Categories
life

A Life Well Documented

Recently I realised that two seemingly completely different projects were, in fact, both facets of the same project. They both led me to putting more detail about my history into web sites and (once they are complete) this will mean that my life will become far better documented.

The first project started when I dug out an old box of photographs. I was relatively late into digital photography so I have huge numbers of photos which just linger in boxes and albums instead of being enjoyed on Flickr. Also in the box I found the negatives for most of the films so I decided to start getting the negatives scanned in and put on CDs (if anyone is interested, it looks like Boots are the cheapest place to get this done).

This scanning is still in progress, but when I got the first few CDs back I realised that there were lots of photos of holidays and that I only had the vaguest of ideas when some of these holidays took place. So over the last couple of weeks, I’ve done pretty much all I can to tie down the dates of all of the holidays I’ve taken in the last fifteen years. I’ve gone through old passports looking for stamps. I’ve searched for email confirmations of flight bookings. I’ve even gone through my invoicing records to see which days I didn’t invoice clients for (an unexpected advantage of being a freelancer). As I’ve been going through this process, I’ve been adding the trips to my Dopplr account.

The project has expanded from just covering holidays. I’ve been to a lot of conferences in that time and I’ve also added those details to Dopplr. I don’t think I’m very far from having a complete record of every conference and meeting that I’ve ever spoken at.

The other project which eventually led in the same direction was my discovery of Songkick. Songkick aims to produce a complete directory of gigs. Users can add details of gigs they attended and mark themselves as having been at gigs added by other people. Trying to track down the dates of obscure gigs you attended in the late 1980s turns out to be a surprisingly addictive pastime. I’m sure I’ll never get everything into my account, but it’s certainly fun trying. I don’t even mind that the first gig I ever attended was supremely embarrassing.

Songkick currently has one obvious omission. It would be great if they would publish a users list of gigs (or “gigography” as they call it) as an iCal feed so that I could subscribe to it in Google Calendar. I’m sure that something like that will be added to the site soon.

There’s an obvious crossover between these two projects of course. Some gigs (more usually, festivals) can also count as holidays. Every time I went to Glastonbury or the Cambridge Folk Festival, that’s going to need to be listed in both Dopplr and Songkick.

Two interesting projects. Neither of them will ever be 100% complete, but it’s fun trying to get as close as you can. Of course, they both appeal to the “High Fidelity” style list geek in me. If these tools had been available thirty years ago I would certainly have been using them. And that would have given me an incredibly rich set of data about how I spent my time. One that I’m now painfully trying to piece together a bit at a time.

I’m fast coming to the conclusion that you can’t ever have enough data about your life. I’m now looking for new data sets that I could add to my life history.

Categories
tech

Thunderbird and Exchange

This morning a friend was complaining on Twitter about using Evolution on Linux to talk to his company’s Exchange server. Evolution is the default answer to the question “how do I talk to Exchange from Linux”, but my past experience has been much like my friend’s – it’s really not a very good answer.

I suggested Thunderbird to him. In my opinion, Thunderbird is the best email program out there. It’s been my email program of choice for several years. It will happily work with Exchange to receive and send email. Googling for “thunderbird exchange” will bring back lots of useful results.

But Exchange isn’t just about email. There’s a whole calendaring system there too. Evolution supports that, but (by default) Thunderbird doesn’t. There is, however, a way to get your Exchange calendar into Thunderbird using a rather circuitous route. Here’s how I do it.

Firstly, you need the Lightning add-on for Thunderbird. Lightning adds calendar features to Thunderbird. You can create events and get alerts when they are about to happen. You can even subscribe to external calendars as long as they are in a standard format. Unfortunately, Exchange calendars aren’t in standard formats. So we need some kind of intermediary.

The intermediary I use is Google Calendar. In fact I use Google Calendar as my definitive calendar. Every other calendar application I use reads from or writes to my Google Calendar. And Thunderbird (or, rather, Lightning) is one of the applications that interacts with it. Google Calendar writes calendars in the correct standard format, so Lightning will read a Google Calendar out of the box. But we can get cleverer than that using another Thunderbird add-on called Provider. Once Provider is installed, communication between Lightning and Google Calendar becomes two-way. I can add events either in Lightning or in Google Calendar and they will turn up in both.

There’s one final step. We need to synchronise our Exchange calendar with Google Calendar. And Google have a product that does just that. It’s called Google Calendar Sync. With this installed, your Exchange calendar is automatically synchronised with Google Calendar regularly. So now we can edit our calendar anywhere and the new or updated events will show up in all of our calendars. I’ve even noticed that invitations to events from other Exchange users show up in Lightning – but I haven’t tried replying from there yet.

There are two things I don’t like about Google Calendar Sync. Firstly, it has to be running on a PC running Windows which is connected to your Exchange Server. So it’s not a solution that will work whilst you’re (for example) out of the office with your office PC switched off. Secondly, it will only sync with your main Google Calendar. I would have liked to have a separate calendar for work events (and it’s only work events that come from my Exchange calendar), but that doesn’t seem to be supported yet.

And there are a couple of caveats with Lightning and Provider. If you’re using a Beta test version of Thunderbird 3 then the standard Lightning and Provider downloads don’t work with it. There are nightly builds of them both available, and the version of Lightning that I tried worked fine but Provider still didn’t seem to work. I expect that situation to change quickly over the next few weeks as the Thunderbird 3 launch gets closer.

A year ago I was really disorganised. I never knew what I was supposed to be doing. Settling on Google Calendar as a definitive place to plan my life was a really good idea. At least now, I know which meetings I’m missing.

Categories
web

Google Calendar Spam

Is anyone else getting Google Calendar spam? About half a dozen times in the last month I’ve got an SMS message telling me that I’ve received an invitation to an event on my Google Calendar and when I check the calendar it’s actually some kind of 419 spam.

I suppose that it was inevitable that the spammers would eventually find this new way of annoying people, but I’m not happy that it’s apparently so easy for them. Is this going to go the way of email and blog comments, with people becoming reluctant to accept event invitations from random people? Will you need to join some kind of whitelist before you can invite me to an event. I really hope it doesn’t come to that.

I’ve been just deleting the invitations, but it’s times like these that I wish there was some way to transmit a poke in the eye over HTTP. Is there something else that I can be doing? Should I report them to Google in some way? Would that help at all? I assume the invitations are being sent from disposable accounts.

I’ve only been using Google Calendar for a month or two. It would be a shame to see it become unusable. I’d love to hear any suggestions you have (as, I’m sure, would Google).