Introducing Resource Directories

I would like to introduce two additions to the Gazette – the Toolbox Resources directory and the Storytelling Resources directory. No, I’m not trying to become the next Cyndi’s List. I’m just sharing links to helpful resources for two of my favorite topics.

Those of us who have been blogging for a while will remember the days of the blog roll – a list of our favorite blogs found in the sidebar. The standard WordPress installation no longer displays the links manager in the dashboard unless you upgraded from an older version and already had a collection of links. You can install the Links Manager plugin to restore that simple blogroll or you can install the Link Library plugin to turn those basic links into something more useful.

LinkLibrary02

Here you see part of the Toolbox Resources directory. The search box, category links and each category directory (Email, Browsers, etc.) are all features of Link Library. The search box searches my entire link directory and the categories are links taking you to that specific section in the directory. Link Library provides shortcodes for placing each of these elements so I have total control on how things are arranged on the page. I’ve also chosen the table display style and can fine tune its look in the settings. As my directory grows, these elements will adjust automatically.

LinkLibrary01

Here’s what a link entry screen looks like. What you see here is very similar to the old link manager screens. Link Library offers a number of custom fields making it possible to add additional information – even images. I’m sticking with the basics for now. There’s even a bookmarklet for capturing links as I browse the Web.

My directories are small now, but growing every day. There’s an amazing amount of resources out there just waiting to be found. Stay tuned.

The Amazing Scannable App

Scannable Scan

Scannable automatically finds the edges of the document and captures the image. Here you see it looking for the edges.

Scannable, the free iOS scanner app from Evernote, is quickly becoming my scanner of choice. When capturing pages in a book, Scannable will automatically flatten the page and straighten out the text. It will save single item scans into either PDF or image files. Multi-page scans are saved as PDF. Not only is it a great way to capture a page from a book or journal at the library, it has great potential for larger scanning projects too.

I have a family history that was produced on a typewriter and “published” at a copy center. It contains an amazing amount of information, but the quality of the publication is poor. Most of the historic documents included in it are copies of copies and unreadable. Even the typewritten text took a quality hit during the copying process. I scanned my copy not long after I got it – long before there was such a thing as searchable PDF. Even bringing the file into Evernote didn’t help. So I decided to put Scannable to the test.

I was pleasantly surprised! Not only are the scanned pages much crisper and cleaner than the original scan, once imported into Evernote they are quite searchable. That’s the good news.

The bad news – which really isn’t all that bad – is that Scannable is not designed to scan huge publications or entire books. It’s a manual scanner. I’m dealing with that by breaking the family history down into families. At first my plan was to merge them together again, but I realized that maintaining the smaller sets in Evernote would make it a much better research tool. Evernote’s search will get me to the information I need in seconds and Evernote’s table of contents feature will make it easy to browse. One unexpected treat is that I’m getting reacquainted with this family’s genealogy while I scan.

Scannable is free but currently only available for iOS devices. There is a very nice Scannable Guide online. While the app looks quite basic at first, it does have an impressive array of features so the few minutes spent reviewing the guide will save you a lot of time and effort.

Repurposing Your Posts

I’ve been blogging for almost 12 years now. I’ve got multiple blogs on multiple platforms – and have moved my blogs more often than I care to admit. One of the wonderful things about geneablogging is how quickly those “little stories” we post about our family history grow into substantial story collections. Some years back I started copy/pasting them into different publishing projects to share with my family.

I got a real wake-up call when the Posterous blog platform was shut down. I had our family’s “news center” there along with several other blogs. Try to imagine the scramble to save all that content and then find a suitable new home for those sites. It was almost a year before the news center was fully operational again.

Sure I back up my blogs regularly and even save export copies of them every quarter. That protects me from disaster, but doesn’t make it any easier to organize and repurpose my story collection when I want to build a new family history project. I also want to “future-proof” those stories by saving them in Markdown format.

Today I use Byword [Mac – $11.99, iOS – $5.99] as an offline blog editor. Byword will publish to WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, Scriptogram and Evernote (requires a $4.99 in-app purchase to add this publishing capability). Byword supports both iCloud and Dropbox for cloud storage and it also makes a nice mobile writing solution for Scrivener. I have multiple writing projects in Scrivener and each syncs to a different Dropbox folder. By creating each new blog post in the appropriate folder, I’m automatically adding it to that Scrivener project. Oh, did I mention that Scrivener imports from and compiles to Markdown files?

Mac users can now take advantage of the Ulysses writing platform app [Mac – $44.99 and iPad – $19.99] to develop their blog-to-book workflows. Ulysses uses a library package (similar to the Photos library) for managing manuscripts, but also supports external files. It doesn’t have a blog publishing capability so I continue to use Byword as my blog editor. Each Byword blog post is saved in a Dropbox folder which is set up in Ulysses as an external folder. Copies of those posts are easily dragged into any Ulysses writing project.

I’m still learning Ulysses, but it’s quickly becoming my writing platform of choice. It’s much easier to use that Scrivener, but while Ulysses does support research notes and attachments within the platform, it isn’t as robust as Scrivener’s. However, having the companion iPad app does a lot to mitigate that shortcoming.

I’m still working in Scrivener to separate the posts I imported via BlogBooker. Once that’s done, I’ll perform a synch to a Dropbox folder and then set it up in Ulysses as an external folder. I will then have access to my entire blog archive for whatever projects I want to create with them.

Life is good.

Storytelling With Keynote

Storytelling With Keynote cover

The cover page you see here was created in Keynote. The photo is framed with a graphical frame included in Jumsoft’s Toolbox for Keynote. The pattern used in the background also came from the Toolbox. The font is Sheila by Laura Worthington. This is just a tiny sample of the things you can do with Keynote. It is a delightful platform to build photo albums, scrapbooks and collage-style family histories.


I am inspired by a British magazine called Daphne’s Diary that I recently found at Barnes & Noble. It is produced to look very much like a personal diary with the graphical equivalents of pressed flowers and stashed memorabilia included on the pages. Each page in the magazine is a unique design combining text, photos and captions with graphic elements. Some of the pages were as busy as the cover you see here, but many were much simpler – stylishly simple.

Most of the frames and clipart were custom designs – something I have neither the time or inclination to create myself. This is were the Toolbox gets involved. I have had the apps on my Mac and iPad for some time. The Toolbox is actually a catalog of templates, layouts, graphic styles, elements and clipart. Some are free but most will have to be purchased (as an in-app purchase). You can purchase individual elements, a category (such as templates) or the entire catalog. The entire catalog is $70 and the templates category is $30. I purchased the Graphic Styles category ($20) which includes frames, alphabets, backgrounds and patterns along with the Elements category ($20) for it’s labels, ribbons, badges and doodles. When you purchase the entire catalog, all new items added in the future will be included at no extra charge. I haven’t seen any items showing prices in the two categories I’ve purchased so it looks like that is true when you just purchase a category too.

One of the many advantages to using these elements in Keynote storytelling projects is that they are specifically designed to work with Keynote. If you have ever tried to wrestle a photo into a custom frame graphic from a scrapbook kit, you will love the frames in the Toolbox. They are already set up as image placeholders so all you need to do is click on the camera icon just like you do with standard Keynote frames. Keynote’s masking and adjustment tools are all available too.

using patterns example

The patterns are just as interesting. The subtle lined background you see in my graphic was created by first selecting a color for the slide’s background (a lighter version of the aqua used in the frame) then copy/pasting the pattern “square” to a blank slide and resizing it to cover the whole slide. It is set to “tile” which copies the pattern graphic to fill the entire space. Once that’s done, I adjusted the Scale slider to adjust the size of the spacing between the lines in the background. Since the original pattern has a white background, I reduced the opacity of the pattern until I had the perfect amount of the background aqua color showing through.

You may have noticed that I’ve changed the font for the title. The license for the Sheila font limits use to only one computer. Since it isn’t installed on my iPad, I either can’t edit or display it on my iPad or I purchase a second copy of the font. Alternate Plan B was to download the freely-accessible Ruthie font from Google Fonts.

Keynote for iOS does not have the full range of features found on the Mac version and Keynote in the cloud has even less. That doesn’t mean they can’t be used to build family history projects. You’ll just have fewer design options available to you. Windows users will find that PowerPoint has its share of creative features too. Many of the Keynote functions discussed here can be replicated in PowerPoint. The commands are different but the functions are very similar.

Rein In Your Blog Posts

Isn’t it amazing how quickly those “little stories” you publish on your blog become impressive family history collections? Would you like to export the contents of your blog into a format that is both readable and easily edited for use in other publishing projects? Then you need to take a look at BlogBooker.

BlogBooker takes your blog’s export file (that delightful .xml file that seems to have more code than content) and within minutes you are downloading a PDF book as well as Word and LibreOffice files full of stories just waiting for repurposing. It gets better! BlogBooker is donation-ware. You don’t have to pay a dime to use it – unless you want to include high-resolution photos – but you’ll be happy to make a donation once you see the result.

BlogBooker home page

To get started, you’ll need to export your blog’s content. I used my Moultrie Creek WordPress blog to experiment. It only has 230 posts. It took about 6 minutes to import, convert and export them. The results included a downloadable PDF file (5.29MB) – complete with simple cover page and table of contents – along with two sets of editable files in .DOCX and .ODT formats. Each format has one file for each year of blog posts. The word-processing files are ready for any additional editing you may want to perform. The images are exported at web-quality (low) resolution unless you make an up-front donation.

conversion screen

For a larger blog, if your blog platform doesn’t allow you to breakdown your export into smaller groups (preferred method), you can select a range of posts to convert on the BlogBooker conversion screen. You can also choose paper size, font and other features before you click the Create your BlogBook button.

Conversion options panel

 

It took some time to import each DOCX file into Scrivener. Next, I will separate each post into a separate item in the Binder so that I can better manage them for different publishing projects. Yes, that will require some time and effort, but it still beats the copy/paste/fix option.

I’ve updated my blogging workflow so that new content is created on the desktop and then published to my blogs (more on that later) and I’m very pleased with BlogBooker as an affordable and functional way to bring those online posts into that workflow where they will also be available for other projects.

Managing Fonts on Your iPad

Your iPad comes with a standard set of fonts which are very nice but . . .

If you want to have additional fonts available for use in presentations or other storytelling projects, you can do this with the AnyFonts app [iOS – $1.99] and an easily accessible cloud storage service (I use Dropbox). AnyFonts makes it easy to install fonts you already have on your  iPad. It also offers an in-app purchase (99¢) to add a bundled collection of fonts to your device. These fonts will work in any app that allows you to change fonts (including the Microsoft Office apps for iPad). This instructional video shows how easy it is to add fonts with AnyFont.

If you are a font fanatic like me, you’ll need to watch yourself. Fonts take up space on your iPad and can easily get out of control. Since I use my iPad for presentations, I’ve developed a basic set of fonts that I use in my slides and have them installed on the iPad. I also keep a collection of “creative” fonts in a Dropbox folder so I can install them when I need them and remove them when the project is finished.

 

Creating graphics from fonts

Lettering can be an amazing design tool – and very affordable too. Take something as simple as a curly brace, blow it up to 144 pts or more, add some color and effects and you now have a rather impressive graphic element that could quickly draw a reader’s eye to a quote from a journal or letter.

curly braces graphic

Have you ever heard of an ornaments font? It’s a font where instead of characters, each “letter” is a graphic. You may already be familiar with the dingbats, but you’ll be surprised at the growing number of ornaments fonts available today. And you’ll be surprised to find what you can do with them.

LiebeOrnaments
This example uses the Liebe Ornaments font from MyFonts.com combined with a companion “normal” font to create an elegantly simple design. Creating a composition like this one would normally be created using an image editing app such as Pixelmator or Photoshop, but I’ve found Keynote or PowerPoint work just as well. And, since Keynote is where I’m building most of my family history projects . . .

Check your favorite font sites for ornament or doodle fonts. In addition to MyFonts.com, Lettering Delights and some of the scrapbooking sites also have them. You’ll enjoy finding ways to incorporate text and ornaments into your storytelling projects.

One tip . . . I’ve built a Keynote presentation file containing text and graphic elements I use frequently. This includes individual text boxes formatted with font, size, spacing and color I use frequently as well as custom frames and doodles. It’s easier to copy/paste a pre-formatted text box than to make all those settings each time I create one. When I start a new storytelling project, I’ll just copy the slides containing the elements I need from the examples file so they’re handy while I’m working. When the project is finished, those slides are quickly deleted.

Writing Workflow

Many of us blog to capture the “little stories” our research discovers. As the collection of little stories grows, they can then be repurposed into any number of family history projects. It’s not that difficult to copy/paste text from a blog post into a writing platform where they can be viewed as part of the bigger family history “picture”. It’s not difficult, but it can be tedious.

publishing pane in Byword for iOS

The publishing feature in Byword for iOS

Fortunately there are a number of writing platforms that support publishing to blogs. This allows you to write once and publish to any number of formats whenever you wish. Unfortunately, most of them are Mac/iOS apps.

My favorite workflow uses Byword (Mac – $11.99, iOS – $5.99) to write the article and publish it to my blog. The original article is saved in a Dropbox folder. That Dropbox folder is “attached” to my Ulysses [Mac – $44.99, iPad – $20] apps as an external folder so I have instant access to it whenever I want it.

Ulysses External Folders

Ulysses for Mac showing a blog post saved in an external Dropbox folder.

For Scrivener users (Windows and Mac), Byword makes a very nice mobile platform for Scrivener projects. Scrivener supports Markdown so when you sync to an external cloud drive like Dropbox, you can easily edit them on the road – and publish them to your blog – with Byword.

It’s amazing how quickly our collections of little stories grows. By developing workflows that also copy your posts into a writing platform not only makes it easier to organize and repurpose those stories into any number of family history projects, they also provide a backup of your posts  just in case something terrible happens to your blog.

Family Story Cards

Lifecards postcard

There are a growing number of creative apps available for today’s mobile devices. Many, like this postcard/newsletter/email app, can be used to design eye-catching family stories that your family will love. This example uses Lifecards [$1.99 – iOS].

Like most postcard apps, Lifecards has a number of different templates ranging from short-form postcards to newspaper front pages giving you options ranging from “quickie” photo/caption cards to something with photo and storytelling room like the example above.

By the way . . . nothing says a photo slot has to contain a photo. A simple family chart saved as an image maybe?

My comments section supports images and links. If you’ve got a creative project idea you’d like to share, please show and tell how you made it.

Archival Quality Writing

Software developers are constantly improving the apps we use to manage our documents and publications. These advances have given us many useful tools to make our efforts easier. However, there is still one major area of concern – how to manage our digital document archives. As word processing applications come and go, we are often left with documents we can no longer view. How many of us are stuck with old WordStar, WordPerfect and even Word documents? There is one format, however, that has survived since the very beginnings of the digital age – plain text. Unfortunately, plain text is exactly that – plain. There are no font choices and you can’t include even the simplest formatting functions like bold or italic text. Who wants to be stuck with that?

Fortunately, software developers have come up with an option that will allow us to have archival quality text files – and have them with style! It’s called Markdown.

Markdown is actually two things. First, it’s a standard that uses certain plain text characters – like asterisks, hashtags and hyphens – to represent format settings. Second, it’s a collection of conversion programs which read the plain text file with these formatting “codes” and convert them into other document formats like rich text, HTML, PDF or even ePUB.

Here is a sample plain text file with Markdown codes:

Plain text with Markdown code.

As you can see in this example, plain text with Markdown coding is quite readable. It’s much easier to read than the same text with equivalent HTML tags. It’s the simplicity and readability of Markdown that make it so interesting. Forty years from now, even if Markdown gets forgotten over the decades, someone can open and read a plain text document that includes Markdown code much easier than we can read this WordPerfect document that’s less than 20 years old.

An old WordPerfect document viewed in a text editor.

No, you don’t have to dump your current apps, but now that you know what Markdown is you can start looking for apps that support it. One good example would be a journaling app and Mac/iOS users will find Day One [Mac – $9.99 & iOS – $4.99] saves your journal entries – and all your formatting – as Markdown text. Also for Mac/iOS users is Byword [Mac – $9.99 and iOS – $4.99], an elegantly simple text editor that supports both Markdown and rich text. The LightPaper [Android – $1.99] app is one of a number of text editors for Android tablets and phones providing Markdown support.

A number of note-taking apps for Mac are also getting updates to include Markdown support. VoodooPad 5 [Mac – $39.99 and iOS – $9.99] is a good example. And, because its native document format is Markdown, the app can easily convert your notes to rich text, Word, PDF, HTML and ePub formats. I found a free Windows app – MarkdownPad – which supports Markdown, and hopefully we’ll soon see more.

Bloggers will find that WordPress, Tumblr and Postagon also support Markdown. Check the Resource Directory for even more apps and platforms supporting it.

You may have noticed that many of the apps mentioned here are for mobile devices – phones and tablets. Mobile devices have limited memory and storage so the apps are more streamlined than their desktop cousins. Markdown editing screens takes a lot less code than traditional editors, making it a good choice for mobile apps. In addition, the screen-based keyboards can be a challenge for serious writing and formatting. Anything that can simplify the formatting process improves its usability.

This article in the Byword editor for Mac.

This example shows what Markdown looks like while editing. As you can see the text is quite readable. Once the document is ready to publish, the program includes functions to save it in the format of your choice (rich text, HTML, PDF, etc.) – with the Markdown codes converted to the appropriate formatting. As technology moves forward, all that’s needed to update this app – or any of the older documents created using it – are new publishing functions to support converting to whatever new format has been developed.

Thanks to Markdown, the future of plain text looks quite bright. And, by supporting the efforts of developers who incorporate Markdown in their applications, we can help influence its acceptance and continued growth. Helping them will help us build an archival standard for digital documents that will insure the future of our research and publishing efforts doesn’t get left behind in the trash bin of old technology.

This article was originally published at The Society Journal.