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Extended iCal rant from a timezone warrior

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09-20-2006
10:41 PM ET (US)
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06-13-2005
08:06 PM ET (US)
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06-13-2005
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Cory DoctorowPerson was signed in when posted
10-31-2003
05:20 PM ET (US)
If I enter a 3PM item and change my system-clock, iCal makes it a 2PM item (and synchs it to my PalmOS device). That's changing my calendar. It's catastrophic when, i.e., it tells me that my 3PM flight actually leaves at 4PM.
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Damien Neil
10-31-2003
04:43 PM ET (US)
The thing is, iCal *isn't* screwing with your calendar. It isn't changing anything at all. If you enter an event as happening at 3PM PST, that event will remain at 3PM PST. Your calendar is never adjusted in any way. I find this very logical and consistent, and I can't imagine any other way that it should work.
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Josh
10-31-2003
11:49 AM ET (US)
Solution: use Now Up to Date. It's more robust, has views that don't resemble a barbershop appointment book, is networkable across the internet (with read AND write capabilities) and has stood the test of time. It might not be as pretty as iCal, but you know what? It just works. And it doesn't bend over backwards to impress me (and fail miserably.) It just works. Which is what I want my scheduler to do.

If not, look into Palm Desktop (free) or even MS Entourage.

But for all that is good and holy, if you are serious in your business enough to actually be considered an important ingredient of a pre-scheduled conference call, do not rely on iCal.
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Cory DoctorowPerson was signed in when posted
10-31-2003
07:13 AM ET (US)
At the end of the day, here's why I think that this "feature" is broken:

I want to be able to enter an event and specify a start and stop time, and then tell my computer to NEVER change those times. Turning off timezone support should do that: it should tell your computer to stop screwing with your calendar.

When my computer takes it upon itself automatically adjusting my calendar, there are real, substantial risks -- i.e., it could cause me to miss a transoceanic flight.

I think that I should have the right, as a user, to assert that I know best when I set the times for my events, and to instruct my computer to leave the times as I have set them.
9
Bob Page
10-31-2003
04:33 AM ET (US)
I'm with Damien on this one. I think the iCal timezone support is exactly right. I don't even use the new timezone feature. Everything goes in to iCal in my local timezone, including events in other timezones, but for items that span timezones (air travel) I do the math in my head when adding the event, and the title/subject of the event contains the local times for start and stop. Here's one for a couple of days ago: "SJC-JFK AA 288 (11:25a-7:50p)". That's not an 8.5 hour flight - I leave at 11:25 in San Jose, and land at 7:50pm in New York.

You're thinking - do timezone math manually? Well, I have to do it all the time, because non-tz warriors don't think in anything but their local time zone. So to reduce confusion I always use their time zone when I'm talking to them, which means I have to do the math anyway.

I realize you (Cory) work differently. But that doesn't mean iCal's timezone handling is broken.
8
Mark Eichin
10-30-2003
02:25 PM ET (US)
DateBk5 for PalmOS gets this right - which is why I use it for calendaring, and only every use the Mac (or really any other system) for reminder popups and occasional data entry wrt schedules.

Simply, an event is *either* in a given timezone *or* in "local" time. The particularly good case for this is "oh, the california office is doing a conference call at 10am... and as usual, they mean their time... no problem, click click, scheduled for 10am pacific, oh look that's 1pm here, great." Another way to think of it is "reminders for *me* are often local; reminders about *other people* are usually anchored." It's only one small feature, and there are a few hundred other reasons I use DateBk5, but this is the issue you've brought up...

Apparently chronosnet has a palm-oriented Mac PIM suite that actually supports the pimlico datebk extensions, too, but I haven't tried it yet.
7
Damien Neil
10-30-2003
02:20 PM ET (US)
iCal's timezone support seems excellent to me, actually. (With the possible exception of syncing to an external device, which I've never done and don't have the hardware to test.)

The key thing to realize is that all times are stored in UTC internally. When you change your system timezone, iCal isn't updating the events it has stored. It's just changing the presentation of them.

If you're in EST and enter a noon appointment, iCal stores it as "1700 UTC". When you look at it in your calendar, iCal converts that back to your local timezone and displays it as "1200 EST". If you change your local timezone to PST, the time of the appointment stays the same (1700 UTC), but is now displayed as 0900 PST.

This is all exactly what I'd want. If I've got a noon conference call, the time of the call isn't going to change based on where I am--if I fly from the west coast to the east coast, I'd better start calling in at 3PM local time.

The "turn on time zone support" option in the preferences simply turns on some additional UI elements. It doesn't change how the calendar items are stored. First off, it gives you a drop-down in the upper-right corner which lets you select the presentation time zone. This is handy if you want to see what your schedule is going to look like from someone else's perspective. Secondly, it lets you set a time zone on calendar items.

If you set a time zone on a calendar item, this simply changes the presentation of the time as viewed in the info box (but not in the main calendar view). This is designed for setting up things like that 6PM dinner date in Toronto. You can enter the time as "6PM, Toronto time" in the appointment. It'll show up as 3PM in your calendar while you're on the west coast, so you'll know not to schedule any important calls at that time. When you travel to the other coast and change your system timezone, the appointment will now appear at 6PM local time. The actual time of the appointment hasn't changed at all, of course--just your perception of it.

Alarms, so far as I can tell, work exactly the same. If you ask for an alarm 15 minutes before an appointment, you get it 15 minutes before that appointment. If you got an alarm ringing at 6AM on the west coast while your calendar displayed it as a 9AM alarm, I suspect you had the calendar to display in US/Eastern while your system timezone was set to US/Pacific. This is exactly what it should do--the alarm went off as requested, at 9AM US/Eastern.

I can see that it might be nice to set something as occurring at the same time, no matter what time zone you are in. I don't really see this as a fatal missing feature, however. (And it would come with its own problems--whether or not it conflicts with any other scheduled items would change depending on what timezone you are in.)
6
Brian W
10-30-2003
12:46 PM ET (US)
Now Up To Date? Entourage? A web-based calendar? I dunno; I don't travel nearly enough to debate the relative merits. It just seems like reinventing the wheel; surely there's a more business/travel centered app out there. Of course now that I've said that, I'm probably wrong. You'll probably have to write one yourself ;)
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Cory DoctorowPerson was signed in when posted
10-30-2003
12:42 PM ET (US)
Got a suggestion? Last time I checked, iCal was as robust-and-professional as OS X got.
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Brian W
10-30-2003
12:37 PM ET (US)
While I agree completely that the timezone setup in iCal is monumentally poorly thought out and needs to be overhauled, might I recommend that if one spends that much time as a "timezone warrior" that one spend a couple of bucks on a more robust and professional scheduling application than an iApp that is meant more for home users?
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Cory DoctorowPerson was signed in when posted
10-30-2003
12:00 PM ET (US)
"If I need to quickly see what the local time for an appointment is, I use the info window, which shows me the time relative to the appointment's timezone. This seems pretty straightforward to me"

Huh? Maybe if you've got like one appointment in a day. Opening the info windows for a dozen or more appointments in a day and keeping track of which timezone each is in is really hard. Especially since you can't see the info for more than one appt at a time.
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Cory DoctorowPerson was signed in when posted
10-30-2003
11:59 AM ET (US)
That only works if you don't synch with a PalmOS PDA (which doesn't have anywhere to store a timezone).

I want to enter appointments in the time that they will be held at, like next week, where I land at Gatwick at 9AM London on Sunday, and fly to Switzerland at 10AM London on Monday and and at 11AM Swiss and then have a lunch at 1PM Swiss, etc. I want to be able to take that view with me on my PDA, so I can flip the lid and see that I depart at 10AM and arrive at 11AM -- I don't care about the timezone that I land in, I want to be able to tell someone in Geneva that I arrive at 11AM, not noon London.
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