Thursday, April 23, 2009


I have been doing a variety of  fun things which have taken large parts of my day. A lot of it I figured I might as well do these things now when I have more time. That has taken me away from the computer and my to do list.

The one stop I truly wanted to do was at the closest Art-O-Mat. These are refurbished/repurposed cigarette machines. Not sure when I first heard about these, but I have to say it is just a cool idea. Here in Ohio I think these machines are not allowed to dispense cigarettes anymore. It reminds me of one of those gum ball machines that would dispense little toys as a kid - you get a semi-random piece of original art. I say semi-random because at least the machine I visited you had some idea of the type of art, but not the specifics.

The closest machine was about 2 hours away. It was a yuck day outside, and I combined it with some geocaching. It was a good day for this however.

Of course after going down there I spent some time kicking around their website and now they will send out the semi-random packages of art to you. Not quite the same experience, but a good idea.

Now, to figure out a good place to get one here in town...

Monday, April 13, 2009

iPod Touch Life Balance Review

I have been a long time Life Balance user. This program works the way I think and has a lot of great features. They also have a great forum with lots of material for first time users.

In a nutshell, Life Balance is a to do list manager that uses an outline to keep your list in and gives each task an assigned task. Each task is given an importance relative to its parent - a much different idea than most to do list managers. Places can be given hours of operation, so you can eliminate tasks that are not possible based on the time of day. Tasks can also be assigned a due date or a routine with a variable lead time for each task. Locations can also contain locations - sounds weird but has some great applications. For example, you could have a 'Home' location that includes your Home Office, Errands and Yard Work locations. Looking at 'Home' is an overview of all those tasks. Then you can decide to hit the yard, office or road and switch to the smaller list of items.

The other part of the program, one which I do not use, is to weight the tasks based on how balanced your life is. I prefer to use a 'pure' to do list based upon the priorities I setup for each project/task. However if you want to get a better work/home balance you can use this to push your weaker areas up in priority.

Overall I have to say the iPod version is very close to the Palm version. There is a lot of functionality there, some of which had to be replicated because other built in apps were used.

There are a lot of screens to flip through to enter a task, however this seems to be the norm for iPod apps. Not sure I can blame them. I do not like the way you pick a date for a new task. Instead of 3 or 4 different spinners for different parts of the date (month, day, year) you get 1 spinner with the complete date. Not bad if you are setting a date a few days in advance, but a pain if you are setting something a month or more in advance.

I miss the color coding/icons for past due or future events. This was great and let me know what needed my attention and what I could put off. Future events sometimes get a bump in priority over one-time items on the to do list.

There is no purge on the iPod. It is available on the Windows desktop, but that is somewhat annoying when you are used to having it right there on the unit.

The other problem I have is syncing the app with the desktop. I can send/receive the file with no problem. Syncing always times out. I have not changed anything on the desktop so it should just be pulling in the changes from the desktop. Maybe the latest upgrade will fix that.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The iPod Touch - A Mini Review

Ok, I have to admit I am not a big fan of the iPod. Looking at them from their first release through the Touch mostly they looked small, fragile and a pain to use.

However Palm previously announced they were going to retire their current operating system. I love the program Life Balance on my Palm. It is available on the Palm OS, which is going away eventually, and the iPhone/iPod Touch. Sigh. Since I have found some items dating back to 2001, giving up Life Balance would not be easy. I could follow some of my friends' advice and stock pile Palm devices so that I can keep using Life Balance indefinitely. However I figure time marches on and many of the programs I do use for the Palm have fallen in complete abandon-ware or purely bug fixes. It is time for something new, and the iPod Touch is just the ticket.

I have a 32 gig iPod using version 2.2.1. My thought was to use the Touch to listen to podcasts as well, maybe as a complete replacement for my existing iRiver Nomad that has also fallen into the abandoned hardware pile. More on my reasons why I am skipping that later.

Physical - I thought the physical size of the Touch was going to be a problem. Now my hands & fingers are not huge, but having seen the controls on past units, and the size of Shuffles, I was worried.  I have used some of those little phones in the past and not felt comfortable with them.

Actually I like the feel of the Touch in my hand. I would not mind it being a hair wider, but it fits easily into my shirt pocket and my thumb hits just right to adjust the volume. I would move the on/off button more toward the edge. Could be I am holding it all wrong, but usually one of my fingers just about hits the edge of the button. I have yet to accidentally turn it off, but it is something I am aware of.

The earphones do leave a lot to be desired. They look nice, sound good enough, but for me they do not stay in the ears that well. When I bought the Touch the sales guy suggested I get a better pair of earphones. I have a good pair so passed, but now see why he made that suggestion.

Battery Life - Since I use my Touch primarily as a PDA, the batter life seems good. I usually get 2 days use out of a full charge. Now I realize my usage is not typical - I play back audio maybe a half hour a day and video another half hour. I do lots of on/off with getting into Life Balance or a game or two of Euchre. I do leave WiFi on, and use it to check the weather & stocks (still have pending options to sell...).

Audio Playback - This is what disappointed me the most. My current MP3 jukebox allows me to play any audio file back at 1.5 speed. This is great for podcasts that are all talking - everything is still easily understood but it takes less time to listen to. A win-win in my book. The Touch only allows audio books to be sped up. At least from what I have seen in the menus and from a quick online search. iTunes is the same way. Until my MP3 player completely dies, looks like the Touch is going to be left to hold some transitory audio files and new songs to listen to.

Video Playback - I had a few videos from the Dawn & Drew show, 5 to 6 minutes each, a longer video from Scott Sigler, and a couple of episodes from TV shows I had previously downloaded. All played back fine. Not sure I would want to watch a whole movie this way, but the occasional TV show would be great. Now if I could get my TiVo to start downloading shows to my computer again, maybe I could get caught up on all the recorded stuff :).

Apps - The main reason I got the Touch. After getting Life Balance set up and making sure it was going to work (a review in a separate post), it was time to dig through the App Store to start replacing apps.

What comes with the phone is not great, but will get you up and running. One thing I had gotten used to on the Palm was having apps interact. For example, Life Balance could pull/push items  to the ToDo app, the calendar app and others. This made for some interesting work flows with apps. This kind of interaction does not seem to exist in the apps. Pushing something out to a calendar, or a text file, does not seem to come easily. This is where I am going to miss DayNotez - it was great to check something off, have it pushed over to DayNotez and if ever questioned when something was done I can look back and find the reference in DayNotez easily. I should grab the desktop version and hope for an iPhone version.

Aside from Life Balance, the next 2 biggest apps I need to get was something to record receipts in to upload to Quicken desktop and a list maker.

There are lots of apps out there, and the biggest problem is finding something that is actually useful. Useful being defined as 'works close enough to how I work.' Sure there are lots of list programs out there. I only found one that works for me. You see most of my lists are lists I use over and over, so I need a way to clear out the selected items the next time I use the list. Most of the list programs to not handle that.

Although all the apps I have seen so far look good, I would like to see more apps that capture data for off-line viewing. The PocketFlicks app ties into your NetFlix account and pulls down your queue. It does some queue management features, but to me the biggest sell for the app is it stores the queue info so I do not have to have WiFi to view my queue. So if I am renting or buying a video, I can check my queue for things I know I want. I would love to find a similar app for my Amazon wish list. I have been using that as a parking lot for various things that I would like to get but never have access to it while I am the store.

So far my only complaint on missing apps is something that will work with Quicken on the desktop. Part of the problem is Quicken - you cannot send transactions to some account types anymore. Sure there are hacks, but why jump through hoops. All I really want at this point is an app that will let me enter & classify receipts and then add them to Quicken, much like what PocketQuicken did on the Palm. Actually Pocket Quicken did much more, but I just described my primary use. Balances, reconciliation, etc. are nice but far from necessary.

Aside from spending much more time in Quicken, the biggest adjustment has been in using various Google Apps to get things onto the Touch. I have switched over to Google Calendar, Notes (which is no longer being developed, but I found an app for) and Gmail's contacts. It is taking some getting used to, but now I am getting 1 calendar, 1 list of contacts, etc. instead of having one set on my Palm, one set on my desktop and 1 set in the cloud. Once I get it all sorted out I should be more efficient.

One thing I have noticed about apps though - some sync with the desktop through iTunes and some do not. Reading from the Life Balance advice book, they claim they are not allowed to sync through iTunes and go through Bonjour. MPG uses some desktop sync software it created. I have yet to see what SplashShopper does. Yet gNotes, which works with Google Notebook, syncs through iTunes. A little consistency here would be nice.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Time Warner Expands Internet Usage Pricing - Could Stifle Web Video Use


Update: AT&T is testing 20-150GB DSL plans, and I'm wondering if Netflix should show you how many gigabytes you've streamed in the past 30 days.

Businessweek reports that TIme Warner will be expanding the Internet usage pricing model to additional markets. 

Time Warner Expands Internet Usage Pricing - Could Stifle Web Video Use
Fri, 03 Apr 2009 06:14:13 GMT

As I have said in the past, tiered pricing like a cell phone bill is the wrong approach. This just goes to prove it.

This is designed to do one thing - get you to spend more money with either Time Warner or AT&T. Ignoring video downloads for a moment, I am willing to bet your VOIP phone service through Time Warner will not count against your Internet usage, however using Vonage or other such VOIP service will. Same with AT&T land lines. In a way I hope that is true and they get slammed by the SEC.

One big problem is there is no competition in most places for high speed Internet. Last I checked I can only have Time Warner. Right now I do have Earthlink, however it runs on 'Time Warner's lines and once the contract with Earthlink is up I will get stuck with Time Warner's crappy data plans. Not that other choice is any better: AT&T is currently the only other option in town, but I am literally 1 block out of DSL range.

The tiered plan benefits no one. Most people, regardless of what they say, will end up paying more overall with no real benefit. If they REALLY wanted to help the average customer, they would go with a metered plan like electric or water. Grandma who only gets a few emails and photos of the grandkids would pay considerably less per month for the faster access, and those "bandwidth hogs" they talk about would pay appropriately for their usage.