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Louis Kessler’s Behold Blog

Genealogy Technology – Random Thoughts - Wed, 13 Aug 2014

Lots going on in the technical genealogy world, and so much incorrect thinking in my opinion.

The major online services are quietly going about their business: Ancestry, FamilySearch and MyHeritage (which now includes Geni) are the big three, but there are scores of others such as GeneaNet and WikiTree. They’ve had years to do so, but no one service has shown dominance. It may still be years before this all gets sorted out.

Single World Tree or Individual Trees? Now that is the question, and everyone has an opinion and argues, but both ways have their faults. The two will have to coexist for a while because no consensus is in sight.

It is being said that handheld pads and mobile devices are the future. Therefore everything will be in the cloud and accessed with apps from these devices. And desktop genealogy software will not be needed. Well that’s all bullfeathers. More than anything, people want control of their data. They’ll want their own database in their own possession and not on some alien planet somewhere. And if it is on some alien planet, they want control of it, and don’t want the aliens to have the ability to destroy it.

Family Tree Maker is a good program!? Ouch. Have you seen its reviews lately on GenSoftReviews? I don’t understand how Ancestry has dropped the ball so badly with it. The rewrite in 2008 was necessary because the earlier technology needed upgrading. But how did they take a reasonably good program and destroy it so badly? How, after six years of upgrades, can their software still crash and cause so many problems? Why can’t they get it to sync data properly with their own online database? Why don’t they fix it?

Customer service will win the day. People don’t mind encountering problems or learning a different system if they are dealing with a company that will do everything to help them. In contrast to Family Tree Maker, check out the GenSoftReviews of Family Tree Builder and MyHeritage and note how many of the comments talk about their great support.

The Master Genealogist says farewell. I’ve met Bob Velke and he’s a really smart guy and a fine person. He was one of the early innovators of genealogy software and developed one of the most capable genealogy programs of the day. Everyone else had to catch up to him. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make the leap that was necessary and switch TMG’s deprecated FoxPro database to a modern database that could continue.

Legacy 8 still uses FoxPro the Microsoft Jet Engine which is also deprecated. It doesn’t support Unicode 64-bit. The limitations are starting to mount, despite the new releases. Why have few noticed this? Why are they not demanding Legacy to address this? Will the Legacy folk switch in time before they hit the same brick wall that Bob did?

Genealogy Proof. Citation Templates. Evidence Tracking. Everyone’s so concerned about all these. But I’m not ready to spend 4 hours documenting each event I add to my database. What’s wrong with just recording exactly where we got the data from and our reasoning? That should take 30 seconds. We can then spend the other 3:59:30 more usefully.

Data doesn’t transfer. It’s GEDCOM’s fault. We need a new standard. => Ugh! Give me a break! Developers are the one’s that make GEDCOM fail. They fail to adhere to the standard whenever they feel like it and add their own extensions. They then ignore other program’s extensions. GEDCOM has most of what’s needed. With a few (what I call) tweaks, it can be updated and serve the genealogy community for another 25 years.

The whole push to replace GEDCOM with a new standard, that I was happily contributing to in BetterGEDCOM, which evolved into FHISO that was doing great and … Thud! After Drew Smith was appointed chair of FHISO there was nothing. That was over a year ago. I questioned Drew about this at RootsTech in February, and he told me FHISO was still looking for a coordinator. All the founding members would support FHISO if it could get going, and it’s quite a group: Ancestry, RootsMagic, WikiTree, OurFamily*ology, Calico Pie, Coret Genealogie, the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), the Federation of Family History Societies (FFHS), BrightSolid and Mocavo. But it looks like FHISO is stalled and dead in the water unless someone steps forward with the energy and initiative to reboot it.

Oh where oh where did AncestorSync go? They had the right idea. Sync data directly between many desktop programs and online family trees. That’s exactly what every genealogist really wants and even needs. But doing it did not turn out to be as simple as they thought. Someone should … hmmmm.

Thanks for letting me rant. I feel better now.


August 15 update re Legacy:

I received an email from Geoff Rasmussen from Millennia (Legacy Family Tree) who informed me that Legacy does not use FoxPro but is built on top of a Microsoft Access database. Indeed I was wrong, and inspecting a Legacy .FDB file, one can see it is using the Microsoft Jet Database Engine.

However, this unfortunately does not change Millennia’s situation with Legacy. The Microsoft Jet Database Engine, like FoxPro, has also been deprecated by Microsoft. The Jet driver will not be updated and there is no 64-bit version of the driver available, nor will there ever be. So Millennia will need to switch before they hit the brick wall.

In July 2011, Microsoft acknowledged an issue that “severely affects query performance” with Access and Jet since the introduction of Windows 7 due to the nature of resource management being vastly different in newer operating systems. “Microsoft issued hotfixes for Microsoft Access, but will not fix the issue with Jet 4.0 as it is out of mainstream support.” (from Microsoft Access on Wikipedia) – So already, Legacy is starting to feel the effects of staying with Jet.

This, unfortunately, is the nature of programming. Choosing a technology is sometimes a crapshoot, and you may be lucky, or you may not. But you’ve got to see the writing on the wall when it’s there and change before it’s too late.


August 16 update re FHISO:

Interestingly, as I wrote this blog post, FHISO had completed a year of getting organized and announced that they are now ready to begin technical work. This is good.

See Richard Smith’s comment below.

Off To Gaenovium - Thu, 24 Jul 2014

The official announcement is out. And I now can announce that I’ll be flying to the city of Leiden, Netherlands in early October.

Gaenovium will be a small one day conference on October 7 for genealogy technology creators, so it will give me a wonderful opportunity to meet, share, discuss and argue with other developers. I love these opportunities to expand and consider what others are doing and use them to make improvements to what I am doing and even possibly to change my future plans for the better.

I’m slated to be one of the five speakers and I’ll be putting together a talk called “Reading Wrong GEDCOM Right” with many examples of the multitude of non-standard GEDCOM variations that I’ve had to handle in Behold. This will be a technical talk for developers, and I’m looking very forward to presenting this to a distinct group of people that will be able to appreciate it. 

The conference is being organized by Tamura Jones of Leiden, Netherlands and Bob Coret of The Hague, Netherlands.

Tamura has done much to improve the quality of genealogy software as he provides likely the most brutally honest assessments of programs he reviews, and smart developers will heed what he says. His previous assessments of Behold: Behold release disappoints (0.98.9.90), Behold 0.99.2 Beta, and Behold 1.0 all provided me with great feedback and areas where it needed to improve.

Bob is the creator of the genealogieonline website which is just one of many initiatives he has taken over the years to innovate and improve the technology used for Dutch genealogical research.

Tamura and Bob have both worked very hard to organize this first ever Gaenovium conference and I’m looking forward to meeting them both.

Another person that I’ve corresponded with who is also speaking at the conference is Tony Proctor of Ireland. Tony was very involved with Better GEDCOM and FHISO and I had several conversations with him through those venues. I’ve not looked too closely yet at his STEMMA data model, designed to be a possible replacement for GEDCOM and more, so I’m interested in hearing what he has to say.

The last item on the Gaenovium schedule is a Panel Discussion on Current and Future Genealogical Exchange Standards, so this could be the most interesting session of them all.

image
*Pavilion photo by Tamura Jones, copyright © 2014, used by kind permission.

The event will take place in a building called The Pavilion, and looks like a lovely venue. The capacity is only about 50, so if you are at all interested in coming, be sure to register as soon as possible or you may be disappointed.

It’s About Time for Version 1.1 - Mon, 5 May 2014

This is starting to get ridiculous. I’ve spent the close to 2 years trying to design and implement all the complexities of 3 new features that I think will be really important to help you with your genealogical research, which I’ve called: Ages Everywhere, Life Events, and Who’s Alive at Events.

The work I was doing on these just seemed to mushroom. The “Ages Everywhere” started veering off into Consistency Checking. I had to deal with handling Multiple Events. The Life Events led me to Who’s Alive at Events. This required estimating ages so that those people without birth dates could be stated to be “likely” or “possibly” living at an event. Then it was a matter of ordering and storing them and … it got messy, I must say. There were too many ideas at once, and the data structure developed for one idea got messed up by the next idea.

Trying to work on too much at once just doesn’t work. It leaves you in a state of everything being somewhat unfinished. And putting Behold down for a bit of time (for RootsTech, family vacation, writing a magazine article, new computer, my father passing away) was always difficult to pick up again where I left off. It’s always best to try to finish a little piece and then add to it, always leaving everything in a working state of completion.

So I’m going to try to change this. I’ve made a number of enhancements to my working version of Behold over the past year that have been marked as “done” on the Future Plans page. I’m going to release the first set of changes which will include the merging of family events into both spouses to make the output of each individual resemble a timeline, and include the individuals’ age at events. I’ll release this as soon as possible as version 1.1. This will be a significant change

Then I’ll move ahead and work on one major thing at a time, releasing the Life Events as version 1.1.1, and follow that the with Who’s Alive at Events as version 1.1.2. Then Consistency Checking, Saving GEDCOMs and the Behold Database. The plan is in place. I just have to make sure I continue to move forward and make progress.

But before my next release, I’ll have to update my code signing certificate for Behold. Doing the update is a PITA (pain in the rear-end), but the certificate has expired so I have to. They give me a whole 3 days notice, which is nowhere near enough time. In addition to the onerous procedure I went through last time, this time I have to also get a licenced notary or attorney to confirm that the documents I am sending them actually are for me. What are they going to add next time. Will I have to be fingerprinted and strip searched? I get a 3 year certificate each time, but I’d get a longer one if they had it, just to avoid the hassle this involves. Now I understand why some software developers don’t bother with a certificate, even though it adds safety for the user.

Now, back to work.