A small bit of order

June 12th, 2007 — Wordman

Though it is not a huge technological breakthrough, I thought I’d detail a system my wife and I now use for things like shopping lists and so on. It has been working out fairly well, though we have not pushed it as far as we could.

The system is based around a web-based service called Backpack. This is a free service were you can create checklists, notes, images, file links and so on into private or public pages (you can pay a small fee to get even more features). In an of itself, Backpack is pretty neat, but not Earth shattering. Basically, it is a very simplified and streamlined wiki. It’s real brilliance is that the people that created it also created, maintain and publicize a simple application programming interface (API) for reading and editing Backpack pages. This has allowed the creation of a number of third party tools that make Backpack more useful than it would be left to its own.

One of the tools that makes use of this API is a simple Dashboard widget that allows display and editing of lists, notes and reminders from Backpack. We’ve installed this on our kitchen iMac in place of the Stickies widget that we used to use for grocery lists. Now, when we’re in the kitchen and need to jot down something to get at the store, we use the Backpack widget, which ultimately stores the information on Backpack’s servers.

Another tool built on the API solves the main drawback of our previous “Stickies widget” method: we had to remember to print out the list before leaving for the store. Being scatterbrained doofuses (doofi?) most of the time, we would usually forget this or, more often, be out for some other reason before remembering we needed to go to the store. As we both carry Treo 650 Palm/cellphones pretty much all of the time, we can access our Backpack data that way. We could do this just using the web browser in the phone; however, there is a dedicated Palm application called Satchel that works much better. Like far too much Palm software, it is not free (one reason Palm is languishing, I feel), but offers a much cleaner and faster experience than mobile web browsing. Satchel can both display and edit lists and notes as well, so not only shows us our shopping list in the store, but allows us to add to it when the muse is upon is during the day.

The best part is that Backpack being based on a central store means that our lists are always accessible to both of us without needing to worry about any syncing or other such idiocy. It just works.