Mac Power Users #322: Cleaning Up with Hazel

This week on Mac Power Users David and I dive deep on Mac automation assistant Hazel, discuss how to get started and ideas for file and document based automation and give ideas of how they're using the program. David also announces a new MacSparky Video Field Guide.

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • Freshbooks: Online invoicing made easy.
  • Igloo: An intranet you’ll actually like, free for up to 10 people.
  • The Omni Group We're passionate about productivity for Mac, iPhone and iPad. 
  • Fracture Bring your photos to life.

Katie's Week In Review: May 22, 2016

It’s been a busy week for Apple, with Tim Cook traveling to China and India and across the board software updates, here are links of note for the week ending May 22, 2016:

  • Tim Cook has been traveling this week. As reported by Joe Rossignol of MacRumors, he made a trip to Beijing and used the ride sharing service Didi Chuxing which Apple recently invested $1 billion in. MacRumors has more details on the trip. Coinciding with the trip Apple released an update to GarageBand that included new instruments and an extensive Chinese language localization to celebrate Chinese Music.
  • While traveling overseas Tim also stopped off in India where he met with the Indian Prime Minister and Apple announced a new iOS App Design and development accelerator in Bengaluru. India and China are both areas where Apple has plans for expansion.
  • Apple released a slew of software updates for the Mac and iOS this week including OS X 10.11.5, iOS 9.3.2, tvOS 9.2.1 and watchOS 2.2.1. Josh Centers at TidBITS has a roundup of the changes.
  • Unfortunately, Juli Clover of Mac Rumors reports that some 9.7“ iPad Pro users are reporting problems after installing the 9.3.2 update and are seeing ”Error 56“ with the update ”bricking“ their iPads. Apple has issued a statement to iMore explaining that it is ”looking into a small number of reports“ and advises those impacted to contact Apple support. I updated my 9.7” iPad Pro before I saw the news of these troubles. Thankfully, my update went smoothly.
  • One of the changes in iOS 9.3.2 was a modification to the Touch ID rules that adds an additional level of security. As Glenn Fleishman writing for Macworld Explains, if you haven’t used your passcode to unlock your iPhone or iPad for six days, a new iOS 9 restriction disables Touch ID if you don’t unlock with a fingerprint within 8 hours.
  • iTunes also saw an update to version 12.4. In addition to bug fixes, this update saw some changes to the user interface. Melissa Holt of The Mac observer explains how users can once again edit the sidebar to display only information you want to see.
  • One of the bug fixes in the iTunes 12.4 update was to fix a very rare issue where iTunes would delete music from a user’s library. This issue was extensively detailed by James Pinkstone on his blog and his post quickly spread around the Internet. This week, Pinkstone wrote a follow-up piece explaining how Apple sent engineers to his home to try to track down the issue.
  • As reported by Erik Holm and Anupreeta Das of the Wall Street Journal, Berkshire Hathaway bought nearly a $1 Billion stake in Apple. According to the Journal, the purchase was made by one of Warren Buffett’s lieutenants, not Buffett himself. Nevertheless, news of the significant stock purchase has helped quell fears about Apple’s stock price.
  • Finally this week, continuing his series on the iMac G3, Stephen Hackett has a great post and video this week explaining the iMac G3 Family Tree. Stephen has been putting out more video content lately. If you haven’t already, you should consider subscribing to his YouTube channel:

The MacSparky Hazel Video Field Guide

My pal David Sparks has done it again. Today he introduces another MacSparky Video Field Guide, this one on one of my favorite apps, Hazel. The Hazel Video Field Guide is filled with 2.5 hours of goodness and teaches you soup-to-nuts everything you need to know to get started with and master the digital assistant.

Hazel is an incredibly powerful application, but one of the most frequent questions I receive from people is it’s just too overwhelming or they just don’t know how to get started. If you’ve always been interested in learning how to automate your Mac and wanted to get started with Hazel but didn’t know how, this is the place to start.

The guide is broken down into 35 bookmarked chapters so you can view it from start to finish, or pick and choose specific areas of interest. There’s a 30 minute free sample video to give you an idea of what to expect. The 2.5 hour field guide costs $19.99

Want more on Hazel? Stay tuned…it’s the topic of our upcoming episode of Mac Power Users!

Mac Power Users #321: Geeking Out with TJ Luoma - Relay FM

This week on Mac Power Users, David and I check in with one of my favorite  people on the Internet, TJ Luoma. TJ Luoma joins us to talk about using an off-site Mac mini, rolling your own backup, workflows for preachers, and TJ's new secret project that will update your Mac software for you.

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • 1Password Have you ever forgotten a password? Now you don't have to worry about that anymore. 
  • Gazelle Sell your iPhone for cash at Gazelle! 
  • Freshbooks: Online invoicing made easy.
  • Gemini: Duplicate files can run — But they can’t hide. Now, you can find & remove them with Gemini.

Last Call: Order Your App Camp for Girls T-Shirts

WWDC is right around the corner which means it’s t-shirt season. App Camp For Girls has a new purple T-shirt with the proceeds going to Michelle Petruzzi Memorial Fund, supporting App Camp For Girls Program. But, you need to hurry as the t-shirt is only on sale for a few more days!

Michelle was the Operations Manager for App Camp who passed away at the age of 36 after a brave battle with pancreatic cancer. If you want to show your support for this great cause, and honor Michelle, consider picking up a t-shirt. If you’d prefer to contribute directly and learn more about Michelle, you can do so from the AppCamp4Girls website.

Katie's Week in Review: May 15, 2016

It was a bit of a slow week for Apple news as it feels like we’re starting the pre-WWDC lull. Nevertheless I was able to find a few links of note for the week ending May 15, 2016:

  • There has been an ongoing question the last few weeks of whether Apple Music was deleting files from users computers. Some speculate there was a problem with the Apple music service while others pondered whether the iTunes interface was just so unintuitive that users were accidentally deleting files themselves. An Apple spokesperson confirmed to iMore this week there is in fact a bug in iTunes that impacts a small number of users and results in iTunes removing music from their local libraries. Serenity Caldwell writing for iMore, has more details and says that Apple is planning a fix via a software update sometime next week.
  • As reported by Federico Viticci on MacStories, Apple appears to be shortening App review times. Currently, review times are down to about 1–2 days compared to the 7–10 days it took apple to review apps int he past. It’s unknown whether this is a conscious effort on Apple’s part to shorten the review process or whether this is just a seasonal dip. However long review times have been a criticism of many App developers.
  • App Camp For Girls has a new purple T-shirt on sale (hurry - sale ends in 4 days!) with all the proceeds of the sale going to Michelle Petruzzi Memorial Fund which support the App Camp For Girls Program. Michelle was the Operations Manager for App Camp who passed away at the age of 36 after a brave battle with pancreatic cancer. If you want to help honor her memory and support a great cause, consider picking up a snazzy T-shirt, I’ve already ordered mine.
  • Jason Snell over at SixColors has posted his review of the 2016 MacBook. While the design of the MacBook is the same, it received a nice speed bump thanks to internal upgrades. As Jason discusses, this is a laptop that has invited a lot of criticism but also very intriguing. I’m keeping an eye on what Apple does with the MacBook Pro line in 2016 but I haven’t totally discounted the possibility that this may be my next laptop.
  • Apple has released its fourth update to Safari Technology Preview this week which included fixes for connecting to the 1Password Extension as well as watching videos on Netflix along with general bug fixes.
  • David and I have spoken quite a bit about security on recent episodes of Mac Power Users (see episodes 316 and 320). One area that has come up is the “Internet of Things” or connected devices which Jeff Gamet, writing for The Mac Observer says is a security disaster. These are devices that we use in our homes and to collect information about ourselves via cameras, sensors and microphones, but sometimes they come with significant security flaws that can be ripe for exploit.
  • Instagram got a new look this week. As John Voorhees for MacStories writes, Instagram said goodbye to skeuomorphism with its new icon and redesign. I’m okay with the new icon. Though what I really dislike is the new timeline - that isn’t really a timeline. Ugh.
  • I’ve professed my love for the Amazon Echo. As reported by Mark Bergen at Recode, Google is preparing an answer to the Echo, code-named ‘Chirp’. Google already has their own voice assistant so it was only a matter of time before they decided to play in this space given Amazon’s success. Now the question is when will Siri finally be revamped and let out out of her iOS prison?
  • Speaking of Siri, she recently had a starting role with actor Neil Patrick Harris in Apple’s latest commercial “Thank You Speech.” While not nearly as funny as the Cookie Monster ads, it’s pretty cute. The video is below.
  • Finally, my thanks to Agenda Minder for their sponsorship of the site this week. Agenda Minder is a personal productivity app for the Mac that helps you prepare for your meetings. Click here for more information on how you can advertise on this site through an RSS sponsorship.

Speeding Up Audio Files

In my profession I’m required to complete several hours of continuing education credit each year to maintain my license. There are various ways to fulfill this requirement including attendance at seminars hosted throughout the state.

The problem is, traveling to these seminars can be cost prohibitive as it typically requires several days out of the office, a hotel stay and related expenses. As such, I’m pretty picky about which seminars I to attend in person and try to pick the best two or three each year.

Knowing this, most seminars will offer audio recordings of the lectures available as a CD (yes, a CD - someone please tell them it’s not 1999) or occasionally an MP3 download in lieu of in-person attendance. By ordering the audio recording purchasers can attain the continuing education credit without the additional costs associated with in-person attendance and listen to the material on their own time.

There are a few problems with this. First, CD players are going the way of the dinosaur. Second, the only thing worse than sitting through a 2-day seminar on the reverse commerce clause is listening to a 16+ hour audio recording of a lecture. How can you use technology to make that better?

Speed it up!

I’ll show you a few ways to do just that. Note that these instructions will work with any spoken-word content, not just lectures. You can use them with your own DRM free audiobook or similar files too.

Use iTunes

  1. Import your Audio CD or files into iTunes - for spoken word content, you may want to adjust your import settings to a lower quality to save space. You can do this in iTunes preferences under the General Tab.
  2. Once the audio is imported, select all the tracks associated with the content and Get Info. Fill out as much information as you like about the content, but make sure you check these items:
  3. Under the Details tab fill out basic information including the title and author. 
  4. Under the Options tab you’ll set the media kind to audiobook and check the boxes next to “remember playback position” and “skip when shuffling” 
  5. The selected tracks will now show up in the Audiobooks section of iTunes and you can sync them to your iOS device.
  6. Once the Audiobooks are synced to your iOS device, you’ll have the option to play them in the iBooks.app under the audiobook tab and can play them back at 0.75x, 1x, 1.5x or 2x speed.

Audiobook Builder

Audiobook Builder is an App by Splasm Software that will allow you to import audio CDs, MP3s and M4A files and then join them together into larger files, create chapters, and import them into iTunes as a bookmarkable audiobooks. The $4.95 App automates and streamlines the process described above while adding some additional features such as allowing you to add meta data, adjust the size of your files and set the file size and audio quality.

It’s an App I’ve used for many years and for less than $5, I recommend picking it up if you regularly listen to spoken word content that you import yourself.

Create A Private Podcast Feed

If you like listening to podcasts, you may want to listen to your spoken word content all in one place. You can create private podcast feeds of your own audio files using a service like JustCast coupled with Dropbox. Bradley Chambers writing for the Sweet Setup has a detailed write-up of the service.

JustCast is free for limited use, but if you want to listen to more than three audio files at a time you’ll need to pay for an account, which starts at $5 per month. The JustCast service allows you to create an RSS feed that you can import into your podcast App of choice from audio files that you store in your Dropbox.

Once you sign up for the JustCast service you can create a new “podcast” by creating a folder in your Dropbox with the name of the podcast and then audio files within that folder become episodes. From the JustCast Web site you will be able to view the RSS feed associated with your “podcast” and import it into your podcast player. I use JustCast with Marco Arment’s Overcast application on my iPhone so I can take advantage of not only faster playback but Smartspeed which is unique to Overcast and saves even more time.

JustCast is designed for personal use or sharing audio files within a very small setting. It’s not designed as a publication platform for podcasts.

Become an Overcast Patron 

If you use the Overcast podcast application, a recent update made the process of uploading and listening to your own audio files a lot easier. While the basic App is free, if you want to upload your own audio files, you do have to support the App as a patron, which costs about $1 per month and unlocks a special dark mode and the ability to upload your own DRM-free files.

Patron payments are made via in-app purchase and one you’ve made your payment you can upload up to 2GB of your own DRM-free audio files (1GB max file size) through the Overcast website. Overcast will then serve that file up through the Overcast App just as it would any other podcast.

Since Overcast added this feature, this has become my preferred method for uploading and adding my own audio files because it’s just so simple.

This article first appeared in the March Issue of ScreencastsOnline Monthly Magazine. ScreenCastsOnline monthly magazine is packed with hints, tips, articles and links to streamable versions of ScreenCastsOnline tutorials and delivered monthly via Newsstand on the iPad. You can find out more at https://www.screencastsonline.com/membership_benefits/

Mac Power Users #319: Teaching Workflows with Teddy Svoronos

This week on Mac Power Users Harvard PhD candidate, lecturer, and geek of the first order Teddy Svoronos join David and me to talk about the innovative ways he's using Keynote and video to teach statistics to Harvard graduate students and his workflows for tracking research and big writing projects on the Mac and iPad. Teddy also makes the case for iCloud storage over Dropbox.

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • Linode: High performance SSD Linux servers for all of your infrastructure needs. Get a $20 credit with promo code ‘mpu20’
  • Casper: Because everyone deserves a great night sleep. Get $50 off with the code ‘MPU’
  • Igloo: An intranet you’ll actually like, free for up to 10 people.
  • The Omni Group We're passionate about productivity for Mac, iPhone and iPad.

A Tour of My Home Office

Recently on MPU Live (to be posted later this week) a listener asked about my desk setup and I realized although I’ve talked about it elsewhere I’ve never actually documented it on my blog. So, let’s have a look:

The desk itself is fairly basic. I bought it more than 10 years ago for $60 off Craigslist when I was starting law school. As best I can tell it was used in a business setting before that. The desk is solid wood with a black formica top. I sanded it down and repainted the sides a glossy black and added some more modern hardware and it has held up very well.

I’m fortunate to have a dedicated room for my home office and as such the desk “floats” in the middle of the room with a power outlet in the the floor to keep me from running wires across the room. At some point when space becomes a concern I’ll probably have to re-arrange things. I’ve strongly considered getting a sit/stand desk but will probably address that if/when I redesign the room. Since I don’t work full time out of my home I’m not spending hours on end at my home desk.

I try to keep my desk very clean. I find I have trouble focusing when I have a cluttered workspace. To assist with this, I have an IKEA Signum cable management system mounted under the desk. On this “tray” I have two USB hard drives (one for a nightly clone of my computer, one for a backup of my Drobo - see MPU 318 for more details) along with my USB hub and all the related mess of cables neatly tucked away, out of sight and out of mind. My desk also has a small shelf on the underside where I keep an APC battery backup that everything plugs into.

Starting from left to right, on the top of the desk I have a simple mesh desk organizer. It’s pretty basic, but gets the job done. I specifically didn’t want a big paper tray that would hold clutter. I also have a desk lamp I picked up several years ago from Pottery Barn. I also have pretty basic stapler and tape dispenser, nothing fancy there.

I keep my ScanSnap ix500 plugged in on my desk and ready to go at all times. I’ve toyed with the idea of putting the ScanSnap in the closet (to the right of the desk, just off fame) or on the bookshelf in the background and scanning documents wirelessly. However, I use the ScanSnap so frequently, I’ve opted to sacrifice the desk space for ease of access.

In the middle of the desk I have an Apple 24" Cinema Display. This is an older model that supports DisplayPort. Although the Apple Displays are pricey, I splurged for a couple of reasons. First, the Apple Displays are gorgeous and nicely complements the look of my MacBook Air. Secondly, they have a built in hub that will support USB and power via MagSafe. (Though due to the age it’s USB 2.0 and original MagSafe that requires an adapter.) Hopefully Apple will release a Retina desktop display at WWDC this year and I’ll seriously look at upgrading.

I still have occasion to read and write CDs and DVDs so I picked up an Apple external SuperDrive years ago. Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend buying Apple’s external SuperDrive today, for the money you can buy better external drives that will support Blu-Ray for a lot less money. For example, I recently picked up this External USB DVD RW Blu-Ray player for the office. This is “attached” to my Cinema Display using a Twelve South BackPack. The BackPack is a neat accessory (as all of Twelve Souths products are) that will allow you to add a shelf to your Apple Cinema Display or iMac.

When I’m at my desk I like to have a dedicated place to charge and sync my iPhone. For this I have an Everdock. What’s great about this dock is that it is universal, uses your existing cable and will accommodate just about any phone, with or without a case, and uses micro-suction to stick to the surface of your desk. Because I sometimes also have to connect other iOS devices or micro-USB equipped devices, I keep a spare lightning and micro-USB cable connected to my USB hub and accessible on my desk. These cables are attached to a MOS organizer which is an elegant and easy way to manage cables.

My MacBook Air sits atop an old iCurve riser. This hasn’t been in production for several years but I have found no good reason to replace it. If you’re looking for something comparable I like the mStand by RainDesign. (Though honestly, this Amazon Basics model would probably work just as well.)

Because my MacBook is on a stand it not only raises the display up to a better eye level but also gives me room under the MacBook for storage. This is where I keep my Belkin Thunderbolt Dock. If I had a riser with a solid bottom, I'd consider attaching the Thunderbolt dock to the underside of the riser to get it up off the desk.  Also, because my MacBook Air is on a riser and off to the side, I can’t use the keyboard and mouse when it is docked. I prefer to use the Logitech K750 keyboard and MX Performance Mouse. I love the keyboard because it has a very similar feel to Apple’s keyboards (and thus doesn’t require any retraining) and is an extended keyboard with a numeric pad. It also is solar powered which means no batteries to change. Both the mouse and the keyboard use Logitech’s unifying receiver which means they both connect to a single small USB receiver.

Finally, my current podcasting setup is still a Rode Podcaster microphone with boom arm and shock mount. You can buy this all together as a kit. I probably should upgrade my setup but I’ve been hesitant to do so because the beauty of the USB podcaster is it’s just plug and play. I have added on the companion pop filter.

There are several accessories to my setup that I have intentionally kept away from my desk. I have an AirPrint enabled multifunction printer along with a Drobo 5N in the closet. I also have a pair of Audioengine A2 speakers connected to an Airport Express on my bookshelf that I use for AirPlay audio. I also have an original Transporter on the bookshelf. However, my goal was to keep my desk itself as minimal as possible.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour of my home office.