Christmas cards and Apple Address Book

This year, for the first time, the Christmas cards you receive from us will have printed labels.

Up till now I’ve always written the addresses out by hand (I have much neater handwriting than Robin does, possibly because I was actually taught handwriting at school). A few years ago we spent a couple of quid on a stamp kit and assembled a return address stamp, which cut down on the workload considerably (though I’m not sure how readable it actually is). But the main addresses carried on being hand-written.

This year, prompted by some experiments I’d been doing at work, and having found some address labels to print on, I started looking into ways of getting the addresses printed directly from the Address Book. I keep my contacts in there and have a list of people who should be sent Christmas cards by post. (There’s a separate list of people who get Christmas cards but whose addresses I’m not sure of; they get a pretty email sometime round about Christmas Eve or Day. People whom we see over Christmas don’t get a Christmas card at all – it’s an inferior substitute for personal contact, not a requirement in itself.)

If you select an address, or several, or a whole group, and press Print, you get a print dialog offering quite a lot of options. You can print on envelopes (not something I wanted to do as all the envelopes were different sizes) or sheets of labels, and you can choose such things as whether or not to include the country on the address and which addresses to include if a contact has multiple addresses listed. All very nice. But there was a problem.

Apple’s Address Book allows you to add the names of related people (such as spouse or child) to an entry. You’d think that the main reason to do this (apart perhaps from enabling you to swot up on your boss’s children’s names so you can ask after them) would be so that they could appear on address labels (‘Jane, Joe and Jill Bloggs’). But they weren’t showing up.

Trawling around the net I found some instructions for how to set Address Book up for printing multiple names on one label. Address Book follows quite a complicated set of rules for working out which and whether names should be shown on printing – so complicated, in fact, that Apple themselves gave up and removed the feature altogether in Snow Leopard. Which, of course, is the version I have.

Not to worry, though. The functionality is still there; all they did was remove the preferences file that told Address Book when to enable this feature. I managed to download an appropriate file and install it.

Still nothing.

More poking around led me to discover that this was because I’m in the UK. Apparently the preferences file turns on the ability to print spouse names by country, God knows why. The preferences file I’d downloaded had an entry for ‘UK’, but apparently what Address Book actually wanted to see was ‘GB‘. I edited the file with a text editor and replaced ‘UK’ with ‘GB’.

OK, fixed.

But only some of them were coming through, and in the wrong order. Now I needed to go and look at those complicated rules.

First of all, I needed to add everyone’s surname. So instead of Jane Bloggs having a spouse called ‘Joe’ and a child called ‘Jill’, her spouse has to be ‘Joe Bloggs’ and her child ‘Jill Bloggs’. That’s what gets you ‘Jane, Joe and Jill Bloggs’; otherwise you get ‘Jane Bloggs, Joe and Jill’.

But the spouse or child name doesn’t show up at all if the first name matches any other entry in your address book. So if you have another contact called Joe Smith, Joe won’t show up on the address printed from Jane’s entry. Apparently Address Book only looks at the first name when deciding whether someone is duplicated elsewhere, and only prints the name if there’s a separate entry for Joe with the same address as Jane.

There are two ways round this problem. The official answer is to make a separate entry in the address book for every spouse and child, and populate them with the correct address. This seemed like far too much hassle: some of my friends have multiple children, and Address Book doesn’t cope well with attempts to copy and paste whole addresses. So I cheated. I went through every spouse and every child, and made sure they were unique by adding a non-printing character to the beginning of the name.

Then there were occasionally people I didn’t want to appear on the address – usually adult children whose names I wanted to remain associated with their parents but whom I knew no longer lived with them. But this was fairly easy: apparently Address Book only looks at certain categories of associated people when deciding whether to include them. I created a custom category of ‘Offspring’ to apply to adult children, and these disappeared from the labels.

So then I printed the labels, which worked fine, and stuck them to the envelopes. I think that even with all the research I had to do, and the footering around with Address Book, it was still quicker than writing them all out by hand. And it’ll all be there for next year.

Next task: designing the email Christmas card.

 

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