Getting Carried Away

This weekend I spent probably ten hours trying to make something work a hard way and Monday at work Rob pointed out a solution that worked in about five minutes.

One of the widgets I’m trying to set up for my window manager is a calendar with a daily agenda underneath. The idea is that I often peak at my calendar and opening a browser tab takes time. More importantly, even looking at the browser is often a distraction, since it contains lots of other time wasters.

My plan was to first build the AwesomeWM widget, then to get the relevant calendar events from my Google Calendar. I did the first part (which I’ll blog about in another post) over the course of a few idle evenings after the kids went to bed.

For the calendar I weighed authenticating to Google via oauth2 and accessing the private iCalendar URL from Google Calendar. I immediately reached for the latter. I assumed I could write a little tool in my leatherman that would use an existing Go library to simply grab the events for the next eight hours and print them.

I was disappointed to discover that all of the iCalendar parsers I found were insufficient. The first one only supported timestamps in UTC. Another didn’t support all day events. Worst of all, none of the ones I looked at supported recurring events. Every single lacking feature was discovered by looking at my own weekly calendar. These are not esoteric, rarely implemented features; they are common and widely used (at least at work.)

So I eyeballed my iCalendar export and figured: “How hard could this be?”


I implemented enough to parse start dates, end dates, summaries, and the initial stab parsing recurrance rules. My parser works for some of the examples I threw at it, but I am aware of lots of unsupported features (anything monthly, anything yearly, and limiting based on count are the ones I had planned on doing.)

I was resigned to building the rest of this, especially since I was making pretty good progress, till I was complaining about it this morning at work and Rob said:

ooc, what made you decide to do that rather than use something like gcalcli?

gcalcli was mentioned by another coworker at some point in the past month but I’d forgotten about it. It’s not perfect, but after Installation (via apt-get, so trivially) I was able to simply run the following command:

$ gcalcli --calendar fREW agenda "Mon Jun 10" "Mon Jun 11" | cut -b 13-                 

10:00am  Build/Deploy
10:30am  New Core Weekly
12:30pm  OOO
 3:00pm  ZipAlerts AB testing migration


The takeaway here, for me anyway, is that I need to be more willing to take a step back and consider what I’m trying to accomplish. I could have definitely finished building the iCalendar parser; I might even still, if I need it. But code is generally a liability and adding a big, complex corpus of code for something as simple as this should give you pause.


I don’t know how to teach you to take a step back and look at the big picture, but I can recommend a book I have found helpful for general organization. Getting Things Done recommends a sort of state machine that you can use to stay on top of stuff. I have found it very helpful in the ca. three years that I’ve been using it. Maybe it will work for you too.

I wish I could link to more books that elaborate on the spirit of owning your environment the way I prefer to. I find it empowering and enjoyable. A good option, if a bit low level, is The Unix Programming Environment. Even if you’ve been using Unix for decades, this book has some good nuggets.

Posted Mon, Jun 10, 2019

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