2Do

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.

About My New Fifth Generation iPod Nano

Holy cow!

Yesterday, my Fifth Generation iPod — approximately equal to what they’re now calling an iPod Classic — the first version to support video — died again. I have a tendency to let the battery drain completely and sit in my purse like that. Then, when I attempt to sync, my Mac doesn’t know what the heck it’s connected to and wants to restore it.

This is the fifth time this has happened and the third time it has happened in the past two months. When I left for an appointment yesterday, it was still connected to my Mac, trying to import about 25GB of podcasts and music and videos. It was taking a long time, so I left it.

Coincidentally, that appointment was at the Biltmore Apple Store, which is walking distance from our “Rear Window” apartment in Phoenix. I was bringing in my 12″ PowerBook, which had a dead hard disk. I wanted to know what it would cost to replace the disk. I learned a few things:

  • The 12″ PowerBook computer was first manufactured in early 2003.
  • I bought mine in July 2003.
  • On a 12″ PowerBook, you must remove 23 screws to get at and remove the hard disk. You then have to screw them all back in. In the right places.
  • Apple has absolutely no interest in repairing 6-year-old laptops.

I’ll blog more about my solution to this another time. Let me get back to my new Nano.

Of course, I hadn’t bought it yet. But I figured that since I was there, I may as well take a look.

iPod Nano

This isn’t my Nano, my thumb, or a video of anyone I know. But mine looks a lot like this one.

And I liked what I saw. So I bought a 16 GB red one. Yes, it’s (product)red, so a portion of the purchase price goes to fight AIDS in Africa. But that’s not why I picked red. I just like red. I’d like to help fight AIDS in Africa, but they’d get a lot less money from me if it was (product)turquoise.

Understand this: I bought a new iPod to replace one that simply wasn’t functioning reliably. The idea was to buy an iPod that would work with the iPod setup in my car and elsewhere. (The Shuffle won’t.)

I liked the idea of video, but since the video feature sucked battery power in my old iPod, I didn’t use it often. I didn’t expect to use it much on this iPod either.

All I wanted was something I could use to listen to podcasts and music while I drove or flew.

I got so much more.

This little sucker is absolutely packed with features.

  • It plays MP3s and other audio format files.
  • It plays movies.
  • It has an FM radio tuner built in. The FM tuner can identify songs so you can tag them and later sync them with your computer for easy shopping on the iTunes Store.
  • It has a video camera.
  • It has a pedometer. It can sync up with Nike’s Web site for some reason I’m not clear about and probably wouldn’t care about if I did.
  • It has games.
  • It can tell when you tilt it so it orients the screen properly. This tilt thing can also be used by games.
  • It can record voice memos.
  • It can store and display photos.
  • It can sync with Address Book and iCal on my Mac.
  • It can store notes.

It does a huge amount of stuff I didn’t expect. And every time I find something new, I get all giddy, like a kid.

Playing with one of these silly things for the first time — as an owner — is better than opening presents at Christmas.

Now I know what you’re saying. “Maria, you work with Apple products all the time. Didn’t you know that the Nano had all these features?”

No, I didn’t. I mean I knew about the movies and heard about the built-in video camera. But the tilt thing and games and pedometer and radio were all quite a shock.

Maybe you’re saying, “Maria, how could you spend nearly $200 and not know what you’re getting?”

Well, I thought that what I thought I was getting was worth $200. The Nano comes in a really sleek little package. Weighs next to nothing. Incredible quality video for such a tiny screen. I was satisfied.

Now I’m beyond that.

Do all MP3 players have this many bells and whistles? What have I been missing?

As you might imagine, I’m very happy with my new purchase. The only adjustment I’ll need is limiting the data I put on it to less than 16 GB. My old iPod has a 30 GB hard disk in it; this is quite a step down.

But I’ll deal with 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.

Podcasting Instructions Update

Apple revises its Podcaster Tech Specs document to provide information on Apple TV compatibility.

Although I haven’t published an episode for a while, I am a podcaster. My Maria Speaks podcast has about 30 episodes published over the past two years or so.

Because of that, I’m on Apple’s mailing list for information about podcasting. And today I got an e-mail message from Apple that provides some useful information about formatting video or enhanced podcasts for better compatibility with Apple TV.

Here’s part of it:

Recommendations for Formatting Video Podcasts

1. If you’re encoding your video podcast at 320×240, please increase the resolution to either 640×480 or 640×360 (depending on the aspect ratio of your source files). Why? Because video podcasts at this resolution look great on Apple TV and still port to video iPods. Lower resolution podcasts might also work on both platforms, but they don’t look nearly as good on a widescreen TV. As always, make sure to test any encoding changes you make to ensure device compatibility. QuickTime 7.1′s “Export to iPod” function will ensure that a video file is encoded at a width of 640 and is iPod-compatible.

2. It’s best not to create two different podcast feeds for different resolutions. By doing so, you dilute the popularity of your podcast and reduce exposure in our charts. It’s better to have one feed high in the charts than two that are lower.

3. If your source files are 16:9, stick with that aspect ratio. Don’t add letterboxing to make them 4:3. By doing so, you prevent the video from expanding to fill a 16:9 widescreen TV and instead end up with black space on all four sides. Also, your original source files should be at least 640 pixels wide.

Of course these are just recommendations. We understand that there are good reasons for 320×240 (bandwidth bills) and 720p (looks fantastic). Do whatever makes the most sense for your show. For more information on formatting video, see the recently updated spec:

http://www.apple.com/itunes/store/podcaststechspecs.html

To see a sample of excellent podcasts that also look great with Apple TV, check out the Apple TV Podcast Showcase.

This is interesting because one of the few complaints I’ve heard about Apple TV is the video quality of podcasts. It appears that Apple is trying to prevent this from being a problem by providing podcasters with detailed instructions for making their podcasts look good on Apple TV.

Come Fly with Us!

I do a “video” podcast for Flying M Air called Come Fly with Us! It’s basically an iMovie slide show of images taken on various flights and day trips throughout Arizona. Although I don’t want to go back and fix existing episodes so they meet these requirements, I’ll probably release new episodes with these specs on a go-forward basis.

As mentioned by Apple in the quoted e-mail above, a higher resolution will lead to bigger files. Not only will this affect bandwidth, but it can discourage potential subscribers from subscribing. For example, since moving from my downtown office back into my house, my download speed has been cut from high-speed DSL (5-7 M) to medium speed cable (512 K if I’m lucky). A 70 MB podcast has to be pretty darn good for me to further slow down my Internet access speed with a lengthy download. Right now, each episode of Come Fly with Us! is about 15 MB; I’m curious to see what the higher resolution files will be.

Just something to keep in mind.