PlanetPress for life: Saving the (holi) day

Just like Spiderman, I’ve been bitten by a creature which gave me super powers. This 512 arms spider is PlanetPress Suite (I believe the latin name is PlanetPressus Incrediblus). With great power comes great responsibility, as someone’s uncle once said, so this New Year’s Eve I’m going to use this power to help the world become a better place! Ok I’ll start modestly, by just sending ‘best wishes’ emails to all of those I too often forget comes January 1st.  Doing so, I’ll have to fight my arch enemy one more time: the time-wasting-doing-boring-tasks monster!

In this post, I fantasize once again about what a regular Joe like me could do with PlanetPress at home. I built a data file and a process to send personalized emails to my friends and distant relatives on January first, with hand-picked pictures on top of that.

The Problem

There is never a bad time to tell friends and family how much we love them. Some times are more appropriate than others however, New Year’s Eve is probably a good time. Spending time with family, calling long-time friends …and sending ‘Happy Holidays’ emails to those you can’t reach in a more direct manner. This is where the process can become painfully long when, like me, you have a lot of distant friends and family members that you care about. Spending most of one’s free time on January 1st finding out email addresses, composing emails, reviewing, etc. is not your typical idea of a holiday. It’s more like a working day! Things get worse when you add pictures to your emails because it implies you have to wait until the picture is loaded, which can take up quite some time at the end of the day.  Often, I do not have enough time to reach all of my friends because I try to do everything the same day, and I overlook the time I waste clicking buttons and waiting on stuff to happen. But this year, things are going to change!

The Opportunity

First, I need to decide on the information my custom message should contain: a personalized salutation, a personalized message, a personalized picture and a generic greeting. I’ve decided to use a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with columns for each of these, like shown below.

greetings data

You’ve got to give it to Microsoft Excel, it makes repeated data entry pretty efficient compared to an email client. Also, it’s more user-friendly than a plain text or CSV file. But PlanetPress does not emulate Excel natively. No problem: It can still connect to it via a PlanetPress Database plug-in, as an ODBC data source! Some people tend to run away when they hear words like Database and ODBC… don’t worry: PlanetPress’s database emulation is one of the easiest data emulations to work with. It makes data selections very straightforward.

The Workflow

Filling the Picture and Message columns in the Excel sheet is the fun part. I love browsing my photo album, especially when the goal is to choose a picture to share with someone I care about. I don’t need to worry about uploading it. All I need to do is copy and paste the picture name in Excel. PlanetPress will retrieve this picture when sending the email. I can also focus on writing a nice message to each friend. In the end, the email body will looks like the following (well, for Lisa!).

email_lisa

To operationalize all of this, I created a very simple process and scheduled it to start on January first, at midnight.

holidays workflow

The process retrieves the Excel data in the form of a PlanetPress Database recordset, then creates and sends an email for each record. The email output task is where everything comes into place.

email_source

Looking at the properties of this task, however, things may look kind of hermetic, with commands like field(1,0,0,’Picture’,KeepCase,NoTrim). But those commands are only data selections made with point and click, no coding involved. Only thing that is ‘coded’ is the html part which I’ve copied and pasted from a template.

Conclusion

You don’t measure how much someone cares about you by the amount of pain he has to endure to tell you he cares. In this post, I’ve shown how I would send best wishes emails to friends without wasting an entire day in front of my email client trying to compose 100 messages at once, forgetting recipients and getting frustrated at upload times. I can now spend a few minutes per day here and there during my vacations, composing nice and personalized messages, finding cool pictures to share, knowing that the boring task of putting this all together and sending the emails will be handled automatically, at the moment I’ve decided.

PlanetPress gives great power, let’s use it to become super-heroes, not super-villains! This year, my annual showdown with the time wasting monster will go in my favor. But the war against unproductivity is not over, as many battlefronts are still open… However, the future is bright now that I have the ultimate weapon!