Workflow Automation

“Powerful automation made simple” (and in only slightly more than 43,000 words!)

I poke fun, but it reminded me that I’m still working toward a less complicated life. As cool as Workflow is, I’m better off resisting its charms, lest I fall down yet another rabbit hole while trying to “improve my process”.

My System Keeps Failing

I found a web export of my old Delicious Library and it reminded me how fun it had been to see all my books in a beautiful and playful format. Delicious Library is a great app, but I’d stopped using it at some point for reasons I don’t remember. I put the old exported web site out in a Google Cloud bucket for safe-keeping here:

I thought it would be fun to see what had changed with Delicious Library since I last used it, so I downloaded the latest version. Of course when I launched the app my old library wasn’t there. “No problem,” I thought, and went looking for a backup or export of the original library. It turns out that I don’t have one.

How is it that after spending days and days entering books over several years, I don’t have a backup copy of my library? This represents a complete failure of my “system”. Now I feel like I have to spend time, again, making sure that I have a way to archive and recover everything that means something to me, or might mean something to me in the future.

Keep backup copies of everything, and know where they are and how to find them.

Publishing to Google Photos Using Lightroom

I’ve really come to like Google Photos1. I’ve been syncing my entire photos folder and it’s seamless.

The problem I’m finding with publishing my entire ~/Photos folder is that photos are copied to Google before I’ve finished editing them. Even then, the Lightroom edits aren’t included. This means the published photos don’t include my carefully-applied cropping, color corrections, etc. I’m also finding that I don’t need every photo published to Google Photos. I already have a solid backup process. Google Photos is meant for finding and sharing my favorite photos.

I solved the problem of selective publishing using Jeffrey Friedl’s excellent Folder Publisher Lightroom Plugin. I have the plugin configured to publish to the appropriately-named “Publish to Google Photos” folder. Friedl’s plugin uses collections to determine which photos to publish. I have a Smart Collection that collects all starred photos from my entire library. When I Publish, all of the images in the Smart Collection are exported using configured settings to a directory tree that mimics the original files’ locations. The Google Photos uploader is watching the “_Publish to Google Photos” folder.

Plugin config

Exported photos

The result is that Google Photos only contains specific, edited photos that I’ve determined worthy of publishing. If my criteria for which photos to include changes later, I only need adjust the Smart Collection and republish.

One shortcoming of this approach is that if I modify a photo after publishing, the plugin will re-export the file, but Google Photos does not update the published image. I just need to make sure to wait until I’m certain that edits are complete before publishing the first time.

  1. Privacy concerns aside [return]

The Temptation of Other Tools

I am easily distracted by shiny new things. This is dangerous for productivity because it causes me to burn down my system and start over on a regular basis. As fun as that is, it’s not what I should be doing. For example, last night after reading a random blog post I impulsively started moving all of my tasks and projects back into that other todo app that I love. Doing that led me to changing how capture works with email, which makes me want to look up some helper scripts and then it was 2:00AM and I realized how much I’d miss Org Mode and oh yeah Mu4e is awesome and now what?

Not healthy.

As a reminder to myself, I am posting the list of tools and processes I’ve been using and should continue to use because they work. I can only hope that the potential embarrassment of changing my mind later adds enough friction that I actually stick with these things for longer than usual. Here goes.

Digital at my desk(s)

  • Emacs and Org Mode for tasks, project management, and creating documents
  • Mu4e for email, supplemented by Mailmate when the mood strikes. via IMAP.
  • Deft for random notes, supplemented by nvAlt when the mood strikes. Same files.
  • Remind / Wyrd and Google Calendar for events. I have them synced.
  • DEVONthink Pro for digital storage and recall of files and documents
  • Dropbox for sync

Mobile (iPad Pro and Pencil)

  • DEVONthink To Go 2. Now in beta, sync works great.
  • GoodNotes for handwriting notes, meeting notes, drawings, etc.
  • Editorial for editing random notes (synced with Deft/nvAlt on Mac)


That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

Fewer Dials

Me, from earlier today…


I’m exhausted. Everything I do seems to involve making dozens of tiny unnecessary decisions. It’s my fault. I love “workflows” and “processes” and tweaking and exploring software and sitting at the computer figuring out (presumably) better ways of doing things. I’ve asked for this, but I no longer want it. I want less. Fewer options, fewer decisions, fewer opportunities to become lost in whatever system I’m currently running.

An example…

I wanted to write something about how I’m feeling today, so I threw out a quick tweet (see above). Then, I thought about it more and wanted to add some detail. For that sort of thing, I blog. Seems simple enough, but here’s my thought process…

Where should I post it? Medium? Tumblr? Dave Winers new I think my blog ( would be good. Ok, now, where should I write it? I could use the WordPress New Post form but everyone says that’s just overkill and cumbersome and whatever so I need something better. Something cooler. Maybe something “distraction-free” even. How about Vim? I love writing in Vim. Or maybe Ulysses. Ulysses is awesome. I could write it there using Markdown and convert it to Rich Text and then paste it into WordPress. Or MarsEdit? I love MarsEdit and miss using it. That should work. Heck, maybe I should go back to a static site, since that was just Plain Text™ right? Right!?

You see? It’s like that with every single thing I do.

When I need to write something down, just a quick note, I have to decide if I want it in Vimwiki or Notes or Evernote or DEVONthink or TheBrain or Tinderbox or some new thing I just heard about this morning. Maybe TaskPaper. The new version is awesome. The new version of everything is always awesome.

It’s ridiculous. I go through this phase regularly, but this time it feels particularly bad. I want fewer things that can be adjusted. I love adjusting things. I love dials and options and depth in software, but it’s making me crazy and not helping me actually get anything done. I don’t think I’ve finished a decent-sized project in months. I’ve certainly spent enough time doing “work about work” though.

I feel like gutting everything and starting over. Ditch 90% of my options.

I don’t have any solutions yet, but I’m working on it. First thing I did was just use the boring old WordPress editor to write and post this. That worked great.



The Problems I have with Org Mode and Emacs


I love Org Mode. After years of resistence due to my reliance upon Vim, I discovered Spacemacs and my switch to Emacs-based editing was off and running.

Org Mode can do anything I’d ever need when it comes to writing, organizing, searching, and publishing documents of any kind. With its powerful Agenda it can manage my entire GTD process. Spacemacs makes using Emacs palatable for me, so everything should be hunky-dory. It is pretty great. But…

Emacs began to eat my world. It does email!? Cool, spend a weekend figuring out Mu4e and isync and a million other bits and I’ve got a darn fine email system. It does Git? Neat! I’ll just figure out Magit next weekend so I can have a powerful source code management tool, right in Emacs. TwitterIRC, and so on, forever.

The thing I realized was that I _already have_ software and systems for nearly everything that Emacs/Org Mode can do. What’s worse, with Org Mode, I’m _required_ to use Emacs. This should be fine, even desired, but after years of keeping nearly everything in Markdown files, I started to miss the flexibility of using whichever editor suited me at the moment.

For example, I’m writing this in Ulysses, which is a marvelous writing environment. For prose, Ulysses is way better than Org Mode. Even so, if I get bored, I’ll switch to BBEdit or Vim or Spacemacs to edit Markdown files.

So, as flexible as Emacs and Org Mode are, they remove the flexibility of using the tools I already know and love. I’ll keep Org Mode as part of the tool kit, but I may be done trying to use it (and Emacs) for everything.

Auto Import From iPhone

I don’t use Photos app and still don’t trust iCloud, so I manually import photos from my iPhone to my Mac.

I’ve been using Image Capture for this, but today I read This Engadget post and learned about using instead. I didn’t know that was an option.

Now, when I plug in my iPhone, AutoImporter opens and automatically copies all the photos to ~/Photos/AutoImport and closes. The only issue was that the photos were not automatically deleted after import, even though I had the “Delete after import” option checked in Image Capture.

Image Capture setting that doesn't do what I expected

I had to set a preference in the AutoImporter app itself. The app doesn’t live in an obvious location, so this will open it.

open "/System/Library/Image Capture/Support/Application/"

Then, in AutoImporter’s preferences, check the “Delete items from camera after successful import” option.

AutoImporter preferences

Back to Tinderbox


I never actually stopped using Tinderbox, but for the past six months or so I’ve not been using it as my “daily driver”. There are a few reasons for this, but primarily I just wanted to check out my options for note-taking and project management.

There are two approaches I take when in comes to keeping notes and lists. The first approach is to use fancy, pointy-clicky apps like Tinderbox, Circus Ponies Notebook, Evernote, and Curio. The second approach is to go text-only, which is what I did a few months ago. Again.

I’m so in love with the idea of a text-only system that I occasionally abandon everything else and go all-in. Going text-only with my notes usually means that I also move all my supporting apps to text and terminal-based solutions. So my life becomes a collection of “simple” tools like Mutt, Tmux, Vim, Markdown, LaTeX, IRC, Taskwarrior and so on. It’s awesome. But then, fatigue sets in.

It took longer this time around for the text file fatigue to take hold since I’d recently discovered Spacemacs{.} and Org Mode. Org Mode is fantastic, and Spacemacs makes using Emacs acceptable for a long-time Vim user like me. Org Mode is kind of life-changing, and I let it change everything. I moved my daybook, book log, journal, project notes, everything into Org files via Spacemacs. It was fun and I was learning so why not?

Eventually, I realized that not only was I spending tons of time learning Emacs, I was also spending a lot of time re-inventing the things I’d already had. My Tinderbox daybook is awesome, and I’ve been using it for years. It doesn’t make sense to replace it. Same goes for all my project notebooks (kept in Tinderbox). The only thing “wrong” with my existing toolset was that it wasn’t plain-text, and I’m realistic enough to know that plain-text is no more future-proof for my purposes than the (text-based) XML files that make up Tinderbox documents. I was just looking for an excuse to expand my use of Org Mode.

So here’s where I’ve landed. My project notes, daybook, and all my logs (books, movies, food, etc) stay in Tinderbox. Org Mode remains my todo/agenda system because it’s truly a great system for those things.

Things have once again settled into a pattern I’ve seen before, and I like it.

Blogging Tools

Chris Bowler:

As mentioned above, I use a collection of tools to get content published to my flat file Kirby install on my Media Temple server. The full list


Chris describes what looks to be a cool and technically fascinating workflow for publishing to his blog (which I enjoy reading). The problem I see is that the number of moving parts seems to be getting out of hand.

I understand how it got this way. It’s fun to set up stuff like this. To tinker. I’ve done it many times. What I’ve learned is that some time later I end up with a fragile mashup of pieces and I’ve forgotten how many of them work.

This is why I went back to MarsEdit and WordPress a while ago. Type, click, done. It’s not sexy and there’s not much to play with, but if I’m being honest about just wanting to “get to the writing” it enables that surprisingly well. I could even remove the MarsEdit component but I won’t because I love it too much.

See also Jeff Taekman’s Writing Workflow 2015. There are at least 11 software components involved there. Sounds like it works for him and that’s great. I’m trying really hard not to fall into that same trap.

How I might be able to use Apple's new Photos app

Apple released the new Photos app today along with OS X 10.10.3. I never gave iPhoto a serious try, but I did use Aperture for a while. Photos seems to aim for somewhere between those two.

I love the idea of Photos handling everything for me. That seems nice, so I’m reviewing my current workflow to see how that might work out.

I have 3 different photo sources: iPhone, a Digital Camera, and my Film Cameras. Today I process them all the same way.

  1. Import images from card or scanner using Photo Mechanic
  2. Write captions for every image in Photo Mechanic
  3. For film scans, write camera info into exif data using exiftool
  4. Move files into dated folders (e.g. 201504-April/)
  5. Import (in place) into Lightroom
  6. Edit and share as needed

Photo Mechanic is the best way I’ve found for captioning, keywording, renaming, uploading, etc. It’s fast and great at what it does. I don’t want to lose that. Lightroom is a decent file manager and has no problem working with files organized in the Finder. I like being able to see the files. I’ve got a lot invested in Lightroom, plugins, and edits.

I rarely edit my iPhone photos, which means there might be a use for Photos after all. I’m considering handling each type of photo differently. That sounds like a terrible idea, but here’s what I’m thinking.

Film Scans

Film scans stay in their usual tidy folder-per-roll structure. Film scans are usually either ignored or edited in Photoshop. I upload my favorites to Flickr so they don’t need to be in the Photos library.

Raw files

Digital (Raw) photos from the Fuji look best when converted from Raw using Capture One. I could use Capture one to crop, edit, tweak and export JPEGs for import into Photos. The Raw files would remain in dated folders, acting as a sort of “negative”.

iPhone photos

iPhone images automatically end up in the Photos library so there’s nothing to do here, file-management wise.

The drawbacks I can think of are:

  • I have to caption all iPhone photos using Photos, which blows.
  • I lose my Lightroom plugin workflow. This is probably ok since most of them also work in Photoshop if I need them. I’m hoping we’ll see some decent plugins for Photos before long.
  • I can’t see the iPhone files. I hate that.

The benefits:

  • All my snapshots are everywhere all the time; easy to  view and share
  • I get to use Capture One for Raw conversions from the Fuji
  • Raw files and film scans remain neatly organized, and those are usually the important files.

I’m certainly over-thinking this, but I feel it’s worth a try.