Houstory reviews Flip-Pal: Mobile scanner with many tricks and treats for home genealogists, family historians

In our never-ending world of gizmos, the Flip-Pal portable scanner is one that actually can make your life easier

By Mike Hiestand, Houstory Publishing Founder

First off, Happy Halloween everyone!

So, today we are talking Flip-Pal because we have been considering joining the Flip-Pal affiliate program.

In the off-chance you haven’t heard of it, the Flip-Pal is a compact, purely portable (no computer or extra cords required) scanner that has essentially taken the genealogy community by storm. “Simple” is the description that seems to come up most often in reviews of the product, and – from the buzz it has generated – it clearly fills a need.

But before we jumped on the rapidly growing Flip-Pal affiliate bandwagon and recommended it to our customers, we felt it important to test drive one ourselves. Flip-Pal agreed to send us a test model.

Part One: Love at first sight — almost

It arrived a few days ago, and I had a quick project for which I thought it might be perfect, so I opened the box.

My first impression: I wish they had used more environmentally friendly packaging. It’s shipped in that PET plastic covering, which I can’t stand. I know it’s cheap and effective, but it’s often not very user-friendly and it’s not great for the environment. I’m not alone in this.  Fortunately, it was a higher-grade plastic which is, at least, recyclable. (That’s not always the case with PET plastic.) That made me feel better.

Interestingly, in discussing this with my brother Dan he mentioned that Gordon Nuttall, CEO of Couragent, Inc. (the maker of Flip-Pal) was recently interviewed by Lisa Louise Cooke on the Genealogy Gems podcast.  Dan highly recommends you listen to it if you are considering purchasing the product yourself as they go into more detail about Flip-Pal’s various bells and whistles.

During their conversation, my brother said Nuttall addressed the packaging issue and pointed out how it is essentially re-usable (and very “shippable,” in his words) if you send the scanner between multiple people because of its durability and the ease with which it can be opened and closed.

I still wish there was an alternative to PET plastic, but “re-usable” is certainly a step in the right direction. (We admit to perhaps being pickier than many when it comes to sustainability issues.)

And definitely no Styrofoam peanuts![1] (SEE FOOTNOTE BELOW)

Part Two: Ready to go

 

So not having seen it up close before, I was a bit surprised by how small it was.  I know its big appeal is that it is small and portable. I’ve worked with lots of scanners and this one, which was about the size of the brand new Apple iPads, really was small.

My curiosity was piqued.

It was, for all intents and purposes, “ready to go out of the box,” as they say. The only thing I had to do was remove a couple pieces of protective shipping tape and then gently tug a plastic tab in the direction indicated by its arrow, which “activated” the four AA batteries, which were thoughtfully included and pre-installed.

Wait a minute: The directions say something about applying some Optional Protector Sheet (OPS). Apparently the OPS came with its own “installation sheet” and I was supposed to read it “for detailed instructions.” Even worse, I didn’t see the aforementioned sheet anywhere. Suddenly the sweet pleasure of this “ready-to-go-out-of-the-box” experience felt like it might be in jeopardy.

But then I remembered– the OPS is optional.

Moving on!

Part Three: Getting to work

So the unit powered up quickly and easily by sliding a single power switch.

Then – a surprise – it asked me to put in the current time and date. You only have to do it the first time you start the unit and then each time you change the batteries. It’s a quick and easy process. Once set up, the cool thing is that scanned information can now be date/time stamped, helping you remember when – which helps greatly with the “where” – you obtained your research information.

 

So today, in putting together a Halloween-themed post, I simply want to scan in an older photo that came before digital cameras and therefore doesn’t yet exist in digital format. Looking at the Flip-Pal Web site, it appears the scanner can be a part of much more advanced scanning projects (specifically, digitally “stitching” together a large document or flat object, such as a quilt, from multiple scans). I’ll test drive those features during future uses. Today, I just need the photo.

To scan my photo I have a couple options. First, if the photo (or document) is 4 x 6 inches or less — and loose — the easiest thing is to simply scan the material as you do on more traditional, larger scanners by putting the photo on the Flip-Pal scanner bed, closing the top and hitting a big green button. Easy as pie.

In fact, I pretty much unpacked the scanner, looked at the instructions and e-mailed the photo off to my brother – using a cleverly designed USB stick, which came with my Flip-Pal and acted as the bridge between my scanner and my computer – in less than 5 minutes. The actual scanning took about five seconds and the quality of the scanned photo was good – it scanned in at about 650KB using the 300 DPI setting. The colors were very close to the original.

However, if your photo is in a book, glued in a photo album or if your document’s location makes it difficult to scan, you can detach the unit’s top, flip the unit over and scan items by simply hovering over them and pushing that same big green button. (See photo). To me, this is what sets the Flip-Pal apart from your father’s scanner (or mine, purchased a couple years ago). It’s more difficult to explain in words than it is to do. Trust me, it was a piece of cake — and very handy and clever. And the quality of the scan was pretty much the same as the first image.

However you position the unit, once the green button is hit, the material is scanned to a removable memory card (a 2GB SD-formatted card ships with the unit), where it is converted into a full-color JPEG-formatted file and can be viewed as a large thumbnail-sized image on the Flip-Pal’s built-in display screen.  You can scan hundreds of images before having to empty your memory card using either an SD-card reader or the Flip-Pal’s cool USB stick. You can then treat the scanned file the way you treat any other photo or image, including playing with it in Photoshop or photo restoration software. As a Macintosh user, I simply put it in my iPhoto folder.

That’s pretty much it. I wish I’d had it sooner. This summer I completed a basic house history of my sister-in-law’s summer cottage in Lake Elmo, Minn. I was in a number of libraries, the courthouse and the local historical society. In most places, I was left to take handwritten notes and, if available, pay for photocopies of photos in books. The Flip-Pal would have nicely avoided that. Instead of putting a bunch of photos, books and documents in a pile to copy or process – and then later taking them back to be filed —I could have simply seen something I wanted to make a record of, flip my scanner on top of it and hit the green button.

The Flip-Pal is not going to replace traditional scanners. If you have a big scanning job, with lots of full-sized pages, you’ll probably want to keep using the bigger flatbed. But for genealogists, family historians and house history researchers – who are often researching on-the-go and have perhaps more modest scanning needs – the Flip-Pal is an impressive tool. I am happy to recommend it to the Houstory Publishing community.


[1] You know, most things being fairly equal, I have intentionally passed on doing repeat business with vendors that ship using those expanded polystyrene “peanuts,” or “Styrofoam” as the product is officially known. I can only conclude that a company isn’t thinking of me, their customer, when it ships me a carton full of non-biodegradable, toxic carcinogenic, petroleum-based packing material that — no matter how painfully careful I am in opening the box — tumble forth into my office and home where — thanks to the static charge they often come with — they evade capture. Such companies also clearly aren’t thinking of how their decision to go “cheapo” with the peanuts also means it is now my responsibility to reuse (trust me, I’ve got bags of peanuts now cluttering my basement), recycle (according to the search engine on the Plastic Loose Fill Council’s Web site mine have to go to a special recycling facility that requires a half-hour trip from my house) or somehow dispose of in an environmentally friendly way. Thanks!

 

Happy Birthday Houstory Publishing!
Our first year in photos

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Publishing Marketing Director

I was talking with a friend the other day about our business, Houstory Publishing. As we were chatting, a couple of things dawned on me during the conversation: (1) Houstory was about to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the “official” launch of our business  (more on that later), and; (2) Just how fortunate I have been to be able to follow my dream with my best friend — who also happens to be my big brother and Houstory founder, Mike.

family heirloom, family keepsakes, provenances, family stories, family heirlooms, heirloom registry, houstory publishing, house history, home history book, family history, genealogy, mike hiestand, dan hiestand

Mike and Dan Hiestand, taking a break while attending the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree this past June.

Okay, before you break out the tissue and think this is a, “Hallmark moment,” it’s not. I sincerely mean what I write. I just genuinely like the guy. What can I say? When we first started the company way back in 2007 (wow, starting a business takes ages!), and I heard his idea for the Home History Book archival journal, I was hooked right away. A couple of years later, when he came up with The Heirloom Registry concept (yes, I didn’t come up with that idea, either, darn it!), again I became a believer. A big believer.

Essentially, our roles are these: He is the visionary. I am the implementer. This arrangement has actually turned out to be a great match. You never know what it’s like working with a best friend or a family member until you do it. That’s not to say it hasn’t been an at-times stressful year, or an experience  filled with steep learning curves and unforeseen circumstances. But, looking back at how far we’ve come, it feels darn good to know we made the right decision.

We have wanted to go into a family-style business for as long as I can remember — ideally with our three other brothers in the mix as well — and we floated many ideas around (remember the bagel shop, Mike?) before we hit the jackpot with Houstory. It just felt right. And it still feels right today, more than ever. In fact, over the next couple of weeks, we are going to be rolling out some big announcements which we are very excited about.

Much of our success, we owe to you, our supporters and customers. We really couldn’t have made it this far without your help, so thank you! We hope you stay with us for the ride. We think its only going to get better.

And finally, thank you Tasi and Patty, — our understanding, courageous and supportive wives — as well as Mike’s daughters, Jessica and Ally. We love you all very much!

After more than four years working on weekends and weeknights to turn our “dream” into real-life products that we’d be proud to stand behind,  we “officially” opened for business on Oct. 18, 2011, when we launched our social media. Below is a look at some of the highlights from that time until now. It’s been a very busy but exciting year!

After a year in business, I believe in two things more than ever: historical preservation, and conservation. What we do is steeped in these concepts. My belief is this: The more people know about something, whether a house or a family heirloom, the more likely they will take care of it. This means both the priceless stories and histories, as well as the physical materials, won’t just be discarded with trash. These are the things that drive me. Let us know what you think, and thank you again!

 

Study: ‘Family stories’ more important than inheritance

There have been a number of studies over the past several years that have tried to get a handle on how much wealth pre-baby boomers — those born before 1946 — are going to pass down to their baby boomer and post-baby boomer heirs.

In fact, while all agree the number will set a new record for intergenerational transfers, the figures vary widely, ranging from $25 trillion to $136 trillion. The specific number probably isn’t that important to most of us since any number followed by a trillion — with a “T” — is a lot.  Perhaps surprisingly, however, a study found that amount is also of less interest to the boomers themselves.

In a 2005 study commissioned by the Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, 86% of boomers named “family stories” as the most important part of their legacy — ahead of possessions and inheritance.

The study, which consisted of interviews with more than 2,600 seniors and boomers, also found that non-financial items that parents leave behind — like ethics, morals, faith, and religion — are 10 times more important to both boomers and their parents than the financial aspects of inheritance.

The parents, however, aren’t buying it.

“Boomers,” the study found, “indicate they prefer to preserve their parents’ memories than receive a financial inheritance, while elders believe their boomer children are more interested in money.”

The study concluded that this disconnect, which is part of what the authors referred to as a “Legacy Gap,” needs to be addressed by parents and their children. To do so, the study identified “4 Pillars” that it suggests should form the basis of a meaningful conversation. Those included having discussions about: (1) values and life lessons, (2) instructions and final wishes and (3) financial assets.

A fourth pillar was a discussion of “personal possessions of emotional value,” or what we at Houstory simply like to call “heirlooms.”

Specifically the study urges heirs to ask their senior family members:

  • Are there items that document your life and/or family’s life that you would like to see passed on to future generations
  • Where do you keep your family photos – in albums or saved electronically, or other
  • Do you have any journals, diaries, scrapbooks, family history, or other important documents you would like to pass on?
  • Do you have household items that hold significant emotional value, but do not have much financial value?
  • Do you have toys, books, or mementos that you’d like to pass on to your children or grand children
  • Are there items like art, crafts, or furniture that evoke fond memories for you and your family?
  • Have you planned for the distribution of these items?

Of course, it’s these very questions and a desire to create an easy, effective and inexpensive way to address them that inspired the creation of The Heirloom Registry.

Giving one’s senior parents or relatives a handful of registry stickers or tags — or better, taking a couple hours to walk around their home with them to hear and help record stories about a few special items — can be both tremendously satisfying and a big step in helping close the legacy gap.

Homesickness and the natural longing for all things “home”

It’s about a month into the new school year. Which, according to those who track such things, means homesickness among college freshman is now hitting its peak.Home embroidery

Homesickness is the topic of a fascinating book, Homesickness: An American History, published late last year by historian Susan J. Matt, in which she knocks down some of the stereotype beliefs associated with homesickness. While Americans like to portray themselves as optimistic adventurers, always ready to wave goodbye to the past, pack up the car (or wagon train) and boldly blaze their trail into the unknown, Matt found that the evidence actually makes it pretty clear most of us are — and always have been — sentimental homebodies.

In fact, Matt found that the attempt to disguise or hide homesickness, for fear of being seen as weak, is a fairly recent societal phenomenon.

She found that homesickness was a tolerated part of life well into the 19th Century.  For example, during the Civil War, soldiers openly wrote about their longing for home and family. The Surgeon General’s office actually listed “nostalgia” — which was believed to be a severe case of homesickness— as the official cause of death for 74 Union soldiers. Immigrants during that time shamelessly recreated home in their new communities.  She found that homesickness among women, longing for a return to hearth and family, was even popularized by the press as a virtue.

With the industrial revolution and the advent of Social Darwinism, however, the tolerance for homesickness started to change. Homesickness was viewed as the inability to adapt, a mark of inferiority. Men, especially, were castigated for wasting time reminiscing about home or openly expressing their emotions. Beginning in the 1920s, experts warned parents of the dangers of coddling their kids — a parenting no-no some labeled “momism” — and told mothers to refrain from hugging and kissing their kids too much. Leaving home and not looking back was promoted as an important rite of passage, with those who remained behind frequently dumped into the “loser” camp.

While steering clear of more direct displays of homesickness, Matt said that modern society has tried to soothe the lost feeling of family and home with mementos of the past, or “nostalgic indulgences,” such as the purchase of retro homes, retro cars and a fascination with the toys, clothes, entertainment and brands of our childhood.

But the pendulum may be swinging back. Matt points to statistics and changing demographics that indicate a growing nostalgia for the past and desire to recreate “home” through — or, never leave it all. A 2008 Pew study of census data found that Americans today are settling down and are more likely to stay in one place than any group since the government began tracking the trend in the late 1940s.

In a radio interview with Wisconsin Public Radio’s Jim Fleming, Matt said that moving back towards an acceptance our natural call to home is probably a healthy thing.

“I do think that a lot of the alarm we hear today about children being too connected to their parents, all that discussion, and boomerang kids, helicopter parents, that there isn’t enough distance between them is based on a mythic view of our past that somewhere back in a different century we were more individualistic than we are…. I don’t think we’re that much different from earlier generations and I don’t think we should perhaps worry that we’re becoming soft or less independent, or less individualistic because I’m not at all convinced we were that individualistic 100 years ago, 150 years ago.”