Sunday, September 23, 2012

Smart Phones and Operator Error

While my life gets in the way of blogging, I have to say that my smart phone is often what keeps me on track and helps me get done what needs to be done.

About a year ago, I decided I wanted to get a smart phone. My phone contract was up and though I had liked the slide out keyboard for texting, I wasn't sure about the touch screen. My husband has a blackberry and has used it for years to get his email on his phone. Since I've been spending a lot of time working on genealogy research around the state,  I figured it would allow me to not be out of touch all day while I was working at libraries and clerk's offices.  I got a Motorola Droid 2 Global with a slide out keyboard, and after more than a year of discovering all the amazing things that it can do, I can't imagine life without it.

For genealogical research, there are primarily three functions that I use every day, and a bunch of those "apps" that make research a whole lot easier. Beyond the standard talking and testing that I do with my family, my phone allows me to leave a bunch of stuff at home. First, I love having email come to my phone. Not having to break out my laptop to check email is quite a treat, particularly in places without wi-fi. Next, the camera on the phone has replaced the digital camera that I used to lug on every research trip. And lastly, the navigator/GPS feature which gives turn by turn directions to obscure locations that I would have previously needed to print out google maps beforehand, or wrestled with our Magellan GPS. That means two devices that I no longer have to carry with me on my travels, and worry about if they are charged or have extra batteries.

And that doesn't even touch the various apps that can allow you to access Ancestry.com trees on your phone, update your research logs and access books, the web and files all in a handy little palm sized device. The other fabulous thing my phone can do is be a mobile wifi hot spot so if I'm working in places without wifi, like most town clerk's offices, I can still access the internet with my computer.

It was definitely worth overcoming my technophobia to upgrade to the smart phone, and now I'm working on convincing my husband to give up his blackberry and wake up to the world of touch screens and android apps! Best device EVER for a genealogist on the road, and next time, I'll talk about some of my favorite apps!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Printers and scanners

I wrote last about my new laptop, and now, 2 months later, I think I have most data transferred and I can figure out where most of the stuff ended up. The problem that took a while to deal with is the old 3-in-1 Lexmark that I had been using. This thing was a beast and took up a lot of space, but I liked it because I knew how to work it, and it didn't give me too much trouble until I upgraded to Windows 7. No drivers for Windows 7 because the printer is too old, I assume. I would send things to print, they would print, but then they wouldn't delete, so I had to turned the thing off and back on again to clear the spool thingy. I got pretty good at doing it with my big toe, since it is under the table near my desk. Not very convenient for loading paper, but the only space that I had.

So, in a household with 3 printers, 2 of which are Lexmarks with flatbed scanners, I swapped out the big beast for a smaller, sleeker wireless network model that almost works the way the other did. It's a bit newer and I think that I have it set up to do almost everything but scan to the new laptop. It scans beautifully, but again, it doesn't like Windows 7, so I have to send the scans to the house desktop downstairs, an old XP system, go and save them to a jump drive, yadda yadda yadda. I'm sure there's a more efficient way to do it, but at the time I needed the scanner and was changing printers,  I was of course on a deadline and didn't want to futz around, figuring out the gorey details. Alternatively, I can use the old beast with the old desktop for scanning and that works really well. It seems to me that trying to troubleshoot wastes more time than I'm willing to spend, it's easier and faster for me to do what I know how to do, rather than look at all the twain things and whatever all else is going on in the background. But as long as it gets the job done, I don't suppose there's too much to do about it except live with the little inconveniences. Of course, I could go out and buy a new printer scanner, but then I would have to install it, you get the idea. Although, that might be a way for me to learn something new...

Friday, January 6, 2012

New Year, New Computer, New Laments


Now that the holidays are over, and I'm back to work (sort of), the biggest thing to work on learning is the new laptop my husband bought for me. Of course, that's probably just so that I don't continue to call him saying "my laptop's frozen up, and I can't this thing opened to do your bookkeeping right now!" And "Can you get this thing to run faster?" Or "Why is this thing running so slowly?" Notice how I generally refer to it as "this thing?" As much as I've been thrilled to have a "new" laptop, apparently they don't make things like they used to, and a 3 year old refurbished computer that you've had for 2 years really doesn't get it done.

So, I got a new one. The first one that he brought home had a fabulous 17" screen that he thought I would love, since I don't use a separate monitor. Pretty much everything I do is on the laptop, including the keyboard, and the mouse. I had a separate webcam that I plug in when I need it, and the printer of course. But, he figured he was doing my eyes a favor. And he was! Except that he wasn't going to be doing my back any favors. The thing weighed a ton! And since I'm generally cruising around the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations with my laptop, I did NOT want to be lugging that 10 pound weight across my back.

So we settled on a smallesr one, which I like very much. It has a built in webcam, a keypad for numbers (I didn't have that before, and with the accounting, it's nice to just turn on the number lock and go). Since I had been at about capacity with my old 55GB hard drive (why does this stuff take up so much room?) It's nice to have a nice big partitioned hard drive and a whole mess of RAM. I remember the days when it was an upgrade to get 256MB of memory. This one has 8 GB! Not that I would presume to know what that means, I just know that the thing is blazing fast, and though I'm still getting used to the keyboard, I really like it.

The biggest issue is transferring all the old stuff to the new computer. An external hard drive and a girlfriend with way saavy computer skills is a must for this project. Then there's all the new software you have to deal with, and finding where everything is!

The first day I started working on reloading the software, I dropped the whole thing, and bent the door on the DVD tray. I just about cried, but nothing like a couple of screwdrivers and a set of needlenose pliers (and above mentioned computer saavy girlfriend with mad skills!) to set everything back where it belongs. Probably the biggest new thing I've learned is that these new laptops are slippery little suckers. After the DVD door incident, it slid off my laptop desk and luckily I caught the thing with my foot!

  The new OS is OK, somewhat hard to find stuff. I've always used microsoft XP, but now have MS 7, and everything looks weird. I'm sure after a while, it'll be second nature, and I'll have definitely learned at least one new thing today.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Webinar Success!?

Well, I survived the first RIGS webinar, and if that isn't Luddite success, I don't know what is. The reviews are starting to come in, and while everyone seems pleased with the concept, the execution is where we fell a bit short.

 But let me start with the dry run last week. I got to the American-French Genealogical Society Library http://www.afgs.org/ and was able to set up all the equipment that I had brought with me: laptop, projector, cell phone, webcam and clicker thingy (to advance the slides). I remembered all of my extension cords, chargers and various cables of all sorts, and I turned on my wireless hotspot for my phone. I had just had it upgraded for more data that morning, and the guy at the Verizon store (yes, I love their cell coverage) had connected my laptop to my computer, and had the network connection key entered and of course, it worked before I left the store. Now the question became, could I pull it off by myself?

And the answer was... No.
Test number 1
I got all the equipment set up, and couldn't get my phone to connect to the laptop. Turns out, you have to shut off the WiFi to get the Mobile HotSpot to work. My girlfriend, who was my "attendeee" from her office, was on her way to save me in Woonsocket (thanks Sarah, you're the best!).
Test number 2
We ended up using one of the library's computers to check the slides, camera and sound. Then I realized that there was no way to use only one computer to do the webinar as well as project for the live audience in the room. The laptop running the webinar would project the live chat to the room and that wasn't cool. So, two computers were going to be a necessity, one to run the webinar, and one to run the projector.

Can you see where this is going?

Test number 3
It wasn't too bad! I set up at home with the 2 laptops and connected to the internet via my phone. My "attendee" was waiting and then came the next surprise. The sound isn't very good unless you use a headset microphone. I'm a wanderer. When I'm lecturing, I tend to walk around, wave my arms and generally not stand in one place. Unfortunately, the webcam, which had the microphone on it, wasn't moving with me, so the sound kept fading in and out.

Test number 4
Off to pick up a Voice over Internet headset. Who knew there were so many choices? Anyway, I chose one that seemed to suit my needs and prayed this thing was really going to fly! The next test went much more smoothly. There was a substantial time delay between when I changed the powerpoint slides and when the viewers saw the slides change, but I attribute that to the wireless internet connection. There may be other reasons, but I haven't quite figured it out yet.

So Saturday rolls around, we have more than 50 people registered for the webinar and about 50 people in the room. I wasn't sure how a room microphone might interfere with the web mic, so I really needed to project my voice, as I decided not to use a room mic. Fortunately, it wasn't a deep room, and I've done lecture halls for 200 without a mic.

A friend agreed to run the laptop with the live chat, and the webinar slides so that I was able to focus on the room slide show presentation. The web folks were hearing me well with the headset microphone, so I think it was OK. Twenty nine people ended up tuning in, and the presentation went well. Most of the comments have been positive, but I know that the people tuning in didn't have the slides keeping up with the voice. I recorded it, so I can check it out later, and maybe folks can see it if they've missed it.

Overall, not bad for a first try! And now that this Luddite has learned something new, you can bet webinars are going to become a standard in my technology repertoire.