Sunday, July 24, 2011

Surviving the Heat

On the Thursday, July 21st evening as I began this post I was sitting on my front stoop, trying to stay cool, and doing an ok job of it if I say so myself. There was a very nice breeze, and I had a cool drink, so I felt pretty good.

The temperature Thursday was 34C, and that night it only dropped to 25C, plus humidity for both temperatures. Not at all comfortable, but at least I had a ceiling fan.

This got me to thinking about how our ancestors beat the heat prior to air conditioning. In some ways, in much the sames way as I do now. Find somewhere in the shade, with a breeze. Keep the doors and windows closed during the heat of the day. I can't close the shutters (don't have any), but I could install awnings to keep the sun out. Today I went to the beach with my family, and we all swam. That was nice. We took the car, 100 years ago we would have taken the train, but that is a detail, the broad outline was the same - picnic lunch, bathing suit, beach umbrella, and away we went.

So much for the happy view of dealing with the hot weather. The big advantage we have that our ancestors did not can be summed up in two words - Air Conditioning. When the heat simply becomes too much to bear, we can go to a mall, museum, cinema, or even mostly retreat to the comfort of our own homes. Prior to the 1920's (and the steadily increasing numbers of cinemas with air conditioning) the public had no escape as only the most specialized buildings and workplaces had any air cooling system at all.

Imagine living in a city in 1900 with temperatures in the low to mid 30's, plus humidex. The smoke in the air from coal fired water heaters and cook stoves. The smell of the increasingly common automobiles mixed with the horse dung and urine on the roads, and you live, like most people, in a two to five storey walk-up with no air conditioning or electricity. Add, on top of all that, the formality of the age when in public all the men were expected to wear long pants, a jacket and a hat at the least, and women were expected to were long dresses that went up to the neck and down to the wrists. At the very least one would be less than comfortable. If you were elderly, very young, or had breathing problems, an extended period of heat meant death.

Wonderful and idyllic as the past may seem to us now, it was by no means a bed of roses. While I do not have air conditioning myself, I am deeply grateful for the ability to escape to a mall, cinema, or museum when the heat becomes intolerable.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Google Streetview

You might think that talking about something like Google Street View would have nothing to do with genealogy, but you would be wrong. The range of places that Google Street View has made available to people is staggering. While the coverage varies from area to area, it is still quite impressive.

One of my favourite Street View pastimes is to wander the country lanes of north Devon. You can see old buildings and churches, often the inscriptions on the sides of buildings are visible, as are road signs, addresses and so on.

I took me a while, but I found Barland House in Dolton, Devon, on Google Street View. It's not that the image wasn't on Street View, but that I didn't know exactly where in Dolton Barland House was.

Here is a picture of Barland House taken circa 1900

Here is a Google Streetview picture of Barland House taken in the past few years, but from Rectory Rd.

If you click on the image you can see the sign on the fence in the lower right of the picture, it says "Barlands".

You can find Street View in Google Maps just look for the little gold coloured man in the upper left corner. Not every place has been "Street Viewed" by Google, but lots have. If you haven't tried Street View yet to see places your ancestors lived, you definitely should.

Who's that Girl, or Facial Recognition of Relatives in Old Pictures

I had a brain wave a few days ago, and wondered what sort of facial recognition software might be available for genealogy.

A quick survey of the web didn't reveal anything right away that was specifically dedicated to genealogy, but a couple of options presented themselves. The first was to use Google's Picasa Web albums. Upload your photos, ensure that name tagging is enabled, and away you go. After a few pictures are identified it will start to make suggestions based on previous name tags you have assigned.

The other possible option is Facebook, which automatically tags people in pictures, and there is no reason not to use that ability for figuring out who is who in old picture. Once again, all you need to do is tag the first few occurences of a persoon, and after that Facebook starts doing it for you for any other occurrences of that person.

Finally, there is also an Apple application, iPhoto, that has facial recognition built in.

Personally, I think I like the Picasa Web Albums better. It is in the cloud making it easier to share, it can be synced to your own computer, and because the pictures are web based, they are platform independent. Just make sure that you send the link of the album with the pictures to your cousins and contacts who might be able to help.