To say we’ve followed Shortcuts closely at MacStories is probably an understatement. Federico was relying on it to run MacStories months before it was publicly released as Workflow, and today, the app is deeply embedded in every aspect of our production of the website, podcasts, and Club MacStories content, as well as the way we operate the business.
As someone who works across a Mac and iPad all day, the lack of Shortcuts on the Mac was frustrating, but something I was willing to deal with because the app was such a good fit for the way I worked, even when I had to run it in parallel to my Mac instead of on it. Going into WWDC, though, my feelings about automation on the Mac aligned closely to what Jason Snell wrote on Six Colors earlier this year. As we discussed on AppStories, the time had come for Shortcuts to be available on all of Apple’s platforms, which was why I was so pleased to see it become a reality during this week’s WWDC keynote.
With WWDC around the corner and speculation continuing about why Apple purchased Workflow a little over a year ago, Wired has published a profile of Sal Soghoian, who worked on Automator at Apple until 2016. The feature piece, also covers the development of x-callback-urls on iOS and the introduction Workflow, which was acquired by Apple in 2017.
As Wired explains:
Soghoian is a guy who’s built a long career creating technology that lets users hand the tedium of repetitive grunt work off to their computers in creative ways. In the early 2000s, he created a program that let Mac users turn clunky, multi-step tasks into something that could be run at any time with just a double click of the mouse. This process, and the field where Soghoian’s excels, is known as PC automation. Nearly a decade after the original Automator app arrived on the Mac, a group of hungry iOS developers were inspired to hard-code a way for apps to share information between each other. The creation, which built upon Soghian’s [sic] work, made iOS more elegant and useful.
Automation has a long history at Apple. However, in the 18 months or so since Soghoian left Apple and roughly one year since the company acquired Workflow, Apple has been relatively quiet about automation. One of my hopes for WWDC this year is that we start to see signs of why Apple acquired Workflow and its team of talented developers that include the incorporation of some of their automation work into iOS and macOS.
Last week, the good folks at Junecloud released a completely rewritten suite of Automator actions aimed at people who work with images and files for the web. The actions are now faster, more flexible, and they work on OS X Mavericks. I’m looking forward to playing with them.
A few weeks ago, while I was preparing my coverage of Apple’s Q2 2013 earnings call, I grew tired of my system to resize and rename images on OS X, so I rebuilt it from scratch using Automator, Name Mangler 3, and TextExpander.
When I create images for MacStories, I either keep them at a single size between 600 and 650 pixels, or use two separate versions: the original larger size, and a smaller one that links to the full version. In either case, images are uploaded to our CDN with Cyberduck, which I have been using for years and that has never failed me. Until last month, the process of duplicating the larger image and saving it to a smaller size was entirely manual – something that, I later realized, was surprising considering I try to automate as many aspects of my daily workflow as possible. I decided to fix this before the Apple earnings call because I knew Excel was going to export our charts as large PNGs – but, mostly, because it really didn’t make sense to keep on manually clicking menus and selecting sizes after all these years of writing for MacStories. Read more
Automatic Screenshot Uploading with Dropbox and Automator
Matteo Agosti figured out a simple yet effective way to upload items to your Dropbox Public folder and automatically receive their URLs in the clipboard: Automator.
After long time using various utilities to automatically share my screen shots when I updated to Montain Lion I had to find another solution as many of them stopped working. It came to my mind that OS X is bundled with Automator, an extremely powerful utility that I always relegated to thumbnails generation. So I decided to give it a try and I eventually made it. That’s how I did.
His folder action is extremely simple: it monitors a folder, filters items that begin with “Screen Shot” and that are images, then moves them to your Dropbox Public folder. By using your unique Dropbox ID, it places a link in the clipboard guessing what the final URL will look like; the URL is made of the standard initial “dropbox.com/u/” portion combined with a URL-encoded version of the file’s name.
The obvious downside is that this workflow isn’t directly communicating (i.e. uploading) with Dropbox: it’s simply moving files and composing the link that you will get once the upload is finished. In my tests, for instance, the URL received by the workflow became available after 10-20 seconds – when the Dropbox app actually finished uploading the file. After that, the URL was indeed correct.
Still, if you’re looking for a simple way to upload public Dropbox files and get a link back, you should check out Matteo’s post.
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
Use Term.ly As A Dictionary Pop-Up on OS X
Earlier this week, Gabe of Macdrifter shared a great tip to use Term.ly, the dictionary service, as a pop-up to get definitions on OS X without opening the Term.ly website in the browser. His method requires building an Automator service that uses the “Website popup” action to display web contents inside a floating window, optionally using an iPhone resolution to get the mobile website.
I created an Automator service that allows me to select some text and then pop open the Term.ly definition as a small pop-over panel. I can then select a word in Term.ly and it will replace the selected word in my document and add the new term to my clipboard.
I like Term.ly because it’s easy to use, yet the content is focused and in-depth. For instance, the service will offer you “more specific” or “less specific” alternative words to choose from, and if it “understands” the word you’re passing along, say “tree”, it’ll also display options for “made of” (wood) and “member of” (forest). It’s really clever.
Gabe mentions it’s also possible to call the service using Launchbar. If you, like me, use Alfred instead, you can set up an extension that looks up words using Gabe’s workflow, as you can see in the screenshot above.
Term.ly is run by Agile Tortoise, which also happens to make two of my favorite iOS apps – Drafts and Terminology.
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
Automator, the suite of automation tools for OS X that can create user workflows, services or apps, has received a series of interesting improvements in Lion, some of them useful additions that will likely eliminate the need for certain kinds of third-party software for many users. In spite of Lion being described as a “user-friendly” OS thanks to the implementation of gestures or full-screen apps, as we’ve seen in our review and other articles following the Mac App Store launch it’s clear there’s still much room for tweaking and “taking control” of the OS when you want to get the most out of it. Take the Option key for example: Option has been capable of reversing certain behaviors in Mac apps for quite some time, but in Lion it gets a whole new usage as it can reverse the entire Resume system, show the Library in the Finder’s menubar, or change the Finder’s “Arrange By” feature to “Sort By”. And that’s just the Option key. Personally, I disagree on the assumption that Apple is “dumbing down” the operating system only by introducing functionalities that make interacting with a computer easier. The way I see it, Lion is the most powerful and feature-rich version of OS X to date (and several developers, from a technical standpoint, agree with this) and, actually, the gestures themselves can appease any power user when correctly mastered. Lion may look simpler on the surface (and to an extent, I can see why the addition of the Launchpad doesn’t help as far as this argument goes), but it’s a very powerful entry in the OS X family once you take a peek under the hood. Read more