31 March 2008

The Hacker Within VIII

Today's subject: Mozilla Thunderbird Templates

Greg V. Wilson of the University of Toronto has a great talk on nanoHUB called "Software Carpentry: Essential Software Skills for Research Scientists." In it, he makes the claim that any task that you need to perform more than once is worth automating.

My computing life has improved in direct proportion to my willingness to heed his advice.

A recent example: I'm the chair of the UW-Madison College of Engineering's New Educators' Orientation, a series of required workshops for first-time COE TAs. Being the chair is not at all glamorous; it mostly means sending out lots of emails to recruit volunteers to help out. And if they're not customized, no one replies.

Using Mozilla Thunderbird or a similar email program obviously makes this task quite a bit easier--my de facto algorithm last semester required one New Message and three Copy-Pastes, into three different boxes. This semester, I've automated out a few steps to get it down to one New Message (well, an equivalent) and one Copy-Paste with Thunderbird Templates. I know it doesn't sound like much of an improvement, but this process offers a significant time-savings, is much less error prone, and can keep you more organized.

How do you use Templates? Easy. First, create a new message, with subject line and easy-to-find placeholders in the message. Then click File > Save As > Template. A folder called "Templates" will appear in your folder window. Click the folder, and then right-click on the Template you want to use and select Edit As New... (or, better yet, use Ctrl+E with the Template selected).

A copy of that Template will then pop up, all ready for you to replace the placeholders and enter a recipient email. Not for nothing, you'll also never have to dig through your Old Sent Mail to find the message you need to resend.

I wish I'd looked into this sooner. Thanks to Heinz Tschabitscher and his About.com entry for being there when I did (though note that, at least with Thunderbird/Ice Dove version, I couldn't double-click on the Template to Edit As New as he suggested).

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