Sunday, September 18, 2016

Descendant "Bottom-up", "No spouse"; saving chart as spreadsheet; videos


Children can be so wonderfully direct. We were at a parade, and my four-year old Melanie says "Give me a piggyback!"
"I'm tired" I replied.
"I'm not!"
We have recently added some enhancements to Charting Companion.
Descendant "Bottom-up"
Charting Companion can now display a Descendant chart in "Bottom-up" mode, with the Subject at the bottom, and the descendants above, like a growing tree with its branches rising upwards.
Interesting Image
The Descendant chart also has a "no spouse" option, where the spouses are not displayed, and only the bloodline relatives appear.
Save chart as a spreadsheet.
Ancestor and Descendant charts can be published as an Excel spreadsheet. Birth, Marriage and Death dates & places, for everyone in the chart, are saved in the spreadsheet file.
The results of a Search can also be saved as a spreadsheet, complete with a special "sort date" that enables you to see events in a timeline. You can compare a group of people and see the relationship and sequence of their events.
Charting Companion videos
Click to see some short videos that show the power of Charting Companion.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The SEO racket: 21st century Snake Oil

Once a month I get a call from a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) firm who stumbled upon one of my Websites. They want to optimize my SEO, improve my Website, increase traffic, yadda yadda. They can be very persistent, calling repeatedly. One outfit (EZ Marketing) impersonated phone numbers so I would not recognize them on call display.

Their proposition is simple: I give them my credit card number, they siphon $500 to $1,000 from my account every month, and in return they'll assign some low-level grunt to learn my business in fifteen minutes, stuff my <meta> tags with keywords they've gleaned, and write generic link bait pages.

The problem is that there is no way of measuring the cost effectiveness of their efforts. It doesn't make sense to spend more money on advertising, than what revenue it generates.

If my sales increase, tadaa! they're successful. If not, too bad so sad, looks like we'll have to do more of the same and thank you for the cash flow.

I have a counter-proposition. I will assign the consultant an Affiliate Code from my e-commerce system. The Affiliate Code will be embedded in the material they create. If their pages generate sales, they will get credit, and a commission. Ditto email.

That usually takes them aback. What? No compensation without performance? We have to measure our results? Heresy!

Like Diogenes, I'm still looking for an honest firm. 

Snake oil, originally a fraudulent liniment without snake extract, has come to refer to any product with questionable or unverifiable quality or benefit.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Charting Companion and the new Family Tree Maker

New Family Tree Maker
Two months after declaring in Dec. 2015 that it would discontinue Family Tree Maker, Ancestry announced that Software MacKiev will be picking up FTM and continue to sell it.
We are pleased to announce that Charting Companion continues to be compatible with the new version of Family Tree Maker. Better still, Charting Companion 6.4 appears on the Plugin menu of FTM (click on "Tools, Plugins").
.Launching Charting Companion from FTM
The new Plugin way to launch Charting Companion offers a seamless and more convenient way for users to create great charts.
RootsMagic colors
Charting Companion can now represent RootsMagic colors. If you have assigned colors to persons in your RootsMagic database, they will automatically appear in Charting Companion charts.
  RootsMagic colors
 Customer feedback.
We are always interested in customer suggestions to improve our products. While we may not be able to implement them immediately, all suggestions get recorded in our bug/enhancement database.
If you have an idea for a new feature, please visit the Charting Companion Feature Request site where you can vote, rank and even fund enhancements. You can register to vote with your social media account, or you can create a new account.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The cruel world of email newsletters

A lot of our revenue comes from sales generated by our newsletters, sent as monthly email.

The newsletters often contain notice of new releases, discounts, etc. stuff that you would think everyone is interested in.

We understand if someone wants to unsubscribe; we readily comply with their request, and never send them email again. Unfortunately, some people's idea of "unsubscribing" is to click on the prominently displayed "Spam" button in many popular email services. This generates a complaint to our own email service. Too many complaints jeopardizes us.

Having spoken with a few customers who "complained" by clicking on the Spam button, it is apparent that people have no idea they are doing this. They believe the Spam button is just a quick, easy way to unsubscribe, instead of clicking the "unsubscribe" link at the bottom of the email. This link is admittedly harder to find.

Here are some typical email menus:

AOL email menu

Hotmail/MSN email menu

Yahoo email menu

As a result of the high rate of (involuntary) complaints, we are forced to withhold email to certain Websites. If you have not been receiving our newsletters and you use Hotmail, MSN, AOL, Yahoo, etc. please send an email to, and we will activate your subscription.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

PDF: going our own way

Over the years, we've relied on a variety of methods to create charts in the popular PDF (Portable Document Format). Our first choice was PDF-XChange, by Tracker. We had various problems with it. The final straw came when we discovered that Tracker was including a secret payload in their software: a self-contained PDF output driver, to be sold directly and surreptitiously to our customers.

The scam went like this. Companies that make PDF software often have two versions. One is a stand-alone PDF utility that looks like a printer. It is designed so end-users can convert the output of any program into a PDF file, such as MS Word, Excel, etc.

The second version is an SDK (Software Development Kit), aimed at developers, to add PDF capability to their own program. SDK customers are not allowed to create a general-purpose PDF utility, which could be accessed by third-party programs. Fair enough, Tracker make their own PDF output driver for this purpose. It wouldn't be fair to compete with them.

However, Tracker bundled both PDF products into their SDK. We were forbidden from using the stand-alone version, but we still had to incur the overhead and bloat in our installer. Why would they do this? Because as soon as our customer attempted to use the "SDK" version of the PDF driver as a printer, a helpful message would pop up offering to sell the customer a license for the general-purpose PDF utility. Directly, without giving us a cut. Even though we had incurred the expense of finding the customer.

Tracker never mentioned this "Trojan Horse" trick. We found out by accident.

We switched to Amyuni PDF Creator, a much more powerful and reliable product.

PDF SDKs are usually implemented as printer drivers. Drivers occupy an intimate and privileged position in the operating system. A bug in a driver can cause more havoc than in an ordinary program. A malicious driver can cause considerable damage.

Microsoft has become more stringent about drivers over the years, changing the interface specifications, and forcing driver companies, including PDF, to overhaul their code. Microsoft now requires certification, by their labs, of all drivers. This is expensive, and naturally the cost is passed on to us in the form of renewed license fees, which can run into the thousands. Recent changes in Amyuni's licensing model have become exorbitant.

Changes in the Windows driver model break our old code, forcing our customers to upgrade. They are not all happy about this.

PDF driver installation problems, requiring arcane fixes, is one of our top support headaches.

In response to this situation, we have decided to develop code to create our own PDF files directly. This is not a trivial undertaking (the PDF spec. is 1,300 pages). But it will give us more autonomy, lower our development costs, save money for our customers, and enable us to take advantage of exciting PDF features not available through the driver interface: Table of Contents, Hyperlinks, Alphabetic Index, etc.

Our expertise with many other file formats (JPG, PNG, RTF, DXF, SVG, HTML, STL) means that our code is structured to adapt itself easily to new output formats.

We hope to have the PDF conversion completed within a couple of months.