Scan Organizer

I scan each and every piece of paper that passes through my hands. All my old to-do lists, bills people send me in the mail, the manual for my microwave, everything. I have a lot of scans.

scan-organizer is a tool I wrote to help me neatly organize and label everything, and make it searchable. It’s designed for going through a huge backlog by hand over the course of weeks, and then dumping a new set of raw scans in whenever afterwards. I have a specific processing pipeline discussed below. However if you have even a little programming skill, I’ve designed this to be modified to suit your own workflow.

Input and output

The input is some raw scans. They could be handwritten notes, printed computer documents, photos, or whatever.

A movie ticket stub

The final product is that for each file like ticket.jpg, we end up with ticket.txt. This has metadata about the file (tags, category, notes) and a transcription of any text in the image, to make it searchable with grep & co.

category: movie tickets
filename: seven psychopaths ticket.jpg
- cleaned
- categorized
- named
- hand_transcribe
- transcribed
- verified
Rialto Cinemas Elmwood
Sun Oct 28 1
7:15 PM
Adult $10.50

Rialto Cinemas Gift Cards
Perfect For Movie Lovers!

Here are some screenshots of the process. Apologizies if they’re a little big! I just took actual screenshots.

At any point I can exit the program, and all progress is saved. I have 6000 photos in the backlog–this isn’t going to be a one-session thing for me! Also, everything has keyboard shortcuts, which I prefer.

Phase 1: Rotating and Cropping

Phase 1: Rotating and Cropping

First, I clean up the images. Crop them, rotate them if they’re not facing the right way. I can rotate images with keyboard shortcuts, although there are also buttons at the bottom. Once I’m done, I press a button, and scan-organizer advanced to the next un-cleaned photo.

Phase 2: Sorting into folders

Phase 2: Sorting into folders

Next, I sort things into folders, or “categories”. As I browse folders, I can preview what’s already in that folder.

Phase 3: Renaming Images

Phase 3: Renaming images

Renaming images comes next. For convenience, I can browse existing images in the folder, to help name everything in a standard way.

Phase 4: Tagging images

Phase 4: Tagging images

I tag my images with the type of text. They might be handwritten. Or they might be printed computer documents. You can imagine extending the process with other types of tagging for your use case.

Not yet done: OCR

Printed documents are run through OCR. This isn’t actually done yet, but it will be easy to plug in. I will probably use tesseract.

Phase 5: Transcribing by hand

Phase 5a: Transcribing by Hand

I write up all my handwritten documents. I have not found any useful handwriting recognition software. I just do it all by hand.

The point of scan-organizer is to filter based on tags. So only images I’ve marked as needing hand transcription are shown in this phase.

Phase 6: Verification

 At the end of the whole process, I verify that each image looks good, and is correctly tagged and transcribed.

Storage Prices 2022-07

I did a survey of the cost of buying hard drives (of all sorts), microsd/sd, USB sticks, CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays, and tape media (for tape drives).

Here are the 2022-07 results:


Useful conclusions:

  • Used or refurbished items were excluded. Multi-packs (5 USB sticks) were excluded except for optical media. Seagate drives were excluded, because they are infamous for having a high failure rate and bad returns process.
  • Per TB, the cheapest options are:
    • Tape media (LTO-8) at $4.74/TB, but I recommend against it. Tape drives are expensive ($3300 for LTO-8 new), giving a breakeven with HDDs at 350-400TB. Also, the world is down to only one tape drive manufacturer, so you could end up screwed in the future.
    • 3.5″ internal spinning hard drives, at $13.75/TB. Currently the best option is 4TB drives.
    • 3.5″ external spinning hard drives, at $17.00/TB. Currently the best is 18TB WD drives. If you want internal drives, you can buy external ones and open them up, although it voids your warranty.
    • 2.5″ external spinning hard drives, at $24.50/TB. 4-5TB is best.
    • Blu-ray disks, at $23.16: 25GB is cheapest, then 50GB ($32.38/TB), then 100GB ($54.72/TB).
  • Be very careful buying internal hard drives online, and try to use a first-party seller. There are a lot of fake sellers and sellers who don’t actually provide a warranty. This is new in the last few years.

Changes since the last survey 2 years ago:

  • Amazon’s search got much worse again. More sponsored listings, still refurbished drives.
  • Sketchy third-party sellers are showing up on Amazon, and other vendors. At this point the problem is people not getting what they order, or getting it but without a promised warranty. I tried to filter out such Amazon sellers. I had trouble, even though I do the survey by hand. At this point it would be hard to safely buy an internal hard drive on Amazon.
  • Spinning drives: Prices have not significantly dropped or risen for spinning hard drives, since 2020.
  • Spinning drives: 18TB and 20TB 3.5″ hard drives became available
  • SSDs: 8TB is available (in both 2.5 inch and M.2 formats)
  • SSDs: Prices dropped by about half, per TB. The cheapest overall drives dropped about 30%.
  • USB: 2TB dropped back off the market, and appears unavailable.
  • USB: On the lower end, USB prices rose almost 2X. On the higher end, they dropped.
  • MicroSD/SD: Prices dropped
  • MicroSD/SD: A new player entered the cheap-end flash market, TEAMGROUP. Based on reading reviews, they make real drives, and sell them cheaper than they were available before. Complaints of buffer issues or problems with sustained write speeds are common.
  • MicroSD/SD: It’s no longer possible to buy slow microsd/sd cards, which is good. Basically everything is class 10 and above.
  • MicroSD/SD: Combine microsd and sd to show price comparison
  • Optical: Mostly optical prices did not change. 100GB Blu-Ray dropped by 60-70%. Archival Blu-Ray, too.
  • Tape: LTO-9 is available.
  • Tape: The cost of LTO-8 tape dropped 50%, which makes it the cheapest option.
  • Tape: This is not new, but there is still only one tape drive manufacturer (HP) since around the introduction of LTO-8.

One Screenshot Per Minute

One of my archiving and backup contingencies is taking one screenshot per minute. You can also use this to get a good idea of how you spend your day, by turning it into a movie. Although with a tiling window manager like I use, it’s a headache to watch.

I send the screenshots over to another machine for storage, so they’re not cluttering my laptop. It uses up 10-20GB per year.

I’ll go over my exact setup below in case anyone is interested in doing the same:


export DISPLAY=:0
export XAUTHORITY=/tmp/XAuthority

IMG=$(\date +$TEMPLATE)
mkdir -p $(dirname "$IMG")
scrot "$IMG"
gpg --encrypt -r "$GPG_KEY" "$IMG"
shred -zu "$IMG"

The script

  • Prints everything to stderr if you run it manually
  • Makes a per-day directory. We store everything in /var/screenlog/2022-07-10/ for the day
  • Takes a screenshot. By default, crontab doesn’t have X Windows (graphics) access. To allow it, the XAuthority file which allows access needs to be somewhere my crontab can reliably access. I picked /tmp/XAuthority. It doesn’t need any unusual permissions, but the default location has some random characters in it.
  • GPG-encrypts the screenshot with a public key and deletes the original. This is extra protection in case my backups somehow get shared, so I don’t literally leak all my habits, passwords, etc. I just use my standard key so I don’t lose it. It’s public-key crypto, so put the public key on your laptop. Put the private key on neither, one, or both, depending on which you want to be able to read the photos.


* * * * * zachary  /bin/screenlog
20  * * * * zachary  rsync --remove-source-files -r /var/screenlog/ backup-machine:/data/screenlog/laptop
30  * * * * zachary  rmdir /var/screenlog/*


  • Take a screenshot once every minute. Change the first * to */5 for every 5 minutes, and so on.
  • Copy over the gpg-encrypted screenshots hourly, deleting the local copy
  • Also hourly, delete empty per-day folders after the contents are copied, so they don’t clutter things


export XAUTHORITY=/tmp/XAuthority

I mentioned /bin/screenlog needs to know where XAuthority is. In Arch Linux this is all I need to do.


I just wrote the first pass at youtube-autodl, a tool for automatically downloading youtube videos. It’s inspired by Popcorn Time, a similar program I never ended up using, for automatically pirating the latest video from a TV series coming out.

You explain what you want to download, where you want to download it to, and how to name videoes. youtube-autodl takes care of the rest, including de-duplication and downloading things ones.

The easiest way to understand it is to take a look at the example config file, which is my actual config file.

Personally, I find youtube is pushing “watch this related” video and main-page feeds more and more, to the point where they actually succeed with me. I don’t want to accidentally waste time, so I wanted a way to avoid visiting This is my solution.

How to Retire For Infinity Years

I retired at 31, and get asked about it sometimes. I wrote an article about how the math of retirement, which explains how I retired early (and some some extent, why). And of course, how and why you might want to as well.

I want to edit my finances articles, so this one is on my website instead:

There will probably be some more finances articles to come soon.