Sunday, March 16, 2008

Calendar woes & evil birthdays

So despite Apple's mostly broken .Mac sync for calendars I had a fairly decent system going until recently. I kept my calendar in Google Apps  and subscribed to it in iCal then sync'd my calendar to my iPhone the normal way. That way I had my calendar on the road and I could see it from my work or home macs by subscribing. It was a pain that I had to use the google web pages to add/edit events but having my calendar on the road is priceless and I needed to be able to reliably see my calendar at home and work. The .Mac sync you think would have done it, but at least for calendar events i've found it to be terrible.

Anyway so I was ok with the solution, then, for more than a week my calendar sync setup stopped working. I had no new events on the iPhone and I no longer knew what was going on. What happened? From the Mac's point of view it was a simple setup, a few calendars subscribed from Google Apps and then pushed to the iPhone. I couldnt even edit them on the iPhone. So why couldn't it sync? Then I noticed the list of calendars in iTunes for the phone was messed up. I tried all sorts of stuff from resetting my sync history to following various cookbooks to unregister computers, delete sync files etc. None of these worked. I kept searching and eventually ran into something that told me to turn off the "Show birthdays Calendar" in iCal. I clicked that little checkbox and all my calendar sync woes went away. This is a pretty obvious bug and one that others have run into. Sometimes I wonder about Apple.

Anyway, the place I ran into the final solution, BusyMac, has a product called BusySync  which has a new beta version out that allows bidirectional sync with Google Calendars (even Google Apps ones). This fixed the last complaint I had with my system before it broke, that I had to use the Google web pages to manage my calendars. It worked out of the box and now I have the perfect setup.

My personal calendars sync from Google Apps to both my work and home iCal calendars. I can edit in any of the locations (work, home or on the web) and the events turn up everywhere.

My work calendar on Exchange gets pushed to iCal at work by Entourage (I use entourage ONLY for this feature as it has some nasty duplicate email and crashing bugs that may be fixed with the recent update). That iCal calendar gets pushed from the work machine up to Google Apps by BusySync and then back down again to my home computer by BusySync. As with my personal calendars I can edit in iCal at home or work, or on Google Apps or in Exchange (OWA, Outlook or Entourage). The Entourage sync to iCal seems shaky and isn't 100%. It would be nice if the BusyMac people supported OWA sync directly or if Google supported all this sort of stuff themselves (they do have an Outlook->Google Apps sync tool but not for the Mac).

Anyway so now I can use the tools I want and see my calendars everywhere. Welcome to the 20th century.

Apple/Google, buy this technology and either upgrade or add it to your inventory. And then make it free for everyone.

It will be interesting to see how the iPhone 2.0 updates with Exchange support etc change all this in June and if my crazy IT departments rules will even allow this approach to work.

The Paper Free Office

Well, I'm not paper free but I'm well on my way. Its bothered me for a long time that my drawers fill up with paperwork, they're not very secure (we have a lot of animals so there are always people with access to the house) and I have no easy way of finding the papers and even with a reasonable paper filing system its a pain to manage. So I looked around for a while and eventually found the answer -- the Fujitsu ScanSnap 510M  Mac version, there's one for the PC too).

The 510M is fast, scans double sided, and does it in color. It can save to PDF (my preferred approach), do OCR (turn scans into text and does surprisingly well at it), print, email etc. So now when papers come in I drop them in the scanner (by the way its small and you can fill it with papers to scan) it scans them and I shred them. My family makes fun of my shredding. And now, with the scanner/shredder combination, I find my high power cross-cut shredder (yes I drool over the confetti ones, nut that I am) can't keep up -- thats right, I scan faster than I can shred.

So all paperwork with any potential value gets scanned (anything from business cards to tax returns) and then into the shredder it goes. If I need it back I print and it comes back in the full color glory it originally had. My drawers no longer fill and I have a nice tidy filing approach on my mac (in an encrypted disk image). 

So I no longer have to deal with the paper once I initially process it, its much more secure, and I can even get at my paperwork when i'm on the road (via ssh etc).

Now I think about the backlog. I must resist. Too much scanning/shredding. I must resist...