Category Archives: Digital Storytelling

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.

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.

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.

Start a Writing Project with Ulysses

Ulysses [Mac – $49.99, iPad – $19.99] is an impressive writing platform yet quite easy to master. Instead of creating individual files for each story element, it creates a library package for your writing projects – much like the library used to manage photos in iPhotos. When a project package is saved in iCloud and you have the companion iPad app, you can easily write just about anywhere.

Another thing Ulysses does to keep you focused on writing is reduce your formatting options to a minimum. Sure you can assign text as headings, include block quotes, images, bulleted or numbered lists and citations, but you aren’t concerned with font choices or pages sizes – things that distract you from writing. Those are dealt with when you export your finished project to the format (or formats) you choose.

The project setup is really quite simple. Content is organized into groups and sheets – the library equivalent of folders and files. Ulysses supports groups and sub-groups and gives you the ability to reorganize them any time you wish.

The example above shows my Future of Memories project – currently displaying all three panels as they appear on my iPad. At the left is the library panel showing the groups and sub-groups I currently have in this project. There are two major sub-groups: Research and Manuscript. The Research group contains sub-groups for my notes and reminders of the things I need to do. What you see now is the early stages of the project. Before this manuscript is ready for export, I imagine both the Research and Manuscript groups will look quite different.

The center panel displays the sheets contained in the selected group – Front Matter in this example. It gives you a preview of each sheet’s content. At the far right is the editing panel displaying the sheet selected in the Sheets panel. All I have to do is swipe left to push the Groups and Sheets panels off the screen so I can focus on writing.

Here I have the editor panel filling my iPad’s screen. Note the toolbar at the bottom of the screen. In this example, I am using an external keyboard so the toolbar appears at the bottom of the screen. If I was using the on-screen keyboard, the toolbar would “sit” just above it. Notice that Ulysses is using Markdown for formatting. You have the option to use the toolbar to insert these commands or type them yourself. I find it easier to type the hashtags for headers or asterisks for bold/italics so I don’t have to take my hands off the keyboard. Ulysses gives me the option to work the way I find most comfortable.

Did you notice the Edit option at the bottom of the group panel in the figure at the top of this article? Tap it and a column of drag buttons appear to the right of each group (the boxes with three horizontal lines shown in the figure above). To move a group to a different location in your manuscript, tap and hold the drag box for the item you want to move. When the box pops out, drag it to the locatiion you want and release. It will move the group and any sub-groups to that point. So, if I tap and hold the drag box to the right of the Blogging group and drag it on top of the Journaling group, it will move and the Platforms and Project Ideas sub-groups will move with it.

At any time you can export a sheet, group or your entire manuscript to a number of formats. These include HTML, ePub, PDF and RTF. All you do is tap to select the group you want to export and swipe left to display the More button. Use the “buttons” at the top of the screen to select the format you want and within seconds it will appear on the screen. The gear icon just below those buttons is used to select a style template. In addition to the ones included with the app, you’ll find a growing library of style “sheets” at the Ulysses web site which can be downloaded and imported into your Ulysses app.

Next, tap the Open In item and move your manuscript to the app/platform of your choice. Yes, it really is that easy. When creating an ePub export, you are prompted to enter title, author and cover art. The ePub export does generate a very nice table of contents too.

Ulysses is an impressive writing platform and quite easy to master. It’s use of Markdown combined with a growing number of export options means my work will survive changes in technology. For me, it’s easier and less distracting than Scrivener, but it’s research support is limited to text and images. At the moment I’m maintaining projects in both platforms, but something tells me that Ulysses will soon be my writing environment of choice.



Updated: Build a Photo Slideshow on Flickr

One of my favorite iPad apps is Flickr Studio [iPad – $4.99]. I bought it originally to upload photos to Flickr while traveling, but have found it is also a delightful way to browse Flickr’s fabulous collections. And, when the iPad is on a stand, it can beautifully display a Flickr slideshow.  When I tried it out, I noticed that the app picks up the title of each photo when presenting the image.

. . . Hmmmm . . .

Like most of us, I’m in a hurry to get my latest photos safely tucked away on Flickr, often only providing the most basic information for those photos before I upload them. It’s important to insure that the details get added to those photos before my memory gets the best of me. (In my case that means do it now!) Fortunately, Flickr has created impressive apps for just about every mobile device which includes tools for organizing photos and performing batch edits. The apps are free and I highly recommend using them. However, they do not include any sort of slideshow capability. Right now, only Flickr Studio can build and display a slideshow of Flickr photos on the iPad.

Let’s take a look.

Flickr Studio editing

Batch editing in Flickr Studio

This first example shows you the batch editing capabilities in Flickr Studio. The information entered into this form will be attached to each of the photos you see in the grayed-out background. This can be done either as part of the upload process or at a later time.

Adding tags to a batch of photos in Flickr Studio.

Adding tags to a batch of photos in Flickr Studio.

In this example, I’ve selected a group of photos so I can add tags to them. From this screen I can also add them to sets (albums) or groups and edit who has viewing access to these photos.

Editing metadata in Flickr Studio.

Adding metadata to individual photos.

In this example, I’ve tapped the Batch button at the top of the screen to display this metadata panel where I can add titles and descriptions along with other metadata.

Although I can use the batch editing tools to add titles and descriptions, I prefer to do this individually when I’m doing a slideshow. Since many of the apps and devices used to display theses photos will include at least the title and often the description, this gives me an opportunity to tell the story of the photos.

Slideshow on Flickr

Viewing the set as a slideshow in Flickr Studio

Here’s what the basic Flickr set slideshow looks like on your iPad. The info panel can be turned on or off by the person viewing the slideshow.

Flickr Studio Slideshow

Viewing a set slideshow in Flickr Studio

And this is the Flickr Studio slideshow. I can adjust timing, photo size and effects used in the show by tapping the image to display the menu.

Your iPad isn’t the only place you can present a Flickr slideshow. Your photos are even more impressive when displayed on a big screen. Thanks to devices like the Roku box, Apple TV and the growing number of Internet-connected televisions, you can display your Flickr photos on your high-definition, big screen tv. And, they are drop-dead gorgeous!

You will need to experiment with your app/device to see how it works with Flickr. For example, my Roku box (an older model) allows me to play sets – and in the order I’ve arranged the photos – but doesn’t display information when on automatic play. I switch over to manual and it all pops up.

Once you’ve mastered the art of the slideshow, you can create photo sets just to tell stories. These can become fascinating exhibits at family or class reunions. I like to set up slideshows on the tv for family functions. And, I can always send a research cousin the link to a specific set/show at Flickr to share old family photos and the stories behind them.

Creating a Flickr slideshow not only builds an entertaining look at your family history, latest travels or a special place, it insures your photos are documented properly. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

Here are some of the Internet-connected devices that support Flickr:

Meet Ulysses

I spent a delightful day yesterday getting acquainted with Ulysses, a new-to-me writing platform for Mac – and now iPad too. Those of you familiar with Scrivener will find Ulysses quite familiar but with a much shorter learning curve. The biggest visible difference is that Ulysses uses Markdown (they call it markup) for formatting text.

When you first open Ulysses, you are presented with a finished writing project – the user guide. It walks you through everything you need to know about the app. It took about 30 minutes to work through the guide and my first trial export – first to PDF, then to ePub – just blew my mind. It’s drop-dead easy and the results are quite stunning. Ulysses uses style templates and there’s a growing number of them available at their site. It’s quite possible to build my own style, but I haven’t gotten there yet.

Ulysses for Mac

Ulysses for Mac work area

Here you are looking at the Ulysses work area on the Mac. The panel on the far left is the sidebar. It contains groups and filters. Groups are used to organize and arrange content elements much like the folders in Scrivener. Filters are more like smart folders where content is collected based on a search. For example, I could tag content elements as “needs work” and have a filter set up to keep me updated on what I still need to do. The center panel contains what they call Sheets – text items – contained in the selected group or filter. Select a sheet and it’s content appears in the editor panel. There’s a fourth panel, called attachments, where I can stash notes, tags, and images related to this sheet.

Like Scrivener, groups are arranged in an outline format and both groups and sheets can all be rearranged just by dragging them to their new location.

Ulysses for iPad

Ulysses on the iPad

The iPad view above shows that it’s not always convenient to have every panel open at once. Ulysses makes it easy to just display the elements you need at any given time. On the iPad, it’s as simple as swiping left or right.

Users have the option to store their project content on their local drive or in iCloud. If you are using both the desktop and the iPad apps, using iCloud makes it easy to move between the two. As long as you have Internet access, your project is within easy reach.

If you aren’t familiar with Markdown, it may take a while to get comfortable with the markup schema Ulysses uses for formatting text. It uses simple characters like hashtags and asterisks to define formatting options like italic and bold text as well as headings. Both versions of Ulysses have a cheat sheet included in the user guide and the iPad version has a toolbar built into the on-screen keyboard. When using a Bluetooth keyboard, that toolbar is at the bottom of the screen.

The formatting toolbar on the iPad's keyboard.

The formatting toolbar on the iPad’s keyboard.

Yes, there’s still much to learn, but in less than one day I was quite comfortable with the app’s basic operation. I will need to develop workflows and define how I will deal with front matter and other repetitive content, but right now Ulysses’ ease of use, amazing export function and style choices along with an impressive mobile app make it a lot more attractive than Scrivener.

Ulysses for Mac is available in the App Store for $44.99. A free trial can be downloaded at the Ulysses site. Ulysses for iPad was just released this week and is $19.99. The iPad edition and a nice bluetooth keyboard could be all you need to write your own masterpiece.

Yearbook Journaling

Do you journal your memories? I do. Often they are just quick “snapshots” – like cleaning fish for a neighborhood fish fry or getting the car stuck in the sand at the beach. Sometimes they are actual snapshots – scanned copies of old family photos along with a description. Sometimes they are longer entries about special places that no longer exist.

Recently I was looking for a photo of one of those special places – McCartney’s Drug Store. It was a favorite hangout after church or the movies when we were kids. I decided to look in the advertising section of my high school yearbooks. Not only did I find an interior shot of McCartney’s, I was delighted to find an ad for the Straw Market – a shop my mother owned.

Journaling from a yearbook

This business was a part of our lives for more than a decade. We all worked there and our lives revolved around the store. This one advertisement has brought back a number of memories that will soon become even more journal entries. Now, imagine what journal entries the rest of the yearbook will inspire!



Updated: Capture Your World in Your Journal

When I hear someone rant about how email is destroying the personal letter or the disappearance of cursive handwriting in the digital age, I just smile. Thanks to technology – and particularly the app phone with its still/video camera – we’ll leave behind a rich view of our world and our place in it. I love playing with my camera along with an outrageous number of apps for editing and manipulating the photos I take. And, because I no longer have to buy film or pay to develop my photos, there’s no need to wait for the “perfect” shot to take a picture. The same is true for video.

sample journal entry

The specials board at our favorite diner.

I don’t know how many times I’ve wished I had a photo of the soda fountain at McCartney’s Drug Store or the lobby of the Matanzas Theatre during a Saturday afternoon matinee. These and many other places that were part of our day-to-day lives are no longer there, but because they weren’t “special” we never took photographs of them. Today, thanks to my iPhone’s camera and the Day One journal app [Mac – $9.99, iOS – $4.99], I’m not only capturing photos of our favorite places, the camera and Day One automatically add details like date, location and weather for me. No, I’m not going to tap out a description during dinner. That can wait until I’m back home and have time to add details.

So now I have some delightful views of my world captured in my journal thanks to my phone’s camera and Day One. They include a number of not-so-momentous occasions like dinner on the deck at Aunt Kate’s or the dogs at the front window supervising road work along our street. I’d like to think future generations will enjoy this look at our world, but even if they don’t, I will.

Note to Android users . . . check out the Day Journal app [Android – free]. It’s got many of the same features as Day One.

Scrivener Classes

Gwen Hernandez is a romance novelist. She is also a Scrivener expert and the author of Scrivener for Dummies. She just announced some upcoming online classes:

  • Scrivener I: The Basics and Beyond (Mac & Windows), September 8-24
  • Scrivener II: Intermediate and Advanced Concepts (Mac & Windows), October 14-30
  • Scrivener Master Course: Compile (Mac & Windows), December 8-17

The first two classes will cost $25 each with the compile class costing $20. Registration is open now for the first two courses. You’ll find details at Gwen’s Scrivener Training page.