Thursday, March 31, 2011

"Converting" Palm Tasks to iPod using Notespark

6/23/12: I eventually decided I wanted a dedicated to-do list app, and found a good one: GoTasks.

1/3/14: Notespark services except for export were shut down on 12/31/13.

The Palm Tasks functionality is like a to-do list, with the ability to assign a priority between 1 and 5 to each item. You could check each item off when it was done, keeping an archive record of it on your PC if you chose. I just learned a moment ago that you could also set a due date on an item, a feature I obviously never used.

I simply used Palm Tasks as a somewhat longer term to-do list, which I only occasionally consulted.  Given that, I created five Notespark (which I first wrote about here) Tags tasks1 through tasks5, and used copy and paste operations on my PC (between Palm Desktop and Notespark's web interface) to throw all the items having a priority of 1 into a single note with the Tag tasks1, doing the analogous operation down to the items having a priority of 5.  Then I synched Notespark to get those items onto my iPod.

I never archived checked-off Tasks items on the Palm, I merely deleted them.  Keeping all the items in Notespark notes allows me to access them rapidly without needing a dedicated to-do list app, and I just delete the text of any item that I finish.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Netflix video on the iPod

To lengthen my iPod's battery life, I've been keeping screen brightness at about 30% (10/24/12: which I subsequently discovered is insufficient in bright sunlight), which has proved fine for everything except my first foray into a Netflix movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (for which a friend's husband won an Oscar!). Since many of the movie's early scenes are fairly dark, I cranked the brightness up to 100% in order to see things more clearly.

I also used earphones for the first time, really, and the sound is pretty good.  It was reassuring to see that all that lint in the earphone port didn't cause any problems.  I'm only 17 minutes into the movie, and the flexibility of Netflix streaming on-demand means that's as far as I'll get until I'm good and ready to continue, like maybe during a future meal....

Watching episodes of the comedies The Office and (the animated) Futurama previously was totally fine at 30% brightness, but much of those shows' entertainment value is their audio content. Setting the volume up to maximum without using earphones was okay in a quiet room.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Free PDF reader apps: PDF Reader Lite

Parent blog entry:

PDF Reader Lite is my favorite free PDF reader app.

  • Nice flexibility in ways of getting PDF files onto iPod.
  • Text Reflow allows flowing the text into a single column for reading, which can be a boon. However, images are not displayed in Text Reflow, and "images" which are composed of specialized fonts, such as some chess diagrams, will be displayed in an unusable form.

  • PDF Reader Lite lack's Safari's capability of allowing you to tap twice to either zoom in or zoom out on a column of text, a "natural" part of functionality for an iPod. To zoom without changing the total document form of the text, you can either use the spread-and-pinch of the iOS, or use PDF Reader Lite's magnifying glass functionality (tap in the center of the screen to bring that up), both methods of which require more manual futzing around to center a column of text (but see Text Reflow under PROS above).
  • Included manual would benefit from smoother English (see TIPS below, for a clearer explanation of how to move a file) -- author may be a native Chinese language reader based on a screenshot(s) in the manual.
  • Free version can only store or open 10 files. My usage over time will determine whether it's worth upgrading.
  • To move a file from one folder to another: Go into the folder, tap Edit, select the file you want to move by tapping on the circle to its left, tap cut (copy is also possible, if you want the file to appear in multiple folders), tap PDF Documents to go up a level, tap the folder you want to move the file into, tap paste. If you nest folders, extrapolate additional actions accordingly.
  • To get a file from the web, enter the URL of a page having a link to the PDF; don't enter the URL of the PDF. Then, when you click on the PDF link, choose Save Linked File. For example, enter (the Myers + Chang restaurant menu page), don't enter (the dinner menu PDF).

Free PDF reader apps: iPDF

Parent blog entry:

  • Has capability like Safari to tap twice to either zoom in or zoom out on a column of text, a "natural" part of functionality for an iPod.
  • Simple ("naive") search capability to find PDFs on the web might be useful for a casual search for a focused topic or title (e.g., "Pride and Prejudice").
  • Very basic functionality.
  • Number of potential search results seems to be artificially limited.  When searching for PDFs associated with "chess", the "View More Results" button no longer appeared after I tapped it 7 times. I find it very unlikely such PDFs on the web are exhausted after 8 screens' worth of results. For more complete results, try Google's Advanced Search, specifying File Type as "Adobe Acrobat PDF (.pdf)", after which you'll have to transfer the file to some other PDF reader, like PDF Reader Lite (which I discuss here).
  • Ads.
  • To rename a file: get into the Reader, tap Menu, Rename File.  A name like CH_2009_04-06.pdf (for the April-June 2009 issue of Chess Horizons) of a series is typically more helpful than having the first few words of the PDF content showing as the title (the apparent default).  For a magazine, those words could easily be the same from issue to issue.

Free PDF reader apps: Dropbox

Parent blog entry:

  • Its built-in PDF reader has the capability, like Safari, to tap twice to either zoom in or zoom out on a column of text, a "natural" part of functionality for an iPod.

Free PDF reader apps

Below are the free PDF reader apps I'm trying out. Each one also gets its own separate blog entry, into which incremental updates will flow over time. If I ever feel those entries are sufficiently mature, I may make a chart comparing all of these apps.

7/2/11: I only rarely use PDF files on my iPod, and my focus to date has been on those typically having 2 or 3 columns in portrait orientation. PDF files having no columns will typically need to be read in landscape orientation for the text to be big enough to read; I'm not sure yet how much I will eventually cover that type of usage. I have also since loaded more PDF-reading apps on my iPod, but to date I have looked at those even less than the few I list below.
  • Dropbox (whose main functionality is to allow sharing of files over the web after you make an account, but which has a built-in PDF reader)
  • iPDF
  • PDF Reader Lite by Kdan Mobile Software LTD (my favorite)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Correcting my stroke order when writing 那

Ouch, I just learned from my iPod that I've been writing the very basic 那 character using the wrong stroke order for many years. I had been starting with the leftmost downward stroke, and couldn't get 那 to come up as a possible choice of character on the iPod.

A little investigation confirmed that starting with the other natural (to me) first choice of stroke, going left to right at the top, then down, is correct, and that brings up 那 as a choice from which to select.

It is just wonderful to have such convenient chances with the iPod to easily practice Chinese characters (and split infinitives).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Overly Modern French 101

I'd previously seen a story similar to the first in English, but don't remember having seen one in the style of the second. This type of thing is more fun to read in French than in English, though, at least for a francophile like myself. I edited out some text from the first which only made sense in the e-mail context in which I'd received it.

Puveoz-vuos lrie ceci? Seleuemnt 56 porsnenes sur cnet en snot cpalabes. Je n'en cyoaris pas mes yuex que je sios cabaple de cdrpormendre ce que je liasis. Le povuoir phoémanénl du crveeau huamin. Soeln une rcheerche fiat à l'Unievristé de Cmabridge, il n'y a pas d'iromtpance sur l'odrre dnas luqeel les lerttes snot, la suele cohse imotprante est que la priremère et la derènire letrte du mot siot à la bnone palce. La raoisn est que le ceverau hmauin ne lit pas les mtos par letrte mias ptuôlt cmome un tuot. Étonannt n'est-ce pas? Et moi qui ai tujoours psneé que svaoir élpeer éatit ipomratnt!

UN B34U JOUR D'373, J'37415 5UR L4 PL4G3 37 J3 R3G4RD415 D3UX J3UN35 F1LL35 JOU4N7 D4N5 L3 54BL3. 3LL35 CON57RU15413N7 UN CHÂ734U D3 54BL3, 4V3C 7OUR5, P4554G35 C4CH35 37 PON7-L3V15. 4LOR5 QU'3LL35 73RM1N413N7, UN3 V4GU3 357 4RR1V33 37 4 7OU7 D37RU17, R3DU154N7 L3 CH4734U 3N UN 745 D3 54BL3 37 D'3CUM3. J'41 CRU QU'4PR35 74N7 D'3FFOR7, L35 F1LL37735 COM3NÇ3R413N7 4 PL3UR3R, M415 4U CON7R41R3 3LL35 COURRUR3N7 5UR L4 PL4G3, R14N7 37 JOU4N7 37 COMM3NÇ3R3N7 4 CON57RU1R3 UN 4U7R3 CHÂ734U. J'41 COMPR15 QU3 J3 V3N415 D'4PPR3NDR3 UN3 GR4ND3 L3ÇON. NOU5 P455ON5 UN3 GR4ND3 P4R713 D3 NO7R3 V13 4 CON57RU1R3 D35 CHO535 M415 LOR5QU3 PLU5 74RD UN3 V4GU3 L35 D3MOL17, L35 53UL35 CHO535 QU1 R3573N7 5ON7 L'4M1713, L'4MOUR 37 L'4FF3C71ON 37 L35 M41N5 D35 G3N5 QU1 5ON7 C4P4BL35 D3 NOU5 F41R3 5OUR1R3.

Did the author of the first text intentionally add in some extra letters at times (cdrpormendre, priremère)? Or does that just show how difficult it is to write like that?

Ha, iPod Safari guesses that 745 D3 54BL3 might be a phone number and highlights it. Nope, it's just a tas de sable.

The significance of diacritical marks and special characters

A friend from San Francisco once told me the tale of a person having received a Worker of the Year award. The award was in Spanish, and there was one minor problem...the printed award lacked the tilde (~) over the n in the Spanish word for year (año). The award thus read, "Trabajador del Ano" -- Worker of the Anus.
(Actually, I think my friend told me "Trabajador de Ano", but I think the middle word was probably "del" [of the], instead of just "de" [of].)

That's the most extreme case I've heard of where the lack of a diacritical mark makes a big difference.

On a more technical, but less disturbing, note, I recently learned a little tidbit about the eight-bit ISO 8859-15 (Western European Latin Alphabet #9) character set, which includes the Euro symbol along with some characters from the French and Finnish languages, characters which are missing from the more heavily used ISO 8859-1 (Western European Latin Alphabet #1) character set. Despite good intentions, ISO 8859-15 was apparently unable to overcome the popularity of ISO 8859-1.

The ISO 8859-15 bonus characters for French are œ, Œ, and Ÿ (replacing ½, ¼, and ¾, respectively).  I had never heard of French words that had Ÿ in them, so I found it interesting that such a character existed in the French alphabet.

A French Wikipedia page, which I can't find at the moment, mentioned that when the working group met to decide what characters would go into ISO 8859-1, one member said there were no contexts in which œ would be confused with oe (hmm, for words that have oe, I can only think of Noël and Citroën off the top of my head, and that e is different). Another member of that working group worked for a printer company, and said that they didn't even have Ÿ available on their printers. This was the mid-1980's, it seems, so those may have been daisy-wheel and dot matrix printers.

Oof, I see 8859-15 also kicked out ¦ ("pipe"), replacing it with a Finnish character, a dreadful decision for technical computer usage.

French Wikipedia page on ISO 8859-15

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Free Chinese dictionary apps: Pleco

Parent blog entry:

  • By default uses different colors to represent the 5 possible tones; colors can be turned off or configured. I'm trying red (1st tone), blue (2nd tone), green (3rd tone), purple (4th tone), gray (neutral tone), roughly following the red-yellow-blue-green-orange-purple-brown-black order of my Crayola crayon days. Yellow and orange, being lighter colors, afford less visual contrast from the white background, so I didn't use them. Gray (the default) seems most appropriate for neutral tone.
  • Add-on dictionaries available, both free and paid. You can switch freely between them within the app.
  • Settings > General > Enable Night Mode allows you to switch the background from white to black, making the display dark but readable.
  • The Wild button allows search for multi-character combinations (or multiple Pinyin syllable combinations) even when you don't know the first character (Pinyin syllable). For example, to see the multi-character (multiple Pinyin syllable) entries whose second character is 珠,enter:
    (@ can be typed in normally, or by pressing Wild). Any 2-character entries are shown first, then any 3-character entries, etc. Even more search capabilities are described in the Advanced Tutorial section of the Instruction Manual, e.g., the use of $ to represent 0-3 characters (Pinyin syllables). These features make good usage of computerized capabilities, but I'm not sure how often I would actually need them. Still, it's useful to keep them in mind, since none of my other Chinese dictionary apps have such functionality.

Free Chinese dictionary apps: KTdict C-E

Parent blog entry:

KT is apparently for Klaus Thul.

  • Seems to cold-start faster than CED, iCED, and Pleco. I don't like waiting when I want a translation or want to know what a character looks like, especially if I'm switching back and forth between a Chinese dictionary app and another app, like e-mail. Switching back to an app means it's not a cold-start of it, naturally.
  • Ads.

Free Chinese dictionary apps: iCED

Parent blog entry:

My preferred Chinese dictionary app. Its usage of the visual tone choices (see below) can save time when looking up a character phonetically, and is more smooth all around. It is also the only dictionary app I know of which allows you to copy out (to other apps) Pinyin syllables with tone indicators just like you would write by hand, e.g., Hǎo bàng! (好棒,Excellent!), instead of having to write Hao3 bang4!

10/22/12: One possible downside to using tone indicators instead of digits to represent tones is that you would not be able to search for tone-less Pinyin. That is, searching for "hao" would find a note that contained Hao3 bang4!, but it would not find one that contained Hǎo bàng!. Still, in general I would argue that searching directly for the Chinese character (好), even if you need to look it up in a dictionary first, would be better for language learning. This issue is predicated on the idea of notes which contain both Chinese characters and the matching Pinyin, like those I use for vocabulary reinforcement.

  • Adds all 5 visual tone choices as separate buttons to tap above the English keyboard, e.g., a horizontal line for first tone, as people would normally write by hand. I'm used to adding numbers to indicate the tones, but this functionality saves you from switching to the number keys when entering Pinyin.
  • You can copy and paste Pinyin syllables having these visual tone choices.
  • Ads. This app serves me so well that I paid to remove the ads. I don't have an iPhone, so never really thought about how such ads nibble into one's 3G data usage, but that makes sense.

CC-CEDICT DICTIONARY LINGUISTIC ISSUES (which are not iCED's responsibility):
  • 10/16/11: The surname whose Pinyin is is given as 區, and for practical* reasons should perhaps be given only as 歐. Pleco, for instance, has it as 歐, which matches what my native Chinese speaker source expected.
    Neither the 844-page Far East Pinyin Chinese-English Dictionary, published in 2008, nor the 1762-page Far East Chinese-English Dictionary, published in 1992, include 區 with the pronunciation ; in traditional Chinese, 區 is always pronounced qū, and is not a surname.
    The 976-page simplified Chinese The Pinyin Chinese English Dictionary, published in 1991 by The Commercial Press, gives both 区 and 欧 (the simplified Chinese versions) as an surname, but I suspect that 欧 is far more common than 区.

    * It is not possible to wholly map traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese on a one-to-one character basis, although many apps, like iCED, make some attempt to do so, to serve users of either.

In February 2014, I had to restore (three times all told) my 4th generation iPod running iOS 5.1.1 from my 4-day old PC iTunes backup. Although I had a more recent iCloud backup, a couple of my apps are no longer in the App Store, so my understanding is that I must restore from PC iTunes to get them back along with their data.

After that restore, I couldn't load my ABC dictionaries into iCED while following the Murage website instructions, until after I switched to loading the downloaded files into PC iTunes one at a time. That differed from the recommendation to load all the dictionary files at once, which didn't work for me.

Murage support was rather quiescent until March 2014, but I did get things working again, and I am still happily and regularly using iCED.

Free Chinese dictionary apps: CED

Parent blog entry:

3/20/11: I cannot find this on the App Store now, maybe it's gone or has changed into something else.

  • Includes "Say it!", apparently native speaker syllable-by-syllable pronunciation of entries, although I don't normally use that functionality.
  • Search results do not start appearing as you type, unlike all other Chinese dictionary apps I have tested to date. This app may very well be a work in progress, so future updates may bring this capability.
  • No in-app documentation.

Free Chinese dictionary apps

The iPod's native support for Chinese character has been a huge boon to me, since I am usually eager to learn to read and write more traditional Chinese characters. Although I have learned some simplified characters in my classes, I focus on traditional ones.

Below are the free Chinese dictionary apps I'm trying out. Each one also gets its own separate blog entry, into which incremental updates will flow over time. If I ever feel those entries are sufficiently mature, I may make a chart comparing all of these apps. Even if somebody already made such a chart, my chart will be tuned to characteristics I personally found useful (including app loading speed, perhaps). I traffic in day-to-day practical uses of Chinese (like learning that 板栗 on a Chinese restaurant menu means "Chinese chestnut"), not academic or literary ones.
  • CED (3/20/11: I cannot find this on the App Store now, maybe it's gone or has changed into something else)
  • iCED
  • KTdict C-E
  • Pleco
One or more (all?) of these apps have more powerful paid versions, but for now I don't have a need for capabilities beyond what I've found in the free versions.

If you have the space, it's worthwhile keeping multiple such apps loaded. In 10/2011, I was surprised to discover that, for about one day overall, iCED (version 3.2 (111)) would crash every time I opened it, although that might have been related to it having difficulties purging itself of the bug I'd recently found. It was particularly odd timing, since I had just been thinking about how iCED has been my favored Chinese dictionary app for some time, and that I had decided that I would make the in-app purchase to get rid of the ads, primarily to support the creators' efforts since the ads didn't meaningfully interfere with my usage. I temporarily used Pleco, generally my second choice, while iCED was unusable.

Friday, March 18, 2011

What's in a name?

I searched far and wide (well, maybe 15 minutes) to find a "decent" name for this blog address, needing to supply the part before "". Along the way, I traveled through a desolate wasteland of apparently long-abandoned blogspot blogs. I hit a number of them, including ones whose creators had, years ago, taken attractive blog names, and then written a single shill entry to try to make money from advertising. I should have used blogger's internal method of checking possible names instead of dignifying those sites with hits.

I tried using my first name (Ken) inside or with some other words, rejecting everything my web search turned up for "words ending in -ken".  I remember hearing that Steven Sondheim used a rhyming dictionary, probably long before the web made that easy.

I eventually pulled down a paper dictionary from my shelf to look at words that started with "en", eventually considering that "kenamored" fit the bill quite well -- enamored was already a word I had planned to use in the blog description.  Don't ask a (regular) paper dictionary, however, to find "words ending in -ken."....

Converting Palm memos to iPod using Notespark

12/29/13: I switched to both Simplenote and to WriteRoom+Dropbox for different portions of my Notespark usage, which I wrote about here.

10/26/13: I am so sad to learn that the Notespark Team plans to shut down the Notespark service on December 31, 2013, suggesting:

We recommend that you export your notes and import them into an alternative product, such as Evernote, which is free, or one of the many Dropbox-based notes apps (e.g., Notesy, Nebulous, Write, PlainText).
They have apparently removed the app from the Apple App Store. It was a great run, but having observed the slowed pace of the app's development in recent times, I'm not totally surprised by this news.

I recently got a used 3rd generation (no camera) iPod Touch. It has an unreliable communication port, so synching data with iTunes does not appear to be a practical possibility without a $200 repair (3/20/11: If I really needed iTunes connectivity, an Apple Certified Refurbished iPod Touch could be a better deal, coming with a new battery and outer shell, plus free shipping). However, after fiddling with the connected cable, I was at least able to upgrade the iPod's iOS to 4.2.1. Then my adventure began, and a most enjoyable adventure it's been.

The first Palm PDA data I converted for use on my iPod was Memos, of which I had a couple hundred. After discovering that the iPod's built-in Notes application was incredibly ("laughably") basic compared to Palm Memos, I researched various replacement apps in Apple's App Store and on the web.

The clear winner: Notespark (version 1.3.1; $4.99 when I installed it). It quickly and correctly converted all of my Memos into its own notes, translating over the Palm category (e.g., "Business", "Personal", plus the categories I had created) into a Tag.

Notespark synchronizes note data from iPods over the web (using https) to their servers. Although I originally wanted to keep the synching of data between my iPod and my PC, I couldn't do that with the iPod's broken communication port -- the iPod wouldn't show up reliably as a device in iTunes. However, my notes being on Notespark's servers brought the huge advantage of being able to edit notes over the web. Using a computer, I can copy lengthy text from the web onto my iPod (after a sync), or edit Notespark notes whenever a computer keyboard is more helpful than the iPod's on-screen keyboard (most of the time, although at the moment, I can only enter Chinese from the iPod).

Some Notespark note advantages over Palm Memos:
  • Notespark Tags are like Google Mail's Labels: more than one can be applied to a single data object (a Notespark note or an e-mail message, respectively).
  • Accepts Chinese characters, providing a great practical opportunity to practice writing them more often. To use Chinese characters (I use traditional, but behavior is presumably the same for simplified) when creating a new Tag, you must include a regular English letter to activate the Save button. Then you can delete the English letter and use the still-active Save button. I've notified Notespark of this bug; the Notespark web interface works fine with Chinese characters and does not need this workaround.
  • Lengthy notes are possible. On the Palm, I had been forced to split some text across multiple memos because it wouldn't fit into a single one.
  • You can limit the scope of a search to the notes within a given category, e.g., All (closest to the Find capability on Palm, which always searches through all Memos and other data stores such as Calendar, Contacts, etc.), Starred, or associated with a specific Tag you have created. If you have a Tag for, e.g., Project_1, and you only want to look for occurrences of a particular string within notes that have that Tag, you can do so, avoiding superfluous search results associated with other Tags. (Herein is mention of how a Tag and Starred was useful to me for travel.)
  • Because you can sync data on the Notespark server with your iPod, if your iPod is out of power but you have access to an Internet-connected computer, you can make changes to your notes over the web and sync them to your iPod later, when it does have power.
  • The reverse chronological ordering, based on date last edited, of notes, can be helpful. One time I had edited multiple notes having multiple Tags, and a short time afterward I remembered there was something I had written which I had wanted to deal with. Checking the All category showed me the notes I'd edited recently, so I was able to quickly find what I was looking for.
Some Palm Memo advantages over Notespark notes:
  • Can rename a category and simultaneously update all memos already associated with it. Pick your Tag names carefully in Notespark, or else you may be in for some laborious future renaming, one note at a time (speaking as someone who knows from multiple such experiences).
  • Categories sort case-insensitive, the most intuitive way. "iPod" should not appear lower in an alphabetical list than "Zune", which is what would happen now in Notespark on an iPod. Before converting from Palm Memos you may wish to rename all your categories to use consistent letter case for sorting consistency within Notespark. The Notespark web interface does sort categories case-insensitive. I've notified Notespark of this inconsistency; they've filed it with other bugs, and hopefully it will eventually be fixed so that iPod Notespark sorts categories case-insensitive, as it should.
  • Memos stay in the order found on the Palm (this was even a choice within the Palm Desktop PC client: Sort by "Order on Handheld"). If you grouped two memos adjacent to each other, you could edit either of them without disturbing the order in which they appear among other memos. Notespark Settings allows notes to appear either in reverse chronological order by last date edited, or in alphabetical order of "title" (what I believe is the first line of text of a note). Notespark's title order option is not as useful as the arbitrary order of the Palm, which you could set yourself by dragging a note to a different ordinal position.
I've only lightly touched on the web interface and other aspects of Notespark. Check out for more information.

I have no affiliation with Notespark other than as a satisfied customer.