An interview with Dr. Alvy Ray Smith

I had an enjoyable talk with Dr. Smith at the National Genealogical Conference following his lecture, “Advanced Word: Automatic Numbering for Genealogies.” Dr. Alvy Ray Smith is a published author, lecturer, and scholar. Dr. Smith holds a PhD from Stanford in computer science. He also is a member of FASG, a fellow of the American Society of Genealogists. This honorary society is limited to 50 living people receiving an invitation due to their scholarly contribution to genealogy.

In addition to his accomplishments in genealogy, I was in awe of his varied and amazing accomplishments. Dr. Smith was a founding member of Pixar. He has won technical awards for animation and filmmaking including an Academy Award for his work in developing pioneering techniques in digital paint systems used to make motion pictures. I have to admit I was a bit star-struck when I realized that he had ties to some large tech names and products including but not limited to Pixar, Xerox, Lucasfilm, Microsoft, and Altamira. I was fascinated to learn of his work on the Visible Human Project through the National Library of Medicine.

Even though the lecture was billed as an Intermediate to Advanced level class, there were a wide range of attendees. And just to make it interesting, there were Word users from 2003, 2007, and 2010. The occasional Mac user added some flair, complaining that they could not find the correct menus and commands. The presentation was interesting and informative. I left the session feeling competent to use automatic numbering to simplify my research and well-versed in the advantages of this type of organization. Especially useful with long registers of generations, the advantages of automatic numbering outweigh the time it takes to learn the techniques and set up a document.

Another take-away of the presentation is that publishing—genealogical and otherwise—is moving away from flat books to three-dimensional hyperlinked and expandable digital formats. PDF books are downloadable and much more user friendly than following the pagination and numbering of genealogical registers in print products.

I asked Dr. Smith if he would consider selling templates or macros to speed up with the auto numbering process. He made available a link to his web site where he has a tutorial, templates, and instructions for anyone’s use for no charge.

When asked if Dr. Smith used any other organizational tools in his own research and publishing, he responded, “I primarily use Word.” He talked about the power behind Word that is rarely utilized and not often capitalized upon. He suggested exploring Word to find its special features, built in macros, and amazing functioning power.

After an informative lecture and great conversation about genealogy, I still found myself enamored with having one degree of separation from the man who directed the “first use of full computer graphics” for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This genealogist and Trekkie loved it!

If you are not at NGS, you are missing out!

This year’s National Genealogical Society Conference 2012 is fantastic! Thousands of professional and amateur genealogists meet up with dozens of experts, lecturers, and vendors to make one great gathering this year in Cincinnati, Ohio.

No matter where I sit or where I go to eat, I can spot “new friends” with a common interest and passion. I hear stories of how they started the search for their ancestors. We chat about tips and tricks and the last workshop we attended. There is much common ground here. Genealogists are a unique breed of historians, archivists, and hoarders.  We love libraries and collections. We are fascinated by dating photos and the newest genealogical software. It’s a wonderful place to come to improve your skills and learn new things.

With registration and payment, you receive electronic (pdf) syllabi of all of the presentations. There is a wealth of knowledge there to keep you busy until the next conference. This year there were a few workshops on subtopics related to genealogical organization. I interviewed Robert Raymond on the topic of “Using Excel to Create Timelines”. And I interviewed Alvy Ray Smith on his presentation, “Advanced Word: Automatic Numbering for Genealogies”. Those interviews and tips from the presenters will appear as future blog postings. Sign up for the RSS feed so that you don’t miss it!

The 2013 conference is from May 8-11 in Las Vegas, Nevada. I hope to see you there!