner plus, you’re certainly welcome to purchase an all-in-one device, or a multifunction machine. Keep in mind, however, that the issue with those sorts of devices, although they will often represent an aggregate cost savings, is that they house all of their two or three or four functions within their circumspection, such that, if your fax machine’s broken, so’s your scanner. That, my friends, is a caveat. (And, these, my friends, are cavebats.) Now, if you don’t need something with lots of horsepower, or if you don’t need a traditional, heavy machine, you may consider a smaller, more portable scanning product. I’ve alluded above to our post covering the Fujitsu ScanSnaps, which come bundled with Adobe Acrobat. For remote scanning (i.e.–a scanner that you can take with you places, fairly easily), and for getting into a PDF converter system at the cost of a scanner alone, this deal is a boon. If you don’t like the Fujistu-Adobe bundle, you have an alternative: A number of Kodak’s small-form scanners are bundled with Nuance PDF products.

With the purchase of a computer system, we do not recommend buying an out-of-the-box product, because you need to establish that main system of your practice as a business machine, and must make sure that the specifications you acquire are fitted to your business purposes. However, the purchase of a scanner is a different matter. Generally, once you choose a model, it is what it is, and you are, necessarily, buying out-of-the-box. So, when you’ve “scan”ned the options (hahaha), and have decided to make a purchase, all you’ll need is the model number; and, you’ll find that, if you access comparison shopping discount sites (like NewEgg, Shopzilla or CTIStore), you’ll probably be able to find the best going price on the scanner of your dreams. (For more on discounts for attorneys, visit our previous blog post on that topic here. C’mon, just visit it. It’s lonely. When you get there, it’ll offer you some tapioca pudding and a foot rub–not necessarily in that order.)

When you’re purchasing a scanner, you’ll want something with the capability to OCR documents; or, you’ll want a software, included or purchased separately, that can OCR documents. OCR stands for “optical character recognition”. A scan without OCR is just a picture of the document, like a photo. Characters are not rendered. If you want to be able to edit, or otherwise manipulate, your documents, once they’re scanned, you’ll need to run OCR on them, either when you scan them, or after the fact. Without OCR, you won’t be able to create forms, and you won’t be able to convert scanned documents to Word for editing, by way of two, main, examples. This is largely getting to be a moot point, however, as most modern systems (of scanner/of PDF conversion software) include OCR capability. And, although the renderings of characters through OCR, in the past, has not always been exactly faithful, particularly with difficult-to-read or older documents, the truth of conversion becomes more and more effective with each passing year.

Now, once
you have your documents scanned in, and OCR’d, you still need to be able to work with them, as PDFs, and in other formats. And, the way you accomplish that is through the use of a PDF conversion software, which has been the shadow figure of this post, lurking, as it has been, creepily, darkly, and . . . right behind you! (Well, not really; but, it sounded better written that way.) It’s not even worth scanning, frankly, to begin with, if you are not using a PDF conversion software, as well.

One preliminary that I would like to address immediately (at least, as “immediate” as the beginning of, like, the tenth paragraph of this post can be “immediate”), because I still get the question/become embroiled in the confusion, is to say that: When I am talking of a “PDF conversion program”, I am not talking about a “PDF reader program”. Anyone can view a PDF, most usually through Adobe’s Reader (Nuance has a reader now, too, though), and sometimes that PDF reader view will also allow you some ability to access PDF conversion tools, most often those features that the author of the PDF has given you access to . . . BUT, the PDF reader is not (I repeat: NOT) a PDF conversion software. The tools available on a PDF reader represent the absolute de minimis version of what you will find on a PDF conversion software. And, that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the reader is free.

PDF conversion systems, well beyond the PDF reader programs, generally provide a number of specific advantages. For one, PDF conversion softwares offer the ability to convert in and out of various document formats, through PDF. For another, a PDF document obviates formatting issues, for the most part, since PDF documents look the same across all platforms. The creation of a PDF document can remove metadata from the prior form (e.g.–the converting of a template Word document that has been reworked and reworked, can be refreshened, and can become a veritable blank slate, at least with respect to its foundation). PDF conversion systems can be used to create fillable forms. PDF conversion systems feature attorney-useful tools, as well, like Bates stamping, and more proactive metadata removal options. PDF conversion softwares can also provide you the ability to establish password protection for documents, and to apply underlying encryption, which can be a very important tool set, especially in Massachusetts, where the new state data privacy regulations require encryption for specific sets of sensitive data being sent wirelessly/saved to portable electronic devices. Additionally, as courts and administrative bodies move toward the submission of electronic, for paper, documents, the use of a PDF conversion system (and a recent version of same, to boot), will become more and more important.

In the above paragraph, I have been speaking very generally about the use of PDF conversion softwares. In point of fact, each system has its own features, which may or may not be coextensive with the above recitation, which begs the question: If all of these don’t do the same things, which of these is the best thing? Well, I do have a stock answer for that, that involves the olympic games, tangentially, or something like it. Let me just work up to remembering it. (Rubbing my temples vigorously.) (It’s really hot outside right now.):

Adobe’s Acrobat is the gold standard for PDF conversion. It is the most intuitive product, thus making it the easiest to use, perhaps even by definition. It’s got the most features, and the most useful features. It offers strong, and the-easiest-to-use, security options. The latest version of Acrobat features some nifty tools, including: PDF portfolio creation options; integration through; Adobe Presenter built-in, for use with Powerpoint; and, etc. Additionally, Acrobat has the widest knowledgebase, including free information, about its product, which knowledgebase includes Rick Borstein’s excellent “Acrobat for Legal Professionals” blog, and books written exclusively for attorneys using Acrobat, including the ABA’s “The Lawyer’s Guide to Adobe Acrobat”, currently in its third edition. For more on Adobe Acrobat, visit Beverly Michaelis’ “Oregon Law Practice Management” blog, at which she has a couple good posts covering Acrobat: “Acrobat Tips and Tricks from the Experts” and “Is Acrobat Really Necessary?” Acrobat’s latest version is 9, available in graded flavors of Standard, Pro and Pro Extended.

Nuance’s PDF Converter is the silver standard for PDF conversion. Its main features are basically co-extensive with Acrobat’s. It’s fairly intuitive, but not so much as Acrobat, and that includes for password security and encryption options. The latest version of PDF Converter (which could be more cleverly named, right? I suggest –the Dangerous Document Shifter (“DDS”)–, or something. No? Nah, you’re right. That’s terrible.) offers some nifty features, too, including: the ability to create PDF portfolios; “autopilot” batch processing; the ability to add and play Flash content; and, etc. Nuance PDF Converter, however, does not have anything near the knowledgebase available that Acrobat has, whether produced by the company, by private authors, or by the public. It just doesn’t have the same traction or popularity that Acrobat does; it may in time, but that time is not now. I also think that Nuance has attempted to package too many of its other products, to fold them into PDF Conveter, and to surround PDF Converter with them, to the point that it is difficult to tell where one program becomes and where the other ends, which ultimately means that each individual product becomes more difficult to use, and, probably, that you end up buying more crap than you need to. PDF Converter is currently in version 6, available in graded flavors of Converter, Professional and Enterprise.

With respect to pricing, it is the case that you pay for what you get. Acrobat is a better product; and, you’ll pay more for it. PDF Converter is an effective bargain product, and you’ll pay less for it than you would for Acrobat; but, if you can live with some workarounds, it should work nearly as well for you.

There are also cheap and free options, representing a bronze standard, below that of Acrobat and PDF Converter. The two versions of cheap/free PDF conversion softwares I most often recommend are CutePDF and PDF Forge. CutePDF offers a freeware version for simple PDF creation. The professiona
l version
, available for $50, provides more heft, and approaches the line of the Acrobat and Nuance standard products. Some of the features of the professional version include: forms tools; a typewriter feature; digital signature for PDF; and, etc. PDF Forge (just imagine Hephaestus hammering out PDF documents in his secret volcano lair, as you click to make him go faster) offers a free creator program that offers some bells and whistles, including: encryption options; digital signature for PDF; the ability to merge multiple files into a single PDF; and, etc. There are a number of other PDF converter systems available, and a quick Google search should provide you with an array of options.

I had initially concerned myself over writing a comparison between products, as I’ve never really done that before. Then I remembered that very few people read this blog anyway (Hi, Ma), and that none of these companies probably give half a crap about what I think. So that set my mind at ease. (Nah, just kidding. I was never really concerned.)

A Note for Mac Users. I’m no Mac expert. In fact, I’ve only used a Mac once, to check my email, and I didn’t like it. So that was that. And, don’t try to convince me otherwise. I’m not even sure that it’s technically “Mac” or “MAC”, and I think Steve Jobs is always squinting at me. However, in order to be fair to our Mac-using friends (and I am nothing if not fair), of which the numbers are always increasing, we (Rachel helped me, thank God) took a look after what Mac users might be able to expect out of PDF conversion programs. Well, there’s no easy way to say it, so I’m just going to come out and say it, but: the glass is rather half-full. PDF Forge is only supported on Windows; as is Cute PDF; as is Nuance PDF Converter. Adobe Acrobat will run on Macs (so there you go, you get the best one, Yeah!), though the product doesn’t review as well on Mac (admittedly, a small sample size) as it does on Windows (Ahhhh, No!). (Perhaps not surprisingly, the ScanSnaps, being bundled with Acrobat as they are, include a line for Mac users, the “M” series.) But, there are two more bits of good news. Every Mac offers PDF creation out of the print dialogue. And, if you’re using a Mac, there is a great resource out there that you should be accessing generally, as well as for information about Macs and PDF. As a Mac-using attorney, you can’t go wrong joining the Macs in the Law Office (MILO) Google Group. You must apply to the group for membership; but, they let me in as a lurker/learner, so their standards don’t appear to be high. I would imagine, as a real-life Mac user, you’d have an even easier time getting in. The discussions are extremely robust, with lots of users commenting on lots of topics. It’s just a great, modern, legal technology forum. A search for “PDF” in the MILO forum yields over 1,700 results.

Well, then . . . Release the Hounds!

. . .

Liner Notes

People talk about super groups; and VH1 even created an eponymous and horrible reality show based on the concept. (Incidentally, that reality show should have been called “(The Opposite of Super)group”, as it did feature a bunch of has-beens, and Ted Nugent, who, in the finale, I believe, killed and ate his bandmembers (and probably me, too, now for possibly calling him a has-been) like so many deer.)

So, what’s a real super group, then? Well, let’s set some ground rules. A super group can’t include individuals who became famous after their joining together as a group. (So, the Beatles aren’t a super group.) Neither is a super group a small, project-based entity. ( So, the Dirty Mac is not a super group. Neither is the collective that sang “We Are the World”.) So, my take on the super group is that it has a few more qualifiers, in addition to the above, implied ones: (1) you (pl.) gotta come out with a long-form album (no EPs, or singles); (2) you (pl.) have to have some kind of cohesion as a band; and, (3) you (pl.) gotta write some original material. Of course, the more originally famous the initial members, the more super the super group.

What are some examples of true super groups, then: Crosby Stills, Nash & (sometimes) Y(oung); Blind Faith; Hindu Love Gods–doesn’t fit the criteria, but I don’t care: Zevon’s the man; The Highwaymen; and, Damn Yankees.

Wait . . . Wait. I’m leaving one out.

Ah, yes. The sons of Charles Truscott Wilbury, Sr.: the Traveling Wilburys.

The Traveling Wilburys are, to my mind, without a doubt, the greatest super group ever. The lineup is just outrageous: George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, in the same band. Those are some big-timey resumes right there. George Harrison was the lead guitarist for the Beatles, and is a LOMAP blog favorite. Bob Dylan is the father of American songcraft. Roy Orbison was so damn soulful, people thought he was blind just because he wore sunglasses a lot. (And, he was one of my grandmother’s favorite sings, so that counts for something for me on a resonating and on a goosebumps-generating level.) Tom Petty is probably the all-time modern swamp rocker. Jeff Lynne was the lead singer of Electric Light Orchestra (you know them–seriously, don’t bring me down, Brrrrrruuuuuuuuce); but, he is most notable for his work as a producer, including on comeback albums for fellow Wilburys George Harrison and Roy Orbison.

Although each
member of the group lends his distinctive songwriting, musical and voice contribution to the Wilburys’ song catalogue (Harrison’s rising popcraft; Dylan sounds raspier than he ever has; Orbison’s operatic lack of vigor; Petty’s dragging, clacking vocals; that catchy Jeff Lynne-sound permeating all), they do, in fact, sound like a group, especially on their second album.

The Wilburys’ albums were recently remastered, and are now being sold, with bonus tracks included; but, back in the day, getting your hands on the Wilburys’ albums meant something, man. Back when I was in college, before the reissues, tracking down the two studio albums, Volume I and Volume III (Volume III was Volume II . . . oh, never mind . . . if you don’t know, you don’t know) was very difficult. Volume I was just still popular enough, and so you could find it in used record stores on tape. Only problem was, even then, tapes were moving out of vogue. So, when you found it on tape, you’d burn CD copies for your friends. Volume III was a rare find, however, because it met with less commercial success than its predecessor. I remember hitting up a long string of used record stores over several weekends before I uncovered a cassette copy of Volume III, beaten and sticky as it was. The fact that college kids, in the age of CDs, were scouring the record stores of greater Manchester, New Hampshire for dingy cassette versions of out-of-print albums that were released over a decade before shows you the sort of cache the Wilburys retained. In fact, it was one of the ways that you judged someone’s musical knowledge: If you didn’t know Jeff Lynne was the fifth Wilbury, you were out. But, if you knew the Wilburys, and not in a poser-ish sort of way, you were cool to come by, and to provide much beer for my party, as well as, perhaps, a cheese wheel.

So let us sample from the trove.

Volume I was just a mammoth record, featuring big hits “Handle with Care” and “End of the Line”. But, some of the other songs on the record are tremendous, as well, if not getting the airplay of the above-referenced gems. “Dirty World” is probably one of my favorite songs of all-time–just a fun, jaunty pop song that is also well-written (a rare occurrence these days), and that includes an excellent cataloguing along the lines of a third-person love letter, and much double entendre. “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” is “the Dylan song” on the album, and speaks to the dangers present in and around Secaucus, New Jersey. “Last Night” is something of a cowboy’s love story (or, at least, that’s how I always thought of it), with Petty and Orbison sharing the lead vocal. George Harrison’s “Heading for the Light” is the closest he gets to Krishna on these albums. I think.

As good as Volume I is, it still feels more like an uneasy collaboration, with a number of songs sounding very much like solo endeavors, injected into the album to fill what would have been more cohesively developed group-styled songs. Volume III, although less commercially successful, and, sadly, not including Roy Orbison, who had passed away before its recording, was more of a group effort, featuring songs that sounded more similar (call it the Tom Petty-Jeff Lynne sound also figuring prominently on Petty’s hugely successful debut solo album, Full Moon Fever, which had released the year before), including songs that sounded more like Traveling Wilburys songs than George Harrison songs, or Bob Dylan songs, or Roy Orbison songs. I think that Volume III is the better album. The one hit, “Wilbury Twist” is fun, and stars John Candy in the video; but, the remainder of the albums offers some much better tunes, including: “She’s My Baby”, “Inside Out”, “If You Belonged To Me”, “The Devil’s Been Busy”, “Poor House” and “Cool Dry Place”. Volume (II)I is a great listen, from beginning to end.

Beyond the canonical recordings, though, there are a great number of excellent bootleg and special collection numbers, including: Orbison warbling through “Heartbreak Radio” (just wait out the odd VHS overdub at the beginning of the YouTube clip, featuring Sean Young (aka Ray Finkle) and Pierce Brosnan)–it’s worth it), probably the most egregious album exclusion, and later appearing on Orbison’s posthumous King of Hearts album; a cover of Del Shannon’s “Runaway”; a cover of “Nobody’s Child”, for the Romanian Angel Appeal 1990 benefit album; “Border Line”; and, “Walk Away”, among others.

Doesn’t that make you want to dust off the old tape collection? It does me.

CATEGORIES: Productivity | Risk Management | Technology

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