Changing Technology

I like to try to keep up with developments in areas that might affect use of computing technology by individuals. Here are two items that I found interesting.  From “PC World” there is a link to an article about Google adding Android app availability to Chromebooks. I think that this is important since the Chromebook/Chrome OS option seems like a useful and inexpensive one for quite a lot of people. Then there is a link to an article about the current work of Tim Berners-Lee. His work is aimed at changing the way that personal data is managed. His direction is quite different from that of Google in terms of use of personal data. This exemplifies the struggle between big organizations that want access to data about you in order to monetize it and others like Berners-Lee, who is more interested in the rights and controls available to individuals. So, the two links actually pertains to opposing factions in the struggle.

http://www.pcworld.com/article/3124525/chromebooks/chromebooks-get-stable-android-apps-as-andromeda-rumors-swirl.html#tk.rss_worldbeyondwindows

http://www.digitaltrends.com/web/ways-to-decentralize-the-web/

 

Genealogy Notes: Understanding Cultures Before the 19th Century

I think that it is useful to imagine what an ancestor’s life might have been like in addition to collecting numbers about dates and places. Here are  links to two references that might be of interest in this regard.

The first one is a video simulation of parts of Paris in the 18th century. It includes sounds and 3D street scenes but no people. It reminded me of walking through Barcelona’s Old City (Ciutat Vella).

The second one is a link to information about the Domesday Book. Looking at this 11th century creation reminded me that not many people had surnames and that more than half the land owners consisted of tenant farmers.  I don’t know what portion of the population is represented by land owners, but I suspect that they represent a minority and that it is most likely that an ancestor came from the class of landless laborers.

http://www.openculture.com/2016/09/the-sights-sounds-of-18th-century-paris-get-recreated-with-3d-audio-and-animation.html

http://www.domesdaybook.co.uk/

I hope that some of this is interesting/useful.

Genealogy Notes: a recent Germanic Genealogy Society Conference in Minnesota

About 3/8ths of my DNA can be traced to areas on both sides of the Rhein River – within about a 60 mile circle from present day Karlrsruhe. I have traced the contributing ancestors to Alsace, Pfalz, and Baden in the late 1700s. The associated cultures were mostly of Germanic ethnicity. (This includes those ancestors who migrated to Russia in the early 19th century.) Thus, my interest in the local Germanic Genealogy Society in MN.

The purpose of this post is to share a few notes from a conference that I attended on 9/24/2016. These conferences are held periodically by the local GGS organization (www.ggsmn.org). Recent ones have centered on visits by highly skilled historians/researchers that have particular expertise in Germanic Genealogy.

This conference was focused on information provided by Roger Minert (read “Meinert”), who is a prof at BYU.

Roger has just finished assembling information on German census records from 1816-1916. He has been able to provide fresh information that has not been brought to light in the past. He found that most archivists in Germany were not even aware of the fact they had what is normally considered census information. He was, however, able to ferret out considerable sources that describe who lived where and when during the period mentioned. His research results are compiled in a new book, German Census Records from 1816-1916, which is available from Amazon. I think that this is significant new information for genealogical researchers.

Roger also presented an entertaining explanation of how sounds found in the German and English languages can be analyzed to create spelling variants for surnames. Such surnames can be useful in tracking down genealogical information. His related book about this is Spelling variations in German Names: Solving Family History problems Through Applications of German and English Phonetics.

An example name in my ancestry is the name Hydaker (as used in the US), which maps to Heidegger. Using the Heidegger variant has provided lots of information that I would never have found.

Another presentation described suggestions about how to communicate with people and agencies in Europe regarding genealogical information. Lots of this was common sense. He described ways to contact civil records sources as well as church sources.

The last presentation was about “Status in German Society from 1500 to 1800.” Roger emphasized the concept that a person was born into a place in a very rigid class structure. People, especially at the lower end of the structure, found it hard/impossible to move out of the situation that they were born into. These were the most likely to emigrate when the chance arose. Marriages tended to be arranged within the structure. Occupation and status were tightly linked. And, as is the case now, teachers were low in the status hierarchy (in spite of protestations to the contrary). Here is a reference – Culture and daily Life in the Early Modern Era: Village and City, written bu Richard van Dülmen, translated by Roger Minert.

The most important thing that I took from the last presentation is that those of us that have Germanic ancestors likely are descended from people in the lower strata of society. Any attempts to look for “well – connected” ancestors are very likely to fail. Get used to the fact that you are not likely to be descended from nobility! Be suspicious of those who say otherwise, and make sure that there is good evidence.

Genealogy Notes: a recent trip to South Dakota

In September (2016) I made a kind of grand tour across much of South Dakota mainly for the purpose of pursuing genealogical interests.

GRHS (Germans from Russia Historical Society) Conference (http://www.grhs.org)

By way of explanation, about a quarter of my DNA traveled from Germanic cultures through south Russia (now Ukraine). So, I have an interest in German-Russian history.

This is the first time I have attended a GRHS conference. It was well organized, and I mainly enjoyed two aspects. I was pleased to be able to share meals and conversations with people that are clearly descendants of the people that were neighbors of my ancestors in the small town that they established in about 1805 in Russia. I also appreciated the new research and contemporary history work presented at the conference. Here are some samples of the new contributions that I encountered.

Bill Bosch (retired math professor) contributed in two ways. He has written a book (The German-Russians), which is the only concise history of the German-Russians that I have seen. Most of the literature that I have encountered has been overly sympathetic or very long. Bill’s book does not suffer from either characteristic. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the topic. Bill also has recently completed an analysis and reformulation of data about Russia from a book produced for the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in the 1890s. (See https://books.google.com/books?id=ouYNmAEACAAJ&dq=industries+of+russia,+volume+3&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjfk5-twLLPAhWZ14MKHclLAq8Q6AEIMjAE.) He has taken the many separate maps, which describe agriculture and climate in the areas settled by German-Russians, and “normalized” the facts that they describe to create a few comprehensive maps. In doing so, he has created more useful coherent representations of the data so that a researcher has a simpler task of understanding conditions in the late 1800s in Russia. Bill has not yet published his work, but I am hopeful that he will find a reasonable way to do that.

German-Russians in Russia in the late 20th Century – Eric Schmaltz described the recent history of the German-Russians that stayed. I was surprised to find that as recently as 40 years ago there were as many as 2 million Russians of German descent living in Kazakhstan and Siberia. These people had been exiled from western areas in Russia and forced to work for the state over decades, starting around 1900. For a short period, there was even a movement to form their own state in the Russian Federation. However, with the end of perestroika and glasnost, independence efforts failed and many (tens of thousands) were allowed to emigrate – mostly to Germany. This recent history accounts for the fact that I have been able to contact distant cousins, who live in Germany and who descend from common ancestors but along lines that decided to stay in Russia. Their stories in many cases are not happy ones, but I am better positioned now to understand them.

Contemporary Ukraine – Carolyn Schott presented her recent experiences in Ukraine involving people that she encountered when she visited the old sites where her German-Russian ancestors were settlers. She painted a bleak picture of the political situation in Ukraine and the destabilizing and violent actions of the current Russian government. Her direct experience, including as an international election observer, brought current events into better focus for me.

The Northern State University History Project – Robert Russell described his efforts to preserve audio recordings of people in the U.S. with direct knowledge of the (German-Russian) immigrants to the Dakotas from Russia. He is very thoughtful in his approach to acquiring the recordings. He provided a few examples. It is a little surprising to me (pleasantly) that there are still people alive who have had close contact with some of the early Dakota settlers and their culture.

South Dakota State Archives

I spent a few hours looking through some of the materials that are held at the Pierre archive. The staff was friendly and helpful, particularly Virginia Hanson, who had actually just given a presentation at the GRHS conference described above. The holdings of the archive are documented at http://history.sd.gov.

I focused on the newspaper archives that have not been included in the Library of Congress’ “Chronicling America” efforts. I also found some useful maps from WPA work during the depression to record graves registration information for all cemeteries in the state. This is a good source to help locate a grave in a cemetery that has no current directory. Some county history books also provided some useful maps organized by township to commemorate the state centennial in 1989.

Helping Someone Choose a Computing Device

Two things motivated me to write what follows. – (1) experiences at a public library helping people with their computing devices and (2) a very positive experience that I had with the purchase of a machine from System76. In general, I am finding that most people, including myself, do not need the complexity and intrusiveness provided by devices powered by the Windows 10 operating system. There are many fine options.  Here is a copy of a document that I recently wrote. –>


Choosing Computing Devices

After months of helping seniors with computing and phone technology, I have come to some conclusions about what products are most appropriate in various common contexts. I believe that many of the observations that follow apply to younger people as well.

The following discussion ignores topics of virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, gaming, wearables, the “Internet of Things,” etc. The discussion does focus on laptops and to a lesser extent tablets and phones.

Table of Contents

Ecosystems 2

Determining What is Best for You 4

Other Opinions and Information 6

Tables to Help You Organize Your Thoughts 7

Hardware Considerations – Laptops & Desktops 7

Software Considerations – Laptops & Desktops 8

Hardware Considerations – Tablets & Phones 9

Software Considerations – Tablets & Phones 10

Ecosystems

In our largely capitalist world, there are so-called technology ecosystems. Most of these are designed to draw you in and lock you in, so as to have access to your money or information about how you use the web or both. Here they are.

  • Microsoft
  • Apple
  • Google
  • Amazon
  • Barnes and Noble
  • the world of Linux and open software

Microsoft offers an assortment of products for home and business use. They have a large vested interest in business computing facilities, and most people in the workforce have used their products at one time or another. Their most recent product release to affect home users is the release of the Windows 10 operating system. With this release they have become much more controlling, and the release has not been particularly well-received. The Microsoft world is a closed world in which interoperability is not a primary goal.

Microsoft has an on-line software store, but its bread and butter desktop/laptop software is MS Office.

Apple also offers an assortment of products. However, their focus seems to be on phones (and tablet products) that use the iOS operating system. Apple should be seen as a hardware manufacturing company as well as a software company. (This differentiates it from Microsoft.) I believe that the majority of their income is from hardware sales, especially iPhones. Apple also offers laptops that run another operating system, but these products have not been updated in quite some time. There are rumors that there will be updates in the Fall of 2016, however. Apple operates retail outlets. The Apple world is also a very closed one in which interoperability with non-Apple products is not a goal.

Apple has an extensive software store, with highly curated and controlled applications.

Google earns its money partly from hardware sales but mostly from advertising sales based on access to your web usage patterns. Google fundamentally wants to know how you use the web so that they can direct ads to you most effectively. Google is not unique in this, they are just “the biggest and best” in this area. Google offers phones and tablets that are based on the Android operating system, which it licenses to other manufacturers of other phone and tablet devices. Google also has produced a laptop operating system (Chrome OS) that is deployed on an assortment of Chromebooks (Google laptops) that can be purchased directly from Google or from a variety of retail outlets. Chromebooks are rather unique in that they are inexpensive platforms on which Google applications run, keeping close contact with cloud storage facilities. It appears that Google will be making some Android applications available to run on Chromebooks in the near future.

Google has a very extensive software store in which many common/useful applications are free.

Amazon offers Kindle tablet devices on which books and music and videos from the Amazon store can be read/played. These are relatively inexpensive devices, but they are less capable when it comes to accessing web facilities. They are closed, proprietary devices.

Barnes and Noble still offers their Nook tablets. These serve the same purpose as the Amazon Kindle devices, only directed to products sold by Barnes and Noble. Again these are not very capable, inexpensive devices that are closed and proprietary.

The world of Linux is by far the least intrusive in terms of wanting your money and/or usage information. The others lust for your money and information about you in many different ways. Linux, however, is an operating system that comes in assorted versions, all supported by world-wide communities of developers that are committed to providing software that is open to scrutiny and in most cases free of charge. Ubuntu Linux is a well-known Linux “distribution.” Linux distributions will run on an assortment of hardware and can be downloaded freely from the web. Laptops and tablets with Ubuntu Linux already loaded can be found at Dell, System76, BQ Systems, and others. Phones employing Linux are available in other parts of the world, but not currently in the US.

Typical distributions like Ubuntu offer extensive libraries of applications. Non-proprietary browsers, email clients, suites of software of “office” applications, photography applications, genealogy applications, etc. are readily available.

Linux is widely used in commercial “server” settings, but it is not so well known by the general public. This is probably because there are no marketing and sales organizations (because the software is free).

Years ago, Linux was in the realm of computer geeks, but it is offered now with user interfaces that make it as easy to use as any of the other proprietary products. It is interesting to note that Apple and Google based their proprietary products on Linux.

Determining What is Best for You

The key in selecting which computer product is for you is to understand how you want to use the device. Do you want a large display, a keyboard, touch control, etc.? What are your software needs – a browser (like Firefox or Chrome), an email client or webmail, storage and access to photos, a calendar, storage and access to music, a way to create documents and spreadsheets, etc.? Make a list of your criteria in terms of hardware and software! Then, shop on-line or at a store.

Also, please consider who will help you with your choice if you run into trouble.

From what I have seen, there are a few common classes of users. The most common type actually has limited needs that include web browsing, emailing, photo storage and display, music storage and playback, limited document creation, video chatting, etc., but no need for complex programs (like professional photo editing, genealogy, etc.) For these people, I strongly suggest that a Chromebook be considered. Consider ones with touch sensitive screens and at least 2 GB of RAM (memory) and 32 GB of storage. The cost of this option should be less than $300.

Next most common type of user. – If you need a general purpose environment that will support complex programs/applications, then I encourage you to investigate a device that runs Ubuntu Linux. Costs for this option can range from $0 (if you already have the hardware) to $1000 (if you buy high end laptop hardware).

If you want a general purpose but highly constrained environment that will support complex programs that is implemented on designer hardware, look at Apple products. Expect to spend $500-$1000 on this option.

If you just want to have a tablet with which to read books, I recommend Android tablets. I suggest that you consider those devices with at least 2 GB of memory (RAM) and 32 GB of storage. This will ensure that you experience good performance as well as the ability to accept future operating system releases, which tend to grow in size and demand more of the hardware. Kindle and Nook tablets are kind of “peculiar beasts.” I would only consider these if you are sure that you only want to access books from one source (and possibly the library). Apple has a line of tablets as well. Apple products offer designer hardware and a constrained environment and a commercial store to pop into. Costs for tablets range from as little as $100 to several hundred dollars.

If you are interested in phones (smart phones, not flip phones), very similar comments apply. As mentioned before, if you want designer hardware and a constrained environment and a commercial store to pop into, look at Apple products. If you want more flexibility, look at Android devices with at least 2 GB of memory and 32 GB of storage by manufacturers that keep the Android software up to date. Cell phones can be expensive, but unlocked Android phones with reasonable amounts of memory start at around $200. If you go nuts with designer, flagship phones, you can spend something like $800 (unlocked). Make sure that you understand any discounts that might be offered if you make long term commitments. Usually you are really paying off a loan by getting a phone inexpensively in exchange for a long term contract.

In general, I do not recommend devices with Microsoft Windows as the operating system unless there is some overriding consideration or the user is willing to become very technically involved in the computing environment.

Tables at the end of this document may help you organize your thoughts.

Other Opinions and Information

Certainly, you must make up your mind for yourself, and I don’t claim omniscience. Other current information and opinions can be had by listening to web casts and reading blogs like the following. The library also has lots of resources. Technical things change fast, so don’t think that what you knew a month ago still holds true today!

www.twit.tv (web casts – lots of general information, mostly hosted by Leo LaPorte)

www.jupiterbroadcasting.com (web casts – a more youthful view of Linux)

https://blog.eogn.com/2014/05/01/why-use-a-chromebook/ (a genealogist’s view in blog form)

https://arc.applause.com/2016/08/18/android-updates-marshmallow/ (a link to an article about Android software updates)

https://ting.com/ (an example site for acquiring unlocked phones and buying usage plans based on levels of usage)

Tables to Help You Organize Your Thoughts

In each case below you will find a table that lists things that might be important to you. Table entries for the various operating system providers can be used to fill in your feeling or rating. – Imagine entering a number between 1 and 5 to indicate that you rate the provider high (5) or low (1).

Hardware Considerations – Laptops & Desktops

Evaluation topic

Apple

Google (Chrome OS)

Linux

Microsoft (Windows)

Type of processor (speed, cores, etc.)
Amount of memory (RAM)
Size and type of mass storage (disk)
Wi-Fi protocols (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac)
Bluetooth protocol (4.0)
Communication ports (usb 2, 3, hdmi, etc.
Graphics support (integrated, separate GPU)
Camera(s) and microphone and speakers
Touchscreen
Keyboard availability
Expandability
Power consumption
Price
Other . . .

Software Considerations – Laptops & Desktops

Evaluation topic

Apple

Google (Chrome OS)

Linux

Microsoft (Windows)

Interoperates with things that I like
Virus protection
Firewall protection
Intrusiveness
Price
Office applications
Basic applications (browser, email, music, contacts, calendar)
Complex applications (genealogy, professional photography, etc.)
Social applications
Software store
Price
Other . . .

 

Hardware Considerations – Tablets & Phones

Evaluation topic

Apple

Google (Chromebook

Linux

Amazon (Kindle)

Barnes & Noble (Nook)

Microsoft

Type of processor (speed, cores, etc.)
Amount of memory (RAM)
Size and type of mass storage (disk)
Wi-Fi protocols (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac)
Bluetooth protocol (4.0)
Communication ports (usb 2, 3, hdmi, etc.)
Display size and resolution
Camera(s) and microphone and speaker
Weight
Keyboard
price
Form of interaction (mouse, pad, touch screen)
Power consumption
Other . . .

 

Software Considerations – Tablets & Phones

Evaluation topic

Apple

Google (Chrome OS)

Linux

Microsoft (Windows)

Interoperates with things that I like
Virus protection
Firewall protection
Intrusiveness
Price
Office applications
Basic applications (browser, email, music, contacts, calendar)
Read books, magazines, etc.
Social applications
VoIP communications (over the web rather than over the phone’s radio)
Software store
Other . . .

8/31/2016