Let’s go paperless

I’m on a paperless kick. I’ve decided that I have too much paperwork cluttering up my file cabinets, desk drawers, etc., so I’m getting rid of as much of it as I can. My goal is to shrink my paperwork collection down so that it only takes up one file cabinet (I currently have three). It’s one part of an overall downsizing theme that’s pervading our household lately, the idea being that if we get rid of as much stuff as possible now, it’ll be easier to move into a smaller, lower-maintenance house down the road.

It’s also getting easier to go paperless. More and more billers, financial institutions, etc. are offering electronic (usually PDF) statements with the option of turning off paper mailings. It took me a little while to warm up to this technology, but now I’ve accepted it wholeheartedly (the key was deciding that I trust the online delivery mechanism more than I trust our mailman).

The centerpiece of the paperless scheme is what I call a “virtual file cabinet”, which is just a fancy name for a directory hierarchy to hold PDF documents. I use ‘unison’ to keep an exact copy of the hierarchy on a different machine, which serves as an effective backup scheme.

I’ve centered on PDF as my document format of choice, because it works well and is used by the majority of the e-document providers I deal with. And that means that everything that is not PDF, has to be converted to PDF. The best way I’ve found to do this is to set up a virtual “PDF Printer”, which creates a PDF file in lieu of actually sending the document to the printer. Then, just send the document to the virtual queue to create a PDF. This saves a step over printing the document to a file (which creates a PostScript file which then must be converted with ps2pdf). And some apps, like H&R Block’s TaxCut, don’t allow printing to a file, but they’ll happily send stuff to the PDF queue.

Setting up the PDF printer on my Ubuntu machine was a piece of cake, following these instructions. Condensed version:

  1. sudo apt-get install cups-pdf
  2. sudo chmod 4755 /usr/lib/cups/backend/cups-pdf
  3. Go to System -> Administration -> Printing -> New Printer
  4. Select ‘PDF Printer’
  5. Select ‘Generic’, ‘postscript color printer’ driver

It was a little more difficult, but not overly so, to set this up on my home server box (and also configure our Windows box to print to it). See the Wiki for details.