Folder Actions Tutorial: Automation, Meet the Filesystem

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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Filed under Automation, OS X, Tutorial

Mobee Desktop Hardware, Part 1: The Magic Bar

2012-06-21 by . 4 comments

Back in March I visited the San Francisco Apple Store located on One Stockton Street. It was the first time in a while I’d been to an Apple Store for no specific purpose, allowing me the leisure of simply browsing as well as taking in the wonderful setup they had for their Training Workshops and store layout in general. Upstairs, in their third party accessory section, my eye locked onto peripherals I had not previously heard of, I saw two of them with their own Apple-like, but notably distinct brand. These products were mobee’s Magic Bar, Magic Charger, and Magic Numpad. These three products being accessory pieces for the Apple Wireless Keyboard, Magic Mouse, and Magic Trackpad, respectively.

I immediately locked onto the Magic Bar and Magic Charger for one reason: Wireless peripherals are great and all, but fighting with batteries is a complete and utter pain. The best part of the iPhone is the very capable battery, and only needing to plug it into a computer or a wall outlet for a period of time in order charge it up. When it’s done? Disconnect the cable, and you’re free to roam around. No tearing off the flimsy black cover and replacing a battery, slotting it into a dock or otherwise, plug it in when you need juice, unplug and walk away when you’re done. This is pretty much the only sensible way to work with wireless devices nowadays. My Nintendo Wii-motes have third party battery packs from Niko, and a charging stand that I can simply set the ‘motes on when I’m done playing. 360 controllers? Microsoft’s Play & Charge Kit. The PS3’s Six-axis controllers? Well, those don’t even have user-serviceable battery compartments to begin with, simply a micro-USB connection suitable for plugging into the PS3 directly, or a charging station as well.

And what if you don’t use L-Ion replacements? There’s always rechargeable batteries, of course! Apple seems to agree, given their Battery Charger which appeared along side the debut of the Magic Trackpad. However, rechargeable batteries, in my own purely anecdotal experience, have a much shorter lifespan before beginning to suffer from severely diminished capacity. It’s either that, or I can’t keep charged/un-charged batteries apart (which really, is COMPLETELY possible). Using standard batteries is easier, use ’em and toss ’em, but it does feel like quite a waste, and against the ethos of Apple’s environmental standards.

Enter Mobee, and their line of battery replacement accessories. Today, The Magic Bar.

The Magic Bar installed in a keyboard, Charging Dock, and Box

The Magic Bar is a battery pack and inductive charger set for Apple Wireless Keyboards and Magic Trackpads. I had initially assumed due to width of the box it would only be for the keyboard, but no! Opening The Magic Bar’s box reveals three components, a charging base, a battery pack, and a micro-USB cable. Or is it mini-USB? For the life of me I’ll never remember. Installation is incredibly simple.

  • Unscrew the battery compartment from the keyboard
  • Replace the batteries with the battery pack
  • Since it is presumably your first time, plug in the charging base and slide the keyboard into it.
  • Done! There was a step 3, I guess the iMac is still easier.

Set the battery compartment screw in a safe place, it’s a bit small and probably makes for a nasty choking hazard. Throw it in the Magic Bar box! If you ever switch back, you can simply swap components. Since the Magic Bar components are inductive charging, there is no snapping in, screwing, or other obnoxious process for fitting the two pieces together, this is also why the battery pack protrudes out of the keyboard.

While charging, the base station’s status light blinks a warm green until it’s finished. The inside of the Magic Bar box has a short guide that explains the simple order of information the light conveys:

  • Blinking green, charging.
  • Solid green, charged.
  • Solid red, waiting for a device to be inserted.
  • Blinking red, failure.

Once the device is done charging, I can simply cast the charging base aside, and move the keyboard wherever it’s most comfortable.

The battery pack over the Magic Trackpad

As previously mentioned, none of this is specific to the keyboard, if you’d rather use it with a Magic Trackpad as well, the process is the same. This is actually the absolute best feature of The Magic Bar. After buying The Magic Bar once and having the charging base, simply buy a “replacement” battery pack. One for the wireless keyboard, one for the Magic Trackpad. After installing each battery pack, simply slide the device that needs to be recharged into the base. Simple, right? (The answer is yes.)

One minor note: The Magic Bar only works with 2x-AA battery Wireless Keyboards. Among the wireless keyboards in my household, I do have an older model that took three batteries. Since the battery pack is not wide enough, it fails to make a connection and will not work with those keyboards. Check the underside of your Wireless Keyboard and ensure there are only two battery icons near the battery replacement bay.

My single minor gripe with the device; When placed in the charging base, the device does have a small amount of wiggle to it. When moving my hand back to the trackpad I have occasionally slid it out of the charger on accident, or just kind of wiggled back and forth when going to definitively click in the trackpad button. This comes with the territory of being a loose fit, easy enough enough to slide in and not forcing you to slide, snap, latch, or otherwise firmly connect the device in order to charge it. It’s a tradeoff I’m perfectly fine with, as it’s not a constant problem.

I can’t express enough how simple this has made things for me in the few days I’ve had it. I love convenient devices, and mobee has not disappointed me. In my eyes they are in the same league as Twelve South, being able to eloquently solve problems by manufacturing simple, and aesthetically pleasing devices. Perhaps the best part is that these devices are also incredibly cost-effective. $40 in the Apple Store or online direct from Mobee, $30 for the replacement battery packs. Note also this means they’re selling the charging base rather cheap. A mere $10 premium once.

Next: The Magic Charger.

Podcast #27: CSS Workflow and Tools

2012-06-11 by . 0 comments

This is the twenty-seventh episode of the Ask Different Podcast. Your hosts this week are Kyle Cronin, Jason Salaz, Nathan Greenstein.

  • We’re back already from our summer hiatus! Our topic this week is CSS development on the Mac.
  • The software one spends the most time in when working with CSS is, of course, a text editor. Nathan is a fan of Chocolat, which is lightweight but full featured. Kyle likes TextMate for its powerful CSS bundle features. Jason loves Vim for its many powerful shortcuts and built-in editing tools.
  • The next step up from a plain text editor is a dedicated IDE for web development, which usually includes previewing and deployment tools. We’re all big fans of Coda 2; its recent update has brought its capabilities beyond those of Espresso. The Hints and Navigator panels are especially helpful for working with CSS.
  • We also discuss Diet Coda, a pared-down version of Coda made for iPad. The app’s editing and terminal features are attractive, but being limited to working with files directly on a server reduces the app’s value.
  • Beyond a good editor, there are a few tools that can streamline the writing process even farther. Nathan has set up TextExpander to automatically expand abbreviations of properties that are hard to type. If  a design is started in Photoshop, the CSS Hat plugin can also save time by automatically generating CSS rules to match the styling of an object.
  • After writing CSS comes testing it. A tool called LiveReload streamlines this process considerably by automatically injecting new CSS into a webpage as you save, which is especially helpful when tweaking the design of a stateful web app. CodeKit is a similar tool with some compelling features, but its reloading capabilities are less robust.
  • The WebKit developer tools are hugely helpful when tweaking CSS, allowing one to quickly change and test values, and when debugging, showing the cascade so one can diagnose specificity issues. Additionally, the Firefox developer tools have been greatly improved recently and are becoming comparable to the WebKit tools, even boasting a few unique capabilities.
  • Returning to the process of writing CSS, we discuss two preprocessors, SASS and LESS. These languages are supersets of CSS that add helpful features like variables and nesting. LiveReload and CodeKit can automatically compile code written in these languages into standard CSS.
  • After testing comes deployment, starting with minification. Smaller is a great tool that allows one to easily combine and minify all the code in a deployment folder. An IDE’s tools can be used to upload files to a deployment server, as well as dedicated apps like Transmit.
  • Finally, we share one final tool that can be helpful when either working on a team or reading existing CSS. ProCSSor can prettify and un-minify CSS documents, ensuring that they adhere to the formatting rules you select.

This episode was recorded on June 9th, 2012. You can subscribe to this podcast via RSS or iTunes. We would appreciate it if you could take a second to give us a rating on iTunes. We’d love to hear from you! Please feel free to leave a comment on this post or e-mail us at Thanks for listening.


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Ask Different Podcast’s Summer Hiatus: Off the Beaten Path

2012-05-07 by . 0 comments

We bring you a short update to talk about our inconsistent schedule over the last two months, and to report that it will continue for the near future. We are calling a summer sabbatical hiatus off from the Podcast in order to have some time to straighten our schedules back out.

However, we’re not leaving the site! We simply do not have enough time to focus on projects as demanding as the podcast and this very blog. Your contributions to the blog are still welcome, and there are a handful of users reviewing and scheduling posts besides us.

We leave you with a project that has occupied some of our time in the interim. The three of us put together an automatically generated community ad that we hope will attract even more attention to questions with bounties.

Thanks for listening, we look forward to returning to the show soon.


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Podcast #26: New iPad Followup, App Store Upgrade Models

2012-04-16 by . 2 comments

This is the twenty-sixth episode of the Ask Different Podcast. Your hosts this week are Kyle Cronin, Jason Salaz, Nathan Greenstein.

  • We begin with more talk of the new iPad. One feature that we would have loved to see is pressure sensitivity. Apps like GarageBand are use accelerometer-based trickery to determine the pressure of a tap, but we would love to see this functionality natively integrated and made accessible to all apps. The possibilities for new gestures and states are attractive.
  • We get Jason’s first impressions of the new iPad. He appreciates how much lighter it is than the original version, and loves the greatly extended battery life. The long charge time is an acceptable trade off to a battery that lasts all day. The camera is also a helpful inclusion, and Jason is looking forward to a promised update to Instatweet bringing camera integration.
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The New iPad Review / Part 3: Real World Use

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 »

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The New iPad Review / Part 2: First Impressions & Features

First Impressions

Having waited in line for hours to buy the new iPad, I briskly walked out of the Apple Store past the outstretched line of people still waiting to get in, and to my car. I was excited – I was one of the very first people in the United States to own a new iPad!

Once I got back to my apartment, I took the plastic off the box and lifted the cover. The tight fit and air pressure made the separation of the cover with the rest of the box take longer than I would have liked, but it is a necessary byproduct of getting the packaging as compact as possible. With the cover off, I was greeted by the new iPad. Removing even more plastic, this time on the iPad itself, I reached for the top of the device, pushed the power button, and the screen came to life.

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The New iPad Review / Part 1: Standing in Line

2012-03-27 by . 4 comments

Two years ago

Back in the summer of 2010 Apple announced the iPhone 4. At the time I had been using an iPhone 3G for about a year and a half, and I had grown impatient with how slow the device had been operating. When I saw the announcement of the retina screen, the gorgeous case, and the snappiness of the operating system of the new iPhone 4, I knew I had to have one. And when Apple announced that they were moving up the upgrade date for some AT&T customers, I knew I wanted one on launch day. So that’s what I tried to do.

However, my launch day experience for the iPhone 4 was terrible. At the time, I lived two hours away from my nearest Apple Store, and, although I had hit the road around 3:45AM, by the time I got to the mall housing my Apple Store around 5:45, there was already a considerable line for the door opening at 6AM, and the store didn’t even begin selling them until 8AM. I got in line and waited for hours, hoping they wouldn’t run out of stock while they continued to let in people with in-store pickups and kept the line for people that didn’t have one (like me) at a standstill. I was getting hungry, tired, and my feet hurt.

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Friday, March 23 could be the Ides of March for your SUS.

2012-03-23 by . 0 comments

Lion Server – Software Update Server

Yesterday, many Mac system administrators learned on Twitter of an urgent change arriving to their servers leaving less than 24 hours until the expiration day for Apple’s certificate used to sign updates. This change affects a tool that gets little fanfare and is deeply buried as one of 20+ items that Profile Manager can do. Although a Software Update Server (SUS) can normally be set up once and mostly forgotten, but doing so can save money, conserve bandwidth, reduce support tickets, and make a company’s Macs more stable.

The Software Update service allows all the Macs to get Apple software updates from a local server rather than having to use the public servers that Apple runs. This is a huge benefit, saving bandwidth on both Apple’s and the business’s ends, since each update gets downloaded once instead of for every computer. Also, when a company wants to test updates before they hit all their hundreds (or thousands) of computers, SUS allows those Mac administrators to release updates after they have been tested to avoid disrupting their colleagues with update conflicts interacting with other business critical software that could have been caught with some testing. more »

Filed under App Reviews, Apple, OS X

Podcast #25: New iPads, Contest on Ask Different

2012-03-21 by . 1 comments

This is the twenty-fifth episode of the Ask Different Podcast. Your hosts this week are Kyle Cronin, Nathan Greenstein, and Mike Bradshaw.

  • This episode is all about the big news of the week: the new iPad. The first interesting thing about it is its name: iPad. Not iPad 3, not iPad 4G, just iPad. Officially, it’s the iPad 3rd Generation. We discuss our opinions of and experiences with the new naming convention, as well as how we plan to handle the tagging situation on Ask Different.
  • We move on to the meat of the new iPad and discuss its features. We list the major changes that were announced, and Kyle and Mike, who both have the new device, share their favorite features and the features they’re more skeptical about. Both love the Retina display, a favorite of Kyle’s for watching time lapse videos. Kyle also appreciates being able to use an AT&T 3G SIM card in a Verizon 4G iPad. The new 5MP, f2.4 camera is also a great addition.
  • The first part of the iPad experiences buying it. Kyle and Mike share their experiences with purchasing new iPad, and compare them to previous launch day purchases. Mike observed some technical problems that the Apple online store seem to be experiencing. Kyle went to the Apple Store early, and had a much better experience than the last time he tried that (aside from being pressured to buy AppleCare+). A video from Kyle’s iPad launch experience can be found here.
  • Some of the favorite apps that Kyle and Mike have put on their new iPads include: Tweetbot, Reeder, Garageband1password, Screens, Prompt, Agenda, FileMaker Go, Keynote, Numbers, Pages, Instapaper, and Twitterific.
  • We conclude with some Ask Different news. The New iPad Challenge is currently taking place. This contest awards prizes to people who participate on Ask Different. If you achieve level one, you’ll be entered into a contest to win an iPad. At level two, you’ll receive an iPod touch as well as be entered into the contest. Those who make it to level three will be given an iPad! To see details and check leaderboards, go to

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