Photo from Jordan Pines sledding hill

Snow Caving!

I’m laying in a snow cave that was way too hard to get into. I’m up at Jordan Pines campground with my scouts on a winter camp out. Most everyone is sleeping soundly in a tent, but I wanted to be extreme and sleep in a snow cave.

Most years, we build caves under picnic tables , which works well, but can be a bit cramped. This year, I wanted to sleep in a real, non-picnic table snow cave. The campsite that we were assigned had the perfect setup for this.

Someone had carved out a cave under what appears to be a fallen pine tree! The cave was perfectly dug out to fit one adult. All I needed to do is to dig out the entrance a bit because snow had fallen and filled it in a bit. This was perfect!

20140222-004911.jpg

So, I dug out the entrance, and set up my sleeping bags outside of the cave. Below is the picture of my setup.

My Sleeping Gear

What you see is several layers of warmth: a fleece liner tucked inside of a backpacking mummy bag tucked inside of a large 0 deg sleeping bag tucked under a blanket, all sitting on top some foam pads sitting on top of a tarp (insulation from the ground).

I slid my sleeping gear into the cave. The dumb thing I did was place my backpack in top of my sleeping gear because I way overestimated the size of the cave. I had crawled into the cave first and was pulling the stuff in. The backpack blocked my way out, so I had to push it out, and I thought I was stuck. After some panicked shoves on my pack, I was able to get it back out of the cave and I realized it was best to leave my pack outside of the cave.

After all of this, I figured that I was set. I laid down some cardboard to stand on while I changed into some set clothes. The problem with the cardboard is that it had nice shiny marketing print on one side of the cardboard, which made it very slick. The number one rule for staying warm is to stay dry. In the process of getting dressed, the cardboard slipped and I managed to fall over in the snow, and got my dry clothes all snowy. So much for staying dry. That was dumb.

Once I was in my new clothes, it was time to get into the cave, a task I underestimated. The entrance was so tight, that I couldn’t just slide in. I ended up getting more wet and stuck, but I finally made it into the cave.

Me inside of the snow cave

Here I am inside of the snow cave.

Very tight space

You can see in this picture that there is not much space above me—less than 1 foot.

My view inside the cave

This is what the cave looks like right above me. I placed my phone as close to my face as possible to take this picture.

Now I’m hearing strange noises outside the cave and am kind of wishing I wasn’t alone in a tiny space of a snow cave. I probably won’t sleep much tonight. I also have no idea how I am going to get out. I cannot put my snow boots on inside of the cave. I can barely move in this thing.

Update: I didn’t sleep much that night. Miraculously, I managed to get out just fine and my boots were not frozen!

I think I will sleep under a picnic table next year. That is if I am still a scout master next year.

Amazing Tree Art

The Family Chart as Art

The best business card I ever collected was given to me by an amazingly brilliant man named Antoninus Niemiec. I met him at the first ever RootsTech conference during a lightning round session in which people signed up for a 5 minute slot to share a new idea. The work Antoninus presented blew my mind.

Four out of five people think I look like someone they know

One of the things that makes Antoninus such a cool guy is his mix of talent. Upon meeting him and viewing his work, you will instantly recognize that he is very personable, he has a great sense of humor, he is extremely smart, he is creative, he is a deep thinker, and he possesses a unique artistic ability. When you mix all of these great traits with his love for family history, the result is something special.

A few years ago, Antoninus crafted a thesis for the Master of Fine Arts in Design and Technology program at Parsons The New School for Design titled “Not Your Father’s Chart: A Thesis Visualizing Genalogy as Art.” You can read the full thesis here. I highly recommend taking the time to read it, because it is fascinating.

The result of the thesis is this awesome visualization of a person’s tree. Not only is the chart a beautiful work of art, but it embeds a lot of information once you know how to read it.

Mary McDonough Tree Visualization

The chart is in fact a family tree. Think of taking a cross-cut of a tree. You will see rings representing the age of the tree. You can begin to see signs of what happened during the tree’s life. The same concepts apply to this chart. To gain a further appreciation for this visualization, read the thesis. Start on page 25 of the pdf (page 51 of the thesis). It will explain the metaphor of the tree. To gain a full appreciation of the masterpiece, read the entire thesis.

View zoom-able graphs in vector format.

RootsTech Innovator Summit

RootsTech Innovator Summit Wrap-up

I’m riding into SLC on the train early this morning to eat breakfast with some fellow RootsTech-ers before the conference starts. I’ll take this time to give a quick re-cap of the RootsTech Innovator Summit which was held yesterday.

Keynote – Chris Dancy

This was perhaps the most interesting keynote presentation I have ever witnessed. Chris is such a fascinating person. A few things that I especially loved about the presentation:

  • It pushed me into a space of discomfort, thinking about death specifically. Death is an uncomfortable subject, so I tend to avoid it. I’m glad he took me there.
  • Even though Chris is so wired to technology, he is very human. He uses technology to serve him, not the other way around.
  • I’ve had a few friends who have died, and his comments on digital death were spot on. I’ve experienced seeing people post to the person’s wall well after they die, as if they are still alive and able to read their Facebook.
  • He showcased some really interesting and funny death apps. I especially liked if i die. Go watch the video.

FamilySearch Photos and Stories (Memories) API

The most interesting thing to me was that the audience was about 80% genealogy enthusiast, 10% business opportunist, and 10% developer. I thought the presenters did a great job in staying focused on the developer side of the presentation, since that was the intended purpose of the day, but also were very respectful and helpful to the genealogist. Here are my takeaways from this presentation:

  • Today, the Memories API requires lots of steps to wire everything together. An easier flow may be available later this year.
  • There are 10 layers of image screening that every photo passes through. Probably the most strict image screening done today.
  • PDFs are screened by breaking apart the images and text and screening each component separately.
  • Audio is coming soon.

API Simplicity

This was a great review of how to design a RESTful API that is nice to use. There were some great concepts shared. A lot of the concepts were based on Brian Mulloy’s API Design principles. There was good audience participation, which I think helped solidify the concepts really well.

FamilySearch App in 1 Hour

I gave up my presentation slot at the Innovator Summit for Dallan Quas to do an awesome live coding session of building a FamilySearch app in less than an hour. A lot of the presentation was an Angular showcase, but it was great to see how the familysearch-javascript-sdk could be used to quickly build an in-browser app. I was extremely impressed with Dallan’s preparation and guts to build this thing in front of a room of coders. He’s amazing.

Customer and Mobile First Design

Andrew Fox gave a great presentation on how to build services that focus on customer needs. A few of my takeaways:

  • You don’t know your customer. You are not your customer.
  • Talk to the customer. Do usability tests with 5 customers. You will start to see patterns.
  • Genealogy is like a game. A game requires some friction. People enjoy some of the difficult puzzle solving parts of genealogy. It would be a disservice to take that away.
  • He gave a great comparison of starting your family history and starting a World of Warcraft game. You start out with specific quests, learn new skills and level up. He compared a WoW player riding a dragon to a genealogist with a giant tree. Loved it.
  • We don’t need to turn genealogy into a game. Like I’ve said before, Genealogy is the Game.

Well, I’m at the end of my ride. I’m looking forward to a great day today. Come visit me at the FamilySearch booth at 1pm.

Sunshine through the snow storm.

RootsTech 2014 Finally Here!

RootsTech is finally here! This year will be a bit different in that it has been in past years in that it is kicking off with the Innovator Summit. Therefore, RootsTech will be bigger and better than ever!

YLS1ufH

In preparation for RootsTech, here’s what I’ve done:

  • Spent a couple of hours refining my RootsTech schedule.
  • Rehearsed my three presentations.
  • Ironed my new FamilySearch shirts that I will be wearing throughout the conference. These are new shirts, not shirts promoting new.familysearch.org ;).
  • Fixed bugs on the familysearch ruby gem.
  • Fine tuned my apple drum set for my Kickstarter presentation.
  • Helped prepare some of the screens for Dennis Brimhall’s keynote presentation. It is going to be great!
  • Met with participants on the “Business Opportunities: Photos & Stories API” panel: Friday @ 4:00pm. This unfortunately conflicts with my Mac presentation.
  • Test drove the really cool familysearch-javascript-sdk in preparation for Dallan Quas’ exciting presentations.
  • Set my alarm for really early so that I can make it into the office before the 9am breakfast RootsDev meet-up at the Blue Lemon tomorrow morning.

This year’s conference is going to rock! Time to suit up!

iron-man