Taking photos throughout the year
Taking pictures of Roxy the dog is the first step in the process. It happens all year. Roxy coopoerates sometimes, but getting her pose just right is tricky.
Getting the domain setup
The printed qr code depends on knowing the domain ahead of time.
Getting the initial site up
Related to the domain setup, is the site setup itself. The site has been the same deployment since the 2020-2021 season. That saves a lot of time and complexity. The site gets enhancements each season, while the core functionality remains the same: handling card requests and displaying the letters.
Laying the photos out
I use the Vistaprint 5x7 horizontal photoshop template to initialize the card‘s design. Each season I review the previous files, and base the next iteration on the most recent. I had planned on a smaller postcard 4x6 option this season. My postcard stamps over fell through. Making a smaller card would have caused smaller or fewer photos on the front side.
In the past, I have used collage layout tools, but as I repeat below, there‘s no algorithm here, it‘s all hand crafted. Since I am a Creative Cloud pauper, I use Pixelmator Pro. It‘s a photoshop like tool, but a fraction of the price and works great on an M1 Mac.
Annotating the backs
On the same physical cards, I have to add a small photo legend of Roxy the dog doing her daily dog activities. Likewise, I need to set up the QR code on the side and make sure everything looks fine when printed in black and white on the backside.
Since I am a Creative Cloud pauper, I use Pixelmator Pro. Luckily, it can edit photoshop files just fine. Part of the designing the fronts and backs are using dozens of guidelines to provide good looking and systematic spacing between elements. Nothing‘s done algorithmically here, it‘s all hand crafted.
Submitting the order
The validation of the cards is agony. I have to stare at the backs and fronts for many hours. Coming to terms with mistakes and omissions that are not even there. It‘s pretty difficult. Once the staring contest is completed, I am ready for Vistaprint and place my order. These cards have been premium glossy on the fronts and grayscale on the backs.
Vistaprint has various coupons, so never submit without those. Beyond that, the delivery is pretty fast.
Writing the letter
What you are reading here, now, with me today, is not the letter. How many commas can someone stuff into a single sentence? At least three. This is a supplemental text that I wrote while procrastinating on writing the real letter one season and not reuse indefinitely.
What I am supposed to do with this letter is write portions of it throughout the year. It might happen one of these years. More likely, I will run out of things to say and maybe we will need guest writers. Apply now!
I usuaully draft the letter in Google Docs. This is nice because I write on multiple devices whenever I have free time. I can rely on more advanced editing tools than markdown, highlighting, comments, and so on. Once it looks OK there, I begin taking portions and integrating them into the site. Then I make a bunch of edits for length, wording, brevity, long-windedness, and other such things. I review the myriad of jokes and decide if they‘re truly worthy of being shown off.
In order for folks to get their cards, I need their names, addresses,
passwords and other details to mail them. I have a Google Form that allows for that collection. Google Forms has an API and I could use that to collect the data with my own frontend, but every developer knows forms are the bane of existence.
Mailing the cards
Once it is sufficiently late into the month of December and the physical cards are ready and present, I begin the mailing process. I use the list of recipients and begin printing off address labels in bulk.
The best part of having the letter disjoint from the mailer is the ability to make tweaks. Someone could find a typo or a bug. I might realize Part 2 is too short and add some more content. You never know. But this is also the time to rejoice because this is finally done for another year.