Electronic Gadgets Part 2

The story so far: I want to reduce the number of electronic gadgets I carry around with me on genealogy research trips. Instead of carrying a mobile phone, a PDA, a digital camera and an MP3 player, I’d like to carry something that combines at least 2 or 3 of these functions.

Well, I’ve got a new phone. It’s a Nokia E65 that I’ve bought as part of my new contract with Vodafone. I use Vodafone because it gives me reception in my house, which is down in a valley which other networks don’t reach. It has PDA functions, an MP3 player, and a digital camera. It’s my favourite toy!

The phone has enough PDA functions to make me happy, many of which I am still learning about. I can download my calendar appointments, to-do list and notes from MS Outlook, update them when they’re done and upload them back to my laptop. Of course, I can’t get Gedstar Pro to work on it, but I will be looking at creating reports in my family history software, The Master Genealogist (TMG) or creating HTML pages using Second Site to download to my phone, so that I have the relevant facts and dates with me if I need them.

The MP3 player has already proved itself useful on the train. The phone came with a 256MB microSD card, onto which I downloaded some music and some podcasts. I listened to a very interesting lecture about Oliver Cromwell from The National Archives on the way home from the city on the train. I bought I bigger card, 2GB, on eBay so that I can get more music and podcasts on there without having to replace them too often.

The camera is useless for real genealogy work; there would be no point trying to use it to photograph documents out at the State Records Reading Room in Western Sydney. It says it can manage 2 megapixels but it is only good for happy snaps of family and friends. It is very good at that, though! They just can’t be enlarged to full-screen size on the laptop without looking very grainy. So the real digital camera will be accompanying me on research trips. There were very expensive phones with 5 megapixel cameras, and I test-drove one that I think had a 3.2 megapixels on a brochure in the shop and it was unreadable.

So that’s a maximum of two gadgets I have to carry – the phone and the camera. Not bad. Plus I have the added convenience of having music and podcasts, and my calendar and other information, with me all the time even if I haven’t thought I would need the PDA or the MP3 player, because I always carry my phone.

I’m very happy with my new phone! I just need to get my family tree on it now. Stay tuned!

Electronic gadgets

I’ve been considering the gadgets I carry around with me that have been proliferating over the years. They are all very useful, even indispensable, but they do contribute rather heavily to the weight in my bag. How many of these do you have?

Phone

Of course, I have a mobile phone, as so many of us do. That’s where it all started, I guess. I think this is the 4th one I’ve had over the years, or perhaps the 5th. The phones get smaller but I think they are probably now as small as they can be while still being usable by human fingers – there’s a lot of sliding and folding in phones these days. A mobile phone is essential these days for being picked up from the train station or meeting others in crowded places, among many other functions.

PDA

I could write a whole blog just on PDAs, for genealogy and for other things! They are little computers in their own right, and can carry your family tree around with you in a little metal box instead of a folder or 10 of reports and charts. Your calendar, address book, research notes, and even games can all be conveniently carried. Add a portable keyboard and you can type lecture notes and upload them to your PC. You can also record interviews on many of them.

Digital camera

Who would have thought that the simple change from film to digital would make such a difference! We can now take photos in libraries and archives without using a flash, and we can check them to see if they are in focus before moving on to the next one.

MP3 player

Not really necessary for genealogy, I admit, but very useful for long dull train trips. I bought one that would fit my whole music collection – classical, rock, Latin American – and I find that what I use it for most is podcasts – downloaded radio programs. There are some genealogy-related ones – the one from the The National Archives is always interesting. I often listen to Richard Fidler’s Converation Hour from ABC Sydney, and even James Valentine’s Form Guide when I want something light. I can also record interviews with it and upload them back to my laptop.

All these bits and pieces need to be recharged and synchronised with my laptop. I have a line of little cradles on my desk with cables hanging out everywhere – for the PDA and the MP3 player, and chargers for the phone and the camera. It is all getting very complicated, and quite heavy to carry them all around, so I am looking at consolidating a few of the functions performed by these separate gadgets into one. My mobile phone needs replacing and so I’m looking at so-called smartphones – a phone with bells and whistles such as an MP3 player, camera and some PDA functions.

Some of these look more like chunky PDAs with full keypads, and that’s not what I’m after. I just want one that looks like a phone, isn’t too big and heavy, and does a lot more than my current phone does. So that’s what I’m shopping for, as part of my quest to find a reasonable phone contract with a network that gives reception in the valley where my house is.

I’ll let you know how I go.

Which family tree software is best?

This is a big question. The Society of Australian Genealogists attempted to help find an answer for 25 or so budding genealogists earlier this month in a day-long seminar showing demonstrations of 6 different family tree programs – Family Tree Maker, Legacy, Personal Ancestral File, Reunion, something else, and The Master Genealogist.

The answer is different for everybody. I find that TMG is best for me, after doing some thorough research (as a good genealogist does!) on the features of each program a few years ago. So far I haven’t seen anything to change my mind about this, although I’ve seen programs that do some things better and have nice little features that I like, none of them have enough of these to make me want to change programs.

The question, then, is – which family tree software program is best for you? You have to work out what is important to you. Any program you use should have the basics, and I would be very surprised to find any on the market, or free on the internet, that don’t. The first one I ever used that my uncle, an amateur programmer, wrote, and although he was a good programmer he was not much of a genealogist. For example, the program didn’t have a place to put death dates. This is what I mean by basics – any program you find will have places to put basic information – birth, christening, marriage, death and burial dates and places, links to spouses and children, the sources for all of this, and some way to get the information out again – reports and charts.

After the basics everything else really are just extras that you may or may not decide you need. So you need to see how easy it is to use, and understand. There are different layouts, some that look like a family group sheet on the screen with parents at the top and children in a list underneath, and others that look like Windows Explorer with folders that open other folders.

Before you go out and buy a program, try one of the many free ones. Cora Web has an excellent page on family history programs here http://www.coraweb.com.au/software.htm that I won’t try to copy. Or have a look at the Genealogical Software Report Card at www.mumford.ca/reportcard/ for a comprehensive comparison of all of the popular programs.