Archive for Category: Web Site Development


GenAssist – RootsTech Reject

Sunday, 29 January 2012

RootsTech has once again put me in a bad mood. They’re getting too good at this. This time, it’s the developer’s challenge. The challenge was to imagine and then write a brand new program in less than two months. And I got started late. Looking at the finalists, I’d say that either some of them have been working on their programs for more than two months, or I have been left in the dark ages of web programming.

I’m not sure what I was thinking. The prizes are pretty significant this year. Maybe I should have looked at this program as if it was my full time job and put that much effort into it. Maybe that’s what the finalists actually did. Or maybe I somehow knew that I would be left in the dust in the end, so I didn’t.

Either way, I created a program to help beginning genealogists: the people that have just gotten started and found sites like FamilySearch and Ancestry, or maybe a few more, but don’t really know what they’re doing; the people that haven’t been to conferences, webinars, or society meetings; the people that want to know their genealogy but either don’t know how or don’t want to take the time to learn.

Genealogy research is a puzzle. Not only are there methodologies to learn, but you must also learn what records are available. Were your ancestors in Florida? Did you know there are state censuses for 1935 and 1945? Certainly a beginner wouldn’t know. So how does a new genealogist easily find out what’s available?

GenAssist.

In order to research your genealogy, you have to know how to do the research, to know what to look for, and to know what records are available. With GenAssist, you just enter the information about an individual and it will suggest document types in which you might find your relatives.

And while it’s telling you what records to search, it is also teaching you. It will explain why to search for certain records.

However, my program has been left in the dust of this contest. The judges found an error and only informed me when I pestered them that they were behind schedule to announce the finalists. They also hadn’t entered the sample information, because my database is extremely limited at the moment. When they finally entered the sample data, they didn’t do it correctly. (When I say to enter 1980, 1908 will not produce the same favorable results. Genealogy and programming are both more precise than that.)

Therefore, I am opening it up for you to try. Login with username “blog” and password “gjg” (without the quotes). Try the “View History” to see the two sample entries, so you can get an idea what kind of data is already in the database. Then add your own if you like. Keep in mind that your individuals are recorded and visible in the history, and this is a shared login for whoever reads this blog post, so don’t use the living. Besides, you probably won’t find much about the living in my database.

http://GenAssist.info/

Remember that this is just what I got done in about a month in some spare time. Clearly it is nowhere near complete, nor is it incredibly pretty, because I spent my time on the cool programming part instead of the web design part. There is almost no error checking, so don’t test if it can figure out your misspellings. But let me know what you think of it and if I should keep working on it. I do have a lot more ideas for it (you’ll find some on the “RootsTech 2012″ page), besides the obvious of filling in the database with genealogy record data.

Also, I will likely not leave the login open for very long. Since my blog gets a lot of spammer comments, who knows what they’ll do to my program.

So, is my program worth working on more? Or should I let it fade away into oblivion?

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Integration

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

I’ve spent the past several days learning about WordPress and how it all works. Why?

  1. I’ve wanted to integrate the blog into my site since I went public with it.
  2. A potential new client wants a blog, along with everything else he’s asked for, and it was recommended to me to just use WordPress for the whole site as my content management system.

So here it is! My site and my blog should now fit together perfectly. I went ahead and added things like a Twitter feed, some “share this” buttons, and my surname list (using WP tags, actually). If you see any problems, let me know. I’ve tested in Firefox and IE8.

Now, I have some genealogy research to do.

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To Wiki or Not To Wiki, That is the Question

Monday, 25 January 2010

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, then you know I just got a new computer. It’s a Windows 7 computer. So along with the new OS, I decided to upgrade all my software. I downloaded the newest or newest stable releases of Apache, PHP, and MySQL, since I do my own web development and my genealogy database is self-programmed using those. I also opted for the latest release of TikiWiki. I had an old release before only because it would run on the old PHP/MySQL versions I had.

Unfortunately, the wiki program seems to have degraded over time. There were fewer themes and the old ones were utterly incompatible, so I had to go with an entirely new look. After not spending enough time on that, I started looking around at my pages. The wiki menus had changed and I didn’t like them. My Hebrew text didn’t survive for some reason. Maybe it was the way the wiki set up the database, but my regular genealogy database Hebrew survived the transfer to the new computer. One of the newest wiki pages I created was a name index with a list of surnames at the top linked to the anchors within the page. Well, the new TikiWiki version entirely erased all those anchors within the page and even when I tried to put them back, it wiped them out again. It has new plugins specifically for anchors and linking within pages, but they don’t seem to work or I couldn’t figure out how they work. The documentation site is usually non-functional, but I was on it briefly and saw nothing to suggest how to use them differently than I was already trying to do.

So that leaves me with the big dilemma. I originally wanted to use MediaWiki because I like the look and feel of Wikipedia. But I was also considering putting this online someday as a private web site and my current web host practically begged me not to use that particular wiki. They had TikiWiki installed and I was able to find an older version that I could install to my local computer. There seems to be a way to convert from one to the other, but it’s in Python, which I don’t have or really want, and it was done using an even older version than I was using, so it might not work at all.

I spent a lot of time on the wiki and was finding the initial results to be very interesting. I hate to abandon the project, or even start over from the beginning again in a new wiki program, but I’m considering it. I’m also considering going back to my original database and working more with that. My GEDCOM export was still riddled with errors and I wanted to fix those. And I wonder if I could write my own wiki-like program based on the database I already have. I was setting up some things quite differently in the wiki, so I would have to make a lot of adjustments for it.

So in the middle of writing this post, I installed PHPMyAdmin, which went pleasantly well. Taking a look at the database tables for the wiki, I noticed that most of the tables TikiWiki created are empty. One table has the text of each wiki page while another keeps track of every link between pages. If I don’t try to do the latter, I bet I could use the database I already have and generate output that looks like the wiki.

Once I get the rest of my computer applications set up and running, creating a wiki-like output from my current database may be my next project.

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