Don Southard

50 posts on MacStories since September 2011

Don contributes technical tutorials and app reviews to MacStories. He is also an aspiring developer with a passion for the Apple community and related technologies.

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PaintCode: Vector Drawing to Code

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If you are active in the Apple developer community, you are probably already familiar with PaintCode. It is a unique Mac app capable of turning your vector graphic design into pure Objective-C code. PaintCode is a professional quality app and the price tag is a reflection of that fact. The normal selling price of $99.99 (currently $19.99 via MacHeist) is a big pill to swallow for the average user but for a professional iOS/OS X developer it is merely a business investment. However, it is up to you to get your money’s worth out of the app.

PaintCode is full of tools that blend together the look and feel of traditional vector drawing apps while including customizable fields you would more commonly see in Apple’s Interface Builder. It supports numerous object shapes and custom bezier paths, as well as detailed color options including linear and radial gradients. The app is versatile and the uses are limited only by your imagination.

I thought the best way to give you an overview of PaintCode would be to come up with a sample project that I could walk you through. So I decided to make a menubar icon for a non-existent app. This app lets you drag files to the menubar icon to delete them, thus the icon needs to be a little trash can. Read more


AppleScript, Automator, and Automation Improvements in Mavericks

I have been using Mavericks for a little while now and I have to admit that I was a little slow to get excited about this release of OS X. Once I started to sink my teeth into some of the power-user features, though, it didn’t take long for me to really get sucked into trying out every new geeky addition, specifically all of the new AppleScript features.

I will be the first to admit that AppleScript is not my favorite language and I only ever use it when I absolutely have to, but, with the release of Mavericks, Apple has added some very compelling reasons to give it another chance. I was recently discussing AppleScript with a developer friend of mine, and we agreed that since Apple had begun stripping out some script-related functionality of core apps like iTunes, it would not be surprising if the language was slowly phased out of any upcoming OS releases. However, I was wrong. In a surprising turn of events, Apple decided to breath new life into AppleScript and make it easier than ever to write clean and reusable scripts. Read more


OmniFocus 2 for iPhone: Background Sync and a Bold Redesign

When I pictured what OmniFocus 2 for the iPhone would look like on iOS 7, I pictured simplified monotone icons in a table-view structure that the app has had since it was first released. The reason is probably because when I think of OmniFocus I think of powerful and quality software, however a bold interface is not a characteristic that would ever come to mind. When I opened OmniFocus 2 for the first time, I was shocked. Not to sound dramatic -- I did not fall out of my chair -- but it honestly took me a few seconds to absorb what I was looking at. Read more


Transfer Files with Alfred – Zero Config Required

File transfers between computers on a network can be a pain. No one wants to memorize hostnames and IP addresses are often dynamic. Apple made huge strides in simplifying the process with AirDrop but the UI leaves a lot to be desired especially if you are looking for fast transfers with minimal interactions. If you are an Alfred Powerpack user then you are probably already familiar with the many ways Alfred workflows can speed up simple actions without ever having to take your hands off the keyboard. Wouldn’t it be great if you could transfer files using Alfred with absolutely no configuration?

This is exactly what I had in mind when I made the Alfred File Transfer workflow. So how does it work? It is powered by the pyncp project. A few months ago one of my favorite blogs, One Thing Well, linked to the pyncp project which is a Python port of the popular linux utility – NCP. Pyncp is essentially a command-line tool for copying files across a LAN without any configuration. You simply run the pyncp push command on one computer, then run the pyncp poll command on the second computer and file is transferred. However, I ran in to some initial issues that prevented pyncp from working properly on OS X – so I forked the project, refactored some code, and got it working.

The Alfred File Transfer workflow is simple. First, install the workflow on each computer. Then select a file to transfer in Finder and show the list of available Actions using Alfred’s ⌥ + ⌘ + \ keyboard shortcut. Type push and select the corresponding Alfred action. On the second computer, simply bring up Alfred and type pull – the file will be transferred to the ~/Downloads folder on the destination computer. That is all there is to it!

Check out a video of the workflow in action:

This workflow is simple yet very powerful because it allows you to move files across your network using nothing more than your keyboard. It is worth noting that this does not provide the encryption and security provided by AirDrop so if you are transferring sensitive information on a public network – use with caution. However, I have found it extremely useful on my personal computers at home. If you find this workflow handy be sure to thank Felix Richter for his hard work porting NCP to the Python language.

Download the Alfred File Transfer workflow.


Minibar – Mixing Cocktails With Class

I would not consider myself a mixologist but I do enjoy the occasional adult beverage. Whether it is in an aluminum can or it is finely crafted with aged liquors and muddled with exotic fruits, I will drink it. I originally went through a cocktail making phase when I was really into Mad Men but who hasn’t done that? And up until recently I referred to my bar book when I needed a decent receipe for a mixed drink. I now have a better option — Minibar for the iPhone. Read more



Wingman — Your GitHub Code Concierge

On the surface Wingman is a simple menu bar application that integrates with a Github account to manage projects. As you dive deeper into the app you will find more robust features that help accomplish routine tasks such as the ability to create separate branches for features, bugs, hotfixes, and releases. What makes Wingman so simple to use is not the minimal interface, actually it is the “Task Driven Workflow” that is easy to understand for developers and non-developers alike.

All actions in Wingman start with a task. For example, if you have a bug in your project you would like to work on, you would start by clicking the Wingman icon in the menu bar (or by hitting command+enter on the keyboard) and arrowing down to your repo for that project. If you have already loaded the project then a sub menu will display the available tasks you can perform for that project (e.g. Work on a new bug fix or Work on a new feature). As an example, I chose Work on a new bug fix. Wingman will ask for a name to associate with the bug fix and it even allows you to select a pre-existing GitHub Issue or create a new one at that time. Wingman then goes in to action doing all the work required to create a separate branch for the bug fix as well as cloning it to your local computer. The automated tasks are quick and reliable in my experience. The integration with GitHub Issues is perhaps my favorite part of Wingman. Having a paid account with GitHub for a while now, I love tools that really help me get my moneys worth out of the service. I have been using Wingman with a couple of projects in private repos associated with a GitHub organization account and it has worked flawlessly.

Read more


Apple Releases iOS 6.1.3 With Passcode Bypass Fix

iOS 6.1.3 Update

iOS 6.1.3 Update

Today Apple released iOS 6.1.3. It is an incremental improvement to iOS that includes a security patch for the previously publicized vulnerability that allowed access to the Phone app even when the screen was locked. The release notes also mention improvements to the Maps app for users in Japan. Perhaps some of our kind Japanese readers can give us some insight in to the changes Apple might have made to the Maps app. Finally The Next Web is reporting that some of the vulnerabilities required to jailbreak iOS devices have in fact been patched which means that the cat and mouse game between Apple and the jailbreak community continues.

The update is now available through iTunes and iOS’ Software Update panel and it is assumed that the update will ship to all iOS devices that are iOS 6 compatible.


Alfred 2: Rewritten From The Ground Up, Workflows, Themes, and More

Alfred is one of the few apps that I can honestly say have changed the way I use my Mac. I remember the first time I downloaded Alfred back in 2010, the 0.4.1 beta had just been released. I was frustrated with the complexities of Quicksilver and wanted to try something different so I downloaded that early version of Alfred. I remember thinking it was nice, had a small handful of useful features, but ultimately I got bored and deleted it. I hadn’t even given the app another thought until Apple launched the Mac App Store and Alfred was one of the apps to be initially available in the store. I downloaded the free version and not even a week later I had purchased the PowerPack. I lost countless hours of my life scripting extensions to do anything and everything. Over the next 2 years the app received incremental upgrades adding new features with each release. This led to an overwhelming and hard to navigate labyrinth of settings and preferences.

Alfred 2 doesn’t feel like an incremental upgrade to the original app. I think it could be better described as a fresh start. Rebuilt from the ground up, Alfred 2 sports a more logical preference structure that has been simplified for easy navigation without losing any features from version 1. Most notably, the developers replaced extensions with more powerful workflows. The user interface is larger, cleaner, and has new Retina-ready icons.

Read more


Recovering a Lost QuickTime Recording

I recently wrote up an interview here on MacStories and although I was able to get it posted, I almost had to scrap the entire article because QuickTime crashed and I lost the recording of the interview.

I say it was a crash but to this day I still don’t know what happened. I had recorded my conversation with Ken Case on my Mac using QuickTime X player. The process to record audio with QuickTime is simple enough and it has never failed me in the past. After we got off the phone I immediately hit play on the recording to make sure the sound levels were adequate – first mistake. I should have hit Save then checked the sound levels. Not wanting to listen to the interview on the speakers in my display I paused the interview and left the room to track down my headphones. When I came back the audio recording was gone. The QuickTime application was still running but the recording window was gone.

My stomach dropped.

I frantically started tabbing through all of my open applications to see if anything else had closed, but they were all running. I checked all my desktop spaces and minimized windows but found nothing; it was gone and I hadn’t clicked save.

At this point, I hit up Viticci and started cussing like sailor at my own stupidity. He later told me that when I wrote up this recovery tutorial, I could post exactly what was said in our conversation. However it was so explicit that I decided not to.

Anyway, I started crawling the web for any information I could find on QuickTime temp file locations, Viticci and Cody contributed some suggestions as well.

Here are some of the potential locations I checked via web results:

$TMPDIR/com.apple.QuickTimePlayerX 
~/Library/Caches/QuickTime/ 
/tmp /var/folders/ 
/tmp/501/TemporaryItems/ 
/Library/Application Support/ 
etc... 

Unfortunately, none of those directories turned up anything useful. As last attempt I decided to run some 3rd party recovery software.

I did a quick Google search and downloaded a demo of Disk Drill for Mac. After running it for about an hour, it found a lot of deleted files, but not my QuickTime recording. The problem was I still didn’t even know what format it would be in or what filename it might have.

I soon remembered that I had a copy Data Rescue 3 so I immediately ran it. Data Rescue 3 ran for several hours, well in to the night, and found a lot more than the demo of Disk Drill found. However I was in the same situation, I had a lot of files but none of the audio recordings it found was the interview with Ken Case and I still had no idea where I should be looking.

So I decided I would start another recording in QuickTime, stop it, then check all of those temp location suggestions I had found. Unfortunately I didn't find anything useful doing that.

Then by either divine intervention or a stroke of genius I opened a Terminal window and dragged the little QuickTime icon from the recording window in to the Terminal window and dropped it.

Sure enough, it printed out the location and file name of that test recording.

It all became clear, I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it sooner. Now that QuickTime is sandboxed I needed to look in QuickTime’s container for the temp recording. I finally had all of the information I needed:

In the directory:

/Users/Don/Library/Containers/com.apple.QuickTimePlayerX/Data/Library/Autosave Information 

In a bundle called:

Unsaved QuickTime Player Document.qtpxcomposition 

I simply had to right click on the .qtpxcompostion file and inside I found the .m4a audio recording of my QuickTime test.

Now this is where the magic ends; this next part, the actual recovery of the file was thanks to Time Machine doing hourly updates. I simply had to open the Quicktime Autosave Information directory in Time Machine to the time right after I ended the call with Ken and there was my recording in its sandboxed temp directory.

I know this probably seems like common sense -- just open up Time Machine and recover the file. However if you don’t know the filename or the directory it was located in your backup is not going to be much use. Thus, I felt this was worth sharing in case you are ever in the situation of having to retrieve a lost QuickTime recording.

Now you know where to look.