Tag Archives: archives

Protecting Your Digital World – Part 1

Whether you like it or not, a good part of your world is now digital and online. Even if you are still rooted in the paper world, most of the businesses and people associated with you have gone digital and your stuff is out there already. Most of us are taking advantage of the many digital tools and services today’s technology offers and getting huge benefits as a result. But, while we are enjoying the benefits, how many of us have plans in place to deal with disaster?

Yes, the digital apps, services and platforms you use have many security processes in place to protect the data they collect and store, but there are limits to how much security they can provide. Their biggest issue is often their customers. A bank can’t keep you from sharing your PIN with others and, if you use the same password for every online login account you have, someone hacking into your blog account now has access to your bank and every other online institution you use.

There’s more to protecting you digital world than just passwords. You need to protect your data from disasters (man-made and environmental) as well as criminals. Often, you also need to protect your data from yourself (we’ve all had those Delete . . . OH SHIT! moments). This article introduces the things you need to do to protect your digital world.

System Maintenance

The first thing you need to do is maintain your systems. Both your operating system and the apps you’ve installed on your computer are constantly being updated. These updates fix problems (called bugs) affecting the app’s performance and vulnerabilities that bad guys can use to hack into your computer. Be aware, too, that most software developers place limits on how long older operating systems and applications will be supported with updates. If your system is still running unsupported software, you are more vulnerable to attacks and other disasters.

Windows users will find the Windows Update applet in the Control Panel. This notifies you when there are updates to Windows and its associated apps (Internet Explorer, for example) but not your installed applications. Each of them has their own update system. The Windows Update app can be set to automatically check on a schedule you set and even go ahead and install any updates it finds.

The Mac App Store found on more recent Apple computers will automatically notify you of any updates to the operating system and any apps you’ve purchased through the store. Performing those updates takes just a tap on the Update button. Apps installed outside of the App Store will need to be checked and updated manually.

Don’t forget your portable devices either. Check your Android, iOS and Windows devices regularly and perform any required updates. Most devices require access to an app store to purchase software so updates will mostly be handled through your device’s store.

Antivirus Software

Have you installed antivirus software on your computer? Good! When did you last update your virus definitions? Definitions? What are definitions?

New malware is constantly being developed, but if your antivirus program doesn’t know the latest bad stuff exists, it can’t protect your system from it. In addition to keeping your software up-to-date, you need to be sure the virus definitions are updated regularly. Often, your antivirus app has settings to automatically check and install these updates, but it’s a good idea to regularly check to insure that’s happening. And, should you hear of some new virus spreading wildly, it won’t hurt to do a manual definition update to make sure your system is protected.

What does your antivirus application check? You have the ability to set when and where you want it to check for malware. I have mine set to check every email message I receive, every file downloaded to my computer and any file coming from an attached source (CD, memory card, external drive) when that source is connected to my system. In addition, I have it check my entire system weekly. I have that set that to happen overnight and leave my computer running so it doesn’t interfere with my work schedule. When you make changes to your system – like adding an external hard drive – check your settings on your antivirus software to make sure it’s being checked too.

Backups

One of the BIG advantage of a digital archive is that it is easy to duplicate. A family portrait is a one-of-a-kind treasure, but a high-quality digital photograph can be quickly and easily copied to any number of places. And, digital storage is a lot cheaper than physical storage. Don’t make just one copy of your digital archives – make multiple copies! Have a copy easily accessible on your computer, a backup on an external hard drive AND off-site backup. When editing a digital file – especially photos, graphics and video – make a copy of the original and work on the copy. These steps will protect you from human error, system crashes and environmental disasters such as fire, tornadoes or hurricanes.

There are apps already on your system that will perform simple backups – manual and automated. You may want a more sophisticated app – or even an online service that handles backups for you. Then, there are online platforms – like photo-sharing sites – that aren’t designed as backups but sure serve that purpose very well. The system you choose will depend on your data, workflow and your budget.

Next . . . managing passwords and social media smarts.

Building A Society Archive

For some time now I’ve been looking for a way to make my genealogical society’s quarterly article index available online. We celebrate our 50th anniversary next year so you can imagine that there’s much to index. One of our members spent weeks compiling it as a spreadsheet. It’s an impressive piece of work, and an easy format to export to almost any database. The problem was finding an online database app that could give us a searchable, sortable index on our site.

Finally, I stumbled upon an amazing WordPress plugin called TablePress. It makes building beautiful data tables as simple as uploading an Excel spreadsheet. When the first row of the spreadsheet contains the column headers, TablePress uses that to define the columns in your data table. The Import function lets you choose to create a new data table, replace an existing one or append to an existing one. That last option means our article index can be easily updated after each issue is released.

Sample data table

Public view of a data table in WordPress

Once a data table has been built, all it takes is a simple shortcode to place it on a page. As you can see in the example above, you can have text on the page with the data. I was delighted to see how beautifully styled my table was when it was first displayed. And, there is a facility built into the plugin to edit the CSS if I wish.

Simple data edits can be done online in WordPress’s Dashboard, however the size of our index data table makes that a tediously slow process. On the front end, that same data table displays quickly and both searches and sorts – visitors can resort the table by clicking the up/down icons in the table headings – are almost instantaneous.

Since the article index isn’t the only data table I plan to include, I’ve installed a separate WordPress site just for the archives. I don’t want the archives impacting the society’s site performance or vice versa so this just makes sense. By using the same theme and duplicating the site menu on both sites, most visitors won’t even notice.

TablePress workarea

TablePress workarea

Once installed, you’ll find a new TablePress section added to your WordPress dashboard. Here you can create and manage your data tables. Once a table has been created, you’ll find each record displayed in the Table Content section. In the example above there’s only one record – the column headings. This is also where you can edit those records, but as I said earlier, that is a rather clunky process.

TablePress import screen

TablePress import screen

Here you can see how easy it is to add a table using the import function. For my quarterly index, I had almost 3500 records so I chose to import them in blocks of 400 records so each new block was appended to the existing table. This is also how I will add new records as each quarterly is released. Since most of our society’s staff and volunteers are comfortable using spreadsheets, this means they can continue working with familiar tools to maintain this and any additional data tables we should add. It will require a review of the spreadsheet’s structure to insure it’s “presentable” as an online data table and that it has appropriate columns for things like tags [I love tags!] or links to outside sources.

Right off I can see our society using TablePress for cemetery inventories. Since a TablePress data table is placed on a normal WordPress page, we could have a page for each cemetery. That page could begin with a history of the cemetery and then place the inventory data table below the intro. Records could even include links to outside content – like a Find-A-Grave page if one exists. That’s only the beginning . . .

There’s still much to learn about this very impressive plugin. Looks like I have found a fascinating project to keep me busy – and away from the shopping madness of Thanksgiving weekend. Yum!

The Personal Archive – a Valuable Asset

As Denise Levenick has so beautifully illustrated in her book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes, a good part of our family “stuff” is an historical record of our lives and those of our ancestors. Those of us who have taken on the challenge of preserving our family archives have worked hard to protect our treasures and to digitize them so they can be shared with others. Add to that the research, blog posts and family stories we have generated and our archives have even more value.

Thanks to our efforts, there is now a significant amount of personal historical artifacts in digital formats. Yes, there are a number of platforms that would like to “help” us organize and present this content in a manner that will also help them generate some revenue, but I’m surprised that universities and other archives have shown little interest. While local historical and genealogical societies would seem to be the logical starting point for building collections of personal archives, many have little knowledge or experience in the digital world and may not even be aware of the potential value their members’ collections offer. Even if they don’t have the expertise or budget to create and maintain a digital archive, they could negotiate a joint effort with a nearby university that could provide benefits to everyone.

I think it’s time to start lobbying our societies and local educational institutions to support our efforts to preserve our personal archives. Not only would it give family history more exposure but it could also become a real solution to what happens to our family archives after we are gone.

Paperless

I stumbled onto the most amazing book this weekend – Paperless by David Sparks. This book shows you how to go paperless using Mac tools. (David also writes for MacWorld magazine.) Although it is designed to get your personal papers under control, it’s full of great ideas for family archivists too. It shows you how to capture, process and manage your digital documents and discusses the tools needed to make it all happen.

Almost as interesting as the book’s content is the book’s construction. The book was built using iBooks Author. There are two versions – the iPad version [$9.99] and a PDF version [$10.00]. Both “books” include more than an hour and a half of video and screencast demonstrations of the processes discussed in the book. With the iBooks version, those videos are viewed right in the book. On the PDF version, when you click on the screencast’s title image, the video pops up in your QuickTime player.

If you are a Mac user and want to learn how to better capture, digitize and manage your family history archive – not to mention your personal papers, this book tells you and shows you how to do it.

An Introduction to Markdown

Markdown is a standard for creating a plain text document that includes formatting identifiers. These “identifiers” are normal characters used to identify formatting options like italicization, hyperlinks or headings. This standard allows us to create very readable plain text documents while making it easy for that document to be converted into other formats like HTML or PDF. Why is this important? Since the early days of the digital age, plain text has been the one thing that has not changed. Word processing apps have come and gone. Do you have any early WordStar, WordPerfect or MS Word documents on your computer? Are they readable? If those documents had been saved as plain text, they would be.

Unfortunately, plain text is exactly that – plain. There are no font choices or even bolding available. That’s where markdown comes in. It uses plain text characters like asterisks and hash marks to identify formatting options. Here are some examples:

Hello *world*. In this example, the asterisks tell a markdown conversion app to italicize everything between them.

Hello **world**. Two asterisks will convert to bolded text.

#Introduction. The single hash mark at the beginning of a line will identify that line as a level-1 heading. A level-2 heading would begin with two hash marks and so on.

Even without conversion, plain text that includes markdown coding is still quite readable. It’s much easier to read than the same text with equivalent HTML tags. It’s the simplicity and readability of markdown that make it so interesting. Forty years from now, even if markdown gets forgotten over the decades, someone can open and read the plain text document that includes markdown code much easier than we can read this WordPerfect document that’s less than 20 years old.

Does this mean you need to dump your word processing app and go back to plain text? Not at all! Now that you’re aware of what markdown is, take a look at the apps you have to see if they provide markdown support. Right now you’ll find it in more Mac/iOS apps than Windows, but hopefully that will change soon. Apps like Day One – the journaling app for Mac and iOS – save journaling as plain text files using markdown for formatting. This means my Day One archives won’t have the readability issues found in that WordPerfect file – making it even more useful as a journaling platform. Other apps, like a growing number of note-taking apps for iOS, offer export to markdown options. This gives you the ability to create a notes archive that’s truly archival.

Is markdown the end-all/cure-all for archiving documents? No, but it’s sure a good start. If you’d like to learn more, DesignShack has created an impressive resource guide that includes markdown information, cheat sheets and supporting apps.