Sunday, December 19, 2010

Jacob Eby clock at the de Young museum

Earlier this year, I started researching my family's history. I knew very little about my ancestors, other than that I was the fifth Richard Klau in the family, and that the first Richard Klau came to the United States from Germany in the 1850s. After pursuing a number of branches of the family tree on, I'd hit a couple dead-ends, one of which was my paternal grandmother's line. I couldn't find any information on her mother's ancestors, so I asked my grandmother whether she had any info that could help me out. She sent me some sheets of paper that another relative had compiled several years ago, and one of those included a sheet listing her grandparents. "leaves" indicate possible info about ancestors
If you've ever used, you know about the leaves that display on an individual's record when thinks it has information that might be helpful for you. In my case, the minute that I entered my grandmother's grandmother's name, went nuts - eventually leading me back another 6 generations. Sophronia Eby, it turns out, is part of a rather remarkable family line. She is a direct descendant of Theodorus Eby, one of the first Mennonite settlers in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s. His sons emigrated to Canada, where they founded the Mennonite community.

Theodorus's great-grandson, Jacob Eby, was a clock-maker in Pennsylvania. I discovered this after finding a website dedicated to Eby descendants, where the woman who maintains the site mentioned that she has a Jacob Eby clock in her house. I did some research about his clocks (on a separate blog I keep focused on the family tree), and was stunned to find that another Eby original is on permanent display at the de Young museum in San Francisco.

We went to the de Young today, and it was a thrill to find the clock on display. Here I am with my kids, Jacob Eby's 7th- and 8th-generation descendants:

Jacob Eby clock, at the de Young Museum
The clock face is really fascinating, and I'm hopeful I can learn more about it:

You can make out Jacob Eby's name on the face, right above Manheim (he lived in Manheim, Pennsylvania). The inner-most circle on the face appears to track the day of the month, while the dial at the top of the clock might be tracking seconds. Here are a few close-ups:


The final detail is in the clock base, which is a beautiful mahogany wood base. Inlaid in the wood is this eagle:

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I started researching my family's history. Finding such a beautiful piece of work, made by someone I'm directly descended from, is a thrill.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The annual Christmas letter

For the last six years, Robin and I have taken a different approach to sending out the annual Christmas card. In the past, we would write out a letter, fold it up and insert it into the card, then mail the combination out to our list. Starting in 2005, we omitted the printed letter, and instead pointed recipients to a URL where they could read the letter; in addition, we gathered a bunch of photos from the year and put them in a gallery that visitors could browse. We got to share so much more info with our friends and family, and it also meant less work for us on the actual sending of the cards.

I've refined the approach over the last few years to try and simplify, and the approach now seems ideal. At first, it was all installed software - Movable Type on the server for the letter, and a PHP-based app called Gallery for the photos. Today, it's much easier: Blogger for the letter, and Picasaweb for the photos. Here's what we do:

  • Set up a subdomain at the domain we use for family stuff on the web, then create a blog on Blogger and use Blogger's free Custom Domain feature to point to the subdomain. (Note: you don't need this step, you could just use a free URL... I just like keeping things on my family domain.)
  • In the past, I'd hunt for a third party Blogger template that was suitably holiday-oriented, but with the new Template Designer, it took a matter of minutes to find a beautiful design that required no extra work.
  • Fire up Picasa on my Mac, copy photos from the year into a "year in review" album. When finished, enable "sync" on the album so that the images copy up to Picasaweb, and visit Picasaweb to view the album on the web. Click "link to this album", then "embed slideshow", and copy that code into an HTML/CSS gadget in Blogger - now I've got the year in review slideshow running in the right margin of my blog. Update: Shameela on the Blogger team reminded me that there's a Picasa gadget in Blogger - no copy/pasting of embed codes to worry about. Duh!
Another advantage of each of the prior years being online is that I can point to the earlier years - new friends can see what we were up to in years past, and family who want to reminisce and look at images from the last several years can do so. All told, each year averages 75-100 pictures - our kids love looking at each year's collection of pictures!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Always be Cobbling

Thanks to Jake, I watched this Alec Baldwin sketch from SNL this morning:

So much to love about this Glengarry Glen Ross-meets-Santa's Elves sketch: Baldwin confusing his line (yelling "Always be closing!" - the actual line from Glengarry Glen Ross), the many inside references ("I rode here on a talking moose!", "Second place is a set of candy canes"), and the fact that Seth Myers can't keep a straight face for much of the sketch.

Always be cobbling!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas gift idea - Livescribe Echo Pen

I've written about Livescribe before (Livescribe Pulse Pen - Pure Awesome) and if you're looking for a great gift for the geek in your life, or for a high school or college student, I don't think you could do much better than the Livescribe Echo, the updated version of the pen I use.

What makes this pen so cool is how well it changes your experience taking notes. In my case, I almost immediately stopped taking my laptop to meetings - it occasionally shows up now, but I am far more likely to take hand-written notes. Practically, it means I'm less likely to check e-mail, respond to IMs or otherwise get distracted from the meeting I'm in. The notes you take are then synched back to your PC, and fully searchable. Any audio recordings on the pen are matched to the time you took the notes, so that you can tap the page and re-hear the discussion at the time - extraordinarily helpful for clarifying notes that are unclear.

The pen's ability to record the audio of the meeting has, on several occasions, radically changed my ability to benefit from the interactions during the meeting. One example comes to mind: I had a big presentation before a number of execs, and my team and I had a series of prep meetings to go over the presentation. Ordinarily, I'd have someone else run the presentation so I could try to take notes on my computer while keeping up with the conversation. With the Livescribe pen, I instead drove the deck from my computer, and didn't take any notes. I just recorded the audio of the entire meeting - I was more engaged in the discussion as it played out, and after the meeting, I simply replayed the audio while reviewing the slides and incorporating the suggestions that were made. The end result was a presentation that more faithfully implemented the feedback of the entire team, and I had complete confidence that I hadn't omitted any of the valuable input we'd received during the prep.

If you're looking for more on how the pen works, Scoble's interview with Livescribe's CEO is a terrific review of how it works:

The Echo pen has a better form-factor than the Pulse (the model that I have), uses standard micro-USB and headphone connections, and offers improved software on the pen itself. Can't recommend this pen highly enough - really a great product. Oh - and I am also a big fan of their moleskine notebooks for taking the notes themselves.

(Disclosure: I happen to be friends with one of Livescribe's founders. As I noted in my original post, he gave me a Pulse pen a while back.)