Just like every other year, this New Year’s Eve is a time for reflection and an opportunity to make a few new resolutions for ourselves.
These are often filled with good intentions aimed at making us better people, but sadly the vast majority of us never keep to them beyond the end of January.
However, instead of sticking to the tried and tested resolutions such as vowing to start exercising, being more helpful around the house, or learning a musical instrument, why not expand your horizons with the help of all the technology that surrounds you?
Since you’re staring at a Mac all day, why not expand your skills and discover how to create your own application instead of just using existing ones? Doing so is just like understanding a whole new language, but unlike human communication you’ll need to learn to be extremely accurate and succinct. As the running joke goes: there are 10 types of people in the world, those who understand binary and those who don’t.
But learning to program needn’t been such a scary idea. In fact, you can do this on your own, with the Mac you already spend so much time on. If you’re completely new to programming, you should consider getting Steven Frank’s easy to read How to Count – www.stevenf.com/pages/book.html. With it, you’ll understand the core principles that will help you get to grips with any computing language.
Before you can start thinking about programming for iOS (the operating system that powers your iPhone, iPod touch and iPad) with Cocoa Touch, you’ll need to understand Cocoa – the language that powers any modern Mac application. This can, however, be a tricky prospect, especially if you are new to coding. We recommend that you take another step back and look at Objective-C and C, the main programming languages that both Cocoa Touch and Cocoa are based on.
Thankfully, there’s a huge number of books that can help you do this. Apress’ series, for example, is easy to follow and will have you coding in no time. We recommend that you start with Learn C on the Mac, then move on to Learn Objective-C on the Mac and Learn Cocoa on the Mac. After reading these you should be ready to start iOS programming.
If the above feels too daunting, then it may be a good idea to first dip your feet into AppleScript. This is a programming language that has been designed to make it as easy as possible for non-programmers to write simple applications. The idea behind it is to write commands in a programming language that’s as close to English as possible. With it, you can control many aspects of your Mac such as adding extensions to existing programs like iTunes, or automate tedious tasks. The AppleScript Editor program can be found in your Mac’s Utilities folder.
Many books have been published to help you get to grips with AppleScript. Apress and O’Reilly, for example, have some easy to understand guides to help get you started in no time.
A foreign language
Don’t you wish when you’re on holiday in a foreign country that you could communicate with people without expecting them to understand English? You could go to an evening class, but these days you can do it all right from your Mac.
Rosetta Stone (www.rosettastone.co.uk) allows you to learn in your own time via interactive lessons or by chatting with native speakers online. You can also download the service’s app for iOS, so you can keep practising with your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, which can be a real boon when you’re abroad.
There’s also a treasure trove of apps for iOS devices, designed to either help you communicate by offering phrasebooks such as Talking French Phrasebook, or expand your vocabulary with apps like Memorize Words for Spanish, among many others.
No matter how simple a language is you’ll still have to learn its intricacies, so if AppleScript still feels too far removed from your comfort zone, then it’s worth having a look at Automator.
This application first saw the light of day with Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) and resides in the Applications folder. Its purpose is to simplify AppleScript even further by offering an interface where you drag and drop actions, one on top of the other. You can then save your automation and reuse it later.
There’s even a Record button. Click on it and perform the actions you want to preserve in the Finder or another application. Once you’ve finished, Automator will replicate these actions, helping you the next time you have to perform the same action.