Month: May 2018

Add a New Task to Things 3 – Workflow Wednesday

For this edition of Workflow Wednesday I am keeping things in Drafts 5. I have been going all-in with Drafts 5 and one thing I absolutely love is the ability to make Drafts whatever kind of app you want.

It can be a Task management app, like this workflow shows, or a writing app as I have been using it recently. The versatility and power this app can’t be overstated enough. It is crazy what people have come up with it.

Matt Birchler of Birchtree.me has made a very easy way to add tasks with the specific things you want in it very easy with Drafts.

Matt Birchler’s Drafts 5 List:

The task name must always be on the first line. Additional info needs to be prefixed by a set number of strings followed by a space:

  • “at” or “@“ are for due dates (using Things’ smart time parsing, so “10am tomorrow” works)

  • “tag” or “tags” are for tags

  • “deadline” or “dead” are for deadlines

  • “list” is for projects/lists

  • “note” or “-“ (dash) will create a note

  • All lines that don’t match up with a prefix listed above will be assumed to be a note

He goes on to present this example:

    
        Buy some milk
        at 8am tomorrow
        list grocery
        2%
    

Creates a task to "Buy some milk" due tomorrow at 8AM on the Grocery list/project and a note to buy "2%" milk

You can download the Drafts Action, and if you want more check out Matt’s post or go look at the multitude of automation options for Drafts (an many more apps) over at Automation Orchard where I found this one.

Uncanny Valley and the iPad

The iPad is a great machine and has come a long way over the past 10 years. With that said, there are still some things that people who are long-time Mac users will stick their nose up at. Things like advanced multi-tasking and Sandboxing have long been issues Mac Power Users have touted to be inferior on the iPad. Other things like using an iPad as a laptop replacement is argued to be only possible with sacrifice.

While I don’t necessarily believe in all of these claims I have to admit there is some merit to the issues that are raised by long-time Mac users. I have found myself getting more and more frustrated with the iPad. Not because I am doing more with it, I have been writing and blogging on an iPad for some time now and have never changed what I did on that machine. The reason for my frustration to be growing is because of something called Uncanny Valley.

The definition of Uncanny Valley is as follows:

used in reference to the phenomenon whereby a computer-generated figure or humanoid robot bearing a near-identical resemblance to a human being arouses a sense of unease or revulsion in the person viewing it.

For me it is more simply when I notice something that is very close to being optimal but isn’t quite there. For a lot of the things I do on the iPad, this term could be used.

Why the iPad is so close, yet so far

I have been touting being iPad only for nearly 6 months until recently. One of the reasons for me to crack open the MacBook Air again was because of how I decided to spend less time making the iPad conform to what I want and just use the Mac because I know it will work the way I want it to in certain situations.

For me, it started with editing a podcast. Ferrite is good but I am so used to Hindenburg that I am really fast on it and I felt using a new piece of software was more of a hindrance than a new skillset. I was so used to editing with Hindenburg that I felt that learning how to edit with Ferrite wasn’t worth the time as I was already pretty speedy on my Mac. It wasn’t a matter of if I could but rather a matter of if I should.

Soon this started to fall into the blogging parts of my life. I could write with Ulysses without issue but I wanted something that I could use to handle my posts after they are published. I wanted to use something like MarsEdit for my iPad. But when the only thing available is the sub-par WordPress app on iOS I decided to being my blogging over to my Mac as well. I am happy with MarsEdit, but that isn’t to say I can’t use the iPad for writing. In fact I think the iPad is more efficient when it comes to writing than a Mac. I can use apps like Drafts 5 and Workflow to manage my text and format things faster than I could on a Mac.

Where it Stands for Others

Outside of my experience, I don’t think this Uncanny Valley phenomenon is anything new. I think the comparison of the iPad and Mac has been around for quite some time. You can do a quick google search and find articles from several years ago about how whether an iPad is or isn’t qualified to be a replacement for a Mac. However, because the iPad has gained more and more power and functionality it isn’t a stretch to believe that the reason why so many people aren’t team iPad is because it can’t handle the handful of things people use a Mac for over an iPad. Those small, but important, things are what prevents people from moving to the iPad full time. When you are given a microscope you notice the small things a lot more easily, and that is what is going on today with the iPad and Mac comparisons.

It isn’t impossible to use an iPad full time, I would know; but it doesn’t come without its drawbacks. They may be minor drawbacks when looking at the whole picture, but they are bigger when you look as close as many do when looking for a new device.

For me, I don’t plan to get a new Mac or iPad even if WWDC does bring some in the coming weeks. I am more than able to get by with my 2015 MacBook Air and 10.5” iPad Pro. Both handle my writing without issue, and both have the ability to edit podcasts without being bogged down. I am happy with both, or either, machines as of today, but that isn’t the case for everyone.

Automation

When it comes to automating things like blog posts and show notes for my podcasts I am still using the iPad. It is my bread and butter for formatting things the particular way I want them and I am not savvy enough on a Mac to make that happen as of yet.

Drafts 5, while being a new addition to my arsenal of daily apps, is the biggest factor for me choosing whether to use a Mac or an iPad. It is such a powerful tool that I can’t help but be drawn towards it.

Workflow is also an app I use daily for a multitude of things. From managing my images and having them formatted correctly to using it for converting lists into markdown. It really is a Swiss army knife that allows me to work between apps. Without it I don’t think the iPad would even come close to being a Mac alternative.

What This Means For the iPad and Mac Today

Right now, before WWDC 2018, I think the Mac needs some serious changes to the hardware. Specifically the keyboards. One of the biggest reasons I would move people towards an iPad today is because they don’t have to worry about a speck of dust destroying their entire machine. The iPad Pro is compatible in pricing, and, as I said before, can handle pretty much anything you throw at it. The Mac needs some changes in order to be worthwhile again, but that doesn’t mean the iPad is better overall.

I think the iPad needs changes to the software. The bugs in iOS 11 have been less than ideal, and I think that is one of the biggest issues I have found with the iPad ecosystem as a whole. I am hoping that iOS 12 handles these bug and squashed them once and for all. If that does happen, I expect I’ll be moving more towards the iPad with my work.

Until then though I am enjoying the experiment of finding where my work is better suited for. It is less about what I can do on the devices I own, and more about where my time and attention are better suited for with each thing I do.

Interview with Rosemary Orchard, Creator of Automation Orchard

I had the pleasure of conducting an interview via email with Rose Orchard, a developer, blogger, and creator of Automation Orchard. Rose came on my radar when I found her on micro.blog a lot more over Twitter and Facebook. When I really learned more about her was on an episode of Mac Power Users and the launch of Automation Orchard. If you use an iPad or iPhone and want to make it an automation machine this is a fantastic place to start.

I wanted to pick her brain a little about creating this project and how her workflows look as well. So I shot her some questions and this is what came from that. I want to thank Rose for doing this and taking her time. If you want to check how her stuff (I highly suggest you do) you can find her on her personal blog, and over at Automation Orchard.

1. Can you tell the readers a little bit about yourself and who you are?

I’m Rose, originally from the U.K. and living in Austria. I studied foreign languages at university and am currently working on my MSc in Computing (Software Engineering). I’ve been into computers ever since I was allowed to play with them but it took me a long time to decide that technology and programming were the career for me. Nowadays I’m a developer in Vienna.

2. You recently launched a very impressive website called Automation Orchard, can you talk about what this site is and what it provides?

It’s a collection of resources with tags – so if you want to learn about Keyboard Maestro you can filter for that, or if you want to see automation for Things 3 then you can search for that too. The idea is it’s a one stop shop to find the resources – the articles themselves are of course on their original websites.

3. This website really is impressive, it has a ton of content and curation in it. How long did this take you to build? What kinds of workflows did you use to make this process easier for you?

It took me a little longer than I had planned to build – I changed the content structure about 3 times! In the end I did it over the course of about 4 months though.

I decided early on the easiest way to collect the content was to use RSS and JSON feeds. So I started with the basics – MacStories, MacSparky, and kept adding more sites. I used Pythonista on my iPad to go through and save data about the articles, and then Workflow to review each article and create the posts if I chose to.

4. You also blog on your own website using Grav. Is this something that you use an iPad for?

Yes! I do most things on iOS nowadays. I write my blog post drafts in Drafts, and then when they’re done upload them via SFTP using Coda. Grav does have an admin UI but I rarely use it myself.

5. Automation is clearly a very important topic and a passion of yours, can you elaborate how this came to be such an interest for you?

I’ve always tried to avoid doing unnecessary work – from the beginning of my university studies I kept my bibliographies in a Numbers document – simply so I could automatically sort the entries alphabetically and paste them in at the end of an essay. I’m not quite sure why automation in particular caught my attention, but saving time and effort is certainly why I’m still interested today.

6. What is something you use for automation that you’re proud of? This can be anything you want.

I created Automation Orchard almost entirely with automation tools – I’m pretty proud of that! I’ve also got a lot of scripts I use at work to help me create and update documents quickly which save me lots of time.

7. If someone wanted to get into automation, but maybe needed some help getting their feet wet, what would you say to them?

Look for something you do a lot, and automate one step in it. Break it down into chunks, and find something simple – for example sending an email that has today’s date in it. Once you’ve got that step you can look at the next one.

8. How do you use iOS and the iPad in your work?

At work my iPad is my OmniFocus tool, it sits below my monitor and shows me my ever-growing to do list. For Automation Orchard my iPad is where I do all of my work now. I did use my Mac to set up a local site for testing and to edit the theme, but nowadays it’s all on iOS – and that’s the same for my blog too.

9. What are some pros/cons you have found when using iOS in your work?

My iPad is fun to use. I use it more like a traditional laptop than many would I suspect – with a keyboard almost permanently attached, that’s a definite pro. There are cons of course – some apps just aren’t as good as their Mac counterparts, though thankfully most of the apps I use seem to not be of that kind.

One con is people don’t really take you seriously with an iPad – at least until you show them what it can do. I remember a meeting last year where I got looked at more than once for using my iPad, but once I plugged it into the projector and used GoodNotes to sketch out the diagram we’d been discussing (using their shape recognition tool), and then typed up the notes we wanted recorded it became a nonissue.

Accessible 001: Massive Move

In celebration of Global Accessibility Awareness Day I wanted to showcase a new podcast by Steven Aquino and Timothy Buck called Accessible.

The podcast is by two Indie Bloggers that I admire and follow, and the podcast is all about “the accessibility in tech.”

Accessible is a fortnightly—episodes are released twice per month—podcast about accessibility in tech. Topics covered on the show are mostly Apple-centric but will span the tech industry at large where appropriate.

Episode 1 was recently released, so you can listen to it now and be part of the beginning of another great tech podcast.

Congrats to the both of them and I can’t wait to see how this show blossoms in the future.

Day One Course by The Sweet Setup

What’s In My Day One (2018 Edition):

I recently shared that if there were one single app I could hope to encourage folks to start using, it would be Day One.

Journaling has so many benefits, and Day One is an app that has made it easier and more enjoyable for me to maintain my journaling habit for years and years. In my little slice of the world it’s this app that serves one of the few that can be used to genuinely change and improve your life.

This post really got me thinking about what kinds of things you can do with Day One, and made me reinstall it on all of my devices. I guess I’ll report back after I try this course by Shawn.

Shawn Blanc is one of those guys that I buy products from on day one (no pun intended). He has made great courses for Ulysses and Things 3, and Day One has been on my list of apps I need to use more. So I’ll be buying his course come May 22nd for sure.

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