Wednesday, March 24, 2010

DIY Personalized Email Marketing with for Free

The Problem and a Marketing Tip:
When I photograph a wedding, I will place cards on the tables for guests to write in their name and email address. I tell the guests that I will notify them as soon as the pictures are online. So far, guests are happy about it and they actually thank me for the doing this for them. I make a point to only mail once to avoid being spam-y. Well, I like the messages to list their name in the salutation. 'Hi Joe' just works better for me than something less personable. Tools and online services for this are expensive. So digging around I figured out how to do it with for FREE.

Keep reading if you want the techie details. If not, Follow Me, to get more photography and tech tips. This will be a long one. EDIT: These instructions are made for Ubuntu / Linux. You may need to adjust for windows.

  • Ensure your default mail client is configured to handle mail. If you use webmail, configure your email client to be able to send to the web account before continuing.
  • Setup Your Mail Merge Email account in OpenOffice Writer by choosing Tools, Options. 
    • Then expand the Writer settings. 
    • Finally click Mail Merge E-mail and fill in your values.

Create SpreadSheet:
Create spreadsheet with Row1 having column titles. Two columns you will likely need are Name and Email but feel free to have others.

Create Message Template:
  • Create a letter you would like to send without names or other merged values.
  • Put the mouse in the location you would like the first field.
  • Goto Insert, fields, Other or press Ctrl-F2
  • On the Database tab, select mail merge fields in the Type Box

  • Click Browse and locate your spreadsheet.
  • After choosing your spreadsheet, it should now appear in the list of databases.
  • Expand the database and sheet1.

  • Click on the field you want to use and click insert. the field should now appear in your document.

  • Without closing the Fields window you can click in other areas of your document and insert other fields.
  • You probably don't want to insert the email address into the message body. That will come later.

MailMerge Wizard:
Once you are done you can open the mail merge wizard. Tools, MailMerge Wizard. The wizard divides the task into 8 steps. Most of which you will skip.
  • Step 1. Leave as Current Document.

  • Step 2. Choose Email Message
  • Step 3. Select your database for the address list.

  • Step 4. Skip. You have already completed this by inserting fields. This part of the wizard is clumsy so we did it a better way.
  • Step 5. Nothing to do here. It should be grayed out.
  • Step 6. Nothing to do here, but you can click the arrows and actually see your data in your message template.

  • Step 7. Nothing to do here, but at this point OpenOffice will create a new document with all your merged data. If you cancel now, it will close this temporary document, and take you back to your template.
  • Step 8. Select the last option, Send merged document as E-Mail.
    • For To: Select your email address field.
    • For Subject: Type any Subject
    • Send As: I leave as HTML, choose what you need.
    • Click Send Documents

If all goes well you will see a progress bar complete the sending. You should be able to check your Sent Items folder and see all the messages. If you mistyped any email addresses, you will probably get a failure notification by email just for the bad addressess.

Cleaning Up:
If you use this email marketing a lot, you may start to build a lot of databases. To remove databases from the OpenOffice list (this doesn't delete the database file):
  • Click on View, Datasources (or press F4). 
  • Right-Click in the database box and click Registered Databases. 

  • In the new window select the databases you created and delete them. Do not delete the databases the system created, such as Bibliography.

Thanks for reading. Hopefully it all went smooth for you. I wish I could have found instructions like these when I started... Enjoy!
Don't spam anyone and before sending a large list of emails ensure you follow the rules of your email provider or they may drop your account. For example, Gmail limits you to 500 emails per day. And if you get a large number of failed deliveries they may temporarily disable your account.

Ps. I've tried to include a small graphics in my emails, but they don't make it to the email system. If you are handy with HTML, it may be better to link to an internet hosted graphic.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Change Default Operating System at Boot for Ubuntu

Suprisingly the solutions to this problem vary wildly. Ubuntu is using the new Grub2 for booting and not too many users know the proper way to change the boot order. However after digging through all the answers I have what I believe is the best solution.

My particular problem is because I just built a new i7 920 system for my grandfather. He paid for Windows 7, but at the last minute I talked him into trying an ubuntu dual boot. Part of this, however is I need windows 7 to be the default choice or he will get frustrated.

Well, here is the adventure. First, the old way to update the boot is by simply modifying menu.lst. This file no longer exists. Then the people who are used to this try updating grub.cfg, because it seems similar to menu.lst. However the system will build a new grub.cfg when it needs to and overwrite any changes.

The closest correct answer is modifying /etc/default/grub and changing GRUB_DEFAULT=0 to the correct number. However this will present problems if the grub list ever grows or shrinks, such as when a new kernel is installed.

I've seen a few other complicated, but unreliable options too. But I'm not going into all the the wrong ways. Lets look at the correct way to change the default boot item.

Step 1, Figure out the exact name of the OS you want to boot. Either write it down when you reboot or type this in a terminal
cat /boot/grub/grub.cfg
Scroll up to find the name. Mine is 'Windows 7 (loader) (on /dev/sda1)'

Copy and paste it or just write it down. Just make sure you get it exact, even the capitalization.

Step 2, open the /etc/default/grub file for editing, here is my favorite command:
sudo nano /etc/default/grub
If you are more of a point and click person try this:
gksudo gedit /etc/default/grub
Step 3, find the line with GRUB_DEFAULT=0 and change the 0 to your OS. Be sure to use double quotes around your OS because it has spaces in the name.
Here is my GRUB_DEFAULT line for my grandfather's computer:
GRUB_DEFAULT="Windows 7 (loader) (on /dev/sda1)"
If you are trying to do this for windows 7, chances are your line will match mine exactly. Be sure to save your file and exit your editor.

Last step! You need to update your grub menu (process the changes we made). Just type into a terminal:
sudo update-grub

That is it. Only 4 steps and a headache saver.

FYI, most of the wrong ways to update grub came from here:, though this eventually led me to the right answer. 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Get great prints locally in about an hour.

Ok, you've seen this everywhere. Prints ready in an hour...

Not all places are the same and few offer professional results. Currently my favorite place is Sam's Club. Yep. Odd as it sounds, they offer oustanding print quality thanks to their Fuji Frontier Printer.

I have completly stopped using an inkjet as the quality wasn't there and it actually costs more to print at home. I had an Epson R1800. One of the better professional Epson printers. I constantly had headaches with that printer and it's need to clean itself more than my cat.

There are many places to get prints, I've tried them all and I am not happy with the in an hour quality. But next time you are in a jam, try a Sam's Club or possibly WalMart.

If you are in a huge rush, upload ahead of time and get them printing on your way there. You can also checkout at the photo station meaning you don't have to get in the long lines.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

How to keep your eye balls

This is something new I've started doing to all my cameras. Fast and simple. All my camera straps seem to have about an inch of strap which tends to poke my eye when I rotate the camera. Ouch. I know this sounds silly, but it happens.

Finally it frustrated me enough. I grabbed my Gaffers tape and went to work. For a 2 second fix, I don't know why I didn't do it earlier.

Here is a picture of the fix.

BTW: if you don't have any gaffers tape, buy some now. It's the best stuff in the world. It tears easy so you don't need scissors, its super strong like duct tape, and it's removable and reusable without leaving a residue. Duct tape used to be my tape of choice, but not any more.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Loving my new camera... Olympus E-PL1

My friend ditched his rebel and bought an Olympus Pen. I told him he was crazy. Then he started a blog about his camera (Though he is slow to add content sometimes). His images looked great with no editing.

So life goes on and I buy a Canon s90 for my 'casual' shooting. My problem was although the s90 provides the best image you can get in that pocket size, I am too used to SLR quality. I was never happy. Finally I am at a shoot and another photographer was using a Leica Point and Shoot. It got me excited when he touted the quality. However after some research it's no better than the s90 unless you get the $2000 fixed focal length P&S leica. My wife would kill me.

Well after a lot of research, Micro 4/3 options ended up being the best option. Noise, image quality, hot shoe, it's all there. There was a trade in size, as it's not as micro as it sounds, but still not an SLR. Here is a picture of the Micro 4/3 camera with kit lens vs. a 30D with 50mm 1.4

As you can see, I went out and bought the camera right away. This has the wife pissed at me, but at least I'm not dead. I had to look for a while to find the Olympus E-PL1 camera locally. It's hard to find right now, in fact all micro 4/3 stuff seems to be hard to get so don't expect any deals, even online. I checked dozens of stores and only Ritz of all places had one in stock.

The quality of the camera's images are great. I don't want to post process this kind of casual shooting, I just want to take pictures. I also don't believe in getting a lot of lenses for this camera as that would destroy the portability. However I do plan to get a lens that I will leave on somewhat permanently (the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7) This lens is even smaller than the lens above and with a lens this fast I should not need any flash.

The E-PL1 has it's downsides, no view finder, no knobs and dials for fast adjustment, not yet compatable with adobe, etc. However it does have Image Stabilization in body, outstanding image right out of the camera, and a low cost (relative).

Well, I'm cutting this off as I always ramble. Here is a link to some sample pictures.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

How to get a leg up in photography

Sometimes it helps if you could just shoot over the crowd, or get slightly higher than your subject.

In comes my best find ever.

A 9" high collapsible step which holds up to 300lbs. I've used this one for two years now and it's still going strong. Looks like they come in red or black as well.

Here is the stool collapsed:

It's very nice and the 9" boost really helps me. I have also used it as a posing tool. Here are all the uses I have found.
  • Have todlers sit on it
  • Have the model put a foot on it to shift the body.
  • Get above the model's eye level to get them to lift their chin a little.
  • Get above the crowd surrounding the bride and groom to get cool wide angle shots.
  • Get a little higher to avoid heads in the shot
  • Use it to reach a little higher to hang a backdrop, adjust a light, etc.
  • And I'm sure there are more.
For under $15 it's gotta be one of the cheapest photographic tools that you can throw in your trunk.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How to control the orange.

When photographing indoors we are faced with many challenges. One of those challenges is low lighting. This is where the flash comes in. However this flash presents another challenge... Orange backgrounds.

Various lights output different colors. Florescent lights output green, and your typical incandescent light bulb puts out orange. The flash on your camera is designed to be closer to natural daylight, but even that is variable.

So when you take a picture using flash in a room with a lamp, you have to make a choice. The surfaces being lit by the lamp can look orange, or the surfaces lit by the flash can look blue. If your camera is set to auto, it will automatically favor the flash.

So how do I fix it?
  • Use one type of light.
    • Turn off the lamps and just use flash (the space that would have appeared orange will now be close to black.)
    • Turn off the flash and just use the lamps. You will need a good fast lens and high ISO settings.
  • Make the flash match the lamps
    • You can put orange plastic on top of the flash to make it match the lamp color. Then you force the camera to use tungsten (usually a little light bulb icon) The orange plastic sheet is called a gel.

If you are dealing with florescent lights all the same applies but you will use a green gel instead.

Here is a photograph of my flash with the Gel on it.

I made the gel myself. (sorta) I bought the plastic in a large sheet. I cut it to fit and I put Velcro on it.

Here is a photo of how I store my gel so it is always ready to go.

That's it. When I need it, I put the Gel over the front of the flash. On my flash I have a velcro strap for attaching accessories. Its not glued to the flash so it is easily removed if needed.

There are many more pictures showing my equipment here including close-ups of the gels, and other configurations.

Stay tuned. Over the next several days I am posting practical photography tips.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

1024bit RSA cracked in 100 hours. What is coming next?

Here is a very technical read on the attack used on RSA I made it about half way though, see how far you can go... lol. Anyways the summary is by messing with the voltage supply they are able to introduce single bit errors into the RSA algorithm, then they can take these bad outputs and analyze them to reveal the secret key.

They are able to do this without modifying or accessing the internal system components. So in effect the attack leaves no signs of tampering. They performed this particular attack against linux and OpenSSL.

WOW. Just remember security isn't about how strong your front door is.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Two ways to find out who is selling your info.

Gmail has two features which will allow you to monitor who is selling your information. Nearly everyday I find a site that requires registration and it gets annoying. More annoying is revealing my email address to these sites. I used to use multiple addresses but it became annoying to check all of them. So here are two tips for giving out multiple email addresses via Gmail. These addresses can be later filtered if they become too spammy.

Plus Addressing
I've seen this one mentioned alot. Plus addressing allows you to append anything you want to your email address by using a plus sign. So if my name is, I can sign up to a site with The plus sign is a valid email character. Unfortunately many site registration forms don't allow it. However this is the first thing I try to do every time. If I start getting spam from other companys to, then I know who sold me and I can filter that address from going to my inbox.

Dot Addressing
Not as flexible as plus addressing and harder to know which site sold you. However this can be a great way to filter spam. Gmail ignores periods (.) in email addresses. You can't start or end your address with a period and you can't have two in a row, but you can have as many as you want. The best part about this method is I have yet to find a site that won't accept a period in an address. So is valid, is valid as well. Obviously longer email addresses have more choice. You are limited here but I would suggest grouping sites by level of trust. So some site you randomly visit that you feel you must sign up for to post a comment and you know you will never be back, put the period in the first position, A site you plan to use all the time would perhaps get a period in the last position. Or whatever you decide. If you have a 6 character email address you have 31 alternates available. An 8 character email address has 256, but then with so many choices you will need a way to keep track. I would just use three or four at a time and change them as they start getting abused.

Both of these schemes work out of the box with gmail, though the dot technique does not work for gmail for your domain addresses. There is no pre-registering the addresses you plan to use. Go ahead, mail something to yourself at some random plus address. Keep in mind there is a maximum length to an email address, so don't go crazy. Other email providers allow plus addressing or other choices as well. You can get more specifics here: