# Older blog entries for hypatia (starting at number 338)

Useful LaTeX packages: within document references

This is part of a short series of entries on LaTeX packages I found useful while preparing the examination copy of my PhD thesis.

Today’s entry is packages relevant to preparing within document references. These are both fairly new to me, although not absolutely now.

## hyperref

This package turns cross-references and bibliography references into clickable links in your output PDF (at least if you generate it with xelatex or pdflatex), without you having to do anything other than the \ref (or cleveref’s \cref) and \cite and so on commands.

\usepackage{hyperref}

You will probably want to modify its choice of colours to something more subtle:

\usepackage$citecolor=blue,% filecolor=black,% linkcolor=blue,% % Generates page numbers in your bibliography, ie will % list all the pages where you referred to that entry. pagebackref=true,% colorlinks=true,% urlcolor=blue${hyperref}

Use black if you want the links the same colour as your text.

One note with hyperref: generally it should be the last package you load. There are occasional exceptions, see Which packages should be loaded after hyperref instead of before?

## cleveref

cleveref is a LaTeX package that automatically remembers how you refer to things. So instead of:

see chapter \ref{chapref}

you use the \cref command:

see \cref{chapref}

It handles multiple references nicely too:

see \cref{chapref,anotherchapref}

will generate output along the lines of “see chapters 1 and 2″.

Use

\Cref{refname}

to generate capitalised text, eg “Chapter 1″ rather than “chapter 1″

To use it:

\usepackage{cleveref}

It shortens the word “equation” to “eq.” by default, if you don’t like that, then:

\usepackage[noabbrev]{cleveref}

For some packages that don’t yet tell cleveref how to refer to their counters, you will get output like “see ?? 1″ rather than “see example 1″. You use the \crefname command in the preamble to tell it what word to use for each unknown counter, examples of \crefname will be shown tomorrow for gb4e.

Syndicated 2012-06-05 23:30:08 from lecta

Useful LaTeX packages: tables and figures

This is part of a short series of entries on LaTeX packages I found useful while preparing the examination copy of my PhD thesis.

Today’s entry is packages relevant to preparing tables or figures. Again, some are pretty widely known and some aren’t.

## rotating

If you have a big table or figure that should be rotated sideways onto its own page:

\usepackage{rotating}

And then you can replace the table and figure commands with:

\begin{sidewaystable}
%Giant table goes here
\end{sidewaystable}
\begin{sidewaysfigure}
%Giant figure goes here
\end{sidewaysfigure}

## dcolumn

The dcolumn package produces tabular columns that are perfectly aligned on a decimal point (ie all the decimal points in that column are exactly underneath each other), which is usually how you want to display decimal numbers.

\usepackage{dcolumn}
% create a new column type, d, which takes the . out of numbers, replacing the .
% with a \cdot and aligning on it.
\newcolumntype{d}[1]{D{.}{\cdot}{#1}}

Now that you have defined the column type, you can use d in the tabular environment, where the numeric argument is the number of figures to expect after the decimal point. You don’t have to use exactly that number of figures in every entry, just that that’s how much room it will leave.

% a tabular enviroment with a 1 and 3 figures after the decimal point column
\begin{tabular}{d{1}d{3}}
1.6 & 1.657
\\
2.0 & 6.563
\\
7 & 6.26
\\
\end{tabular}

One annoying aspect of this package is that for the headers of that column, which probably aren’t numbers, you will need to use \multicolumn to get them to display nicely.

% a tabular enviroment with a 1 and 3 figures after the decimal point column
\begin{tabular}{d{1}d{3}}
1.6 & 1.657
\\
2.0 & 6.563
\\
7 & 6.26
\\
\end{tabular}

You can mix the d column type with the usual l, r and p column types.

## threeparttable

You can’t use \footnote in a floating table. This is one of several packages that allow table footnotes in various ways.

\usepackage{threeparttable}

threeparttable doesn’t cause tables to float on its own, so you usually want to wrap in a table command:

\begin{table}
\begin{threeparttable}
% Normal bits of your table go here, and use \tnote{a} and
% \tnote{b} and so to generate a note mark
\begin{tablenotes}
\tnote General note
\tnote General note 2
\tnote[a] Note for mark a
\tnote[b] Note for mark b
\end{tablenotes}
\end{threeparttable}
\caption{Caption goes here}
\end{table}

Unfortunately you need to generate the a, b, c (or whatever) numbering manually.

The general \tnote entries are useful for things like “Bold entries are highest in the column”, so that they don’t need to go in the caption.

Useful LaTeX packages: bibliography

I’m going to post a short series of entries on LaTeX packages I found useful while preparing the examination copy of my PhD thesis. Largely this is just so that there’s a reference if my wiki page goes away, but also because I think many people use LaTeX the way I use it, that is, I got wedded to a bunch of packages 10 years ago and never really looked around for more recent stuff.

Today’s entry is a pretty slow start: the bibliography packages I used are pretty standard.

## natbib

This is one of the most sophisticated and widely used packages for Harvard-style references (ie, “(Surname, Year)” rather than “[1]” style references).

\usepackage[round]{natbib}
\bibliographystyle{plainnat}

Inside your text use \citep for a reference in parentheses “(Surname, Year)”, and \citet for a in-text reference “Surname (Year)”. Its important to note that the plain \cite command is equivalent to \citet, which you may not expect.

You can use \citeauthor to get just “Surname” and \citeyear to get just “Year”.

## bibentry

This is a useful add-on to natbib, which allows you to insert full bibliography entries into the body of your text. This is useful in the declaration portion of a thesis (where you say something like “this thesis incorporates revised versions of the following published articles”).

\usepackage{bibentry}
\nobibliography*

Then later on when you want to insert a full bibliography entry into the middle of your text:

\bibentry{citationkey}

Syndicated 2012-06-04 13:18:37 from lecta

Getting a passport in Australia

See Lindsey Kuper on a expedited US passport, here we have another “life in Australia” comparison piece.

Step 1: obtain passport form. If you are an adult renewing an existing adult passport that has been expired for less than 24 months, you can do this online. Otherwise, obtain form from nearest post office.

Step 2: track down someone — usually just another passport holder — to be your photo referee (ie, to agree that it is you in the picture). Gather relevant documentation, that is, proof of identity and of citizenship. If you were born in Australia on or after 20 August 1986, see below.

Step 3: ring up local post office for passport interview, usually granted within the week. If you need it sooner, call several post offices in turn or go to the Passport Office (in a capital city).

Step 4: attend post office. Have them take your photo, these days, because if they don’t approve it, they can take it again. Have interview, which in fact largely consists of having your documentation and photo checked for validity.

Step 5: pay fee ($233), extra$103 for priority.

Priority passports are printed to be mailed within 2 business days, other applications within 10. They arrive registered post (ie, signature required). If you require one within 2 days, it seems you need to attend a Passport Office in person and hope they can help.

Given that I understand it takes weeks and weeks to get a USA passport if not expedited, 10 days is not too bad.

Born in Australia on or after 20 August 1986? Tricky! This is when Australia stopped granting citizenship by right of birth alone. So you need proof of citizenship, which can include:

• evidence that you were born in Australia and that one of your parents was either a citizen or permanent resident at the time of your birth
• evidence that you were born in Australia and that you were still a resident of Australia on your 10th birthday (school records and so on)
• evidence that you were born in Australia and were not eligible for any other citizenship

This diversion has been known to be lengthy. It’s also just about impossible to get one as a minor if your guardians don’t agree to you travelling.

Have a small child with you?

Good luck with that, because the photo standards require straight on face shot with open eyes and neutral facial expression. Try getting your pre- or semi-verbal child to do that.

Syndicated 2012-05-08 04:49:59 from lecta

Should you give birth privately?

A few people have been researching their options over the last few years about giving birth in Australia, and have asked me what I think about having private health insurance or giving birth in a private hospital.

Background: maybe you shouldn’t ask me! I’m not a health professional, I’m a mother of one, and he was born in a public hospital, in which I was a public patient.

And now, crucial fact about private hospital cover: it pays much of your hospital stay fees and some of your doctor’s in-hospital fees. It does not pay for private consultations with a doctor in an outpatient/private room setting.

You know what obstetricians charge a lot for? The “pregnancy management” fee, to cover your outpatient care in pregnancy. If I recall correctly, the Medicare rebate for this is on the order of $400 to$500. In Sydney, private obstetricians may charge upwards of $4000 for this fee. Who covers the difference? You do. (OK, full disclosure, the Medicare Safety Net may help too, I don’t know the details except that MSN actually cut benefits specifically for obstetricians a few years ago because they’d all upped their fees to incorporate the MSN rebate. So, mostly you do!) Also, anaesthetists in the private hospitals usually end up with a decent gap fee, if you have an epidural or Caesearean. So, private system birthing is expensive regardless of insurance. Finally, tests like ultrasounds are usually Medicare plus out-of-pocket too. Now, birth choices in Australia. Homebirth. There are some very small number of hospitals in Australia that will allow their midwife staff to attend some homebirths. It’s very easy to get disqualified from such a program. I would be on several grounds (some more legit than the one I’m about to give you), including the simple fact that my son’s birthweight was over 4.0kg. You might also birth with a privately practicing midwife, or, in theory, with a private midwife collaborating with an obstetrician as backup (there are very few such arrangements so far). Most, although not all, private midwives will also only work with pretty low-risk women (singleton pregnancies, head-down, no high blood pressure or diabetes, that sort of thing, about 80% of pregnancies get a low-risk classification IIRC). Is private insurance useful? Some private health funds provide some limited cover for this, I believe, on the order of$1k to $2k of the midwife’s fee, which is around$5k last time I looked. In the collaboration setup Medicare contributes too, I think?

Birth centre These are midwife-only maternity units attached to public hospitals. (Sometimes at some physical distance, eg Ryde Hospital only has a birth centre, with transfers to Royal North Shore several suburbs away.) You need to be assessed as low risk and if that assessment changes (and this isn’t uncommon, eg, your baby is breech or you get diabetes or pre-eclampsia) you get summarily transferred to the doctors and your whole care team often is suddenly switched out from under you. (Also they usually don’t do epidurals, I think? So the transfer rate for pain relief is not insubstantial I believe.)

Is private insurance useful? No, this is publicly funded.

Public hospital, midwife’s clinic If you go to a public hospital, and are assessed as low risk, almost all of your pregnancy management will be by midwives. Often they “caseload” now, meaning you see the same one each time. Again, if you become high risk, swish, off to the doctors.

Is private insurance useful? No, this is publicly funded.

Public hospital, doctor’s clinic. If you aren’t low risk, this is you. (This was me.) Chronic health problems or pregnancy complications (like pre-eclampsia) put you here. For your appointments, or at least most of them, you see an OB registrar or staff specialist. On high rotation, often, that is, you won’t usually see the same one many times. If you have a vaginal birth it may still be midwife-only, or largely midwife managed.

Is private insurance useful? No, this is publicly funded.

Public hospital, private doctor’s patient. In this case, you choose your doctor, see them mostly in their own clinic, birth in a public hospital (with you or your private insurer paying for the facilities) with the doctor of your choice attending. This is subject to gap fees for the doctor.

Is private insurance useful? Yes, pays for your accommodation and some of the OB’s and anaethestist’s (if needed) gap.

Public hospital, private midwife’s patient. This depends on a midwife/obstetrician collaborative practice. As I said, rare, but there’s at least one that allows a public hospital birth (private admission) with the midwife of your choice: Melissa Maiman in Sydney.

Is private insurance useful? Yes, pays for your accommodation. Not sure what happens if an OB and/or anaethestist are needed.

Private hospital, private doctor’s patient. There’s no midwife-managed option. If you’re birthing in a private hospital, you need a doctor of your choice attending. Again, pre-birth consultations in their own clinic, and subject to gap fees.

It’s definitely worth noting that while your private doctor will be an obstretrician and can manage higher risk pregnancies, for really serious stuff like prematurity earlier than a certain point, pregnancies with more than 2 babies on board (I think) and similar, they will actually refer you into the public system!

Is private insurance useful? Yes, pays for your accommodation and some of the OB’s and anaethestist’s (if needed) gap.

Public hospital, high risk clinic. I don’t know much about this, I’m told it’s the next level up in risk, and it well might be my next pregnancy. Joy. This is where you end up with OBs with a high risk interest, maternal-fetal medicine specialists (OBs with a formal subspecialty in very high risk pregnancies), renal physicians, endocrinologists, etc. This often involves referral to a tertiary hospital. (Sometimes specialists can consult without you being in one of these, like, an endocrinologist might monitor diabetes or thyroid hormones with you in the regular doctor’s clinic or seeing a private OB.) Birth choices guides don’t talk about this option very much, because you don’t really have a choice at this point (except birthing unattended or with a very risk-tolerant private midwife).

Is private insurance useful? I’m not sure, to be honest. It probably depends on the risk profile of your actual birth, I guess? If your birth is able to be attended by a regular private OB, maybe they let you do this? But you can do this publicly too.

My Birth has a lot of information on birth procedures and the outcomes of different birthing providers, from a low intervention advocacy standpoint. One thing of note which gets picked up a lot by low intervention advocates is that despite the private birthing system referring all their hardest cases back to public, and despite the public patient profile being poorer with less good preventative health care and so on, private hospitals have much higher intervention rates.

Conclusion

It really depends on where you want to birth and with who attending. If the idea of the same doctor doing your pregnancy management and attending your birth appeals, that’s tending towards private birthing and thus private health insurance. But it has high out of pocket costs on top of the insurance premiums. (Note also that private health insurance policies are expensive if you include obstetric coverage, and will always have a 12 month waiting period for it, so you must obtain it before pregnancy.)

I was reasonably happy as a doctor’s clinic patient for my first birth. If I was low-risk I’d probably likewise go public, ideally with a birth centre or caseload midwife pregnancy+birth.

Syndicated 2012-05-07 11:37:56 from lecta

Come to AdaCamp DC, July 10–11

## Applications now open for AdaCamp DC

AdaCamp DC will be July 10 – 11, 2012, in Washington DC, co-located with Wikimania 2012. We are likely to have more applications than available slots, so apply now to have the best chance of attending. Applications close June 15 (May 11 for those requesting travel assistance).

## Who should apply

AdaCamp DC will bring together a wide variety of people from open technology and culture, all of whom are working to support women in open tech/culture. We’re looking for people who:

• Participate in open technology and culture: any field involving open/grassroots/community participation and sharing the results of your work for free: open data, open source software, wikis, open government, open libraries, remix/fan culture, open video, and more
• Can share information about women’s experiences in that field, including talking about women’s achievements and the challenges they face
• Want to work together and share strategies to support and promote women in the field
• Share the Ada Initiative’s feminist approach to supporting and promoting women in open technology and culture
• Are young and old; students, professionals and hobbyists; from a diverse range of backgrounds; and reflect the breadth of the open technology and culture field

AdaCamp is open to people of all genders. However, since AdaCamp and the Ada Initiative exist to support and promote women in open technology and culture, prospective attendees who are not themselves women will need to demonstrate a high level of prior engagement and experience with the issues faced by women in those fields in order to be invited.

Syndicated 2012-04-28 00:28:11 from lecta

PhD status

Everest by Joe Hastings

A quick note that appearances do suggest that I am in the final weeks of my PhD, with submission in late May. I am reluctant to say this because I’ve been wrong before, but this time my supervisor agrees. So.

I probably will be pretty absent for several weeks. And if I am not, I may be very tired.

Also an explanation of how this works in Australia, because it’s quite different to North America. Mostly writing this so that people don’t start addressing me as ‘Doctor’ in June.

Short version: this work is me preparing my thesis for initial examination, and this is hopefully the hardest bit. But I won’t graduate for at least six months.

First, I finalise my thesis document (we don’t call it a dissertation). I submit this to the university where it is examined by three external examiners: ideally at least one from an Australian university. At this point my work on it is in deep freeze.

Unlike in North America in general, these examiners are anonymous to me (chosen by my supervisor) and were not involved in my PhD studies prior to this point. This means in theory that they might not like it: in practice I am told that around 99% of students who submit at all eventually graduate.

Examination in theory takes six weeks, it could take as long as six months (since appointing a whole new examiner might be slower than waiting for a late one). They submit reports which my supervisor reads and makes recommendations on (most commonly I agree, Mary should indeed fix all these things, followed by I almost entirely agree, Mary should indeed fix all but a few of these things). This is fed into the higher degree research committee (who usually agree with the supervisor, but they might come up with a different answer if the examiners’ recommendations varied a lot) and then there’s a huge range of possible decisions that come out of the HDR committee:

1. pass as is
2. make minor amendations to the Library copy and pass
3. minor revisions to be checked by supervisor (for which I’d be allocated a month) and then pass
4. major revisions to be checked by supervisor (for which I’d be allocated two months) and then pass
5. revise and resubmit to examiners a second time
6. only award a Masters degree (possibly in combination with revisions): recall that in the Australian system I don’t already have a Masters degree
7. fail

The most likely decision by far in my research group is minor or major revisions: I’ve never heard of anyone avoiding them. Some people in fact prefer major just because you get a bit more time to revise. (In other faculties, it isn’t unheard of to pass without revision.) No one wants to be re-examined: this usually means re-enrolling and re-doing experimental work and similar.

Unless re-examination is needed, after any required revisions it is pure administrivia: the HDR committee must pass it, and then the university Senate. I submit a bound copy of my thesis to the university library and (far more importantly now) put it on my website and submit to the university’s digital collection.

I think at that point I am finally a graduand and can use the title ‘Dr’ in academia and so on. Actual graduation would take place in either September/October or April/May, so in the pathological case it could be a while between finalising the thesis and actually graduating.

I do not do an oral defence (a three hour or so session where my examiners ask me questions in person).

Syndicated 2012-04-23 23:12:22 from lecta

Product review: GoGet carsharing

We’ve been non-car owners again for a few weeks and members of GoGet car sharing for a month or so. These are my initial impressions.

This is against a background of our car being primarily used for occasional errands, and weekend excursions either locally (to the beach etc) or to regional cities. We also used to use our car for our son’s daily childcare run, but since we moved, his new childcare is in walking distance. I wouldn’t recommend GoGet to anyone who has a daily errand, this review is largely comparing it to having an occasional-use personal car.

Good things compared to car ownership:

1. most areas where there is a car at all, there’s more than one. An out-of-action car does not mean “no car use at all until car repaired”
2. they take care of on-road costs and insurance. Of course, this is bundled into subscriber fees, but it both flattens them over the year and works out cheaper for our usage. I think in theory they aim for a car for every 10 subscribers or so? We’re on the Frequent member plan, so I guess you could say our on-road costs are $360 a year. 3. they take care of repairs. Again, bundled in, but flattened and so on. 4. they take care of having a free parking spot by paying the council for guaranteed spots. 5. (maybe arguably good) they turn the fleet over far more often than most people I know replace their cars. Good things compared to car rental: 1. the cars are just sitting there, in our case quite close by. You just get online, book, and walk up and take one. You only sign away your life in triplicate once. You don’t have to budget in a trip to the car rental place, a wait in a queue, a briefing on the terms and conditions and an inspection of the car. 2. the insurance is reasonable rather than the typical car rental deal with a$3500+ excess unless you pay them 1/2 the rental cost again. With GoGet, if you can wear a $1500 excess it’s built in to the base pricing, or you can pay about$18 per day to bring it down to $300. 3. you have to return the car with at least 1/4 of a tank of fuel, which is a lot easier to achieve than the full tank rental companies require. 4. both the possibility of hourly bookings and the hour saving in pickup time make them way more useful for errands and so on. 5. close to instantaneous bookings, subject to availability, whereas rental companies often struggle with sub-24-hours-notice requests Bad things: 1. Bookings start and finish on the hour. In pathological cases (say you need a car from 1245 to 1315) you pay for two or three hours of use in order to use the car for an hour or so. 2. They’re for-profit, presumably this could be done cheaper not-for-profit. This is a bad thing-asterisk though: as I know very well, NFPs don’t magically appear out of thin air. Someone would still have to set up an entire car sharing company except with only a salary to motivate them. 3. GoGet’s big thing is “we pay for fuel”. And they do pay in the sense of providing fuel cards, but they also have a 39c per kilometre usage charge for bookings that aren’t a day long booking. 40c per kilometre adds up fast! In theory the day booking rate (24 hours and 150km free for$68) kicks in as soon as your per-hour spend exceeds the day rate, for most cross-metro trips you’re probably going to nearly hit that.
4. (potentially) GoGet does not accept any member who has a major traffic offence in the last 10 years of driving, and all applications for membership are at the discretion of their insurer. This contributes to the cheaper insurance compared to car rental, but it obviously disadvantages people who do have a traffic record or a history of at-fault accidents.
5. not an enormous amount of choice wrt make and model, less than many larger rental centres. Really your choice boils down to little-medium-big in whichever make and model are nearby. (For us little == Toyota Yaris, medium == Hyundai i30s and i30 wagons, and big == Hyundai iMax.)
6. some contention for them. Our experience is that with weekends, we really need to plan our trip the day before to have a good chance of a single car in Glebe being free over the entire block of time we need, and it’s probably worse in suburbs with less cars (Glebe has at least 10, and Pyrmont and Ultimo another 15 or so). Long weekends are worse because people take them away, and the iMaxes get booked really early most weekends.
7. lack of flexibility with end time. That is, if we want to go somewhere and book a car accordingly but then someone invites us to dinner or whatever, we may not be able to stay because the car needs to be back. We haven’t had to try for last-minute use extensions yet, so we don’t know how often we will find that the car has 3 hours free just after our booking.
8. if something goes wrong with your booking, they give you a $25 credit on your account, which unless the error is very minor is really not enough. To be fair, they do shift the booking to another car if they can, but on weekends this would be hard, see 6. 9. fitting children’s car seats is a pain in the neck. 10. their setup has an annoying feature whereby if it is the very first time that you in particular have used a given car in the fleet, the booking needs to take place about 15 minutes before your slot, so that the car can download your access data. Less important once you’ve used the car nearest to you for the first time. In the medium term, this is likely to be a sufficiently good replacement for our occasional-use car. Syndicated 2012-03-27 22:00:47 from lecta Nannies and flexibility Liam Hogan tweeted: Further on rebates for nannies: if they’re a response to family-unfriendly working hours, flexible childcare is solving the wrong problem. Here’s some systemic problems with childcare as it currently stands that one might hire a nanny as a possible solution to: availability (strong form) For under 2s in Sydney, you simply might not get a childcare place accessible to you, by your scheduled return to work. Full-stop. availability (weaker form) You have 2 or 3 children under 5, not uncommon. If you do get childcare places for them all, they (a) start to approach the price of a nanny and (b) are often not at the same daycare centre. So you can add 2 to 3 drop-offs to your commute run, 2 to 3 infection sources to your health problems, and when your children do all end up at the same daycare centre, you can enjoy four to six weeks of emotionally resettling them with the new centre. Or hire a nanny. commuting in general Family unfriendly work hours are common. Family unfriendly commute hours are even more common: either a really tight schedule where you hope for no breakdowns/signals failures, or just total impossibility of getting to the centre in time. (Or you can have your kids in care near your work, and have them commute with you. Fun for the whole family. Plus you cannot use the centre when you are sick, which is one of the times when you really want to.) illness I had four bouts of gastro and eight respiratory infections in the four months after my son began daycare. A nanny is an expensive way to avoid this, but that night I considered calling the police because we couldn’t lift him up to feed him? Maybe that’s worth$200 a day to people who can pay to avoid it.

throughout the day contact a privilege of (partial) telecommuters and (partially) at-home business people, and in theory daycare centres allow drop-ins if children are well-settled there and can handle two separations in a day (so, probably not in the first several months of care). For these people, a nanny may be one way of allowing the parent and child to have throughout-the-day contact without the parent needing to be first contact point for the child’s needs.

Now, I fully agree that funding nannies is less good ultimately than, say, free and freely available childcare, predictable work hours, widespread onsite/neighbourhood childcare with liberal allowance for parent drop-in, redesigning work and cities so that 1+ hour commutes aren’t the usual case, or… I don’t even know what you do about the illnesses, because I once saw my 9 month old licking another baby’s face and getting a good licking back. But there’s a raft of reasons why nannies are attractive. We may turn to one after our next child on cost alone. So that’s the context of nannies, for me.

Syndicated 2012-03-27 02:30:09 from lecta

Product review: Shoeboxed

I’ve been using Shoeboxed now for long enough to review it, I think.

Problem: as with every adult household, we have lots of incoming documents like bills and super statements and similar, and the high initial overhead on deciding whether and where to store them, plus re-sorting them later and so on has never been something we’ve been on top of. Come tax time, in particular, we were usually opening piles of envelopes and hoping for the best.

In 2007 or 2008 we started scanning and shredding a lot of things, but that still left going through and labelling the scans as a problem, plus when I went on maternity leave in 2010 we didn’t have access to a sheet-feed scanner anymore and got behind and never caught up. Back to the “giant unsorted pile of paper” solution.

There are a few services that accept mail on behalf of people and send scans (Pass the Post, Keeping You Posted) but these tend to be quite expensive if you want them to handle all your mail, and also there’s still a time-critical decision step (scan it or send it to me). It tends to be aimed at travellers or businesses. It was annoying enough though that every few months I hit the search engines and eventually lit on Shoeboxed.

What Shoeboxed does:

1. accepts documents either sent by mail (not one at a time, many in a big envelope) to a US or AU postal address, or uploaded
2. scans the physical document if any
3. does data entry for the major data within (for bills, say, the sender and the total)
4. makes them available after logging in on their website
5. makes them available over an API to other services like bookkeeping websites

What Shoeboxed doesn’t do:

1. directly accept individual physical mail on your behalf (they do have a service where you can get online receipts sent to them, I haven’t used it)
2. full OCR of the scanned documents

There’s a very very limited Free plan involving uploading (not mailing) up to 5 documents a month for OCR plus unlimited uploads if you do your own data entry. The next plan up in Australia, which we’re on, is \$20 a month, and includes all the features I listed

Impressions:

1. overall, it pretty much does what we want: gets paper out of our house and into an easily searchable online form with scans available
2. because it isn’t fully OCRed I still have to go through non-bills in order to note what they are, eg, a mail from childcare could be a fee change or a newsletter or a note about illness and if I need to find it in a year I’d have to search on the name and look through them all
3. the processing speed on the Lite plan (contents of envelopes appear on the website in 3–5 days) has been a bit annoying on occasion, I’ve found myself scanning really time-critical documents and uploading them
4. the processing speed on uploaded scans is great, the data entry is usually done within the hour
5. the usage reporting doesn’t incorporate the bonus scans one gets by doing things like signing up for an annual plan, or answering demographic surveys. Very annoying!

For our needs, it’s definitely an improvement over our home-rolled solution. We’re scrambling to get 250 documents to them before our annual purchase bonus expires.

Syndicated 2012-03-26 07:13:08 from lecta

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