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Monday, 30 August 2010

Georg Pniower

This is just a thought that crossed my mind while I was writing my last post. My mother's father was Georg Bela Pniower, the landscape architect. If anyone's out there doing research on his life, I have some items in my loft that might be of interest to you. Please feel free to contact me.

Here are a couple of photos of him, newly scanned into the digital world. As he died in 1960 and I found these in my family collection, I am assuming that either the copyright has expired or I've inherited it.

Georg Pniower

Georg Pniower and colleagues

The portrait is undated, but the other is dated 24th May 1957. Pniower is third from the left.

The End of Genealogy

I was talking to friends yesterday about their research into their family trees. I don't do this myself, but it seems to me that this must be the Golden Age for amateur genealogists, with so much data available online nowadays, and more going that way all the time. The days of wandering around graveyards, combing through parish records, and scanning microfiched birth certificates will one day be over, when all conceivably available data is somewhere on the web, indexed and accessible.

And sometime after that, genealogy will be effectively over.

For once someone has accurately mapped their ancestors, there is no real work left for their children to do, except add on the latest generation. Even if someone coming new to genealogy knows that their parents never did any research, it is quite likely that one of their cousins did. Go back just three generations and you've already got eight direct ancestors. If just one of their other descendants has already done the leg work, all you need to do is link up with them. And with web sites like Genes Reunited, that's becoming increasingly easy.

If I ever decide to research my own family tree, it will be out of curiosity, not a wish to acquire a new hobby. If I can quickly link up with some distant relative's existing work, I'm pretty sure that's just what I'll do.

The principal reason I haven't ever had attempted to trace my own ancestors is down to me being adopted. Which tree should I trace? I've always been clear in my mind that my real parents were the people who brought me up and nurtured me to adulthood. And my real grandparents were the people I remember from my childhood. But go any further back and issues get muddied in my mind. If I ever wonder about who my predecessors were in, say, the sixteenth century, it's biological ancestors I think about.

Once again, modern technology is stepping in. Companies providing personal genetic testing like 23andMe can offer you the option of being put in touch with close genetic relatives who've also been tested. Just as in genealogy, family trees are going to be constructed, then linked together.

Not all linked together though. Genealogical records usually only go back a handful of centuries, and even royalty can't trace back much more than a thousand years. That's hardly anything when measured against the age of the human race. This will mean that, when we get to the point where everyone can access their tree (their paper, rather than genetic, tree) as far back as is possible, the population will be naturally partitioned into groups sharing a common ancestor. A common, known ancestor, that is.

Genetic testing will achieve a similar effect. DNA tests though, will go back much further than genealogical records. Logically any two human beings share a closest common ancestor, and our DNA should be able to make a good estimate of just how far back that person lived.

I wonder how human interaction will change when all this comes to fruition. In the last decade you've been able to google a new acquaintance. The day may be coming soon when you'll also be able to quickly find out how much DNA you've got in common.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Local Man Makes Small News

The story about my threatened assassination continued to spread slowly for most of last week. I even made it all the way to page 36 of The Press, York's local newspaper.  In it I am described as a 'software expert'. Not accurate, but I'm prepared to let it pass. The photo of me isn't bad either, by my standards. Normally I'm very far from photogenic, with most shots showing me apparently either scowling, or grinning inanely, or at worst, scowling inanely. Believe it or not, in this one I was aiming for a sardonic smile.

And so we draw a curtain over this story, and my blog's brief burst of fame comes to an end.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

My 15 Minutes of Fame

After posting my blog about the assassination scam, it occurred to me that some people might not take receiving a death threat so well. Believing that the best way to combat scams is to publicise them as widely as possible, I forwarded the offending mail to The Register. They thought it worthy of an article, and kindly linked back to my original post.

Since then I have heard nothing more from Gladlord Mohammed or his Yemeni hit squad, but according to Google Analytics, traffic to this blog has leapt by over 7000%. Amazing what you can do from a very, very small base. Their report also shows three visits from Yemen. (I would like to assure any Yemeni readers that I never for a moment believed that the scamster was really from Yemen.)

It was also interesting watching how the story spread across the web. At the start of the day a Google search for "Gladlord Mohammed" came up with just two hits: my blog and a site for people who like to wind up scamsters. Then the Reg article showed up. After that several other news sites took up the story, mostly crediting The Register, though not all.

This humble blog will probably never be so popular again. When I started it last year, little did I think that it would be a death threat that attracted any serious readership. At least it wasn't an obituary notice.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Irony on the M62

I just had to take a photo of this doughnut display I saw in a service station on the M62 east of Manchester:

The doughnuts suggest you buy a dozen to share with a friend. "Clear!"

Somebody wants me dead!

There is disturbing news in my e-mails when I get back after a week away in North Wales. Apparently someone has hired a hitman to have me whacked. The contract is for $200,000, which is quite a large sum for a next-to-nobody like me. I am almost tempted myself.

Fortunately my potential killer has alerted me, and is prepared to strike a deal. For a mere $50,000 he will not only not kill me, but will also tell me the identity of my enemy, as well as hand over a tape that will let me have him (or is it 'her'?) convicted. Sounds like a bargain. Alas, I recently gave my last $50,000 to a Nigerian gentleman who was having difficulty getting money out of his native country.

"You have no need of knowing who i am", he writes. However, he goes on to sign the message 'Gladlord Mohammed'. Hmm, possibly an alias?

"i have followed you closely for one week and three days now". If true, he will have recently enjoyed several of North Wales's top tourist attractions. I hope he enjoyed Caernarfon Castle, and had better luck at finding a restaurant in Bangor than we did.

"Do not contact the police or FBI ..." The FBI? I begin to suspect he's got the wrong man. "... or try to send a copy of this to them, because if you do i will know." Oh, really? Nice to know at least one person is following this blog.

I click the Gmail 'Report Spam' button and consign the message to digital oblivion.

Seriously, is this a new departure for the scammers? Every previous scam mail I've received has relied on me being a greedy, gullible moron. This is the first one I've ever had that has tried to scare me into handing over my life savings.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Idle Time at Camberley Station

The first anniversary of my blog has come and gone, unnoticed by everyone probably, certainly by me. I am inspired to break my two month postings drought by my experiences at Camberley station last week.

Two adults and a child need to buy day tickets to London, returning at any time. There are three humans selling tickets to a slowly moving queue of travellers, and six automated ticket machines. Some of the machines will even accept cash. The machines are largely unused, so I try one of them out.

Picking the destination is very easy, but then I get stuck. How to select for more than one person? Did I miss that step already (given that I'm only on step 2)? And how to tell the vending machine that we don't want to have to worry about off peak restrictions?

At this point a station employee comes up to help. Rather than staffing one of the several empty ticket counters, her job is to loiter around the machines, helping the confused. When I tell her our needs, she advises us to get our tickets from one of her human colleagues instead as our best option is a group ticket.

I know absolutely nothing about the story of those ticket machines and the engineers who developed them, but I can guess at it. The conflicting requirements, an ever changing list of pricing options, group discounts, London Underground inclusive deals, finally leading to a system that baffles first time and occasional users, becomes more out of date with every marketing initiative, and (cruel irony) needs a human attendant to help customers make sense of it.