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How to get ahead in filing

3 Dec

I made a big dent in my filing today, my stuff to sort folder is looking a lot thinner tonight. I have to confess though, I cheated.

I took advantage of the scanner at work, and whizzed through forty or fifty A4 pages of notes and various other prints. The beauty of this scanner (actually it is a photocopier, scanner, fax and printer) is that it is quick, has a document feeder and best of all converts the images into a PDF file. The drawback is that it is not a very high resolution and only scans in black and white, but it is good enough for handwriting or print.

So now I have a stuff to sort folder on my PC as well, but it will be much easier to work through on the PC, and takes up less space than the paper folder.

I think I am going to make an effort to get the physical folder emptied by the end of the week. There is not a lot left, and I need to get it out of the way so that I have space to put my new PC on the desk, plus I am sure you are sick to death of hearing about my stuff to sort folder.

In search of a new scanner

2 Dec

I am after a new scanner, mainly for family history purposes of course.

At the moment I have a Hewlett Packard printer/scanner/copier which serves most of my needs. It is a little on the slow side, and the software is not as user-friendly as I would like, but I can live with it.

The thing it doesn’t do is scan slides and negatives. My parent’s attic is full of slides, and I would dearly love to have digital copies of them. I don’t know what the life span of a slide is, but it is a safe bet they won’t last for ever and a digital copy would a better chance of survival.

Ideally my new scanner will be portable, or at least more portable than my current set-up. I envisage visiting relations (not just my parents) armed with my netbook and a scanner and just plugging them in and being able to scan anything that gets thrown at me, from A4 pages to slides and negatives.

In terms of price, I appreciate that you get what you pay for, but I have a limited budget, I spend enough on my family history already! Current favourite is the Canon CanoScan 5600F, the price looks about right for my budget, but it looks a bit too bulky.

So I am asking you for your recommendations. What sort of scanner do you have? Is there anything on the market that is going to meet all my needs without me having to spending a fortune? Is there any advantage in getting two separate scanners, one flatbed A4 and one slide and film scanner? What do you use for your scanning? Let me know in the comments.

Introducing the GenTower

21 Nov

This is my new PC (codename: GenTower) and it has one purpose in life, to be my genealogy PC. As you can see it is not really new, that is rather given away by the presence of a 3½” floppy drive on the front.

Introducing the GenTower

Interestingly I have never bought a new PC in my entire life, only a new netbook. All my other PCs have either been second-hand or upgraded from existing PCs. I just can’t bear to throw away a PC that is still working, without at least pulling parts out of it for re-use.

The truth is that most of what I will use it for is not going to be that demanding, it doesn’t need an expensive graphics card or a water-cooled processor for viewing census images. What I do need is more memory and a newer operating system than my current PC provides.

It already has more memory than my current PC, but importantly it has the capacity for more, so I will probably add the maximum I can over the next few months, dependant on the price of course.

The hard drive is a reasonable 80GB, which doesn’t sound a lot these days, but knowing that my family history files all still fit on a 4GB memory stick makes me think that 80GB will probably be sufficient for the time being, unless I happen to come across a large hoard of family photos that need scanning.

It has a DVD player, but I will probably swap that with the DVD writer from my current PC. I can’t actually see much use for the 3½” floppy drive, although I do still have some old DOS games on 3½” disks, but I expect they are probably unreadable now anyway.

For some strange reason I am overcome by the desire to have a 5¼” floppy drive in the machine as well. I don’t really know why, I can’t imagine that I would ever use, but I think it would be really cool just to have it sitting there alongside the DVD writer.

The operating system on the GenTower is Windows XP Pro, which is a step up from the Windows 2000 that I have on my current PC. I know I am still a couple of operating systems behind, but XP should be good enough to keep me going for another couple of years at least, and at least now I will have a PC that will be capable of handling a newer operating system.

Most of the software I need will be removed from my old PC and re-installed on the new one. Having Windows XP will give me a greater choice of software to use, because so much new software doesn’t support Windows 2000 and several online services don’t support Windows 2000 either, like Dropbox.

Before I can start using it there is much to be done, in it’s previous life the GenTower was a business machine and today, after having a good look around it’s hard drive, I decided that best option was to do a complete restore, back to it’s original factory settings.

That has cleared out a lot of rubbish, but it has also cluttered it up with a few bits of unwanted and out-dated software (like Norton Anti-Virus 2004), so my next task is to remove all that, get some fresh virus and firewall protection on it and then plug it in to the internet.

Then I will point it to the Microsoft Update website and let it spend several hours updating everything in sight. Only then will it be ready for me to plug in all my other devices and start cluttering up the hard drive with my family history.

Could Texter make your data entry quicker and easier?

29 Oct

Last night as I entered the phrase “agricultural labourer” for the umpteenth time I decided I need to find a short-cut to save having to keep entering it over and over. The majority of my relations were agricultural labourers, and I don’t like using the phrase “ag lab” preferring to spell it out in full.

I turned to a little application, that I had played with briefly before, called Texter. There is nothing new or revolutionary about this program, but it is quite powerful, and I have only used it at its most basic level.

What it does is watch what you type for “hotstrings”, which are certain combinations of letters, and when you type the correct combination, it converts them into something else. A bit like using find and replace, but it happens as you go along.

In my case I set it up so that when I type the word “aglab” it replaces it with the phrase “agricultural labourer”. It is pretty simple to install and set-up. All it takes is a little bit of thought in selecting the hotstrings and a few minutes to set it up. I set up two hotstrings, “aglab” and “Aglab”, for the second one the word agricultural is capitalised.

The great thing is that it appears to work in almost any Windows program, such as Family Historian, my family history software. The best thing of all is that it is free, so if it doesn’t work you haven’t lost anything.

I have previously used it to speed up the entry of several family surnames, but there is probably no limit to what you could set it up to do, such as surnames, place names, addresses, occupations, in fact anything that you find yourself have to type repeatedly.

There are a couple of videos on the Lifehacker page, showing the basic use of Texter, plus some of the more advanced techniques.

I think this is going to save me a serious amount of typing in the future, I don’t know why I didn’t start using it sooner. Make sure you have a look and see if it could make your life easier, whether it is for family history, blogging or elsewhere.

Is Twitter just the modern version of the picture postcard?

12 Oct

The latest edition (October 2009) of Picture Postcard Monthly includes a reference to a piece in the Daily Telegraph about a study which suggests that Tweeting is just the modern equivalent of sending a picture postcard.

The study by Julia Gillen of Lancaster University and Nigel Hall of Manchester Metropolitan University highlighted some of the similarities between the postcard and tweets, such as the limited amount of space, the use of abbreviations and text speak, the speed at which the messages are delivered and the sheer volume of messages sent (calculated at around 6 billion postcards sent between 1901 and 1910).

More details can be found on the Manchester Metropolitan University website, including details of how to read some of the postcard messages that are being sent again, but this time on Twitter.

Interestingly as I was checking out the story on the Telegraph.co.uk website I noticed another story, which shows that postcards aren’t always the quickest way of sending messages. This particular postcard took forty years to reach its destination, unfortunately the intended recipients had since moved on (if not passed on).

I seldom send postcards these days (but I do collect modern ones as well as old ones) but then I have never tweeted yet either. I wonder if Twitter will still be around 100 years on, if not what will have taken its place as an instant messaging system?

The attics of future generations

29 Aug

I was idly browsing the BBC News website yesterday and happened upon an article about social networking entitled Status update: Who cares? I have to say that the title pretty much sums up my attitude towards much social networking.

The final part of the article concerns what we are leaving behind for future historians (and genealogists). It raises the issues of whether digital data will survive as long as paper, and whether we are leaving behind an edited version of our lives for future researchers. However, it wasn’t the article itself which I wanted to share with you, but one of the comments.

The comment in question is from someone calling themselves Binx from London, and I think it is a wonderful analogy for the digital generation:

All sorts of material (flattering and unflattering) leave traces on various disks, hard drives, web sites, etc. These are the attics future generations will find our unguarded moments in. I am sure what’s worth remembering will be remembered and the rest will be dear only to a close circle of friends.

All that is missing are the words “and genealogists” at the end.

Why I love my netbook

20 Aug

My new netbook is proving it’s worth already. It’s an Asus Eee PC 1005HA and I love it. It has taken a while to get everything set up the way I want it, and remove the stuff I don’t want, but I think I am there now.

Apart from being able to blog (almost) anywhere and any when, it has enabled me to work on my family history in all sorts of places, but most notably before work in the morning when I have nothing better to do. The best thing however has been the ability to carry my research with me and take it to my parents and show them my latest discoveries.

Take tonight for example. I was able to show my mother the photo I took on Wednesday of the house where her mother was born in High Hurstwood (I don’t think she has ever seen the house before), along with all the other photos I took. Now I know there are many ways I could have done this, but this was just so convenient and cheap. I was then able to tell her the story of her great uncle Ambrose DRIVER and the events surrounding his death in the First World War, and show her the photo of his gravestone in France.

At last my family history research is starting to emerge from my database. I can show people charts, documents and photos which bring the story of our ancestors to life, at the touch of a few buttons. I still need to be there to explain how it all fits together, but it is a great way to make the stories more real.

I can already see a shift in my way of thinking, partly to do with trying to cut down on the amount of paper I use (which reminds me, I need to see if my local library will let me use my digital camera instead of the photocopier), but mostly because I am thinking about how I am going to share this information with other people, having it on the netbook in digital format makes it so much easier.

So my netbook is already proving it’s worth, and that is before I actually take it to an archive and have all the information I need at my fingertips. Gone will be the panic of the night before when I try and work out which reports I need to print out and which documents I should be taking with me.

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