Masters of Automation on Upgrade Podcast

Last week I attended the first ever CMD-D: Masters of Automation conference in San Jose. At the end of the day, Jason Snell did a live on-stage podcast with all the speakers, including yours truly. 

The show went live this week in the Upgrade feed. I though it came out great and there is a lot of good information about where we stand with automation technologies with both Mac and iOS. The CMD-D portion starts about 30 minutes into the podcast but I recommend listening to the whole thing.

Workflow Update and Status

This week Workflow got a middling update. The update includes lots of bug fixes and improvements for iOS 11. This is further evidence that Apple is committed to keeping the lights on for Workflow at least for the next year.

Last week when I was at the CMD-D conference I got to spend time with some of the Workflow developers and they were actively soliciting ideas and thoughts about the application from me. They weren’t acting like someone who thought their app already had one foot in the grave.

I have no idea what’s going on at Apple. If I was a betting man, I would say that some version of the Workflow feature set is going to somehow get incorporated into a future version of iOS, but until that time it seems that Apple is happy to keep paying people to keep the current version working.

I still get emails from people suggesting I’m nuts to keep using Workflow after it’s been acquired by Apple. My reply is that I think I would be nuts not to use it. One of a few things is going to happen:

  1. Apple will continue to support workflow for the foreseeable future until shutting it down without some sort of replacement.
  2. Apple will continue to support workflow for the foreseeable future until replacing it with some new technology (hopefully) incorporating a lot of the ideas and motivation behind Workflow.

In either of those scenarios, Workflow will continue to work for the foreseeable future. This week’s update supports iOS 11 and supports this point even further. Workflow is, in my opinion, the most powerful utility available on the iPhone and iPad. It quite literally allows nonprogrammers to develop their own custom apps that can speak with multiple applications and make their lives easier.

An added benefit of many Workflow users is that it sends a message to Apple that iOS users want automation and power tools, just like Mac users. More of that … please!

Best of all, the application is now free. Even if you’ve never picked up Workflow, now is a great time to kick the tires.

Get Started Outlining with OmniOutliner Essentials (Sponsor)

This week MacSparky is sponsored by OmniOutliner, my favorite outlining application for the Mac, iPad, and iPhone. Recently the Omni Group has released OmniOutliner version 5. One of the best things about this new version is the addition of OmniOutliner Essentials. It includes several of OmniOutliner’s key features, like keyword filtering, document stats, distraction-free mode, resource search, touch bar support, dark mode, opml mode, and pro file compatibility. 

I use OmniOutliner often. It’s a fantastic tool for collecting ideas and organizing them. Whether you’re taking notes, making lists, brainstorming, or starting your book, OmniOutliner can help you out.

With OmniOutliner Essentials, you get all these features for just $10. OmniOutliner Essentials is a great deal and if you have any interest in adding a world-class outliner to your tool belt, go get OmniOutliner Essentials today.

Future Chips and Hardware

Intel recently announced its 2018/2019 CPU, called Icy Lake. AnandTech explains the new chip in detail. To summarize, Intel is putting the hammer down on making their chips smaller and faster. I'm sure Apple and other competing chip designers/manufacturers are taking note.

As I was growing up with computers, CPU improvements were all about speed. Computers didn't change the way they looked so much as they got a lot faster … often. I can't help but feel that as 10nm chips become "the thing", the speed improvements will end up taking a back seat to the ways these new chips liberate hardware manufacturers to rethink the kinds of hardware we can put these small, fast chips in. Future chips are not about getting faster (although they will get faster) so much as they are about further evolving the idea of what a computer is. I can hardly wait.

Mac Power Users 391: Workflows with Artist Jason Kimes

The latest episode of Mac Power Users is live. Our guest, Jason Kimes, is an accomplished artist (and geek) who uses Apple technologies to plan and create his sculptures.

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Enter offer code MPU at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.
  • Eero: Never think about WiFi again. Use code MPU for free overnight shipping.
  • Fracture: Bring your photos to life.
  • 1Password: Have you ever forgotten a password? Now you don't have to worry about that anymore.

Ulysses Moves to the Subscription Model

This week Ulysses moved to a subscription model. As Dr. Drang has already observed, this will lead to much gnashing of teeth and navel gazing concerning subscription pricing.

At this point I feel as if I'm over it. I use Ulysses every day. I’ve already signed up for the discounted pre-owner subscription and I'm back to work. If you don’t want Ulysses in your life, you should take a pass.

What you shouldn’t do is trash the app in review because you’re not happy with the business model. Here’s Ulysses’s rating as of a few minutes ago. This App deserves so much more than 2.5 stars.

While I'm on the subject of Ulysses, I should mention why I subscribed. I use the heck out of this app. It syncs great between iOS and Mac. I like the opinionated design. Of increasing importance to me, it works great with automation on iOS. For example, one of my tricks is that when I set up a new podcast project, Workflow (among other things) creates the skeleton text and links for me in Ulysses so when the show publishes, the post is already half written … by robots!

I’ve also moved all of my text-bank style text into Ulysses and out of Apple Notes. I like the organization in Ulysses better and in Ulysses I can even assemble different text snippets into a starting place for documents without too much effort.

In addition to Ulysses, Disney also announced this week that they are pulling their content out of Netflix to start their own service that will … of course … be a separate subscription. This subscription model is only getting bigger in the years to come.

Thoughts on the CMD-D Conference


Yesterday I spent the day attending the CMD-D: Masters of Automation conference in San Jose.

It was a great deal of fun. The content covered both current scripting techniques along with several up-and-coming methods to automate your Mac, iPad, and iPhone. Highlights included:

  • Multiple talks from Sal Soghoian. My favorite was all about the new push at the Omni Group to implement JavaScript automation that works across all Apple devices and even from the web.
  • Many excellent speakers talking about all forms of automation on macOS and iOS.
  • Learning about the origins are of AppleScript from Jon Pugh, one of its original developers.
  • An automation shoot-out where several attendees took the stage to share their favorite automation workflows.

The content ran into the evening and capped off with a podcast recording among the various speakers talking about where automation currently stands and where it is going.

The entire experience was a good one for me. I feel like I have a better idea where automation technologies are headed and I learned a trick or two. Best of all, there was an overwhelming sense of love in the air. Attendees ranged from people with no experience (but a lot of enthusiasm) to automation veterans and the content was broad enough to offer something for everyone. The sense of community between everyone was awesome and reminded me of the old days at Macworld Expo.


Free Agents 27: Bird in the Bush

One of the truly nice things about being self-employed is the ability to pursue a "passion project" without seeking the approval of others. Passion projects, however, can be a tricky thing. Both Jason and I believe they are important, but we also both believe they can be your undoing. This episode dives deep on the topic of passion projects and how to manage them.

This episode of Free Agents is sponsored by:

Timeline 3D Updates for iOS

I have always been a fan of the Timeline 3D application. I started using it on my Mac but later switched to iOS as the app went multi-platform. Timeline 3D is an engine to make quick, pretty timelines. I like the way the application makes it easy to add new events to your timeline, and I particularly like the way it renders a finalized timeline in three dimensions. This is a great trick if you give lots of presentations. While the application has been around a long time, it continues to get updated with the latest version going up last month.

They have also made some changes to the business model. The developer renamed the classic application Timeline 3D: Education Edition. That is a paid up-front version. If you already bought it, you’re fine. There is also a new Timeline 3D application that is free to download and uses in-app purchases to unlock all the exporting features. If you are new to Timeline 3D, this is the one to download. It lets you get your feet wet with no cost.

Get Control of Your Email with SaneBox (Sponsor)

This week MacSparky is sponsored by SaneBox, the email service that can make you the boss of your email. How are you doing with your inbox these days? Are you the boss of it, or is it the boss of you? For a lot of folks, email is a constant pain, and it doesn’t need to be. With SaneBox, you add a powerful set of email tools that can work in just about any email client. SaneBox allows you to:

  • Wake up everyday to find that the SaneBox robots have automatically sorted your incoming email for you so you can address the important and ignore the irrelevant. 
  • Defer email for hours, days, or weeks so it is out of your life until a more appropriate time.
  • Set secret reminders so if someone doesn’t reply to an important email, SaneBox gives you a nudge to follow up.
  • Automatically save attachments to the cloud (like Dropbox).
  • Use their SaneForward service to automatically send appropriate emails to services such as Evernote, Expensify, and Kayak.
  • Move unwanted email to the SaneBlackHole and never see anything from that person again.

The list goes on. Why not straighten out your email today? I’ve been a paying subscriber for years and can’t imagine getting by without it. If you sign up with this link, you even get a discount off your subscription.

ScreenFlow Updates to Version 7.0

The best screencasting application for Mac, ScreenFlow, recently released version 7.0. There are several new features in this update including:

UI Input

The user interface has some updates and a new dark theme.

Custom Key Mapping


30 and 60 FPS

You can now bump it up to 60 fps.

Play in Reverse

This is a feature I’ve needed several times over the years and glad to see it’s now in.

Text Animation Effects

Choose from a handful of built-in animation effects for all of your text boxes.

Better Audio

This follows up with audio improvements in version 6. You can now edit mp4 files. There are better mixing tools and support for Apple Audio Units.

Touch Bar Support

The new MacBook Pro Touch Bar now works with ScreenFlow.

ScreenFlow is an essential tool if you have any interest in screencasting. Buy it new at $129. Upgrade for just $39 if you purchased a prior version. If you purchased it in the Mac App Store, Telestream has a mechanism to help you upgrade.


Home Screens - Sal Soghoian

This week I’ll be up in San Jose speaking at the CMD-D: Masters of Automation conference. The reason this remarkable conference is happening at all is because of the hard work of Sal Soghoian (website), former head of automation at Apple. The conference is all about automating the Mac and iOS and tickets are still available. Now that Sal is no longer with the giant fruit company, I asked him to share his home screen and he agreed. So Sal, show us your home screen.

First, Sal’s Thoughts on Privacy

I should probably preface my answers by stating that my view of cell-phones is a little “outside of average.” I am quite aware that cell phones are potential personal tracking devices to be used carefully, maybe a little apprehensively, for the convenience of communication. That means, I don't use Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, video streams, etc. So my answers probably seem very “tinfoil“ — LOL! 

Generally, I try to avoid using the phone except for necessary encrypted conversation or messaging. My ideal phone setup would be one that could be erased at any time, with a minimum of resulting hassle. (Still working on keeping email off the phone.) I also carry a Faraday pouch for when I enter stores or public places where customer tracking of phones is an accepted practice.

That said, even though my phone setup is quite customized for my particular view of how the technology should serve me, I think the phone and watch are an amazing communications duo. 

What are some of your favorite apps?

“The Essentials:” ExpressVPN, Signal, Workflow, and NOAA Radar. Using Signal for messaging and ExpressVPN together is like "wearing clothes." Fast, secure, and as easy as throwing on jeans and a shirt; why would anyone run around naked? Workflow eliminates much of the one-finger-tap-at-a-time business. NOAA Radar is info packed and very cool.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

Solitaire. Playing solitaire is calming, focused and rewarding. The one I picked is from MobilityWare. 

My wife sometimes looks at me and doesn't say it, but I know she's thinking, "hey, instead of sitting there putting those cards away, how about your socks?" So, it really is a guilty pleasure. But I deserve it.

What app makes you most productive?

My particular view of how the technology should serve me includes the phone and watch in the roles of 'an amazing communications duo.' Thus, my use of the phone is all about communication, which makes productivity on the phone all about Signal.

What app do you know you're underutilizing?

Generally, the apps I have on the phone suit my purposes for the device. Since my phone is a 5SE with the smallest screen Apple sells, my essential productivity apps, like OmniGraffle and OmniOutliner live on my Mac and iPad Pro.

What is the app you are still missing?

Not sure, I pretty happy with my setup.

How many times a day do you use your iPhone/iPad?

If you count reading news, then all the time. First thing in the morning I read the local paper in the way it lands on my driveway. By the middle of breakfast, I've moved over to the NYTimes and Washington Post on the phone, until the first phone call comes in. And so it goes...

What Today View widgets are you using and why?

I don't use widgets, Siri, or use the phone for scheduling purposes. I do get banking notifications. It's another example of aligning the technology for communications, in this case from the bank.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

Apple’s dedication to securing customers' personal information. By far, the trust placed in Apple to secure personal information means more than money. Thankfully, Apple shares the belief, and Tim Cook beautifully stated it as "Privacy is a fundamental human right."

If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?

Two things:

1) Add a “panic print” — a designated fingerprint that would erase the device immediately upon contact — no confirmation required.

2) Implement a system-wide user-automation scripting language similar to AppleScript on macOS. Magic ensues!

What's on Your Apple Watch?

My Apple Watch has no 3rd-party apps or complications and is set to Micky Mouse. The watch's main function is to alert me to messages and incoming Signal sessions.

What's your wallpaper and why?

A picture of myself so that it is easy to identify which phone in the house is mine.

Anything else you'd like to share?

Thank you for being such a great friend of the Apple Automation community!

My Pleasure. Thanks Sal!


MPU 390: Tagging with Terpstra

It’s been a long time since we dove deep on tagging on the Mac Power Users. On this week’s episode, we invited our favorite tagger, Brett Terpstra, back to the show to talk about how far tagging has come from macOS and iOS and scratch our heads a bit about why it’s not a bigger deal. We also share our favorite tools, workflows, and ideas for implementing a tagging system.

Sponsors include:

  • TextExpander from Smile Type more with less effort! Expand short abbreviations into longer bits of text, even fill-ins, with TextExpander from Smile.
  • 1Password Have you ever forgotten a password? Now you don't have to worry about that anymore. Save up to 20% using this link.
  • Fujitsu ScanSnap ScanSnap Helps You Live a More Productive, Efficient, Paperless Life. 
  • Casper: Because everyone deserves a great night sleep. Get $50 off with the code ‘MPU’

Apple Leaks Concerning the New iPhone

While I usually stand clear of rumors around here, there’s a bit of news concerning the new iPhone that would be hard to ignore. If you like surprises on Keynote day, you may want to stop right here.

Steve Troughton-Smith is well known for spelunking Apple Code and over the last few days he’s found a doozy. Apple is working on the HomePod and put a firmware download for the yet-unreleased product on a public server. The software was meant for public distribution later in this year so it had a lot of code inside about the new iPhone, assuming that the new iPhones would have already been released.

The problem is that it ended up on a public Apple server. So Steve downloaded the code and started exploring and learned quite a bit about the new iPhones and the HomePod including the following.

* The new iPhone will have infra-red face unlock as a biometric verification system. This may mean TouchID goes away entirely on the high-end phone and it unlocks merely by looking at your face.
* The face unlock can work in the light or the dark.
* There was an icon showing there will be no bezel and a little black notch at the top for the camera and other sensors.
* There’s an LED matrix on top of the HomePod for display of shapes and symbols.

I'm sure now that Steve has pointed the way, even more people are digging through this code looking for nuggets. For a company as obsessed with secrecy as Apple, the leak of all this information has got to hurt. While all of the above is nice to know, I'm very interested in hearing Apple’s story about how all this fits together. We’ve all grown to trust TouchID (although it still makes me mad when it won’t unlock because I’ve washed my hands in the last 10 minutes). If they are going to replace it with face identification, it needs to be pretty impressive. The next month is going to be interesting.

Mac Power Users 389: Small Business Workflows with Katie Floyd

The latest episode of Mac Power Users is live. In this episode, Katie shares her story about opening her own business and explains the hardware, software, and workflows she relied on in pulling it off.

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • Eero: Never think about WiFi again. Use code MPU for free overnight shipping.
  • Fujitsu ScanSnap ScanSnap Helps You Live a More Productive, Efficient, Paperless Life. 
  • 1Password Have you ever forgotten a password? Now you don't have to worry about that anymore. 
  • Fracture Bring your photos to life.

TestFlight Expansion and Beta Testing iOS Apps

Yesterday Apple announced it is expanding support for TestFlight, the beta platform for iOS apps, up to 10,000 users. That means iPhone and iPad developers can have up to 10,000 users beta testing their apps. I think this is great. Expanding the test pool allows developers to find more bugs and get feedback from a lot more people. No longer do app developers need to be stingy with beta test invites because they are no longer a rare commodity.

In my opinion, the fact that you're reading this blog probably makes you a good beta tester. If you've got an app you use often and are willing to put yourself on the sharp end of the stick, reach out to the developer and tell them what you love and hate about their app. Tell them how it could be better and volunteer to be a beta tester. I do this for several applications and find it fun to see what's coming and playing a small role in making the apps I love the most better.

If, however, you decide to take the plunge and be a beta tester, make sure you have sufficient time to provide legitimate feedback to the developer. Taking a beta seat and not providing feedback is unfair to the developer. 

PowerPhotos – The Ultimate Toolbox for Photos on the Mac (Sponsor)

This week MacSparky is sponsored by PowerPhotos. Apple has done a great job the last few years getting photo management under control with their new Photos app and cloud storage solutions. Photos, however, like any Apple mainstream software, is missing a lot of geeky power tools serious users need.

That's where PowerPhotos comes in. If you have photos scattered across multiple libraries that you want to merge together, have a library that you want to split up because it's gotten too large, or just want to get rid of duplicate photos, PowerPhotos can help you get your photo collection back in order.

PowerPhotos allows you to work with multiple Photos libraries and store them wherever you want, including on an external drive or a network drive. Split up your giant library into smaller ones by copying photos and albums with a simple drag and drop, preserving metadata such as descriptions and keywords along the way. Or, if you already have multiple libraries, use PowerPhotos to merge them together while weeding out duplicates along the way. PowerPhotos also features a powerful duplicate photo finder, a browser to let you see your photos without even opening up Photos itself, a multi-library search feature, and more.

You may recall an app from the iPhoto days called iPhoto Library Manager that gave you a similar set of tools. PowerPhotos is by the same developer and it’s just as reliable.

So go check out PowerPhotos today. Best of all, MacSparky readers get a 20% discount. Just use the code MACSPARKY at check out.

Free Agents 26: A Batphone to My Heart

The latest episode of the Free Agents is available for download. Telephones and text messaging seem like necessary evils at best, but for many small businesses they're required. You just need to figure out how to use them effectively--and set rules so that they aren't abused. While Jason leaves the phone off the hook, David describes his trial of Google Voice and ultimate decision to use a live receptionist service.