Adventures in Siri Shortcuts automation

I’ve been looking forward to the new automation options in Siri Shortcuts in iOS 13 for a while.

Previously I’ve used a hodge-podge of IFTTT, Launch Center Pro and Shortcuts to do some of what I’ll describe below, but new trigger options opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

Everything is still a bit buggy right now (as of iOS 13.1.3), but shows a lot of promise.

Automatically enabling VPN away from home

I’ve just started using Cloudflare’s free 1.1.1.1 VPN app, which so far seems reliable, fast and a lot safer when using coffee-shop WiFi networks.

I don’t want to enable the VPN when at home (there are occasional geo-location issues when trying to stream videos), but almost always want to when not on my home network.

The 1.1.1.1 app offers actions to enable or disable the VPN, so it was trivial to write a shortcut that:

  1. Is triggered on connection to any WiFi network
  2. Checks the current WiFi network name
  3. If it is my home network, disables the 1.1.1.1 VPN
  4. If it’s any other network, enables the 1.1.1.1 VPN

This is great, as I was continually forgetting to enable/disable the VPN before – now I get a notification every time I switch networks, and tapping on it quickly switches the VPN to the state I almost certainly want.

Playing Audio

Starting up Spotify

I’ve written previously about my shortcut where I started Spotify using NFC and Launch Center Pro, so it was easy to migrate this to using the NFC triggers in Shortcuts instead.

One issue was that the NFC tags I’d bought from LCP were encoded to a LCP launching URL, so I had to purchase some new tags.

The next enhancement was to setup a trigger to run the same shortcut when my phone connects to the Bluetooth speaker in my home office. This is so much easier to use than even the NFC tag – I simply turn on the speaker, and then tap the notification to fire up Spotify and get it running.

Podcasts in Overcast

The other audio I listen to regularly are podcasts in Overcast.

Overcast does have some automation hooks, although they seem a little flaky in iOS 13. I’ve written a shortcut that asks me if I want to play either Overcast or the Spotify shortcut mentioned above from a list.

I have 2 triggers to run this combined shortcut:

  • When I connect my Bluetooth headphones
  • An NFC tag in my car

Showing my Shopping List

I’ve previously built a completely over-engineered shopping system based around Todoist, IFTTT location triggers, IFTTT voice integration and an AWS Lambda function!

This worked pretty well, and basically location triggers in the IFTTT iOS app called a script which read my Todoist Shopping List when I’m near the supermarkets in Hexham, and sent an alert if there was anything I needed.

I’ve moved the location trigger in Shortcuts, but also I’m experimenting in going all-in with the built-in Reminders app, and not using Todoist any more.

This means all of the shopping list logic can be done on-device (which makes it a bit more reliable), and it’s also easy to share the list with my family.

The integration with my multitude of Amazon Echos and Google Assistants also needed a couple of custom IFTTT applets, but they were very simple to write.

It’s all a bit less Heath Robinson now, but works just as well.

Enhancements/Missing Features

I’m pretty happy with where my automation sare so far, but there’s definitely room for improvement.

First of all, the triggers – in particular the location ones – seem very flaky. Shortcuts itself seems a bit hit and miss at times, and my guess is that if any script has had problems, the app somehow hangs/is blocked, which stops the location triggers firing.

Next, it would be great if more types of triggers could run automatically rather than needing you to tap on a notification. I know Apple are very strong on privacy, but there should be a way to let me accept the “risks” and let more shortcuts be able to be triggered without needing my intervention.

Finally, there is no integration yet with the Apple Watch. I believe some Watch integration may be coming in iOS 13.2, but it would be great to be able to both start shortcuts from the watch as well run them automatically based on triggers. For example, I’d like to be prompted to start a workout as soon as I leave my house, rather than wait for the automatic “after 10 minutes walking” feature to sometimes kick in.

Summary

Just implementing these three automations has been great, and shows of the power of Shortcuts to extend the functionality of my expensive devices in truly useful ways.

If the automation system was a bit less buggy, and a bit less restrictive on needing so much user intervention, it would be truly fantastic.

Hopefully this will be coming soon! 🤞

find the cost of your paper

Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.

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