Calendar mayhem!

April 17, 2011

I have trouble remembering appointments, family events, birthdays, etc. so I rely heavily on a calendar to keep my life in order. This is true for both my personal and business life, so like to keep two separate calendars to keep things compartmentalized. The issue I’ve been struggling with is finding the most efficient way of dealing with these two calendars and keeping them synced with my computers and mobile devices.

So here’s what I have available:

  1. Personal calendar for my personal appointments and events
  2. Business calendar for my work appointments, travel dates, etc.
  3. An iMac at home running Snow Leopard Mac X OS
  4. A Dell laptop running Windows 7 for work
  5. An Apple iPhone 4 as my smartphone
  6. Microsoft Exchange Server for my work email, calendar, and contacts
  7. Apple MobileMe for Calendar, Email, and Contacts
  8. Google Calendar and Contacts
My goal, is to be able to view and edit my calendar appointments (personal and business) on my iMac desktop computer, Dell laptop, and iPhone device. I know there’s all kinds of 3rd-party freeware and commercial software for syncing calendar data between applications and the cloud, but I wanted to minimize that as much as possible to eliminate any chances of “foul ups”.
I ended up using this solution: Create two calendars with my MobileMe account that allows me to create,view, and edit appointments. If you’re unfamiliar with MobileMe, it is Apple’s cloud-based system which allows for centralized email, calendar, contacts, and offline disk storage. Using this method, I can always access my calendars via a web browser with an Internet connection. Because the majority of my devices are Apple-based, it made sense using this method for syncing purposes. So, I now use the Apple iCal application to access both MobileMe calendars on my iMac desktop computer, and the built-in Calendar app on my iPhone for doing the same. For my Dell laptop (running Windows 7), I use the Microsoft Outlook application along with a MobileMe syncing utility (provided by Apple) to sync my two MobileMe calendars with Outlook for local access. This method seems to work well so far, but I need to always make sure I’m viewing the two MobileMe calendars in all my apps and not the default local calendars (which should be empty).
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Dealing with two different calendars in life

October 28, 2010

For my day job I use Microsoft Outlook running on my Windows XP laptop for all my work-related appointments. Since my calendar is “shared” among my colleagues, I don’t put any personal appointments in it. Sure, I could always mark my personal appointments as “private” so only I can see the title and details, but I’m so paranoid that I would forget and thus have my private life displayed for all my co-workers to see.

Thus, I keep my personal calendar on my home machine (Apple iMac) using the provided iCal calendar application. The big challenge for me, is to be able to see both calendars on my home iMac, my work laptop, and on my Palm Pixi smartphone. So here’s what I did to make that happen:

First, my Palm Pixi can display multiple calendars provided by a single handful of sources. One is Microsoft Exchange and the other is Google Calendar. Since my work email through Outlook uses MS Exchange, that was a no brainer. So I have my work calendar on my Palm Pixi already figured out. Since my Palm Pixi can handle the Google Calendar, I needed to get my personal appointments synced or entered into Google Calendar in the cloud. I discovered the best way to do this is to subscribe to Google Calendar in Apple iCal and use it as my main personal calendar. I can make entries to Google Calendar in iCal and they will automatically be pushed up to Google Calendar in the Cloud. This way, my Palm Pixi can display both my personal (Google) calendar and work (Exchange) calendar.

With my personal calendar already in the cloud in Google Calendar, All I needed to do was subscribe to it in MS Outlook on my work laptop. Now I can view my personal appointments and work appointments on my work laptop using Outlook (albeit, I can only view my personal appointments, which is ok with me).

Finally, I needed to somehow get my work appointments from Outlook to be visible in Apple iCal on my Mac. I accomplished this, by publishing my Outlook appointments to a WebDav server in the cloud, specifically to a free file storage service called Basically, Outlook will periodically upload a single file (.ics) to the file server and thus store my work appointments in the cloud in a simple text file. Next, I have Apple iCal subscribe to this WebDav server to download the calendar information in the .ics file every 15 minutes or so.

Now, I have a system that will allow me to view both my work and personal appointments on my home iMac, work laptop, and Palm Pixi smartphone without me having to copy and paste appointments between two separate calendars. Here’s what I can do for making changes:

1) My Palm Pixi can make updates to both my Personal and work calendars

2) Personal appointment changes are made on my home iMac.

3) Work appointment changes are made on my work laptop in Outlook.

I know that this all sounds like a pain, but I really needed to keep my personal and work appointments separate and have both viewable on different computers and devices.

Now, some might ask, “Why don’t you just have two separate calendars in Google Calendar and keep everything in one place, in the cloud?” That’s a good question. The biggest reason I’ve found, is that when I get a meeting invite in an email message, if I double-click on the attached .ics file my computer will try to open the .ics file using a stand-alone application on my system. So it will either try to use Apple iCal or Outlook or some other specified application. I don’t have the ability to have my web browser open and process the .ics file for entering it into Google Calendar. That just won’t work. Thus, I’m stuck with using an actual computer calendar application to easily process meeting invitations.

What I really would need, is a small application that can open the .ics file and place it in Google Calendar in the cloud. That, would be a really handy app!


DropBox : Great utility for syncing files between computers

September 11, 2010

When I purchased my Apple iMac last month, I was offered the option of signing up for an Apple subscription service called MobileMe, which has several nice online features for syncing and staying connected with my Mac. For example, with MobileMe you can sync your mail, calendar, contacts, etc. between your Apple devices (e.g., Mac, iPod Touch, iPhone). You also have cloud storage where you can easily store data on Apple’s servers and have access to it from your Mac or any web browser. This service goes for $99 per year, and is a good deal if you want to keep your multiple Mac devices in sync. I, however, currently own just one Apple device (my iMac) so I don’t have a real use for this service.

The one attractive thing about MobileMe was the “iDisk” or cloud storage of up to 20 GB, which would allow me to conveniently store files for all of my computers and laptops to access. Fortunately, there’s a few different options available other than MobileMe to do this same function. The best that I’ve found is called DropBox, which allows you to have a folder in the cloud for file storage. You can then automatically sync those files to any computer you choose (PC or Mac) and also access files via apps on the iPhone and Palm WebOS devices. In addition, you can  send shared folder links from DropBox to your friends or anyone via email and let them have access to certain files. It’s a great way to share files (or keep files in sync) when working on a big project with other people.

The best thing about DropBox, is that they offer 2 GB of cloud storage for free. If you need more storage, you can pay a small monthly fee. I’m currently using the basic free service to have a convenient place to put files for my Mac, personal laptop, and work laptop to share. For small files this works great, but if you’re trying to transfer larger files (say, a few hundred Megs) it can take a while to upload, download, and sync.

As I said there’s other similar cloud services available, but I particularly like DropBox because it’s very easy to use, unobtrusive, and has a web-based login page that allows me to upload and download files. Definitely worth checking out!

Free WiFi Courtesy of Google

December 10, 2009

I was pleasantly surprised to find free WiFi access at the Seattle Airport courtesy of Google. I read about Google providing free WiFi access at various airports for the holiday season, but it was nice to see that this will be a permanent feature in Seattle’s airport.

I also noticed a similar advertisement at the Phoenix Arizona airport, however, they’ve had free WiFi at most of their gates for the last few years. It’s nice to see free WiFi spreading out more and more.

I love my Palm Pixi Smartphone!

November 23, 2009

For the last few years, I’ve been using my Motorola-Q Smartphone (running Windows Mobile 5) as my cell phone. When I first got it, I thought it was really cool that I could get emails “pushed” down to my phone automatically through the Microsoft Exchange Server system that my company was using. Along with emails, I could also view my calendar and get alerts on events and tasks.

As time went on, newer smartphones appeared on the market with GPS for positioning, better web browsers, and better apps. Blackberry phones were very popular, and the Apple iPhone raised the bar when it came to a productive user-interface. About 6 months ago Palm, Inc. came out with the Palm Pre running Palm’s WebOS operating system. Very much like Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android interface, WebOS was the new Linux-based OS that would help propel Palm back into the modern Smarphone arena.

It was the WebOS that really interested me, as it made the Windows Mobile 5 OS on my Moto-Q phone seem prehistoric. Unfortunately, the first Palm phone to run WebOS  (Palm Pre) had a slider keyboard form-factor which I really didn’t like. The Pre was also somewhat thick (because of the slider keyboard) and I didn’t want to get something that was thicker than my current Moto-Q phone (since I normally keep my phone in my front pants pocket).

Then appeared the Palm Pixi, which was a very thin candy bar-form factor smartphone that ran the WebOS and had a fixed keyboard. It was similar to my Moto-Q, but thinner, slimmer, and lighter and also sported a touch screen. This was the phone that I was waiting for! Read the rest of this entry »

Evernote : My new information manager

November 1, 2009

evernoteI love using the Google search engine (who doesn’t?). I can very easily and quickly search for anything on the Internet using any web browser, and find the information that I’m looking for in a snap. Often, I’ve wanted to have a Google-like search engine just for my personal information which can be accessed on my PC or on the web. It turns out I may have found my answer with a product called Evernote.

Evernote is a cool product that can store various bits of information in a central database system “in-the-cloud” (Internet), on your PC, or on your smartphone. You can create multiple “notebooks” and store “notes” in each of them. Notes can consist of plain or formatted text, web page content, pictures, and audio. The single most useful feature I’ve seen, is the ability to easily grab content from a web page and save it to Evernote. A perfect example is when I come across a web site and I want to look into it further at a later date, I can easily save the full web page (or a portion of it) to a note in Evernote. In fact, there’s a FireFox browser plugin that easily does this for you.

All data stored in Evernote can be searched using a text string, just like with the Google search engine. In fact, if you store images in a note that contains text (say, when you snap a picture with your phone of product description at the store), Evernote can recognize the words in the image for the search! Speaking of snapshots, the Evernote app that runs on your smartphone (iPhone,Blackberry,Windows Mobile, or Palm Pre) interfaces with the Evernote database very nicely, and you can use the camera on your phone to easily snap a picture and store it in Evernote as a note. The Evernote site suggests using your phone’s camera for taking snapshots of business cards, airline tickets, travel receipts, etc. which is a great idea if your phone has a good camera (unfortunately, the camera on my Moto-Q phone is crappy). Read the rest of this entry »

Remotely connecting to your PC

October 15, 2009

remote_desktopOften I need to work from my kitchen table because I have to keep an eye on my young son or new Labrador puppy from wrecking the house. As such, I use my trusty Dell Latitude D610 laptop to remotely connect to my office desktop PC (located upstairs in my home). What that means, is that I’m controlling my desktop PC from my laptop running applications, etc. just as if I was sitting in front of my PC.

How I do this, is by using an application called Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) which is provided by Microsoft with their Windows XP Professional and Vista Professional OS. A small server is running on my desktop PC, and I can make a connection to it from any PC or laptop on my home network using RDC. Since my home network connection is pretty fast, I see very little response delay using this setup.

Unfortunately, Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows 7 Home Premium both don’t have the Remote Desktop Server software to use the RDC feature. You will need to get the Professional version of either OS package to have the Remote Desktop Server software. As such, I decided to look into other similar alternatives, as I use the RDC feature quite heavily for my own personal use. Read the rest of this entry »