September has certainly been a memorable month for me. Something from my nerd bucket list has been ticked off and some other pretty significant professional stuff that I expect to be able to share in my October update. While I have not been churning out lots of blog posts this month, I have been busy behind the scenes on a few things and you’ll see some of those coming through in the next few months too.
It has been relatively quiet over on my website this past month, and it was only at the very end of the month I actually managed to get a post out. This one, on Drafts Action Templates came out of a discussion on the Drafts Beta Slack space. Another Drafts user was asking about default action steps, and I posted a response about my approach of template actions as starter actions. I realised shortly after that I’d never posted about this and it could well be rather useful to others, and so the post was written.
I did also post a few new shortcuts to my Shortcuts library . Somehow I had not noticed that I’d crossed the 100 shortcuts available some time back.
One final thing to note is that apparently I didn’t highlight a change to the navigation of the website I made back in July. The home page now features a revised and more compact featured content and projects section, making it easier to jump straight into the most popular content areas I have.
Maybe I should add Excel as well as my Excel posts have been rather popular over the years.
Producing even short video tutorials remains a relatively slow process for me at the moment. I’m not producing stream of consciousness videos, but rather setting out everything ahead of time and trying to keep things as tight as possible to minimise the time to share the information I want to convey to the viewer. I think this is going to very much remain a secondary project, but I am very happy that I finally pushed into producing some videos and I hope that people are getting some value from them. It is closing in on 100 subscribers which is great. I’m not expecting to reach YouTube star status with my tutorials, but if I can help a small community of people with their needs then it’s mission accomplished for me.
I posted a new video in September on Creating a Custom Cleaner in TextSoap. TextSoap is a Mac application that you can use to process and manipulate text. In effect, to clean it up - hence the application’s name. It is a hugely powerful application and while I don’t use it regularly, it is one of those apps that when you need it, it saves you so much time. I can’t even begin to think how many hours it saved me migrating my website from SquareSpace to GitHub a few years back. But, it certainly paid for itself in that one job.
In the video I walk through how you can create your own custom workflow (a cleaner) to process some text and I demonstrate some basic to intermediate actions
In September I also made an update to my YouTube channel’s website. Each page now includes category tags at the bottom that link through to the tag pages, making discovery of related videos beyond the “see also” lists much easier.
The big news of the month for me was my debut appearance on the Mac Power Users podcast. I was asked to guest on the podcast before the summer, and this is definitely something I’d idly mused about in the past, but never thought would happen. I still find it hard to believe that people would be interested to hear me talk about Apple stuff for an hour, but it seems we managed to go for almost two hours (and I still had lots of stuff on my ‘we could talk about…’ list), and that’s excluding the little discussion we had afterwards in More Power Users where I talked a little bit about my newbie experiences with producing video for YouTube.
I think the reception was generally quite positive to the episode, and there was definitely one shortcut I shared that has proven incredibly popular. It is one that I use for capturing notes while listening to podcasts, and it seems to have really captured people’s attention - I guess talking about automation of noting stuff down on podcasts is perfect targeting for an Apple power user podcast!
If you haven’t heard it yet, listen along in your favourite podcast player, or via the Relay website where you can also find the show notes and links to most of the things I mention - not a short list.
Thank you to David and Stephen for inviting me to spend a few hours chatting with them. It was an absolute privilege.
As usual, I’ve also been doing what I can to help people out on a couple of my favourite forums.
There’s been quite a bit going on with Drafts recently, both in betas and on the forum.
I helped one user in their challenge to avoid launching an action twice on identical content. The key is simply to apply a method to track it.
There was a query on support for highlighting in Markdown using a non-standard syntax that I provided some pointers on - specifically around Critic Markup and custom syntaxes.
I did a quick bit of debugging for a user who made “smart tab” and “smart detab” actions.
I managed to workaround a cryptic ‘menu bar navigation’ issue using Shortcuts.
I provided a shortcuts for a user to prepend to a list in Drafts, but unfortunately, there’s a rather pervasive (i.e. affecting not just Drafts) in Shortcuts at the moment that is blocking this from working. Roll on the 16.1 OSes and hopefully a fix. That will then also hopefully address the Drafts 33 broke my shortcuts on iOS issue (where it is a Shortcuts and not a Drafts issue).
I answered a query on how to do mass exports in Drafts.
I provided one user who had a query about whether it was possible to have more folders with some details on folders and workspaces via one of my blog posts on Drafts.
I created an action for a user who was looking yo get the content of a Tweet from the URL.
One user had an action I created for them stop working. It’s been over a month and they still haven’t given me an example of content the date transformation action is failing to process. It is hard to provide support when people do not provide examples.
Another bit of debugging was required for a user where text field focus was working only in Drafts for Mac.
One user looking for a particular option for showing the creation date of a draft was shown a useful inbuilt Drafts feature that solved their request.
An interesting discussion was had on how to handle long strings of text in a prompt text field . The simple answer is “don’t”, but do you know what the alternatives are?
The usual question about how to work around using Drafts when I have two different accounts came up, and still, given the sync architecture of Drafts, there’s no alternative to using iCloud with a single ID.
The Automators podcast forum has either been a little quieter this month, or I’ve been a little busy doing other things. Probably the latter.
A request to build a Shortcut to find and delete photos and video from a specific location lead to a bit of a discussion of position vs region/area, and I am still confused by the user’s desire to not use a particular variable, but this one is a useful view of geographic processing in Shortcuts.
Do you enjoy getting into really technical stuff? Well, the question of is it possible to get labels of files? lead to some interesting discussion and highlighted a flaw in my testing of something (shock horror 😆). It is amazing to see something that appears so simple be so deviously complex thanks to a peculiar evolution of file meta data on macOS.
I helped a user with a query about how to convert straight to smart quotes using some automation.
I helped a user in learning how to alter text in Shortcuts by either appending or prepending. Somehow they didn’t seem to have come across the Text action before, which was honestly a bit of a surprise.
I am not a fan of Meta (née Facebook) and generally do all I can these days to avoid interacting with them, but I tried to help a user who wanted to send an image with text via WhatsApp using Shortcuts - though I did end up borrowing someone’s phone to do so.
One user had a problem with Bypass, my Alfred workflow for working with Apple Shortcuts. They thought that there might be an issue with Bypass in Alfred v5, but I managed to think of a potential Shortcuts naming activity that I then proved could cause the effect they had observed. It turns out I was correct and I had a fix out shortly thereafter.
The same user who hadn’t come across the Text action in Shortcuts came back with a more technical query on how to pass command line arguments to Shortcuts from the clipboard to a Python script. That’s a bit of a confusing approach to data transfer, so I set out a variety of options and I was once again surprised in the response.
A discussion about date formats for an email subject line in Shortcuts branched out to include a discussion of inline image use and highlights once again the need for accuracy in questions and answers.
I managed to help a user whose Pushcut notifications have no sound anymore.
Over the last few months I’ve been quietly compiling a few things in preparation for the MPU podcast episode (many of which I didn’t use and may make an appearance on some podcast in the future if - no plans, but I am open to invitations), and in addition, I’ve been working hard on something to do with my professional work that I expect to come to fruition before October is out. Together they have certainly had an impact on my other projects.
But, now I am back in the swing of things, and there are a few Alfred workflow updates in the works. They may not be thrilling updates, but there is a good chunk of background work going on in them, so I’m considering them to at least be solid foundation-updates.
There are no big new projects leading the way right now (not that there aren’t any big projects underway - I’ve just decided to shift focus for a bit and clear some things out of my backlog I’m itching to deal with), so I am hoping I will be able to ship a bit more content, etc. in the coming months.
Thank you to everyone who has bought me a coffee (or multiple coffees). I really do appreciate it. In fact, I’ve been sat in this coffee shop since 6 AM this morning and it’s now gone 9 AM, which gives you a sense of how long it takes to produce these monthly updates. Without your generosity, these sessions and updates simply wouldn’t happen.