Oppose SOPA / PIPA

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

I usually do not take political stands here on GenealogyMedia.com, but two proposed laws could have a chilling effect on the openness that has allowed the Internet to flourish. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA, PDF) in the US House and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA, PDF) have the stated goals of protecting property rights and stoping piracy of intellectual property. Most people do not disagree with those goals.

Reddit, BoingBoing, Mozilla, WordPress, TwitPic, MoveOn.org and the ICanHasCheezBurger network, as well as Geneabloggers, have gone offline in protest against SOPA/PIPA. Google has blacked out their logo.

Please look into these laws, and contact your Congressperson and your Senators. We have plenty of laws to control piracy, and do not need more. We especially do not need laws designed to limit the security of the Domain Name Service by forcing Internet service providers and content providers to remove links to or not direct traffic to sites accused of having allowed or participated in piracy. This law simply goes too far, and threatens the free dissemination of ideas that has made the Internet thrive. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, GoogleReader, Reddit, WordPress, and Tumblr are among some of the obvious examples of innovative websites that would not have been able to stay in business if constantly harassed by the kinds of laws that SOPA and PIPA represent.

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Review: Evernote Clearly

New York Times Article: "War of 1812 Bicentennial Disorganized in New York State"

Today, in addition to enjoying Thanksgiving, I have been taking the time to look at Evernote Clearly, a browser plug-in for the Google Chrome browser that competes with ReadabilityInstapaper, ReadItLater, and the Safari Reading List.

As an example, I took a current article from the New York Times, “War of 1812 Bicentennial Disorganized in New York State,” clicked the Evernote clearly icon, and saw it transformed from the cluttered experience with advertisements above and to the right of the content, into a clean, crisp view of the content I was interested in. The display of Clearly is stunning, in fact. Within the same tab that was active when you made the request, the Clearly interface slides over the content. As a reader, you can choose from a sepia toned “Newsprint” view of the text (shown below), a modern black-and-white presentation (called “Notable”), or a “Nightowl” version that is white text on a black background and would display well in the dark. These presentations are similar to what is available in the other offerings in the simplified reading interface space.

Evernote Clearly "Newsprint" Display of "War of 1812 Bicentennial Disorganized in New York State"

But the real attraction, for users of Evernote, is the little Evernote icon, on the right side of the Clearly interface. Click this elephant icon, and the content is sent to Evernote for longer term storage, search, and availability.

As a long time user of Evernote, one of my pet peeves has been the difficulty of getting a readable clipping of a subset of a complex page, such as what the Times presents. Historically, you had to either clip the whole page, and live with the clutter (and the searchable text such as the “First Federal” add above showing up in your search results for Federal records), or to manually try to select the correct subset of content. This was a dodgy proposition, with results that vary every time, and sometimes one has to try a couple of times, or manually edit the Evernote clipping to get it to read well.

One no longer has to do any off that when using Evernote Clearly. A single clip on the Evernote elephant icon on the right hand ribbon, and a clean version of the content is sent to your Evernote content set in the cloud. Syncing your desktop or mobile Evernote client software, brings the content down. The finished product looks like the image below. In typical fashion, Evernote has automatically created a title from the page title, and added timestamps for creation and update. Additionally, it has added the original URL as a clickable field, put it into the catch all folder (in my case, “Evernote”) and done a reasonable job of content presentation. So far so good.

But what else would an Evernote user (who is still using ReadItLater and starting to experiment with Readability) need to ditch the other products, and do all of this in Evernote with Evernote Clearly.

  • Presentation. The competition for this service really own the “reading list” presentation. Evernote touts itself as a “shoebox for the mind” or a “shoebox for the Internet”, and it can feel as cluttered as a shoebox full of clippings. Obviously, the multi-faceted search and organization capabilities mean you can find things. But, if I’m on a cell phone or a tablet, I might want to just see the articles I saved to read later. A simple tag or folder could gather this, and the mobile apps could surface up a button to navigate right to this content.
  • Organization. It would be nice to have an ability to configure a specific foldering or tagging scheme for content coming in from Evernote Clearly. This is separate from the presentation issue above, and is more of an issue for long-term cataloguing and organization of clipped stories.
  • Cross-browser support. Some of us use several browsers. I regularly use Chrome, Safari, and Firefox, and sometimes use Internet Explorer, Flock, and Opera. I need to be able to do this from any browser. Hopefully, the technology involved was standards-based, and will be portable to other browsers as they become more compliant.
If I get some of those features, even the gorgeous Readability product will have a hard time completing with the simplicity of using a single product.
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Reading Apps: Readability. Instapaper. ReadItLater. Evernote.

ReadabilityReadability is a handy tool that takes an article or web post, cleans it up, as the name implies to improve its readability, and displays it for you in your browser. They also gather up articles posted this way for you to read later, or to send to your Kindle. Aside from one-by-one viewing of a cleaned up article, the service has required a $5 monthly fee. In the process, Readability shares revenue with the content-providing publisher.

There are similar services, notably Instapaper and ReadItLater. Back in May, I wrote a blog entry comparing these two. I have still be passing back and forth between these two, liking Instapaper’s integration with Readability, and liking ReadItLater for the cleanliness and usability of its website.

Both Instapaper and ReadItLater have mobile apps. Both were integrated with the incredibly popular iPad app Flipboard. One differentiator for Instapaper was a close integration with Readability.

On November 16th, Readability announced a free option, as well as the impending release of apps for the iOS platforms (iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch). Here is a summary of the new Readability freemium pricing model, with $5 a month getting the premium plan:


Free users are limited to 30 Reading List articles and 30 Favorite articles; Premium users have no limits, and also can Archive articles, receive an automated daily digest to their Kindle (over wi-fi, and thus without additional costs from Amazon), and up to 70% of their monthly fee goes to authors and publishers.

The announcement led to a fairly public discussion between Instapaper founder Marco Arment (The relationship between Readability and Instapaper) and Readability founding partner Richard Ziade (Readability & Instapaper).

The space has gotten quite crowded, in fact, since Apple added a similar “Reading List” feature to its Safari browser. And the day after Readability announced its new pricing model and forthcoming iOS apps, Evernote launched a similar service, Clearly, as a Google Chrome app.

For me, ReadItLater has been the main application I have used for this purpose, because of the crisp, clean, and I would even say, beautiful design of their web site and apps. While I use Evernote almost obsessively, its tendency to grab everything, or inexplicable web page elements, has made it a frustrating experience.

Using ReadItLater, I have missed the Readability integration. Even with ReadItLater, I felt that Readability had a better interface.

With Readability going to the freemium model, I expect to use that more, and move away from Instapaper entirely. I will then be comparing ReadItLater with Readability once the Readability iOS apps are released, and with Evernote Clearly in Google Chrome. Those promise to have a high design aspect, with high-quality fonts. And of course, while I steered clear of Readability when it only had a paid model, freemium (as Evernote can attest) has a quality of drawing people in to get them hooked.

My summary of the scoreboard at this point is:

  • ReadItLater – First to market, in 2007, with a great user interface design sense.Still a major player.
  • Instapaper – Second to market, in 2008. Clean, but not stylish. A little nerdy as far as the design goes. Possibly suffering from a mortal blow from the one-two punch from Readability and Evernote this week.
  • Readability – Has the most beautiful design of the bunch. Set itself apart as with the combination of gorgeous design and a paid model, providing a compensation model for authors and publishers to offset what might be lost advertising revenue.
  • Evernote – Promises much needed cleaner imports of articles into its widely popular “memory” service.
  • Apple Safari – Handy, if you happen to be in Safari on the OS X Lion or iOS 5, but I don’t think anything but diehards Apple fanboys will use this as much as any of the others on the list get used.

[Updated on 13 December 2011 to correct some inaccuracies.]

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Box.net 50GB Gift to iOS Users

Box (on the web at Box.net) is a service I recommend for file sharing.

In fact, we are using it for two genealogical societies where I am on the board of directors. File sharing on Box.net is simple, simpler even than using Google Groups and other methods we have tried.

Box.net allows for uploads of large files and has an intuitive interface. You can access your content in Box.net on their website, as well as through dedicated apps for iPhone, iPad, Android phone, Android tablets, BlackBerry phones, and BlackBerry tablets. Additionally, you can save files into Box.net from a variety of mobile apps, including GoodReader, JotNot, QuickOffice, DocsToGo, and Pixelpipe.

But the big story about Box.net this week is the announcement on their blog that users who access their Box.net accounts from the new iOS (iPhone, iPad) app, will receive 50 GB of storage for life. This is normally priced at $19.99 a year.

So, why is Box doing this, and how can they afford it?

They are doing it because they see the incredible potential of mobile devices, such as the iPhone and the iPad. While they have consumer offerings, Box.net is mainly focused on selling cloud-based content management to enterprise customers. They want to expand “mind-share” or name recognition as iCloud and iOS 5 have an impact on the market and drive large companies (whether their IT departments want it to happen or not), into a cloud environment.

Soon, Apple will be enabling iCloud, with 5 GB of free storage (media purchased from Apple will not be counted against that user’s quota). While Box.net is primarily about file sharing, not file sync-ing, this makes their existing 5 GB offering less of a deal. But 50 GB for life: Now that’s a big deal! Storage is becoming cheaper all the time, and the corporate accounts, with TB (terabytes) and EB (exabytes) of storage are where Box will make its money.

So what are you waiting for? To get the 50 GB, download the free iOS app (or have a friend do it) and either log into or create an account.

Read more about it on the blog entry “Why Box is Giving iOS Users Massive Amounts of Free Cloud Storage” by Aaron Levie (Co-founder and CEO of Box).

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Free Access Week at Ancestry.com

Ancestry Free Access Week

Ancestry.com announced Free Access to immigration and travel records from around the world through September 5th.

This is a very large collection of materials. If you are not an Ancestry subscriber, this would be a perfect time to drop in to take a look and do some serious research in their travel and immigration records.

Another note, Ancestry has announced that the 1940 census will be available for free, once they post it after April 1, 2012. I’m looking forward to it. (But to be clear, the 1940 census will also be available on the National Archives website for free. It will be up to Ancestry to demonstrate compelling value in terms of usability and searchability to make the 1940 census a differentiator for Ancestry.)

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Zendone, Evernote, and GTD

ZendoneI have written several times about Evernote, which has become my all-around storage solution for notes, web clippings, and documents. This is true both both in pursuit of genealogical finds, and for personal and business endeavors.

One of the biggest gaps I have seen in the Evernote product is its lack of a serious suite of GTD (Getting Things Done) functionality (Wikipedia: Getting Things Done).

GTD is a whole subculture. Some even say, albeit jokingly, a whole cult, built around the ideas of David Allen, the author of, you guessed it, Getting Things Done (Amazon | Barnes and Noble). If you distill his ideas down to the simplest level, David Allen’s point is that our minds cannot possibly hold everything we need to remember to do; our attempt to remember everything we should do causes stress, which lowers performance and the diminishes our ability to get things done. He recommends that we find a trusted system for gathering ideas, tasks, thought ticklers, and potential next steps. Periodically, we must process those items, taking action on the quickly done items, and sorting the others based on context (@phone, @computer, @work) and priority. Once we know we are gathering items and tasks in this way, we can use our minds to actually consider things, instead of simply try to remember what it was we intended to think about.

In Evernote itself, there’s not a good way to manage to do lists, deadlines, and an overall GTD workflow. Several integrations have sprung up that attempt to address this gap, including ones with Nozbe, Reqall, and Dial2Do. Of these, I am most familiar with the Reqall integration. While this helps you get data from Evernote into Reqall, it is a little limiting, and does not add up to an integrated workflow.

Zendone, new application, not quite released for Beta, but demonstrated on Vimeo and with a detailed picture of the user interface on their website, looks like it may address the GTD workflow gap in Evernote. Zendone allows you to pull items from the default folder in your Evernote account and process them, either taking the action you intend to take (do), or organizing them into tasks to be done later (review & organize). As you do this, Zendone automatically moves your notes from the default notebook. You can also add items in Zendone and have them show up in Evernote. Anything you schedule is pushed to your Google Calendar. Alternately, you can add things to your Google Calendar and they will show up in Zendone.

Zendone is a finalist in the Evernote Developer Competition, where nearly 1,000 developers competed for $5,000 for six finalists and a $50,000 for the grand prize. The winner will be announced at the first Evernote Trunk Conference in San Francisco on August 18th. I wish I could be there!

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Mac OS X Lion: A First Look

OS X Lion in the Mac App Store
OS X Lion in the Mac App Store

Today, Apple released Mac OS X Lion ($29.99 store | webpage). The operating system is the seventh update in the OS X series (version 10.7), and it packs some of the most groundbreaking changes into it.

For the first time in history, a widely distributed consumer, prosumer, and enterprise operating system is not available on portable media. The only official way to get Lion is to download it from the Mac App Store, or buy a new Macintosh with the OS pre-installed. The OS installer is quite large at 3.49 GB, and will take a while to download, even on high-speed connections. (Apple is offering to let people use its high speed wi-fi in its stores, should they be lucky enough to live near one.)

While Lion is touted as being revolutionary – and it does in fact feel like a large change – the system is solid, dependable. For many users, though, there will require some time to get used to some of the user interface changes. Instead of scrolling your fingers up to go up on the trackpad, you scroll them down to go up. Similarly, you get to the left by moving your hand to the right. This seems counter-intuitive, though it is what people do on the iPhone and iPad. As you start doing it, you might feel like you’ve gone down Alice’s rabbit hole; if you decide you don’t like it, you can go to Apple > System Preferences > Trackpad (and/or Mouse) and turn off “Scroll direction: natural.”

Among the key features Apple is touting, there are some of note:

  • Multitouch – The operating system supports using gestures with several fingers to perform complex tasks, such as opening Mission Control (three fingers up) or change full-screen applications (three fingers to the right or left).
  • Full-Screen Applications – Many Apple applications, and probably many applications in the future from other software developers, take advantage of a new feature that has the application take up the whole screen. This is especially powerful in Apple’s Mail and iPhoto applications.
  • Mission Control – This displays all of your active desktops, including the Widgets desktop. It has never been easier to manage multiple work environments and switch between them. I may actually use this, while I found Spaces to be confusing and disorienting. It will be easy to have a browser open in one desktop and a genealogy software package open in another, and switch back and forth.
  • Launchpad – All of your installed applications appear on a list that expands infinitely to the left and right. This clearly mirrors the iPhone and iPad application navigation method, and looks to be an easier way to get to your programs than either the insanely small icons in your dock (if you have as many there as I do!) or simply navigating to the Applications folder. You get to Launchpad either with the Launchpad icon in the dock, or using a pinch with thumb and three fingers.
  • Spotlight – One of the true innovations of Mac OS X, which has only recently had comparable functionality on Windows in recent releases, is Spotlight, systemwide search. The new version of the OS adds previews to the search results, helping you see if this item is what you were looking for.
  • AirDrop – Simple, no-configuration-required wi-fi file sharing. This will be handy if you are working with someone and just want to give them the census image for their grandfather’s household in 1930. This will allow a lot of people to leave their thumb drives at home.

I am very pleased with Lion. While I cannot agree with Apple’s predictable hyperbole, it looks to provide a lot of shortcuts to allow me to get from one application to another without losing my place. It’s well worth the $30.

One warning: Power PC applications no longer run with OS X Lion, which drops the Rosetta technology that made these workable in previous versions. To see what you will be leaving behind if you upgrade, log in as the Administrative user, then type Option-Apple and select System Profiler. Go to Software > Applications. Anything with “PowerPC” or “Classic” (that is, OS 9) will not run in Lion.

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Cloud Management – Primadesk

PrimadeskPrimadesk, a new website in beta, allows you to manage your cloud content in Google (GMail, Google Docs, Picasa), Yahoo (Yahoo Mail, Flickr), Dropbox, Box.net, and about twenty other services.

This looks to be a powerful resource, though it will need to be faster for power users. One of the most powerful features promises to be the ability to move images from one service to another. How many of us have personal images scattered across multiple sites such as Flickr, PhotoBucket, Snapfish, Smugmug, and so on. Now, we will be able to quickly migrate images from one site to another.

This feature is not yet available for photos, but it is for documents that you might want to move from Box.net to Dropbox, or from one account to another.

Primadesk allows you to search across multiple accounts, backup multiple accounts, and – finally! – manage proliferating cloud accounts.

On my wishlist are Evernote and Officedrop integration. It would be great to be able to manage what’s in Evernote, what’s in Box.net, what’s in Dropbox, and so on from one interface. Files that I manage in Evernote, I might want to share with people in another service; this would be a quick way to do that.

Accounts are free, though the may cost something once it leaves beta. More likely, is that the site would follow the freemium model that has been so successful for Dropbox, Evernote, and other leaders in the field.

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North Carolina Voices: The Civil War

WUNC North Carolina Voices: The Civil WarRaleigh’s WUNC Radio aired episodes in a series, North Carolina Voices: The Civil War, during the middle of June. The series includes pieces on the impact of the war on North Carolinians and their families from the time of the Civil War until now. Thankfully, the episodes are available for streaming and downloading from the WUNC website.

Among other pieces, there is an episode with interviews the living daughters of Confederate veterans. There is also an investigation of the religious history of the Civil War (“Whose Side is God On?“), which interviews George C. Rable, author of God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2010) and Reginald Hildebrand, author of The Times Were Strange and Stirring: Methodist Preachers and the Crisis of Emancipation (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995.

There are two interesting pieces about African Americans in New Bern, North Carolina:

There are also shows about re-enactors, battlefields, and several other topics. Take a listen!
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Ancestry’s 4th of July Free Access Weekend Continues

James Graham - SAR Membership ApplicationsThere is one more day left in Ancesty.com’s free access weekend for the 4th of July. Ancestry is making applications to the Sons of the American Revolution applications, 1889 – 1970. These applications provide detail about the service the ancestor is reported to have performed to advance the cause of the Revolution. (For SAR membership, as is true for the Daughters of the American Revolution, the ancestor did not have to serve in the military, but could have provided other forms of assistance to the cause.)

The applications also include documentation for the descent from the Revolutionary War-era ancestor to the applicant. While most of the applications are not documented in ways that comply with modern genealogical standards, they can still provide a wealth of information that a patient and thorough researcher can use as a starting point for verification, debunking, and extension.

In my case, my 5th great grandfather, James Graham (1741 – 1813), seems to have no fewer than 28 applications opened by descendants. There will be a fair amount to go through…. I am looking forward to it.