seanlunsford.com

Technology

Occasional nerdy thoughts about tech

Thing Builder

Today I’m taking the wraps off a side project I started almost three years ago. It started with me wishing for project templates in my task manager, Things. At the time, I was using Drafts a lot for text automation, and I found a couple different user-created text parsers for Things in the Action Directory. Inspired by these, I wanted something more Markdown-like, and as I thought about it, something in Shortcuts and not tied to a single third-party app.[1]

I created the Thing Builder, a 250-action shortcut that accepts text using a particular markup, which can be used to define and create a new Things project with all its associated tasks and dates, or to batch-add tasks to existing projects or areas. In addition to using the Markdown syntax for headings and bullets, I chose a handful of symbols, which can prefix a string of text to mark it as a list, date, tag, or note.

I did this in July 2019, but I decided to sit on it for a while before sharing it—mainly to actually put the tool through its paces and iron out any wrinkles. I’d also run into a bug with one of Shortcuts’ actions while initially working on this. (I was running an iOS beta, after all.) I found a workaround for the time being, but I did want to come back and use the more elegant solution whenever that got taken care of.[2]

This has been longer of “a while” than I expected—but in the meantime, I’ve used it a lot, made a few tweaks, and built several other shortcuts that themselves call the Thing Builder to generate a project. I have several templates for work that I use on a regular basis. This outlasted another fling with the Bullet Journal and was waiting for me when I came back to the warm embrace of Things in January. At some point I’d seen that that buggy action was working again, so I’d had swapping those actions out on my to-do list for some time, along with writing documentation and sharing the shortcut (all in a Things project, of course). Yesterday that caught my eye, I made the updates, and then I went ahead with writing docs. And here we are.

If you’re looking for a way to create reusable project templates for Things—or just add a bunch of tasks from a text editor—you can find a link to download the shortcut and an explanation of the syntax in the documentation.


  1. Though there were plenty of times during development where I would’ve rather been working with code in a text editor for something of this scale, using Shortcuts turned out to be a good move: I’ve long since moved on from Drafts, but the shortcut I built is alive and well, and accessible anywhere through the iOS share sheet. ↩︎

  2. It was the “Get Group from Matched Text” action, for extracting sub-patterns from text matched with a regular expression. In those cases, I ended up using the “Match Pattern” action again to match within the match. ↩︎

seanlunsford.com Has Moved (and so Have I)

I’ve just finished the move I wrote about,[1] so it seems appropriate to officially announce the move of my blog as well, though this new site has been live for a while now.

I’ve been using WordPress since my first post went up on this blog in 2012, but when I launched my other site in 2014 it was using a blogging platform called Ghost and hosted on a server I rent and manage. Pretty much since then I’ve wanted to migrate this blog to Ghost and consolidate both on that same server. But in the past several months I’ve finally made the transition piecemeal, as I’ve had a moment here or there: migrating the old posts and images to a new instance of Ghost, pointing the seanlunsford.com domain name at the new site (and reverting WordPress to the wordpress.com subdomain), and coding a new theme.[2]

The final piece was setting up email subscriptions with Ghost’s subscribers functionality and MailChimp. I didn’t have this last piece in place when I published my last post, so I pushed it live to both sites at the same time. Sometime last week I took a break from moving to get the email piece up and running and migrate email subscribers from the old site,[3] so I can now say that the move is complete.

I do have aspirations of starting to write more often again.[4] So if you want to know when there’s something new, you can get it in your inbox or RSS reader.


  1. Except for those couple pieces of luggage the airline should be bringing by sometime today. ↩︎

  2. I have to say I really like the way it turned out. I used the theme I created and maintain for The Dark Roast as a foundation, but made some visual changes and took cues from what I liked best in my customized WordPress theme. ↩︎

  3. Tinkering with servers and RSS feeds is a nice change from putting stuff into suitcases, boxes, and trash bags. ↩︎

  4. Though they may be no more than aspirations. ↩︎

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I’ve started a new blog. I’m starting to get serious about software and web development as a hobby and potential side business, and I wanted a place to discuss that—both the technical stuff, and the more macro narrative of starting into this new venture, and lessons learned. I thought a lot about whether I should continue to use this blog for that, but I’ve realized that in spite of what I said at the very beginning of this blog—more than two years ago—that I wanted to be use this blog to discuss any topic that interested me, the reality is that this blog has, for the most part, focused around matters of faith and personal thoughts and struggles and such. The people who read it have, I assume (pretty safely), come to read that content. Not about apps and code and servers. These are two very different topics with two pretty different audiences—though there may be some overlap. And this was even before I started putting “seanlunsford.com” on my ministry materials, effectively cementing the focus of this site.

So from now on, thedarkroast.com is my home for discussing the world of tech, development, and Apple. I may occasionally link to some of those posts here, if it’s something more along the lines of social issues around technology (like I’ve shared a few times before), which I think would be interesting or beneficial to readers of this blog. If you want to see all the technical stuff, follow me there.