Better than Apple’s Reminder app.

I’m one of those people who can’t remember anything unless it’s written down somewhere. (Indeed, I often consult my books to remember how to do something I actually wrote about!) So it should come as no surprise that I lean heavily on my Mac and iOS devices for a to do list or reminders.

Until recently, Apple did not provide any app that synchronized reminder items between iCal on a Mac and the iOS calendar apps. Not content to wait until they added such functionality, I tried two different reminder applications. The one I settled on — and still use daily today — is called 2Do by Guided Ways Technologies Ltd.

2Do App IconRight from the get-go, 2Do enabled me to synchronize reminder items between iCal and the 2Do app on my iPad and iPhone. It did this through MobileMe, which was very convenient. (2Do now supports iCloud, too.) I could create reminder items on any device, synchronize, and see the items on every device. I could also change or mark an item as complete on one device, synchronize, and have the item change or be marked complete on all devices.

2Do on iPad
In this example, I’m viewing 2Do’s reminder items in my “Air” calendar on my iPad. The grouping is customizable.

What I like a lot about 2Do is that it offers a wide range of fields that you can use to enter information about a reminder item. So not only can I add an item title, description, calendar, and other iCal-supported information, but I can also add fields for a start date, location, recurrence, tags, audio note, and pictures. I can customize the item entry form to include only the fields I use most in the order in which I want them to appear; I can access other fields with a tap. With the location features, you don’t need Siri on an iPhone 4S to take advantage of location-based reminders.

2Do supports three kinds of reminder items: ToDo, Checklist, and Project. A ToDo is a standard reminder. A Checklist is a reminder that includes individual checkable items. A Project is a reminder that includes individual ToDo items. Although I mostly use simple ToDos, Checklists and Projects are especially handy for grouping related tasks that you might need to focus on without creating a separate calendar for them.

2Do’s interface is completely customizable to display specific calendars in the order you want to see them in. You can view reminder items by calendar, tags, or location. If you specify a start date for an item in the future, it will not clutter up your current reminder list.

Reminders App
My “Air” calendar’s reminder list in the Reminder app on my iPhone.

2Do plays nice with Apple’s new Reminders app. When you sync 2Do to iCloud, that data is automatically pushed to Reminders. Likewise, when you make a change in Reminders, that’s automatically pushed to iCloud so it’s updated when you sync 2Do. While it’s true that syncing is not automatic — at least not right now — it is quick and does not require WiFi (as other iOS reminder apps do).

Although folks with very basic reminder needs may find Apple’s Reminders app good enough to meet their needs, I think the power and flexibility of 2Do makes it worth the nominal purchase price. Its additional features and fields help keep me organized, whether I’m planning my next 1200-mile helicopter trip or just trying to remember what to pick up at the grocery store.

Powering Off with a Light Timer and Automator

A bit geeky but effective.

My little home-based office has a lot of computer equipment in it. And since there’s always so much on my mind, I often forget to turn off certain peripherals when I’m finished using them or simply done for the day. These include two laser printers and the external hard disk I use with Time Machine.

Although I could leave them on all the time, it really isn’t a good idea. My main printer, which is about 5 years old now, seems to develop toner cartridge problems when it’s left on all the time. The darn cartridges cost $95 each. And it simply can’t be a good idea to leave a hard disk spinning all the time.

And then there’s the power. It’s not cost as much as the idea of it. Leaving devices turned on when you’re not using them is wasteful, plain and simple.

So I’ve come up with a solution: a light timer.

By light timer, I’m referring to a device you might use to turn lights on and off while you’re away on vacation to make it look like you’re home. I bought one with a three-prong outlet on it. I set it to turn on every morning at 5 AM, which is when my computer turns on for the day, and turn off every evening at 8 PM, which is when I’m usually done working for the day. I plugged a surge suppressor power strip into it and plugged the two printers and hard disk into it. Then I turned them all on.

Now those of you who know Mac OS know what happens when you turn off power to a connected and mounted hard disk. Your Mac displays a message telling you that the device was improperly disconnected and that file errors may result. So it’s not a good idea to simply turn off an external hard disk while the computer it’s connected to is still on and the disk is still mounted.

The solution to that is to make sure the disk is unmounted before it is powered down. But if I can’t remember to flip a few power switches at day’s end, what makes you think I can remember to unmount a hard disk? Obviously, I can’t.

Enter Automator. I wrote a very simple Automator Action that unmounts the disk. As shown here, it has only two steps:

  1. Automator ActionGet Specified Finder Items identifies the disk.
  2. Eject Disk unmounts the disk.

Then I used the iCal alarm trick to run the action every day at 6 PM.

So here’s how it all works. My computer is set to automatically start at 5 AM each morning. At about the same time, the light timer turns on the 3 peripherals, including an external hard disk connected to the computer. I come to work. I work. I wander out sometime late in the afternoon. At 6 PM, the hard disk unmounts using the Automator action triggered by iCal. I might wander back in, but I don’t need that external hard disk so I don’t even notice it’s gone. Or I might not wander in at all. At 8 PM the peripherals turn off, thanks to the light timer. Around the same time, computer shuts down automatically. Or maybe I shut down the computer earlier or later, depending on what I’m doing with it.

The point is, all this electronic stuff is turned off at night so I’m not wasting electricity on it.

Would it be easier to do it all manually? I don’t think so.

And one of these days I might get brave enough to explain how I set up iCal to remind me to drink a glass of water every hour all day every day. (And no, I don’t need it to remind me to head to the loo.)

Chapter References

Product ImageYou can learn more about automating tasks with Automator and AppleScript in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: Visual QuickStart Guide. I introduce them both in Chapter 25.

Triggering Scripts and Automator Actions with iCal

A little-known use for the alarm feature.

I thought I’d written about this somewhere here, but I guess I didn’t. So here it is: a very easy way to trigger scripts and Automator actions on your Mac.

  1. Open iCal.
  2. iCal Event OptionsCreate a new event for the date and time you want the script or action to run.
  3. If the action should be repeated — for example, run every day at the same time — use the Repeat options to set up the frequency.
  4. Choose Open file from the Alarm pop-up menu.
  5. By default, iCal appears in a menu beneath it. Choose Other from that menu and use the dialog that appears to select the script or action you want to run. When you click the Select button, its name appears under Open File.
  6. Set the time option to read 0 minutes before.
  7. Save your settings.

From that point forward, the script or action will run on schedule with no additional effort on your part.

This works in the current version of iCal (part of Leopard) as well as the version that came with Tiger. I don’t know about earlier versions. The screenshot here is from Leopard.

A few bonus tips:

  • If you don’t want these events cluttering up your calendar views, put them in their own calendar and turn off the check box for it in the Calendars list. The events will continue to work, but you won’t have to look at them.
  • Be sure that neither Turn off alarms option is enabled in iCal’s Advanced preferences. If you turn off alarms, this alarm obviously won’t work. If alarms are turned off when iCal is not running, you’ll have to keep iCal running all the time for this alarm to work.
  • iCal 3 (which is part of Leopard) enables you to set multiple alarms for a single event. use this to run multiple scripts or to run the same script multiple times in a day.

Page References

Product ImageMac OS X 10.5 Leopard: Visual QuickStart Guide includes more information about related topics:

  • Adding iCal Events, page 254
  • Setting Event Details (including alarms), pages 255-257
  • Adding Calendars, page 261
  • Using AppleScript and Automator, pages 613-636

iCal GTD Widget

Another way to add To Do items to iCal.

One of the the goals of the Getting Things Done methodology is to get tasks out of your head and into a place where you can track them. That means making extensive use of organized lists.

Although iCal isn’t the best tool for GTD, it certainly is workable. (I have yet to find a better solution, although I admit I haven’t been looking very hard.) The iCal GTD Widget makes it quick and easy to add a To Do item to iCal without launching iCal.

The iCal GTD WidgetItem added to the To Do ListInstall the iCal GTD widget and place a copy of it on your Dashboard. Then, when an idea flashes into your mind, press F12 to display the Dashboard (and the widget) and enter a reminder for your idea into the widget’s edit box. You can choose a calendar from the pop-up menu if desired. Press return and the note is added to iCal as a To Do list item for the calendar you chose.

Can’t be much simpler than that.

Create an Automated Backup Plan with Fetch and iCal

Another one of my Informit.com articles goes online.

Create an Automated Backup Plan with Fetch and iCal” explains how you can use low-cost FTP software and iCal’s scheduling feature to create offsite backups of your important files. All you need is space on an FTP-accessible server.

The article is free at Informit.com.

I wrote this article before my February hard disk crash. If only I had taken its advice for more than just a handful of files!