Repost: Macworld 2011

Macworld is upon us again. I intend to post a summary of what I find from my excursion. Until then, here is the post I wrote about last year’s event, originally posted 31 Jan 2011:

I have consistently attended the annual convention celebrating the Mac computer and all things Apple.  This was the first year I walked the aisles of the Moscone Convention Center with the eye of a genealogist.  Though it was not surprising that genealogy apps like Reunion didn’t have a large booth in the center of the convention floor (or even show up), I was pleased with the great number of software and hardware options that could easily be used to benefit genealogical pursuits.

As I may have mentioned, I am a member of the Mac Faithful.  My first Apple computer was a a IIe, before they created the first Macintosh.  I bought my first Mac (an LCIII) when I was entering college and have always chosen Macs as my own personal computers and workstations (though I’ve owned and administered PCs running Linux or BSD variants).  For the geeks amongst you, my current Mac is a practically ancient dual-core Mac Pro ca 2007 which I’m about to upgrade with additional RAM for a bit of a pep.  Plus, I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 15 years, making Macworld a convenient place to blow my annual computer budget.

As I examined different products, I presented the sales people with some fundamental requirements.  When dealing with items like scanners, I cited document safety as paramount.  I offered a photo from 1910, a document from the Civil War and book published in 1850 as my examples of things I might run across. Working with fragile papers, books, or photos, does not allow for any question of how the technology will effect the document in question.  For OCR solutions, I asked about various languages, handwriting recognition, particularly old script styles (which no one thought would be readable).  I also asked how it could help me work more efficiently, as a business person and a researcher.  The answers I received were encouraging.  Below, I try to present some of the products I saw which had potential and some which were disappointing.  Many are rarely if ever cited in the PC dominated genealogy circles.

Hardware:

  • Fujistu ScanSnap – With a large booth, highlighting different products in their line, these are the creme de la creme of scanners, but well discussed by other genealogists.
  • ReadIris scanners and OCR — A perennial Macworld exhibitor, their most promising product, the well-established IrisPen, is a handheld device which inserts text into any other software by scanning line by line using a pen-like scanner across the page.  It is USB powered so must be plugged into a computer, which I don’t inherently mind though it wouldn’t work at many libraries.  What I do mind is that to activate the scanning device, you must press it down onto the paper with a small rotating wheel, not okay for delicate documents.  Even for less fragile items, the scan field is great for large type but as soon as I tried using  it on a standard size paragraph, OCR errors were overwhelming.  Another product, the IRISPhoto scanner would be great for business cards and photos up to 1mm thick (the salesperson said roughly the thickness of a standard credit card).  Though I have a small concern with anything that requires feeding an object through technology, having had enough paper jams in my life, the feed path seemed small and the device did not appear to get hot at all.  Additionally, it didn’t require being hooked up to a computer, but had 512mg internal memory plus a memory card slot and USB connection for downloading to a computer.

Software:

  • Prizmo from Creaceed.com – Available for Mac ($49.95) or iPhone ($9.95), Prizmo is an OCR and image correction software.  On the Mac, it allows you to drag and drop an image file from your scanner or digital camera for OCR processing (text only, handwriting is unlikely to be read).  The image correction is what interested me the most.  It allows the user to click on the corners of the text, even if the image is at an angle to correct the text into a flat image, improving the OCR success.  Even better, it offers a curvature correction feature so that a picture taken of a page of a book or magazine can be corrected as well.  There’s definitely a learning curve to get the correction just right, but as the demonstrator worked on the correction, she was able to view the corrected image in a second live screen so that if it still didn’t look right, she could make additional adjustments.  A quick tour of the iPhone version made it clear it was a different beast.  The tech specs suggest a 3G or 2G with Griffin Clarifi case was acceptable, it really wants the higher resolution of late model iPhone camera.  However, at around $10 it would be a nice option for library use.  Output options are handy, including Evernote and Dropbox integration.
  • Scanner Pro from Readdle ($6.99):  This was similar to Prizmo for iPhone, scanning documents with the iPhone camera.  How it differed, beside the cheaper pricetag, was that it lacked an OCR engine, instead offering to upload the image to google docs to use their OCR, which isn’t what I’d consider top quality (though getting better).  It also didn’t offer to use any image file, only ones you’d taken yourself with your iPhone, so the company rep suggested anything less than an iPhone 4 would be too low of an image quality.  An image can be cropped however, enlarged, and sent through multiple channels to other devices, with the aforementioned google docs, Evernote or Dropbox, or any WebDAV server which is a nice feature.
  • Endnote by Thomson Reuters:  No I still don’t have Reunion.  But I research a lot of different topics which aren’t always directly related to a tree.  Endnote is a bibliography management software that allows the user to track references and insert bibliographical notes in documents, often as you write.  I always enjoy speaking with their booth personnel, since they aren’t salespeople per se, but more often trainers and writers.  Endnote is designed to be useful to any researcher, where the scientific community is a prime market.  So I was always pleased at how easily it could incorporate PubMed and journal references into its citation management database.  When I spoke with the trainer about genealogy needs, she was intrigued.  It turns out the software, without any customization, will format in Chicago Style format, has functionality to reference databases and peer reviewed journals, in addition to books of any age.  She was happy to clarify that it is the only product of its kind that offers customizable citation templates, so one would be able to define a template for citing death certificates, for instance.  Of course, if something was obtainable through the LDS databases, it wouldn’t even require a customized template, because a database is a template included out of the box.  At $250-300 (download/boxed), the software is a bit pricey for a hobbyist but a professional would find its resources well worth it.  Free webinars are offered and the staff member welcomed me to reach out to her for additional assistance to help make Endnote work for genealogy.

One of the reasons I love going to Macworld to shop for new products is the prevalance of “show specials.”  All of the products I’ve discussed had Macworld show specials which brought their price down anywhere from 10-30% and often are good for online purchases anywhere from one week to two months later, giving plenty of opportunity to try out the software demos or just mull the annual budget.

Are you a new or experienced Mac user?  What genealogy need hasn’t been met by Mac developers?

About kimcotton

Professional Genealogist, specializing in 19th & 20th Century U.S. records, particularly California & Connecticut, with a dash of North Western Mexico.