Spell-Check is not enough

Whether you’re writing a family history, documenting your research with a blog or creating a family newsletter, you are working as writer, copy editor and publisher. You, the copy editor, need to include plenty of time for proof-reading. Potential problems include:

  • Your spell-checker can do a lot, but it won’t flag you when you typed “fart” and you meant to type “raft”. And, it doesn’t know if you meant “their”, “there” or “they’re”.
  • In addition to typos and grammar issues, you need to insure all your links work – and that they go to the right web pages.
  • Even if you copy/pasted content from another document, check it too. It’s possible you didn’t pick up the first letter or that last period when you made your selection.
  • Speaking of copy/pasting content . . . When copying from a word processing application, you may be copying formatting commands that your blog/email program can’t understand. Often it will try to present that information as text and you may well end up with some very strange characters sprinkled throughout your content.
  • It’s a good idea to proof twice – first within whatever editor you are using and second using your blog’s preview function to see what it will look like once it’s published. This will help insure that images are sized and positioned correctly and that none of those strange characters are trashing your story.

One thing I have learned – the hard way – is that I tend to quickly scan text when I read. I have taken to reading my content aloud when I’m proof-reading since it forces me to look at each word. The dogs are fascinated with my elegant prose while my husband just shakes his head and moves on.

For more good tips on proof-reading content for digital publishing, take a look at the Yahoo! Style Guide. You can visit the online edition or you can keep a print or Kindle copy nearby at all times.

Scrapping Keynote: A Living History

Not long after I got my iPad, I spent a whopping $27 for an electronic book titled Digging into WordPress, the blog software I use to run the Gazette. Why would I spend this much money on an ebook? Because the authors promised a free updated copy of the book each time WordPress released a major upgrade. Since I purchased it I’ve downloaded four updated versions. In a world where printed tech books often cost twice what I spent on this book and are out-of-date before I get them home, this is a refreshing alternative. And, because it’s distributed in PDF format, it’s full of great screenshots and links to outside resources. It has a table of contents that links to each section and everything in it is searchable so I can get to the information I want in seconds.

Today’s technology makes it easy for us to create our own books with tools we already have like word-processing software, photo-editing applications and scanners. There’s no law that says a family history has to be a ten-generation, fully-documented formal history. As geneabloggers are discovering to their delight, telling the little stories can be very satisfying. And, before you know it, that collection of little stories is well on its way to becoming a family history.

Chopsticks

My current genealogy focus is to tell the stories of the people who touched my life. These were special people to me and I want to document their vitality even more than their vital records. We all whine about missed opportunities – and yes, I’ve missed many. I want to do what I can to pass on anecdotes and memories that give personality to the photos.

How do I do this?

I’m working on a project that pulls in several articles I’ve posted over the years about growing up in St. Augustine. I’ve taken those stories and added photos – lots of photos – into a sort of magazine/scrapbook hybrid. I’m building it in Keynote, the presentation graphics app included in Apple’s iWork suite. Each little story is transformed into two or three slides and can be placed wherever they fit into the growing collection. The landscape format of the slides not only give me plenty of layout space, they display beautifully on tablet devices. Everyone in the family has some kind of tablet so this works well for all of us.

Click for larger view.

Click for larger view.

My living history book contains a table of contents which links directly to each individual story and all the text is searchable. I’m using Scribd as my publishing platform. After converting my book to PDF format, I uploaded it to my Scribd profile. Now I can send friends and family to the book page at Scribd where they can read it online and download their own PDF copy. I can even embed the book on my blog – much like embedding a YouTube video. When the book is updated with new content, I edit the book page at Scribd to add a new revision and upload the updated book. Scribd keeps track of all revisions and I can go back to look at previous ones at any time.  Now all I do is email the family to come see the latest version.

Here’s what the book looks like today. This living history will continue to grow as more stories about my home and family are researched and written.

NOTE: The links in the table of contents will only work in the downloaded PDF version.

iPad Presentations

I’ve found my iPad works great as a traveling presentation tool. Instead of dragging a laptop and all the paraphernalia that goes with it, I carry my iPad mini along with a VGA connector and an HDMI connector. My iPhone serves as the remote control.

Keynote is my presentation software of choice and I keep most of my presentations in my iCloud account so I can access them just about anywhere. Before leaving home, I make sure to open my presentation on both my iPad and iPhone from the iCloud version. This insures I have a copy of the presentation on the device and can still function even if there’s no Internet connection where I’m presenting.

Setup is quick and easy. I just hook the projector’s VGA cable to the VGA connector plugged into my iPad, open up my Keynote presentation and tap the Play icon.  Then I open Keynote on my iPhone and tap the remote icon. Once it makes the connection to the presentation on my iPad, a big Play button appears. I tap on that and I’m ready to begin. The slideshow below is a quick demo showing how it all works.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

NOTE: The Keynote Remote app is no longer needed as long as you have the most recent version of Keynote for iOS on both devices. 

Recently, I’ve been conducting genealogy workshops at our local Council on Aging using a flat-screen television as the display. These are usually conducted in a board room setting. The HDMI connector and an extra-long HDMI cable [3-meter Amazon Basics cable is only $7.50] make it easy for me to present slides and demonstrate live sites right from my iPad. Yes, I do need a Wi-Fi connection for the live demonstrations.

Although I can include transitions and effects in Keynote for iOS presentations, I personally find them a distraction. [I do love them, however, for creating greeting cards with Keynote.] The app only supports the limited selection of fonts available on the devices. Remember this when your building your presentation on your desktop. For a font fanatic like me, it’s a challenge.

One last tip . . . I make sure both the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth services are turned on for both devices before the presentation. That way, if there’s no Wi-Fi signal in the room, I can still use the iPhone remote via Bluetooth. I haven’t checked the distance limits for Bluetooth, but I have wandered 15 to 20 feet away from the iPad during my presentation and was still able to control the presentation.

My iPad has made presenting a whole lot easier – and lighter. Life is good!

Scrapshot: Behind the Alligator Farm

Behind the Alligator Farm Cover

Here’s a look at a continuing family history project – Behind the Alligator Farm. I’ve been writing posts for years telling stories about the neighborhood and town where I grew up and now I’m pulling them together into a book. The format is a modified scrapbook design – heavy on text but with with graphical elements to punch it up a bit. The scrapbook format works especially well for sections that are mostly photos and for those times when the “story” is little more than an extended caption.

Behind the Alligator Farm Sample Page

I’m working in Keynote [Mac and iOS], the presentation graphics component of Apple’s iWork suite. Keynote is a very flexible platform for doing layout work and while it does have its limits, it does just about everything I need. I’m also using Pixelmator [Mac - $30] for most of my photo-editing needs.

The scrapbook elements come from Paislee Press. I love her minimalist designs and her style and color schemes seem to come straight from the “mid-century” era where most of my stories originated. Her terms of use are very generous, giving me the flexibility to use the ebook format that I prefer. The page samples shown here come from her Dialogue, The Open Road and Storyteller kits.

As I said, this is an ebook. Why? Primarily because it will be a never-ending story and I can easily add newly-discovered photos or more stories as I please then email an announcement to come download the latest edition. By using Keynote, I can also include audio and video clips if I want. And, while that may not be easy to distribute to others today, the iCloud version of Keynote is getting updated regularly with new features.

Best of all, scrapbooking and family history are two of my favorite pastimes so building this book is a delightful adventure.

Protecting Your Digital World – Part 2

Part 1 discussed the steps needed to protect your system from hardware and environmental disasters. Now it’s time to discuss how to protect yourself – and your identity – from those who want to steal from you or do you harm. As researchers, we spend a lot of time online. And while the opportunities that online collaboration and social networks offer to help us connect with other family historians and discover more research cousins are delightful, they also attract others who aren’t so friendly. Here we’ll look at security precautions you must take to protect yourself and your data.

Password Management

One of the biggest security issues we face is managing passwords. Not only do we need to use complex passwords that are hard to “crack”, but we also need to use a different password for every site requiring a login. Why? Because if hackers should break into one platform – like your blog – and steal user information, they will then try and use that information to access accounts on other platforms. So, if your blog password is the same as the password for your online banking account, you could be in big trouble. So, how do you create dozens of unique and complex passwords – and still keep track of them all?

An effective password should be 8 or more characters long and contain a combination of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. Never include any personal information as part of your password. The easiest way to do this is to combine all of these combinations into a pass-phrase you can remember. Start off with something like the title of your favorite book, movie or song – say “Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season” (by Jimmy Buffett). Now select the initial characters from each word – TTRWHS – and see if something can’t be replaced with a number or special character. I’ll replace the “T” for the word “to” with a “2″ and make the “R” and “W” lowercase characters resulting in T2rwHS. Next, I need to add a number or two to the mix. I first saw Jimmy Buffett perform in 1972 so I’ll add 72 to my password – T2rwHS72. That’s a pretty good root password, but now I’m going to add a suffix that changes for each site I set up with a login. My suffix begins with a special character (I’m using a dash here) and then contain 3 or 4 lowercase characters describing the site. For example, for a Google password I might use T2rwHS72-goo and for Ancestry I might use T2rwHS72-anc.

If this is too much for you, I suggest investing in a password manager application. These apps can store complex and unique passwords to all your sites and you only need to remember one password – the one used to access the app. Your passwords are stored in an encrypted file making it almost impossible for bad guys to see your data.

The Firefox browser has a built-in password manager that is quite effective – especially if you assign a master password for access to the list. If you don’t, anyone can see your password list by clicking the “show passwords” button. If you’re only working on one desktop, this could be a very good option.

RoboForm works with Windows, Mac, iOS and Android systems to provide both password management and automatic forms fill-in functions across all your devices. Desktop versions cost $30 or you can choose the RoboForm Everywhere license to cover all your computers and devices for $9.95 a year.

1Password extension in the Safari browser.

1Password extension in the Safari browser.

1Password also supports Mac, Windows, iOS and Android systems. It provides password management, account management (library cards, credit cards, etc.), software license management and forms fill-in. The encrypted database can be automatically synched across all your systems and devices. Once installed on your desktop, it will install extensions in your web browsers so you can both save new login information and retrieve existing login with one click. At $50 for a desktop license, 1Password is not cheap, but it will quickly prove it’s worth every penny. And, there’s a 30-day guarantee to prove it.

Phishing and Smishing

Unfortunately, a lot of the information used to attack personal digital systems is provided to the criminal by the victim. Email is the most likely method used to collect personal information. This is called phishing (pronounced fishing). Now the bad guys are also using SMS/text messages to try and get your personal info. It’s called smishing.

Have you ever received an email message announcing that XYZ bank has been the victim of a digital break-in and you need to change your account’s password right away – using the link or phone number included in the email message? If you don’t have an account with XYZ, you’re likely to delete the message and forget about it. But what if XYZ is your bank? First of all – do NOT follow the link or call the number included in the message. Use the address you normally use to access your bank or, better yet, call your bank using the phone number you have on file.

Another trick is to lure you into following a link to a site offering free movies, free music or some other great deal. Chances are good that while you’re checking out all the non-existent free goodies, the bad guys are downloading malware to your computer. Sometimes your antivirus app will catch it but there’s a good chance it won’t.

Never follow links or download files attached to emails from people you don’t know. Even when you do know the sender, be very cautious. Often hackers break into one person’s email account and impersonate your friend to send their nasties to everyone in his address book. When you send an attachment to someone, put a full description of what the attachment is and why you’ve sent it as part of the message.

Be extremely cautious when you receive messages (email or text) from people you don’t know or businesses you’ve never patronized. Take the time to learn how the businesses and institutions you do use will contact you about account or transaction issues. If you receive something questionable from one of them, use the phone number or email address you have for that institution rather than any links or contact information in the suspicious message.

Social Media

Social networks are a great place to connect with family and friends, but they can also be very dangerous places. Even when your security settings limit who can see your status information, if one of your friends or family member has his/her password compromised, then your information is visible to the bad guys too. Here’s a list of things you should never post on Facebook or any other social network:

  • Your birthdate or your home address. This is very useful to identity thieves.
  • Never tag photos of your children with their full names. This could make them targets to pedophiles or stalkers and give them the information they need to convince the child they aren’t strangers.
  • Announcing a new member of the family? Do not post the child’s name and birthdate.
  • Do not announce changes in your personal status. Letting the world know you’re single -and possibly living alone – could make you a target.
  • Do not post updates or photos while you’re on vacation. It makes your house a target for criminals.

Protecting your digital world is just as important as protecting your physical world – and requires just as much effort. Putting these tools to work will help insure that your digital world remains a safe place.

The Hand-crafted Digital Journal

journaling01

I love journaling with Day One [Mac - $9.99, iOS - $4.99]. I have the app on my Mac, iPad and iPhone which gives me the ability to not only capture my thoughts but also capture special moments when they happen. The geek in me appreciates its use of markdown to help insure my ramblings will survive future technologies, but the doodler in me misses the hand-written page embellished with doodles and sketches.

Recently that all changed.

It was one of those gray, damp and blustery days that’s perfect for catching up on journaling. I was curled up on the couch with Miss Marple solving mysteries on tv while I tapped away on my iPad. I wanted to doodle but Day One isn’t the best platform for that. Another one of my favorite apps is – Paper by Fifty-three [iPad - free]. After a bit of scribbling I happened to notice that I could share pages from my sketchbook to my iPad’s Photo Library. Hmmm . . .

And Day One can import a photo from the iPad’s Photo Library . . .

So now I have the best of both worlds – a hand-crafted digital journal! Life is good.

One important note – although Paper is a free app, you’ll need to make several in-app purchases for tools before it can do much of anything useful. The essential tools – Sketch, Write, Draw, Outline and Color – will cost $6.99 and the new color Mixer is another $1.99.

Recently, the folks at Paper released a new kind of stylus, called Pencil, which makes doodling on my iPad even easier. It’s not cheap – prices start at $50 – but if you love doodling and sketching, it’s well worth the price. See for yourself.

Oh, and if you’re a MacJournal [iPad - on sale today for $2.99] fan, you can use the same tactic to put your Paper doodles into those journals too.

Online Editing 101

We all know that writing for the Web is different. People read web content differently than they do books and our writing must adjust accordingly. That doesn’t mean we leave the grammar and composition lessons behind. Far from it! Grammar and style are just as important as they ever were. There’s just a lot more competition for your reader’s eye when viewing a blog page and you need to organize your writing to help keep them focused on what you have to say.

Studies have shown that most readers’ eyes follow a triangular pattern across and down a web page beginning at the top left of the screen. These eye-tracking studies tell us we have to grab our reader’s interest at the beginning of our post in order to keep them reading. Most online readers scan first, looking for relevant words, phrases and images. Do you get to the point of your article right away? Do you use headings to identify topics within your article? These items will help your readers determine if your article is something they want to read.

Another thing that makes online writing different is that you aren’t just writing for human readers. You also have machines reading your copy. Huh? Search engines have been programmed to look for keywords and topics to help categorize your article so it can be found when a potential reader types the appropriate search term into his search box. How does a search engine do this? Your post titles, categories and tags all help, but your use of HTML within your article not only formats your words to look good but tells the search engines that these words or phrases are important.

Styles selector in the WordPress editor.

Styles selector in the WordPress editor.

Using styles to define the formatting of your content is a quick and easy way to maintain consistency within an article. Here you see the styles selector in the WordPress editor toolbar. These style tags also identify headings and sub-headings to the search engines as important content. The HTML specification supports six levels of headings. While we have often just used these levels to identify six different kinds of formatting, it’s important to remember that the machines and programs distributing and searching our content see them as levels of importance. Use your heading styles to present the organizational hierarchy of the content first and as formatting styles second.

In addition to headings, search engines will look for lists – bulleted and numbered – for important content. Lists are also useful for catching that scanning human eye because it gets your points out front where they can been seen.

One other thing that will make your readers’ experience better is consistency. Are you using consistent formats for presenting dates, phone numbers and units of measure? How about capitalization and abbreviations? Your machine readers will see St. Augustine and Saint Augustine as two different places and may not connect that it is an important term because it has been repeated. Consistency tells your human readers that you are a writer who is serious about every detail – someone worth reading.

If you’d like to learn more about editing web content, visit the Editing 101 section of the online Yahoo! Style Guide. Better yet, grab your own copy of The Book. It’s available in both paper and ebook editions.

Evernote for Conferences

Conferences are a great way to keep up with what is happening in the genealogy world AND see what’s new in products, books and services AND connect with other researchers AND get totally overwhelmed from the information overload.

Fortunately, there are several ways our old friend Evernote can help insure you get the most out of your conference experience. Here are some ideas:

  • Set up a notebook for the conference and include your schedules, travel itinerary, confirmation numbers and other useful information. Premium users can create offline notebooks (for iOS and Android) so this information is available even when you aren’t connected to the Internet.
  • Include maps showing where the various venues and other sites you plan to visit are located.
  • Install Evernote Hello on your phone and use it to quickly capture contact information from the people you meet at the conference makes it easy to remember them later.
  • Don’t have time (or free hands) to type? Add audio notes instead.
  • You can email notes to Evernote, forward tweets to Evernote and even text notes to Evernote. Each of these requires some setup and you should experiment on their usage before crunch time, but they are great way to capture moments throughout the event.

There’s no way you can attend every possible presentation or workshop, but by taking advantage of Evernote’s shared notebook feature you can  pool your notes with others. Savvy speakers and exhibitors can also take advantage of shared notebooks to provide attendees with additional notes and resources. These notebooks can even help provide a richer experience for virtual attendees. Groups like local genealogical societies or Genea-Bloggers (hint, hint) can build a shared notebook as a scrapbook of the conference for both the members who attended and those who could not.

If you’re planning to attend any of the upcoming genealogy conferences, now’s the time to get comfortable with these features so they will be second nature by the time you get there. It only takes one trip to convince you that Evernote is an amazing travel companion.