New SEC calendar and lectionary in Outlook website

Screenshot of SEC calendar and lectionary in Outlook website
Screenshot of SEC calendar and lectionary in Outlook website

Over the last few months I’ve been working on a new website to support the Scottish Episcopal Church calendar and lectionary files that I create every year. To support the files, today I launched:

I had intended to get this site launched over the Christmas and New Year break but… well, something about having toddler twin boys and a pregnant wife changed those plans.

What it’s all about

The CSV files allow you to import or subscribe to details of the Scottish Episcopal Church saints’ days, festivals and readings in your Outlook or Google calendar.

I also recently started adding an iCalendar feed, which enables you to subscribe to the calendar. The idea there is that if any of the details change then they get updated automatically.

I created the first file in 2005, for my own use both in Outlook and on my Psion PDA, I mentioned it to a few folks who were interested in it and have made it available on my blog ever since. But I felt that it deserved more than just a blog page, so I created this new website for it.

Features

The homepage of the new website (www.garethjmsaunders.co.uk/secoutlook) updates every day to show you what today is in the liturgical calendar. It changes colour too to reflect the current feast day: gold, green, red or violet.

View the calendar shows an embedded Google calendar. It’s available to view in Week, Month or Agenda layouts. Click on any feast day information to show the readings for that day. (I’ve found this useful already.)

There are three pages showing instructions on how to import or subscribe to the files:

The Outlook 2010 page also includes screencast videos, recorded using the excellent Camtasia Studio.

The archive has links to every file that I’ve created.  Well, not every file… just the files to do with this.

Preparing the electronic version of the SEC Calendar and Lectionary

SEC calendar in Excel
SEC calendar readings being compiled in Microsoft Excel 2010

Update

Calendar and Lectionary 2010-2011 now available to download.

Original post

The Calendar and Lectionary of the Scottish Episcopal Church is a document that offers two things:

  1. A list of all saints days throughout the year.
  2. Readings for Sundays, weekdays, festivals (saints’ days) and special occasions (both Eucharists and daily prayer).

Each year the Church produces a guide to the calendar and lectionary which keeps mortals like you and me correct.  The Sunday readings are on a 3 year cycle (next year is Year A), while the daily prayer readings and daily Eucharists are on a 2 year cycle (next year is Year 1).

Once you add in saints’ days, and start translating saints days to adjacent days because they clash with feast days of a higher order, it all begins to get a bit complicated.

Outlook

Since 2005 I’ve provided these dates and readings (in various degrees of completeness) in a digital format that allows users to import them directly into Microsoft Outlook.  Outlook requires a simple Comma Separated Values (CSV) file which can be prepared in Microsoft Excel (other spreadsheet applications are available) with the appropriate information in them:

  • Subject (The name of the day)
  • Start and end date
  • Start and end time
  • Whether it’s an all day event or not
  • Description (Readings)
  • Priority
  • Sensitivity
  • Show time as

For the last few weeks I’ve been preparing the files, sitting for hours in front of my computer typing in line after line of readings.

Getting prepared

Most years I do it in a bit of a last-minute panic and end up creating a bespoke file specifically for that year, but this year I wanted to be organised and produce something that can be used year after year.

So this year I’m creating a master Excel file that contains all the readings for each combination of three year and two year cycles:

  • A1 and A2
  • B1 and B2
  • C1 and C2

plus a comprehensive master list of saints’ days, which should in future enable me to compile the files in just a few days rather than 4-8 weeks as it does at the moment.

Progress

I’ve just finished entering all the readings for the entire church year—from the first Sunday of Advent to the Week of Proper 34 (Christ the King)—and tomorrow morning will start on the readings for festivals, common saints’ days and special occasions.

Then I’ll be ready to compile everything for this year.  For once I may even be done by the start of the church year (which is this coming Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent).

Moving to Microsoft Exchange 2007

Computers and devices connected to a server
You say single point-of-failure, I say synchronized data!

Back in July 2009 I upgraded my mobile phone from an O2 Xda Orbit to an O2 Xda Zest. All was well until I tried to synchronize it with two copies of Microsoft Outlook, one at home, the other at work.

It didn’t work.

Windows Mobile 6.1 won’t sync

A quick Web search showed me that I wasn’t alone. It turns out that there was a bug in that version of Windows Mobile 6.1 on my phone. Microsoft had fixed it and rolled out the update to OEMs but it appears that O2 wasn’t going to let it roll any further.

Diagram of Windows Mobile phone synchronizing with 2 PCs
My Windows Mobile 6.1 phone would only synchronize with one PC

So I was stuck with a phone that would synchronize with only one PC. Which was somewhat bothersome as I was rather used to the convenience of my calendar, contacts, tasks and notes being available both at work and at home, as well as on the go on my mobile phone.

I needed to find another solution.

XTND Connect

The first thing I looked for was an alternative to Microsoft ActiveSync (I was using Windows XP at the time) and I discovered XTND Connect.

I wondered if the problem could be bypassed by using an alternative to ActiveSync.

It couldn’t.

That didn’t work either, which made it quite an expensive mistake. The demo version looked promising but was so highly crippled in terms of functionality that I had to buy the full version in order to fully evaluate it. Which rather defeats the purpose of a demo version, in my view.

Sync2

So I looked around at alternative solutions and it appeared to me that there were only two options left:

  1. Synchronize with an online application (e.g. Google Calendar)
  2. Synchronize to a server (e.g. Microsoft Exchange)
  3. Synchronize to a local folder (e.g. USB flash drive)

I explored the Google Calendar and Google Contacts option but (and for me, it’s a deal-breaker, which is one reason I’ve not gone rushing out to buy an Apple iPhone) one the elements of Outlook that I use perhaps more than any other is Tasks. And I couldn’t sync my tasks with Google Calendar.

I assumed that Exchange would be out of my price bracket so focussed on the second option which led me to Sync2 from 4Team.

Not only does Sync2 synchronize your Outlook calendar, contacts, tasks and notes with a folder of your choosing (USB flash drive, local folder, LAN folder, etc.) it will also synchronize with Google Calendar and Contacts.

I discovered that if I synchronized it with a folder in Dropbox at home I could then synchronize it again from the same folder on my PC at work, without having to worry about remembering to pack my USB flash drive.

Three computers using Sync2 synchronizing with a Dropbox folder
Using Sync2 to synchronize using a Dropbox folder

That has been the solution I have been using for the last six months to synchronize my data between home, work and my laptop.

Occasionally I ran into problems with data not synchronizing properly and so had to either

  • Resynchronize a profile (i.e. make it think it was doing it for the first time again.
  • Delete a profile and recreate it from scratch.
  • Reinstall Sync2 completely.

But most of the time it worked pretty well.

Except that it still didn’t address the issue of my mobile phone being out-of-sync for most of the day, between synchronizations at home.

Hosted Microsoft Exchange 2007

So in January I went in search of an affordable, UK-based hosted Microsoft Exchange account.

After some shopping around I eventually selected Simply Mail Solutions (SMS) based in Warrington. What attracted me about their hosted Exchange 2007 account features were (in order):

  • Only £4.99 per month
  • Full support for Windows Mobile including push
  • Full Outlook Web Access (OWA) in Internet Explorer
  • Out of office assistant
  • Free copy of Outlook 2003 or Outlook 2007

With each device connecting directly to the Exchange server I can guarantee that my data is always up-to-date (server outages withstanding).

Various devices connecting to an Exchange Server
Two PCs, a laptop, a mobile phone and Outlook all connecting to the Exchange Server

Another welcome benefit is that I won’t have the problems of duplicated entries that I’ve experienced so many times when synchronizing multiple devices. Here’s a screenshot I took of Outlook and posted to Twitpic last month showing a repeated entry for “Doug Aitken’s Birthday” duplicated 13 times!

Calendar entry (Doug Aitken's Birthday) duplicated 13 times
Calendar entry (Doug Aitken\’s Birthday) duplicated 13 times

I can even resynchronize my mobile phone when I’m out and about using my roaming Web add-on from O2.

Conclusion

So far I’m really pleased with Exchange and with the service offered by Simply Mail Solutions (SMS).

I’ve noticed only one outage from Simply Mail Solutions which lasted only a couple of minutes when connection to the server went down, and one period of particularly slow connectivity … but then it was 01:00 in the morning, they were doing some maintenance on the servers (I discovered via a quick support call) and I should have been in my bed!

There is a balance to be made when using a hosted service like this for such important personal data between:

  1. the reassurance that I have one ‘golden copy’ of data, stored centrally that is accessed by all my devices, and
  2. the potential for it to be a single point of failure: if it goes down completely I can’t synchronize between locations and my data isn’t up-to-date.

But given my previous experience of hours and hours wasted by repeatedly cleaning up corrupted or deleted data through failed synchronizations, and living with the uncertainty that perhaps my work calendar isn’t exactly the same as my home, laptop or mobile phone calendars … I think I’ll stick with Exchange for a while.

Calgoo calendar software now free

I got an email this week from Calgoo announcing that their calendar sync and share products are now free, as of 22 July 2008.

Here’s what they had to say:

Over the past two years, Calgoo Software has been developing the most complete calendar suite on the market. We released a full-featured desktop calendar program, the only Google Calendar sync solution that works with both iCal & Outlook, as well the world’s first cross platform calendar sharing service.  We are also working behind the scenes on our new in-calendar advertising models and are close to releasing these.

I’ve used Calgoo Connect in the past to sync Outlook with Google Calendar, and I was impressed.

Tungle … for organizing meetings

Tungle looks fun.

Tungle is a free, effective and simple meeting coordinator.

Share your availability

View the availability of friends, colleagues or business associates before sending them a meeting invitation.

Coordinate meetings with anyone

Create Tungle Spaces – temporary web sites for coordinating meetings with anyone, including people who don’t have Tungle.

Use your existing calendar

Get started in seconds, using your existing calendar (e.g. Outlook, Lotus Notes and Google Calendar) across firewalls and organizations.

What I find really attractive about Tungle is that you can use your existing calendar.  At work we use Meeting Maker to organize meetings but it doesn’t connect to your existing calendar application (it does with an expensive plugin!).

Not that I’m a Mac user, but there doesn’t appear to be support for iCalendar, which seems a shame/short sighted.

I wish I had an excuse to play around with Tungle now.