Archive for the ‘computer stuff’ Category

I recently decided to replace my laptop because it had a few issues, and I wanted to make it our backup or guest computer.  I was able to replace the laptop and connect it to two larger monitors (that I already owned) for under $400.

Technology is moving along so quickly, I decided that in future I will replace my laptop every three years.  Therefore, I didn’t want to spend much.

I wanted several things:

  • Windows 7.  I like it, and I’m putting off a big change until next time.
  • A small laptop with a screen under 13 inches.  I don’t bring the laptop many places (I tend to use a tablet for that) but if I want to pack it, I would like it to fit easily in a carry-on bag, and not weigh too much.
  • low price.

I chose an Acer Aspire V5-131 with Windows 7.  The price was around $350.  My plan was to use the laptop with two monitors, and a wireless keyboard and mouse.  Once everything was set up, I would only touch the laptop to turn it on and off, and I would have two large screens to work on.  The keyboard and mouse were the Logitech Wireless Desktop MK320 Combo ($23.99).

The laptop barely shows behind the two monitors, and its screen is black.

After the setup was complete, the laptop barely shows behind the two monitors, and its screen was black.  This is actually my old wireless mouse, pictured, but a mouse did come with the keyboard.

The monitors

No need to purchase monitors, because I had two.  One was a $79 Acer monitor I purchased 2 years ago.  It’s about 19 inches.  The other is a Samsung 24 inch monitor that I bought last year on Black Friday for $99, quite a good deal.

The first monitor plugs into the video slot.

The first monitor plugs into the video slot.

To hook up the first monitor: I simply plugged it into a power outlet, then plugged the video cable that came with it into the laptop.  To make the screen active, I went to:

Control Panel –> Hardware and Sound –> Connect to a Projector.

Control Panel

Control Panel

If I were only adding one monitor:   On the screen that comes up, if I had wanted to use the laptop screen plus one monitor, I would choose Extend.  When I was using Extend this way, the laptop was “display 1″ and the monitor was to the right, as “display 2″.  During the two years I used this, I raised the laptop up so visually the screen was even with the monitor, and I added an external keyboard at table level, since now the laptop keyboard was too high off the table.  I have to give fellow blogger Carol A. Bowen Stevens some credit for that idea; we consulted each other on Facebook around the time we both were setting up workstations.

The video plug from the second monitor gos into the adapter, then into the HDMI slot.

The video plug from the second monitor goes into the adapter, then into the HDMI slot.  Note the HDMI slot has a funny shape – it isn’t a USB port.

To hook up the second monitor:  This was the part it took me a while to figure out (in fact, I bought the wrong adapter the first time around).

The monitor comes with a video cable.  But you have no place to plug that in.  The answer is to get an adapter and plug it into the HDMI slot on your laptop.  The adapter I got was an Active HDMI to VGA Adapter for $19.99.

To install it, I plugged the second monitor into a power outlet.  Using the video cable that came with the monitor, I plugged that into the adapter, then plugged the adapter into the HDMI slot on the laptop.  I made the screen active:

Control Panel –> Hardware and Sound –> Connect to a Projector.

Screen Resolution settings also allow you to see the settings for each monitor unit, including #1 the original laptop screen, which is now black.

Screen Resolution settings also allow you to see the settings for each monitor unit, including the two monitors and #1 the original laptop screen, which is now black.

On the screen that comes up, I choose Projector Only.  This turned off the screen on my laptop and activated the two monitor screens.  Luckily, the screens came up for me arranged in the proper order, otherwise I would have to have adjusted the display 1 and display 2 settings.  To check out or adjust settings, go to:

Control Panel –> Appearance and Personalization –> Display –> Connect to an External Display

To change the screen resolution, go to:

Control Panel –> Appearance and Personalization –> Adjust screen resolution

All in all, I am happy with my new laptop and my two screens.  Someday soon I may change the 19 inch for a 24 inch, to match the larger one.  But for now, I’m happy with it.  If I want to take the laptop out of the room, I’ll just unplug these two monitors.  Despite all the settings, if I unplug both monitors, the black screen of the laptop comes back to life.

The post you are reading is located at:  http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2014/07/01/two-monitors-laptop/

The two monitor plugs after setup.

The two monitor plugs after setup.


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First of all let me say, I do expect to pay for services that help me with my genealogy.  To scan documents and make them searchable and viewable on a website involves expenses which I expect to contribute to. To maintain and staff buildings with roomfuls of books and documents that I might need is not free.  To move genealogy forward, and help us to gain access to the best work, and improve our own, certain organizations need to exist, and I would like to support them.

Here is a summary of what I pay for on a regular basis.

  • Ancestry.com.  Ancestry.com has a lot of records, and even the brief index records have tipped me off to records I should investigate elsewhere.  I keep a tree on Ancestry.  I sometimes pay for a U.S. subscription, and sometimes for a Worldwide subscription.  One thing I do not do on Ancestry is pay any attention to the other trees.  Just turn all that off – you’ll feel much better.  If I ever do look at an individual on another tree, it is just to see if they have any sources listed that might help me.  99 times out of 100 they don’t.  I can access Ancestry.com through my cell phone app, meaning I can see my information at any time.
  • Family Tree Maker software.  I keep this updated and currently have version 2014.  It synchs automatically with my Ancestry tree, meaning all the valuable documents I’ve attached to my tree in Ancestry also move to my computer, on their own.  If I ended my Ancestry subscription tomorrow, I would always have what I’ve found so far, right on my computer.  baby-mom from Abroad
  • Fold3.com.  I love Fold3 and use it mostly for U.S. military records.  I also like the city directories, and I sometimes use Fold3 for an alternative index to U.S. federal census records if I am having trouble finding something, although they only have 1860 and 1900-1930.  They allow you to directly attach a document to a person in your Ancestry tree.  That is especially useful for situations of distant relatives where I’m probably not going to save the entire record anyway.
  • AmericanAncestors.org, the website of the New England Historic Genealogical Society.  What can I say about NEHGS membership.  They had me at “The Great Migration” series of books, where you can find reliable information on those who arrived in New England from Europe between 1620 and 1635.  Reading the Register when it comes in the mail is an education.  The website is very helpful, and contains access to all this, plus additional outside databases.  The website is useful to me for searching among many genealogical journals.  Visiting the library in Boston is a wonderful and helpful experience.
  • GenealogyBank.com (newspapers and more searchable, online). Newspapers have told me so many interesting things that I would never have known. My favorite discovery so far is competing ads in 1802 by my 5th great-grandparents disowning each other, one of my first finds. Whenever I subscribe to something like a newspaper site, I read the renewal details carefully and learn, in advance, how I would be able to unsubscribe.  If they make it clear they will never refund a fee, even one made without my consent, I move on.  I trust GenealogyBank.com and have had no problems. As I recall, they give me a discount because I have an Ancestry subscription.  children-hoop from Abroad
  • Rhode Island Historical Society membership.  Historical societies in the areas where you are researching are important and they always need support.
  • The National Genealogical Society.  I enjoy getting the Quarterly and feeling like my membership is contributing to the future of genealogy.
  • Rhode Island Genealogical Society.    It is important to me to belong to the group which has the best interests of Rhode Island genealogy as its core mission.  Rhode Island Roots is an important publication, and they publish excellent books, too.
  • Evernote Premium (online notebook). I keep research documents and files on my computer, but Evernote holds an increasing amount of my genea-details, like to-do lists for each repository, details about all these subscriptions, helpful things like blank census records, details about every repository and cemetery I might ever visit, research notes for each family, results of DNA tests, and conference syllabi.  So, I want to support Evernote and get the best features.  I also access all this on my cell phone through the app.
  • Dropbox.com (online document backup).  All documents on my computer are stored in one folder that is synched with Dropbox.  Anywhere that I have access to the internet, I can access all my documents.  All of them.  Books, maps, notes, pictures, screen shots, anything.  The free account is too small; I use a paid account.  If my computer ended up in Narragansett Bay tomorrow, all my work would be safe.  swans- from Abroad
  • FamilySearch Center microfilm rentals.  I use these more and more.  Someday fairly soon, these films will all be online. Until then, for $7.50, I get to use the exact record book I need (if they have it), no matter where in the world it came from.  I prefer to see the original record books, but will settle for this kind of copy if I have to, and find it preferable (and cheaper) than ordering new certificates transcribed by a clerk (mostly because I like to see everything else on the page, or a couple of pages, and like to do my own deciphering of difficult handwriting).  I save the pages I find on a flash drive and take them home for storage on my computer.
  • Mocavo.com.  Mocavo and I have an on-again, off-again relationship. Right now it’s on.  It is best at what it always was, a site for searching the web and getting only historically and genealogically relevant search results.  I love getting these automatically in my in-box.  If your ancestors could possibly be mentioned in old books, genealogies, directories, or other printed matter, this is the site for you.
  • FindMyPast.com.  Since discovering some more recent English ancestors, I have started subscribing briefly to FindMyPast once in a while.  I don’t do enough to make it worthwhile all the time.

train-ride from Abroad

I notice the trend now is that every major site wants to hold your full tree, help you match with others, and have you save everything right there.  Realistically, we can’t do such a thing on 4 or 5 different sites. Can we?  Sounds exhausting.  One thing I avoid, so far, on these sites is the temptation to upload a whole tree (except on Ancestry.com).  I may, in the future, try this on Mocavo or FindMyPast, to see what “hints” come up for individuals, as long as I can keep the tree private, and delete it later (since I won’t be updating it). (Commenters here and on Facebook have alerted me that the FamilySearch tree won’t be working that way).

This list is longer than I thought it would be.  If you find other memberships or subscriptions worth paying for, and want to point them out here in the comments, please do.

The post you are reading is located at:  http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2014/06/22/what-i-pay-for/

The illustrations are from the book “Abroad” by Thomas Crane and Ellen Elizabeth Houghton (London: Marcus Ward & Co, 1884?)

Abroad _ Crane


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My Samsung Galaxy Note II is very useful to me in a lot of ways. It’s an Android phone with a large screen.  These are some of the ways I use it for genealogy, and perhaps others have useful tips to leave here also.

Midge Frazel dubbed this the "genea-phone".  I like that.

Midge Frazel dubbed this the “genea-phone.”  I like that.

  • Access my Ancestry.com trees.  Anywhere I am – on a cemetery trip, in a library, meeting another genealogist, or just sitting around reading, I can access my Ancestry.com tree using the app on my phone.  It’s actually quite full-featured and useful and contains all the documents you’ve attached to a person.  I’ve been known to pull the car over in a neighborhood and click through all the way to an old census page, looking for an address. 
  • Use the directions feature on Google maps to navigate.  If I’m going somewhere for the first time, like a cemetery or town hall, I set up the Google maps app to speak the instructions to me while I’m driving.  This works pretty well for me.  I hate to count on it though, because even with a reliable carrier, the signal can get out of range in a remote location, so I try to have some type of paper map, usually printed the night before OR a saved snapshot from the map site.
  • Scan books.  I had a post a while back about turning my cell phone into a book scanner.  I find that the scanning goes amazingly fast, however, processing those pages into a set, checking for errors and regulating the size of the final document took some getting used to.  With practice I should get pretty fast at that. 
Many applications will pull up a "Add to home screen" choice for the particular picture or document you are on.

Many applications will pull up a “Add to home screen” choice for the particular picture or document you are on.

  • Place directions or notes on the home screen when going to a repository. I use Evernote for all notes about repositories including directions, open hours, and my to-do list in each location.  I find it helpful, in advance of a trip, to add the specific Evernote page I need to my home screen.  Then there’s less fumbling around. 
  • Use as a camera.  Of course I usually bring my camera for a planned trip, but it’s nice to have a backup and emergency camera for times when I forget the camera or didn’t know I would need it. This is especially important because I never photocopy, I always take pictures.  Cell phone cameras are getting better and better. When I get back to my computer, the pictures have automatically uploaded to DropBox already.  
  • Read books on the Kindle app.  My phone is also a source of genealogy books in a pinch since the Kindle app works really well.  Waiting in a doctor’s office or waiting to pick someone up, it’s great to spend 15 minutes reading. 
My Dropbox account is very simple.

My Dropbox account is very simple.

  • Access documents anywhere.  Like all genealogists I have a large collection of pdf books and all types of documents on my computer at home.  Through Dropbox, I can access them at any time through my cell phone, tablet, or another computer. I had a bad experience early on with Dropbox, but Dropbox and I started getting along a lot better when I limited my Dropbox account to just three folders – my book folder, my document folder, and my cell phone picture folder.  It’s not unusual for me to be out at a library, say, and want to see a deed I had photographed a year before.  I do pay for a large-size Dropbox account.  Knowing that my work is safe is very important to me. 
  • Use the Amazon app.  I tend to use libraries as a way to preview older books I might like to own.  This is especially true since most reference books do not circulate, or I may be visiting a library far from home. Using the Amazon app, I quickly track down the exact book and see what used copies are available, and often buy them right there.
There are numerous pictures of my book shelves in my phone, for checking whether I already own something.

There are numerous pictures of my book shelves in my phone, for checking whether I already own something.

I keep track of the books I already have at home by photographing each shelf regularly, so when away from home I can quickly find the shelf picture, zoom in and make sure I don’t have it.

  • Keep up with podcasts.  I use long drives as a way to catch up on all my favorite genealogy podcasts like Marian Pierre-Louis’ Fieldstone Common, or The Genealogy Guys.  I have a simple little cord that plugs my phone into the “AUX” plug in my car, allowing me to hear the show on the car radio.  I also try to plug the car charger in so I don’t wear down the battery.  
When the keyboard is displaying, you can change it to a microphone instead.

When the keyboard is displaying, you can change it to a microphone instead.

  • This is the one you won’t really believe.  I actually transcribe long documents using my cell phone.  I discovered this by accident, really, noticing the little microphone every time I typed an email on my phone.  I tried dictating the email message instead, and it worked beautifully.  It is not quite so perfect transcribing old documents, but useful enough that I prefer it to typing.  I dictate slowly and clearly into a gmail message (you need to speak the punctuation, like “comma”), then email it to myself and pull it up on my computer. When working on a court case from Vermont, 1816, I read the entire record aloud  in about a half hour, then corrected it.    I’m sure others have far more sophisticated set ups for this, but it works for me, and it’s free. 

The post you are reading is located at:  http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2015/02/27/my-smart-phone/


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I sometimes like to scan old photos, scrapbooks and out-of-copyright books at home.  My husband, a woodworker, recently made me a photography stand to help me take the pictures.  This is for when a flatbed scanner would be too slow.

We researched the photography stands available (mostly made of metal), and I showed him photographs of a few I’ve seen here and there at libraries.  None of that helped much, and a lot of the advice was conflicting, so we pretty much made up our own design.

My phone is a Samsung Galaxy Note II.  Its freakishly big screen comes in handy in many ways.

My phone is a Samsung Galaxy Note II. Its freakishly big screen comes in handy in many ways.

I knew I wanted to use my smart phone, rather than my camera, mostly because I can command the smart phone by voice to take the picture, and don’t have to touch or move it.  I give 100% credit for this idea to Jenny Lanctot, whose post on Are My Roots Showing? about using a locker shelf to make a photography stand clued me in to the fact that saying “shoot” would snap the picture on my Android smart phone.  Yes, I needed that help despite the fact that my phone camera, when in operation, has the words “You can take pictures with voice commands like Smile, Cheese, Capture, and Shoot” displayed across the bottom at all times.  I tried Jenny’s system, and realized the power of that simple voice command to speed up photographing a large number pages – you can go as fast as you can turn the pages.

The camera screen on my phone

The camera screen on my Android phone

However, I wanted a system that would accommodate wider books, and take two pages at a time, if desired.  There were several problems my husband and I puzzled over along the way.  This is how we resolved them.

The photography stand

The photography stand


Although I don’t plan to take this anywhere, I do plan to move it from room to room, and there will be long periods where I don’t use it at all, so I want to store it compactly.  For that reason, he made it in pieces that simply fit together when assembled.

One or two pages at a time?

Most professional set-ups for book scanning (for instance, this example) put the book in a cradle with about a 90 degree angle that the book rests in.  Cameras are above on each side, shooting one page, then the other, then the page is turned. The pictures are integrated into one pdf.  Since I wasn’t very interested in setting up two cameras, that wouldn’t work for me.  I thought, in general, I would be happy shooting two pages at once.

Size of the book

Of course, shooting two pages at once could require a fairly big surface, so hubby worked with the measurements of the biggest book I might want, say, a page measurement of 9″ by 12″.  This required significant flexibility for the height of the camera, since I might want it farther up for a large book, but be able to lower it to get close to a smaller book.  He put the camera holder on a slider with a knob closure.

A better view of the knob to raise and lower the camera

A better view of the knob to raise and lower the camera

Taking the pictures

If you scan a book lying open on a flat surface you get this:

A book photographed lying flat

A book photographed lying flat; it curves

The curve in the page would get annoying.  To flatten it, glass is a good choice.  I purchased a large piece of quarter inch glass, with a finished edge for safety.  Hubby framed it and added sturdy handles for lifting.  If I had it to do over, I would have put one of the handles on the long edge, to give another option for lifting it.  With the glass, pages look like this:

The pages flattened by glass

The pages flattened by glass

If I use the glass, I am lifting it each time to turn the page.  It’s not that bad, but not ideal.  With the camera relatively close, we didn’t think there was enough room to hinge it, and, that would have made the glass a permanent fixture in this process.

I was concerned about the tone of the pages – old books can easily appear yellowed and even sepia.  I examined the options on the phone’s camera, especially the AWB – adjust white balance – settings.  In the end “auto” AWB worked best.

The only option I saw for the pictures in my camera was jpeg, although perhaps there are others.  I used a fairly large size (2048 x 1536), which seemed to work well.

Lighting.  Ah, lighting

When I first started trying this out I quickly realized that lighting would be the big problem.  There were shadows everywhere, and I had two clip-on lamps that I thought I would use, but they could not get high enough above the surface to stay out of the reflecting glass.  I read up on lighting and there is a reason photographers use those giant white umbrellas and enclosed boxes – they want to diffuse the light source.  Light, apparently, should come from a wide source, not a narrow opening.  I chose to deal with this by buying two flexible table lamps that had wide light openings – “Sunlight Desk Lamps.”  They work quite well, but on the other hand, if you look around on the web there are many homemade ways of widening a light source.  I think these lamps will stay on my desk when not in use.

Turning the page under the glass

Turning the page under the glass

Uploading automatically

One of the things I required in this system is an auto-upload of each picture so I don’t have to bother with that.  My phone’s camera was already set to upload to my DropBox account.  So after taking the pictures I could see them right away on my computer.  I noticed the camera stopped uploading when power got to only 25% in the phone, but as soon as it was plugged in, the rest of the pictures appeared in Dropbox.

Bulk editing

At this point, some edits were in order, and unless they could be done in bulk, that could be difficult.  The first thing I did with sets of page pictures was to rename them in bulk.

The Rename function under File in a Windows document folder will rename all selected documents

The Rename function under File in a Windows document folder will rename all selected documents

Using “Rename” under “File” will allow you to give a name (such as a shortened title of the book), which is then assigned to each document you have selected in the folder, with (2), (3), (4) after each one, in order. That would help for keeping them in order.   To batch crop the pictures and eliminate the unneeded edges, I think you would need to download some software.


At this point, there is a folder full of jpeg images, in order.  I have Adobe Acrobat and that would make compiling the pdf book from the jpegs fairly simple.  I think it would be good to photograph the covers and add those.  To assemble the book I could either select ALL my pages and right-click to “Combine supported files in Acrobat” or open Acrobat and under “File” – “Combine” – “Merge files into a single pdf” open a box where I could drag all the pages in.

A picture of my Aunt Ann and a friend from 1945, pasted into my great grandmother's scrapbook, soon to be digitized.

A picture of my Aunt Ann and a friend from 1945, pasted into my great grandmother’s scrapbook, soon to be digitized.

I like the stand, lighting, and optional glass plate.  For other glimpses at hubby’s woodworking, see the bookcase he made me last year.


For woodworkers only

What follows are some details my husband provided me about the construction of the stand, and a few more pictures.  There are no detailed plans; I’m afraid this is all we have.  The stand was made from scrap wood, but my husband says strong wood like oak is important for something like this.

All the pieces at parade rest (as my husband would say).

All the pieces at parade rest (as my husband would say).

The platform is white oak plywood trimmed with (I think) poplar.  Its outer dimensions are 13 x 21.  When assembled the surface of the platform is 2-1/2 inches off the table.

The underside of the platform.

The underside of the platform.

The stand is made out of cherry on the bottom and the rising part is red oak; the top of the riser is 18 inches off the table.

The arm of the stand shown from the back

The arm of the stand shown from the back

There is a slit in the riser, it measures 12-1/4 inches.

To attach the box to the riser, he used a fender washer, and there is a T-bolt assembled into the box.  When assembled, the knob (purchased at Lowes) will allow me to adjust the height of the box, and therefore the height of the camera.

back of the sliding box

back of the sliding box

He carefully fit my phone to the inner edges of the box – he tested this several times. I believe it is red oak with poplar edges. I like the fact that there’s only about an extra half inch in there – I can line the phone up against the edge and be sure it is straight.  The box arms extend out about 12 inches over the platform.

The stand is not actually attached to the platform.  They just slide together.

The stand is not actually attached to the platform. They just slide together.

The base of the stand extends from back to front about 13-1/2 inches.  The platform fits over it.

The glass tray cover has handles purchased at Lowes

The glass tray cover has handles purchased at Lowes

The glass in the tray is 1/4 inch think, with finished edges for safety.  The outside measurements of the tray are 14 x 20.

The RJB insignia and date

The RJB insignia and date

For further information, consult my husband’s blog at AccidentalWoodworker.blogspot.com and search for “camera stand”.  It’s best to leave questions about the construction there.

The post you are reading is located at:  http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2014/03/16/a-book-photography-stand/

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