Tuesday, May 29, 2012

NGS2012 Reflections: Part 2 "Review"

I am going to use the word "Review" a bit loosely here as I've only been to a handful of genealogy conferences, and NGS2012 was only my second NGS conference. However, once everyone returns home, there are always moments or features/events that stick out in your mind - both good and bad. Here are some of my observations about this year's NGS:
1. Syllabus on a Stick! Yes please! Love this current trend/move in a future direction! CDs are nice, but flash drives are just more practical these days, especially with so many people traveling the conference circuit with their tablets. Most smaller devices, either tablets or netbooks don't come with CD-ROM drives, so this move to the flash drive concept is very attendee friendly! As you can see from my photo above, I did actually opt for buying the print syllabus as an additional perk, but there was really only one reason I did this - ok, maybe two - First, it was my first conference as a speaker, and I wanted something to pass down in tangible form to remember the event by - and Second, Cincinnati is within driving distance of my home, so I DID NOT have to get it home on a plane! This is probably the only time I will ever opt for the print version. As for syllabus access prior to the start of the conference, I did hear some complaints from my tech-savy friends who were wanting to download the syllabus and open it up to take notes while sitting in the session. Since everything came as pdf, this was not possible - but I think they found some work-arounds. Personally, this was not a problem for me as I am a stream of consciousness note taker. I open a new note on the tablet (in Evernote), title it to match the session I'm in and jot down what I want to remember. Sadly, I am not organized enough to later match my notes to the syllabus page, but someday....

2. 1940 Census - I finally got one of those darned t-shirts!! Ever since RootsTech, the Family Search folks have been walking around, wearing these cute advertisements for the census release - just taunting us and not offering the ability to actually get one! They had even said they might offer us the opportunity to purchase one from their web site, but they never got around to that option....Grrrrr! So, finally, the t-shirts were free for the taking at NGS2012 - one catch though, you had to sit and index TWO batches of the census! Two was a great idea in theory, but after watching the backlog of people trying to use one of the computer terminals, ONE batch per t-shirt would have been a much better arrangement! Oh - one other amazing memory - I got to meet the 1940 Census lady from NARA - Connie Potter - she is one of my genealogy heroes, and she was just as sweet in person!

3. Overall session offerings - Very nicely done! I liked the local track that was implemented (otherwise I would not have spoken this year) which catered to those who might research in the area further. The hardcore certification and citation sessions were here plus a very nice technology track to balance everything out.

4. Exhibit Hall - The space itself was a bit dated with the enormous concrete arena from the 1970s, but the offerings seemed pretty well balanced. I did notice a strong representation from the local groups which was awesome! I also noticed some major vendor players who were missing this year. The freebie swag was greatly lacking, but with this economy, I'm not at all surprised. The demo areas seemed to have an abundance of space, but the acoustics were terrible, and almost everyone was drowned out by the microphone on that side of the hall. I did like the upper deck view from the second floor which allowed you to stand at a window and gaze upon the exhibit hall floor. Pretty neat and a great reminder to those hopping between sessions, that the floor of fun was just waiting below!

5. Yep, There's an App for That! - Ever since RootsTech's introduction of the conference app, folks have been a bit giddy over the convenience something like that provided! For the NGS2012, they opted to use a company that was already in existence instead of creating one from scratch. They chose "Guidebook", which is free to download via smartphones and tablets. Once you have this app downloaded, you just search for the applicable conference that is coming up and save it to your list. While no one considered the RootsTech app to be perfect, we suddenly appreciated it more after using Guidebook. The NGS2012 app was decent and easy to use, but it was not inclusive. For the "my schedule" portion, I was only allowed to add things that were from the official schedule. Sadly, the official schedule did not include any extra events, such as evening events or pre-conference events. I was disappointed in the lack of this feature. Especially since the extra events were listed in the conference literature as NGS organized events. The luncheons were also paid options, but they were included in the app schedules. Even if they didn't want to include these evening events, the option to manually add events in my schedule would have made up for the oversight. The conference experience is fluid. You may know which sessions you want to attend before you get there, but break-out sessions or special, small group events pop up, and the ability to change with the event flow is a must for conference apps. Also, I was not getting any notifications from this app about upcoming events on my schedule. I eventually just switched to using my calendar on the iPhone to keep up with what was coming up.

6. Ribbons/Pins - Confession time - I am a blingy girly girl. I like colorful and shiny things, and I confess to liking the whole ribbon ensemble that goes with conference attendance. Not only is it fun to add more ribbons as you connect with your memberships and groups, but if you watch closely, you can make new friends within the groups you belong to! Plus, I confess to being just plain curious. I watch for the most recurrent ribbons to get a mental snapshot of some of the most popular member groups. There is even a ribbon for "librarians" and this made for a great connection on the professional level that I used more than once during the conference! As a side note, the pins are quite fun to watch as well! I usually buy the official pin for each conference that I attend, but alas, I have not been brave enough to wear any, nor have I really figured out how to wear them. I see all sorts of applications for this fashion perk, but, not yet ready to go out on that limb. Tip: Waiting in line for something? Use someone's ribbon as a conversation starter!
7. Complimentary wi-fi, provided by Family Search! This was such an amazing gift to conference goers! I remember the pain of the Charleston Conference when signals were blocked and even some cell phone services were blocked to the point of having to step outside to make a phone call! This 2012 change was wonderful and served to promote the whole idea of the social experience. Folks were able to tweet and blog to their hearts content without a stutter! I had heard the capacity was a bit small, but the connection issues were not that problematic, and most people were getting online in their turn. Bravo Family Search!

8. Wrap Up - Favorite Memories of NGS2012: Sharing the Barton Papers with my fellow researchers - and the wonderful Pendleton County Historical Society ladies that helped out with my lecture! (I hope to post about this lecture topic as it is a vital resource for Northern Kentucky researchers!) Meeting up with more bloggers - I seriously love this group of people, and am already excited about the next time we get to meet up! Getting to meet the 1940 census queen, Connie Potter (see #2). Having so many local groups as booth neighbors especially the fun Kentucky folks (KHS, KGS, KDLA, AAGGKY)! Meat and potatoes of sessions this year - lots to sink my teeth into, and still absorbing my notes! Having the whole family working the Pastology booth with Chris and I this year - and the moment my Dad was unceremoniously introduced to the "Cloud" - I had to explain it to him after someone asked him about our relation to said "Cloud" - priceless! Having some old friends make the trip and help out with the booth (and wander around buying cupcakes)- Thanks Peggy! Getting a glimpse into where some of the major vendor players are heading in our field! Sharing some of my hometown with the national community!
Toodles from the Queen City!

Monday, May 14, 2012

NGS2012 Reflections: Part 1 "Firsts"

It goes without saying that last week's National Genealogical Society Conference in Cincinnati was filled to the brim with exhausting fun. Most of us are trying to recover from the sheer exhaustion it produced, but while we rest and recover, our minds are still processing the wonderful experiences we will be sharing over the next several months. I plan on interspersing my regular posting with several parts of conference analysis as a way to convey my impressions and review of the proceedings. For this first part, I will cover my impression of "firsts": things I encountered for the first time with this particular conference, and how they influenced my overall conference experience. While this was not my first NGS conference, there were many new experiences for me that I have decided to share.

First time as an "official blogger": We have heard that anyone who "registered" or asked to be an official blogger was awarded the designation, but I kind of liked that open door selection. I think it was a great way to give more exposure to up and coming bloggers out there - who naturally have different views and opinions. Let me clarify that anyone awarded this designation was only given three things: an official blogger logo for their web site, an official blogger ribbon for their attendee badge, and use of the Media Center inside the exhibit hall. For some other conferences, official bloggers can be given complimentary registration, among other perks. I was delighted over all the little perks with this designation and used the Media Center on more than one occasion, but I was surprised over the lack of activity at this Media Center. At RootsTech, this center is in the middle of the room with lots of activity and a bit of fanfare. With this year's NGS, the Media Center was empty except for the tables with power strips. There was no one to monitor who went in to use it. In fact, I was using it heavily one morning when I was interrupted by a couple of people who walked in the side and just sat around chatting very loudly, and then eating their lunch, instead of using the Center for its true purpose. I gathered from the comment, "oh, so this is where you apparently get to do stuff", that they had no idea what purpose was behind the existence of this space. I am thinking the "official blogger" designation may not have been well thought-out, and maybe was a last minute addition. But, as I walked around talking to other "official bloggers", we all agreed that taking time to post anything while attending is extremely difficult - especially if you attend all of the extra evening events. You would literally have to skip sessions, or an evening event, or stay up incredibly late in order to finish one post per day. I managed one post as I was arriving, and one post while I was there. The rest will follow in the coming weeks!

First time as a speaker:
I have spoken at other conferences/venues, but not at a national conference, until now. This was interesting. I found the process to be very clean and straightforward. Syllabus was turned in months ahead of time, and preparation was not very different from other presentations I have had to give. I did have a bit of extra stress to contend with, but once I started talking, things went pretty smoothly. By the end, I had talked to so many wonderful people, and made so many new connections that I quickly declared this a hugely rewarding experience! One improvement I would suggest, proving projectors for the speakers. I found the task of bringing my own projector to be awkward and difficult. Especially when there was a set group of cords and cart already in place, assuming you had a projector that would fit these connections. Yes, I did, but I knew others with older and newer equipment who did not fare as well in this area. On the other hand, I understand how costly it would be for the NGS to ship in laptops or projectors to supply all of the sessions - perhaps this is an element that the venue could provide?

First time as an insider, or in some cases, VIP:
Prior to the conference, I was invited to many extra events/dinners and sessions that were often labeled "VIP". I was a bit uncomfortable with this label, but the information shared at these events was invaluable. They were very future focused, and I felt like I was privileged to hear in what future directions some of the major vendors were heading. It was also a wonderful place to meet new people!

First time attending the paid lunches:
I went ahead and splurged for some of the paid lunches, and besides some really lovely meals, the conversations and interactions with those at the table were priceless experiences! I loved this, and will try to pay for more in the future. I highly recommend these as ways to meet new genealogists and learn new insights!

First time at Librarians Day:
This day-long, pre-conference event was nicely tailored to librarians who serve genealogists. I loved this focus and learned so much from the speakers. I also met so many librarians who encountered the same challenges everyday. Although, a couple of the speaking topics chosen were a bit too broad on the historical level, and even a repeat of what was going to be covered in the main conference. I would have liked to have heard more library focused material.

First time close to home:
This was the first time I attended a national conference in my backyard, and indeed, in my home town. I grew up in Cincinnati, yet despite having left there almost 20 years ago, it was still familiar enough to take a layer off of the stress levels normally felt when travelling to a foreign city. I still live close enough to drive back and forth from my home for many of the nights - reducing even more stress.

Although, I will be blunt about Cincinnati. I have a love/hate relationship with the Queen City and this conference did not alter that relationship at all. A few reasons why my opinion of Cincinnati did not change:

Dirty - After travelling to other cities for different conferences, I was even more aware of Cincinnati's lack of overall cleanliness and state of disintegration - which was an impression I heard from outside visitors as well. Everything seemed to be such a hodgepodge of disrepair and faded, old elements interspersed with some new attempts at change. The convention center was nice, spacious, and somewhat up-to-date on the inside, but I heard more than one person complaining about the lack of elevators in convenient places, ice cold session rooms and parking nightmares.

Garages from hell: I started this conference by parking in the sixth street garage that can be seen from the windows of the conference room concourse. The garage was old and narrow, but the skywalk seemed ok. However, once I could see the outside state of the garage from the windows which revealed almost completely rusted out joints, I was embarrassed. The thing looked like it could crumble at any moment - what an ugly view from the convention hall windows! So, then I moved to the Hyatt garage on fifth street after the sixth had filled up - boy did things get even worse! The outside looked fine, but the inside - wow - only one out of the two elevators would actually go to all of the floors! I felt like I was in a carnival/ twilight zone elevator - if I pressed 4, I landed at 5. If I pressed 3, I landed at 6. I finally gave up, got out, and used the other elevator. Oh - and if you try to leave the  garage after a certain time, you are trapped! No automated way to pay when leaving, and the attendants are gone.

Skywalks: One of my favorite parts of downtown Cincinnati, but these have deteriorated to the point of wondering whether the rusted parts will sustain the weight of the people. Oh, and these too shut down at 10PM unless you are a guest at one of the hotels. I thought part of the skywalk concept was to have a safe mode of walking in the evening - not so if you walk after 10. To get where I needed to go, I had to walk out on the sidewalk and dodge the aggressive homeless that were waiting just outside the door - aggressive, as in, chasing after you! Seriously? Police anyone?

Good things: I still LOVE the Netherland Plaza. That thing is still incredibly stunning and dripping in historical atmosphere. The food is stellar as well! Arts are strong in Cincy, and easily accessible. Things to do along the river, baseball and shopping/eating (even if the best eating/shopping is on the Kentucky side). Airport is nicely done and easy to use. And of course: Skyline, Graeter's and LaRosa's!

Well, that's it for Part I.....stay tuned for the next segment....

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Notes from the Media Center

Well, as of today, I have been  at the NGS Conference for two days . We came in early Tuesday morning to attend one of the pre-conferences (Librarians Day) and then plunged right into the main conference the next day. If you have never been to a national conference, be prepared to make time for a lot of extra activity beyond the scheduled sessions! Each major company has been conducting focus groups, dinners and product sessions either the day before the conference, or each evening/lunch that is available. In fact, we were just approached a few minutes ago to attend another group discussion that will cover one specific feature of a genealogy program. As hectic as all of this makes the conference, I actually love this new trend of impromptu or rapidly scheduled break-out sessions to encourage dialogue and sharing of ideas. It's very reminiscent of RootsTech. And don't forget your new genealogy friends! Some of your dance card will just be filled with dinner invites and group meetings at the nearest pub!            

As I finish up this brief update, I was excited to find a nice place behind the literal "green" curtain for the official bloggers. This is my first gig as an official blogger and was intrigued by the "media center" option. I didn't think I would use this kind of space, but I found it priceless as a quiet place with very little distraction and tables with power strips! I could work and charge multiple devices at once! Which meant I could type and worry about draining my batteries as I worked. That actually reduces the stress level when navigating this kind of environment. Well, I must head out again.....this place never stops! Favorite memory so far: getting to sing Happy Birthday to Mr. Myrt - Dear Myrtle's counterpart. That was memorably followed by Graeter's ice cream for dessert! Ready for more fun - two more days to go!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Laurel Court Welcomes NGS Attendees!

For those of you in Cincinnati for the NGS Conference next week, there is a special historical treat waiting for you on Friday night should you need another fun evening activity! Laurel Court, the palatial gilded age mansion of North College Hill will open its doors for NGS attendees at a special reduced rate. Built in 1907 by Paper Mill owner Peter G. Thomson, this amazing home has had a long and varied history yet retained its original decor and turn of the century grandeur. For over a century this estate, modelled after Marie Antoinette's country house, Le Petit Trianon, has remained a private residence in North College Hill, just a few miles north of downtown. However, under the current ownership, this historic treasure is occasionally opened up to the public for fundraisers, special events and a handful of tours throughout the year. In honor of the NGS Conference and the love of history flowing through its attendees, the gracious owners have agreed to open their home for a two hour stroll through the house and grounds on Friday evening!

From 7:00-8:00 PM, there will be a guided tour of the inside of the house - with self-guided strolls through the garden one half hour before and after the tour. Admission is at a discounted rate of $10 per person for NGS attendees - payable at the door. However, space is limited, so if you or a group would like to come out, please send an RSVP e-mail to: info@laurelcourt.com Getting there and parking are both easy. For more information, please visit their website: http://www.laurelcourt.com/index.html

If you are wanting to come away with a really special historic memory from Cincinnati - or if you are having serious Donwton Abbey withdrawal - come travel back in time and immerse yourself in the splendor that is Laurel Court. "The home features a grand staircase imported from Europe, inlaid marble floors, and a music room finished in gold leaf. The dining room is adorned with sterling silver light fixtures and ornate carved trim. The library is paneled in rare African rosewood, and the billiard room is paneled with figured African mahogany. In the center of the home is an atrium with a removable glass dome. Complementing the property are French Ch√Ęteau-style cottages, a French country-style carriage house, and expansive gardens. The grounds include a formal French garden with marble statuary and carved stone balustrades, perennial gardens, a Japanese garden with Koi ponds, and a pool lying just beyond a wisteria-covered pergola."

Hope to see a lot of you there!
Oh! And for all you gardeners out there, this is usually the time of year when the grand pergola's wisteria is in bloom - which is a must see! I have only seen it once, but it was breathtaking!
C

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