To the average Joe/Jane (David Sparks lovingly calls these people “Muggles”), automation may seem like a scary business. I have to admit that even with all the automation things i’ve done I still get a little anxious that the tricks i’ve pieced together won’t work. Granted, you still to have a bit of knowledge of how automation works, but once you get that down, the rest is magic. If you’re looking for an incredibly simple place to get started with some automation, take a look at If This Then That (IFTTT). They’re approach is incredibly simple, but can let you do a lot of cool things to make your life easier.
The Basic Idea
When you’re getting into automation, it’s important to understand the basic logic behind how automation works. This is best summarized by “If This Then That”. The basic idea is that THIS represents a trigger, such as a hotkey being pressed or a device being mounted. THAT represents a task to be carried out by the computer. So IF “trigger is activated” THEN “do this”. Most, if not all, automation can be thought of this way. Thinking your way through your ideas for automation this way can really help you to not only set up effective macros, but also give you ideas for other macros.
The Trick is in the Tools
There are a lot of tools out there for automating different kinds of rudimentary tasks. For example, I’m a keyboard guy, but sometimes remembering keyboard shortcuts for every automation is kind of hard. So one of my favorite ways of automating tasks is with Alfred. Remembering one keystroke launches Alfred where I can type a keyword that launches the task.
For example, my favorite Alfred hack is being able to type “eject” and Alfred will bring up a list of available drives that can be ejected. Selecting the appropriate disk will eject the disk, thus saving time from having to find the eject button or right-clicking.
Now, it sounds funny that we think that right-clicking takes a long time, but all those little actions add up throughout the day and shortening them can add just a little more power to the actions that really require your attention.
Even Alfred Is a Little Tricky
Even though it’s become one of my favorite/most used applications, Alfred is still a little finicky in it’s implementation. It still requires the use of scripts if you want to implement some stronger automation tasks, so for those that aren’t familiar with things like Applescript the barrier to entry is slightly higher.
Keyboard Maestro has been on my radar for about a year and on my wishlist for just under that. The way it always appeared to be a high level way of thinking about computer automation really drew me into it. I finally bought it recently and started using and all I can say is MAGIC. I still haven’t even begun to realize it’s full potential, but i’ve set up a couple things that i’m pretty happy with (piles of homework often get in the way of computer wizardry).
While I don’t have much to share at the moment, i’ll share just a couple macros i’ve set up for your consideration.
- Volume Mounting- I’m really loving this one. I’m currently in a web development class where we are developing web sites inside a Linux environment. My Virtual Machine is stored on an external harddrive. The device has to be mounted, then I can fire up VMWare Fusion on my Macbook and then I can start the virtual machine. The virtual machine takes a little while to boot (sometimes up to 5-8 minutes).
I was able to shorten down the length of this process considerably by setting up a volume mount trigger which starts up VMWare Fusion when my harddrive is mounted. This has proven to be very efficient in getting me to my projects faster.
- Volume Control- This one controls the sound volume. It’s activated when it recognizes that i’m not on my home wifi network and mutes the volume. This is great for me because when i’m at school I don’t want my computer to be making noise for everyone to hear. I can then plug in my headphones and adjust the volume from that point.
- Open Current Web Project – Another one that I really like uses the hotkey trigger to open all the files in my Current Projects folder. I’m sure there’s a more efficient way than having the list of files, but it’s effective nonetheless.
You Can Be a Witch/Wizard too
Automation is becoming increasingly easy to set up for everyone, not just those that can code. Keyboard Maestro offers the largest variety of triggers and responses that it can handle, but there are others out there that might suit you as well. So consider this your Hogwarts letter and enjoy the magic of automation.