I Love Automation

it’s one of my quirks that I love automation in practically every form I encounter it. When you see the things that light me up at work, at home, in side projects a lot of the involve automatic processes that passively make work happen for me. I don’t know why, but this has always been the case for me.

My very first job out of college was doing QC at a pharmaceutical factory. We did mostly liquid chromatography of samples out of in process tanks. Our instruments had autosamplers and if you managed them well, you could make an astounding amount of work happen. I butted heads with coworkers who I thought didn’t deal with these properly. One guy would spend the first four hours of his shift preparing every sample he needed, then load it up and go. I would prepare one sample, get it running and then try to prepare as many as I could before the machine needed the next one. Then I’d load it up, program the computer, and do the rest of them. My whole point was that if the instrument is sitting idle, you are not getting as much work throughput as you could.

Even today, a lot of what I enjoy doing in software involves automated process. In the days before we had thinks like Hudson or Cruise Control, I built and rebuilt automated build systems at multiple jobs. If I started a job and they didn’t have a repeatable, machine driven build process they would have one by the time I left. The idea of doing some work, committing it to source control and having things trigger along the path that result in final product makes me happy.

This is why I was so happy when we got our first Roomba. For years, pushing the button and having this thing clean our floors just tickled me every time. We got a newer version a year or two ago that didn’t work newly as well and it really bummed me out. If we had a self-loading dishwasher it would make me deliriously happy.

A lot of my side projects involve automation of some form another. I’ve just been soft-launching a new one called Buy It at That Price, which is a tracker of prices for items at Amazon that will notify you if the price drops. (Yes I know there are others, I just don’t care and built one too.) I like having robots do work for me, keep track of things. I remember the mythical Apple Knowledge Navigator video and I still want that product. In grad school in 1997, one of my AI projects was a client side webcrawler that would scan web pages (and Usenet!) for information that matched certain queries, and would weight links to other pages based on how well the referring page scored. If I had stuck with that a little harder, maybe I’d have Larry Page/Sergei Brin money. There’s gold in that there automation.

I think I’ll want the robots working for me until the day I die. I only hope that I’m not dying at their hands in some sort of Skynetty takeover. Until then, keep it up, machines! I’ll check in with you when I finish this cup of coffee.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father. Member of the Podcast Hall of Fame class of 2022.

One thought on “I Love Automation”

  1. J Wynia says:

    The people I get along with best have this same impulse.

    I’ve recently been messing with AutomateIt Pro on my Android phone. It has triggers for most sensors on the phone and can take action based on those triggers. I combined that with SMS messaging to a web app and my phone is now tracking:

    Whenever I leave the house.
    Whenever I get back home.
    Whenever I’m in my car.
    Whenever I’m at my client site.
    Whenever I leave my client site.
    Whenever I’m at my office.
    Whenever I leave my office.
    Logging meetings from my calendar that overlap with when I’m at my client site.

    All of that streams into a database and now I can pretty much automate things like my time tracking for clients, how much time I spend driving (want it to track mileage for business expenses), how much of the time at client sites is spent in meetings, etc.

    I HATE things like time tracking and keeping track of mileage for deductions. It gives me a geeky thrill to see all of this data being tracked without me doing anything other than keeping my phone on my person.

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