Author Archive

Folder Actions Tutorial: Automation, Meet the Filesystem

2012-06-25 by Nathan Greenstein. 7 comments

What are Folder Actions?

Everyone’s workflow includes repetitive tasks that are performed in response to files being added to or removed from folders: perhaps you start a Time Machine backup when you save an important file, always open Transmission when a .torrent file is downloaded, regularly check shared folders for new files, repeatedly upload resources to a remote server, or simply add a line to a log file whenever you add or delete files. Wouldn’t it be convenient if these tasks were automatically taken care of for you?

Folder Actions, one of OS X’s powerful automation and scripting features, can tell the system to monitor a folder and automatically execute an Automator workflow, AppleScript, or shell script when items are added to or removed from the folder. The ability to automatically do virtually anything as files are added to or removed from folders can be a huge time saver in any workflow.

As an introduction to Folder Actions (and, if you’re not already familiar with it, Automator), we’ll create a simple action that automatically prompts us to give our screenshots descriptive names as we take them.

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The New iPad Review / Part 3: Real World Use

2012-03-30 by Nathan Greenstein. 6 comments

Real World Use

The iPad does many things very well. Its amazing display, battery life, and surprisingly good speaker make it very fun and easy to use. It has quickly become my favorite device for having fun, relaxing, and using with other people. I prefer the iPad over my iPhone and Mac for casual web browsing, viewing videos and photos, reading books and magazines, playing causal games, reading news and articles, and participating in social media. These are the things that the iPad really excels at. It does them better, or just as well and more conveniently, than any other device.

There are other things that the iPad can do well, but that I find myself using other devices for. The iPad is okay for things like email, serious web browsing, and writing, but not the best. For anything involving a lot of typing, I prefer a notebook. The built in keyboard is good, and AutoCorrect is smart, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get my typing speed on an iPad up to what it is on a big, chunky, tactile desktop keyboard. Voice dictation helps, but it requires an Internet connection and an environment where you can make noise. I could just get a Bluetooth keyboard, but I’m hesitant to do that. As soon as I have to carry a keyboard in addition to the iPad, it essentially becomes less portable than the a MacBook Air. I also prefer a notebook for anything that involves frequently switching between apps or tabs. The multitasking gestures are helpful, but still nowhere as fast as having two windows side by side (and nowhere near as fast as having two monitors). Something like Windows 8’s ability to pin a compact version of an app on screen with another app would be incredibly helpful.

Finally, there are a few things that an iPad simply can’t do. iPhoto and Snapseed for iPad are a start, but I still need Photoshop for anything serious. The same goes for video editing: iMovie is impressive, but it doesn’t come close to Premiere and After Effects. There are some awesome games available for iPad, but playing most serious games isn’t practical on a handheld 9″ touchscreen. An iPad also can’t do everything I need for school: it can’t upload files to the web or use Flash-based websites. I also find myself wishing for better file organization and management tools. Dropbox is great; it lets me store and access all the resources I need for working on an iPad. It is limited, though: files can’t be moved, copied, or renamed. I’m not saying that the iPad should be able to do all of these things. Pro production work doesn’t make sense to cram into an iPad; the screen is too small and the processor is too slow. Other things, though, seem entirely reasonable to expect. more »

Open and Save Like a Pro: Secrets of Open/Save Dialogs

2012-03-19 by Nathan Greenstein. 7 comments

Open/Save dialogs are a core part of OS X. Like the OS itself, these ubiquitous dialogs have several layers of functionality: they’re easy to use and can be as simple as you like, but they’re also surprisingly complex and flexible beneath the surface. Today I’m going to share my collection of ‘little things below the surface’ in open/save dialogs.

Let’s start at the top and work our way down.

Use your Finder skills

As anyone can see, open/save dialogs are very similar to Finder windows. The standard sidebar, view modes, and grouping options are available. Don’t feel limited to using the default Icon View in open/save dialogs just because they’re small. Open/save dialogs are resizable, so don’t be afraid to use whatever view mode you in the Finder. Personally, I’m a big fan of Column View. The new Item Arrangement features are especially powerful in open/save dialogs since the file or folder you’re looking for is frequently one you’ve used recently. I set my open/save dialogs to group by Date Modified, which is a lot more efficient than digging through alphabetical lists.

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Razer Naga Review: A Keyboard Lover’s Mouse

2012-03-12 by Nathan Greenstein. 7 comments

A bit over a year ago I switched from the Apple Magic Mouse that came with my iMac to a Razer Naga as my primary pointing device. I bought it because it wowed me with its sheer number of buttons– seventeen! I didn’t really know what I was going to do with seventeen buttons, but I knew I was going to do something. Well, it’s been a while, and I can confirm that the buttons turned out to be very useful. But the Naga is more than just a bunch of buttons; it’s a pretty nice mouse in every respect. more »

Keyboard Ninja: Working With Text – Screencast

2012-03-01 by Nathan Greenstein. 1 comments

One thing that everyone does on their Mac is write. Whether you’re working on an essay, writing code, or composing an Ask Different answer, you spend time working with text.

I’m one of those people who think that keyboard shortcuts are awesome in general: they allow you to do things much more quickly than you could using the mouse. While entering text, though, keyboard shortcuts are especially important. Since your hands are going to be spending most of the time on the keyboard anyway, switching to the mouse costs even more than usual.

Luckily, OS X has tons of keyboard shortcuts built in for working with text. This screencast will familiarize you with all of these shortcuts, as well as walk you through the process of creating some shortcuts that should exist but don’t. It will also introduce the idea of clipboard managers and how to take advantage of them to be more efficient.

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GIMP vs Photoshop vs Pixelmator – Graphics Editor Shootout

2012-02-09 by Nathan Greenstein. 16 comments

As someone who dabbles in both photography and graphic design, I spend a lot of time in graphics-oriented apps. There are several leading apps in this category, but which is the right one for you? Is Photoshop better than GIMP? Is Pixelmator better than Photoshop?

The Contenders

GIMP 2.6

The free one. GIMP is free, open source, and cross platform. It has a reasonably good feature set, but doesn’t perform particularly admirably and has a user experience that is decidedly un-Mac-like. GIMP is free.

Photoshop CS5

The big one. Photoshop has been around for a long time, and is the industry standard. Photoshop is the archetypical ‘professional’ app: tons of features (some questionable), a usable-but-not-great UI, and a ridiculous price. Photoshop CS5 is $700, Photoshop CS5 Extended is $1000. Amazon has small discounts. Students and teachers get big discounts.

Pixelmator 2

The shiny new one. Pixelmator is relatively new, incredibly inexpensive, and has quickly gotten a good reputation. Pixelmator is beautiful and a pleasure to use, performs very pleasingly, and has a respectable feature set. Pixelmator is $30 on the Mac App Store.

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Photo Editing on iOS with Snapseed

2011-11-21 by Nathan Greenstein. 0 comments

Making a photo editor for iPhone is a tricky thing. Attempts to make something like Photoshop or Pixelmator for iOS all fail terribly, simply because you can’t put that many features onto a tiny touchscreen and end up with an app that’s pleasant to use. One way to interpret this limitation is that any photo editor for iPhone must be very simple and basic. Another way to interpret it is that any photo editor for iPhone must think outside the box in order to provide powerful editing capabilities that are pleasant to use.
Snapseed does the latter.

Snapseed is a $5 app from Nik Software that allows you to do some rather advanced editing from your iPhone. Because of how the app is organized and how the edit process works, the app is easy to use and— dare I say it— even fun.

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A pleasant trip to the Microsoft Store (Or was it the Apple store?)

2011-11-13 by Nathan Greenstein. 4 comments

Seattle’s Apple Store is located in the University Village shopping center. As of late October, so is the Microsoft Store.

Perhaps because Seattle is near Microsoft’s hometown Redmond, Microsoft has put a lot of effort into promoting this new store. Before the store opened, Microsoft opened a tent for people to play with Kinects and Windows Phones. If you visited the store on grand opening day, you got free tickets to a Black Keys concert.
So, overall, a very aggressive promotion strategy. But that isn’t the only aspect of the store that has been aggressive. Take, for example, the location.

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AppleScript: A framework to speed up your login time

2011-11-11 by Nathan Greenstein. 5 comments


On older Macs, startup can take a long time. One of the main causes of this is apps that launch at startup. These apps can take the form of menu-bar apps like Dropbox and Growl, or full-fledged apps that you always use and have set to open at login.

Chances are, you don’t need to use all of those apps immediately after you log in. Today I’m going to share a way to use AppleScript to stagger the launch of these apps. That way, the apps you need first can start launching before the apps that you need later. Apps open faster when there is less ‘competition’ from others opening at the same time, so you’ll be able to use the apps you want first sooner after you log in.

On my older MacBook, the time from showing my desktop to loading all my startup items was shortened from 42 seconds to 35 seconds.

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AppleScript: Workspace-based App Launcher

2011-10-21 by Nathan Greenstein. 5 comments

Welcome back to AppleScripting! To see what we’ve done so far, take a look at the AppleScript category. We’re jumping ahead a bit, but you should be able to catch on fine. As always, if you have questions you can ask in the comments and on Ask Different.

Today we’ll be making a workspace-based app launcher. Once we’re done, you’ll be able to choose a workspace (e.g., “Programming”) from a list and automatically have AppleScript launch the apps you use in that workspace.
The scirpt will use many different parts of AppleScript; including loops, lists of records, and tell blocks.

To begin, create a new script in AppleScript editor. See the Introduction to AppleScript post if you need a reminder of how to do that.
Let’s get right into the code.

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