Going Paperless

Like many things the idea of going paperless was much more daunting than actually doing it.

We had always used our own electronic excel based workpapers and held everything in electronic folders.  For each client by year we store Client Records, Workpapers, Financial Reports and Tax returns.  We file emails and save PDFs of annual accounts and tax returns (we use Xero and WorkflowMax). Phone messages and faxes are all emailed to us and we can save these to client folders (we use Two Talk’s internet based phone system and the calls come in MP3 format).

Newsletters and year end checklists are all sent out by email and we hardly ever write a letter these days.

We encourage clients to send records in electronically (eg PDF format or scanned).  Any piece of paper that is dropped off or posted in is scanned and filed in the client’s electronic Client Records folder.

I couldn’t manage now without my two screens in both home office and downtown – I know some people use 4 and I can see that being useful in future but 2’s enough for now.  All our staff offsite use 2 screens as well. One screen effectively replaces the piece of paper that would otherwise have been in front of us.

Several things we had hung onto in paper format: signed engagement letters, tax agent authority forms, signed annual accounts and tax returns.  Not any more.  All are PDFed, emailed, signed by the client, scanned and emailed back to us for filing in the client folder.  All invoices are emailed out and payments and receipts done through internet banking.

We have no filing room and no paper files; we run daily backups automatically and these are stored overseas and physically.

There have been huge time saving benefits.  No more letters, posting, printing accounts, tax returns, covering letters, invoices, preparing envelopes, filing etc although I do miss my routine of several years ago of popping down the hill from home to the bank, posting the mail and picking up something tasty for dinner at the supermarket.

I estimate nearly two-three days a week admin time has been saved by going paperless – that’s a huge cost saving, plus we have made significant savings on stationery, printer ink, stamps etc,etc.  And there’s less rubbish to deal with. We do use a document destruction bin but we haven’t filled it yet.

I also put all electronic meeting papers into Dropbox and just take my iPad to meetings.  It fits nicely in my handbag!

And my desk and office are always tidy…

My Weather Station Project

Ok – I live in Wellington so I keep a pretty close eye on the weather, here you often get four seasons in one day and invariably the weather is better elsewhere … but as any Wellingtonian will tell you you can’t beat Wellington on a fine day. They will also usually add you don’t live in Wellington for the weather.

Over Christmas I had a bit of time on my hands so I thought lets quantify the problem a bit, measure the weather here in Wellington and see how much better it is somewhere else – in this case Waikanae beach about 60km north where we have a bach. I didn’t want some ones else’s weather, I wanted mine at my house and my bach so for that I needed two weather stations and somewhere to put the weather data so I could  watch and compare.

Weather Station No 1 – Home Base in Wellington

As this was my first foray into the weird world of the weather geekdom I approached it cautiously. I wanted an inexpensive weather station that I could connect to the Internet, budget in the tens or hundreds of dollars. It had to either have an IP interface or something I could connect to a PC running software that talked to the weather station, and it had to be reliable and run as a black box.

Weather stations with an in-built IP connection started around the $1,000 NZD mark so that was out. I would need to connect it to a PC. So the shopping list was:

  1. Weather Station with some form of connectivity for < $500 – that meant a serial or USB connection.
  2. Inexpensive PC to run Linux on (I’m over Windows) – something I could leave on all the time, so low power consumption and running from flash or USB rather than hard drive.
  3. Linux software that could poll the Weather Station and capture data for upload to the Internet
  4. Internet connection.
  5. Somewhere to put the data so I could see it – preferably with nice charts and graphs.

The Weather Station

To cut a long and boring story short I purchased a La Crosse WS 2355 weather station from Dick Smith for about $350 NZD.

The WS 2355 was attractive because:

  • It has been around a while and seemed to be a reasonably good and robust consumer grade station.
  • It had a serial interface and there was good support for it, the open source program wview supported it and had an active developer base.
  • As a fallback there was an Ardunio project that talked directly to the remote sensors, interpreted the data,and had example scripts to upload it to twitter or elsewhere.

The PC

The embedded/single board ARM platforms like a Beagleboard were an obvious choice or perhaps an Atom based board. This was all pre Rasberry PI days and it was going to cost around $250 NZD for something without flash, screen, keyboard, case or even power supply. I couldn’t bring myself to spend so much for so little. Trademe to the rescue, in the form of a Chinese 7inch netbook running Android for $100 NZD plus postage.These wee things had screen, keyboard, Wondermedia VIA 8650 ARM CPU @ 800Mhz, 256MB ram, 2GB onboard NAD, wifi, ethernet, 3 USB ports, SD card port, audio port.

The v2.2 Android was pretty awful, I wouldn’t suggest buying one as to use a a netbook but a touch screen tablet might be ok for someone you don’t like.

The one thing it didn’t have was Linux but there are plenty of ARM ports now and a few people were in the process of getting a distribution together for the WM8650’s so it looked doable.

The Linux

It was doable. I initially downloaded and installed a number of work in progress distributions. All of them were using the original Android kernel with a linux file system grafted on and the best of the bunch was a Debian port from wicknix. I played around with it and stripped it down a bit. It did the job but there were a few things I didn’t like: a) it was based in the unstable SID distribution and b) because it was using an Android kernel it didn’t output to the screen on boot. No console at all, the best you could do was run up an xterm under under xwindows. It was good enough for a test installation.

The Software

The WS 2355 comes with the dreadful Heavy Weather program. The version I received with it was dated 2004 I think and labeled beta. That’s a very long beta. It is possibly even worse than it looks, I fired it up once to prove the 2355 would talk to it via a USB serial adapter (supplied) then binned it.

I borrowed an Ardunio (Tom I’ll give it back one day), put a 433Mhx RF receiver shield on it, and fired up the Practical Ardunio Weather Station project. It worked sort of in that I intermittently got readings from the sensors but it didn’t have that robust feel to it,possibly a victim of my oversized soldering iron. Anyway I put that to one side and tried wview.

I initially installed wview on an Intel Ubuntu box via APT and tested it with minimal configuration. At that stage the current version was 5.19 which has a small bug where the wind speed multiplier and wind gust calculations were not working.  I was able to fix it by hacking version 5.17 and recompiling it. From then it was just a matter of playing around a bit to build and install the prerequisites and  wview on the Debian WM8650 pink netbook.

The Internet Connection

As this was the homebase system it just plugged into my home network via the ethernet port.

The Graphs and Charts

Wview produces a self contained weather site that can be published to the Internet, but it can also be configured to upload to Weather Underground or CWOP. I had a look at Weather Underground, liked it, saw the iPhone app and looked no further.

Putting it all Together

On the 14th January 2012 or thereabouts I mounted the weather station outside, external temperature sensor under the deck, rain gauge on the deck railing and anemometer on an old curtain rail bolted to the side of our deck. Cables draped as needed, it was only a temporary  set up and one day I will mount it properly. It seems to work fine as it is so no rush.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can visit the weather station at Weather Underground – it is IWELLING61. Still the same old weather but now I have charts and numbers to tell me that.

 

 

Checklist for a Paperless Office

Must haves for implementing a paperless office….

1. PCs or MACs with Dual Screens

2. A shared network drive with:

a. a logical file structure

b. appropriate folder level security

c. daily backups held offsite (e.g. backup to internet via iDrive or Dropbox)

3. A networked Scanner – ideally one that can scan double sided pages

4. Electronic work papers – e.g. in Excel

5. Ability to save/print to PDF from any application – e.g. PDFFill PDF printer

6. Fax gateway so incoming faxes are received electronically – e.g. 2Talk

7. Shredding service/document destruction bin – e.g. Mobile Onsite Shredding

Next up Baubre will talk about life in the paperless office…