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What Is Automator (and Can It Make Your Life Easier)
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When you're done, save your workflow (source available here), and then resave it as an application so you can run it as a stand-alone app. Take it for a spin and see what you think. For a few minutes of fuss, we have a useful workflow that can make your day go by just a little bit easier.

save as application
Save your workflows as stand-alone applications by changing the default value through File --> Save As



Working Around Apparent Limitations

With our example involving iPhoto, things worked out pretty well because we had the specific actions needed to get our work done. One subtlety worth pointing out involves the transition between Step 3 and Step 4 of the workflow. Step 3 passed out "iPhoto items" and Step 4 accepted them even though it was really expecting "Files/Folders." For these two actions to work together, something called a "conversion action" conveniently took place behind the scenes and transformed the data type for us. Intuitively, we know that the photos are just files stored on a disk, so a conversion action like this is almost to be expected.

Unfortunately, however, there are situations where we won't get the luxury of conversion actions unless we write or scrounge them up ourselves. These are the times when you'll have an idea for a workflow that should conceptually work, but actions don't fit together because of data type mismatches. For example, it might be very convenient to snap a screenshot and automatically email it to someone. Conceptually, you'd think that there are just two actions involved: snap the image and pass it into an email. A workflow like this might be useful for helping a friend to diagnose a problem they're having. Here's the broken action you'd see if you tried to construct such a thing in Automator for the first time.

broken action to e-mail screenshot
Although conceptually elegant, this action doesn't work because the New Mail Message action won't automatically insert image files as attachments. Note the red letters on the actions that aren't piped together.

Although not as elegant as our two-step pipe dream, you can still work around the apparent limitations without having a special conversion action. Here's one way of doing it.

  1. Take Screenshot - Temporarily save it somewhere with a unique filename.
  2. New Mail Message - Fill in as much as you know before hand. This message will be the front-most message for a subsequent step.
  3. Find Finder Items - Find the screenshot we temporarily saved.
  4. Add Attachments to Front Message - Pass the screenshot as an attachment to the mail message we just created.
  5. Find Finder Items - Find the screenshot again. Remember that it can't get piped through to us, nor can we keep track of it with any kind of variable reference.
  6. Move to Trash - Delete the screenshot to clean up our mess.

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