Automating routine tasks…

I’ve been thinking more recently about automating routine computing tasks. Using Free Software this is ridiculously easy, usually a combination of Python and Cron does the trick. More difficult I have found is actually working out what to automate. It’s very easy to get into the habit of doing something and then not realise that you do it every day, or every hour when in front of the computer.

One of my major successes in this area has been in terms of feed reading. A while ago I setup rss2email on my server to check my feeds and email the stories to me. Previous to this I actually found it really hard to ever get around to reading news feeds. I think this was mainly because checking news feeds suffers from the ‘extra inbox problem’, its just more stuff to check. Having news stories emailed to me fixes this and I can also read them easily on my phone. Because I use IMAP email, my read/unread status is also synchronised on all my computers.

Now I’m kind of at a brick wall. I don’t know what else I can set up to reduce the number of routine tasks I do. The purpose of this post is to crowd source that problem. I want everyone reading this to get back to me with the things they’ve set up to help them. You can get in touch either through the comments on this post, or via If I get enough responses I’ll write a follow up post detailing some of the best ideas.

2 thoughts on “Automating routine tasks…

  1. Yeah, I’ve been thinking in the same vein as well. My lo-tech solution has been to cut back to filtering blogs, but since that’s basically Metafilter/Slashdot/BoingBoing, I miss out on all the grassroots local stuff, and the walled garden of Facebook is terrible at that as well since it’s really just the social network Silicon Valley wants.

    Anyway, I’ve been thinking of rolling a localhost 90s portal style site, that grabs the feeds of multiple sites and then promotes posts as they show up in multiple places, PageRank styles. And then bake in like password management and so forth, since all my disparate logins are slowly linking up with OAuth and OpenID anyway. Plus you could add offline and driveby modes – like you hit a wifi connection, load your little portal and get it to start fetching new and important pages/feed stories so when you move on you can still read – oh, and of course linking up all your computers through your own sync service that’d do cross-browser-platform too rather than locking into Firefox / Chrome …

    And of course I can’t find a good solution out there, and need to relearn myself to stop thinking “I got to code all the black boxes to a low level” and more “I can pick and choose and script and connect frameworks together” scripting. But hey, it’s all fun.

    Oh yeah, I’m one of Kiirani’s newish RL friends, who is crazy and uses Arch Linux, and is currently working on my security toolchain from my laptop/desktop end – hard drive encryption, SELinux with Hypervisor as the boot environment and then a management console with SSH floating in a secured part of that, and then virtualised day to day OSes under that (Windows / Mac / Linux, all will license and run in virt, so, way not do it all on your powerful enough with Hardware virtualisation support desktop box)

    And my OpenID didn’t authenticate for some reason .. I’m probably moving off hosting soon, running up against the limitations at service levels, even if my blog is only cracking single digit views on days I post stuff.

  2. Firstly, I have no idea why your OpenID didn’t work, but it might suffice to say that this site is hosted on Dreamhost, which can be kinda flakey at times!

    You’re portal site sounds cool, but that’s pretty much what I’m using Reddit and rss2email for now, since my email will always sync when I come back online. Also, Reddit is Free Software, yay!

    I was really focussing more on other tasks that I can script out easily, since news reading is now pretty much sorted. I’m still hitting a brick wall though. Perhaps my life is automated enough!

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