A simple shortcut for directions

Last week, I got angry at Siri:

What’s frustrating about this, of course, is that Siri has access to all the information necessary to give me what I want:

As is too often the case, Siri’s inability to tie things together is its greatest failure.

Fortunately, Shortcuts allows us to apply real intelligence where artificial intelligence fails. Here’s a simple shortcut called Next Location.

StepActionComment
1 Next Location Step 01 I chose the “Find Calendar Events” action instead of “Get Upcoming Events” because I wanted to make sure the event returned has a Location associated with it, and the filtering included with this action gives me that. I must say the terminology used for the Order is confusing; the choices should be Earliest/Latest not Oldest/Latest. “Oldest” is not the opposite of “latest.”
2 Next Location Step 02 Because of the filter in the previous step, we know this step will return a location…
3 Next Location Step 03 so there won’t be a problem getting directions to it.

Now I can say “Hey, Siri, next location” to get the directions. I still have to tap a button to choose one of the three sets of directions the phone gives me, but that’s better than screaming “What the fuck is wrong with you?!” when sitting in a car by myself.


Interrupted loops

A few days ago, I ran across last week’s edition of Matt Parker’s Maths Puzzles. It’s a simple challenge: rearrange the numbers 1–9, inclusive, so that each sequential pair sum to a prime number.

It’s not hard to come up with a solution. After all, the original sequence,

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

has lots of pairs that add to primes, and it takes only a switch of the 5 and 7 to get a sequence that works:

1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 6, 5, 8, 9

What’s more interesting is to come up with all the solutions, and it’s natural to assume that that’s best done by writing a program.

My first thought was to use brute force. Generate all the permutations of the list and go through them, keeping only the ones that meet the prime pairs criterion. Brute force is often the best solution when you need an answer quickly and want a solution that’s easy to explain.

“Quickly” is in the eye of the beholder. A clever algorithm will undoubtedly run much faster, but it may take much longer to work out and debug than the dumb algorithm takes to run. Clever algorithms are essential when a program has to run again and again, but brute force is often the way to go when your program is a one-off.

Looking at every permutation seemed feasible in this case, as there are only 9! = 362,880 ways to arrange the nine numbers. And I wouldn’t have to come up with a way to get all the permutations, because the itertools library already has a function for that. So I started writing:

python:
 1:  from itertools import permutations
 2:  
 3:  # Initialization
 4:  numbers = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]
 5:  primes = [3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17]
 6:  winners = []
 7:  
 8:  # Loop though the permutations, collecting only prime pairs
 9:  for p in permutations(numbers):
10:    for i in range(1, 9):
11:      if p[i-1] + p[i] not in primes:
12:        break

At this point, I had to stop and think. The problem is that the break statement will only break me out of the inner loop, the one that starts on Line 10. But when I run into a pair that don’t add to a prime, I want to move on to the next item in the outer loop, like a continue statement. Neither break nor continue have a way to specify how far out to break or where to continue from. Old Fortran habits started to bubble up in my brain, and I began to wish for a goto statement, but Python doesn’t have one.1

A clumsy solution is to add a flag variable for keeping track of whether you broke out of the inner loop or exited it normally.

python:
 1:  from itertools import permutations
 2:  
 3:  # Initialization
 4:  numbers = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]
 5:  primes = [3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17]
 6:  winners = []
 7:  
 8:  # Loop though the permutations, collecting only prime pairs
 9:  for p in permutations(numbers):
10:    allPrimes = True
11:    for i in range(1, 9):
12:      if p[i-1] + p[i] not in primes:
13:        allPrimes = False
14:        break
15:    if allPrimes:
16:      winners.append(p)
17:  
18:  # Print the results
19:  print(len(winners))
20:  for p in winners:
21:    print(p)

I know I’m doing a brute force solution, but I have some pride and didn’t like the way this looked.

A few years ago Ned Batchelder wrote a post about breaking out of two loops, and here’s what he had to say about this method:

Use boolean variables to note that the loop is done, and check the variable in the outer loop to execute a second break. This is a low-tech solution, and may be right for some cases, but is mostly just extra noise and bookkeeping.

In this case, we’re not really breaking out of two loops, but the idea is the same: extra noise and bookkeeping.

Batchelder’s suggestion is to use a function to handle the inner loop and simplify the outer loop. Like this:

python:
 1:  from itertools import permutations
 2:  
 3:  # Initialization
 4:  numbers = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]
 5:  primes = [3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17]
 6:  winners = []
 7:  
 8:  def primePairs(s):
 9:    '''Do all the pairs in s sum to a prime?'''
10:    for i in range(1, 9):
11:      if s[i-1] + s[i] not in primes:
12:        return False
13:    return True
14:  
15:  # Loop though the permutations, collecting only prime pairs
16:  for p in permutations(numbers):
17:    if primePairs(p):
18:      winners.append(p)
19:  
20:  # Print the results
21:  print(len(winners))
22:  for p in winners:
23:    print(p)

This is slightly longer but is definitely easier to understand. We’ve applied some good old-fashioned structured programming ideas to put the sequence checker into its own function. It’s clear what it does, and by isolating it, we’ve also made the main loop, Lines 16–18, clearer.

But Python has another trick up its sleeve. In the clumsy solution, we used a flag variable, allPrimes, to keep track of whether we exited the loop normally or by breaking out. But Python already has a way to do that: the else clause of a for loop. Here’s what the docs say:

Loop statements may have an else clause; it is executed when the loop terminates through exhaustion of the iterable (with for) or when the condition becomes false (with while), but not when the loop is terminated by a break statement.

I confess I’ve never used this before, but it’s really simple:

python:
 1:  from itertools import permutations
 2:  
 3:  # Initialization
 4:  numbers = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]
 5:  primes = [3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17]
 6:  winners = []
 7:  
 8:  # Loop though the permutations, collecting only prime pairs
 9:  for p in permutations(numbers):
10:    for i in range(1, 9):
11:      if p[i-1] + p[i] not in primes:
12:        break
13:    else:
14:      winners.append(p)
15:  
16:  # Print the results
17:  print(len(winners))
18:  for p in winners:
19:    print(p)

If we get to the end of the inner for loop without breaking, the winners.append(p) statement in the else clause is executed. If we run into a non-prime sum in Line 11, the break in Line 12 breaks us out of the entire for/else construct and we move on to the next permutation in the outer loop.

I’m not sure whether I prefer the function solution or this one. My natural tendency is to go with the shorter code, but else doesn’t strike me as the right word to describe what this code is doing. In fact, my first instinct is to think that the else clause is invoked when the loop doesn’t complete normally, which is the exact opposite of how it behaves.

Whether I ever write code with a for/else again, it’s good to know it exists and how to use it.

And if you were wondering, there are 140 ways to reorder the list to get all the sequential pairs to sum to a prime number. You could argue that there are really only 70, with the other 70 being the same sequences in reverse. I won’t take sides; I was just here to hone my Python skills.


  1. There are at least a couple of third-party libraries that provide goto, but I didn’t want to resort to them. 


Gibson v. Jenkins

The recent death of Bob Gibson got me thinking about his pitching duels with Fergie Jenkins. In my imagination, they were matched up every time the Cubs and Cardinals played each other, but the rational part of my brain tells me that can’t be so. So I decided to look it up.

Bob Gibson

Image from NBC.

My data source was Retrosheet, which has records of games going back to 1871. I downloaded the years Gibson and Jenkins overlapped, 1965–1975, concatenated those eleven CSV files, and extracted—via Pandas—the games in which the two started against each other.

Here are the results. Only nine games, which is a bit short of my imagination, but the quality of those games is pretty much what I remembered. If you want a short summary of how the game was different back in the late 60s and early 70s—especially with regard to pitching—you couldn’t do much better than this table.

Date Home WP CG LP CG Score Inn Time
6/3/67 Cards Jenkins N Gibson N 7-5 9 174
4/20/68 Cards Jenkins Y Gibson Y 5-1 9 123
6/20/68 Cards Gibson Y Jenkins Y 1-0 9 125
8/4/68 Cards Lamabe N Hoerner N 6-5 13 207
6/29/69 Cubs Jenkins Y Gibson Y 3-1 9 126
7/4/69 Cards Jenkins Y Gibson N 3-1 10 152
9/23/70 Cards Gibson Y Jenkins Y 2-1 9 131
4/6/71 Cubs Jenkins Y Gibson Y 2-1 10 118
5/31/72 Cubs Gibson Y Jenkins Y 1-0 9 107

To start with, they both figured in the decision in eight of the nine games.1 In seven of the games, the winning pitcher went the distance; in six of the games, both pitchers went the distance. And why not? Look at those scores.

Even better, look at how short the games were. Except for the two that got out of control,2 these games were only about two hours long. And those last two games in 1971 and 1972: both under two hours and one of them went ten innings! Even so, everyone who bought a ticket got their money’s worth.


  1. And I have to say I’m delighted to see that Fergie won five of those decisions. There’s nothing better than picturing the anger of Cardinal fans after those games. 

  2. I didn’t want to put too much information in the table, but I can tell you that both teams used four pitchers in the 1967 game, and the Cubs used six and the Cardinals three in the August 4, 1968, game (which also went 13 innings, so 3½ hours isn’t out of bounds). 


Pyto and Shortcuts again

So, it turns out™︎ yesterday’s widget/shortcut/script for generating passwords needed more testing. Every individual component worked, and they worked together well on a single device, but as I learned last night, they didn’t work when shifting from one device to another.

Shortcuts widget

Here’s the problem. Let’s say I’m on my iPhone and I generate a password by tapping the button in the Shortcuts widget. It works fine. Later, I’m on my iPad and I try to generate a password the same way. I tap the button, and it gives me this error:

Error message for widget

To fix this error and get the shortcut to run on the iPad, I have to open the New Password shortcut,

New Password shortcut

and reselect the script that Pyto runs. Yes, I know it says it’s going to run the script pw.py, and that’s the script I want it to run, but for some reason Pyto doesn’t believe it, and I have to select pw.py again as the script to run. Now the shortcut works perfectly on my iPad and will continue to do so.

But—and you know where this is going, right?—now the shortcut won’t run on my iPhone until I go into Shortcuts and reselect pw.py on that device. And after I’ve done that, the shortcut won’t run on the iPad. And so on, ping-ponging back and forth. For some reason, the Run Script action for Pyto doesn’t know that the pw.py on the iPhone is the same pw.py that’s on the iPad. Even though they’re the same file, synced through iCloud.

I made a note to send a bug report to Pyto about this, but in the meantime, I wanted a shortcut that works.

The first step was to change the Run Script action to Run Code. This allowed me to keep the Python source code in the shortcut itself, which eliminated the pw.py confusion.

New New Password shortcut with Run Code action

Then I needed to change how the script accessed the list of words. Recall that originally, pw.py read a file called words.py that was saved in the same directory as pw.py itself. The code for that was simple:

python:
with open('words.py') as f:
  words = f.readlines()

But apparently the change from Run Script to Run Code changed the environment under which the code runs, so open('words.py') didn’t work anymore. I needed a more robust way to refer to the file of words.

The solution was bookmarks, which work in Pyto more or less the same way they work in Scriptable: you establish a bookmark to a file saved anywhere in iCloud Drive, and from that point on you can refer to that file through the bookmark. Establishing the bookmark is done through user interaction, which satisfies iOS’s privacy concerns, and Pyto then keeps track of the file and handles the permissions.

By switching to bookmarks, I eliminated the need to keep words.py in the same directory as the pw.py script. Thinking that I could use bookmarks for other scripts that access data files, I created a common-data folder in my iCloud Drive root directory and put the word.py file there. And I changed its name to words.txt, which is what it should have been in the first place.

So pw.py is now this:

python:
 1:  from secrets import choice, randbelow
 2:  import pasteboard
 3:  import bookmarks
 4:  
 5:  # Get the list of words 4-6 characters long.
 6:  wordPath = bookmarks.FileBookmark('words46').path
 7:  with open(wordPath) as f:
 8:    words = f.readlines()
 9:  
10:  # Select 4 words from the list.
11:  pwords = [ choice(words).strip() for i in range(4) ]
12:  
13:  # Add a numeral and a "special" character.
14:  # Capitalize one of the words.
15:  numeral = str(randbelow(10))
16:  special = choice('!@#$%^&*')
17:  pNum = randbelow(4)
18:  pSpec = randbelow(4)
19:  pCap = randbelow(4)
20:  pwords[pNum] = pwords[pNum] + numeral
21:  pwords[pSpec] = pwords[pSpec] + special
22:  pwords[pCap] = pwords[pCap].capitalize()
23:  
24:  # Assemble the password and put it on the clipboard.
25:  pw = '-'.join(pwords)
26:  pasteboard.set_string(pw)

The only difference is the bookmarks stuff in Lines 6–8.

I had to first run this from within Pyto to create the bookmark. When it hit Line 6, the file picker appeared, and I was asked to select the file that will be given the words46 bookmark. I navigated through iCloud Drive to select the words.txt file. From that point on, Pyto knows what words46 is and won’t ask me again. Well, it won’t ask me on that device. Apparently bookmarks don’t sync—which is probably right from a security point of view—so I had run pw.py on each device to establish the bookmark everywhere.

With that done, I copied the new source code for pw.py and pasted it into the Run Code action of the shortcut. Now I have a shortcut and a widget button that works on all my devices and doesn’t get confused anymore.