Everyday Books Part 6: Automation Revisited

If you read books at all (and I mean even if you read a little), you should consider keeping a regular book. I write a series of articles about Everyday Books and this is the sixth article in the series about the advanced automation I use with my Everyday Book.

If you’re just getting started in this series with this article, I suggest you start at the beginning of the series and work your way through:

Everyday Books Part 1: What are they?
Everyday Books Part 2: Why Keep One and How?
Commonplace Book Part 3: Choosing a system
Commonplace Books Part 4: My setup with Ulysses
Everyday Books Part 5: Automation

What’s new about my automation?

My move to iPads was the real reason I switched to regular book automation. You may have read my last article entitled “Back to the iPad Mini”.

Back to the iPad Mini

My day-to-day use of the iPad mini — and particularly my use of the iPad mini for reading — has really pushed me to increase my automation of adding everyday book entries. Before switching to the iPad mini, I used a dedicated e-ink device (a BOOX Nova 2) to read my Kindle books. And while I could take handwritten notes with the Nova 2, the process was a bit cumbersome and required me to import my notes into my usual book later, rather than adding the note immediately as I make it. As a result, I had to process mundane notes in one go for months instead of just adding the note as I took it.

With the iPad mini, I can use the Apple Pencil and add any handwritten notes to the passage in the book that I keep for my regular book. And because I use iOS, I can use shortcuts to automate the process and instantly insert the note I just made into my everyday book. So the addition to my automation is to add the ability to annotate (highlight, underline or write my own thoughts on the passage) the copied text from the book and then put that annotated text into the Ulysses entry in my ordinary book to insert

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How does link automation work?

The shortcut I’m using now is very similar to the shortcut I published in my Commonplace Books Part 5: Automation article, but adds an additional prompt. You will be asked if you want to annotate the text you are copying from the book and adding to your regular book. If you select “No”, the shortcut will simply add the text along with the tags/keywords you specified in Ulysses. But if you select Yes, the shortcut does the following:

Creates a PDF from the text you selected from the e-book you were reading on your iOS device (it takes the text from the clipboard). The PDF file is then saved in a specific folder in iCloud (I call it “CPB” for Common Place Book) I then open this saved PDF file via the shortcut script in PDFpen for iOS. I’ve tried many different PDF annotation tools, including the built-in iOS annotation feature, but everything I’ve tried added the annotation to the PDF in a way that didn’t show up when converting the PDF to an image. You’ll probably need to use PDFpen for iOS if you want this to work. The PDFpen iOS app actually no longer exists. The original company that developed it, Smile, is no longer developing the app. The app was picked up by a company called Nitro, and Nitro has since changed the app’s name to Nitro PDF Pro. I haven’t used this app, but it’s likely that Nitro PDF Pro will still work with this shortcut. I then annotate in PDFpen for iOS, save my changes, and switch back to Shortcuts. (You have to manually switch back to the Shortcuts app, it doesn’t happen automatically.) The shortcut is set up to pause until you return to the app before resuming. Shortcuts then convert the PDF to a PNG image and append the image to the bottom of the Ulysses sheet, allowing me to capture my annotations and/or additional notes along with the original text from the book. Note that you could also add it as an attachment, but I’d like to see the annotated version consistent with the main sheet of Ulysses.

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You can download my shortcut here.

Final thoughts and some caveats

In case you haven’t read my previous articles on how to keep a daily journal, the main reason I chose the Ulysses app for my daily journal was the ability to automate reading a random entry from my daily journal using the Shortcuts app. If you don’t review your diary regularly, then you’re not getting as much diary keeping as you should. As a reminder, here are links to the two shortcuts you need to grab and show you a random entry from the Ulysses everyday book entries. The first shortcut is called “GeekDad Random CPB Quote” and can be downloaded here, which is then invoked by the second shortcut called GeekDad Read Random CPB, which can be downloaded here (this is the only shortcut you need to run if it’s the first calls abbreviation). Note that to work with your Ulysses library and HomePods you will need to go into both shortcuts and read the notes and change the shortcuts as indicated. The shortcut gives you three options:

HomePod: Siri will read you the HomePod entry you specify in the shortcut. This device: Siri reads you the entry on the current device you’re using. Text only: no audio, it just shows you a brief on-screen view of the random entry that you can read for yourself

I also wanted to give you a fair warning about the current state of shortcuts. Apple introduced shortcuts to the Mac, which is great. But I found Shortcuts to be less than reliable at times. A shortcut that worked perfectly for me yesterday will fail for me today and will work perfectly tomorrow. I will also have the Shortcuts app crash on mine or just become unresponsive most of the time. I suspect Apple had to push the Shortcuts team quite a bit to bring Shortcuts to the Mac, and as a result the latest versions of Shortcuts on iOS suffer from some stability issues. So if you come across problems with shortcuts, just keep this in mind. I suspect the Shortcuts app’s “flabbiness” is temporary, and in my opinion the power Shortcuts brings to iOS is worth the patience. The other thing to keep in mind is that the annotation link I shared with you above has many steps and pushes links quite hard, so it’s not 100% reliable. I really wish I could say that I could rely on Shortcuts, but unfortunately, at the time of writing this article, that’s not the case. However, I find that the annoyance of the shortcut not working from time to time is worth it when the shortcut works, as this shortcut takes a lot of friction out of my day-to-day book workflow (even if I occasionally have to run it multiple times). ). to make it work).

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