Minireview: Getting things done with TaskPaper 1.0

Long has Apple been driven by development that places simplicity over functionality, the iPod being an excellent example. The iPod doesn't do everything–sometimes not even functions one might associate strongly with a music player, like a built-in FM radio–but it does music playing right. At Hog Bay Software, Jesse Grosjean takes that simplicity concept to a new level. His previous work includes Mori (now owned by Apokalypse Software), a note-taking application, and WriteRoom, a full-screen text editor. His latest application, TaskPaper, a GTD (Get Things Done) task list, similarly concentrates on doing one thing well. Before you say "OmniFocus," Jesse Grosjean did, saying that if "you are looking for a larger more structured application then check out OmniFocus." So why use TaskPaper? HangZhou Night Net

TaskPaper UI

TaskPaper is fast–fast, as in enabling the thought process for creating lists. It's designed with using the keyboard in mind. In the text editor interface, you hit 'Return' and go:

Create a new project (list) by ending a line with ':'Create a task (to-do item) by starting a line '- 'Assign a tag (category) by typing '@' and the tag in the task's line Command-D marks a task done

That could pretty much be the user manual. Using TaskPaper, I started doing my grocery list. While such a project is hardly complex, I was surprised at how pleasant it was using TaskPaper. First, I wrote out some lists, all of which appear in the 'Home' list, then I clicked on a list which appeared in its own tab. From there it was simply a matter of adding items and tagging them with the stores where I buy the items.

TaskPaper Search UI

If I want a list of all items I purchase at Whole Foods Market, I just click on the tag. Nice. TaskPaper is a database that looks like a text file because it is a text file, which means maximum compatibility. Completed items can be archived; they are moved to a list by that name when archiving is invoked. If TaskPaper sounds neat, it is, but as someone who uses to-do lists I found some basic functionality missing:

SortingCollapsible ListsShow/Hide Done Tasks Export Options

You pretty much print or not print lists, or use TaskPaper on your Mac. Hopefully that will change someday.

Jade: TaskPaper would be awesome on the iPhone, like it's almost designed for the iPhone already. TaskPaper 1.0 is only 2.4MB, so have you given any thought to a port once the iPhone SDK becomes available?

Jesse Grosjean: I have certainly thought about it, but not very deeply. I don't have an iPhone (or cell of any sort) and so the platform didn't interest me much until the SDK announcement. Now it's a lot more interesting, but I'm going to need to wait and see the SDK, and maybe get a iPod touch to play with before I make a real decision.

My feelings are that TaskPaper does pretty well at everything it does, which, by design, is not a lot. It is the pencil and paper of task list software, with all that metaphorically implies, both good and bad. If that's what you are looking for, you should download the trial version. It's $18.95 to buy—let's not hear any crap about price from people who pay the Apple Tax—and I intend to buy it in the hope that come next year I will be checking off groceries on my iPhone using TaskPaper.

The future is bright: Mozilla revenues up 26 percent, Google deal is gold

Mozilla published financial statements earlier this week showing that the organizationmade $66.8 million in revenue for 2006, a 26 percent increase from 2005. That's some strong growth, and it shows that Mozilla has the potential for long-term fiscal sustainability. HangZhou Night Net

Most of that money (about 85 percent) comes from the company's search partnership with Google, but some of it also comes from the Mozilla store and other sources. Mozilla's expensestotaled $19.7 million. According to Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker, 70 percent of those costs are associated with human labor, and much of the rest is used to fund the bandwidth and technical infrastructure that Mozilla uses to distribute Firefox—2.1 terabytes of data transfer, 600,000 Firefox downloads, and 25 million update requests per day. Baker expects the expenses to be much higher for 2007, because the organization is significantly increasing employment.

Mozilla also uses its resources to provide grants to other organizations. Approximately $300,000 was contributed to various organizations by Mozilla in 2006, and much more is beingdoled outin 2007—including grants to the Participatory Culture Foundation, which makes the Miro video player.

"Our financial status allows us to build on sustainability to do ever more. More as an open source project, and more to move the Internet overall increasingly towards openness and participation," said Baker in a blog entry. "[W]e're able to hire more people, build more products, help other projects, and bring more possibilities for participation in the Internet to millions of people. The Mozilla project is growing in almost every way—size, scale, types of activities, new communities, and in reach."

Mozilla's lucrative deal with Google was initially scheduled to expire in November 2006, but it was renewed and extended to 2008. Itappears likely that Mozilla willdepend on Google for a considerable portion of its revenue going forward.

Although revenue of $66.8 million makes Mozilla seem like a for-profit endeavor, the organization still remains committed to serving the public good by contributing to projects that make the Internet more accessible and open. Mozilla also has plans for many new initiatives—like the new Mozilla mobile project—that will likely consume some of the excess resources.

Lost in translation: hands-on with Google’s new stats-based translator

Automated translation systems, such as Alta Vista's Babelfish, have relied on a set of human-defined rules that attempt to encapsulate the underlying grammar and vocabulary used to construct a language. Although Google has been using that approach to power much of its translation service, it's not really in keeping with the company's philosophy of using some clever code and a massive data set. So it should be no surprise that the company has started developing its own statistical machine translation service. According to some Google-watchers, Google's homegrown translation process is now being used for all languages available through the service. HangZhou Night Net

We took the new service for a spin. Five years of Spanish in high school and college, as well as countless years of exposure to the language through ads on the subway and watching the World Cup on Univision, have left me borderline-literate in the language. I chose a web page that was inspired by my contributions to Urs Technica: a description of the native bear population of the Iberian peninsula. The page contains a mix of some basic descriptive language, along with more detailed discussions of ursine biology. A second translation using Babelfish was performed at the same time.

Overall, it was difficult to discern a difference in quality between the two. Each service had some difficulty with Spanish's sentence structure, which places adjectives after the nouns they modify. For example, instead of "Discover Bear Country," Google suggested that a link was inviting people to "Discover the Country Bears." Maybe Disney paid for that one.

Both also ran into a number of words they didn't know what to do with; for example, Spanish has a specific word for "bear den"—osera—that neither service recognized and so left untranslated. Neither correctly figured out the proper context for the use of "celo". This is a term that didn't come up during my years of Spanish, but it apparently can be used to describe the annual period of female fertility. Both services went literal when faced with "celo", with Babelfish choosing "fervor" and Google picking "zeal" as its translation. This caused Google to suggest that female bears "can be mounted by several different males over the same zeal."

There were also what might be termed Spanish 101 level errors. The verb "molesta" is generally used to mean "bother" or "harass." Yet Google made a novice-level mistake and did a literal translation to "molest." Neither service demonstrated a human's ability to recognize when they were producing gibberish. Google, for example, described a group of bears gathering around a rich food source as "They can also occur by coincidence, rallies temporary copies in a few places with abundant food."

There was one case where Google's statistical method seemed to lead it astray. Both services went Spanish 101 on the term "crudo," which was used to describe the harshest or roughest part of winter, when bears hibernate. Google apparently applied undue statistical weight to the word "crude." In one case, this trashed the entire sentence that contained "crudo"—a photo of a cold winter scene was captioned: "The period of winter as crude bears spend winter." In a second instance, the more typical context of "crudo" was applied, with hilarious results: "The life of a bear begins as crude oil during winter."

To test a language that is more distant from English, I located a press release in both Japanese and English: the one announcing the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics, which went to researchers running parallel experiments in the US and Japan. The release in Japanese was available only as a PDF, so I copied and pasted the text into the translation box. The results, which seem to have preserved the line breaks from the PDF, were practically poetic:

I do so without interaction, thus detected is extremely
Difficult for. For example, the trillions of pieces of New
Torino is our second body to penetrate, but I
We are absolutely not aware. Raymond Davis Jr.
Coal giant tank is placed 600 tons of liquid meets applicable
The construction of a completely new detection equipment. He was 30 years…

That bears a slight resemblance to Japanese Zen poetry, which is supposed to startle its readers out of their normal perception of reality, allowing them to reach a Buddhist enlightenment.

This may sound like I'm being excessively harsh regarding Google's new translation method, so I'll reemphasize that it appears to produce translations that are roughly equal in quality to those provided by other services. Where it really shines, however, is its interface. On a translated web page, you can hover the mouse over any translated sentence, and the untranslated version will appear. This is a tremendous aid for those that have a partial command of the language, as the immediate comparison between the texts can help eliminate any confusion caused by mistranslation.

This same feature may ultimately help Google move beyond the quality of other services. Each of these popups comes with a link that offers you the opportunity to suggest a better translation. If people are willing to spend the time suggesting fixes for mistranslations (and vandalism doesn't become a problem), Google may ultimately have a dataset that allows their service to provide an exceptional degree of accuracy.

Danish record labels float flat ISP fee idea for unlimited P2P music

Ah, ha! Come, some music! come, the recorders!
For if the king like not the comedy,
Why then, belike, he likes it not, perdy.
Come, some music! HangZhou Night Net

Hamlet the Dane famously called for music more than400 years ago, but he had no idea that it would one day come streaming down the tubes and onto computers in his home countryfor a flat monthly fee. The Danish music business is now proposing a plan to offer unlimited music downloads for around 100 kroner a month (about $19), and although questions remain, it could represent a real step forward.

Hamlet, with all his dithering and delayed revenge,is actually a good model for the music business. Despite knowing for years that bold action was needed to provide users a legal alternative to P2P downloads, the worldwide music industry has been slow to react. Whenit finally did so, the results involved things like DRM, low bitrates, and high prices for merchandise with little distribution cost: all measures guaranteed to keep legal music from rivaling illicit downloads in popularity. And of course, there were the lawsuits. (Unlike Hamlet, though, the music labels have yet to stab an overweight councilor hiding behind the arras.)

But if life imitates art,we're now moving into Act IV of the play, the part where Hamlet returns to Elsinore with some new ideas about how to deal with his problem. Andy Oram over at O'Reilly Radar noted the recent moves in Denmark to create a system where every ISP user might pay a monthly fee in order to access unlimited P2P music legally.

The proposal has drawn positive feedback from an unlikely source—the local "Piratgruppen."

"It's good that they admit that they cannot solve the problem of falling CD sales by suing their own fans," said Sebastian Gjerding from the Piratgruppen. "It looks like they have understood that they should offer something that is competitive compared to other, free music sources. It is an entirely new admission that hasn't spread internationally yet. IFPI Denmark is on the forefront in this matter. But it is annoying that no action has been taken so far to save many teenagers million-krone fines."

Certainly the idea is interesting, and the industry deserves real credit when it makes bold decisions to embrace such new ideas. The proposal isn't without problems, though. Among them: the fee would apparently be mandatory for all ISP users. Those who don't listen to much music or who don't want to pay $19 a month to do so won't be thrilled. Will it only apply to select ISPs (thus allowing those who don't want the deal to choose another provider), or will the IFPI try to make it mandatory at the national level?

Another issue: will the fee cover worldwide music? If it only covers Danish bands, it may also be of limited utility. But making payments to artists all over the world could be a logistical nightmare.

Finally, would the deal cover indie music or only that from major labels? If it only covers major labels, consumer confusion about what is legal to download and what is not will be widespread, and could certainly irritate bands that don't want their music distributed this way.

Similar ideas about compulsory blanket music licenses have been floating around for a while, but appear to be in no imminent danger of being floated in the US.

So questions remain, but the idea is intriguing. Let's hope that the end of this story looks less like the bloody end of Hamlet, however, and more like the conclusion of As You Like It, complete with music and dancing.

As Leopard Day nears, third-party devs request patience

With Leopard arriving in less than three days, intrepid Infinite Loop readers have probably embarked on your journeys of preparation by cleaning out hard drives, meditating, and making up non-geeky excuses for why you can't hit that party Friday night (it's ok: be one with The Geek inside you). Still, we thought it would be prudent to warn that, even if you're prepared for Leopard, your favorite third-party applications might not be. HangZhou Night Net

Unfortunately, third-party developers are unable to get their applications 100 percent ready for the public version of Leopard. Why? Because they can't get their final copy any earlier than we do. Sure, Apple was seeding plenty of near-release versions to developers just before shipping, but the company still makes changes to the final build that it doesn't share before going to the printers. Sometimes Apple's last-minute changes result in third-party apps experiencing mere quirks that aren't too hard on our workflow, but for some apps these changes could be major game-stoppers that screw up files or prevent an app from even opening.

The moral of the story is that, before upgrading to Leopard, a prudent move would be to check in on announcements from the developers of apps you simply can't live without in the brave new Leopard world. Case in point: Cabel Sasser of Panic, maker of such fine Mac OS X apps as Transmit, Coda, Unison and CandyBar, has provided us with a Leopard status update. For now it sounds like most of Panic's apps work pretty well in Leopard, though Transmit apparently has a quirk or two, but CandyBar 2 won't even open. For those who have just gotta have their custom system icons though, CandyBar 3 is on schedule for November and will include a bonus for users who are less than impressed with Leopard's new 3D Dock: the ability to replace Leopard's Dock. It is worth noting, however, that CandyBar 2 will effectively be discontinued once Leopard arrives, as CandyBar 3 echoes a growing trend among Mac OS X developers of taking apps Leopard-only. Anyone interested in CandyBar but sticking with Tiger for a while should download the latest version before it disappears from Panic's site.

Instead of cluttering up your RSS feeds with every Leopard-ready announcement, we'll do our best to provide round-ups of apps that make the leap in order to help you pin down exactly when it's safe for your third-party apps to play with Apple's new kitty.