When I was in Chicago for MPU Live in March I took the opportunity to order a Waterfield Staad backpack to my hotel to bring back with me. I’d been intrigued by their bags for quite some time, but after seeing MacGenie with one of these at PodCon, and seeing MacSparky’s Sling bag at the same event, I was convinced I wanted the bag.

Let’s start with logistics: I realised only shortly before my trip that this would be a great time to get the bag, so I paid for premium shipping, contacted Gary through the contact address on their web page, and hoped for the best – and they delivered (with time to spare)! After collecting it from the Fedex in my hotel (still cheaper than international shipping I would note), I actually got my hands on it.

I picked the black ballistic with the chocolate leather, I’m a fan of the Indiana Jones look – but I like my bags to look pristine for as long as possible and knew the ballistic fabric would deliver that, however leather ages whatever you do – so the chocolate was an obvious choice to let me still see the wear on it! The inside of the flap is lined with smooth black leather, and this doesn’t mark easily so I suspect the completely black model wouldn’t have either.

Some background: I fly, a lot. I’m writing this review on my 5th flight this month, which happens to be my 3rd weekend on the road (or in the air) in a row. Next weekend I’m not going anywhere (at least that I know of), and then I’m off to WWDC which involves 4 flights. I fly carry on only whenever I can, because it’s cheaper, and it means I know my things will be with me when I land. However this means my backpack is restricted to some pretty small dimensions – unless I wanted to put everything in my backpack (which if you’ve queued in the immigration line at LAX before you will probably agree is not fun). So I need a small backpack, I also want to be able to get at everything pretty easily – without said items falling out of the bag if I open it up.

This bag is perfect for me as it has a laptop sleeve which fits my 13″ MacBook Air like it was made for it (it’s actually made for the 13″ MacBook Pro which is cuboid rather than wedge shaped), and another sleeve on the front of that for my 11″ iPad Pro in the smart folio with the Apple Pencil. On the inside of the bag at the top there are two vertical pockets which close with Velcro – I use one for my passport and one for my charger and USB C cables (to USB C and Lightning). On the front at the bottom you have two pockets as well – these are designed so that if you swing the bag up under your arm they face up (or completely down if you open the opposite side pocket), which is where my purse (American: wallet), AirPods, any medication I need, lip balm, tissues, etc., live. If I’m taking the bag to work my work ID/access card go in there too.

Everything else goes in the main compartment in front of my iPad Pro – this usually includes things like my Bose headphones in their case (I prefer to fly with the QC35s, but sometimes take the QC30s instead), Nintendo Switch, etc. Overfilling the bag isn’t an option because then the flap wouldn’t close – but this helps me limit what I’m carrying and I appreciate that.

I was impressed with this bag when I first got it in March, but 2 months later I can see it’s truly holding up as it ought to – it looks great, and it works. Because of the sleeves for my devices (which aren’t insanely large as they often are in bags) I can just slip my laptop and iPad in and out, the half zip on the front under the flap lets me get access to things inside if I need to, but keeps things securely in place. The clasp is very good too – it closes easily (unless you try to overstuff the bag), and it stays put. The fabric is also exactly wide enough that you can slip a pin on it for decoration without worrying about damage or impaired function. The bag also fits nicely on my frame – the Stout model is unsurprisingly larger, which is one reason why I didn’t order it (if I have space in a bag I will absolutely throw things in “just in case” and then end up regretting lugging said items around later) – and I’m 5’7″ as well as pretty slim. I’m also really pleased with the padding on the straps and the back of the bag (pictured below), they’re thick and comfortable, but not so thick that the bad becomes bulky.

The only thing that remains to be seen is if the iPad pocket will fit my iPad Pro with the Brydge keyboard attached – however that is something I’ll have to wait another week or so to try! I’m very pleased with my bag – and now I have to admit I’m very tempted to try out some of their other products like one of their cases for the Nintendo Switch!

Shortcuts for Accessibility Gallery screenshot

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day and I’m really pleased to see that Apple has updated the Shortcuts gallery to highlight some Shortcuts targeted at solving some of the problems people face every day. These shortcuts include:

  • Speak Brush Teeth Routine
  • Mood Journal
  • Special Day Countdown
  • Do Not Disturb timer

There are 13 of these shortcuts in total, and it just goes to show how technology can be helpful for everyone, but in some cases it can make a massive difference.

 

Shortcuts for Accessibility Gallery screenshot

 

These shortcuts are available in the Shortcuts app, in the gallery, it should be the first item featured at the top.

 

As I’ve talked about on Automators before, I have used Zapier to send notifications to my iPhone which trigger Shortcuts – this means that I can have a series of automated actions happen and follow it up with something I need to manually do. I’ve been using PushBullet and Pushover to do this – I’ve tried both and they’re both good, but they’re designed for notifications and the URLs triggering automations is not something it was designed to do. Additionally PushBullet still hasn’t been updated for the iPhone X(s) screen format. Pushover has been updated more recently, but it still doesn’t quite match up with what Pushcut can do as a dedicated app.

Let’s start by looking at a few use cases for this:

  • MacSparky and I take it in turns to post the Automators episodes, that means every second episode when it releases I need to be prompted to put up my blog post about the episode. That post is prepared, and is in Drafts, so once the episode is up I get a notification that triggers a Shortcut to help me find the right Draft and post it.
  • When an article of mine goes up on The Sweet Setup I like to go and clean it out of my Dropbox (where the drafts sit), which I do through a Shortcut, and then post about it on my site.

Those are just two of the many use cases I have for this sort of thing, in each case there can be multiple steps I would like to execute on my device – some of these I’ve combined into a single Shortcut which runs those other shortcuts, but others I’m still trying to rely on my memory (which has more holes in it than a sieve!). Also if I want or need to change these I need to log into Zapier and change the URL scheme that’s in the URL part of the notification action step (whether that’s through Pushover or Pushbullet).

Pushcut is a free app with two subscription levels, I’ll give you a quick overview of those:

  • Free: Create three notifications, which can each trigger one action (opening a URL or running a Shortcut).
  • Basic: Create as many notifications as you want, with as many actions as you want on each notification. Plus you can sync these between your devices.
  • Pro: Dynamic notifications – based on JSON you use to trigger the notification which can give you: inputs for Shortcuts and dynamic title and text in notifications. You can also target individual devices.

I immediately decided I wanted the Pro – I’ve been passing variables to Shortcuts as parameters through Zapier, and I’ve been building my own workarounds for branching to give me different information. Most people should start out with the free level and then try basic though to get to grips with the system.

Setup

The first thing to do is to create a notification in the Pushcut app, and give it a name. The name of the in the app is separate to what appears as the title of the notification which is very useful allowing you to have useful internal descriptions, but have an action based title. The title gets URL encoded and becomes part of the URL you POST to in order to trigger the notification. Tapping this URL will copy it to your clipboard – and I’ll come back to what to do with that near the end!

Secondly you want to set the Notification Title and Description. These are what will show up on your device when you get the notification, I like mine to tell me what to do, and why I’m doing it – this way I won’t just ignore the notifications because the seem irrelevant. After this you should set a default action, and you probably want to add this as action as well. The default action is what happens if you just tap on the notification, or swipe on it from the lock screen, and the actions are what you (can) trigger after force touching the notification – you can add multiple actions to a notification here, giving you a choice in which action to execute.

Now we have the basics set up we can trigger the notification! Depending on your needs you could use this with something like IFTTT or Zapier’s web hooks, or even build it into a script somewhere.

Now whenever this is triggered you will get a notification sent to your device which when opened will trigger a Shortcut.

In addition to what I’ve outlined above you can enhance this with the Pro options – allowing you to specify custom notification titles and content, and also pass input to your shortcuts. You can also run URL schemes allowing you to something like add a task to Due – without having to go via Shortcuts.

I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to the developer of Pushcut over the last few weeks and he’s been adding enhancements right and left! While the app and service are already a step up from existing solutions just because of the ease of use, the fact that this is a dedicated service for triggering automations on iOS means it really is well thought out.

Pushcut – Automation your way

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