Set Up Autoblog to Collect TCN Posts Automatically

I previously wrote about how to configure the free CyberSyn plug-in to bring TCN posts into WordPress automatically. Now let’s look at another popular WordPress plug-in that offers this capability: Autoblog, which is part of WPMU DEV. (ASMC members, note that ASMC has negotiated a discount for you.)

Like CyberSyn, Autoblog is an aggregator plug-in that eliminates the need to copy and paste text and graphics from the TCN site to your Web site. Once you’ve installed and configured Autoblog, it checks your custom TCN RSS feed regularly and adds every new article to your site as a draft post that you can edit and post on whatever schedule you want.

Once you’ve subscribed to WPMU DEV and installed the WPMU DEV Dashboard plug-in, follow these steps:

  1. Do a search in WPMU DEV Dashboard to find Autoblog.
  2. Click the Install button, and when prompted, click Activate.
  3. In the WordPress navigation sidebar, hover over Autoblog and click Add-ons. (Or just click Autoblog and then click Add-ons underneath it.)
  4. Activate both the Featured Image Import and Image Import add-ons by clicking the Activate link under each one. No other add-ons are necessary.
  5. Open a new browser tab and go to your TCN Account page. At the bottom of that page, in the Member Links section, Control-click the Apple Pros Members Feed and choose Copy Link, Copy Link Location, Copy Link Address, or whatever your browser calls it. (If you’re an ASMC member, copy the link for the ASMC Members Feed instead.) Make sure to get the right one, and ignore the Recent Posts Feed; it won’t work reliably, and I’m still figuring out how to get the unnecessary links taken off.
  6. Now that you have your RSS feed’s URL in the clipboard, go back to the tab for your WordPress site and click All Feeds in the sidebar, and then click Add New at the top. There are a bunch of settings, but I’ve highlighted the important ones in the screenshot below and will explain them next.
  7. Give your feed a name in the Your Title field, and paste your RSS feed’s URL into the Feed URL field.
  8. For Default status for new posts, select Draft. (The post type and date menu defaults are correct.)
  9. Select the local user you want to associate with these posts from Set author for new posts. Or, if you want them to be bylined by the original TCN author, leave it at Use feed author.
  10. To make sure you get the right categories, choose Categories from Treat feed categories as, and select the Add any that do not exist checkbox. (This isn’t essential; if you have your own category scheme, feel free to configure this section differently.)
  11. Make sure to leave the Use Full Post default for Use full post or an excerpt.
  12. Set Import the most recent to 10 added posts, and set Process this feed to every day. There’s no reason to run it any more often than that, and you want 10 posts so you can get each month’s content in one run.
  13. Finally, and this is key, for Select a way to import featured image, select Use enclosure tag of a feed item. This setting is essential for pulling in the right featured image.
  14. When you’re done, click the Create feed button, which then returns you to the Autoblog Feeds screen.
  15. Hover over your feed’s title so the links appear below it, and click Process. Autoblog will tell you that the feed processing has launched in the background and you can get details in the Autoblog Dashboard.
  16. Click Dashboard under Autoblog in the in the WordPress sidebar. At the very bottom, if Autoblog says it will regenerate the page at a future time and you don’t want to wait, click Regenerate the page. Otherwise, look at the graph. You should see a small green bar to indicate how many feeds have been processed (likely 1 in your case) and a taller blue bar to indicate how many posts have been brought in (9 in this case, but 8 will be more common).

That’s it! It may sound a bit involved, but it takes just a few minutes to set up, after which Autoblog will automatically retrieve new posts added to your custom TCN RSS feed and turn them into drafts in your WordPress site.

Remember, these are drafts, and before you make them public, you’ll want to cut out the Facebook and Twitter teasers at the bottom of an article before posting. Then, after you’ve posted, you can use those teasers with the link to the article on your site, to promote it on social media.

If anything isn’t clear in the instructions above, or if you have troubles, let me know, and I’ll see what I can do to help.

Preview RSS Feeds in Firefox and Google Chrome

Playing with aggregation plug-ins and feed delivery services can be fussy, especially when you’re not entirely certain exactly what’s in your feed. Here’s the easy way to check.

  1. Copy the URL of the RSS feed in question to the clipboard.
  2. Open Firefox.
  3. Paste the URL into the address field and press Return.

When you do that, Firefox displays a summary of the feed, which looks like this:

Click any of the article titles to see the full post, but remember that you must be logged in to your TCN account to be able to view the full text of the post.

The main utility of previewing your TCN feed this way is that you can compare it against your the contents of your Posts page to make sure you have the right feed URL.

You can also preview feeds by pasting their URLs into Google Chrome. It provides the code behind the feed, which can also be useful, although it’s hard to scan quickly to see what articles are included.

Call Your Mother: Build Relationships in iOS with Siri

When giving commands to Siri, you can refer to people by relationship, rather than name. So, if you want to call your mother on your iPhone, you can say “call my mother” instead of something like “call Natasha Jauch-Hoechstetter.” But to do this, you need to introduce Siri to your family. First, make sure you have a “card” in the Contacts app for yourself, and then go into Settings > Contacts, scroll down to find and tap My Info, and select your card so Siri knows who you are. Next, make sure you have a contact card for your mother, and then tell Siri, “Natasha Jauch-Hoechstetter is my mother.” Or, if Siri doesn’t hear you correctly, open Contacts, open your card (not your mother’s!), tap Edit, scroll down, tap “add related name,” tap the default relationship to pick “mother,” tap the info “i” icon, select your mother’s card, and tap Done.

Find System Preferences Faster by Sorting Alphabetically

By default, System Preferences on the Mac organizes its preference panes by category. However, it doesn’t label those categories, making the organization nearly inscrutable. If you have trouble finding the Accessibility preference pane, for instance, which ends up in the bottom right when sorted by category, there’s a better way. With System Preferences open, choose Organize Alphabetically from the View menu (yes, System Preferences has menus!) to arrange the icons alphabetically by name, putting Accessibility in the upper left. The preference panes are also listed alphabetically in that View menu.

The Secret Trick to Turn the iPhone Flashlight Off Quickly

One of the most useful, if low-tech, features of the iPhone is its flashlight, which you turn on by tapping the Flashlight icon in Control Center (get to it by swiping up from the bottom of the Lock screen or Home screen). But you don’t have to retrace your steps in Control Center to turn the flashlight off. Instead, just swipe left partway on the Lock screen, as though you wanted to take a picture—you don’t even have to go far enough to switch to the camera. That turns off the flashlight without any need to fumble around in Control Center.

4 Ways to Force-quit a Frozen Mac App

Freezes, crashes, hangs… they happen, even with the best Mac apps. Here are four ways you can force-quit an app that’s not responding:

  1. Click the Apple menu and choose Force Quit (or press Command-Option-Escape), select the offending app, and click Force Quit.
  2. Option-right-click (or Control-Option-click) the frozen app’s Dock icon and choose Force Quit.
  3. To force-quit the frontmost app immediately, press Command-Shift-Option-Escape.
  4. Open Activity Monitor, select the process in the list, click the X button on the toolbar, and click Force Quit.

If one method doesn’t work, try it a second time, and if that doesn’t work, try another. If nothing works, restart your Mac. Remember that you may lose unsaved changes when force-quitting an app.

Use Quick Look to Peek inside Files and Folders on Your Mac

Finder icons sometimes hint at their file’s contents, but if you find yourself opening file after file to look at the contents quickly, the Mac has a little-known feature just for you: Quick Look. To give it a spin, find a file in the Finder, click it once to select it, and press the Space bar. If it’s a supported type of file, Quick Look displays a window showing the contents of the file. Press the Space bar again to close the window.

Quick-Look-Excel

If the document you’re previewing has multiple pages, you’ll see thumbnails that you can scroll through using your mouse or trackpad, or by pressing the Page Up/Page Down keys. But you aren’t limited to just viewing a file: click the Open With button to open the file in its default app, or click the Share button in the upper right to send the file to someone else via email, Messages, or another sharing service.

If you need to scan through a set of files in a folder, you can navigate between them using the arrow keys while the Quick Look window remains open—how you move among the files depends on the Finder window’s view. In List view, for instance, using the Up and Down arrow keys can be a great way to browse through a collection of pictures. You can even interact with the Finder while using Quick Look, which means you can delete an unwanted photo by pressing Command-Delete while previewing it.

Quick Look works well for comparing multiple similar files. Select a bunch of files and press the Space bar to open them all in Quick Look. The Left and Right arrow keys let you cycle through your selection; there are also Forward and Back buttons that appear near the top left of the Quick Look window. Next to those buttons is a Thumbnail button that displays the selected files in a grid—click any thumbnail to focus on just that item. To remove the distraction of your Desktop, click the Zoom button in a Quick Look window. You can start a slideshow from there. Another way to get to a zoomed Quick Look window is to select the files in the Finder and then press Option-Space.

Quick-Look-penguins

So what file types does Quick Look work with? Not everything, but out of the box, Quick Look supports text files, RTF files, HTML files, images, audio, video, PDFs, iWork documents, Microsoft Office files, and even fonts. Third-party apps can extend Quick Look to support proprietary formats, too, and developers have even released independent Quick Look generators, as they’re called. If you want to look inside Zip archives and other compressed files, check out BetterZip, for instance, and if you write in the Markdown formatting language a lot, QLMarkdown is worth installing.

Quick-Look-BetterZip

Although it’s used mostly in the Finder, Quick Look is available elsewhere. For example, if you’re in an  Open dialog, you can select a file and press the Space bar to preview it right there. When restoring a file in Time Machine, use Quick Look to see if it’s the version you want. Most Internet file transfer apps, such as Cyberduck, Fetch, and Transmit, support Quick Look, making it easy to preview a file on a remote FTP server. You can also preview an attachment in Messages by selecting it and pressing the Space bar.

Finally, note that if your Mac has a newer Apple trackpad, such as the Magic Trackpad 2, you can invoke Quick Look by force-touching a Finder icon (press deeply until you feel a click) instead of pressing the Space bar.

Quick Look takes just a moment to learn, but it can save you hours of time poring through files on your Mac!


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Build Travel Time into Your Calendar Alerts

We’ve all done it. You swing into a meeting late, and as everyone looks up at you accusingly, you mutter, “Sorry. Traffic was terrible.” Maybe it was, but if you’d left at the right time for the traffic conditions, you could have arrived on time. Happily, the Calendar apps in both macOS and iOS can build travel time into event alerts so you can leave at the right time. There’s a bit of setup, but once you form the habit of attaching locations to your events, you’ll get a reputation for punctuality.

First, if you’re working on an iOS device, make sure Calendar can access your location by going to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Calendar and selecting While Using the App.

Next, you need to make sure the Time to Leave option is turned on. On the Mac, choose Calendar > Preferences > Alerts and select the Time to Leave checkbox. In iOS, go to Settings > Calendar > Default Alert Times and enable Time to Leave.

Now follow these steps:

  1. Create a new event, and enter a title and the start time. Travel time doesn’t work with all-day events.
  2. In the Location field, start typing your destination’s name or address. You must be able to reach the destination within 3 hours to receive alerts about when to leave. 
    Calendar is smart about this, offering matches from your contacts, from recently visited places, and then from place names and addresses near you. So you could type a friend’s name and pick their card from Contacts, or a place name like “Tompkins County Public Library,” or even a specific address, like “806 State Street.”
    Calendar-PickLocation

  3. Regardless, after typing a partial name or address, you must pick one of Calendar’s suggestions so it knows the exact location of your destination.
  4. The next step is a bit different between the Mac and iOS:
    • On the Mac, in the Travel Time pop-up menu (click once to reveal it), choose the automatically generated travel time for driving or walking, or, if your city is supported, public transit. You can’t change your starting location, which is based on the location of events in the previous 3 hours (it assumes you’re there!), your work address during work hours, your home address during off hours, or your computer’s location if all else fails. (The addresses come from the card in the Contacts app that is open when you choose Card > Make This My Card.)
    • In iOS, tap Travel Time and in the Travel Time screen, enable the Travel Time switch. A starting location may be picked for you, based on your current location and time of day, or based on a previous event, but you can always tap Starting Location and pick a different spot. Then tap a travel time based on location for walking, driving, or transit, which will reflect both your starting and ending locations, plus the traffic conditions.
      Calendar-SetTravelTime

  5. Now it’s time to back out of the Travel Time screen and set alerts based on the travel time, which may take traffic conditions into account. By default, setting travel time creates an alert for Time to Leave, although you may wish to set a second alert that gives you a few minutes to get ready beforehand.
    Calendar-FinalEvent

That’s it, but with one important bonus. When you see the alert on an iPhone 6s or later, you can 3D Touch the alert to open a preview that has a link for directions; tap Directions to view the travel directions in the Maps app. If your iPhone doesn’t support 3D Touch, tap the alert to open the event in Calendar, after which you can tap the map preview to open the location in Maps.

Once you get the hang of setting up the events, getting alerts that are sensitive to travel time and include directions is like living in the future!


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Use Styles to Be Nice to Future You

You’ve been asked to create a document for work. Perhaps it’s a report, a form, or even a brochure. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re using Microsoft Word, Adobe InDesign, Apple’s Pages, or even Google Docs. The best thing you can do to be nice to Future You is to take a few extra minutes to use named styles.

Future You? That’s right, imagine what’s going to happen next week, when your colleagues or your boss or your board of directors sees your document and says, “That’s great, but could you add this?” Or perhaps, “We love what you’ve written, but the text is too small—can you make it larger?” Sure, it’s no problem to make the change once, but what if there’s another change, and then another, and then another group wants something else. Before long, Future You has spent way too much time getting all that new text to fit, trying different fonts, and fussing with the document.

Here’s the solution: named styles. We’re not talking about simple text styles like bold and italic, but styles that define how different types of content are formatted, things like Heading, Subhead, and Body. Many apps include a full set of default named styles whose visual style you can modify, and if you want something specific, like Sidebar Caption, you can create your own named style for that.

The beauty of named styles is that once you’ve assigned the Subhead style to all the subheads in your document, for instance, you can tweak the look of all those subheads simultaneously with a change to the style. Plus, some apps like Word and Google Docs can even make an outline of your document if you use their heading styles.

Details vary by app, of course, but every notable word processor and page layout program supports named styles of various types. The most common are “paragraph styles,” which apply at the paragraph level and are good for adjusting details like the amount of white space after each paragraph. “Character styles” work down to the level of a single character, and are useful for things like warning text, so if your supervisor decides that should be not just bold but also red, you can change every instance in seconds.

Fancier programs even have “table styles” so you can format table headers and table bodies consistently throughout a long report, and layout programs may have “object styles” that let you specify that all the graphics should have a 3 point thick chartreuse line around them, and then change that to a 1 point black line after your graphic designer complains.

We’ll make no bones about it—setting up styles takes a little time and thought when you’re getting started with a document, but that effort will pay off big time in the long run. Styles are your friend, and if you’re not using them now, you owe it to Future You to give them a try.


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