Ditching paper planners for Google Calendar-Android combo

EACH November, I’d eagerly start my annual search for the next year’s planner. It is a circuitous process that almost always ends the same way each year—I’d drool over one planner after the other, go on coffee binges to collect stickers for a free diary, and end up buying a Moleskine.

I’ve been regularly trying and experimenting with online calendars and task managers for years but never got around to using one for long, back when the only interface was a Web browser and you needed to have an Internet connection to be able to use the system.

Paper was more efficient, apart from being more beautiful.

Starbucks 2011 planner and Google Calendars on the Samsung Galaxy Tab

BLANK PAGES. My Google calendar items in the Galaxy Tab placed on top the blank pages of the free 2011 Starbucks planners that I got after a coffee binge. Click to enlarge. Click to enlarge. (PHOTO BY MARLEN LIMPAG)

Last year, however, I started to gradually shift from using paper planners to online calendar services and a mobile phone.

I started with Nokia Ovi using my trustworthy-but-now-gone Nokia E63. If you have a Nokia phone, you have to use it with Ovi, a suite of online services that allow you to manage your phone’s calendar and contacts from the Web. Although I repeatedly encountered downtimes and syncing problems with Nokia Ovi last year, I found it useful enough that I migrated my office tasks and even marathon training schedule to the service.

With Ovi, you could enter tasks on the Web, set reminder settings and then have all these downloaded to your phone. Close to the end of last year, the service started allowing the sharing of calendar tasks and I was about to test it with the Sun.Star Cebu business section team when I lost my phone.

Then I got an Android phone.

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A graphomaniac’s wet dream

At last, Power Books has opened a branch in Cebu. The single storey outlet in the North Wing of SM City Cebu is heaven on a mall for book lovers.

I went to the shop when it opened, fought urges that were bordering on primal, and just checked on books that were on display. There aren’t computer or technology books yet. Members of the Power Books staff said these were still coming.

paperblanks handstitched notebook PAPERBLANKS NOTEBOOK. The pages of this handstitched notebook are acid-free and are held together by coptic binding. Paperblanks and Moleskine products are now available in Cebu, at the Power Books outlet in SM City’s North Wing. Click on photo to enlarge.

Last Sunday, I came back.

The store’s middle counter is a vortex. It drew me in. Around it were displayed several exquisite notebooks. For the first time, Moleskine (official pronounced mol-a-skeen-a) and paperblanks products are sold in Cebu. I went round and round the small counter, picking one notebook after the other.

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Smart TextMail and mobile alerts on tasks, website availability

One of my longest mobile experiment drew to a close early this month with my rediscovery of Smart’s TextMail.

For more than a year, I’ve been trying one service after another in an effort to get my e-mails sent as text messages to my mobile phone. The answer, you might say, is simple: buy a Blackberry.

I’m not, however, prepared to spend thousands of pesos for the device and its mobile e-mail solution when I have only very specific alerts in mind: website availability and tasks reminders. For regular e-mails, I am perfectly satisfied with the GMail for mobile Java application.

Scrybe online planner ONLINE PLANNER. My current online planner of choice, Scrybe. The free service allows me to manage my tasks and get alerted of deadlines via SMS messages sent through Smart TextMail. Click on photo to enlarge image.

I run and help oversee several websites and need to know whenever the servers where these are hosted encounter problems so that I can work on fixing it or submitting a support ticket. All the sites I run are monitored by free web server monitoring services that check every few minutes or so whether these are available.

Whenever the monitoring services I use detect any of the my sites to be down, it immediately sends an e-mail to alert me of the problem. I wanted to be able to get that message as an SMS alert. Sure many of these services offer SMS alerts, but for a fee.

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Take digital notes with Corel WordPerfect Lightning

No matter how hard I try, I could not recall my experience with using WordPerfect more than ten years back. I can recall using it for months but the overall user experience escapes me. It puzzles me. After all, I can still recall some of the keyboard commands for the DOS version of Word.

WordPerfect Lightning COREL WORDPERFECT LIGHTNING. The free note-taking software is easy to use and comes with an online collaboration account that allows you to synchronize notes.

But a link in del.icio.us not only reminded me that I once used WordPerfect and that the software suite still exists, it also pointed me to a cool free product that I have been testing for days now–WordPerfect Lightning.

Corel WordPerfect Lightning is a free lightweight word processor and note-taking software. It aims to fill “a gap between today’s existing desktop and Web-based productivity tools.”

Corel got the “lightweight” claim part right. The initial installer download is less than 1MB albeit it downloads more files as it installs the software. This setup is puzzling because Corel says “WordPerfect Lightning is simple, free and doesn’t need a Web connection.”” You may not need a Web connection to use it, but it appears that you need one to install it. I couldn’t find a standalone installer. Still, the whole installation process took less than 5 minutes in my PLDT WeRoam connection.

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Manage your tasks with Accomplice

The recent Internet connectivity problem in the Philippines has allowed me to try several software packages in an attempt to replicate the task management that I do online. Before the connectivity problems, I managed all my tasks (personal, blog-related, work-related and other collaborative chores) using an installation of activeCollab.

accomplice EASY TASK MANAGEMENT. Accomplice helps you manage your tasks easily and collaborate with other users. Click on photo to view larger image.

With Internet connectivity deteriorating to the level of the days when flickr would have been dismissed as a wrongly-spelled word, I managed to download several personal information managers (PIM) and tasks managers through the only reliable connection I had left, the office PC, for use at home and in my laptop.

I initially thought of using Sunbird, Mozilla’s calendaring software, in conjunction with Google Calendar. But after searching for possible solutions, I still couldn’t find a way to synchronize Sunbird installations in multiple PCs using Google Calendar. I’m crossing my fingers that Sunbird’s coming version will be able to not only grab data from a Google Calendar account but also add entries to it.

I then tried Chandler, the open source PIM released by the Open Source Applications Foundation, but its hardware requirement is rather steep: a processor with a speed of at least 2 gigahertz and 512mb RAM.

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WordPress blog maintenance checklist

Unlike blogs hosted in such services as WordPress.com and Blogger.com, weblogs installed in your own server need regular checks and maintenance. Failing to do these checks can leave your blogs sluggish and even vulnerable to security problems.

If you use WordPress to run your website, at the minimum, you need to be on the lookout for new releases (one has just been released as a write this) of the blogging engine. You also need to regularly check updates on such things as your theme and the plugins you are using.

Blog tasks checklist WORDPRESS BLOG CHECKLIST. My checklist for tasks related to running a WordPress site. click on photo to view larger image.

I used to keep track of these tasks using an installation of activeCollab, an open source project management software that mimics Basecamp. With the recent Internet connectivity problems caused by that earthquake in Taiwan, I decided to track blog management-related tasks on paper. This way, I can prioritize whatever time I can spend online on really important tasks.

I created this blog maintenance checklist as reminder of tasks I need to do as well as tracker of such things as version numbers of plugins and themes.

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New screencast on using a TiddlyWiki

I’ve recreated my earlier video guide on using a TiddlyWiki, a single-page wiki you can use for your notes and task lists. Instead of Wink, I used CamStudio to capture screen activities this time.

Wink is an easy to use free software to capture videos of your screen activities and it’s great for creating tutorials. My only problem with it is that it doesn’t offer an option to capture screen activities in video format (i.e. mpeg or avi) so that it can easily be uploaded in video sharing sites like YouTube, Metacafe, and Revver. Wink outputs the screen activities in .swf and .exe formats.

My previous screencasts– one is on how to turn any web template into a WordPress theme–are in .swf format and hosted in the Internet Archive. I’ve had complaints on its playback quality and how it can be slow at times so I decided to try hosting it other video services. These services, however, do not accept .swf files so I spent days trying one application after another to convert the files into .mpg or .avi formats to no avail.

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Use activeCollab to manage your projects online for free

I have long wanted to install a project management system in my web server. I have gone through a couple of open source project management scripts, from eGroupWare, more.Groupware to dotProject and yet somehow I never found a PHP/MySQL script that was easy to install and use but at the same time fit my needs.

I had wanted to manage my tasks using groupware applications hosted on my server. I don’t do a lot of projects and the bulk of my time is spent on newsroom tasks. But often, I have to deal with different groups of people or even a separate department for some of my personal and work-related projects. I wanted to simplify and centralize all these tasks in an online task manager.

I gave up on installing a script in my own server and instead used Basecamp’s free account and even PBWiki for projects that required me to work with other people.

In July, however, I read a post in TechCrunch about a Basecamp “clone” that was released as an open source project. I immediately checked the site out and fount that activeCollab required a PHP 5 server. Since I was on a web host that only had PHP 4, I just bookmarked activeCollab and made a note to try it in a local server.

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Using a TiddlyWiki: a video guide

I am a long-time user of TiddlyWikis and its various adaptations. Before a catastrophic accident involving the synchronization of various offline files wiped out my tasks list, I was an extensive user of GTDTiddlyWiki. After the accident, I moved to a server-side TiddlyWiki, alternating between Serversidewiki.com and ZiddlyWiki before finally settling with TiddlySpot.

I am also a long-time TiddlyWiki “evangelist.” Any chance I get to introduce TiddlyWiki, I’d show it off.

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Work on blog post ideas with Wridea

I seldom finish a blog post in one session in front of the computer. My typical blogging day starts with reading news feeds to check on updates on topics that interest me. Sometimes I get a blog post idea while reading RSS feed items and I’d write a note in my personal wiki about the topic.

I’d then work on the post in the office, right before the newsroom goes into overdrive chasing page deadlines and after I’ve finished my pages and while waiting for pages assigned to me for line-reading. I’d then publish the post at home, after my early morning meal–that’s dinner for all you morning people.

Most of the time, however, I’m working on several projects that can generate several blog posts. These projects are experiments on content management systems, blogging, wikis and anything that might be of use in a newsroom environment, particularly that of a small community newspaper.

I keep my technical notes on these experiments and my to-do lists in various personal wikis, including a txt file in my K750i. But for blog post ideas, I may have found the best notes repository, for me, in Wridea. (Click on photo to view larger image)

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