PCalc 3.8 With Siri Shortcuts

Federico Viticci, writing for MacStories:

Even though I don’t consider myself an advanced PCalc user (I mostly use the app for conversions and basic operations), I’ve grown to appreciate the convenience of running frequent calculations with Siri and I’ve started integrating PCalc with the Shortcuts app in some interesting ways. As a result of its adoption of Siri shortcuts in iOS 12, my overall usage of PCalc has increased: I don’t necessarily open the app more often, but I access native PCalc features either via Siri or Shortcuts from all of my devices.

I own PCalc and use it often for work. I use it in my widget as well. But I really don’t use it much more beyond that. Reading what Federico has done with the app has me wanting to try a bunch of new things with the world’s best calculator.

I’m excited to see this integration via Siri Shortcuts, and I’m intrigued by the possibilities that lie ahead with other apps providing the same integrations.

Piques of the Week: Volume 15

It’s been a bit since I’ve done one of these, but I wanted to share some of the things that have been piquing my interest as of late. I’ve made some good purchases on a few times, and wanted to share them.

iPad Case with Pencil

For a long time, I used the Logitech Create. Then I switched to the Smart Keyboard, as it made more sense to me. I purchased a back cover that I thought was ok, and then a magnetic pen holder. But… I really missed how the Create was able to hold my pencil for the few times I use it. Based on my Amazon search history, I ended up finding a new iPad Case w/ integrated Pencil holder. And it’s really what I wanted in the first place.

The case provides a rubberized surround, which integrates the Pencil holder. There are two small cut-outs on the back side of the Pencil, so that I can remove it quickly. Once I’m done, the Pencil is secured, nearly encapsulated by the rubber. It also has a cutout for the Smart Keyboard attachment, and doesn’t interfere with anything. This is by far the best combination I’ve used for portability and mode switching. I also know that there are cases like this for the other size devices, so give those a look as well if you’re not using the 9.7″ like me.

Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB Microphone

When I started in to my podcasting life, I had purchased the recommendation de-jour for a microphone: the Blue Yeti. And that mic has served me well for a while. But one thing that has been a problem for me as of late has been the recording device that I use, a gifted 2009 Mac mini. It’s an ok device for this purpose, but it’s getting a bit long in the tooth.

So, in a quest to simplify things, I wanted to mirror the setup first mentioned by Jason Snell on Six Colors. This idea of recording on iOS only really appeals to me, as I don’t edit on a Mac. So I set out on my quest to start this process now. I sold my Yeti and picked up the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB/XLR Microphone. While I haven’t recorded an episode yet with it, I have done multiple sound tests. And it’s on par with the Yeti for quality, but it has one benefit for where I record: a reduction in background noise.

I’ve changed my entire setup now, which is great. I need far less around me, and I’m happy about it. I think the recording will sound better on my end overall, and I’ll be happier using it. I did encounter a bug where iOS is not letting me use the mic for FaceTime or Skype calling. This was possible before, and is a bug that has been introduced in iOS 12. I’ve sent in reports on it, and I hope it gets fixed before release.

Newer Boom Arm

In the change of microphone, the weight has decreased significantly. And now that I don’t need foam around the mic like I did before, I wanted to try it on a boom arm. I picked up the Neewer Boom Arm and bought a shock mount for it as well. It’s up and out of the way when I don’t need it, but it’s right there when I do. I would have liked a slightly longer arm, but it does the job well for being inexpensive.

All of this stuff is really driving towards making an iPad-only life a reality. There’s really only one thing preventing me from going that route forever,1 and I can’t wait until Apple makes it possible. I even picked up an iPad stand based on another recommendation, pairing the iPad with the Magic Keyboard when recording. This puts the iPad right at eye level, which is better than constantly looking down. The whole thing feels like an overhaul for me, without costing me a ton of money; the only purchase left is the Zoom H4 recorder, which I can wait on for a while. This setup – even though it may not seem simpler – makes me feel like I’m headed in the right direction.

  1. I need a way to upload external mp3 files into my iCloud Music library. I can only do this in iTunes on the Mac currently, and I don’t want to spend $$$ on a new one. 

Taking Time With Todoist

I’ve been using Todoist for almost two years now. I started integrating it into my system for work-only purposes, and it has served me very well. I have to use a PC for work, so the cross-platform support was essential in this process; with the Outlook add-on, it has really elevated my work flow of task management.

But it never really clicked for me on iOS. I’m not sure what it was. Perhaps it was the un-iOS-like interactions or the swipe to complete. I knew that there were some nice automation possibilities through various apps like Drafts, Workflow, Slack, and others, but it again, it didn’t really grab my attention.

That was until the Drafts 5.3 update added Todoist support. In typical Drafts fashion, there is an action step and a script object, along with a handy integration guide for those that want to get a bit more familiar.

I’m not going to get too technical here, but it uses a particular portion of the API called “Quick Add”: the best thing about this portion of the API is that you can type just as you would in the quick add window of Todoist. But the best part of this is that I don’t have to leave Drafts to enter the tasks, there’s no back-and-forth dance via a URL scheme. Just sending the tasks on their way.

Say I’m in a meeting: I can not only take notes and send the tasks to Todoist, but if I have another random thought I can add via a prompt-only information. And all of this gets added via the Quick Add, so I can type in all the information that I need right away. For example, I can simply type “Call Barney Stinson Tuesday at 7pm #Personal @evening” and it will all get added, with the date being parsed and the proper #project and @label being assigned. I can also create single drafts that contain a task with some notes in the body of the draft, and send it to Todoist with options, which imports the project and labels automatically for selection via a tumbler.

Utilizing Workflow Shortcuts, I’ve even been able to take some repetitive tasks and automate them with Todoist. Every week, I run a meeting that can be attended by between 1 and 150 people (don’t ask). But I have to take meeting minutes for distribution. For a while, I tried just using pen and paper. Then I tried using digital paper on my iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil. When that didn’t work out the way I wanted, I decided that I would just start typing them out. So when I run the meeting, I present everything from my laptop and take notes on my iPad. At the end of the meeting, I can tap a single action that sends the [[title]] line along with the HTML-formatted text to create a PDF and save that PDF as an attachment to a task in Todoist with today’s date and the project assigned. This small but effective automation has saved me tens of minutes per week. And that adds up to a lot over time.

This whole idea of quickly entering tasks is really important. I’ve talked a lot about capture before. And now I have an even better capture ‣‣ action (in this case send) workflow with Todoist. I can also see a balance of work and home, which would have required two apps before. I still think having that split can be beneficial, but for what is going on in my life – both at work and at home – this singular solution is working out really well for me.

There are some things that still bother me: you can drag and move things around, but it’s not drag/drop like I would prefer. I’d like to drag tasks from the inbox onto a project. There isn’t a dark mode (yet) for when I’m tasking at night, nor are there alternative icons for the app; both of these are nice touches to have, and is something I hope they consider bringing quickly to the app. And the app itself doesn’t feel as whimsical as something like Things. But when it comes down to it, maybe I don’t need to have whimsy in a task manager, and that’s been holding me back in my tool-of-choice. I need something dependable, accessible, and manageable on a day-to-day basis.

Once I got past my own preconceived notions about using the app, it has been a phenomenal tool for me. I’ve even started sharing some projects with others via the built-in sharing options,1 and it’s helpful when setting up something new in collaboration with others. Even though it is a small change in what I’ve been doing in the past and I’ve replicated a lot of my actions from other task managers, having everything in front of me is working at this five minutes for me. This is, of course, all subject to change. But I don’t see it happening any time soon.

  1. This requires that both people have Todoist Premium.