Automation automaton

I’ve been thinking today about automation. Most people I know do not put much effort into automating tasks, even those that are rote, tedious, and time-consuming, because of an implicit but untested assumption that the work involved in automating a task would outweigh any time savings. I seem to have the opposite problem, in that I like automating things even when it clearly does not save me any time. In my mind, this is laziness, but to others it is assiduity (or maybe just weirdness). Others view the work spent on automating something as difficult, so they have a high threshold before they automate things, whereas I view repetitive tasks as difficult, and have a very low threshold for automation.

When I used to use Windows, I used to¬†nLite to automate installations. Arguably this had some point as Windows XP asks you lots of stupid questions, and also needs to be reinstalled every few months in order to run decently. For years I’ve used Arch Linux though, and I don’t mind the install process as much, even though it’s gotten increasingly manual. Nonetheless lately I’ve been tinkering with Ansible, a tool for automating tasks on tens or hundreds of Unix-like computers. I install or set up a Linux box maybe once every year. And yet in my spare time I find myself plugging away at getting Ansible working to fully set up an environment in the exact way I would do manually on a newly acquired machine. Clearly, even if I had an exceptional year, and installed Arch five times, I most likely still would not recoup the time I’ve spent learning Ansible, easy as it is. Yet I like the idea of automation enough to keep at it.

In the physical world I’ve also set up home automation using X10 and heyu. This allows me to do things like control my lights or power on/off my headphone amp or television from my computer. When others see this they assume it must involve a lot of work, but in my own mind, I’ve set all this up out of indolence. The primary reason I put in X10 was so that I wouldn’t have to get out of bed to switch out the lights when I’m falling asleep.

I switched from using Windows XP to Linux around 2004, and I feel this massively improved my life, largely due to the ease of automating things with shell scripting and Python, both of which I learned after switching. I’m a tinkerer by nature, and attracted to complexity, so probably the opposite of most people. Yet I find it incredible the volume of repetitive work that people are willing to put up with on computers, which are many orders of magnitude better at these types of tasks than humans are.

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