Otto’s Antenna and Remote

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There’s an interesting new combo of apps out called Otto’s Antenna and Otto’s Remote (Official Site). Otto’s Antenna sits in the menu bar of your Mac and you give it AppleScripts, shell scripts and Automator workflows to manage. That’s all. Otto’s Remote, on your iPhone, can remotely trigger any scripts in Otto’s Antenna’s scripts folder. Anywhere. You don’t have to be in range of Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. It works over iCloud (and surprisingly well). That’s nifty, but even niftier is that Otto’s Remote using geofencing to trigger scripts automatically. You can set these up with multiple Macs, with any script that Otto’s Antenna knows about, and can be set up to fire when you enter or leave a location.

Ottos

Otto’s Antenna costs $3.99 and Otto’s Remote is free.

Questions from WWDC 2013

IOS 7 calendar app

Will the iOS 7 calendar support natural language input?

The new iOS 7 calendar app looks pretty and all, but I wonder if it’ll support natural language input. If it doesn’t, then all the fancy graphics won’t make a difference. I’ll keep using Fantastical because its language parsing makes adding calendar events a breeze.

Is the weather app still using the same weather backend?

I’ve grown to love Forecast.io and I want to continue to use it, but I’m gonna bet Apple ain’t using it.

Will the new Siri voices be available for OS X?

You can download Siri’s voice, Samantha, for OS X. Will the new male and female voices be available for OS X McCain/Palin ‘08 as well.

How secure is the new iCloud keychain?

Will you have to unlock the keychain when you want to access your passwords or are they going to be opened up after just your four digit pin code is used to unlock the screen?

Can the iCloud keychain store other info like software licenses and attachments to notes?

Can the iCloud keychain replace 1Password? I use 1Password to store software licenses and other secure notes (with attachments) and I’m betting iCloud keychain won’t do those things.

Mindnode Pro for OS X: Affordable Mind Mapping

Screen Shot 2012 07 11 at 3 59 10 PM I’ve been wanting to get into mind mapping for a while now. I really wanted to try out Mind Manager, but it’s ungodly expensive. When I saw Mindnode Pro on sale in the App Store for half price, I jumped on it. Mindnode Pro is normally $20 but I snatched it up at $10. It’s been $10 well spent too. I’m extemely happy with Mindnode Pro.

Mindnode Pro may lack the staggering number of features that Mind Manager has, but Mindnode Pro has enough for most people. You can create multiple main nodes and then go crazy with all the sub-nodes. You can make the branches up to six different colors, and it really brightens everything up. Drab, it isn’t.

You can adjust a lot of the keyboard shortcuts easily to customize Mindnode Pro’s behavior to your liking. Mindnode Pro feels very lightweight. I’ve never had any hangs with it in a couple months worth of usage, on both my three year old Macbook Pro or my 18 month old Macbook Air.

If you have any existing OPML files from another application (including straight up outliners), they’ll work fine. You can also export your mind maps into plain text, OPML, PDF, image, or Free Mind formats.

If you happen to need the ability to create and edit mind maps on the go, the developers, IdeasOnCanvas also offer Mindnode Touch for iOS.

Even at $20, Mindnode Pro is a great value. You get 90% of the mind mapping abilities you probably need at 1/20th of Mind Manager’s price.

Droplr for Mac Needs an Update, BAD

Droplr Pro launched recently, and the iOS app got a small update that allows you to mark shared items private or public. The Mac app, however, is in desperate need of an update. You still can’t mark things private. Invoking the shortcut with a file selected doesn’t upload the file, it creates a text note of the path to that file on your Mac. There are multiple types of notes you can create: plain text, Markdown, Textile, and Code but you can’t set the app to default to anything other than plain text and there’s no shortcut to quickly create a note. Lastly, another cool feature missing from Droplr that Cloud has is the ability to upload the contents of your clipboard. That can be very useful in certain situations. Droplr Pro is now a much better service than Cloud, but the Mac app is severely lacking. There are also no third-party Droplr clients for power users like the excellent Cloud to Go for iOS.

Tags, Revisted

Pathfinder

I wrote a little while ago about OpenMeta tags and some software to implement them. I continue to be a believer in tagging. At every opportunity, I reduced the number of folders I use and consolidate as many files as I can into one folder and then tag them, sparingly. Over tagging files can be just as bad as having too many folders. Here’s an example of overtagging:

For a while, I was tagging work documents as ‘work’ and ‘COMPANYNAME’. It was overkill. I should know that anything that is tagged with my employer’s name is work. I shouldn’t need to tag those documents as ‘work’ too. Those files are already in a ‘Work’ folder in Dropbox.

Two updates to applications I had tried in the past came out last week and their new inclusion of OpenMeta tagging support has gotten me back into them. The first is Path Finder 6. I tried Path Finder out in 2007, I think, and while I liked it’s extra abilities over the Finder, it wasn’t ready to be a replacement for the Finder. Path Finder’s come a long way, and I think you can safely leave Finder behind. What I essentially do is run both in tandem, and I redirect all “Reveal in Finder” commands to reveal in Path Finder and Path Finder lets you hide the Finder’s dock icon. Finder can run in the background for Time Machine and you can use Path Finder exclusively. It’s pretty seamless.

Path Finder 6 also adds the ability to work with OpenMeta tags. You can edit the tags for any file, but Path Finder has these nifty “tag groups” you can set up and then every time you apply a “tag group”, Path Finder adds multiple tags that you’ve already assigned to that “tag group”. I still use Tags.app because of the ability to tag anything, anywhere rather quickly and Tags.app has a great search feature and tag browser that Path Finder doesn’t.

Oh, one more bad ass thing. Path Finder 6 can queue file transfers! No more grinding hard drives to a halt when you initiate multiple transfers at the same time.

The other piece of software is the new version of the MailTags add-on for Mail.app. MailTags now adds OpenMeta tags so the emails you tag with MailTags show up in Tags.app’s tag browser. I guess tagging emails is a natural extension of my newfound love of tagging files. Adding tags like ‘@action’, ‘@followup’ and ‘@waiting’ have made it easy to create Smart Mailboxes that help me get to certain types of mail quickly. I have a Smart Mailbox called “Priority Mail” that contains flagged messages, ‘@action’ and ‘@followup’. I check this once in the morning and I can quickly see what needs to be acted on or processed in some way.

Overall, I’m really happy with my tagging setup. I keep everything in Dropbox, my MailTags tags sync through iCloud’s IMAP system (or at least they appear to be) and I’m taking advantage of Smart Mailboxes and Spotlight Saved Searches to keep everything at my fingertips.

Automate Your Affection with Automator

Your mom’s probably always telling you to stay in touch. If you want to show your mom that you love her without having to remember that you need to show her that you love her, send her an “I love you!” email on a schedule using Automator.

Here’s an example Automator workflow:

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  1. New mail message
  2. Send outgoing messages
  3. Quit application (Mail)

Set your loved one’s email as the “to:”, set a subject and message body and save. If you want to make this an automatic thing, save it as an iCal alarm and set it to trigger at a certain time(s)!

TextMate 2 Supports Japanese!

やっと日本語を使える?

TextMate finally got the ability to work with Japanese out of the box. It’s a slightly strange implementation however. In most apps, after typing out a word in Japanese, you hit [Space] to convert the hiragana into kanji and when you hit [Enter] you close that word out and move on to the next word. In TextMate 2.0 alpha, hitting enter not only closes the current word out, it shifts your cursor down to the next line! It’s a little jarring. You can hit [Space], convert to kanji and then just keep typing (this works in all apps) but if you’re used to hitting [Enter] like I am, it’s really strange.

Kick Disks Out with Quick Disk

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Ejection

Quick Disk’s main selling point is that it sits in your menu bar and allows you to see all connected disks on your Mac and you can eject them individually or hit the big “Eject All” button and get rid of them all. Very handy if you want to see all the disks connected to your system if you don’t have them displayed on your desktop.

Free Space

Another cool thing Quick Disk does is display how much space is free on each drive and what percentage of each drive’s space is available. Could be useful to users who are always running out of disk space and will help them be aware of when they’re about to hit that wall. This info is of course displayed when you click the menu bar icon, but you can also set Quick Disk to display either the amount in bytes or the percentage of available space next to the menu bar icon. I’m not running low on space, so I’m simply displaying the icon.

Purchase

Quick Disk is a nifty little utility that a lot of people may not need but it’s nice to have and only $0.99. Buy it in the Mac App Store.

Use a VPN to Circumvent Region Lockouts Online

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There are plenty of reasons why you might want to have a VPN connection. The biggest one for people outside the US is to access US-only media like Hulu, Netflix and gaming services. As an American with an American credit card who wants to purchase American content even though I live overseas, the policies of the companies I want to give money to can be extremely frustrating at times. My first such experience was with Playstation Network. For the first couple years of its existence, PSN played nice. By logging into my American account and using my American credit card, PSN allowed me to buy and download content just like anyone else back in America. Then about 18 months ago, Sony changed its system to disallow credit cards being used outside their area. Thus, my American credit card couldn’t be used from Japan. The best way to get around this was to buy PSN point cards on Amazon and redeem the code. Once redeemed, PSN would allow me to purchase whatever I wanted. It wasn’t the content that was restricted, but the payment method. I never tried using a Japanese credit card with it, so I don’t know if they would’ve accepted an overseas card from the overseas region either. I ran into the same problem with Steam as well on the Mac, but the US Steam store works with foreign credit cards, as long as you’re in the region that card is from.

Then I got an Xbox 360. The first thing I wanted to do was buy Mass Effect from Games on Demand. Xbox Live wouldn’t allow it. But it let me buy Shadow Complex, so I assumed Games on Demand was off limits overseas. Then one day, I happened to attempt buying Splinter Cell: Conviction from Games on Demand, and it worked! I thought Microsoft had loosened up. Then over the summer I bought the Gears of War Triple Pack and tried to redeem the DLC code inside the box. Didn’t work. Turns out that Microsoft published games and the DLC (free and paid) attached to them are region locked. It’s why Mass Effect couldn’t be purchased, but Mass Effect 2’s DLC downloaded just fine. (Because EA published Mass Effect 2, and thankfully Mass Effect 3.)

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The only way to circumvent Microsoft’s roadblocks is to access Xbox Live through a VPN. I’ve known a lot of people who went about this by trying to log into a service like Hotspot Shield and then use OS X’s Internet Sharing feature through a wired Ethernet connection to their Xbox 360. It works to share your Internet connection, just not the one you want to share. This will not work. No matter how long you bang your head against, thinking you can make it work, you will not make this work. I spent hours and people I know have spent hours trying to share a VPN connection through this method. It won’t get you anywhere.

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So how do you share a VPN? You need to dial in over PPTP. I haven’t found a free VPN that will let you connect through PPTP, so be prepared to open your wallet (or purse) a little bit. The VPN service I settled on was Hide My Ass. It’s got a silly name, but they have the ability to connect to their service through PPTP and OpenVPN. I didn’t have any luck with OpenVPN, but PPTP worked like a charm. Once you have set up a PPTP connection, you then share not your usual connection but the virtual connection you just created out to your Xbox 360 over Ethernet. Your Xbox 360 will not connect to Xbox Live through a connection that Live thinks is in the US. There are plenty of places you can choose to have your connection come out of, so choose whichever has the lightest load.

While HMA works, the speed isn’t great. It’s probably about 1Mbps. I’m quite used to 100Mbps here in Japan, and while 1Mbps was screaming fast when I was in high school, it’s painfully slow now. Downloading Gears of War map packs took way longer than it would have normally. There’s a quirk to Xbox Live that may be beneficial in your use of VPNs though. Xbox Live only checks region at the beginning and end of downloads. The fastest solution to downloading content is to:

  1. Purchase locked content through Xbox.com and then let it download from your queue.
  2. Keep an eye on it and switch over to the PPTP connection at about 97% completion.

This should allow you to download almost all of the content at your fastest speed, and then bypass the region check at the end.

MultiMarkdown Composer Review

Why It’s a Big Deal

MMD Composer is a big deal because it’s the first time the creator of Markdown (or a variant of Markdown) has created a text editor. It’s not a massive text editor like BBEdit or TextMate, but for me that’s fine. I don’t use more than a sliver of either applications’ power. I just want a straightforward text editor that handles MultiMarkdown really well. MMD Composer, created by Fletcher Penny, is just that. A lot of text editors on the market don’t do a great job with MultiMarkdown. They handle Markdown just fine, but a lot of them don’t do MultiMarkdown at all. Seeing as Fletcher Penny is the creator of MMD, Composer does the best job of MMD formatting I’ve ever seen.

So What’s New?

MMD’s best addition to the basic Markdown syntax is the ability to create tables. The biggest thing in MMD Composer for me is the automatic wrapping of tables.

It can take text like:

| Name | Phone Number |

| —— | ————– | Louise | 555-1234 Benny | 555-1285 Alex | 555-8320 [Contact Details]

And turn it into this:

It’s pretty nifty, right? It also adds more options for images like size customization and creating footnotes.

MMD Composer can auto-pair characters like [], (), and “”. Makes creating links and the like much easier. Another cool trick for links is that if you’ve got a URL in the clipboard, you can highlight a string of text in MMD Composer, paste the clipboard contents and MMD Composer will automatically create a link for you. Also, highlight text and use the usual RTF ⌘ + B or ⌘ + I and it wraps the text in asterisks for you. It’s quite handy. MMD Composer exports as RTF, LaTeX, HTML, OPML and you can even give it a custom shell script for custom exporting. There’s also a nice Table of Contents function so that you can open a ToC drawer and jump quickly between different # headers. Lastly, if you have Brett Terpstra’s Marked installed, you can have MMD Composer open up Marked when previewing documents.

If you write in MultiMarkdown on a Mac, you should definitely be using MultiMarkdown Composer. It’s currently available at an introductory price of $7.99.