Friday, July 10, 2020

The Hit List: Another way to skin the cat


Author: Michael Evans

Todo and task lists represent one of the biggest categories of app for the iPhone. The Mac is less well endowed, but there's no doubting that keeping lists must be a popular activity. Most of the iPhone apps are very simple lists of things to do and have no claim to being project managers. OmniFocus and Things are probably the two most successful iPhone apps that lay claim to more advanced features. OmniFocus, in particular, is a must for those who like to have their Macs and portable devices in constant sync; but it needs learning and a degree of discipline in categorising, contexting and scheduling tasks and projects. Here, though, I'm looking at Mac programs rather than iPhone apps

Yesterday's post by Robert Kitson and a subsequent glance at his Twitter page (@RobertKitson) provided an introduction to yet another Mac project management application, The Hit List. I've downloaded a trial version and have to say I impressed. From the start, I'd say that if you fancy OF but can't face the learning curve, The Hit List (THL) might be your cup of tea.

THL has a very simple and uncluttered user interface. It relies heavily on keyboard input and in this respect reminds me of Quicksilver. You can do almost everything from the keyboard. For instance, to move tasks up, down, right and left you simply press the w,s,a and d keys. To allocate a task to a project folder you press F for file. To add a context you press @. Of course, if you don't want to complicate things, you can simply use it as a to-do list and forget about projects and contexts. 

For scheduling purposes there are three views. The Inbox, which is self-explanatory, contains all new items that haven't been allocated or scheduled. Then comes the Today view which contains two sections: Due today and Due in the next 3 days. All other dated items appear in the Upcoming list which groups items into sections: Act on tomorrow, Act on in the next 7 days, Act on in the next 30, 90 days etc.

As with most similar applications, you can type in "next Friday" or "next month" and have THL resolve that into the actual date.

King Cnut: £1 a day to see his news site


Enjoying a coffee at a motoway service centre the other day, I found myself staring at a nearby WH Smith news-stand. I got to reflecting on how much I've saved since I started getting my news free from the Internet. If I take into account all the Mac and other technical monthlies I used to load into the cart, I reckon I am a good £1,000 a year better off. 

Enter Rupert Murdoch. As from June he wants to charge me £1 a day to access The Times and The Sunday Times web sites: a sum not unadjacent to the cost of buying the newspaper.

I have a free message for Times International: Goodbye! Even if all the major newspapers start charging for web access there will still be hundreds if not thousands of free sites out there. 

This all reminds me of the ancient King Cnut who sat on his throne on an English beach and commanded the tide not to advance and wet his feet. When his feet did get wet he is reported to have leapt backwards and said "Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings". He was a wise man.

Blog posted here.

27,000 ebooks in Apps Store: are they just clutter?

Jason Kincaid of TechCrunch points out this week that no fewer than 27,000 apps in the iTunes AppsStore are books or book readers. Many of them are classics, in multiple editions, and most of them offer a reading experience far inferior to the leading multi-book apps such as Kindle for iPhone and Stanza. I’ve never really understood why these one-book apps should be so popular, but clearly people buy them or they wouldn't be there. The market is evolving and attention is moving to well-designed apps that provide access to an on-line bookstore. The Kindle store is excellent, as I have mentioned repeatedly, and iBookstore from Apple is likely to be just as good, if not better. Where that leaves all these thousands of uncoordinated single-book apps I am not sure. Jason suggests a cull might be in the offing once Apple move into books in a big way. He rightly points out that iPad owners will be confused. They will have a choice between the iBookstore and the Apps Store and it’s quite likely that they will search the App Store and download a book thinking that it can be read on the iPad's iBooks application. It will be preferable, I think, if the App Store can be restricted to book reader applications (such as iBooks, Kindle or Stanza) which can access book stores and provide a big choice of material. I really don't see the need for one-book applications that clutter the home screens and offer no expansion.

ebook Typos: Random House withdraw books for checking


Following my complaints about typos and howlers in the Alexander Kent series of naval history novels, publishers Random House have now withdrawn the titles from sale while they review the text and fix the errors. This, say say, should take a few days.

In a full response, Random House say that mine is the first complaint they have received about the Kent series, but they welcome the feedback: “It is of the utmost importance for us to get this feedback so we can ensure that our customers have the best possible ebook experience. We really want to avoid a situation where some customers have a bad experience that puts them off ebooks in general.”

“As you are aware,’ they continue, “the entire publishing industry is rapidly expanding the list of titles available as ebooks and many thousands of titles have been made available and, although we do have QA procedures in place it is inevitable some errors may creep in, especially with older titles than need to be scanned.”

I welcome the response and I hope that my highlighting of the problem will cause all publishers to ensure that their scanned offerings are thoroughly proofread (by a human being, if possible) before they are released to the buying public. The good thing is that people who have bought error-riddled books are in a good position to ask for a new download of the corrected versions when they appear. With the Kindle Store, where Amazon retain control of the material, I suspect such upgrades will happen automatically. With other reader systems, such as the Sony Reader, it will be necessary for the user to initiate the download of the corrected version.

Gazelle: A new idea in selling your old stuff


Listening to Leo Laporte's MacBreak Weekly podcast today, I was introduced to Gazelle. It solves a problem for all technophiles: what to do with the all the old stuff--such as that iPhone 3G when you've upgraded to a shiny new 3GS. Gazelle is a sort of shopping site in reverse. You fill your box with all your unwanted tech items and they give you a purchase price. Obviously you have to choose the right specification and answer some questions on condition, but it's a much simpler way of selling than the hassle of eBay. I've been an eBay fan for some years and have turned most of my old gadgets, including quite a few MacBooks, into welcome cash. But there is no doubt that preparing the ad, taking photos and watching auctions takes time and dedication.

With Gazelle you get an instant valuation and you simply send off your box of goodies and receive payment. The system relies on your honesty in describing condition, of course, but the same applies to any sale.

I asked Gazelle when they will be opening in the UK and, not surprisingly, they are currently concentrating on consolidating and expanding the US operation. They point out that anyone in the UK can sell their items through the US website but the seller would have to bear the international shipping charges. This may suit some sellers, if only to cut down the hassle, but there are some potential pitfalls. Perhaps the main one is price. Secondhand prices in the UK are generally higher simply because new prices are higher. And, of course, list priced here include VAT at 17.5%. There are also compatibility problems between the two countries. Presumably Gazelle resell in their domestic market and, for instance, a MacBook Pro with a UK keyboard would not be popular there.

The good thing is that we can look forward to something happening in the UK--either an extension of Gazelle or a local company with a similar offering. 

Changing language: Program, programme, application, app


I have always been fascinated by language and, in particular, by the evolution of the English language. I am old enough to remember when the merest mention of geeky "hardware" or "software" would prompt gales of laughter from the technically challenged. Yet these two words are now respectable and fully understood concepts. No longer is there the slightest titter when they are used.

Ever since computers were first told what to do, we have had the (American) word Program. I've always had the view that Program is a computer programme, while the English spelling is reserved for radio and television output. Now, though, thanks again to Apple, it looks like program as a term for a computer application is on the wane--if it has not already fully waned. 

Now it is "app" or "application", with app becoming more acceptable even in the broadsheet press. No self-respecting mobile platform is now complete without its own app store. Now, also, we talk routinely about PC or Mac apps instead of programs. 

I also find it fascinating the way English (or should I say American?) computer terms are dragged into foreign languages and, probably, carry a frisson of sophistication that is missing in the local equivalent. Germans now talk about downloading as just one instance; they even use the charming past tense version downgeloadet

How RedLaser can save you cash



Today I set out to buy a Logitech Harmony One remote control, enthused by a recent MacWorld podcast. I trekked down London's techie heaven, Tottenham Court Road, and was surprised not to find one. Eventually I tracked down unit in John Lewis's ("never knowingly undersold") department store on Oxford Street. It was priced at £149.95, about £30 under the recommended list price. I was tempted. 

But I whipped out my iPhone and RedLasered the barcode (that is, I pointed the camera at the barcode and pressed the button in RedLaser). Within seconds I had a list of prices from alternative suppliers and found the same item at Amazon for £118. 

So, again, RedLaser has saved me a lot of cash. Not only this, the iPhone's versatility and superb web browsing enabled me to order the Logitech from Amazon while standing in John Lewis's tech department. I couldn't have done that on my old and trusted Palm Treo. 

RedLaser is a superb application and can save you loads of cash over the year. I've also found it useful as a means of remembering things I've browsed in shops: all that's needed is a simply scan of the bar code on the box. 

As an aside, though, it was remarkable at home many web sites were selling the Logitech at well above recommended retail price.

iTunes Uni: new campus for the masses


This one slipped under the radar as far as I'm concerned. In addition to all the usual iTunes goodies, including podcasts, we now have the iTunes University. As an avowed podcast fan, I was fascinated to find that university lectures and, in some cases, complete courses, have their own iTunes section and are available for downloading now. I'm halfway through a series on Old English by Dr. Stuart Lee of Oxford University and I have also downloaded two audio tours of the British Library which I will try out on site at the Library in the near future. The concept is excellent and the list of content grows by the day. Definitely worth a browse.

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Red Laser: iPhone app makes shopping fun, saves cash

Red laserEvery so often along comes an iPhone app that is really superbly useful and you wonder how you managed without it. Such an app is Red Laser. The concept is simple but brilliant. 

Out shopping, you often see products you'd like to buy but decide to go home and research prices before getting out the credit card. Well, Red Laser does this for you in seconds, even before you've replaced the box on the shelf. All you do is open the app and point the iPhone camera at the barcode. you don't even need to press the shutter because Red Laser senses when it has done a successful scan. 

Immediately, Red Laser searches Amazon and Google and produces a list of competitive prices. Here in the UK it sticks to British suppliers, as you'd wish. I tried it today at the Apple Store. A Kensington mini-USB hub was £9.95. Red Laser found it on the web for £8.81. So, taking into account the shipping costs, it made sense to buy from Apple. 

This is altogether brilliant and certainly makes shopping more fun and more productive. Apart from the chance to compare prices, it is a quick way of noting possible purchases and then researching comparative data on the internet later. Red Laser currently costs £1.19: a guinea well spent.