Posts Tagged ‘Genealogy Conferences’

Novatel MiFi 2200: Your Personal Wi-Fi Hotspot

Saturday, June 6th, 2009


I haven’t felt the need to do any genealogy gadget reviews on this blog up until now. Dick Eastman‘s got that area pretty well covered, I’d say. But I do feel compelled to share a brief review of Novatel’s MiFi 2200 broadband wireless modem/router.

Web Access on the Go — How I’ve Done it So Far

Besides hotel accomodations and plane fare, one of my biggest expenses as an exhibitor at genealogy conferences has been the cost of Internet connectivity while I travel. Though some conference venues thankfully provide free wireless, many others charge $75-$100 per day for access to the web. Since my main reason for attending these shows is to demonstrate a working website, I’m stuck paying these fees.

For about the last year, I’ve used a broadband wireless card from Verizon to let my personal laptop connect to the web when I’m traveling. That way whether I’m waiting at an airport gate or manning the Genlighten booth, I’ve been able to retrieve email, browse RSS feeds, or make changes to the Genlighten site as needed for a single monthly fee (about $60 plus taxes.) But since my card only works with one laptop at a time, the computer I’ve used to demonstrate Genlighten to booth visitors has needed its own separate web connection, forcing me to pay the extra fees mentioned above. With luck, it looks like I won’t have to pay them any longer.

An Attractive New Solution

I first heard about the Novatel MiFi 2200 about a month ago from David Pogue of the NYT, in his article “Wi-Fi to Go, No Cafe Needed“. The article claimed that the device acted as a “personal Wi-Fi bubble” — compact and battery-powered — for up to five nearby PCs.  When Pogue mentioned that it would work particularly well for “trade show booth teams” I was sold.

I would have happily bought one that very second, but as it turned out I had to wait a few weeks for them to become available. Mine arrived yesterday. It cost me $149.99, or $100 after — you guessed it — a $50 mail-in rebate.

The Set-Up Process

Setup was a bit more involved than I would have liked. To begin with, I had to charge the battery for 2.5 hours. Then I plugged the unit, which is about the size of a 8 credit cards stacked together, into my notebook via a provided USB cable.  Verizon’s access management software promptly auto-installed and began configuring the device to work with my machine.

A few minutes later configuration seemed complete. My laptop’s internal wi-fi quickly recognized the MiFi 2200 and let me connect to it. Unfortunately, bringing up Firefox did not produce my usual iGoogle homepage. A call to Verizon Customer Service made it obvious why — I still needed to activate the device and associate it with my existing account. The manual gave the impression that the software would prompt me to do this via the web — so that aspect of the process seemed to fail. Nonetheless, the knowledgeable customer service rep soon had me up and running.

Speed and Strength Comparison

So far I’ve tested the MiFi 2200 under normal usage conditions here at “Genlighten World HQ” — i.e, in my daughter’s former bedroom that acts as our office. This has involved retrieving email, paging rapidly through RSS feeds using the “j” and “k” keys, switching between multiple tabbed windows in Firefox, and perhaps viewing the occasional brief video clip. At first, web pages loaded much slower than they do for my home Comcast connection. But that turned out to be related to signal strength rather than capacity.

Because the MiFi device doesn’t need to be plugged into my laptop, I’m free to locate it where cellular reception is better — like by a window. Doing that immediately got me four bars of reception and much more competitive download speeds. I haven’t measured it with any benchmark utilities, but I’d say it’s probably about one half the speed of my Comcast connection — pretty much in line with Verizon’s claim of 0.6 – 1.4 Mb/s. That should be good enough for airports, trade shows and the like, but not so fast that I’m tempted to ditch Comcast just yet.

But Will it Work at Genealogy Conferences?

Will the MiFi completely eliminate the need to pay for exhibit hall Internet access? I’ll find out this coming weekend, at the Family History Expo in Loveland, Colorado.

As I write this, I’ve got four laptops (mine, my wife’s, the Genlighten exhibit booth machine and my son’s MacBook Pro) all connected to the web over a single cellular connection. And I’m watching a streaming video, with only the usual minor glitches. So I’m cautiously optimistic that things will work well in Colorado.

I’m planning to blog from the booth during the Expo, so I’ll write a follow-up post to let you know how well the MiFi performs under enterprise-level conditions. Wireless internet at the Expo costs $45/day for a 0.5 Mb/s connection. That’s actually pretty reasonable, but if the MiFi let’s me forego those charges, I’ll have nearly paid for the cost of the device in a single weekend. That would be sweet indeed!

Next Up: Colorado Family History Expo 2009

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

After a week off this coming weekend, it’ll be time to head off to another genealogy conference the following weekend, June 12th-13th. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to recruit lookup providers from Colorado for almost a year, and now I’ll get my chance.

At Holly Hansen’s invitation, I’ll be trying to share my impressions of the conference in this blog and via Twitter.

I don’t often get away from the Genlighten booth to attend many presentations during conferences like this one, and I’ve only rarely attended any evening conference events, but I’m making an exception this time. I’m very much looking forward to attending Jean Hibben‘s banquet presentation. I met Jean at the Mesa FHExpo back in November, and I was highly impressed with her combined background in genealogy, history and folklore. Looks like she and “Uncle Butch” will be providing musical entertainment as well!

Presentations I’m Working On

I’ll be giving the Footnote for FHC Consultants talk I gave back at the Mesa FHExpo last November, updated to discuss the records Footnote has added since then along with their new “I Remember” pages.

I also plan to present an Introduction to Twitter for Genealogists. This will be a completely overhauled version of the talk I gave at the South Davis Family History Fair back in March of this year. Twitter is no longer the obscure geek-oriented service it was then. Oprah and other celebrities have embraced it and the mainstream media has coronated it as the next big shiny thing. If you’ve found Twitter helpful in furthering your genealogy research, please let me know in the comments to this post.

Location, Location, Location…

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

The three most important things for a successful retail establishment? Or  for selling real estate? That’s right:

  1. Location
  2. Location
  3. Location

Over the past year and a half, I’ve staffed the Genlighten exhibit booth at more than 20 genealogy conferences in the US, Canada, and Europe. It turns out that (surprise!) location matters for a genealogy vendor just like it does for other businesses.

We’ve seen the most traffic when our booth has been:

  • close to the entrance to the exhibit area
  • within a few steps of the conference workshop classrooms
  • next to the booth of a well-established vendor such as Footnote or  Moorshead Publishing
  • in a place where tired conference-goers tend to congregate, such as near a snack bar or seating area.

At NGS in Raleigh, we were close to the exhibit area entrance AND right across from the FamilySearch folks. At the SCGS Jamboree last year, we were close to an entrance and right next to the booth. At some smaller state or county-level conferences, we’ve sometimes had our booth in the same room that the presenters were speaking. The results have been excellent in all these cases.

But things haven’t always worked out well for us. At this year’s Ontario Genealogical Society conference, we’re in a particularly remote spot. Vendors here are divided up into two separate locations, both positioned far from the conference classrooms. To get to either area, attendees have to follow a serpentine path through the hallways of the Sheridan College student center. The organizers have put up lots of helpful signs, but I still see lots of people with lost looks on their faces asking for directions.


What’s’ more, we’re in the far back corner of a nightclub-like venue, to the side of the stage where visiting bands perform for the students here when school’s in session. When I first noticed this on the conference website, I consoled myself by noting that our table would be right next to the ladies’ restroom, which struck me as a potential high-traffic area. Unfortunately, however, the door to the restroom is labeled — get this! — “Dirty Girl”. As you can imagine, it hasn’t been well-patronized!

On the bright side, the exhibit areas and the dorm-style residence areas have free wireless access, and there’s been complimentary breakfast each morning as well. Visitors who have managed to find our booth have been friendly and positive, as always. And Ontario Genealogical Society volunteers have gone out of their way to accommodate us.

The next conference we’ll be attending is the Colorado Family History Expo. Look for us at Booth 305 (near the entrance, and next door to Generation Maps.)

Another Week, Another Genealogy Conference

Monday, May 25th, 2009


I’m off to the Ontario Genealogical Society’s 2009 provincial conference this coming week. The event will be held at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, about 35 km down the QEW from the Toronto airport. Genlighten’s booth will be in the Marketplace 1 area of the Student Center.

I’m looking forward to catching up with the friendly folks at Moorshead Magazines, publishers of Family Chronicle and Internet Genealogy. They took me to dinner at last year’s OGS conference, so it’s my turn this time.

I’m also looking forward to having Internet access in the exhibitor area. After I returned home from last year’s event I opened my wireless bill to discover that I’d incurred hundreds of dollars in wireless broadband roaming charges. I’d had to use my Verizon broadband modem for web access since no Internet connectivity was available in the college gym where the vendors were located. This time, we’ve been told that we’ll have access to Sheridan College’s network. I’m optimistic that will work out, especially given the conference’s title — “From the Printed Page to the Digital Age”.

If you’re planning on attending, please stop by our booth. We’ll have plenty of Dove chocolate to share!

Colorado Family History Expo, June 12th-13th

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

Genlighten will be an exhibitor at the Colorado Family History Expo 2009, to be held in Loveland, Colorado June 12th-13th. Stop by booth 305 for a well-deserved chocolate break (if you’re into that kind of thing!) I’d very much enjoy meeting you there.

I’ll be giving three presentations at the Expo:

  • What Family History Center Consultants Should Know about — Friday, 3:00 pm
  • Twitter: A Promising Tool for Genealogy Microblogging — Saturday, 9:30 am
  • Providing Fee-based Lookups Through — Saturday, 11:00 am

This is the first time Family History Expos has put on one of their events in Colorado. I’ve been impressed with their St. George and Mesa Expos in the past, and I anticipate this one will be well worth attending.

I’m particularly excited for the opportunity to recruit lookup providers from Colorado. The web development firm that helped us develop the current front end design for Genlighten — Slice of Lime — is headquartered in Boulder. During our initial discussions of how the site would look, they created wireframes showing sample lookup offerings using fictitious Boulder records and providers. They kidded me (in a nice way) about not having any actual Boulder-area providers signed up yet. I would love to come home from this Expo having met with potential providers not only from Boulder, but from Larimer, Broomfield, Jefferson, and other nearby counties.

NGS 2009 Highlights Thus Far

Friday, May 15th, 2009

I’ve been at the booth basically non-stop this week, so I can’t comment on the numerous cool talks I’m sure have been given. But here are a few of the memorable experiences I’ve had here in Raleigh so far:

  • Stephen Morse stopped by the Genlighten booth for some Dove chocolate [I love it when he does that!]
  • The always-friendly head of a major genealogy magazine firm stopped by to invite me to dinner.
  • A potential lookup provider from Michigan who signed up a year ago wondered aloud in a kind way if we still existed… I reassured him that we did and thanked him for his patience.
  • Several potential providers who I’ve had long conversations with have brought up “this lady in Chicago who’s fantastic at getting death records for me.” Yup, that would be my lovely co-founder.
  • Occasionally when a booth visitor has asked what Genlighten’s all about, I’ve slipped and mentioned one or more of our direct or indirect competitors and how we compare to them. The booth visitors have given me puzzled looks, like they can’t think of anyone else that does what we do. That won’t last, but it’s cool for the time being.
  • Randy Seaver was kind enough to mention my few #ngs09 tweets in a blog post.
  • A senior official at one major site stopped by to discuss a very attractive partnership possibility. Nice…
  • I managed to get my son’s macbook pro to act as a wireless router, allowing my two non-apple notebooks to connect to the web by sharing my broadband data card. Glad I didn’t spring for the $700 wireless connection the convention center wanted me to pay for.

Will there be more tomorrow?  Stay tuned!

Low-Cost, On-Demand Film Digitization and Online Delivery

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

I was excited to read the title for Matt Garners’s talk in the schedule for the BYU Family History Technology Workshop.  He’s from  His presentation focused on an inexpensive automated scanning system that would allow an individual to sponsor the digitization of an entire role of microfilm that they wanted to be able to search online.  Here’s his abstract:

Hundreds of millions of pages of microfilmed historical documents are not being digitized at this time due to insufficient individual demand to garner appropriate commercial attention and investment. This paper demonstrates that the cost of digitisation and online delivery can be lowered dramatically using a novel application of recent technological advancements in imaging, data processing and storage.  A business model is presented such that an on-demand service can be provided whereby an individual end user can afford to personally sponsor the digitisation and online delivery of an entire reel of film.

Understandably, I perceived this idea through the lens of our own startup. In effect, what we do is allow individuals to obtain low-cost, on-demand digitization and online delivery of individual documents — even if those documents haven’t yet been microfilmed. I’m grateful to Matt for giving me a new perspective on Genlighten’s value proposition. And for his work to develop an extremely cool scanner… in his garage!

Genealogy: 20 Minutes per Week

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

I have a difficult time staying on track with my family history research.  I’ll spend a few hours at it one evening and make some real progress, but by the time I get back to it three weeks later I’ve forgotten where I left off.  As a result, I don’t move forward as efficiently as I could.

I started Genlighten as a partial solution to this challenge.  I hope to reduce the momentum-stealing wait for records held by remote repositories from about 4-6 weeks to more like 4-6 days.  The key to this is building out a network of local researchers with access to those repositories who can retrieve genealogical documents quickly (and affordably.)

Charles Knutson of BYU’s Computer Science Department is building a tool that offers a different solution to the problem of maintaining momentum in genealogy research. He gave a marvelous talk during lunch at the Family History Technology Workshop on Thursday entitled “What Was I Thinking About?  The Dilemma of the Part-Time Genealogist”.  The research paper he based his talk on begins with this abstract:

“What can you possibly do to be productive as a family history researcher in 20 minutes per week?  Our studies suggest that currently the answer is, “Nothing.” In 20 minutes a would-be researcher can’t even remember what happened last week, let alone what they were planning to do next.”

The software engineering class he teaches works each semester to develop “The 20-Minute Genealogist”, a software application that will act as a genealogist’s research companion. Log in and the program will remind you where you left off in your research last week.  It will also suggest promising directions you could pursue today, based on what you were working on before.

This impresses me as a truly innovative and exciting idea. It will be difficult to implement, but tremendously valuable. It sounds like they eventually plan to integrate it into NewFamilySearch several years from now.

In the meantime, I think this idea represents a marvelous business opportunity for a genealogy-savvy startup to tackle.  Prof. Knutson has a company associated with his class already, but I imagine he would welcome some competition.

His course page is available here.

Is FGS attendance down? And if so, why?

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

FGS 2008 Conference Logo

The buzz around the FGS exhibit hall today is that this year’s registered attendance is down to around 700.  That would evidently represent a big drop from recent years, which saw perhaps closer to 1,200 or more attendees.  Speculation for the cause of the drop (if indeed it turns out to be real) seems to be running along two basic lines:

  1. The economy’s down, and the price of gas is up, so genealogy enthusiasts are cutting down on their discretionary conference travel spending.
  2. The speakers were selected so far in advance that there’s not a whole lot of new talks on offer to attract attendees, particularly coming so soon after the NGS Meeting.

I don’t have much basis for a response to explanation #2, but from my brief scan of the presentations at FGS this year, they look plenty interesting to me.  (I unfortunately may not be able to get away from the booth to see many of them.)

Explanation #2 has a common-sense plausibility to it that makes it hard to argue with.  From a business standpoint, the relatively low exhibit area traffic calls into question the ROI of our renting a booth here.

Ever the optimist, however, I take the glass-half-full view:  if genealogists are finding it too expensive to travel to conferences, they may also be looking for low-cost alternatives to long-distance trips in search of genealogical documents.  Genlighten should meet that need quite nicely!

On the road again…

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

After a month with almost no genealogy-related travel, the Genlighten outreach team (my wife and me) will be manning our exhibit booth at several genealogical conferences in August:

Midwestern Roots, August 15-16

This conference is sponsored by the Indiana Historical Society and will be held in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Speakers will include Dick Eastman, Susan Kaufman, David Lifferth, Stephen Morse, Beau Sharbrough, and Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, among others.  Several local archives and repositories, including The Indiana State Archives, the Indiana State Library Genealogy Division and the Indiana Historical Society’s William Henry Smith Memorial Library will extend their hours and offer special workshops before and during the conference.

International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, August 17-22

We couldn’t miss this one, seeing as it’s being held right in downtown Chicago (almost in our backyard, if you don’t count the drive down the Edens or on the Outer Drive.)  From reading the program, JewishGen 2008 appears to offer an unusually wide variety of presentations (including an extensive film festival!) and a strong emphasis on learning to use local resources.  In particular, a large number of cemetery visits and excursions to local libraries and museums in the Chicagoland area are planned.  Sources and techniques specific to Jewish genealogical research are of course given extensive coverage (with a significant emphasis on Eastern European resources).  Advance registration is still available.

Stop by and see us!

I’d like to extend a special invitation to readers of this blog to stop by our exhibit booth at either of these two conferences coming up in August.  Feel free to grab a chocolate or two from our bowl and say hi.  We’d love to meet you!