Editing old photos with beloved Picasa, and slide-to-digital converters

Thank goodness I have Picasa! I’ve been editing very old black & white print photos to save digitally and to include some in a family history book I’m putting together. Photoshop costs money and has too much of a learning curve for my druthers. Picasa is a free download with almost no learning curve, perfect for the simpler things I need to do. Unfortunately, I learned it has been discontinued by its owner, Google, in favor of Google Photos, which is NOT AN EDITOR! However, you can try downloading a free version of Picasa from Filehippo.

Last month when I visited my dad, he pulled out a stack of photos from as early as 1910. Many important photos needed all manner of fixing, from overexposure to the subjects being too small to see them very well. From experience, scanning the photos on our printer and then cropping them out of their 8.5×11-size scan page resulted in too small resolution to print out well for book quality. So I took close-up photos with my Nikon, then uploaded them to Picasa to tweak. Cell phones that take higher resolution photos would work, too, just upload directly to computer.

With Picasa, I straightened the photos I took (turning some right-side up first), then cropped to remove extraneous white edging or the background table I had set the photos on. Cropping an original photo itself could also focus more closely on the subject people, in effect making them larger. I was able to correct for overexposure or lighten too-dark photos. I could change the color temperature to remove any yellowing hue. Some photos I had to really work with, adjusting and re-adjusting. In the end, I had clearer photos with resolutions near or above 1MB, vs the lower KBs if I had scanned and cropped.

My dad also pulled out a big box of slides from photos he had taken in Japan in the later 1950s when he was stationed there in the Army. He had a slide-to-digital converter that connected to his computer, so I could place up to three slides (or one strip of negatives) into its tray and the pictures would appear on his computer screen for me to save as .jpg photos. His is an old and simple model; the new ones seem to all have their own screen to see the photos without having to connect the converter to a computer. I have quite a job ahead of me to save (and edit) all those slides, and I will be using some for my dad’s memoir, separate from the family history book.

I use Picasa for many of the photos I take, including exporting into a resized low-resolution photo to then post on social media. It will also allow you to put a watermark on your photo to claim it. I can’t forget how years ago an American family found their family photo on a billboard ad overseas. Lower resolution (less than about 60KB) means no one can steal a photo you post and create nice prints from it – and may prevent the news media from being able to grab and post a clear photo of you if you happen to be newsworthy in a bad way. Below is an example of an original photo and its Picasa-tweaked version. If you know of other good free photo-EDITING programs, please leave a comment.


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Don’t rush to publish – a family stories gift for Father’s Day?

For his 85th birthday in late May, my dad was thrilled to see the manuscript of his family history that I had put together from old interviews and some genealogy searching. I was thrilled to see his brother and most of his family at my dad’s big birthday party – cousins I hadn’t seen or had contact with in maybe 20 years! Recognizable, but with unrecognizable kids now all grown up. We had a great time catching up and reminiscing.

I gave my uncle and aunt a hard copy of the manuscript to take home and let me know of any corrections or any additions they’d like. I emailed the manuscript to one of my cousins to look over and add to. I discovered he had stories and photos from a trip to Holland where he found the church our ancestors attended. I also discovered another cousin used to sit with our grandmother when she was sick during her last year, and Grandma told many stories. This cousin was not at the party but will be visiting her parents this month and they will go over the manuscript together.

I am very glad I did not just publish what I had so I would have a nice present for my dad’s birthday or for Father’s Day. Dad did love skimming through the draft and reminiscing, but then my sister took it back to finish editing it, to catch any typos or grammar errors and find any parts that were awkwardly worded or unclear.

When I called my dad to wish him a happy Father’s Day, he had the manuscript back and had reviewed it. He was a happy dad, delighted with the manuscript but we need to clarify some parts of my grandmother’s interview transcript. My dad has contact information for one of his cousins he hasn’t see in many years and hopes to meet with her next month and show her the manuscript. Maybe she will have something to add. I will look forward to getting more stories and comments from my cousins and sister. The book will become a bigger story with all of us!


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The Poetry of War

I like to say that poetry can be a form of life writing. The Ghosts of Babylon by Jonathan Baxter is an impressive example of that. Baxter was a US Army Ranger in Afghanistan and Iraq, then a security contractor. After his third deployment, he began writing poems to capture his “average” experiences as honestly as he could. He has seen it all and his honesty is hard and cuts to the heart. I felt the damage war does to the souls of soldiers. How do they cope?

Everything is solely
What you choose to make it mean for you
Whatever you need to believe
you can make it all come true. . .
– from Theories of Relativity

Jonathan’s poems are raw but beautiful, many lyrical, and he is more literate than most of us would ever expect a volunteer soldier to be—surprise! Bits of Shakespeare or classic famous works including The Epic of Gilgamesh introduce each of his story poems. I don’t favor modern poems that rhyme because so many feel strained or too contrived, but Jonathan follows a traditional style that made us love the poets of old. His rhythmic rhyming lines flow into the heart of the dusty danger he lived. The influence of Edgar Alan Poe is strong and dark. I hope many people read this book to get a better understanding of what our men and women in combat situations go through. I commend Jonathan for being brave enough to share these intimate thoughts.

Jonathan is a jaded soldier. And why didn’t he just stop and come home? That’s a story poem he tells, too, about the bonds between warriors, the addictive rush of adrenaline. When a soldier is killed, don’t say what a waste of a life, he lived life to the fullest. When you live with death, every moment is alive.

An Appendix gives a list of resources for combat veterans needing help. One of them is Vets4Warriors, an organization of veterans providing 24-7 emotional support for those in service, veterans, their family members, and caregivers. 855-838-8255.

On Memorial Day, remember those who died in war. Remember those for whom a part of themselves died in war.


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