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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Technology Comes To The Rescue Of This Old Man!

I have always prided myself on my good eyesight over the years. I have consistently had better than 20/20 vision over the years, but as with most things in life, eyesight starts failing as you age. My eyesight is still pretty good, and I have no problems reading books or working on computers. In fact I do both on pretty much a daily basis and have not had problems doing them until now.

But, I am noticing that my ability to read very fine print is going down nowadays. Most of the time, I can still read such fine print because reading is more than just seeing. As long as I can read some letters here and there, my brain can fill in for the rest, and it works out fine. But yesterday, I was confronted with a problematic task.

I had to fill in some rebate paperwork for some stuff that my wife picked up at a store the other day. The rebate forms were quite small (about 2 inches by 3 inches), and they wanted to fit in a lot of stuff into that tiny area. The rebate form had instructions, a space for filling in my information (so that they can mail me back the rebate check), and an address where I should send in the rebate form.

As you can imagine, given the space constraints, the printing on this rebate form was closer to the microprint used on the signature lines of checks than any normal-sized print. I could make out the instructions because I could fill in reasonably well for the actual letters I could not read. But the address was a totally different issue altogether. It was a combination of random letters and numbers (including PO Box numbers) that I could not guess. I had to get them right, and I had to get them ALL right.

It was pretty close to the end of the day, and that is when my eyes get tired and have extra trouble reading really fine print. I had a few choices. I could give up on the task for the day, wait till the next day and see if I could decipher the stuff with fresh eyes the next morning. Or I could go around the office looking for or asking for a magnifying glass to try and read the microprint.

I thought about it for a few minutes, and decided there was actually another option. A technology option. Our office has a copier that, in addition to simply making copies of stuff, can scan stuff and send them to an email address as PDF documents. I decided to take advantage of this capability in solving my predicament of the day with respect to this unnecessarily tiny rebate form.

I scanned the rebate form in the copier and sent it to myself. As soon as I got the email, I opened the PDF document and started magnifying it until I could read the information on the rebate form comfortably. I could easily make out the instructions (I had read all of it correctly, but I could now verify that I had), as well as the address to send the rebate form to.

Problem solved! I didn't have to put off taking care of the rebate till the next day. And I didn't have to run around asking people for magnifying glasses, etc. I guess I could have just made a much bigger copy of the rebate form by using the scaling option of the copier, but I have noticed that when I increase the magnification by more than a few percent, the quality of the resulting print goes down markedly. Scanning it into a PDF document and then viewing it at high magnification on a computer screen did not result in any loss of quality at all. And it did not involve any printing or waste of paper either.

And you don't need an industrial strength copier that is used in a work environment to do this either. Most home printers nowadays come with a scanner built in. You can scan documents at pretty high resolution on these scanners and get either an image or a PDF document out of your printed document in about 2 minutes. You can then load the resulting computer file into your PDF reader or an image editor on your computer to view details of the document that you may have missed by just examining the document with your eyes, even if you have eagle eyes! I have managed to decipher the entry and exit date stamps on my passport from scans of my passport pages even though the stamps were of pretty poor quality and mostly unreadable on the passport pages themselves.

Technology is wonderful! Growing old sucks, but it is a good thing technology improves with time. If you know what you want, and are not afraid of thinking outside the box when it comes to technology, you can solve many everyday problems using a combination of technologies available to you. Want to verify that the check you got in the mail actually does have microprint on the signature line or all along the border? Now you know how to do it without straining your eyes to do it!

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