Tech Notes – 7 September 2012

Tolomato Lane near the City Gates

This weekend my home town, St. Augustine, celebrates its 447th birthday with parties, re-enactments and other activities.

Moving from the historic to the technical, the big news this week was Amazon’s introduction of its newest readers and tablets. I “watched” the event at The Verge. They were using the WordPress LiveBlog plugin to post updates and photos from the event. It allows multiple authors to post live updates within a single post and automatically refreshes the reader’s view as new updates are added. It could be a useful tool for reporting from a genealogy conference or event . . .

Amazon introduced a new e-reader, the Kindle Paperwhite, with both a Wi-Fi [$119] and a 3G [$179] version. This device has a brighter screen and includes a built-in light for reading in low-light conditions. They have increased the screen resolution which makes the text even clearer. These devices can be ordered now for October 1st delivery. The basic Kindle got an update with more font choices and faster page-turning. It also got a price reduction to $69. The 3G keyboard Kindle [$139] remains part of the Kindle inventory.

The Kindle Fire got a significant update with a faster processor, more memory and longer battery life. It also got a price reduction to $159. It can be ordered now with a September 14th delivery.

The new Kindle Fire HD offers two sizes – the standard 7″ screen and a larger 8.9″ screen. Both screens are HD quality and are combined with dual stereo speakers and Dolby audio. The processor is faster and the Wi-Fi system has been improved – including using two antennas – to make it even faster too. Bluetooth capability will allow you to use an external keyboard and there’s an HD camera on the front of the device which can be used with the Skype app to make video calls. The Kindle Fire HD  (screen resolution is 1280 x 800) is available September 14th and there is both a 16GB model [$199] and a 32GB one [$299].

The big story is the new larger Kindle Fire HD. They have all the functional goodness of their smaller cousin, but with a larger screen showing a 1920 x 1200 pixel display. The Wi-Fi version is available with either 16GB [$299] or 32GB [$369] of storage.  The 4G LTE wireless version offers all the goodness of its Wi-Fi cousins with high-speed wireless too. The 32GB model will sell for $499 and the 64GB model sells for $599. The wireless service for these devices is $49.95 a year and includes 250MB a month, 20GB of Amazon Cloud storage (in addition to the free storage you get for all your Amazon content) and a $10 credit in the Amazon app store. When you consider that 250MB  service for the iPad starts at $15/month – and is only 3G speeds – this is quite a deal. These devices are expected to ship November 20th.

There’s a lot more Kindle stuff to talk about, but that will be saved for later postings.

One news item from yesterday that all ebook readers will enjoy is the settlement of the ebook price fixing case against Apple and several major publishers. The settlement returns the pricing process to the “normal” method where retailers buy books from publishers at the wholesale price, then set their own sale price. With luck, we buyers should see lower prices, sales and other enticements.

SlideShark has a new app for the iPhone/iPod Touch that will let you post your PowerPoint presentations at the site, then view them on the device. And, you can use the device with AirPlay to present the slideshow to others.

MacWorld has a great article – especially for Windows users with iPhones – listing easy ways to get your pictures off your iPhone.

WordPress released an update – v. 3.4.2 – with both maintenance and security fixes. This is a mandatory update and should be performed as soon as possible.

If you haven’t already, stop by the bookstore and read my interview with Denise Levenick discussing her new book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes.

That’s it for this week. Hope you have a great weekend!

Telling Your Own Story

I “met” Tami Koenig last week when she submitted a request to have her book, Creating Your Personal Timeline, added to the shelves at Moultrie Creek Books. It’s just the type of book I want to have in the bookstore and after visiting her Your Story Coach site, I was definitely hooked. Creating Your Personal Timeline is not a book of prompts offering writing suggestions, but rather a workbook that walks you through the process of building your own timeline. Worksheets help your document the people, places and events that are part of your life’s story. It’s from those worksheets you will build your timeline. Once your timeline is complete, you will also have collected much of the research needed to start writing your stories.

I don’t have any plans to write a memoir, but I will build my own timeline and use it for topics to write about in my journal and for articles on my family history blog. Even if I never write a single story, the completed workbook would give future generations a picture of my life and times that might not exist otherwise.

Do stop by Tami’s Story Blog and say hello. You’ll find it full of writing inspiration.

Research Management Tools

I’ve spent the last several days reading Denise Levenick’s new book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes. It’s full of many wonderful ideas, but it was the checklists and worksheets she has included that really caught my attention. There are worksheets for cataloguing both physical and digital items, source management forms, research logs and much more. As I’m looking at all these useful forms, I’m wondering how I can build a system to improve my rather slipshod research style.

Although a web-based solution could be built easy enough, I’m not comfortable keeping a lot of this information online yet, so my first thought was to use a database like Bento or Access. I dumped that idea quickly because it would be very time-consuming to build and not very flexible once it was built. Since flexibility is a priority, my next thought was one of the note-taking/journaling apps. These apps are very versatile and many have the added advantage of a portable option – with synching capabilities so those notes can go with me wherever I’m researching, yet still be protected.

In addition to MacJournal [Mac - $39.95], one of my favorite iPad note-taking apps, Notebooks, is developing a desktop cousin. Right now it’s available free as a public beta and from what I see so far, it won’t be long before it’s finished. Another interesting app – VoodooPad [Mac - $39.95] – is a desktop wiki that supports Markdown [see earlier article on Markdown] and includes an iPad app. Like MacJournal, it’s a bit pricey at $40. There’s no information yet on the price for Notebooks. On the Windows side, OneNote would be a great option for this purpose. It is included in the Home & Student edition of Microsoft Office [Win - $99.00] and there’s a free companion app for iOS devices.

All of these apps have impressive search capabilities which make them so handy for finding that note about Aunt Ginny’s . . .  Yes, I’m still looking for that one because, unfortunately, that note is still on paper – somewhere. Another very useful feature in each of these apps is the ability to link from one note to another within the app. So if you have a note page for your maternal grandmother that includes references about other members of her family, you could link her page to those individuals’ pages. And if you have an interesting research tidbit that relates to multiple people, you don’t have to copy it to multiple notes, you just link each person to the one tidbit note. This alone, could be worth the cost of the app!

But the notebook is just one part of the process, it’s the form itself that makes Denise’s checklists and worksheets so awesome. At first I was thinking templates, but then it hit me – PRANG! Forget templates and use a text replacement app instead. Since many of these apps  now support rich text and even scripting, it’s a great way to build a form on the fly. For those of you unfamiliar with text replacement, think of it as automatic spelling correction on steroids. When you have spelling correction turned on, it will automatically replace commonly misspelled words with the correct ones. Well, text replacement takes that even further and you can set up text snippets you type repeatedly in the text replacement app’s dictionary and then assign a short abbreviation to the snippet. Then, instead of typing the entire text, just type the abbreviation and the app instantly replaces it with the appropriate snippet. This is great for signature blocks, boilerplate text – and building forms! Unlike the spell-checker in your word-processing software, these text replacement apps work in just about any app on your desktop.

I’m using TextExpander [Mac - $34.95] but there’s also TypeIt4Me [Mac - currently on sale at $4.99]. Windows users can take advantage of the free Phrase Express app.

Notebooks for desktop (beta) showing a form template.

In the example you see here, I typed “rshlog” and TextExpander entered all you see here – including the formatting – for me. In less than two seconds, I have a form ready for me to complete. One of the very nice things about using something like TextExpander to manage research form templates is that I’m not restricted to one-size-fits-all forms. In the example above, the form can be used for both published and web-based sources. I could easily create additional TextExpander templates for specific types of sources – books, magazines, personal documents, etc. Then, all I need to do is type the appropriate abbreviation to build the form I need for a specific source.

Even though I’ve got years of research generated in older tools, I can still take advantage of these apps to build a more functional research management system. I don’t have to transcribe my existing stuff into the new app. Instead, I’ll include references and/or links to existing documents or items. In many cases, I can attach existing files to my notes. And, if all I do is reference an existing document in my notes app, the app’s search capabilities will insure that I will be able to find it again when I need it.