Managing To-Do Lists in Plain Text

The Problem

I’ve tried just about every to-do list/task manager under the sun. There are more on-line web sites that do this than you can shake a stick at. The problem is that you have to be online for them to work. Then, for my work, at least, there is the issue of putting potentially sensitive information to an untrusted and insecure online service. (Not to mention firewall issues.)

A Plain text solution

I finally gave up and just put it all in a text file, using a Lifehacker recommended format that has evolved into a standard at

Tasks all live in a todo.txt file and look something like:

(A) +ACME @review weekly report 
(A) +ACME @email Doug due:2013-03-29 
(B) +Misc Fill out timesheet 
+ACME Automate release procedure @build 
x 2013-03-08 +Misc Finished task

I’ve taken pieces of various python scripts to create my own custom that suits my needs and allows me to add items, list out my to-dos in various ways, mark items complete and archive them in a done.txt file.

This method has served me well over the years. I can sync a text file back and forth between my desktop and laptop over the local network, but really have wanted a way to group tasks by project. The todo.txt format only knows tasks, so every task has to have the +ProjectName on the line with task. This works ok unless you have a +ReallyLongProjectName. Typing long project names with every task…I just don’t have that kind of time. I ended up abbreviating project names.

Another option – TodoPaper

TodoPaper is windows-based to-do manager that has a format much simpler than the todo.txt:

  • Lines ending with a colon are projects.
  • Lines starting with a hyphen and a space are tasks.
  • All other lines are notes.

- Here is a task 
- Here is another task @today 
Here is a note.
- Here is a done task @done(2013-04-03)

You can add tags, with a special @done tag that identifies completed tasks.

Here’s what it looks like in TodoPaper:


TodoPaper works just like a text editor, but adds configurable highlighting to the lines so it is easy to see tasks and mark them done by selecting a check box. It also allows you to show/hide projects so you only display what you’re working on.

The cool thing is that although by default it saves files to a .todopaper extension, the files are just plain text and could as easily be saved to a .txt. The format is completely readable in a standard text editor.

Features of TodoPaper

There are a number of features that I really like about TodoPaper.

First of all, it allows you to add tasks to your list from a keyboard shortcut (Ctrl-Space by default), so you don’t have to switch over to the application if you’re in the middle of doing something else. You can select which project to put the task in, and give it a default project (like Inbox) to assign later.


You can also easily move tasks from one project to another by right-clicking the task:


Another thing that I like about TodoPaper is that it allows you to view your tasks in different ways.  Normally, my to-do list would have 20-30 different tasks in several projects. It might look something like this:


TodoPaper allows you to collapse different projects so you can focus on only one project at a time:


Or you can filter tasks by searching for a particular word or tag, so you only see the tasks that match:


TodoPaper also has an outline view, so you can easily navigate to a certain project in a file. You can also create multiple tabs of your to-do list with different search terms so that easily navigate between different search terms in a file.


And finally, once you’ve marked a bunch of tasks as done, you’d like to get them out of your way.  With TodoPaper, you can archive those @done tasks to an Archive project at the bottom of the file.


The tasks are tagged with an @archive(ProjectName) tag so you can see what project the task came from.


TodoPaper is useful tool in Windows for managing  a large, complex to-do list, but it still keeps it in a easily portable, plain text format.  I can sync my to-do list between my desktop and laptop just as I did before.

I would definitely recommend it with one caveat, TodoPaper is a little pricey at $30. It comes with a 15 day trial, so you can try out TodoPaper before you have to buy it.

If you’re interested, go check it out at Widefido.

Update: Jordan from Widefido is providing a 50% discount until April 15 on TodoPaper.  Use the word “balance” in in the coupon field when you check out. Thanks, Jordan!

(Note: I was given a free copy of TodoPaper for me to evaluate for a review.)

DIY Dryer Fixing

March also brought the opportunity of fixing my own dryer. My take-home lesson on the whole fix-your-own-appliances thing is:

  1. – This is the place to go for all the troubleshooting/repair steps to take.
  2. Pray for wisdom – A definite must for the clueless DIY’er.

And for those of you just looking for a little dryer eye candy:

Here’s the guts with the drum taken out.


Here’s the culprit of the whole problem, a thermal detonator fuse.


Mr. Fix-It

I’m not one of those “Mr. Fix-It” guys who can fix anything.  I’m pretty cautious when it comes to home appliance repair.  So if I had gotten those 4 words (“Honey, the washer’s broke.”) a couple of weeks earlier, I would have made a call to the Sears appliance repair.

But last Sunday at a soccer game, we were talking to some friends, and the wife was telling of how her husband fixed their dryer without calling a repair guy.  This is a pretty normal guy, and I guess if the truth be told, that I would’ve rated my handyman skills a little higher.  So as the wife told the story, this guys stock jumped in my book.  I was honestly impressed.

So this was in the back of my mind when my wife whispered those 4 words over the phone.  I couldn’t just call the repair guy (although, it was still in my back pocket if things went south), I had to try myself.

So I googled and found, where they had step by step instructions of how to tell what washer you had (belt drive, direct drive), how to take it apart, and what are the most common problems, given a set of symptoms.

The fix turned out to be fairly easy (buy a new motor coupling) and after a couple of hours, we were back in  business.

I was pretty proud of my self.

But of course, now I’m on the hook for home repairs–I can’t just call the repair guy….What have I gotten myself into?

DIY Whiteboard

In preparing for a new school year, my wife decided that we needed a new white board.  We had one 3’x3′ on the back of an Ikea easel, but she decided that it wasn’t going to be sufficient.

Big white boards, the kind that you get in a school are expensive, and so we decided to go the DIY route.

We ended up getting a 8′ x 4′ sheet of tile board at Lowe’s ($11) (masonite board that is painted a shiny white on one side), hoping that it would be shiny enough to write on, but after bringing it home, and writing on the board, it seemed to leave a bit of a shadow, and didn’t erase sufficiently.

So we decided to splurge and get some dry-erase paint ($22 for a quart) to apply on the tile board.  We were able to apply 3 coats on the mason board, and still have enough to paint both sides of the boys’ bedroom door with the stuff, to give them a built-in white board on their door.

After letting it dry for 2 days, we were ready for the acid test on our new white board:

Unfortunately, it didn’t erase–at least not with a dry eraser, or a dry rag or paper towel.  We ended up having to spray it with the spray cleaner to get it to come off.  Additional experiments led to the same results.  It would erase (leaving a slight shadow) if you sprayed the cleaner (or rubbing alcohol–a cheaper solution) onto the board.

Interestingly enough, though, the paint on the boys’ bedroom door worked beautifully.  Just like a dry erase board.

Nonetheless, we were unhappy with the results, but kudos to Home Depot who gave us our money back on the paint, even though we already used it.

Tree house Building: The Books

(Note: You can see other posts in this series by going here.)

Now that we’ve finished our tree house, I wanted to share some of the resources that I found useful. There are several books by David & Jeanie Stiles are written directly to those interested in building a tree house, play house or other similar structure. Apparently he does this for a living, because searching on Amazon, he has quite a few more books on the topic.

Luckily, our library had three of these books, which we referred to extensively during the building process:

1. Treehouses & Playhouses You Can Build

2. Tree Houses You Can Actually Build: A Weekend Project Book

3. How to Build Treehouses, Huts and Forts

The information in each of the books overlapped somewhat, but each of the books had their certain focus.

The books talk about:

Continue reading

A New Way to Post

I’ve been posting exclusively to for several months now. I’ll have to say that I really like it much better than Blogger, and haven’t suffered the ongoing trouble that Blogger blogs have suffered recently. One of the things that I do miss, though, is being able to post via e-mail. doesn’t have it.

Instead, I have mostly been using Windows Live Writer (Beta) which is the best off line blogging software that I’ve run across. Better than w.bloggar, better than Qumana, better than Performancing. It has a very simple interface and does the right thing when generating HTML. I found that in the other programs, I was always having to go back and fix the posts because they weren’t showing up quite like I expected. Very frustrating.

Live Writer also gives you a preview mode where you can actually download your CSS and see what the post would look like on your blog before you post it. Very cool.

There are times, however, when I really would like to just send an e-mail. Well, now it is possible with Blogmailr. You sign up for an account, set up your blog and then they give you an e-mail to which you can e-mail a blog post, just like Blogger.

I really don’t know how well it works, because this is the first post I’m trying it out with.

Well, here goes…

[Update:  Cool, it worked! And it sends an e-mail back to you confirming your post.]

Solution for Sorry Sound Card

I’ve been really happy with my Dell Dimension E510, which I’ve had for almost a year. It is a solid machine and much faster than our 1998 350MHz Compaq Presario. The Presario has now been relegated to the kid PC and serves as a typing tutor, Spanish teacher, and all around home school computer.

The E510 is for all the processor-intensive tasks like editing video or sound and pretty much running any program that 350 MHz would gag on.

The one thing that I’ve been disappointed in has been the sound card. It is the motherboard-embedded cheap sound card which uses Sigmatel 92XX C-Major drivers.

It’s not that I’m looking for good sound, I really don’t care that much. I’m not a gamer, and I don’t use the PC to watch movies or anything, so just a basic sound card is fine. However, it doesn’t have a system mixer.

What’s that? you say. Who cares? you say. The system mixer is the thing that allows you to record just about any sound that comes into the PC. Streaming audio or any sound from a program that would play through the PC speakers, you can record with a program like Audacity and a system mixer. This is a must have feature because like to record streaming audio programs that I could listen on my MP3 player later.

But my sound card doesn’t have drivers with a system mixer. I had resigned myself to thinking that I was going to have to spend money on a sound card, but that seems drastic, when all I’m looking for is a software solution.

But this week, I’ve found a program, Total Recorder, that fixes all that. It installs a virtual sound driver that intercepts the signal going to and from your sound card. So basically, anything that your computer can play through the speakers, you can record and save to an audio file of various formats (WAV, WMA, MP3, Ogg Vorbis).

It can also record on a schedule, so you can record for a specified period of time or start and stop at a scheduled time. I downloaded and tried it out this week and it works great.

It does cost $18, but is cheaper than a sound card, and I don’t have to install any hardware!