Mac OS X Lion: A First Look

OS X Lion in the Mac App Store
OS X Lion in the Mac App Store

Today, Apple released Mac OS X Lion ($29.99 store | webpage). The operating system is the seventh update in the OS X series (version 10.7), and it packs some of the most groundbreaking changes into it.

For the first time in history, a widely distributed consumer, prosumer, and enterprise operating system is not available on portable media. The only official way to get Lion is to download it from the Mac App Store, or buy a new Macintosh with the OS pre-installed. The OS installer is quite large at 3.49 GB, and will take a while to download, even on high-speed connections. (Apple is offering to let people use its high speed wi-fi in its stores, should they be lucky enough to live near one.)

While Lion is touted as being revolutionary – and it does in fact feel like a large change – the system is solid, dependable. For many users, though, there will require some time to get used to some of the user interface changes. Instead of scrolling your fingers up to go up on the trackpad, you scroll them down to go up. Similarly, you get to the left by moving your hand to the right. This seems counter-intuitive, though it is what people do on the iPhone and iPad. As you start doing it, you might feel like you’ve gone down Alice’s rabbit hole; if you decide you don’t like it, you can go to Apple > System Preferences > Trackpad (and/or Mouse) and turn off “Scroll direction: natural.”

Among the key features Apple is touting, there are some of note:

  • Multitouch – The operating system supports using gestures with several fingers to perform complex tasks, such as opening Mission Control (three fingers up) or change full-screen applications (three fingers to the right or left).
  • Full-Screen Applications – Many Apple applications, and probably many applications in the future from other software developers, take advantage of a new feature that has the application take up the whole screen. This is especially powerful in Apple’s Mail and iPhoto applications.
  • Mission Control – This displays all of your active desktops, including the Widgets desktop. It has never been easier to manage multiple work environments and switch between them. I may actually use this, while I found Spaces to be confusing and disorienting. It will be easy to have a browser open in one desktop and a genealogy software package open in another, and switch back and forth.
  • Launchpad – All of your installed applications appear on a list that expands infinitely to the left and right. This clearly mirrors the iPhone and iPad application navigation method, and looks to be an easier way to get to your programs than either the insanely small icons in your dock (if you have as many there as I do!) or simply navigating to the Applications folder. You get to Launchpad either with the Launchpad icon in the dock, or using a pinch with thumb and three fingers.
  • Spotlight – One of the true innovations of Mac OS X, which has only recently had comparable functionality on Windows in recent releases, is Spotlight, systemwide search. The new version of the OS adds previews to the search results, helping you see if this item is what you were looking for.
  • AirDrop – Simple, no-configuration-required wi-fi file sharing. This will be handy if you are working with someone and just want to give them the census image for their grandfather’s household in 1930. This will allow a lot of people to leave their thumb drives at home.

I am very pleased with Lion. While I cannot agree with Apple’s predictable hyperbole, it looks to provide a lot of shortcuts to allow me to get from one application to another without losing my place. It’s well worth the $30.

One warning: Power PC applications no longer run with OS X Lion, which drops the Rosetta technology that made these workable in previous versions. To see what you will be leaving behind if you upgrade, log in as the Administrative user, then type Option-Apple and select System Profiler. Go to Software > Applications. Anything with “PowerPC” or “Classic” (that is, OS 9) will not run in Lion.

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Cloud Management – Primadesk

PrimadeskPrimadesk, a new website in beta, allows you to manage your cloud content in Google (GMail, Google Docs, Picasa), Yahoo (Yahoo Mail, Flickr), Dropbox,, and about twenty other services.

This looks to be a powerful resource, though it will need to be faster for power users. One of the most powerful features promises to be the ability to move images from one service to another. How many of us have personal images scattered across multiple sites such as Flickr, PhotoBucket, Snapfish, Smugmug, and so on. Now, we will be able to quickly migrate images from one site to another.

This feature is not yet available for photos, but it is for documents that you might want to move from to Dropbox, or from one account to another.

Primadesk allows you to search across multiple accounts, backup multiple accounts, and – finally! – manage proliferating cloud accounts.

On my wishlist are Evernote and Officedrop integration. It would be great to be able to manage what’s in Evernote, what’s in, what’s in Dropbox, and so on from one interface. Files that I manage in Evernote, I might want to share with people in another service; this would be a quick way to do that.

Accounts are free, though the may cost something once it leaves beta. More likely, is that the site would follow the freemium model that has been so successful for Dropbox, Evernote, and other leaders in the field.

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North Carolina Voices: The Civil War

WUNC North Carolina Voices: The Civil WarRaleigh’s WUNC Radio aired episodes in a series, North Carolina Voices: The Civil War, during the middle of June. The series includes pieces on the impact of the war on North Carolinians and their families from the time of the Civil War until now. Thankfully, the episodes are available for streaming and downloading from the WUNC website.

Among other pieces, there is an episode with interviews the living daughters of Confederate veterans. There is also an investigation of the religious history of the Civil War (“Whose Side is God On?“), which interviews George C. Rable, author of God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2010) and Reginald Hildebrand, author of The Times Were Strange and Stirring: Methodist Preachers and the Crisis of Emancipation (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995.

There are two interesting pieces about African Americans in New Bern, North Carolina:

There are also shows about re-enactors, battlefields, and several other topics. Take a listen!
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Ancestry’s 4th of July Free Access Weekend Continues

James Graham - SAR Membership ApplicationsThere is one more day left in’s free access weekend for the 4th of July. Ancestry is making applications to the Sons of the American Revolution applications, 1889 – 1970. These applications provide detail about the service the ancestor is reported to have performed to advance the cause of the Revolution. (For SAR membership, as is true for the Daughters of the American Revolution, the ancestor did not have to serve in the military, but could have provided other forms of assistance to the cause.)

The applications also include documentation for the descent from the Revolutionary War-era ancestor to the applicant. While most of the applications are not documented in ways that comply with modern genealogical standards, they can still provide a wealth of information that a patient and thorough researcher can use as a starting point for verification, debunking, and extension.

In my case, my 5th great grandfather, James Graham (1741 – 1813), seems to have no fewer than 28 applications opened by descendants. There will be a fair amount to go through…. I am looking forward to it.


If you have a family history that you want to publish, there are several ways you can do this.

Let’s assume for the moment that you want to publish the book in print format, but you don’t want to become a publisher or maintain a lot of inventory. You want to make the book available to family members, but you are not making a career change!

A number of print-on-demand vendors can help you, but I am just going to list three:

  • CreateSpace – An Amazon company – will allow you to upload book interiors and covers in PDF format. Additionally, they can design the covers for you. The books get an ISBN, basically for free. You have to pay for the printing and shipping of a hardcopy proof, so that you can verify that what they will produce meets your expectations. Once you have approved the proof, the book can be made available on, Amazon, and even to libraries and physical bookstores.
  • CafePress – This is one of the first companies in the space. They started off with t-shirts and mugs, and eventually expanded to CDs, DVDs, and books. As with CreateSpace, you upload  PDFs of your content and cover, and they print books when someone orders one. The downside is that the books are only available from CafePress, and do not have an opportunity for wider distribution, but the initial cost is lower, as you are not required to buy a proof if you are confident that what you sent will work.
  • Lulu – This company is a favorite among genealogy circles. Book titles are only salable through their site, though, as with CafePress, you can order a handful (and a discount) to sell. Lulu also ships for free if the order is more than $20. One thing that sets Lulu apart is that if you sell a print book at Lulu, as well as an e-book (which they distribute through Apple’s iBookstore), the e-book is linked from the listing for the paper book.

I recommend that you get a proof of any print-on-demand title that you create. While each of these is interesting, for me, CreateSpace is the most interesting option, because of the range of distribution options open to me from CreateSpace.

I will post more on this topic, as well as on how to turn your family history into an e-book that you can either give away for free or sell.

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Books in Browsers: Brewster Kahle and E-Books

There is a lot of discussion in the genealogy world about e-books.

Of course, there are large book digitization projects: Google Books and Internet Archive being the two best known. (In 2008, Microsoft cancelled a book digitization project that had scanned more than 750,000 books.) While Google has gotten into some legal hot water by making books that are under copyright available under an agreement with the Writers’ Guild, which has not held up in court, the vast majority of books are in the public domain.

A great summary of where we are in terms of e-books is the keynote speech (text and slides | see above for the video) that Brewster Kahle, founder of Internet Archive gave at the Books in Browsers conference in October 2010. Kahle talks about the transformation from a paper book orientation, through a device orientation (the Kindle, for example), to a device-independent (browser) orientation. His goal is to make books available to all. He does this via digitizing books and making them available as follows:

  • Public Domain – Free – The Internet Archive now has over 2.8 million titles available for free
  • Under copyright (but out of print) – Borrow
  • In Print – Buy

One thing that sets the Internet Archive apart from Google Books, is that most of the titles (at least most that I have seen) are available in multiple formats. There’s PDF, of course, but also .epub (works in the Apple iBooks and Barnes and Noble reader software and the Nook and other dedicated readers), .mobi (works in the Kindle reader software, the Kindle portable device, and other readers), black and white PDFs, HTML, and several other formats.

E-books have transformed genealogical research. If you haven’t used one, I encourage you, the next time you are looking for a local history, to consider using Google Books or Internet Archive. If the book was published in the US prior to 1923, it should in the public domain, and you may find it for free on Google Books or the Internet Archive now or in the future.

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Dreaming of Clouds

“Cloud Computing,”Sam Johnston, 2009. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.

If anything, the rush to provide content in the cloud is beginning to speed up.

On March 29th, Amazon announced its Cloud Drive service, focusing on storage of MP3 audio files, which can be streamed from the web with Amazon’s Cloud Player. Cloud Drive is able to store any digital files.

On May 10th, Google released a similar product: Google Music.

The blogosphere is full of speculation about when Apple will release iCloud, it’s much expected, audio streaming service. Many Apple reporters think that iCloud will be rolled out during the Apple Worldwide Developers’ Conference, starting on June 6th.

As the performance of wireless networks increases, the cloud becomes more attractive. More and more people are using portable devices (iPhones, iPads, Android phones and tablets). These devices often combine minimal storage with built-in internet connections, and that adds up to a compelling argument for file storage in the cloud, with access to anything, but minimal local storage requirements.

Apple’s reported goal with iCloud is to allow people to play their songs without first having to upload them. Apple’s service would replicate your list of songs on its servers, and stream them from a common source when you wanted them. (Both Google and Amazon require you to spend hours and hours, or days, uploading your music library.)

Unfortunately, in the  genealogy realm, there is no massive media conglomerate who owns archival electronic records of your data.

Wait … what about Ancestry and FamilySearch? These folks have archival quality digital images of original records. When I log into Ancestry, it knows which documents I have put in my shoebox. It has all the metadata about the 1930 census record for my father and his family. Yes, I can download it, and yes, I can navigate to it in the context of an Ancestry Family Tree, or in the context of a software package where I have attached this image….

But why can’t I easily tag this image with my own personal metadata (as on, and see the tags other people use (as on, and why can’t I search my “personal document collection” for text (delivered via Optical Character Recognition, or in the context of a textual document) or for metadata?

Why can’t I search through my entire genealogical image collection, without having it on my local system, with the search running in the cloud?

Why indeed!

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Behind the Scenes at NGS 2011: Blog Talk Radio

Thomas MacEntee did a BlogTalkRadio interview with Jan Alpert, NGS 2011 Conference Chair and Immediate Past President of NGS and Julie Miller, CG, NGS 2012 Conference Chair and Vice President of the NGS. This was a rare behind-the-scenes interview with two leaders who have organized and led conferences.

It’s a rare look behind the scenes at what goes into choosing a conference location, how patronizing the conference hotel and luncheon and banquet events keeps overall prices low, and your society fiscally healthy.

This is the fourth installment of the weekly FGS MySociety talk radio show. It’s a great program. You should listen. I know that I’m adding it to iTunes to listen in, even when I cannot make it “live.”

Here are some links:


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Read it Later vs. Instapaper

Read It Later logoI have become a fan of two competing products, Instapaper and Read it Later.

These applications sit in your browser, and allow you to quickly archive a webpage for later reading. They clean up the webpage, removing ads and complicated scripting, so you just have the text you want to read.

Instapaper logoYou can then read the content in your browser at their sites, on a mobile phone, or on a tablet. Instapaper will also allow you to configure content collections to show up on your Kindle. Both are integrated with a great site full of longer articles,, allowing you to quickly choose some reading before you catch that plane and lose your internet connection.

In terms of genealogy, I use these tools to gather historical pieces, such as the articles the New York Times is doing on the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, “Disunion,” as well as more topical items, such as John McPhee’s 1987 New Yorker piece about the Army Corps of Engineers and its attempts to control the Mississippi River, Atchafalaya: The Control of Nature. (That was topical then, and is topical now; I found it on

Instapaper allows you to format the stories for printing; Read it Later has a great (and not too expensive) iPad app that automatically categorizes the content. I find Read it Later’s web interface to be more attractive, but some of the features of Instapaper to be more compelling, including Readability integration and Kindle auto-delivery.

I’m not sure which one of these I will choose yet, but I know I will have a lot of reading at hand….

Another site to note is Readability, which is free for simple cleanup of pages you come across, but costs $5 (or more if you decide to make a donation) if you want to save them for later. 70% of the proceeds are provided to the authors and publishers of the content.

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NGS 2011 Conference in Charleston, South Carolina

I attended the 2011 National Genealogical Society Family History Conference held in Charleston, South Carolina this past week.

I was pleased to have been asked to give three talks: The inaugural Birdie Monk Holsclaw Memorial Lecture (slides), a lecture on Google and search methodologies (slides), and the NGS GenTech Luncheon talk (slides), which was on the topic of social media.

It was a good conference, with more knowledgeable and voluble speakers than one could possibly see. I especially liked Buzzy Jackson’s general session talk about how she became a genealogist, and how it’s our job to make our descendants think of us as the ones who saved the stories for them. Additionally, I enjoyed the talk given by Glenn F. McConnell, President pro tempore of the South Carolina State Senate about the history, discovery, and raising of the H. L. Hunley.

I was also pleased that my own talks seem to have been well received.

The next major excursion is to the Virginia Genealogical Society conference next weekend. The summer is simply full of these events.

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