Cloud Services

(+) One Easy Method to Create Online Databases for Your Website, Replacing Spreadsheets

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Have you or perhaps your local genealogy society accumulated a lot of information that you would like to make available online, either free or for a fee? Indeed, many societies would like to publish tombstone information, local tax tax records, school records, and a lot more local history records online. However, there is one difficulty that often blocks organizations that do not have web publishing experts amongst their members: “How do we do that?”

Unfortunately, publishing listings of thousands of pieces of information is not as simple as creating an HTML document or an Excel spreadsheet. A true database is a better way of publishing records online, especially if there are hundreds or thousands of records to be made available, but such a solution also can be rather complex. The most common solution is to create a SQL database or something similar, then write a custom “front end” to it that users can use to query the database.

Simple? Well, yes, that is simple IF you are an accomplished programmer. Luckily, there is one solution that requires some technical skills, but you don’t need to be able to write a single line of SQL code.

Use a Word Processor in the Cloud

NOTE: This article has nothing to do with genealogy. If you are looking for genealogy-related articles, you might want to skip this one. However, if you would like to learn of a cheap and very secure method of using applications in the cloud for word processing purposes, this article may be of interest to you.

If you already have a word processor installed in each of your computers and are happy with your present choice, you probably will want to skip this article. However, if you do not have a good word processor, or if you want to look at other possibilities, this may be the article for you.

Akshata Shanbhag has written an article in the Make Use Of web site that describes seven word processors and one text editor that are cloud-based, powerful, and are available free of charge for personal use.

If you are presently using Google Docs or Microsoft Word Online or some other cloud-based word processor and are frustrated by your program’s lack of some features you want, this is the article for you. If you need a better word processor for sharing documents with co-workers or with family or even with genealogy society members, this is the article for you. If you want a good word processor for a Chromebook, an iPad, or an Android tablet computer, this is the article for you.

Google Drive is now called Google One and is also Cheaper than Before

NOTE: This article has nothing to do with genealogy. However, it is information that I suspect will interest many computer owners, so I am offering it here. If you are looking for true genealogy-related articles, you might want to skip this one.

I have written many times about the advantages of storing data and apps in the cloud. (See http://bit.ly/2nPa6q1 for a list of my earlier articles about use of the cloud.) One of the most popular file storage services in the cloud is Google Drive… ooops, it was renamed to Google One earlier this year.

Google One is the new title for a number of cloud-based services the company provides for consumers, corporations, and non-profit organizations alike. Previously, Google Drive was also the company’s name for the gigabytes of online storage you’d share between Drive, Gmail and Google Photos. Now, all of that and more is called Google One.

Changes in Google One include the new ability to share that storage plan with up to five family members. Google says it will also now include “one-stap” customer support for your other Google products — including Google hardware devices such as the Pixel phones and Google Home speakers. Google One presently is only available to anyone in the United States. It is unclear when Google One will be available to users in other countries, but Google is offering to notify potential users when it opens up in their market.

Digipulse Sends Access Information about Your Digital Assets After You Die

If you should pass away unexpectedly or simply become unable to manage your own affairs for any reason, who will step in and manage your digital assets? Such assets might include passwords to web sites, access to Bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies, documents of any sort that are stored in your computer(s) or in the cloud, and any other digital items that need to be passed on to your heirs or caretakers. One new service uses the latest technology to securely make the information available to those who need it, but only after you can no longer control the information yourself.

Digipulse operates a decentralized asset encryption and distribution storage service, meaning that your uploaded files will only be accessible to you and your designated recipients. “Decentralized” means there is no one place that a hacker can go to to find the information you wish to keep secret. Everything is encrypted and broken up into pieces, and then the pieces are stored in different servers. Of course, normal backup procedures are also in use, as is typical in most cloud-based services. Everything is managed by a blockchain.

The Scanner in Your Pocket or Purse

NOTE: This is an update to an article I wrote four years ago. A newsletter reader asked about scanners today and I wanted to refer her to my old article. However, when I looked at the old article, I found some of the information I published four years ago is no longer accurate or relevant today. In addition, there are several new apps available today that did not exist four years ago. Therefore, I updated the article with today’s information and am re-publishing it now.

pixel-xlGenealogists have lots of uses for scanners. We like to make digital images of information from books, court records, old maps, and even records found on microfilm. High quality portable scanners are inexpensive these days, typically $50 and up. You can occasionally find them at even lower prices if you watch the sales. However, convenience is always an issue. Do you really want to carry a portable scanner with you at all times just in case you happen to encounter something you want to digitize? Actually, you probably already have such a scanner with you every time you leave the house.

Today’s Apple and Android smartphones typically have excellent, high-quality digital cameras built in. These make terrific scanners. Need to digitize a record in the deed books or the receipt you just received from a fast food restaurant? Make sure you have good lighting and snap a picture of it. I have been doing that for years and find it works well.

OldNews USA – an Online Search of Old Newspapers

OldNews USA is the app that won the RootsTech 2017 Innovator Showdown. It makes it easy to find interesting stories and articles in historical US newspapers, using the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America collection of over 11 million newspaper pages from 1789 to 1943. Quoting from the OldNews web site:

Designed for both genealogists and history enthusiasts, OldNews USA makes getting started with historical newspaper research easier than ever. With OldNews USA, you can quickly discover interesting stories and articles in historical US newspapers, using the Library of Congress Chronicling America collection of over 12 million newspaper pages from 1789 to 1963.

With OldNews USA, you begin by entering who or what you are looking for. If you want to find articles about a person, all you need to enter is a name, a date range, and a location.

Another Reason to Store Your Data in the Cloud

I broke my eyeglasses a few months ago. While loading a toolbox into the back of the car, my eyeglasses slipped off my face and landed on the concrete driveway. One lens shattered.

Luckily, I also have prescription sunglasses that happened to be in the front seat console of the auto. I put the sunglasses on and had full vision but I wouldn’t want to wear them around the house and especially not at night.

I should also mention that I was in Florida at the time but I purchased the glasses a bit more than a year earlier from a big-name optical franchise in Massachusetts. I drove to a local franchisee in Orlando of the same chain, hoping they would have my prescription on file in their computers and could make new glasses for me quickly. Alas, it was not that easy. It seems the local store’s computers could not access prescription information from another store.

A very helpful clerk suggested I call the office of the ophthalmologist that wrote the prescription and ask someone at that office to FAX the prescription to the local store. I had a better idea.

Is My Virus Checker Telling the Truth?

Virus checkers are wonderful tools-— when they work. The problem is that you never know if they are telling the truth or not when they claim to have detected a virus on a web site or in a file on your computer.

The problem is called “false positives.” This happens when a virus checking program says there is a virus or there is a POSSIBILITY of a virus when, in fact, there is no virus in the web site or in the file. Sadly, this happens thousands of times every day, mostly to Windows users.

My favorite reference for this issue is How To Tell If a Virus Is Actually a False Positive, an article written by Chris Hoffman four years ago that still seems to be very accurate. He wrote:

“Your antivirus will complain that this download is a virus, but don’t worry — it’s a false positive.” You’ll occasionally see this assurance when downloading a file, but how can you tell for sure whether the download is actually safe?

A false positive is a mistake that happens occasionally — the antivirus thinks a download is harmful when it’s actually safe. But malicious people may try to trick you into downloading malware with this assurance.

The article may be found at https://www.howtogeek.com/180162/how-to-tell-if-a-virus-is-actually-a-false-positive/.

Google’s Transfer Appliance Simplifies the Transfer of Huge Amounts of Data to Google Cloud

NOTE: I doubt if very many genealogists have a need for this service at home. However, I suspect that several genealogy societies, genealogy libraries, museums, and perhaps a few genealogy book publishers and magazine publishers could use this. Those organizations often have huge databases or collections of data files. Those organizations are the intended audience for this article.

Do you need to back up a lot of data to the cloud for safekeeping? In this case, I am talking about terabytes of data. (One terabyte is equal to one million million bytes, the same thing as 1,024 gigabytes, or 1,024,000 megabytes.)

We tend to think of our normal Internet connections as being “high speed.” Indeed, they are much faster than the old dial-up modems we all used a number of years ago. Still, “high speed” is a relative term.

If you or your employer has a typical in-home or small business Internet connection of 10 megabits per second, backing up your file server’s most critical terabyte of data might require several months to accomplish! Do you have many terabytes of data, such as videos and images? Multiply the time required as needed.

SmallPDF Converts PDF Files to JPG and Other Formats

Genealogists seem to use a lot of different documents in their computers and sometimes need to convert from one format to another. For instance, one newsletter reader recently mentioned a need to convert an e-book in PDF format to JPG files. With the right software, this is easy to do.

Any number of programs are available that will convert files from one format to another. In this case, the newsletter reader wanted to convert an entire book that was in PDF format to individual JPG files, one file for each page in the book. I suggested using SmallPDF, a FREE online service.

Since SmallPDF is a cloud-based service, there is no need to install software in your computer. Simply open a web browser and go to SmallPDF.com to use it. Like most other cloud-based applications, the service works equally well on Macintosh, Windows, Chromebook, and Linux computers. Since the conversion happens in the cloud, the service works well even on low-powered computers, such as very cheap Chromebooks or on older Windows computers.

Use CloudConvert to Convert a File from One Format to Another

Cloud-ConvertHere is a web site you probably should bookmark: https://cloudconvert.com. You probably won’t need to use it often but when you do have a need it can be a lifesaver. Best of all, it is a free service if you only want to convert a few files. However, if you want to convert dozens of files, there is a modest charge.

CloudConvert converts almost any file from one format to almost any other format. It recognizes files in more than 200 different formats, and connects with Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive. The list of files types it can convert may be found at https://cloudconvert.com/formats. It is a long, long list!

I find CloudConvert useful for converting PNG images into JPG format. It also can can turn a PDF file into a DOCX file, which you may open in Microsoft Word, LibreOffice, or Google Docs. It also can convert Macintosh Keynote presentation files into PowerPoint PPTX files. In fact, CloudConvert can convert about 200 different file formats into other file formats.

Google Cloud Storage Plans are now Cheaper than Ever

I have often recommended using file storage services in the cloud for storing your genealogy information and for storing any other information that is valuable to you. Whether you use the cloud as your primary storage area or if you use it simply as a backup to your computers’ disk drives is unimportant. If information is important to you, you need to have AT LEAST two copies of everything, stored in two different places. Three copies of everything stored in three different places would be better still and four copies… well, you get the idea. You can never have too many backup copies.

What interests me is that prices of storing data in the cloud keep dropping. Today, Google made new changes to its storage plans that include a new, low-cost storage plan and half off the price of its 2 terabytes storage option. Details may be found in Google’s announcement at: https://www.blog.google/products/google-one/one-simple-way-get-more-out-google/.

Several changes were announced:

The Best Online Cloud Backup Service

I have written many times about the wisdom of backing up your important genealogy and other files off-site. That is, at least one copy of your multiple backups should be stored at a location that is some distance away from your computer(s). That provides protection from in-home disasters, such as hurricanes, tornados, fire, floods, or burst water pipes. There are dozens of backup servies available to choose from.

The Wirecutter is a highly-respected web site that publishes reviews of all sorts of things. I tend to trust The Wirecutter reviews more than most other web sites simply because the reviews all seem to be unbiased. As Jack Webb used to say on Dragnet, “Just the facts ma’am. Nothing but the facts.” Now The Wirecutter has published reviews of cloud-based backup services and selected one of them as “the best.”

Quoting from the web site:

How to use Evernote to Organize Your Life

I have written about Evernote dozens of times. (See http://bit.ly/2eKdTjT for my past articles.) It is a cross-platform app designed for note taking, organizing, and archiving. It is my most used program, after email, a web browser, and a cloud-based genealogy program. Now Zainab Hasnain has written an article telling you how to organize most everything in your life with Evernote, not just genealogy data.

Hasnain writes:

“Some people might still prefer the old, foolproof method of taking notes with pen and paper, but this is the mobile era, and having one good note-taking app on your phone can save you constant hassle.”

He also wrote:

CrashPlan is Shutting Down its Cloud Backup Service For Consumers

I have written many times about the need to make frequent backup copies of your important data files. One of the services I have always recommended was CrashPlan. However, I won’t be recommending it any more.

CrashPlan is planning to shut down its consumer-facing “CrashPlan for Home” product. Instead, it is going to focus only on commercial customers. The plan is already in effect as the company has already stopped accepting new consumer users and won’t allow existing non-business customers to renew their backup plan. All current subscriptions will be honored until the end date of October 22nd, 2018. Details are available in the CrashPlan Blog at https://blog.code42.com/data-protection-needs-diverge/.

Luckily, there are a number of other companies in the same business and most of them have excellent reputations.

Use the FREE On My Disk Software to Create Your Own Private and Secure Personal Cloud

You probably have read a lot in this newsletter and elsewhere about the various file storage services in the cloud. Some of the better known ones include Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, SugarSync, SpiderOak, Tresorit, Mega.nz, and perhaps a few dozen others. These are valuable services that allow you to gain access to your files wherever you are, to (optionally) share files with others, and to copy files from one of your computers to another. However, there are two major drawbacks to these services:

1. They tend to charge a lot of money if you have a lot of files you wish to keep available.

2. You have to give your files and, more importantly, CONTROL of your files, to someone else.

To be sure, all the better file storage services provide industrial-strength encryption that prevents anyone else from being able to read the contents of your files—not even the employees of the file storage service. Nonetheless, many people are uncomfortable with giving control to strangers on the Internet.

I often hear or read comments from non-technical computer owners who say, “I don’t trust the cloud.” That statement always comes from someone who doesn’t understand how encryption works. Even so, convincing someone to forego their fears of giving up control is nearly impossible.

One new product called “On My Disk” would seem to solve both problems.

Zoho Workplace: My Favorite FREE Replacement for Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office has been the leading word processing/spreadsheet/presentation program for a couple of decades, maybe longer. It is powerful, feature-rich, and able to create files that are universally compatible with all sorts of other programs. There is only one major drawback: Microsoft Office is very expensive.

Prices for Microsoft Office vary from about $80 to around $350, depending upon the version selected. The more expensive versions typically are bundled with additional Microsoft programs, useful primarily in corporations or other environments where groups of people work together on shared projects.

Another big drawback is that the price is charged PER COMPUTER. If you own two computers, perhaps a desktop system and a laptop system, you need to pay twice in order to comply with the shrink-wrapped licensing agreement that you agreed to abide by when installing the product.

Google Backup and Sync is Now Available

I have written dozens of newsletter articles explaining why genealogists need to frequently make backups of their important information. You can see a list of my past articles by starting at: http://bit.ly/2uj4tF1. Actually, I will suggest that almost all computer users should make frequent backups, not just genealogists. However, genealogists often spend hundreds of hours gathering and saving information. It seems a shame when someone sends me an email message and states, “My hard drive just crashed and I lost 20 years of my genealogy records. What should I do?”

There is no good answer to that question. However, a simple backup plan will avoid the problem entirely.

A new vendor is now offering backup and restore services for Windows and Macintosh. You may have heard of this company before: Google.

Follow-Up: How Private is Your Genealogy Information?

Yesterday, I published an article entitled How Private is Your Genealogy Information? That article is still available at: http://bit.ly/2r4m26g. In that article, I strongly suggested encrypting any sensitive information stored in your computer’s hard drive, on flash drives, or in any cloud-based file storage service. Encryption keeps your private information private.

A newsletter reader then asked a very simple question: “How do I encrypt my info?”

The question is simple although the answer is a bit more complex. I decided to post my answer here in a separate article so that everyone could read my reply:

Announcing c3 Heirlooms – a Web Server App for Recording the History of Family Heirlooms

Did you inherit any family heirlooms that have been passed down from generation to generation? If so, you need to record and preserve the history of each piece as you know it to make sure the history does not get lost for future generations. In fact, some history may have already been lost before the items came into your possession. You owe it to future generations to preserve whatever historical information you may have.

Scott Hampton, the creator of c3 Heirlooms, states on his web site:

“c3 Heirlooms was created to stop that trend and allow you and your family to easily record your heirlooms and their history. I created this because our family needed it. Maybe yours could use it as well.”

Some features are: