Scripting Boot Camp at CMD-D Conference

I'm very excited to be leading a one-day Scripting Boot Camp August 8 at the CMD-D Masters of Automation Conference. Part of a two-day conference held in Santa Clara, California, this class will be an introduction to AppleScript, the powerful tool for automation included on every Mac.

What is AppleScript and why should I learn it?

AppleScript is a scripting language which is sometimes called Apple's best-kept secret. While many scripting languages might be referred to as "programming lite," AppleScript is unique in that it uses English-like syntax to make this automation tool more approachable, even for those without any previous programming experience (like me).

Most users learn AppleScript on-the-fly, meaning they are busy with other tasks in a deadline-driven world. Who has the time to stop completely and learn something else? With AppleScript, a new user might work on a developing a script, then be pulled away by another task for days or even weeks. When he or she returns to the script, the English-like syntax really helps ease the process of getting back into the flow. This not only helps beginners but even veteran users like myself because, hey, I forget things as well.

What are the benefits of AppleScript automation?

One of the primary goals of computers is to automate tedious tasks. Yet for various reasons, we often find ourselves doing the same tasks again and again every day. Again and again. And again. Every single day. Then again.

It gets repetitive.

One solution is to use a macro utility which can record and repeat actions in the user interface, like choosing menu items in a sequence, or recording an action in Photoshop.

AppleScript is much more powerful. Much more. It allows a user to make intelligent decisions based on conditions and needs. Instead of driving the user interface, AppleScript works directly Apple Events, the powerful technology which allows Mac apps to communicate with each other. AppleScript can also speak to multiple applications, chaining them together in a powerful workflow automation.

For example, a user might build a script which watches a folder for incoming files. When files arrive, the script could gather information from the files, add that information to a database, move the files to another location, then create a nice layout of text and images, use that to update a web page and a print publication, and alert others to the finished process bycreating an e-mail with an attachment.

Could the script play a song in iTunes for your enjoyment while you watch your Mac work? Oh, yes. But AppleScript automation is fast, so in most cases it would need to be a short song.

Will the Scripting Boot Camp be a class for pure beginners or people with some AppleScript experience?

Yes.

While targeted to beginners, I will include some more advanced tips as well, much in the same style as Shane Stanley and I used for years at AppleScript Pro Sessions. While no class can cover everything about AppleScript, I'm including lots of resources for attendees to use afterwards. This includes sample scripts with detailed comments, only some of which we will cover fully in class. I'm also including a quick reference guide—a PDF of dozens of pages covering some basic concepts and commands.

I will do my best to follow-up with students after the class, and see about forming a forum or mailing list for us to continue to discuss writing scripts. The main goal: To make sure people have a foundation beyond the one-day class to continue learning more about AppleScript.

Will I learn how to use Script Editor in class?

You will learn the basic of using Apple's free tool to examine dictionaries and create and edit scripts. Towards the middle of the class, I will switch to using Script Debugger, the excellent development environment from Late Nite Software. Script Debugger 6 has so many features which help beginners, including three different dictionary views and line-by-line stepping. These same features help me to do a better job of teaching AppleScript in a classroom setting.

What is the schedule?

The Scripting Boot Camp will be from 10am until 5pm local time on Tuesday, August 8. Before you register, be sure to check out the second day of the conference, which goes well into that evening. The speakers will include automation experts Andy Ihnatko, Jon Pugh, Jason Snell, John Welch, Sal Soghoian, and David Sparks. I'm looking forward to learning much!

Sal Soghoian: In Appreciation

Last week, Sal Soghoian announced that his position as Product Manager of Automation Technologies at Apple had been eliminated. Today seems like a good day to reflect and say thanks…

I first met Sal when he was an independent consultant. It was 1996 at Seybold Seminars, a print-industry expo.

A tiny group of us from CompuServe's DTP forum were wearing protest t-shirts, asking Adobe to improve support for AppleScript. Sal was already a respected AppleScript authority. When I met him on the expo floor to show him the shirt he said something like, "That's nice. But I'm trying to improve scripting support by working within companies."

At the time I found this answer a little haughty. I wanted him to join in with our protest. Then a few months later we heard he had been hired by Apple. In our small group people thought, "Let's hope he is successful working within Apple.”

By all accounts he was, and the difference was remarkable in only one year.

It is hard to describe how low Apple was in 1996. At that expo, Apple had no booth. A VP hosted one noontime Q&A in a corner of the giant hall, and one reception off the show floor in a small room. Meanwhile, the experts in the seminars I attended all delivered the same message: Apple is dead. The future of publishing is Windows NT.*

That was the sinking ship Sal boarded in January 1997. I made my own much smaller leap of faith that summer, quitting my job and forming Scripting Matters to work full-time as an AppleScript consultant.

At the expo that fall the difference was mind-blowing. Apple had a large exhibit space on the floor. When I entered Moscone West the first thing was a booth proclaiming the great benefits of AppleScript in large letters of Garamond Book. THE FIRST FRIGGIN’ BOOTH!!!

There stood Sal. He studied my brand new business card, asked a few questions, and then gestured for two engineers in the booth to come over.

"This guy, " he said, “This guy is developing AppleScript solutions full-time. Full-time! This what I've been telling you guys about. People are doing serious things with scripting."

The engineers looked surprised and still somewhat dubious. That was my first glimpse of the challenge Sal faced at Apple. He not only had to struggle to get other product managers and and developer teams to take AppleScript seriously, but I suspect sometimes he faced the same challenge with his own team members.

Thank goodness Sal is a fighter. One battle was do-or-die: getting AppleScript into Mac OS X. Rumors were that some at Apple were saying things like, "Why would anyone need AppleScript? They can use perl!”

I played a small role in that battle. Unsolicited, I sent Sal a written report of how much time and money AppleScript was saving one of my clients. It included photos of racks of iMacs running scripts 24/7 for all three shifts. The report gave Sal something concrete and real-world to take around Apple as he fought the battle. And somehow he won: AppleScript survived and transitioned into the new OS.

More adventures followed. As part of his goal to make automation accessible to everyone, he introduced Automator. I've always wondered if some of the shortcomings in its interface and functionality were due to battles fought and lost. Regardless, it was a valiant effort.

Sal also employed a great strategy to at minimum keep AppleScript alive, making sure that various Apple programs and processes were dependent on Apple Events, and getting a couple of incarnations of AppleScript into Xcode.

There may have even been one time when he persuaded an engineer to include AppleScript support in a new product release without the product manager’s knowledge. Once a feature is shipped, it is in.

I don't want to give the impression that I know Sal well. I don't. During the times he came to our AppleScript Pro Sessions he told a couple of stories, and sometimes let a few things slip out. But he didn't dwell too much on the past.

We did recognize him for his battle spirit once. I heard he was a Tolkien fan. At an AppleScript Pro not too longer after the Peter Jackson movies, Shane Stanley and I gave a Sting replica to Sal. We presented the sword on a hotel pillow with Howard Shore’s soundtrack in the background and a few words about how “even the smallest technology” can change the course of the future.

As Apple grew exponentially, Sal continued to be a fighter, but always a rebel with a cause. He hosted his own independent web sites the entire time, which enabled him to easily distribute free automation tools to the community.

Now Sal is gone from Apple after almost 20 years. That’s a long time for any manager to survive at a such a demanding corporation. When the news hit, people started speculating, and quickly descended into opinions of How Things Could Have Been Done Better during Sal's tenure.

Already there is much discussion of one sentence from Sal: "If user automation technologies are important to you, then now is the time for all good men and women to reach out, speak up and ask questions."

I won’t speculate on that in detail now beyond one thought: I bet the future death of AppleScript will be discussed for the next 10 years. I have no more details to support that than people speculating otherwise. But you only need to read a little further at https://macosxautomation.com/about.html to see Sal’s optimistic conclusion.

Regardless, none of this discussion about AppleScript’s future would be taking place if not for a guy boarding a sinking ship in 1997—a bigger risk than many of us have ever considered taking. Thanks in part to that risk, I’ve made a decent living and helped a lot of people with AppleScript for two decades now.

Thank you, Sal. If you’ve still got the sword, I hope you can mount it on a wall and let it rest now.

–Ray Robertson
ray@automatedworkflows.com
@scriptsmatter

*Interesting how Seybold Expo has been long dead while Apple is still flourishing. A caution for all speculating about the future now.

January 28, 1986 – 28 Years

"The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to touch the face of God." - Ronald Reagan

Challenger_flight_51-l_crew

Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.

Photo Credit: NASA

Neil Armstrong.  Hero.  Rest in peace.

A moment in the life of Steve Jobs…

It was January 6th, 2004. Jen and I had just finished watching an enthusiastic Steve Jobs give the keynote address at Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco. We meandered about for a few minutes, trying to decide what to do next. Should we get lunch? Fight the crowds next door at the expo? Wander around the city? After a short debate, we decided to take on the expo, and then get lunch.

Due to our dilly-dallying, the doors were already opened when we arrived, and the crowd had been ushered into the expo. Great! No need for us to wait in line.

We entered near the Apple booth, which, as usual, was jam packed with attendees, eager to try out the latest and greatest from their favorite tech company. As we neared the booth, we noticed a small group of people entering behind us. As we turned, we were amazed to see Steve Jobs and John Mayer (who had joined Steve onstage to introduce GarageBand at the Keynote), along with a small group of reporters and Apple employees. Without much fanfare, they made their way to the Apple booth. We, of course, followed closely. After all, that's the direction we were heading anyway.

Steve, who rather comically wore an exhibitor badge, pointed out this and that to John Mayer, who nodded with interest. I snapped some photos. After a few moments, a woman walked up to Steve, glanced at his badge and said… "So, I'm having a problem with iPhoto. I can't get it to do this or that, and blah, blah, blah." Steve stopped in his tracks and listened to her question. Then, without hesitation, he gracefully snagged the arm of a nearby Apple booth worker and said "So and so will be glad to help you with that."

I don't know if anyone else heard this brief exchange, but it's one I will never forget it.  The woman was completely oblivious to the fact that he was one of the world's greatest technology visionaries.  Yet, he wasn't too important to stop and listen to her.  To that woman, he wasn't Steve Jobs.  He was a guy from Apple.  That he was, and I couldn't help smiling.

Steve Jobs smiles slightly, as he looks over the Apple exhibitor booth at Macworld 2004.
(Jony Ive, Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple, is to Steve's right).

“I want to put a ding in the universe.” You did, Steve. Rest in peace.

Through the years, your success and vision has inspired me to be a better business owner, a better developer, and a better person. I feel fortunate to have been able to attend a number of your keynotes. Thank you.

-Ben

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Announcing Automated Workflows, LLC’s Website Redesign

I'm pleased to announce the redesign of the Automated Workflows, LLC website. The last time the site was redesigned was in 2007, so I felt it was about time to implement some changes. Key new features include:

  • Site-wide search
  • A blog, where I can post occasional productivity tips and other info
  • Consolidated products and services sections
  • A consolidated tips section, where you'll find dozens of my articles and videos
  • An integrated RSS feed with the ability to subscribe via FeedBurner
  • Links to my Twitter feed and LinkedIn page

I hope you find it useful.

-Ben

Ben Waldie
President
Automated Workflows, LLC