May 17, 2007

Heading down the road with Automator and AppleScript

Lately, I've been working with a large customer to prototype the use of Macs to see if they are a viable alternative to the Windows based platform that they have standardized on in the past. You and I know this to be the case, but they need some convincing. One of the most compelling things for the users at this customer appears to be the use of Automator to automate their individual workflows.

First of all, the users I am dealing with are not programmers, but somehow when they see Automator they immediately get how it could help them get their jobs done. The problem I've had is that a lot of what these folks do involves querying multiple web sites and passing data from the results of one query to the next.

Certainly, any specific workflow could be implemented in code by a developer, but what I really want to do is to figure out a way to provide them with the tools they need to be able to build their own custom workflows.

So, this has gotten me to finally get off my tail and learn AppleScript and Automator. As a developer, it seemed to me that Automator was nothing more than a flashy toy that would be difficult to get any real work done. But perhaps the truth was that I, with years of C, C++, Java, JavaScript, Objective-C, Perl and Python and my programmer's brain, am not the real target audience for this tool. And AppleScript has always seemed to be a very weird language with strange syntax and poor documentation. Heck some of the best programmers I know have stayed away.

Well, necessity is a good teacher, and so lately I have been developing a lot of Automator actions to fill in the gaps I've seen in the built-in actions and third party additions. I've also become interested in how I can use GUI scripting to enable users to more easily help themselves.

Over the next several posts, I'll share some of my actions, talk about finally getting my head around AppleScript, and head down the GUI scripting road. Perhaps some of you will share some of your own experiences too. It would be great to hear from you.

Here are some good links I've found regarding Automator and AppleScript:


AppleScript: The Definitive Guide, 2nd Edition

May 12, 2007

Bicycle commuting around Baltimore

I'm a pretty avid cyclist, and I enjoy commuting to work on my bike. For the past couple of years, I’ve been attempting to compile a list of routes that I use to get around the Baltimore area on my bike. I’d rather avoid driving my bike somewhere to ride, so I’m always looking for ways to jump on my bike at my back door. It’s a little more difficult to find good routes for a city dweller like myself, so I'll be posting them here from time to time in case anyone is interested.

The first 18 miles of this route represent my standard commuting route for the past couple of years. It starts out on the Gwynns Falls Trail, heads out Frederick Rd towards Catonsville, Once through Catonsville, I head south on Hilltop Rd, across the Patapsco river and up Ilchester Rd towards Columbia. The big challenge of this ride comes around mile 11. Heading out, you have to climb an 18 percent grade up the first part of Ilchester. The way home has a similar climb up Hilltop. A more scenic and easier climb up Bonnie Branch Rd. is also an alternative. Normally I’ll ride home the same way, but on weekends I often take the loop route home. The only major difficulty is dealing with the I 95 interchange off of 175, which is much lighter in traffic on the weekend. Mileage to work is about 18, total milage is around 41.