Quick Fix: Mount Encrypted APFS Drive with AppleScript

automatically unlock an APFS volume with AppleScript

To supplement last week’s post on automatically mounting an external drive to create a clone, here is a quick tip for doing the same thing with an encrypted APFS volume. Ideally, you should be encrypting your backups. If you’re running macOS 10.13 High Sierra, or the impending macOS Mojave, then you will be cloning your system to an APFS volume. If that’s the case, you’ll need to no how to automatically unlock APFS volume with AppleScript.

Automatically unlock APFS volume with AppleScript

There is a little more work involved here, but none of it difficult. The file system might be new, but diskutil is still the command line program doing all the work managing volumes. There is simply a couple more commands involved. This assumes you have already encrypted the drive with Disk Utility.

To mount, or rather unlock an encrypted APFS volume with AppleScript, we need the following information:

  • APFS volume ID
  • Cryptographic user ID
  • The encryption password

The password is the same one you used when you formatted the drive. Here is how to get the other two pieces of the puzzle.

  1. Find the APFS volume ID for your clone drive. You can see this information clearly in Disk Utility. For every volume listed there is a table of information, the device field has what you are looking for. It is some variation of disk1s1. Or if you prefer, with the drive already mounted you can run a terminal command to have the information of all your drives listed, like so:

diskutil apfs list

That command will take a moment, then print a whole lot of information to screen like below. Look for volume you intend to clone your system to and note down the APFS Volume Disk.

Automatically Unlock Apfs Volume With Applescript
You can find the APFS volume ID in a couple of places, if you know where to look
  1. Once you have the volume ID.  In the terminal run the following command (replace ‘apfs_volume_id’ with your disk)

diskutil apfs listcryptousers /dev/apfs_volume_id

You will get something that looks like this:

+-- B4BA200D-B0B7-4AB2-A48C-BDE9FFA7E3BA
	Type: Disk User
	Hint: 1pw

That long alphanumeric code is the Cryptographic user. Copy that code and you have everything you need to make your AppleScript work.

  1. Create the AppleScript to automatically mount your encrypted APFS volume. The script looks like this:
do shell script "diskutil apfs unlockVolume [name_of_your_drive] -user B4BA200D-B0B7-4AB2-A48C-BDE9FFA7E3BA -passphrase [enter your passphrase here]" 

Naturally, you will enter the name of your drive, and replace the user code with the one you copied above. Make sure you remove the square brackets.

  1. Find a way to launch the script when you need it. There are a bunch of options in my previous post. My preferred option is currently Keyboard Maestro, but an Automator Calendar Alarm, or Lingon X work just as well.

Congratulations, you can automatically unlock an APFS volume with AppleScript.

 

Photo by Patrick Lindenberg on Unsplash

Affinity Designer Release: Professional Graphic Design for iPad

Professional Graphic Design for iPad

One of the best design tools you will find on macOS has just been released on iPad. When the iPad Pro line was updated last year, one of the most significant software developments was the excellent desktop class photo editing app Affinity Photo.  It's been on my list of best apps ever since. The follow up to that release, Serif's  Affinity Designer means professional graphic design for iPad. If you're looking for a desktop class design app for iPad this is worth a look.

Design tools rarely make sense to me on the desktop. I have never quite grokked Adobe’s PhotoShop, or Illustrator. For my modest design needs I muddle through best as I can, but I undoubtedly prefer more accessible software. Flying Meat’s Acorn opened my eyes to powerful simplicity, then being able to move between devices made Pixelmator my app of choice. The recently released Pixelmator Pro is a worthy addition to any design toolset, but it has left the iPad version languishing behind . The lack of relative feature parity betweens apps on Mac and iPad remains a stubborn barrier to realisation of the tablet’s potential.  We still see a lot of minimal, companion style versions of Mac apps on iOS. With the direction of development, ironically, Apple's forthcoming cross platform UIKit Framework 1 says more about macOS at this point.

Something that is clear, however, is the iPad simply makes sense as a design interface. Direct and tactile manipulation of images removes a layer of abstraction and — at least in my experience — makes it easier to learn the required interactions. At the moment, Serif is relatively unusual among developers for their treatment of iOS as a serious professional platform equal to macOS.  In the design space, the Affinity is suite is currently peerless as a result.

Professional Graphic Design for iPad

Professional Graphic Design for iPad

Designer is a whole new level for graphic design software on iOS. From sketching, to fully realised vector tools and UI design, with everything in between. Even with modest needs, having access to such an intuitive professional app makes learning faster and more enjoyable. Graphic design software is traditionally  expensive too, and while some of the apps I have mentioned buck that trend, both Affinity apps are significantly cheaper on iOS.  Even more so while the 30% discount is available for Affinity Designer's release. This might be an aspirational purchase for me, but for somebody with actual design skills wanting to do professional work on iOS, it's a no brainer.

Affinity Designer is available on the US $13.99

  1. Marzipan

Rise of the machines: has technology evolved beyond our control? | The Guardian

This recent article from James Bridle does more to recommend him as one of the more insightful, and interesting writers on Technology at the moment. I linked to a post he wrote about disturbing algorithmic content on Youtube. I'm glad to a writer like this finding a platform to ask important questions in an accessible way.

Something strange has happened to our way of thinking – and as a result, even stranger things are happening to the world. We have come to believe that everything is computable and can be resolved by the application of new technologies. But these technologies are not neutral facilitators: they embody our politics and biases, they extend beyond the boundaries of nations and legal jurisdictions and increasingly exceed the understanding of even their creators. As a result, we understand less and less about the world as these powerful technologies assume more control over our everyday lives.

Between technological evangelism, and equally religious devotees, the more important dissenting voices and thoughtful critique become. Which is why I recommend picking up a copy of Bridle forthcoming book New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future

Find it on Book Depository or Amazon

Automatically Mount External Drive to Clone a Mac

Simple Mac Automator Example

I know some people find automation daunting. Fortunately, some of the most effective Mac automations are simple enough to get anybody started. The native MacOS automator app alone can save you from boring and repetitive tasks. Better still, Mac automation can save you from having to remember those tasks. A good example of a simple automation is how to automatically mount an external drive to create a bootable clone for backup.

Backup Strategies for macOS

The past 18 months we’ve had some hardware failures that took me from feeling over-prepared to being relieved I have this all set up. A solid backup and recovery scheme is table stakes for most nerds, but in my experience the same can’t be said of academics. To say nothing of the way most students wing it with their data. I’ve lost count of the horror stories I’m privy to. Undergrads losing devices, or having them pinched. Graduate students having to ask supervisors for a copy of their own thesis, or recompile dissertations from draft fragments. My backup strategy looks like this:

  1. Regular time machine backups to an external drive on my Synology rt2600ac router. Setting up Time Machine to backup wirelessly is an overlooked example of Mac automation
  2. Continuous offsite backup of everything to Backblaze. For US$5 a month, I have almost 6 terabytes of files backed up.
  3. An automated, bootable clone of my entire system updated every night using SuperDuper!

If you have a solid backup strategy, regularly creating bootable clones of your whole system drive is no doubt part of it. If it isn’t, it should be.

Automatically Mounting an External Hard Drive

One of the problems with automating the creation of a bootable clone is the drive must be mounted. That might seem like I’m stating the bleeding obvious, or overlooking an obvious solution, but keeping a clone of your system mounted at all times can create all kinds of problems. Once the drive is indexed, you can have issues with document conflicts, messed up caching, and all manner of application weirdness. It doesn’t take much to launch the wrong version of an app, then you’re in a world of hurt.

The answer, of course, is to automatically mount the drive before backup, and eject it afterwards. But how to do that? Ejecting the drive is the easy part. Any decent backup, cloning app will have this functionality. This includes apps like Chronosync, Carbon Copy Cloner, or if you’re a Setapp user, Backup Pro. My favourite drive cloning software for Mac is Super Duper! for its elegant simplicity. Using Super Duper! to automatically eject the drive looks like this:

Automatically Mount External Drive
Any decent macOS backup utility will have the ability to automatically eject an external drive aftre creating a bootable clone

But, we are putting the cart in front of the horse. The question remains, how to automatically mount the drive. Thankfully, that is also simple. We can use a single command in AppleScript.

One Line AppleScript  to Automatically Mount External Drive

A simple one line AppleScript to make a Mac automatically mount an external drive looks like this:

do shell script "diskutil mount clone"

To make it work you either name your drive ‘clone, or edit the script where it says ’clone’ with the name of the target volume. All that’s left is how to trigger the script. The more you start to peel back the layers on Mac automation, the more you realise how many different options there are. Here are three ways to run the above AppleScript, and automate the mounting of an external drive.

Automatically Mount External Drive with Automator Calendar Alarm

 

The first option is to use Automator, the native Mac app. Automator can utilise the Mac Calendar app to trigger simple MacOS automations with an alarm. Here's how to setup an Automator Calendar Alarm.

  1. Open Automator from your applications
  2. Choose Calendar Alarm
  3. Search the actions on the left for ‘Run AppleScript’ and drag that action across to the workflow editor on the right — or double click
  4. Clear the window and past our single line of AppleScript into the ‘Run AppleScript’ window. Here is that line of code again:

do shell script "diskutil mount clone"

Simple macOS automation using one line of AppleScript
  1. Click on the little hammer icon to compile the script, then save the workflow and give it a name.
  2. As soon as you save the workflow it will open the calendar app with a new entry. All you need to do is move it, and schedule it like you would any other event.
Automatically Mount External Drive
Automator can trigger an alarm in the native Calendar App to automatically mount an external drive
  1. You’re done, have yourself a Pixie Caramel

There is amore convoluted way to do this from the calendar itself, but the result is the same. I recommend building the workflow yourself, simple as it is. But if you’d rather, you can download a copy here

Automatically Mount External Drive with Keyboard Maestro

I would be happy using the Automator workflow above if I didn’t already use Keyboard Maestro. Setting up Keyboard Maestro to trigger the script is easier still. It’s not the kind of thing I suggest you purchase the app for, but the kind of simple use case it is often overlooked for.

 

Keyboard Maestro Macro

Automate AppleScript Launch with Lingon X

Another option is to use Lingon X, a powerful automation utility that can launch practically anything. Lingon X is ideal for a job like this. To use Lingon you ned to save the script itself first.

  1. Launch the native Mac Script Editor from Utiities
  2. Paste the AppleScript into the editor do shell script "diskutil mount clone"
  3. Compile with the little hammer
  4. Save the script
  5. Schedule a new job in Lingon X to run the script before your clone is set to run.
simple macOS automation
Lingon X is a powerful utility for creating simple macOS automation

There is also an App Store version for Lingon available.

Choosing an External Hard Drive for Bootable Clone

The last word on this is doubled edged. You should of course try to be savvy about the external hard drives you buy, but this workflow wouldn’t exist if you could be certain you’ll never buy a lemon. I mentioned in my post on replacing the Apple Airport Extreme that Backblaze keep excellent drive statistics. Understandably, it doesn’t include the kind of portable external hard drives you will likely use for this kind of automated clone backup. I feel well covered with my setup, but I know plenty of people who like to rotate the drives and keep one offsite. Either way, I have always found Seagate Expansion drives to be fast, and reliable. Connected to a Hub, and stashed under the desk to avoid more clutter.

 

Synology RT2600ac Router as an Apple Airport Replacement

Apple Airport Replacement

You might have heard the news that Apple discontinued their Airport Router line recently. For a time Airport routers had distinct advantages in usability, and wireless Time Machine backups were once like magic. But now, Apple would have to build something an order of magnitude better than the last remaining Airport devices to compete with the likes of Synology. If you are looking for an alternative to Apple Airport Extreme, or Time Capsule, I recommend taking a look at Synology’s routers. This covers my experience replacing an Airport Extreme with the Synology RT2600ac.

Synology RT2600ac: Best Non Mesh Router?

Mesh Wifi is all the rage. While commercial mesh wifi has been around for some time, it is only in the past couple of years consumer tech has started to benefit. Mesh products have flooded the market, and savvy product placement has made the likes of Eero, and Netgear’s Orbi coveted home networking solutions. But, as much as mesh has become more accessible, it remains relatively expensive, and it isn’t always necessary. For a modest sized property, a decent stand alone router might even be a better option. Such is the situation I’m in. Knowing I don’t need mesh, I wanted to buy the best stand alone router I could find for non mesh wifi.

Having gone with the Synology RT2600ac, I couldn’t be happier. I have never owned — or even used — a router even half as good as this thing. I’m no networking expert 1, but I know my way around the awful browser-based interfaces generic routers ship with. Where Apple Airport routers offered sharp relief from the abominable user experience of those devices, Synology routers go much further. Both the RT2600ac, and the RT1900ac, benefit from Synology’s pedigree as a network storage provider. Which means you don’t just get an excellent, easy to use stand alone router, but also a mature ecosystem of app packages to extend its functionality.

alternative to Apple Airport Extreme
A number of packages are available to make Synology routers more an upgrade than just an alternative to Apple Airport Extreme

Inexpensive Network Attached Storage

I wanted a network storage solution, but dropping more cash on a NAS drive at the same time wasn’t an option. The fact that Synology routers can double as a lightweight NAS is the big bonus for me. Synology Router Manager (SRM) has a number of features ported from Synology Disk Manager, including a package manager. If you attach a USB drive, or a high capacity SD Card, you can install and manage packages that include a VPN server, download manager, media server, and Cloud Station Server. Setting up a personal, private cloud is simple and it works very well.

Alternative To Apple Airport Extreme
Cloud Station Server adds private cloud storage capabilities to Synology routers

Time Machine

Wireless Time Machine backups were the killer feature of Apple networking. That was obviously the purpose of the Time Capsule base station, but the Airport Extreme could do it too. Having Time Machine on the network was extremely convenient, but the network storage capabilities are about as limited as it gets. Sure, you could set up file sharing, but it wasn't great in my experience. By contrast both Synology models can do much more with a drive, or two attached. Time Machine is where it starts, rather than where it ends. This is just one reason that a Synology router is less an alternative to Apple Airport Extreme, and more an upgrade.

Quick Connect and Dynamic DNS Support

This is also huge, Synology even provide their own free service for dealing with dynamic IP addresses. I am in favour of cutting back third-party services wherever possible. This might be stretching the definition, but it means no more janky DNS updaters, or scripts to make my network accessible. Synology makes securing devices with SLL more user friendly than it normally is, and their Quick Connect service helps mitigate common problems with port forwarding and so on. All of which means I'm now living the dream of reliable external Plex access. It would be ideal for gamers who want to get on with things without becoming network engineers.

VPN Server

Synology routers support both inbound and outbound VPN connections. A common use for a private VPN is securing your traffic while using public Wifi. Synology routers have a simple, user friendly package called VPN Plus Server that will allow you to use your home network no matter where you are. SRM also makes it easy to connect your entire network to a VPN, if that is something you need. I use NordVPN

Wifi Coverage

Suggesting ‘your mileage may vary’ is more relevant than ever here, but the Wifi coverage I get from the Synology RT2600ac is so good that setting up a mesh system would go be overkill for me. Our place is pretty compact, but we have close neighbours for interference, and a long driveway. Yet I can walk out the gate before I’m kicked off the wifi, and there is nowhere inside our place the connection is not consistent.

My admittedly unscientific tests include walking to the other side of our garage, which would make me roughly 30 metres from the house with two brick walls, double glazing and a car between the Synology RT2600ac and my iPhone. I still get 50% of the downstream bandwidth, and everything available going up.

Bonus Tip: Best External Hard Drives for a Synology Router?

Best External Hard DriveThis will depend, either on how much you’re willing and able to spend, or on what your goal for the network attached storage. If you’re looking for an Apple Airport Replacement, you will obviously want a decent drum of storage. The good news is this needn’t be an expensive exercise. I use Backblaze for peace of mind off-site backup. They have always been excellent, so I have every reason to trust their data and recommendations. Every year they publish a list of Hard Drive statistics. It’s a handy guide that can help you avoid buying lemons to put your data on. After pouring through the tables, I ended up getting a 4TB Western Digital Drive.

If you like the idea of setting up the NAS capabilities of the Synology RT2600ac, one thing to be aware of is redundancy. Genuine NAS drives are configured in RAID arrays, with redundancy built in. You can get decent stand alone RAID drives from the likes of Western Digital, but do the math an you might as well look at the lower end Synology boxes. Luckily, another great feature that Synology router’s can tap into is cloud backup. Again, I use Backblaze for this, utilising their low cost B2 storage with Synology’s Cloud Station Backup. The way I see it, if a drive fails I’m covered, and with any luck that won’t happen before I’m in a position to upgrade to a full blown disk station NAS.

Alternative to Apple Airport Extreme

Apple recently published a Support article with information for a Wi-Fi router to use with Apple devices. Some of what it contains is best practice advice, so they’ve been a little loose with the meaning of ‘essential’. Nonetheless, if your looking to tick all those boxes the Synology RT2600ac will do that for you. So will the earlier model, the RT1900ac for that matter. I have very rarely been so happy with a piece of hardware, and never ever felt compelled to write about a router before.

  1. in a former life — for my sins — I was a software installation engineer

Using Unclutter as macOS Screen Shot Manager

Unclutter Screenshot Manager Macos

Unclutter is a unique take on a drag and drop shelf app that includes a scratch pad, and simple clipboard manager. I have used Unclutter for some time as a shelf for holding transit items. It helps me avoid dumping loads of junk on my desktop. Unclutter a little different to Yoink or Dropshelf in that the shelf pulls down like a curtain from the top of the screen, but the concept is much the same. The notepad and clipboard manager make Unclutter a useful utility for anybody, but I have found a specific use case for it as a macOS screen shot manager.

For a while I used a handy little menu bar app call Shotty to manage screenshots. Unfortunately, Shotty’s user interface is small, so I find it isn’t ideal on the big screen of an iMac. The difference, depending on how you set it up, is Unclutter can stretch the whole way across the top of your screen. The display options can be set so that screen shots will display in an ad hoc gallery, making it easier to work with the images as you write.

macOS Screen Shot Manager
Unclutter can present screenshots in a gallery across the top of your screen

Setting up Unclutter

If you want to set Unclutter up to manage your screenshots, first you need to set the storage location in Unclutter. You can leave it as the default if you prefer, and use that file path for your set up. Otherwise you can set it to a cloud storage location, which is especially handy if you work across more than one Mac, or you want to access your screenshots on iOS.

Managing Screen Shots with Unclutter
Set the storage location for your screen shots in the Unclutter preferences.

Once you know the file path for files in Unclutter, you need to make sure your screenshots are going to end up there automatically. There are a couple of simple ways to do that.

Changing the Default Screen Shot Folder in Terminal

The first option is to change the default location for screenshots via terminal. Open a Terminal window and enter the following, then press enter. Obviously, you will change the file path to match where your Unclutter files are, or you can copy and paste if you have it setup with DropBox.

defaults write com.apple.screencapture location ~/Dropbox/Unclutter/Unlcutter files

Once you have set the location, you have to run the following command to reset the process that manages screen shots in macOS.

killall SystemUIServer

If you want to change back to having screen shots land on your desktop, run the above commands again but change the location back to /Desktop

Managing Screen Shots with Unclutter and Hazel

Unclutter Screen Shot Manager
Using Hazel to move screen shots means more control than changing the global setting in terminal

I prefer to set up a Hazel rule for this for a few different reasons. First, it makes it easier to switch it on and off if necessary, or if I want to change the location. The second reason has a touch of irony given the apps name is Unclutter, it is easy to accumulate a lot of old screenshots. They’re not as readily visible as on the desktop, so having Hazel come in and clean them up is helpful.

There are more tricks here if you need them too. If you want to archive particular shots and delete others you can add conditional tags with hazel, or even go by the name. My workflow for uploading shots to WordPress from my Mac includes using quicklook to rename files with a Text Expander snippet. Once they are renamed, Hazel will grab them again and run an Automator action that prepares them for this site.

Setapp Unclutter App
Using Unclutter to manage screenshots makes it easier to use Quicklook for viewing and renaming files

Unclutter on Setapp or the Mac App Store

MacPaw describes the Setapp platform as the Netflix for Mac apps, the analogy almost works. It’s unlikely you haven’t heard of it yet, but I have written about it a few times. There are numerous useful utilities, like Unclutter, included with a subscription. They add a lot of value to the heavy hitters like Ulysses, 2Do, and Marked. They have well over 100 apps now, and with the education discount a subscription will cost you five bucks a month.

Unclutter is also available on its own from the App Store for US$9.99

Enable Safari Hidden Features with Debug Menu

I found Safari Browser to be a nightmare in its cross platform days. It says a lot for its progress that has become my preferred browser. The modern version is fast, efficient with resources, and proactive about tracking protection. Recent announcements also suggest that protection will continue to improve.  Using 1Blocker for iOS and macOS , I can manage my browsing experience across Mac and iOS without weighing the app down with extensions. Add to that recent additions such as iOS type privacy settings, and the already excellent continuity features like handoff, and reading list. Put simply, using Safari is easy.  It might not be as extensible as Chrome or Firefox, but like those browsers, Safari has a number of hidden features.

Enabling Safari Hidden Features

Finding Safari hidden features requires enabling a couple of menus that are disable by default. The easiest one to enable is the Develop menu. To do that, open preferences, advanced, and simply tick the box: ‘Show Develop menu in menu bar'. Restart Safari and it will appear, giving you new options to do things like disable Javascript, clear caches, or change the user agent among other things.

Safari Browser Hidden Features
Enable the Develop menu in the advanced preferences

The other hidden menu is the lessor known Debug menu, which requires some basic terminal foo to reveal. The intrepid and curious will have a range of new preferences to tweak

  • Open Terminal: If you’re a mouse jockey click on the Go menu in Finder, and select Utilities. If you’re a keyboard warrior hit ⌘ + Space and start typing Terminal.
  • Once you have the Terminal open either type, or copy and past the following command:

defaults write com.apple.Safari IncludeInternalDebugMenu 1

  • Press return, then restart Safari. Presto, you have a new menu.

Safari Hidden Features to Enable

Macos Safari Browser Hidden Features
From the debug menu users can disable inline video altogether

Until recently, this was the only way you could disable autoplay video on annoying sites. Thankfully, Safari will now allow you to set site specific preferences , content blocking, and so on. It doesn’t always work the way it should in my experience, but setting a global flag in the debug menu takes care of it. Under Media Flags, enable ‘Video Needs User Action’, or ‘Audio Needs User Action’, depending on your needs. You can also disable inline video altogether.

Other handy features include the ability to disable some of Safari’s energy management. If you have attention madness like I do, you might find your open tabs getting out of control. Rather than creating epic memory leaks, Safari will suspend background tabs that aren’t being used. The browser is smart about how it does this, but it doesn’t suit everybody. For some users, having to reload a suspended tab can be a real nuisance. For instance, if you do a lot of research you might want to keep all your tabs live. If this is you, the option to disable background tab suspension is under miscellaneous flags.

There are a lot more flags, some more useful than others. To state the obvious, you can break stuff by playing with them, but that’s half the fun.

Creating Smart Reading Lists on iOS with Notebooks

Ios Workflow Notebooks Tasklist Reading

If Notebooks isn’t best note taking app for iPad, it is definitely the most underrated.  If you're looking for a markdown notes app, a writing app, or a document storage container with a few unique tricks, you won’t find many better. Part notebook, part storage locker, and part GTD task management system. That might sound like a janky combination, but not only does it work well, it looks pretty too. It has been around for a while, so in lieu of a comprehensive review, I want to highlight a particular feature I haven’t seen anywhere else. The ability to turn notes into tasks.

If you have a lot of reading to keep up with from a variety of sources, this is very handy. For planning and tracking big reading projects I still use TaskPaper on macOS, with its counterpart TaskMator on iOS. That system works well, with the outliner style lists making it easy to break up books, journals and so on with due dates. Using Notebooks has a distant advantage over that system, as it can collect the reading material itself. Web pages, notes, PDF documents, Word files, you can read them all directly in Notebooks. It will even let you index epub files to open in a third-party reader, like Marvin. Remember, at its core this is note taking app, while reading you can highlight text, make annotations, take clippings, and more. You can also take notes.

Notebooks Reading List Workflow

Ios Workflow Notebooks Reading List
The Notebooks URL scheme is simple to use, and does a great job of importing multiple data types

This is a simple idea that in practice will help keep track of reading lists, note revisions, or really anything text based. It’s true you can fashion a similar system by chaining apps like DEVONthink and Things 3 together. To my mind this is more elegant, or at least less confusing.

It works like this. As I collect reading material, I drop it into a Notebook that has been setup as a task list. When I’m on the clock I can setup due dates, reminders and so on. More importantly, I can tick items off as I go, meaning a quick visual guide is available to measure progress. It’s easy enough to use Notebooks’ share extension for this — or bookmarklets on the Mac — but there are two alternative methods I prefer. First, Notebooks has a very hand URL scheme which is clever about capturing all kinds of data, which makes setting up a custom action extension for Workflow trivial.

You can download the workflow here

Notebooks Drag and Drop

Notebooks Best Note Taking Ipad
Multitasking with drag and drop makes collecting articles trivial

The Workflow action above is especially handy on the iPhone, but the iPad has another option that is easier still. Notebooks has excellent support for the drag and drop feature of iOS 11. So if you don’t fancy using Workflow, you can use multitasking to simply drag links and files directly into a reading list. Or, you can use something like the excellent shelf app Gladys to hold the material you collect before dropping it into Notebooks later. Gladys now has a Mac version too, which adds some continuity to the workflow.

Best note taking apps for college
Using a shelf app like Gladys gives you a chance to triage material before it is adding to the list

Among the Best Note Taking Apps

If you follow this site, you probably know by now that all my data ends up in DEVONthink, one way, or another. Whatever passes through Notebooks still ends up there, but DEVONthink’s super power is search. It has passable editing and annotation tools, but I prefer doing the interactive work before it ends up in what is essentially a personal research database. For a lot of users Notebooks might even be enough. While the task management features were no doubt conceived for GTD nerds, they end up making Notebooks among the best note taking apps for college, or university users. The caveat being it's not a handwriting app. In fact if anything holds it back, that would be it. I would get around that by using Nebo as a capture tool myself, they complement each other well.

If DEVONthink’s not your jam, or you’re looking to replace Evernote with something private and local, Notebooks is a handsome and feature rich app. It has relative feature parity across macOS, and iOS, and a lot of unexpected touches. GTD purists could configure tickler files, and contexts until their head is sufficiently empty of all that arduous, excess thought. 1. It can even run its own local WebDAV server for private local sync. It sounds strange, but it’s really not.

  1. I’m joking, you beautiful nerd you.

iCloud Sync for DEVONthink

Devonthink Icloud Sync

If I had to name a single app that holds my workflows together across macOS and iOS, it would be DEVONthink. I have tried many other solutions for the problems it solves, with varying degrees of success. I was an Evernote user for some time, but privacy issues, proprietary document formats, and a variety of other concerns were enough to turn me away. Other tools have come and gone, Eagle Filer is probably the closest thing I have come across to 1, but the more you peel back the layers of DEVONthink the more you you understand why all those nerds were telling you to try it out in earnest. 2

For a long time a superficial reticence towards the DEVONthink interface kept me away from it. Once I finally gave function a rare victory over form, it didn’t take long to realise what I had been missing. That is not to say I have no desire to see changes to DEVONthink. A little self-preservation has started to inform my desire to see the user interface refreshed. One gets a sense the DEVONthink user-base is strong and loyal, and the longevity of the company no doubt owes a lot to the maturity of the software. However, I worry that too many potential users are missing out a powerful application for superficial reasons. And, who knows, those potential users might be needed to ensure the sustainability of software that I would now hate to do without.

Adding iCloud Sync

One immediate wish I had for DEVONthink has recently been granted with the addition of iCloud sync. This is a great news for a number of reasons, with the most obvious also related to usability. The iOS version, DEVONthink to Go has been a revelation, both as an advance research tool for iPad and iPhone, but also in terms of advancing the usability of DEVONthink in general.

DEVONthink’s sync end-to-end encryption is one of my favourite features. I even suggested it as a hack for syncing encrypted data to iOS via Dropbox. The one area it fell down was the lack of iCloud support. That was understandable, given iCloud drive hasn’t always had a stellar reputation for package data, but things have changed.

Setting up iCloud sync for DEVONthink is simple; which is the whole point. A user generated encryption key is still required to ensure end-to-end encryption, but there is none of the other rigmarole required for other cloud services. That means no need to nominate a sync-store name, no mucking around with server addresses or usernames. If you already have other sync-store setup, you can either disable them, or consider them redundancy. It’s not quite the same as a backup, but certainly can’t hurt.

 

Icloud Sync Devonthink Ios
iCloud Sync for DEVONthink with end-to-end encryption

 

If you have complex research and retrieval needs, or your simply a ditital pack rat. I cannot recommend DEVONthink enough.   One of these days I will write it up in detail. Until then, I suspect the iOS version might be a good gateway drug for a potential user. You can read a little about that version here.

  1. Eagle Filer is an excellent piece of software, but doesn’t have the same intelligence as DEVONthink, or an iOS version.
  2. You can count me among them now

Quick Fix: Disable Circle Jerking and Autoplay in Chrome

Disable Autoplay Chrome Browser

I use Safari by default, but I’m a still bit of a browser hopper at times. The stark reality for anyone who runs a website — whether a bonafide developer or a hack like me — is Chrome Browser accounts for around 60% of all web traffic 1. I have made the mistake of optimising this site for Safari, based on a ropey sense of potential reader preference. If you’re a chrome user reading this, I assure you I have disabused myself of that notion. 2 Given Google all but owns the web, knowing your way around Chrome is non-negotiable.

Chrome Flags

In many ways Chrome is drastically more functional than Safari. For extensibility, it leaves Safari in the dust. If there is one thing I have always appreciated about Chrome, 3it’s the ability to dig into the experimental features. To do similar things with Safari requires invoking a terminal incantation, using the Safari Technology Preview version, or both. It is a little on the janky side.

If you’re ever troubleshooting chrome, it is worth looking at the flags to see if you can’t put paid to unwanted behaviour. There are some useful features buried in there. If you don't know what chrome flags are, or you're wondering what they can do, here are a couple I set recently.

Disable Circle-Jerking

This is an old trick that douche-bags use to trap users on a site. Loading history entries with the current URL means when users hit the back button it simply reloads the same page. Chrome has a handy little flag to disable this behaviour.

  1. Type Chrome://flags into the address bar
  2. ⌘+F and search for ‘History’
  3. Set the ‘New history entries require a user gesture’ to ‘Enabled’

Disable Autoplay

There are two flags I like to set for this. One for Autoplay, and the second to automatically mute any tabs that somehow escape this rule.

  1. Same as above, type Chrome://flags into the address bar
  2. ⌘+F and search for ‘Autoplay Policy’
  3. Set to ‘user gesture is required for cross origin iframes’
  4. ⌘+F and search for ‘Tab audio muting UI control’
  5. Set to Enable

Get back to browsing, and enjoy.

  1. depending where you get your stats
  2. For anyone who cares, until recently part of the caching system used by my web host Cloudways was intermittently broken on Chrome.
  3. And Firefox, for that matter.