Daily Archives:August 12th, 2012

Applications Open

A guy who worked on Mac repairs and maintenance told me a good way to test whether a Mac’s hard disk is working reliably. “Oh”, he said on the phone, “you can kinda stress-test it by opening the Applications folder and doing Cmd-A Cmd-O”.

It took me a moment to click just what he was saying: Cmd-A selects everything in the folder. Cmd-O opens things that are selected. In the case of apps, it will run them. So these two quick keystrokes will try to launch, simultaneously, every app installed on your machine.

“It usually takes 5 minutes or so, depending on the machine”, he continued. “But if there’s something wrong with the system this will usually find it.” Yes, I said, I imagined it would.

Now, I admit I haven’t tried this with my machines yet, but I did try it last time I was in the Apple store. And it’s a really good way to demonstrate the difference between hard-disk- and SSD-based machines!

Two things worth knowing if you try this experiment:

  • One of the things that will open at some point in this process is Time Machine. So your world will disappear into a star field until you close it!
  • Quitting 30 or 40 apps can be a pain unless you know the Cmd-Tab trick: if you’re doing Cmd-Tab to switch between apps, you can tap ‘Q’ while still holding down Cmd to quit the app whose icon is currently highlighted. Typing Q lots of times is a good way to quit lots of apps quickly.

Cloud Control

While computing in the ‘cloud’ brings us a lot of good things, there’s one area in which it is often not very strong: longevity.

For me this is most apparent as I peruse the archives of my blog — in which, for example, none of the Google Video clips can now be played — or look back at tweets from a couple of years ago which often linked to things using the cli.gs URL-shortening service, many of whose links already no longer work.

And my last company, Camvine, used Google Apps for Business. The company has now gone, and so, with its Google account, have all the associated documents and emails. Thousands of them.

It’s easy, at the time, to think “I can link to this safely, or store my documents safely here, because Google isn’t about to vanish overnight”. Well, all of the service providers I’ve been tripping over in looking through my archives are still around. But for one reason or another, the links no longer work.

It’s obvious, but it’s worth repeating: Using, or linking to, someone else’s service, may be a good strategy for today, but don’t rely on it for anything you might want to access tomorrow. The only data I can be sure of is on servers I run (and backup) myself.

Customise app defaults with AppleScript

Nobody likes AppleScript. Well, almost nobody. It’s an attempt to make a programming language look like a natural language, which means that knowing what constitutes valid syntax in any given situation is almost impossible. I once suggested that what the world really needs is a Perl-to-Applescript translator, because Perl is a language that’s pretty easy to write but impossible to read, and AppleScript is easy to read but impossible to write. The syntax is a bit dependent on the apps with which you’re trying to interact, too, and the debugging options are exceedingly limited.

But the most annoying thing is that, on occasion, it’s exceedingly useful, and there aren’t really good alternatives for the kind of things it can do.

So just in case anyone out there is googling for this kind of thing, here’s how I made it change the default options on a dialog box that I use every day.

I’ve been inspired by David Sparks’s e-book Paperless, and my new-found fondness for the kind of things you can do with the Hazel utility, to get a better, more automated workflow for scanning in documents.

A key component, of course, is that you want them to be OCRed so that you can search for them, or search within them, later. I want something that does this automatically, or can be made to do it automatically, when a scan ends up in a folder on my disk, with minimal manual intervention. Good OCR programs are fairly costly on the Mac – Abbyy FineReader, at £79, is generally agreed to do the best OCR job, but the Mac version is not very scriptable. PDFpen, at £47, does a reasonable job and has better scriptability, and if I were starting now I’d probably use that.

But a while ago I splashed out on NeatWorks, which has good OCR, plays nicely with my wonderful ScanSnap scanner, and provides a complete filing system for my documents, with flexible metadata options. It’s a nice package. But the problem is that I no longer want a complete filing system for my documents – I want to do that myself.

So for the moment I’m using NeatWorks to capture my scans, OCR them, enter some metadata and then export them as PDFs to the folder where Hazel and other things take over. They typically stay in NeatWorks for about a minute.

OK – that was a long run-up to explain why I regularly – often several times a day, do File > Export… and get this dialog:

At this point I can almost just hit [Return], except for one problem: the default is to export all the items in the currently selected folders and I just want to export the thing I last scanned. So every time I do this, I have to switch from keyboard to mouse, click the little radio button by ‘Selected items only’ and then carry on.

AppleScript to the rescue! I used Automator to create a service that just applies to NeatWorks and runs the following AppleScript:

This runs ‘File > Export…’, clicks the appropriate radio button, and then clicks the Export… button.

Finally I used the Keyboard section of System Preferences to assign a keyboard shortcut to this service.

Now, I drop some paper into the scanner and press the button on the front. NeatWorks pops up and OCRs it. I type in a title, document date and any other keywords I fancy, then just hit my magic keystroke and check the name and folder before hitting return to save.

At that point, Hazel takes over and does something like “if this file was created by NeatWorks, and has a name containing the word ‘Telemarq’ and the word ‘receipt’, then file it away in the appropriate folder of my receipts directory with a suitably reformatted filename”.

Organisations don’t think, people do

“Can we arrange a time for a conference call with you?”, said the enthusiastic email that landed in my inbox last year from some company’s marketing department. “We're very excited to tell you about our new viral videos!”

To which my response, of course, was that if they were really viral, they wouldn't need to tell me about them!


I thought of this while watching Euan Semple's keynote from the State of The Net conference in June, which, in contrast, has a gentle, understated style yet includes some nice ideas that come from years of careful thinking about corporate communications, both internal and external.

Euan Semple is the author of Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do.

Curiosity has Landed

On Aug 5th, the Curiosity rover landed on Mars. I hadn’t really absorbed, at the time, just what a technical achievement this was: not so much getting the thing to Mars, but landing it safely and ready to roll shortly after it hit the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 miles per hour. It weighs nearly a tonne. The Jet Propulsion Lab had, of course, made CGI simulations showing how the process would work, in advance of the landing, but in this brilliant piece of video editing they intercut it with footage of the control team on the ground celebrating its arrival. I suggest you turn the volume up and watch it full-screen.

Rose’s aunt used to work at JPL, and, when I visited many years ago, one of the directors made an offhand comment which basically amounted to a job offer. At the time, it was all very quiet, and though I was interested in the work, the elderly rows of SPARCstations tracking satellites didn’t grab me as particularly thrilling. Now, however, there can’t be many organisations that could put together a recruitment video like this!

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser