Lifehacker: Top Ten Email Productivity Boosters

iTunes Match Album Art

iTunes Match Deleted Track

A track deleted from iCloud but still present in the local library.

Murphy’s obsessions come and go. Recently it was the wrong album art showing up on my iPhone. Fixing my Pretenders album art only to see it revert to the wrong image a few minutes later got frustrating quickly. Until I realized the cloud-based Match versions of my album art were coming down and overwriting my locally stored tracks.

If you don’t know how iTunes Match behaves you could run into some problems. Here’s what worked for me:

  • Sign into a Mac or PC with a local user account that does not have your music collection stored locally in iTunes. You could create an additional user on your Mac (or PC) or do what I did: sign into a dummy  Windows account running on a virtual machine.
  • Open iTunes. Ideally there won’t be any local music stored there.
  • Sign into iTunes using the AppleID used for iTunes Match.
  • You should see all your music that resides in the cloud. Delete the song that needs the artwork updated. This will delete the version stored on Apple’s servers.
  • Once you’re done with the previous step you can sign off the dummy Mac or PC user account.
  • Sign into your Mac or PC account where the local copy of your music resides.
  • Fix the album artwork by selecting the track or tracks you want to update, then right-click the track(s) and select Get Info.
  • You can delete the existing artwork on the Artwork tab and add a different image. Close the info panel.
  • Right click the corrected track and select Add to iCloud.  Done.
Updating iTunes Match

Once the artwork has been fixed you can send the track back to iTunes Match.

Why do we need to use the dummy PC or Mac account? Because the process for deleting a cloud-based copy of a song presents a complication when there’s a local version of the track. ITunes forces you to delete the local copy of a song before it allows you to delete the cloud-based version. You might not want to delete the local version – doing so would wipe out meta information like the play count.  By deleting only the cloud version our local track and its meta data are preserved.

The obsession with album art has passed for now.  When I see some pixelated album covers on my phone again it’ll be back, but for now it’s forgotten.


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AAPL Options on CNBC

The tagline on CNBC’s Options Action show on Friday was something like Get Paid to Buy Apple Stock. Sound too good to be true? Take a look:

The show outlined a plan where you could buy an aapl call option that expires in December for about $2500 and simultaneously sell two call option contracts for about $2600. Specifically, the contracts looked like this at the close on Friday:

Buy this for $2520 ($25.20×100):
Strike Symbol Last Chg Bid Ask
380.00 AAPL111217C00380000 25.20 3.60 25.40 25.80

Sell two of these for $2690($26.90×100):
Strike Symbol Last Chg Bid Ask
410.00 AAPL111217C00410000 13.45 1.35 13.15 13.65

You immediately pocket the $100 and hope Apple climbs – but not too far. Why ?

Because the two contracts you sell in their transaction are for a strike price of $410. The one you buy is for a strike price of $380. So the contract you bought will gain value as it rises above $380, but your gains will be capped when the underlying stock price reaches $410. And there’s more:

You sold TWO contracts. For each of those sales you’re obligated to sell 100 shares for $410 each if the contract is executed. That’s 200 shares. The good news is that 100 of those shares are provided by the call option you bought. Hopefully you were holding 100 shares of aapl outright when you entered into this transaction so you can deliver the other 100 shares. They do mention on the show that this example is for current stock-holders looking to tweak their position. If you find a way to exit the position by buying back your call you can keep your shares. But keep in mind the price of the contracts you sold will rise with the underlying shares.

Like they say on the show, you make your profit above the strike price of the option you bought, but your profits are capped because of the contract you sold. Essentially, you want aapl to rise to $410 but no further. As aapl goes past $410 the 100 shares you held outright aren’t going for the ride – because the option you sold called them away.

You can watch the show here, they start talking about this some time past the 8 minute mark. So – what about their claim? Are you getting paid to buy Apple? Maybe you could look at it that way, but the caveats are quite substantial.

Regardless, I have little interest in this play at this time of year. Apple has the potential to make a decent run between now and the end of the calendar year. Look at what’s coming up: new iPhone launch, iOS5, iCloud, Earnings in October, Christmas shoppers waiting in line, China… The last thing I want right now is a cap on my holdings. It’s not Apple that might hurt the share price between now and January. It’s everything else in the economy that I’m worried about.

Past performance is no indication of future results, but take a look at the last two years and how aapl has done between September and January. Then add a reality check by looking at 2008.


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iPhone Photo Rotation – Broken in Lion

I had a solution, but now it’s broken. Before we get into that let’s review what we’re talking about.

If you email portrait (vertically) – oriented photos from your iPhone your recipient is likely to view them sideways, especially if they open them using a browser-based mail service like Gmail.

The solution I was actually using: Email the files to myself first. My Mac would receive the photos and run an AppleScript triggered by the email subject. The script rotated the files, stripped out the exif tag that caused the problem, and mailed them back to me. I could then use that copy for sending to other people. It was relatively painless as I could email the photo right from the Camera app which kept the number of steps reasonable.

But a couple things aren’t working with Lion. The part of my AppleScript that pulls the attachments out and saves them to a folder in the Finder isn’t working. Others have the same problem. Further, the Automator action that sent the email back out isn’t working either. I’m not alone on that one either.

So, I looked at alternate solutions. Like uploading to Dropbox. Dropbox uploads a full res version of your photo. So I created a folder action script that handles the rotating and exif tweaking as soon as my Mac sees the file. That works fine. The problem is that the Dropbox app on my iPhone doesn’t download the full res version, it pulls down a version I consider too small.

I didn’t give up right away. The iOS Safari Dropbox DOES open a nice big version of the photo. From there I can save the photo to my camera roll and email it out. Recipients get a correctly oriented version of the photo, big enough to see.

So now the problem is the number of steps and apps involved. I could use something like Instagram but sometimes I just want to send a photo in an email, straight-up.

I don’t understand why Apple has made this an issue. iOS used to rotate a different way. Their own browser on the Mac isn’t going to display the photo correctly because of the way they’re handling the rotation, with a tag. Why browsers can’t read the tag – I don’t know.

Anyway, I’ve got a solution for when I need it, but I don’t see myself using it much. Too many steps.

11/2011 Update:  I have this working again.  My Automator workflow fails at the step where it sends the email.  So I’ve updated the AppleScript with a command to send it.  I’ll post the updated script shortly.

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Hide Everything

desktopEver want to hide ALL your applications and start with a clear, swept off desktop on your Mac? Yeah, there’s Exposé, but that’s not the same as what we’ll see here. When you show your desktop via Exposé you’re not changing the state of your applications to hidden – so as soon as you switch to an application the others will all be visible too.
If you’ve used Windows you may have used the Show Desktop icon in the taskbar to minimize all windows. We’re not going to minimize, we’re going to hide. But the end effect is the same. You’re looking at your desktop with nothing in your way.
How do we do this? A very short and simple Applescript. With one small concession.
If you’ve ever tried to hide ALL your applications you probably know what our obstacle is.

Try this: Switch to Finder and hit Command-Option-H. That hides all applications except Finder. Once they're hidden try hitting Command-H to hide the Finder itself. It doesn't work.

So here’s a workaround that’s acceptable to me: Our Applescript will hide the windows of all applications except the Finder. Then it will CLOSE all the Finder windows. The end result is a clean desktop with application windows that stay out of sight until you summon them back into view.
Optionally, you could include the 3 lines of the script after the line “Close every window” (commented out with dashes in the image below) to open up a single Finder window to a specified folder and use that as your starting point.


Once you’ve created the script you need a way to kick it off. I use TextExpander for a lot of these things. TexExpander is a fantastic text replacement utility that can also run Applescripts when you type certain characters. For example, Murphy might type dsktp or ddesk to make TextExpander run our script and display the clean desktop. There’s a lot more to TextExpander than running Applescripts, but I find it very handy in that capacity. Instead of memorizing somewhat arbitrary key combinations you can make up a code – so your shortcuts are more like keywords with meaning than shortcuts that generally only carry one letter. Murphy covered TexExpander here.
As an alternate check out FastScripts from Red Sweater Software. FastScripts lets you assign a script to a keyboard shortcut. And it has powerful features for helping you manage your script library. If you’re a heavy Applescripter you probably already know about it. If not, take a look at the features.

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Remote Control Spotify

“I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention. Invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly laziness, to save myself trouble.”
-Agatha Christie

In Murphy’s continuing efforts to avoid leaving the sofa he’s using an iPhone to kick off Spotify on the Mac upstairs and have it stream over Airfoil to an Apple TV connected to a stereo downstairs. It works, it’s pretty simple, and once it’s started there are other options for controlling it. spotify
The key is that Spotify recently added some basic AppleScript support to their Mac app. Not as much as we’d like to see, but enough to get us started. Spotify says they’re just experimenting with AppleScript at this point. (There were workarounds before Spotify added support) We’ll be watching for further enhancements.
This short and simple AppleScript (view entire script) is all you need to get started. It launches Airfoil (an application for redirecting audio from your Mac to remote speakers via Airport Express or Apple TV) and selects Spotify as the audio source application. Then it selects a playlist in Spotify and initiates playback. That’s it. Let’s take a look at the script.
The lines in the first block set Spotify as the application Airfoil will pull audio from. As long as you’ve got Spotify in your Applications folder you can copy those lines exactly. The line in the next block references your speaker id, which you probably don’t know. You can get the id by running a very simple script that looks like this. That line will query your remote speaker for its id and display it in the results pane of the Applescript Editor. Be sure to use the name of your Apple TV or Airport Express in the quotes. Once you’ve got the id you shouldn’t need to run that script again.
The script pauses to make sure your Mac doesn’t get ahead of the launching applications. Spotify hasn’t provided playlist selection hooks for Applescript yet, but they do provide something almost as good. In the Spotify application you can right-click a playlist or track and get an identifier, just like you see in the screenshot at the top of the post. You want to select Copy Spotify URI. Notice the open location line in the script, it’s not inside the Spotify tell – end tell section because it’s not in the Spotify Applescript dictionary. Regardless, it works to select a playlist and that’s all we really need. The last part of the script tells Spotify to start playing.
So – now we just need the script to run. Murphy is using a Mail rule. He sends himself an email with a subject Mail is watching for. Mail runs the script whenever a message with that subject comes in. Once Spotify is up and running the Speakers app that comes with Airfoil can be used to pause or skip to the next track.
I’d rather have an application on my iPhone, maybe something like TextExpander, that could list Applescript TextExpander snippets on my Mac and kick them off that way. But I don’t know of an app like that. The email kick-off works fine, and it’s quick and easy to use, but at times I might have to use another app to wake the Mac up.
In the past I’ve used Mail to run Applescripts on my Mac. It started with putting my Mac to sleep by email but I’ve also used the strategy for kicking off iTunes (before the Remote app) and for file retrieval.

If you’re looking for more information on Applescript and Airfoil they’ve got some examples on their site.
Interesting: Initially I made a script that opened a Spotify playlist and didn’t include the line to commence playback. It stopped working after a day, I don’t know why. It would play the one track and then stop. The day before it jumped to whatever playlist had been set as the current playlist in the Spotify application and continued playback. Not sure what happened there.

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