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.

How to Sync Your Firefox Bookmarks to Your iPad

Yes, you read that right.

I use Firefox. I think it’s the best browser around — mostly because of its wide support for plugins and its frequent updates.

But I also have an iPad. And iPad includes and supports the Apple Safari Web browser.

One of my first challenges was to get my Firefox bookmarks into my iPad’s Safari browser — and to keep them synced. Here’s what I did.

Step 1: Set Up Firefox Bookmark Synchronization

I use two computers regularly (an iMac on my desktop and a 13″ MacBook Pro) and occasionally use two others (a 15″ MacBook Pro and a Dell Laptop). It was natural to want my bookmarks synchronized between these computers. So years ago, I began using a Firefox plugin that handled synchronization for me. That plugin has evolved over time and is currently called Xmarks Bookmark and Password Sync.

Xmarks StatusXmarks works with a free account on the Xmarks.com Web site. (If you are a more experienced user and have your own server, you can sync to your own server instead.) You set up an account on Xmarks.com, install the plugin in Firefox on all your computers, and configure the plugin to point to your Xmarks.com account. You then synchronize. The first synchronization gives you options to overwrite or merge booksmarks; do whatever you think is right for your situation. From that point forward, Xmarks will automatically synchronize bookmarks when you open and quit Firefox.

Although I’ve been doing this for years now, this became my first step to syncing my bookmarks with Safari on my iPad. If you don’t already use Xmarks, set it up as your first step.

One note here: Xmarks has other synchronization features. For example, as the name implies, it also synchronizes passwords. You can use this feature, too, if you like. And it displays search results with ratings and other features. Explore this on your own.

Step 2: Set Up Safari Bookmark Synchronization

The next step is to get your Firefox bookmarks on Safari. You can do this with Xmarks for Mac OS X 10.6.

Xmarks For SafariDownload the installer, run it, and follow the instructions in the Installation Wizard to set it up on your computer. Be sure to point it to the same Xmarks account you use for Firefox. When you perform that first sync, tell it whether you want to merge or overwrite bookmarks. When the sync is complete, your Safari bookmarks should match your Firefox bookmarks.

MobileMe SyncOne thing to keep in mind here: if you have multiple Macs and use a MobileMe account to synchronize various Mac OS items — including Safari Bookmarks — you don’t need to install Xmarks for Mac OS X 10.6 on all of your computers. Just install on one and let MobileMe do the rest of the synchronization for you.

Step 3: Set Up iPad Bookmark Synchronization

At this point, it should be pretty easy to figure out how to synchronize your Mac’s Safari bookmarks with your iPad’s Safari bookmarks. There are actually two ways to do this:

If you have a MobileMe account:

  1. Make sure Bookmarks synchronization is turned on on your Mac in the MobileMe preferences pane (see previous screenshot) and sync.
  2. Make sure your MobileMe account has been set up on your iPad.
  3. On your iPad, tap Settings and then tap Mail, Contacts, Calendars. This should take you to the Mail, Contacts, Calendars screen.
  4. E-Mail OptionsTap the e-mail address for your MobileMe account. This will display its options, shown here.
  5. Tap to turn on the Bookmarks option.
  6. Tap Done.

Bookmarks will now be synced through MobileMe.

If you don’t have a MobileMe account:

  1. Use your USB cable to connect your iPad to the computer you use to synchronize data and install music and apps. Ideally, this computer should have Foxmarks for Mac OS X 10.6 installed on it.
  2. On your Mac, open iTunes (if it has not opened automatically) and select your iPad in the Source list under Devices.
  3. Click the Info tab near the top of the iTunes window.
  4. Scroll down to the Other section.
    Other Options
  5. Turn on the check box labeled Sync Safari Bookmarks. (This check box only appears if you are not using MobileMe to sync bookmarks.)
  6. Click Sync. If prompted to merge or overwrite bookmarks, choose the appropriate option for your situation.

Bookmarks will now be synced through iTunes.

Works for Me

This is my solution. Is it the only one? Probably not. If you have a different (or even better!) solution, don’t hesitate to share it with us in Comments on this post.

Switching to the Mini Player in iTunes 9

Don’t you hate it when they change the way something works?

I updated to iTunes 9 while on the road. This afternoon, as I prepare to get some work done in my hotel room, I fired up iTunes on my MacBook Pro for a little background music. I only have about 900 songs on this computer, but that’s enough to keep me satisfied while I work.

I started up iTunes, clicked OK when it told me it couldn’t connect to the iTunes Store, and started up the music. I then clicked on the zoom button in the title bar to get the mini player window.

But the window zoomed, like any other window. No mini player window.

iTunes Mini Player

In iTunes, clicking the green zoom button always toggled the window between a regular iTunes window and the mini player. For years. I clicked it about six times, thinking I was missing something. I wasn’t.

The yellow minimize button didn’t display it either. No big surprise there. I didn’t bother clicking the red close button.

I then spent the next three minutes hunting down the setting that would get me the mini player window. I checked the obvious places — well, obvious to me, anyway — including the Window menu and preferences. I finally found it and its shortcut key listed under the view menu: Switch to Mini Player or Shift-Command-M.

Problem solved.

But don’t you hate it when they change the way things work?

September 22, 2009 Update: I don’t know if it’s my imagination or not, but with the release of the iTunes 9.0.1 update, this “problem” seems to have gone away. The green zoom button now works just like it used to. That’s got me wondering: did Apple “fix” it because they realized it was “broken” or did they change it back because so many people were whining about it?

iPod Won’t Talk to Your Rental Car? Try an MP3 CD!

A possible solution for vacationers needing music on the road.

Last week, Mike and I went to the Los Angeles area for a business/pleasure trip. Mike rented a Mustang convertible for the week.

The current model Ford Mustang has two features that make it easy to play your own music on the road:

  • A line-in jack for MP3 players, including (of course) iPods. This works with an Aux setting on the stereo system.
  • A 6 CD MP3-compatible CD changer. This means not only can you insert a standard audio CD, but you can also play MP3 CDs and load up to 6 of them in the machine at once.

Of course, we both had our iPods with us. But mine had been drained during the flight out to LA and I hadn’t packed the charger. I did have my laptop with me, though, and it contains about 2/3 of the music in my iTunes music library. I also had two blank CDs, which I keep on hand in case I need to pull files off the computer.

So I decided to give the MP3 CDs a try.

Why MP3 CD?

In case you’re wondering why I’d burn MP3 CDs rather than regular audio CDs, the answer is simple: more songs. While a typical audio CD can hold approximately 80 minutes of music — that’s 10 to 20 songs, depending on song length — the same CD can hold 700 MB of computer files — that’s 120 to 150 MP3s depending on song length and compression settings. My two blank CDs would give us up to 300 songs to listen to while we were driving (or should I say, stuck in traffic?) around the Los Angeles area.

And if you’re wondering about music quality, remember that we were driving around in a convertible — not a soundproofed stereo testing room at the local Fry’s Electronics store. We’d be lucky to hear the music at all if we ever managed to get the car up to highway speeds on LA’s overcrowded highway system.

Of course, there is a drawback to this method: iTunes will not include any DRM-protected music on an MP3 CD. So if your iTunes music library includes a lot of music purchased at the iTunes Store, those songs won’t make it to the CD.

Creating the CDs

My Honda has a CD player, but it won’t play MP3 CDs. In fact, I don’t think any of my CD players (other than the ones in my computer) will play MP3 CDs. So I’d never actually created an MP3 CD. But with iTunes, it’s easy.

Start by setting iTunes preferences so it offers to create an MP3 CD.

  1. Burning PreferencesOpen iTunes.
  2. Choose iTunes > Preferences.
  3. In the Preferences dialog that appears, click Advanced.
  4. Click Burning to view CD burning preferences.
  5. Under Disc Format, select MP3 CD.
  6. Click OK to save your settings and dismiss the Preferences dialog.

Next, create a playlist that contains the songs you want to burn onto the CD. It can be a regular or Smart playlist. Don’t worry too much about how many songs are included or whether they’re iTunes Store purchases. Figure on about 150 songs per CD you want to burn; you probably won’t get that many on the CDs (for reasons of space and compatibility), but more is better than fewer.

(I’m not going to explain how to create a playlist. If you use iTunes, you should know how. If you don’t know how, I recommend my Mac OS X book or a visit to the iTunes Help feature.)

Next, burn the CD.

  1. In the Playlists list, select the playlist you want to burn to CD.
  2. Burn MP3 CDClick the Burn MP3 CD button in the lower right corner of the iTunes window.
  3. The status area at the top of the iTunes window instructs you to insert a CD. Insert one.
  4. Wait while iTunes checks the CD and then checks the playlist.
  5. Can't Burn iTunes Store SongsIf your playlist includes songs purchased at the iTunes music store, a dialog like the one shown here appears, telling you how many songs won’t be included on the CD. (You can click the disclosure triangle to see a list of the songs.) Click OK to continue.
  6. Won't Fit on 1 CDIf your playlist includes more songs than will fit on the CD, a dialog like the one shown here appears. Click MP3 CD.
  7. Wait while iTunes burns the first CD. You can see which songs will be burned by looking in the iTunes window for the playlist. Songs that will be burned onto the CD will be listed in black; songs that won’t will be listed in gray.
  8. When the first CD is finished, iTunes ejects it. (Or if you’re on a Windows machine, I suppose it tells you to eject it.) If it’s the only CD to be burned, you’re done. If not, the status area at the top of the iTunes window instructs you to insert another CD. Do so. Then repeat steps 7 and 8 as necessary until:
    • CancelYou run out of CDs. Then click the cancel button in the status area.
    • You are finished burning music. iTunes stops prompting you to insert CDs.

This worked out very well for us. Although we never figured out how to shuffle songs across multiple CDs in the Mustang’s CD changer, we did get a good variety of music to listen to while we traveled around. And now we have two MP3 CDs we can take on the road the next time we rent a car; I’ve noticed that most car CD players these days support MP3 CDs.

As for the flight back — well I found a car charger for my iPod under the passenger seat of my helicopter and used that to power my iPod. (The helicopter has a DC power outlet like one you’d find in a car.) I didn’t buy the helicopter with the CD changer option.

9 Quick and Easy Steps to Upgrade Your iTunes-Purchased Music

Using iTunes Plus.

A while back, Apple announced that it had entered into an agreement with EMI to sell DRM-free music in the iTunes store. It promised that iTunes shoppers would have access to this music in May 2007.

As May wound down to a close, Apple released iTunes 7.2, which adds iTunes Plus features. iTunes plus is a special area of the iTunes music store where you can shop for DRM-free music. It’s also where you can upgrade some of the music you’ve already purchased to the higher-quality DRM-free version.

Here’s how to upgrade the songs you’ve already purchased through the iTunes music store.

  1. Quick LinksOpen iTunes.
  2. On the left side of the window under STORE, click iTunes Store.
  3. In the iTunes Store Home page, click iTunes Plus in the Quick Links box on the right side of the screen.
  4. Upgrade my LibraryIn the top right corner of the screen that appears, you should see an Upgrade My Library box. (This box only appears if you have iTunes-purchased music that can be upgraded.) Click See Details.
  5. Set iTunes Plus preferencesA dialog like the one shown here appears. It asks if you want to enable iTunes Plus preferences so only the DRM-free versions of music appear (when available). Click iTunes Plus.
  6. A new version of the iTunes Store Terms & Conditions appears. Read this legalize if you like. When you’re ready to continue, click Accept.
  7. Upgrade my LibraryAn Upgrade My Library screen appears. It lists the albums, songs, and videos that you have purchased for which DRM-free versions are available. Click the Buy button to upgrade all music and videos for the price shown onscreen.
  8. If prompted, enter your login information for the iTunes Store and confirm that you really do want to complete the purchase.
  9. Keep or Replace?Anther dialog tells you that the new songs will replace the old ones and gives you an opportunity to save the old ones to a folder on your desktop. Click Move to Desktop or Delete Files as desired.

Monitor DownloadsThe download begins. You can monitor its progress in the Downloads screen. iTunes displays the iTunes Plus window again so you can do some more shopping.

It’s quick, it’s easy, and its reasonably priced. Let’s hope Apple makes more agreements with music publishers to sell DRM-free music. It’ll certainly get me shopping in the iTunes Store again.

One more thing — you may want to repeat this process periodically. As Apple signs up other music publishers, more songs will be available for upgrade. You can follow this process to upgrade more iTunes-purchased music in the future.

I look forward to converting the rest of my purchased library — all 500+ songs — to the DRM-free version.