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The New Workflow

  • September 19, 2018
  • Blog

When I first started using the iPad full time the automation app Workflow was an up and coming app that allowed power users of iOS make some serious changes in how they did their work. Creating and finding Workflows to meet my needs were worth their weight in gold, and sometimes allowed you to make using your iPad more favorable than the Mac.

I, for one, felt that Workflow was so good at bringing together apps that don’t normally talk to each other. Seamlessly moving items from one app to another all while maintaining the integrity of the file was a game changer. Workflow was the singular app that made me want to pull out my iPad over my Mac. That is until Apple acquired it.

When Apple announced the acquisition of Workflow my heart immediately sank, I felt that Apple was trying to squash Workflow and other automation applications for iOS. Instead, a new iteration of Workflow was created with some advanced features that control first party applications and settings.

Honestly, this news still hasn’t sunk in that an app that is a unicorn in the iOS platform has gained so much capability. While I only have been using is for a few days, it is clear that Siri Shortcuts has revitalized my excitement and delight in working with iOS.

Siri Shortcuts hasn’t changed much from its Workflow origins as far as how the app works and the things you can do with it, but something about this makes me more excited than ever to automate and simplify the complex things I do with my iPhone and iPad. Working in this app has allowed me to see the true potential of the iPad again and has made me leave my Mac unopened on my desk. I believe the reason I am so infatuated with this app is because the worry I had when Workflow was acquired has subsided. Between the announcement of the acquisition and the announcement of Siri Shortcuts I felt I was in between a rock and a hard place where I wanted to use Workflow’s powerful tool but I also didn’t want to sink time into an app that seemingly had a likely demise. I didn’t want to use Workflow as a crutch to do my work on iOS because if Apple decided it would “sunset” Workflow my entire computing workflow would be null.

As we now know that was far from the case, and having that subconscious mental block leave me I have been using Siri Shortcuts every moment I can to build and play with the things that it can do. It reminded me of when I started Tablet Habit a year ago and had delight and excitement every time I would open my iPad, I finally felt that again with the iPad thanks to the revitalization of using powerful automation tools to make the tedious work on an iOS device as simple as a single tap.

I plan to share a lot of the Siri Shortcuts I have built over time, and if you have any questions or requests from me feel free to contact me on Twitter or email me and send any and all questions my way!

The Trail Mix of iOS Keyboards

  • August 22, 2018
  • Blog

With my iPad only lifestyle, there has been a pain point that’s been present with a lot of iPad Pro users: keyboards.

There never seems to be a perfect keyboard for the iPad that is agreed upon with everyone. In fact there are a number of choices that seem to have some sort of drawback no matter how you look at it.

I like to to think of iOS keyboards like that of trail mix. By that I mean there are lots of options, but you are never satisfied with what you get.

The Peanut

The Magic Keyboard is the peanut, simple yet reliable and gets you where you are going. However, it is missing the sweetness and delight that you want. With no backlighting and a Bluetooth only connection, you often have to wake it from its all too frequent sleep mode just to get the keys to work with the iPad. Sure you can simply tap an arrow key when you want to use it, but when it is such a prevalent and repetitive thing to do it becomes tedious and tiring.

The Sunflower Seed

The Smart Keyboard is the sunflower seed. Small and plentiful, but doesn’t provide enough sustenance in its own. The Smart Keyboard is the most frequently recommended keyboard for an iPad Pro, but it doesn’t check all the boxes. Again, with no backlighting working on the keyboard in a dark room just doesn’t work. Now as a step up from the Magic Keyboard it does have a Smart Connector, but with that comes sacrifice in keyboard size. Especially in the 10.5 iPad. The key size is small, space between keys takes some getting used to, and even some less used keys are squished to fit the footprint necessary to be used as a Smart Cover.

The Raisin

The Logitech Keyboard is the raisin of the bunch where some people like and is “healthy” competition in theory. In reality it sucks and nearly everyone hates them. Honestly the bulky keyboard ironically named Slim Combo seems to be a slap in the  face to the people who decided to buy it. It has a Microsoft Surface knockoff okickstand in the case making the footprint of this keyboard when in use take up more space than any other keyboard I have used. It does have backlighting, but the keys are even more cramped than that of the Smart Keyboard. This is the one keyboard I tell almost everyone to steer clear from because the cons outweighs the pros ten to one.

The M&M

Finally, the Brydge Keyboard is a lot like the cheap M&M knockoff in trail mix. It seems like the best option but it still tastes awful once you bite into it. I had high hopes for the Brydge Keyboard when it was first announced. It’s only issue for me was that it had a Bluetooth connection, but I was willing to let that go for what it offered. The backlit keyboards and comfortable keyboard layout alongside a detachable clamshell design looks both functional and beautiful. Sadly, much like trail mix, the execution was lacking and it ended with a hunk of aluminum that barely worked properly. The keys were mushy and unresponsive in all 3 models I received when I order this keyboard. I have heard from people that you need to expect to send your keyboard back a few times before getting one that works properly, but to me that isn’t acceptable in this ecosystem where a product that costs over $100 needs to be checked for quality and most likely sent back several times before a customer is satisfied. With that said, if you are willing to deal with that kind of hassle the Brydge Keyboard is worth a shot, the support team there is very nice and responsive, but you have been warned.

My Pick

I am not sure what the answer to this is, but as of right now I am sticking with the Smart Keyboard because portability and connectivity are my two biggest needs in a keyboard for my iPad and nothing compares to the Smart Keyboard in these areas. I also am a fan of the butterfly key switches in the Smart Keyboard as I have gotten akin to the MacBrook Pro keyboard when I was using it. I am able to write without much incidents of mistakes and I have zero latency and missed keys when writing on it. So for now this is what I am using.

With that said if a new keyboard came into play for my 10.5″ iPad that executed on these areas and other things like a backlit keyboard and a better key layout I would happily spend my money on it. Sadly, I am not sure we will see anything new come to these iPads with the shadow of new iPads on the horizon, so I won’t be holding my breath.

I Made a Mistake

  • August 21, 2018
  • Blog

Yesterday I made the decision to post something without really thinking about it first. I have since removed the post and am replacing it with this one. Long story short I said I am a Mac person and that my iPad hasn’t gotten much love since that purchase.

This was a mistake.

Honestly I am still having a bit of trouble choosing the iPad or the Mac as my main device.

I love the iPad and I love writing and I feel that I am thinking too much about whether the device matters or if the content matters.

Obviously the content is more important than the device, but when I made my writing about a specific device the idea of stepping away from it can seem like I am turning my back to what got me started in the first place. This is where my crossroads are and I’m still unsure which way I will end up.

Right now the Mac still seems to have what I want in a device but working on my iPad right now as I write this just feels good. I am focused on the task at hand without distraction, something that is easy to neglect when on the Mac. I am sure many people reading this think I am making a bold claim, but when I am using an iPad I am deciding on an application to take over the entirety of my screen. If I decide to move on to another app it feels like I am going to an entire different workflow.

I am sure I could do the same thing on the Mac with the Desktop Spaces feature, but even that is a quick swipe away from going to YouTube or browsing my RSS subscriptions. The ease of bouncing between multiple things on the Mac feels more fluid and attainable than on the iPad.

This isn’t to say the iPad can’t multitask, I often have two apps in split screen when I am working on something, but even that is a deliberate action that takes a clear and concise decision. Doing it on the Mac is just second nature to me, which breaks a lot of the attention and focus I need when writing. That said, it isn’t just the distraction-free environment that I like about the iPad, it is also the software.

I have said before that the software on a Mac is one of the big reasons I chose to make the switch, but even now I am not so sure that statement is true. I don’t need MarsEdit, I am using a calendar more than anything else when it comes to deciding what to do day-to-day. If I do need a task manager Things 3 is a wonderful app for iOS as it is one of the few apps that is just perfect for those who use a keyboard with their iPad.

My point is this: I haven’t used the iPad full time since I got my Mac and I think that is a mistake. I can’t know what is better until I really give both options a run for their money. It is like choosing my favorite ice cream before trying all the options.

So, I plan to work solely from my iPad from now until the beginning of September. Which gives me 10 days to come to a conclusion of whether to use the Mac or the iPad as my main device, and if I am actually going to use the other device at all.

I plan to write about some things during my time with the iPad again over the next week and a half to share my thoughts and to help me figure out what is important to me in a device.

Until then though I am off to re-learn how to work on the iPad only.

Getting Caught Up #19: Doing the Internet

Mike and I talk briefly about our favorite podcast apps, but then dive into our main topic of how we browse the internet and what we spend our time on. Afterwards Mike talks about his recent sporting event he watched live. Next episode’s topic you can take part in, so don’t miss out!

Send To Things 3 – Drafts 5 Action

  • August 2, 2018
  • Blog

I have been using Things 3 for a little while now as my main Task Manager, and I think this is sticking for me. I love being able to plan my days with their default sections, and the power it has in both organization and automation is something I cherish every time I use it.

One thing that I missed when I switched over the Things from Omnifocus 3 is the availability of project templates for Omnifocus. I had a ton of Taskpaper templates for common projects I would create. Things like podcast episodes, blog posts, and other regular projects were easy to create in Omnifocus with the tap of a button.

Things 3 didn’t have anything like that until they updated to version 3.4 allowing for x-callback-url schemes. This feature has been around for a bit now but I never got around to using it as a means to solve my problems with project templates. That is, until I came across the Drafts 5 action Send to Things.

What it is

Send to Things by user @eichtyler is something that solved my problems with project templates in Cultured Code’s task manager. It made my life easy to just write out my lists and then make it the way I wanted.

The way it works is by using a custom syntax to differentiate items in your list from to-do items to deadlines, headings, etc. so when you are finally ready to send it over to Things 3 it is formatted the way you want.

One tool I loved in addition to this actions was the Send to Things Syntax action by Tim Nahumck. This allows you to tap on the action to prompt a pop-up showing you all the syntax built into the Send to Things action. It came in handy a number of times for me as I was getting acclimated to writing out my projects correctly. Here’s what Nahumck’s action shows when you open it:

Here is the syntax for Send to Things:

# New Project
@ Existing Project
> Note
#tag
## Heading
:when date/time
!deadline
Todo
- checklist item

There are a number of items in here that I’d like to go over with this to help you to understand the power of what you can do with this action.

How it Works

Learning new syntax can be difficult and time consuming, but a large amount of these items are using Markdown syntax in a way where the script in this Drafts Action will parse out things based on the characters before it.

One impressive thing about this action is that depending on whether you want it in a project or just a list of items to your inbox you can differentiate that by whether or not you use a Project heading.

I have broken it down into these two scenarios to help understand the differences.

New Project

When you are wanting to either make a template or realize when making a list of actions to send to things that it is better off as a project all you need to do is make a Project header. This is just like a Heading in Markdown with a single “#” character followed by a space. Anything after that space is what the project name will be called. In this case I copied the template from the Drafts Action Directory so the project is called “Project 1.”

You may notice in the image that there is also a “Project 2” heading, which is exactly what you may think. If you use a new heading you are able to make another project and all the items below it will then be put in the second project as It is under the second heading.

If you want to add a note to the project that is a simple quote syntax in markdown with a “>” character followed by a space. As you can see in the template if you make a new line with the syntax that new line carries over to the notes in the Project.

When you want to use either a start date or a deadline the syntax on these aren’t just simple symbols. These are arguably the most deviant from traditional Markdown syntax, making it a little more difficult to understand.

If you want to use a start date, meaning that until this date your project will be in the Upcoming area, you use the syntax “:when” followed by a space. From there you can use natural language input such as “tomorrow” in this template, making it much easier to differentiate when these items are taking place over the date picker. You can also use things like “next Monday” as well when writing your dates.

The same goes for the deadline, only the syntax necessary to make that work is “!deadline” followed by a space. Just input what ever date you want after that and the deadline will carry over when you send it to Things 3.

Finally, if you want to add a task item you just need to make a new line and enter in the name of the task. There are no special characters or syntax necessary for task items. Which is the smart move as you can add syntax in later if you so choose, but the main point of this action is to quickly lay out the items you want to send to Things, and if you needed a special character or something to mark it as a task item your efficiency would drop dramatically. In this template you can see the task items named “Todo 1” “Todo 2” and so on.

Now that you have your projects all set and ready to go you can now send it to Things via the Drafts action. This is what you get when you use the default template on the Drafts Action for sending as a new project.

Items into Inbox

If you aren’t looking to make a new project, and instead just want to send something to Things Inbox to organize later it is even easier.

As you can see the syntax used is the same, the only addition is comments for to-do items. As you can see in the template, they are solely for organizing your thoughts when writing them and will be ignored when you send it to Things. It is a great way to put everything in your mind on to the screen and figure it out once your head is emptied and you have everything laid out. It is also great if you plan to keep this note as a template for future items.

You will also see the absence of Project headings, which brings a good point that you can actually combine these two templates and have the items above the first project heading go to the Inbox and the rest go to their respective Projects. Once you have everything in there that you want sent to Things you are ready to run the action. This is what you will see with the default template on the Drafts Action for inbox items.

Problems with it

One thing that I can not seem to get to work properly is the use of tags. I have tried existing tags and new tags in these templates but none of them seem to follow into Things. I am not sure if this is me doing something wrong or something that needs to change in the script. Either way, if you have a fix for this let me know either via email or on Twitter.

All in all this action has made things like projects, templates, and all around task management much easier for me. I love Things 3 and their addition to a Desktop-Class Productivity for iPad in version 3.6 has made inputting tasks easier than ever, but something about being able to input my task whilst writing in Drafts makes things really gel. I no longer have to switch modes, and instead just need to use this syntax in a new note and with a simple swipe and tap I can send it to Things 3 and continue with the work I was doing previous.

There is something to be said about not having to open a task management app every time you want to add something to it. It allows for you to stay focused on the task at hand and avoid being distracted with anything that may pop out at you in your task list.

This action allows for that and makes adding the important meta-data you want a cinch. Try this out today, and if you want something to help you remember the syntax get Nahumck’s supplementary action as well. Additionally you can read his review of Drafts 5 on MacStories as well if you aren’t sure what Drafts 5 is and what to learn more.

Give these actions a shot and see if this can solve any of your problems with task management in Things 3, I know It did for me. As always, if you have questions or problems feel free to contact me via email or mention me on Twitter.

How to Use Audio Hijack for Podcasting

  • July 31, 2018
  • Blog

I recently interviewed a guest for A Slab of Glass who mentioned they wanted some help with Audio Hijack and how to record a podcast with it.

I have been using Audio Hijack for a number of years as my main recording set up for both my microphone and recording a Skype call simultaneously but separately. Here’s how I do it.

Hardware

Before I get into the Audio Hijack setup, I want to talk a little bit about what hardware I use. I use an old MobilePre USB Audio Interface that I plug my XLR microphone into, from there I am able to use a USB cable to connect it to my MacBook Pro. I tried to find one that was like mine but couldn’t from any reputable dealers.

After some quick Googling it looks like some of the best current options are the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, the Behringer U-PHORIA UMC202HD, or the Behringer XENYX Q802USB. By no means are these the only options out there for you to use, there’s a plethora of options out there. I recommend looking at how many mic inputs you need and doing your research on finding the right USB Audio Interface for you before buying one of the linked items above.

The reason I use my MobilePre, or any USB Audio Interface for that matter, is because it offers the ability to use an XLR microphone. Which I think is far superior to USB microphones, and it offers zero latency monitoring. Which means that I can hear my microphone when I talk into it without any kind of lag. This becomes important later once I dive deep into the Audio Hijack Sessions I have created.

Once you have a USB Audio Interface and a microphone set up with your Mac it is time to get into Audio Hijack and see what you can make happen with it.

Listening to Guests Before Recording

The way I like to explain to people how Audio Hijack works is it’s a lot like building blocks that connect and work together. It is the Workflow of Audio.

 

For instance, this is the Session I have created for myself that I start immediately when I connect with someone on Skype. Whether it is to discuss topics beforehand or to give a guest an idea of what we will be discussing, I don’t want to be recording the audio until everyone on board is ready to go. It saves space on my hard drive, but also gives those on the call with me time to get acclimated with talking with me on a podcast.

It starts by taking the audio from the Skype application, and only that application. The rest of my audio goes out through my internal Mac Speakers which I have muted. The reason being is that it allows me to only hear the Skype call, so any notifications or anything that may make sound elsewhere isn’t distracting me or taking my attention away from the person I am listening to.

From there I duplicate the right audio track, which is that only track I hear from my guest and/or co-host. Make sure it is Duplicate Right, as opposed to Mono because the left track is where your audio comes in from. So if I were to make it mono I would hear both my mic through Skype and the guest. Seeing as the USB Audio interface I am using already offers zero latency monitoring I don’t need to monitor the audio of myself through Skype.

Once the audio is coming in the way I want, I have it monitored with a VU meter, which I use to make sure my guests aren’t too quiet, and because audio distortion is prevalent with Skype if things are too loud. Metering is something I highly recommend for anyone looking to record audio through the internet. There are too many variables at play with apps like Skype that may make things sound okay in your headphones, but the recording could be blown out or too quiet. Always keep an eye on the volume meters because it could save you a lot of time in post.

Finally, the last piece of this is to send the newly configured audio through my USB Audio Interface so that I can hear it, along with my own microphone, in my headphones that are plugged in to my MobilePre.

The result is both myself and my guest(s) in my headphones without any latency or lag. But what about when I want to record my guest(s) instead of just listening to them?

Recording with Audio Hijack

When I am recording a podcast I have two goals in mind:

  1. Record my audio
  2. Record the Skype Call as backup if my guests don’t (or can’t) record their end.

To do this I have two separate instances in the session.

 

 

As you can see, the top instance is taking my microphone, making the audio mono (so both sides are the same), having that audio metered with the VU meter and the menu bar meter, and finally record it as an uncompressed AIFF file.

I choose uncompressed because I have the storage to hold it, and when I’m editing a podcast I like to have the highest quality available so when I export it as an MP3 it isn’t compressing an already compressed file.

The second instance, on the bottom, is what I use to record the Skype audio. Much like the listening instance I shared above, it starts with the Skype application audio, duplicates the right audio channel to remove myself in the left and makes it only the rest of the people on the call.

I then lower the volume from 100 to 25 with the volume action Audio Hijack offers. I do this because Skype has a knack for having the audio way too loud, and when I lower the volume it makes my ears happy when editing and doesn’t make things uncomfortably loud in the recording. I then record that audio as an uncompressed AIFF as well, but that isn’t where this session ends.

From there I need to hear the Skype audio in my headphones like I did with the listening session. So I lower the volume even more to compensate for my mic audio, otherwise the Skype audio would be much louder than my microphone in the MobilePre. Once done, I send it to my MobilePre for monitoring.

The end result is my microphone being recording separately, and the rest of the people on the Skype call with me being recorded all while hearing both myself and they Skype audio in my headphones at the same time at equal levels.

Audio Hijack has been a reliable and essential tool in my podcasting setup for some time and I think Rogue Amoeba really has something special here. Before this app, I had to use a small containers worth of cables and an external audio recorder to achieve this. Now, it is as simple as opening a session and pressing a button.

If you are podcasting remotely with someone else, or have guests on your show, this app is great at solving the frustrations of recording over Skype.

If you aren’t sure you are getting things the way you want or need help with something feel free to email me or mention me on Twitter and I would be happy to help.

You can buy Audio Hijack from Rogue Amoeba today for $59. It’s worth every penny if you ask me.

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