CloudHQ Export Emails to Google Sheets

First things first: I’m writing this blog post because CloudHQ has a promotion where if you write a blog post about them you can get the premium version of their apps free for a year.

But the corollary that is I’m willing to write at least 300 words and publicly shill because I want the premium version of the apps that much.

The only one that I’m using so far is Export Emails to Google Sheets, which I’m using for an ongoing research project on business communications related to COVID-19. That’s right, I’ve been collecting spam, promotion, sale, and closure emails – from several people – since March. It’s a really cool dataset, full of closure dates, reopening dates, messaging, personal reassurances from CEOs, and every company under the sun now selling face masks and hand sanitizer. It’s a dataset that, as of right now, consists of over 5300 emails.

As you might expect, I initially scoped the volume I’d be getting (mis-estimating by a factor of 10 and also several month), and decided that I wanted to automate as much as humanly possible. So I scoped out and tried multiple different Chrome extensions and apps that look at email inboxes. I even looked into learning enough Python to code one myself, because so many tools are aimed at wildly different things, like customer management or assessing productivity. What I needed, all I needed, but what I needed incredibly robustly, was information scraping and archiving.

The free version of the CloudHQ app does almost everything I need! It extracts the emails – with options to save the emails themselves as PDFS, fantastic for archiving – as well as the date, subject, and sender. In addition to saving the emails as PDFs, it scrapes the plain text into a field in the spreadsheet it generates. After having gone through and hand-coded some of the same data, I’m comfortable saying that it has already saved me hours upon hours of work.

The only challenge: the free version caps you at 50 a month. I . . . am not getting 50 emails a month I want to record. I’m not only getting far more than that, I have the massive backlog. I’m also really hopeful that the email support that comes with the premium version can result in getting some help with some of my more arcane data needs (since almost everything is forwarded, I don’t need the ‘from,’ I need the original sender). But it’s a robust extension with a convenient UI, and I’ve had a really positive experience using it so far.

Let’s (not) Play

My friend MahoganyPoet has been doing Let’s Play videos on Youtube. Let’s Play videos are a whole booming genre where you can watch someone else play video games. Which – okay. So video games are basically the only form of storytelling that one can actually be bad at: a Let’s Play lets you take a passive role. That’s why I like them! I didn’t grow up with a video game console, and skills such that I don’t die horribly and/or kill all my teammates aren’t ones I’ve developed (or, really, tried to develop) as an adult. Let’s Play videos can also let other players see how to get past tricky bits or see alternate endings to the one they got, and they let you listen to or watch entertaining people. MP’s official job title is ‘youtube personality.’*

Her first move is to close Skype to minimize noisy interruptions and to make sure the computer’s running cool: the games + Avus4U recording software take a lot of RAM and if the computer heats up too much the game might freeze and crash, losing her place in the game.

Conveniently, this also lets her feed me cheese and fancy crackers.

MP has what she jokingly refers to as the most professional studio setup in the world – a couple monitors, a game controller hooked up to the computer, a freestanding microphone with directional settings and one of those spitguard screen things, and headphones so the game music doesn’t get caught on mic. Her recording software already catches the noise from the game, so a microphone pickup would be out of sync, and probably not as clear.

She plays the game, Child of Light, fullscreen on one of her monitors, while the other one shows what’s being picked up by the recording software.

I’m only able to see about a quarter of the screen from behind her, and moving might get picked up by the mic and would also take me away from the crackers and cheese, so I mostly know what’s going on by what she says, and will pick up the action when I’m watching the video later. She accidentally summoned an ogre, which she hadn’t intended to during this episode, which prompted her to pause, sign off on the video, and then start a new video so she could finish with the ogre and save the fish people.

It’s not quite the same as watching someone play video games directly and snarking at them, which made it difficult to refrain from snarking when sitting directly behind MP and listening to her commentary, but the videos are cool and progress pretty linearly through the story.

Mahogany Poet can be found on Twitter and, of course, on Youtube.

*Seriously, it’s her job: turn off Adblock for Youtube.

Differences between and hosts blogs: is where you get the wordpress software to upload onto your own server (or that of a friend, family member, or someone you pay to host your stuff). It’s important to differentiate, because they’re both fantastic, and they’re easily confused, because the interface is similar. They have their own breakdown of differences, but this aims to be more descriptive. is nice because you don’t have to mess around with a server or, necessarily, with getting your own domain.

WordPress software is nice because you can do anything you want. Cue maniacal cackling off into the distance.

But more concrete comparisons:

The first thing you did was take out that little Meta toolbar on the side, right? It looks unprofessional and sloppy, though some people dislike it more than others (I hate it).

.com: go to your site/wp-admin or or someone’s site where they left up the Meta toolbar. It doesn’t matter which, since you can navigate the whole back end of WordPress after the one login.
Software: go to your site/wp/wp-admin. That’s pretty much the only option.

Themes govern most of how your blog appears. Themes are a collection of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) that tell things to align left or align right or show up purple.

.com: There are a variety of free themes, and even more paid ones, and you can almost definitely find one you love. Typically from there you can also select background color or image and header image. If you buy an upgrade, you can also edit the CSS. You don’t get access to the CSS files themselves, though, so you are overwriting blind. If you are pretty confident, that’s fine, whatever. If you are mostly used to editing and not building and have never bothered to look at the source code for various pages, when WordPress updates and breaks your theme you will spend several hours drinking and frantically trying to correct the website, while text boxes float around seemingly arbitrarily and look completely different on the three screens you eventually end up looking through because you are trying to fix the header and you’ve changed the alignment and indent and mandatory margin but you don’t actually have access to the files and it doesn’t occur to you to override the vertical alignment, and you then switch to a different theme that is not actually broken but does truly horrifying things to your submenus. When you eventually wake up, vodka having beaten panic at about three-thirty in the morning, WordPress will have fixed it and you will spend the rest of the day in nihilistic despair.
Software: There are myriad themes and you can not only customize the background and header but also look at the CSS and pinpoint that this line of code here governs what color links default to and change just that to make everything violently orange. You will accidentally leave an extra space or digit or apostrophe somewhere and crash the server. Things will need to be reinstalled. You can take comfort in your own agency in the failure.

Seriously, though, themes and editing without messing with the CSS can get you a pretty customized website, and WordPress is great about fixing their mistakes and errors that crash the server can be corrected.

If you’re building a WordPress site, you freaking love widgets. Widgets are awesome. The Text widget (which lets you insert arbitrary text and HTML) is how you get your Twitter feed or follow button up, and your tumblr follow button, and a lot of the other buttons social networking sites let you generate. But widgets let you do a heck of a lot more than that: they’re your Facebook like box and your RSS feed and your contact info and your flickr link and your category cloud. Widgets are how you implement neat features without extensive background in coding.

.com: limited number, but they cover a lot, and the text widget with HTML adds additional functionality.
Software: widgets for the software are actually a feature of the plugins you can get. Plugins for the software are great, because you can get ones that tweet automatically every time you get a new post, or generate a new post every time you tweet, or do all manner of strange and unlikely things. The trick is that they are reviewed but not actively policed, so you need to make sure it actually does what it says it does, and isn’t broken.

Akismet is a spam filter, and is how you filter all the comments that are lists of links to scams or are soliciting people to buy knock-off Gucci handbags on your bike site. You want a spam filter. Akismet’s pretty good.
.com: it’s already there.
Software: you need to install the plugin. It is a terrible amount of work. You have to click, like, three things.

What do you do when you suddenly get lots of traffic on your website?
.com: It absorbs the traffic, and doesn’t cost you extra money.
Software: Your server might crash, or you might need more servers. This can cost more, and may or may not be able to respond quickly to a sudden surge.

Which you choose will depend on your comfort with code, your ability to acquire and comfort with self-hosting, and how much you like customizability. They’re both excellent platforms, versatile enough for almost everyone.


Everyone’s heard about the NSA tapping phones, right? That’s not news.

Basically, they’re following up on permissions they got in the Patriot Act, when we were all still going ‘please take my liberty and give me security and screw Ben Franklin.

This is a great post that talks about what such measures can lead to.

Which leads to my perennial post about anonymity. I have not posted about it nearly as much as I thought I had, given that I am persistently cranky about it. Anonymity is very hard to do, and true anonymity is something that has to be worked on persistently and in the face of people who would really prefer that you didn’t. Things like The Onion Router and other things discussed in Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother are good starts, and Cryptocat is a valuable tool, and encryption keys are completely fantastic.

But all of these things take effort, and are very different from posting ‘down with the government’ or whatever on your Facebook page. If you’re going to go through the effort of anonymity, if you care about a cause enough to get active in protesting, posting on your Facebook or whatever about it is actually potentially dangerous to you and everyone who liked it out of abiding bitterness over parking tickets.

So if you care about something deeply? Talking casually about it on the internet is probably one of the last things you want to do. In light of the surveillance abilities of even reasonably democratic governments, making sure everything you say online would meet with the approval of a hyper-judemental theoretical grandmother is a safe bet.

Also, for writers, anonymity is almost always the enemy of publicity.

Wix and an SEO rant

I sometimes help people with websites: I’ve been doing so for the past few years. Mostly simple stuff, setting up pages for authors and editors and friends.

I usually use WordPress, because it’s simple, straightforward, and, while you can get more mileage from it if you know how to override the CSS and edit the HTML manually, you can get a perfectly functional, useful website without any of that knowledge. You can even get a decent website out of WordPress if you don’t feel comfortable poking around with all the settings. Having that low barrier of entry for use is really great, especially for people who want a website but not to live on the internet as they swear at code at 3 in the morning.

I’ve also worked in Joomla!, which was fine, but required more poking around before I could reliably make it do what I wanted it to. I don’t usually recommend it for people, since it did require that experimentation.

The first site I set up for my mom was with Yola, which has convenient drag-and-drop boxes for doing stuff. The second, when she wanted to blog more, was WordPress, because of the simpler comments features.

This, obviously, is Blogger, and I like it for the stripped down simplicity. I don’t need it to do anything fancy or have particular page features, because it’s a blog and it blogs and that is all I require of it. I like the clean back end with clear labeling and the option to compose both pages and posts either in rich text or HTML. If someone doesn’t want to do fancy things with the appearance of their site and prioritizes the blogging over the static pages, Blogger is a great option.

Today I got to mess around in Wix, which I hadn’t before. I don’t like that it automatically adds big banners advertising themselves to the bottom of every site. I don’t like that on so much of the back end, clicking a link opens a new tab or window. I don’t like that the font modification options aren’t universal: you have to change them page by page. I don’t like that everything is popups. The ability to create an online store is pretty neat. The fact that all elements need to be moved around by hand instead of, oh, going into a neat sidebar, is fucking maddening. It also treats subpages as forms, making links to particular subpages look sloppy. Also, when you view page source (to see wtf is up with the fonts), it treats every subpage as part of the same page, so you are looking at every single element. I’m used to looking at the source for WordPress, which is full of stuff that governs margins or whatever: endless lines of repetitive whatever, but that doesn’t look anywhere near as sloppy. Wix also gives the options to add SEO keywords to pages, which, I guess, could make sense with image-heavy galleries, but is also reflective of a five-years-out-of-date approach to SEO.

Here’s the secret to SEO: write about the shit you want to write about. People who are interested in that shit will find your website. If you are an artist who takes commissions, having a blog post that talks about different art styles will bring in people who search for those art styles. They will find you and give you money.  Would keyword stuffing with sex and kittens and whatever be of benefit to you?

It might get you more hits, but is that of benefit to you? You want people to buy art from you. Unless you specialize in like cat pinups or something, you are not attracting people who are interested in what you’re doing, you’re just getting people who will click things.

Blogger’s statistics section shows search keywords that have lead to my blog. Let’s look at some of the top ones of all time:
laura bradford interview
eileen young
laura bradford author
adam schreckenberger
amazing spreadsheets
is the kobo vox backlit

So, the first one is people forgetting that this is a .ca blog, and the third, fifth, and sixth are because of interviews I did with people more popular than me. Those all make sense as people who would appreciate the content here.

I’ve only talked about kishotenketsu once, but people continue to be interested in it, which is great. It’s something I was really interested in, so people also interested in it might be interested in other things I talk about here.

Fourth is my name. Excellent. SEO is doing its job.

Amazing spreadsheets is probably because of my ‘spreadsheets are amazing’ tag.

And the question ‘is the kobo vox backlit’ probably leads directly to my review of the Kobo Vox, which includes the information that it’s backlit and other details about it.

Search engines are designed to take people to what they’re looking for. So use common terminology (if you’re talking about books, don’t call them bound stories or something like that) and correct spelling and provide regular new content, and that is your SEO.

If you’re not getting as many hits as you’d like, make sure your website is attached to your profile on every site you’re on and post more.

Back to Wix: you can’t even configure a Facebook like box to go to a page you’ve already created. It does some auto-suggestion bullshit.

In conclusion: Wix sucks and I hate it. Only real benefit is the webstore, but that’s what eBay and Etsy are for. 2/10, would set fire to again.

Anonymity, Again

There’s a disadvantage to having grown up with the internet: every stupid thing one said when one was thirteen is up here forever.

And, despite whatever steps one took to be less traceable: never using your real name, never posting your city, etc. there’s always, always a temptation to have a linked identity. So if you use a username on Livejournal it might be tempting to use it on Deviantart and then, well, it’s practically a brand, so you might use it on Etsy, too. And then you do commissions or pay someone to do a commission for you and you use your paypal, which, a lot of the time, is going to have your name attached to it, because your money needs to at some point pass through something with your name attached.

So you yourself would have attached your real name in a long roundabout way to the things you posted on Livejournal lo, these many years ago.

And that’s not even bringing up Facebook. This afternoon, a friend told me she’d been being harassed by someone she met in a chat room. The harassment was happening on Facebook, but he’d blocked her after she told him she didn’t appreciate the threats, so she didn’t have access to his page anymore, which she kind of wanted to gather information to go to the police.

Google to the rescue! I have this guy’s name and the country he lives in. I was able to, in very short order, provide a decent picture (decent as in it fits most of the guidelines for ID photos), all of the biographical information he has online (including names and pictures of his parents and sibling), and links to his Facebook profile, Formspring, and Twitter accounts. The usernames on the Formspring and Twitter were not similar to his name, but he’d input his full name into the information anyway, so this was all in the first page of Google results.

Things he did on the internet, in cyberspace (which some people, including friends of mine, sometimes consider as less real than things which happen face to face), are going to result in criminal charges for this young man.

I can almost guarantee he didn’t expect this: if you block someone on Facebook, they’re supposed to be gone forever! But they’re not. Things which happen online are quite, quite real, and a number of us have some or all of our professional lives on the internet.

Anonymity or even approximations thereof can be detrimental to building a brand if one is trying to be a professional online. Anonymity can seem like a great bastion if one is trolling on the internet, and even the format itself can be seen as a buffer.

But anonymity is a very, very hard to attain and maintain. That’s why the creator of Cryptocat is being persecuted so very hard. Anonymity is vital for political agitation and protest under an oppressive regime, but there’s a natural tendency to want to slip up and have people you are speaking to acknowledge you as a person. When it’s trolls who are enabling me to hunt down all their information to neatly package for the cops, this is great. When it’s protesters who end up beaten and jailed for trying to change the world for the better, it is quite a bit less than great.

But the fact of the matter is that, unless one is taking extraordinary measures, you are not anonymous.

Writing Software

Another frequent topic of debate is the technology used to write. Most frequently I see pen and paper vs computer, but not nearly enough do I see comparisons of the writing software available.
Microsoft Word and Notepad are the most obvious tools, since they come bundled with a Windows package on almost any PC you can buy commercially. But if you’ve had to wipe your hard drive and have lost your discs or are more interested in freeware in general, there’s OpenOffice. It has a lot of the same features as Word, except it can save in more formats. The default format isn’t Word, and Track Changes is hard to translate to another machine that doesn’t run OpenOffice, but it’s free, not particularly buggy, and has lots of online support. Probably not best for absolute computer beginners, but if you can google “how do I ___ in OpenOffice” and aren’t particularly set in your ways with Word, it’s a nice way to go. And if you feel bad about using freeware, you can just donate: a substantial donation at can still be cheaper than Word.
But what if you’re frequently switching between machines, and can’t keep track of a flash drive to save your life? What if you’re collaborating on a project with six people and can’t keep track of the latest version? What if, like me, you don’t want your hard work tied to your hardware? Then there’s Google Docs. Available anywhere there’s internet, they have a few fewer formatting capabilities than some software, but are free and perfect for collaboration. There’s a bit of a learning curve for using it, but it’s been well worth it for me.
Then there are the writing-specific softwares, like Dramatica and StoryWeaver. The only one of these that I’ve tried is yWriter5 (which everyone will be shocked to find is freeware). I found it interesting, the way it encourages planning and structure and pre-writing, but didn’t find that it gave me any appreciable advantage that couldn’t be filled by a spreadsheet. For people with large, sprawling worlds and huge casts of characters, it might provide more of an advantage.
Like every other aspect of writing, it’s a matter of finding those tools that work for you.

Russia’s Doomsday Device

As an excellent follow-up to writing about a science fiction future, I read an article today about Russia’s Doomsday device, Perimeter. I was first shocked that they had one – the most familiarity I have with one is watching Dr. Strangelove in high school. But it exists, and it’s active, and it continues to be upgraded to this day.

Perimeter’s very existence is surreal and far from comforting.
The very idea of such a relic of the Cold War mentality is alien to me; the Berlin Wall came down about the time I learned to talk, so it belongs very firmly in the realm of The Past, that mystical country of questionable relevance. Perimeter drives home in the most graphic way possible that nuclear war is something that was seriously considered for a long stretch of time.
I’m quite glad we never tipped over that brink.

Spreadsheets Are Amazing

I recently quit my job, and am on the hunt for a new one. It makes me particularly glad that I live in Victoria, where the job climate isn’t quite so dire as in many parts of the U.S.. Maclean’s recently ran a front-page article on the way a lot of the U.S. is deteriorating into circumstances comparable to a developing nation. It’s terrifying; as a citizen of the U.S., as a citizen of a country that borders the U.S., as someone who will be in the job and political arenas for decades to come and dealing with a shifting reality no one expected. The U.S. is such an international standard that even BBC reports in pounds and USD – usually with the pounds in parentheses, not the dollars. But, even with the recession officially over, the U.S. continues to slide slowly; I was in the market last week and American tourists, while still allowed to pay with USD (we’re a port, after all), were paying on par.

But one to happier subjects: spreadsheets.

I have a deepseated love of them. They make organization simple, clean, and direct. With Google Docs, they’re also shareable, and so even more useful! Everything it makes sense to organize via spreadsheet, I do.

Surprisingly, then, it wasn’t I who proposed that my latest project be organized via Google spreadsheet. Mason Kochanski and I share a mutual love of music and desire to expand our musical horizons. This project was born out of that mutual love, and an evening when I visited that was spent listening to 90s grunge we’d forgotten about and adored. We started a spreadsheet keeping track of bands we like and why. Having a goal – expanding the spreadsheet with more information – has helped us both find interesting new music we wouldn’t have come across under the normal circumstances of itunes and internet playlists. It’s a fun project, still underway.

Google Fiber

Google is continuing to revolutionize the internet with their latest project, Google Fiber, blogged about here. Accessible broadband is an important step forward for any country; the old ideology of the ‘information superhighway;’ information about everything available to everyone, only holds true if everyone has access. But, with growing access, including projects like this, it becomes more and more important for a business to have an internet presence.