Off Topic

I thought I had seen all sorts of “real estate” advertisements, but a new one caught my eye this week. This online real estate service advertises very small plots of land for sale. Very small.

Many people own cemetery plots that are no longer needed or wanted. If you contact the cemetery office, you probably receive a reply that they do not repurchase cemetery plots. Why should they? After all, the cemetery’s owners probably have more plots of their own still for sale.

Today is Pi Day

March 14, 2015 can be written by North Americans as 3.14.15. That is also the digits used to represent the Pi: 3.1415. (Most other countries would write today as 14.3.15 so let’s just ignore everyone else, OK?)

In fact, today is the one and only Pi Day in the next 100 years that will actually reflect the first five numbers in everyone’s favorite irrational number, pi, which is 3.1415. The next time pi lovers will see such an event will not be until March 14, 2115.

Ooma is now Available at the Lowest Price Ever

Note: This article has nothing to do with genealogy. If you are looking for genealogy articles, I suggest you skip this one. However, this article reflects one of my other interests: telecommunications, especially low cost or no cost telephone service. Then again, genealogists do make many phone calls in pursuit of relatives and information. If you are interested in reducing your present telephone expenses, you may be interested in this article.

I fired the local telephone company years ago. I replaced the old-fashioned telephone service with a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephone that connects to the Internet router in my home. There are no telephone lines connected to my house. The VoIP system works well, providing crystal-clear voice calls and also works perfectly with security alarms, FAX machines, and more.

Over the years, I have experimented with a number of different VoIP services. Back in the “old days” when VoIP was new, making phone calls meant leaving your computer powered up and online 24 hours a day and wearing headphones when you wanted to talk on the phone. Thankfully, those days are over. Almost all of today’s VoIP providers use normal telephones, such as those you purchase at the local computer store or department store.

Happy New Year

Buy a Chromebook and Receive 1 Terabyte of Free Google Storage for Two Years

Are you thinking of storing a lot of files in a cloud-based file storage service, such as Google Drive? Here’s a deal for you: buy a Chromebook.

Google is now offering one terabyte of storage FREE of charge for two years to anyone who purchases a new Chromebook laptop computer and redeems the offer by January 31, 2015.

Get your calculators out and do the math: one terabyte of storage on Google Drive normally costs $9.99 per month. Multiply that by 24 months for a total of $239.76. Let’s round that up to $240 for simplicity’s sake.

Seattle Mayor Pardons “Tofurky”

This has nothing to do with genealogy. However, since I am a vegan and won’t be eating turkey on Thanksgiving, I had to smile when I read about Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s proclamation at City Hall on Friday. He proclaimed, “I, Mayor Murray, pardon Braeburn the Tofurky.”

Mayor Murrary pardoned the tofu turkey and challenged the Seattle City Council to a food drive.

“Only in Seattle,” tweeted the Washington Secretary of State office.

Talk to Your Family This Holiday Season

Many of us will be enjoying dinners and other festive occasions with our relatives during the next few weeks. I would suggest this is a great time to compare notes with the relatives. Indeed, older members of the family may know a few tidbits of genealogy information that you have not yet found. However, there is another, more serious, reason for comparing notes with relatives: family health hazards.

Compiling a family tree can offer more benefits than discovering stories of war heroes or family dramas; science and preventive medicine are getting a look in, too. The skeleton in the cupboard could be a genetic predisposition towards disease that, once uncovered, might provide potentially life-saving indicators.

Announcing the new Privacy Blog

If you have been reading this genealogy newsletter for a while, you probably know that I often write about privacy and security-related topics. These articles usually have nothing to do with genealogy but are topics that I feel strongly about.

I am dismayed by what I see, read, and hear in today’s world. Edward Snowden has revealed the abuses by governmental agencies in snooping on its citizens. Other governments do the same. Cyber criminals frequently hack into servers and individual desktop computers around the world. Corporations snoop on your buying habits, your political and religious beliefs, and more in order to learn about you and to inundate you with “targeted advertising.” Potential employers snoop to find private information about potential job candidates. Retailers do not protect your credit card information properly; we often read about hackers stealing millions of credit card numbers from retailers’ servers.

And then there is Facebook…

Luckily, these problems are easily avoided if the user understands the solutions available.

Have You Talked with a Streetlight Recently?

Verizon knows something about technology. The company also spends a lot of time and effort studying future needs of the country. After all, Verizon needs to always be prepared for the future. Now the company is planning to build new or to modify existing streetlights to become serve as emergency call stations for endangered pedestrians. Press a button on the streetlight and be instantly connected to the closest 911 operator.

The same streetlights also could have signs attached that would communicate with traffic control centers via wireless networking and display traffic information and suggest alternate routes. A streetlight-mounted sign also could display up-to-the-minute information, such as the predicted arrival time of the next bus or subway train, as well as weather alerts. The same lights could display advertising or play music.

Update: Your Cell Phone is Tracking You

Click on the image to view a larger version.

I posted an article yesterday about an invasion of your privacy created by the cell phone you carry. “Your Cell Phone is Tracking You” is available at Shortly after I posted the article, a newsletter reader using a pseudonym of “outsidethemarginals” posted a comment at the end of the article mentioning a recent BBC2 Horizon documentary on privacy, called Inside the Dark Web. It focuses not so much on cell phones but more about Internet eavesdropping by governments and also about Bitcoins, a new virtual currency that is untraceable.

A quick search shows that Inside the Dark Web is also available on YouTube at

I watched the program on YouTube and found it to be very revealing. It covers many privacy issues. It focuses on the U.K. but most of the insidious issues it describes are equally true in the U.S. and in many other countries. I strongly recommend the video to anyone concerned about privacy and is questioning who is spying on all of us.

Your Cell Phone is Tracking You

NOTE: The following article has nothing to do with genealogy. However, it concerns me and I think everyone should be aware of these invasions of privacy.

You probably have a tracking device in your pocket. You are helping government spies, hackers, burglars, and cell phone companies track your every move. Every time you place your cell phone in your pocket or purse, you are on the radar and your movements, position, orientation, and conversations are all open to someone. In fact, that happens whether you place a call or not.

The “smart phones,” such as an Android or Apple phone, provide the most information about your movements and activities, but even the so-called dumb phones are almost as bad. All cell phones track your location. The “smart phones” simply provide additional accuracy as to your location. Instead of tracking you plus or minus a mile or so, a smart phone or even a dumb phone that has a built-in GPS will identify your location within a very few feet at all times.

Want proof? Look above and to the right to see a map available on Google that tracks my recent travels with an Android phone in my pocket. Click on the map to view a larger version. You can see where I traveled in considerable detail.

How to Fix a Poor Web Design

Warning: This article contains personal opinions.

A newsletter reader wrote today to tell me of a recent update to a very popular genealogy web site. In short, the web site reportedly has been converted from a very useful genealogy resource into something that is nearly unusable. I won’t mention the web site but will quote a few sentences from the message (with minor editing for readability reasons):

“The old account information won’t work, you need to establish a new account which means anything you had stored under an old account won’t work. They won’t let you put in a full first name on a basic search and the “narrow search” function is awful. The documents fly around the page so fast it is hard to zone in and read about person you are researching. To contact them with issues etc. is difficult. The contact page on the web site is limited to 200 characters, so you cannot send them much of an email message at all.”

I guess I have been in the computer business too long and have heard similar stories far too often. Yes, I suspect this complaint is valid, as are hundreds of other complaints I have heard over the years about other web sites, software applications, and more. My experience is that such problems usually get fixed although never with the speed that customers expect. Here is my response to the person who wrote me today:

102-Year-Old Woman Accused of Murder, May Face Life in Prison

I often write about various “achievements” of senior citizens but this one surprised me. A 102-year-old woman who prosecutors say killed her 100-year-old roommate in a Massachusetts nursing home nearly five years ago faces a second-degree murder charge. Laura Lundquist is the oldest murder defendant in the state’s history.

Details may be found at

You Are Invited to the Biggest Family Reunion Ever

A.J. Jacobs

There are 7 billion – yes, billion – people on our planet and A.J. Jacobs says we are all related, albeit distantly. Jacobs plans to throw the world’s biggest family reunion next summer in New York.

It all began after Jacobs received an email from a fan in Israel, who informed Jacobs that he was a distant cousin of his wife, and was related to notables like Karl Marx and 80,000 more. The revelation sparked Jacob’s fascination with genealogy, and prompted him to start playing the connections game. So far, he has mapped out his family tree to include up to 77 million distant relatives.

How to Turn Your Smartphone into a Wi-Fi Hotspot

NOTE: This article has nothing to do with genealogy but I will suggest that all owners of cell phones should be aware of the hotspot capabilities of their phones.

Would you like to access the web with your laptop or tablet computer while at a library or archive or most any other location? If a wi-fi network is available, that is easy to do. However, what do you do when you are not in range of a wi-fi connection? If you have a cell phone, there is an easy answer: tether the cell phone.

Tethering allows sharing the Internet connection of the cell phone with other devices, such as laptops.

Do You Lead a Paper-Free Life? Now It is Time to Consider a Money-Free Lifestyle

NOTE: This article has nothing to do with genealogy. If you are looking for genealogy information, I suggest you skip this article.

I have written several times about leading a paperless lifestyle. I have tried to do so and now live about 98% paper free. I love it. I don’t ever want to go back to cluttering my life with paper.

Even at the NGS genealogy conference I am attending this week, when anyone in the exhibits hall hands me a brochure or a business card, I simply take a picture of it with my smartphone’s camera and then hand the paper back to the person who gave it to me. I won’t need to stuff my suitcase full of paper for the trip home. Unlike past conferences, I won’t lose the various pieces of paper. The smartphone pictures automatically get copied to my private space “in the cloud” within seconds after snapping the shutter. They are then easily searchable and retrievable for years to come.

Why You Want a Do-It-Yourself Home Security System

NOTE: This article contains no information about genealogy. If you are looking for genealogy-related articles, I suggest you skip this article.

burglarA recent article by Nick McCrea in the Bangor (Maine) Daily News made me stop and think. McCrea’s home was burglarized recently while he and his family were sleeping. He writes, “A burglar or burglars shoved a pry bar into the latch and popped the door open to my family’s home. I never woke up. The culprits were just feet away from me, separated only by a closed bedroom door and a few feet of hallway, and I never even knew it. That’s the part that angers me the most.” A pocketbook with a small amount of money was taken, but apparently nothing else is missing.

McCrea describes his feelings after discovering the burglary. He notes, “This is how I’ve come to realize that being the victim of a burglary is not about losing items. I didn’t lose any ‘stuff’ in this crime — no televisions, computers or money. My family and I, however, lost our ability to feel secure in our house and close our eyes at night.”

Several other homes on the same street were hit the same night. You can read his full article at

The question quickly arises, “What would you do if that happened to you?” That is a difficult question to answer.

I’ve Been Bing’ed!

I was sitting at the computer a few minutes ago, facing a window that looks onto the street. A strange-looking car drove by. It had a large apparatus on the roof and the word “Bing” was on both front doors of the vehicle. I wasn’t quick enough to take a picture although you can find a picture of a similar-looking vehicle at It obviously is a street view mapping vehicle sponsored by Microsoft’s Bing Maps. It is driving around, taking pictures of every street, to later be included with Bing Maps.


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