Sunday, March 15, 2015

New HDC service: Calendaring (or, The Limitation Game)

I'll start by stating my biases: I don't like data bloat like ASN.1, XML, or even bloaty protocols like HTTP. (Your homework: Would a 1980s-developed WAN-scale RPC have obviated HTTP? Write a paper with your answer to that question, with support.) I understand the big problems they attempt to solve. I also still think not enough people in the business were paying attention in OS (or Networking) class when seeing the various attempts at data representation during the 80s and 90s. Also, I generally like pushing intelligence out to the end-nodes, and in client/server models, this means the clients. CalDAV rubs me the wrong way on the first bias, and MOSTLY the right way on my second bias, though the clients I use aren't very smart. I will admit near-complete ignorance of CalDAV. I poked a little at its RFC, looking up how Alarms are implemented, and discovered that mostly, Alarm processing is a client issue. ("This specification makes no attempt to provide multi-user alarms on group calendars or to find out for whom an alarm is intended.")

I've configured Radicale on my Home Data Center. I need to publicly thank Lauri Tirkkonen (aka. lotheac on Freenode) for the IPS publisher which serves me up Radicale. Since my target audience is my family-of-four, I wasn't particularly concerned with its reported lack of scalability. I also didn't want to have CalDAV be a supplicant of Apache or another web server for the time. If I decide to revisit my web server choices, I may move CalDAV to that new webserver (likely nginx). I got TLS and four users configured on stock Radicale.

My job was to make an electronic equivalent of our family paper calendar. We have seven (7) colors/categories for this calendar (names withheld from the search engines): Whole-Family, Parent1, Parent2, Both-Parents, Child1, Child2, Both-Children. I thought, given iCal (10.6), (10.10), or Calendar (iOS), it wouldn't be too hard for these to be created and shared. I was mildly wrong.

I'm not sure if what I had to do was a limitation of my clients, of Radicale, or of CalDAV itself, but I had to create seven (7) different accounts, each with a distinct ends-in-'/' URL:

  • https://.../Whole-Family.ics/
  • https://.../Parent1.ics/
  • https://.../Parent2.ics/
  • https://.../Both-Parents.ics/
  • https://.../Child1.ics/
  • https://.../Child2.ics/
  • https://.../Both-Children.ics/
I had to configure N (large N) devices or machine-logins with these seven (7) accounts.

Luckily, Radicale DID allow me to restrict Child1's and Child2's write access to just their own calendars. Apart from that, we want the whole family to read all of the calendars. This means the colors are uniform across all of our devices (stored on the server). It also means any alarms (per above) trigger on ALL of our devices. This makes alarms (something I really like in my own Calendar) useless. Modulo the alarms problem (which can be mitigated by judicious use of iOS's Reminders app and a daily glance at the calendar), this seems to end up working pretty well, so far.

Both children recently acquired iPhones. Which means if I open this service outside our internal home network, we can schedule calendars no matter where we are, and get up to date changes no matter where we are. That will be extremely convenient.

I somewhat hope that one of my half-dozen readers will find something so laughably wrong with how I configured things that any complaints I make will be rendered moot. I'm not certain, however, that will be the case.