Tag Archives: iphone

Google PhotoScan – a genealogists best friend?


Google has introduced a new app for both Android and iPhone for scanning printed photos. You can even photograph pictures in glass frames and it will remove the glare.

They’ve put out an amusing video to explain how it works:

I’ve had reservations in the past about phone-based scanning apps for genealogy purposes, especially those that try to scan more than one photo at once (such as a page of photos in an album). My primary concern was that by scanning multiple photos in a single picture, you are drastically reducing the resolution of the photos. Google PhotoScan, however, seems to go in the opposite direction, letting you take multiple photos with your phone to construct a single hi-res glare-free version of the photo you are scanning. This seems more in the right direction.

One problem genealogists run into is finding and copying family photos. Sometimes they’re sitting in one’s attic in a box, but many times they’re sitting in someone else’s attic, or some distant cousin’s photo album. This is the kind of problem that has been addressed by products like the Flip-Pal mobile scanner in the past, although this app is probably easier to use and in many cases will probably return a better result. There are still some cases where a flatbed scanner will probably return a better result, but the advanced algorithms used by this app will be able to get better results most of the time (especially for pictures behind glass).

I haven’t had a chance to test out the app yet, but I welcome comments by others who have, and I will add my own observations once I’ve had a chance to kick the tires.

The End of the Printed Book (coming soon, but not yet)

So I live in Israel and while it’s not too hard to get popular books from best-selling authors in English, it’s a bit harder to get things like technical books, or more niche books like those that deal with genealogy. Finding ways to get English books to Israel cheaply is somewhat of an obsession with much of the English-speaking community here, and it’s not so simple. Amazon.com was a long-time favorite for many years, although now-Amazon-owned BookDepository.com seems the better deal (books are a little more money, but shipping is free). Of course, with the rise of eBooks one would think eBooks are the simple solution – usually cheaper and no shipping charges. My wife recently got an iPad, and when I decided to order a book recently (Ancestors and Relatives: Genealogy, Identity, and Community by Eviatar Zerubavel) I thought about getting it as an eBook. The price was almost half the printed version ($9.99 on Kindle versus $18.21 in Hardcover on Amazon) and that’s without considering shipping for the hardcover.

I’ve been a book collector for more than twenty years, and while not all my books make it out of my library, I do lend many books out. Considering how hard it is to get niche books like an academically-published one like Ancestors and Relatives…, here in Israel I figured it would be highly likely I would be loaning out the book at some point. So how does one loan out an eBook? First I think it’s worth taking a look at who the different players are in the eBook field.

So the big players in eBooks are Amazon (with the Kindle), Barnes & Noble (with the Nook), Apple (with iBooks) and Google (with Google Books). Amazon has long been the leader in this field, with both the hardware (the Kindle) and the store (Amazon.com) to provide the total package for eBook reading. In fact, Amazon is really the only company that offers software on just about every type of device (Mac, Windows, iPhone, iPad, Android, and of course their own Kindle devices) and in that they have a real advantage. When Barnes & Noble, the retail leader in book sales in the US, launched their eBook platform called the Nook, they introduced one feature which had been missing from the Kindle – the ability to lend books. Amazon quickly copied that feature and made it available on the Kindle, but with the same odd restrictions – you could only lend a book once to a friend, and only for 14 days. Sure, I wish everyone I lent a book to would return it in less than two weeks, but that’s not reality. Why does it matter how long the book is lent for exactly? When a book is lent out, you cannot view it yourself, which makes sense. If I can’t view it while it is being lent out, who care how long it is being lent out and to whom? Herein lies the problem with eBooks as they currently stand – you’re not buying the book, your essentially leasing it. In fact, even with the lending features of Kindle and Nook, not all publishers allow books to be lent – you need to check each book when you buy it and see if lending as a ‘feature’ is enabled.

In the days before Apple launched iTunes and the iPod, digital music failed to take off in a major way. The reason it failed was that it was easier to freely download pirated music than it was to buy and use music from the big labels. Apple fixed that, not by eliminating all the restrictions music companies wanted on the files, but by removing enough of them that using digital music legally became easy enough that most people wouldn’t bother trying to get it illegally. The big breakthrough was that Apple had the store (what Amazon and Barnes & Noble now have for books) tightly integrated, and that Apple got the music companies to loosen their restrictions so that customers could play music on multiple devices (their Mac, their iPod and their now their iPhone for example) and could even burn CDs of their music for their own use. Most people don’t really remember what digital music was like before Apple, but none of that was possible. Sure, the iPod was a breakthrough device when it came out, but the real reason it was so successful was the integration with the iTunes Store and the improved licensing from the music companies.

The problem with eBooks is that none of the companies have yet hit that sweet spot of great device, great store integration and good enough licensing. It’s hard to even think about licensing a book. It reminds me of a used book store I used to visit almost 20 years ago in Jerusalem that had a copy of a book that was out of print, yet highly in demand, so they rented it out. It was bizarre and I didn’t rent it. I waited a little longer and I found a copy for sale elsewhere. Eventually the book came back into print and everyone could get a copy. The iPad is a great device for reading books, and the various Kindles and Nooks are also good devices. The new Kindle Fire is really trying to compete with the iPad, and is perhaps the first device that will be able to do so, but while there are devices that are great, and there is store integration which works okay (I wouldn’t yet call it great on any platform), no one has gotten the licensing right yet.

It took years of battling between Steve Jobs and music companies to get the licensing right for music – and that battle included a visionary like Steve Jobs and music company executives that finally ‘got it’ (perhaps they were forced into ‘getting it’ by Jobs). How long will it take for book publishers to ‘get it’ is anyone’s guess. It’s already possible to download illegal eBooks, although I don’t know if the book reading public will adopt that as quickly as the music listening public did in the days before the iPod and iTunes.

One company that seems to be getting ready for the inevitable move to eBooks is, believe it or not, IKEA. Apparently, they are creating a deeper version of their popular (some might say ubiquitous) BILLY bookcase in order to accommodate the display for physical items, perhaps larger coffee-table style books, but not actually rows of books.

Music needed easy purchasing and a liberal licensing scheme so that people could listen to their music on all their devices. Books needs the same things, but something more. People listen to the same music over and over, but they don’t read the same book over and over – instead they lend it out to others. The book publishing industry needs to come to grips with this difference and make their eBooks as lendable as their printed cousins. Until that point, buying books for reading on digital devices will not be ubiquitous (not even as ubiquitous as BILLY bookcases). What’s worse is that as a ‘leased’ product instead of an owned product, what happens if the publisher decides to change the terms after the purchase, further restricting the usage of the book. What can you do about that? Not much, other than wait for the publishers to wake up and figure out that books are not music, and they need to be treated differently.

So in the end, I ordered the book from the Book Depository web site, and will get it in a couple of weeks. It’s a little pricier, but I get to own the book and lend out as often and to as many people as I like, without having to worry about what the publisher thinks. Of course, since Amazon bought Book Depository they’ll still be getting my money, but at least I’m getting something tangible for that money. In the future no doubt I will be buying eBooks along with the rest of society (I do not believe my grandkids will be buying physical textbooks) but for the time being I’m doing my share to help the paper industry.

Some observations from the IAJGS Conference

So last week I attended the IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Washington, DC.

As mentioned in a previous post I also spoke at the event, on the topic of Utilizing Belgian Archives for Jewish Research. I’ve posted a page on this site with the links mentioned in my presentation, although the page is not fully fleshed out yet. The page has a link to it in the tabs at the top of the page. It has all the links and e-mail addresses I mention in my presentation, but without hearing the lecture, not everything on that page will make sense. I plan to flesh out the page into a full article, and perhaps to take the actual presentation I used and put it up as a video with voice-over. If readers of this site express an interest in such a video, I’ll try to get it done sooner.

This was the second IAJGS conference I attended, and it was definitely interesting. I can’t speak about everything I saw at the conference, but I thought I would mention a few small things I noticed.

The Resource Room and ProQuest

The conference Resource Room had a large number of commercial databases available for searching during the conference. Most of them I either pay for already or didn’t have much information on my family. ProQuest allowed the conference to have access to their database (normally only available through libraries and other institutions) for one day only in the middle of the conference, and indeed that database with its numerous newspapers had quite a bit of interesting information on my family. I haven’t had time to sort through everything yet, but I tried to copy as many of the articles as I could to a flash drive for later review (since computer usage was limited to one hour on the day the ProQuest databases were available).

Many thanks to Suzan Wynne (I’ve mentioned her book on Galicia in a previous article) who organized the Resource Room at the conference and did a great job.

The 2014 Conference Will Not Be in Jerusalem

I mentioned this was my second conference. My first was in Jerusalem, Israel in 2004. I actually did the page layout for the souvenir booklet for that conference. It has been a tradition that every ten years the conference is held in Jerusalem (on the 4s) but this year it was announced that the 2014 conference, while previously announced to be held in Jerusalem, would instead be held in Salt Lake City. There was a lot of chatter at the conference about this change. Many people were disappointed as they had planned to come to Israel for the conference. The reason for the change were not clearly given at the conference, but for those familiar with the Israel Genealogical Society (IGS), the reason was quite simple. The IGS underwent a leadership change a couple of months before a major deadline imposed by the IAJGS for the 2014 conference. The new leadership did not have enough time to complete the work required by the IAJGS for the conference and had to give it up. There is the potential to have the conference in Jerusalem in 2015 instead, so hopefully the IGS will have a formal submission ready in time to get the 2015 slot.

In the meantime, the next conferences will be held in Paris in 2012, followed by Boston in 2013. Paris is a bit closer for me here in Israel, and Boston is where I grew up, so I will hopefully be able to attend both conferences. While Salt Lake City is the Mecca of the genealogy world, 2014 is a bit too far out for me to determine if I’d be able to go or not.

Younger Genealogists

One interesting aspect of the conference was the group of younger participants who got together at various times, sometimes officially but mostly unofficially. In the world of genealogy it seems ‘younger’ is defined as under 50. Certainly the vast majority of attendees at the conference were over 50, indeed probably over 60. The group of 20s, 30s and 40s got together and discussed their approaches to genealogy. There was a general consensus that the conference planners had not geared the conference for younger people, and indeed perhaps did not understand how to do so since none of the planners were young. The group will try to stay in contact and influence upcoming conferences and events to be more appropriate for younger genealogists, to encourage more younger genealogists to present at these events, etc.

Many thanks to Elise Friedman, who it seemed at times to be running multiple events at once, who organized almost all the events targeted at younger genealogists (dubbed appropriately for a genealogy conference – next-gen genealogists).

Mac Genealogy

As many of you know, I use a Mac for my computer. I attended the Mac BOF (Birds Of a Feather) meeting at the conference, where there were about 50 other Mac users. An informal show of hands indicated that the vast majority of those there used Reunion for their genealogy research. For a program that hasn’t had a major upgrade in over four years, that’s pretty amazing. Indeed I use Reunion also, and so far I haven’t found anything as easy to use as it even though I’ve looked over the years. My first post on this blog was actually a look at Family Tree Maker for Mac. One feature added in the past four years to Reunion was the ability to sync with versions of their program on the iPhone and the iPad (sold separately). Yesterday was a year since Reunion for iPad was launched, so hopefully in he meantime they’ve been working to update their Mac product.

iPad Genealogy

One very noticeable trend at the conference was that large number of iPads being used, and every one that I saw was running Reunion for iPad. Presumably those people were syncing with Macs, but it’s possible they were just using it on the iPad, I’m not sure. There is no Windows program for the Reunion for iPad program to sync to, so they either were syncing to a Mac or not syncing at all. There were many iPads around. I don’t currently have an iPad, but it’s usefulness at the conference was clear. I was constantly looking for a place to plug in my computer, something those with iPads didn’t need to do (at least not as often).

An Interesting Encounter

I thought I would share one interesting encounter from the conference (although there were many). A woman who attended my lecture approached my afterwards and said she remembered her father had some connection to a man whose last name was Trauring (my last name). They both had lived in Belgium at the same time (which was clear to her from my lecture), and both were involved in the diamond business in New York (which she confirmed by asking me after the lecture), but she didn’t know what the connection was. While searching the ProQuest databases (mentioned above) I came across an announcement of a business lease for an office which mentioned both the name Trauring and her father’s name. Pretty amazing since a day earlier I hadn’t even heard of her father. Just minutes after I left the Resource Room with the article on my flash drive I bumped into the same woman and showed her what I had found. She was (as I was) amazed at the coincidence of finding the article that confirmed the connection so soon after she mentioned it.

While talking to her while copying the file, she noticed that I was also researching Kleinhaus (the name badges at the conference listed surnames being researched by the wearer) and she told me she had a photo of a woman which it turned out was my grandmother. Small world indeed. My 96 year old grandfather was able to confirm that his brother had been in business with this woman’s father (not my grandfather) but he had known him well. The moral of this story is sometimes personal contact is the only way to find connections, and that there are non-relatives out there with information on your families (such as the photo of my grandmother) that you wouldn’t normally think of when doing your research. This is one of the reasons that attending conferences like this one can lead to breakthroughs in your research.


At the conference I also came up with several ideas for new articles for this site, so I hope to get those written and posted soon. I am expecting an addition to my own family tree soon, however, so my time to write may be curtailed. Please be patient if I am slow to post new articles. Even while I may be slow to post articles in the near future, I will be trying to answer questions on the Facebook page. ‘Like’ the Facebook page for this site at facebook.com/jewishgenealogy to join this site’s page and participate. Everyone is also welcome to answer research questions on Facebook. I’m trying to build the Facebook page into an interactive community where people can ask and answer questions on Jewish genealogy, so if you are on Facebook (or have been looking for an excuse to join) then go to the Facebook page, press the ‘Like’ button and join the conversation.

If you attended the conference in DC and want to share your experiences, please post them in the comments below.