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Once upon a time they would throw calendars at you around this time of year. No more.
Have you noticed this? Rosh Hashana used to be the season for freebie calendars - supplied by dry cleaners, butchers, funeral parlors, supermarkets and the like. The idea, I suppose, was that you would hang the calendar on your refrigerator or kitchen wall and have a constant reminder of the contributing business's existence, so you'd be sure to patronize them the next time you needed their services. That's why I never understood the reason why funeral parlors gave out calendars; they only had one shot at each customer, so repetitive advertising was pointless. Ironically, though, they always had the nicest looking calendars!
But I digress. The traditional free calendar thing seems to be a thing of the past. Whether it's because businesspeople are so pessimistic these days that they don't believe the world is going to last another year, or because paper is too expensive, I couldn't say - but the fact is that more of us are missing birthdays, anniversaries, and other important occasions because we have no calendar to write the event down on! A post-it note just doesn't do the job; you really need a big thing on the wall to focus on as a reminder that you are supposed to be remembering something.
If you can't get a free calendar from a local business, though, you can still get one from the Internet, as long as you're willing to pay for the paper. But if you're going e-calendar already, there are a lot more interesting calendars out there that the same old day/dates format, for use either on paper or onscreen.
The whole point of a calendar is to remind you of information you need but might otherwise forget - primarily, today's date, but also events, meetings, holidays, etc. In that sense, calendars are also organizers, and every individual's calendar contains the reminders they need to get their lives together, starting with today's date. A Jewish calendar will also feature Shabbat candle lighting times, dates of holidays, etc. After that, though, you're on your own.
That's where electronic calendars have an edge: Instead of going it on your own, you could, with the right application, set up collaborative calendars that have useful information on events of the day, or list meetings or other events at the office, school, etc. With an electronic calendar, you could set up a team schedule for a neighborhood soccer league, post the carpool days for parents who are supposed to pick up and drop off the kids each day, or list the dates and times of a TV show to decide whether it's worth setting your VCR to record. This is the kind of stuff you might put on your wall calendar - but it's just so much easier with an electronic calendar.
Among the gifts the Macintosh has given the computing world is iCal (http://www.apple.com/macosx/features/ical/), the Mac's collaborative calendar format. Ical is a calendar/organizer that lets you put any information you want into it - but it supports a Web protocol called WebDav, which lets you share calendars on your computer with other users over the Internet.
Bottom line: If you have a Mac, you can type information into a calendar on your computer and publish it over the Internet for use by other iCal users - and that information will automatically show up on their calendars too. You can even set the calendar to be "open," meaning that other users will be able to input their own changes, automatically updating the iCals on other users' computers. With iCal, you can send out reminders of events to non-subscribers via e-mail, or even sync your cell phone or Palm Pilot/Pocket PC, if it's the right model, with your computer's calendars!
Ah, but what if you don't have a Mac? Can PC people still participate in this cool communal calendric concept? Indeed they can, both on-line and with a downloadable application. Mozilla Sunbird (http://www.mozilla.org/projects/calendar/sunbird.html) and Mozilla Calendar for the Thunderbird e-mail program and the Firefox browser (http://www.mozilla.org/projects/calendar/) do the same thing iCal does for PCs - and supports the same protocol, so you can tap into the thousands of pre-made calendars already out there and display them on your own computer, or "roll your own" calendar for use by others - Mac, PC and Linux users, too.
And there are so many to choose from! http://icalshare.com, for example, has over 2,500 calendars you can install on your iCal, Sunbird or Thunderbird/Firefox Calendar. Want to know when famous people were born? Install a Famous Birthdays calendar from this site (today is Truman Capote's). Did you know that tomorrow is World Vegetarian Day? You would if you installed the All Holidays Calendar. There are schedules for sports teams, movie releases, TV premieres, video game release, moon phases - you name it, someone's done it. (Note: to use iCal calendars in some versions of Mozilla calendar you need to change the webcal:// prefix - used by the Mac application - to http://)
Of course, you can just fill in the blanks and publish your own calendar, where it can be listed on iCalshare, or one of the other iCal libraries on the Net, including Apple's own www.apple.com/ca/ical/library.
Also, you can have a full-fledged Jewish calendar. Just go to http://www.hebcal.com, click on the iCal link, and follow the instructions, and you will have a Jewish calendar that will put the funeral parlor to shame, with Shabbat times (set by city or latitude/longitude), Hebrew dates, Jewish holidays, etc. As with all iCal format calendars, you can subscribe to the calendar or download it to your computer, and then install it in your calendar program. The whole point of these calendars is to display as much concurrent information on each date as you want, so you can subscribe to as many calendars as you want, and check off the ones you want to have displayed at a particular time. With Sunbird and Thunderbird/Firefox Calendar, you can set alarms and e-mail event reminders, as you can with iCal (although those applications don't sync up with cell phones or Palm Pilots just yet). And if you subscribe to a calendar using a Web protocol (webcal for Mac iCal or http for the Mozilla applications), your calendar will automatically reflect changes as they are uploaded to the server by the calendar's author.
If you're not interested in looking at other people's calendars, you can set up your own calendars and upload them at http://www.icalx.com. You use your software to set up your calendar, open up a free account, upload your calendar to the site's server - and then send the address out to friends and fans.
Now no one has an excuse to miss Photo Album Night, where loved ones gather to pore over the latest pictures of the cute things the baby has done in the past week, as well as watching a home video of the kid's latest escapades. If in the past attendance was spotty because most people "forgot," prepare yourself for a full house as soon as the neighborhood subscribes to your personal calendar!
Ical requires a Mac with Osx 10.2 or later. Sunbird, as well as Firefox and Thunderbird and their calendar components are available for Windows (2000/XP) Macs (Osx) and Linux systems, and are free.