Siri Shortcuts and Workflow

Siri Shortcuts & Workflow

Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) kicked off today and most of what was announced is interesting but nothing felt terribly revolutionary. Except for Siri Shortcuts. Siri Shortcuts is clearly what Apple has done with Workflow, which they purchased last year. I’ve used Workflow for iOS for some time now, but only recently have I started doing more and more with it. It has the ability to speak to various apps using URL schemes supported by the various apps (and using the x-callback scheme to get data back from them). It’s amazingly powerful and I have workflows that replicate an iTunes Playlist to my Spotify account or vice verse, alert my wife when I am on my way home complete with map and an ETA, to move items between Things, Trello, and Ulysses (it’s complicated), and so forth. (For the best collection of cool workflows and excellent descriptions of same, see the writings of Frederico Vittici at especially in their weekly newsletter, Club MacStories.

A workflow to set a slack reminder for myself
A workflow to set a slack reminder for myself

Sometime in the last while they also added the ability for Workflow to be able to talk to APIs using GET or POST. This is especially interesting to me as I work with a number of APIs in my day job, both external services we talk to and our own web applications. I use Paw on my Mac to test these APIs out but in my ever-ongoing quest to do more and more on my iPad Pro, having a tool that can do this there is gold to me. I haven’t started playing with it yet but I did push off the reminder in Slack all day today (hopefully I’ll get time to check it out tomorrow).

My great fear is that Apple’s reimagining of Workflow into Siri Suggestions, while adding all the power of Siri to control the shortcuts themselves, will also include a significant reduction in capabilities. Apple has had a track record of taking complex solutions and paring them down to, presumably, make them simpler, easier, and more elegant for their end users. But Workflow is a power tool and I would hate to lose any of the amazing functionality it currently offers.

Unfortunately, the new Siri Shortcuts app is not included in the initial beta 1 release of iOS 12 (and before my developer friends give me crap for installing it while not actually developing anything currently let me point out that I am using a work iPad Mini 4 that I have mostly stopped using in favor of my own personal iPad Pro. So it can be safely destroyed by a beta operating system and rebuilt from scratch with no ill effects to me or my current workflow). Since it is not included, I cannot test it out or see whether it is missing the features I consider essential.

That’s the only feature of iOS that jumped out at me as it is something that pertains to my own work. Most of the rest of the features look fun and I am looking forward to playing with them.

A Good Cuppa

This is the first cup of coffee where I do not feel the need to add sweetener. I’ve been using Sucralose or Aspartame for years but I’ve also been drinking Keurig-brewed coffees. For too long, I’ve been fine with that. The coffee had superficial flavorings (scents, really) that made them somewhat interesting and I never really thought much about it. However, lately, something shifted inside me and I decided that so-so coffee was no longer good enough.

I first tried coffee for real after college when I was working at my first job in the computer center at Dartmouth College. It was your standard Bunn affair, standard office coffee made from old grounds in a giant filter in industrial quantities. It was ok and I made it better by adding a packet of Swiss Miss to it. I wanted better (and there were no coffee houses in the area yet) and I couldn’t afford a coffee machine, so I got a plastic drip thingy for my mug. Over the years, I’ve experimented with various coffee machines (I still miss the Capresso combination drip coffee maker and espresso machine that we got as a wedding present) with varying results. When my mother-in-law moved in with us, we got the Keurig so she could make herself coffee (she was too old and frail to do anything more complicated than that) and we made do. If I wanted something stronger or better tasting, I would head out to Starbucks (yes, I actually like Starbucks coffee) or Brewed Awakenings, where you can get personal French Press coffee at your table. My wife doesn’t put sweetener in her coffee and is always on me to break the habit. But every time I try it, I just can’t do it and give up before too long.

Out with the old…

Yesterday, I bought a Chemex and some of their square, brown paper filters and began experimenting. The first cup was good. Certainly better tasting than anything the Keurig ever made, but I knew it could be better. So today, I did some googling and found and followed the instructions I found there for using a scale and weighing things more precisely. With a 17:1 water-to-coffee ratio, I ended up with this amazing cup of coffee. And I tried some without sweetener and it tasted good. It was interesting and had some flavor notes I had never detected before. I didn’t feel the need to put sweetener in. Just some half and half and that was it (I did try a sip black but I think cream brings out some flavors and takes the edge off the coffee).

Ignore the sriracha in the background…

Maybe using a Chemex, scale, thermometer, and kettle to make my coffee makes me a hipster. But I got into it long after it was cool so I doubt it. All I know is that I needed my coffee to be better. And now it is.

Best. Voicemail. Ever.

I don’t know why it took me 3+ years to get this recording off my phone (thanks iMazing!) but here it is: the greatest voicemail I ever received from a wrong number. Enjoy!

Catching Up

MASH-flyerSo, I should probably have posted about M*A*S*H before, you know, the show opened. At least I posted it while it still has three performances to go… not that I expect this site will generate audience for the show.

Anyway, I directed M*A*S*H and have a wonderfully talented cast and crew. It’s been a fantastic experience and I will be sad when it is over.

In other news, we’re having the BIG tree in our back yard taken down today. It has rot visible high up at the site of where an old branch was removed years ago and we were thinking its was local to that spot until a piece of bark right at the ground level blew off in a wind storm two weeks ago and we could see the rot underneath. So, rather than wait for it to fall on our house, we called the tree peeps to take it down. This makes me incredibly sad as this was a huge, beautiful tree, a swamp maple, and losing it means a lot less shade in our yard. A lot less.

We’ll plant some new trees to make up for it but it will be years before they give us real shade in the summer.

And that’s all the news to report today.

Pop Overs

I saw an article about new relatively inexpensive alternative bands for the Apple Watch and I wanted to check them out. So I clicked on the link taking me to the website. Before the page had finished loading, I was confronted by a pop-over asking me if I wanted to sign up for their newsletter/email/whatever. I had only just arrived. I had not even yet seen what they had to offer or if I was even interested in their stuff.

Imagine if you were walking by a store and thought the window display was interesting so you stopped to look. Suddenly, a man with a clipboard runs out and stands in front of you asking if you want to be on their mailing list. Dude, I’m just looking at your window to see if I am even interested in walking into your store. Slow down.

I see pop-overs with greater frequency and they have to be the most irritating trend on the web today. Sure, pop-unders and pop-ups were annoying too but at least it’s easy to have a quick CMD/DNTRL-W ready to make them go away. This new trend requires me to figure out where the close button is (upper left? upper right? in the body of the ad?) And you can make a case that the intent is working: I have no choice but to look at the ad in order to just get rid of it.

But it’s not working. First off, I refuse to read them. When they pop up, I concentrate only on getting rid of it as fast as I can. If it takes me more than 1-2 seconds to figure that out, I will, more often than not, close the page and never return to that website.

Yeah, I know, these sites need ads to survive. But ads that are interesting, entertaining, informative, or in some way relevant to my life will get my attention. Those that are pushy, annoying, or irrelevant to me will get ignored.

And don’t get me started on Amazon’s piss-poor ads. I, like many people, use Amazon to research purchases. For example, I needed a cordless screw driver and I read reviews of various options on Amazon. I needed it that day so I then went and bought the winner at the local Home Depot. And then for the next few weeks, all I saw were ads for cordless drills. (Once, for a play I was in, I needed a prop deck of girlie playing cards. My ads for the next long while were… interesting to say the least.)

I do like that in Gmail, Google gives me some options to customize the ads I see and I do make use of that. Same with Facebook. I will turn off ads and provide Facebook with the whys of my decision. But the rest of the world needs to catch up. And everyone needs to stop using pop-overs. Seriously.

A Modest Rant

For me, the joy of any theatrical experience, be it a play, tv show, or movie, is immersing myself in what is being presented. Acting works because the audience willfully suspends their disbelief and says, “OK, we will buy that you are trapped in a submarine with your ex-wife” or whatever the scenario is. And in that one act of mutual agreement between actor and audience, magic is created. That’s how I approach all such entertainment. And it is very rare that a movie is so bad that I cannot suspend any disbelief at all and enjoy the movie (Kenneth Brannagh’s Frankenstein was one such movie. Yeesh!)

So, I have grow ever more frustrated with audiences in recent years. And before you roll your eyes and say that this is another one of those, “Damn these kids today!” old man posts, stay with me a moment. It’s not the damn kids (well, it sometimes is, but they are not the only problem.) It is people in general. People are far more selfish today than they were in the past. I remember movie experiences where the loud moron in the theater was the exception, not the rule. People generally enjoyed a production and respected the wishes of their fellow audience members to enjoy it as well. Collectively, we laughed, cried, cheered, booed, and otherwise enjoyed something together. When we needed to ask a question, we whispered so as to not disturb others.

But more and more people have become more selfish and self-centered. They don’t care about anyone else in the theater just their own selves. If they want to talk, they talk. They make no effort to be quiet about it. They use their phones or even throw popcorn at each other. Even parents of kids make no effort to teach their kids to whisper and be quiet in movies. If the kids ask a question or make a comment, the parents don’t quiet them and often answer just as loudly as their kids.

And it frustrates me to no end. Suspension of disbelief needs immersion. And while I can ignore a lot of things (popcorn chewing, wrapper crlnkling, coughing, etc. A conversation between people or other such behavior is too much. And that ruins the experience for me.

I go to movies far more rarely than I used to. It’s just too expensive to be that tense waiting for some inconsiderate jerk to ruin it. And when I go, I am generally not let down. Usually if the problem people are not near me, I can tune them out and enjoy myself. But if they are close by, I either have to move or do the one thing I hate doing: shush them. I’m non-confrontational by nature. I don’t like getting in people’s faces about anything. So, shushing someone is something I rarely ever do and is saved for the most obnoxious of cases.

Twice in recent memory, I have had incredible experiences. The first was in Traverse City, MI at the gorgeous movie theater there in town where I saw The Artist. The audience was silent through the whole movie and we all had an amazing time watching a gorgeous movie. The other was tonight when we went to see The Martian.The audience was quiet and really into the movie. All except one person. And she just happened to be sitting next to me.

She sat to my left and was older than I am by at least a decade if not two. She and the man she was with came in during the previews and plopped down right next to me in the only open two seats left in our row. I politely let her have the arm rest and leaned a bit closer to Ann. Throughout the whole movie, she kept a running dialog with the man next to her. Generally in the form of questions. It was clear to me that she did not really understand a lot of what was going on. In one scene, something really bad happens to Matt Damon’s character and when he is upset and having a bit of a tantrum about it, she asked aloud, “What’s the matter with him?” Twice during the movie (both after the half-way mark when I just couldn’t take it anymore) I shushed her. The first time was a quiet “Shh.” The second time was a more annoyed, “SHHH.” Followed either by a “Please” or a “C’mon” or something similar. Neither time worked. She kept right on asking her inane questions. I never heard what the guy she was with said in reply. He clearly knew how to whisper. But it was enough to pull me out of a fantastic movie (and it was a fantastic movie) and be annoyed at her.

Ultimately, the movie won out and I put her out of my mind as best I could. But the kicker is what happened when the movie ended. She got up and I could see out of the corner of my eye while I read the cast list that she was staring daggers at me. I began saying something to Ann about the movie when I heard her say (while still looking at me), “…piece of shit.” I had to laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of the situation. So I turned partially to Ann and said loud enough for her to hear, “She talks through the whole movie and I’m the bad guy.” She walked out of the row, down the stairs, and then across the front of the section to the exit, never taking her eyes off of me. I made a point of ignoring her until finally I acted like I just noticed her, pointed, and laughed because it was so inane.

What did we learn from this? Too many people today are just too selfish. She did not care for anyone around her and spoke loud enough to be heard by everyone nearby and was offended when I called her out on it. It’s like when someone runs a stop sign, you honk at them, and they flip you off for honking at them.

I have no solutions except to wish that people could be more considerate of one another. I think things would be considerably better in virtually every aspect of life if we could collectively do that. But instead, I save my trips to the movies only for the movies I cannot wait to hit iTunes (or whatever) or that are loud enough that I can’t hear anything nearby anyway. As for that woman, I wish that there was some way she could see herself from another perspective; that she could see that her disruptive behavior was the problem, not my asking her to be quiet. But seeing ourselves from another’s perspective is hard work and our too-fragile egos make that far too difficult much of the time. Oh well. Hopefully the audience at Star Wars VII this December will be fans and we can all have fun together.

Little Shop of Horrors

LSH-flyerHot on the heels of a return engagement of The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) (which I sadly forgot to blog about before it happened), is the next show I’m doing: Little Shop of Horrors. I don’t think the show needs any introduction. I’m playing Mr. Mushnik (the shop owner) and details of the show are on the poster (here) and the link (above).

Friends Zone at 20

In early 1994, I was the Manager of Dartmouth’s Computer Resource Center, an artisanal pre-sales and consulting office in Dartmouth’s Computing Services. One morning, the Director of Computing stopped by my office and handed me a floppy disk and told me to check out what was on it. I popped it into my computer and saw that it contained a single application, Mosaic 0.9b. Curious, I launched it and thus began my experiences with the World Wide Web. Within a week, I had created Dartmouth’s first Web site (and one of the first 50 college web sites in the world, near as I could figure at the time). By fall, I created my blog (one of the first ever) and was looking for new, higher-profile projects.

I noticed that TV show websites were becoming a popular and I sought out a show I could get in on. My big obsession at the time was The X-Files so I reached out to the webmasters of one of the better sites offering my help. They told me they had things in hand and didn’t need any help so I cast about looking for other things I could do.

In the fall of 1994, Friends premiered and I noticed that since there was no USENET newsgroup for the show, people were talking about it in, much to the chagrin of the folks there who didn’t care for Friends or who were just OCD about things staying on-topic. It had no website, no mailing list, no newsgroup. And, hey, I really enjoyed the show. So, I sprang into action. I created, a LISTSERV mailing list, and a website.

Soon after, a supervising producer of Friends reached out to me to start providing some information back to us fans on the list. He told me that they put the Episode Guide and FAQ up outside the writers’ room to help with continuity. A thriving fandom had been born.

But by around January 1995, as people on the mailing list began to get to know one another more, topics began to stray from the show to talking to each other about anything. Friends were being made. This upset those people who preferred the list stay on-topic and there began to be some anger running around. I decided to split the list into two lists: Friends-TV for discussions only about the show, and FriendsZone for folks to just hang out.

On February 6, 1995 the list was created and the first subscribers began to appear.

The history of this virtual community is long and storied but the short version is that, 20 years later, it is still around. While there is still a mailing list, it is almost never used. Instead, a Facebook group now carries most of the conversation.

And this weekend, in Las Vegas, a group of these folks are getting together to celebrate the 20th anniversary. I wish I could be there with them but it just wasn’t in the cards for me. I hope they all have a great time and post a lot of pictures.

Happy Birthday Zone!

Fixing “Trust this computer” Problem

I had a strange problem crop up on my iMac running Yosemite and both of my iDevices (iPhone 6, iPad 4). When I plugged either in, I would get a dialog on the iMac saying photos could not be imported because the device was locked. On the devices themselves, I would be asked to Trust this computer. This happened every. single. time.

In the system.log, there were error messages to the tune of:

11/7/14 7:16:52.086 AM usbmuxd[57]: AMDeviceConnect (thread 0x1002fe000): Could not connect to lockdown port (62078) on device 1076 - [long ID number here]: 0xe8000084.

Digging further, I discovered that there is a directory, /var/db/lockdown, that contains a plist for each device connected to the Mac over the years (and since I have been leading an iOS Dev Team for Ozmott, I had a lot of devices listed in there!) and it seems that, for some reason, changes were no longer taking. I am not sure why. There were no errors related to permissions or otherwise.

On the advice of a thread I found online after some extensive Googling, I removed the lockdown directory. Theoretically, it would be recreated by the system. However, it wasn’t. Now when I connected my devices, I got the following errors:

11/7/14 7:22:44.510 AM[57]: WriteDataToPath unable to create file /var/db/lockdown//SystemConfiguration.plist.tmp: No such file or directory.
11/7/14 7:22:44.510 AM[57]: CreateAndStoreBUID WriteDataToPath failed: No such file or directory

So, I created a new lockdown directory using sudo mkdir lockdown. Then the errors changed to:

11/7/14 7:27:09.767 AM[57]: WriteDataToPath unable to create file /var/db/lockdown//SystemConfiguration.plist.tmp: Permission denied.
11/7/14 7:27:09.767 AM[57]: CreateAndStoreBUID WriteDataToPath failed: Permission denied

The directory was owned by root (because I created it using sudo) and clearly needed to belong to the usbmuxd process. Directories belonging to processes are named for the process preceded by an underscore. So I executed: sudo chown _usbmuxd lockdown.

That worked. Plugging in my devices resulted in the same dialogs as before but once I told the iDevices to trust the computer, new plist files were created for each and subsequent connects/disconnects have not had the errors recur. We’ll see if this sticks over time but at least I know how to fix it, even if temporarily.

Update 18 December 2014: The problem routinely returns. After I leave my computer running for a day or so, the problem comes back. I haven’t needed to resort to the fix above as simply rebooting my computer fixes it. It’s safe to say that something I am running on my machine is responsible. Now for the sleuthing…

Update 15 January 2015: Solved! Thanks to this thread on Stack Overflow, I have a solution that works! When this happens, open up a terminal and type

sudo launchctl stop

And it restarts the broken usbmuxd process and things are happy again.

Something is Wrong with This…

In August, I ordered my son’s books for school. His school uses an online bookstore and he wanted digital versions where possible so he didn’t have to carry around a heavy bag. So, I ordered what I could digitally and the rest on paper. After about the first week of school was over, he came to me and said that his history teacher said that he really needed the current textbook (he had been using a loaner of last year’s version). I told him that I’d ordered it and thought the teacher would have the online license code to grant him access because I had gotten an email to that effect. Turns out, that was for his science book.

So, I checked the online bookstore (Follett) and found the order was incomplete and that one item was backordered and would ship when available. You guessed it, the license code for his history book from Pearson. I wrote to Follett and said that I’d never heard of license codes being back ordered. It takes a second to generate a new code and email it to someone. They gave me a polite brush-off reply that, indeed, codes can be backordered and they would ship when available.

Last week I got an email that his license codes had shipped. Via FedEx. And would arrive late the following week. Again, I boggled that license codes had to be shipped.

2014-09-18 10.38.25

Then they arrived yesterday. They came in a ridiculously large, flat package. Inside where two sets of codes (for two years of access). I felt like redirecting the package to the school just to complete the absurdity of the whole thing but texted him the code for the first year instead.

In 2014 unlock codes for digital books have to be mailed in a package via conventional shipping. The mind boggles.


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