Brian Bailey Preface to the Revised Edition

Drop Down of Death

The calendar that is part of Backpack from 37signals allows you to setup recurring events. You have a few basic options to choose from (every day, week, other week, month, and year), followed by how many times it should repeat.

It's the repeat question that I find fascinating - it's a drop down menu of numbers from 2 to 50. Whether the appointment repeats every day, week, month, or year, you have the same choices.

Now, I love the simplicity of this for a couple of reasons. Most calendars offer a recurrence option of "indefinitely" or "ongoing". Backpack doesn't and when you think about it, how necessary is that really? Do you plan on attending your weekly staff meeting in 2018? Are you sure your monthly haircut will still be at noon in 26 years?

Plus, from a software development perspective, why populate the database with completely irrelevant data when you can have the user impose her own limits? And how likely is it that we will be accessing this information in a remotely similar way in 20 years?

Recurring Where things get a bit odd, though, is when it you add a birthday to the calendar. Repeat? Yes. Yearly? Yes. How long? Hmmmm. Let me think.

Each time you add a birthday, there is this macabre moment when you are forced to consider the life expectancy of your friend, family member, spouse, and even yourself. Is Aunt Sarah likely to live 10 more years, or 15? I'll put my friend Paul down for 30, but he does eat a lot of red meat....yeah, I think 25 is probably more accurate. Didn't your cousin just get a cat? I think that's worth another 5 years. And my new workout plan should add a year or two.

Like I said, it makes perfect sense why they did it, and in some ways it's simpler and smarter than the alternatives, but I still hope they add an "ongoing" option in the future, even if it defaults to 50 years behind the scenes. I don't like playing the role of actuary whenever I add a birthday!

Bonus item: Check out this excellent 5-minute interview with Jason Fried of 37signals. It's a great introduction to the company and how they operate (including planning in terms of months, not years). I especially love his commitment to finding the best talent available wherever it is located. In software development, there's really no reason not to embrace distributed teams. And as Jason points out, instead of limiting your effectiveness, distance can actually make your team more productive.