Clever Laziness

Spreadsheets Reloaded

Juan Villela

My love for lists has taken me to new extremes I never thought of before. And I love it. In this second installment of “Spreadsheets”, I want to detail my attempt at making a database for all my lists. I don’t recommend this approach; there are plenty of more user-friendly solutions to this “problem”. But that’s no fun. So let’s over-engineer the hell out of this.

To get a little more context on what’s going on, go read Part 1.



Getting this up and running was pretty straightforward. Hasura can run off a Docker container and be deployed on pretty much anything. I wanted to decouple the database from the API, so I opted for a Managed Database on DigitalOcean. It’s a relatively inexpensive solution. The Hasura API is also hosted there; they have a nice one-click app.

Once that was good to go, I just needed to edit the Docker Compose and update HASURA_GRAPHQL_DATABASE_URL with the new database1.

cd /etc/hasura
vi docker-compose.yaml

Now, If you’re familiar with GraphQL, you’ll quickly get the hang of Hasura. It uses GraphiQL, so it’s not too hard to find your way around the schema. Still, going over the documentation for all of these tools will make things easier to navigate.

With everything set up, I just needed to start adding content. The API has a nice GUI console where tables can be created and rows added. But the primary use of this will be via XHR Posts to the API.

Moving to Hasura

My use case is simple enough: add and get data. So the first thing I did was migrate my existing data to Hasura. That was a simple request to the Airtable API, then loop over the data to parse and format, and then a final request to the Hasura API.

GraphQL APIs will work like any other XHR request. We POST our query or mutation to the API. I was able to do this via the Get Contents of URL action on iOS Shortcuts. The query needs to be formatted by escaping the line breaks via \n. You can then give it a Content-Type of `application/json and pass the data via Request Body as a File. Using Magic Variables, the data can be attached to the request.

Adding New Data

With everything in Hasura, I could start adding new data. Most of my media consumption is via my iPhone. I also always have my phone at hand, so this is my main source of data input. That can easily be done via Shortcuts.

Data is coming from apps and websites. But all of the apps I use have their website counterparts. This means the parameters for new data entry can be extracted from the source code. Assuming most websites are consistent in their HTML, I can simply maintain various regex corresponding to each parameter. And that’s exactly what I did.

  "overcast": {
    "creator": "<a\\shref=\\\"/itunes\\d+.*\\\"\\s?>(.*)</a>",
    "title": "<h2\\sclass=\\\"margintop0 marginbottom0\\\"\\sclass=\\\"title\\\">(.*)<\\/h2>",
    "url": "<source\\ssrc=\\\"(.*)\\\"\\stype=\\\"audio\\/\\w+\\\"\\s?\\/>"
  "castro": {
    "creator": "<h2><a\\shref=\\\".*\\\"\\salt=\\\".*\\\">(.*)</a><\\/h2>",
    "title": "<h1>(.*)<\\/h1>",
    "url": "<source\\ssrc=\\\"(.*)\\\"\\stype=\\\"audio\\/\\w+\\\">"
  "reddit": {
    "creator": "<title>.*\\s:\\s(.*)<\\/title>",
    "title": "<title>(.*)\\s:\\s.*<\\/title>",
    "url": "<meta\\sproperty=\\\"og:url\\\"\\scontent=\\\"(*/)\\\"\\/>"
  "twitter": {
    "creator": "<a\\sclass=\\\"PermalinkProfile-overlay js-nav\\\"\\shref=\\\"\\/(.*)\\\">",
    "title": "<link\\srel=\\\"alternate\\\"\\stype=\\\"application\\/json\\+oembed\\\"\\shref=\\\".*\\\"\\stitle=\\\".*\\son\\sTwitter:\\s&quot;(.*)&quot;\\\">",
    "url": "<link\\srel=\\\"canonical\\\"\\shref=\\\"(.*)\\\">"
  "vimeo": {
    "creator": "<button\\sdata-action=\\\"actions.follow\\\"\\sclass=\\\"[a-z_\\s-]+\\\"\\sdata-url=\\\"[a-z0-9/]+\\\"\\sdata-name=\\\"(.*)\\\"\\sdata-user=\\\"\\d+\\\"?\\s>",
    "title": "<meta\\sproperty=\\\"og:title\\\"\\scontent=\\\"(.*)\\\">",
    "url": "<meta\\sproperty=\\\"og:url\\\"\\scontent=\\\"(.*)\\\">"
  "youtube": {
    "creator": "<div\\sclass=\\\"yt-user-info\\\">?\\n?\\s+<a\\shref=\\\".*\\\"\\sclass=\\\".*\\\"\\sdata-sessionlink=\\\".*\\\"?\\s>(.*)</a>",
    "title": "<meta\\sname=\\\"title\\\"\\scontent=\\\"(.*)\\\">",
    "url": "<link\\srel=\\\"canonical\\\"\\shref=\\\"(*)\\\"\\/>"

The source URL is then matched to the corresponding object in the parsing JSON. The same is done for each parameter regex that’s used to parse and grab the data. Anything else that isn’t coming from these particular apps (regular articles and blog posts), can be handled by the Get Article using Safari Reader action. After all this process is done, the shortcut just needs to generate the mutation and send it to the API.

mutation {
    objects: {
      category: "Articles",
      creator: "André Staltz",
      title: "A plan to rescue the Web from the Internet",
      url: ""
  ) {
    returning {

And correctly formatted for Shortcuts it would look like this:

{"query":"mutation {\n  insert_bookmarks(\n    objects: {\n      category: \"Articles\",\n      creator: \"André Staltz\",\n      title: \"A plan to rescue the Web from the Internet\",\n      url: \"\"\n    }\n  ) {\n    returning {\n      title\n      url\n    }\n  }\n}"}

So far, the source code for every site has been consistent enough for me to correctly parse with my regex. I’ve saved several items with no issues. And because I’m using an appearance: file for the parsing code, I can easily add another source and the shortcut would just read the latest version. Having it on GitHub also means I can use it anywhere else I might want to create similar apps for saving bookmarks.

I try to keep my Shortcuts modular; everything is a component. The shortcut for adding Bookmarks, for example, is 4 different smaller ones assembled. So sharing them would be a nightmare. Also, this setup is very specific to my use case. However, if anyone is adamant about getting your hands on any of this, hit me up on Twitter and I’ll see what I can do.

After everything is put together, this what we’re looking at:


Going Further

I’m quite happy with the API setup. And the shortcuts will get some optimizations here and there, just to reduce the amount of input needed from me; ideally, I’d like to hit the shortcut from the share sheet and hate it do everything with my intervention.

With that said, there’s so much more to do on the front-end. I plan to create a nice table UI for all of my lists, not just Bookmarks. I’m still debating if it should go on this site or if I should create a completely separate app with authentication. I’m leaning towards the latter just because I want to have the option of adding and deleting items from the front-end. But we’ll see.

There’s absolutely no need for all of this. I have another shortcut that makes a fetch to the API and gives me a nice list of Bookmarks to choose from. This works well for all of my lists. But that’s just boring. So stay tuned for more to come.

  1. This used to be documented, but with their recent move from beta to full release, I can’t seem to find it. Editing the Docker Compose should still work, though I don’t recommend this unless you’re sure of what you’re doing. ↩︎

See Also

Tools of the Trade

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Spreadsheets Revolutions

I was dissatisfied with the current bookmarking solutions out there, so I decided to make a custom one instead. This started with a myriad of Airtable bases and then—for some stupid reason—I decided to roll my own hosted database.

On Procrastinating

For a lot of us, procrastinating is the norm and getting some work done is the accomplishment of the day. I have no idea how to solve that problem. And that's not what this post is about. But let's talk about it anyways.