Entourage 7/10 – Missing Sync 0/10

Office for Mac 2004

The parcel I went off to pick up from TNT last night was an upgraded version of Office for Mac. Up until now, I’ve not bothered to upgrade our version of Office X to the latest 2004 version, as I haven’t really seen the need. But as part of the ongoing attempts to get my PDA and the Mac synced, I thought I’d give it a go.

The thing that tempted me to make the upgrade, was that Office 2004 for the Mac can now hook up to an Exchange server, which as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, has been quite happily keeping in sync with my PDA, so whilst Missing Sync to iCal and Address Book has proved to be a dead loss, in a roundabout sort of way I would be able to get my calendar onto the Mac.

Firstly, a bit of background. Whilst both the Mac and PC versions of Office contain versions of Word, Excel and Powerpoint, the e-mail and calendaring application on the Mac, called Entourage, is not a clone of Outlook. Whilst the general thrust of what the application does is the same, there are a number of differences. One of the big missing features has, until Outlook 2004 came along been an equivalent to the Outlook to Exchange Server connectivity.

That changed with Entourage 2004, indeed the Mac is the only machine I have that is even able to connect to the work Exchange server. Whilst I can run Outlook on my own PC, it cannot connect directly to the Exchange server, as the only access is when connected to the work network over a VPN connection – something which is only available on my work provided laptop. Having said that, if I wanted to access my outlook mail and calendar from another machine across the internet, I could do so using a fairly painful web based interface called Outlook Web Access, or OWA for short. Whilst it does the job in an emergency, it is not the nicest interface to use.

Now Entourage 2004 has a really impressive party piece. When you opt to create a connection to an Exchange server, one of the options it gives you is to fill in a web address for the OWA page, at which point it goes off, and synchronises quite happily using the underlying web interface, something which the PC version of Outlook can’t do at all. For perfectly reasonable security reasons, network administrators don’t want to expose their Exchange servers to the internet – but this totally avoids the problem. It got a glowing report from Howard when I pointed out the feature:

That is possibly the most useful thing I’ve ever seen an MS product do, and I had no idea it was possible. Thanks!

I’ve just sync’d my Microsoft exchange account with Entourage via OWA, and it’s working seamlessly.

Very cool.

Having said that, having tried it out tonight with the server at work, I’d give it 7/10 for effort, but it still doesn’t achieve the whole of what I want. The major problem from my point of view is that the reason it works, is precisely the reason why it can’t do everything. OWA doesn’t show you your categories.

On my calendar on both Outlook and the PocketPC, all the events are categorised, to separate my church appointments from my work appointments. Indeed the church appointments are further subdivided into meetings, social events and choir events. Since OWA doesn’t show your categories, Entourage is unable to retrieve them, and although you can use the categories in Entourage to sort appointments, this is totally separate from the categorisations you have on Exchange, and on the PDA. So for the moment it is a good try, but ultimately until categories come through too, is not really much use.

Anyway, I’ll ponder whether I want to move my e-mail and so forth over into Entourage – since the calendar is not quite what I want it is not urgent, however whilst it isn’t all pretty colours, it may well still be useful. However, one thing I won’t be doing is making any more attempts to try and sync in the other direction, by using Missing Sync to link between Entourage and my PDA.

After the disappointment of the Entourage link not being quite what I wanted, I thought I’d see if the synchronisation with Entourage from Missing Sync was any better than with ICal and Address Book. Effectively I gave them the benefit of the doubt, that the problems with the Apple applications were caused by problems with the Apple Sync services, rather than issues with the software.

With hindsight, I should have gone with my previous experience, and not touched Missing Sync with a barge pole. Luckily I did a complete backup of the PDA before I started, otherwise I would have been in even more of a mess. When I plugged the PDA into Entourage, there shouldn’t have been anything to synchronise. The calendar and contacts in Entourage were fresh from the server at work, and the PDA had been synced with the work server last thing before I came home. However Missing Sync quickly set to work moving regular events around my calendar, duplicating events – for some reason all the lent lecture series was duplicated at 9pm, alongside the correct 8pm version from both the PDA and the server. It even managed to make mothers day extend into the following Monday. Frankly it was appalling, worse than with ICal – and more than that, it wasn’t adding them to my local Entourage, all of these changes where propagating through and updating the server at work! At this point I went straight for the disconnect button and terminated the process, but by that time it was too late.

Thankfully, because I had taken the backup, it was a straightforward, albeit tedious process to sort the mess out. Although neither the work server, nor the Mac had a decent version of the calendar, I did have a backup on the PDA. All I needed to do was restore the correct calendar to the PDA and force Outlook and Exchange to rebuild their calendar from there. It is slightly more of a pain as Outlook only ever gives you two options when it is doing an initial synchronisation – to replace the contents of the PDA with what is on the server, or to merge the two – it is missing the option to rebuild from the PDA. As a result you need to manually clear out the contents of the server calendar, and then remove the partnership from ActiveSync, so effectively the PC and PDA start out from scratch. Considering that I was doing this all over the VPN connection with my work laptop – it was all a bit slow, in fact to get to the point now, where the calendar is all straight on the PDA, the Mac and the work server has taken the best part of three hours.

So the moral of this story is never, ever, ever, let Missing Sync anywhere near your PDA. All in all it’s been a total waste of money, and I’ve taken great pleasure in un-installing it from the Mac tonight. I also don’t think I’ll be going near PocketMac either, as I’ve heard a lot of bad stories about that too. Hopefully in the future the Entourage exchange synchronisation will manage categories, until then, I’m further on than I was – I have a calendar that is visible on the Mac and at work, even if I don’t have all the pretty coloured categories at home.

Picking Up a Parcel from TNT

Theale TNT Depot

Not the most exciting picture, but I had to post it. This is a picture of our local TNT Depot in Theale, although as you can see it’s a little dark, the reason being that I went to the depot after the choir workshop, to collect a parcel.

This is the first time I’ve had a parcel through TNT, and I am really surprised by the flexibility they offer. We had a parcel coming in, that we weren’t expecting for a few days, however when I checked the tracking page today, I found that TNT had attempted to deliver today. Since the page had the tracking number on it I gave the depot a call to ask about collection, expecting to have to go after work tomorrow. The web site did not list their opening hours, so I asked what time they closed, to which the chap said that they didn’t, and that there was somebody there twenty-four hours a day, and that I could collect whenever I liked.

I have to say I was slightly doubtful, but he said he would put the parcel aside, and I could come and collect it later on.

I looked up the depot location on Google Maps, and headed off to the depot after I’d finished at the choir workshop. At 9:30pm the traffic was pretty light, plus the depot is located only a couple of miles from the M4, so I made it to the location on the map within about 15 minutes. There followed another 10-15 minutes driving around the estate, before realising that the map Google had produced was wrong, and the depot was in another part of the estate on the other side of the railway.

I popped over the bridge, and drove into the car park (oddly enough alongside the local Scottish and Southern Energy depot), and a security guard came out and asked if I was here to collect a parcel. I said yes, and he opened the barrier and directed me to the desk. I then had to wait around for a while, as what is supposed to happen is that the security guard phones up to the depot office to let them know someone is coming in – he didn’t, and just went back to watching the TV – however after a bit of chasing around, I eventually found somebody – ironically through all of this I could actually see my parcel sat on the top of the pile in the office!

The chap who came and got my parcel said he had been on since 1pm, and was due to hand over to another shift at 11pm, and he reiterated that I could collect whenever I wanted.

I’m not sure whether it is a national thing, or only something that happens at our local branch, but I have to say that I am really impressed. I’m assuming that the logic is that they have to have someone there during the night to meet inter-depot shipments, so why not allow the public to collect parcels too. Compared to UPS, where I have to drive 80 miles to Abingdon, or the post office delivery office in Reading that is only open 9am to 5pm, and until midday on a Saturday this is great – if I were still working in Havant, I’d be able to collect parcels without worrying about not making it before the depot closes. Full marks to TNT for providing a flexible service.

Has Your Voice Broken Mr Archer?

Malcolm Archer Workshop

Tonight, myself and a number of other members of the Church Choir went along to an RSCM organised Choir Workshop at All Saints in Wokingham, led by Malcolm Archer, currently the Director of Music at St Pauls Cathedral in London, and having previously held the same post at Wells Cathedral in Somerset.

The subject of the workshop was his Requiem, a work that we are planning on doing in November at St James. So for two hours we had a whistle-stop tour of the whole work, looking briefly at each of the movements in turn. We also had a question and answer session, talking about his work at St Pauls.

One of the most surprising things was his singing. Now most choir trainers can sing most parts, however Malcolm is actually able to sing the soprano line better than a number of our junior choir – even managing a top A at one point! Somebody actually asked him what his ‘normal’ range is in the question and answer session. The answer is interesting in that his speaking voice is, like most men, a baritone. However he has problems actually singing in the baritone register. If he is singing, he usually sings alto, which is what he was asked to do when his voice broke, and he’s never changed. As a result he has been trained to sing in that register, so is able to manage the soprano part – a useful skill when training choirs.

After explaining this, he told us a funny story about a recent audition he conducted for a new chorister at St Pauls. The young boy came along, and when it came to the pitch test, where he plays a note on the piano, and the choirboy has to sing it, he couldn’t get the pitch. To give him another chance, Malcolm then tried singing notes, which the boy could manage. After the audition, the boy asked Malcolm whether his voice had broken yet – since he could sing all the soprano notes apparently at this point his assistants were desperately trying not to burst out laughing…

I have to say that it was definitely a worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours. It is very rare to get to work with one of the top people in Church music in such a comparatively ‘personal’ setting – it was effectively a combination of the choir from All Saints, and the choir from St James, plus one or two others. Usually when you get to work with a composer on one of his own works, it is as part of a massed choir, usually several hundred strong. Here he could spend time chatting, and signing copies for many of the people there, and could even spend time with the juniors giving them tips on how to achieve the top notes.

‘Christianity, Christians and the Environment’

Revd Professor Ian James, ‘Christianity, Christians and the Environment’

Tonight we had the last of our Lent Lecture series (next week is a play in the Church), Revd Professor Ian James, who in his day job is a professor of Meteorology at Reading University, but is also a non-stipendary priest (who started off his talk by reminding us that on his previous visit he took our Easter dawn service – ironically because the person who introduced him tonight, Revd John Edwards, who had done it the year before, said he wouldn’t do it again…) in Bracknell, and the Diocesan Environmental Advisor, speaking about ‘Christianity, Christians and the Environment’.

He started with a review of the evidence of climate change, starting with a graph of the levels of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere, and covering the topics of rising average temperatures, melting glaciers, the rising sea temperatures that caused the worst hurricane season this last year, and who the biggest polluters per head of population are – the USA by a large margin, closely followed by Russia, Canada and Japan. Surprisingly Europe comes quite a way down compared to the US, although he did say that the reason for the reduction is that Europe is exporting a lot of it’s pollution thanks to the reduction in manufacturing industry that is now relocating to places like China and India. The BBC News site has an extensive section showing similar evidence of changes, and discussing many of the points that Ian made.

He then moved on to looking at why we as Christians should be concerned about the environment. He started this section by recalling many years ago how he had given a similar presentation to a group of local clergy, and was most surprised a few weeks later to be sat in a congregation whilst one of those clergy preached about how Christians should be doing other things rather than waste their time on trivial irrelevancies such as the environment! He gave a number of arguments as to why the Church should be focused on the environment, including the creation story in Genesis, but also by focusing on the key message of love for ones neighbour. As he highlighted, ones neighbour is anyone in the world, and as our decisions and actions in the UK affect the climate in distant parts of the world, we are showing love, or lack of it for our neighbours in the third-world by our over-consumption of energy in the west that is leading to rising greenhouse gases, and a changing climate that is certainly going to impact on the poorest parts of the world first. Following on from his story about the Bracknell clergy, he showed how things have changed a lot now. For example our Bishop now drives an environmentally friendly car, and the Diocese has taken the decision to cut emissions in line with the Kyoto agreement, even if the UK as a whole is going to fail to meet the targets.

Lastly he looked at ways that we both personally, and as a Church can help. He showed examples of the amounts of Carbon Dioxide produced by various activities, for example that the amount of carbon dioxide produced by a flight to Greece for a family holiday is equivalent to all the carbon dioxide produced by all the car journeys the average family undertakes in a year. He also showed the cost of our modern ability to get produce in our supermarkets from around the world – the amount of carbon dioxide produced to air freight 1kg of perishable fruit and veg to the UK is 6kg – whilst transporting 1kg of UK produced produce is 0.002kg. He also looked at the amount of energy that can be saved through replacing ageing Church boilers with more efficient, modern units, providing better insulation, and even the amount that is saved by switching the Church to a green energy tariff.

Following on from his talk we had a wide variety of questions. Most interesting from my point of view were his comments on the Electricity industry. Firstly he highlighted the ongoing campaigns against wind farms, often on the basis of the visual impact. Secondly he moved on to the topic of nuclear power. I have to say that having worked for SSE, my opinion on the nuclear option has changed. Lots of people will object to nuclear in principle, and suggest renewable sources such as wind, however with the ongoing opposition to such schemes, the chances of being able to generate enough through these sources is non-existent. Ian made an interesting point, that people often get small chances of a serious problem massively out of proportion. For example with nuclear energy there is a small risk of some sort of catastrophic accident, however to produce the levels of power required by the UK, the other options are gas or coal fired stations. Whilst there is less risk of a catastrophic accident, there is pretty well a hundred percent probability of continuing environmental damage, environmental damage that could lead to thousands, if no millions of deaths worldwide. His opinion is that if the world is to avoid any sort of unacceptably sudden and significant change in lifestyle, there is no way that it can be done without including nuclear power. He also briefly discussed small scale generation, highlighting the vast amounts of carbon dioxide produced by the production of solar panels, but suggesting a rooftop wind turbine as a viable option.

All in all it was a very informative talk, and certainly gave the parish a lot to think about. Hopefully as a result we can get the Church moved towards being more green sooner rather than later.

Consciousness

If you’ve seen Howard’s blog recently, you’ll see he’s been busy, having discovered the hours of fun that can be had with FD’s Flickr Toys many of which work with uploaded pictures too.

Needless to say Howard is not alone. I’ve been browsing through the De-Motivators Pool which are all phoney motivational posters, and came across this great one called Consciousness uploaded by peggy, which looks very much like Sophie – and sums up her attitude to life too! 😀