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.

Blogs 

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.

Hardware

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!

Back in business

Sydney HarbourFor some reason that I still can’t really explain my blog has been out of action for the last couple of months. I’ve tried to fix it but didn’t really have time to get into it properly when my small attempts didn’t work. In that time I’ve updated my Social Media for Family Historians book and written a new one called Land research for family historians in Australia and New Zealand.

I’ve just had another go, and when what I tried to do didn’t work I put it back the way it was and started installing another one, with the intention of loading it up with a backup. For some reason I can’t explain doing those things has caused it to work.

It’s a mystery to me, but it’s good to be back!

I don’t love my new Toshiba netbook any more

Early last year I bought a Toshiba NB200 notebook. It was just what I wanted. I bumped up the RAM to 2GB and installed Dropbox, and I never looked back. I could take my work with me and have it synchronise with my main laptop at home.

About a month ago it became unreliable as to starting up. Now it won’t start up at all. Not happy.

I’ve checked forums and so on. If I press F2 or F12 while it’s trying to boot up – nothing happens.

If I press 0 (zero) while it’s booting up to restore it to its factory condition – nothing happens.

If I do nothing when it’s trying to boot up, I either get a black screen or the Toshiba splash screen, and there it stays.

The forums also say to use my system restore disk. I have no system restore disk, and I don’t have a portable disk drive to run it on, so to buy these things will cost more money. I thought that’s what the space being taken up on the hard disk by the factory system restore was for.

I know we’re supposed to be replacing our netbooks with iPads or other tablets these days, but I use mine to work. I need a keyboard all the time. I don’t want to have to mess with a virtual keyboard, and I don’t want to have to carry a portable keyboard around and have to connect everything up when I get to the place where I am researching. I just want to open up my netbook and go.

I can’t afford to buy a new netbook every year and then upgrade the memory, and then spend the time loading everything back on it that I need. I would pay more for a netbook with a longer guarantee, but it seems that netbooks are on the way out, in favour of tablets.

OK, I’ve had my rant, thank you for your attention!

By the way, if you are interested in Dropbox, and I can’t recommend it highly enough, you will do me a favour if you sign up using my recommendation. That way I get more space, and when you are as hooked as I am you can recommend it to your friends and get more space above the first free 2GB.