Stok Footage

Continually experimenting with new ideas and techniques — Reconstructing, Developing, Modernising.

The Joy of Concrete Automation

In the Pragmatic Programmer the section on Ubiquitous Automation starts with this quote:

Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations we can perform without thinking.

  • Alfred North Whitehead

I understand the reasons why automation is an essential aid to software development, yet there’s a part of me which likes the familiarity and order of going through a well rehearsed set of physical actions which rely more on muscle memory than though.

Recently I read David SparksPaperless, and soon after that I surveyed some of the piles of paper in the basement. Thinking “I’ll give it a go…” I armed myself with a Fujitsu ScanSnap and a copy of Hazel. After a few minutes I had things set up so with one push on the scanner’s blue button a bank statement would be slurped in, Hazel would read the OCRd PDF and find the statement’s end date, and file it away in the right directory (backed up by time machine and BackBlaze).

This is automation which I get – there is a physical pleasure in the feeding of the paper, pressing the button, and watching the computer do its stuff. The computer handles the tedious stuff, and I indulge in pleasant rhythmic work which achieves an end I care about.

Once I have worked through the physical backlog I get to set up rules to file my electronically delivered statements in the same folders, again using Hazel to watch my download folder for interesting documents.

Out of a couple of hundred documents I have scanned so far I have had to manually intervene for less than a dozen, usually the statement had been creased through the date so the OCR hadn’t picked it up. I am pleasantly surprised by the ScanSnap’s speed and accuracy.

A part of me would love to feel the same pleasure from developing automation at work, the rational part of me says to be happy with what I have!

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