12 July 2010

A shortage of gruntles

Two and a half weeks, or so, since my last post, and what do I return with? A disgruntlement. (Is disgruntlement a word? It ought to be ... and it fits well in the Growlery, so let it stand on both counts!)

I am not what the marketing people call an "early adopter". I never change my technology until what I already have can't do something I need to do. I value reliability, familiarity, dependability, transparent usability, over cutting edge capability. So, I have continued to use a PalmOS hand held computer of one sort or another long after they ceased to be current. My palm machine holds numerous vital databases managed by JFile (a program whose author saw the way the wind was blowing and moved on some years ago) and handled at the desktop by JFTrans (whose author has also shifted to a new platform). For PIM functions I have relied totally upon Agendus, which integrates and expands upon the basic PalmOS elements miraculously without messing in any way with their structure. I make frequent use of several calculator or other math programs including PowerOne graphic scientific calculator from Infinity Softworks (who appear to no longer be with us). There are numerous other utilities on there as well, without which life would be either very much harder or much less intuitive.

On the other hand, I am not blind to need for progression so things have to change. “Life must change, if life's to grow”, as my favourite quote provider has it*. I always make these changes in the early summer, when I have a period of relative slack in which to internalise them before they are tested in the fire of a new academic year. Thus it is that a year ago I added a Nokia E63 to my bag, for web and text based communications. I looked at the Blackberry clan, and [shudder] Pocket Windows, and there are several Apple iPhones knocking around here somewhere, and various others ... but none worked as well for me as the E63.

And now I am in the process of shifting my diary/calendar out of Agendus, thus decoupling it from address book and all the other functions which Agendus handles so well. Why? Because my current PalmOS device will not last forever. And because if I am giving up Agendus, I might as well try to future proof myself to some extent by moving onto the web where it can be accessed regardless of future shifts in proprietary handheld formats. And because it will more easily allow me to synchronise calendars for different external purposes with my own view of things. I don't, to be honest, like keeping PIM information off my own platforms ... so I've spent six month planning how to secure content behind a tokenised wall. Contacts information will never be shifted onto the web; though now that the calendar has gone, they will probably migrate to the E63.

So my comings and goings are now contained in Google Calendar. Or, to be more precise, are increasingly contained there and will be wholly so from August 31st ... for the time being, both handheld and web versions are running in parallel. Detailed maintenance is done (either from the desktop or via a web book when on the move) through Mozilla Thunderbird's calendar management extension, Lightning and a Google Provider addon which works well. Multiple calendars can be integrated within a single Lightning view. Alterations made at either the Thunderbird or Google end are reflected at the other within a second or two. The result can be viewed in any internet connected browser, so is available ion the E63 or any subsequent replacement. Adding an item from the E63 is slightly less convenient than on the Palm, but to a degree with which I can live. Modifying an item from a phone is impossible, but I've found ways to deal with that too. (There is supposed to be a way of synchronising the E63's onboard calendar application with the Google calendar, but I've not sussed that yet.) All in all, I'm happy with the new set up and prepared to drop the handheld version in six week's time.

So, with all that, and for free too, what is my disgruntlement? It has to do with daylight saving time adjustments. I've moaned about these before (and for people who know me in person it's worse, as they get their ears bent on the subject at least twice a year) but now I have a new reason to be exasperated.

A week ago, the online calendar segments which interpenetrate with those of my students went live. Immediately, I started to get woeful messages asking why I was forcing them to attend lectures at eight in the morning throughout the winter. Surprised, I went and looked ... sure enough, all times from roughly November to March were an hour earlier than they should be. Shuffle back to September 2010 or forward to April 2011 and they are correct again. As long as we are in Summer time, Google presents appointment slots in Summer time terms. Presumably, when we shift to Winter time, summer time slots will appear to be an hour later than they ought to be.

Mutter mutter.

I assumed, at first, that this was something to do with harmonising the setting of time zones on both my own platforms and the Google calendars. In particular, I suspected that the problem had its root in my insistence on keeping all my ICT equipment permanently on Zulu time all year round. I started by setting all the calendars to Zulu time, but that created new problems. So I reset them, gritted my teeth, and set my PC to daylight adjustment; but that didn't work either. I tried various combinations, but nothing seemed to work ... Google Calendar simply cannot see across a time adjustment without this parallax error, so to speak. I just have to live with it.

A particularly bizarre oddity is that Thunderbird/Lightning manages to get around this and show times correctly all year around ... but only in some views.

BUT ... just to annoy me further ... having spent time writing this whinge, I have just gone into both Google and Thunderbird calendars ... to find that ... blow me down ... the problem has disappeared. September and December 2010, January and May 2011, regardless of view, all display 9am lectures as 9am. At least, they do on my desktop ... and on the E63 ... but not on the web book at the time I typed those last three dots, though the display is not OK there as well.

What's going on? Is this a sporadic problem (disgruntling both in itself and in its unpredictability) or a permanent one (disgruntling but allowable for) or a web propagation issue (downgrade to irritating and livable with) or has it solved itself (disgruntling to have been disgruntled for no reason ... and a source of paranoia incase it unsolves itself again)? Only time will tell ... by August 31, I should know which it seems to be, and whether I should stick with the PalmOS calendar for another year.

  • Melanie Safka, "Ears to the ground" on Please love me. 1973, New York: Buddah. BDS5132

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