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Automation? Should you scratch that itch?

Tony Green

Since learning to code, I was always taught that the keys to decide you need to automate something were: laziness, impatience, and hubris, nicely summed up by The Three Virtues

As a sysadmin, I'm really familiar with the drive to spend three hours automating somthing that would take you two hours to do manually... but what if you needed it again??

I'm no longer a hard core UNIX guy, but I spend a lot of time working on my Mac, usually driving Omnifocus, Dropbox, Evernote or occasionally actually coding in perl/shell/ruby/python.

It is very enticing to use coding as the illusion of productivity. Easy to feel like you're not procrastinating when you're making progress on something that REALLY doesn't matter.

There are times, however, when automation and coding can really help. The time I spend hooking my Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner so I can scan to my Mac, into Hazel and then auto-filled into Evernote and/or Omnifocus saved me litteral hours a month. I'm writing up a longer post on that for the future, but in the interim, you should check out Katie Flloyd's post on the subject, it's where I got the inspriration from.

I was reading a post earlier today and it detailed five reasons to automate and they really resonated with me:

  1. The potential time savings. This is based on estimates of how often I think I’ll have to repeat the task, how long it takes to do manually, and how long it’ll take to write a script (or macro or Automator action or whatever).
  2. The entertainment value of creating the automation. For example, I’m currently beta testing an app that’s adding a sort of scripting language to an upcoming release. Learning the language by writing a few scripts in it was fun. I’ll certainly use the scripts I wrote, but I’ll never get back the time I put into them. That’s OK with me.
  3. The annoyance I feel when doing a task manually that could be automated. This is the flip side to the entertainment and relaxation value Clark talked about. I hate hate hate doing repetitive tasks when I know I could write a script to turn several steps into one. I know this is a personality defect that keeps me from being as efficient as I could be, and I try to keep it in check, but it’d be foolish to deny it exists.
  4. The value of learning a new technique or library and keeping sharp with what I already know. I write scripts to get my professional work done, and the more nonessential, recreational scripts I write, the more efficient I am at writing the scripts I need to get my job done.
  5. The value it might provide to others. I’ve learned so much from people who share their knowledge on the web, I feel compelled to reciprocate. This is, I confess, almost never my initial motivation, but it the reason I sometimes add a little extra polish to a script that’s already working.

Dr. Drang really hit the nail on the head here. I suffer from #2 and #3, but justify it by thinking it's #1, #4 and #5.

That's what I get.....

Tony Green

..... for taking two weeks off to do a trip to Manila.

My Omnifocus needs some love and attention. Spending two weeks teaching GTD certainly has put me in the right mindset to overhaul my system and clean house though.

Screen Shot 2013-04-17 at 10.07.43 PM.png

One lesson I really did learn when carrying out the training, was the importance of teaching about a start date, reoccurances and sequential ordering in tasks.

Being able to plan in tasks which happen every year or two (license renewals, insurance, maintence of certifications etc) means you're really freed up to concentrate on the day to day.

I regularly get next actions popping up into my lists for things I had no idea were coming up, but had been appropriately planned and parked when they were in my mind.

Add that to the wonderful Omnifocus templates and you've got a real digital version of a tickler file, without the headache of actually maintaining it.

Olympus has Fallen

Tony Green

I'm more than happy to think that my thoughts on "Olympus has Fallen" are coloured by the fact that I was in Manila, in my final hours before I flew back home after two weeks being away bringing religion to the natives. I was tired and looking for something to kill a few hours, I'd have likely watched Scary Movie 5 if it was the only option..... well, maybe not.

I'm not going to do a full review, I've no idea how to do that (Rotton Tomatoes does a much better job with their review), but I can say what I thought of it. My initial though was this would have made a great Die Hard sequel, if they could figure out how to get John McClane into the White House. I came up with 5 options that I remember, the best being that he'd taken up a role as a ballet teacher, who's class was on a field trip to Decatur House but found it was closed and went for the White House as their backup option.

The action started pretty normally, but quickly ramped up to a visceral level which I've not seen in many recent films. Not overdone, but effective.

The sudden change from standard action schlock to surprisingly effective action movie was sudden (the AC-130 unveiling at the start of act 2) and was kept up until the end of act 2. Act 3 returns more to the stereotypical Hollywood action fare, but still at the higher end.

Overall very impressed and a great way to spend 2 hours, before rushing back to the hotel to grab my bags and head to the worst airport in the world... but that's a story for another day.

Fixing OSX messages when it won't automagically reconnect after wake

Tony Green

Ever been just a little frustrated when OSX messages refuses to automatically go back online after you wake your Mac from sleep (or change networks etc).

Simple fix, just get yourself a terminal window, and edit your crontab to add this. Alternatively, you could use a tool like cronnix, if you're not comfortable hacking around in the terminal

*/10 * * * * osascript -e 'tell application "System Events" to if (processes whose name is "Messages") exists then tell application "Messages" to log in'

This will cause applescript to try to reconnect to the Messages server(s) every 10 mins, if Messages is running.

You can do the same sort of thing with iChat, just change the Messages entries in the cronjob to iChat.