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30 May 2007

The machine that is putting together the Stasi’s 600m-piece spy jigsaw

A worker places a handful of paper scraps on to a conveyor belt, smoothing the crumpled pieces with the tips of her fingers. Words such as “expedient”, “conspiratorial”, “relationship” and “telephonist” are visible before they disappear into the scanner. Seconds later the computer screen flashes up the message “reconstruction completed”.

A neighbouring screen displays the “reconstruction” - a typewritten East German secret police report, dated July 1980, about the relationship between a doctor of competitive sport and two of her colleagues which is deemed by the report’s author to go “beyond the normal working relationship”.

The 10 scraps making up the page have been reassembled for the first time since they were hurriedly torn up 17 years ago.

German scientists have finally got the go-ahead from the government to put their “unshredder” - said to be the world’s most sophisticated pattern- recognition machine - into use. After years of debate, £4m has been set aside by the parliament to start piecing together 600m snippets of paper, or 45m documents, which were ripped up in a secret operation by panicked Stasi officers after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The officers were ordered by the Stasi boss, Erich Mielke, to destroy the files and stuff them into sacks to be burnt. But in what proved to be a veritable comedy of errors, they had to resort to doing it manually after their shredding machines broke down under the weight of the task. Then they were unable to secure the trucks needed to transport the bags to a quarry where they were to be burnt, so they abandoned them in the basement of their headquarters in Hohenschönhausen, Berlin.

Until now the painstaking reconstruction had been carried out by 30 workers near Nuremberg. Spreading the scraps on large trestle tables and with the use of adhesive tape, tweezers and magnifying glasses, they managed to stick together 350 sackfuls since 1991. But with more than 16,000 brown sacks still to go, it was estimated that they would need another 400 to 800 years to complete the task by hand.

Instead Berlin’s Fraunhofer Institute of Production Facilities and Construction Technology has promised that its machine can do the same task in half a decade.

The reason for such expensive scientific effort is that the contents of the sacks could be of immense historical importance, throwing light on the activities of the Stasi’s 174,000 unofficial employees and the six million people they spied on.

The machine works by scanning the document fragments into a computer image file. It treats each scrap as if it is part of a huge jigsaw puzzle. The shape, colour, font, texture and thickness of the paper is then analysed so that eventually it is possible to rebuild an electronic image of the original document.

When that has been done archivists at the BStU, the federal commission for state security files, will file the documents appropriately and decide how and when they are to be made public. Demand will be high. The commission receives 8,000 requests a year to see its files.

The project has not been without its opponents. It is, after all, expected that more than a handful of reputations will be tarnished once the files are made public.

Leftwing MPs, some of whom were once members of the East German communist party, opposed the project on the grounds of cost, hoping that interest in it would go away. It is still not sure that the project’s funding is secure for more than a few years.

But Günter Bormann of the BStU. said: “The Stasi officers used their every last strength to destroy these documents in the dead of night. I don’t think they are insignificant.”

While unable yet to reveal specific details, according to the BStU, those sackfuls that have already been reconstructed manually have revealed some “highly explosive stuff”, on everything from the Stasi’s treatment of human rights organisers to its relationship to the leftwing West German terrorist group the Red Army Faction, and the identities of the Stasi’s unofficial spies.

Pressure from historians and Stasi victims’ groups helped to keep up the interest, as did a recent German feature film, The Lives of Others, released in Britain to great acclaim last month, about a Stasi officer who becomes fascinated by the couple he is eavesdropping on. The film is seeped in the gloom and widespread repression of the era.

But even if the government had stalled the project, the commercial potential of the machine would have seen it win through. The Fraunhofer scientists have already received requests to buy the so-called E-Puzzler from authorities in other former communist countries of eastern Europe, such as Latvia and Poland, as well as from Argentina and Chile, which suffered from military dictatorships.

While the scientists waited for the government’s approval, the machine was put to a wide range of uses - to help Chinese archaeologists to reconstruct smashed Terracotta Army figures, to solve a multinational tax evasion case in which copious documents were shredded in an attempt to destroy evidence, and to piece together hundreds of thousands of bank notes shredded by a mother in an attempt to block her estranged daughter from her inheritance.

“In short, it’s no longer safe to shred a document; the days of shredding machines are over,” Betram Nickolay, who has spent 10 years working on the project, claimed. “The only safe way to destroy something is by burning it.”

Backstory

The Stasi employed 90,000 agents and 175,000 informants to spy on 17 million East Germans. When the Berlin Wall fell agents spent three months shredding documents. But since 1991 30 workers have pieced together an average of 10 documents a day, using tape and tweezers. Their estimated finishing date was 2395 at the earliest.

So far their work has revealed the cases of an East German bishop who spied on his flock, a West German economics professor who spied for the Stasi and a literary impresario who spied on his dissident compatriots.

The E-Puzzler machine can process 10,000 two-sided sheets an hour. Its task should be finished by 2013.

in The Guardian

28 May 2007

Coming soon: celebrity genomes on DVD

Jim Watson, the Nobel laureate and co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, will be presented with a unique scientific prize this week: a DVD disc containing details of every one of the 3 billion units of DNA that make up his genes.

The award - to be made at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston on Thursday - is unprecedented. Yet if biotechnology companies get their way, a host of other scientists and celebrities will soon follow suit.

Among those lined up are Stephen Hawking; Larry King, the US talk show host; and Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. In addition, Watson has been pushing, in private, for British stars, such as Wayne Rooney and Kate Moss, to be asked to have their genomes published.

Each person’s entire complement of genes - their genome - would be sequenced and published on discs and the internet. Their genetic blueprints - which determine height, eye colour, disease susceptibility and a host of other features - will be revealed to the world.

The aim is to defuse public worries as it becomes cheaper and cheaper to decode genomes. The first genome cost more than $1 billion, and took several years, to sequence. Now costs have dropped to under $1 million and could be cut to under $1,000 in a few years.

“The first genome was a composite made up from several different people and was meant to represent an average human being,” said Chris McLeod, chief executive of the Connecticut company 454 Life Sciences which sequenced Watson’s genome. “But as prices plunge we will be able to sequence genomes of specific people.”

Armed with this knowledge, doctors will be able to personalise treatments so medicines meet specific individuals’ requirements and match their genetic blueprints. Hence the involvement of famous scientists and celebrities. They are being involved to calm public worries that sequencing would provide data that could be misused by police, insurers or employers. But many scientists dislike involving famous people this way. At a recent genomics meeting in New York, several leading scientists raised objections to the rise of celebrity genetics.

“I’d hate the availability of genome sequencing to be based purely on money and fame,” Professor Michael Ashburner, a geneticist at Cambridge University, told the journal Nature. “Just doing famous or very rich people is bloody tacky, actually.”

In addition, many scientists fear cheap genome sequencing could have other, worrying consequences. Professor Steve Jones of University College London, said: “If you make your genome public, you are not just revealing information about yourself and what diseases you might be susceptible to, you are also giving away crucial data about the kind of illnesses your children might be prone to. Each of your children gets half your genes, after all. They might not want the world to know about the risks they face and become very unhappy in later life that you went public. Your other relatives might equally be displeased.”

This point has been acknowledged by Watson. Nevertheless, he has decided to go ahead and have his entire genome put on the internet this week - with the exception of one gene associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease - Watson does not wish to reveal his risks of getting the disease.

However, there are other concerns, as Professor Ashburner points out. “Anyone who commits relatively minor offences can have their DNA taken and analysed. At present, the main use of this process is to create a DNA fingerprint that can be used to identify that individual. But soon we will be able to create an entire genome sequence of that individual from a swab or blood sample. We will end up knowing everything about their genes. In the end, we could have millions of people on a database and know every single genetic secret of each person. That has to be a very worrying prospect.”

in The Observer

Digital Preservation Challenge

The first Digital Preservation Challenge invites participants to overcome the barriers hindering access to six digital objects. Each object is accompanied by a highly abstracted scenario based on real-life situations. These scenarios are intended to make the challenge more accessible to participants from all backgrounds while not trivialising the serious nature of the digital preservation challenges facing society.

The challenge is open to individuals from any country or discipline. Submissions will be assessed by a panel of international digital preservation experts and practitioners. Winners will be announced on 18 September 2007 at the European Conference on Research and Advanced Technology for Digital Libraries (ECDL) Conference Dinner.

GRAMPS 2.2.8

GRAMPS 2.2.8 has been released.

Changes :

• Addition of Norwegian date handler
• Bug fixes.

Osk 4.6.1

Osk 4.6.1 has been released.

Fixes :

• Bugs that were fixed were related to web exporting.

25 May 2007

PAF Insight 2007.5.24

PAF Insight 2007.5.24 has been released.

Fixes :

• Fixed a sorting problem that showed as errors in PAF but did not corrupt data.
• Fixed a problem with PAF files being left read only after PAF Insight closes unexpectedly.
• Fixed a problem with PAF Insight finding PAF on some computers.

22 May 2007

GenoPro 2.0.0.5

GenoPro 2.0.0.5 has been released.

New feature :

• GenoPro has been modified to be functional under Wine and it has been tested with the Linux Operating System. Although not all functionalities of GenoPro are working to their full capacity, you can view and edit your family trees on GenoPro.

Wine claims to be compatible with Mac (Intel based), the GenoPro team would appreciate if some Mac user can test it out and give them feeback about it.

MacFamilyTree 4.4.6

MacFamilyTree 4.4.6 has been released.

Changes :

• Google Earth Integration: Reveal places from your family tree in Google Earth directly from within MacFamilyTree.
• Coordinates (Latitude and Longitude) from one place can be assigned to other places with the same name.
• Other minor problems solved.

21 May 2007

PAF Insight 2007.5.16

PAF Insight 2007.5.16 has been released.

Enhancements :

• French Translation is included in this version. This will only show if Windows is set to use French.
• Cache is created with IGI searches, making it very fast to redo the search on an individual. Because of this, you can now do a long search, exit PAF Insight, and come back later to update your records, because the search results will appear almost immediately when you do the search again.
• Set your preferences for how long to keep the IGI cache.
• When starting PAF Insight from the Tools menu of PAF, PAF will exit. When PAF Insight is exited, PAF will restart.
• Added to the View menu the ability to view the current file in PAF while running PAF Insight.
• Partial compatibility with extra data put in PAF 5 files by Ancestral Quest and PAF WIZ.
• A warning is given when extra data put in PAF 5 files by Ancestral Quest and PAF WIZ is not preserved.
• You can now use the Find feature for places in Edit Places mode.
• Added Find Next and Find Previous.
• Updated the default window arrangements.
• Added the ability to enable Archiving in Family History Centers

Fixes :

• Date fix, “Not Married” is now recognized as a valid date entry.
• Fixed some problems with selecting places in Edit Places mode, and selecting individuals.
• Fixed some problems with citation merge choices.
• Fixed some display issues.
• Fixed handling of FamilySearch errors so that after several retries PAF Insight will report a failure and go on to the next search.
• Translates most Latin Extended A and Latin Extended B characters into characters that FamilySearch can handle.

Pocket Ancestry 1.10

Pocket Ancestry 1.10 has been released.

Changes :

• New function : search (menu View).
• Minor improvements.

16 May 2007

Macworld Reviews Personal Ancestry Writer II

Macworld has reviewed Personal Ancestry Writer II v69.

Pros :

• Capable of handling massive genealogies.
• Exports reports in a variety of standard formats.
• Including Adobe FrameMaker format.
• Excellent documentation and support.

Cons :

• Limited support for Latter-day Saints ordinances.
• Very basic user interface.
• No support for video or audio files.

15 May 2007

Legacy Family Tree 6.0.0.133

Legacy Family Tree 6.0.0.133 has been released.

New features :

• Affiliate Program : We have changed to a new affiliate program. This is an exciting change which allows better reporting to our affiliates. This build updates Legacy to work with this new affiliate program. Existing affiliates need to create a new affiliate account and make sure all links they are using are changed over to the new system’s way of doing things. Those who have published web pages using Legacy, you’ll need to update your affiliate ID under the webpage options and re-create and upload their web pages. For more information on how to earn money by referring others to Legacy, visit http://www.legacyfamilytree.com/AffiliateProgram.asp
• Legacy Home : Deluxe Edition users should watch the news items on the Legacy Home tab for special offers and “extra-cool” articles. The free Standard Edition users can expect to continue to receive many great articles but hey, there has to be some cool things that only the Deluxe Edition users get.

Changes :

• Fonts : Resize of Master Source screen was not honoring the min and max font settings.
Passage Express (Create CD) : The check to see if Passage Express is installed is now performed before the task of selecting what to include.
• Search and Replace : A blank replacement text can now be used with Search and Replace of surnames as long as the Exact option is now used. For example, using Starts With option you could use search and replace to remove a prefix or other text at the start of the surname.

Fixes :

• Book Reports : Fixed a problem of a missing space after note titles and the notes.
• Events : Fixed an error 3021 when editing events if Show List feature was used from the master location list.
• Family View : When linking to parents to add to the wife on the Family View the Marriage List would open for selecting existing parents but was not being positioned correctly. We now jump to the female’s surname trying to get close to her father to make things quicker.
• IGI Search : The option to also search using only the wife’s first name was not working correctly.
• Import : After an import Legacy was not displaying a starting person if the Home Tab was the current tab.
• Location Verification : With the option to verify new locations turned on and the Enter Key behavior is set to Select Default Command option the edit individual information screen would close if the user would answer no to the new location verification popup question.
• Search : Deleting the last person in the search list would cause a runtime error.
• Sound files : The Play button was not always enabled as it should be when a sound file is attached in the Picture Gallery.
• Sources : Removing the last of multiple sources was not repositioning to the last source for the given event.
• Timelines : Fixed a couple problems with the “Canada - General History” timeline.
User ID : The File ID Assistant was showing ID’s in Uppercase. It now displays them as entered.

14 May 2007

Agelong Tree 3.0.5

Agelong Tree 3.0.5 has been released.

Changes :

• The program is started and data tables are loaded faster now.
• Some interface elements are now displayed correctly under Windows Vista.
• It is possible to mark stress now when you entering text (the Ctrl+I key combination). The correctness of the stress mark depends on the selected interface font.
• Now when you save a file under another name, the old folder with documents is deleted before the new one is created.
• During export into xml, the full birth and death places of a person are saved.
• When you create a daughter, only the maiden name is specified now while the main name remains empty.
• Now it is possible to sort by the source name on the “Sources” tab in the window where you edit a person, event, document.
• It is possible to resize the “Source” and “Source entry” windows.
• French, Polish, Turkish, Arabic and Vietnam interface languages have been added.

Fixes :

• Collapsed branches are now correctly restored while you refresh the built tree.
• If a person had no main photo, it appeared after you added any photo document to the person.
• Gedcom: The bug in importing sources with the same name has been fixed.
• Gedcom: The bug in importing sources and documents to events has been fixed.
• Gedcom: The bug in importing such links as has been fixed.
• Gedcom: The bug in exporting documents to events has been fixed.
• Gedcom: Events related to the family of a person are added to the person’s events.
• Some minor bugs have been fixed.

MacFamilyTree 4.4.5

MacFamilyTree 4.4.5 has been released.

New feature :

• New Report listing all events sorted by decades for a chronological overview.

13 May 2007

GenSmarts 2

GenSmarts 2 has been released.

New features :

• New Data Cleanup Reports.
• New Report File Save Options.
• Source/Citation Analysis and Auditing.
• Partial File Analysis.
• User Selectable Type Fonts.
• One Click Print.
• Data Color Coding.
• New Screen “slider”.
• File Exports.
• Add A Comment.
• Date Stamped Suggestions.
• Easier To User Filtering.
• Sticky Filters and Bookmarks.
• Custom Filters.
• Custom Marks.
• “Web” based formatting.
• Additional Events.

Transcript 2.2.0 build 50

Transcript 2.2.0 build 50 has been released.

Changes :

• Transcript 2.2.0 Final Release.

LifeLines 3.0.59

LifeLines 3.0.59 has been released.

Fixes :

• It is primarily a bugfix release.

9 May 2007

George W. Bush related to Pocahontas

U.S. President George W. Bush is related to Pocahontas – in two ways!

The President’s 8th great-grandfather Robert Bolling was married twice. His first wife, Jane Rolfe, was Pocahontas’ only grandchild. Bush descends from Robert Bolling through his second marriage to Ann Stith.

In addition, Bush’s 8th great-aunt Mary Kennon married Pocahontas’ great-grandson, John Bolling. (Interestingly John Bolling was the son of Robert Bolling and his first wife, Jane Rolfe).

Through these two links, President Bush is related to most - if not all - of Pocahontas’ living descendants. See the President Bush-Pocahontas family tree.

Genealogy Pro 2.112

Genealogy Pro 2.112 has been released.

Fix :

• Fixed another isolated bug where conversion of the chart to a web image will sometimes cause Genealogy Pro to hang. This occurred only where privacy options were set.

7 May 2007

Brother’s Keeper 6.2.47

Brother’s Keeper 6.2.47 has been released.

Changes :

• If making an alphabetical listing which included married names for women, it would sometimes omit the first letter of the wife’s first name (if the wife’s name field did not have a last name or maiden name included).
• Sometimes when deleting an event for a person, the event would still show when returning to the Edit screen the next time. (An error message would say that two events were trying to use the same line).

LifeLines 3.0.58

LifeLines 3.0.58 has been released.

Fixes :

• It fixes some existing bugs, “and does not introduce any new bugs, as far as we know”.

Osk 4.6

Osk 4.6 has been released.

Changes :

• A bug in the web exporting feature is fixed.
• Pictures now always maintain ratio, and resize correctly.

5 May 2007

TimeSearch

TimeSearch is a search engine devised by Bamber Gascoigne and designed by Ian Henghes, who are fellow directors of the educational website HistoryWorld.

TimeSearch already has nearly 10,000 events in its timelines, and it is growing fast. This material is a spin-off from HistoryWorld, and the TimeSearch project - launched in 2007 - therefore derives ultimately from the origins of HistoryWorld a dozen years before.

Transcript 2.2.0 build 48

Transcript 2.2.0 build 48 has been released.

Changes :

• There are only a few internal changes, mostly to make installation easier.

4 May 2007

New software : Genealogy Research System

Genealogy Research System replaces Genealogy for Windows that is not supported anymore. Genealogy for Windows databases can be imported into Genealogy Research System.

GRS is made up of three main components:

• Information Tools.
• Research Data.
• Family Knowledge.

3 May 2007

Linux Genealogy Desktop CD 3.0

The Linux Genealogy Desktop CD 3.0 has been released.

Features :

• Based on Ubuntu 7.04 Desktop CD.
• Pre-installed GRAMPS 2.2.7, GeneWeb, and LifeLines applications.
• The GraphViz program to draw pretty graphs in GRAMPS.

The CD is available only for the x86 architecture.

1 May 2007

Personal Ancestry Writer II v69

Personal Ancestry Writer II v69 has been released.

Changes :

• In order to clarify the meaning of dates entered as double years, that is, years previously entered and displayed for example as 1851/1859, the following changes have been made: if double years are more than a year apart and no month appears, such as in 1851/9, the event is assumed to fall within that range of years — in this example as between 1851 and 1859 inclusively. This range is now displayed as “bet 1851 and 1859″ or as “between 1851 and 1859″ depending on context, and the range may also be entered in that format (as “bet 1851 and 1859″ — or even as “bet1851and1859″ — as well as “1851/9″, “1851/59″ and “1851/1859″).
• This “BET” date format now applies as well to GEDCOM import and export.
• An option has been added to control-click (right-click) on the current partner and choose Add Another Partner from the popup menu. This is in addition to the current option to click on the Partners button and choose Add Another Partner from its popup menu.
• The list of unused names on file has been removed from the list of possible problems (they’re not really problems) and written into a separate text file that can be chosen (if and when of interest) from the File menu under Write Text.
• The Reference folder has been updated to reflect these changes.

Family Historian 3.1.2

Family Historian 3.1.2 has been released.

Changes :

• You can now specify the size of margin to leave around diagrams when saving a whole diagram in Enhanced Metafile Format (EMF). Also, the problems that some users experienced when saving diagrams in Enhanced Metafile Format have now been fixed.
• Now, if you have Windows XP or later, you can access the contents of Family Historian’s backup (zip) files using Windows Explorer.

iFamily for Tiger 2.108

iFamily for Tiger 2.108 has been released.

Changes :

• Enhanced to reject two corrupt Gedcom Tags from a.n.other family tree application that were previously allowed to be imported.
• Added main menu options for People - Delete Person and People - Disconnect Person.
• Added main menu option File - Move Data Directory to allow the user to move the default location of the iFamilyForTigerData folder out of their Home Folder.
• The automatic Family Name function now recognises suffixes such as Jr, Sr, I, II, III, …., XX.
• Images dropped into iFamily from Ancestry.com are now renamed from image.x.JPG to a name containing the dropped-on person’s name.
• Added menu option People - ToDo List. The shortcut to the ToDo List is Option+Apple+T. The single character T will also work if the context diagram has the focus, i.e. no data field is currently being edited.
• Added menu option People - Add Unconnected Person, An unconnected person is someone who is related to no-one.
• Added menu option Window - ScratchPad. The shortcut to the ScratchPad is Option+Command+S or simply S if the context diagram has the focus, i.e. no field is currently being edited.
• On large databases this report is now generated (and scrolls) much faster.
• Corrected a bug in Version 2.100 that could occasionally cause a crash or freeze - only reported by one user.
• Corrected an error in the right click pop-up menu in Pictures pane of main window.