Google Reader Public Service Announcement

A big confession: I am not very attached to Google Reader. I have trouble forming attachments  like that. It’s been a real problem emotionally for me and Google Reader over the years of our relationship.

Google Reader was all like, “Liz, you’re never there for me.”

And I was like, “I know, Google Reader, but I just have trust issues. I can’t silence that little inner voice that’s telling me maybe someday, YOU won’t be there for ME.”

And Google Reader was all, “How can you say that? I would NEVER!” So I’d have to be all, “Oh hon, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it. Let’s just call for some takeout and open some wine, OK?”

So guess what! Google Reader is going away by the end of today.

Maybe I was right to have trust issues, hon.

So: If you DO read this blog using Google Reader, you will need to form another relationship, although I trust you have already done so. Some suggestions are here. Also, Thomas McEntee updated the Geneabloggers readership on what the change will mean, here.

Another Aside: The Lost Zones

Being a person with heavily urban ancestry, I find this kind of story is always close to my heart. Here is an Albany Times-Union article (h/t Don Rittner via Facebook) about a documentary project that is using old photos to reconstruct the neighborhood that was razed in the 1960s to make way for the massive Empire State Plaza complex. Mary Paley’s team is raising money on Kickstarter for the project. Paley has amazing raw material left by her father, Bob, a former photographer for the (Albany, N.Y.) Knickerbocker News who bore witness to the disappearance of more than 100 acres of a thriving neighborhood:

Derided by some as the city’s “Garlic Core” for its concentration of Italian immigrants and compared by others to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the area bounded roughly by Lincoln Park and State, Eagle and Swan streets was a teeming melting pot of Jews, Germans, Irish, Armenians and French-Canadians.

I’ve thought a lot about what we used to call urban renewal and what a force it was when I was growing up. It put a big hole in the business district of Plainfield, N.J., next door to my hometown. And moving around for newspaper jobs, I heard stories about lost neighborhoods from Stamford, Conn., to Miami, to Chicago. (I also liked the term art critic Robert Hughes used for those massive mid-century plazas: “The International Power Style of the Fifties.”) I actually consider “urban renewal” a bit inadequate as an umbrella term, because it doesn’t cover all the development forces steamrolling the urban world as the 20th century wore on.

For example, the birth of the interstate highway was another knife across the cityscape. In Philip Roth’s novel “The Human Stain,” a character laments the evisceration of a beautiful East Orange, N.J. neighborhood, cut into quarters by the Garden State Parkway and Interstate 280. (See also: Miami’s Overtown, the Cross-Bronx Expressway, et cetera.)

I want to be clear that I don’t think dreaming big and planning big are bad things (see: Burnham, Olmstead, etc.) But dreaming and planning arrogantly … it left a lot of heartbreak behind, for those who still remember the lost zones.

Follow Friday: Mail I Wanted To Read

As part of my ongoing Quest For New Directions, I have become very stern and pruned a number of subscriptions, loops and lists because the mailbox was becoming something I felt vaguely ill about opening every morning.

Now I feel much better. And here are some nice things that were in the mailbox.

• A primer on house histories by a very nice expert on them from my neck of the woods. Read all about why people are interested in them, and what are the key questions to ask when doing one.

• The ongoing good news about efforts to resurrect Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness. A RAOGK Wiki has some basic information. There are also two Facebook pages, one for USA-based requests and one for international requests.

• OT but good to know – Internet security tips for small businesses. We tend to think of Internet security problems as something huge and global, but they can affect people at every level. (Disclosure: I know the author from my local chapter of Women in Communications, always a source of interesting news and ideas.)

• The DNA study of Melungeons – a classic example of DNA sleuthing brushing away preconceptions and achieving new insights, though not without some difficult feelings. But I like the quote from sociologist D. Reginald Daniel: “All of us are multiracial. It is recapturing a more authentic U.S. history.”

Found: A Family

Police in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., located the long-lost kin of reclusive twin sisters who were found dead in their home late last month.  Patricia and Joan Miller, 73, had been entertainers in their youth and were retired from clerical jobs. They had little contact with their neighbors or anyone else, as far as anyone could tell. Reports Cristina Silva of the Associated Press:

With little information about the twins’ personal lives to work from, investigators issued a public plea this week asking for help in notifying the sisters’ next of kin.

The response was overwhelming. Emails and phone calls poured in and with the help of amateur genealogists who read media accounts of the sisters’ deaths, investigators tracked down a first cousin and two second cousins late Wednesday.

[Detective Matt] Harwood said the sisters deserved to have their family know about their death, and he was pleased to complete that mission with help from “people from across the country, just your Average Joe wanting to try their hand on genealogy,” he said.

Good work.

Upgrading to Society 2.0

Too hard.

Too costly.

Those are two simple but tenacious thoughts that stop many historical and genealogical societies from reaching for technological solutions to grow  in fundraising and membership.

This sort of thinking carries a cost, though, said Thomas McEntee, genealogist, blogger and safe to say, definitely not a technophobe. Speaking Thursday at a Federation of Genealogical Societies- sponsored lunch at Rootstech 2012, McEntee gave compelling reasons to believe that growing an online presence is essential to keeping an organization healthy.

The new members societies need to grow are not going to be pushing paper, McEntee said. The younger generations are growing up with social media as a fait accompli, of course, but Baby Boomer retirees are likely to be computer literate in unprecedented numbers.

What is the result? “Technology is the new member bait,” McEntee said, adding flat out that as far as he was concerned, if it involves filling out a paper form and mail in a check, “I’m not going to join your society.”

After the tough love, he shared some examples of low-cost ways societies can get in touch with their technological side – including the obvious ideas like websites, blogs, Twitter and Facebook. Not so obvious, however, is the notion that tech upgrades don’t have to break the bank. There are low-cost options to explore – some actually free, like, which will host up to two websites gratis. Or, to name another example, it’s possible to do a free online survey through GoogleDocs, McEntee said.

Other resources aren’t free, but may have friendly pricing options, like, an email-marketing service that offers a price schedule geared to nonprofits. (McEntee cited examples from societies who use email blasts to deliver their newsletters.) Another interesting idea was, where 501c3 organizations can find software and equipment at low cost after undergoing a qualification process.

It was an eye-opening and ultimately optimistic look at high-tech approaches without high-end price tags.

OT: London Calling (NOT!)

I was not in London last week. Nor was I in trouble, nor did I need money. But for a brief time the other morning, somebody posing as me on Facebook made it seem as if all this were true.

At the moment I was literally on the road, driving home from the Poconos, not sophisticated London. It was almost funny. But nobody could be amused by the result — a temporary shutdown of my Facebook account while I shored up security measures.

The frightening stranded in London after being mugged (or whatever) sob story/scam has been around for a couple of years. For a typical version, see the link. I saw it for the first time as an email. It’s scary, getting a message like that from someone you know (whose email has been hacked). Unfortunately, a lot of people are scared enough to send money to help their “friend” get home.

Like many scams, this one takes various forms. There’s an old-school telephone-call version. And now I’ve experienced the Facebook version, in which the scammer impersonates you in chat messages. Somehow, the idea of the sob story unfolding in live, interactive real time is just that much creepier.

Fortunately for me, fast action stopped things relatively quickly. By the end of the day my account was back up and running peacefully (fingers crossed). Lessons learned:

Friends are great. Mine were my strongest defense. I got five calls within 20 minutes, all from friends suspicious of the chat messages “I” was supposedly sending, and wanting to know if I was all right. One of them notified Facebook security, which suspended the account. This was important because  it would have been a couple more hours before I could have notified them myself. I was spared a lot of headaches and misunderstandings. The impersonator did de-friend two of my friends, but it could have been much worse.

Couldn’t happen? Hmm: It’s tempting to think this wouldn’t happen to you because you aren’t a gamer/don’t download attachments from strangers/rarely if ever chat/etc. Well, I qualify in all these categories. Still happened. And of course, don’t forget the low-tech version is out there.

Password safety is a moving target. I’ve used passwords that are a mashup of letters and numbers for some years now, and thought they were  fabulous, but in the process of changing my security settings, I noticed that protocols rated “extremely strong” a year ago are only “medium” now. So I’m studying up on ways to make passwords stronger.

The link above recommends changing passwords every 30 to 60 days. Once I would have scoffed at the idea. Now, I’m resigned to it. I want to keep playing in the interactive sun, but I don’t want to be a funzone for scam artists.

Roll Calls: You Don’t Have To Say ‘Present’

I just wrote about email lists, those quaint little things, and how much I still love them.

One ongoing feature of many genealogy mailing lists is the roll call, in which participants list surnames they are researching. There are no particular rules about how often this happens, or in what format.  Roll calls usually start when the list has been sort of quiet, and someone pipes up, “Hey! We haven’t done a roll call in a while!”

The proposition seems quite straightforward to me. You put up the names. Maybe somebody makes a connection. Maybe not. The roll call goes on for a week or two and dies out. It’s repeated in a year, or maybe less, or maybe more. Who cares?

But roll calls spur intense irritation in some readers. I’d guess it’s not the majority, or the roll calls wouldn’t happen in the first place. Still, there are always expostulations: “What are you trying to accomplish here? Do you need help? Do you really think somebody can DO something about your names? WHAT IS THE POINT?”

I waded into one of these debates about four years ago and I’m too lazy to go back and  find what I said, but I recall it was something like this:

• Roll calls are mainly a community building exercise. They encourage lurkers to emerge, often giving them a chance to express thanks for the list’s usefulness, along with their research interests.

• Roll calls are a snapshot of a listserve at a given point in time, nothing more or less. Sometimes people do make connections, and that’s wonderful. Often they do not, and that’s OK, too.

• I honestly don’t think people have a huge expectation of a brick wall breakthrough when they post their surnames. Therefore, frustration at not being able to assist them is likely misplaced. It might help to think of a roll call entry as less of a query than a signal flare — Hey! I’m here! These are my peeps! Just saying hi!

• Roll calls are more obviously useful with the rarer surnames. But even if you’re looking for a Smith family, you can increase the usefulness of your roll call post by throwing in a few biographical details: “I’m researching the family of Mary and John Smith, who lived in Brooklyn on Van Brunt Street between 1927 and 1940.”

• Roll calls do clutter up the list while they’re running, and other posts with non-roll-call business get lost in the shuffle. If you really want attention paid to a burning question, best to keep it burning until the roll call passes, if you possibly can.

• If you read a list via individual emails, your inbox will experience a temporary burst of emails labeled “ROLL CALL.” But is this really a reason to start calling for international summits on Roll Call Post Naming Conventions? If you insist upon doing so, I hereby threaten to start a roll call asking for opinions on roll call post naming.

• If the roll call irritates you to the point that it’s wrecking your day, try switching to digest mode, and get your roll calls in batches. Or switch to “no emails” mode, and take a break from the list until the roll call ends. It’s basically harmless, and it does occasionally result in research breakthroughs for people.

I think that’s what I said.

At any rate, it’s what I still believe.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 326 other followers