Category Archives: E-style

Found Ephemera – Custom Brushes

When working with most image-editing applications like Photoshop Elements, brushes are the digital equivalent of the rubber stamp. Like their physical counterparts, brushes can be “loaded” with different colors and “stamped” at different angles. The digital version carries it a bit farther because they can be re-sized and have any number of effects added to them.

In addition to finding brushes in all kinds of shapes and effects, you can easily create your own. I found this ornament in a 19th century tourist guide to St. Augustine. It can easily become a brush for use in Photoshop Elements and used to create cards or collages or become part of a background.

Like rubber stamps, brushes can be simple or complex designs. They can be images or patterns. Brushes are a great way to turn a flat-colored background layer into palm trees silhouetted against the moon. Moon BrushWith brushes you can create crumpled or distressed paper or a worn piece of leather. In addition to making your own, you can find a lot of free brushes online. I’ll warn you right now, using custom brushes is quite addictive.

To learn more about custom brushes, check out these resources:

  • has a series of great tutorials on creating and using brushes in Photoshop Elements. They also have download sources for free brushes.
  • The Scrapping Guy has a very nice video tutorial on using brushes and offers some good sources to find additional brushes.
  • Renee Pearson has written a series of Digital Designs for Scrapbooking books which are full of great ideas and howto information. Digital Designs 2 has a whole section on using and creating brushes. Renee also offers a series of classes. Visit her site for details.

A Paper Dodo Bird?

For decades I’ve been creating documents based on the 8½ x 11-inch – letter size – sheet of paper. Throughout most of that time, the document would actually wind up being distributed on printed sheets of letter size paper. Even when the final result would be in a different format – a magazine article for example – the original manuscript was still submitted printed on letter-size paper.

In the digital era, we seldom submit printed documents. Thanks to email, the word-processing file makes the trip to the editor in its digital form. Not only does that make editing and layout much easier, it saves time and money moving those words back and forth between all involved. With the growing popularity of e-readers and tablets, people are using them to carry and read the “stacks” of business information they must absorb on a daily basis. Yet, in many cases, those documents are still created for letter-sized paper – even in situations where they will never be printed.

Kindle PDF Sample

Kindle PDF Sample – click for larger view

The fixed layout of words and images on the printed page is also a dinosaur of the paper era. Tablets, e-readers and smartphones come in all shapes and sizes – most of them much smaller than “letter size”. And, today’s documents contain more than just words and images. Now there’s hyperlinks, audio and even video. The design elements that have made the Web such an enjoyable experience are being adapted to do the same for documents presented on these devices. That content automatically adjusts to fit on whatever device is used to view it and the reader has control over things like font type and size to insure the best possible viewing experience.

Although many ebook readers are trying to present something as close to the traditional book-reading experience, other developers are embracing change. Applications like Flipboard use Twitter to collect and display content published on the Web in a beautiful graphic layout. Other apps like Pulse News take news feeds to a new level. More of these types of platforms are coming online daily.

While many pundits love to tout the so-called demise of blogging, it continues to thrive and frequently serves as the basis for much of the content these new apps display. We genea-bloggers are well-placed to take advantage of them to build our own publications based on the content already published in our blogs. Your content can be re-organized and re-purposed into an ebook using platforms like PressBooks.  If you aren’t already announcing each new post via Twitter, now’s the time to start. It’s an alternative to RSS distribution that is getting a lot of attention from application developers – well beyond those mentioned above. Services like TwitterFeed and Feedburner (for Blogger sites) can make it happen automatically. You’ll also find Twitter users – like my @genBUZZ account – are creating very effective news services using Twitter.

Even if you want to create a more traditional document, may I suggest that you look to building it to tablet or ereader dimensions rather than letter size. The sample above shows a PDF document displayed on the Kindle Touch ereader. PDF documents don’t “flow” to fit the ereader’s screen like ebooks so a PDF designed for the small screen not only makes it easier for those readers to enjoy your creation, it’s still a pleasant read on larger tablets and even desktop screens. My guess is a good number of your readers will thank you for it.

Don’t know how? Check out Layout Tips for Kindle and NOOK Readers for help.

Tablets and ereaders will continue to grow in popularity. Old habits die hard, but my guess is letter-size documents will soon go the way of the buggy whip. Are you ready to make the move away from letter?

A Look at Flickr’s Galleries

Flickr’s recent makeover includes a new feature – galleries. A gallery is a collection of up to 18 public photos or videos from across Flickr. While most of Flickr’s organizational elements – sets, collections, etc. – have to do with your photographs, galleries allow you to create a curated group of photos from just about anywhere on Flickr.

Map gallery screenshot

This gallery – Maps Across the Commons – focused on photos containing maps found in Flickr’s Commons and is a fascinating example of what you can do with a gallery. The gallery curator not only chooses the title and selects the photos to be included in a gallery, but can also include a description of the gallery and commentary on each photo included. In this example, she arranged the photos and comments to create an interesting story.

Gallery functions
Creating a gallery is easy. From the photo page of a photo you want to include in a gallery, click on the More icon and choose the Add to a gallery option. If you haven’t already created a gallery, Flickr will ask you to do so. If you already have galleries, you’ll see each of them listed and you can either select an existing one or create another.

Not all photos have the Add to a gallery option. There are several things photo owners can do to prevent them from being used in galleries including making them private, excluding them from Flickr search or excluding them from galleries.


After adding some photos to a gallery, you can view that gallery and add descriptions and/or commentary to the gallery itself and to each of the photos you include. In this example, I might include a short history of the landmark Tampa Theater or describe this parade of cars. It’s my gallery and I can use it to tell a story or just share some gorgeous photos.

Galleries can be viewed in the default mode or in lightbox mode. Default displays all the notes and descriptions while the lightbox only includes the photo’s title.

My biggest problem with Flickr is I keep getting lost in the photos. This article should have been finished days ago, but every time I come back to it, I wind up spending time drooling over the photographs that pop up on my screen. The “then and now” photos I used in this example are a good example of just that. How can you not want to see more? If you want ideas for putting galleries to use in your family history, just wander through the galleries others have already created. Not only will you find lots of inspiration, you’ll enjoy the discovery immensely.

What’s the Buzz About Drafts?

Drafts [iPhone – $2.99, iPad – $3.99] is an iOS app that could be described as the Swiss Army knife of text editors. It’s not that it has any magical text-editing skills, but rather what it can do with that text once you’ve typed it. Do you ever want to send the same status update to Facebook, Twitter and Google+ without copy/pasting? Drafts can do that.

You can also use Drafts to document your research efforts – quickly type, create and send a note to a specific Evernote notebook and email it to a cousin with two taps or even add an entry to an existing Evernote research log with one tap. There are a number of actions already included with Drafts, but creating your own customized actions is really quite simple.

Creating a customized Evernote action in Drafts.

Creating a customized Evernote action in Drafts.

In this example, I’m creating a customized action for use with Evernote. After tapping the Gear icon in the Share sidebar, I chose the Evernote Actions from the Custom Actions section of the Settings screen. This Evernote Action form appears. From here I gave my action a name, entered the Title of the Note and Notebook to be used in this action and chose the Append button. In the Template section I’ve added two text tags (not to be confused with the Evernote tags entered higher up). These text tags identify what information from Drafts I want appended to my existing Evernote note. In this example, I’m sending a date stamp – [[date]] – and the entire text of the Drafts item I’m sending – [[draft]]. You can see the other text tag options by tapping the Tag Help item. Once everything is the way I want it, I tap the Save button and I’m done.

Performing an action in Drafts.

Performing an action in Drafts.

Here you see a typed note in Drafts. After tapping the Share icon at the top of the editing screen, the Actions sidebar appears on the right. I’ll tap the destination I want (or destinations – you can send it to more than one place) and Drafts takes care of the rest.

Drafts item added to an existing Evernote note.

Drafts item added to an existing Evernote note.

Here’s what the result of that action looks like in my Henry Log note on Evernote.

I find Drafts quite useful in situations where I’m sending boilerplate text on a regular basis – like inquiry responses to email requests. With that text saved in Drafts, it’s easy to re-purpose it in any number of ways. I also use it to send updates to multiple social networks when each network’s update will be just a bit different. It’s a lot easier to send an update to Twitter, change a word or two then tap the Facebook action, change a few more words then tap email from the Drafts app than copy/paste/edit across multiple apps.

Especially when trying to fat-finger stuff on the iPhone, Drafts will quickly become your new best friend. Oh, and it supports TextExpander too, so all you have to fat-finger is a quick abbreviation or two. Yeah . . . I’m liking that a lot.

Research Essentials – Day One

Cross Creek

Day One on the iPad displaying entries for a specific day.

I have been using the Day One app [Mac, iPhone & iPad] for some time as a personal journal. It’s on my iPhone’s home screen so I can quickly capture a moment with the app’s builtin camera function. In addition to date stamping the entry, it also geotags the location and even captures the current weather at the time the entry was created. Best of all, it’s an “archival quality” editor in that it saves everything in plain text using markdown for formatting. I don’t have to worry about my entries becoming unreadable should these apps become obsolete sometime in the future.

While it’s a great personal journal, I’m beginning to discover its versatility makes it useful in any number of ways. Day One provides TextExpander [Mac & iOS] support so I can quickly add repetitive text by typing a simple abbreviation – especially handy when working on an iPhone and very useful for creating research “forms” for use in a journal entry. Here’s an example of a simple research log form template that has been saved as a TextExpander snippet. The pound sign and asterisks are markdown code used to format the plain text files.

Day One journal form

Research template form being saved as a TextExpander snippet.

Combine this with Day One’s email sharing feature and you’ve got the basis for a very nice email correspondence log for your research. Here’s how:

  1. Open a new journal entry in Day One. 
  2. Add a “correspondence” tag and surname tag(s) for this message.
  3. Type and/or use TextExpander to write the body of your message.
  4. Once finished, email the entry.
PDF export of tagged entries on an iPhone.

PDF export of tagged entries on an iPhone.

That’s it. You can use the tags to quickly find all your journal entries associated with them. You can even create a PDF document of journal entries associated with a tag or tags. (Note: this feature is only available on the iOS apps at the moment.)

It’s not just correspondence either. Use your customized research log template in TextExpander to set up a new journal item as a research log entry. Use tags to identify surnames, locations or whatever you’ll need later to collect associated entries. Each entry is created separately, but Day One’s tag and save as PDF feature can pull together a custom log in a matter of seconds. No longer do you need to manage a notebook full of paper log sheets.

Day One supports both iCloud and Dropbox for keeping your journal entries synched across all your devices. Although using Day One for research support will impact the size of your journal files, the plain text format means you aren’t eating up storage space with unnecessary proprietary code.

One last thought. Imagine finding an ancestor’s journal that not only included entries discussing her day-to-day activities, but also included her genealogical research notes. With Day One, you can leave that behind for generations yet to come.