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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.

Why Podcasting Should NOT Be Free

  • July 23, 2018
  • Blog

Nir Zicherman writing on Medium:

For almost every single podcast Anchor hosts, the cost to us is less than 10 cents per month. That means that hosting your podcast for an entire year costs Anchor around one dollar. If Anchor were to charge you $10 per month for file storage and basic analytics, we would either be grossly exaggerating our costs, or grossly overpaying our vendors.

Anchor benefits greatly from economies of scale. The easier we make it for everyone to make podcasts, the closer to zero we can drive the average price of hosting everyone’s podcasts. Our per-user costs drop every time we reach a new growth milestone, and will continue to do so. This is because the incremental price of variable costs (like hosting) go down the more we host, and the static costs (like servers) are split as tiny fractions among the many podcasts on Anchor.

People may ask “So if you’re not making money off of me to host… what’s your business model?” We are not in the business of charging you, the podcaster. We want to work with you to help you make money off your podcast, in which case we all win. And that 10 cents per month to host your podcast becomes a negligible cost compared to the revenue we can all earn together as we advance the medium of podcasting together.

Anchor has long been on my radar as a podcasting platform, but their model isn’t what podcasting needs. Hosting costs isn’t the problem with podcasting. It is the fact that companies like Anchor, Sticher and Blog Talk Radio are taking the content that you publish, making it only accessible on their platform, and then pumping ads in it.

I pay $12 a month on Simplecast for both Getting Caught Up and A Slab of Glass. I do it happily because I know that I am supporting developers with my money for hosting, a website, technical support, and download statistics that they share with me on how my shows are doing. I don’t have to hope and pray that Anchor makes their money with ads in order to keep my content alive.

Another point that gets me is the fact that they need a large base of active users to make their model work.

Manton Reece on Micro.blog:

Anchor seems to be going for the YouTube model. They want a huge number of people to use their platform. But the concentration of so much media in one place is one of the problems with today’s web. Massive social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have too much power over writers, photographers, and video creators. We do not want that for podcasts.

Micro.blog podcast hosting isn’t free. It’s $10/month. But for that price you get not just a podcast feed but also a full hosted blog with support for microblog posts or longer essays, photo blogging, custom themes and CSS, posting from a bunch of third-party apps and our iOS microcasting app Wavelength, and most importantly everything at your own domain name so you own the content. The competition for Micro.blog isn’t Anchor; it’s Squarespace and WordPress.

Some things are worth paying for. I share Nir’s goal that podcasting should be more accessible and more affordable to more people, but it’s dangerous to give one company too much control over podcasting. Anchor’s business model demands scale. It’s still unclear how that will play out.

Demanding scale in your model is a lot like demanding a raise before you get offered a job. It isn’t practical and it’s actually really insulting to the users of your platform.

I consume YouTube and even have a podcast co-host that posts on it regularly, but YouTubers will be the first to tell you that this model isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. There are issues, and when it is being run by one of the biggest companies in the world and still having problems, there is no doubt this “free to play” model isn’t perfect.

We need to start putting out money where our mouths are when it comes to the things we care about, and podcast hosting is one of them for me. I have tried tons of podcast hosting services and I have seen other “free” options come and go the last 7 years I have been doing this. the only ones that stick around are ones getting capital from their users instead of making them the product.

David’s Hyper Scheduling Workflow →

David Sparks has been experimenting with Hyper-Scheduling for quite some time now, it started on his podcast Free Agents and trickled into the new podcast he has with Rose Orchard called Automators. It’s no surprise he has now made it into a Workflow.

If you aren’t sure what Hyper-Scheduling is, it’s blocking out time in a calendar as a means to plan out your day. Instead of making a task list and working around that, you instead block out time for the important projects on that list and stick to a plan. The difference is that the when is in tandem with the what.

How it Works

David created a very nice video tutorial on how the Workflow is made, explaining all the different things you can put in each event, and so on.

You can download the Workflow here if you don’t want to make one yourself.

I am going to start giving Hyper-Scheduling a shot as I think it may help me keep on task more often and make things a little more structured. This Workflow is a good jumping off point for me, and I think it may be for you too if you have been wanting to try out Hyper-Scheduling yourself.

If you have any tweaks or changes you would make in this Workflow let me know on Twitter.

The Power of iOS Keyboard Shortcuts

  • July 17, 2018
  • Blog

Using keyboard shortcuts on iOS allows you to fly through the tedious tasks of editing, formatting, and moving items to where you want them to be.

Since I use the Smart Keyboard with my iPad a vast majority of the time I am working on it, keyboard shortcuts have been my bread and butter. To not use them means I have to tap on the screen to modify what it is I am working on. It adds friction to my work. Not being able to use the most efficient way of doing things on my devices can drive me up a wall, and I know I am not alone in this.

Which is why keyboard shortcuts can be so useful. Shortcuts isn’t a word that is arbitrary on this scenario, it really is a literal shortcut to get to your destination faster, and who doesn’t want that? But not all apps are created equal when it comes to shortcuts.

Who Does Keyboard Shortcuts Right

Before I start to go over the things that needs work, I have to give credit where credit is due. That credit goes to the 3rd party developers that embrace those that are using a keyboard with their iPads and making it a staple in their workflows. I have two specific apps in mind, but they are by no means the only ones doing great work for the keyboard users on iOS.

Ferrite

The quintessential example of getting keyboard shortcuts right on iOS is that of Ferrite which I adore. Not only can do everything from a keyboard, but you can even assign each action to the key binding of your choosing.

In fact, Ferrite offers a lot of great presets for popular digital audio workstations (DAWs) for those that are familiar with them. For me, I have a custom key binding as I use an app that does not have presets built into Ferrite called Hindenburg.

Things 3

Cultured Code came out with Things 3 a while back, and I wasn’t happy with the space keyboard shortcuts when it shipped, but that all changed when they released version 3.6 in May. That update offered what they consider “Desktop-Class Productivity”. Nearly everything can be on with just the keyboard on the iPad app of Things.

This was when I finally felt like Things 3 was now ready to ship, and I began to use it as my task manager of choice from there on. One thing I want to note though is that Things only shows the keyboard actions you can do in the current situation you are in so you won’t see the plethora of keyboard shortcuts in the pop up box when you hold the Command key. If you want to see all of the shortcuts available Cultured Code has a great list on their blog.

Problems With iOS Keyboard Shortcuts

Some apps provide a vast array of commands and shortcuts to allow iPad users to use their keyboard 100% of the time. Others though, they don’t think much of the keyboard users. Which brings me to the first speed bump in iOS for keyboard users: you are at the mercy of developers to provide the shortcuts you need.

Developers Have to Do All The Heavy Lifting

This is not to condemn developers for this problem, many developers often have plans to integrate shortcuts in their apps in the future. The only problem is time and resources. Many of my favorite apps. like Drafts 5 for example, are developed solely by one person and they can’t always get to secondary things like shortcuts immediately after launch. They have other things to worry about like making sure the app doesn’t crash regularly and the features that people want the most is what goes to the topi of the to-do list. Which makes things like keyboard shortcuts fall lower and lower on the list of priorities.

But this isn’t just a developer issue, this is also an issue that Apple can help in with their iOS operating system as a whole.

Lack of Apple Subtleties

For instance, it can be hard to tell which app is currently connected to the keyboard.

When you work in split view it can be hard to tell which app has the keyboard connected to it, there is no kind of indication outside of a blinking cursor if you are using a text editor that supports that.

One thing I have noticed that helps is if you quickly tap on the app you want to use the keyboard with. This isn’t ideal, but it is the best option I have found that works with iOS 11 as of now (and the iOS 12 beta as well).

A simple indication of what app is currently active could solve this problem easily, and I think iOS needs this in their software.

Final Thoughts

The keyboard for iOS isn’t perfect, but if you implement more keyboard shortcuts it can help you do your work even a little bit better. One thing I tell all of the people I know who are using an iPad with a keyboard is to press and hold the Command key in the apps they use, because it will show all of the keyboard shortcuts you can do.

In the future I would love Apple to really make it clear that you can do all of the things you want from a MacBook in an iPad, including keyboard shortcuts. If Apple embraces the fact that this touch device is also a true laptop replacement, they need to start with they keyboard and the software behind it.

In a perfect world Apple would make everything possible on an iPad also an option on the keyboard. Until then though, I will just have to contact the developers, who work so hard on these apps, and ask them politely to embrace the keyboard like so many of us have.

If you are looking for other keyboard shortcuts, check out Apple’s documentation online and see some of the things you can do on iOS with a keyboard.

Our Favorite Workflows – ASoG 12

  • July 13, 2018
  • Blog

Christopher and I decided to talk about some of the things we love about Workflow (soon to be Siri Shortcuts), and what automation could mean for iOS users down the road. This was one of my favorite topics to date and I can’t wait to share what else we have coming on the podcast with automation.

Listen Here

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