Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Keeping Track - with PenPal Pro

Ah, it pays to have in-house tech help!

About 20 years ago, my computer-geek husband, Steve, noticed - or, more likely, heard me complain repeatedly - that I was struggling to find a satisfactory system to keep track of all my correspondence. At that time, I was keeping in touch with more than 100 penpals. About 50 or so family members and friends from the east-coast Canadian Maritimes were also about to become correspondents, since we were contemplating a cross-country move west, all the way to Vancouver, on Canada's Left Coast, to attend grad school.

My address book - which featured beautiful illustrations of Anne of Green Gables (my childhood idol!) on every page, and seductively smooth paper that begged to be written on - was suffering. Now that I had so many addresses to record, the entries were hopelessly out of order, as there were several pages dedicated to each letter, but addresses were recorded within the letter categories in the order in which I'd received them.

Complicating matters were all the moves everyone in my age group was suddenly making, to go to school, get married or take on a new job. I had to use Liquid Paper to blot out the old address and put in a new one, which seemed sacrilege in such a lovely book. Even worse, I ran out of pages for some letters. (If you, dear reader, have an address-keeping system that works for multiple correspondents, would you consider sharing it in the comments?)

At the same time, I could no longer easily keep track of whom I owed letters, when they came in, or which letters had come in first and thus deserved priority attention. Or letters that deserved replies right away for other reasons. I tried keeping lists on looseleaf, and I kept dates marked on the envelopes, but paper lists got messy - and I feared someone would fall through the cracks. Something had to be done, and soon.

Enter Steve. Rather than complain about my complaining or just block it out, he decided to help me find a solution. And so PenPal Pro (version 1) was born. It quickly became my best organizational friend.

Fast forward to today, and let me introduce you to PenPal Pro 2! This program allows you to enter data on each correspondent, including address, when letters are received and sent, hobbies, important dates for the correspondent and those close to him/her, and more. Here's the main screen:

My favourite parts are the address and letter-tracking functions. Whenever a letter comes in, I enter it into the system. And when I send a reply, I go in and add that letter, too. For both letters received and sent, there is the option of adding info, such as what the conversation was about, and any enclosures that were included. It's a great way for me to keep track of whether I've sent someone a particular photo or post card, for example. (It's amazing how often I find I get the same "great idea" of what to send somebody, twice over.) Here's what the letter screen looks like:

After I've entered all my data, I go back to the main screen and select the Reports tab. Then I get this wonderful report summarizing all the letters I owe. Here is a sample, containing just one (imaginary) letter...although I suspect Gryffindog would love to get mail, especially if it contained treats!
These few glimpses do not begin to do justice to the fantastic capabilities of this program. In fact, I love it so much, that Steve decided to offer PenPal Pro as Shareware, available here. That link will take you to the main page, which describes the program & its technical requirements. (It is currently Windows-based only - our apologies to Mac users. Our own main computer is also a Mac. So we would like to upgrade PenPal Pro to the Mac platform, once our 3-year-old - lovely though she is - can become a little more independent and less time-demanding. Stay tuned!)

The program page also allows you to download the program to try it out. You'll find a blog there, too, which acts as a series of help files to give info on how to do various tasks within the program. If you have a question that is not answered there, just ask it on the blog or email Steve, and he will do his best to reply.

My only caveat is that this program was created specifically for me, for my particular needs and interests - so it may not address exactly what someone else is looking for. However, he is always making adjustments, so if it is missing something you consider crucial, let us know and we'll see what we can do.

For PenPal Pro, there are two free options with full functionality except for allowing only a limited number of penpals to be entered, plus a version available for a modest fee ($20 Canadian) that gives you the capability of entering an unlimited number of correspondents.

Here's the link, for those of you who prefer to have the full address: Why not check it out?

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I'm going to download and investigate this more this weekend when I have some time to devote to it. Kudos to your husband for all the time and effort he has put into this.