Electronic Gadgets Part 3 – put your family tree on your phone

Well, I’ve done it, and I’m very happy. My family tree is on my phone and goes with me everywhere.

 How have I achieved this remarkable feat, you may ask? Read on!

 You may remember that I have been trying to replace 4 heavy little electronic gadgets with one or two. I bought a new phone, a Nokia E65, to replace my previous phone, my PDA and my MP3 player for those long trips out to repositories. My phone is wonderful, it has a microSD card, which I replaced with a bigger, 2GB, card on which I can store music and podcasts for those long trips on the train, and it has the capacity to store my family tree as well, so I don’t have to carry my PDA unless I know I will want to take lots of notes using the portable keyboard. The camera it has is inadequate for taking images of archived documents, but 3 out of 4 ain’t bad. It also happily browses the web for me, so I can do anything from checking opening times of repositories to watching ABC TV for free while I am waiting!

So all I had to do was get my family tree onto my phone, so that if I find myself with time to spare or unexpected records become available I can quickly check to see what I need to find. All my names, places and dates would be readily available.

I use The Master Genealogist (TMG) to keep my family tree data in order, and I use the companion product Second Site to turn my data into web pages for the web or to publish on CDs. It seemed to me that if my phone could read html web pages it should be able to read html that was stored on the phone. SO that was what I did, I created a “website”, or a set of html pages, using Second Site, and uploaded them to my phone. I then created a bookmark so that I wouldn’t have to go delving into document folders to find the index page.

Of course, I had to tweak the settings a bit for use on a very small screen. I’m still experimenting with this, and if you try it for yourself, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Exclude exhibits. If you want pictures of your ancestors on your phone, put them somewhere else. Even a small photo will take up most of the screen, so you will have to scroll past it. Of course, you can use links to them instead of embedding them if you wish.
  • Set one person per page. This will create a lot of pages, which will take a long time to download to your phone initially, but I assumed that each file will load quicker when you select the person you want to view.
  • Use a very simple theme – lots of coloured boxes doesn’t translate well to the small screen, and takes longer to load.
  • Use a simple format that doesn’t put space in between columns, as do the 2- or 3-column formats. On the small phone screen you will see the first colum and then blank space, requiring a lot of scrolling across. I used the Narrative format.
  • Reduce the number of tag types according to what you think you may need when you are out and about.
  • Suppress memos if you have long stories in them.
  • An icon next to your direct ancesors and other important people makes them easier to find.
  • Skip the long description of the site that you’ve put on your real website, and the Compiler details. You know who you are, and no-one else will see it.

I am sure other things will occur to you as you go along.

Once you’ve uploaded the files to the phone, find the index.htm file open it to see how your website looks. You may need to do this a few times until you are as happy with what you see as you can be. Those of you with more html knowledge than me can probably restrict the size of the window – I will get to this one day, and in the meantime I don’t mind scrolling. Get the properties of the file, ie its filepath, and create a bookmark in your web browser so that you can go straight to it from your homepage. And there you are!

The phone-based website will never replace what I have on my laptop, so if I am going somewhere to do concentrated research on my own family I will take my laptop with me. I just use it when I am somewhere that I could look something up quickly, like a newspaper or a new set of probate indexes, that I wasn’t expecting and so I can check the date that g-g-grandfather So-and-so died.

And, of course, you need a reasonably “smart” phone to do this. One that will browse the web, and preferably has expandable memory. Give it a go and let us all know how it went.

My website is http://www.caroleriley.id.au/familyTree/index.htm.

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.

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