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Far Side Calendar

Like thousands of other people, one of my first actions every morning is to tear off the page on my Far Side Daily Calendar for a bracing dose of Gary Larson’s inspired lunacy. Unlike hardly anyone else, my next action is to go check my Mac for email and to see if Remember? claims I have to do anything that day. Thanks to amaze!nc (should be pronounced with a fake Russian accent, as in Natasha’s "Dat iss amazink, darlink."), I may soon be able to combine my morning chores by reading my daily dementia on the Mac. Amaze, Inc (the legal version) has just come out with The Far Side Computer Calendar, a program that combines Gary Larson’s cartoons with an extremely capable calendar program. I’ve seen the Windows version, but the Macintosh version won’t be out for about another week, so there may be some differences. I hope to do a comparison of calendar programs on the Mac soon, so I should be able to report on any differences then.

Glossing over the installation on a PC running Windows (it actually went pretty well, although it did require starting from DOS and fixing the AUTOEXEC.BAT file after the installer mucked up the PATH statement), we were quite impressed with the display, especially the cartoon for the day which depicted a nerd cowboy with toilet paper stuck to his shoe as he exited an outhouse. The calendar opens to a "Theme" view which shows the cartoon and the date in basically the same format as a tear-off daily calendar. At the bottom are five buttons and two forward/backward arrows that allow you to cheat and look both back and ahead. In our house you are only allowed to look at the cartoon on your birthday – all others have to be a surprise on that day. If you want to see a lot at once, buy a book. The five buttons correspond to the cartoon view, a Day view (which actually shows two days, a Week view that shows an entire week, a Month view, and a Year view, the last two of which do exactly what you would think.

Overall I was quite impressed with the ease with which I navigated the dates. Double-clicking a month in the Year view took me to the Month view of that month, double-clicking a day in the Month view took me to a Day view of that day, etc. Double-clicking on the blank part of the Day view (or selecting the menu option) brought up the Event Editor, as one would expect, and if you clicked on an event, that event would be the selected one in the Event Editor. I was slightly distressed to see how sluggishly the Event Editor appeared on a 20 MHz 386 – I certainly hope that the speed is due to Windows being slow and that the Mac version will be snappier. In the Event Editor you could define events extremely flexibly (every third Tuesday of months in which someone I know has a birthday – OK, not quite that flexibly) with options such as every three days, all second Fridays, etc. I haven’t seen anything which offers so many options for repeating events, although I’m still waiting for a calendar program that is slightly programmable so it can handle things like Tonya’s paychecks, which come on the 15th of the month and the last day of the month unless either of those days falls on a weekend or holiday, at which point the check comes on the first work day beforehand. The rules are simple, but no program has been able to handle them yet.

Defining an event is easy, just select the time and date (it defaults to today’s date, but the time defaults to 8:00 AM), the event type (or you can type your own), notes about the event if you wish, an alarm, an icon, and then click Add. The icons are animated and are to use the vernacular, "way cool." We especially liked the board room meeting icon that had different charts flashing on the blackboard behind the participants. You may even be able to create your own animated icons in the next version of the program, at least on the Mac side of things. The alarms, in contrast, are truly lame. This is no fault of Amaze, but simply the result of running on a PC. The only good one was the sound that imitated a digital watch beeping (not too difficult), but Vivaldi played in beep and boops was awful. Luckily, the Macintosh version will allow you to pick any installed system beep sound, and you can create your own with a MacRecorder or with a microphone on any of the newer machines. After you’ve defined an event, it shows up in your Day view with the notes and the animated icon, in your Week view with just the name, and optionally in the Month view as a straight line (a form of greeked text) corresponding to the approximate time of day (farther down for later in the day). The only problem we had with the display in general is that it is a large window that covers the minimized icons Windows places at the bottom of your screen (at least on a normal-size VGA screen). This will annoy people who wish to keep the calendar up all the time and switch in and out of other applications too, but was apparently a licensing issue related to the aesthetics of the cartoons. (There are a couple of workarounds for people wanting to keep the calendar open at all times and switch in and out of other applications, but they involve offensively non-intuitive keyboard shortcuts.)

What really sets The Far Side Computer Calendar apart, other than the nice animated icons and daily cartoon, is the animations. Whenever the program starts up, there is a random chance that you will see an animation. It might be a version of a six panel Larson cartoon like the caveman who sees a bird flying, tries to fly, gets disgusted, makes a bow and arrow, and smugly shoots the bird. Even better was the animation of a meteor crashing into the screen and leaving a temporary crater. I gather there is a window washer who comes along and cleans the screen too, but I haven’t seen him yet, although we did quit the program and start it up over and over again to try to get a few more animations to show up. To keep you interested in running the program at all times, there are secondary animations which run at random times throughout the day. It’s hard to tell right now after having just played with the Windows version, but if the Macintosh version solves the problems that are inherent to the PC and Windows, it could be killer program.

Oh, if you’re wondering, you get one year of cartoons from the day you install the program (or another day if you wish). I assume that at that point Amaze will have an electronic refill pack ready to sell to you at a hopefully reasonable price. Given the "Theme" menu, which goes unexplained in the manual, I wouldn’t be surprised if Amaze came out with refill packs from other cartoonists as well – the calendar engine can certainly handle it. One nice touch is the card labeled "Open this and get mugged." It’s the registration card, and to ensure a high return rate, Amaze will send you a Far Side mug if you send them the card with your name and address on it. It’s a good bribe – I will do it. The Far Side Computer Calendar should be available from all major dealers, mail order houses, and normal stores as well for about $50.

Amaze — 206/820-7007

Information from:
Amaze propaganda
The Far Side Computer Calendar manual

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