Hello, I’m a web craftsman with a passion for the modern web. I build web applications and play with social services and communities.

November 16, 2009 at 11:56 pm

AutomatorAutomator is one the most powerful tools in Apple’s Mac OS X but not many people have heard of it before. And many who know about Automator’s existence have never used it. So why is it? Probably because the use of the tool isn’t that obvious to casual Mac users. Automator – as the name suggests – automates repeating tasks coming up in daily usage of a computer.

So lets say you want to rename a lot of files after a certain pattern. Most people would probably just do that by hand and rename file by file until they are done. They would do that because they don’t know that there is an easier and faster way for that. And that way is called Automator. With Automator you can take a bunch of files and apply actions to them. One of those actions could be “Rename Finder Items”.

There are many of those actions in Automator. Each application in Mac OS X offers some of them. Quicktime is good with movies, so it gives you some actions about movies, Finder is good to deal with files, Mail can handle emails and so on. You get the idea. So you can take all those actions and combine them into a workflow by dragging them from the action view on the left hand side into the workflow on the right hand side.

Automator Screenshot

Automator Screenshot

So what can you do with that now? You could create an automated task that loads photos from a folder, resizes them to 640px in size and attaches them to a new email. Or you could select a bunch of text files, combine them into one and make a PDF from them. Or you could fetch an RSS feed from a website and open all the stories in the feed in new Safari tabs. Or, Or, Or… All just by drag and drop. Each Action has an outlet, which sends the result of the current action to the next action. Just about everything you can do with Mac OS X can be done by Automator too. So as soon as you feel the need to do certain things on your computer regularly you should set up an Automator workflow to do it for you.

A nice thing about Automator is that you can save workflows as proper Mac OS X Applications that can live in your dock and wait for files to be dragged onto them. Or you can attach your workflows to certain dates and times with iCal.

So if you have a Mac you should really have a look at Automator and play around with some actions and workflows to get an idea what the tool can do for you. It will come in handy one day when you have to do some batch tasks.

Oh, and another pretty neat thing about Automator is that it can execute shell scripts. So you can extend it’s functionality quite a lot and you can use it as some kind of Cronjob. There is much to explore, so go out there and give it a shot!

November 12, 2009 at 6:33 pm


I have been using Google Wave for a couple of weeks now in it’s private developer preview. It’s already working quite well in most scenarios and I’m actively using it to collaborate on 4 projects I’m working on right now.

It’s really a relief to keep my email inbox a little tidier this way but on the other side it looks like it won’t take long until my Wave inbox is full of stuff. Another downside of Wave is that people you work with have to actively check their Wave Accounts regularly. Everybody is used to check their emails daily, but Wave is a whole new story. And the motivation to check Wave is quite low as long as you don’t have any serious projects going on in it. So using it to contact people you have seen on Wave once often ends up in no response until you ask the person to check his Wave via email/IM.

But all over it seems to be a great way to collaborate with people in one unified place.

Yesterday I got some new Google Wave Invites to give away. So if you want to give Google Wave a test ride give me a shout!

November 10, 2009 at 7:37 pm

Wow…it’s really been a while since I wrote something here! And what I have to say today won’t really interest many people right now, but might be a good thing to know for later. (at least when you are a Mac user)

So what is it?

Today I tried to update Mac OS X to 10.6.2 (from 10.6.1). I downloaded the update and installed it as usual while shutting down the system. The next morning I saw that my MacBook was still running. Arrrghh! Not a good sign. The update failed and I was asked to restart the computer. After doing so Mac OS X wouldn’t start anymore. All I got was the grey screen with the Apple logo and the spinning loading indicator. But it would never go past that screen. Damn! What now? I tried verbose mode, single user mode, resetting pram, repairing disk permissions… all the standard measures in that situation. Nothing helped! So what now? I had a 10 days old time machine backup and since I worked on many things in the last 10 days I wanted to get 10.6.1 back, while leaving my current files and folders untouched. Unfortunately that’s not possible. It’s all or nothing with Time Machine in this situation.

To make this short: What I did in the end was installing Snow Leopard from the Install DVD with default settings (and there aren’t really any settings to choose from). I wasn’t sure what exactly would happen so I backed up my most valuable files. Is the 10.6 installer like the old “Archive and Install”? Or would it be “Erase and Install”? No word about that in the installer itself. But it turned out that the 10.6 installer is really smart and installs 10.6.0 while preserving all files and settings. So after about an hour I was back in my system. Everything was exactly as I left it! Only was I in 10.6.0 instead of 10.6.1 now. But I installed 10.6.2 with the combo updater anyway afterwards.

But lesson learned: Keep backing up more regularly and back up before any bigger system upgrade!