Archive for the ‘Finding Solutions’ Category

Driving Your Car With a Computer?

October 16, 2010

We recently make a safari across the endless Nevada desert, over foggy Donner Pass, through the freeway amazement of Sacramento and on to a very pleasant little California community aptly named Pleasanton. All this was made possible, and much easier, thanks to my GPS navigation system.

The Sacramento Thrill Ride

Picture us approaching Sacramento at 6:00 PM. We had perfectly timed the trip so we could experience the thrill of rush hour traffic while navigating the famous California freeway maze.

Our excitement was heightened by the opportunity of driving blindly into the setting sun. Pulling down the windshield visor blocked all the approaching freeway signs hindering any attempt at normal human navigation. Essentially I was driving blind with cars darting and whizzing by all around us. I felt our van had magically turned into the roller coaster at Disneyland’s Thunder Mountain.

How the Garmin Saved Me

Luckily I didn’t have to make any freeway changes for the first 10 minutes allowing me to acclimatize to whirring and workings of everyday freeway life. Soon I discovered I could use my eyes like I use my dual monitor computer system. My left eye was focused on the brake lights of the car directly in front of us while my right eye scanned the Garmin GPS on the dash. I quickly learned my old brain could still multitask while driving. I could avoid accidents and watch the Garmin so we wouldn’t get lost.

My advanced degree in defensive driving with a minor in celestial navigation was awarded after I had successfully merged from one freeway, immediately moved quickly and safely across five lanes of traffic, while slowing enough to “exit right” to a cloverleaf entrance to another freeway! I was amazed we made it through without one accident or the Garmin tactfully announcing my defeat with “Recalculating – Recalculating.”

I love technology and can’t wait until some genius marries my GPS car navigator (Garmin Nuvi) with my beloved cruise control. Now that would be worth trying to survive another 20 years!

Reasons to Get a Car GPS Navigator

I will limit myself to a few of the many reasons you really need a GPS for your car. It will also eliminate backseat driving recommendations from the passenger side windbag – Oops! I meant “Airbag.”

Family History GPS Tagging. Most GPS systems have a GPS coordinates screen. The purpose is for you to enter coordinates and then let the device direct you to the desired destination.

When I take my GPS into a cemetery, I take a photo of the grave and then take a photo of the coordinate screen. Later I can import the photos into my computer and Heritage Collector software so I can transfer the GPS coordinates to the photo of the grave. Next I use the GPS Maps module in Heritage Collector to create beautiful cemetery maps I can print or turn into a PDF for my relatives and kids. Go to this link (GPS Maps Module) for step-by-step instructions and movies about getting and using GPS coordinates to make maps.

Getting Gas. I have a tendency to gas up at larger towns along the travel route so I can save a few dollars. We all know that getting gas out in the boondocks along the freeway will cost a lot more. My Garmin has two great options. If you are really desperate, running on fumes with the little red gas pump blinking on your instrument panel, click the GPS Fuel option. It will display a list of the closest gas stations, with arrows pointing the direction and the number of miles to the gas station.

We love to save money by getting gas at Costco. So how do you find a Costco when you are driving on the freeway? Simple. Click the “Points of Interest” option and then click “Spell Name.” Type in Costco and press Done. In a few seconds the Garmin will display all the Costco locations within 150 miles. This little trick also works to find Walmart, Safeway or the closest Olive Garden restaurant.

Never Get Lost and Save Time. It’s easy to resume your journey once you navigated to the gas station, store, or restaurant. You can easily return back to the motel where you are staying or enter a new destination and let your Garmin take you there.

Accurate Arrival Time. One of the lesser known features of a Garmin GPS is the Arrival Time indicator. It’s really nice to know how long it will take to get to your destination. “Are we there yet?” I used to despise that question from my kids. Now all you have to say is, “Watch this little place and it will tell you exactly when we will get there.”

Speed Limit Signs. How many times have you glanced down at the speedometer, sucked in a lot of air, followed by a quick glance in your rear view mirror and hoped you won’t see a speed cop with flashing red and blue lights? My Garmin places a little speed limit sign to indicate the speed of the road I’m traveling. It’s great to know and actually saves time since I tend to drive slower to a avoid speed trap in a small town if I don’t know the speed limit.

Elevation. Ok, I’m a geek. I like to know the approximate elevation of my travels. I also miss about half of the little elevation signs as they sneak past if I’m not looking exactly at right spot at the right time. Garmin has a setting to let you know the elevation at any time you are interested.

Goodies. My Garmin let’s me do hands free calling and speaking via my bluetooth cell phone, plays MP3s and displays photos from my SD card.

Lane Change Indicator. Garmin places a little green box in the upper left of the display showing if your next turn will be to the right or left. This is a real help on a freeway or busy road. All the locals know the correct lane to be in far in advance. This makes it impossible for you to get into the right or left turn lane because it may be full for the next block or mile on a freeway exit. It also tells you how many miles you have before you need to turn.

Traffic Indicator. This is a “must have” feature if you live or drive in a congested area. My Garmin can actually route me around rush hour traffic or an accident because it can “see” ahead down my route. It gets local information via a built in FM receiver. I purchased a Garmin with free lifetime traffic alerts. However, you need to check for this free feature.

Garmin Gremlins

In fairness, there are a few little trolls built into every GPS. My Garmin is not perfect and has gotten us lost a few times. Sometimes it’s not Garmin’s fault. The restaurant may have closed or relocated. The city moved or changed their speed limit signs, closed a road, and didn’t update the national map database.

Be careful when setting the shortest route. This is perfect if you are the adventurous type and want to travel the back roads. We had such an unplanned adventure during our last trip to Yosemite National Park. I didn’t know I had changed to the shortest route.

As we traveled we were marveling at the beauty and vastness of the grape vineyards of Northern California. Soon I noted the road signs (Road 24)were a bit strange and not helpful.

At one point I became a bit nervous when “Garmie” (our affectionate name for the Garmin) told us to turn right on Road 23. A big yellow sign greeted us with the message, “This is not a through road.” Oh boy! We weren’t lost but I didn’t have any idea where we were or how close we were to the south gate of Yosemite. Gas gauge check – half a tank so I wasn’t stressed yet.

We were traveling a little winding back country road with exquisite scenery, a few scattered farms, and no cell phone services so were really on our own. Eventually we made contact with the real world and gassed up after checking the “Fuel” option so I could avoid the tourist trap gas stations and get cheaper gas where the locals get it.


Study and plan your travel routes on Google Maps. Get an idea of the local attractions and check some alternate routes. Roads may be closed for a variety of reasons. It would be foolish to depend entirely on your GPS so print out some maps and store them in your travel binder for a good old backup reference guide if you get really lost!

Don’t leave your GPS navigation device on your dashboard unattended. There are many people who’d love to adopt it. Put it out of site BEFORE you stop so others will not know you have a GPS in your car.

Happy GPS Travels,

Are Your Photos Overwhelming You?

April 12, 2010

Photo Management Suggestions

During the past fifteen years I’ve struggled with many strategies to preserve, organize and manage photos. I have many different types and sizes of photos including slides and newspaper clippings.

The photo at the left is one of many photos in my Olsen family photo collection. This photo represents an avoidable tragedy. The photo was taken about 1900 in Norway. These two beautiful young ladies are probably relatives. Unfortunately we may never know their names, where they lived and how they were related, No one took the time to write any information on the back of the photo. Hopefully I may find a relative who has the same photo with information.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about working with photos:

  1. Scan and save only the best quality photos. No one will be interested in looking at poor quality photos unless a photo is ‘one of kind.’ Refer to my blog about scanning recommendations so you don’t waste time creating poor quality scans. More scanning information can be accessed by clicking this link.
  2. Eliminate duplicate photos. Pick and save the best photo when you have several similar photos.
  3. Photos without descriptive information are worthless. Sorry to be so blunt. Few people enjoy looking at meaningless photos. Click this link for more information.
  4. DO NOT copy photos into your computer without a plan. You will discover it’s easier to find photos in boxes than disorganized folders on your computer. See the next suggestion.
  5. Avoid organizing photos by names and dates. Maintain the context in which photos were taken when copying photos into folders. Use topical names for folder or collection names such as the occasion when photos were taken. For example, you take photos on a picnic or hike. Put all the photos taken during the picnic or hike into a folder named “Dry Canyon Hike” because that is the location where the hike occurred. For a graduation you might name the photo folder “Nathan Graduation 2009.” Photos of my great grandfather’s rock home are in a collection called, “Carl Steen’s Rock Home.” More information may be found by clicking this link.
  6. Do not break up photo albums. Scan photos into categories (folders) similar to the pages in the album. This will maintain the organization that was used to create the album. For example, you may discover the photos on an album page were all cousins. Studying the photo grouping of album pages and sections may reveal other hidden information.
  7. Add oral narrative and stories to photos. Next time you visit your grandparents ask to see their photo album. Be prepared to hear fascinating stories of their history that you’ve never heard. Don’t forget to ask about how they met, courted, and married. Old photos were expensive and usually taken for a reason, Your challenge is to discover the story hidden in each photo. Record the stories and information with a tape recorder or digital voice recorder. Associating oral narrative with a photo is priceless, enhances meaning and really brings a photo back to life. 
  8. Keep Information within the photo file. Use a computer software program to embed (store) descriptive text information and dates in the computer photo file. Learn more about “Photo & Information Survivability by clicking this newsletter link.
  9. Improve your digital camera skills. Learn to take better quality photos. For more information, click this newsletter link. Digital Photography in Family History.
  10. Avoid scanning promotions. If someone comes to your door and offers to scan and preserve all your photos – Smile and then RUN! All you will end up with is several DVDs and a big bill. Your photos will be preserved but without any of the descriptive information that makes the photo meaningful and valuable. There is still hope if you copy the images from the DVDs and use another program such as Heritage Collector to add photo captions and identify the people in the photos. Make new DVD archives of the photos and information. Note: Having someone scan and enhance your photos maybe helpful and save time if you do not want to scan your photos. Sort photos into groups so you will have some general photo organization when you receive the DVD photo collections.

More information links about photos

Old Shoebox Newsletter 

Photo Identification Suggestions

Scanning Tutorial

Photo Management Software

Writing a History – Tips and Mistakes

April 10, 2010

Start Simple!

Over the years I’ve helped many people compile, format, print and bind a Family History. The process can be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience or it can be a costly and frustrating nightmare. This blog will focus on a few things to make it positive and rewarding experience. I will discuss mistakes and things to avoid and offer a few tips from “Create a History.”


Mistakes and Things to Avoid and What to Do (Tips)

Mistake: Save time by trying to do it all at once. (Causes a lot of stress and frustration).

Tip: Relax and start writing your history. Write the most important and humorous stories first. Don’t worry about formatting or inserting photos. Do that later. Creating small chapters (documents) will make it easier to manage.

Mistake: Trying to stretch or enlarge a photo when inserting it into the document. (Photos will look awful – blocky and pixelated).

Tip: Scan ALL photos resizing them to 8”x10” @ 150 – 350 DPI. Resize (shrink) photos later when inserting them into the document.

Mistake: Most of the popular word processing programs do not really lock or anchor photos in the document. Photos just appear to be locked or anchored in the document. Later you may find some photos have moved around in the final PDF. The problem with moving photos continues to be a serious and frustrating limitation in most programs.You may not discover this maddening inconsistency until AFTER you make a PDF. A Portable Document File (PDF) is required for printing. You can find more information about a PDF by doing a Google search on “PDF.”

Tip: Use (OOo) to format and prepare your book for printing. is registered trademark of and a freeware program.

Mistake: Editing your drafts starting with the first page is a big mistake. (All the text will ‘bump’ down through the entire document causing you to proofread the entire document again to make edits.

Tip: Edit your draft starting at the last page and work toward the first page.

 Mistake: Cramming too much text onto a page trying to reduce the number of pages. Small margins look even worse when the book is trimmed. Top, bottom and side pages are cut down before a book is bound.

Tip: Use the standard ‘Mirror’ margins settings recommended in OOo. A mirror margin formats the text for printing on both sides of the page. It also prevents the text from going too far down into binding (middle of the book) making it difficult to read the beginning or end of a sentence.

Mistake: Trying to get a “ballpark” printing cost estimate before knowing how many pages the book will contain and the number of copies to be printed. Your printer is not a mind reader and cannot divine cost without a page and book count.

Circulate your first draft among a few relatives to get their response. Take your first complete draft to your printer to get your first cost estimate. Survey relatives and friends to see if they are interested paying for a copy. You can then get a final cost estimate. Collect money BEFORE having the book printed.

 Mistake: Thinking your book can be printed from the documents you create using your word processing program. Printers require books to come to them in PDF format. You may also have a problem if you have used special fonts in your book. It’s impossible for a printer to have all the millions of fonts. Typically the fonts the printer does not have are substituted with the ugly Currier font which is very noticeable and appears unprofessional.

OOo will automatically create a PDF of your book. Use the setting to embed fonts in the PDF. Embedding the fonts will save (embed) the special fonts you’ve used in your book in the PDF so the correct fonts will be used to print your book.

Mistake: Your book will never be perfect. You will miss a few errors and misspelled names in the final draft no matter how many times it is proofed – trust me.

Create a preface or forward indicating you have tried to make the book as perfect as possible but you know there may be a few inadvertent mistakes. Consider using the following poem.


No book is entirely perfect

For errors will creep in;

Sometimes wrong information sent

Is what commits the sin.

And even printers make mistakes

For which they tear their hair;

Sometimes two people disagree

On who or when or where.

It might have been the person

Who wrote the history.

It might have been the typist,

Or blame can fall on me.

So, if you’re dead before you’re born,

Or married when you’re three,

Or I’ve omitted anyone

Who sent themselves to me,

Or your last name is not your own,

You’re picture’s not too good;

I ask you, “Please forgive the crime!

I did the best I could!”

 Author Unknown

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

Start writing, even with a pen or pencil or record your narrative. Get the important parts of your history documented so your children and grandchildren will have the chance to know you better and benefit from your experience and wisdom.

Unfortunately there is not enough space in a blog to offer more detailed information. Please refer to my new “Create a History” for additional help and information.

Finding a Needle in the Haystack

February 19, 2010

Is a Cemetery Really a Big Haystack?

The following definition of finding a needle in a haystack summarizes my recent trip to a cemetery.   

 “If trying to find something is like looking for a needle in a haystack, it means that it is very difficult, if not impossible to find among everything around it.” from   

Last September my cousin passed away. I attended the funeral and graveside service. I returned to the cemetery in November to get a photo of the marker and the exact GPS coordinates. I knew his grave would be easy to find because it was located between the road and a fence in the north corner of the cemetery. There was a large tree not far from the grave to use as reference point. Unfortunately I was not successful finding his grave and assumed the headstone still needed to be placed.   

In January I decided to try again but a foot of snow now covered all the graves. This cemetery requires all markers to be flat and flush with the ground so I’d have to wait until the snow melted.   

Most of the snow was gone in February so I made another trip to the cemetery. I took my oldest son along so I’d have a second pair of eyes to make it easier to find the grave. We stopped near the big tree and walked about fifty feet toward the fence which should have put us right over the grave.   

I didn’t see the grave nearby so I enlarged my search to about a fifteen foot radius. Still no grave. I verified I was in line with the big tree near the road so I should be in the right area. I wondered if they were waiting for the ground to settle before placing the stone.   

Which tree?

I used the wrong tree as a reference point.


I decided not to give up but to widen my search area. A cold wind was blowing as I searched causing the hand holding my big camera to start hurting. I looked back at the tree and decided I was aligned with the wrong tree! I walked about another fifty feet down and started reading more markers. Still no success and my hand was almost numb.   

Finally I had success. I told my son it was frustrating it took so long to find the grave since I was there for the burial only a few months ago.   

This personal experience reinforces the importance of having GPS coordinates for burial sites. Using trees and other landmarks is not dependable since cemetery topography changes our memory fades of the exact location. It would have been more difficult if my cousin had been buried in another part of the cemetery where there are fewer trees and his grave would been partially covered by snow.  

Take photo of GPS device and the grave

Take photo of GPS device and the grave


Take Photos and Get GPS Coordinates

Use a Garmin Nuvi, car GPS navigator, cell phone or a dedicated GPS device to display and record coordinates at the cemetery. 


How to Save GPS Coordinates For a Grave

  1. Take a photo of the grave marker.
  2. Display the coordinates screen on your GPS device. To get coordinates on a Garmin Nuvi: Touch “Where To?” → press the down arrow on the right side of the screen → select “Coordinates.” The coordinates display will appear showing your location.
  3. Place your GPS directly on the marker or hold your GPS and stand near the grave.
  4. Position the GPS device (place it near your body and turn your back to the sun to eliminate glare).
  5. Take photo of GPS device.
  6. Preview the photo to make certain you can read the GPS coordinates.
  7. Import photos of graves and GPS coordinate photos into your computer.

Saving Photos and GPS Coordinates for Future Reference

I returned home and imported my cemetery photos into Heritage Collector. Next I displayed the photo of the Garmin coordinate screen, typed in coordinates and then used the cut/paste option to put the GPS coordinates into the photo of the grave.   

I was concerned the GPS coordinates and photo of the grave may be lost or become unassociated with the photo of the grave. I used the new Embed Information option to put the photo caption, date, and GPS coordinates into the IPTC portion of each image file. That way the important information will always remain with the photo file for future reference. Now it’s possible for ALL information to stay embedded in the IPTC portion of the image file.   

Printing a Cemetery Map With GPS Coordinates

The last step was to go into the Heritage Collector’s GPS Track module and create screen captures of the cemetery map at different satellite magnifications (elevations) to make it easier for family members to find my cousin’s grave – even if the cemetery is covered by snow and the old trees are gone. 

A GPS Map makes it easier to find the cemetery and grave

Solving Computer Problems !!

December 7, 2009

Do You Have a Personal Confuser?

I once heard a personal computer (PC) referred to as a “Personal Confuser.” I’d have to agree with this definition since I feel confused most of the time. I often tell people I solve computer problems by accident and perseverance and not by skill. “Plug & Play” is supposed to mean plug in the new device and the computer automatically sets it up for you. Usually that doesn’t happen for me.  “Plug & Play” really means “Plug & Play Around” for a long time until you get lucky and it works!

The internet has taught me two very important lessons:

  1. There are thousands of people in the world who have the same computer problems I have.
  2. Most computer users are sympathetic and willing to help each other solve problems.

Use This Google Trick

There’s a relatively easy way to solve a computer problem and it’s free. Do the following:

  1. Copy the error message for reference later.
  2. Don’t worry about understanding what the error message means. It would take a brainiac to understand the message.
  3. Go to the internet and load up Google.
  4. Type the error message into the Google search box and press enter.
  5. Viola! You just magically discovered a million people who are saying, “I feel your pain,” let me help, or I have the same problem!”
  6. If you get too many responses, put “quote marks” around the error message and search it again.

You’ll be surprised how many people have the same problem and posted the same question or error message on the internet. Go to a web page and see the answer and discussion of the success or failure of the person applying the solution. If the solution is too complicated, hit the back button and go to the next site. You may have to surf through many sites before you find the correct or easiest answer. I have used this trick and it saved me from disaster many times.

Use Google For Other Solutions

Sometimes I have a hard time trying to formulate my question for a Google search. Keep trying. Remember you are searching the whole world and chances are good someone else out there in cyberspace may be searching for the same dumb thing.

I’m a terrible speller. I used to say I had two vocabularies – one for speaking and a dumbed down vocab for writing. You will probably get some laughs (free of charge) reading my blogs.  Just remember I’m human and trying to help you even with my spelling disability! (Is there a pill I could take to cure my spelling disease and make me feel wonderful at the same time? Something that rhymes with Valium – like Spellium).

Tip:  Google is also my spelling tutor and it doesn’t laugh at me. I make my best spelling attempt by typing it into the Google search box. I love it when Google comes back and says, “Did you mean . . .?” Sometimes after a long search for a word like “Viola” I talk  back to my computer and say YES! This is so much better than using a dictionary. In grade school my teachers used to scold me for such bad spelling and say, “Don’t you know what the dictionary is for?” I wanted to reply with, “Yes, it’s for reading the whole dictionary until I get lucky and happen onto the word I can’t spell. Dictionaries are for people who can spell!” Computer spellcheckers and Google are for people like me who still can’t spell. I use several spellcheckers. Beware – sometimes a spellchecker can really embrace (embarrass) you! Read the suggested spellings carefully.