Grab-and-Go Donut Holes

Grab-and-Go Donut Holes, originally uploaded by J. D. Harper.

The BJU snack shop is a testing ground for new snacks and treats for candy companies. If its new at Target, it’s been out for a year at the snack shop. This is an example for snack food innovation: donut holes in a cup. A brilliant idea whose time has come.

WordPress 2.3 Upgrade

I’ve just finished upgrading my blog to WordPress version 2.3. Let me know if you find anything where the site doesn’t look like it should.

WordPress 2.3 adds two features that I care about: Post tags, and plug-in update notifications. The former will make it easier for you to find posts that you’re interested in (once I go back and tag all of my old posts), while the latter will make it easier for me to keep plug-ins up-to-date.

I have run into a bug where it keeps telling me that a database table doesn’t exist, but that might be related to an old plug-in. I’ll play with it. It was a plug-in: The Google XML Sitemap generator needed to be updated. Now everything appears to work properly.

Handy Smartphone App

GCalSync is a neat bit of software that syncs your phone with Google Calendar. It works OK on my Blackberry so far, although it doesn’t handle time zones very well. It has an option to manually adjust the time settings. Now it works pretty well, and I can carry my calendar on the internet and in my pocket, and I don’t have to use Outlook.

The Amazon MP3 Music Store Is Amazing

Until now, iTunes has been the only decent online music store. It made getting music as simple as possible, and their extensive library ensured that, unless you were looking for something really obscure, you could be sure to find the music you wanted. And since Apple made both iTunes and the popular iPod, they worked very well together.

Other stores have tried to compete, but they were dismal failures by comparison. On the one hand, you had stores like eMusic, which required a monthly subscription fee to download 50 MP3’s a month from their catalog of mostly independent musicians. On the other hand, you had stores like URGE or the Zune music store, which had extensive collections of popular music, but which crippled their music with DRM (software that locks music to a few particular players to prevent piracy), which made them incompatible with the iPod.

Finally, yesterday, Amazon combined the best of both worlds. They have an extensive collection of popular music, with everyone from Eminem to Luciano Pavarotti, from major labels like Universal Music, available as MP3 files without DRM. They can work on any MP3 player, including the iPod.

The other major advantage that iTunes had over its competitors was ease-of-use. In iTunes, all you have to do to get a song into your library is push the “purchase” button. It’s exactly the same for the Amazon MP3 store.

When you first start using the Amazon MP3 store, you have to install a tiny little client that will download your music and then put it into iTunes or Windows Media Player (whichever you prefer). After that, it’s just as easy as push the One-Click button next to a song or album. Amazon does have one extra step, where you confirm which credit card to charge with your purchase, but other than that, it’s just as seamless as using the iTunes store.

In fact, I’m willing to say that Amazon is better than iTunes in a lot of ways. First, you’re getting the songs in MP3 format, which means that you aren’t locked into using the iPod like you are with iTunes.

Second, you can browse for your music in your browser, rather than being forced to use the iTunes client. I’ve found that there are times when I want to go look through iTunes, but it’s ridiculously slow or plagued with network timeouts. I’ve never had that problem with Amazon’s website.

Third, Amazon tracks are often cheaper than iTunes tracks. Many songs in Amazon are only $.89, including popular songs on the top of their charts. iTunes tracks are always $.99, regardless of song popularity, and $1.29 for songs without DRM.

Overall, I’d have to say that Amazon is the first online music store that gives Apple a run for its money. I know that I’m planning to check Amazon before I check iTunes for my future music purchases.

Adding a New Feature to Tracks: Email Todos From Certain Contexts

After searching long and hard for a good todo list manager, I finally settled on Tracks. It is fast, easy to use, and it is specifically designed with the “Getting Things Done” methodology in mind. Furthermore, it’s written in Ruby on Rails, which makes it fairly easy to add new features.

I have added one such feature to my copy of Tracks. One of the keys of a good productivity system is the ability to have the information you need when you need it. For example, a shopping list that you leave at home is useless. Likewise, a list of things you need to do while you’re out doing errands doesn’t do you any good if it’s stuck in your computer.

The ideal situation for me is to have the todos from contexts like @phone and @errands with me on my Blackberry wherever I go. Now, the volunteers who write Tracks are working on a version of the software that will be accessible by mobile phones, but that won’t help me. Since I run my copy of Tracks locally on my computer instead of on a web server, my phone would be unable to access Tracks.

The same problem affects solutions that involve Tracks’ built-in RSS feeds: feed readers that I could use wouldn’t be able to access them. After struggling—and failing—to get RSS-to-Email python scripts working (curse you AT&T for blocking port 25!), I finally struck upon an idea: Why not have change Tracks to have it automatically email my Blackberry the instant I create a task in these contexts?

In the extended entry, I go into how I tweaked Tracks to add this feature, in case you want to do it too. I would just submit this to the Tracks team as a feature suggestion, but there is a bit of manual configuration that I don’t think it would be easy to add to the main program. Here’s how its done.

Continue reading Plz Implement This (And Also Apple)

You know what would make a really, really cool service? If their player would give you the lyrics to the song that you’re listening to in the player, under the artist info. That would be awesome.

On a related note, if iTunes can look up my album art, it should be able to look up the lyrics to my music too. Seriously guys, this needs to be in iTunes already. It’s crazy that I have to manually look up the lyrics to all of my music.