Learn Ulysses: Here It Is (The Sweet Setup)

You deserve to be free to focus on your ideas, your writing, your notes, and your research. That’s why I use Ulysses, and that’s why I want to help you learn Ulysses and discover everything it’s capable of doing.

The Sweet Setup has launched a new course for learning Ulysses, the powerful dual-platform (iOS and macOS) text editor from developers The Soulmen. I haven’t had a chance to check out the course yet but it sounds good and has some good reviews from those who have. Learn Ulysses consists of 7 videos, which seem to cover everything there is to know about using Ulysses.

Ulysses has been the subject of some discussion lately, since their recent switch to a subscription pricing model. Some folks might not be able to justify the cost given how they use Ulysses, while others will know that they use it too much not to purchase a subscription. Personally, I took advantage of the annual subscription’s discount for existing users. I don’t hold any issue with their decision to switch, as long as it enables them to continue to provide the excellent quality Ulysses customers have come to know and expect in their favorite writing app.

If you recently decided to purchase a subscription for Ulysses, or you’re considering whether it will be worth it for you, personally, Learn Ulysses might be able to help you make that decision or figure out if it was the right decision for you to have made, by showing you everything you can do with it and maybe even giving you some ideas on ways you can take your use further. Like I said, I haven’t seen it, and this isn’t a review. However I like and trust the work of Shawn Blanc and the others at The Sweet Setup.

If you’re interested in this course, it’s usually $29 but you can get a launch week special of 20% and grab it for $23 now.

Farewell, TextTool

Sad news in the iOS Utilities category: Craig Pearlman has announced he will be ending development of his excellent iOS text utility, TextTool 2.

I’ve been a fan of TextTool since version one launched, and was excited to upgrade to version 2 fairly recently. Unfortunately, it didn’t bring in enough money to support development. This is a real shame. I’ve conversed with Craig a few times on Twitter and Slack and I can only imagine how much care he put into revamping TextTool for version 2 (though one doesn’t have to imagine if they’ve ever used the app; it shows).

TextTool was built out of love for iOS and the need to perform certain types of tasks. It started as a simple idea and grew. TextTool 2 was written to take this to the next level, to try to provide a desktop-class experience to a platform that needed it.

As he says in his post, he will be back; I don’t doubt that and I look forward to seeing what comes next from Blackfog Interactive. I’m the meantime, I hope somebody who can keep it true acquires TextTool 2.

Crashplan drops consumer level plans

If you’re a Crashplan user, you probably have already heard that they’re dropping their consumer level plans in order to better meet the needs of their enterprise and small business customers. As a business decision, I can understand that. While they are allowing current customers’ plans to continue, they wont be starting new plans or renewing those existing plans once they expire. They are providing a 60-day extension to current customers to find a replacement and move their data over, which seems fair in my opinion.

For Crashplan users, this would be a great time to give Backblaze a try. If you don’t have an off-site backup strategy yet, then you’re tempting fate and should check out Backblaze all the same. At just $5/month per computer, you can have all of your data backed up off-site. Download select items from their web interface or iOS app as needed and should some unfortunate circumstances befall you and you don’t want to redownload all of your data, they can ship you a hard drive with all of your data on it ready to go.

I’ve been a happy Backblaze user for a few years now. For just $5/month, my MacBook Air and my external hard drive are both backed up, keeping all of my data, as well as my Dropbox data, and my Lightroom catalog and photos, backed up in an additional off-site location. Best of all, it’s completely automated and I hardly have to do a thing once it’s been setup.

If you decide to try Backblaze, you can try it out here and get a free month of service (full disclosure: that is an affiliate link and I will also get a free month).

Drafts and Interact on Sale in the Agile Tortoise Back to School Sale

It’s back to school time and Agile Tortoise is having a sale on two of their wonderful apps. For a limited time, you can grab Drafts (iOS) for $2.99, down from $4.99, and Interact (iOS | macOS) for $1.99 down from $3.99.

Interact is a great way to deal with contacts on iOS, but it’s biggest strength for me is the Scratchpad feature, which allows you to quickly and easily add new contacts, or update info for existing contacts, using plain text. The macOS version of Interact brings the scratchpad to your Mac as well. I definitely recommend it, even if you don’t deal with contacts on a daily basis (I don’t).

Drafts is where text starts on iOS. That tag line couldn’t be more true for me. I’ve been using Drafts since version 3 in 2013 and version 4, release back in 2014 and continually support since, has been and remains one of my go to, docked apps on all of my iOS devices. Drafts, and the pieces about it on MacStories are what got me into iOS automation – and eventually Workflow – in the first place. Luckily there are many actions available in the Drafts Action Directory so you can probably get started without any extensive knowledge of URL schemes. I highly recommend this app, and at $2.99 it’s a steal.

Using Workflow to get map images of locations

We just got back from vacation. By just I mean last weekend, but I may still be in denial that it’s over. I haven’t had a lot of time since, though, to write much, so I am working on that. In the meantime, I thought I’d just share a simple little workflow I sometimes find useful for saving locations.

There are plenty of ways to share your location with others these days, be it through the recently added features in Google Maps, the built-in options in Apple Messages, or some other service such as Glympse. There are also plenty of ways to save locations, using apps like Swarm (Foursquare) or, one of my favorites, Rego (more on that in the future, probably). Though not created specifically for saving locations, Day One is also a great app here, with its quick and easy Check-in feature, and ability to add location to a journal entry’s metadata. Usually, if I am saving a location, it is going to be by taking the location data from a photo using Rego, or creating a Day One journal entry. Sometimes, however, I want more than just a location’s coordinates, or a link to open it in Maps. Sometimes, I want to have a map image of the location.

While I could certainly take a screenshot in whatever map app I happen to be using, that requires cropping and potentially more. I want something I can access easily, tap, and get a map image of my current location, without having to tell it anything. Luckily Workflow provides a very simple way to get this, thanks to its ContentKit framework. When you pass input to an action in Workflow, that action will process the input based on the type of input it is expecting or capable of receiving. If you pass a photo into the Get Text from Input action, the output obviously wont be the photo. Workflow knows you want text, so it gets the only text associated with the input: the file name of the photo.

You might see where I’m going with this: Using this same concept, we can pass a location into the Get Images from Input action in a workflow. The only image that would be associated with location data, at least as far as Workflow is concerned, is a map image of that location, and so that is what it gives you. This means we can simply use the Get Current Location action, followed by Get Images from Input to get our map image for the current device location. You can use Workflow’s magic variables system to easily construct some more details, if you would like to share or save the image along with a location name, coordinates, or perhaps a Maps or Google Maps link.

Here is a simple version of the workflow that gets the map image and then lets you share it. Here is what the output looks like:

The workflow results in an image of a map of the current location.

If you have any questions about setting the workflow up for more specific scenarios or run into trouble with it, feel free to reach out to me.

The Sweet Setup on Saving Instapaper Highlights to Ulysses

I’ve been using Ulysses on iOS on and off over the past year, but I recently switched to it full time for my writing needs. It’s a powerful app with a lot to offer, like excellent support for automation and publishing, including publishing directly to WordPress, which I’ve found very useful over the last couple of months. Not to mention, it’s a beautiful app that makes your text look great. Instapaper is another beautiful app, which I’ve been using for several years, which makes other people’s text look great, by presenting articles in a beautified, simplified format, allowing you to read, save, share, listen to, speed-read, highlight, and annotate articles.

The Sweet Setup, last week, wrote about using IFTTT and Dropbox to automatically save Instapaper highlights to Ulysses for research. I’m currently doing research for a job I want to apply for, and really hope to get, so I decided to give this a try. I setup my IFTTT applet similar to how it is described in the link above. However, I changed it to use the Append to Text File Dropbox action, rather than the Create New Text File action. I also made another important change at the beginning. Rather than using New Instapaper Highlight as the trigger in my applet, I changed it to use the New Comment option instead. I’ve saved to Instapaper some articles related to this job position, a newer form of technology it involves, information about the future of the industry, etc. Instead of just highlighting important bits, I wanted to add a note for each bit I found important, stating why I thought it important, or some quick thoughts on how it is relevant. In Instapaper, adding a comment to selected text automatically highlights it as well and, if you’re using the comment option for the trigger in IFTTT, then both your note and the highlighted text are available. I setup my applet to format the highlighted bit as a markdown quote, with my note below it.

Configuration of an applet to save Instapaper comments to Ulysses (via Dropbox)

It’s been useful so far. If nothing else, just having my highlights and related notes in Ulysses is a good start. I do wish IFTTT would allow me to only include the URL and Title of the article in the first comment for a particular article, rather than each highlight however, I can work with that for now. I also setup and applet specifically for highlights (without comments), but I haven’t yet tested with both turned on, to see if they play nicely together on the same article (i.e. if I make some comments in an article, as well as some simple highlights without comments, if both will be appended to the same file, without duplicating the highlights when a comment is used, since comments also highlight the selected text. If anybody has ideas about that or has tried it, I’d be interested to hear. For my current mission, at least, the comment version will work sufficiently. Thanks to The Sweet Setup for another good idea and, if you haven’t before, you should check out the site.

Puerto Rico

We are on vacation in Puerto Rico at the moment; a much needed holiday. We are staying in more of a resort community, though we do plan to get out and see more around the island than this little bubble, including El Yunque rain forest, Laguna Grande (bioluminescent bay), Old San Juan, and the fortress San Felipe del Morro, along with various other random excursions throughout the week.

At the moment though, in our first full day, we are enjoying sun, beach, and pool. I’m taking in the beautiful vista of palm trees from in front of our hotel room as we prepare to head to the beach again. This should be a fun week.

iOS 11 beta after one week

Some quick thoughts on the iOS 11 beta, one week in.

Since iOS 8’s extensions, it’s been hard to imagine using iOS pre-8.0. The same thing happened with multitasking on the iPad in iOS 9. At this point, I couldn’t imagine using an iPad with iOS 10 again. I’ve only been using the beta for about a week and it’s been a joy so far… on the iPad.

In contrast, I had to reset all settings on my iPhone, and it’s still a bit slow. Also, I lost a few years worth of health data, so that’s been fun. The crashes I’ve experienced on the iPad have been relatively minor and are likely to be resolved in the next iteration. It’s worth it, to me, to have much smoother and faster operations and a significantly improved dock and multi-tasking system.

The app switcher, app spaces, the new dock, and being able to have a second app hover over and just swipe it off screen and out of the way are just some of the joys I’ve found so far in the new iOS 11 for iPad. And it really does feel like that: for iPad. I hope this is a sign of the future, marking a more prominent divergence in iOS between the two platforms. The iPad can be a lot better and that’s the direction iOS 11 seems to be taking us. I’m excited to see other apps begin to adopt these new features as we approach September, especially drag-and-drop. It might take some getting used to but I think anybody who does any work at all from an iPad will appreciate iOS 11.

Creating new TextExpander snippets with Workflow from (almost) any app

Using Workflow, you can create TextExpander snippets in nearly any app.

Snippets in TextExpander can save a lot of time typing

When you have a lot of repetitive typing to do, text expansion can be a real timesaver. iOS has built-in keyboard shortcuts, which can a big help for things you type often such as an email address or phone number however, these text shortcuts are rather basic. Though limited by Apple’s app sand boxing, a real text expansion app can typically go a lot further, and the best in this market is TextExpander by Smile Software. TextExpander can save you a lot of time, especially if you’re using apps that support it, and provides an SDK that has been adopted by several great writing apps, such as Drafts and Day One. There is a good number of apps that have added support for TextExpander, but they also provide a third-party keyboard to expand snippets. I do find I have some personal issues with the keyboard, and I’ve heard criticisms from others, but I still find it useful especially compared to the other options.

Though perhaps less known, TextExpander also provides a URL scheme. Sometimes, when I’m writing something for the x-teenth time, I think, I should really make that a snippet. I’ll do it when I’m finished here, and then I forget by the time I’m done. On the Mac, it’s really easy to create a snippet. On iOS you have to open the app and fill out the new snippet form. Luckily there is another way: the URL scheme.

TextExpander’s URL scheme offers a method for creating new snippets. All we need is a way to launch that URL while passing our intended snippet content to it as input, right from the very place we are typing. That’s where Workflow comes in. Though it has no support for TextExpander built-in, it does make it easy to take text input and run a URL scheme with it. However, I wanted a bit more control here. TextExpander provides a system of organization for snippets in the form of groups. I wanted to be able to select a destination group for the snippet when I create it, and set an abbreviation for it. That’s what the final workflow does.

This workflow creates a snippet from the selected text

To use the workflow, simply select the text you wish to save as a snippet. In the Copy/Paste pop up menu, there is also a Share option. Tapping Share from here will share the text only, which is what we want. Then select the Run Workflow action extension and choose the Create Snippet workflow. The workflow will first display the selected text so you can edit if needed and then confirm it. Next it will ask you to create an abbreviation for your snippet, and then show a list of groups from which you can select as a destination for the snippet. The workflow will then launch the Workflow app and prompt you to confirm you want to open TextExpander. Once it does, the new snippet is created and you are returned to Workflow. Unfortunately, due to Apple’s restrictions in iOS, the extension must first open Workflow to launch the URL scheme, and it is not capable of returning you to the original all you started in. For me, that’s a small annoyance but certainly not a deal breaker.

The workflow lets you select a group and apply an abbreviation

You should customize the workflow by changing the group names in the List action to reflect your actual snippet group names. Be sure to match spelling properly with how they appear in TextExpander. You can grab the workflow here. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.

Link: ‘Your’ vs. ‘My’ (Daring Fireball)

I have to agree with John Gruber’s assessment of Tom Warren’s review on The Verge regarding the new iPad Pro and iOS 11 beta:

Tom Warren’s review for The Verge of the new iPad Pro and iOS 11 beta is headlined “iOS 11 on an iPad Pro Still Won’t Replace Your Laptop”. Exactly in line with my piece yesterday, that “your” should be a “my”.

As well as this:

Again, Apple is not trying to convince everyone to replace a traditional Mac or PC with an iPad. Apple executives say that the Mac has a bright and long future because they really do think the Mac has a bright and long future. Any review of the iPad and iOS 11 from the perspective of whether it can replace a MacBook for everyone is going to completely miss what is better about the iPad and why.

I think he is right on point with that. Apple isn’t trying to replace the Mac entirely. They still have plans and the Mac still has a future. They made quite a show of it at the WWDC keynote this year with new hardware and new technologies for AR and VR.

Sure, the iPad isn’t a Mac. And neither is the Mac an iPad. Where I see the strengths of using one device for a particular purpose, you might see weakness of using that same device for your own needs, and vice versa. I don’t think there is any valid debate as to whether or not the iPad Pro (and perhaps even an iPad Air) can replace a laptop. It’s not a fringe case. You can argue whether or not it can replace a laptop for everyone but you’d be missing the point entirely.

When I handled customer support for Workflow, I saw plenty of people doing plenty of work with iPads alone – and I do mean real work. MacStories is a perfect example of work being done iPad-first (or mostly iPad only). Hell, most of my work in the last two years was done from an iPad, and an Air 2 rather than a Pro at that. iOS 11’s new iPad productivity features certainly aren’t a setback to this. I don’t think there is any reason to suggest Apple is trying to force or convince everyone to go iPad only and toss out their Macs, and I don’t see them sheltering the Mac anytime soon. What i see with iOS 11 is Apple trying to make the iPad a better, more productive work environment for those who want to use it as such.

I have a 2014 MacBook Air and while I’d love to replace it with a newer MacBook Pro, I do love my Mac and I don’t plan on giving it up. I have a lot of great software there and I enjoy the look and feel of the system, the hardware, all of it. I feel the same for iOS and the iPad (and the iPhone), especially in iOS 11. Going forward, (and getting my first iPad Pro tomorrow) I have a feeling I will be doing most things from my iPad. I have my reasons, some of them being portability, speed, and the enjoyment I get from using a multi-touch-sensitive piece of glass capable of running great software, side by side, without a clutter of windows, and with fewer distractions.

There are other reasons but ultimately I enjoy using it and for what I need to do, the iPad is sufficient. There are plenty of people for whom the iPad Pro is sufficient enough for the work they need to do, but who feel more comfortable with a traditional keyboard/mouse interface. I get the feeling they’ll be able to continue doing so for a long time, but the iPad is a better way to work than a laptop for me.

Source: Daring Fireball