A Birthday Present from Apple

17 Jul 2005
July 17, 2005
Apple's iCal Application Icon

Apple’s iCal application icon displays my birthday.

I get that little tingly feeling (yes, tingly!) every time I see this icon on a Mac user’s monitor. It’s for Apple’s calendar program iCal. And I feel like every iCal user is talking to me.

Ever wonder why this icon displays July 17 on your desktop? At first I thought every Mac user’s birthday was displayed on this icon since July 17 is my birthday. What a nice touch. That Apple! Always taking the computer experience one step beyond. Microsoft would never think to do this bit of PR. I figured the display used some user identification we all had to submit when we registered our computers.

Then, as I made my rounds around the office, I discovered that every Mac was displaying July 17. It was as if all of you were remembering my birthday. It felt so nice to be loved by everyone. And it was a birthday gift I got all year round.

Only after a solid year of this non-stop party did I began to delve into this a bit deeper. I don’t ordinarily use iCal so I wasn’t familiar with its ways. As it turns out July 17 is only displayed in the application’s closed state; when open the icon displays the actual date.

But why July 17? Was it Steve Job’s birthday too? Or perhaps it was the birthday of iCal’s project manager. A nice perk for a job well done.

I started to investigate. I wrote various computer cognoscenti. But no one seemed to know the origin of this icon –not even Susan Kare, the “mother of the original Mac icons.”

I decided to call Apple. After numerous dead ends I found the number for their PR department. Using my expert investigative abilities I posed this piercing question to the woman on the other end of the line: “So, why July 17?” I wanted to think, I was hoping the reasoning was special. But as it turns out the origins of this icon are much more mundane and bureaucratic: iCal debuted on July 17, 2002 at the MacWorld Expo in New York.

Today, the program is ubiquitous on this side of the great computer divide. But as it turns not everybody is happy with Apple’s choice of July 17. While the date has major significance to me, it doesn’t to others who are sometimes confused by its display. The poster to one message board offers a way to eliminate the date altogether. Tisk, tisk.

To others of like mind, Ken offers sets of replacement iCal icons with your own birthdate and in various colors. And for those of you who would like iCal’s icon to always show the correct date, opened or closed, Greggo offers this scripting solution.

Personally, I like it just the way it is.

• • •

One of the best birthday gifts I’ve ever received was given to me by my oldest daughter three years ago when she was five. She lost her first tooth on my birthday! While at work I received this voicemail on my phone (Quicktime, 6.7 MB). For once I was glad I missed her call. Otherwise I wouldn’t have this audio document for posterity.

I never get tired of listening to this message. But voicemails are only saved for 30 days in our system so I wanted to find a high quality way of recording her announcement (via a devise plugged directly into the phone). Unable to find a phone with an “audio out” port, each month for the last three years I have had to make sure I renew the message or it would be erased forever. When prompted I carefully listen and then wait for the archiving instructions. I know that pressing 9 will save it in the archives for another month. But I want to make sure I don’t accidentally press the wrong button. So each month I listened intently to these directions.

I could never find that direct recording setup. So a couple of months ago I just put a microphone right to the speakerphone. The recording turned out pretty well considering my low tech solution.

But I still press 9 once a month.

• • •

Postscript: I wrote this piece last Sunday morning. Later that day my 8 year old and I took a ride on our bikes down one of the local bike paths. She’s just learned to ride a two-wheeler and is pretty proud of herself. She’s still a bit wobbly on “take off” so we take it slow.

About a mile into our ride, suddenly she headed for a tree. In trying to right herself she fell on her handlebar. Not a scratch on her, it initially appeared she just had the wind knocked out of her. But within minutes it was clear this was a bit more serious.

CAT Scan

My daughter’s CAT Scan. During medical emergencies I always ask to see the evidence. Being a photographer it calms me when I can visualize the trauma.

After a bad fall two years ago I started taking my cell phone on my weekly rides. I was glad I had it now. I called my wife who picked us up and drove immediately to the ER. Seven hours and one CAT scan later we found out she had lacerated her spleen in the fall.

It was a surprise to the doctors as her blood work and color looked just fine. We were glad we were there. In the past, they would “routinely” remove the spleen. But they’ve found that if left alone it will heal itself. They immediately medivaced her to Children’s Hospital in DC for observation. They wanted her near a surgeon just in case she needed one.

Two days later we were home. It seemed like two weeks. My daughter is a bit sore but intact (now it only hurts when she laughs). This freakish accident is a parent’s worst nightmare. As they grow up letting go is hard. I saw her fall so proximity doesn’t necessarily insure a safety net. No contact sports for the next three months. Doctor’s orders (if I had my way there’d be no contact sports forever).

Needless-to-say today I am reminded of THE BEST gift I’ve ever received.

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23 replies
  1. Elenita says:

    Oh, Jeff. I laughed through the bit with iCal, couldn’t stop smiling as I heard the voicemail message, and winced for you after that last bit. Taking kids to the hospital is just painful.
    In any case, I’m glad things turned out okay. Happy birthday!

  2. Carolyn says:

    Happy Birthday, Jeff…
    Glad to know that the laceration is the only injury suffered in the fall. If that’s the worst thing that happens in her bike days, you will be a lucky dad (and mom!).

  3. Rob says:

    Heh thats cool :)
    Strange to say that the date on the audio recording is my Birthday :D

  4. Jake says:

    Happy Birthday!! Tomorrow!

  5. Katie Dixon says:

    Wonderful tips about iCal, but I am truly sorry for the misfortune your daughter and your family have had to endure. I will keep both her and the rest of your family in my prayers.
    Take care,
    Katie

  6. jon Turner says:

    I, too, have been saving voicemails every month for years, hoping for some sure-fire way to save the audio without resorting to an open-air microphone. These voicemails are from my daughter, about a year old at the time, saying “da-da” and making kissing sounds. The other, when she was 3, saying “Daddy, come home. Snow is falling! Come play with me!” (a freakish, unexpected spring storm dropped two inches of snow that day.) I listen to both messages every month and they still make me smile. I’d hate to lose them.
    Just like the recording of your father (from your Apr 4 post “becoming a man”), these recordings will become more precious over time. Treasure them — they are truly irreplacable gifts. Childhood is a span of long days and short years. Keep pressing 9.
    I’m glad your daughter is healing.

  7. hiltontoe says:

    There is a nice iCal icon at Interfacelift that replaces the July 17th date with the name “iCal” instead. This is what the icon should have been in the first place.
    There are a ton of other custom iCal icons over there too.

  8. ralph bunker says:

    What a wonderful posting! Rarely do I see the technical and the human coexisting so well together. Dave Barry also does it well (“Dave Barry in Cyberspace”) but lacks your sensitivity.

  9. Neil Turpin says:

    I have managed to get a voicemail off my phone by using the voice recorder function on it (records both sides of calls as well), then bluetoothing it off the phone. If your phone can’t do these things, pop your SIM card in someone else’s phone. Some phones that record, put an annoying beep on every 30 secs or so, mine doesn’t though.

  10. Scott Johnson says:

    I wish that iCal would just always display the current date without any hacking involved. But anyway, I appreciate you doing the grunt work to find out why we always see Jul 17 on that icon. Now I’m off to investigate some of those hacks you linked to. ;-)

  11. Denis Defreyne says:

    Happy late birthday.
    hiltontoe: great way to make new friends! :D
    Talking about the accident, I had something similar a few years ago. It hurted a *lot*, but the doctor said it was nothing serious. It also hurted even more when I was laughing, so people kept telling me jokes… aargh ;). Took a couple of days for the pain to disappear, but everything’s fine now. ;)

  12. Jeff Lang says:

    Jeff,
    Great bit of reporting. And incredible coincidence that it fell on your b-day. Speaking of coincidences, just the other day I was thinking of old Brainstormer’s that I’ve known. Then this morning I’m driven to your site through Digg! Ha!
    Hope all is well and I’m glad to hear that your daughter is doing ok.
    Cheers,
    Jeff (hudsonhawke)

  13. Daynah says:

    Aww, happy belated birthday. This was a great post. :) It’s the little things in life that are the most precious!

  14. Nathan Colgate says:

    Beautiful recording.
    Check out in-line Recorders. You can run the line straight from the handset into your computer.

  15. Jeff says:

    Thanks for the birthday wishes. My daughter is doing fine. She can now laugh without it hurting. Although it’s going to take a bit of extra explaining to clue her in to what she can and can’t do for the next few months. When I asked her this evening how school was today she said “Great! We played limbo!” Sigh.
    Nathan, thanks for the in-line recorder tip! I *knew* the minute I put it out there someone would come up with a decent solution.

  16. Jay Rubin says:

    And I always thought it was to wish ME a happy birthday!

  17. Justin says:

    I have no idea who you are, but your stories are strangely captivating.
    My birthday is not in July, so I always just wanted my birthday present to be that Apple made the calendar icon always show me the right date.
    And maybe free pie on my birthday.

  18. Daniel says:

    Hey, that’s my sister’s birthday too! I’ve never noticed that (maybe because I don’t have a mac – yet… I’m hoping soon…)

  19. Phil says:

    Wow. I thought I was surely the only person who saved a voicemail message every month for years. Although mine is of the woman at the dealership telling me that my car arrived (“everybody is looking at it but I have the keys and nobody is allowed to drive it”). Heh heh. It was rare at the time. I recorded it on a little MP3 player thing. One of these days I’ll hit 3-3-7 instead of 3-3-9 though..
    My ‘leave a VM’ message on my mobile phone has my then 3 year old son talking in the background. So I can’t change that now. Digital memories. So fragile.
    Interesting on the iCal thing. Shame it’s such a dull reason. I bet on the day it was launched at the show, people were like “wow it shows today’s date on the icon!”. Then the next day.. “huh?”
    Nice catch on the bike fall.

  20. Kriston says:

    Happy (belated) birthday. And I’m glad your daughter’s feeling better.

  21. Aaron says:

    I use this to record voicemails/phone calls. It’s real cheap too – like $70 or so. Basically gives your phone an audio out: http://www.digital-loggers.com/dli.personal.html
    Hope that helps.

  22. Donna says:

    Just got caught up on your blog. Happy Belated Birthday (for the blog’s record). Funny about you and iCal sharing the same date. You know they say if you have 25 people in a room, two of them will share the same month and day of birth (not year). Try it sometime.
    (So happy your daughter is fine..)

  23. Melanie says:

    I’d always wondered about the July 17th thing, too, but mostly because that’s my birthday as well! Thanks for solving the mystery! :)

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