Appigo Todo now supports Dropbox

On my iPod Touch I’m using Appigo’s Todo application. I had been syncing the data to Toodledo so that I had a backup in case something happened to my itouch. Now Appigo’s Todo app supports Dropbox. The advantage here is that the place that I’m syncing to, dropbox, supports all of the features of the Todo app. This is important for recovery. Toodledo doesn’t support hierarchical todo items. However when syncing with dropbox it’s in Appigo’s own format so all features are supported. And it turns out the native format is an sqlite database, so I can pull all of the items out of it in case Appigo goes away!

2/20/2012 update. I’ve gone back to for syncing as the Dropbox sync for the todo app was just too slow. The Toodledo sync is faster, but it’s not a smart as it keeps trying to sync when I’m offline and then popping up an error dialog. I’ve contacted Appigo about this, but haven’t seen a fix yet.

Passwords for iTouch and iPhone

Until recently I’ve been using MyKeePass to store passwords on my iTouch. This allows me to use KeePassX on my desktop. What I’d really like though is Dropbox integration. Well recently on Hak5 they said that there was a free app for IOS that understood KeePass password databases and MyKeePass isn’t free. So I went looking and found MiniKeePass and discovered that it’s open-source and free. On top of that it integrates nicely with Dropbox! You still need to manually sync the database, but it’s really easy if you keep it in Dropbox. When you make changes on your desktop, you just open the Dropbox application on your iTouch and open the database and it imports right into MiniKeePass, then delete the old database from MiniKeePass. When you make changes on your iTouch, you can export it to Dropbox and overwrite the one there so that your desktop sees the changes.

Backing up cloud data

This year I replaced my Palm Treo with an iPod Touch. To make sure that I could access all of my data on my iPod as well as on my Linux desktop (and anywhere else for that matter) I moved all of my data to the cloud. This is great for accessibility, however I still want backups in case something happens to the cloud provider. Remember that all data needs to be backed up or you run the risk of losing it.

The 3 cloud providers that I am currently using and want backups for are Google Contacts, Google Calendar and Toodledo. My backups are done from my Linux desktop, so I’m using unix tools to do the work. I’m sure people can find replacements under Windows as well.

I wrote a script for each job (based upon various solutions that I found on the net). The data for each cloud service is backed up into a directory named by the date and I choose to keep 30 days worth of backups, so that I can go back and pull information that I may have accidentally changed or deleted.

First up is Google Calendar.

#!/bin/bash -e
date_dir=`date +%Y%m%d`
mkdir -p ${base}
find ${root} -maxdepth 1 -type d -mtime +30 -exec rm -rf \{\} \;
CURL="curl -s -S"
${CURL} -o ${base}/cal.xml "PRIVATE_URL_FROM_GOOGLE"

Here I setup some variables to determine the name of the directory based upon date. I then delete anything older than 30 days. The real key here is the last line. This tells curl to download the calendar and save it locally as “cal.xml”. The PRIVATE_URL_FROM_GOOGLE is found by going to calendar settings for the calendar in Google. At the bottom is the private address with 3 links for XML, ICAL, and HTML. I choose to download the XML version, but you can pick any that you want to work with. Since this script has your private calendar URL, you should protect it from others as they can change your calendar with this URL.

Backing up Google Contacts is a little harder because you have to login to get the contacts. I found a script to do this searching Google. I found a script written in python that dumps the contacts in Google’s XML format. I don’t know the best way to load back from this format, but I’m sure I could figure it out if needed.

#!/usr/bin/env python

import gdata.contacts.service

gd_client = gdata.contacts.service.ContactsService()
gd_client.ClientLogin('', 'password')

query = gdata.contacts.service.ContactsQuery()
query.max_results = 1000 # change for max contacts returned

feed = gd_client.GetContactsFeed(query.ToUri())
print feed

Then I wrote a wrapper script like the one for Google Calendar that puts the data where I want it.

#!/bin/bash -e
date_dir=`date +%Y%m%d`
mkdir -p ${base}
find ${root} -maxdepth 1 -type d -mtime +30 -exec rm -rf \{\} \;
export base
${HOME}/bin/ > ${base}/contacts.xml

I’m sure I could have done this in python too, but I wanted to keep all of my scripts as much the same as possible.

The last cloud service I needed a backup of was Toodledo. This one uses curl like the one for Google Calendar. Except that it does the login too. This script has curl post to the login page, save the cookies, then visit the XML export page. Since the cookie is saved, we don’t get prompted for a login again. I tried to do this trick on the Google Contacts page as well, but it doesn’t work because Google embeds a random hash in the login page as a hidden form field that needs to be passed on for the login to work. Anyway here’s my Toodledo backup script:

#!/bin/bash -e
root=${HOME}/backup/pim/tododate_dir=`date +%Y%m%d`base=${root}/${date_dir}mkdir -p ${base}
cd ${base}
curl \  
  --output /dev/null  \ 
  --form 'email=YOUR_EMAIL' \
  --form 'pass=YOUR_PASSWORD' \ 
  --form 'remember=1' \ 
  --cookie-jar ${root}/cookies.txt \ \ 
  --output toodledo.xml \

Note that this script has your username and password in it, so you’ll want to set the permissions on the script to keep others out.

To backup my email from gmail, I’ve found offlineimap to be a great application and easy to setup.

Passwords on the iPod Touch

On my Palm I used Keyring to keep track of my passwords. This has a nice interface in jpilot to access it on my desktop. When it came to my iPod Touch I needed to find something else to use. I did some searching and found that there was an open source password program called KeePass that had applications for many platforms (including Windows, Linux, Mac and IOS).  It turns out that there is an old version of the database (1.x) and a new version (2.x). There isn’t an application for the new format on Linux yet, so I choose to use the old database format and the desktop application KeePassX. There are two applications for IOS listed on the KeePass website: MyKeePass and iKeepass. I chose  MyKeePass because it supports both the old and new formats and seems to have been updated more recently.

MyKeePass can store multiple databases and those databases can be loaded from a public website, or from it’s own web server. You can tell the application you want to import a database file and it starts up a mini web server that just has an upload page and tells you the URL to visit. If your computer is on the same network you can visit this URL and then upload the database and it’s on your device. This is pretty nice. It would even better if MyKeePass could read the database file from Dropbox, but that functionality doesn’t exist yet. You can have MyKeePass reference a public URL and that could be a public file in Dropbox, but that seems a little to open for me. I’d prefer it to be a private folder on Dropbox that I store my database in.

I found an XSLT to convert the output of the keyring XML exporter to the 2.x format of KeePass, but not to the 1.x format. So I hacked on the 2.x XSLT some and created my version for 1.x. This is a fork of the original that I hope will get pulled into the main.


Offline web pages on iPod Touch

One of the things that I really liked about my Palm was using Plucker to view web pages when I’m not connected to the Internet. I’ve found a few apps for the iPod Touch that do this and here are the ones I’ve tried and what I think about them.

I read all of my news using Google Reader and so I wanted an app that would sync with it and keep the articles offline so that I could read them later. I tried Byline and MobileRSS. Both are good RSS readers, however I’ve found that I prefer MobileRSS. The syncing of all messages and ability to scan through all messages easily is great. Also MobileRSS allows one to send web pages to multiple other services, twitter, email, safari, Instapaper, Read It Later, etc. I’m currently using the free version and it works nicely. I’ll probably upgrade to the pro version to get rid of the ads eventually.

For generic web pages I started out using iWebSaver favelet. This favelet takes a given web page and sends it through the iWebSaver favelet site and produces a data page that can be stored on your IOS device. This data page is then opened in Safari when you want to view it. The advantage to this is that you have the whole page as is downloaded onto your device. The problem is that it takes a long time to load and doesn’t remember where you are in the page.

Next I tried Instapaper. This has worked very well for most pages. I’ve been very happy with the scaled down version of web pages. However I found that my Bible study had a problem with rendering. I couldn’t see the days. I’m guessing this is some CSS magic that gets stripped out by Instapaper as extra visuals.

I then gave Read It Later a try. At first I thought that it wasn’t going to help because the stripped down page looked the same as Instapaper and my Bible study still didn’t work. However then I noticed a button at the bottom of the page with a ‘T’ on it. It turns out that this toggles the page from the stripped down text version to the full page. With a little reading through the options I found that if I disable auto picking of the “right” format to download I can have Read It Later always download both the text and full versions of the page. Then when I’m offline I can toggle between the two. This allows me to view most pages in text and then pages like my Bible study as the full page.

Palm Contacts to Google

I have already been using Google to store some of my contacts for syncing using Zindus. So it seemed pretty natural to use Google to store all of my contacts.  Using Google means that my information is available on any platform. Google provides a nice sync interface for the iPod touch that works well in an offline mode, so I was happy with it.

Originally I started writing an application in python to convert my Palm contacts to Google. As I got close to having this done I discovered that the Birthday and Anniversary fields couldn’t get populated via the python API from Google (it may work now, but didn’t work then). So I started looking for other options.

It turns out that Google allows you to export your contacts in a CSV format and can import in that CSV format as well. So I entered a few contacts with all of the fields that I wanted and then did an export to see what I got. The CSV file was pretty standard, but had lots of extra columns. So I tried trimming it down and discovered that I actually need to have most of the columns, even if they’re blank, otherwise Google wouldn’t recognize some of the other non-blank columns. This seems kind of odd, but my guess is that Google is looking for some set of column names to determine if it’s a CSV file from Outlook or one from Google.

So now I needed to get my contacts into the Google CSV format. I started by exporting from jpilot and then trying to reorganize the data. This got old real fast. So I wrote another application in C++ using the pilot link library that would output my CSV files. I’ve put this application up on github so that anyone else can use it as well.

After running this application I had a nice CSV file that I was able to import into Google and all of my contacts were now available to my iTouch. I did end up hacking the IM conversion as I didn’t have many contacts with IM information in my Palm. Otherwise the conversion went pretty well.

Convert Palm Calendar to Google

I chose to use Google for my calendar. I already use Google for some of my mail and I sync contacts with Thunderbird using Zindus. Using Google means that my information is available on any platform. Google provides a nice sync interface for the iPod touch.

One annoying thing about the Google calendar integration with the iPod Touch is the lack of the ability to choose the color of the calendar. You need to choose to sync one calendar, then if the calendar color isn’t what you want, tell google to not sync the calendar, wait 10 minutes, then tell it to sync again. Repeat until you get the color you want.

I started writing a python program to do the calendar conversion as jppy gave me acces to the Palm database and Google has a python version of their API. However I found the python API to be lagging behind the Java API in features supported, such as birthday and anniversary information. So I decided to use Java to interact with Google. In initial testing this worked well, however I needed a way to access my Palm database from Java.

Instead of direct access I choose to write a C++ program that read the Palm database using the pilot link library and then output using Google protocol buffers. This kept me from having to rewrite the code to parse the palm database and give me a format that I could read in most any language. The C++ program is available on github as palm-export. The Java program for importing into Google calendar is also on github as calendar-import.

As of this writing I can import all calendar information except recurrence exceptions. This is when you have a repeating event and have chosen to cancel some of the events in the series. Google supports this concept and I have even gotten it to work for some events. However since I haven’t gotten it to work for all and I can’t tell when it’s not working, I came up with a workaround. Instead of creating the exception I create a new single event for the exception with “EXCEPTION:” prepended to the event name. This way I can recognize when one is canceled and I can just cancel the single event in Google, which works fine.

After the import I found a few of my appointments off by an hour. I suspect some timezones on recurring events didn’t get in correctly, so you’ll want to check appointments that are created with timezones in your Palm.

A couple of things to note. The iTouch doesn’t support all repeat types nor all alarm durations that the Palm does, however Google does. What this means is that these will show up as “Custom” in the iTouch and cannot be entered directly. So when you want to use an alarm or repeat type that the iTouch doesn’t support you’ll need to use the Google web interface to the calendar and then wait for the data to sync, which is pretty fast.

Recently (2/17/2011) I’ve noted that Google sometimes has trouble loading all of my calendars so they will disappear from the iTouch and then come back later. I’m hoping this is just a temporary situation and will be corrected in the future.

Replacing my Palm

I have been using a Palm as my PDA for a number of years. With the decline of the Palm platform I have been looking for a replacement PDA. The smartphones aren’t an answer for me as I really don’t want to pay for a data plan. I was looking at the Archos 43, however I haven’t been able to get my hands on one to see how well it works. In particular if the resistive touchscreen is reasonable. Furthermore Best Buy removed the Archos 43 from their website after listing it for 2 months. So I broke down and bought and iPod Touch.

I run Linux at home, so a major concern is how to sync data. In this post and following posts I will describe the tools that I’ve chosen to use and why; as well as how I imported my old data. Hopefully this will help others that are considering making such a change or looking to convert from one PDA to another or just want to know what tools others are using.

I also wanted to make sure that all of my information is available offline as well like my Palm. So I have mapped each of my Palm apps to the apps on my iTouch and then either web applications or a desktop application to view the data on my Linux computer.

  • Todo: Appigo todo backed in Toodledo to have an online backup. This is also a handy way to edit a bunch of todo items. Note that the free account doesn’t support the hierarchies of the Appigo application, but at least the data is there. To import data here I just manually entered the todo items.
  • Memo: Appigo notebook backed in Toodledo. I tried Evernote, but it was overkill for my needs and I wasn’t able to easily import my information from my Palm. To import data I just copied and pasted from jPilot into Toodledo. 3/20 update: I’ve switched to PlainText for my memos app. It’s really nice because it stores each memo as a text file in Dropbox and then it can be easily edited on my desktop.
  • pFuel: Gas Cubby is a nice application for keeping track of gas mileage and maintenance reminders. It also integrates very well with Appigo’s todo application so that maintenance reminders can be turned into todo items. Importing data here was just a matter of exporting from pFuel through the palm memos application and then massaging the CSV file to match what Gas Cubby wants for their input format.
  • plucker (offline web pages): See this post for details.
  • MyBible: Laridian has made MyBible for the Palm and PocketBible for the iPod Touch (and other IOS devices). I was able to transfer all of my Bibles easily. This worked out very well.
  • Keyring: MyKeePassmore information on this in a future post
  • Titrax: HoursTracker is a nice application for keeping track of time on projects.
  • Dropbox: I didn’t have this on my Palm, but it’s pretty handy for keeping photos as the photo album application won’t let me create albums.
  • Podcasts: Podcaster. I tried iTunes, but you can’t subscribe to a podcast on the device. Podcaster allows me to do this and has a nice refresh feature to grab all of my latest podcasts.
  • Calendar: Google Calendarmore details in a later post
  • Contacts: Google Contactsmore details in a later post

Setting up Neatx

I’ve been using the free version of the NX server from nomachine to access my Linux hosts and it’s been working really well. I’ve set it up at work to allowed shared access to our compute server, however we’ve run into an issue here. The free version limits how many people can use the server. Now we really don’t need the support and this isn’t like a big production shop where we need a rock solid version, so I started looking for open source alternatives. I found FreeNX, but development there seems to have paused for now. I then found Neatx. It’s hosted on google code and appears to be a little rough around the edges, but people claim it works.

There isn’t an installer, but I’m a developer, so I figured this shouldn’t be too bad. Turns out that after about 2 hours this evening I was able to get it going. Here are the steps that I followed. Note that I’m doing this on opensuse 11.3. The instructions should work elsewhere though.

  1. Install nxclient, nxnode, and nxserver from nomachine’s website. I grabbed the RPMs for opensuse and they installed just fine. I had originally done this because these were the binaries I was using, as it turns out I need some libraries from there for neatx to run properly.
  2. Copy the libraries off to the side to use later. If someone knows how to get around this step, I’d be very happy.
    • sudo cp -r /usr/NX/lib /usr/local/nx-lib
  3. Remove nxclient, nxnode, and nxserver. We don’t need them now.
  4. mkdir nx
  5. cd nx
  6. Download the following source files from nomachine’s opensource site. My downloads were version 3.4.0, but there may be a newer version out when you read this.
    • nxagent-3.4.0-11.tar.gz
    • nxauth-3.4.0-3.tar.gz
    • nxcomp-3.4.0-7.tar.gz
    • nxcompext-3.4.0-1.tar.gz
    • nxcompshad-3.4.0-3.tar.gz
    • nxproxy-3.4.0-2.tar.gz
    • nx-X11-3.4.0-4.tar.gz
  7. Untar the sources: for i in *.tar.gz; do tar -xzf $i; done
  8. cd nx-X11
  9. make World
  10. sudo cp programs/Xserver/nxagent /usr/local/bin/nxagent.real
  11. Now here is where we use the libraries. I tried finding all of the libraries in the sources that I built, but they weren’t enough, something was still missing. So you need to create /usr/local/bin/nxagent as a script with the following content:
    • #!/bin/bash
    • export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=/usr/local/nx-lib
    • exec /usr/local/bin/nxagent.real “$@”
  12. Download neatx from svn. Note that there aren’t any packages when I did this.
    • svn co neatx-read-only
  13. Follow the instructions in neatx-read-only/neatx/INSTALL
  14. Fix the instructions on nx’s home dir
    • sudo chown -R nx ~nx
  15. Edit /usr/local/etc/neatx.conf to match your system. Some paths will likely need to be changed.

You should now have neatx setup. Connect to it from any NX client and give it a try. The default neatx.conf has the loglevel set to debug. Leave this on until you’ve successfully connected, then change it to info to keep your logs from getting real full. I spent a lot of time looking through the output of the debug logs for errors in my setup. Neatx is written in python, although you don’t need to know the language to be able to debug most of the errors.

Tips for brother printers

Brother makes great, inexpensive laser printers. However the technology that they use to determine when you need new toner is a little too conservative. I’ve found that it states that I need more toner when there is still quite a bit of toner left. Unfortunately at this point the printer will refuse to print anymore pages unless you replace the toner, or make it believe there is more toner. Being the frugal person that I am, I like to print all the way to the end of my toner. Here’s what I’ve done to be able to print all of the way to the end of a toner cartridge.

If you have a black and white laser printer, then you need some black electrical tape. Other tape may work, but this is what I’ve used. You pull out the toner cartridge and note that on each end of the cartridge you’ll see a round, clear plastic window. The printer shoots some light down this and if the light reaches the other end, you’re told that you need more toner. If you put a piece of black tape across these windows then the printer believes that the toner cartridge is still full. Granted now the only way to know that you’re low on toner or out is that things don’t print so well. However you are able to print to the end of the toner cartridge.

If you have a color printer, the process is a little different. I purchased a HL-4040CDN and found that the black tape trick didn’t work. Instead I dug up these instructions at fix your own printer.

  1. Open the front cover of the printer
  2. Press and hold the cancel button
  3. Press the reprint button while still holding cancel
  4. Here is the reset menu
  5. Go to the appropriate cartridge on the menu and reset it and you’re done!

FYI… Pressing the “Go” button and the up arrow gives you the parts life reset menu (drum, laser, fuser, etc.).