As I mentioned recently, I have switched over to Alfred. I wanted to share a few of the workflows that are currently in daily (hourly?!) use.
The built-in (with the PowerPack) iTunes mini player is really fantastic. You can control iTunes quickly and easily using a few typed commands. I use it all day and it's so much more intuitive than most of the iTunes hotkey systems I've messed around with.
I'll post more winners as I find (or create) them. This app has really captured my interest and I am excited to keep extending it.
Up until now, I've been giving Alfred a shot here or there. I would download the free version and play around with it and then run into roadblocks with its support of some things I'm currently doing with Launchbar. I have trouble overcoming the friction and eventually give up on it. It was a shame because people who didn't use Launchbar swore by Alfred. I found Launchbar seemed very well-suited to how I worked, not to mention the fact that I had already built up considerable muscle memory with Launchbar hotkeys. My interest in Alfred always persisted however and I'm glad it did.
Enter Alfred v2. It is a re-designed (from the ground up, I'm told) new version of the app and after hearing a lot of rumblings about the efficacy of the new workflow system, I thought I'd give it a go. And this was to be a real go -- one that wasn't just a dip into the common features and a surface recognition that things weren't going to work out for us, Alfred and me. No, this was going to go all the way.
So what did I find? I found a deep, useful and profoundly productive tool which has shown more promise with each day I've spent with it. At this point, Alfred has not only replaced Launchbar for common use throughout the day, but it has extended beyond it into things that Keyboard Maestro used to do. If you've ever used Keyboard Maestro, you'd know how amazing that is. That's not to say that it is perfect. It's also not to say that there are limitations as well. But it is a really, really good product (with the PowerPack installed) and I'm happy with the results so far.
I am not going to go too far down the rabbit hole in this post but I will run down some of the things that struck me about the new version of Alfred as well as some of the features that allowed it to overcome some of its previous shortcomings.
One thing that used to kill me was that I had some really fast, custom shortcuts in Launchbar -- "OL" would fire up Outlook, "PF" would fire off Pathfinder, etc. Alfred , however, picked the target apps itself and used heuristics to push things up the list of popular choices. Sometimes it picked "OL" for Outlook but if it decided that OmniOutliner made more sense, you couldn't "brute force" the choice to always choose Outlook like you could in Launchbar. I am not a huge fan of having to hit ⌘-1, etc. for additional choices so having the first choice be exactly what I want, when I want it, is key.
With workflows, that restriction is gone. I just open the workflow designer, create a trigger, map "OL" to Outlook and I'm done. The whole process takes about two minutes and it's all clicking, dragging and minimal typing.
Some cursory perusal of the Alfred forums yielded some great workflows to quickly create OmniFocus tasks, completely control Rdio, and provide a fast way to list time zones in various parts of the world. All of this functionality comes from typing a few choice keys the Alfred command box. Brilliant.
Combine that with automating some previously keyboard-intensive things I used to do like launching a terminal and typing some common commands (like "top -oCPU" etc.) or clever ways to launch framed windows to remote machines and I'm saving tons of keystrokes.
I am sure my use of Alfred will change and grow over the coming weeks and, once they launch a better way to browse community workflows the tool will evolve in ways people are barely able to imagine right now. At this point, I can safely say that I won't be ditching Alfred any time soon. The app looks gorgeous, has lots of options and clearly has a keen design vision behind it. I can't wait to see where this goes.
I have been kicking various versions of this post around for months. FoldingText is an app that is very hard to put into words and I'll admit that not everyone will be seduced by its charms. All of the words I've written and deleted up to this point are just ways of saying the following:
FoldingText is the best plain text editor currently available for day-to-day use. It may be the most useful and creatively-innovative word entry application since Byword or Scrivener.
The application itself was made for nerds by a nerd. Jesse Grosjean has done a lot of work on text editing applications and implementing scripting and it shows. Others have written with more depth and include a lot of the facts of the matter, but I'm going to approach this, as I usually do, from the perspective of how I use the tool and why it fits so snugly into my wheelhouse for all of the things I need to do throughout a typical work day.
I think in outlines.
After having several conversations with Gabe Weatherhead from Macdrifter, I realized I wasn't alone in this. I've tried mindmaps and they have their place and I've tried using tools specifically designed for outlining (like OmniOutliner) but, in the end, using a plain text outline format always seems like the easiest alternative. This is coming from a guy who has spent many hours fiddling with OPML importing and exporting to various apps and device -- scripts in python, KeyboardMaestro, Applescript, etc.
Websites like Checkvist have come along (thanks, Gabe!) and have made web-based outlining fairly seamless. Ultimately, all of these tools have their place and I've wrestled with each one but it comes down to me fighting against the inevitability of a simple, plain text outline format.
Some things have happened in the last few years that make using a plain text outline a little easier. On the iPad, the keyboard macro ribbon in NebulousNotes works well for keeping things simple and fast. I'm still using the technique I wrote up a few months ago when I'm on my iPad and with a new teeny hardware keyboard arriving soon (I hope), I'm sure it will get more use.
Here's how I use FoldingText.
At the beginning of the week, I'll use nvALT to create a new file for my meetings and planning sessions. This file gets updated with text all week long, using a TextExpander snippet header/divider to delineate the text for each meeting. The TextExpander snippet creates the header text in markdown, bolds it and inserts a date-time stamp. I can be ready to type my notes within seconds of sitting down in a meeting and the headers help me stay consistent in identification and format. This consistency also makes it easy to search for specific meeting minutes later.
The way FoldingText handles indenting and bulleted lists works perfectly for me. When you use Tab and Shift-tab you're met with exactly what you'd expect -- proper indenting. The muscle memory for these hotkeys, built up over the years in similarly well-written and consistent apps, is rewarded.
Once a few meetings are entered, you start making use of the more interesting and unique features of FoldingText. The application gives you the ability to focus on a section of a document at a time. It can also expand and contract pieces of the document based on indent levels. Those markdown meeting headers I mentioned earlier come in very handy here.
Another really powerful feature that I tend to use a lot is "Focus Mode" which amounts to honing your view of the document to a single section with the rest drawing up into an ellipses encased in a little black triangle in the upper left of the page. It's an elegant solution and, like many of the features of the app, I never expected I'd have need for it...until I did. Once it "clicked" for me, I started using the feature often. As with all seriously nerd-centric apps, while each one of these commands can be invoked by the menu, they can also be invoked using handy and intuitive hotkeys.
The Expand and Collapse commands provide more ways to hone what you see. I use them if I have a lot of meeting notes sections cluttering up a page. Selecting all of the meetings from earlier in the week and selecting the "Collapse" command rolls them up to just a header lines. You can also do that with small subsections within larger sections of your document. It's a fantastic feature and I use it constantly to keep the relevant text visible at all times as I write notes throughout the course of a meeting.
There is a handy quick document navigation feature where you can, without using your mouse, zip around your document quickly using section headers. It isn't that helpful early in the week, but later in the week, when the document has grown to massive size, this is a life-saver.
I was slightly baffled by the size of the font when I first opened the app. It seemed to big and I couldn't find any way to change it in the preferences. Then I decided to take a peek at the "Zoom" function and, lo and behold, this menu item makes the text bigger and smaller. It was pretty obvious in retrospect.
Having everything as plain text is brilliant as it allows me to access the same text documents in Dropbox that I access via nvALT for comprehensive searching or Nebulous Notes on my iPad for on-the-go changes, updates or research. The advanced document navigation and view management of those same, simple, markdown-based text files makes this an incredible tool.
There's a lot more to say about FoldingText and I may post items here or there as I find new uses for key features. If you're a plain text person who uses markdown and can use your Mac at work (that's a pretty long list of caveats!), you're crazy if you're not using this app.
If you want to listen to an interview with the creator of FoldingText, Grosjean was interviewed by Brett Terpstra on his podcast, Systematic on 5by5.tv. Go give it a listen!
Shout-out to Shawn Blanc for pimping Dropvox. I am a long-time user and have been putting it through the paces recording lectures I attend and for saving thoughts while driving. It has seamless Dropbox integration and seems to transmit the data to its destination even with bad connectivity. I have been impressed by its stability and simplicity.
The idea is that you hook this app to your Dropbox account and hit "record". That's basically all you need to know. The mp3 file is uploaded to a special application directory and you can do whatever you like with it. These recordings can be any length and I'm finding more and more ways to use it. Some recordings become emails, DayOne entries, memos or the framework for a much larger document that I want to get a headstart on before arriving at work. I have also recorded multi-hour lectures with nary a hiccup.
For the files that I record in the car on the way to work that are destined to become emails or documents, I have a little workflow to convert them to text. Sadly, it isn't a cheap solution but it is one that works pretty well. MacSpeech Scribe ($149USD) is a tool created specifically for transcribing voice files to text. It takes some training but it works quite well.
One hiccup is that recording in the car is much simpler if I use my Bluetooth in-car voice control (and obviously its safer since it is handsfree) but the bluetooth voice quality is much lower than it is for standard recording. As a result, Scribe has a much harder time transcribing my voice files. After training it for a "car voice", Scribe started getting much better but its not perfect. That said, it is still better than transcribing it by hand myself.
I've gotten my $2's worth from Dropvox. It's a very simple and handy app and worth a look if you're in the market for a recording device that integrates seamlessly with Dropbox.
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