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.

Gmail delivers a knockout punch: IMAP changes the “freemail” game

Not everyone will appreciate it, but Google just upped the ante in the webmail game by rolling out unprecedented free IMAP access for Gmail. Beginning last night, Google began activating IMAP access to all Gmail accounts, and as of this morning plenty (but not all) users are reporting that IMAP access to Gmail is now possible. IMAP isn't a new technology, and it's certainly not loved universally. It does make Gmail that much more accessible on a variety of devices and from multiple locations, however, and it puts Microsoft and Yahoo in the position of needing to play catch-up. HangZhou Night Net

Gmail has allowed access via the web interface or POP access for quite some time now. POP allows e-mail clients to download messages from the server, but doesn't reflect any changes on the server once the messages are manipulated on the client side. So if you download five messages, read four of them, and move three of them to other folders on your desktop e-mail client, those messages will remain unread and unmoved on the Gmail server. When you check the server again from a different device, you have to go through the whole process all over again with the same messages.

Such is not the case with IMAP—any changes you make on the client side are synced back with the server (when a connection is available), so that read items remain read and moved items remain moved on all devices checking that account. In other words, IMAP treats remote folders as if they were local, which is great if you use more than one interface for accessing and organizing your email (say, webmail from work, your iPhone on the road, and a mail client like Thunderbird at home).

Google has a help page up that explains the differences between POP and IMAP, along with instructions on how to set up the latter on your account. IMAP isn't pushmail, and it isn't known for being lightening fast. IMAP is the best widely-supported protocol for multiple access point usage, however.

IMAP not for the weak (servers)

IMAP has been slow to come to free e-mail services for a variety of reasons. In addition to the fact that most users of free email services have been happy with webmail clients and therefore don't care about IMAP, it generally requires more resources per active user on the server side. Because IMAP typically maintains connections between client and server, it requires more bandwidth and processing power to maintain per user. By enabling IMAP, Google is flexing its muscles.

IMAP also encourages users to store messages on the server over the long term—something that POP users do as well, but perhaps not as often or in such high volume, and certainly not in remote folders. IMAP access is thus enabling another way to get at the massive storage capacity offered by Gmail.

Gmail Product Manager Keith Coleman has another theory on why webmail services haven't made IMAP widely available, noting that most (including Google) are at least somewhat dependent upon advertising revenue from their web-based clients. "We thought that was a trend worth breaking," he told Ars. "Initial reaction has been great so far."

While this tidbit of news may not mean anything to casual Gmail users, it's a major feature addition for an otherwise free, publicly-available e-mail service. Not only does it come as a welcome addition to those who make heavy use of Gmail, it will also make a difference to businesses and institutions that use Gmail as part of Google Apps for your Domain. Lots of business users check their e-mail on various handheld devices in addition to a computer or two, so the addition of IMAP will make Google Apps for your Domain a much more attractive service for companies looking for comprehensive, yet easy, e-mail solutions.

While Yahoo and Hotmail have more or less caught up with Google when it comes to offering mass amounts of storage capacity, the addition of IMAP to Gmail will make a big difference in free e-mail services in the future—it likely won't be long before we see IMAP capabilities added to Yahoo and Hotmail, and perhaps even a smattering of smaller e-mail services vying for attention.

As mentioned at the outset, IMAP isn't universally loved. It can be slow, especially over wireless mobile data networks that barely escape dial-up speeds. Yet more access options can't hurt, and judging from reader reports we've received, many of you with mobile devices that support IMAP are already itching for Google to activate your account. If you try it out, let us know your experience in the discussion. We're currently finding the iPhone support to be excellent (over WiFi).

Let open access reign: Verizon relents on legal challenge to FCC

In a surprise move, Verizon has dropped its lawsuit challenging the open access requirement for next January's 700MHz spectrum auction. Earlier this week, the telecom filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss the case filed last month with the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. The motion for dismissal cites the court's decision to deny Verizon's request for an expedited review as the reason for dropping the case, as an unexpedited review is unlikely to be completed prior to the start of the auction. HangZhou Night Net

The rules laid down by the Federal Communications Commission require the high bidder for the "C" band—a highly-desirable 22MHz chunk of spectrum—to allow any lawful device and any lawful application to use the spectrum. As a result, Verizon's current cellular model, which imposes restrictions on the devices and types of content that can be used on the network, won't fly.

When it sued the FCC to have the open access rules overturned, Verizon called the rules "arbitrary" and "capricious," saying that the mandate was "unsupported by substantial evidence and otherwise contrary to law." Verizon's challenge drew criticism not only from advocates of open access, but from some other companies that are expected to bid on the spectrum. Google was especially critical of Verizon, saying that the company didn't believe "consumers deserved more choice" than they currently have.

Other companies have voiced objections to the FCC's auction rules as well. AT&T has asked for clarification on the requirements for Block "D," a chunk of spectrum that would be used for both commercial wireless broadband and public safety access. Frontline, which wanted to run a public/private wireless network using the spectrum, has argued that the FCC's $1.6 billion reserve price for Block D is too high and that the auction rules would make it too easy for a big incumbent like AT&T or Verizon to snap up enough spectrum to result in "unacceptable anticompetitive effects."

Frontline has also attempted to have Verizon barred from participating in the auction for violating the FCC's lobbying rules, citing a September 17 meeting between Verizon, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and some other FCC staffers. Under the FCC's rules, companies are supposed to submit ex parte filings disclosing the nature of these meetings; Frontline called Verizon's single-sentence filing an "arrogant violation" of the rules.

Needless to say, the FCC hasn't barred anyone from participating in the auction, and, earlier this month, the FCC released the final set of rules for the spectrum sell-off. Aside from bumping the auction back eight days to January 24, 2008, there were no changes of note. All that's left is to let the bidding begin and see which of the would-be bidders (including AT&T, Google, Verizon, and Frontline) step up to the auction block.

XBLA Wednesday: Exit the soul of Battlestar Galactica

The streak of double-header Xbox Live Arcade Wednesdays continues this week with the release of two new titles, Exit and Battlestar Galactica. Both are now available and can had at 800 Microsoft Points ($10) each. HangZhou Night Net

Exit is one of the lesser-known, though quite entertaining, PSP titles, and the Xbox Live Arcade port lives up to the off-beat puzzle action of the original. As Mr. ESC, you'll need to move around burning buildings and traps and save the helpless citizens by leading them out of their terrible circumstances while overcoming various puzzles, as inAbe's Odyssey. While the original PSP title was released with only 100 levels, the XBLA touts 220 levels, online leaderboards, and future downloadable content. That's quite an upgrade for $10.

Unfortunately, while the new content adds value and the HD graphics look great, there are still some nagging issues that haunted the PSP version. Originally criticized for some spotty context-sensitive jumping controls, the XBLA version of Exit still suffers from some weird control nuances. These don't wreck the experience, butthey area blemish on an otherwise strong title.

Given how well Wing Commander Arena went over, I can't imagine this week's other release, Battlestar Galactica, will do very well. Though the TV series is popular for its drama and political intrigue (moreso than its combat), the game forgoes story for the sake of top-down space shooting action. Those hoping for some well-integrated use of the Battlestar lore are in for a disappointment. While there may be some familiar sights in the form of backdrops and vehicles, the game does little to maintain the frantic, humans-against-the-universe feel that the series is so well known for. If you can look past that, there's a serviceable albeit somewhat slow-paced top-down, free-roaming space shooter to find—not exactly what fans will want as they await the fourth and final season.

Exit is definitely the choice for the week. If you haven't played the title yet, do yourself a favor and pick it up. Even with the control problems, it's still a lot of fun to play.

Game Review: Rockstar Games Table Tennis (Wii)

This is another port for the Wii that we've basically reviewed before in its Xbox 360 incarnation, so now that Table Tennis is out for the Wii the only thing that needs to be talked about is the control scheme. Everything else, sans online play, is the same as the Xbox 360 version. Sure, the graphics are downgraded, but almost everything you need to know about the game can be found in our big review of the original title. HangZhou Night Net

A Table Tennis game seems like a natural fit for the Wii, but other people have gotten Wii controls wrong before. Luckily, Table Tennis hit this one over the net. There are nice tutorials that allow you to practice each technique, and you'll need them; it takes some practice to learn how you're supposed to move the Wiimote to aim the ball correctly. The game does not feature 1:1 movement, you basically swing in different directions to aim the ball. If you want the ball to go to the upper left hand corner, you swing up and to the left. Close to the net on the right hand side? Swing down and to the right. I had problems when I tried to control the game with large, sweeping movements, but once I started to hold the Wiimote like a Table Tennis paddle while making tighter movements it all became clear. Give yourself a few minutes to get used to the controls, and you'll see that while they're not instantly intuitive, they do work very well.

Holding the Wiimote in front of you to make these short swings sounds easy, but with volleys getting longer and longer as you play don't be surprised if you break a sweat. With the Wiimote-only control scheme you add spin with the d-pad, and the computer moves your player for you. If you add a nunchuck you can move your character yourself, but that gets hard to keep track of very quickly. In a third control setup you can use the nunchuk to add fine control of where your ball lands, but that's only for people with insanely talented hands. These are the three control methods, and while I prefer the default Wiimote-only controls, the other two with the nunchuk can be fun if only to test yourself.

There is no online play (boo!), but playing with another person in the room is a great time as you knock the ball back and forth. It feels oddly like an actual game of Table Tennis, and things can get intense very quickly.

At $40, this is a little less expensive than your average game. So if you're looking for something a little more in-depth than Wii Tennis, thenthis is a great buy. And it isn't a bad workout, either. It's good to turn on the Wii again.

Status: Buy
Price: $39.99
System: Nintendo Wii
Developer: Rockstar Games
Publisher: Take 2
ESRB Ratings: Everyone
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Cornucopia of Leopard t-shirts available for launch

With Leopard dropping this week, there is no shortage of new Apple-themed apparel going on sale or being given away for free. Apple will, of course, be giving away its own shirts to the first 500 visitors in each of its stores Friday afternoon, but the thread doesn't stop there. HangZhou Night Net

FastMac, purveyors of all manner of Mac upgrades, has announced that it will be giving away four new Leopard-themed t-shirts outside various Apple Stores on Friday from 4 to 6 pm. Three of the shirt designs are featured and available for order at a deep discount of just $7.99 at FastMac's site. The designs include geeky cultural puns like "Hasta la Vista," "Mac to the Future," "A whole new Xperience," and "300 – Madness? This is LEOPARD!," though the latter is oddly not pictured or available for order yet.

Next up is MacMerc with a couple of shirts, the first of which is called "Top Secret." This is a simple design that hones in on Leopard's original shroud of secrecy. MacMerc's second Leopard-themed t-shirt, called "Mac OS X Leopard: Time Machine," also riffs off the Back to the Future theme.

Last, but probably not least, is a set of Apple, Mac, and general tech-themed shirts that you need to vote into existence. Insanely Great Tees is back with another five shirts that it wants hopeful owners to weigh in on. The shirts that get the most clicks will go to print, and choices range from an illustrated "Any" key to a graphical timeline of Apple's first 30 product years. There are even anthropomorphized i-gadgets playing music.

With Apple's popularity showing no signs of slowing down lately, these probably won't be the only ways for Apple fans to don new threads to express their inner geeks. Who knows, maybe even Think Geek will unveil an Apple-centric shirt or two in the coming months.