Archive for November, 2013

My new best friend: todo.txt

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

As some of you will be aware, I’m an avid user of to-do lists.

Long before such lists were commonplace on the net, I used something we techies call “pen and paper” to keep my lists.

By the late 1990s, I had my first Palm Pilot and still think that the To Do list that came with the device was one of the best thought-out bits of software I’ve ever used.

Ever since then I’ve tried pretty much all the available options and have to say that I liked Toodledo best of all of them, and synced it to my various phones and tablets over the years.

I recently thought I’d give Wunderlist another try as it keeps getting amazing reviews from places like Lifehacker.

But Wunderlist has one fatal flaw.

The default display of tasks is not in the order in which you need to do them.  In other words, if I have 100 tasks, some of them due today, some due next month, the default should be to show the ones due today first, right?

But if I look at all tasks, Wunderlist shows me them grouped by category — so I may very well see non-urgent tasks appearing on top of the page, but urgent ones appearing far further down.

As I use my to-do list as a calendar, I need to be able to see rather quickly if I’m free on a certain date.  With Wunderlist, that’s pretty much impossible, especially if you have a bunch of categories.  (If you keep everything in a single category, it would work.)

So I decided this week to try, once again, an old favorite — todo.txt.

Originally developed by Gina Trapani, who founded Lifehacker, todo.txt is basically a stripped-down, open source system for power users of to do lists.

It’s feature-poor, which is perfect, because you can add the features you want.

And it’s based a simple text file (todo.txt) with a human-readable, easy-to-understand syntax, which you ideally host on Dropbox.

Here’s what a typical task would look like in todo.txt:

Write article about todo.txt

That’s right — that’s all you’d need.  Make a list of those, and you’ve got a working database for todo.txt.

But I’m going to improve it by adding a category, in the case, “Writing”.

Write article about todo.txt +Writing

That’s built-in to the “official” spec for todo.txt.  But it’s also very easy to hack.

For example, the default version that appears on my Android devices doesn’t include a field for the due date (though there is a way to due this using the command line interface).

This would normally be a deal-breaker.

But I can insert a date as the first bit of text in the title, and voila, it sorts by date when you sort alphabetically, which I can leave as the default (unlike Wunderlist).

Here’s how the line would now look:

2013.11.26 Write article about todo.txt +Writing

And within a single date, I’d like to highlight essential tasks without using the existing priority field, which would look like this:

(A) 2013.11.26 Write article about todo.txt +Writing

This is because I don’t want to choose between sorting by priority and sorting by date.

So instead, I put an asterisk just after the date.  That way, the automatic alphabetic sort by title works perfectly.  In other words, this would be one line for a top priority task for me, due today:

2013.11.26 * Write article about todo.txt +Writing

The one thing that would make todo.txt perfect would be if the Android version would include recurring tasks and the due date, but maybe that will happen in the future.

So, sorry Toodledo — you’re not getting a renewal of my $14.99 “Silver” subscription.

And Wunderlist — well you can forget about getting those €45.00 you ask to become a “pro”.

I’m sticking with Gina’s solution because, while not perfect, it’s flexible and it’s free.


Railway workers win in Georgia

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

This article appeared this week in Solidarity.

Over the course of two days earlier this month, a drama played on the Georgian railways that showed the labour movement at its best.

This has not always been the case in Georgia, a country whose most famous sons in recent times have been Stalin and Beria.

And yet Georgia has a long tradition of working-class struggle, and Georgian labour and social democratic leaders punched far above their weight in the Russian Social Democratic Party and the Second International in the years up to 1917.

That tradition was largely forgotten in the decades following the 1921 Red Army invasion of Georgia.

But there are signs – such as the recent railway strike – of a new vigour among the Georgian trade unionists.

The issues that concerned the “Georgian Railway Workers New Trade Union” (GRWNTU) will be familiar to workers in the UK and elsewhere.

According to Ilia Lezhava, the deputy chairman of the union, those issues included the following demands: “pay for overtime work, increased wages and bonus system based on experience, as well as a return of the 13th pay system by the end of the year.”

The union called for a nationwide strike to begin on Thursday, November 14th, but the railway company did all it could to disrupt the strike and prevent its spread.

While in the capital Tbilisi the strike was solid, in western Georgia, it ran into strong resistance from the employer.

Some key union leaders were uncontactable, and reported that threats were made against them.

As the Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC) reported – in a language reminiscent of an earlier era, “Some of the attendants at the strike were unknown individuals. They were not in uniform, however we knew that they were working for certain structures.”

The GTUC put out an appeal for help, and got a quick response from the International Trade Union Confederation, based in Brussels.

In a strongly worded statement to the Georgian authorities, ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow wrote “I am very much concerned by the information I received regarding the on-going pressure and defamation exerted by the management before and during the strike. Instead of negotiating, the management interfered in the union internal affairs and in particular its right of assembly. When the notice of the strike went public, the management started to threaten workers of reprisals in case they joined the strike. To mislead public attention, GR management also tried to slander the railway union and GTUC by speaking of blackmail and sabotage as well as by accusing the GTUC leadership of masterminding the process.”

The employer’s efforts to break the strike only made it stronger.

As a leader of the GTUC in Tbilisi put it in an email message, “the workers of the Western part of the railways have been joining the protest all day long and now it resembles a real general strike.”

Within a few short hours, it was all over.

The GTUC issued a statement saying that “Following 6-hour talks a consensus has been reached regarding all three issues raised by the Georgian Railway Workers New Trade Union. The just fight of the railway workers has been successful and the outcome meets the interests of the railway workers. The Georgian Railway has now resumed its operation in a usual mode.”

In Brussels, Sharan Burrow issued a second statement later in the day saying that “Management should have had the good sense to negotiate from the beginning. Thanks to the solidarity of the railway workers and their determination to achieve a just settlement, good sense has prevailed and the workers and their families will now get fair reward for their work.”

For the workers’ movement in Georgia, this victory – sweet though it is – is only the beginning.