Outlook & Google Calendar Sync

When big companies duke it out, it’s supposed to be consumers who win through lower prices and better products. But it doesn’t always work that way.

Consider the “Google vs. Microsoft” fight. Google makes Android, a popular operating system for smartphones. Microsoft traditionally made desktop software, like operating systems and office suites. But Google wants you to use their email service, Gmail, with Android devices. This is great if you’re starting from scratch, but what about people who have decades of information stored in Outlook? Couldn’t Google make some kind of free app that would sync calendar data between Outlook and Gmail? Well, they did, but they killed it on August 1, 2014.

Since then, people like me who use non-Gmail email accounts with Outlook have been scrambling to find a good replacement. It ain’t easy. Some of these apps are expensive: $49.95 for something that used to be free? Really? And some of them just plain suck: I tried one sync app that worked as an Outlook plug-in, and it added 37.7 seconds to Outlook’s start time, and often slowed the app to a crawl. There are a few webapps for this, but I’ve found them to be unreliable (either the software doesn’t work, or the whole dang company shuts down). And the webapps are often more expensive than desktop apps: instead of a one-time $49.95 fee, these jokers want me to pay $5.99/month for the rest of my life! Sure, most offer a discount for annual payments, but whatever.

But if you’re looking for alternatives to the old Google Calendar Sync, you should know that there are options out there.

One is Calendar Sync Free. As the name suggests, it’s a free program that comes either as a standalone app (with installer) or portable app (unzip and run). The app is not an Outlook plug-in, so it shouldn’t slow Outlook down when you’re not using it. It works, and works well for the few weeks I’ve used it. The downside is that the free version only syncs up to 30 days in the future. A $9.99 “Pro” version is available which can sync a customizable date range and can delete appointments with 2-way sync.

calendar_sync
Calendar Sync Free

There’s also an app called Outlook Google Calendar Sync. This app is totally free, and aims to have all the great (non-crippled) features commercial apps have, like two-way sync, customizable date ranges, and automatic sync. It’s a little more difficult to set up – you have to authorize the app in Gmail, then enter a key Google gives you into the setup wizard. There are more options generally, and certain debugging features are turned on by default. It’s a little rough around the edges, but it works (the current version is a fork of an abandoned app, so there’s a lot of “housecleaning” going on at the moment). I like it, and hope to see big things from it in the future!

outlook-google-calendar-sync
Outlook Google Calendar Sync

 

Georgia Tech 2015 FB Schedule for Outlook

Another year, another schedule! I’ve created downloadable versions of ORANGE BOWL CHAMPION Georgia Tech’s 2015 football schedule that work with either Microsoft Outlook or Gmail and Apple devices.

Because game times vary depending on TV coverage, this schedule has the games starting at 8AM the day of and lists the game location instead of the network (“Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta, GA”, instead of “ESPN”). A reminder is scheduled for 13:00 (1:00PM ET) the day before each game.

The schedule is available in two formats: the CSV format (Microsoft Outlook and Yahoo! Calendar) and the iCalendar format (Google Calendar and Apple devices). The CSV version is compatible with Microsoft Outlook 98 or later, and may work with apps that can import events from CSV files (it has only been tested with Outlook 2010). The iCal version of the schedule has not been tested at all. I used this handy tool to convert the CSV to iCal format. Both versions are included in the zip file; please be sure to import the right one after downloading!

Georgia Tech 2015 Football Schedule

*     *     *

Outlook users may follow these simple instructions to import the schedule. Make sure to read the all the directions below before you begin, as there are some options you may wish to change before importing the calendar:

  1. Download the file to your desktop and unzip.
  2. For OUTLOOK 2007 and earlier: select “File” > “Import and Export” > “Import from another program or file”, then click “Next”. For OUTLOOK 2010: Select “File” > “Open” > “Import” > “Import from another program or file”, then click “Next”.
  3. Choose “Comma Separated Values (Windows)”, then click “Next”.
  4. Use the “Browse” button to select the CSV file you unzipped in step 1.
  5. On the next screen make sure to select “Calendar” as the destination then click “Next” and “Finish”.

DISABLING REMINDERS: If you wish to disable the reminders, open the CSV file and change the value of “reminder on/off” (column G) to FALSE for each game before you import the Calendar into Outlook.

CHANGING “SHOW TIME AS”: By default, the entries will display their time as “Free” on your calendar. If you wish to change this to something else, change the value of each entry in Column V (“Show Time As”) from FREE to “1? (Tentative), “2? (Busy), “3? (Free) or “4? (Out of the Office) – without the quotes.

TROUBLESHOOTING: If you try to import the schedule but don’t see any of the games listed in your calendar, shut Outlook down (open Task Manager to make sure that OUTLOOK.EXE is not running) and re-open Outlook and try the import again. If you’re still having problems, leave a comment below and I’ll try to help!

VERSION INFORMATION: These files were tested on February 19, 2015 on a computer running Windows 7 Ultimate x64 and 32-bit Microsoft Office 2010. It was scanned with Bitdefender and found to be virus-free. It’s the exact same file I’ve used for a over decade now, so it should work for just about everyone.

Worlds of Wonder

Hi everybody! I just want to take a minute today to share a Kickstarter campaign that’s close to my heart.

One of my bestest buds in the whole world is trying to open “Worlds of Wonder”, a sci-fi\fantasy bookstore and bar. My friend has been a sci-fi-fantasy nerd since… forever, and has 20+ years of experience opening and managing bookstores. He wants Worlds of Wonder to be a book and comic book shop… but he also wants it to be a place where you can just come and hang out… maybe have a beer and watch some anime on a big screen, or sit on a comfy sofa and play some D&D or Settlers of Catan or what have you.

Unfortunately, I don’t exactly know where he wants to locate this place, I know he’s only looking within the Charlotte city limits (so, not a “where ‘Charlotte’ actually means Mt. Holly or Huntersville” situation), and that he’s narrowed it down to a few locations, mostly on the west side. If I learn more I’ll post it here.

My friend really is a great guy, and he deserves a chance to make something awesome here in Charlotte. If you like sci-fi, fantasy, role playing and\or beer, why not take a couple of moments to have a look-see at their Kickstarter campaign and maybe back them? They have some pretty sweet rewards!

Worlds of Wonder Kickstarter Campaign

Also, here are links to their website and Facebook page:

Worlds of Wonder website
Worlds of Wonder Facebook page

Thanks so much for helping my friend build something really cool in such a cool city!

Shocking!

Anyone who has traveled internationally has almost certainly cursed the various electrical systems of the world. Why do North America and Japan have one type of plug, while the UK and Ireland have another? And how come those plugs are different from plugs used in India, Thailand, South Africa and Switzerland… all of which are different from each other? And how did China and Argentina end up using the same plugs as Australia and New Zealand?

In short, you might wonder why there isn’t a “universal plug”. If you think about it, though, the real question is… why would there be a universal plug?

When electricity first came to homes in the United States and other countries, it was only used for lighting. And light bulbs were wired directly into the electrical system. Indeed, part of the reason early bulbs lasted so long – like the Centennial Light at a fire station in Livermore, California – was because replacing a bulb meant calling an electrician to remove the dead bulb and wire a new one in.

This, of course, was a huge expense and inconvenience, so a slew of inventors came up with ways for customers to easily replace bulbs themselves. One version became more popular than all others, and it probably shouldn’t surprise you that it came from Thomas Edison. The “Edison screw” became the standard base for almost all household light bulbs in North America and Europe. So now, people could replace bulbs by simply unscrewing the dead one from the fixture and screwing a new one in.

Edison Screw
The Edison Screw, via Wikipedia

What few imagined at the time, though, was the birth of electrical appliances like toasters and radios. Early versions of these products were also wired directly in to the electrical system, which was a huge pain: to move a radio from one room to another, you’d have to call an electrician, and you’d possibly have to repair busted plaster or drywall the electrician would have to open to get to the wires running through the walls.

So inventors went back to the drawing board again, and came up with something like this:

Light Socket Adapter
photo via Amazon

This is a modern device that screws into a light socket, provides two outlets you can plug any two-prong device into, and a pass-through socket you can screw a bulb into. But in the early days, there wasn’t a single standard for electric plugs, and were all kinds of different plugs on the market in the US. A toaster might use one type of plug, a radio another. If you wanted to use the two devices on the same adapter, you’d have to make sure they used the same plug, or have an electrician rewire one device with the appropriate plug.

Finally, in 1904, a man named Harvey Hubbell II was awarded a patent for the modern American electrical plug, now called a “Type A” plug. Some time later, a third (ground) prong was added; this is called a “Type B” plug. Type A & B are used throughout North America, Japan, most of Central America and the Caribbean.

While all this was going on in the US, conflicting plugs and systems were raging all over Europe and the UK, too. Inventors there came up with systems and plugs that worked well for their countries, and eventually standards were settled there as well.

So why didn’t anyone ever talk about a universal plug? Because there wasn’t a need for one. International travel wasn’t nearly as common as it is today, and those lucky enough to travel overseas usually didn’t want to bring lamps with them. International trade in electrical devices wasn’t common, either, since each country had its own manufacturing base. And by the time portable devices like electric razors and radios became common, electric standards had been set. Thus, travelers have been forced to buy plug adapters and power converters ever since.

In 1986, the International Electrotechnical Commission got tired of all the different plug types in Europe and created a new type of plug – Type N – they hoped would become the standard throughout the entire European Union, and perhaps the world:

Type N plug
Photo via worldstandards.eu

But the EU didn’t consider it a top priority, and since any mention of new plugs set off unending bickering between EU members, the whole matter was shelved for good in the mid 1990s. And the idea was a non-starter in non-EU countries like the US and Japan as they all had plugs that worked fine… or were at least “good enough” not to incur the massive expense of switching over to a new plug for no good reason.

But one country was interested in a new type of electric plug: Brazil. At the time, Brazil had at least ten (ten!) different types of plugs in common use throughout the country. In 2001, the Associação Brasileira de Normas Técnicas (Brazilian Association of Technical Standards) adopted Type N as the sole electric plug to be used throughout the country. Hooray!

There’s just one little catch, though: although the country has had a single standard for electric plugs for 14 years now, Brazil is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t have a standard voltage! As unbelievable as it might seem, most of Brazil’s 27 states use 220 volts, but there are a few that use an older 127 volt standard. So an electric coffeemaker bought in the state of Minas Gerais will blow up if plugged into an outlet in the Distrito Federal… and because every device now uses the same Type N plug, there’s no visual warning to prevent you from doing that!

Technology: one step forward, one step back.

Muting Chrome Tabs

For some time now, Google Chrome has had a nifty feature: a little speaker icon appears on any tab that’s playing sound. That way you can easily figure out which tab is playing music, or an auto-play video, and kill the noise.

But it’s like Google didn’t think that feature all the way through. What would be really cool would be the ability to click on that little speaker icon and mute the tab completely. Well guess what? It’s now a hidden feature in Chrome!

Just open a browser tab and paste the following into the address bar:

chrome://flags/#enable-tab-audio-muting

Click the Enable checkbox and restart Chrome. Now you’ll be able to click on the speaker icon to mute a tab:

Chrome Mute Tab

Pretty cool!

Cant (or Can’t) Figure It Out

“Can’t get there from here” is a colloquialism from the American South referring to directions too complex to easily give. If a traveler stopped and asked a local for directions, and the proper response would be “go two miles and take a right and it’s on the left”, the local would probably just say so. But if it was significantly more complex than that, the local would dismiss the traveler by saying “you can’t get there from here”.

It’s also the name of a popular R.E.M. song off the band’s 1985 album Fables of the Reconstruction. But it would seem that the band can’t agree on how to punctuate the title.

R.E.M. traditionally ignored apostrophes, as seen in the song titles like “Feeling Gravitys Pull” and album titles like Lifes Rich Pageant. According to guitarist Pete Buck:

“We all hate apostrophes. Michael insisted and I agreed that there’s never been a good rock album that’s had an apostrophe in the title.”

And “Cant Get There From Here” is punctuated as such on the album’s outer sleeve. However, on the album itself the song is listed with the apostrophe. The same goes for the CD: no apostrophe on the sleeve, apostrophe on the disc. There are two versions of the song’s single, one with and the other without the apostrophe:

REM-Cant-01

REM-Cant-02

On their early greatest hits album Eponymous, the track listing lacks an apostrophe, but the liner notes include it. And the apostrophe appears once again on the back cover of the And I Feel Fine… The Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982–1987 box set.

So who knows. It would seem the band enjoys the ambiguity. The A side of the album and cassette versions lists the album as Fables of the Reconstruction, but the B side is listed as Reconstruction of the Fables. Both have meaning, first as tales about the Reconstruction Era of the American South following the Civil War, the second as the literary deconstruction of fairy tales. But the album art doesn’t help: the front cover says Fables of the Reconstruction, but the back says Reconstruction of the Fables. Most CD versions of the disc say Fables of the Reconstruction on the cover, but Reconstruction of the Fables on the spine.

If all that wasn’t confusing enough, Fable’s liner notes include references to a song called “When I Was Young”, which isn’t included on the album. The song exists – it was played on a 1985 tour before Fables was released, and appears in demo form as “Throw Those Trolls Away” on the 25th anniversary edition of Fables. But if you have a CD player capable of reading CD-Text data from a music disc, you’ll find the song is listed as “When I Was Young”. And if the title sounds familiar, it’s the opening line of “I Believe” from Lifes Rich Pageant… which is the song “When I Was Young” eventually became.

"Treason!" cried the Speaker