A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Outlook, Google Calendar, and Hotmail

As somebody who struggles with organization, long ago, when I was in the logistics business, I learned to depend upon Outlook as a "cognitive prosthesis." Since events flashed when I needed them, I was able to avoid forgetting to place orders, call back customers, etc. My customers were blissfully unaware of any organization problems I suffered from, because I never missed a beat. When I started in teaching, I had not used a handwritten calendar in years and rediscovered that my brain got overloaded by visual clutter, particularly when my entire focus was on the students and delivering lessons, and especially when at my most sleep deprived, or after an Apnea episode. I missed a few important meetings. My need for organization as a teacher is what has driven my obsession to have my calendar and tasks at my fingertips, and having purchased an inexpensive second-hand Windows Mobile  personal data assistant, I thought all my organizational issues were solved. Outlook synched with Windows Mobile, but then it didn't.

After one of my numerous computer crashes over the years, I discovered that I could sync Outlook with Google Calendar, but my major problem Google Calendar was that I was unable to sync my Outlook Tasks. Another thing that happened when my computer crashed was that my little handheld pocket computer no longer synched, which meant I could not charge the battery. When I purchased my laptop before attending grad school last year, I waited a day too long and let my full version of Outlook expire, and purchased a Student Edition, hoping to save a few dollars. Hated it! Then, I had the hardest time figuring out how to upgrade ... eventually, I gave up, and settled for what I considered a disappointing Google Calendar.  After the crash, my Windows Mobile phone no longer synched. As grad school was coming to a chose, I discovered a College Edition of Office, and had my beloved Outlook again. Unfortunately, when I tried to sync my Windows Mobile Device, I was forced to upgrade the phone's operating system, and in the process lost all of my contacts. Horrors! After blood curdling scream, I got over it. Then, I figured out how to upgrade the operating system on my handheld device. Happy days again ... until they weren't!

Recently, I upgraded to Windows 8, because it will enable me to automatically back up my laptop to my son's Terrabyte drive, which I can't do now, but I will be able to do after I upgrade his computer to Windows 8 later today ($40). After I upgraded my laptop to Windows 8, I started getting "conflicts," which prevented the calendar on my handheld from syncing with Outlook. That's when I started getting serious again about figuring a more permanent solution to my problem of making my Outlook data more portable, in order to keep all my critical scheduling information at my fingertips, minimize cognitive overload, so that I can remain focused on the needs of my students.

Since my Windows handheld was no longer syncing with my PC's Outlook calendar, since my wife Karen has told me that she wants to buy me a new Samsung Galaxy III for Christmas, and since I had stupidly picked up a two day sub job that involved only 3 hours each day -- in the middle of the day -- I had a nice block of hours that I could devote to fixing my "cognitive prosthesis". First, I tried to figure out how to sync Outlook with Hotmail's calendar. In the process, I learned how to publish an Outlook 2010 calendar to the web and how to enable a web service to "subscribe" to a published calendar. When I subscribed in Hotmail, my events were listed as "busy" instead of showing any detail, and my event notes were not displayed. Useless!

Then, I tried Google Calendar's subscription service. My events synced perfectly, including all of my notes, such as driving directions to various schools. Ironically, Google Calendar handles Outlook data to perfection while Hotmail doesn't ... unless one wants to pay a $99 per year subscription fee to Microsoft.

Next, I searched for a way to sync my Outlook Tasks to Google Calendar. In the process, I discovered that GogTasks (free 30 day trial, $9 one  time fee) used the identical strategy of translating Tasks to Lists used by the Remember the Milk ($25 annual subscription). Although GogTasks process wasn't particularly intuitive, after fiddling with it for a few hours, I learned how to click on an icon in the bottom right corner of the to-do-list to display all of my "lists," which synced from Outlook, instead of merely the "default list." Problem solved!

Hoping that my Windows Mobile handheld computer might sync again, I turned off the partnership between my laptop and my handheld and reestablished the partnership. As a result, all of the contacts on the handheld vanished. Then, I learned how to export my Outlook Contacts to Hotmail and GMail via a csv file (comma separated value). After some tweaking, I was able to get my contacts to display on my handheld computer again, but I still was unable to display my information from Outlook on my handheld, except through Google Calendar. Google Calendar displayed my Outlook 2010 published calendar, notes and all. Google Tasks, however, did not include the notes from Office on the Mobile device, although the notes did show up on the laptop, just like they did on Remember the Milk. My handheld has wi-fi, but it does not have cellular service, so Google Calendar is not a great solution for keeping my critical scheduling data at my fingertips.

When my wife buys me a Samsung Galaxy III Smartphone for Christmas, once again all my critical scheduling data will be at my fingertips. I will have already have figured out how to sync Outlook with Google Calendar and Tasks. Truly, I will have no reason to go for a more expensive Windows phone. My handheld, despite its many shortcomings, still works great as a media playing device.

After using my handheld to listen to The Psychology of Winning again, by Denis Waitley, the other night at the gym, I've decided to get back to focusing again on putting the pieces of my life together again, i.e., get meaningful employment. According to Denis Waitley, the number one quality of a winner is "incurable optimism." Today, Joe came home with all A's on his report card -- first time ever! Since good things usually come in threes (an old wive's tale), maybe along with my Samsung Galaxy III, and the great news about Joe (a classic under-performer), maybe I'll be able to share good news about a new job for the new year. Lacking anything positive to say, my voice has been muted recently.

Having spent the night addressing my organization problem then blogging about it, I guess I should get a few hours of sleep. I'll need a clear head to remain focused on making sure that I'm fully prepared when the opportunity comes up for taking over a classroom. Oh, and by the way, the sub job that I picked up stupidly gave me some great stories to tell ...