The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…



Open URLs in either frontmost or default browser

Between Many Tricks and this blog, I spend a lot of time in browsers. Most of the time, I use Safari, but I do occasionally work in Chrome and Firefox, too—most often to check how a page looks or functions.

I keep my “permanent” bookmarks in Safari, and don’t presently use any sort of cross-browser sync. (I used to use one, but had a lot of trouble with duplicates, so I stopped.)

I wanted a way to open a limited number of URLs in either Safari (if that’s what I was in, or if I wasn’t in a browser), or in the frontmost browser, if that browser were frontmost. I could just create the subset as bookmarks in each browser, but if I wanted to add or remove a page from the list, I’d have to do so multiple times.

In the end, I came up with a set of Keyboard Maestro macros that do exactly what I want. I access my short list of multi-browser URLs via Keyboard Maestro’s pop-up palette, as seen at right.

This appears when I press ⌃1; after that, a single digit opens the desired URL. But how does it know whether to open the URL in Safari or one of the other browsers? It takes one helper macro, then one macro for each URL that I want to open in this manner.


Install and use a non-GUI connection speed test tool

Yesterday on Twitter, Dave Hamilton tweeted…

What is this speedtest exactly? And what is brew, you may also be wondering? You may also be wondering why, if you have brew, Dave’s command doesn’t work…that’s because it’s actually brew install speedtest_cli…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

speedtest is a command line interface (i.e. Unix app run from Terminal) to the connection speed tests at—you get the results without the fancy animated graphics. And Brew is “the missing package manager for macOS.” In other words, it’s an app to help you install (and uninstall) other apps.

Here’s how speedtest looks in its default mode—note that I’ve sped things up greatly for the GIF…

Much nicer to me, though, is the simplified version:

$ speedtest_cli --simple
Ping: 9.482 ms
Download: 94.23 Mbit/s
Upload: 68.66 Mbit/s

No animated dots, just three lines with the results. As you might expect if you read here regularly, I also wrote a Keyboard Maestro macro (of course I did!) that makes it really easy to run the simple version of the test, and does some editing of the output to simplify the display:

If you’d like to install speedtest (and maybe add the macro)—even if you don’t want to install Brew to do so—keep reading…


How I organize my Keyboard Maestro macros

This post was originally published in Decwember of 2016. I took it down to replace one section (using repeats) with anothet (using groups), and to expand some other areas.

I’ve been using Keyboard Maestro (or KM for short) a lot lately, i.e. Create an iTunes song info window or A much improved special character palette, or a slew of others.

As my collection of macros has grown, and some of those macros have gotten more complex, I’ve been using a few of KM’s features to help keep my macros organized, and make it easier to debug them while I’m working on them. Some of these are obvious, some maybe not so obvious, so I thought I’d share what I’m doing.


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…


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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