Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Charting Companion gets new tabbed dialogs ("Property Sheets")

Software developers often use third-party software "packages" or libraries, to perform common tasks and avoid the time and expense of re-inventing the wheel. For example, reading and displaying images (JPG, PNG), or creating a PDF file, etc. are complex tasks that require much time to implement. Much better to call upon a firm whose specialty it is. These software packages don't come cheap: license fees typically run into the thousands. But it's still less expensive than developing it from scratch.

Third-party software can become a liability, however, if the developer loses interest or goes out of business.

We bought a license to a "tabbed dialog" library called SftTabs, back in 1996. Tabbed Dialogs, also known as Property Sheets, were introduced with Windows 95, but in those days a lot of customers were still using Windows 3.1, and we wanted to remain backwards compatible. So we used this third-party library to implement all our Options dialogs.

A few weeks ago, we decided we wanted to verify that our backups were complete. We installed all our tools on a "virgin" computer,  and restored all our source code from the backups. This is known as a disaster recovery simulation.

Everything went fine, except for the SftTabs library. Their automatic license manager prevented SftTabs from being installed. Since the recovery computer was only going to be used this one time, I sent an email asking for an exception to enable us to compile and test our code.

The days went by, I got no response. I sent another email. I left a phone message. Nothing.

Not the support I expect for a $400 piece of software.

After a couple of weeks, I resigned myself to the fact that the SftTabs company either did not have the resources or interest in supporting their product. There was no mention of Windows 10 compatibility on their Website, another sign that the product is not being maintained. I had to find an alternative before we were in a real jam.

I proceeded to learn about Property Sheets, which are native to Windows, and come at no additional cost. Fortunately I was able to convert all our dialogs in two weeks of concentrated effort. I am now pleased to say that Charting Companion 6.0.24 is completely converted to Property Sheet-style dialogs. The dialogs and fonts look much better, the code is simpler, and as a bonus we have the foundation for Wizard-style dialogs, which will make the program easier to use.

Talk about turning a lemon into lemonade!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The genealogy of "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

The best-seller "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" features the Vanger family, eccentric scions of a Swedish industrial dynasty. I thought it would be interesting to publish a Descendant chart of the characters in the novel, using photos of the actors in the Oscar-winning 2011 movie.

Click to see the Descendant charts produced by our Charting Companion:

Non-spoiler version:
The relationships are taken from the book, which is slightly different from the movie.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Adobe Reader, you've crossed the line!

Ever wonder why Adobe's PDF Reader is free? Offering a free PDF reader is a great way to make the PDF format ubiquitous and universal.

 Adobe makes & sells high-end PDF document creation & editing software to businesses and enterprises. A commercial license can easily rack up five-figure annual subscription fees.

 A powerful inducement to adopting PDF is that everybody has a PDF reader; so an enterprise can cheaply deploy documents to their customers and employees. Does it really take a 42MB download just to read PDF documents? Yes, if the installer is loaded with goodies that benefit commercial customers when they require their target audience to have advanced features in order to utilize the documents sent to them.

 This seemed like a reasonable trade-off, until recently when I noticed it took 30 seconds or more to load Adobe Reader, which has become bloatware. Since our Charting Companion uses PDF as a preview, this overhead has crossed the line into becoming unacceptable.

 I have installed Foxit Reader as my default PDF reader. It's not as fancy, but it's much faster to load than the old Adobe Reader. I keep the latter handy for special circumstances only.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The perils of cycling your backups

The perils of cycling your backups

We had a disturbing incident recently with a customer whose genealogy database was found to be corrupted. When the customer attempted to view a particular person in the database, the program crashed. Of course our software did not corrupt his database (it is read-only), we simply discovered the fact. The corruption was most likely caused by an obscure bug in the database software, and a rare combination of circumstances.

Our Trellis chart reads every person, event and relationship in a family history database. We stumbled upon corrupted data in this particular case. The original program is no longer supported.

The problem is that this error was probably introduced months or years ago. It was in a rarely-visited corner of a large, 140,000-person database. All of the customer's backups were recent, and they all contained the error. This was a serious problem. Even the software's integrity checking feature terminated abnormally (crashed). There was no way of recovering the data using the program. A GEDCOM export was not possible, as the program crashed when it attempted to export the record in error.

"Cycling" your backups means using the same media in rotation, such as external hard drives, or USB flash memory ("thumb drives"). For example, you use:

MondayDisk 1
TuesdayDisk 2
WednesdayDisk 3
ThursdayDisk 1Resume cycle
FridayDisk 2

On the fourth day of the cycle, you are back to Disk 1.

The advantage of this system is that it is economical. If you accidentally delete a file and catch the mistake at the time it is made, you can go back to yesterday's backup and retrieve a copy.

However, if you do not notice the error (as was the case with our customer), by the time you have cycled through all your backups, the original has disappeared. Your "Cloud" copy is also corrupted. Increasing the cycle to ten or twenty disks (a significant investment) does not solve the problem.

The solution I recommend is to backup to CD or DVD, with a checksum. The CD/DVD will last many years, and will be available to restore the last good copy of your genealogy database, long after you have discovered the error. Detailed instructions are available in an earlier post.

As an alternative, you can exercise the data integrity check of your software, if such a feature is available. The integrity check needs to be done daily.

The story has a happy ending: another program, Ancestral Quest, was able to recover the data.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Trellis: the Chart With Everyone In It

Trellis: the Chart With Everyone In It

Progeny introduces the latest innovation in genealogy - the Trellis chart, "the chart with everyone in it".

trellis_bart.pngThe Trellis chart is a brand new way to tell the story of your family. It shows everyone in your family, in a way that no traditional box chart can do.

Based on research by a group of scientists, the Trellis is a diagonally-filled matrix, where rows are individuals and columns are nuclear families. Click here for more information.

The Trellis allows for interactive investigation of your family tree. With one click, you can highlight all the ancestors and descendants of an individual. Click a second person and you can see where their pedigrees intersect in a colorful display. Collapse the tree for a condensed view. Navigate up and down the tree with a simple click.

Charting Companion with the Trellis is available for:

Coming soon: Trellis for MyHeritage, Geni, FamilySearch.

Get Charting Companion today and see your family in a Trellis!