Learning Airtable Database App

I joined a choir of old fogeys and it seems I’m the most technically competent. No big surprise there then! There are many people of my age who have no interest whatsoever in computers. In the choir there are at least two couples who share an email address. They are not sufficiently into the tech world to have an email address of their own. Still living in a previous century or millennium. When you have a group of 65 people and you need to communicate effectively it’s a good idea to use a database. This came about when organisers of the group needed to find out who were going to be able to attend an event. They also needed to know if they planned to take food afterwards. One of the questions we needed to deal with was if a bus was going to be required. Obviously there are drinkers in the group who don’t want to drive. Good plan, I hate drinking and driving. It was extremely tedious and annoying to try and do this with asking the questions in an email. We needed a solution to this problem.

Cachondeo Choir

Google Spreadsheet vs Airtable

My first idea was to use the forms available in Google documents. It seemed like it would work to have a spreadsheet table. The form would dump the information into the right places within the spreadsheet. It didn’t take long for me to find out a plain old spreadsheet wasn’t really going to do it as far as data organisation was concerned. People were filling the form in more than once and corrupting the data. Or it was possible for them to fill in the form and for us to not know who had filled the form in. It’s for this reason I decided to jump into Airtable which is available on the Mac and also for iOS. You can also use a browser-based version. On the whole, Airtable is highly configurable and easy-to-use. The feature set is not the same on all platforms though. Can’t make forms in the iOS apps for example. 

Learning Airtable on the job

So I have been learning as I go with Airtable. It wasn’t difficult to set up the initial table or base as they call it. I could then add other tables to give me the specific forms. It did take me a while to work out how to make it so form fillers could only choose from the list of names on the form. I was also able to make it a required field. No chance of someone filling the form in and not letting us know who they are. To make sure you have database integrity it’s best to have specific pieces of information in just one place. With Airtable you can use Look up fields to use the data from where you have put it in the base. If a piece of information is possible to add in two places, how do you know which one is the most up-to-date or the correct one?

Airtable Is Easy-To-Use

Airtable is easy-to-use and yet at the same time quite powerful. The professional database features don’t get in the way of you putting your first database together. Like most things it’s a good idea to start simple and work your way up piece by piece to more complicated setups. Fortunately, there are a good number of Airtable tutorial videos available on YouTube. These are available from Airtable themselves and also from third parties. A combination of both of these sources and you have more than enough to make a really good database.

It’s still not all plain sailing with my choir database

I’m still running into an inability to collect all of the data. This is nothing to do with the usability of the forms from Airtable. It’s all to do with cantankerous old men and women who can’t be bothered to fill in forms. The only way I find around this issue, is to go and speak to the individuals concerned and asked them directly for the information. I have to fill in the form for them. I still can’t work out why it is some people are averse to technology. The usability of software and hardware has improved over the years. It’s not necessary to be scared of breaking the computer. There’s no need to worry your soul or mental well-being is going to be compromised by using the latest technology. Being Good and Geeky is possible at any age if you’re prepared to open your mind to the tech world.

Import the Data from Google Spreadsheet

I started off by importing the data from the Google spreadsheet. I was then able to work on the field type for each of the pieces of information. There are a lot of field types available to take account for all sorts of data. You can have pictures, checkboxes, multiple selections, various forms of number and text fields and you could even include barcodes.

Sorting and grouping the data

I like the way that you can create different views of the same base. For example I have the main view which shows all members and then I can have a view which shows just the tenors or just the sopranos. You can view the data sorted in various ways or split into groups. I found it easier to set up views showing just tenants or just sopranos because of the way I set up the information in that particular base. The choir members could choose multiple options in the job field. For that reason it didn’t lend itself well to showing in groups. It’s not a problem though because Airtable shows me the information by creating separate views.

Database Collaboration

One of the best things about our table was the ability to use it for collaboration. I was the person in charge of the database and I gave other people access to the database on a read-only basis. This meant the people organising various events could see the data which had been collected. I didn’t allow them to jump in and edit it in any way. It was safer that way.

Sharing the Forms

The forms I was able to share in a number of ways. I could just share a link for the members to go to a webpage provided by Airtable to fill in the form. I was also able to embed the form into the choir website. The forms do have the Airtable branding unless you go for the paid version of the software.

Airtable Is Free to Use

To get started with Airtable it is free to use. For many people the free to use facilities would be enough. I got credits from Airtable for introducing other people to the database. These were the people who I added as collaborators.

Differences between Catalina dictation and Dragon dictation

I’ve just got my hands on a huge list of commands for dictation in Catalina operating system which is coming this autumn. These are also available in iOS 13 and iPad OS. There are 127 dictation commands and none of that includes the extra commands required for Voice Control.

  • {Phrase} – Type spoken phrase into a text field or application
  • {Phrase} emoji – Type desired emoji into working space
  • Insert date – Insert date into working space
  • Enter that – Tap or click to return
  • Drop {number} – Drop desired number

You use the first one of these commands when you’re in whatever application you use for writing. Basically you speak and the words appear on the screen. The second one is more or less the same, except you can tell it to type in a emoji word such as winking face and get an emoji image. It’s obvious that Insert Date will put the date into the working space and Enter That will click or tap on return. You might be working with an online form rather than dictating into something like Ulysses or Scrivener. I have no idea what Drop Number does.

I’m wondering how the system will know what it is you have in the document. Does it keep track of the words it has given you through dictation? Will it know if you have made corrections using the keyboard? Does the system take into account in an artificial intelligence way, all of the things you do when writing dictation? These are important things to consider. With Dragon dictation if I make a change to a word using the correction editor it learns from its mistakes. The next time I say the same thing it will give me what I really wanted and not what it thought I wanted the first time around. I’d like to know if there is a Siri dictation dictionary which is personalised to me. Does it get to know about my vocabulary and and get better the more I use the system?

I have seen mentioned that the Catalina dictation system will keep a personalised vocabulary. You can add words to it which could be strange technical words or proper names you can’t expect a dictation system to know and understand. I can already do this in Dragon dictation and I use this to add markdown syntax to my text. I say the word header two and it will add a pair of hashtag symbols ## into my document. Or I will say doo-dah and I get the symbol for a bulleted list . This is for when I’m doing a list of items in something I’m writing.

In Dragon dictation when I want to make a correction I tell it to select the word I want to correct. When it is selected I can either type over the word I really want, choose from a list given to me or I can say the word I want again. Maybe it will get it right the second time around. In Catalina dictation there are a good selection of text editing commands. One of the most used of these will be – Replace {phrase} with {phrase}. This will probably work best when you’re reading through the sentence you have just created and you want to change one or a number of the words for something else which says what you want to say in a better way. If there is more than one you may get a set of numbers asking you to choose which one.

Making Corrections

There is also another command called Correct {phrase}. The way this works is that a selection of options pops up. This is a numbered list and you choose the number for the correct word. Another similar command is Correct that and you’d use this if you have used a previous command to select a part of your dictation.

One of the commands I often use with Dragon dictation is to say the command Cap followed by a word I want to capitalise. This just capitalises that following word and there is another command I can use Caps On if I want all of the following words to be capitalised. With Siri dictation in Catalina you dictate the words you want to be capitalised and then after that say the command Capitalise That. Another way to do this would be to issue the command Capitalise {phrase}. So it seems that there are ways to do what needs to be done with Catalina dictation, but using different commands. After using Dragon dictation for a number of years it’s going to take some time to get used to the new system.

The Meaning of Life and Selection

There are 42 different commands to help you select any of your text. Everything from select all to select next as well as selecting the previous word or the next word. You will also be able to select lines, sentences or paragraphs combined with – current, previous or next. You can even tell it to select the previous required number of characters, words, sentences or paragraphs. If you find you need to select more you can extend the selection by whatever count of item required. Many of these selection commands have equivalents with the word delete instead. So you don’t have to select and delete you can do it with one command.

What have I noticed missing so far

  • There doesn’t seem to be a mode you can use for spelling a word letter by letter into your documents.
  • There isn’t a mode specific for numbers. There aren’t any settings you can make to specify whether numbers come out as actual numbers all the words for the numbers.
  • There isn’t a heads up display correction window and maybe it isn’t needed. With DragonDictate the correction window gives me a number of options which I can either choose or edit.

Improvements to Dictation in Catalina

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of dictation. Even though I can type quite quickly I much preferred to write using dictation. It’s much faster and more accurate because you get fewer typos and misspellings. Lately I’ve been terribly disappointed that Nuance had decided to quit developing Dragon dictation for Mac. I’m sure this is a huge mistake, but I don’t think the company really cares. The Windows version of DragonDictate was always a couple of steps ahead than the Mac version. What they expect you to do is to buy software to run a virtual machine such as Parallels and to run Windows and the Windows version within that. It’s going to be a huge expense to put all of that in place. I really don’t like the idea of running Windows on my Mac. Even if when you are running Parallel’s in a compatibility mode it can be fairly seamless. So I was delighted to see in the WWDC Keynote 2019 mention of accurate dictation in the next version of the Mac operating system, Catalina.

Captured from the Apple Video presented at WWDC 2019

Why is it in accessibility?

Because they put this dictation feature into accessibility rather than as a feature for all users I have to wonder what’s going on. It could just be a matter of emphasis. Apple likes to look after people who need accessibility features and should be commended on doing a fine job in this area. Putting the feature into accessibility doesn’t mean it can only be used by people who have a disability need. You’ll be able to turn it on and use it just because you like to dictate. Does Apple think the general populace are not interested in dictation? Has Apple created a professional dictation software which is really good but has hidden it away? I very much doubt Apple would create substandard software and put into accessibility because it wasn’t good enough for everybody to use.

Captured from the Apple Video presented at WWDC 2019

How good will Siri speech recognition be?

According to the website for the updates to the operating system OS Catalina, we getting “Accurate Dictation”. The dictation feature will give us the latest advances in machine learning for audio to text transcription. Apple also said we can add custom words. This is something I like using within Dragon Dictate. There are one or two words which come up from time to time that are not recognised by the software. This could be names of things or places. If you’re a writer you might have made up a name for a character or want to use a strange spelling. It’s all part of the creative process. Trying to read into the proposed dictation system “Voice Control” improves on the existing “Enhanced Dictation”. Seems like there will be three levels of dictation.

  • Standard Siri Dictation
  • Enhanced Dictation
  • Voice Control

Apple tells us the audio processing for Voice control happens on the device. I think that is the case for the Enhanced Dictation we already have. We have offline use and continuous dictation and you just have to turn it on in Keyboard settings. Use a shortcut to enable it.

Rich Text Editing

One of things which seems most promising with this new version of Siri dictation is the rich text editing. The webpage for Catalina tells us we can replace a phrase by saying “replace I’m almost there with I just arrived.” This looks pretty good because the software will find the words – “I’m almost there” and do the replacement. We’ll be using natural language to edit our dictated text. No need to use specific computer code words to give a command. I expect it will also be possible to tell the dictation software to select or delete a specific word. When a word is selected we’ll be able to say the word we want to use instead and it will be replaced. I’m looking forward to find out what other commands are going to be available. OS Catalina will give us both word and emoji suggestions. We are promised a new interface where we can just ask to correct a word and be presented with a list of suggested replacements. To select the word we want instead you say the number corresponding to the word in the list. Some of this I’m guessing at based on the description of the Voice Control feature on the Apple Catalina OS. It will need a proper testing. I’m hoping it will be good enough to say goodbye to Dragon Dictate for Mac.

In command of your computer with your voice

When I’m using DragonDictate in the messages app I can dictate the message and when I say the word “send” the dictated message is sent to the recipient. Catalina is promising it will have seamless transitions from dictation to commands. Other commands will allow us to open applications, search the web, use Spotlight. This is something we can already do in DragonDictate. I do sometimes use the Dragon commands to open in an application with my voice rather than resorting to the keyboard. There are other voice commands specific to people who can’t use a mouse or keyboard. These make the whole of an app clickable using numbers to make choices of sections of the screen in a grid, menus and buttons.

Research on YouTube

Since writing the above section I went into YouTube to look for videos showing Apple Voice Control. The changes to the software are only available within the developer betas. I don’t have access to those and I wouldn’t put those onto my main computers either. Apple have declared these early betas as the Wild West of operating system updates. Most definitely not something you should put onto the computer or iOS device you use on a daily basis. I’ll be waiting until the public betas are available for iOS. It’s also unlikely I’ll put a beta version of the Catalina operating system onto my Mac. Even if I am insanely curious it’s not worth messing up my iMac to have a quick look. The only way it would be possible would be to boot to an external hard drive with the new operating system. That way I could immediately go back to what I have now. I did find some interesting videos showing how Apple Voice Control works and it looks pretty good. Here is a video from someone called Soldier Knows Best on YouTube. I particularly liked the way he was able to edit the text by telling Apple voice control to change words which the dictation engine had got wrong.

Apple Voice Control on an iPhone

I don’t think the voice recognition is as good as with Dragon dictation as demonstrated in this very short clip. I’d be interested to know if the system can learn from the user. Can the artificial intelligence learn which words I use and how I spell them and improve over time. I’m certainly looking forward to giving this voice to speech conversion software a proper try in the autumn.

Publishing Using the Shortcuts App From Drafts

I do my writing ✍️ in Drafts and I want to do it all on the iPad. So I downloaded the shortcut I found. The Drafts app is text only so I have to get images and then do a markdown link to its url.

I sent the image in through the Transmit app and used the action I have on a keyboard set of actions to insert the markdown code. With the preview action it looks like it worked.

Blogging from Drafts

Wanted to see if I could upload images too with shortcuts.

This was sent to WordPress from Drafts app. Don’t know how to sent images from there. Maybe I have to send them in with another app first. Maybe Transmit or one of the other new apps I dowloaded to try the other day.

Got the image in through the WordPress app on the iPad. Have to work out now how to get it to accept the markdown and convert it.

The action in Drafts send it as a draft post and it has to be published in the WordPress app too.

Also noted the WordPress doesn’t use the Gutenberg blocks I have got used to in web WordPress.

Keyboard Maestro Automation

More automation on the Mac

Keyboard Maestro Automation is great and I do love a bit of automation on all of my computers. I can’t help but love all the stuff I can do on iOS using Shortcuts application. So when I get working on my Mac I want to do the same sort of thing. The application Automator has been around for a long time and you also have AppleScript. I haven’t got into either of these applications much and I find I much prefer to use Keyboard Maestro. It just seems to be more accessible and more reliable. So when I have a problem to solve I’ll go to Keyboard Maestro before I look anywhere else. Something which will be really nice is if we had the Shortcuts application for the Mac. Given its success on iOS and the move towards iOS applications being compiled for the Mac with what Apple are calling “Marzipan” I can see that happening in the future.

Finding a problem to solve

You have to choose what it is you want to automate. This can be easy and it can be hard. The problem is we are so busy we are doing what we need to do and not remembering there are automation possibilities. It’s like when you’re cutting down a tree with a blunt saw and you’re too busy mopping the sweat from your brow to use the saw sharpening tool you have in the bag. Sometimes I think it would be a good idea to have a Post-it note posted front and centre on the computer to remind you. The note would say something like “Can you automate that?” or “Are you doing a task of repetitively?” We have something like this built into TextExpander which lets you know if you are consistently typing in a specific word over and over. A little message pops up to ask you if you want to create a shortcut. So I thoroughly recommend you doing whatever it takes to give yourself a reminder every now and then to look at your workflow.

My latest Mac automation

First of all I had to notice there was a problem which needed to be solved. I like to work on my Apple computers as if they are one big system. I need to have access to words I’ve written on the iMac when I’m away from home and I only have my iPhone or iPad with me. Same with going the other way and anything which I did on the iPad or iPhone should be available immediately and easily on my Mac.

iCloud or Dropbox

I used to use Dropbox as the service to synchronise files across the whole system, iOS and OS X. At the moment I have a problem with Dropbox not working for me properly on my Mac and so writing I’ve done in Scrivener can’t be synchronised. I’ll have to get the connection with Dropbox fixed at some point in time. On the other hand, I do have a preference for using iCloud and any writing I do on the Mac in Ulysses or Drafts is immediately synchronised to all my computing devices.

Where to do dictation – Which app?

I like to write in Scrivener because it accepts the dictation from DragonDictate just perfectly. If I try to do the same in Ulysses it will throw up errors and complain after a while. So what I do is to write in Scrivener and send that text to where I can use it everywhere. When I start the day I like to do a journal entry into Day One. I write this journal entry in Scrivener and then I have a Keyboard Maestro automation which select all of the text, copies it to the clipboard, opens up Day One, inserts the password as it opens up the application, starts a new journal entry and pastes the clipboard contents. I have also set it to close the application Day One after a few seconds. This gives me a chance to make sure the post has been posted correctly. It’s also enough time to drag in a photo from Photos app if I wanted. All I have to do to get this automation started is to type in two characters – d1.

Scrivener to an iCloud synchronised app

So my plan was to do the same type of automation which takes my text from Scrivener and puts it into an application which synchronises through iCloud. My first thought was to send it to Ulysses. Ulysses is a fantastic writing application and I have used it to write, organise and compile complete books which I have for sale available on Amazon and the Apple bookstore. It uses iCloud for the synchronisation and it has never let me down. If Dropbox was working for me on my Mac – Scrivener Dropbox synchronisation doesn’t work great. You have to wait a short while for the synchronisation to do its thing when you open up the iOS version of the application. It is just a little niggling problem, but it has led me to find other ways to complete my writing workflow.

Drafts the Text Editor / Automator

Another option is to use the application Drafts as the receptacle for my dictation on the Mac. I have given it some testing and so far it seems fairly reliable. Even so, for the moment I still prefer to use Scrivener for my dictation. Drafts on the Mac is still in beta although that is due to change fairly soon. As soon as I have the full version of the application I will look again at my writing workflow on the Mac. I think Drafts could work well for me especially as I’m able to increase the size of the text. My old eyes prefer to have the text of bigger on the screen and make it easier to read. No need to have an extra step in the process, but for the moment….. Let’s automate. – Keyboard Maestro Automation

Creating a Keyboard Maestro Automation

There is a feature in Keyboard Maestro Automation which lets you record your actions, clicks and keyboard presses. So one way to create a new automation is to press record and see what you have at the end. If you’re using your mouse or Magic Trackpad the recording will record where you click on part of the screen. The problem comes round when you’re running the automation later. The application could be in a different part of the screen and the click to do something is not in the right place. It’s for this reason I prefer to use keyboard key combinations. So it’s a good idea to have a look through the menus and make note of the key combinations to operate the application. You can also get Keyboard Maestro to activate buttons in an app window. We all know the keyboard combinations for working with the clipboard whether we want to cut, copy or paste. You only have to work out if there are other keyboard combinations you need for your automation specific to the application.

Dragging and Dropping Actions

After you’ve created a new macro in Keyboard Maestro you can give your new macro a title. Then you can specify what your trigger is going to be and you have a lot of choices available. The one I wanted to use was a Typed String Trigger. It’s handy to use one of these because your fingers are already at the keyboard. Choose something you’re unlikely to use during ordinary typing such as d1, n1 or xxx or something similar. (Another possibility is to use a keyboard combination as a macro trigger.) Then start adding actions you want in your macro. You start this process by clicking on the green coloured round button with a + in it. This brings up a list of actions available.

Keyboard Maestro Automation

Finding Actions in Keyboard Maestro

Actions are grouped to help you find them and you can also do a search. There are three smart folders for actions – All Actions, Favourites and Third-Party Plug-Ins. After that there are a number of folders you can look into depending on whether you’re working with images, text, files, web and a range of others. There’s a reasonable number of actions available. You can even run other macros, execute AppleScript or JavaScript as well as control the flow of macro with programming type statements.
To help you get started it could be a good idea to run through what is you want to do manually. Then you’ll see easily what is you need to add to your macro to recreate it as an automation. Here’s a list of what I wanted to do with Keyboard Maestro Automation.

  • Select all text
  • Copy the selected text to the clipboard (or cut)
  • Open the application where I wanted to move the text to
  • Create a new document
  • Paste the clipboard contents
  • Cleanup the text
  • Add tags to the newly created document
  • Return to the application where I started – Scrivener

I needed to clean up the text because there was extra space in front of the ## at the beginning of the dictated text. I needed to do a find and replace to specifically remove that extra space. I experimented with doing this cleanup before copying it to the clipboard and also after pasting into the secondary application. I found it worked better after pasting. Sometimes you need to do some tweaking to get these macros to work. On a couple of occasions I’ve needed to add a pause of a couple of seconds to make sure the computer had time to complete the action. Keyboard Maestro is a super application for automating your day to day work on your Mac.

Keyboard Maestro Automation

Keep iterating and testing

When you have something which looks like it has all the steps, press the play button and give it a try. Or stop the editing process of the macro and go to the application where you want to use it. Test the macro and also the Typed String Trigger. If everything works as it should, give yourself a pat on the back and be happy. Sometimes you have to change something in the macro to make it work. Other times you can see how you could improve the macro and you’ll want to throw in more actions. It is fun to make these macros and satisfying when you have created a tool for yourself which saves you time with your repeating tasks in your workflow. Go and have fun making your macros. Let me know in the comments if you have made a good one. Let me know if you need help and I will do my best to point you in the right direction.

Text Manipulation with FoldingText App

I don’t know how I hadn’t seen this one before and it was just by chance I found this yesterday. I saw a message somewhere from somebody who’d said he had read my book about Good and Geeky writing and he mentioned FoldingText. Out of curiosity I went to the website and found a download link. I thought I’d give it a try and I there was a link for a trial version. There was another link which allowed me to download a paid for version, but it was free. So far, I am quite impressed. I normally do my writing dictation into Scrivener because it works out well with DragonDictate. Using the application FoldingText I’m finding the text appears on screen quicker. When I give commands to move the cursor around within the text it gets there quicker. This makes the whole process of dictation/writing to seem snappier and more efficient.

Useful tricks in FoldingText

Folding Up Sections Of Text

The first trick to mention is the fact you can fold the text, hence the name of the application. If you’re working in a long document you can choose to fold sections of the text out of the way. This is good for moving around within the document and also allowing you to focus in on what you’re working on. The application is a markdown editor and you get it to fold whatever is within a header level. You just have to use the keyboard combination of Command / and the text within that level folds away. Using the same keyboard combination again will toggle the text back out again. There is also a small icon at the end of the title for that section of text, it’s a rectangle with three small dots on it. You click on that and that will also unfold the text.

Focus on a Specific Section of Text

In the same vein as folding separate sections of text individually you can also choose to focus on the area you are working on. Use the keyboard shortcut Command Uand all of the other sections of text will fold leaving just the one you are working on in view. To focus out you use the keyboard shortcut Shift Command U.
There is an outline view which is a small section on the left-hand side of the window. In this area you’ll see a list of your headings in the document. If you’re working on a long document with lots of sections this is a good way to move around in between them.
It’s easy to remove individual folds by clicking on them, but you can also remove all folds by clicking on the small icon in the upper left-hand corner of the document. Of course you also have a keyboard shortcut to do Show All – Command Shift A.
There are a lot of keyboard shortcuts to learn. I don’t think it would take too long if you are constantly using this application to learn the ones you need and use most often. You’ll soon have them in your muscle memory.

Plugins for Extra Functionality

This text editor has a couple of features which are useful. Starting off with the folding and the focusing tricks as well as other niceties such as typewriter scrolling. You can also add a few plug-ins and some of them use a command mode to give you extra features. I’ve had a look at the Critic Markup which allows you to make changes such as additions, deletions, substitutions and comments. This would be good for using with an editor. Your editor would be able to use this markup to correct and make suggestions in your writing.

Lists and to do lists

As well as being able to do unordered lists by using the markdown syntax you can also create a To Do list. It’s really cool way you get nice little checkboxes you can click on. When you click on one of these checkboxes you get extra syntax at the end of the item. It uses /@done which also puts a strike through through the text. It wouldn’t take much to have a shortcut which will also put in a date. This could be done with the system text replacement or by using TextExpander.
Use the app as an outliner too. In the Organize menu you’ll see commands to increase level and decrease level. Also there are commands to move a whole branch up and down the document as well as to the left and right. This is useful if you are outlining a large document or working on a list with sub lists.

Viewing and Sharing Your Work

You can use this with the application Marked2 so you can see what the rendered text looks like. At the moment there isn’t a viewer within the app. You can also use Marked 2 for taking the text out in specific formats. I like that there is Share in the file menu giving me a quick and easy way to get the text into my favourite writing application Ulysses.

The Good and Geeky Verdict On Folding Text

I’m really impressed with the application and I like it. I could see me using it because I like speed with which the text goes into the application when I’m dictating. It’s a shame the application is missing a sister application in iOS. I like it when I can have synchronisation through iCloud as I get with Ulysses or with Drafts. I’m going to give it a couple of weeks to be the application I use for dictation and see how it goes.
It has some nice little tricks up its sleeve and version 2 is free. When version 3 finally comes out it will be an application to be paid for. This is what the application needs if it is going to survive in the world of applications. Apps get forgotten and go into a sunset mode if the developers don’t get paid for their work.

Shortcuts Tutorial – How To Create A Shortcut

Buy The Book – The Perfect Blog Post

To celebrate my birthday this year I’ve set up a FREE promotion of the book on Amazon which starts on the 15th of February and finishes on the 19th of February 2019.

If you get the book during this promotion could you do me a favour and leave a review. Thanks that would be lovely.

Takes time and energy to run an web site and write. I do it because I like doing it. How about showing your appreciation by buying one of the Good and Geeky books. I’d really appreciate it.On Amazon I have books ranging in price from 99 cents or pence up to €4.99. Thanks if you can do the equivalent of buying me a cup of tea, or coffee if you’re that way inclined. I appreciate whatever you can afford.

On Amazon I have books ranging in price from 99 cents or pence up to €4.99. Thanks if you can do the equivalent of buying me a cup of tea, or coffee if you’re that way inclined. I appreciate whatever you can afford.

When you’re making the perfect blog post there are a lot of moving parts. It would be easy to forget one or two pieces of the process as you go about putting it all together. I think it’s a good idea to have a list of all that needs to be done and to use it. In this video I show you how to use Shortcuts, the app from Apple to automate making your list in Reminders. Here is a shortcuts tutorial. It would also be possible to change this shortcut to send the list into something else like Omnifocus, things or one of the other GTD applications.
I like using this method of making the list because it allows me to choose which of my blogs I am working with. It lets me decide if I’m going to do the full Monty which includes audio and video. All I can just create a blog post using just text, text with audio or text with video.

Lists in Shortcuts

Shortcuts tutorial – Within this shortcut we used the list method of choosing from two items and created variables based upon the choice. I also used a menu to give me a set of four choices and the shortcut builds it all from there. We needed to add a couple of dates. It needed the date for today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow and for one week. This allowed me to set the reminders with a due date. It’s possible then to look into reminders and see what is scheduled. This way you can plan out your day or even your week.

It’s quite satisfying to have a list of tasks to be completed and to see the list becoming smaller as you get the job done. The first part of this shortcut puts together the list with regard to the creation of the perfect blog post. The second part of the list adds three more reminders to cover extra social network posts to tell the world about your blog post.

Follow the Recipe

You can follow this recipe in this shortcuts tutorial for making a similar, more personalised version of the shortcut. Or you can download the pre-made shortcut to your iOS device, make minimal changes to fit your purpose.

Simple List Instead?

Shortcuts tutorial. If you don’t want an automated way of creating your list of tasks you can use something like Drafts. Use a simple list syntax instead. This gives you a very simple list to work with and no dates. There is also the notes application which you can create a list, but again you don’t get any due dates. The good thing about using this automated list creation as you see in this video is that it is free. You can download the Shortcuts app for free and reminders is already installed on your system. If you don’t mind paying for some software you might look at Omnifocus. I might make another version of this shortcut which sends the list into Omnifocus instead. I already have a Drafts action which takes a list and sends it into Omnifocus. The Shortcuts way of doing it is preferable. It allows you to choose which parts of the full list are relevant to the project you have in mind.

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Artificial Intelligence and Automation of Life

That automated guy

There is that story going around about the mythical guy who automated everything with his job. He was a coder and went to extreme levels of automation. This even went to the point of an automated email message being sent to his wife if he was still hooked into his terminal at work at a certain time of the day. He added a made up excuse to go with it too. I suppose the message said something like he was going to be a little bit late for whatever reason. I hope the automation also included a countdown timer to kick him off his work computer and tell him to go home. The automation should also include a call to the mobility company so a car would be waiting for him to get into the train station or bus stop. Maybe he had a car which performed autonomous driving to the point of pulling up in front of the offices ready for him to jump in. The car would drive him home and send another more up-to-date email to say exactly what time he would be home. He did all of this to avoid work and do other stuff instead. Probably played computer games.

A robot thinking

That Guy…

He wrote a script that waits 17 seconds, then hacks into the coffee machine and orders it to start brewing a latte. The script tells the machine to wait another 24 seconds before pouring the latte into a cup, the exact time it takes to walk from the guy’s desk to the coffee machine.
And his coworkers didn’t even know the coffee machine was on the network and hackable.

If there wasn’t a significant other waiting for him at home there should be automation to have the house at the right temperature for his arrival. As the car arrives to your house a geolocation trigger would turn on all your lights ready for when you walk inside. The music system could be playing your favourite music. Or the television could be ready to go with a playlist of a movie or a TV series episode or two ready to go. There would be a food delivery ordered, or the food in the microwave would be cooked to perfection five minutes after his arrival back at the house. Enough time to change into something more comfortable and settle in. A certain amount of planning would have to go into this. He’d have to have the food ready in the microwave. He would have to give himself reminders before leaving for work to do that. Or he’d have a slow cooker which was possible to turn on at a specific time. If the time of return was difficult to nail down then you’d need to at least have a way of remote control for the cooker. Thank goodness for the internet of things. There will manual steps to make all of this happen for some time to come. Who knows for the future?

That Guy again

The guy wrote one script that sends a text message “late at work” to his wife and “automatically picks reasons” from a preset list of them, describes Narkoz. It sent this text anytime there was activity with his login on the company’s computer servers after 9 p.m.


How automated can you go?

If you want everything to be automated you would need to have a fairly structured life. Or you’d need an automation system in place which took into account the possibility of your changing your mind on things during the day. There are all sorts of things which can put a spoke into the works. Perhaps there is an accident on the road going home and the detour means you’re 15 or 20 minutes late. How will the automated cooking arrangements take into account any delays. Perhaps a friend or a member of family turns up unannounced. Will there be sufficient leeway in your automated system to allow for such eventualities?

Is the automation going to be deep automation which uses artificial intelligence or machine learning to do your bidding during the day in the most efficient way possible? Or can we only expect automation to take place where we use manual triggers to set things in motion. In this scenario we press a button or say a phrase to the voice activated assistant to get things into motion. Perhaps what we really need is to have a combination of levels of automation. Some aspects of our life could be the artificial intelligence reacting to actual triggers. Some of it could be where the machine learns you like to do a specific thing at a specific time. It has things put in place ready for you to do or to use. Another possibility would be for our computers to prompt us and ask us questions. “Hello computer user, at this time of day on a Friday you like to do this. Confirm by saying yes if you want to go ahead?”

Programming in random possibilities into our lives

We don’t want to turn into a robot ourselves. We don’t want to be a controlled by a strict timetable which doesn’t allow for serendipity. What about if we were to tell the automation to throw in the occasional curveball. Make life less boring. Our intelligent artificial assistant could helpfully suggest something out of the ordinary. It could go on the basis of getting us to do something we’ve never really considered. Or it could recommend something based on what other users of a similar type have chosen to do. He could be as simple as recommending a tasty dish to choose in a restaurant. It could be as drastic as coaxing us to go and do a parachute jump and get some exhilaration into our lives.

Connected lives and systems

There’s going to come a time when elements of automated personal transport will all talk to each other. You will jump into your car and say where you want to go to and the car will take you there. As the car drives along the road it will let other vehicles know of its presence so it can just slot in to the flow of traffic. As it gets to the junction just simply pull out and go on its merry way. The gap in the traffic where it was is closed up so the traffic is moving along the roadway in the most efficient way possible.

Alas, Poor Yorik…

In the same way that traffic worked, the interaction of people could be similar. Your personalised artificial assistant will keep you productive at work. It could also recommend downtime. This could be a gentle reminder to go and visit your old mum if you haven’t seen her for a while. In order to keep your mental health on track it might even suggest you’ve been working too hard. The system would tell you it’s time to go watch a movie or go and socialise. Perhaps it could even set up a blind date for you if you’re getting too wound up in life and you really need to go and get laid. Funny if the AI brings the two people together for the blind date and doesn’t let on what’s going on and you think it is just kismet.

Everybody is different with individual needs

There are some things about life which are universal. The need to feel a sense of belonging and being a part of a group. This is alongside other basics such as the need for shelter, warmth and food. Surely much of this could be automated and optimised. Optimised based upon the needs of the individual as well as optimisation for the external influences. Influences such as the ability of society and the earth to provide. It’s true to say algorithms are already influencing our lives. Mostly this is down to advertising and what is being offered to us by large corporations. Would you like one of these, your friends have shown interest or bought items such as this. Will you put in your order and buy one? We keep getting nudges to get us to do things.

The nanny state and legislation

What if the nanny state decides what’s best for you in terms of diet. Would you be happy to let machine learning and your personal artificial assistant decides your menu for the week. We already have chosen to use things like the Apple Watch which will recommend we’ve been sitting down for too long and it tells us to stand up. It gives us nudges and encouragement to do a minimum amount of exercise and burning of calories during the day. How how far could such a system go? Can we trust algorithms and technology to know what’s best for us? There could come a time when the rebels are the excessively fat people. There will always be the person who chooses to have the extra two or three donuts and chooses not to do any exercise either. Can an artificial intelligence cope with all the randomness of people? Will people just more and more annoyed at an overbearing machine learning system which supposedly has our best interests at heart. It kind of depends on who controls the controller. Or will the machine learn from the worst of humanity instead of the best of humanity.

How will the future look?

I’d like to be optimistic and expect technology to bring benefits to the lives of all humans around the world. Human society varies so much from the really bad to the really good. Will algorithms mash a wide rainbow of life and living into a boring grey uniformity? Let’s see what happens.

iOS Shortcuts App to make Calendar Events

End of the week Thinking about Automation

I’ve got a cup of tea in my hand and I’m wondering what I should do for the day. There is a little puzzle I would like to solve. This is an iOS or Mac automation problem. Each month I get an email in about the English-language films on in Platja d’Aro and I would like to have a way of automating taking the name of the film and the date and creating a calendar event. I’d like to do this with the Shortcuts application.

What would be good is if I could just send the text of the whole email to the beginning of the automation. Shortcuts would find the relevant information I want and take it to the end of the process. It will add the location information for the cinema and also add the travel time to the event. If it was just one film per month it may be a little bit easier. However, it has to find two film titles and dates in the text.

My first idea

My first idea was to select the name of the film and the date manually and copy it to the clipboard. I would then share that to a shortcut which will do the rest of the job.

It’s not even a big job to do this thing manually. I’m more interested in how to solve the problem and getting Shortcuts to do it with coding. I am prepared to find out if there’s a way to do it with JavaScript. Let’s first of all see if I can do it in a more simpler fashion before I get ankle-deep into code.

I was wondering if I could use Regular Expression to find matches for the text. The films always are on a Thursday and that word is the first word of a line of text in the email. Could be a way of getting my code to find the date in the email. It should also be possible to use regular expression to find text which is a date. More difficult to find titles because each month they vary and don’t stand out from the rest of the text in a meaningful way.

When I have this information the next trick will be to put it into a calendar. It’s possible to use the Add New Event calendar action, but I think I’m going to have more luck with using Fantastical and probably using the X-Callback URL encoding to get all of the details into the event I want to create. I’m sure it will take much trial and error to make this work. It’s amazing what you can accomplish though when you persevere.

I might also have a look at doing this automation on the Mac too. On the Mac I can use Keyboard Maestro. The good thing about using that application is I can get it to record my keystrokes as I make them. The automation then is the playback of that recording. It would be pretty good to have both ways of making this automation. Sometimes I’m sitting at my desk in front of my iMac when I see this email. Other times I’m with my iPad or my iPhone.

Banging your head against a brick wall

That’s what it feels like sometimes when you’re trying to work out how to do some coding. Especially when you are not a coder. To some extent I was doing quite well using Shortcuts on the iPad and iPhone. I could get the correct blocks necessary to make the shortcut kind of work. It seemed as though there were always just a little niggling problems to annoy me. I found Fantastical worked best when I had the title on the first line followed by the rest of information on subsequent lines. The problem came about with the information being presented with the date first, followed by the title. It then didn’t put all of the title into Fantastical. Getting more complicated by the minute.

This led me to find ways of automating getting the two parts of the data onto separate lines and in the right order. I looked at ways of doing this within the Shortcuts app. Then I tried to get that same job done in Drafts and I also ended up working out how to do it in Editorial. It got quite confusing going from one app to another trying to get the same thing done. Had to deal with different notation for the actions in each app. My preference was still to do everything within Shortcuts in order to make it as simple as possible. On the other hand, I was able to get Shortcuts to send data out to Editorial and to bring it back in again after it had been rearranged. Still not working right for me though.

A twist in the story

When I was trying to work this out I did try to use a date which was in the past. When I did this, Fantastical wanted to create the event in the following year. It makes sense because why would you want to create events for something which has already taken place. Even so, I did spend some time adding things into the code to try and stop that from happening. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. Waste of time because I will really only do this with new emails containing dates in the near future.

I couldn’t work out why on some occasions it shows a completely different date to the text being given. Fantastical he supposed to be good at using plain language to extract the data to create events. What with the title having to be first, followed by the date and then I had to put in the proper address for the location, it’s clear Fantastical needs the data to be presented in a specific order. Had to throw things out of my automation and try again multiple times.

Appending to the clipboard

What I have found works efficiently is to grab the title which is supposed to be on the first line. That goes into the clipboard first. Then there is a shortcut I found and installed into Shortcuts which will take the date which I have selected and put it on a line after the title already placed in the clipboard. The actions within the shortcut I have been making takes the data and then adds the address for the cinema and throws it all into Fantastical. It works, but still is not as automatic as I would like it to be. Not the final solution as it was not automatic enough.

The road to success for my automation

I didn’t give up, but I did put the problem to one side for a day. Sometimes it’s good to do this to come back fresh and with new ideas. I went out for a drive around Barcelona hunting charging points for my electric car. In the evening time I relaxed and watched television, including the movie ‘Walk the Line’ which was a biopic based on the life story of Johnny Cash. I successfully put the automation problem I’d set for myself right to the back of my mind.

New day and new ideas

I found it was possible to throw in a big lump of text which included two lines which had my data into the beginning of the automation and extract just those two lines. I did this using Regular Expression. There is an action within Shortcuts which will match text and you to use a regular expression to get what you want. I had to do a bit of reading on a website which has all the information and tutorials on using Regex. To be honest it was quite complicated leading to a good bit of head scratching. In the end I was able to adjust one of the examples and try it out in an application called Expressions on my Mac. I had the text pasted into the search area of the application and I kept changing the regular expression until it selected everything I required. I got there in the end!

Working with the captured text

So now I had the text within the shortcut application but I still had the problem of getting the title of the movie in front of the date. If I didn’t do this the automation only put a couple of words into the title area for the event into Fantastical.

I found an action in Shortcuts which would split the text. The first option within this action I used was to split the two titles with dates into two lines. I didn’t need the word Thursday so I had the automation delete that word. I then split the text again using a custom search term. So this put the date on one line and the title on another line. I ended up with a list of four items.

I tried every which way I could think of to give each item in this list a variable. This would allowed me to put the two pairs of title and date together in the right order. Each time I tried the shortcut just kept getting confused. I was getting very confused myself at times. So I decided to try and split the automation into separate parts. This is a good plan because you can have a shortcut run other shortcuts. During my trials of ways to split up the text I found I could use the action ‘Get Item from the List’ to give me each of the four pieces of data. So I duplicated my shortcut so I had four of them. Each shortcut provided one of the four data points.

Bringing it all together in a controlling shortcut

So each shortcut gives me a piece of text. I started a new controller shortcut bringing in to film titles and two dates. This was easily done by running the shortcut for each data point to an action Get Text from Input and then setting a variable. I could then use each of these variables to put the text in the right order for adding an event into fantastical.

Number 3 of 4 shortcuts to parse the text for the controller Shortcut

My first attempt was to use X callback URL for sending the data to fantastical. I did it this way to add an address for the cinema to the calendar event. It didn’t work the way I wanted it to. It wanted me to confirm by tapping on the add button in fantastical for each movie.

So what did instead was to create a text output by combining three variables. Two of them from the shortcuts running in this controller shortcut and the other variable was the address of the cinema. This worked the way I wanted to work because there is a switch to turn off the editing within Fantastical. At the end of all this the shortcut runs perfectly without any extra input from me.

My shortcut automation in use

I use the email application Airmail 3. There is a small amount of automation available within this app. I created an action in Airmail which sends the content of the email to my newly created shortcut in the Shortcuts app. It all runs in the background and I don’t need to do anything else. We have a winner!

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