Tag Archives: Techie Scheky

Speeding Up OmniFocus on iOS with Launch Center Pro

A while back, David Sparks offered up a video showing how he uses TextExpander to dramatically speed up entry on repetitive tasks in OmniFocus. He was also generous enough to share his snippets. While I use the hell out of them in both the Quick Entry and Clipper on my Mac and have created many of my own, these timesavers have been limited to the OS X as OmniFocus and TextExpander do not work together on iOS.

Thankfully, with the introduction of Launch Center Pro, we (finally) have a solution. You can use the URL Scheme that OmniFocus has provided to create similar pre-formatted snippets.

What the hell are you talking about?!?

Okay, some of you are probably with me, but many may not be. Simply put, if you commonly create repetitive tasks (e.g. Follow up on, Email Jen about, Set Meeting with Bob regarding), you can dramatically speed things up using Launch Center Pro. Still not with me? Here’s a video showing you how it works:

All I’ve done here is create a new group in Launch Center Pro called OF Actions. This allows me to have 11 rapid-fire actions for my most commonly created tasks. Rather than 11 unique actions, I’ve actually created duplicates for most that include whatever I have on the clipboard. This way I have a version that duplicates the Quick Entry field and another that emulates some aspects of the Clipper (you can find more on how I use these on the Mac here).

While you can easily tweak these and make them your own, here are my current actions:

  • New Task from Prompt – omnifocus:///add?name=[prompt]
  • New Task from Prompt w/ Clipboard – omnifocus:///add?name=[prompt]&note=[clipboard]
  • Follow Up With – omnifocus:///add?name=Follow%20up%20with%20
  • Follow Up With w/ Clipboard – omnifocus:///add?name=Follow%20up%20with%20&note=[clipboard]
  • Set meeting with [name of person or team] re – omnifocus:///add?name=Set%20meeting%20with%20[prompt]%20re%20
  • Set meeting with [name of person or team] re w/ Clipboard – omnifocus:///add?name=Set%20meeting%20with%20[prompt]%20re%20&note=[clipboard]
  • Email [name of person or team] about – omnifocus:///add?name=Email%20[prompt]%20about%20
  • Email [name of person or team] about w/ Clipboard – omnifocus:///add?name=Email%20[prompt]%20about%20&note=[clipboard]
  • Look into – omnifocus:///add?name=Look%20into%20
  • Look into w/ Clipboard – omnifocus:///add?name=Look%20into%20&note=[clipboard]
  • Plan new project – omnifocus:///add?name=Plan%20new%20project%20to%20

To create these, all you need to do is add a new action to your group, name your action and then add the url I’ve provided above. It will automatically add the OmniFocus icon, but as you can see, I’ve tweaked this for easier recognition.

Some may wonder why I’m not using an additional prompt at the end to finalize my task entirely in Launch Center Pro (while others are likely questioning my sanity right about now). My reason for this is simple: by adding an extra space at the end (you do this by adding %20) and jumping into OmniFocus, it feels very fluid to me. OmniFocus opens quickly and the cursor is placed at the end of my snippet so I can just keep typing. You may want to experiment with adding an additional prompt (for example, the email url would now become omnifocus:///add?name=Email%20[prompt]%20about%20[prompt]), but I’ve found that flipping over to OmniFocus feels faster.

While I’m certain that I’m just scratching the surface of what can be done here, it’s a great start for anyone looking to use Launch Center Pro to speed up the creation of repetitive tasks in OmniFocus. If you have any ideas on how to take this up a notch, leave them in the comments below.

use Launch Center Pro to access specific areas of the OmniFocus iPhone app.Update: Great additions from Nick Wynja on how to

Abandoning Simplenote: Simple, But Difficult

It appears that Gabe over at MacDrifter was right (and to quote him, “this post is only going to be interesting to someone that lives in plain text“, so consider yourself warned). There comes a time when every edge case needs to leave Simplenote. If you’ve read this blog, you know I love the app, but I’m finding that my time to abandon it has come.

Why?

Good question… syncing has become a problem. I’m no longer 100% confident that something I write will stay there. I’m writing between three devices (two Macs using nvALT and an iPhone using Simplenote), occasionally four if you count my occasional iPad usage. You can’t force sync the app, so occasionally I accidentally overwrite data in one version (this is a particularly large issue in NYC where service is not always the best). Since there is no way to force sync on Simplenote for iOS and no way to confirm the latest sync times, I often don’t even realize the problem until it is too late.

The apps are also going crazy on me. When on 3G or WiFi, the iPad app crashes (disclaimer: I haven’t gone through the process of uninstalling and reinstalling and haven’t taken the time to reach out to Simplenote about this as I don’t really use it all that often). And the iPhone app is continually swallowing text. It’s usually only a little, but I’m not a fan of losing work. This seems especially bad when making the jump from having no service on the Subway to when I hit the street and the app begins fighting with AT&T’s crappy New York service.

I’ve reached a point when either the application or the sync service can no longer handle the volume of notes. Perhaps I’m testing both the capability of their sync server or their app with my 800 notes, but if they really want people to invest in this for extended periods of time, they have got to get their act together.

Why is leaving so hard?

The steps for leaving Simplenote are quite simple. All I had to do was copy the entire notes folder into Dropbox, turn off Simplenote sync in nvALT and point the storage field to the new folder in Dropbox. The thought of abandoning an app I’ve been using for nearly two years and am extremely comfortable with is far harder. While there are several impressive text editors for iOS , I love Simplenote for its simplicity. I use my iPhone to create words, not to format them, so the bells and whistles of several of Simplenote’s alternatives aren’t all that appealing. I need something that is as close as possible to the app I already know and love.

Over time and through tons of use, I’ve come to find that there are five additional features beyond stable synchronization that I depend on:

Fast and Global Search – When you open Simplenote, all you need to do is tap into the search field and start typing to narrow down your notes. TextExpander Support – This is pretty much a given at this point for any text editor. I primarily use TextExpander to name my files, but I’d be lost without it. An Informative Home Screen – Simplenote offers a note title, a two-line preview (with any tags in front of your text) and the date of the last modification for every note. These three points of data make it far easier to find the one I’m looking for. Quick Note Creation – All I need to do is hit the plus sign and I’m on my way. Unlike many apps, Simplenote automatically uses the first line of any note the title, making an additional title field unnecessary (more on this when we start talking potential replacements). Tagging and Sharing via Tags – While I’m not a massive user of tags, I use them to remind me if something is in the edit stage, working stage or posted stage. Simplenote’s sharing features also let me use a tag to send show notes for the Mikes on Mics podcast to my co-host, Mike Vardy.

While I wasn’t able to get everything I wanted, I’m finding Notesy to be the best alternative for me. It has great search capabilities, exactly the info I want on the home screen and quick note creation. The two challenges are tags, which will now live on nvALT, but not in Notesy (and tags in nvALT will no longer allow me to seamlessly share notes). There is also a minor unresolvable issue with TextExpander1. Both of these, while annoying, are livable.

lost the ability to create notes directly from Instapaper. This integration is possible in the future, but does not seem to be on their short term roadmap.Bonus disappointment: While not critical, Notesy also doesn’t have a URL Scheme which means I’ve now

I also tried WriteRoom, Elements and WriteUp for size and they all had their own unique strengths and weaknesses. There are three features that put Notesy over the top for me: blatantly obviously sync, the note preview and simplicity. While WriteRoom and Elements allow users to force sync, Notesy’s sync button and confirmation could not be more obvious. It could just be that I’m hurting from Simplenote, but this really appealed. The notes preview also provides all three points of note data (title, multi-line preview and date modified), something that none of the other apps offer. Every app had great features that are not included in Notesy, but it is exactly that kind of pared down experience and similarity to Simplenote that has me thinking that it will be the next best thing to my once-beloved note-taking application. Goodbye old friend, you will be missed…

And now that that’s solved, back to work.

Speaking of work, I am off to Las Vegas for a trade show until next Tuesday. In my absence, I begged several of my amazing friends including Yuvi Zalkow, Aaron Mahnke, Todd Chandler, Gini Dietrich and Mike Vardy to fill in while I’m gone. I can’t wait for you to read their posts!. If you’re really going to miss me and aren’t quite sure what to do with yourself, you can get your fill on today’s Mikes on Mics podcast. See you next week!


  1. For the two of you who care, unlike Simplenote, the field Notesy uses to capture the note title will not allow you to place the cursor anywhere but at the end of the note when using TextExpander snippets. This is not a bug in Notesy or TextExpander, it is an iOS issue. You will have this same problem in apps like WriteRoom, Elements, Write Up and more.  

Structuring Your Ideas With Scrivener and iThoughts HD

Oftentimes small ideas become bigger. A project that we may have thought would only be a few hundred words turns out to require a few thousand. Our small and big ideas tend to need very different kinds of nurturing. While a small idea might flow freely, our bigger plans require better planning.

When it comes to my writing, I have two distinct workflows. A freeform process for exploring smaller ideas and a more structured approach to larger projects (I go into both of these at length in my Writer Workflow post over on Gabe Weatherhead’s Macdrifter site). Smaller projects always start the same way. An idea occurs to me and I just start writing (or I revisit a previously captured idea). Larger projects, start in iThoughts HD. I think about what I want to say and use this excellent mind-mapping application for the iPad to flesh it out. Once I’m happy with the outline, I import it into Scrivener and have at it. Most of the time, I’m able to discern the best possible path for an idea. Occasionally, I guess wrong and need to adjust accordingly.

What To Do When A Small Idea Suddenly Gets Bigger?

I recently had a project that ballooned on me. I was expecting something small, perhaps 500-750 words. When I looked up, several hours later, there were a few thousand. I did my best to keep going, but inevitably I found myself getting lost. Byword, the app I usually write smaller posts in, suddenly became the wrong tool for the job. I wanted to map things out, but I also didn’t want to start over. So what to do? Well, much of the workflow on my larger projects is stolen from David Sparks “Dancing with OPML” post. This is how I’ve taken my mind maps in the past and gotten them into Scrivener. I wanted to see if I could reverse the process and take an unwieldy document, break it up in Scrivener and then export it as an OPML (along with all of the text that I’ve written) in order to create a mind map.

Thankfully it proved to be possible. Here’s how…

From Document to Mind Map and Back Again

  1. Copy your text.
  2. Create a new Scrivener Project (or folder within an existing project).
  3. Split your project into paragraphs or sections.
  4. Export as an OPML file to Dropbox (NOTE: You must select Titles and Text when exporting).
  5. Import your mind map into iThoughts HD.
  6. If you selected your entire “Draft” folder in Scrivener, you will need to remove the “Drafts” node from the mind map.
  7. Add whatever structure is needed and export an new OPML to Dropbox.
  8. Import your work into a new Scrivener Project or folder.
  9. Get back to writing.

Here’s a quick screencast showing you how:

Taking A Step Back Before Moving Forward

It’s easy to get lost in large writing projects, especially when what you thought was a small idea suddenly proves to be bigger than you expected. Taking a step back to add structure and rethink your approach might take a little while longer in the short run, but can save you time and missteps as you move forward.

How about you? What do you do when you find that something you thought was easy suddenly feels a lot more complex? What’s your best secret for adding a little or to your chaos, regardless is it is a writing project or not?

A Marked Difference

The Techie Scheky series offers tips and tactics for being more productive and creative through technology (especially with a Mac).

Note: Once you’re done here, take a moment and check out my recent 2×4 interview with Marked developer, Brett Terpstra. It’s well worth your time. You can find a link to the interview at the end of the post (I’m shady like that).

If you write for the web and we’ve spoken longer than five minutes, you’ve heard me go on about plain text and applications like Brett Terpstra’s nvALT. If that conversation goes on for ten minutes, we get into my undying love for Markdown. For the few people who have let me get to 15 minutes, you’ve likely heard me talk about Marked, Brett’s universal Markdown preview application which received a substantial update today with version 1.4.

What Is Marked?

*On the left:* A blog post draft in nvALT

*On the right:*A “live” preview of how this post will look on this site in Marked.

Marked is an application for Markdown that offers a “live” preview of whatever you are writing in any text editor. At its core, it lets you take any formatted text file that you’re working on and see what it’s going to look like on the web. Marked also does a bunch of geeky goodness, but for the sake of this post, I’m going to stick to the basics (’cause the basics are all I really know). For a full look at what Marked can do, be sure to check out the newly updated site. Regardless of what text editor you use, you can export your preview to HTML, print your preview, and save a copy of the preview to PDF… These are all great, Rich Text options, but where it’s really useful is allowing you to copy the HTML source directly to the clipboard.

And Why Should I Care?

At first, if I’m being honest, I mainly purchased Marked to support Brett. I’ve found tremendous benefits in several of the free tools he’s created including nvALT and his TextExpander tools and jumped at the opportunity to support just about anything the guy was doing. I wasn’t sure if I was going to find use for it, but happily I’ve found it to be a useful tool for Markdown newbies, frequent bloggers and avid geeks alike. While many of my text editors have Markdown previews built in, MarsEdit and nvALT are the only application that enable me to simultaneously write and see the impact of my edits. Marked allows you to have a “live” preview1with any text editor.

But What Are The Benefits?

When I was first getting started with Markdown, this was invaluable. It helped me get up to speed a lot faster. At the time, I was working exclusively in nvALT and the preview left a lot to be desired, so Marked was a natural addition to my arsenal of apps. While many modern text editors do a great job of managing Markdown, several don’t. For those who just want to use something simple like TextEdit, Marked can handle the rest, offering preview and a way to print the formatted version or export the HTML. Those working on larger projects who use heavy-duty programs like Scrivener can also benefit from Marked. The latest version supports full document previews and live updates of Scrivener projects; something that was extremely complicated in previous editions is now as simple as dragging your Scrivener file onto Marked. Marked also has a table of contents that makes it easy to jump around in larger documents. Providing you have a custom CSS stylesheet that mimics your blog, Marked also allows you see exactly what your text will look like when posted to the web. There’s a lot more to the app than that– including the ease at which you can copy the HTML of your post (just hit Command-Shift- C)– but these are the key features.

Some Extra Marked Goodness

While Brett offers up several tools for getting more out of Marked, I’ve created a few of my own for nvALT and Byword that will help those of us who are not quite up to speed or comfortable with using scripts. As regular readers of this site well know, Keyboard Maestro is my standard way of hacking my Mac while avoiding things like scripts, terminal commands and other tactics that generally scare me. Brett offers up several options for speeding up the opening of files in Marked, but here are my Keyboard Maestro macros for quickly opening files in nvALT and Byword.

Note: You’re going to want to set these up in separate folders in Keyboard Maestro and set them to work exclusively in nvALT or Byword.

Marked is a tool that was made for those of us who write for the web. It is frequently updated and cared for by Brett and it makes our lives easier. If you’re looking to improve at Markdown, Marked is for you. If you want want a better way to turn your Markdown in HTML, Marked is for you. If you just want a better preview for your text editor of choice, Marked is for you. And you just want to support a hell of a developer who has created and continues to create multiple free and amazing tools for the Mac, Marked is for you. So stop by your local Mac App Store and grab yourself a copy.

check out my interview with Brett here.Note: You can

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  1. I say “live” because you have to save or autosave has to kick in before the changes are reflected.  

Going Paperless With Evernote And ScanSnap

The Techie Scheky series offers tips and tactics for being more productive and creative through technology (especially with a Mac).

Today’s post is a fast and easy approach for those of us who are constantly battling against a messy desk.

I love Evernote. I hate paper. A big part of my undying love for Evernote is that it has done more than anything else in my life to reduce the amount of paper in my world. While there are many who can get things done with nothing more than a pen and paper, I’m not one of them1. Over the past few years, I’ve looked to rid myself of the stuff as much as humanly possible and nothing has proven as effective as Evernote and my beloved ScanSnap scanner2.

While many use Evernote for a variety of tasks, I use it specifically. It is a repository for all of the paper I accumulate as well as the emails and web clippings3 I would have historically printed and filed away. By using Evernote to store the paper that comes my way during the day, I avoid filing cabinets that quickly become unruly and the piles on my desk that mysteriously seem to multiply.

Over the years, I’ve owned several scanners, but flatbeds and all-in-one models always felt as if they were in the way. It wasn’t until I got something as lightweight and speedy as the S1300 that I was able to make paperless a regular part of my workflows. The ScanSnap takes up little space on my desk, turns on instantly when you flip open the top and can be set to scan directly into Evernote. I also purchased the S1100 for our “cozy” Brooklyn apartment. It lacks a proper workspace, so I needed the smallest version possible, but to be honest, I wish I had gone with another S1300. The additional bulk is marginal and the S1100 can be a hassle with thicker paper stocks4.

Having something close (my scanner sits right next to my monitor) allows me to run paper through the scanner and throw the original in the trash. It doesn’t sit piled up waiting to be batch entered. The scanner is fast enough that I can get it into my computer and get it out of my life without breaking stride. There is also the added bonus that Evernote now enables you to create a link to each note. This means I can scan things I’m currently working on and create a task in OmniFocus that links directly back to files I might need at a later date.5

This setup is a fast, easy and space-conscious way for those of us who are constantly fighting a battle against the paper in our lives We may win the war once and for all!

Come back tomorrow as I will be talking a bit more about naming your files so that you don’t have to bother with things like folders and tagging your notes in Evernote.

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  1. Although those of you who are paper people should check Brad Dowdy’s new podcast The Pen Addict.  

  2. This is an affiliate link, there will be a few of them in this post. It’s cause I’m shameless and stuff…  

  3. I use Mailplane’s clipper for email and the Safari Clipper for getting things from the web into Evernote  

  4. I’ve also heard good things about Doxie for this, but haven’t tried it myself.  

  5. This is a bit of a manual process right now where you have to copy the link and paste it into an OmniFocus task. If anyone from Evernote is listening, it’d be amazing to have this be a bit more seamless.  

Four Tools For Four Types Of To-dos

The Techie Scheky series offers tips and tactics for being more productive and creative through technology (especially with a Mac).

a previous post for two reasons: 1) Because some of the tools I’m using have changed or have been update and 2) Because I’ve changed a bit of my thinking.Note: This post may seem familiar to those who have been reading the site for a while. I decided to update

Yesterday I shared the four types of to-dos. Today I want to follow up by sharing the tools I use to accomplish them. I’m going to start by letting you know my priority for each, my app of choice and the best possible alternatives.

The Reminder

I’ve tried a variety of solutions, from post-it notes to iPhone alarms and nothing worked until I was recently turned on to Due. This iPhone app is nothing short of a stalker. It takes seconds to set up a reminder and upon the due date, your phone will start sending you an iPhone Notification every minute (you can also set it to every hour). This sounds horrible, but it is a fantastic way to never forget the little things again. I’ve gotten my $5 and more from this app.

Due

The Pros: Super fast to set up, easy to use, simple to share and almost impossible to ignore.

The Cons: Lacks the location features of Apple’s own Reminders app.

The Flat-Out Bad: iOS limitations mean you can only get a reminder every minute or every hour when 5 minutes would be ideal.

Alternatives: If location support is essential and persistent reminders are not, go with the Reminders App.

The Appointment

While I use Google Apps to store my calendar, the native iCal on my Mac sucks. I’ve tried a few things, including the popular BusyCal, but nothing was ever really sufficient. That is until Flexbits introduced Fantastical. This menu-bar based application drops down to provide you with a look at your week and makes it fast and easy to enter new appointments (which has always been painful for me.). Now, I simply use one keyboard command and start typing in natural language (e.g. Lunch with Dad at McDonalds at noon tomorrow) and Fantastical takes care of the rest. It also works with Outlook and Exchange, so those of you Mac folk who still have some remnants of your Windows life can still take advantage of this kick-ass way to quickly get a look at your week or to swiftly add something to any of your calendars.

Fantastical

The Pros: It could not be easier to use and is almost impossible to screw up creating an appointment. The latest version also added the ability to edit and delete items which has eliminated the need for any other calendar app on my Mac.

The Cons: The app will occasionally put information in the wrong field, but fixing this has always been preferable to using any other option.

The Flat-Out Bad: There is nothing I hate about this app.

Alternatives: If you need a full fledged calendar try iCal, BusyCal or, if you hate yourself, Outlook. If you’d like another option, give QuickCal a try.

The Task

OmniFocus is the leading choice amongst nerds everywhere. While I resisted this for a long time in favor of the more straightforward Things, I have now converted and am blissfully happy with that decision. OmniFocus gives me an environment that’s extremely powerful, yet can be customized to feel simple. It also has excellent iOS apps and a great syncing solution that ensures I’m always up to date and always able to capture new tasks.

OmniFocus

The Pros: A robust app with an amazing team behind it. Once you understand the app it’s exceptionally fast, to add and classify tasks. The Quick Entry Box and Clipper alone make my life sane.

The Cons: It’s expensive and the learning curve can be a bit steep. Thankfully David Sparks helps by offering a comprehensive series of videos.

The Flat-Out Bad: The communication from Cultured Code leaves a lot to be desired and OTA Syncing has been “imminent” for far too long. There are also some key features like collaboration and pre-set projects that are missing or could use serious improvement.

Alternatives: Asana, Things, Hit List or Wunderkit.

The List

Lists need to offer quick entry, quick completion and most important of all, quick reorganization of tasks. While the new iPhone app Clear has brought this tier of to-do to the forefront, I’m sticking with Listary. What it lacks in looks, it makes up for in features. So much of my list making (especially for short term things like grocery lists) come from my wife via text or email. Listary seems custom made for these kinds type of situations.

Listary

The Pros: The team has put their time and energy into making it as fast and easy as possible to add tasks. It’s especially helpful for taking lists from text messages and turning them into multiple items that are just waiting to be checked off. The shared list features are also great. As is the ability to sync your lists with Simplenote.

The Cons: Once you look at Clear, you realize just how much Listary is lacking in the looks department.

The Flat-Out Bad: More than the looks, once you play with Clear it becomes, well clear, that it’s a little harder than it should be to edit things. Thankfully, the team at Listary seem excited by the prospect of improving the app in light of the competition.

Alternatives: Some of you will just double up and use the Reminders App to manage your lists. The more discerning will clearly want to go with Clear1.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Dear god, Michael is a crazy person who uses too many apps” and you’re probably right. If you’re one of those naturally organized people, you won’t likely need more than one of these tools. If, like me, you have trouble keeping everything straight, try breaking them apart one at a time and see if taking a separate approach to some or all of these types of to-dos helps. It may seem like a lot more at first, but over time this approach has come to feel like a lot less.

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  1. At some point I will stop with the clear puns, clearly that day is not today…  

Getting Lazy With OmniFocus, Keyboard Maestro and TextExpander

The Techie Scheky series offers tips and tactics for being more productive and creative through technology (especially with a Mac).

Like most of my techie ideas, this one has essentially been ripped off by work that was already done by Sven Fechner of Simplicity is Bliss (amazing blog for OmniFocus users) and David Sparks of MacSparky.

Sven kicked things off by showing how he uses TextExpander within OmniFocus to track the status of projects he delegates to others. This encouraged David to share several of his own TextExpander shortcuts for speeding up new entries in OmniFocus. Driven by my innate laziness, I decided to see if I could push things one step further. Since they both “threw down with a video,” as David so eloquently put it, I decided to create one of my own to show you how to use Keyboard Maestro to significantly speed up repetitive email clipping.

Getting Even Lazier Keyboard Maestro

I wanted to see if I could clip text from an email, fill in my information and archive the message as quickly as possible. The macros are setup for users of Mailplane, but you could easily adapt it to work with Mail.app. This time there are two versions, the first is for follow up that has the same context, project and due date in OmniFocus. Rather than going through the motions to process the email, this macro will only prompt me for the task name. The second version gives me the added ability to set a single start and due date for deferring these email responses with greater control.

You can download the macros here and customize them to fit your needs. You can even create multiple versions to fit different contexts, projects or start and due dates.

Bonus For You TextExpander Fans

Update: Version 3.41 has been released. The snippet below will now work in Lion. Simply update TextExpander and close and reopen OmniFocus to get this working.

I initially started this project in TextExpander. While it wasn’t able to do everything I wanted, it’s still pretty darn useful. Especially when doing multiple entries through the quick entry box. Here’s the snippet:

%key:tab%Customer Follow%key:tab%Work%key:tab%%key:tab%tom%key:tab%Follow up on

Once I trigger the OmniFocus clipper for email, I evoke this snippet and get the following:

From there, all you need to do is finish the subject for a task and hit enter to add it into OmniFocus.

You can take the snippet above and change the information between the %key:tab% symbols and adjust this as many ways as you might need.

If, like me, you find yourself consistently creating the same deferred email responses, give these Keyboard Maestro macros and TextExpander snippets a shot. I think you’ll agree that this speeds things up quite nicely.

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