Ernest Rudak (Twitter)(website), a blind Mac power user, wrote a really informative piece on using AppleScript to announce glanceable information. Of course, as someone who’s not visually impaired, there are a lot of things I take for granted or never really thought about, like getting information like time, day, or date with a quick glance on my iPhone. Ernest, with an interest in automation, Keyboard Maestro, and keyboard shortcuts, came up with a solution by writing an AppleScript. Have a go and read it for yourself to see what works for him. I agree with him that the best automations aren’t the ones filled with endless lines of code, but the “small utilities which smoothly fits in your everyday workflow.”
Last week we got notice that Logitech will no longer be making the Harmony remote. I’ve heard from so many listeners and readers over the years who made the Harmony remote an essential piece of their home-automation infrastructure. I tried using one but found it just didn’t work with my brand of TV. Nevertheless, I could see the clear value it had.
It’s interesting that as we go deeper down this rabbit hole of Internet-of-Things, we’re losing a vital tool for many people. Maybe the answer going forward is for TVs to become more automation aware, but I suspect that is asking a lot in an already low-margin business.
If you have an existing Harmony remote, Logitech promises ongoing software updates, but I don’t expect that to last forever. I’d start looking for your Plan B.
This week Jason Snell wrote an excellent article about the need for Apple to bring Shortcuts to the Mac. I’ve been thinking about that article a lot. My position on Apple bringing Shortcuts to the Mac has always been, “wait”. The reason being that automation is alive and well on the Mac. With a much more open platform and the existence of Apple events, AppleScript, Keyboard Maestro, Hazel, TextExpander, and the ability to run virtually any scripting language via the terminal, there is very little that I can not automate on my Mac.
The iPhone and iPad, however, are a much different story. Apple had no automation tools on its mobile platforms until Shortcuts came along. Shortcuts is, practically, the only way to automate on mobile and for years now there has been lots of low-hanging fruit on mobile that Shortcuts has yet to pick.
I wanted Apple to keep the Shortcuts team working exclusively on mobile so it could get better rather than spend its time moving Shortcuts over the Mac. However, Jason’s article has moved me on this. While my argument about waiting made sense a few years ago, nowadays we’ve got Apple Silicon Macs and Shortcuts on mobile is a lot more powerful than it used to be. Moreover, even with all the above-mentioned Mac automation tools, there is room under the tent for one more. If done right, we’d be able to pull Shortcuts actions into scripts and Keyboard Maestro and make those tools even more powerful.
So put me on team Mac Shortcuts. Let’s hope WWDC 2021 brings us Automators some new toys.
Stephen Millard has made an ingenious shortcut that solves the problem of generating icons. The particular itch that Stephen was trying to scratch was the development of icons for his Stream Deck. However, if you do any automation, you’re constantly bumping into places that you’d like to have icons. One of the things I particularly like about Stephen’s solution is the way it works with Apple’s SF Symbols, which I like.
Either way, if you want to render 10 or 10,000 icons this weekend, check this out.
For years now, many of us have had a standing “Yeah, but” for IFTTT. It’s an excellent service that reliably connects things on the Internet for simple automation. BUT, it has never embraced the complexity that you start looking for about 10 minutes after you first try the service. I’ve lamented the lack of conditional logic and triggers for multiple events so many times. I’ve stated on the blog and podcasts numerous times that if only they give me more complex tools, I’d gladly pay for the service. This week IFTTT called my bluff.
IFTTT Pro has now launched with all the features I’ve been pining for:
Queries and conditional logic
Faster Applet execution
If you buy in during the next four weeks, you can even set your own price. I’m now an official IFTTT Pro subscriber, and I’ve got time blocked to play with these new tools. Expect more on this to come, but if you are interested, I recommend subscribing in the next month to get it at a price that makes sense to you.
Automators take note. Pushcut has received several updates over the past few months, improving the ability to trigger automation on iOS in creative ways. The original idea behind the app was to give folks the ability to trigger iOS automation beyond those limits Apple provides with Siri Shortcuts. With Pushcut, you can use things like webhooks and iBeacon devices as automation triggers. This is pretty impressive. We interviewed Pushcut’s developer, Simon Leeb, on the Automators a few months ago.
Since that time, Pushcut has got even more interesting with the ability to set up an iOS device as a server, and most recently, integration with IFTTT. This could allow you to trigger a shortcut from Alexa or set a HomeKit scene from Google home.
I love how third-party developers keep pushing the iOS automation envelope by giving Shortcuts even more external tools. I’ll be updating the Shortcuts Field Guide with some video examples of Pushcut, but in the meantime, I encourage you to check it out.
I’ve always like the way OmniFocus can create links to Apple Mail messages when saving an email as a task. With help from listener Jacob (@evansio), I’ve now got a script that can do that anywhere via a text expander snippet. Here’s the AppleScript:
(* Returns a link to the first selected Apple Mail message *) tell application "Mail" set _msgs to selected messages of message viewer 0 if (_msgs is not equal to missing value) then set _msg to first item of _msgs set _msgID to do shell script "/usr/bin/python -c 'import sys, urllib; print urllib.quote(sys.argv)' " & (message id of _msg) return "message://%3C" & (_msgID) & "%3E" end if end tell
Here is that script embedded in a TextExpander Snippet. I’m using the abbreviation “elink”
That’s it. Once you’ve installed it, just type “elink” in any app that can take a URL and you create a link to the currently selected email message. I use it all the time in Notes and Calendar note fields but it really works anywhere. Here’s a short explanatory video.
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.
When we had Sal Saghoian on the Mac Power Users a few months ago, I observed that one of the best things about him leaving Apple is that he gets to share more with us automation-loving nerds. It looks like Sal is pretty serious about that because he is putting on a conference with Paul Kent (the former conference organizer for Macworld Expo). CMD-D is a one day conference in August in Santa Clara all about Mac and iOS automation.
If you’re thinking about attending, I’d recommend it. I took a two-day AppleScript course from Sal several years ago and can attest that he’s not only very knowledgeable on the subject of automation, he’s also a great teacher. Learn more at the CMD-D website.
Recently a client sent me a contract electronically by taking a series of photos of a document. This happens to me once in a while, and usually I open the individual images in Preview, combine them, and save them as PDF. I received another such series of photos this morning and finally decided to automate this process so I don’t have to do it manually anymore. Automator to the rescue.
Why I Love Automator Services
Automator has the ability to create Services. These are little programs that reside in the contextual menu on your Mac. Right-clicking on a file gives you an option to employ Services. The nice thing about Services is that they stay out of the way until you need them, and then they are there, just a right-click away. (All screenshots in this post will get bigger on your screen if you click them.)
So I decided to make my little automation routine for combining PDF files a Service. This happens after you open the Automator App and click New in the File menu.
In order to get to the Services menu, you’ve already selected a file. This means the Services don’t need the typical file-selection nonsense. To run the Service, you’ll first select the images you want to combine and convert to PDF. Clever, right?
Because the Service we are creating is made specifically to turn images into PDFs, we don’t want our Macs to try and use it against other types of files such as text files or music files. Therefore, we will limit the Service so that it only works when it receives image files.
Now Let’s Get Automating
If you’ve never used Automator before, don’t sweat it. It’s easy. Automator has a series of tools on the left side that you drag into your workflow on the right side. You stack those together like LEGO bricks and at the end you’ve created a program. This Automator workflow has just two bricks. The first thing we’ll need to do is take the existing images and convert them into a single PDF.
Fortunately, Automator has a tool specifically for this job named, not surprisingly, “New PDF From Images”. Go in the Search bar for Automator and type “new PDF”, and the search gets you there.
Drag the tool into the workflow area and we’re halfway there.
The Quartz Filter
We could really stop with just the one step and convert the images to PDF, but there is still a problem. Photos converted to PDF still make lousy documents. They have lots of color and are hard to read.
MacOS has quartz filters built in that can change the way a PDF looks. There’s also an Automator tool to apply a quartz filter right in your workflow. So go ahead and search for “quartz”.
Drag the “Apply Quartz Filter to PDF Documents” tool into the workflow. When you do that, however, you’ll get the following dialog.
This dialogue is Automator being extra careful that you don’t override something you want to keep. For this workflow, I clicked “Don’t Add”.
After that, you’ll see the workflow with both steps.
You’ll note in the above screenshot that the quartz filter isn’t doing anything yet. Time to change that. Click on the arrow next to the filter and select “Black & White”. This converts the color image to a black-and-white image and makes the document much easier to read and edit.
That’s it. Save the script, select some images, right-click on them, and try it out from your Services menu.