29 September 2008

Facial Recognition Online [Tidbits]

Earlier this month, it was announced that Google's Picasa had launched a facial recognition feature. The feature helps automate the tagging of photos of people, which, obviously, could be a great tool for genealogists looking to organize collections of family photos. There are limitations on the usage of the tagging, all of which are noted in the article linked above.

I ran a quick test with some photos I had already uploaded. The facial recognition worked well enough to find most of the photos of my son right off the bat, and as I tagged photos, it seemed to learn his face more efficiently:

It even started suggesting tags for photos, and, remarkable, the suggestions tended to be from the same family! Picasa had a hard time identifying some photos, especially profile shots.

Head on over to Picasa to give the facial recognition tagging a shot!

26 September 2008

Tineye for the Genealogy Guy (and Girl) [Site Review]

I was excited when I ran across a review for online photo search site Tineye, which purports to compare an uploaded or linked photo to millions of photos used on websites, and tell you where identical photos are used online. To be clear, Tineye searches out and finds the exact photo, not variations on photos, photos including the same person, same colors, etc. It finds the exact photo you are looking for.

The Game

I had the perfect application for this website, and had great hopes of resolving a bit of a longstanding mystery for me.

A few years ago, while researching one of my husband's ancestors --who was an architect in Philadelphia before the Civil War-- I downloaded and saved this photo of a church which he had a hand in designing:

Due to my terrible citation practices back then (which have only been mildly remedied to this day), I have NO idea where in the world this photo came from, or the context in which it was posted to the internet. As I've been slowly going back through folders of my research and trying to annotate what was not annotated, I've been dying to find the origin of this photo.

She Shoots

Using Tineye is extremely easy. The interface takes a page from Google, and keeps it straightforward and simple, giving you everything you need to use the service on the homepage:

You can either upload an image, or simply paste in a URL for the image you want to search for. Done and done.

She Fails

Unfortunately, my photo was not found...

According to the site, the problem is probably that the "search index is still very small—just a fraction of all the images on the web!" Which leads me to wonder how useful the service is at this point, and also when and how they plan on getting around to indexing a substantial percentage of the images on the web. The latter concern, however, is not addressed, except to note that they do take suggestions on sites to index. Which worries me in the brevity of its scope, but one must give these websites time to bloom properly, I suppose.

She Shoots Again, And Scores!

To be fair, I decided to give Tineye a shot to prove itself, using a photo that is perhaps slightly less esoteric in scope. To wit, here are the results for a search on a portrait of George Washington:

And another:

This time, success, and a shot to see what Tineye could really excel at, if the index ever grows. My first impression is that, surely, these portraits of our first President have been used more than 30 or so times across the entire web. Again, small index, small success.

Obviously, the site makes great sense for people like photographers and artists who wish to monitor usage of their work online. It also could be a great resource for genealogists looking for iterations of photos online. This would be a site to check back on in a few months, to see if the indexing issue has been addressed or resolved. Until then, its back to the search engine drawing board for finding photos online.

24 September 2008

Wordless Wednesdays [Random]

[Warning: words! I always enjoy the Wordless Wednesday posts at a number of other blogs, so I have decided to take the plunge. To stay germane to the topic of this blog, I will post both snaps of great discoveries I have made online in the course of my own research, as well as logos for interesting new websites I have discovered. Enjoy!]

Ancestor patent, via Google Patent Search.

22 September 2008

Getting to Know Me, Getting to Know RDGR [Random]

I love Terry's idea of a general "get to know me" post, so here I am, asking you to get to know me, and get to know Rainy Day Genealogy Readings.

Some Tidbits About Me

  • 32 years old, married for four years, one adorable 16-month-old son

  • Stay-at-home mom, and lucky to be such

  • Registered Republican, but have voted Green Party and Democrat in the past (believe it or not). I vote on the candidates and my own core issues, and pretty much loathe party platforms.

  • Committed bibliophile; thrift stores and Dover are my favorite places to shop!

  • I have a BA in English from the University of Rochester, and an MA from Mills College

  • I am half Sicilian

  • I love crafting, and knit, crochet, weave, embroider, and do paper-crafts

  • The internet is my lifeline, and has been for about the past thirteen years.

Why I Blog

In short, genealogy is a great intellectual stimulation for me, which I need very much, and which can sometimes be sorely lacking in the life of a stay-at-home mom. Blending my son's naptime with writing, research, blogging and transcription work has kept me afloat and kept me feeling connected to the rest of the world, even when being at home can be a little lonely. I enjoy the connections I have made, indeed the friends I have made. That's the main reason I blog.

Secondly, I am internet-addicted, and see limitless potential online. As a younger member of the genealogy circles, I try to bring a different perspective to the way research and information is approached online. I see genealogy as a discipline growing and changing right before my eyes, and I want to be a part of the movement that brings family history research into the realm of this new technology-oriented age.

My Best

A. Brightest: iGoogle and Organizing Your Online Research

One of my early posts, this one captures what I am really trying to do in this blog: present online tools and show my readers how helpful they can be in accomplishing our research goals.

B. Sassiest: Ancestry Newspaper Rollout: Why I Say "Meh"

I love Ancestry.com, I really do, but in some respects, they fail, and fail hard; the poor treatment of their potentially invaluable newspaper resource is one example.

C. Beautiful: Extra! Extra! Rethinking Newspaper Research

I don't have any "beautiful" posts per se, so I chose this post, which captures a subject I am becoming increasingly passionate about: the necessity of incorporating newspaper research into our research toolbox.

Getting to Know Me

I am a pretty introverted person, a bookish sort, and have been all my life. One of the most surprising, but pleasant, things I have discovered, is that by writing a blog, you CAN get to know people, and people want to get to know you. I am pretty starched-shirt business-only with my blog, but my ultimate goal is to provide a usable tool to others, and to get to know the little world of geneabloggers a little better. Please don't hesitate to let me know if a post helps or confuses you! As I tell my little son quite often, "Helping others can be so much fun!"

17 September 2008

Searching the Awesome Bar [Quick Tip]

[Firefox only]

Today's Quick Tip is more of a "did you know?" than an instruction per se, but it is about as useful as it gets!

Reading something online, then promptly failing to bookmark it, then instantly needing it again is a common online malady. Did you know you can use your address bar (which is the field at the top of your browser where you usually type in the URL for sites) as a search field for your browser's history? Did you know this allows you to refind what you have already found? Others call this searchable address bar in Firefox "the awesome bar", and this may be deserved... let me give some examples of how it works:

Let's say I recently was reading about copyright research online and wanted to revisit some of the sites I ran across. I can find what sites I read by typing "copyright" into the address bar. Notice that the bar searches as I type:

Note that the search only includes the page titles of the pages you have visited, and not their content.

You can also search using multiple words. This works in pretty much the same way as the single-term search, it just adds a level of refinement to the search. I can enter my search term, in this case "family tree", and scroll through the results to find what I was looking for:

This multiple word search omits other results, such as results that would appear if I only used the word "tree" as below:

Of course, you may find this feature annoying, useless, a compromising of your privacy, or all three. If so, you may just be interested in how to turn off the search feature for good!

15 September 2008

Copyright? Or No Copyright? [Site Roundup]

As genealogists, copyright is something of interest to us. Whether we are doing transcription or abstraction work, writing a family history, or collating information on resources available for our research area, the copyright status of various works is often important to our work. To that end, I wanted to give a short roundup of what is available online for your use when copyright questions arise.

  • Stanford SULAIR Copyright Renewal Database covers renewal records for 1923-1964, a key period for many genealogy works. The database offers simple and advanced searching by keyword, title, author and registration dates.
  • U. S. Copyright Office has online copyright renewal records from 1978-present. The search options are comprehensive.
  • WorldCat Copyright Registry is a new resource, currently in Beta, which allows for collaborative input on copyright status for different works. The site is mainly geared toward library and institutional use, but anyone with an interest in the copyright status of a particular work, and a free WorldCat account, can add information to the item pages.

(As an aside, one of the most comprehensive tables on copyright status I have found is at Cornell's website. Very comprehensive, and covers the thorny foreign work/author/renewal issues.)

11 September 2008

On Sept. 11th

Seven years ago I worked as an editorial assistant for a leading cardiology journal in San Francisco. One of my humble jobs, every Tuesday morning, was to pop into a bagel shop on the way to work at 6:00 in the morning, and pick up bagels for the doctors' weekly peer review meeting.

As I was walking to the office, a UPS delivery man pulled in front of a coffee shop, his radio blaring. The voices of the radio announcers sounded urgent, strained. A woman was standing outside of the coffee shop. I can close my eyes and see her perfectly. She had her coffee in her right hand, raised to her shoulder. She wore a blue sweatshirt, and had red hair. The leash leading down to her yellow lab was wrapped around her left hand, which hung at her side.

As the UPS man (he had brown hair, held a small box and a yellow envelope) rushed out of the truck, the woman with the dog smiled and asked him "What's going on?", referring to the loud radio.

The rushing UPS man paused, looked at her for just a moment... "A plane hit the World Trade Center in New York"... and he rushed in to deliver the packages. I had stopped walking. The woman with the dog looked at me. Shocked, perplexed. I looked at her. What do you say? I said what I suppose alot of people said many times that day... "Oh my god."

At the office, I turn on the radio. Between seeing the UPS man and getting into my office, the second tower was hit. I sit, stunned, at my desk. The doctors are filing in for the meeting. They don't call it off. They don't send us home. They simply go about their business, shaking their heads, while the whole world is changing.

When word comes across the radio about the plane hitting the Pentagon, I start to lose it. The pentagon is what my Mom sees when she looks out of her bedroom window. Stupidly, I try to call her. The lines are overloaded, busy. That sickening feeling of not being able to get through.

Later, there's word that one plane is missing, possibly headed for Washington to strike another target. I worry about my mom. Try calling again, and again fail to get through. A few minutes later, miraculously, my co-worker tells me my Mom is on line one.

I talk to her. She's scared, crying. Says she can smell the jet fuel and burning from the Pentagon. She doesn't know what to do. I tell her she needs to get out of there, and fast. The highway, which she can also see from her apartment, is gridlocked. The cars aren't even moving at this point. There are SWAT teams on the rooftops of the buildings around her, which are occupied by armed forces offices out of the Pentagon as it is being remodeled. Men in uniform are running down the street. She says it looks, smells and feels like hell.

The rest of the day blurs. We worked, the whole day. I hear on the radio that the buildings have collapsed, but I don't fully understand what has happened until I get home, and actually see the footage on television. What the hell just happened? What is going on? San Francisco is eerily quiet. My boyfriend and I live near a highway off-ramp. What is usually bumper-to-bumper traffic in the afternoon is non-existant. It's quiet out. The planes usually roaring in to land in South San Francisco aren't there. We sit and stare at the television, marveling at destruction. I cry for a while, and talk to my mom again. She's three martinis in and resigned for the coming apocalypse.

I look out the window and see the same shades of red, grey, white and blue flickering on the screens of the televisions in every apartment. We're all watching it; we're all wondering what it means.

08 September 2008

Google Newspapers Announcement

Google's Official Blog today got around to announcing the new newspaper archiving project it has undertaken recently, which I covered last month.

One interesting tidbit is buried in the post:
You’ll be able to explore this historical treasure trove by searching the Google News Archive or by using the timeline feature after searching Google News. Not every search will trigger this new content, but you can start by trying queries like [Nixon space shuttle] or [Titanic located]. Stories we've scanned under this initiative will appear alongside already-digitized material from publications like the New York Times as well as from archive aggregators, and are marked "Google News Archive." Over time, as we scan more articles and our index grows, we'll also start blending these archives into our main search results so that when you search Google.com, you'll be searching the full text of these newspapers as well. (Emphasis added).

I love the fact that we are looking at a future integration between the news archive search and general google searches. Imagine a day when you google an ancestor's name and see newspaper articles as results!

What the article doesn't address is the issue of access to what the above excerpt references as "archive aggregators", which, in this case, invariably means sites like ancestry.com and newspaperarchive.com (to name two I have noticed in search results). I have subscriptions to both of these sites, so google's search function is quite helpful for me. But what about general users who are unlikely to have subscriptions to these sites? Will there be a per-article access feature? Will the sites simply be shilling their annual subscriptions to searchers?

I'd personally love to see free access to searchable online newspapers within the next few years, especially since a huge bulk of historic newspapers are public domain; I doubt it will happen, but it sure would be nice.

Flickr Cemetery and Headstone Pools: United States [Reference Shelf]

Next time you're lamenting the fact that Findagrave and Interment.net don't have photos of your ancestor's graves, cheer up and check the following flickr pools to see if someone else hasn't snapped a photo of the dear departed's final resting place. Photographers love the poetry of cemeteries, so we're blessed with a large chronicle of various tombstones and cemeteries across the world.

[Note: I have had to break this list into two parts, first being the United States and General pools. I will post part two, the international listings, another time.] In the meantime, enjoy these pools!

05 September 2008

Flickr Civil War Pools [Tidbits]

For today's tidbit, I present some Flickr groups of interest to those with ancestors who fought in the Civil War. I covered how to subscribe to the RSS feeds for Flickr groups in a previous post. If you haven't yet given Flickr an eyeball with your ancestry in mind, give it a shot. Some groups serve as virtual visits to battlefields and towns. Some document cemeteries, headstones and monuments. Some include uploaded photographs of individuals. All are bound to interest the genealogist-turned-Civil War buff.

  • Veterans of the American Civil War: "This group is dedicated to photos and other images of authentic veterans of the American Civil War; 1861-1865. Photos may have been taken before, during, and after the Civil War, in or out of uniform."

  • Graves of Veterans of the American Civil War: "This group is dedicated to photos of the tombstones, headstones, and graves of authentic veterans of the American Civil War; 1861-1865."

  • American Civil War Battlefields: "We hope that this group will be a place where you can showcase your best photos of Civil War battlefields throughout the United States."

  • Photographs of the Civil War: "Many photos were taken and are now archived. Many are still in the pocession of family members and collectors. Please share your images with this group, be they yours or from other sources. Include those sources if possible. If you have any history of the photographs you post please include that as well."

  • War Between the States: "This group is dedicated to those who died or sacrificed in other ways for the cause they believed in regardless of the side they fought for. This group is for the memory of those souls."

  • Civil War Sites and Memorials: "pictures of the sites and memorials today"

    Confederate Specific

  • Confederate History Sites: "Photos of sites, monuments, etc. connected to the history of the Confederate States of America."

  • Confederate Monuments: "Confederate monuments, like the type that are found on most courthouse squares across the South, are the focus of the group."

    Union Specific

  • Southern Unionists: "Like their Confederate brethren, they fought to defend their homes, neighborhoods, and families, and stood up bravely for principles they held to be true and right. This group is to document the lives and careers of these Southern Unionists."

    Site Specific

  • Gettysburg: "This group is for people who love the historic town that hosted one of the most famous battles of the U.S. Civil War. Battlefield, surrounding area and town photos welcome."

  • Journey Through Hallowed Ground: Gettysburg to Charlottesville: "This stretch of land, less than 200 miles long, has witnessed a disproportionate amount of US history: the greatest concentration of Civil War battlefields in the country, the homes of four US Presidents (Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Eisenhower), African American sites, scenic rivers and countryside, etc. Virtually the entire length of the corridor is threatened, by explosive growth in the towns at the two ends of the corridor, exurban sprawl from Washington, DC, etc."

03 September 2008

Newspaper Indexes-California [Reference Shelf]

I have compiled here a list of indices to California newspapers and obituaries, arranged by county. I have focused on indices of historic newspapers (1940 and earlier), to the exclusion of more modern indexing projects. I have included here obituary indices, which seem to fall under the auspices of this listing.

I hope to maintain and update this listing as new sources are discovered. If you know of any pre-1930, California county newspaper indexing projects that are not listed here, please let me know by leaving a comment below.

02 September 2008

Research Options Online [Tidbits]

Today I ran across a great post on mashable.com regarding online tools for researchers. It covers some options that were omitted from my discussions of Google Notebook and Google Notebook Alternatives.

Definitely worth checking out if you are shopping around for a new online note-taker.

Losing Your (web) Mynd [Site Review]

WebWare recently covered new auto-browse-archive service WebMynd, and it seemed intriguing, so I decided to check it out and see if it had any value to the online genealogical researcher.

Two Services in One

Essentially, WebMynd monitors and tracks your online activity and creates a running script of the pages you visit in order to turn your web history into a searchable archive of what you encounter online. You install an add-on to your Firefox browser, and WebMynd runs quietly behind the scenes while you do your normal thing. WebMynd tracking (or "recording" in their parlance) can be stopped or started with one click in the lower-right hand corner of your browser:

WebMynd allows you to access and use your recordings in two ways: providing a web "playback" feature that allows you to visually browse your web history, and by returning search results from your browsing history (and delicious bookmarks) when you run Google searches.

The Visual Archive

Perusing your visual archive, or "stacks", in WebMynd is simple. To go to playback mode you just click the play button located in the lower-right hand side of your browser, next to where recording is stopped and started.

The playback site allows you to click and drag through your browsing history, complete with snapshots of the pages you saw and read:

WebMynd's interface is smooth, and attractive. But it's usefulness we're really here for, and to that end, I wonder what WebMynd does that a well-seasoned online researcher couldn't do themselves. With services like browser-based bookmarks, delicious, magnolia, even "snip" services like Google Notebook, how hard is it to mark and save something of interest or use online? Not to mention that the those services don't require me to create and send-off complete logs of my online activity... something that may make many users cringe.

To be fair, WebMynd does allow you to stop and start the recording, as noted above. They also allow you to completely block certain sites from being recorded, meaning that recording will automatically cease when you visit any pages under a certain domain. This is all well and good, but I find the online experience to be much more fluid and dynamic than perhaps the WebMynd folks seem to realize. The nature of the internet is flow from one sort of context to another. Always having to remember to stop recording whenever you do anything you don't wish to be tracked can be difficult if not impossible. I'm not even that hyper-vigilant about my online privacy, and WebMynd's collation of my data still makes me worried. And if the visual archive service was all they provided, I honestly wouldn't give WebMynd the time of day.

On the Bright Side
One interesting thing WebMynd does is run Google search terms through your recorded web history and your (and everyone else's) delicious bookmarks, displaying these results on the main Google results page. The delicious bookmarks search is especially useful if you are looking for quality information on a particular subject; chances are someone else has already found and bookmarked it.

When you run a search through Google (this search results function works only in Google search, so if you use another search engine, you're out of luck), WebMynd summarizes the results from the delicious bookmark and web history on your main results page. Two clearly distinguished boxes in the upper-right-hand corner tell you what they've found:

Results also fall along the right-hand side of your regular Google search results. They default to delicious search results:

Clicking on the WebMynd box above the search results will show you results from your web history, including a screenshot of the top site result:

What I like most about this is that it integrates a valuable research resource (delicious) into what amounts to a go-to search engine for most online users. If you're anything like me, when you start thinking "must search for..." your fingers are already taking you to Google to do a search. With WebMynd's integration of delicious bookmarks, a whole peer-reviewed, self-regulated world of germane online information is put into the context of your search. You don't have to remember to try searching delicious for something you are searching for on Google, because WebMynd does it for you.

Now THAT is a useful service.

Suggested/Not Suggested

Suggested for:

  • Researchers who are bad about bookmarking items of interest online
  • Visually inclined researchers
  • People who like a good dose of eye candy in their daily browse
  • People who enjoy using delicious as a research resource
  • Those not especially touchy about web privacy

    Not Suggested for:
  • Privacy Fanatics
  • People who hate services running in the background sucking up juice
  • Anyone using Digg or Magnolia as their preferred bookmarking service

If you have the Google Extra userscript running, your Google Search results pages will be seriously mangled if you run WebMynd search results as well. Best to use one or the other.