The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…


Keyboard Maestro

See the launch date and time for any app or process

I was working on something with Peter about Moom and its disk usage (it doesn’t use much), and I was curious as to just how long Moom had been running on my Mac. I last rebooted my Mac a week ago, but I often quit and relaunch our own apps to run test versions.

Finder has this info, but that requires finding the running app in Finder. I wanted a quicker solution. In Activity Monitor (and ps in Terminal), you can see how much CPU time an activity has taken…

…but that doesn’t really help at all with knowing when the app (or process) launched. As long as you’re in Activity Monitor, you can get the information by doing the following:

  1. Click once on the app or process of interest.
  2. Press Command-I or click the small ‘i’ icon in the toolbar.
  3. In the new window that opens, click Sample, then wait.

When the sample is complete, you’ll see its output, and included there is the selected item’s launch date and time:

Analysis of sampling Moom (pid 89861) every 1 millisecond
Parent Process:  ??? [1]

Date/Time:       2017-02-15 07:41:18.611 -0800
Launch Time:     2017-02-13 19:44:11.957 -0800

That’s all fine if you’re in Activity Monitor, but a bit of a pain if you need to launch it, find the app, run a sample, etc.

As you might expect, there’s another way via Terminal: The lsappinfo command, which queries CoreApplicationServices about any app or process on your Mac.


Transport the cursor to the center of frontmost window

My home workspace is a 27″ Retina 5K iMac (2560×1440) paired with a vertical 4K display (scaled to view 1440×2560). While I love this setup in general, there’s one time it’s annoying: When I need to move the cursor between displays, and it’s located far away from its destination.

There are many ways to solve this problem, including our own Keymo, which I still use when I want to teleport a drag across displays. But what I really wanted was a fast way to move the cursor to the other display when I switched to a window on the other display—because generally, if I’ve activated the window, I’m probably going to use the mouse in that window at some point.

Using Keyboard Maestro, it’s possible to create a macro to make this happen automatically:

This macro will activate every time you switch applications, and then move the mouse to the center of that newly-frontmost window and highlight its location with a quick circle. Having tested this, however, I can say it’s a non-ideal solution: Most of the time when I switch an app, I do not want the cursor to move. I found it more annoying—much more annoying—than useful.

As useless as the above macro is, with one minor change it quickly became one of my most-used macros…


Transforming text via Keyboard Maestro

Recently, Melissa Holt wrote about transforming text via the Transformations menu. After seeing this article, a reader named Hunter wrote to me with this comment:

Today in The Mac Observer Melissa Holt wrote about using the TextEdit/ Edit/ Transformations command to change the case of a sentence or paragraph. However, there is no option to perform, “Sentence Case”, i.e., capitalize the first letter of the first word, and keep all other words in lower case.

Is there a way in Terminal, or maybe Keyboard Maestro to add this option to Transformations? It seems to me that the given choices have rather limited uses.

In addition to not offering sentence case, the Transformations menu has a few other drawbacks:

  • Not all apps have a Transformations menu.
  • Only three very basic transformations (upper, lower, capitalize) are supported.
  • The transformations are buried in a sub-menu, requiring lots of mouse navigation to reach.

While I don’t believe it’s possible to modify the Transformations menu, it’s pretty easy to use Keyboard Maestro to build a “Sentence Case” transformation…or more usefully, as seen at right, a palette with many more transformations. Unlike the Transformations menu, the Keyboard Maestro solution will work in any app where you can copy and paste text.


Create a pop-up web search tool using Keyboard Maestro

My original Keyboard Maestro special character palette (which has been replaced by a much better version), used the Conflict Palette to display a window from which you could pick the special characters.

While this turned out to not be ideal for the special character palette (no way to pick more than one at a time), the Conflict Palette is ideal for many other tasks.

I use the one at right to search a number of web sites—activate the palette with ⌃⌥L then press a, for instance, type a query, press Return, and my browser loads with search results from my old site.

Feel free to download my macro if you’d like to use/modify it.

I use a couple additional palettes—one for retrieving iTunes’ artwork and searching the store, and the other for inserting commonly-used bits of code while writing help files in Coda for the Many Tricks‘ apps.

Here’s how the web search palette looks in use; I love being able to search a specific site from anywhere without first switching to my browser. And because I have Keyboard Maestro syncing its macros, I can do this from any Mac I own.

The advantage of using the Conflict Palette for these web searches is that I need only remember one shortcut, not 11 different ones, and the palette is a nice visual reminder of which service I wanted to search.


A much-improved special character palette

A while back, I created a pop-up character palette using Keyboard Maestro to allow easy insertion of the Mac’s special characters (like , ⌘, ⌥, etc.). While this worked fine, I discovered a few major shortcomings:

  • I couldn’t create more than one character without calling up the palette again.
  • I had to decide in advance if I wanted HTML entities or the actual characters.
  • Two palettes (HTML or character) meant two keyboard shortcuts to remember.
  • Adding characters to the palette was a real pain, because they had to be done twice.
  • I was out of digits for shortcuts, so I was going to have to change the palette structure.
  • It was slow: From calling up the palette to identifying which icon I wanted to use to selecting that icon, and then doing it all again for a second character was just really slow.

I set out to fix all of these issues, thinking I could use Keyboard Maestro’s Custom HTML Prompt action, as I did for my iTunes song info window. And, in the end, that’s what I used for the new-and-improved character palette:

This doesn’t have to be used just for Mac special characters, of course. You could make yourself a customized pop-up for emoji, math symbols, whatever…

Read on for the how-to and download, if you’d like to put this to use…


Automatically prevent Messages’ URL Previews

I spend a lot of time in Messages in macOS, and one of its newer features is something called link previews, as seen at the right side of this text block.

While these previews can occasionally be useful, most of the time, they’re just annoying: I’m talking with people I know, and we trust the links we send each other, so the preview is superfluous. Plus it makes it nearly impossible to rickroll anyone. But what’s really annoying is that they make it impossible to send messages like this:

Oh, have you seen [paste copied URL]

Try that, and the URL becomes a preview, and the question mark vanishes. It really interrupts conversational flow. You can prevent this by either writing text on both sides of the pasted URL, or surrounding the URL with angle brackets:

Oh, have you seen < [paste copied URL]>?

So there’s the quick tip: To prevent link previews, surround your pasted links with either text on both sides, or more simply, angle brackets.

But because I often forget to do that, I wanted it to be automatic. Thanks to Keyboard Maestro, I was able to make that happen: When I paste a link in Messages—using the system’s standard ⌘V shortcut—it’s enclosed in angle brackets. If I paste anything other than a URL, it’s pasted as is. If I do want a preview, I can use the actual Paste menu item instead to get a link with preview.

This solution is perfect for my needs, as I always use ⌘V to paste, and I so rarely want to send a link preview that it’s OK that it requires a trip to the menu. (If it ever does annoy me, I’ll just remap Paste in Messages to ⌃⌘V or somesuch.


Capture a series of screenshots and create a movie

At my day job with Many Tricks, we recently updated our time tracking app Time Sink to version two, and an updated web page was part of the project. For the header area, I wanted to create a time-lapse movie showing the Time Sink Activity Report window changing over an extended period of time (90 minutes), but compressed into a short amount of real-world time (about 14 seconds).

Before the how-to, here’s how the final project came out:

To create the time-lapse movie, I’d need a series of screenshots recorded at a fixed interval. I wanted to shoot only the content area of the report window, as I didn’t need the “chrome” for the movie (it would just distract from the content). So using the built-in screenshot tool wouldn’t work—I didn’t want to have to crop 500+ images (even by script).

While I’m sure there are many utilities that can do this (and I’ll see them shortly in the comments), a brief web search found nothing that was designed to capture areas of the screen at a set interval. Luckily for me, though, Keyboard Maestro has a screenshot action that can record an area of the screen, along with repeat and wait actions I could use to capture a series of stills.


Easily insert special Mac characters using Keyboard Maestro

Note: I’m leaving this up for historical purposes, but there’s a new special character palette in town, and the new one is vastly superior to this version. This hint might be useful for general Keyboard Maestro knowledge, but really, use the new version if you want a special character palette.

Between blog posts and documentation for Many Tricks, I find myself typing the Mac’s “special character” symbols quite often: ⌘ (Command), ⌃ (Control), ⌥ (Option), ⇧ (Shift), and  (I think that’s an Apple).

You can type some of these via keyboard shortcuts (the  is ⇧⌥K), or by using the Emoji & Symbols viewer. But I find both those methods clunky and slow; instead, I used Keyboard Maestro to create a couple of pop-up palettes that show all the characters:

I use two palettes because while I typically can paste the character itself, that doesn’t work in some spots—like here in the WordPress’ blog post editor, for instance. In those places, I need to use the HTML code for each character—so that cute little  appears when I insert &#xF8FF;. Ugh. Hence the character palette on the left and the HTML palette on the right.

When I want to insert a special character, I first type the activation keys for either the character (ccc) or HTML (hhh) palettes. When the palette appears, pressing one through five will insert the corresponding character or HTML code for that character. No keyboard shortcuts to memorize, no need to negotiate the Emoji & Symbols viewer. Just a few keystrokes, aided by a visual representation of each character, and I’m done.

As always, you can download these macros if you’d like to use/modify them for yourself.


An even easier way to use Excel’s Paste Special dialog

I recently explained how to use the keyboard in Excel’s Paste Special dialog box, and this is a great timesaver on its own. But I use Paste Special a lot, especially with Formats, Formulas, and Values, so I made those three even easier to use via the keyboard…

Each one has its own direct keyboard shortcut, courtesy of Keyboard Maestro. Here’s how I set it up; these instructions should work (with some changes, of course) for any app that can script keystrokes.

First, I created these macros in an Excel group, so they’re only active when Excel is frontmost (no need to create global hot keys that you only use in one program). The actual macros are pretty trivial:

  1. Send Command-Control-V to bring up the Paste Special dialog
  2. Pause just long enough for the dialog to appear onscreen
  3. Send the chosen shortcut key—T, F, or V in my vase
  4. Send the Return key to execute the action

Then I just assigned each one to the same key used within the dialog, but with Command and Option to make it usable from anywhere within Excel.


Put Unix path to selected Finder item on clipboard

Thanks to the commenters for pointing out the much easier way to do this: Select an item in Finder, then press Command-Option-C. All done. Leaving the hint here as an example of a Rube Goldberg machine.

In two recent geeky tips, I showed how you can open a Terminal window in the directory of the selected Finder item, and how you can view Unix man pages in Preview. To finish the trifecta of geekiness, today’s tip lets you quickly place the Unix-style path to the selected Finder item on the clipboard. (It’s actually a simplified version of the ‘open this in Terminal’ tip.)

The AppleScript that accomplishes this is quite simple:

If you run that in Script Editor, you’ll see that your clipboard contains the path to whatever you had selected in Finder. But running the AppleScript in ScriptEditor isn’t a great timesaver. Instead, put it into whatever tool you have that can run AppleScripts via hot key or menu bar entry or whatever.

In my case, I put it into a super-simple Keyboard Maestro macro. I’ve set it up to show in the Keyboard Maestro menu bar when Finder is active:

There are countless tools that can run AppleScripts in various ways, including our own Butler, LaunchBar if you save the script first, etc.

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