Desktop Mailing List Management

I’m interested in maintaining several email address lists, for example:

  • A list of close friends and family.
  • A list of those who have commented on my weblog.
  • A list of those who have commented on our Jiu-Jitsu weblog.
  • A list of MakaluMedia hosting customers.
  • A list of those interested in MakaluMedia job opportunities.
  • etc., etc.

These are my desires for a tool to manage my lists and send emails:

  1. I need easy and flexible mechanisms for getting addresses into and out of the list(s). For example, I’d like to be able to import addresses from a file, and I’d like to be able to quickly add an address from an email I receive in Apple Mail.

  2. I need to be able to create and send customized emails, for example, including a custom link which will unsubscribe the recipient from my list.

There are various options available, each with its own drawbacks:

  • Apple Address Book combined with Apple Mail. I can create “groups” in Address Book, and use them to generate mails in Apple Mail. Management of the lists, however, can become a headache, as too much manual intervention is required.
  • Daylite. We use the (very powerful!) Daylite CRM in our company. Among the million things it does, Daylite allows one to create groups, and generate customized mailings for those groups. It can send the mails using Apple Mail, or the original version of FSS MailDrop. It doesn’t, however, provide any mechanism for the recipient to unsubscribe, and so the whole process of list management becomes a bit burdensome.
  • CommuniGate Pro. We use the (very high end) CommuniGate Pro messaging system on our corporate servers. This software provides powerful mailing list services, but interaction with it primarily takes place through a browser, within a clunky user interface. I’d prefer a desktop application.

The solution I seem to have settled on is the recently launched IntelliMerge 5.0 product, for MacOS X. Here’s why:

  • IntelliMerge is a MacOS X desktop mailing list tool, providing all the features one could want for generating and sending customized emails to multiple recipient lists.
  • Version 5.0 includes a set of PHP scripts that you can install on your server, providing an automated mechanism for your recipients to unsubscribe. The desktop software interacts with this script, to determine which existing addresses should be removed from your list(s) and/or which should be added. (You could easily integrate these scripts into a website, if you wanted.)
  • With a bit of QuickSilver magic, one can quickly add single addresses to one’s lists. How is this done? QuickSilver interprets any Safari bookmark with the characters “” as a “search URL”. When accessing these URLs from within QuickSilver, the user is prompted to enter a search term. By creating bookmarks to the IntelliMerge PHP scripts, replacing the unsubscribe (or subscribe) email address in the URL with ““, you can, from within QuickSilver, generate a request to your scripts to subscribe or unsubscribe a particular address. My bookmarks are of the form:
    MML - My Weblog Commenters
    http://server/intellimerge/weblog_commenters/im.php?a=s&e=***
    
    So, when I receive a weblog comment in Apple Mail, I control-click the address and select “Copy Address”, then invoke QuickSilver and type “MML”. A list of my address list management URLs appear (one for each list I’m managing). I select the one I’m interested in, hit “tab”, and then paste in the email address, and hit return. This URL is then sent to Safari, resulting in the addition or deletion of the address from my list.
  • Recipients of my emails then find a link at the bottom saying something like this:
    You are receiving this email as a commenter on my weblog. If you wish to receive no more announcements, please access the following link: http://server/intellimerge/weblog_commenters/im.php?a=u&[email protected]

So far, I’m very happy with this solution.

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Apple(Does)Care!

I don’t know whether it was the anonymous email I got from someone at Apple, or the fact that my article was backlinked by some well-known people, whether it was the “friend of a friend” at Apple, or whether it was the email I sent to Steve Jobs himself. Whatever it was, one thing’s clear: When Apple decide to move, they can move fast.

And just like that, all my Powerbook problems have been resolved, far beyond my expected satisfaction.

Once again, I’m a big-time Apple fan. 🙂

Apple(Don’t)Care

I’m writing this article in the hope that someone at Apple USA might read it, and come to understand what kind of service your customers abroad are receiving. (And let me prefix this by mentioning that my company has probably spent more than $50,000 in Apple equipment over the past several years.)

A couple of months ago — as it were, about three weeks before the launch of the MacBook Pro (Grrrrr) — I placed an order for two 15″ G4 Powerbooks from Apple Spain’s store. One was for me, and the other for our company’s system administrator, Niall. The idea was that I would take delivery of both, and deliver one to Niall (who lives in Ireland) on our next corresponding trip to the company home office in Germany.

About three days after receiving the two Powerbooks, the display in one — Niall’s, of course — died.

I called Apple’s post sales support, on a 902 number. A couple of interesting observations: (1) If you want to buy Apple equipment, a toll-free number is available for you. If you want service, however, you’ll be paying for a toll call. (2) If you call a sales number, you’ll be attended to in a split second. If you call support, plan to make some coffee.

After listening to an automated voice telling me (at least 50 times) that I might be able to resolve my problem by hanging up and going to A-P-P-L-E.C-O-M, I finally was routed to a service representative, to whom I described my problem with the dead monitor. Of course, they’re trained not to take your word for it; you have to run through some tests first, on this for-pay phone call, to establish that, in fact, the display is dead.

After that, the conversation went something like this:

Apple: So, Mr. Henderson, you’ll need to drive to Pepe’s Computer on the other side of Malaga, and drop off the Powerbook. They’ll in turn forward it on to TecniMac in Sevilla for repair. You should have it back within three to four weeks.

Me: Malaga’s more than 50 km from Marbella. In normal traffic, the drive to Pepe’s would be about 1.5 hours each way. I’d prefer to purchase AppleCare, so that a courier can pickup the device here at my office.

Apple: Certainly, Mr. Henderson. I’ll process that order for you right now.

(Several minutes later…)

Apple: Thank you for your purchase, Mr. Henderson. Here’s your AppleCare confirmation number. Now, about that Powerbook… You’ll need to drive to Pepe’s Computer on the other side of Malaga…

(Insert Twilight Zone theme music here.)

Me: Whoa, whoa, whoa… Uhmm, didn’t I just purchase AppleCare to avoid that?

Apple: Yes, but, you see, you live within 80 km of an authorized pickup location. So, even with AppleCare, you still have to deliver it yourself.

Me: Couldn’t you have mentioned that 10 minutes ago? Look, anyway, in the US, they always send a courier pickup under AppleCare.

Apple: Well, this isn’t the US.

Fortunately for me, an Apple reseller just opened here in Marbella — Marbella Mac Solutions, MMS, who, after hearing my sad story, said they’d be happy to organize the repair for me. As with Pepe’s, that still involves sending the Powerbook off to TecniMac, in Sevilla — apparently the only authorized Apple repair center in this half of Spain.

So, with about six weeks before the planned hook-up with Niall in Germany, I dropped the Powerbook off at MMS.

Turns out, four weeks was optimistic. On the very day before my trip to Germany, I was called by MMS to let me know the Powerbook was ready for pickup. I picked up the computer about five minutes before their closing time, and headed off to Germany.

Reading the repair report, TecniMac had determined that the problem was a “logic fault”, and replaced the logic board, the LCD display, and a related cable.

As things worked out, Niall’s trip was postponed, so I left the Powerbook in the office for him to pickup the following week. About a week later, I get an email from Niall, asking what in the world had happened to the Powerbook — that it looked like it’d been attacked with a screwdriver. He sent some photos:

Niall also reported that nothing happens when he closes the lid of the Powerbook. After a little investigation, he determined that the magnet in the display which signals to the machine that the lid has been close was missing! And, the display intermittently fades in brightness here and there. And, finally, he’s seeing all sorts of weird OS and application behaviour — things I’ve never even heard reports of (and I follow the Mac world pretty closely.)

That’s where we are today. Niall is trying to communicate with the Apple folks in Ireland, but it’s not easy. They want records of the previous repairs. They want proof that we’re really still seeing problems. In short, they’re making it as difficult as possible to get this situation sorted out.

And what’s the best we can hope for? Another repair session with Apple (Ireland). Niall having to work without a Powerbook for weeks. And, in the end, owning one Frankenstein of a portable — composed of bits and pieces from here and there, likely to never quite work like a new one.

Story Number 2: But wait, there’s more…

In our office here in Spain, a colleague just reported last week that one of the memory slots in his 15″ G4 Powerbook wasn’t being recognized. I nearly wept at the thought of having to contact Apple again. But alas, I connected to the Apple.com Spain support page, to lookup the support number again, and, lo, what did I see in the sidebar, but a link to:

Repair Extension Program: Powerbook G4 Memory Slot (15 inch)

How about that?– turns out the serial number of our Powerbook corresponds to the batch of defective units listed in this article, which have been demonstrated to have a problem recognizing both memory slots.

Great, in a weird way. At least you’d think that in this case, getting support would be easy — there’s an article on Apple’s very own website, listing my very own serial number.

Nope. Not even in this case is it easy to get service from Apple Europe. Seems that the repair terms and conditions of the article are relevant to the US market, not Europe — even though the article appears on Spain’s support page. Once again, I’m asked to go driving off to Malaga. The support representative said he needed to check with “management” to see how to proceed, and would phone us back.

A week later, we’re still waiting for the phone call.

Story Number 3: Yes, there’s even more…

In the year 2004, I reported to Apple Europe that there was a bug in the interface between their ordering system, and their logistics system, which discarded one line of the shipping address. In my case, it cut off the line which specifies in which apartment I live. Pretty serious problem, and the source of many shipping delays.

I received a reply from someone apparently high up in Apple Europe, apologizing for the problem, which he stated was a known issue he thought had been resolved several months earlier, and promising to personally look into it.

Jump ahead to mid-2005, another order of mine is delayed, due to the very same problem.

As far as I know, they still have this problem today. (Today, we specify shipping to our new office, which has a less complicated address than my home address.)

Moral of the stories…

The point of all this is that Apple should be ashamed of their European operations, especially their post sales support service. Maybe if enough people publish their stories, someone at Apple with enough clout (and concern) to do something about it will initiate some changes, to finally demonstrate some appreciation to their loyal customers.

Adobe's Upgrade Policy

Some time ago, I purchased an upgrade to Adobe Acrobat Professional, version 7. The installer didn’t ask for the previous version’s serial number, as most do, but rather asked me to locate the older version of the software on my hard drive. So I pointed the installer at version 6, completed the installation/registration, and then proceeded to remove version 6 from my hard drive.

Here were are now, about a year or so later, and I’ve migrated to a new Powerbook. First launch of Acrobat 7, and I’m asked to enter my serial number, and … once again, locate the version 6 software, which, of course, is no longer on my machine.

Fortunately, I kept a copy of version 6 in an archive, but what in the world is one to do in the case you no longer have the older version around (which I could easily imagine someone deleting)?

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Macworld Notes

I can’t begin to express how fortunate I feel that about one week ago in the US, I purchased a new 15″ Powerbook, given that yesterday, Steve Jobs introduced the new Intel-based Powerbook which happens to be only about FIVE TIMES FASTER! They were NOT supposed to do that yet! Aaaaaarg!

For all you buggers with blazing new Intel Powerbooks, I wish you an abundance of Revision-1 hardware problems. (Maybe they’ll spontaneously combust!)

In other news, you’ve got to feel for Dan Wood at Karelia Software. A few years ago, Apple stole his thunder by releasing Sherlock, effectively killing Dan’s popular Watson software. For the last couple of years, he’s been diligently working on a new easy-to-use website builder, Sandvox. Well, yesterday Apple released iWeb, which, from what I can tell from the demo, absolutely blows Sandvox out of the water. In Dan’s own words, lightning can apparently strike twice.

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Control iTunes Remotely

I have iTunes running at home on a Mac mini, with a Harmon Kardon Soundsticks II system connected, and was looking for a way to control iTunes remotely, from another Mac. This page discusses setting up a PHP script on the remote machine, but involves some things I didn’t like much (like running the web server as a normal user). Also, managing iTunes via web URLs isn’t as convenient as I’d like.

What I finally decided to implement, was a number of shell scripts that can be run from QuickSilver. This works, is very convenient, and only relies on SSH key authentication (i.e. without password) to the remote machine.

Following are the shell scripts I now have. (Important: Note that the second and third lines of each script below are really one line in the shell script. I broke the line for display purposes here.)

With these in place, controlling iTunes remotely is a matter of command-space iNext return. Great!

  • iUp (increase the volume)
    #!/bin/bash
    ssh 192.168.2.130  "osascript -e 'tell application "iTunes"
    to set sound volume to sound volume + 5'"
    
  • iDown (decrease the volume)
    #!/bin/bash
    ssh 192.168.2.130  "osascript -e 'tell application "iTunes"
    to set sound volume to sound volume - 5'"
    
  • iNext (next song)
    #!/bin/bash
    ssh 192.168.2.130  "osascript -e 'tell application "iTunes"
    to next track'"
    
  • iPrev (previous song)
    #!/bin/bash
    ssh 192.168.2.130  "osascript -e 'tell application "iTunes"
    to previous track'"
    
  • iPause (pause)
    #!/bin/bash
    ssh 192.168.2.130  "osascript -e 'tell application "iTunes"
    to pause'"
    
  • iPlay (play)
    #!/bin/bash
    ssh 192.168.2.130  "osascript -e 'tell application "iTunes"
    to play'"
    
  • iQuit (quit iTunes)
    #!/bin/bash
    ssh 192.168.2.130  "osascript -e 'tell application "iTunes"
    to quit'"
    
  • iStart (start iTunes)
    #!/bin/bash
    ssh 192.168.2.130  "osascript -e 'tell application "iTunes"
    to start'"
    

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