Waking Up with Apple Shortcuts

Shortcuts I’m not really an auditory alarm kind of guy. I’ll use them on the road when I have to, but I’ve realized I’m much more responsive to light in the mornings than sound. I have a bunch of Hue lights in my bedroom. I prefer to have Hue manage turning on the lights in the morning because it does such a good job ramping the intensity change, but I wanted to augment that with one of my ambient forest apps from my AppleTV.

Apple Shortcuts (some of you may remember it in it’s previous incarnation, Workflow) has been growing substantially over the past few years. Shortcuts now boasts the ability to run ssh commands, interact with AppleTV, and orchestrate a host of other apps. Shortcuts can be trigged from the home screen, from the share sheet, and via time or sensor cues, somewhat. The sensor and time cued shortcuts are called automations, but they’re not automated. A notification will appear on your home screen when the shortcut is trigged, but you have to interact with the notification to actually run the automation, which is, well, basically useless for unattended automations (which is, in my opinion, pretty much the idea behind automation in general).

This was a little off putting (and broke my hopes of having my AppleTV come on as an alarm), but even with such failures, the Shortcuts app has become invaluable to me.

The Shortcuts Widget

You can display your favorite shortcuts in the widget on your home screen. This makes repetitive things super accessible, and can help you get things that don’t have good widgets (Hue) more accessible. I have shortcuts for several of my favorite light scenes in my Shortcuts Widget that allow me to quickly change them without having to talk with Siri or deal with getting into the Hue app and waiting for it to connect to the bridge and load.

Things That Don’t Need to Be Apps

I don’t want every function to have a button on my home screen. As a matter of fact, I try to keep the home screen as uncluttered as possible. Being able to add image processing quick and dirties is pretty grand. One of my favorites is Invert Image by @keveridge. I use this a lot in my illustration image pipeline.

Expense Reports

I try to not make a habit of picking up paper. I’ve found through the years it keeps me from ending up with little crumpled tidbits that occupy my dressing area and come out of the laundry in tidbits in my pocket. To that end, I also routinely archive any images I want to keep out of my photo stream and into iCloud albums. That way, my photo stream becomes more of an image inbox.

When I have expensable receipts, I simply photograph them and toss them. Using the Send Receipt Shortcut, I can quickly assemble them into an email an downstream for processing by the rest of the team. I make it a point to finish my expense reports before I get off the train coming home. Send Receipts makes that goal possible.

Run Script Over SSH

Of course my favorite shortcut is really just a launching pad for anything else you need to do in the world ever. You can easily tailor Run Script Over SSH (RSOS hereforward) to do anything your heart and stashed Mac Mini desire.

I use mine to process and re-encode video, grab file lists, move content in and out of Apple Notes, and publish EPUBs.

This can feel so elegant because it lets you create an iOS widget button for what can be an extremely complex command, and it displays the cutest little ✅ when it finishes. It feels great.

You may run into some process management issues when you start using RSOS. Ideally, the script will launch then detach from your process if it’s more than a couple of milliseconds in execution time. (Long running commands shouldn’t hang the share sheet or widget.)

If you need to release the command but keep it running on the remote machine, I’ve found the following to be successful:

screen -S whatever
{ your command here } < /dev/null > /dev/null 2>&1 &
screen -d whatever

This basically gives the command something to chew on so it doesn’t think it’s been abandoned, and then routes anything it has to say about anything to the abyss. It keeps persnickety commands (ffmpeg) happy. Notably, the screen command wasn’t working properly in an earlier MacOS version, but does as of late last summer (ish).

Smiling Faces

There’s a lot more you can do with Shortcuts. We’ll get into a few nuttier, glitter examples next week but until then have fun exploring and making exceptionally useful things!


About Will Puckett

A 20 year veteran of the San Francisco Bay Area, Will Puckett is an author, artist, and guide. He enjoys styling CSS, and helping friends move furniture. When not parked in front of his iPad, he rescues, restores and rides bikes. Will has been lucky enough to take long rides on both coasts of the United States, and encourages people to explore the world by bike. He tries to lay in his hammock as much as possible reading and planning his future container home, but does enjoy periodically escaping to skate. And of course ice cream.