Getting things done with Google Tasks

Someone recently asked me how I manage my to-do list, so I thought I’d write up the software that I use. Fundamentally I use Google Tasks as the backend, but with extensions and apps that improve on the basic functionality in Google Tasks.

Chrome

I use a couple different extensions for Chrome:
- Better Google Tasks is a great Chrome extension. Just click a button in Chrome and you have instant access to all your todo items. I like the extension so much that I donated some money to the author, Chris Wiegman. You can get the Better Google Tasks extension from the Chrome Store.

- I also noticed that on the New Tab page of Chrome, seeing thumbnails of my most visited sites (Techmeme, Hacker News, Nuzzel, Google News, etc.) every time I opened a new tab inevitably led me to click over to those sites. The result? I was wasting more time surfing than I wanted. The solution is a great Chrome extension called New Tab to Tasks. It changes Chrome’s new tab page to be your todo list. That way, I get a nice little signal every time I open a tab: “Hey, remember that you’re supposed to be working on stuff, not goofing off.” Thanks to Scott Graham for writing this Chrome extension.

Oh, and one last Chrome recommendation: if you don’t want *any* distractions on Chrome’s new tab page, consider installing Empty New Tab Page, which makes the Chrome new tab page completely blank.

Android

For Android, I use an app called Tasks. It costs $0.99, but there’s also a free version that starts showing ads after 10 days. I like the Tasks app for Android because it syncs with Google Tasks, has nice widgets, you can easily move tasks up and down, and you can indent tasks underneath each other. I only keep a few todo lists (Home, Work, Grocery, etc.), and to switch between lists you just swipe left or right. Tasks works great for me, but if you have tons of different todo lists then swiping between those lists might get old.

I can already imagine someone asking “Okay, but what about Google Keep?” I’m not opposed to Google Keep, but at this point I’ve found various third-party solutions that interoperate with Google Tasks and work well for me on Chrome and Android. Plus I already have my data in Google Tasks, so for the time being I like these solutions for Google Tasks.

Live-buzzing Day 2 of the Google I/O keynote

Okay, today I’m going to try something different again. I’m going to try live-buzzing the keynote of Day 2 of Google I/O. You can follow the live-buzz right here.

I’m going to update the buzz as news comes out; if you’re following on the web instead of on Buzz, you might need to hit reload to see updates.

Watch the live-stream video at http://www.youtube.com/user/GoogleDevelopers by the way.

Check out other live-blogging from:
- Engadget
- Search Engine Land
- A live-wave from Lifehacker
- New York Times
- Wall Street Journal

I believe it should be fine to say that I think you’ll like the speed and polish of Froyo. :)

39 Android Apps that I love

Here are the Android Apps that I currently love. It’s not a complete list, but it’s a pretty good start.

Music and sound apps

Apps for when you’re traveling

  • TripIt: keep track of trips and plane flights for upcoming travel
  • Google Translate: translate tons of languages into tons of other languages. You can also do voice-recognition-to-text for English, then translate. This app will even do text-to-speech (voice synthesis) in many languages such as French, Spanish, Italian, and German.
  • Yelp: Find great restaurants nearby. Pro tip: scan the reviews to discover good dishes to order.
  • Compass: also handy when you’re traveling

Social apps

  • Twitter: official Twitter app for Android. This app can take empty/missing pictures in your contacts and populate your contacts’ pictures with their Twitter profile pictures, which is nice.
  • Seesmic: another fantastic Twitter app for Android
  • Google Buzz widget: an easy way to post to Buzz from your phone. By the way, I’ve noticed myself using Buzz more and more recently. When I started on Twitter, it took me several months to warm to the service. I think the same principle applies to Buzz. Buzz fills a nice niche between Twitter (microblogging) and regular blogging. It’s great when you want to throw out one quick idea, but you need more than 140 characters. You can read my Buzzes (or follow me on Buzz) if you want.

Cool demos / showing off

  • Google Skymap: move your phone to see where stars are. Like augmented reality for the sky.
  • Tricorder: shows all the different sensor readings of your phone. Includes accelerometer and tilt sensors, GPS and lat/lon, wifi, cell phone strength, compass, acoustic data–even solar activity.
  • Metal Detector: an app that detects metal. I still don’t know how it works (maybe it uses the magnetometer sensor that allows the compass), but it actually does work on many types of metal
  • Google Earth: most of the eye candy of Google Earth, but on your phone
  • LED Scroller: enter a message and your phone turns into a faux LED scrolling sign. Kinda low-tech, but impresses people more than I expected.
  • Hypnotic Spiral: makes a swirling spiral that you can control
  • The Schwartz Unsheathed: a light sword that makes cool sounds as you move your phone.

Signal strength apps

  • Wifi Analyzer: walk around and see a dynamic graph of wifi signal strength. Great for picking the right place to sit in an airport or cafe to get the best wifi signal
  • Antennas: shows a Google map with nearby antennas on it. Good for monitoring your phone’s signal strength
  • RF Signal Tracker (two versions, Donut and Eclair): another app to measure cell phone tower signal strength

QR Code and Barcode apps

  • Key Ring: scan your loyalty and other membership cards (e.g. Safeway, or your gym). Then use this app instead of carrying a bunch of membership cards around. I wish my phone could replace everything in my wallet.
  • App Referrer: shows all your installed apps. Click on an application and it will generate a large QR barcode on your screen that your friend can scan to install the same app.
  • Barcode Scanner: scan barcodes and QR codes. Very handy to install applications and visit urls. Note that the “Barcode Scanner” app (like App Referrer) can also show QR codes for applications — just press the options button. Can also show QR codes for contacts, bookmarks, and the clipboard.

Core apps / misc

  • My Tracks: records where you go using GPS and lets you upload a “track” to Google Maps
  • Navigation: get turn-by-turn directions as you drive
  • Movies: check movie times and see ratings from critics vs. audiences
  • Wheres My Droid: If you lose your phone and it’s in silent mode, this app will help you find your phone. I’ve tried Mobile Defense and that’s also very nice.
  • WordPress: Upload images and blog from your phone
  • Amazon.com: mobile shopping, plus add things to your Amazon wishlist
  • Shopper: Google app to scan barcodes and show product search results
  • BBC News: see the latest in world news. This is an unofficial widget.
  • News and Weather: customizable news, plus this app shows weather in your current location. Wish I could enter 3-4 cities and flick between weather reports though.
  • Weather: see the weather in multiple cities
  • Google Finance: check stock prices and news
  • Google Maps: see where you are

Google also offers a lot of mobile apps, but I just wanted to highlight my favorite applications.

Okay, those are my favorite Android apps, but what did I miss? Which Android Apps do you love?

Leaving the iPhone

I’m three weeks into a new 30 day challenge: no iPhone. When I got a Nexus One in December, I spent a few weeks carrying both phones around in the pockets of my jeans. It took a little while to adapt to Android, but I’m very happy with my Nexus One and I don’t plan to go back to the iPhone. Both the iPhone and Android are great operating systems, but it’s important to me that I can write or run the applications I choose on my phone.

The best way I can describe the transition is to read this article by Jason Kincaid and this article by Danny Sullivan. Danny contends that the iPhone is better, mentioning that after “literally an hour or less of playing with my wife’s iPhone” he was an iPhone convert.

I think both Danny and Jason are right in some ways. Like Danny, it only took me a couple hours of playing with my wife’s iPhone before I knew that I had to have one. In a post that I wrote in 2007 but never published, I said “I think the iPhone is going to be a monster hit.” And it was. But here’s the thing: I was comparing the iPhone to my previous phone, which was an LG enV. That was like comparing a Ferrari to a old station wagon.

If you’re coming from a feature phone (or almost any type of phone other than an iPhone 3GS), you’ll probably love Android right away. But if you’re already an iPhone power user? Well, you’ve learned how things work on an iPhone. Maybe you have your music in iTunes, and you’ve already built up a list of favorite apps. That makes switching to a different make of phone much harder. Jason Kincaid describes it well: “Imagine if you took a longtime Windows user and sat them in front of a Mac for a couple days.” Things seem weird and different in arbitrary ways, like the power button is on the other side of the phone. But those things fade away after a few days of using Android, and you’re left with a powerful platform that feels like it’s under your control.

Do I still miss a few things on the iPhone? Absolutely. For example, the iPhone makes it easy to take a snapshot of the screen — just press the power and home button at the same time. The iPhone fits 20 apps on the home screen instead of 16 on the Nexus One. I use a password for my phone, and the iPhone has a setting that says “If you’ve used the phone in the last N hours, don’t lock the phone,” while the Nexus One needs me to unlock it each time I wake it up. I prefer the default ringtones on the iPhone. I preferred the iPhone’s finance app for the news sources it showed.

But the Nexus One outshines the iPhone in other ways. Voice recognition built into every text box. Google Voice. And judging from the jitter in Google Sky Map vs. the iPhone Yelp Monacle Monocle, I think the sensors in the Nexus One are a little more robust. Once you use the high-resolution screen on the Nexus One, it’s hard to go back to the iPhone (and the screen on the Droid is very nice too). And I love kicking off a podcast in Listen and then multitasking in a web browser.

The iPhone is praised (rightly so) for its fit-and-finish. But glitches happen on the iPhone too. I went back to check on something a few weeks ago and the iPhone browser kept dying and kicking me back out to the home screen. Overall, I would still rate the iPhone higher on fit and finish, and the iPhone is simpler for a non-tech-savvy person to understand. But polish and simplicity aren’t the most important things to me as a phone user. I want maximum functionality, and the velocity of Android in that area has been staggering. Going from the G1 to the Nexus One in about a year is amazing. I can’t wait to see what new things show up in Android.

Ultimately though, what matters the most to me is control. I have a simple rule of thumb, which is that I don’t put data somewhere that I can’t get it back. That’s the reason that I didn’t buy songs in iTunes, purchase ebooks for the Amazon Kindle, or really log into Facebook at all. It’s also the reason that I recently switched my computer from Microsoft Windows to Ubuntu Linux. With Android, I feel like I have more control. It’s pretty easy to write your own programs for free. My contacts and calendar and email are sync’ed with Google, which lets me easily export that data. I can put widgets or folders or whatever I want on my phone’s home screen. And yes, I could install an app to wobble pictures if I wanted to. Why? Because phones are increasingly mini-computers with a phone attached, and I should be allowed to run the programs I want on my own computer.

I could ramble on about the iPhone compared the Nexus One (both really are great phones in different ways), but I’ll wrap up this post. But my 30 days with no iPhone is going so well that last week I started a new 30 day challenge. My new 30 day challenge is reducing my sugar consumption. I won’t be able to get to 0% sugar (even A1 steak sauce has sugar as an ingredient?!?), but I’m trying to stop eating sugar, candy, Splenda, and anything with sugar as a primary ingredient, even (sob) yogurt. You have to understand, I love yogurt. Wish me luck: only 27 more days to go. Sigh.

Finding the best cell phone carrier

Okay, someone tell me if this device exists (or build it!). I want a device where I can pay $10-15 to get a gadget in the mail. The gadget would sit in my pocket for a week wherever I go. The device would record cell phone signal strength for each of the four major U.S. carriers every few seconds. After a week or so, the device would deliver the verdict on which cell phone carrier would have the strongest signal for me. Then I could mail the device back so someone else could use it — sort of a Netflix-like model to temporarily borrow this device.

At any point, I could go to a web page to view a map of where I’d been. The page would show a “heat map” of signal strength for each carrier or frequency band. Maybe I could also slice/dice by time or see the total number of readings in each location. I’m pretty sure you could rig this up out of 2-3 cell phones running Android in the worst case.

So far, I’ve found:

Android

- RF Signal Tracker is a nice app to collect and map signal strength data. It looks like it can upload to OpenCellID, which is a project to create an open database of cell IDs (numbers that correspond to cells).
- Antennas is a pretty cool free app to show you nearby antennas and signal strength. It can even export some data in KML for use with Google Maps/Earth, but it doesn’t seem to make a heat map that could be easily grokked.
- Sensorly has a free Android app, but they seem to want you to pay to zoom in closer than city level. I’m willing to do that, but didn’t see the for-pay addon in the Android Market.

iPhone

- I also found an iPhone app called Signals that will continuously collect signal data and upload it.
- AT&T offers an iPhone app called Mark the Spot to report dropped calls, no coverage, etc. I have to admit that I don’t understand why this is manual though. Personally, I’d want my phone to ping my carrier with its location every time the phone dropped a call.

Web

- SignalMap is a website to (manually!) submit the number of bars for a location. It doesn’t appear to have any mobile app to back it up. Likewise, Dead Cell Zones and Got Reception? appear to rely on manual reports. I don’t think manual reports is the best way to tackle cell phone coverage maps though — you really want an app for this.
- http://www.cellreception.com/ has the standard manual reports data, but also will map the location of cell phone towers based on the location of cell phone towers registered with the FCC.
- Root Wireless powers the cell phone signal strength maps that CNET uses, but I didn’t see any apps I could download or install on a phone. I registered to be a beta tester a long time ago, but no one ever contacted me.

That’s what I could find. Do you know of any good Android (or iPhone) programs to collect, map, or upload cell phone strength measurements? If so, let me know in the comments.

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