iCal is a calendar program distributed with Mac OS X.

This How To is for anyone owning an OS X mac, with which iCal was distrubuted, who wants to:

  • Record an upoming event in a calendar
  • Set an automated reminder for that event
  • Have the reminder sent, via email, to any email address

This wiki will assume that you are competent with the basics of OS X, and therefore can find and open programs on your own, and understand some OS X jargon.

The author wishes to note that, in his humble opinion, iCal is a fairly awful program (aw, isn't it cute how the program icon in the Dock updates itself to reflect the date?). Before you rely on your reminder system, you are urged to read the note of caution at the end of this wiki, which details the way in which I have found iCal's reminder system to be not entirely reliable.

Scheduling The Event

Open your copy of iCal. iCal is so eager to help you, it will open a calendar-like window showing you the current day and the days around it. If you wish, a set of buttons near the bottom left of this Main Window will let you change the view to show just one Day, one Week, or one Month per window. Arrows to the left and right of these buttons regress or advance you through the Day, Week, or Month.

If the event you wish to schedule is far in the future, you may find it helpful to switch to Month view and page to it. Also notice the mini-calendar in a box in the lower left of the screen, where you can quickly navigate to a date.

Whatever view you are in, double-click on the date of your event in the main window. This will open a drawer on the side of the main window in which you can schedule an event. Most of the fields in this window are self explanatory (and fairly useless), but here is a description of the ones you should fill in, especially if you intend to have the program remind you of it:

[begins with default bold text "New Event"] Fill this field with a pithy and meaningful title of your event, such as Halloween Contradance.
all-day, from, to 
Be sure to check that these fields accurately record your event. Make sure the From time is accurate, and the time your event really begins, NOT the time you want a reminder sent out. From the standpoint of wanting a reminder, end time is not really important.
Do you want to remind yourself or your club of a regular event? Be sure to set this pull-down menu to the appropriate choice. It will automatically create copies of this event for future dates.
This crucial field is the only reason you are bothering to use iCal. It will be discussed in detail in the next section.
Enter in this field any data you wish to be included in a reminder to yourself -- ie, in the text of an email message you might send. Helpful tip: Do you want a tab to appear in your email? If you try to "tab" while entering text in notes, super-helpful iCal will tab you back to the Title field. To work around this problem, type a tab in a seperate word processor, copy it, and paste it where you want it in your note.

When you have finished, double click on a new date in the main window. There is no Save option in iCal, so just trust it. Once you've scheuled all the events you want to, quit the program to be sure it saves and gets ready to send reminders.

Set A Reminder for Your Event

This is also called "alarming" your event. As you might guess, you'll be using the Alarm field of the Event Edit window.

iCal is able to remind you of an upcoming event in many ways, even (only?) when you have quit the program. To add an alarm to an event, navigate to the date in the main window and double click on the event. In the Edit Event drawer that opens, click on the alarm pull-down menu, and choose your favorite type of reminder:

You will not be reminded of your event. Hope you've got a better head for engagements than I do.
This option will display a dialog box on your computer. The dialog box will interrupt most activities on your computer to get your attention, but you will need to be at your computer to get the reminder. A slightly more helpful sort of reminder is . . .
Message with sound 
Are you rooted to your computer chair, but also an idiot? Message with sound is for you. It does all of the above, plus plays a nice sound from Apple's default collection that may or may not get your attention.
This is probably the most useful reminder option at Williams. If you check your email frequently around campus but don't return often to your room, you can use this option to send yourself a reminder that you be surer to receive. But if this option isn't offring you the To: address that you want it to, read the final section of this wiki for answers.

Note that you can add more than one alarm to a single event by click on the field name alarm and choosing the "add alarm" option.

Sending An Email Reminder . . . to Anyone

So you want to remind yourself, but iCal doesn't know your address? Or you want to remind someone else, such as your student group listserver, perhaps Writing Workshop? This final section is for you.

iCal thinks it knows you. It thinks that you could only want to remind yourself of an event. iCal is also part of a suite of cute programs made by Apple that try to work with each other. This has one very important ramification: iCal will only offer you the address(es) of one person in your Address Book. That's bolded not because it's your little black book where you keep the numbers of hott ephs, but because it's the name of the program made by Apple, also distributed with your computer (probably). The person whose addresses appear in iCal is the person you've marked as "Me" in Address Book.

What's that? You don't use Address Book? You never have? You think it sucks? Well, get set to open it, buddy, because that's the only way to get iCal to behave. No, there is no way to type in an address for iCal to target. Offering that option would display too much faith in the user on Apple's part.

Here is how to get iCal to remind any address about the event you've set:

  1. Open Address Book. If you use Mail, the option in the Windows menu by the same name will open it for you. If not, do a find command for it if you need to. I won't tell anyone.
  2. If you aren't in your own address book, create a new record for yourself by selecting "New Card" from the File menu. If you do have a card for yourself, select it so you can edit it. Tell the computer any lies you wish about yourself, but be sure to give it your email addresses, and any other email address you want to be able to send an iCal reminder to.
  3. When you have finished creating or editing your card, select "This Is My Card" from the Card menu. This is very important. If you do not do this, your computer thinks you are just a regular joe, and therefore unworthy of receiving event reminders from it.

Yes, Address Book is the key here. You can tell it your address is opinions@wso.williams.edu, and it will become the unwitting accessory to your weekly complaints to College Council that Anchor Housing sucks, or that Spring Street stores should accept dinner points, or that one-ply toilet paper can't satisfy the epic needs of your post-revelry bowels. And if you wanted to write your complaints that CC has never done anything for you on the first day of the year and have them sent in May, iCal and Address Book are your ticket.

A Warning About iCal's Alarms

This wiki was written primarily to help the new "reminder monkey" of Writing Workshop learn how to send automated shift reminders using iCal, a system developed by Jonathan Landsman in Fall 2004.

During his implementation of the system for that school year, one important problem was discovered: for reasons that were never determined, iCal would occassionally cease to send its periodic reminders, with no warning whatsoever. The issue would usually take a few weeks of normal function to arise, but when it came, it seemed to have no reason to it.

When this happened, the simple act of opening iCal seems to be enough to set it back on track. Unfortunately, upon opening, iCal, without warning, attempts to send all of its missed and now outdated alerts. If they are targeted to you, it's not a huge problem, but if they go to a list, the result is a potentially huge block of spam. The following workaround is suggested:

  1. When you create the alarm in iCal, make sure you will be a recipient of your own reminders. If you are not on the target list, add a second alarm to the same event.
  2. As soon as you notice a missed message, either
  • Unplug your ethernet cord to sever your connection to the Internet, OR
  • Open Mail and select the "Go Offline" option at the top of the Mailbox menu.
  1. Open iCal. iCal will now attempt to send past reminders, but they will all stick in your Mail Outbox instead of going to the target address.
  2. Delete the messages in your Outbox before going back online.