Category Archives: Digital Toolbox

Firefox Hello

Now this is a new twist . . .

The latest update to Firefox includes the ability to connect to anyone and enjoy a free video call. There are no accounts to create or systems to sign into. All you need is Firefox. What about the people you call? It would be best if they also used Firefox, but not necessary. They can use the Chrome or Opera browsers and receive your call. It’s just that Firefox is needed to start a call.

Of course, it’s also helpful if they have a webcam, speakers and a microphone . . .

If you haven’t updated your Firefox browser lately, do it now. Once the update is complete, you’ll see the Firefox Hello announcement on the splash screen and the Hello button in the toolbar. To start a conversation, click the Hello button.

Firefox Hello screenshot

Now click the Get Started button.

Firefox Hello screenshot

Click the Start a conversation button.

Firefox Hello conversation panel

Now a panel opens in the bottom right corner of the browser window and your camera and mic are activated. You can give this conversation a name if you wish. Instead of “calling” you “invite” the other participant to join your conversation. This is done by emailing the link to them or copying the link and pasting it into a text message. Use the appropriate button at the bottom of the panel to do this.

When the person you’re calling receives her invitation and clicks on the link, a conversation page is opened. She then clicks on the Join the Conversation button and answers the prompts to share the mic and webcam. It’s that easy!

You can learn more about Firefox Hello at the Firefox Help center.

The Evernote Periodicals Index

Have you wanted to build an index of the articles in your genealogical journals and quarterlies, but found all that data entry more than you could handle? Put Evernote to work and you can have it done in no time.

First, create a notebook for your periodicals index then use the Evernote app on your phone or tablet to photograph the table of contents for each issue you want to index. You’ll need some good lighting, a flat surface and maybe a few weights to help flatten the page while you photograph it. If the resulting image isn’t perfectly flat or perfectly squared, don’t worry. Evernote can handle it and as long as you can read it you’re good.

Each captured table of contents becomes its own note. Use the note title to identify the periodical and issue. That’s it!

Evernote Indexing

Evernote’s search makes it easy to find articles. Evernote can read the text in your image and will present you with the notes and text matching your search criteria. In the example below you see the results of a simple search. The title tells me which periodical and issue to dig out of my files.

Are you getting digital editions of your periodicals? Even better! Use Evernote as your library – saving each issue in your periodicals notebook. In this case the entire publication is searchable.

This article originally appeared in the Moultrie Telegraph.

Wunderlist

I’ve always been a list maker which, over the years, has developed into a fascination with productivity apps. Right now I have the Mac’s Reminders app which I use for personal reminders and shopping lists and Wunderlist [iOS, Android, Win, Mac and Web] for managing my writing, research, presentation and society projects. This app found the sweet spot between simplicity and functionality making it something I use regularly. And it’s free. And it’s installed on every computer and mobile device I own so it’s always with me.

There are a number of things that make Wunderlist especially useful. My favorite is the ability to forward an email to Wunderlist. I just forward it to me@wunderlist.com and Wunderlist takes care of the rest. I also find it useful for keeping up with research and writing ideas. It’s always handy when I get an idea for an article or think of a new place to look for information on an ancestor.

Wunderlist Desktop on Mac

The Wunderlist desktop on a Mac.

Here you see Wunderlist on a Mac desktop. The left sidebar contains my lists and, once I click/tap to select a list, the tasks associated with it appears in the main area. At the bottom of the task area are several function icons. The selected task is displayed on the right. In this case, it is an email message I forwarded to Wunderlist to become a task. The content of the message appears in the notes area.

The key to everything is my Wunderlist online account. When I add or update an item in whichever app I’m using at the time, it is synched with the online account. Not only does this make that information available to all my other systems/devices, I can also share a list with other Wunderlist users. Family members can’t escape me when it comes time to organize family events.

Wunderlist sub-tasks

Sub-tasks in Wunderlist

I’ve found the lists and sub-lists features very useful for writing and research ideas. Here you are looking at my list of topics ideas for the Gazette. The list contains broad categories (shown in the center panel) and each category has its own sub-list of more specific topics. Not only does it help me brainstorm ideas, it provides a quick look at what’s already been written. The options in the right sidebar let me set deadlines and reminders for each task, add more detailed notes about it and even attach files. The checkbox identifies the task as completed and the star shows it as a priority task. Lists and tasks can be printed, shared with other Wunderlist users or published publicly.

Wunderlist collaboration features.

Wunderlist collaboration features.

Combine the list-sharing functionality with free apps for Mac, Windows, iOS and Android devices and I have an impressive collaboration tool. The example above shows how a society could use it to better manage board meetings. Although this example sends board members to Evernote for read-ahead material, Wunderlist does support attaching files to list items. And, as you can see here, it’s easy to post comments in the list item.

Wunderlist offers free, premium and business accounts. The premium account is $4.99/month or $49.99/year and offers unlimited sub-tasks, task assignments and file attachments.

Wunderlist is an amazing app and it’s become a very important tool in my digital research toolbox. Want to learn more? Stop by the Wunderlist channel at YouTube to see it in action.

iCloud Drops Prices

WoooHooo! I just got notice that my iCloud subscription was increased from 15GB to 20GB and that the annual price dropped from $20/year to $10.99/year. Although as a current user I can stay with my annual plan, the iCloud service is moving to a monthly plan and the pricing looks quite affordable. For example, 200GB is going for $3.99/month.

The upcoming iOS8 release followed by OS X Yosemite’s release will increase the ways my desktop and devices work with each other. I’m sure the extra storage will come in handy.

Replace Templates with TextExpander

Much of our genealogy research revolves around forms. And, while many of those forms – like census forms – are from outside sources, we often create our own customized forms to support our research efforts. These might be forms to help us index our collections or maintain research logs or create a cemetery inventory. I used to build a blank form in my word processing app and save it as a template file. That works well when each form is a single document, but what about a situation where the form is repeated several times within a single document?

I’ve been working on a guide to one of our local historic cemeteries for some time. It includes information from an early inventory and adds photos, additional information on the individuals buried there and more.

Basic data form used in my cemetery guide project.

My guide is being built in a sort of scrapbook style since I plan to include photos of the cemetery as well as documents, historical records and anything else that adds value to the cemetery’s history. I still need some structure for the details and to do that I’ve built a basic table to input a standard set of data items. You can see a sample of it here. This form will be used to generate a record for each entry documented in the early inventory, but it won’t necessarily appear on each page – especially once I start adding biographical information, images and scanned documents to the guide. So, in this case, a document template will not be very useful. Fortunately there is another option – a text replacement app like TextExpander [Mac – $34.99]. With it I can save a blank version of the table as a TextExpander form and, by typing a few characters, TextExpander will build this table for me at the point of my cursor. Using this method, I can easily create any number of “forms” within this document and include them when and where I want.

These “forms” are called snippets in TextExpander and they consist of two parts: 1) the text to be inserted and 2) the abbreviation that will be used to call the snippet. To create a snippet, I start by typing the text that will be my snippet. In my table example, it’s more than just text but that’s okay. TextExpander will capture the formatting as well as the characters that make up my form.

A blank form will become the content of my snippet.

Here you see the blank form I created in my Pages word processing app. You’ll notice that I’ve merged the two columns in the top row and set that font to bold. I’ve also turned off the gridlines for the table. I’ll see them here as I edit the tables, but they won’t appear in print or PDF versions of the document. Once I’ve got the form the way I want it, I’ll select the entire table and copy it. When TextExpander is running, there’s an icon on the menu bar at the top of your screen. Click it to display a menu similar to the one you see here.

Since I’ve already copied my table in Pages, I’ll choose the Create Snippet from Clipboard command. This will bring up the snippet management screen with the contents of my clipboard – the table – displayed in the Content pane as you can see in the example below. Notice here that you don’t see the ghost table grid that is visible in Pages. Don’t worry, it’s still there. Below the Content pane is the Abbreviation pane. Here I put the characters I want to associate with this content. It’s the text I will type to insert the table form in my document.

TextExpander snippet management screen.

Notice in the left pane that I have set up folders to organize my snippets. The selected folder will be the location where my current snippet is automatically saved. If you look at the contents of my Editing folder, you’ll see special characters, snippets of HTML code and even WordPress shortcodes. TextExpander for Mac works in any app so I can use it to quickly add a custom form that combines HTML and shortcodes inside a blog post as easily as I created my table form in Pages. Are you using Evernote for your research log? Use TextExpander to add the appropriate form into a blank note. The few characters you type to add the form is much faster than copy/pasting a template note.

It won’t take long to find any number of other uses . . . like the special character snippets for use in Twitter and snippets to ensure that I stay consistent in my use of the term “ebook”.

While at first glance, the $34.99 price tag for this app might look a bit steep, it has more than earned its keep in my workflow. As a forms manager it will quickly pay for itself, but that’s just the beginning. There’s also a TextExpander for iOS app [$4.99] which synchronizes the snippet library with the desktop version via Dropbox. It works with many of my favorite iOS apps such as Byword, Day One, Drafts and Notebooks to save me lots of time and effort.

Note that TextExpander isn’t the only text replacement application out there. Windows users can take advantage of the PhraseExpress app. For each of these apps, the details may be a bit different, but the basic concepts are the same.

 

iPad Genealogy

Lately I’ve found I’m spending more and more research time on my iPad. There are two reasons for this – Evernote and MobileFamilyTree [iOS – $14.99]. MobileFamilyTree has a companion app for the desktop called MacFamilyTree [Mac – $49.99] but although both can use the same database when it’s stored on iCloud, the mobile app is entirely independent of the desktop version. I believe at the moment, it’s the only mobile iOS app that is. Another advantage is that both versions can synch family tree data with FamilySearch.org.

MobileFamilyTree person page.

MobileFamilyTree person page.

One thing I love about both the Mac and Mobile editions is that I can view and edit all of a person’s detail information on one screen without constantly opening and closing data boxes. That is so irritating.

Same person page in MacFamilyTree.

Same person page in MacFamilyTree.

Even with MobileFamilyTree’s synching capability, I still prefer to do most of my FamilySearching via web browser. Why? so I can capture source information and download record image files into Evernote. I’ve found the Dolphin Browser [iPad – free] has a much better Evernote capture interface than the Safari browser on the iPad. It works much like the Web Clipper installed on my desktop Safari.

Granted, the iPad is not the best platform for bouncing around between web sites and apps – something I tend to do a lot. My solution is to take written notes. Sure that slows me down, but I’m finding that’s actually a good thing. Writing those notes instead of copy/pasting or clipping them makes me think about them more – more time to consider what this record adds to my research. At the end of a session, I’ll use Evernote on my iPad to photograph those notes so they can easily be found again when I need them. So far, I’ve had very good luck with Evernote’s search engine “reading” my handwriting.

What’s the down side? Trying to read original documents – especially census records – on my iPad mini’s small screen. Sure I can zoom into a document so I can see the content, but when I do it’s displaying such a small bit of screen area that I’m scrolling all over the place trying to see all the information. That gets real tedious real fast.

Am I ready to give up my desktop? Not even. I do find that developing mobile research skills and workflows at home has significantly improved my efforts when researching at the library. Since I’m planning a couple of research trips, these skills can become even more useful when I have a limited amount of time in a distant archive.

That being said, I do see where the iPad could become a primary research tool – especially for seniors who never used a computer but have found the iPad quite useful. Platforms like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org seem to be making it easy to get them started and I expect that’s a trend that will continue to grow.

Mobile Toolbox – Documents by Readdle

The Documents app [iOS – free] is at the top of the must-have apps list for genealogy research. It serves as a document reader, media player and file manager – all in one beautiful package. With Documents, you can search, read, bookmark and annotate iWork and MS Office documents, read PDF documents and ebooks (ePub and FB2), view photos and videos and even listen to music.

20140729-173752-63472153.jpg

The file manager screen in Documents for Readdle.

Need to view a document attached to an email message? No problem. Just long-tap the attached file and choose the Open in Documents option. There is also a built-in browser so you can find and download documents from web sites.

If that’s not enough, Documents also serves as an impressive file manager, giving you access to your computer and cloud services. Using the Wi-Fi Drive feature, you can upload documents from your desktop computer to your iPad using your desktop browser. You can also share files with your favorite cloud storage service and download online files directly to Documents. Of course there are tools to copy, move and delete the files saved in Documents. You can even select and zip a number of files. Use the Share icon to send any of your files to someone via email.

Other Readdle apps work with Documents to give you even more functionality. For example, adding Printer Pro [iPad – $6.99] makes it easy to print attachments, documents or web pages from your device to either Wi-Fi or USB printers. (Note: USB printing requires a free helper app installed on your computer.) PDF Converter [iPad – $6.99] can convert the files managed in the Documents app – including those stored in cloud services such as Dropbox – to PDF documents. Need to fill in PDF forms, sign documents or markup documents for review? Then PDF Expert [iPad and iPhone – $9.99] is the app for you.

Readdle’s suite of document management apps give your iPad an amazing amount of functionality and access to your files and documents wherever they are stored. All of this in your choice of easy-to-use and affordable packages.

Research 101: Email

NOTE: This is updated version of an earlier post which includes changes in technology and services.

Email has all but replaced postal mail as the medium of choice for business and personal correspondence. For family researchers, email provides a way to connect and share genealogical data, photos, historical documents and so much more. While more and more research – as well as personal and business information – now resides in our inbox, many of us know little about the email systems we use and the software available to manage them.

What is Email?

Electronic mail, or email, is a way to send digital messages across computer networks and the Internet. It is made up of a network of mail servers which serve as post offices for storing and forwarding email messages. Instead of an envelope with addresses written on them, email uses a header area for this information. In addition to the sender’s and recipient’s addresses, the header also contains control information, a date stamp showing when the message was sent and the subject line of the message. Unlike postal mail, an email message can be sent to multiple recipients. The mail servers look at the information contained in the header and move the message on its way to the correct destination mail server. Once there, it is “placed” in the appropriate user mailbox. The body of the message can contain text, graphics, photos and document attachments.

Choosing a Service

Most of us use the email service provided by our Internet Service Provider (ISP). This is not your only email option and, especially for family research, not the best option. People move and ISPs come and go making your email service – and your address – change as a result. For example, during the time we have lived in this house, our service provider has changed four times. A good option for researchers is one of the large portal services like Google’s Gmail, Yahoo Mail and Microsoft’s Outlook.com. Using one of these services will give you a personal address that will stay with you even when you move or change Internet providers. And, because you are posting your email address in many “public” locations – bulletin boards, online family trees, etc. – which could attract spammers, it’s a good idea to create separate email accounts for your personal mail and your research mail. (More on that later.) If you already use Google or Yahoo tools (Google Reader, Google Books, Flickr, etc.), you already have an email account with one or both of these services. They, along with Microsoft’s Outlook.com, offer free email services and affordable premium upgrades. For example, each Yahoo Mail user has 1TB (that’s 1,024 GB) of space for storing messages and other Yahoo content. Google’s Gmail provides about 7GB of free online storage and reasonable rates for additional space. I’m not sure what Microsoft offers. Choosing a service is mostly a matter of preference. I’ve been a Yahoo fan for years and our Yahoo Mail accounts have served my family very well. I also have a Gmail account and while it’s not my primary account, I use it quite frequently to interface with other Google products.

Email Protocols

Each email provider offers various types of protocols – or methods – for delivering your mail. The most common is webmail. It is a web-based application that allows you to view, manage and create email messages through your web browser. With webmail, you are working with the messages physically located on your service’s mail server. This example shows a Gmail webmail screen. gmail011 Webmail has many advantages – not the least of which is that it’s accessible from anywhere you can access the Internet. The big providers also offer a mobile version of webmail designed for viewing on the small screens of “smart” phones. You messages are stored on the server and backed up regularly. The down side is that you have to be online to access your mail.

The Mail app for Mac supports both POP and IMAP services.

The Mail app for Mac is a desktop email client that supports both POP and IMAP services.

Most email systems offer the POP protocol. This protocol requires a desktop client like Outlook for Windows computers or Mail on Apple computers. Your client app will connect to the email server every so often (while your computer is turned on) to check for new mail. If there is mail, a copy is downloaded to your email client. You can then read and respond to it at your leisure. It’s only necessary to be online when you send or receive messages. To keep a copy of each message on the email server, you will need to turn on those settings in your client application. One big advantage to using a desktop email program is that it can manage more than one email account at a time. If, for example, you have a Yahoo Mail account and a Gmail account, you would have to log into each webmail account separately and check your mail there. With a desktop client, all your email is delivered to one place – your desktop inbox. It’s much easier to manage email using one of these applications. The POP protocol only supports retrieving mail. Another protocol, SMTP, handles sending mail. Your primary concern with either of these protocols is to provide the necessary configuration information when you set up your email client to connect to your mailbox at the mail server. Once that’s done, the client handles the rest. One last protocol, IMAP, is less well-known. Until recently it was used mostly on corporate email systems, but thanks to the growing popularity of portable devices, it’s being put to wider use. Systems using the IMAP protocol maintain their inbox on the mail server. Users must be online to retrieve, read, write and send messages. This is handy for portable devices which have limited memory for message storage, but the protocol does put more demand on the mail server. The IMAP protocol also requires a client app to function, but most email apps support both the POP and IMAP protocols so one app should handle all your email needs. Again the biggest issue for the user is the initial configuration. The client takes over from there.

Mail Clients

As you might expect, there a large number of email clients available. Probably the most popular include Outlook and Outlook Express for Windows, Apple Mail and Thunderbird for Windows, Mac and Linux. You’ll find a more complete directory of mail clients at Open Directory. Don’t be afraid to experiment with several systems to find the one that works best for you.

Managing Email

As more and more aspects of our lives go digital, email is replacing postal mail for both business and personal correspondence. The challenge is how to organize, manage and protect this digital information. Like any other organizational system, there are many options and your system will be one that suits your own lifestyle. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Take advantage of your mail system. Learn its features and put them to work in your organizational system. For example, Yahoo Mail provides a folder-based system for organizing archived messages while Gmail uses labels (tags). Both systems have superb search facilities to help you find specific itemsn in your message archives. Create an organizational scheme – whether it be a tag list or folder structure – that works for you.
  • For those who prefer to use a mail client, you may want to keep copies of your “saved” messages on the mail server also. Even if you reach a point where you are paying for storage, it’s still a very cost-efficient off-site backup location. Just remember that when you’re using the POP protocol to deliver email to your desktop client that 1) you’ll have to configure it to keep copies at the server, 2) when you delete a message on your client, you aren’t deleting it on the server and 3) when you send a message from your client, you’ll have a copy in your client’s sent messages folder but not the server’s.
  • Because I use a scanner and desktop document management system to digitize household paperwork and store it on my home network, I “print” a lot of my messages as PDF files and include them in this system. I have a scanner/software combination that creates “searchable PDFs” meaning a computer can read – and search – the scanned text. The document management system provides a means of embedding metadata with the message and organizing it with other related documents.
  • Choose an email client that provides organization, archiving and backup features and learn to use them. You have spent money and effort developing paper filing and organizational systems, why wouldn’t you do the same for your email?

Mail Security

This can, and will be, an article of its own but there are four things you must do religiously.

  1. Create a secure password for your email account (more than 10 characters with a combination of letters, numbers and special characters) and change it frequently.
  2. Be very cautious about using public computers to access your mail. If you must use one, change your password as soon as you can get to a secure system.
  3. Do not download attachments unless they are coming from someone you know and it’s something you are expecting. If you know the sender but weren’t expecting an attachment, check with the person first before opening the attachment.
  4. Backup! Backup! Backup! And, backup some more.

Obviously, this article just hits the highlights of all there is to know about email. Future articles will look at client apps, management ideas and security in more detail. Email has become so important in both our research and personal lives that it deserves a lot more attention.

Online Security With 1Password

We spend a lot of time wandering the web searching for information on our ancestors. Many of the sites we visit require passwords to access that information. One big concern is keeping up with all those passwords used to log into the growing number of sites requiring them. To be secure, each site should have its own password and all passwords should be changed regularly. Add to that the growing number of portable devices – iThings, e-readers, smart phones, etc. – and the public wifi systems at libraries, bookstores and coffee shops. Securely managing login credentials and other personal information stored on your systems is a priority. It’s also quite a chore. I can already hear you yelling, “There’s no way!”

Actually, there is a way. It’s a very nice app called 1Password [Mac $50/Win $50].

1Password browser extension at work.

1Password browser extension at work.

1Password provides a secure database where you can store login information for all your sites as well as personal information like credit cards, bank accounts, memberships, software licenses and more. You only need to remember one password – the one that gives you access to your 1Password data. The application also installs an extension in your web browser creating a button in the browser’s toolbar. Now, when you visit a password protected site, go to the login page for the site, click the 1Password button, enter your 1Password password and the app will load the userid and password for that site into the login form for you. Shopping? At the fields where you need to enter credit card information, click the 1Password button, enter your password and choose the credit card you want to use. 1Password will input all that information for you.

All you have to remember is one password.

1Password doesn't just manage passwords either. I put the software license section to good use.

1Password doesn’t just manage passwords either. I put the software license section to good use.

Using an app like this also protects you from keystroke loggers – hacker software that tracks every key you press and sends that information to some criminal to use against you. Instead of typing credit card numbers yourself, 1Password enters it for you – bypassing any eavesdropper. There’s also a secure password generator included in the app which will create a unique password for each site. These passwords would be almost impossible to remember, but then you don’t have to. You just use 1Password to insert it for you.

In addition to the desktop versions, 1Password is also available for the iOS devices [$18] and there’s a free 1Password Reader for Android. Both versions will synch with your desktop version to insure all the information is up-to-date on each system however the 1Password Reader has no editing capability. If you have multiple computers at home, you can buy a family license [$70] to cover up to 5 computers. 1Password supports multiple “vaults” allowing each member of the family to have their own private collection plus you can have a shared vault.

This app is a very important part of my digital toolbox. And, because it’s so easy, I actually use it. I love 1Password for managing logins and associated information like the security questions that are often being used for additional user security. I’ve also found it’s quite useful for the not-so-sensitive information I often need – my library card number or a store rewards ID. With 1Password on my phone, it’s always within easy reach.

Take advantage of 1Password’s 30-day trial to see how it works before you buy. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Readdle Updates PDF Expert for iOS

PDF Expert 5 by Readdle [iOS – $9.99] is now a universal app so one purchase puts it on your iPad and iPhone. It supports review and editing PDF documents, forms fill-in and freehand annotations – including signatures. It includes a comprehensive file manager and works as an add-in to Readdle’s free Documents app. The video demonstrates how useful this app is.