Using Pocket to Create OmniFocus Tasks

On a recent episode of Mac Power Users, I talked about my workflow that uses IFTTT to send articles from Pocket to OmniFocus based on tags. A lot of people have asked me to explain further. Here is how you do it.

The Idea

I wanted a way to tag an article in Pocket and have something specific happen in OmniFocus. The below example takes any article tagged "post" and creates an OmniFocus task titled, "Write Post about" and inserts the URL name. I use this all the time.

Overview

As seen with the below screenshot, this recipe grabs Pocket articles tagged "post" and then processes them through my Gmail account. Gmail is required here because you'll need to customize the message in a way that only Google can in IFTTT. For this step you'll need a Pocket and Gmail account and have their channels connected to your IFTTT account.

Trigger: "post"

This step looks for a specific tag in Pocket. Because you can use multiple tags in Pocket, you could duplicate this recipe and have it perform different actions on different tags.

Action: Send an Email

The Omni Group has this great feature call OmniFocus Mail Drop. You can send an email to a secret link and it adds the email to your OmniFocus inbox. You do have use the OmniSync service but the ability to create tasks via email is really handy. 

This step is just sending an email to that super-secret mail drop location. You'd have to substitute your own mail drop email address.

Name the Task

Next I set a custom subject line, "Write post about " *Title*. This inserts the article title so, as sent, it may say, "Write post about hemp Apple Watch bands." OmniFocus will take that subject line and make it the task name. This is why I use the Gmail account for this recipe.

Flesh Out the Note

Next I have IFTTT send through further details to the email body. This gets added to the note in the task. This recipe isn't particularly difficult to create or earth shattering. In some ways, it may be outdated by iOS 8 and Pocket's ability to add tasks to OmniFocus right inside the app. That lets you avoid pushing items through the Internet pipes. However, I'd argue that there is no way faster for me to create these tasks than simply tagging an article "post" and moving on.

The Apple Watch and Big iPhones

Like a lot of other nerds, I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the Apple Watch. Over the last year, I’ve been wearing my Pebble watch a great deal and I’ve come to rely upon the ability to get notifications on my wrist. The Apple Watch, however, brings a lot more to the equation due to the fact that it is made by the same company that makes my phone. Put simply, Apple is going to give its watch a lot more access to the iPhone then it gives anybody else’s watch.

One of the points I’m most curious about is how this will affect phone usage. There have already been rumblings about how wearing an Apple Watch means you don’t take your phone out of your pocket nearly as much. That only makes sense. I’m guessing that when the watch first arrives, I’m going to go out of my way not to take my phone out of my pocket.

Nevertheless, at some point the shininess will wear off and we will reach some sort of equilibrium where we understand what tasks make more sense on the watch and what tasks make more sense on the iPhone. The question in my mind, however, is where exactly that line gets drawn and what sort of impact that will have on my choice of future phones.

For example, I carried an iPhone 6 Plus for a week. It was definitely a presence in my pocket and larger than I expected it to be. It was also definitely nicer when looking at the screen with my 47-year-old eyeballs. The deal killer for me was when I stood in an elevator with my briefcase in one hand and couldn’t unlock my phone with one hand to read a text message.

If the Apple Watch takes off and is that useful, the elevator scenario would not happen again. The phone would remain in my pocket and I’d look at my wrist. Put simply, if the Apple Watch is as useful as everybody wants it to be, it may change the tipping point for the bigger iPhone. The next six months are going to be so interesting.

Sponsor: PopClip

This week I'm pleased to welcome back PopClip as a sponsor. PopClip brings that iOS popup menu that you love on your iPhone to your Mac. 

Not only can you use the the built-in PopClip tools, there is an extension system and lots of smart people have built clever little extensions I use every day. For example, if you like Fantastical, there is a PopClip extension that runs your selected text through the Fantastical text parser. I thought I'd use this opportunity to show off some of my favorite PopClip extensions.

Display as Large Type

This is useful for putting some bit of information across your screen when you need to see it across the room, like when dialing a phone.

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Dial Phone Number

Speaking of phones, this one dials the selected phone number on your iPhone. It only appears when you select a series of numbers that looks something like a phone number and it and feels like you are living in the future.

Word Count

Quite often I'll take a writing job that has some expectation concerning word count. This plugin tells me how I'm doing.

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Paste and Match Style

So useful. Every day.

Upper Case

There are a few things I do that require uppercase. PopClip is the fastest way I know how to turn a block of selected text into all uppercase.

TextExpander

Whenever I catch myself writing something repeatedly, I select it and fire off this PopClip extension to turn it into a snippet.

Speak Text

There is a running bit in the Sparks house where my computer gives my children bad advice. I used to do this through the AppleScript editor. It is so much faster to pull this trick off with PopClip.

Smart Quotes

Yes. I am fiddly about quotation marks in my documents.

Append

This is handy when pulling multiple bits of text from different places for pasting into a single place. 

You'll notice not pictured are the traditional cut, copy, and paste buttons. After years of training I nearly exclusively pull those tasks off with keyboard shortcuts so I decided to kick them off my PopClip bar and make room for more interesting tools.

This is just a sampling. There are a lot more PopClip extensions right here. There is a free trial so go check it out now. PopClip is one of my favorite utilities and, after trying it, I bet it will be one of your favorites too. 


 

Drafts Gets Friendly with Workflow

A few weeks ago, Agile Tortoise released Drafts 4.1.2. My favorite new feature is the “Run Workflow” action. That's right. Drafts and Workflow are now like peanut butter and chocolate. Now I can fire off a Workflow from Drafts with a single tap. The action step can be configured with the name of a workflow and you can even specify the text sent to the workflow. There is a sample Drafts action that lets you round-trip convert markdown to rich text that I've already found handy.

Not to be outdone, the gang at Workflow added their own option in app to add a Workflow to Drafts, which opens Drafts and automatically creates the action. I love it when smart software developers gang up to make their apps even more awesome for us nerds.

Home Screen: Liana Lehua

This week’s home screen post features my pal Liana Lehua (Twitter)(Website). Liana just keeps doing amazing work and never ceases to amaze me. Most recently she was a co-producer and Assistant Unit Production Manager on the motion picture, BOKEH. She also is the co-founder of SignalWorx, one of the best streaming companies out there. So Liana, show us your home screen.

What Are Some of Your Favorite Apps?

Much of my time is spent planning for video or photography shoots, or on set where I have to be able to take notes, track requests, document events, and organize all of it for summary, action, and or distribution in multiple mediums, for various people and purposes. 

I use Notability on my iPad most, because it allows me to easily write and record audio to a document for thoughts and ideas which may be fleeting or that I am afraid I might lose if I don’t capture them quickly. I write extensively in Notability using the Wacom Bamboo pen when I need to mind map ideas quickly. Being able to round trip between my iOS devices and the Notability for Mac app is key to my workflow. 

The Drafts app helps me collect and prepare bits and pieces of information inside of one app that I can quickly capture and distributed in whatever tool I need (text, email, Twitter, etc.).

I am constantly working through concepts or story ideas when I’m on the go. I will take quick notes by topic or in acts using Index Card for iPhone where I can keep a working structure and order to some of my more coherent ideas.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

Superhero Workout. Hands down. I use the app as a supplement to my regular training. The moves are simple, no equipment is required, and to the movements takes minimal space. The reason I use it is that it frees my mind from having to think about what to do and for how long. It’s perfect for when I’m heads down in a project, need a break, to get up from my laptop, and don’t have time to get outside.

What app makes you most productive?

Coffitivity + Spotify. I find cafes to be distracting, but I like the ambient noise of being in a public place. Coffitivity has various tracks of background noise I play under Spotify’s own “Coffee Table Jazz” playlist. It creates an ideal environment for me to stay focused, get organize, create, and get things done.

What app do you know you’re underutilizing?

Workflow. Between Drafts and Hazel, I have most of my routine actions covered. I’m using Workflow for quick communications on the go, but I know its capable of so much more. 

What is the app you are still missing?

A location scouting app. Reconnaissance is only as good as what can be accurately communicated to my director, cinematographer, line producers, and all my crew. There used to be an app, Pocket Scout, which allowed me to take pictures, writes descriptors, and store information about locations, including geotagging each entry. Then, I was able to search on keywords or phrases, “red brick wall”, or “graffiti tunnel”, for example, and get directions back to that location. 

How many times a day do you use your iPhone/iPad?

I don’t use any electronic device 2 hours before bed, 2 hours after I wake up, or during meals.

What Today View widgets are you using and why?

(Phillips) Hue: I’m always changing my lights in my house depending on what I’m doing.

Pocket Informant: I like the quick view of the days weather and events. I’ve been a Pocket Informant users since somewhere around 2000 (on a Compaq iPaq 3635, and it still does everything I need and want it to do.

ESPN: Because, sports. 

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

The ecosystem. It’s because of how my devices work together that the hardware is valuable. I stop short of using the word necessary, because I come from a time before having the technology to “Think Different” in my work, play, and life. 

If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?

I would change the pricing of the Apple Watch Edition collection.

$What’s your wallpaper and why?

Photographer Clark Little’s “Heart”. It reminds me of the things which bring me the most joy. 

Anything else you’d like to share?

I’d love to connect with you on Twitter @lianalehua if you’re interested in film/tv production, live streaming, or photography. You can see my most current work at www.signalworx.com.

Thanks Liana.

PDFpen 7.1, Now with 100% More Deskew

PDFpen 7.1 got a nice update with some bug fixes and new features, including formatting options for page numbering and custom stamps. For me, the big new feature is the ability to auto-deskew when performing optical character recognition. Sadly, some of the people I work with aren't anal-retentive nerds and they often send me scanned documents that are more skewed than a cable news program. 

With version 7.1, PDFpen will now perform the OCR and then straighten the page using the OCR'd text as a baseline. That means when you go to highlight later, everything lines up, just right. This made me so happy that I made a video.


Amazon Offers Unlimited Photo Storage

Amazon announced it will now store an unlimited number of photos for free for its Amazon Prime customers and $11.99 per year for non-prime members. They'll also store an unlimited number of any files for $59.99 per year. A few years ago we hit that inflection point where storing your music in the cloud became practical. It feels like we are just about there with photos too. Next up, video.

Fantastical 2 For Mac

For several years now, Fantastical for the Mac has been the best place to quickly create text-based calendar entries. The application existed in the menubar and had the uncanny ability to create new calendar entries with just a few words. One of the application's innovations is the way it physically animates the creation of the event while you type in the text. That way, you can see exactly how the computer interprets what you are writing. You don’t have to do this very long before you you learn to create new events as easily as typing a sentence. 

I take this for granted now but thinking back to the days before Fantastical, creating a new calendar entry was a hairy mess of inspectors and mouse clicks. Fantastical changed all of that.

While this has dramatically increased the speed at which I create calendar events, I always thought of Fantastical more as a utility than a calendar application. It sat in my menubar and made new events really quickly. It was not, however, my calendar app. There was no way to see my week view, and it didn’t provide the types of tools that, frankly, I needed to run my calendar.

That is no longer the case.

Today Flexibits released Fantastical 2 for Mac. That menubar view still exists and you can still quickly add events but there is so much more, starting with a big-boy calendar.

The Full Calendar Application

This new version of Fantastical 2 includes a full screen calendar application. It has all of the expected bells and whistles including daily, weekly, month, and year of views. 

Flexibits spent some time making these views look great. With features like heat-mapping the year calendar and a week view that can display 5, 7, or 14 days, you’ll find Fantastical 2 is up to the task of managing your calendar. Also, the design looks great on Yosemite with light and dark themes. One Apple Calendar feature that I’d like to see them add with a future update is travel time.

One of my favorite features with the new full calendar menu is the infinite scrolling list of events. This is largely the reason why Fantastical 2 took over on my iPhone as my main calendar application. I really appreciate the ability to scroll through future events and see what’s coming up and I think Flexibits has cracked this nut better than any of its competitors. They took a lot of those same design cues over to the Mac with this new version.

I’ve been using the application for a few months as Flexibits wrapped up the beta process (and I produced the attached videos) and Fantastical 2 has already taken over as the primary calendar app on my Mac.

Calendar Sets

One of the most innovative new features with this application is the addition of calendar sets. I use a lot of calendars. I have calendars for each of the members of my family, my legal work, my geek work, and even more that you couldn't possibly be interested in hearing about. I frequently find myself going in and tweaking which calendars I’m going to see at any one time. For instance, I don’t normally need to see the calendars for my wife and kids and I find it tedious going into the calendar settings to turn them off and on.

Fantastical 2 for the Mac solves this with Calendar Sets. Using this feature you can designate groups of calendars as a “set”. Spend a little time and you can create multiple sets of calendars and then you can easily toggle between them in the application with the mouse or keyboard combination. As an example I have a family set, a work set, and a geek set. Not only can you toggle between these manually, Fantastical 2 can also pay attention to the location where your Mac located and toggle them automatically. For example, you could have it display your work set of calendars when you arrive at the office and your home set of calendars when you arrive home. Once you figure it out, it feels like magic.

Text Parser Improvements

The Fantastical 2 text parser also got some additional fairy dust with this new version. You can now set an alarm with the syntax “alarm x” where xdesignates the number of minutes.

For example:

“Call Katie about MPU themed vuvuzela horns tomorroaw at 10am PST alarm 30” 

The new version also got better at repeating events, letting you type something like “family game night on the last Saturday of every month at 7 PM” and Fantastical 2 will obligingly create a repeated event on the last Saturday of every month. 

Reminder Support

One problem I always had with the prior version of Fantastical 2 was the way it displayed reminders. They used to go in line with appointments, which I found too noisy for my taste. As a result, I used to always turn reminder support off. This new version solves that problem. Now Fantastical 2 keeps a separate list for reminders except for those reminders that have dates attached to them. Only those with dates attached will appear in line with your appointments, which makes sense. The reminders in the full screen calendar application also display separately.

Overall

There’s a lot more to explore with this new version. There’s a today widget, share extension, and action extension. Time zone support got even better, allowing you to search out a time zone based on city. The application works with iCloud, Google, Yahoo, and any other calendar you’ve added to your Mac’s built-in calendar (like Exchange). You can also attach custom CalDAV accounts to Fantastical 2.

This new version of Fantastical 2 is not simply an update but a brand-new application. The addition of the full screen calendar view adds so much more power to the application. Put simply, Fantastical is no longer just a utility. Now it’s a calendar application.

I made a series of videos for Flexibits all about the new application and I’ve sprinkled a few in this review but there are 12 in total that you can watch right here. The new version is $39.99 and available now in both in the Mac App Store and directly from Flexibits.

Becoming Steve Jobs

There's a new biography of Steve Jobs, Becoming Steve Jobs (iBooks) (Amazon), by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. I've already bought it and am looking forward to digging in. The Walter Isaacson Steve Jobs biography, released shortly after Steve's death, felt one-dimensional to me. It seemed to catalog his sins more than explore why he was so influential.

I fully appreciate that Steve Jobs had his flaws. What makes him interesting is how successful he was despite them. If we truly was that tyrannical, how could he possibly succeed? Early reviews indicate that this new book does a better job of answering that question.

If you are on the fence about the book, read this article by Steven Levy, which is what convinced me to buy the book.

Comparing the FitBit and iPhone Step Counts

If the first generation of computers made us sit down, hopefully the next generation will put us back on our feet.
— Eddie Smith

Eddie Smith took the trouble to do something I've always wondered about. He compared iPhone and Fitbit step counts. Eddie tested the devices going up and going down, riding elevators, walking through nature, and even riding in a car. It's actually a really good read. To me, the most interesting datapoint was how close the devices were on step count over a 90 day period. I think that as motion tracking becomes standard issue on smart phones and smart watches, step counters are going to have to bring something to the table or they'll go the way GPS navigators and iPods..

Sponsor: inShort

This week MacSparky is sponsored by inShort (website) (Mac App Store) (iOS App Store). inShort is a process and project planning application that works across the entire Apple ecosystem with apps for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. I've explained before how I'm a visual thinker and inShort is right in my wheelhouse as it lets me lay out project and planning steps visually. inShort is a powerful planning tool.

One of the more clever features is the way it allows you to embed processes and drill down to the level of detail you need at the moment. I like to think of this as "nested" flowcharts and I think it's really smart. This also gives you the added advantage of having one diagram with the big picture while at the same time being able to get down in the weeds with any particular component. You can also export the data to PDF and OPML format to share with your team, no matter what device they are on.

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InShort is actively developed with its most recent major updates adding iOS 8 and Yosemite support to the iOS and Mac platforms. The developer has more improvements in store and the app just keeps getting better. Learn more at the inShort website. Also, make sure to read the developer's PDF.

Apple Watch and Physical Touch

I was at a family event today and talking to relatives about the Apple Watch. Everyone is expecting the notifications to be useful but the more I think about it, I'm really interested in where this is all going with the Taptic touch features. The ability to draw a picture on my watch and have it appear on my wife's watch seems nifty but I'd argue the tap could be more useful.

With two Apple Watches I can tap on my watch which would result in my wife's watch tapping her wrist. Just think about that for a moment. We're using technology to remotely physically touch one another. I think this opens up a lot of interesting possibilities.

  • One tap as I'm pulling in the driveway and we need to leave for our next appointment.
  • Two taps when I'm leaving the park and walking home.
  • Three taps while at a party = I want to go home.

John Gruber recently talked about this on The Talk Show when explaining how he'd like to use watch taps to communicate with his son when picking him up from the movies. Thinking about this, I'm not aware of any prior technology that gave these options and I have to think that when this thing gets out to the public, we'll find all sorts of interesting ways to use it. The next few months are going to be fun.

Another Case for the New MacBook

Last week I wrote about people that may be right for the new MacBook. Based on the volume of email I've received, I clearly left one group out.

iPad + Keyboard Users

A not-insignificant number of MacSparky readers wrote in to explain that they view the new MacBook with just one port and underpowered processor as an upgrade to their current rig of iPad plus keyboard. One reader even did the math and reports his new MacBook will only be 0.3 pounds heavier than his iPad plus keyboard combined. I realize that the iPad has its own advantages (like a touch screen and always-on Internet connection) but if my inbox is any indication, the new MacBook is going to get several iPad converts.

Unlocking Hyperlapse

I don't know how I missed this when it first posted but Austin Mann did a post on Hyperlapse that has the potential to change your game with iPhone videography. I'm going to be trying some of these techniques over the weekend. Maybe you should too.


 

Pixelmator for iPad 1.1 - Aquarelle

One of the best things about being a Pixelmator customer is reaping the benefits of their aggressive update schedule. Today, the Pixelmator team released version 1.1 of the iPad app, Aquarelle. This new version includes some amazing watercolor tools. there are 12 separate watercolor brushes and I can't wait to see what artists do with this. The painting engine is also faster and the new color picker remembers recently used colors. 

There is a reason why Apple awarded Pixelmator App of the Year. Check it out their website or on the App Store.