Sunday, August 29, 2010

I've Forgotten the Milk To Become a Producteev Todoist

A few years ago, like so many others, I discovered an online to-do-list/task manager called 'Remember the Milk'. At the time, it was one of the best I had ever seen as it offered more features than Google Tasks. A short time later, I discovered another one called Todoist. Instantly, I found Todoist much more to my personal liking as it allowed sub-tasks and generally just had a more attractive user interface to me. I promptly deleted my RTM account and began using Todoist exclusively (despite the fact that it did not offer reminders without paying for the premium version). Fast forward a few years to my becoming an Android based mobile device user. At the time I got my Motorola Droid, there was no app for Todoist. However, there was a pretty decent free app called Astrid that had the ability to sync with Remember the Milk. So, I again became a RTM user. As the Astrid developers continue to make improvements on the app, the more I like. One of the more recent updates to Astrid included the ability to not only sync with RTM but another online task manager called Producteev. I had never heard of Producteev, so I decided to check it out. I instantly liked it more than either RTM or Todoist. Using Astrid's ability to sync with both RTM and Producteev, I was able to quickly import all of my tasks and from there tweak them to my liking in Producteev. The UI in Producteev is more attractive than in RTM, and it also has the ability to sync with Google Calendar, which I'm still deciding if I like or not as it seems to have some odd quirks and bugs. At this point, the only advantage that Todoist has over either of the other two is the ability to create sub-task, which, for me, is useful for breaking down my Reading List as some of the books I own are omnibus editions or collections of short stories (see screen shots below for examples). Where Producteev really wins is the fact that it is in constant development and that the developers have created a forum for user feedback that they actually take into account when fixing existing features or coming up with new ones. As some of the features they have planned come about, there's little doubt that Producteev will become my exclusive task list tool (examples include sub-tasks and its own Android App). Below are screen shots of Producteev and Todoist featuring my Reading List to demonstrate the sub-task ability that I love about Todoist and am looking forward to in Producteev. Alas, I deleted all of my tasks from RTM before thinking to get a screen shot, but suffice it to say, it looked pretty much like Producteev except not as colorful.

So, as you can see from these photos, Todoist offers me the ability to take a single task (such as reading The Space Wolf Omnibus, which contains three separate novels) and break it down into its separate components. Producteev does not, at least not yet, but it is a feature that is planned for development. Notice also, that two other books in the list are actually compilations of short stories, so again, the ability to break those down into separate stories so I can keep track of my progress is very helpful.1 Other than that, Todoist's lack of reminders or calendar integration gives the edge to Producteev.

Another great feature in Producteev is the ability to create and manage tasks directly from my email inbox. For example, I use paperless online billing for everything these days. Instead of receiving a bill in the mail, I receive an email alerting me that my bill is available for viewing online. In order to create an action item in my Producteev To Do list, all I have to do is forward that email to and voila, the task is created in Producteev complete with the body of the email as an embedded note (the subject line of the email is what appears in the task list). I can also include things like 5*, ##Bills, etc to set the priority and tags in Producteev automatically as well as including the due date without necessarily having to log into Producteev to do so. So for now, I'll be using Producteev as my default task manager, with Todoist as a back up for breaking down larger tasks into smaller components. Remember the Milk will be, once again, forgotten.

Before I go, here's a quick comparison chart of some of the features of all three services. Please note that the features I'm listing here are probably not comprehensive and are ones that I personally am interested in, so don't be surprised if I've left something off.

Create Tasks Via Email Yes (RTM assigns a unique email address to each account) Yes ( Not that I can tell
Prioritize Tasks 1-3 or None (1 being the highest) 1-5 Stars or None (5 is highest, 1 is lowest in this case) 1-4 (1 = highest 4 = same as setting none)
Reminders via Email Yes Yes available in paid version only
Custom Tags Yes Yes Yes
Android App Yes, but only usable if you pay for Pro version Not Yet, but is being developed No, but there are some 3rd party ones
Astrid sync Yes (free) Yes (free) No
Sub-Tasks No No, but is planned for the future Yes
Multiple To Do/Project Lists (To Do, Reading List, etc.) Yes Yes Yes
Task Sorting By due date, priority or task name By Deadline, Label, Last Changed, Manager2, or Priority Manual sorting using drag and drop3

And, that's about all I can think of. I'll probably think of a ton of things I would've liked to have compared or commented on ten minutes after I post this (which I almost always do) but this will have to do for now.

~ JC

1: I also like to set reading goals, such as completing Chapters 1-3 on a particular day then 4-6 the next day, etc.,etc., so that's another example of how sub-tasks can be very helpful. Also, if you were to be writing a major paper for school, sub-tasks could be a great way of setting up your outline and tracking your progress. In other words, sometimes breaking up larger task into smaller parts can help keep you on track and make it not feel so daunting.

2: Another awesome feature of Producteev is that in the paid versions you can have multiple users per account. It's designed to allow groups or teams to assign different tasks and coordinate tasks when working on a project together. The ability to sort by who the Manager of a tasks is could be very useful if you need to see who's working on what at a glance.

3: I actually kind of like this feature as it allows me to move tasks that I've yet to give a due date to into the order I'd like to complete them. It's actually been suggested on the Producteev forums that it be added to their service as well in addition to quick sorting by whatever field.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Android 2.2 Froyo – First Impressions

On August 14, I finally received my over-the-air update to Android 2.2 on my Motorola Droid. Putting aside that it's been a couple of months or more since it was announced, or that it was rumored to drop weeks ago. I won't even go on about how it arrived on my phone almost two weeks after Verizon's official announcement of its release. Let's just talk about the operating system itself. My first impressions of it are not horrible, but I am a bit disappointed overall. I mean, it's a good update, but it's not worth the hype and not worth the long wait we've had to get it. Yes, it's faster and snappier for the most part. I also love that there are now five home screens instead of just three (ironically, I got the update and more home screens after installing an app called “Power Strip” which acts a bit like the Quick Launch bar in Windows, thereby eliminating the need for extra home screens on which to place shortcuts). But there's one thing I'm really disappointed about; one thing that I was looking forward to seeing with Android 2.2 Froyo, and it's missing! FLASH! Where the hell is Flash? So many websites still use Adobe Flash for animations and videos that it has been the one thing on the Droid that has been sorely lacking in terms of being able to surf the web.

Since Android 2.2's release was announced I've been anticipating being able to view websites with Flash videos or even Hulu on my Droid. Alas, I still can't. I'm not a hardcore smartphone user. I don't care about WiFi tethering and such as that. I just want the device to do what I need/want it to do. For the most part it does, but the fact that I've waited all this time for Froyo to launch, and now I'm still waiting on Adobe to release the mobile flash player is quite irritating. I mean, if they've known for all this time that Android 2.2 would support Flash 10.1, then why the hell hasn't the development team at Adobe been on top of this? (See, I'm willing spread the blame here. Google put 2.2 out weeks ago. Verizon took to long to release it via Over-The-Air updates, and Adobe has had plenty of time to develop Flash for it, and has totally dropped the ball here, in my opinion).

As for Froyo itself, I do like it. I like the new user interface; the inclusion of permanent links to the phone and web functions at the bottom of the screen are helpful. As I mentioned, I like having five home screens to put shortcuts on. And, overall, the device seems to be faster. There is no doubt in my mind that going forward, I'll continue to be an Android smartphone user every time I'm eligible for my “new every two” upgrade from Verizon.

~ JC

Post Script - August 25, 2010 -- Yesterday I discovered that, thanks to the update to Froyo, I can actually answer a phone call using the multi-function button on my Bluetooth headset. Previously, I had to answer from the phone itself. So, Bluetooth functionality was obviously improved in Android 2.2.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

“Bank On Me Going Green(dot)

Banks suck. Few would argue that banks, and the corporate greed of high ranking banking officials is a large part of why our economy is so fucked right now. I'm not here to argue a political point. My beef with banks, and banking, is of a more personal nature. Namely, the policies under which personal deposits to checking accounts are governed. Bank deposit policies are bullshit (sorry if it seems I'm channeling Penn Jillette). In recent weeks I've had issues with deposits I've made not showing as available when checking my account online. Who the fuck, and at which bank, decided that the business day ends at 2PM? Furthermore, what's the point of having drop boxes to create the “convenience” of not having to stand in line, if the damn thing isn't checked regularly enough and therefore creates an inconvenience when it comes to a person's hard earned money being available to them? I'll explain.

I work for a small business. As such, I don't have access to services such as direct deposit. I have to physically take my paycheck to the bank, fill out the deposit slip and stand in line to have a teller process my deposit. For decades banks have decided that 2pm is actually the next business day. That is to say, if you make a deposit after 2pm on Monday, it's actually not deposited until Tuesday. What makes this a bullshit concept is, if it's a Friday afternoon, your deposit won't be credited until Monday because Saturday and Sunday aren't “business days”. Now, to top all that off, in the past couple of weeks I've made deposits late in the afternoon on a Thursday only to not have them show as available until after midnight on Friday (so basically, not until Saturday). This past Friday really took the cake though. It was around 4:15pm. I was hot, tired and just wanted to get home (a commute of about an hour or more depending on traffic, for me). So, when I saw how long the line was in the bank, I decided to use their “convenient” drop box since I was only depositing and not getting any cash back this time. I filled out the deposit slip and the envelope, endorsed the back of the check, put everything in the envelope and dropped it in the box and went on my merry way home for the weekend. Saturday morning, my balance still showed $26. I kept checking every so often, and still no sign of my deposit. Now, here's the kicker – the branch I went to is actually open half a day on Saturdays, so I gave them a call. I figured, since they were open on Saturday, someone would have taken anything in the drop box out and processed it. Evidently, that's not the case. Since I put it in the box so late on a Friday, and because it was a check drawn on a different bank instead of cash, that money won't be available until Tuesday! Tuesday?! Fucking really? You mean I have to survive the weekend, plus put gas in my car to get to work on Monday with only the $15 in my wallet, the $40 I have squirreled away in my change jar and the measly $26 I still have available in my checking account? WTF? Normally I'd only be annoyed, but this is a special weekend. I had planned on taking my beautiful, wonderful fiancee out to a nice dinner at one of our favorite restaurants since Thursday was her birthday, and Friday was the anniversary of our engagement.1 Now, not only can I not do that, but I can't even go get any of the hobby supplies I wanted to get so I can enjoy a weekend of painting Warhammer models.2 “Well, switch banks”, you may say. To what end? They all do stupid shit like this. No, I think I have a better plan.

With all this bullshit with banks I'm seriously considering becoming an almost straight cash person. Frankly, I've always hated carrying cash and preferred to use my check card, because 1) it's convenient, 2) it makes me more responsible about impulse and large purchases because I have to bear in mind how much is actually in the bank and 3) if I lose my card, it can be replaced; if I lose my cash, I'm just shit-out-of-luck and broke. Enter GreenDot. GreenDot is a prepaid credit card. Here's they way this thing works. I can go get a GreenDot credit card with either a Visa or MasterCard logo on it so it's accepted wherever either of those cards are accepted. If it's lost, I can have it replaced and I don't lose my balance. I can control how much is on it at any given time because it's prepaid, meaning the balance on the card is just like the balance in my checking account; whatever I put on it, is what is available for use. So, I could keep the majority of my cash, and just load up a GreenDot card with as much as I need to still be able to do online purchases and bill paying. I know for a fact (since I used to work at one) that I can go into any RadioShack and re-load it, and whatever I put on it is immediately available for use (no bullshit next business day before the funds are available crap). Now, I do understand that this plan isn't perfect. For starters, despite that fact that I'm really pissed at my bank right now, I do have to admit that I get free checking and I can use my debit card all I need/want to with no fees (save for, of course, overdraft fees if I spend more than my balance). With GreenDot there will be a start-up fee and there will be a reload fee when I load it with cash and probably a monthly maintenance fee depending on my balance or how much I've used it (however, there is no fee for direct depositing funds to a GreenDot card should I ever find a job that offers that). The plan isn't ideal, and honestly I may very well keep the bank account open with a nominal balance, depositing cash when/if needs be. I'm just tired of going through entire weekends with very limited funds available to me because of banks' dubious deposit procedures and policies. It's just nice knowing that I at least have the option of a prepaid credit/debit card without having to deal with a bank's bullshit while still being able to pay my bills or make purchases online.

~ JC

1. Seven years... yes, I know that's a long time to be engaged, but it works for us, so :-P

2. I really wanted to get an inexpensive airbrush so I could batch paint the base coats on several at one time and quickly. Good thing I already have some prepped – not to mention I have tons of reading to catch up on. But still, it's really annoying when you make plans for your weekend and they get fucked up because of banking issues that you can't control. Also, for the record, my fiancee paid for dinner and I'll reimburse her once my deposit posts – it's just pretty shitty that she had to pay for her own birthday dinner that was supposed to be my gift to her.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

More Apps For That

(part 3 in an ever continuing saga of Apps for Android based mobile devices)

Back in November 2009 I upgraded my phone to a MotoDroid. Of course, I immediately started downloading and installing all the free apps that seemed fun or useful at the time. A month after that I wrote another blog about the device and updated my list of recommended apps. Here we are in August 2010 and once again I find the need to give an update on the apps I use. The list has changed a lot of the past eight months, and will undoubtedly continue to do so as new apps are developed and as I drop ones that I no longer use to make room in my mobile's memory for the newer more useful apps coming down the pike. With new and more powerful Android based phones coming out and my anticipation of Android 2.2 (aka “Froyo”) pushing out to my current Droid (which supposedly is happening this week), my continued use of this type of smartphone is pretty much guaranteed. I've even read that a German company is soon going to be releasing a tablet which will run an enhanced version of the Android OS to directly compete with Apple's iPad. So, here's my latest update and review of apps, all of which are available from the Android Market.

We'll begin with apps which are mentioned on m previous two lists that I've deleted and why:

  • Barcode Scanner – this app utilizes the device's camera as a bar-code scanner and links with Google Product Search to allow you to comparison shop while still in the store. I deleted it because, honestly, I just didn't use it. It's not that it didn't work, I simply just forgot I had it and since I wasn't using it, I deleted to make room in the phone's memory

  • Key Ring – this one was good in theory but not so much in practice. For those of you tired of having a bundle of little value and discount cards on your key ring you may like this. Simply scan the bar-codes from all those cards into this app and save them on your phone. The problem with it is, in the case of the MotoDroid anyway, is that the screen's reflective surface causes the bar-codes to be unreadable by pretty much every store's scanner I went to, so I gave up on it.

  • MySpace Mobile – as the name implies; who still uses MySpace though? I mean, I haven't logged into MySpace in close to a year anyway, so why have an app for it?

  • Twidroid – one of dozens of Twitter clients available in the Market. I dropped it because Twitter came out with its own official client that I personally like a little better.

  • SportsTab – a sports score app. I simply just didn't use it. The phone has full internet capability, so I just use that. Plus, I really only care about hockey, and there is a dedicated NHL app I use for that.
There are probably others that I've downloaded and deleted between then and now that I don't even remember. From the list above, I probably had more questions from people wondering how welly Key Ring worked than any of the others though. Anyway, here is a list of the apps I currently have installed.
  • Lookout – I can't believe I didn't get this sooner. A really nice rep at my local Verizon store suggested this one. It's a virus scan and data back up app. I mean, DUH!, phones can get viruses too; they are, after all, mini-computers right? Keep in mind that Android is in fact a mobile flavor of the Linux family of operating systems. If you have an Android device, having a virus scan app should be a no-brainer, and Lookout is free. It also will backup your contacts, call log and pictures to a remote server. You'll notice that, while all the others are in alphabetical order, I listed this one first because it's really that important!

  • AK Notepad – thanks to my Grandfather's influence, I've always found it useful to carry a pen and notepad in my pocket at all times. This app give me a notepad on my phone without having to worry about annoyance like pages getting torn, or my pen getting lost or running out of ink right when I need to write something down.

  • Assistant Free – if you use Pageonce and you have an Android device, you'll want this app.

  • Astrid – a very simple, but good, to-do list app. The best part is that it syncs with Remember the Milk without having to pay for RTM's premium service (which is required if you want to use the official RTM app).

  • Astro – I've mentioned this one before, but I'll list it again because it's one that I've continued to use extensively. Android does not have a built in file manager. In order to view and manipulate folders and files as you would on your desktop computer, you have to attach the device to your computer via a USB cable. Astro allows you to do see all your folders and files without having to connect to your PC. It also has tools for viewing how much memory on you micro-SD card is being used and by what, and has a built in app for backing up all your other apps so, should you ever have to replace your phone you don't have to go re-download them all from the Market, which can be quite time consuming if you have a ton of apps.

  • Bible – again, I've mentioned this one before. There are tons of Bible apps in the Android Market. The one I chose appears to have all of the various English translations as well as several foreign language translations and several Reading Plan options to help guide you through your Scripture readings.

  • ChompSMS – a client to replace the stock Text Messaging app that the phone comes with.

  • Compass – an electronic compass

  • Congress – this app will use the phone's built in GPS to find your location and then list all your congressional reps. You can see what bills they've sponsored, how they've voted on different bills and look up their official contact information. The app also lists recently passed bills and bills that are currently up for debate/vote in both houses.

  • ConvertPad – I got this one for fun, but if you find that you need to do a lot of conversions, such as Standard to Metric, this is a useful app

  • Dice Bag – if you're a gaming geek, you'll love this. It's a dice roller that covers everything from d4 to d20, including percentile dice. It even keeps a log of all your rolls for you.

  • – a handy app for when you need a dictionary

  • Documents to Go – available in a free (reader only) version and a full version (that allows you to create and edit). Includes the ability to read, create and edit Word, Excell and PowerPoint documents and has a PDF reader (which is much supperior to Adobe's official Reader app in my opinion).

  • Dolphin Browser HD – a much better internet browser than the one built into the phone, in my opinion. This app utilized pinch zooming before the Android 2.1 update fixed that limitation in the stock browser. It also has tabbed browsing, which the stock browser still doesn't have.

  • Droid Light – utilizes the cameras LED flash bulb as a flashlight. I've actually had to use this a couple of times and it's quite handy to have.

  • Ebook Readers – I currently have four different ebook readers installed on my Droid – Aldiko (free, and has a pretty good library of public domain books as well as access to the O'Reilly library of tech manuals, which, alas, are not free), Kindle (the app is free, but the books aren't – gives me access to's selection of ebooks), Kobo (free app and a combination of both free and paid ebooks; I think this is Border's ebook reader, but I'm not sure), and Nook (Barnes and Noble's ebook library). So, why buy a ridiculously overpriced ebook reader when I can download a free app to my phone that gives me access to pretty much all of the major book sellers' libraries of ebooks? Personally, I'd rather read a real book, but I like the concept of ebooks enough to keep these apps around, especially if the above mentioned Android based tablet ever becomes something my budget allows me to buy. My old college friend, Sam, wrote an interesting little blog about this topic not to long ago.

  • Ebay- ok, I'll admit it; I've become a bit of an eBay junky lately and having this app allows me to keep an eye on all the stuff I'm watching or bidding on.

  • Fandango – an app for the popular movie site. I've not tried to actually buy my tickets through this yet (not sure if I can actually), but it's helpful for when I'm out and about and thinking of heading to a movie to check on show times.

  • Gdocs – view and edit anything I've uploaded to Google Documents

  • GolfLogix – ok, Golf GPS devices (such as SkyCaddy) are expensive as hell! This, and other apps like it, turn your Android device into a Golf GPS so you can get accurate yardages. Admitadly, I've not used it yet because it's been just to damn hot here in North Carolina for me to want to get out there and play. Plus, while I've downloaded the app, I've not paid to actually use the service yet (one of the very few non-free apps I've downloaded).

  • iheartradio – an app for listening to you favorite radio stations via streaming audio (assuming that they have made their broadcast available to this service).

  • Meridian – a UI for listening to your tunes. I like this one a little better than the stock music player as it also allows me to watch videos without having to switch apps. It's just a cleaner UI in my opinion. There are several such apps available, so go with what you like.

  • Newspapers – this app allows you to browse dozens of newspapers from around the world, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, etc.

  • NHL – an app for keeping up with National Hockey League news and scores.

  • OI Shopping List – allows me to create multiple lists which use check boxes next to each item as I complete them. Like AK Notepad, this is helping me become more green and waste less paper.

  • Pandora – if you've ever used the Pandora website to stream music on your computer, then you'll probably want their app as well. I use it for finding bands I've never heard of that are similar to bands that I already like.

  • Power Strip – this is my most recent acquisition. It's not a free app; I got it for 99cents and I think it was on sale at the time. I've always hated having icons all over my desktop, and even in Windows 7 I use the Quick Launch toolbar for my most used programs. Power Strip basically gives me similar functionality on my Droid by allowing me to have just one icon on my home screen which, whien tapped, pulls up a list of the apps I would normally have put on my home screen(s) and also gives me access to several widgets without having to leave those widgets running constantly and using up my battery if I don't need them at the time.

  • QuickTip Calculator – as the title implies, and quick calculator for figuring how much to tip. I don't use this very often, because I don't want to be “that guy” that has to do math to decide how much his server deserves for a tip, but it does come in handy at times if you're splitting the check amongst several people.

  • Stopwatch – what it sound like. A Stopwatch, with a Lap button.

  • Weather Channel – I actually use this app's widget quite often

  • Twitter – the official Android client app from Twitter. It is what it is. I've still yet to find a Twitter app that I really love. If only the developers at TweetDeck would get off their asses and come out with an Android app like they've been promising for months!

  • United States Constitution – in these very heated political times, I believe everyone should have a copy of the the most important document in United States history at their disposal. There are several to choose from in the Market; the one I chose also includes The Declaration of Independence, The Star-Spangled Banner, The Miranda Warning, The Pledge of Allegiance, and several other historical documents.

  • Voice Recorder – why buy an expensive digital voice recorder when you can download a free app that turns your phone into one? The one I have also has built in features to set your recording as a ringtone or send to others via either Bluetooth or Gmail.

  • Warhammer 40k/Combat Assistant – a dice roller app specifically for the game Warhammer 40,000. Includes a scatter dice roller. Available as a free version and a paid version with additional features.

  • Wikidroid – an app for looking up things on

  • Zedge – if you're into customizing your phone with different wallpaper and ringtones, then this is a must have app. All the wallpapers and ringtones via this app are free!
And that does it for now. As I mentioned, new apps come out all the time. Some of the above will undoubtedly be replaced when/if a better app is found, some will be deleted as their usefulness declines. I love having an Android device! Not just because I'm a gadget geek, but also because it's really made life easier having access to so many apps in the palm of hand and just a finger tap away.

~ JC