QR codes are useful when bridging the gap between the digital and physical worlds. For example, you can keep manuscripts in PDF format on your hard drive or in Evernote and simply scan the codes when you need to access the instruction file. Let’s look at some ways in which to implement a nearly paperless set up that relies on QR codes taped to things “in the real world” and also a reality check to see if this is all more work than it’s worth.
Evernote as Your Central Repository
Evernote is featured here because the links that are generated core cross-platform and even survive when clicked on a tablet or smartphone. You could link to resources on your desktop computer, but then your QR codes must be scanned by the specific computer that they are intended for. For example, a QR code that links to a file on a Mac will have a syntax that’s different from a file that opens on a PC (besides also having the requirement of running a separate QR code scanning app on both computers as well as separate hardware devices for each machine).
If you use the Note -> Copy Note Link menu, you get a link that begins with “evernote://” that when clicked will open your Evernote app (on Mac / Windows / Linux / Android / iOS). These are also private links that are useless to anyone not signed into your app with the proper account. If you choose the upper right hand graphical expanding menu of “sharing” the link, then this public link (accessible by anyone) begins with “http:” and can be opened by anyone. The note will be read-only in a web browser, with editing privileges granted only if the note owner is signed into the Evernote web app.
Here’s a good video showing the differences between the 2 linking options in Evernote, along with the rational of using Evernote with QR codes:
It’s often suggested to keep the actual QR code (generally a .PNG file) within the note itself. This is in case you need to reprint the QR code. Keep in mind that label printers produce stickers that aren’t designed to last forever, so long-term durability is an issue you should research if you’re considering slapping a bunch of QR code stickers on boxes that you intend to store in the attic for many years.
Speaking of printing, here are two good mac-compatible label writers for under $75:
• Brother QL-570 Professional Label Printer
• DYMO LabelWriter 450 Turbo Thermal Label Printer (1752265)
A Use Case for QR Codes – An Amplified Book or MindMap
Imagine having a self-made printed out book that you embedded various QR codes into for readers to retrieve more information about the topic they are reading about. This has already been done by magazines but it’s very different when you are the implementer and can decide what you want to embed into your document. For my uses, I could imagine drawing up a large dreamboard while sticking QR code stickers on them that launch either Evernote documents or Mac Automator workflows that correspond to different things I want to achieve in life.
Now I could keep the mindmap in digital format and simply expand whatever the current day is and click on hyperlinks / file links within the mindmap itself. Or if I want to stick with a totally QR code workflow I could use an app like Right QR to expand the current day’s note and have the computer parse the currently displayed screen for visible QR codes. The problem of this approach is basically the problem that this post is trying to solve, namely the fact that our digitally stored bits gather digital dust when there’s no real world referent by which to retrieve them. I would much rather have an index card visible on my desk with all the QR codes I need for the week rather than risk it being buried within the depths of my hard drive.
Using QR Codes + Evernote for Household Organization
This is a system for anyone that has cardboard boxes full of stuff in their attic / garage / basement / closets and have no idea what’s inside those boxes. When moving we try to write a few cryptic notes on the box top with a sharpie, something like “Kitchen – pans / cooking utensils / towels” but this system goes much beyond that. You can either use an index note system – you slap a QR code on the box and type out in an Evernote note what’s inside a box. Every time you add something to the box, you scan the QR code on the box and edit the original note. I actually prefer the simpler take-a-picture system:
I’m moving to a new house and after we unpack everything inevitably there will be boxes we put back into storage. This time, however, I am going to
1. Spread the content of those boxes on the floor
2. Take a pic
3. Create a note of that pic
4. List the contents, for Evernote searches later
5. make a qr code and stick on the box
In this way I can search in Evernote and find the box I need. Or scan the box and see the contents.
The benefit of the picture system is the simplicity, while the drawback is you lose the ability to text search for your contents: for example, you could search for ‘vase’ in your Evernote if you use text indices for your contents, but even then you’ll only be able to find the box if you have an alpha-numerical tagging system that you write on the box and include in the note itself (for example, A27 could signify that it’s in the Attic.)
Implementing Your Paperless Index System on a Mac
This section will mostly be links as there are multiple ways of implementing a QR code indexing system using a Mac as your central repository.
Generating QR codes: For use with a Mac,
Scorpion BarCode is a barcode creator that has many included applescripts. Karekod is another QR code generator for the Mac that is optimized for automatically parsing your clipboard for ‘evernote://’ note links and automatically generating QR codes. For a web-based online QR code generator, many people have recommended http://qrcode.kaywa.com/
If you’re an Alfred user, try the following workflow. Remember that any QR code you generate is derived from text, so this could be a good workflow if you often need to convert random snippets / URLs to QR code.
Reading QR codes: I would prefer to have the Mac read the actual barcodes, although depending on circumstance this might only be practical for MacBook owners. While the iMac also has an iSight camera, it obviously lacks the portability that’s necessary for a QR code reading ‘appliance’. QR Journal leverages your iSight camera to turn your Mac into a QR code reading machine.
Speaking of Applsescript, http://blog.ruppel.io/post/58032105512/life-hack-attaching-evernote-notes-to-the-real does a great job of showing how to implement an Applescript-QR code workflow. His related gist is here: https://gist.github.com/jeremyruppel/6208313
Why You Wouldn’t Want To Do This
I’m of two minds when contemplating implementing a QR code system like this: one is that it’s extremely cool and a “real world” index system is exactly what’s needed to combat digital clutter and the out of sight, out of mind problem. The other view is that this type of system involves both discipline and some upkeep to have it working smoothly since you’ll need
- A label printer
- QR code generator + reading software
- QR code hardware scanner if using a Mac Mini / Mac Pro as your repository
- Most likely an Applescript or Automator workflow to keep the menial work to a minimum
My suggestion is to try something much more low-tech to test ride the methodology before you commit the time to implement all of the above.
- Write down random-looking string codes on your boxes / workflow index cards (like the Monday- Friday mindmap shown earlier). These should start with letters (the letters can be a key that has some meaning to you) followed by random numbers. (e.g. T2513).
- This random code gets input into your Evernote note that it refers to. So if you see T2513 written on the underside of your remote control, you’d just type that into Evernote’s search to retrieve the note (in this case a PDF of your channel guide).
- This works even better if you want to interact with your file system directly. For example, I might have a folder associated with things I need to work on relative to a specific project. I include the unique code at the end of the folder name and write down the code combination on your calendar when you want to work with it. When I see it come up on my calendar, a simple spotlight search will reveal it.
- You can also add these unique codes to the end of Automator workflows. You can again use the Mac’s integrated Spotlight search to find them or programs like Alfred or TextExpander to directly launch them.