After I don’t know how many years, and I don’t know how many thousands of pages scanned, my trusty Mustek ScanExpress A3 Flatbed Pro scanner finally gave up. It won’t turn on, and three hours of attempted CPR yesterday accomplished nothing more than wasting an afternoon.

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In the end I at least felt confident in having done everything possible in getting the thing to just turn the fuck on. It is far past time to move on from the flatbed paradigm, anyway, even though I maintain that scan quality, particularly for smaller text, is unquestionably superior on flatbeds versus the DSLR or other overhead camera approach.

But with progress comes compromise. My next large-document scanner will probably be something like this iCODIS X7 rig, or one of the CZUR models, whenever I can get the money together to make such an expenditure seem painless. These type of scanners appear to have a lot of advantages over flatbeds, at least in terms of convenience.

It would seem you can take those type of devices to a library and gobble up pages from old periodicals at far greater speeds than would be possible on a flatbed. Speed is a key feature here, even if it comes at the expense of quality.

Scanning has been one of my favorite things to do over the years. I find something viscerally satisfying, but also peaceful, in the physical motions of flatbed scanning; and to me the sight of a perfectly devoured and regurgitated document fed into an ADF is a thing of beauty.

I scanned over 10,000 of my receipts and the receipts of countless others, including the gas receipts of one Howard Morris, a truck driver in the 1960s and 1970s.

I don’t have a particular favorite among the gas receipts. I find them all uniformly rugged and beautiful, even if some are scanned backwards (oops).

But among my receipts one has long haunted me: The one from Caruso’s Pizza, which used to be on Fulton Street, near Ground Zero. I went down there on March 11, 2002, the 6-month anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, to take stock of those two giant holes in the sky.

Evidently Caruso’s had just reopened that very day, because their cash registers still printed receipts dated September 11, 2001. I asked the pizza guy if he was aware of this. He scowled, said nothing, but somewhere in his rudeness I sensed unease. Within this tiny scrap of paper it was as if the attacks of 9/11 never happened, and Caruso’s Pizza was frozen in time.

Another favorite will always be the HOT FOOD PRINTER, check #181 from a cafeteria at Lincoln Center. That is what they call art.

I can only regret that “My Receipts” is only that. Receipts. It was not always that way. For a number of years I had a system that automatically filled in street addresses and phone numbers for the most commonly visited places, as well as photos and sometimes a map. It was like a mini-Yelp of my own travels.

I also injected stories about my experiences making the purchases recorded on the receipts, sometimes wrote poetry about it, and filled out the raw material with as much supplementary content as I could muster.

All that ended when the great Chinese hack attack obliterated everything on my web server. Everything.


Anyone need the 1987-88 Oberlin College Course Catalog? I got you covered.

I don’t know how many school yearbooks I’ve shoveled onto the public Internet but the American School of Vientiane’s 1974-75 issue, the Salisbury School’s 1966 edition, and the 1978 New York City Community College’s Images are among them.

I scanned thousands of pages from the Etude Magazine, converting the scans to searchable text and making some available in Flipbook format. The Etude project ultimately fell apart, at least by my estimate. It’s still up there but the central feature, the search engine, is a joke compared to what I had before, with the estimable but now defunct swish-e search suite.

In terms of what I had in mind for the Etude site’s search functions I never found an open source search product that came close to swish-e’s versatility and ease of use. swish-e is still in some repositories but I couldn’t get it to go on CentOS7, and even if I could I’d think it unwise to leave an abandoned, unsupported Perl script in production.

I never arrived at quite the degree of efficiencies by which my scanning efforts could have turned me into a, with scans converted to text automatically and made available in multiple formats.

But that was never my goal, particularly in the matter of machine-generated OCR. I did not want to contribute to the Internet’s ocean of garbage text, in which “colonies” become “colonics” and the “THEODORE PRESSER” company becomes the “T1IEOIMIRE PRESSEK CO.. .,”. I copy-edited every single story posted to the Etude site.

I just like to make myself useful in some small way, and when it comes to digitizing and searchabilizing ephemera you simply never know what someone will find valuable.

If any Americans in Laos during the 1970s lost their copies of Bend With the Wind, a strangely disjointed disaster planning manual for U.S. military personnel, they’re in luck if they want to consult it again, because it’s up for grabs at the photo and scan dump.

As I look at the photo dump spread now I realize how many things I scanned but never posted. In fact, the output shown on that page looks positively paltry, to me at least.

I never (yet) posted, among other things, a 1960s yearbook from an elite upper east side high school, nor all the countless football, baseball, and other trading cards I scanned before discarding.

Then there was The Power Broker, Robert Caro’s 1,336 page beast I scanned as what turned out to be an unreturned favor for a friend. I’ve told people I scanned that and they simply can’t believe it, but really, it was one of the easiest, smoothest jobs I can remember, save for the work of destroying the book. Even that became a simple matter of methodical routine. After destroying the book its pages slipped through the jaws of the Fujitsu ADF scanner like a knife through warm butter, and the OCR text conversion was virtually perfect. Tearing the book apart took longer than scanning it.

Digitized as well is Payphone History, a 480-page omnibus of payphones, payphones, and more payphones, by Ron Knappen. I scanned that so I could read it without having to carry the bulky volume around.

All the issues I had of Apology Magazine, which I helped create in 1993, are scanned and OCRed. The list goes on.

I’ll likely never post publicly most of what’s in the above three paragraphs, for reasons of copyright or general respect. But one publication I went ahead and sent up was Perspectives, the payphone industry’s last trade journal, published by the American Public Communications Council. With no copyright notice and no one left to care I doubt it’s anybody’s problem, and I find uniquely rewarding the window those magazines open into the very specific world of the payphone industry.

I return to the gratuitously poetical expression “mountains filling oceans“, or the more blunt “digital hoarding”, which extends beyond document scans and into what may as well be infinite quantities of audio and video filling terabyte after terabyte of silent hard drive seas. Will it ever end? Will I ever reach the end of my Internet?