Experts consider significance of Apple's deal with Ohio State – As these so-called experts mull this over, there are a couple of ways we can look at it. For a start, I find the idea that so-called university leaders are usually skeptical of corporate partnerships to be a spurious claim. The corporatisation of the University is well documented. The business school at the University of Auckland is notorious for having used McDonalds branded course materials, on top of which they gave new meaning to content marketing by using the same company for examples in examinations. Some people might feel it is a stretch to make such comparisons, but these are sponsorship deals plain and simple. Or are they?
If Apple truly commits to innovation in higher education, it could “really move the needle,” said Kim, as other companies like Google and Microsoft could follow suit. “All of these companies would be smart to put educational innovation, and partnerships with higher education, at the center of their plans,” Kim said, but he noted that such progress would not mean that university leaders would stop being skeptical of the return on investment of large-scale technology-adoption projects and company partnerships.
It is also worth considering the de facto technology monopoly held by Microsoft — obviously not just in education. 1 The ubiquity of class rooms with Apple computers in the mid eighties was almost forgotten in the haze of the past twenty years, where compatibility with Microsoft’s server technology and Office software decoupled most other solutions from the conversation. Google has had a significant say on recent detours from this narrative, but it is apparent that Apple is pushing back. The 5th generation iPad released this year was the first hint that deals like this would be coming. Although, this deal has gone well beyond the utility of that device, which is more than appropriate for higher education use.
The opportunity for colleges to arrange similar partnerships with Apple is something many would be watching closely, Kim said. He noted that his and other colleges have already been in contact with Apple to discover where they might collaborate. “This Ohio State partnership is certainly bigger in scope and scale than other partnerships that I’ve heard about, but it is in line with how I’ve been watching Apple’s approach to higher education evolve over the past couple of years,” said Kim.
On the growing list of topics I intend to cover in detail is the indepensible automation app Workflow, which these days is owned by Apple. To dispell the ever-present rumours of Workflow's impending death, the latest in a steady schedule of updates has been released. This time focusing in on a long list of bugs with third-party app and API interactions. If you haven't already tried this incredible peice of software, the is no time like the present.
Apple is sweetening the pot a little this year for anyone eligible for the education discount, in the UK or US. That means — in their own words — current and newly accepted college students and their parents, as well as faculty, staff, and homeschool teachers of all grade levels. Basically, if you buy a Mac or an iPad Pro directly from Apple, you will get a pair of Beats Wireless earbuds, or headphones [^Depending on what you buy].
If ever I find myself in one of those tedious Mac versus Windows conversations I need only point to one thing that tips the balance toward the Apple machine, and that is automation. While it is true that automation software is not the exclusive domain of the Mac, Apple’s historical commitment to it has not only lowered the bar for entry to native automation, but has fostered a platform which has seen a slew of wonderful third-party tools that will allow anyone with a little time and determination to dip their toes in the automation waters. Honestly, it is embarrassing to admit the amount of time I might have saved had I have embraced some of these technologies early than I did. Admittedly, with services like IFTTT and Zapier, automation is becoming less and less platform dependant, but whether you want to go full nerd, or simply save yourself and your fingers from repetitive typing tasks, there is nothing like the Mac for getting started.
This will be another post in parts, there are far too many options for Mac automation to throw them all on a page and hope for that to be useful. The intention is to give you some ideas for getting started with this automation racket.
Perhaps the easiest area to begin is with text expansion. Limited support for text replacement is available natively in macOS, or you go further with apps like Typinator or aText. My favourite app for the job, and probably the most powerful of the lot, is Text Expander. Start with simple things, like commonly used email addresses, your own personal details, signatures or often repeated phrases.
Something I have found particularly useful is converting clumsy English spelling of non-English words and names. For example, my thesis contains a number of Māori words that have macrons for long vowels, Text Expander makes sure I neither forget nor mess up the spellings of those words. Likewise for accented European names like Zupancic to Zupančič. The more you use text expansion, the more you will start to notice commonly used text you can automate, and this is to barely scratch the surface of what a tool like Text Expander can do for you.
Smile’s Text Expander Blog is full of examples of how to use snippets in your workflow. One specifically research based use case is to setup snippets for common web searches. For more ideas on how to get started, Zapier have a nice write up on their blog you might like to check out.
Automator can seem a little daunting at first, and to be fair the user interface is not all that enticing. But, don’t let that stop you from messing around with it. Just as there are many text based tasks that you might not know you can automate, there are many more fiddly and tedious jobs littered throughout most people’s workflows. Academic workflows, in particular, are usually littered with tasks ripe for automation, and this is in no way limited to university work itself. If you are a blogger, an artist, or even a social-media junkie, chances are there is something you do regularly that you can reclaim significant time from. Having said that, like anything the problem is knowing where to start. There are a number of good Automator resources available, but you will never go wrong by starting with Sal Soghoian – the undisputed Jedi Master of Mac automation – at his Mac OS X Automation site.
In the meantime, here are a couple of basic examples to get you started. One of the most commonly cited examples of a basic Automator workflow combines selected PDF files into one document, like so:
Another quick and dirty example of an Automator workflow is the one I use to resize images for blog posts. I have it setup as a service, so when I right click on an image and select the service, it simply scales the image, converts it, and renames the file. It looks like this:
You can even setup Automator do some of your research for you by setting up a feed with keywords and collecting the URLs for the articles it returns. This article has an example of one such workflow, along with a means for downloading images and video, and setting up a native, standalone web application for sites you have to keep open.
Something all students and academics have to deal with a constant influx of digital documents. Whether they be absurdly arcane forms, journal articles, ebooks, expense claims, or whatever, they never stop piling up. Enter Hazel, put a little time into this thing and you can wipe your hands of repetitive file management and processing tasks. And, it’s not just the mundane and simple jobs either, Hazel can encode media, manage your photo library, add music to iTunes, use pattern matching to rename and file documents based upon their contents, run scripts, take care of your desktop, trash and downloads – in fact, like most good automation, it is more limited by a user’s ability to think of how to use it than by its own features. A little imagination and you can chain all kinds of services together, for example, there are party people who like to trigger their own welcome home soundtracks by using Hazel with Dropbox and IFTTT.
There is nothing overly difficult about setting up Hazel, start out simple and go from there. If you have ever setup a smart folder on iTunes, or in the Finder, then you will already have a sense of how to put an action together. If you haven’t, it looks like this:
The Noodlesoft forum is among the most active developer forums I have come across, and the Hazel user base is full of helpful and proactive people willing to chip in if you get stuck. The forum is also full of inventive Hazel actions that other users willingly share with newbies. Finally, if you are getting stuck and you are the kind of person who likes a visual guide, you can either checkout the innumerable videos on Youtube or David Sparks has a detailed Video Field Guide available.
Some of my favourite software for academic work is included in this list of apps as part of the SummerFest ‘summer festival of artisanal software'. Putting aside the amusing name, and the persistently awful colour palette that the makers of Tinderbox seem forever wedded to, the discounts make this worth a look.