IOS 12, Siri ShortCuts APP and the PCalc App

Along with being a big fan of Apple, I am a fan of MacStories.Net and Federico Viticci who founded that Apple-centric website from Italy and his writing. What caught my eye recently was a great review of the PCalc App’s update (version 3.8) to take advantage of the APIs that Apple recently in IOS 12 regarding Siri Shortcuts.  Federico really praised how PCalc integrated setting up Siri Shortcuts in the app and he said it was a great model for other apps.  Federico also gave an example about how cool the automation will be in iOS 12 with the Siri Shortcuts and the Shortcut app that Apple released.    You can read Federico’s article here.   

One of the things Federico highlighted was the the PCalc app now allows you to create Siri Shortcuts using the clipboard in iOS as an input.  And he gave an example where PCalc can convert currency to another currency using input from copying a number to the clipboard.  He then explained that after you create some Siri Shortcuts for PCalc, you can then see those Shortcuts in the Shortcut App that Apple created and then you could chain together the shortcuts and name the combination for a shortcuts for that combination.  Basically, the idea is that you can pick a number for the currency you want to convert, and then it will convert it to various currency using the Shortcut App and the Shortcuts that are in PCalc that you created.  

So I tried doing that but I ran into a problem.  When I used the Shortcut App and selected PCalc Shortcuts, the problem was that once it converted one number, it than put the answer in the clipboard, and so the next conversion, rather than using the original number in the clipboard used the new number in the the clipboard.  

For example, I experimented with converting Euro’s to British Pounds and also to the U.S. Dollar.  The input was 100 Euros.  It converted to Pounds correctly, 88.88 Pounds, but then used that number to convert to dollars, instead of 100 Euros.  

So on Twitter I reached out for assistance from Federico and the developer of PCalc, James Thomson, was kind enough to respond also.   Here is what he said.

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So James Thomson confirmed that the way PCalc works is that the output is added to the clipboard. 

Referring to features in the Shortcuts App, Mr. Thomson suggested the following that could be a possible fix.

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Well with that solution, I found a workaround.  And while I used the clipboard, I also added a feature where the Shortcut prompts me to fill in a number for the Euro, and then it first tells me that the first conversion number was an English Pound, and then when I was ready give me the Pound conversion number, and then tells me the next conversion is the U.S. Dollar, and the answer for the conversion to the Dollar, and then tell me the next conversion was the Chinese Yuan, and then the conversion answer.  

In the Shortcut App here is how I did it.  First, I used the scripting function “Ask for Input” where I set the question for the prompt to be “Enter Euro.”  That prompts an input and I set the value to “number” as I want a number, the value of the Euro I want to convert.

Then I add the script “Get Variable” and I set the “Magic Variable” to the “Ask the for Input.”  This grabs the input and then passes on that variable to the next step, the script “Copy to Clipboard.”  The number I input becomes a variable which was then pasted into the Clipboard.  Because when I first did this the output was just a number without a label, I inserted a script to first label what the next number that was shown would be.  So I installed a script “Show Result”  and typed in Pounds.  This shows the word “Pound” before the conversion number is revealed.  The next step was that I added the Siri Shortcut I created in PCalc, which take the variable I added to the clipboard and converting the Euro number to the Pound number.

 

I repeated these 5 steps for the conversion to Dollars and Yuan.  So all together 15 steps.  The trick is because each time, the “Get Variable” is set to “Ask for Input” and then pastes into the clipboard, the clipboard for the subsequent conversions is not the output from PCalc’s prior conversion, but instead the original input that I typed in. That way, for example, if I convert 100 Euros, each conversion uses my original 100 Euro input.  

Here is a video showing how it works.  

ScreenRecording_09-17-2018 20-24-45.m4v

I agree with Federico that PCalc’s implementation of Siri Shortcuts is really great.  You should check out Macstories.net and PCalc. 

Using the Wavelength App from Micro.Blog To Podcast

One of the reasons I signed up for the Micro.Blog service is because recently it created a great way to podcast using a new free app on the iPhone, Wavelength.  You pay $10 per month for Micro.Blog to host the podcast and it automatically creates a podcast feed that you can put into iTunes and other podcast apps. (More of that later in this post). 

The app is pretty straight forward and it works with the built in mic on the iPhone but also with microphones that are connected to the iPhone.  

This is what the Wavelength app looks like when you add it and open it.

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Here I have the the first podcast that I created.

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An Overview.

If you click on one of your podcast episodes, like I did above, you get the sub audio files that are part of that podcast episode.    On of the cool things is you can rearrange the sub-audio files for the podcast episode.  When you send the episode up to Micro.Blog’s servers, it stitches them together.  

But how do you add intro music, or zingers or other audio files that you didn’t record on the microphone to your podcast episode?

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If you click on the + sign when you are editing a podcast episode, you can add a new recording to that episode or you can add a file.   Well adding a file is how you add music or a prerecorded opening or prerecorded ending.  

On my iPhone, when I click that Files button, I get the following “Locations” on my iPhone that I can open.  See below. 

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I am not sure why other cloud services are not being shown, like Dropbox or Google Drive. (Note that BitTorrent Sync is being shown in addition to iCloud Drive.)  You can add music from your iCloud file drive on your iPhone.  And then when you put that file in your podcast episode, you can drag that file to the opening or ending or somewhere else depending where you want it.

When you are editing an episode and you click on a file, you can do some rudimentary editing.  See below.

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Essentially you can split the file and also use a zoom button to look closer to the audio waves.  I suspect that the developer, Manton Reese, will add more editing features to this app if a lot of people sign up for the $10 plan for podcasting.

One feature I would really like to have is the ability for other audio apps to easily share to the Wavelength app. The share button on a lot of audio apps, like Ferrite, a great audio editing app, allow you to share a file to other audio apps.  Unfortunately, none of my other iOS audio apps can find Wavelength to share their audio file to the Wavelength apps.   Similarly, Wavelength doesn’t have a share button to make it easier to share the audio file to another audio app on iOS.  

Wavelength makes it really easy to create and post a podcast right from your iOS device.  For that reason, it would be great if Mr. Reese made it very easy to share files to and from the Wavelength app with other iOS apps. Then Mr. Reese wouldn’t have to add editing features on Wavelength.  One could use an app like Ferrite, which has many editing and multitrack features, and have it directly share to Wavelength.  Right now, the workaround appears to be to have another app like Ferrite record your podcast and share it to an iCloud folder that Wavelength can import.  But you can only import it into a podcast episode you already created.  You can’t import it into a brand new podcast episode.  The workaround is to create a few seconds of a new podcast, open it to edit and than add the new audio file from the iCloud and delete then the initial audio you recorded.  This isn’t ideal. But its a brand new app, and these type of basic features, like making it easy to important and export audio should be added.  

I should note that there is no easy way to save audio you created on Wavelength to another app. The only place you can send  it before you send it to Micro.Blog is a service in the cloud that cleans up your file.  Its called Auphonic.om and it gives you 2 hours per month of free audio file clean ups.  After that, it is $11 per month for 9 hours per month of audio clean up.  Basically, when you are ready to post your podcast episode to the your Micro.Blog account, and in settings you signed up for an Auphonoic account, Wavelength first sends the file to Auphonic.com which processes it and a few minutes later sends it back to Wavelength which then posts it to Micro.Blog.  

Main Settings for Wavelength in iPhone Settings

The main settings for Wavelength in the settings section of iOS are pretty limited  You can put off and on 1) allowing the app to use your microphone on the iPhone; 2) you can allow Siri and Search to use the Wavelength app; and 3) you can put on and off the cellular data to be used by Wavelength.  I am sure as this app matures Mr. Reese will put in more things into the settings.

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Posting to iTunes.

If you want to post to iTunes or other Podcast directories, you have to find the feed for your podcast.  Mr. Reese, answered my question regarding where I could find my podcast feed when I emailed the support for Micro.Blog.  Your feed is your URL for your Micro.Blog plus /podcast.xml.  It is that simple.   Here is my podcast feed. 

http://macsfuture.micro.blog/ podcast.xml

I submitted to iTunes and I am waiting for it to be approved.

Conclusion

Overall, this is a great service and easy way to podcast. I think it is definitely worth $10 per month. 

Are Services like Micro.Blog the answer to Problems like Facebook, Twitter and Fake News?

Recently, I have entered a Renaissance. Long after having abandoning blogging and podcasting, I have decided to start blogging and podcasting again. I was motivated listening to Mason Reece and Danial Jalkut, on their podcast, CoreIntuition. Both of them are long term developers on the Macintosh and iOS. Mr. Jalkut has long developed MarsEdit, which is a program on the Mac to blog and handling websites on different services.

For several years, I have listened to them talk about developing software and discussing the web and Apple. In recent years, Mr. Reece has discussed creating a web service called Micro.Blog. My understanding of this service is that it would be an open service on the Internet to micro blog, which is sort of like what you do on social networks like Twitter, and Facebook where you write short posts. One of the key difference between Mr. Reece’s project and Twitter and Facebook is that with his micro blog service the real customers would be the users and not advertiser. Mr. Reece pointed out that on Twitter and Facebook you don’t control your posts and work. Twitter and Facebook control your own work. And because they are free service, you are not really the customer, rather advertisers are the real customers as they are the ones who pay Twitter and Facebook.

So Mr. Reece created Micro.Blog, with the goal to create a service where the users are the real customers. It is free to use if you want to host it on your own WordPress blog (self-hosted). Alternatively, for $5 per month, his service, Micro.blog, gives you your own url sub-website and you can post your micro posts on that site.

Here is the key thing: By requiring users to pay $5 per month to have a sub-website on Micro.Blog, Mr. Reece is sending the message that the user is his real customer. And this is important, because we have seen that when these things are free, eventually the users are getting screwed. Twitter and Facebook are showing that when a social network is free, it can eventually became terrible for real users. Twitter in recent years has become filed with bots that post advertisement or worse, they post fake news. Similarly, Facebooks news feeds has been filled with creepy advertisements and of course fake news that possibly swayed the last presidential election. And now we find out that millions of users on Facebook had personal data take by entities for nefarious users. The answer is that social networks will be better off if there is a true cost to being a user.

When MySpace.com was at its zenith, Facebook was created and overtook it because MySpace had become a cesspool with junky accounts and Facebook offered quality. Facebook offered quality because you had to have a real identity. Initially you had to have a Harvard.Edu email account and later .Edu email accounts at other colleges and school. Facebook became the place where real identities had be used. This insured that real people and not fake accounts were in that social network. The problem with Facebook’s business model is that since it wasn’t charging users, it had to make revenue from advertisers. And to get advertiser, Facebook had to get more users, which resulted in Facebook making it easy for anyone to create an account, including fake accounts.  As Facebook grew its users, it grew its advertiser base.  And advertising has eroded the enjoyment of the service. Same with Twitter. Even worse, free for users meant that there is no friction for those who want to create bots and fake accounts to flood Facebook and Twitter. Free means a troll can open an account, and if its closed, it can open another account.

So the answer to creating a social network that doesn’t devolve may be what Mr. Reece has created. $5 per month is too great a cost for trolls and the creators of bots to flood Micro.Blog with users accounts. $5 per month helps keep the crud off of the social network. But it also not just about that. Micro.Blog is also about the movement to allow the users to control their own data. Mr. Reece has made it easy to use his micro blogging service for free on one’s own blog. But if you pay him to host it, he has made it easy to save your data and also to cross-post the micro posts to services like Twitter.

In the spirit of control, I have also hosted my main blog, MacsFuture.com on a web server hosting site, A SmallOrange and used WordPress software to set up the site. This way I can easily take my website to another web server host if I don’t like SmallOrange.com to host it.  Now I give up something by doing this. There are much larger users on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram than on Micro.Blog and those who come across my WordPress site. So I am likely to get fewer eyeballs looking at anything I post. But if we are going to take back the Web and keep it independent and in control of small users, we need to pursue sites like Micro.Blog. Sites that are not cynical about the user.

So let the experiment begin.

Posting to Micro.Blog With MarsEdit App On Mac

I recently signed up for a paid Micro.Blog account. Its address is MacsFuture.micro.blog.  In terms of posting to it, I would like to use MarsEdit on the Mac as you can post to multiple blogs with that app and I could then post to this WordPress blog and also to the Micro.Bog account.  So here is how to set up Mars Edit to post to your Micro.Blog account.

I figured out how to post to my Micro.Blog account through the MarsEdit app on the Mac.  The key is to generate an app token on your Micro.Blog account and use that as your password in MarsEdit.   Your Micro.Blog user name is the user name you put in Mars Edit.   Pretty cool.  Buried at the bottom of this Micro.Blog post is the information.