If you love The Office and want to have a random episode picked for you, this shortcut is for you:
Using a dictionary filled out with the season numbers and corresponding episode counts for each, this picks a random season, then episode, then displays it in an alert as Netflix opens on the Apple TV.
Works aloud when run from Siri; good for HomePod.
After watching every season of The Office too many times, my girlfriend and I started picking random episodes to watch.
At first we just asked Siri for a random number between 1 and 9, then would find the episode counts and then ask for a random number again; so, I built this shortcut to make it faster each time and easier to try again if we wanted a different option.
This can easily be recreated for any show too – add in the seasons and episode counts, change the name, and you’re good to go!
I’m a huge fan of the HomePod – after bearing the investment cost, it’s improved my daily interactions with music and opened access to controlling my smart home gear, plus provides a new medium for everything I’ve built in the Shortcuts app.
But one of the nagging problems with HomePod is the way Siri, regardless of the current time of day, will respond loudly at whatever volume you’ve previously set.
Whether it’s the middle of the night or super early in the morning, it’s all too common to ask Siri something and the answer shouted backed at you, only because you listened to music loudly sometime yesterday. Hopefully nobody wakes up, you curse at how dumb your supposedly “smart” speaker can be, and frantically try to turn it down.
Thankfully, iOS 13.2 provides a route to a solution by adding HomePods and AppleTV to scenes and automations – the HomePod didn’t fix this on its own, but, with a Home Automation, you can make it “smart” enough yourself.1
The best announcement at WWDC this June was Shortcuts, which will let you seamlessly interact with your apps with Siri, your iOS devices, and Apple accessories.
These quick actions will make using Apple devices much faster for everyone, plus the upcoming Shortcuts app will mark iOS opening up to true automation and sets the platform down a path full of potential.
I originally joined Workflow, the app and team that was acquired by Apple and is now becoming Shortcuts, because I believed in the power of getting things done on mobile devices and what it means to have the capability to do so in your own hands. I saw firsthand the benefits of having your own creations to use with you everywhere,and the accessibility for everyone to build those programs with the touch-based interaction.
I left and started working independently because I wanted to share my own experiences directly with people. I want to take time to help everyone understand how to take advantage of these types of tools in their own lives, work directly with app developers and companies to build integrate these properly, and share my own vision of what the world could look like with these technologies properly utilized.
Now that the public beta is available, people are starting to see what the basic custom voice and suggested shortcuts can do – I’ll be sharing my thoughts even more here and a few other places.
Coverage so far
Over on iMore, I wrote a piece shortly after WWDC called Siri Shortcuts: Everything You Need To Know that introduced people to the new features. I shared about how you’ll first experience shortcuts, how to set up custom voice commands to launch Siri actions now, and what the Shortcuts app will be in relation to Workflow.
I didn’t cover too much about the specific details of interacting with Siri intents-based shortcuts, so there’s more to come there.
Rene Ritchie also had me on his podcast VECTOR to talk about Shortcuts for my debut appearance on a podcast. In it, we talked about the potential of Siri, how Shortcuts will work, and I teased some thoughts that I’m going to write up in more detail this summer. I’m super thankful for Rene to have me on his show and give me a chance to share1.
I really enjoyed speaking to someone else about all my ideas – keep an eye out for more from me in this space.
I have so much more to say about Shortcuts that there’s so many places to start (is there anything you’d like to know?).
I suggest everyone on the betas try out the parts of Shortcuts that are available now in Siri Settings, and read up more with Federico’scoverage from MacStories because he nailed all the details available so far.
I wrote the original Workflow documentation while I was on the team to try and clearly show people what’s possible with the app – I suggest reading through the archive available online. Apple has just recently updated the documentation URL to redirect to help.apple.com/workflow, so you can check out their new set of documentation there as well.
Getting ahead on Shortcuts is guaranteed to be worth it now, and if the potential expands more in the future you’ll be even further ahead.
I’ve had the privilege to write for The Sweet Setup the last few months and now iMore, so I wanted to share some of the links here.
Primarily I’ve been writing about Workflow, trying to get some of the ideas in my head out and into the world so other people can take better of the app – especially now that it’s free. But I’m also dabbling in product reviews & photography, a new challenge that’s proving lots of fun and hard work.
Things for task management
I started writing about three workflows for Things templates, meant to act as quick ways to copy items into the task management app. They’re also good examples of using Split Text,
I followed it up with a deep dive into Things for iOS’s new URL scheme, which enables a huge set of automation capabilities for optimizing the capture and review processes for my productivity system. I tried to write about it in a way that people new to deep linking and automation might be able to learn as they go, partly echoing the way I wrote the documentation for Workflow.
HomePod in the house
After that I did my first product review, trying to capture the experience of what it’s like to own a HomePod and use it with Siri in the house. I also produced 30 photos for the review, taking way too much time but leaning into my other side business of product photography.
I really enjoyed taking the time to think about how the new product category fits into a consumer’s life, and I’m hoping HomePod gets better soon because I want to push it further. I’ve got a few articles in production about how I use HomePod beyond the practical parts of using the smart speaker, and I’m eagerly waiting for AirPlay 2.
In there I shared a cool Brightness by Battery workflow1 that dims your screen according to your power level, and a few others for tweaking your system settings programmatically. These are great for using with Run Workflow in the middle of other workflows, like little mid-automation widgets you can reuse across your different workflows.
Finally, today I published my first post for iMore detailing step-by-step instructions for 5 different workflows related to the Reminders app. I show you where to find the actions, explain how to place the actions & tweak the parameters to get it right, and include links to each of mine so you can get them yourself and follow along.
Reminders are helpful on their own, but Workflow takes things to the next level — here's how to use them in tandem! https://t.co/FVBzI2ULRz
If you’ve picked up Apple’s HomePod in the past few weeks and tried to use iTunes on your Mac to Airplay something to the speaker, you probably got blasted with the music playing at full volume.
This occurs since HomePod uses iTunes’ in-app volume slider to adjust its levels rather than your Mac volume, and iTunes is usually at 100% because the hardware keys are used control my computer’s overall sound instead1. Plus, if I want to change the volume on HomePod after the music starts, I have to go into iTunes and drag the slider – you can’t turn it down that quickly.
To get around this, I installed a Mac app called iTunes Volume Control that’s available on GitHub. Created by Andrea Alberti, it’s an app that lives entirely in your menu bar and changes the Mac’s hardware volume keys to control iTunes instead. When it’s running, it can entirely take over mute, volume up, and volume down – or, you can set it so you have to hold a modifier key like Command before hitting the keys. I use the latter option, so I can control my Mac volume with the keys normally and then use ⌘ + or ⌘ – to adjust iTunes when I need to.
Once you’ve installed the app, you’ll find it’s much better experience playing music from iTunes with HomePod as your speaker. I set iTunes Volume Control to launch at login, so it’s basically always running when I use my computer and I never have to turn it on when I need it2. I’ll usually open iTunes, use ⌘ – to turn down the volume, then pick my song and AirPlay to my HomePod.
iTunes Volume Control also provides an option to change the step size for each press, so the volume can be changed in more specific intervals – you can set it go up 3% each time, for example, rather than the default 10% at a time. This gives you fine-grained control of the HomePod volume, right from your keyboard.3
I could see improving this setup using iTunes and AppleScript – you could set up a command to launch iTunes already set to 30% and set to AirPlay to the HomePod, avoiding the setup process each time I want to listen from my Mac on my HomePod. However, I have no experience there and that’s a project for another day.
The best part of this setup is that iTunes Volume Control is entirely free to download and use. Check out the documentation first, but use this link to get the app and start controlling your HomePod from your Mac.
Instead of adjusting the levels in iTunes and on your Mac separately, it’s much more common to leave iTunes at 100% and change the volume on the whole computer instead. ↩
I normally hide it in the menu bar using Bartender, so I can click on the Bartender icon to reveal it but keep it away from view otherwise. ↩
I do the same thing with HomePod normally by using my Apple Watch. Once you change the source in Control Center on your iPhone to the HomePod, the Now Playing controls show up on Apple Watch and let you control the smart speaker from your wrist. ↩