Uh oh, despite being rebooked my flight is cancelled. I should get there just an hour later but there’s an extra change in there. Hoping I can standby on a direct flight to somewhere in NA so I just have to change the once!

Uh oh, the strike at Frankfurt airport on Tuesday might cause the flight I should be on to be cancelled. However one call to the airline and they’ve re-routed me. I’ll get to Seattle a day earlier than planned and at no charge!

iOS Access Book Updated for iOS 12

Shelly Brisbin has been hard at work and updated iOS Access for All. It’s a book about accessibility on iOS – walking you through using all of the Apple features designed to assist people. Additionally there are reviews of hundreds of accessible iOS apps.

Even if you don’t have a disability yourself it is worth reading this book – many of the features talked about helpful for the rest of us too!

You can check the book out over at iOSAccessBook.com.

Update to Build Your OmniFocus Workflow, Mobi and More

Ryan and I have been tweaking Build Your OmniFocus Workflow, mostly recently we have added a mobi download which means that you can easily read the book on your Kindle! Just send it to your Kindle email address, or connect your Kindle to your computer and copy the .mobi file over.

Also, as Ryan says on the blog:

The ePub has slightly improved chapter and section markers whilst the PDF has been rebuilt with a PDF table of contents.

What does this mean? For existing customers all of this can be downloaded in the downloads area on the blog (if you can’t log in please use the contact form on the OmniFocus book website). For anyone considering purchasing the book: the launch sale ends January 11th, that’s this Friday. After that the price will go up to $30.

Thank you to everyone who has sent such lovely feedback on the book!

As a note: we intend this book to “live”, as such when OmniFocus gets new features it will be updated to cover those – and those will be free updates too.

You can get the book on the website: OmniFocusBook.com.

Dual Sim iPhone XS Max Review – 3 Months On

When the iPhones were announced last year I had decided before the event that I wasn’t upgrading, and for a while after the event I held out – until I found out I could get a real dual sim iPhone XS Max from Hong Kong, which means no restrictions or modifications to iOS, and real dual sim capabilities. When it dropped in price a little I caved and flexed my credit card. (For the curious I found the iPhone on eBay from a UK seller – I picked the seller with the highest ratings and everything went smoothly.)

Why dual sim? For many people this is unnecessary, in my case I am fortunate enough to have both my work mobile number and my personal mobile number on one sim, however I have an older personal number, and my UK number which I still receive messages on – and in the case of the UK sim I often use it when travelling (both to the UK and other places as the provider, Three, offer good travel packages). Some people have separate work and personal sims, and it’s definitely nice to have the option of switching sims when travelling if only to get a cheaper data plan, whilst being able to keep your regular number to receive incoming calls or messages.

So, it’s pretty simple to use and works precisely as documented by Apple, you pop out the sim tray, the sim on the back is held in with a small plastic spring and the one on the front is held in with gravity. Once you put the sims in you get asked how you want to use them, and off you go. I don’t have an e-sim option at all, which means if I travel somewhere and want a local sim I’ll have to buy it first. That said, in most countries there’s only one e-sim provider and they’re usually not the cheapest so I probably wouldn’t use them anyway.

The only thing missing from this setup is the ability to use both numbers with iMessage – unfortunately you’re limited to using the primary number with FaceTime and iMessage. However in my case I chose to use my email address as my primary contact information for iMessage a long time ago which alleviates that issue quite nicely!

Now to the Max itself. I was previously a member of the of the Plus club (as it was christened by the fabulous hosts of Connected. In 2017 I thought that the X would be perfect for me and it was indeed an excellent device – but I really do like the bigger screen! With the Max I caved to the trends and bought a pop socket as recommended on Cortex – and my little finger is very thankful for this as I have previously rested the iPhone on that finger.

The very exciting part of the S and R series of iPhones of course is the ability to read NFC tags without opening an app first – this is going to be a great automation possibility, simply because I can be prompted to run automations when I put my iPhone down in specific places such as by my bed. I’m very sure app developers are going to be taking advantage of this! Launch Center Pro has already updated to support this ability and it’s coming in handy – for everything from triggering shortcuts to accessing OmniFocus perspectives.

The one thing I had not realised I was missing was battery life. With my X I needed to charge the device most evenings when getting home from work, now I can make it until bedtime and I often have about 40% battery remaining (unless I play Pokémon Go, which requires a battery pack on any device). I’ve already seen how useful this is on trips – while I always have a battery pack handy it’s nice not to need it, or at least to not be tethered to it. I won’t be travelling long haul until I visit Seattle for PodCon later this month – but I suspect with low power mode I would be able to get by with just a small battery pack if I choose to do so.

All in all, I’m very happy with the Xs Max and don’t regret getting it at all. Was my X good? Definitely! And I wouldn’t recommend this move to most people, but for me it definitely resulted in benefits so was definitely worth it.

Automators 13: Launch Center Pro with David Barnard

In episode 13 of Automators we got to interview David Barnard from Contrast – the company behind Launch Center Pro which was just updated this week.

I’ve been a big fan of Launch Center Pro for years, it was around long before Shortcuts and has a massive collection of URL schemes in it for starters. You may well be thinking that now we have Shortcuts, Pythonista, Scriptable, Drafts and more we don’t need Launch Center Pro anymore though – and we dive into this in the podcast.

Launch Center Pro can do automations by itself, anything which can be done via URL scheme is triggerable – but that’s not all. It offers a GUI to build a URL scheme (which you could take and use elsewhere if you wanted to). You can also specify that you want user input in a variety of formats, choosing from a list, keyboard or numberpad input, scanning a barcode, dictation and more! Launch Center Pro can also URL encode text for you if it’s placed in double%20curly%20brackets – and to make things more user friendly you put in one of the GUI fields when building a URL scheme will be preserved exactly as you have written it and wrapped in those brackets allowing you to edit it easily.

Time Based Launchers

If you want to remember to check the weather at 7am everyday, look in TestFlight for beta updates, or to send a message at 5pm then you can achieve this with Launch Center Pro, it can do anything from launching a mind-bogglingly long list of apps, to anything which can be done through URL schemes (and more, but I’ll get to that). In the new version you can

One Off Alerts

As well as alerts appearing every Wednesday at 9pm you can also have a one time alert appear, this is ideal for things like “I need to ask my boyfriend X, Y and Z via WhatsApp”, I can just modify the text that will be sent and set the alert to trigger say 30 minutes after my flight lands.

Location Based Launchers

Launching maps for your route to work everyday at 8am is all very well, but wouldn’t it be better to have that trigger when you leave your house? Launch Center Pro can prompt you to do things like this based on location – you can have something prompt you when you arrive a location, leave it, or both.


GPS is great, but it’s also not the most accurate, so when I arrive at work I like to check my OmniFocus work perspective (rather than seeing how many tasks I have which need to be completed at work), but if I use GPS I’ll get prompted when I get off the tram outside, which means when I actually get into my office on the 6th floor about 10 minutes later I will have forgotten or dismissed the notification already, or worse still looked at the perspective and forgotten what I’d seen in it. To alleviate this issue I use iBeacons – little devices used for indoor location tracking. They’re not hard to setup, just copy the iBeacon ID into the field in LCP and let it do the work. I have one I put in my suitcase too when travelling which means I can toggle on my travel launchers for reminders when arriving at/leaving my hotel room easily. The one at work lives in my desk drawer and it usually triggers between me exiting the lift and actually getting into my room which is perfect.

Time and Location Based Launchers

Location based things are great, but if I go past the supermarket on a Sunday there’s no point in reminding me to buy juice – the supermarket is closed (in Austria most retail locations are closed on Sundays). I use a really nice feature to limit when these location based reminders pop up, so if I’m on my way home from the airport at midnight then the location based trigger won’t show up.

NFC Tags

NFC tags are brand new to Launch Center Pro 3 – they’re truly techie stickers which can trigger a notification when you touch them, and the ones from the Contrast Shop will let you attach them to Launch Center Pro 3 and actions within it. You can even attach the same sticker to more than one action, and then pick from the provided menu when you open the notification.

Quick Access to Stuff

Some apps have things buried deep in menus, or you simply need to scroll a lot to get to it. Launch Center Pro can frequently give you speedy access to things – such as next month in Fantastical, a new email to a specific person in Airmail, or prepare actions for you such as starting a new Glympse and sending it via email.

As promised on the show, this is my shortcut to weigh myself. I have FitBit scales and unfortunately they don’t sync to the health app. Rather than use another ap to sync from FitBit to Health I just input the data directly – and have it calculate my BMI at the same time for an extra data point: [Log Scales Data](whilst it: https://www.icloud.com/shortcuts/bf4b02fd3afd48778aa0e867fda01884).

Episode 13: Launch Center Pro with David Barnard

Coming soon: Automating OmniFocus 3 Using Siri Shortcuts

Everyone loves Automation, or at least what it can do for them – and I’m a big fan (you may have guessed!). I’ve teamed up with Tim Stringer to produce automation focused content for his site Learn OmniFocus.

This weekend Tim is offering 25% off annual membership, and on top of that he is donating 20% of the income from this to CARE Canada (get the details here – make sure to get the coupon code!).

In the first session Tim and I have planned I’m going to get you started with OmniFocus and Siri Shortcuts – triggering OmniFocus perspectives with your voice, and building simple Shortcuts. We already have a second session planned for January too where we’ll dive deeper into what Shortcuts can automate in OmniFocus for you.

There’s some other great sessions coming up too:

And my sessions are:

If you’re a member you get to attend these live – which means you can ask questions and get them answered, as well as getting the opportunity to chat with other people interested in productivity. On top of this you get to attend Learn OmniFocus office hours where you can sit down with Tim and a few others for a confidential discussion about your system and ways you want to improve it.

I hope to see you at some of these sessions!

I love TFL messages:

"Passengers at the end of the platform are advised to move to the center of the platform to make it easier to get on the train, yes – you lot! You're not listening and we will not hold the train for you to get on!"

Automators 10: Zapier

Episode 10 of Automators is all about Zapier. David and I both recently dove into Zapier plans and thought it would be a great topic for an episode – after all, we use it to automate Automators!

As such, this episode goes behind the scenes and gives you some great examples of how you can get started with Zapier, as well as the advantages of using an online service for automation and some comparison to IFTTT and Microsoft Flow.

I hope you enjoy the episode and look forward to hearing how you use Zapier and any questions you might have in the forums. You can get the full details of the blog post over on MacSparky’s blog.

Episode 10: Zapier

In hotel juice escapades, this hotel claims to have orange and apple juice. The only thing that in common with actual orange or apple juice is the colour. Orange tastes like acid and apple tastes like water… How do they manage that?

Automators 9: Scriptable with Simon B. Støvring

Episode 9 of Automators is all about Scriptable, a great app released for iOS 12 which allows you to control your device with JavaScript. We were fortunate enough to have the developer of Scriptable, Simon B. Støvring come on the podcast to tell us about the app and some of the things it can do.

I’m going to use this article to give you a quick overview of Scriptable – if I wanted to detail everything you’d probably end up reading a 10,000 word post and this is supposed to be a blog post to accompany a podcast! So, let’s get started.

Scriptable is a framework which lets you control your device by writing scripts – much like Shortcuts it doesn’t do anything itself directly, but instead it enables you to write code which can do anything from check if Slack is down by reading a webpage, to manipulate your contacts, read an API key from your keychain, and even more.

Scriptable includes several example scripts:

  • ASCIIwwdc: This gets the transcript for any WWDC video
  • Countdown to Midnight
  • Import Selected File to Bear
  • Is Slack Down?
  • Latest News on MacStories
  • Reminders Due Today
  • Vue JSON
  • Watchlist: Manages a list of films you’d like to watch, which you share to it from the IMDB app
  • What is shared: A script which shows you how to interpret the sharesheet from various apps on iOS
  • Comic in Siri

Inside the app there’s documentation which tells you what you can do directly with the device, this includes:

  • Alert
  • Calendar
  • Contacts
  • Device
  • Dictation
  • Document Picker
  • Mail
  • Message
  • Photos
  • Reminders
  • Safari

… and much more! All of these are on top of what is regularly available in JavaScript – just like Drafts, Scriptable uses ES6 JavaScript, this is the most recent version and you can find a very comprehensive guide, plus tutorials on the Mozilla Developer site. We also mentioned the CodeAcademy JavaScript course which is good place to start learning JavaScript.

Another app we mentioned during the show was Pythonista which is a powerful scripting app for iOS – as you might guess from the name it’s Python based rather than JavaScript.

Every Scriptable script can be added to Siri right from it’s settings page, this is also where you can add it to Launch Center Pro, copy the URL scheme, say what the script can accept as input, or specify the script should always run in the app – listen to the chapter at 17:59 to find out why you might need to do this!

Towards the end of the show Simon mentioned some of the things he was working on and while he couldn’t make any promises when we recorded, Scriptable has been updated today! The update includes, auto complete, interactive tables, the ability to evaluate JavaScript in a WebView, a new contacts bridge, and more.

Even if you don’t know JavaScript and have no intention of learning it I highly recommend you download the app and try the example scripts – and don’t forget to check out the Scriptable category in the forums for more example scripts too.

Thank you very much to Simon for coming on the show, and thank you to Omni Group – makers of OmniFocus – for sponsoring it!

Episode 9: Scriptable with Simon B. Støvring

Chapter List

01:37: Pythonista
02:08: The origin of Scriptable
03:41: Pre-Launch Jitters
08:06: Example Scripts
11:08: System Integration
12:30: Early Feedback on Scriptable
13:36: Scriptable vs Shortcuts
16:22: Rose’s Good Morning with Scriptable
17:51: Launch Center Pro
17:59: Always Run in Scriptable?
20:18: URL Schemes
21:36: Nerds will not be stopped!
22:24: What can Scriptable do?
28: Sponsor: OmniFocus
29:55: Learning JavaScript
33:51: What is JSON?
35:36: Comic in Siri Script
40:26: What’s next for Scriptable?
43:36: Find us

Automators 8: Automated Document Filing

Episode 8 of automators is all about filing documents automatically. We we said in the episode, one of the keys to success is good naming and structure – and I made a screencast which shows you how you can use Keyboard Maestro to rename files in a specific format that we need for our project slides at work – with incrementing numbers in the middle of the document name.

Episode 8: Document Filing

"Hey Siri, remind me to cook garlic bread in 20 minutes"

Then I looked at my watch as the HomePod responded and reminder was already showing on the Siri watch face. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why I love this stuff.

Using TripIt with Siri Shortcuts

I was most pleasantly surprised today to see an update to the TripIt app which added support for Siri Shortcuts. They’ve kept it quite simple, with just two options: upcoming flight information, and upcoming travel plans.


The upcoming flight information is especially helpful telling you how long you have before your flight, and the flight number as well as the airline.


The upcoming travel plans works in much the same way providing useful details. There is a nice touch if you don’t have any upcoming travel plans though:


I’m very pleased to see apps that aren’t for nerds updating with this sort of thing – that’s what is needed to help Shortcuts become truly useful for everyone.

Drafts 5.4

){.image-right} Drafts 5.4 is here today, and while it feels like it was just yesterday when it was released Greg has found numerous ways to improve things! Here’s a quick overview of all the features added:

Shortcuts Support

Shortcuts Action in Drafts

With the release of Shortcuts and it replacing Workflow we’ve got a fair few actions to update – thankfully the Shortcuts actions work the same way as Workflow ones did, so you can easily replace them. If you have an older device which Shortcuts doesn’t support but Drafts does then you can keep using Workflow though. There’s documentation on running Shortcuts in Drafts too.


Boy this is getting confusing! In iOS 12 every app has the option of telling Siri what you’ve been doing (stored locally on your device for privacy and security reasons), and these can then be suggested to you. This also means we can use these in the Shortcuts app as part of a longer chain of things – or individually (best set up via Settings > Siri & Search to avoid cluttering your Shortcuts app with potentially hundreds of one action automations!), via Siri or through typing in the search. We can use these to capture the clipboard, launch dictation, or view a specific draft which is ideal for reference material. Inside of Drafts you can add specific Drafts to Siri, and to add a Workspace.

Separators in Action Groups

We can now add separators in action groups – these are what they sound like, little dividers which help you split up your actions. It’s a small visual indication, but a big help when you have a longer list of actions – or many which are similar.

Don’t Sleep While Working

As part of a script step you can now tell your device you don’t want it to autosleep using app.isIdleDisabled – I’ve built this into some of my blogging actions so when I start a new post my device remains awake but when I publish it goes back to normal 🙂

Dropbox API

One thing Shortcuts no longer does is integration with Dropbox, thankfully Drafts has come to my rescue by adding the Dropbox API! Details in the Scripting Reference. Look for ready to use example actions, like “Create on Dropbox Paper” in the Action Directory. I’ve created several actions which save files in multiple formats to specific directories in Dropbox and copy the folder URL back to my clipboard which is great for when I’m working on things things I am sharing with others! This alone makes Drafts worth the subscription price for me 🙂

WordPress Integration

I didn’t think anything would make me consider going back to WordPress, but this nearly did! Drafts now has native integration which is quite simply wonderful.

Google Drive Enhancements

You can now create fully styled documents and PDFs through the Upload option when combined with the HTML Preview actions – and much more. Text uploads also support appending or prepending, and you can also upload Markdown and HTML.


  • There’s a nice new light grey theme which I’m using for “bright sunlight” days.
  • You can easily copy the UUID or the text of a Draft to the clipboard through the button, as well as a link to a Draft.
  • There’s a lot of tweaks for better performance!

You can see the full, official, release notes here.

You can get Drafts 5 on the App Store.

Automators 6: Automating Shortcuts with Matthew Cassinelli

For episode 6 of automators we were very fortunate to have been joined by the wonderful Matthew Cassinelli. Matthew writes for The Sweet Setup and iMore, has also written for Tech Crunch, and is a Shortcuts genius – we went through two more complex Shortcuts in this episode to give you some ideas of your very own.

Episode 6: Automators 6: Automating Shortcuts with Matthew Cassinelli

MacSparky Learn: Siri Shortcuts Course

My friend David Sparks has been at it again – there’s a brand new video course all about Siri Shortcuts.


The course includes 40 videos which total over 3 hours of material to watch, and loads of Shortcuts you can download directly. The guide is available for $24 right now, but will be going up to $29 shortly after launch.

What I love about this course is it doesn’t matter if you don’t know anything about Siri Shortcuts or Workflow, or if you’re a grand master – you can still learn something.

You can sign up for the course over at David’s new learning website, and while you’re there you should pick up his free Workflow guide too – learn.macsparky.com.

Apple Keynote: September 2018

I, like many of you I’m sure, watched last night’s Keynote waiting to see what new products Apple will sell me. I went into the event thinking I wanted a new Apple Watch and that I wouldn’t upgrade my 256GB iPhone X, and thankfully for my bank account came out of the event the same!

The Apple Watch has several new features will encourage members of my family to upgrade as well as myself. I bought my grandmother an Apple Watch after she had a nasty fall a few years ago and shattered her hip – my thinking was the SOS function would be useful for her, but now I would very much appreciate it if she had the automatic fall detection too. The low heart rate detection and ECG feature will be very handy for my father has there are hereditary heart problems in his family, plus he complains that the screen is too small so more screen will definitely go down well there. I’m very pleased that all the watch bands I’ve collected so far will continue to fit as well – I do like to co-ordinate the straps with my outfit!

The iPhone updates look pretty nice too, though I’m most intrigued by the NFC update which will allow apps to be triggered through NFC – as Tim Chaten said to me on Twitter this seems like it could be a big win for automation:

Automators 4: First Look at Siri Shortcuts

Episode 4 of automators is all about Shortcuts and Siri Shortcuts. We discussed what’s possible now, what we’re excited about (and not so excited).

I did mention my automation I now use when boarding a plane – this is available over on Sharecuts.app which we didn’t get into this episode, but it’s a great place to share Shortcuts and let other people download them!

You can listen to episode 4 on Relay FM, and discuss it in our forums!

Workflow: Markdown To Nice PDF

Every so often I want to make a nice PDF from some text which is currently formatted in Markdown and I often do this by sharing the text to Workflow. Unfortunately by default when you make rich text from markdown in Workflow you end up with something like this:

Yes, that’s Times New Roman. Not a font I usually use by choice. Thankfully however it’s quite simple to fix this with my Workflow. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, I convert the rich text to HTML, replace the <body> tag with one containing a HTML inline style (<body style="font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;">), make rich text from that HTML, and then make the PDF. The body in HTML is where all of your content is, so this will then apply to all of your text. If you just wanted to change the first level of headings, you could replace the <h1> tags instead.

This is how the whole Workflow runs:

  • Make Rich Text from Markdown
  • Make HTML from Rich Text
  • Replace Text, this is where I replace the body tag.
  • Make Rich Text from HTML
  • Make PDF, make sure that include margin is enabled otherwise the PDF looks funny.

Bonus: The PDF contains the text as well, so it’s searchable and also accessible. All you need to do is to add an action at the end of the Workflow to make it do what you want with it, you could quick look it, share it, open it in another application or save it somewhere you choose!

You can get the simplest workflow here: Markdown To Nice PDF

It would also be possible to link a style sheet, such as the [Pure CSS] one, by adding the css link to the <head> tag, the caveat of this is most pre-built CSS files work best when you add classes to sections (e.g. <table> would be <table class="pure-table">), which will require many more Replace Text actions if you want to account for all the possibilities.

If you want the Pure CSS version is also available.

My morning so far:
Server maintenance survived!
Finished a cool Drafts Action for someone (tasks to Things, note to Bear).
Had an idea for work, checked documentation and theoretically it will function as I thought!
Filed beta feedback for apps.
Filed beta feedback for iOS.

Today is going to be productive 🤓

Automators 2: Email Automation

Episode 2 of Automators is all about automating email. We all have email, and there are a lot of things you can do to automate it – from filters, to mail merges, and complete automation of sending emails.

We’ve made 3 screencasts for this episode which you can find over on the YouTube Channel, and you can discuss the episode in the forum too.