How You Use Alfred: Mattias Arrelid, Spotify's Director of SDK

In this series, we are taking a look at how some users have adopted Alfred in their workplace. They'll give us a glimpse of how they use Alfred, how they stay productive and what it's like working for some of the companies we know and love.

Here, Mattias Arrelid, Director of the Spotify SDK, shares how he uses Alfred while working on the latest version of Spotify - a service that fuels us with music every day while we work!

Who are you, and what keeps you busy?

My name is Mattias Arrelid, and I'm on a (never-ending) journey to make Spotify infrastructure better™ across all our supported platforms. Lately, this has manifested itself in some much needed tightening of our build & release infrastructure empowering our mobile & desktop apps, as well as some mentoring for one of my teams who is replacing the beating heart that is our player interface that all our features (radio, search etc.) use to play things inside our apps. Exciting times!

Mattias Arrelid's Desk

On my desk, an Aeropress and some coffee, gloves (yes, this is Sweden), a MacBook Pro Retina 13" (which may just be replaced this month) and a Cinema Display.

How long have you been using Alfred?

That's one fine, albeit tricky, question right there. Looking through my archived e-mails, I see the first newsletter from you in late February 2011. That said, I was obviously a cheapskate until late 2012 - that's when I bought the Powerpack. To compensate, I opted in for the Mega Supporter option once I gave you my money...

What aspects of Alfred make your workday more productive?

The workflows, period. Being a big fan of Quartz Composer and scripting in general, it feels pretty damn amazing to have almost limitless functionality at the tip of your fingers at a cost that's close to zero in terms of setup and complexity.

I don't even want to think about how much time people spend repeating dull operations in their everyday work-life, when they could be using workflows instead.

Are there any workflows you've created or imported that you'd recommend?

Since I'm always running the latest and greatest internal Spotify builds, I've constructed a small set of workflows that easily lets me perform common debugging operations. One is starting Spotify with a certain cache and/or username - this has proven itself very valuable when it comes to error reporting, since you always want to prove your bug on a clean install of the app/version combo in question. Combine this with another little script that parses the Info.plist to pick up the version number and place it in the clipboard - I don't even want to know how many times I've used this when reporting/confirming bugs in Jira...

Another workflow I've been tinkering around with is one that allows me to easily message/call people using my iPhone. I guess Continuity wasn't that bad after all, especially combined with the powers of app URIs (that lets you invoke iMessage/Facetime with your contact's details). I know something similar is available publicly already, but I wanted more granularity in what operation to perform (like FaceTime with or without video).

Another gem that I can't live without is the IMDb workflow. I love their database, and this workflow gives me the option to just bypass their not-so-nice search box and find the right movie directly from within Alfred itself.

Thanks for answering our questions, Mattias. May Spotify continue to fill our ears with great tunes (and weird back-catalogue tunes too) every day as we work and play!

Want to make your team productive too with the Powerpack? Take a look at our corporate licensing scheme and drop us a line to find out more.

How You Use Alfred: Ryan Cowles, Automattic Happiness Engineer

In this new series, we'll be taking a look at how some users have adopted Alfred in their workplace. They'll give us a glimpse of how they use Alfred, how they stay productive and what it's like working for some of the companies we know and love.

Today, we're hearing from Ryan Cowles, who is a Happiness Engineer for Automattic, who you'll also know best as the company behind WordPress.com. I've been using WordPress for over 10 years now, so it's great fun to see people like Ryan are there to keep WordPress users happy!

Ryan Cowles

Who are you, and what keeps you busy?

Hi there! I'm Ryan. I work for Automattic (the company behind WordPress.com, Jetpack, and a whole bunch of other cool stuff). I'm a Happiness Engineer, and most of the work that I do is supporting the Jetpack plugin. This involves answering support requests, beta testing, bug hunting, and most importantly, helping our users get the most out of Jetpack.

The work can vary quite a bit from day-to-day. But, whether I am responding to a support request or troubleshooting a Jetpack bug, Alfred is a staple in my workflow.

How long have you been using Alfred?

I've been using Alfred for over two years. I started using it for the basic features; Making quick calculations, launching apps, running a quick Google search, and entering system commands. Those features alone made Alfred an integral part of my work day. But when my coworker Bryan introduced me to workflows, that took my usage to the next level.

What aspects of Alfred make your workday more productive?

I rely heavily on workflows. I have one that boots up my local work environment. Instead of opening apps and URLs one at a time, I simply enter my work' keyword and everything is open and ready to go. And just for good measure, Alfred also sends me a "Good Morning" message.

Custom searches are another great feature. I use a lot of debugging tools, many of which live at specific URLs. Fumbling through bookmarks, pulling up the page, and then entering a URL each time can get exhausting. So, I avoid that process with custom searches.

I communicate with users via text a lot, too. Sometimes it's an email, sometimes it's a forum post, and sometimes it's a comment reply. I have a database of snippets that I use in these situations. This allows me to quickly enter text or drop a link without memorizing a URL. When you're typing all day, saving those extra keystrokes is a huge efficiency boost.

During these conversations, I sometimes need help with a word. And once again Alfred is there to assist. I can pull up the definition, thesaurus, or spellcheck without disrupting my flow of writing. I've also installed Webster's 1913 Dictionary, which I can search right from Alfred. This comes in handy when I'm doing some creative writing and OS X's thesaurus just doesn't cut it.

Are there workflows you've created or imported that you'd recommend?

There are quite a few! In no particular order, here are some of the ones that I swear by:

Alfred Gist: I often share code snippets with users and coworkers. This workflow allows me to create a Gist that I can share without needing to leave my editor.

Colors: When working with CSS, I often need to convert colors to different formats. The Colors workflow allows me to do just that, and quickly insert the result.

OS X Toolbox: The author of this workflow calls it a "one stop toolkit to fix common annoyances and toggle states in OS X." Using the 'tb' keyword you can relaunch finder, purge inactive memory, and a lot of other helpful system actions.

Todoist: I use Todoist to keep track of my tasks. And of course, there's a workflow that allows me to automate that process. I bring up Alfred, and type todo followed by the task. Then it's sent directly to my Todoist Inbox and I can file it later.

Rename: This is a powerful one. You can batch rename any number of files in a directory. You can use custom numbering, add dates, use regex, and a whole lot more. I use it a lot when organizing my photos, but it can be used for any filetype.

WordPress Developer Reference: WordPress has an incredible amount of developer documentation. It would be impossible to memorize every function or hook. So I use a workflow to reference them. I have all the documentation at my fingertips, searchable with autocomplete.

A couple of my friends/coworkers have written posts about their favorite workflows, too:

What's the first feature you show off when you introduce a friend or colleague to Alfred?

That's a tough call. There are so many cool things that you can do with Alfred, so it's hard to choose just one. From now on, I think I will just link them to this post.

Alfred has proven to be an invaluable tool. It is productivity and efficiency rolled into one single app. I can't imagine my day without it!

Thanks Ryan for sharing your thoughts with us, and thanks to Automattic for helping make the web a more interesting place to read!

Ryan Cowles with Dog

Don't Miss A Date with Fantastical 2 and Workflows

The Flexibits team have just released Fantastical 2, updating their already brilliant calendar app.

icon_512x512@2x Fantastical 2 brings a new full calendar application for OS X Yosemite and uses its very useful natural language parsing. This means that you can enter your entry in the same way you'd say it, and Fantastical will make sense of it and create an entry for you.

If, like me, your muscle memory leads you to popping up Alfred anytime your brain wants to make a note, add a calendar entry or a reminder, these few workflows will satisfy your needs once you've installed Fantastical 2 on your Mac.

Add a Calendar Entry to Fantastical 2 via Alfred

With Robert Böhnke's workflow, you can add an Calendar entry by typing "cal" followed by your natural language entry. Fantastical will do the rest of the leg-work to add the entry to your calendar.

screenshot1

screenshot2

Download the workflow on Github

Add Reminders

You can also add Reminders using Jono Hunt's Reminders workflow. This workflow uses a few keywords to allow you to add the reminder to the most appropriate list, using the same Fantastical natural language parser.

alfred-add-reminder

For example, Jono's workflow allows to to do the following:

  • Typing 'w finish the report' would add that task to the list named Work.
  • Typing 'r pick up dry cleaning sat at 6:30pm' would add that task to the list named Reminders with an alert set for 6:30pm on Saturday.
  • Typing 'g milk' would add that item to the Groceries list.

alfred-add-reminders-show-lists

Alternatively, you can use _"+r" _as a keyword to see all your lists.

You'll then get a Notification Centre notice that the item has been added to your Reminders list.

Download the Reminders workflow

Launch F2 using the "calendar" keyword

Workflows don't get much simpler than this, but a workflow doesn't have to be complicated to be useful.

Veteran Alfred user Ryan Block contributed this workflow to launch Fantastical 2 using the keyword "calendar", so that you don't have to remember the app's name in order to launch it. Of course, you can top up this workflow with any other useful keywords for your own use.

Download the workflow on Packal.org

With these workflows and Fantastical, you'll never forget an appointment or task again!

Connecting Your Remote using Bluetooth

Connecting your Alfred Remote to your Mac using a Wi-Fi connection is the fastest and most reliable way. However, there are occasions where this may not be possible, either because your devices can't be on the same network or there is no Wi-Fi network available.

In cases like these, Bluetooth can be used to pair your iPhone/iPad to your Mac, allowing you to use Remote without relying on a network.

bluetooth-pairing

The Bluetooth connection is a great alternative for these occasions where there's no suitable Wi-Fi, but comes with a few caveats; Bluetooth itself is a slower way to connect so you'll find that icons can take some time to load on the first connection to a new Remote. Once set up, it's quite fast at dispatching actions to your Mac.

It is also reliant on your Mac and iPad/iPhone staying in close proximity to each other, so your Remote will need to be kept within a few feet of your Mac for reliability.

With these points in mind, it still provides a very convenient alternative to the Wi-Fi connection. Bluetooth pairing only takes a few seconds to set up, and we've created a handy tutorial on setting up Remote using Bluetooth.

Launch a URL in 3 browsers from Alfred or Remote

When working on a web design project, the most time-consuming part is often testing in various browsers. To solve this problem, I created a little workflow that would allow me to quickly launch a URL in three browsers at once by tapping an icon on my Remote.

In this tutorial, I'll show you how you can create this workflow in just a few minutes. I also hope it will inspire you to find those small-but-repetitive jobs in your own day that you can replace with workflows or Remote actions to become more productive and less burdened by tiresome tasks.

Creating a Remote action is a two-step process; First, I'll create the workflow itself, choosing the actions I want it to perform. Then, I'll add it to the Remote page.

If you're completely new to workflows, take a look at this tutorial on creating a workflow without a single line of code, which goes in a bit more detail to get you started.

Creating a workflow to launch in multiple browsers

The first step is to create a new workflow. I started with a blank workflow, gave it a name and icon. I then added one "Keyword" input and three "Open URL" actions from the + in the top right of the workflow page. I connected my keyword to all three actions, then proceeded to set each one up.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 10.03.33

When setting up the keyword, I assigned it the keyword "test" with a required argument, which will be the URL I'll type or paste in.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 10.06.04

I double-clicked each of the "Open URL" actions, adding {query} as the URL; This means that the text I type after my "test" keyword will be passed on as the URL each browser needs to launch. Of course, I also choose a different browser for each one, so that it launches in Safari, Chrome and Firefox.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 12.04.02

I now essentially have a functioning workflow, as I can type test http://alfredapp.com into Alfred and press return to launch it in all three browsers.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 12.07.53

However, as I want to use this workflow in Remote, I also need to add a Remote trigger object. I connect this Remote trigger directly to all three "Open URL" actions; I'm not connecting it to the "test" keyword as I want the action to launch the browsers, not pop up Alfred with the "test" keyword.

In this case, I decided that I want the Remote action to use my current selection in OS X as the {query} argument. You could choose to use the current clipboard content if you prefer or choose to use text and enter a fixed URL if you're always testing the same site. I've also given the trigger a unique identifier, an icon and a name.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 12.09.31

Adding the action to your Remote

Now that I've added a Remote Trigger to the workflow, I can add this action to a Remote page. To do this, I go to the Remote tab in Alfred's preferences on my Mac.

I want to add the action to an existing Remote page; Clicking on an empty space brings up the list of actions I can add to my Remote. Under Run Workflow Trigger, my "Launch in 3 browsers" workflow contains the single action created earlier.

And here we go, there's a new action on my Remote page called "Test all browsers". Tapping it from my iPad will make my Mac launch the URL I've selected in OS X in the three browsers I want to test in.

IMG_0297

Tweaking workflows to your own needs

You can download the workflow I've created from Packal, or follow the steps above to create it yourself. You can also grab the icon I created for the workflow or create your own.

When creating or importing an existing workflow, don't forget to customise it to your own needs. For example, I could add a hotkey, similar to the Remote trigger, which launches the workflow with either the OS X selection or clipboard contents. I could add multiple keywords where various pre-defined sites are launched if I know that I'm always testing the same few websites.

I hope that this tutorial will give you a glimpse into how flexible workflows and Remote actions are, and how you can ease the pain of repetitive tasks by creating your own workflows.

Want to see anything in particular in the next tutorial? Tweet us (@alfredapp) your ideas and I'll cover a few over the coming weeks :)

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