Friday, August 1, 2014

Can A Genealogist Have Enough Monitors?

Can a genealogist have too many square inches of monitor surface attached to theircomputer monitor computer?  There was a time when I would have said "Yes" but with all of the collections and research tools online today, my answer has changed to "No!"

Back in the day, I was very excited to go from the 7" monitor I had attached to my old Sinclair computer.  I wrote my genealogy program in Basic.  It was little more than a long document with flags and notes but the difference between seeing it on a 7" monitor and the replacement 10" monitor was dramatic.   I even went from green to orange characters on the screen.  Wow!  It was great.

Over the years the monitor size went up from 10" to 14" then to the $1000 NEC 21" monitor.  With the newer video cards, I could increase the resolution enough to actually put a lot more data on the screen too.  I added a 2nd 21" monitor and thought I'd died and gone to heaven.  When I turned on the monitors the room would echo the "Bwaaang" of the tube in them powering up.   Who needed a heat vent in my office?  Those big old babies were like warming lights in a restaurant.  Cooling was the bigger issue when they were fired up.

Flat screens arrived on the screen and I replaced the NEC's with one 21" flat screen.  Even after cranking up the resolution to the maximum setting, I needed more surface area.  Who could work with only one monitor?  I was constantly have to minimize one instance of the browser so I could read the data on the one under it.  Half of the time I couldn't remember exactly what I'd just read and couldn't enter the data into my genealogy database without having to rotate between the screens a number of times.   Talk about cumbersome.  How did I expect to get any work done being so terribly encumbered?

A second matching monitor took care of some of the problem.  Now I could read one screen while I typed on the other one.  I still had to rotate between browser screens a lot to compare the data between multiple sources but my productivity rose dramatically with the second screen.

Then I got my wife a tablet and she decided that she didn't need her computer any longer.  Her nice almost new big flat screen came into my possession.  It only took two days for the 2nd video card to arrive fro my computer so I could power the third monitor.   Once again, productivity soared with all the new screen real estate.  I could open multiple documents at the same time and stack them side-by-side on monitors two and three while entering the data into my genealogy program on number one.    Life was great and then....

I got a new computer and they threw in an excellent big flat screen.  Would number four be as useful as the other three monitors?  Oh yeah it is.  Now I can run a video in the corner, video and voice chats down the side and still display additional research resources.   How did I live without it?

Then a day arrived when I needed to conduct a meeting online, display my screens and still monitor a number of other activities and research groups that I lead.  I didn't have enough screen real estate once again.  My wife said I was nuts but after observing my activities for thirty minutes agreed that although I was aglow with reflected light from the monitors, I still needed more surface.

Adding my laptop to the mix helped during these periods of heavy activity.  Its 14" screen is perfect for Skype chats and other system and network monitoring tools that I watch while running certain processes.

Adding Synergy to my computer and to my laptops allows me to continue to run one keyboard and mouse to control both machines.

Another research group asked me to help them on and off during the day but I'd need more screen real estate once again.   I pulled out an older laptop to resolve the issue.  Although its processor is considered slow by new laptops today, it was plenty fast to take over the process monitoring and other less CPU intensive programs.   Synergy once again added control of the old laptop to the same keyboard and mouse that I used to control all of the other devices.

Many days now find me surrounded by over 180 degrees of monitors.  LIfe is good again.  For now I have 'enough' monitor real estate but how long will that feeling last?  I'm already looking at mounting racks for an upper row should they become 'necessary'.  

How about you?  Have you discovered the substantial productivity increase associated with multiple monitors?  If not, get another one and discover how quickly the extra screen real estate pays for itself.

No, you can't have too much monitor screen real estate.  

Monday, July 28, 2014

Genealogy, Grandchildren and Google

Sometimes all of the stars align just right and one of your passions in life extends toComputer2 your descendants.  In this case, my love of genealogy and ancestral knowledge has extended to some of our grandchildren.

History courses in school provide the perfect enticement for them to explore their ancestry in greater detail. 

The process starts with a call to grandpa asking for help on the assignment.  We discuss the goals of the assignment then determine the ancestors that will satisfy its requirements and then the work begins.

We use Google Documents and Google Drive to jointly work on the research, share files, photos and Google Hangouts to talk both visually and in chat.  It doesn't matter where either of us is located in the world, our conversations and joint work happening in our own real time.

Like any researcher, we start with what we know and with the documents and photos already in our (my) possession.  Grandpa gets to play a little dumb at this point.  I act more of a online research guide.

After cataloging what we know, the next step is to record our data complete with the sources required to confirm the accuracy of the data.  Names, dates and places create the framework for the assignment but tell little of the story, so the next steps are to discover photos, graphics, histories and stories about the folks in the quest.

I drop the photos and stories I've collected into a Google Drive folder that I share with the grandchild.  They drop notes, stories, photos and anything else they find in the folder too.  

Using Hangouts, I share my screen with them and show them how I record the data and sources in my Legacy database.  I also show them how to add stories and photos to their ancestors records in Family Tree.  We continue with recording the information on my genealogy site which they can subsequently use for their presentations.

After they've written their project report and submitted it to their teacher as a Google Document, they use all of their online postings and documents to make their presentations to their teacher and class.

The process works well.  Our grandchild learns more about genealogy research, they put faces and stories on the facts they find and the genealogy 'hook' is deeply set in their minds.  Their assignments receive high grades.  They make their presentations with the confidence that comes from intimately knowing their subjects.  Additionally, even closer bonds are forged with grandpa.   They've caught a glimpse into my world and have learned a little about why I enjoy genealogy research so much.  They've gained a greater appreciation for who their ancestors were which gives them a reference point of who they are in relation to the timeline of this world, its history and its people.

Ten years ago we could have worked together on a project like this but the timeliness and effectiveness of our conversations would be greatly reduced.  Their reports and presentations back then would have been good but now, using the technology at our fingertips, are great.

In the past, I took my children to the Family History Library for long days of scanning through microfilms and "Q" series books.  Today, I spend time with our grandchildren searching digital collections online as we race to discover and prove an ancestral family.  Often, I lose the race and I love it.   We still need to visit libraries and other locations for the records, photos and documents that haven't been digitized but the race is well underway thanks to our connections to the digital world.