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You’ve Got Snail Mail

Using your computer to revive the art of letter writing.

The holiday season is now officially over. No more gifts to buy and send. No more photocopied newsletters about everything you and your family have done this year. No more overpriced Hallmark cards. Yep. That’s all over. But we are about to enter the season of thank-you notes. And what a season that is!

I have a confession to make. I’m terrible about writing snail mail and always have been. My penmanship deteriorated when I learned how to type, and so handwritten notes veer into the illegible very quickly. I never seem to have the right postage. And the horror of waiting in line at the Post Office seems like Black Friday all over again, but without the bargains.

That’s why I have technology tricks up my sleeve to take the pain out of writing thank-yous and getting them in the mail. Each of these tricks has a legitimate business application…I just cheat and use them at home.

Cheating at thank-you notes

Want to do thank-you notes in your own handwriting…but using mail merge? Well, you can. All you need is a spreadsheet, a word processor, access to a Tablet PC and a little free program from Microsoft called My Font Tool.

First thing to do is download My Font Tool, a Microsoft program you can download by following the PowerToy. With the pen on a Tablet PC, you enter the alphabet and the usual numbers and punctuation marks, and the program compiles a TrueType font in your handwriting that you can transfer to any computer.

Once you have the handwriting down, you need to create a spreadsheet with columns identifying the gift, the giver, and maybe a couple of conversation pieces–such as things you like about it and what you’ll use it for.

In your word processor, you then create a mail merge document with fields for the donor, the gift, and the conversation pieces. The initial document will begin

Dear ,

Thank you for the you gave. I really like and I’m sure I’ll .

…and end up as “Dear Auntie Mabel, Thank you for the crocheted toilet roll cover. I really like the color, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy storing my toilet rolls under it” and also “Dear Dad, Thank you for the iPod. I really like listening to music when I jog, and I’m sure I’ll be the envy of everyone I leave in the dust as I rev up my pace to the strains of Green Day.”

There’s no limit to the creativity and personalization here…all you’re doing is cutting out the tedious and illegible business of scraping words onto paper using a pen.

Stamps can be fun

To really bump up the personal touch, you can’t knock the idea of slapping your own pictures onto a stamp. It beats Young Elvis stamps into a cocked hat. And you don’t need to achieve great fame to get your pictures on a stamp anymore either. You just need to pay a premium to

This online postage company has weathered six years of boom-and-bust on the Internet and is still going strong with its core product–a metered postage system that bypasses Pitney-Bowes-style hardware meters and uses an Internet-based computer and regular printer to print postage.

I’ve favored this $15.99-per-month service since it debuted in 1999, and I still do. Especially since they throw in a USB postal scale gratis, and let you print envelopes for your mailing list complete with postage. How can you go wrong there?

But the fun product that provides lets you upload your own pictures, lay out a stamp, and order up sheets of them in multiples of 20. This is a pricey way to do postage: If you buy one sheet of 37-cent stamps, you pay $16.99, or 85 cents per stamp. Buy between two and nine sheets, and the per-stamp cost goes down slightly–to 75 cents.

But for a special occasion, it’s a sweet way to personalize your post. And if you mail merge your messages as I do, that’s a good way to shrieve your conscience.

And a happy new year to all!

Contributing Editor Matt Lake writes SOHO Advisor monthly for ComputerUser.

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