My pal, iCal

Recently, I had the responsibility of arranging for several pieces of furniture, 20 boxes of books, more Mac peripherals than I know what to do with, a refrigerator, a television, and two irritable cats to be relocated some 370 miles from Los Angeles to my new base of operations in Alameda County. In pulling off this cross-state move, I have found the three most valuable tools to have at my disposal are bubble-wrap, a reputable moving firm, and iCal. The bubble-wrap lessens the risk of my breakables... well, breaking . The reputable moving firm has the experience, skill, and muscle to move large, bulky items that me and my spindly, little arms cannot. And Apple’s humble calendaring application turns out to be a nice little tool for making sure the trains run on time.

The instant I found out about the move—about five weeks from Zero Hour—I launched iCal and created a Moving calendar to go alongside my existing calendars for Work, Travel, Due Dates, and other miscellany. Then I started creating events with due dates—when I needed to cancel utilities at the old place, when I needed to set up utilities at the new place, when assorted kitchen paraphernalia needed to be packed, and so forth. I used iCal’s alarm feature to remind me of specific events, set up a laundry list of items in the To Do List pane, and made extensive use of the Priority settings to remind myself which deadlines could slip by a day or two and which absolutely, positively needed to be completed at the appointed time. And it worked like a charm—this was probably my easiest move ever, and I say that as someone who’s bounced up and down the California coast like a vagrant since 1990.

Maybe it would have worked out just as well had I used a traditional paper calendar. But there’s something about launching iCal first thing in the morning and seeing your tasks and to-dos in all their multi-color glory that helps one focus the mind. And nothing—not a gentle reminder, not a note jotted down on a Post-It, not even a baleful glare from the missus—can spur me to action quite like the sight of a checkbox on my iCal To-Do list turning into a triangle with an exclamation mark (the app’s way of telling me that I’m ridiculously behind schedule). It’s borderline Pavlovian.

So even though I’ve long considered iCal a nifty little tool, whether it’s navigating a cross-state move or just managing my day-to-day affairs, but I’ve had my gripes about older versions of the app. In particular, I’ve been flummoxed by iCal 1.5.5’s inability to manage older calendars.

Let’s consider that Moving calendar I told you about a couple paragraphs ago. It was extremely helpful back when I was managing a move—but now that I’m situated in Northern California, that calendar has served its purpose. And yet, in version 1.5.5, it would sit there in the left-hand pane of my iCal window, waiting for new events that will never be added. The same thing goes with a calendar I keep of the Oakland Athletics’ 2005 schedule—once the A’s finish playing out the string this Sunday, that particular calendar hurtles into obsolescence. (And, when it’s time to add the 2006 schedule next spring, what am I supposed to do? Clutter up the left-hand pane of iCal with an ever-expanding number of green A’s calendars?)

Now I could simply delete all these no-longer-relevant calendars, removing them and their to-dos from iCal forever. But I’m one of those people that likes a carefully preserved record of what I was doing on a particular day—who’s to say I won’t need an easily accessible way to confirm that, why yes, I was busy moving out of my apartment on September 6, 2005 at some point in the future?

There was a way to sort of do this with iCal 1.5.5, but it’s not the most elegant solution in the world. You select the calendar in question and use iCal’s Export feature, saving the calendar with a unique name (Sept05 LA Move, for example). Then just delete the original calendar from iCal. This will remove outdated calendars from the left-hand pane (yea!) but it will also remove them from your iCal records (boo!)—though you can always restore them by using the Import feature. Effective—but not exactly the at-a-glance record of my life that I’m hoping to keep.

So what’s a record-keeping fanatic like myself to do? Just upgrade to Tiger.

With substantial new features like Spotlight and Dashboard grabbing most of the attention, the updated version of iCal in Mac OS X 10.4 has been largely overlooked. Among the changes in iCal 2.0 (which you can read all about in Macworld ’s Total Tiger issue) are features for managing meetings, enhanced printing functionality—and, of particular interest to me, the ability to group calendars into folderlike subsets.

So, old, out-dated calendars about just-completed moves and baseball schedules cluttering up my iCal interface? All I have to do in iCal 2.0 is hit Command-Shift-N to create a new calendar group (which I’ve dubbed “Dead Calendar Office”). Then I drag the antiquated calendars into that folder, and click on the arrow to the left to make them disappear—event information remains in the main calendar window (though I can make that scarce, too, by clicking on the check-box next to those individual calendars).

It’s a great addition to a program that already served the bulk of my scheduling needs. And because of it, I expect the next major life event to come along—oh man, not another move—to run even more smoothly.

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