Sunday, October 18, 2009

Replacing a Palm with an iPod touch 64GB

I've used Palm organizers for many years.  With my Palm E2 becoming long in the tooth, I decided to switch platforms and see what all the fuss was about with the iPod touch and the iPhone.

My iPod is a 3G (3rd generation) iPod touch 64GB.  As a replacement for the Palm, it had to to four things exceedingly well: calendar, contacts, to-do, and memos.

Out of the box, as an organizer the iPod wasn't a match for my old Palm.  The Notes application didn't do categories, and the To Do application didn't exist.  The calendar was a bit different, but roughly equivalent.  The Palm calendar has a nice month view where each portion of the days on the calendar is colour coded according to the category of the appointments; the iPod calendar just has a dot on each day where there are appointments, and touching the day will bring up the appointments beneath the calendar.  It doesn't have the same at-a-glance functionality as the Palm, but it works.

Of course, that was before a trip to the App Store.  After trying out many of the to-do and notes apps, I decided to spend some money.  While DoBot ToDos was a nice free to-do app, it didn't have a desktop interface, and was fairly basic.  Similarly, Note Me was a very nice memo app, but without a desktop interface.  Neither had an easy way to import data from my Palm.  I was going to have to shell out a few dollars to get the functionality I needed.

My solution for a To Do app was Toodledo ($3.99).  Toodledo offers a feature rich to-do application that syncs my items wirelessly with my free account at  I was able to export my Palm to-do items to a file using Palm Desktop, and then effortlessly import them using

To replace my Palm memo application, I chose NoteSpark ($4.99).  Like Toodledo, NoteSpark surpassed the rich functionality of my Palm, and allowed effortless import of my Palm memos.  Notespark also allows wireless syncing of data to a free account at, and editing of notes from any web browser.

Thrilled to have to-do and notes functionality exceeding expectations, I then moved on to calendar and contact apps.  Both are built in to the iPod, but neither really shined until I discovered Google Sync.  Using it, I enabled syncing of the iPod Calendar to my Google Calendar, as well as syncing of Gmail contacts to the Contacts app.  Google Sync also allows syncing e-mail to the iPod Mail app, but I find that accessing the mobile version of Gmail through Safari offers more functionality.

So there you have it.  An iPod touch plus $9 of software is capable of matching, or even exceeding, the gold standard for organizers set by Palm.  Of course, the iPod touch goes far beyond that in its capabilities.  In many ways, I've found it to be a laptop replacement.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Register your wireless router to enable iPod touch location-awareness

The iPod touch, unlike the iPhone, doesn't have a GPS to help it know where it is. Yet the iPod touch manages to know its location using its wi-fi capability. How does it do this? The term "wi-fi triangulation" has been bandied about, but there's no triangulation involved.

Instead, Apple utilizes the services of a company called Skyhook Wireless. What Skyhook does is maintain a worldwide database of wi-fi hotspots containing their GPS coordinates and MAC addresses. Once you connect to a wi-fi network, your iPod can then submit the MAC address of the network's router to Skyhook's servers, and if that hotspot is registered with them, it will return the latitude and longitude of your location to your iPod touch. (You can also enable wi-fi location awareness on your laptop or desktop, by installing a plug-in here.)

What this means is that an iPod touch can benefit from most of the advantages of GPS-enabled devices without having a GPS. In fact, when in large urban areas and indoors, where it can take a long while for a GPS to acquire a satellite lock, an iPod touch can be aware of it's location in seconds.

To submit your wireless router's MAC address and location to Skyhook's database, click here. If you're a location offering wi-fi access to the public, you'll help improve the iPod's location-awareness. If you submit your home router's info, you'll enable location-awareness for your personal devices at home.  You gotta admit that's kinda cool.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

An Inconvenient Truth

I watched An Inconvenient Truth tonight. Very well done, I highly recommend it. Watching it, though, I was really struck by how unconscionable it is that they've known about this problem for decades, and they've just sat on it, or worse, obstructed the path of people trying to fix it. An entire generation of people have stuck their heads in the sand rather than address the issue. Pathetic.

Watching AIT just three years after its debut, it was interesting to see how prophetic it is. Gore talks about how naysayers have claimed we have to choose between the economy and the environment, and then shows a chart comparing Japanese and American auto companies to demonstrate that building fuel-efficient vehicles is economically beneficial. Flash-forward to the present day, and we know how well the American auto companies are faring!

Global warming is real, and it's affecting our species' ability to live on this planet. What can you do? Well, as a unionist, I've seen and firmly believe in the power of people acting collectively. If we all do something, all our individual actions add up to something collectively huge.

Some suggestions: Buy electricity from Bullfrog Power. Support environmental groups like The Bruce Trail Conservancy. Walk or bicycle instead of using your car. Vote for political parties (such as the NDP and Green) that will actually do something meaningful to protect the planet.

There are tons of sites out there such as Lighter Footstep, One Million Acts of Green, TreeHugger,, and Consult them, learn from them. Do something.

Here's a summary of my green lifestyle choices that I created a while back.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Participated in my first Scrabble tournament tonight...

I participated in the Niagara Region Literacy Council's Scrabble for Literacy fundraising tournament tonight, my first Scrabble tournament ever. It was a ton of fun. Great buffet dinner, followed by three games of Scrabble. Silent auction, penny sale, and door prizes, too (I won a package of gourmet jelly beans -- 28 flavours!).

I had no idea of the scale of the event... there were at least a couple hundred people there, and they had a waiting list for registrations. For next year they say they've reserved double the space!

Scrabble-wise, it was a new experience. It was a team Scrabble event. 20 minute games, they provided the first word, and then each team/table worked together to fill the board. All tiles were face up. Quite a lot of fun... twenty minutes for a game, plus time to score, made me think this team Scrabble format could easily be adapted for use in schools.

So I'm definitely planning on doing it again next year. Next time, though, I'll be more organized, and get a whole team signed up, with our table reserved well in advance.

Overall, I had a blast playing Scrabble, ate a great meal, and supported a good cause. Time well spent.

Monday, March 09, 2009

My Debut as a Videographer

Howard Hampton giving a speech
This past Saturday, I made my debut as a videographer. Well, I ran the video camera at least. ;-) I was at the Ontario NDP leadership convention with Ish Theilheimer of, running the camera while he conducted interviews.

It was an interesting experience. I saw a lot of familiar faces at the convention; labour activists and NDP members have a definite membership overlap. Just like going to ETFO AGM, provincial meetings of occasional teacher Locals, or my local Labour Council, attending the NDP convention helped give me a different perspective on my work. It's easy to become myopic and think all the issues we face as occasional teachers are specific to our workplace, but our issues are really universal. Attending big events lets you know you're not just a lone voice in the wilderness, and reassures you that you've got a whole lot of people with similar values standing behind you.

One of the people we interviewed was a cab driver who'd filed a complaint under the Employment Standards Act because he was being paid less than minimum wage. He won his complaint, but he never worked for that company again. His story really resonated with me, because occasional teachers who try to uphold their contract rights will never again teach in the school where they complained. The complete lack of accountability for employers, and the lack of protection and recourse for employees who are victims of this kind of passive, invisible reprisal are issues that need to be addressed.

"It’s time that part-time, casual, cultural, and migrant workers are recognized as the real workers that they are!" - Andrea Horwath

Which brings me back to the NDP convention. In her final speech to delegates prior to the commencement of voting to choose the new leader, Andrea Horwath said "It’s time that part-time, casual, cultural, and migrant workers are recognized as the real workers that they are!" I'm glad somebody is putting out this message. Part-time work is what keeps many people afloat, and we need to address the fact that part-time workers are often paid less than their full-time peers, have lesser benefits or none at all, worse working conditions, and receive much less respect from their employers. This divide between full-time and part-time workers is not acceptable.