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June 2013

XTension adds microcontroller support

The latest build of the perpetually-in-beta XTension adds direct, simple support for Arduino (or similar) microcontrollers. You simply add your Arduino (or Raspberry Pi, etc) as a serial or IP interface, then define units for which the device will provide values. On the Arduino side, it's very simple for your sketch to send CR-terminated data directly to XTension. You can even send info for the XTension log. A very handy feature, and I'm pleased to see it! For details see the Mac Home Automation wiki.

Built-in disk dock for OS X

I've used Dragthing since the days of System 7. (For you youngsters, that's before OS X was Mac OS.) But lately, thanks to Alfred and Keyboard Maestro, I hadn't been using it much at all. When I recently switched to a newer Mac, I decided to try living without it.

The thing I miss most, it turns out, is its "disk dock;" a feature that makes it easy access all drives. As an alternative, I put the Volumes folder in my OS X dock. I set the folder to display as a fan; an option that's available via the contextual menu. Here's how it looks:

Diskdock example

It turns out this is a pretty good substitute, although you have to get used to seeing the occasional odd volume that gets mounted by various maintenance tasks, which you'd normally never notice. If you're not familiar with the Volumes folder, it's one of those Unix-y things. To access it, so you can drag it into your dock, in the Finder choose Go > Go to Folder, then enter "/Volumes" and click Go. Then drag the Volumes folder proxy icon, from the top of the Finder window, to a spot in the dock.

There's a good chance I'll end up installing Dragthing for some of its other nifty features, but I'm pleased to have remembered a solution that doesn't require any additional software to make it work.

Automation to move messages to a folder in OS X Mail

Back until a few releases ago (OS X Tiger, i think) OS X's Mail app would remember the last folder you moved a message into, even between launches. In other words, if you moved a message into the folder "Orders," the menu item Message > Move to 'Orders" Again would persist until you moved a message to a different folder. This was very handy for me, as I rarely file messages, except for receipts from web-based shopping.

I finally got sick of manually filing these messages. (Hey, it only took a couple of years, right?) So I investigated ways of automating this process. This Mac OS X Hints thread was useful, but way overkill for my needs.

I ended up creating a Keyboard Maestro macro that simply moves all selected messages in the "Orders" folder, which is "On my Mac," inside the "Personal" folder. It's only available when Mail is the active app, so it's not otherwise cluttering up my macro menu. See below for the details.

KM moveOrders

Naturally, after creating this solution, it occurred to me that there's probably a much easier way. And there is, albeit still a little manual. Just add the target folder to Mail's Favorites Bar, then you can drag a message to the folder. Yeah, sure, that works too.

KM dragToFolder

Door Jammer brace provides easy home security

Not all "Smart Home hacks" have to be automated, or even high-tech. Sometimes the handiest, most useful hack is also the simplest. Consider, for example, the Big Jammer Door Brace. It's a fantastic security device that I've used for almost 20 years, in 3 or 4 different homes. In addition to working with any door that opens inward, it works with sliding glass doors too. Well worth having and provides much peace of mind. It's also available from Amazon.

Digital vs Print publishing in a niche market

Two years ago, Craig Conley, Fredrick Turner, and I published a book, The JINX Companion. It's a reader's guide for a magazine that is very important in the community of performing magicians.

As you might imagine, publishing books for magicians is a small and specialized business. Although there are very highly-regarded and successful publishers in the field, Conley and I both have publishing experience, so we decided to tackle the project ourselves. Additionally, among our team of four (Michael Warwick is our contributing production specialist), we have technological expertise than is atypical in both publishing and magic.

We sell The JINX Companion in three formats:

  • Print-on-Demand: Production and fulfillment is provided through CreateSpace, which as an Amazon company also provides access to that marketplace. Additionally, we sell the printed copy on our own website (via a CrateSpace storefront) and at select magic shops.
  • PDF: Order processing and delivery is using Payloadz.
  • iBooks: Apple provides order processing and delivery via the iBookstore.

We are releasing the sales and lifecycle snapshot below with the hope that it will be useful to magic publishers who are considering digital releases. (Click to view a larger version.)


Keyboard Maestro: Feel less square with Urban Dictionary lookup

If you come across a word that you suspect is a slang term, but you're not sure what it means, there's no better resource than Urban Dictionary.

I made a Keyboard Maestro macro that automates the process of looking up a term. Just select the word or phrase you want to define, then activate the macro.

A summary of how it works is below, or you can grab it from this gist.

KeyboardMae UrbanDict 3

See also: Keyboard Maestro: Look Up a Shorter Synonym on Thsrs