• Technology
  • Mar21

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    Update March 24, 2016: Looking for some icons 4 years later I realized The Google’s original icon map now displays only red circles. But I dug up a new version and update the links and embedded map below.

    I originally posted this quickie a few years ago, and have noticed that Google has added a few interesting symbols to their map marker collection.

    So, if you like to personalize your Google maps head on over just to the left of Equatorial Guinea (which is where The Google happened to put these markers) and take a look. You can click on any icon to get the marker name, some tips on how to use it and a Learn More link that provides some additional info on creating maps using Fusion Tables. There is even more additional added information a their Change placemark icon page.

    Also, for the record: there is one icon that looks like a skinny swastika – be aware that symbol has ancient origins that go far beyond its use and corruption by he who shall not be named.

    Below is my original post, kept intact for reference by future archaeologists:

    A quick post for today: During my research to create my Tierneys in NYC Directories map, I happened upon a nice reference over at The Google’s fusion tables – a map containing all of the available Google maps icons and their names…

    You can find it here, or see below for a quick peek.

    I’m also in the process of reading “Beginning Google Maps Mashups with Mapplets, KML, and GeoRSS: From Novice to Professional“, so far I’m liking the format and content. I’ll report back when I’ve had a chance to get all the way through.

  • Mar9

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    The resources linked below have generally made their way around the genealogosphere in the last week or so, but I just thought I’d post them for quick access later…

    Last month’s Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2012 has posted presentations and workshop handouts for your downloading pleasure here.

    You can find RootsTech 2012 videos online here.

    NARA has put Popular Know YourRecords Workshops Online for First Time!

    Duck On A Bike BookMy 5 year old daughter has drawn me a picture of a duck in a pond. (Not to be confused with the book at right, which is not only one of her new favorites to read, but whose title is my new non-offensive workplace interjection.)

    (OK those last ones aren’t genealogy-related, but I was on a roll.)

  • Feb3


    After watching D. Joshua Taylor’s Rootstech session “Do I Trust the Cloud?” earlier today, I thought it might be a good idea to finish a blog post I’ve had in limbo for quite awhile now – how to encrypt your data to protect it if you use a cloud-based sharing or storage service.

    But, that post  of mine is mainly “How To” and not “Why To.” Here I’ll address some of the Why first.

    First, I liked D. Joshua Taylor’s presentation. It had very many good points on the value of using cloud services, both from a data preservation and a collaboration standpoint. I’m all in – I use cloud services all the time and I’m with him on the potential of using these tools.

    Cloud Lock CylinderBut, we need to remember that these cloud services are just that – tools. They are not a panacea for your security nor your data storage and backup concerns.

    At the start of the talk I felt he was overselling the “trust the cloud” part of his argument for using such services. He then followed up with a discussion of the pitfalls of cloud services and things one might want to verify with a service provider to insure their data was safe and available.

    That was great – but as a security professional, I still think it felt a bit too much like the ultimate takeaway was “they’ll take care of your stuff and they’ll figure out how to make it secure, since it is in their best interest as a business to do a good job.”

    Well, maybe. If you think cloud services (or any company) have it all figured out or are close to it, then you might want to leave your happy place for a minute and take a look at any day’s conversation on my Security & Privacy Twitter list of infosec professionals. Then, you might meander over to the DataLoss Database and check out the latest reports. It ain’t pretty

    Dilbert DR Plan: HELP HELPWhile I’m a fairly heavy user of cloud services, I make sure that I have a definite plan for knowing what data I have, keeping multiple copies both in the cloud and locally, as well as maintaining a system of managing a string of backups over time.

    I mean, who hasn’t overwritten a file by mistake? Raise your hand? Higher! I thought so.

    Well, that can still happen with cloud-based services. Or, someone might breach the cloud service. Or, your local system might get infected, leading to easy access to your cloud data. Or, a service might change their privacy policy regarding your data – and once your data is out there, between backups and cached copies, there’s (almost) no un-ringing that bell.

    Your data is still your data, no matter how you store it and to protect it you need to plan for the worst-case scenario. Because the funny thing about worst-case scenarios is when you expect them and plan for them, they don’t show up as often. Remember:

    “Chance favors the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur

    OK, so I’m done with building  the bleak house. But, let’s just move forward with the following tenets in place:

    1. You need to decide how important each type of data is to you, and what might happen if it fell in the wrong hands.
    2. You can’t know for sure how secure any online service is, so act as if they are insecure. No matter what they tell you.

    Realize now that I’m not saying you should consider these cloud services as evil, incompetent entities. Use them. Love them. Send them Christmas cards and name your children after them. But we all need to be realistic about both the opportunities they present and the risk you take when putting your stuff “out there.”

    For me: Putting my open research and photos in the cloud? Great! Cousin Bait! Research help! Collaboration! Putting my taxes and medical records in the cloud? No thanks; the risk outweighs the benefit.

    Here’s a simple way to harness the goodness of something like Dropbox without exposing your bits to the elements: Encrypt your data before you put it in the cloud.

    TrueCrypt is a free open-source encryption software and is available for all major operating systems. You can encrypt an entire disk, or for our purposes here: create a virtual encrypted volume to put your data in. From your operating system’s perspective, this volume is simply another file.

    Cloud Dropbox ExmampleAt right is a simple diagram of using Dropbox and Truecrypt together to protect your data over and above the protections in place by the cloud provider.

    For example, I have Dropbox installed on my desktop, laptop and mobile devices. I have regular folders and files in it and a public folder for sharing with others. I also have an encrypted Truecrypt volume (read: file) that gets synced along with those other files.

    How a Truecrypt Volume Looks in Dropbox A Truecrypt volume contains a file system within it – so you mount the volume using the Truecrypt software, enter the correct password and it will look just like any other drive on your system. You can work with the files there just as you would any other.

    When you are done working with the files, simply dismount the Truecrypt volume and Dropbox will sync it as usual. So you can have it all: availability, security and convenience.

    I hope that wasn’t too long a post and that my soapbox wasn’t too high. It is an exciting time to research family history and to work online. But, sometimes we need to work to try not to get *too* excited.

    In my next blog post I’ll provide some details and screen shots on how to create a secure Truecrypt volume.

  • Jan31

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    I have been toying with mapping some one-name study data sets I have been creating and would like to get a better feel for. This post is a simple quick test of using Google Fusion Tables to map out the McKinnon Births by Nova Scotia County as reported at the NovaScotiaGenealogy.com web site.

    So, below are the number of children born with a McKinnon parent for the years 1864-1877, 1908-1910 and delayed registrations 1830-1910. Note that I have found a few name typos in the database that need to be looked into further, and this does not yet cover the “MacKinnon” spelling of the surname. (A work in progress.)

    Since the Fusion Table map does not add a legend on its own and I have not had time to fiddle with the script to add it here, I’ve supplied a screen capture of the settings to provide a better reference for the icon colors.

    You can, of course, click on any icon in the map to see the county name and actual count of births.

    Legend - McKinnon Births in Nova Scotia by County

    My ultimate goal is to create an easy to use mapping system that will allow users to visualize the data by years, names and locations with simple clicks. When I get all of my trials and tribulations sorted out, I will post some how-to’s on my process to compile and present the data.

  • Nov15


    While watching today’s Ancestry.com webinar and seeing Crista Cowan‘s census table, I noodled around on the Google and created a quick version for download. Just enter names, birth and death years and it will calculate the persons age during each census from 1850 to 1940.

    Act now and it will also gray out cells for censuses in which the person was not around!

    Below is a static version – apparently you can embed Google spreadsheets, but they aren’t editable. Visit this link to use a live version of it.


    December 16, 2014: I tried the cell protection in Google Sheets again after having trouble getting it working in previous years. Looks like it does work now – with lots of opening and closing of the sheet after making every sharing change, named range creation, and range protection change. I also had to sacrifice a chicken. So, only the GREEN cells are now editable in the sheet.

    I found someone had mistakenly overwritten the formula in at least one cell with a number, which I’ve fixed. This new cell protection should avoid that problem in the future.

    November 15, 2016: I’ve added columns to show ages up to the present day even if you start at 1790. I have also added a “Census Year Increment” field. Normally this would remain as a 10, and all the years in the column headers would increment by that amount. But, say you wanted to also have the ages handy for years ending in “5” to help you look for peoples in the NY State censuses: Now you can just change the Increment field to a 5 and Voila! Mathematics is your friend!

    One thing to note: Google Sheets seems to show protected cells by default with a cross-hatch background that makes it hard to read the cell info. You can click on the View menu at the top of the sheet, then de-select the Protected Cells option to get rid of that cross-hatch. (The non-green cells will still be protected, of course.)

    (Don’t worry, I’ve got copies in case the sheet gets borked. And hey you – YES YOU, we all know you don’t have any Walter Melons in you tree so no funny names, Mister Smartypants.)

    You can also download a copy to use in your own Excel or Open Office software by clicking File… Download As… and saving it to your computer.

    Makes a great stocking stuffer!