Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Blog Facelift

For a little while now I've been meaning to add some pages to this blog. You know - the static pages accessible from a menu (or tab) bar across the top. Today I finally got around to doing that. I added a "Resources and Links" page (or tab, if you prefer that term). There isn't much there yet, but I've started with a list of tutorial sites for photoshop as well as the main geocaching site. (I'll leave off genealogy links as I already have them posted on a page on my genealogy blog.)

Any way, what I very quickly discovered is that to customize the tab bar within the blogger designer tool necessitated that I switch to one of their "new" template designs. The alternative was to leave the tab bar unstyled or wade through the html code to figure out how the tab bar was implemented and then generate my own CSS code or customize the html directly. (Ugh!!!) Since a quick google search didn't come up with any solutions, I took the "easy" way out and switched to a different template - the one called Travel.

It's not too bad but it's static width. The old template, Minima Stretch, was variable width. Variable width windows will automatically adjust their content (at least to a degree) when the browser window is stretched or compressed by dragging on the left or right sides of the window. I really like that feature and it is the reason I was using Minima Stretch in the first place. Well, c'est la vie. Guess I'll just have to get used to the static window. More likely I'll just have to keep checking for a variable-width blogger template or for someone to post a reasonably quick and easy method for customizing a tab menu bar for the Minima template.

That's it for now. Look for more resources to be added to the "Resource and Links" page shortly!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Reviewing the Flip Pal Mobile Scanner

My birthday was a few months back and, yep, I asked for a Flip-Pal Scanner. When it was first introduced there was a lot of buzz about it in both the digital scrap booking community as well as the genealogy community - and since I'm active in both, what could be a better gift!

Since it's truly portable (it requires no computer, no electrical cords) I was mostly envisioning taking it along when visiting relatives to get copies of their old (and not so old) photos, etc on the spot. And, yes, I've done that. But I also have this monstrous scanning job of my own photos. What I am very slowly trying to do is scan all of my pre-digital photos. And believe me, there are probably at least a couple of thousand. (I'm not kidding or exaggerating!) This includes photos of my kids when they were babies, vacations, holidays, family parties, weddings, etc. It's just too hard for me to choose what to scan and what not to, so unless it's really blurry or unflattering, I'm scanning it all!

I started doing all the scanning with my old, trusty flat bed scanner. Over the course of several days last fall, I got through about 300-400 photos. Then the whole project went to the back-burner. One of the problems with scanning on the flat bed, was that I was pretty much tied to the room where the computer and scanner were set up. So I've restarted the project with the Flip-Pal and it's been a little easier to work it in around accomplishing other activities and chores since I can take it anywhere in the house. (I could go out to the patio, but too much wind and too much pollen!!)

Since I've been using it so much, I thought I probably have enough experience with it at this point to write a review. I'll start with the pros.

  1. Obviously, the fact that it's light-weight and mobile is a big pro. 
  2. It scans at 600 dpi. (Without going into a long discussion, 600 dpi is the resolution that I decided on for scanning my snapshots prior to even knowing about the existence of the Flip-Pal). 
  3. Scans are saved to a removable memory card. Extra cards can be purchased just about anywhere. 
  4. The Flip-Pal includes stitching software to create one large file from multiple scans. (I haven't had the need to use this feature, but the fact that it's available is a plus.)
  5. You can remove the top cover and flip it. So you are essentially using it upside down. The bottom is clear, so you can easily see what you are going to be scanning. This is a fantastic feature not only for large items, but also for scanning photos that have been pasted in a scrapbook.
And the cons:
  1. The placement of the scan button is such that I constantly (and I do mean constantly) accidentally hit it - particularly when I've taken the cover off and flipped it. 
  2. Battery life is so-so.
  3. As far as I can tell only scans to jpeg format. - I included this as a con because some people are likely to view it as such. For me, it's not that big of a deal.
There's one last point that I wanted to make. Again, some may view it as a con, but I think it is more a by-product of the portability/convenience of the unit itself. Scans are always 4x6. If you have a larger item, you need to make multiple scans and stitch them together. If you have smaller items (like 3x5 or other odd sized photos or ephemera - love that word!) you will have white space around them. In other words, in the case of a 3x5 photo, you'll have an inch of white on the bottom and one of the sides. If the white space bothers you, you will need to crop the scanned image in some sort of photo editor to get rid of it - you could probably even set up a batch process to do the crop. This idea of a fixed 4x6 scanning area is a little different than a flat bed scanner (at least my flat-bed scanner). In that case I can drag a bounding box around whatever it is that I want to scan. And assuming that what I want to scan is rectangular in shape the resulting image has no extraneous white space or white borders. 

The bottom line - this is a great scanner for both genealogists and scrapbookers. It's the perfect gadget to take to the next family reunion -- just don't forget to bring along some extra batteries!!!

P.S. If you need more information here's the official website:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

An Update, A Layout and A Plug for the Genealogy Community!

It's been a while, so I thought I would post a quick update on this blog. A couple of weeks ago I got a new computer. The old computer was just slowly grinding to a halt. Despite off-loading all my photos to an external drive, I was still running out of disk space and photoshop was really straining the resources of the relatively puny processor. So I found a pretty good deal and decided to go for it! I am loving Windows 7 - and the extra RAM and bigger hard drive. And photoshop is really humming along with the i5 processor! So all is good - it's just taking a while to reload all my programs. I'm kind of doing that on an as-needed basis.

Anyway, I had to test out the new system and what better way than to create a mini-scrap book kit! So I made a free mini that's available on my designsbyjmdt blog. And here's a layout I made with the kit.

If you'd like the kit, feel free to grab it. The download links are on my other blog.

Now in other news, I am making a concerted effort to become a more active blogger in the genealogy world. I started a genealogy blog back in 2008, but my posting on that blog has been very sporadic. So I recently joined Geneabloggers and am going to try posting based on their daily prompts at least a couple of times a week. If you are interested in genealogy or family history, check out my genealogy blog here. There is also a link to Geneabloggers on my genealogy blog if you'd like to check them out too.

That's about it for now. Till later.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Book Review: The Mating, The Keeping, The Finding by Nicky Charles

I really love to read -- so for me one of the best things about the Nook is the ability to download free books! You can find some on the B&N website as well as other sites such as SmashWords. My genre of choice is mystery novels; and when I find an author I like, I tend to buy (or sometimes borrow) as many books as I can find by that author. What I've found with e-books, however, is that if I want to take advantage of the books being offered free, I need to expand out to other genres. So it was with some trepidation that I decided to try the werewolf series (The Mating, The Keeping and the The Finding) by Nicky Charles. These books are available for free both at SmashWords and (for the time being at least) at Barnes&Noble. I would definitely recommend them!

Unlike some free e-books, these are full-sized novels - the page count on The Mating is 251, The Keeping is 347 and The Finding is a whopping 1120! While the later books can be read and understood independent of the earlier ones, I read them in order and would recommend that. They can probably loosely be described as love stories in that each book focuses on a couple and how that couple meets and eventually gets together - although at over a thousand pages, the third book has quite a few sub-plots interwoven. The whole series hangs together really well in that minor characters in an earlier book become the main characters of a later book. Conversely, we also get glimpses of how the relationships from the earlier books are evolving as these characters become minor characters in the later books.

Without delving into the actual story lines, I would just like to say that in general I found the books to be very well-written, easy to follow and generally a fast and enjoyable read! Perhaps they are a little predictable in that they follow the basic boy meets girl, boy and girl overcome obstacle(s), boy and girl get together in the end. But with all the stress, turmoil and problems of real-life, a book with a feel-good story and happy ending is often just what I want!

My bottom line is give these books a try. Even if you are not into the whole werewolf fantasy thing, you might find that you really enjoy this series!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Giving Google Reader a Try

As a recent convert to Google Chrome and Google Calendar I can't believe I am writing about starting up with yet another Google product! Now it's Google Reader and here's how it came about.

The other day I watched an archived webinar from Millennia Corporation (makers of Legacy Family Tree) on blogging for beginners. The presenter was Pat Richie, better known as Dear Myrtle. She gave a really nice presentation on how to get started with blogger. But the part that peaked my interest was a little side discussion about subscribing to blogs and using Google Reader.

Previously, well, actually a few years ago, I downloaded and installed an RSS reader add-on for my firefox browser. I subscribed to a few genealogy blogs as well as some technology and news ones (this was before I got into digital scrapbooking, so none of those at that time - LOL). But after getting it all set up and using it for a couple of months, I was finding that it just did not seem that useful to me, and so I eventually just stopped using it all together.

Shortly thereafter I started getting involved in digital scrapbooking - and from the beginning I knew that I wanted to learn how to design my own papers and elements. I joined a yahoo "learning" group and everyone was talking about designing freebies and setting up a blog. Now I already had a genealogy blog on wordpress, but, of course, I wanted to create a scrapbooking blog too. So I started this one on blogger because blogger allows for more flexibility in the customization of the layout and the background.

In addition to that, Blogger/Google has implemented a feature called "following." It's similar to subscribing, but not exactly the same. When I got immersed in the digital scrapbooking world, I started "following" other blogs because, let's face it, that's where designers post their freebies!

Now I know that you can read the blogs you follow from your blogger dashboard - but I just never really got used to that. So for the last year or so I've just surfed the blogs periodically to check for new postings. I know - not very efficient! Well, Dear Myrtle was just singing the praises of Google Reader. It handles "followed" blogs, as well as sites that allow you to subscribe through an RSS feed. Bottom line -- she sold me on it! I've set it up and I'm giving it a try. Hopefully I'll still be using it in a couple of months!!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Checking out Google Chrome Browser

For several years I've been a devotee of the Firefox browser (can't actually remember when I last used IE regularly, but I think it was back on version 6!). But lately Firefox has been a little sluggish at times, so I decided to give Google Chrome a try. I've been using it for about a week and the bottom line is .... I really like it! I had heard that it is fast, but since there are so many factors affecting web surfing speed, I was skeptical that a browser could make that much of a difference. I have to admit I was wrong. Chrome is actually noticeably faster. It's also very intuitive and easy to use.

The biggest drawback at this point is that doesn't have nearly as many add-ons as Firefox. One that I really miss is an integrated ftp tool like Fireftp. While I do have a stand-alone ftp program (Filezilla), when I'm making quick changes to my genealogy website it has been really convenient just open Fireftp as a tab within Firefox. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, Chrome doesn't have an equivalent add-on. The other main drawback (and this is a big one for me) is that the enhanced image viewer at doesn't work with Chrome. For that reason alone, I'll definitely still use Firefox when I need to do research at Ancestry.

On the other hand, I did find at least one amazing Chrome add-on called "Awesome Screenshot: Capture and Annotate" -- and it fully lives up to its name!! I was using it in combination with google newspaper archive search for my genealogy research. I was able to digitally snip out articles of interest (like old obituaries) from the browser (Chrome) window, annotate them with the newspaper name and date and save the annotated clips on my computer. Awesome!! I just know I'll be using that feature a lot!!

Anyway, just thought I'd write this quick post on Chrome. Bottom line -- give it a try!

Friday, January 14, 2011

I love my Nook!!

I have really been ignoring this blog for a while now, so I thought I would write a quick post about one of my favorite "toys."

Last July, shortly before we left for a week's vacation, I bought a Barnes and Noble Nook. This was right after they announced the WiFi-only nook and dropped the price on the original. I went to the store fully prepared to buy the WiFi only, but wound up going for the original with both WiFi and 3G. (This, of course, was long before the ColorNook became available.) I decided to buy it because I generally like to take several paperbacks on vacation and this seemed like a good, space-saving alternative.

Well, in the last six months or so since I got it, it has become on of my favorite toys! The e-ink is very easy on the eyes and I find it much easier to hold, flip pages, etc than a regular paper book. I have also taken advantage of the free books available at Barnes & Noble and downloaded virtually all of them. Hence I have read genres that I have never bothered with before. Some of it is barely worth reading, but some of the free books are real gems! I have also downloaded books from other sites like smashwords, google books, internet archive and others. And I have borrowed ebooks from our local library as well. And did I mention there is also a web browser....

Bottom line, if you like to read, you should definitely consider a Nook. Best of all, you can go to your neighborhood Barnes and Noble store and give it a try before you buy!!