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In Automation On Tap I talked about NFC tags and QR codes as ways of initiating automation.
This post is about a different initiator of automation.
I recently acquired the cheapest (and least functional) Elgato Stream Deck. This is a programmable array of buttons. My version has 6 buttons but you can buy one with 15 and one with 32 buttons.
A Previous Attempt Didn’t Push My Buttons
A while back I bought an external numeric keypad for my MacBook Pro. When I was editing our podcast with Audacity on the Mac I used this keypad to edit. It’s just numeric, with a few subsidiary keys.
What makes this programmable is that the Mac sees external keypad keys as distinct from their main-keyboard counterparts. So the “1” key on the external keypad has a different hardware code from the “1” key on the main keyboard. Keyboard Maestro macros can be triggered when keys are pressed. So I wrote macros to control Audacity, triggered by pressing keys on the external keypad.
But there was a problem: How do you know what each button does? It’s quite a pretty keypad - as you can see:
So I really didn’t want to stick labels on the key tops. I also tried to make my own template but there was an obvious difficulty: It’s hard to design one that tells you what the middle buttons in a cluster do.
There’s another problem: Suppose I set up automation for multiple apps - which Keyboard Maestro lets you do. Then I need a template for each app - as each will probably have its own key pad requirements. These templates are fragile and in any case this is a fiddly solution.
So this was good - up to a point. It certainly made podcast editing easier. But that was all.
The One That I Want
Cue the Elgato Stream Deck Mini. First I should say there are other programmable keypads but this is the one that people talk about. I’d say with good reason.
As you can see, it’s corded and plugs into a USB A port. Power to it is supplied by this cable.
It’s easy to set up, literally just plugging it in. To make it useful, though, you need their app - which is available for Mac or Windows. It’s a free app so no problem.
With their app you drag icons onto a grid that represents the Stream Deck’s buttons. Here’s what mine generally looks like when powered up and the Mac unlocked.
The key thing to notice is the icons on the key tops. This is already a big advance on paper templates and ruined shiny key pads. I didn’t have to do anything to get these icons to show up. What you can see is:
The applications are straightforward, but the Omnifocus Today one is more complex. Pushing the button simulates a hot key - in this case Ctrl
So it’s not just launching applications. It can kick off more complex automation.
And someone built a bridge to IFTTT’s Maker Channel - which could open up quite a lot of automation possibilities. But right now I only have a test one - which emails me when I press the button.
One thing I haven’t tried yet is setting up buttons to open URLs in a browser. I don’t think I’ve got the real estate for that, with only six buttons.
In reality I probably should’ve plumped for the 15 button one, rather than the 6, but this has been an interesting exercise in dealing with limited button “real estate”.
So, if I press the “More” button I get this:
Because the button tops are “soft” they can change dynamically - as this demonstrates. This is much better than sticking labels on physical keys.
Two features of note:
Being able to create the latter means I can nest folders within folders. This greatly increases my ability to define buttons.
The Right Profile
There’s one final trick that’s worth sharing.
Everything I’ve shown you so far has been from the Default Profile. You can set up different profiles for different apps.
I happen to have a few Keyboard Maestro macros for Excel - to make it a little less tedious to use. So I created a profile for Excel.
So when Excel is in the foreground the Stream Deck looks like this:
I’m still setting it up - and you can see two undefined (blank) buttons. - but you get the general idea. The two Excel-specific buttons - using an image I got off the web - kick off some really quite complex AppleScript:
(In retrospect I should probably have changed the text to black - which is easy to do.)
So in real estate terms, appl
One pro tip: Close the Stream Deck editor if you want appl
This programmable key pad with dyna
I would go for the most expensive one you can afford - but I’ve shown you ways you can get round the 6-button constraint in the Stream Deck Mini.
The whole thing is rather fun for an inveterate tinkerer like me.
In short, I think I’ll be throwing this in my backpack and taking it with me wherever my MacBook Pro goes.
And one day I’ll upgrade to a model with more buttons.