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Posts tagged with "automation"

Drafts for Mac: The MacStories Review


The quest for the perfect text application – for some of us it has been a lifelong goal, or at least it feels like it. I realised very early on in my computing life that I did not enjoy playing with formatting in Word or Pages, and when I discovered that Markdown provides the ability to make items **bold** or _italic_ with just a few simple characters, I felt like I had finally found my text formatting holy grail.

Many years ago I discovered Drafts for iOS, and the idea appealed: you open the application and type. No creating a new file, or trying to decide what to do with the text before the thought is fully formed, just open, type, then decide. I frequently need to jot down notes, save links, and have found being able to write without thinking too much about where the words need to go, and how they’re going to get there, is extremely helpful in today’s world of constant interruptions.

Last year saw Drafts 5 released for iOS with even more capability than before, allowing you to truly customise it to be the text editor you’ve always dreamed of having. There was only one small but important snag – no Mac version.

Today there is a Mac app. It is what many of us have been waiting for, albeit with a few missing features at the moment. Drafts for Mac has landed.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: you’ve probably heard of Marzipan, the Apple project to enable iOS developers to bring their applications to the Mac. This is not one of those apps. It is an app written from the ground up for macOS, which works as expected with the system features.

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Markdown and Automation Experiments with 1Writer

In preparing my reviews of iOS 9 and the iPad Pro, I noticed that my writing process was being slowed down by the lack of multitasking support in my text editor of choice, Editorial. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to move some of my Editorial scripts and workflows to 1Writer, with interesting results and potential for the future.

I have written about Editorial at length on MacStories, and I still find Ole Zorn’s text editor to provide the most powerful combination of Markdown and plain text automation that’s ever been created on iOS. Over the years, I’ve put together hundreds of workflows thanks to Editorial’s visual actions and Python scripting; while some of them were made for fun and intellectual curiosity, the majority of them helped me save time when doing actual work for this website, Relay FM, and Club MacStories. There is no other app with the same feature set and rich Markdown support of Editorial.

Since iOS 9, however, I’ve been wondering whether part of Editorial’s automation could be taken somewhere else, possibly in another app that offered full integration with iOS 9 multitasking. I may have several workflows in Editorial, but I only use a tiny fraction of them on a daily basis for regular work on this website. I’d rather use a text editor that excels at a subset of Markdown workflows and integrates with iOS 9 than a single text editor with every imaginable workflow without proper iOS 9 integration.

It was this realization that pushed me to give 1Writer another look. I first bought the app years ago, but because I had no excuse to explore the world outside of Editorial, I didn’t try to recreate any workflows in it. This time around, I was motivated to rebuild the core of my setup in 1Writer, so I took a deep dive into the app’s automation engine.

Things will likely change again once Editorial supports iOS 9, but in the meantime I’ve developed an appreciation for 1Writer’s design and features that helped me understand the app better.

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Creating and Sharing Text Files In Launch Center Pro

When Launch Center Pro 2.2 was released last month, I mentioned the addition of Dropbox actions for creating and modyfing text files, but I didn’t share any action example because I couldn’t find a possible use of the feature in my workflow. This morning, I realized that my old workflow to generate and share text files with Dropbox could be simplified with Launch Center Pro, so I rewrote it using the app’s new Dropbox functionalities.

I often need to create text files and share them quickly with Dropbox. These are usually notes that don’t fit in a Twitter DM or long crash reports for developers of apps I’m testing. In my old workflow, I used to type file name and file contents in Launch Center Pro, then, with two steps of inter-app communication, upload the file with Drafts, get the shareable link back with Launch Center Pro, and start a new tweet with the link in Tweetbot.

The workflow still gets the job done but the new version is simpler, faster, and more flexible. It’s just three steps:

  • Type file name;
  • Type file contents;
  • Get public link to text file in Dropbox.

With a single action that doesn’t involve switching between apps, I can type a file name in a Launch Center Pro prompt, insert contents manually or by pasting, and hit Done to create a text file in Dropbox. Launch Center Pro gets the link of the just-created file and presents an iOS share sheet with a series of options for the file’s public link so that I’m not limited to Tweetbot anymore; I discovered that I often needed to DM or email a link, and with the old workflow I was forced to start a new tweet then select and copy the link manually from it. With the new action, everything happens inside Launch Center Pro in seconds and I can pick the best option for me (it’s usually “Copy”).

I was skeptical as to whether I would need Dropbox actions in Launch Center Pro, but this workflow shows some clear benefits of Contrast’s app – keyboard prompts and a native share sheet combined with Dropbox text features make for a quick and elegant note-taking and sharing experience.

You can download the action here.


Matching URLs In Editorial with John Gruber’s Regex Pattern

Editorial for iPad

Editorial for iPad

When I’m writing in Editorial, I often need to make sure I’m dealing with a valid URL in the system clipboard, the document editor, or in a variable. To do so, I’ve long employed John Gruber’s liberal, accurate regex pattern for matching URLs, which has reliably allowed me to confirm that a workflow is about to handle a proper URL rather than a string of text that contains something else. Gruber recently improved the regex pattern again, and that seemed like a good opportunity to briefly detail how I’ve integrated his pattern in my workflows.

The key to match URLs and provide error-handling features in Editorial is to use a conditional block based on a regular expression pattern. Editorial comes with this functionality built-in: given a regex pattern, a block of actions can be run only if a value (plain text or variable) matches the pattern. In this way, you can run a set of actions if you have a URL, and another set if you don’t have a valid URL.

I’ve created a simple workflow that can be installed and reused as a preset in other workflows. The workflow, called Match and Open URL, consists of a single If block that checks for a URL contained in the clipboard. If you have a URL that matches Gruber’s pattern, the URL will be extracted from the clipboard and launched in the browser; if you don’t have a URL…it’s up to you to provide an alternative.

Editorial makes it extremely easy to build this kind of advanced workflow with just a few built-in actions. Gruber’s single-line version of the regex pattern can be pasted in Editorial’s If action with no modifications; inside the If block, the text in the clipboard is passed to a Find action that extracts a URL using the same, untouched single-line regex pattern. The extracted URL is opened in the browser and a HUD alert is displayed.

Combining Gruber’s regex pattern and Editorial’s workflow system can yield interesting results. You could use a variable instead of the system clipboard to match URLs; you could implement the pattern in a Repeat block that performs a set of actions for every matched URL found in the target text; instead of having my workflow inside an If block, you could match a URL among other bits of text, extract it, and do something with it. Editorial is a text automation playground and your imagination’s the limit.

You can download the workflow on Editorial Workflows’ website, and check out John Gruber’s regex pattern here.

Note: The screenshot above shows a beta version of Editorial, currently in testing.


TextTool: Text Manipulation On iOS

TextTool

TextTool

It used to be that, to do nerd stuff, you had to get a Mac or PC. As iOS progressed over the years, however, developers saw that users were spending a lot of time trying to do work on their iPhones and iPads, and started building utilities that packed powerful functionalities in what looked like “just an app”. We got Drafts and Launch Center Pro, calendar apps and password managers just as powerful as their desktop counterparts, and, of course, apps to script iOS and a text editor with its own workflow system. To sum up: iOS is still maturing, but there’s no shortage of nerdy apps and utilities at this point.

iOS is great for quick text entry thanks to the portability of an iPhone or iPad mini, but doing advanced text manipulation is a bit tricky unless you want to get dirty with Editorial and Python scripts. On the Mac, it’s easy to fire up Automator and create a workflow that takes a line of text and turns it Into Title Case or UPPERCASE; even going the extra mile and building services to take selected text and indent it or swap spaces with tabs takes a few minutes, but it’s doable with a basic knowledge of built-in OS X tools. On iOS? There’s no Automator (yet?), so, until today, if you wanted to do automated text transformations you’d have to get Editorial and Pythonista or use some of Launch Center Pro’s (limited) text filters.

Craig Pearlman noticed this problem and built TextTool, a $4.99 Universal app that comes with 28 built-in text transformations that you can use inside the app’s text editor or chain to other iOS apps with URL schemes and workflows.

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Send Selected OmniFocus Task to Plain Text File

I save a lot of stuff into OmniFocus: bits of text, URLs, emails. I used to save favorite tweets into it, too. The app’s Quick Entry panel is so easy to invoke and so well-integrated with core parts of OS X  that, most of the time, I find myself clipping information that shouldn’t be into OmniFocus at all. However, I also find the process of manually going through that information beneficial to my workflow: it allows me to mentally and practically separate actionable items (tasks) from things to read and things to write (Instapaper material and my future articles, essentially).

I have created a simple AppleScript to send the selected OmniFocus task to a text file. The script is meant for how I use OmniFocus; hopefully you’ll find it useful as well. Feel free to modify it.

Typically, when I decide to go through my OmniFocus inbox, I find a lot of tasks that are actually ideas of things I want to do or write. Ideas don’t go into OmniFocus. Until those ideas become actionable items, I send them to a text file so I can elaborate on them and see if they can evolve. Like I said, most of the time those ideas are for new articles.

I store all my notes in a single Apps/ directory on my Dropbox. Based off the same AppleScript, I have created a Keyboard Maestro macro to create a new text file for each processed task; this is for ideas I know will turn out to be single, standalone articles. For ideas I’m not so sure about, I prefer to append them as text to an Ideas.txt file I keep in Dropbox as an “everything bucket” for inspiration. Read more


SearchLink: Markdown Links Without The Browser

I don’t know how Brett Terpstra finds the time to do everything he does, but I do know I enjoy the results.

Brett’s latest effort is SearchLink, a system Service to generate Markdown links automatically for a variety of web services. In Brett’s words:

SearchLink is a System Service for OS X that handles searching multiple sources and automatically generating Markdown links for text. It allows you to just write, marking things to link as you go. When you’re done, you run it on the document and — if your queries were good — have your links generated automatically without ever opening a browser.

Essentially, SearchLink is a Ruby script that, in the background, generates valid Markdown for inline links inserted in plain text. These can be links pointing to a Google search, a Mac App Store or iTunes search, last.fm, Wikipedia, and more. Instead of having to switch to the browser when you’re writing, you can just write using SearchLink’s simple syntax. Once you’re done, run the Service, and SearchLink will contact web APIs to transform your text into the first/best result for your query, formatted in Markdown. Read more


Send Favorite Tweets To OmniFocus’ Inbox

In my daily “social networking workflow”, I use the “favorite” feature of Twitter as a todo list of sorts. I couldn’t find a way to add favorites to OmniFocus without leveraging email as a bridge, so I built a solution myself.

Using IFTTT, a single line of bash, Hazel, and AppleScript, I created a simple way to turn a favorite tweet into an OmniFocus task in the application’s inbox, ready for future processing. As an extra, I have also created a more “advanced” version that adds Automator to the mix to only extract URLs from favorite tweets. Read more


Plain Text, Macros, Markdown, and Nebulous Notes

Nebulous Notes

Nebulous Notes

If there’s a category of iOS apps I’m always interested in checking out, that would be text editors. I write for a living, and while a better app won’t make me a better writer, a text editor that works for me can make me type and research more efficiently. Text editors are tools, and I’m always curious to see whether the market is offering new ones to get the job done with faster, smarter techniques. As Gabe said, fiddling often gets a bad rap, but my fiddling with text editors has actually allowed me to find apps that facilitate the only process that matters: typing words on a screen.

In the past year, I have taken a look at several text editors. I compared my favorite ones – picking Writing Kit as my go-to editor and research app – but I also kept WriteUp on my iPad’s Home screen, as the app received some interesting updates including iCloud support and swipe text selection. For the past two months, though, I have found myself coming back to another text editor that I had been previously recommended by various Internet pals: Nebulous Notes. And in spite of my publicly stated praise for Writing Kit, I have been getting lots of writing done with it – so much that I haven’t used any other app for my posts and notes. Read more