General

Productivity Tools for 2020

As we get 2020 underway, I wanted to list a few of the tools I've been using that make a huge difference in my productivity. I use these on a daily basis and they have proven their worth on multiple occasions. This isn't a complete list, but just about everyone can benefit from these tools. They are extremely powerful in what they do, yet easy to learn and understand.

Productivity Tools for 2020

2Do – My choice for task management when testing, for creating checklists, for creating ToDo lists and keeping track of bills and appointments.

Alfred – An automation and workflow tools I have recently added that has already saved huge amounts of time. Navigate Finder using the keyboard, set up custom web searches, find files, set up snippets, make a clipboard manager and build workflows. I've made several of my own custom searches and built some very nice workflows.

CodeRunner – My choice for writing and testing small snippets of code. Works for Java, Groovy, Bash, AppleScript and others.

CopyLess – A very useful clipboard manager that sits on a secondary monitor so I can pull out names and figures with a click.

DevonAgent – An absolute must for those doing research and deep dive searches. Search through hundreds of websites for the information you need while tossing away duplicates.

DevonThink – The most powerful document management tool I have ever used. It stores documents, web site archives, source code, emails, news feeds and just about every other type of information you have on your machine. An absolute gem.

Dozer – Clean up the menu bar with this well designed tool.

Infinity Dashboard – Monitors websites so I don't have to. I use it almost exclusively to monitor price changes on Amazon. In that regard, it's already saved a couple hundred dollars.

Keyboard Maestro – The other half of my automation engine. Set up keyboard shortcuts, automate applications or build your own. An incredibly handy and extremely powerful tool for getting work done in a fraction of the time. You can probably replace paid applications by using this one.

LibreOffice – No interest in Microsoft Office by whatever name they call it. LibreOffice is powerful, effective and has features I actually use.

MiniNote Pro – I have several note taking tools, but MiniNote is the most used. I use it for quick notes about a project or topic I'm working on. It has effective organization to group topics together. It's also a great way to push notes from my Mac at work, to my Mac at home.

MWeb – Another very powerful note taking tool with Markdown capability. Great organization, themes, formatting tools, export capabilities and can publish to the web.

PopClip – My little friend to help format, link, delete or push my selected text to another app. I didn't know how useful this would be until I started using it.

Quitter – A great tool for closing down apps you aren't using. Keep you system tidy and regain some memory for tasks you've completed or will come back to later.

Scrivener – The most glorious word processing tool I have ever used. I've had Scrivener for 5 years now and I don't write documents in anything else. If it's more than a paragraph, it's written in Scrivener.

Simon – It monitors websites so I don't have to. While Infinity Dashboard has some built in modules, with Simon you can monitor anything. Check for new articles, software updates, uploads, or be notified if a site goes down. It's a little more "do it yourself" but very powerful.

SnagIt – One of the best screen capture tools around.

SnippetsLab – If there's a code fragments I'm going to use again, this is where it goes. Great for all types of notes, not just code.

TextSoap – An incredible text formatting tool with a solid editor. Parse text with built in cleaners or build your own. I'm not entirely sure there's a limit to how this can be used. It's an IDE for building ways to parse, clean and copy text.

TypeIt4Me – My choice for text expansion. This has saved so much time and helped fill in so many forms. If you write code, send template emails, work in tech support, or have any reason to write the same piece of text more than once, TypeIt4Me is a must have. It's easy to set up and will save you days of typing.

WindowManager – A great way to keep windows organized. Snap windows to a position on your screen. Maximize, half-size, center, or in the right hand corner, this app makes window position incredibly easy.

Other articles of interest:

Wait for a Volume to Mount or Unmount/Eject in AppleScript

In working with Alfred, I've created a workflow that loads files from a Volume (DMG) file. In order for this to work correctly, I need the script to wait until the volume is actually loaded and visible in Finder before continuing.

This can be done a few different ways, but here is the AppleScript code I'm using which works with Alfred or Keyboard Maestro. It's based on several examples I found.

The first script gets the name of the mounted volumes and keeps looping until the expected volume shows up in the list.

The second script is the opposite. It keeps looping and trying to eject the disk until the name isn't in the list of mounted volumes.

Wait for Volume to be Mounted

set mountedDisk1 to list disks
set thevolume1 to "Insert Volume Name Here"
set wasmounted to false
set counter to 0
set max_number_of_iteration to 30

--activate
--use activate to bring dialog to front
if mountedDisk1 contains thevolume1 then
    set wasmounted to true
end if

if wasmounted is false then
    delay 1
    tell application "Finder"
        if (not (exists (disk thevolume1))) then
            repeat until (mountedDisk1 contains thevolume1 or counter is greater than max_number_of_iteration)
            set mountedDisk1 to list disks
            if mountedDisk1 contains thevolume1 then
                --successful
            end if
            delay 1
            set counter to counter + 1
            end repeat
        end if
    end tell
end if

Wait for Volume to be Unmounted/Ejected

set mountedDisk1 to list disks
set thevolume1 to "Insert Volume Name Here"
set wasmounted to false
set counter to 0
set max_number_of_iteration to 30

--activate
--use activate to bring dialog to front
if mountedDisk1 contains thevolume1 then
    set wasmounted to true
end if

if wasmounted is true then
    delay 1
    tell application "Finder"
    eject disk thevolume1
        if ((exists (disk thevolume1))) then
            repeat until (mountedDisk1 does not contain thevolume1 or counter is greater than max_number_of_iteration)
            set mountedDisk1 to list disks
            if mountedDisk1 contains thevolume1 then
                eject disk thevolume1
            end if
            delay 1
            set counter to counter + 1
            end repeat
        end if
    end tell
end if

Adapted from:
https://macscripter.net/viewtopic.php?id=29886
https://stackoverflow.com/questions/14266855/applescript-to-mount-drive-and-once-finished-report-if-successful

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It’s all about templates, macros and workflows in 2020

Over this holiday break I have been excitedly playing with Alfred and Keyboard Maestro to the point where I might be wasting time trying to find ways to save time.

In reality, I've created multiple workflows in each application to accomplish some trivial, but still useful tasks.

While looking up some examples for Keyboard Maestro, I followed the demo and set my machine to empty the system trash every Friday night at 10pm. Yes, the system does it, but this is more efficient.

I took that idea and set Keyboard Maestro to empty the trash in DevonThink Office at the same time. Keyboard Maestro can enter keystrokes and press dialog buttons. That's nice!

It even adds the extra option to make sure the system was idle in case I was doing something.

Because I've done it more than once manually, I built a Keyboard Maestro workflow to copy files out of my Dropbox folder to my local system so they could be used by DevonThink.

Again, these are rather trivial tasks, but they are solid learning blocks and they perform useful work. Work that I don't have to worry about.

I took that same idea and applied it to Alfred. I've created several keywords to make consistent work environments. One Alfred workflow for automation starts Katalon, CodeRunner, SnippetsLab, Github Desktop and opens the project in Finder.

It's hardly a chore to start some apps, but it means I don't have to go looking for an app. It's already running. When I need it, it's there, and my flow isn't disrupted.

The same is true for my writing apps. I type a keyword and Scrivener, WordWeb, WordPress, TextSoap and MWeb are all launched. My writing project is loaded and is ready to go. I could even add options to close apps like Messages, Slack and email so my focus doesn't wander.

Again, not difficult, but consistent. And a consistent environment means I can get more done with less distraction.

Another workflow that came up was specifically because I was at home.

While working from home over the holiday break, I needed to share my screen a few times. It's no problem to do so, however, I wanted to shut down multiple apps so notification messages wouldn't pop up. This meant closing Messages, Mail, monitoring tools, Affinity Dashboard, and others.

No one needs to know that a pair of shoes I'm interested in has gone on sale. Nor do they need to see some scammer trying to tell me my iTunes account has been suspended and I need to log in to confirm ownership.

That is a horrible business presentation.

Now, I can use Alfred to close these apps without my need to remember the name of each one. When I'm finished, I restart them all, and restore the state of my machine.

I'm even working on creating shell scripts and triggers that emulate some of the functionality of Hazel. I can move and copy files based on their name or extension. I can have the action triggered by keyword or run on a schedule.

Using these two tools, I'm very quickly creating a set it and forget it mentality.

Just think of what will happen when I actually know what I'm doing!

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Improve your writing with TextSoap

While getting ready for 2020, it occurred to me I can use TextSoap’s regex engine to improve my writing by finding and highlighting common and overused words. There are 3 steps to the process:

  • Use the “If Text Matches” action with a list of words I want to highlight
  • Format the foreground and background colors of the text
  • Set problem words to capitals so they stand out

After checking a couple of websites, I created this short list of words to focus on.

\b(and|or|for example|but|just|other|more|new|good|best|many|first|able|basically|interesting|honestly|literally|very|really|quite|seems|had|even|that|seriously|to be honest|ridiculous|know)\b

From there I used the Set Text Color, Set Background Color filters, followed by the Convert to Uppercase action.

When finished, the “cleaner” can run inside Scrivener itself, so I don’t have to leave my main app to get feedback.

It’s a simple formatter, but I think this will have a powerful impact.

textsoap-common-words

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Keyboard Maestro makes a last minute appearance on the Party Barge

While researching Alfred, CopyLess and PopClip, I saw many references to Keyboard Maestro, but never quite understood what the app was for. It came across as a text expander, or a clipboard editor, or a keyboard mapper.

So, taking a moment out to pause and reflect, it finally became clear to me. All those functions are a part of Keyboard Maestro. How is that possible?

It makes a little more sense when Keyboard Maestro is presented as an extension or the next version of Automator. It uses a similar style of building blocks to chain actions together to accomplish tasks. At one end you can tie an action to a hotkey, and at the other, actions can be triggered by system events such as switching networks, or a USB drive being inserted.

After downloading a copy, trying it out, watching some videos and assembling some blocks of my own, Keyboard Maestro jumps aboard the Party Barge just as we cast off for 2020.

In reality there is some overlap between Alfred and Keyboard Maestro. They are both development environments for creating shortcuts for repetitive tasks. And in many ways they go about it the same way. However, they both offer distinct tools and functionality.

To give a simple example, in Alfred you can create a workflow to stop and start multiple applications using AppleScript.

In Keyboard Maestro, the same job can be set up as a macro using a series of the “Application Control” actions that list the applications to stop and start. It can also be done using the Execute AppleScript module.

In Alfred:

    tell application "Firefox" to activate
    tell application "Mail" to activate
    tell application "Messages" to activate

In Keyboard Maestro:

km-macro

Same end results, slightly different way of getting there.

But where Keyboard Maestro comes into it’s own is with system events. You can create actions for when a file is added to a folder, when you login, when the system goes idle, when the system wakes, when an application starts or stops, when text is copied to the clipboard, etc. There are dozens of events you can monitor and take action on.

Additionally, you can build loops, use IF statements, employ variables, set up decision making, and even prompt for input before continuing.

Or if you prefer, you can skip the module building part and use straight scripting in AppleScript, a shell script, Swift, or JavaScript.

I even watched a couple of videos where Keyboard Maestro was used to fill in forms on a Google page.

Once I took a serious look, I saw just how powerful Keyboard Maestro can be. I’ve already built a few simple macros with many more coming. There is a fair bit to learn, but like Alfred, there is a very active community of users and plenty of examples to study.

With their combined powers, very few computer tasks will escape me.

Keyboard Maestro

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