Another chance

EscalatorIt’s a new year and a new opportunity to make this year better than last year. I’ve been doing some renovations of my technology services.


After a recent hacking episode on my blog Social Media and Genealogy I’ve been generally upgrading all my blogs. I’ve moved this one to the same hosting account as all the others, a process not for the faint-hearted. Hosting of personal sites was free when I started, and I didn’t mind when it increased to $20/year, especially since my business account allowed a limited number of additional domains. But now the cost is $50/year, and my business account allows unlimited add-on domains, so I’ve got to make the change before it renews in a few days.

I’ve also removed some plugins and pages that I’m no longer updating,  and generally tidied up. It pays to do some housekeeping on your blog every now and then; it’s amazing how quickly shiny new pages need to be renovated or thrown out!

Internet service provider

I’ve changed my internet service provider, which is now faster (and cheaper!), and I’m slowly changing the associated email address that I’ve used for 15 years. The email address issue is what had always stopped me in the past and apparently now providers are required to keep the addresses going (in Australia) but only for 90 days. I wasn’t told this limit when I signed up and I was very unhappy when I found out, but now I’m glad I did it anyway. I’ve signed up for a $5 per month mobile broadband plan to keep our old email addresses going because 90 days won’t be enough time to change our email addresses in the many, many places that store it. Many services use this email address as my ID, and I’ve already broken my access to one service, 23andMe, by changing email addresses. So the changeover will take time.

Cloud backups

I’ve been organising my cloud backups and consolidating (and replicating) them across different providers – Mozy Sync, Dropbox (two accounts), Google Drive (two accounts) and OneDrive (Microsoft, formerly called SkyDrive – don’t you hate it when major services like Microsoft and Google change the names of their products?). The uploads are quicker than they used to be (see above) and I use CloudHQ to copy everything from one service to another and keep them in sync. Mind you, this only works if the service easily allows you to control what gets downloaded to the same or another device. OneDrive clearly shows whether something is available offline or online only, and it shows you how much space the folder uses, not just the individual files, which I really like. I have two Dropbox accounts (one personal, one business) and the personal one uploads/downloads automatically and the business one requires manual uploading, which works well for me. I can upload and share files with clients when I am ready, without having to store a second copy on my computer.

I’ve been using Mozy for scheduled backups for years, and when they introduced Mozy Sync I thought I may as well take advantage of the storage I was already paying for to synchronise working documents between laptops. It works well and synchronises quickly while I’m working on documents, although it’s a bit slow to start up again if the device has been asleep. But the storage is now quite expensive relative to other services, and it doesn’t work with CloudHQ, so I’m replacing it with Dropbox. I’ve had to lash out and pay for extra storage on Dropbox but it means that I can cut down on Mozy storage, and CloudHQ can copy everything to Google Drive and OneDrive automatically and remotely without me having to do anything, and without storing an extra copy on my computer.


Speaking of laptops, I now have a Microsoft Surface Pro 3, which I absolutely love! It’s light enought to carry around with me wherever I go, and big enough to actually be useful. The stylus is the best I’ve ever used, and makes handwriting a realistic option for the first time ever. Plus it runs all the Windows programs I use. I tried an Android tablet for this but the MS Office substitutes would lose the formatting and I couldn’t run TMG and it was all too much hassle to synchronise the files I needed without running out of space.

The Surface Pro 3 has made Microsoft’s OneNote a viable alternative to Evernote for the first time, and I’ve now changed how I work yet again. I’ve been slowly scanning paper files and storing them in Evernote, and they are much more easily searched and accessed than they ever were on paper. But Evernote has drawbacks and I don’t find it as useful as it could be for day-to-day work. It uses tags for categorising notes and the notebook structure is therefore quite flat, and this really bothers me. The handwriting feature isn’t smooth and responsive, and I don’t use it much despite my preference for handwriting notes.

OneNote, on the other hand, allows a more hierarchical structure between and within notebooks, and notes can be drawn anywhere on the page. The handwriting feature is a delight to use, and the stylus included with the Surface Pro 3 is integrated with OneNote. I do find the synchronising of OneNote notebooks a bit clunky and the file locations a bit mysterious but all in all I really like it. I now use OneNote for day-to-day research and other work, and Evernote for longterm filing, storage and retrieval.

Family tree software 

The Master Genealogist, or TMG, is another issue. I’ve been using this family tree software for years, for my own research and for clients. Even simple jobs are easier to visualise if you can see the family relationships in a relational database that displays in a format you are familiar with. But TMG has been discontinued and is no longer supported. Very upsetting, not least because I have so many client projects, and I have systems in place to make creating new projects quick and easy. So I will have to start again with something else. TMG still works, and I’m sure it will continue to work for a while, but one day something will go wrong – after a Windows upgrade or something similar – and I will be stuck with client projects that may not even open. I can’t take the chance. So I have to find a replacement, and I’m fairly sure it will be Family Historian which has added new features to make the transition from TMG easier.

That will be this year’s challenge – testing and configuring the software, converting all my existing projects, and working out a new system to start new projects quickly and easily.

Happy New Year!

Picasa Face Recognition can be moved to a new computer

Picasa face recognitionA few months ago my laptop spent days going through all my photos and tagging the faces, and then I spent a few more days (on and off) giving them names. It was a lot of fun, and I wrote about it here.

When my laptop ran out of space I had to move all my photos onto an external hard drive. I was nervous about losing all of that work so I wasn’t brave enough to open Picasa.

Now I have a new laptop, with plenty of space for all my photos, and so I have moved them back. The question was, did I have to do all that face recognition all over again?

The answer, I’m happy to say, is no.

Picasa keeps all of that information in a separate database. As long as you can access those files from your old computer you can use them to replace the new ones when you install Picasa on it.

Basically you need to back up:




The first one holds face recognition data and probably much more, and the second holds your albums. I didn’t have these files backed up, but they were still on the hard drive of my old computer, and today, with the help of my new hard drive enclosure that arrived in the mail, I was able to copy them over.

I have also added everything under AppData to my Mozy backups so I don’t have this problem in the future if my hard drive fails.

Do you have your AppData backed up?

What wasn’t backed up after all

dreamstimefree_594My old laptop died a sudden death on Good Friday, 22nd April 2011.

My new laptop arrived on Black Friday, 13th May 2011.

Are you detecting a pattern here?

The death of my old laptop was not the catastrophe it could have been, thanks to my many backups. I only lost a morning’s worth of emails since my last backup had run overnight. I had backups of all documents, photos, music and databases in various places, including online.

I had a few issues with the software I had to use until my new one arrived, but these are mostly resolved. The main issues I still have are lessons you can learn from:

  • Is your Application Data (in Windows XP) or Appdata (Vista) folder backed up?
  • Some programs keep their data in the same folder as the program files, under Programs rather than Documents. You may have to consciously export a backup regularly rather than relying on it to be backed up with other documents. If you didn’t, it will be lost when you computer dies.
  • All my browser extensions and bookmarks have gone missing. I need to find out how to back these up too.
  • My download limit is being pushed by having to download a lot of software at once, and re-establishing with Mozy, my online backup service. I’m getting better at organising these things for offpeak times.

I have ordered an adapter for my old laptop’s hard drive. Since it was the motherboard that died I am hoping that the hard drive can still give me the data that wasn’t backed up. It will look like a portable hard drive, only I can open it and put the hard drive into it. Stay tuned!