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Create an iTunes song info window using Keyboard Maestro

For those who aren’t aware, Keyboard Maestro is a macro-creation tool, designed to help you automate routine tasks. But its powers let you do some really cool stuff, not all of which could be classified as automation. Such is the case with this project: Creating an iTunes song info pop-up window.

There are lots of apps out there—including Many Tricks own Butler—that can do this for you, and my Keyboard Maestro version is worse than most of those in many respects. However, I wanted to teach myself more about Keyboard Maestro, and this seemed like a good project with which to do so.

I use Buter’s iTunes pop-up info window, which looks like this:

I wasn’t really interested in the rating or volume controls (though they should be doable), but I wanted to see if I could get the album art and song info in a window via Keyboard Maestro. After some struggles, here’s what I came up with in Keyboard Maestro:

My window is larger by design, so I can have somewhat more visible album art (aging eyes). And I can’t decide on a background color or gradient, so it keeps changing—this was the look when I snapped the screenshot, but it’s since changed again.

Read on if you’d like to know more about Keyboard Maestro, and how I used it to create this iTunes info window. (Note that this write-up assume some familiarity with Keyboard Maestro, though I try to explain each step in the process.)

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A quick-toggle solution for OS X’s translucency feature

OS X includes—and enables by default—translucency, which gives you ‘wonderful’ effects such as this in Calculator:

This is just one example; lots of other apps (Mail and Messages, to name two) contain panes that become grossly distorted by background color bleed-through. I’m not sure who at Apple (Marketing?) thinks this feature is good for productivity , but I find it completely distracting.

As a result, I turn off translucency on every Mac I own. You can do so yourself in System Preferences > Universal Access > Display. Just check the Reduce transparency* box, and you won’t get any more bleed-through. (You’ll also get a solid Dock, and perhaps the world’s ugliest Command-Tab task switcher. Such is the cost of usability.)

* It’s ridiculous that Apple calls this transparency, which is defined as “the condition of being transparent,” and being transparent means being see-through, clear, invisible, etc. This is clearly translucency, or “allowing light, but not detailed images, to pass through.” But I digress…

However, when writing for Many Tricks or Macworld, I often need to take screenshots. And because most users won’t disable translucency, I prefer to take those screenshots with translucency enabled, so that they’re closer to what most users might see. That means a trip through System Preferences to toggle the checkbox, which gets annoying after the second or third time you’ve done it.

There had to be an easier way—and after some missteps, I eventually found it.

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Silently mute the mic input via AppleScript

Note: The scripts in this hint don’t truly mute the mic input; they drop its volume to zero. That’s because there’s no way to mute an input source via AppleScript (while you can mute an output source). At zero level, the mic will still pick up sounds, but they’re very quiet. I’m looking for a solution to mute the mic via another method, then call that from the AppleScript. For now, though, be aware that these are mostly-mute scripts.

While recording our weekly podcast, The Committed, I often want to mute the microphone input for one reason or another. (Yes, my microphone has a big Mute button on it, but pressing it results in an audible CLICK in the recording.)

There are any number of ways to do this quietly, including just sliding the level down in the Sound System Preferences panel (though it’s hard to then get it back to exactly the right spot). There are also any number of App Store apps that will do this for you; some are free, some are paid. And doing it programmatically yourself is as easy as two one-line AppleScripts:

Save those separately, assign keyboard shortcuts (or more quietly, trackpad gestures) using your favorite third-party tool, and you’re done.

But I wanted something more. I wanted one script to mute and unmute the volume. I also wanted a visual reminder when I was muted. After an afternoon of slogging around the internet, looking up obscure AppleScript command syntax, and diving into Sal Soghoian’s AppleScript 1-2-3 book, I came up with something that seems to work. This short video shows one version of it in action:

Read on for the code and a how-to on putting it to use.

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Search the iTunes Store from anywhere

This morning, I wanted to send someone an iTunes App Store search URL, so that when they clicked it, they’d see the list of matching apps in the iTunes App Store. There’s no apparent easy way to do this within iTunes, but after much futzing about, I figured out how to structure a URL that will open to to the search results screen in the iTunes App Store.

Because Apple has separated iPhone apps and iPod apps in the store, there are actually two separate URLs, one for each type of app. The iPad version of the URL is:

itms://search.itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZSearch.woa/wa/advancedSearch?entity=iPadSoftware&free=0&genreIndex=1&media=software&restrict=false&softwareTerm=TERMS+TO+SEARCH+FOR&submit=seeAllLockups

And for the iPhone, it’s identical except for the entity bit:

itms://search.itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZSearch.woa/wa/advancedSearch?entity=software&free=0&genreIndex=1&media=software&restrict=false&softwareTerm=TERMS+TO+SEARCH+FOR&submit=seeAllLockups

Hopefully obviously, replace TERMS+TO+SEARCH+FOR with the keywords you want to use for the search, separating words with the plus sign. You can then use the URL for whatever you like: send it to someone, add it to your bookmarks bar, whatever. When clicked, the search will run and the results will open directly in the iTunes App Store for either iPad or iPhone apps.

For example, iPad Apps related to the word foobar, or iPhone apps about hopping frogs.

You can further customize the URL to find anything you want—not just apps, and using additional criteria—within any of the various areas of the App Store. Read on for the details on how to do that.

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Control is the key to avoiding needless dialog boxes

Over the weekend, I wrote myself a little AppleScript program that makes it much easier to create license files for our customers. (Given my lack of knowledge on AppleScript, I’m quite happy with the result.)

To make it easy to use on all my Macs, I stored the finished result in Dropbox. I tested it using my MacBook Pro, assigning it a global keyboard shortcut using Butler. It worked great; as soon as I typed the shortcut, I’d see my “Which program?” onscreen dialog, and all was good.

When I got back to my iMac, I used Butler to point to the same script on Drobpox, and tested it. I was very surprised to see that, instead of launching my app, OS X presented this dialog box:

Confused, I pulled out the MacBook Pro, and tested again…and again, it worked fine, launching without any confirmation dialog.

After many minutes of hair pulling, I figured out the problem: On the MacBook Pro, I had assigned the shortcut as Shift-Option-M; on the iMac, I decided that it’d be easier to type Shift-Control-M, so that’s what I used (intending to change the MacBook Pro to the same shortcut). As soon as I removed the Control key from the shortcut, my application loaded without the confirmation dialog.

I’ve been unable to figure out why this happens, but if you’re launching AppleScript apps via global shortcuts, avoid using the Control key in those shortcuts (unless you like needless confirmation dialogs, that is).

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