Tech Notes – 5 October 2012

The Kelly Mansion is located on the Matanzas River just south of the mouth of Moultrie Creek.

Girlfriends ForeverI’ve been a big Susan Branch fan ever since I first saw the VW convertible sketch on the cover of Girlfriends Forever. I often talk about blogging the story of things that are a part of our family’s history and this week Susan gave me a delightful example in her post, A Lot of Charm(s). Here, she’s telling the story of her charm bracelet and the background to each of the charms on it. The story is delightful, the artwork is always divine, but one thing that really struck me is that she has turned special things into charms for her bracelet. One of those is her baby bracelet.

She’s inspired me to take a fresh look at my charm bracelet. There’s lots of good stories there . . .

If you are a fan of Things [iOS - $9.99] and have an iPhone 4S or 5 with iOS 6, you’ll find that the latest version incorporates both Siri and Reminders in the app. So now you can dictate reminders which Siri will add to your Reminders and display in your Things inbox. I’m hoping we see more of this kind of thing in lots of apps!

A new iPhone app lets you capture video, edit clips and combine them, add filters, transitions and music then share them via Facebook, YouTube or email. What’s different about this app is there’s no limit to the size of your video projects. The app’s called Givit and it’s free in the App Store. You’ll get 5GB of free online storage to save your creations and you can purchase more if needed.

Google is shutting down AdSense for feeds – the ads that are distributed within RSS feeds – and the speculation grows that Feedburner won’t be far behind. It really looks like it’s time to pull back my feed management and take advantage of the tools WordPress provides. More on that later.

That’s not all the news about Google. Google has reached a settlement with publishers over their book-scanning operation.

Another project for this weekend . . . I wrote yesterday about the book, Digging into WordPress, and right after that post was published I received the announcement that the newest edition was ready to download. From the Twitter buzz, it looks like there’s lots of new goodies to keep me entertained.

Blurb Books has released an ebook editor which allows you to add video and audio to your stories. At this point, the books can only be viewed on an iPad.

That’s it for this week. Hope everyone has a great weekend!


Updating Books

One of the – many – advantages of digital publishing is the ability to update your ebooks quickly and easily. No, I don’t mean the research and writing effort is quick and easy, but the publishing effort is. As the author/publisher, that gives you several advantages. First and obvious, you can make changes to your book and let your readers replace the old copy with the new. Second, if you use it as a strategy when you first begin a book project, it can be used as a selling point too.

Let me explain what I mean by offering an example. As you know I’m an avid WordPress fan. Some time back I stumbled onto a book, Digging Into WordPress, which was offered in both a print and PDF format. The PDF edition appeared at first to be a bit pricey ($27) until I read further and found they offered a “lifetime subscription”. Every time WordPress got a major upgrade, they would update the book and distribute PDF copies to every subscriber. In a world where tech books are expensive and often outdated before you can get them home, this was a fabulous idea – and one that has more than paid for itself since I bought it. I’ve had either 3 or 4 updates since I bought my copy, with another one expected at any time.

Tech books aren’t the only books that change over time. Family history is often quite “fluid” as research continues to produce new and interesting facts to add to the existing narrative. Fortunately, by publishing digitally, you also have the ability to update your book and send your new revision to those who received the initial one. And, if you published using platforms like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, it’s also quite easy. While all the platforms offer a way to update your ebook once it has been listed in their bookstore, the Kindle platform will even send email notices to the people who have purchased your book to let them know an updated version is available for them to download. You will still need to use your blog, GoodReads, Facebook and other social venues to let your readers know there’s a new revision available and offer guidance on how to update their copy, but that effort could also inspire new readers to purchase your book.

For many of us who are taking advantage of the opportunities self-publishing provides, this can be a useful marketing tool – as my favorite WordPress authors have already discovered. I’m already collecting information to update my Digital Toolbox book which I hope to have ready in time for RootsTech 2013. My guess is this one will easily support a yearly update as technology continues to offer new ways to make our research life easier.

Take a look at your publishing platform and see what it takes to make your revised books available to your readers. If you are in the early stages of a publishing project and haven’t yet decided which platform to use, check into their ability to accept and distribute revised copies before making your decision. You could find it quite useful information to  have later on. Protect your working files too. Even if you aren’t planning to ever update a writing project today, you could change your mind at any time . . .

A New Kindle

My Kindle Paperwhite arrived yesterday. It’s a delightful improvement over my Kindle Touch. Beginning with the case, which is darker and made with a material that is more tactile so it offers a better grip, the Paperwhite is thinner yet a bit heavier. The touch screen is significantly more responsive – more to the level of my iThings. Then there’s the screen itself. WOW! The lighting is amazing. It’s easy to adjust the brightness level to suit your current reading environment. With the light turned down, the screen appears more like a standard e-Ink device, but when it’s pushed up to the maximum brightness it is gorgeous. I read for several hours last night with no eye strain. Most of the time, the brightness was set at about the 2/3s level which was very comfortable.

It will take a little time to adjust to the differences between the two devices. I kept trying to press the Home button last night – which doesn’t exist on the Paperwhite. Instead, you tap the top of the screen to display the menus. They have changed a bit too. Below you see the menu that appears on the home screen.  The menu displayed within a book includes a second row for adjusting fonts, navigating the book and sharing content.

The main screen’s book list has been replaced with book covers. It will take a bit more effort to scroll through a large library, but I find the covers much more enjoyable than a list of titles. Browsing for books online remains a challenge. The bookstore’s screen design has improved, but it’s almost impossible to wander through such a massive selection of books even on my large computer screen. I take advantage of Amazon’s Wish List feature to capture books that catch my eye. It would be nice if a link to my Wish List was included on the main store front page.

I haven’t yet experimented with the 3G functionality of the device. It will get tested today at my office. If it can communicate in that black hole of a building where I work, it will truly be an amazing device.

My Kindle Touch has been a wonderful reading tool and I’m looking forward to enjoying the improvements included in this new Paperwhite. These little readers put a library into my hands that I can take anywhere. With it, I’ve got both entertainment and an impressive reference library with me wherever I want to take it.

Image courtesy of the Kindle Support site.

Society Publishing with MagCloud

With the many affordable options available to genealogical societies today, there’s no excuse for the sad, copy shop things being sent out as quarterly journals. It’s time to punch up your word-processing skills and take advantage of affordable publishing platforms like MagCloud.

MagCloud is Hewlett-Packard’s self-publishing platform focused on magazine-style publications. Using MagCloud, a society can easily produce and publish quarterly journals, newsletters, brochures, flyers, catalogs and just about any other kind of publishing project. You can also offer a digital option where your publications are available as high-quality PDFs. And, there’s even an iPad app.

For family organizations and genealogical societies, MagCloud will not only print your publication for you, but they can even send them directly to your members. And, by offering a digital edition in addition to the print one, you may be surprised to see how many members choose that route – reducing your costs even more. You can also generate additional revenue by selling back issues through your MagCloud storefront without the expense and effort of storing and shipping them yourself.

There are four sizes of publications: 8.5 x 11 standard, 8.5 x 8.5 square, 5.5 x 8.5 digest and 8.5 x 5.5 digest. The two digest options would work well for digital editions to be read on an e-reader or tablet. Prices for full-color printed publications range from 16¢/page for the two smaller sizes to 20¢/page for the two larger ones. The saddle-stitch binding option costs nothing, but the perfect binding is an additional $1.00. Check the price calculator to see what the actual cost of your publication will be. You have several options with the digital edition: free, free with print edition or paid. If you set a price for your digital publications, 30% goes to MagCloud and you keep 70% of it. There are no upfront costs and no cost to maintain your online storefront.

Creating a MagCloud publication is really quite simple. There are template packages with instructions for each size publication and several different apps. Apps include Microsoft Word [Win & Mac], Microsoft Publisher, Apple’s Pages and Adobe’s InDesign. Download the package and start creating your own publication.

MagCloud is a good solution when you want to create a more graphical publication. And, by choosing one of the digest options as your template, you’ll only need to create your publication once to offer it as both print and digital editions. The smaller size of the digest makes it much easier to read the resulting PDF on tablets and e-readers. And, with the digital edition, your hyperlinks will function so you can include links to outside sources like your society’s web site, the article author’s site or even back to your MagCloud storefront to grab another publication.

If you have a storytelling project full of photos, fonts and fixed layouts, MagCloud offers the flexibility to do just about anything you want and you don’t need to learn a new app just to build your story project. Need some inspiration? Take a look at Family History Journal,  SPAN from the Natural Arch and Bridge Society or the Clan MacLeod Newsletter. Click on the Preview link just below the cover image.