Tasker for Android

Earlier this year I got an Android phone (the Droid Incredible), a purchase I’m quite happy with. One thing I really like about the Android platform is it’s open nature. I know that’s become a trite sentiment, but compared to my iPod Touch, there are very few limits on my ability to tinker with the phone. Now that I’m fairly comfortable with the phone and the O/S, tinkering is exactly what has been on my mind!

An application I recently discovered is Tasker. It’s an amazing application that can be used for automating and customizing many of the features of an Android device. In short, you set up rules (called “contexts”) that, when triggered, cause different actions to occur.

Here are a few of the things I’m doing with Tasker:

  • At home, school, work, and church, set the ringer volume appropriately.
  • Turn on wi-fi only when I’m at home.
  • Announce the time every half-hour (when I’ve got the headphones plugged in).
  • When I receive a phone call or email, speak the name of the caller/sender.
  • When my geocaching app is running, don’t let the display time out and shut off.
  • When I plug in my headphones, launch the podcast app.
  • A couple of minutes after I connect to my home network, update and download my RSS feeds and podcasts.
  • If I’m someplace where the ringer needs to be off, ignore the volume buttons and keep quiet.
  • If I can’t find my phone, I can send a special text message to it to cause it to ring as loudly as possible.
  • If I think my phone is stolen, I can send a different text message to it. The phone will then find its location using GPS and reply with a message telling where it’s located, how fast it’s moving and how much battery life is remaining. I can also have it take a picture or record audio.

Initially, I was going to post my scripts here, but I realized there’s not realy any further contribution I can make, other than just casting my vote for this app. The Tasker Wiki has a good set of example profiles that you can use to create your own, and it covers most common topics fairly well.

Tasker is available in the Android Market using the QR code above. It’s only a few bucks, and in my opinion it’s money well spent. Tasker might be a little daunting at first, but once you get past the steep part of the learning curve, there’s a lot of functionality!

Password-protected podcasts on Android

One of the first things I wanted to do when I got my Android phone was get my podcasts available to me without having to sync with my computer (as was basically required on my iPod Touch). There are a number of choices for “podcatchers” on Android, but many of them don’t handle password-protected podcasts.

One of my favorite podcasts is the Bob and Tom podcast, which has a small subscription fee, and therefore requires authentication. Originally, the need to provide a password limited my choice in podcatchers. One of the most popular (and free) choices is Google Listen, which does not support authentication. Thankfully, I found a workaround.

Yahoo Pipes is a tool for manipulating RSS feeds and other web content. Since a podcast is basically just an RSS feed, Yahoo Pipes can solve this problem. All I did was create a new pipe and have it import the Bob and Tom feed. When I specified the feed URL for the original podcast, I put the username and password into the URL as follows:


Then, instead of pointing Google Listen at the original podcast feed URL, I pointed it at the feed for my new pipe. Since my Yahoo pipe isn’t password-protected, Google Listen has no problem with it. Note: don’t “publish” your pipe; keep it private. It has your username and password for the authenticated podcast associated with it.

Using this trick, basically any podcatcher available for Android should be able to handle a password-protected podcast. If this workaround is not your cup of tea, there are a few apps I’ve found that are capable of handling authenticated podcasts natively. Here, in brief, are the results of my tests.

  • DoggCatcher – a very attractive app, but it’s having problems with redownloading episodes every day due to the way this podcast is structured. It will get the job done.
  • ACast (free) – works just fine, but its interface is a bit confusing.
  • BeyondPodpowerful but simple, and is working great so far. In the past I had problems with duplicate episodes being downloaded, but the problem hasn’t reoccurred. This one is currently my favorite.

Any other good choices? Let me know in the comments!

DIY cyclone dust separator for shop vac

A week ago, I spent the day in the garage doing some woodworking. I was using the table saw, miter saw and router table, creating a lot of dust. For my health, I hooked up the shop vac to the tools to collect the saw dust.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t satisfied with the results. The brand new filter in my shop vac quickly filled with fine sawdust. As soon as that happens, the suction drops off dramatically.

After a little bit of research online, I built a cyclone dust separator:

Cyclone dust separator

This contraption sits inline with the shop vac removes most of the sawdust and wood chips before they reach the vacuum’s tub or filter. It cost about $25 to build and despite my careless engineering and construction it works perfectly!

Visit the project page for more details.

Using ice as truck bed ballast

A couple of days ago, a friend and I were talking about putting extra weight in our pickup truck beds for added traction for winter driving. I’ve usually put a few hundred pounds of concrete blocks back there, but the problem is storing those blocks when not in use. I have to carry them out to the shed, which isn’t fun.

We came up with the idea of using ice, since it packs a fair amount of weight into a small space, it’s easy to load (use a hose), requires no room to store, and is even easier to unload (it just melts when it warms up).

One way that would probably work would be a use a tarp or piece of plastic sheet to trap some water in the bed and let it freeze in place. I didn’t have any handy, nor could I think of an easy way to keep it in a small space, so I used another approach.

Ice blocks in truck bed

I had a stack of 5 gallon buckets that kitty litter came in, so I filled them with water and let them sit for a couple of days. In about two days (around 10 degrees Fahrenheit outside) they were frozen solid. I turned them over and without too much trouble the ice slid out of the buckets. The picture above shows 7 buckets worth, which is around 300 pounds. Over the axle would be most effective, but the front of the bed works too, and leaves me more useful room in the bed.

Sterilite storage tubs

For several years we’ve been buying the 18-gallon Sterilite plastic storage totes. They’ve offered the same grey tubs (item #1815) for years, and we’ve bought dozens of them. They sell for around $4 and are roughly 24 inches long, 18 inches wide, and exactly 15-3/8 inches tall. Because of this de facto standardization, I’ve built wooden shelves in my garage, in the basement and in most of our closets specifically sized for these tubs, with 16 inch spacing between the shelves for optimal storage efficiency. Almost everything we store is in these tubs.

About a week ago, I bought a bunch more since we’re doing some organizing. Tonight I went to put a tub of out-of-season clothes on one of the shelves and got a nasty surprise: the tubs have been slightly redesigned and are 3/4 of an inch taller. The lid is identical to the old model, and the stated capacity is still 18 gallons, but it’s now taller than my shelves. D’oh…

I’ve got a lot of shelves built for these tubs, probably about 40 tubs of storage capacity. My choices are to take the new tubs back and HOPE to find some (read: a lifetime supply) of the old ones, or do a ton of shelf rebuilding. I checked on Walmart’s website, and there are still some in stock, but not within 50 miles. Shipping is a possibility, but it’s a little pricey.

I guess there is a third choice: a grassroots effort to get Sterilite to return to the old design. Hopefully this inconsequential blog post, along with the nearly dozen people who will likely read it, will do the trick…