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Adam Tenhouse

Graduate Student

9

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Better Living Through Android Dreams

I've taken three common tasks or "processes" - one streamlined, another automated, and still another outsourced.

The process I've best streamlined is at my workplace.  It can't be automated or outsourced; I need direct access to the materials I need to scan and so far we don't have the hardware for automatic page-turning. This is something I might want to consider alter.

As it is, using the TIFF software suggested by Ari, converting the TIFF's to PDF initially goes much more quickly.  The largest bottleneck in the process is not the TIFF to PDF conversion, however, but the OCR recognition required by my department.  It's meant to make things simpler for students when looking through these theses or dissertaitons, but Acrobat Pro 9's OCR is atrocious.  It makes guesswork of the individual words and tags all near-matches, which means any given sentence is goobledygook if cut-and-pasted.  The time required to gnaw through 75 to 400 pages' worth of 300dpi text is pretty intense and our workstations have such underpowered video cards I can't take on many other tasks for fear of crashing Acrobat.

I've learned that given a bad situation, the best recourse is to prepare the bibliographic information for the next book in my queue while the first is still being parsed for character recognition.  This means essentially overlapping iterations of material going through the process, but it's certainly more efficient than staring blankly at a screen waiting for Acrobat to go through its acrobatics.  I sorely wish I could just use Tesseract or something similar, but this is one stopgap I can't seem to overcome given the requirements of my job.

Automation is far simpler.  Using IFTTT, I added several "recipes" for certain if-then tasks, such as "every time my profile picture is updated on Facebook, update my Twitter account."  I'd like to use that as an example.  While it doesn't net me the benefit of getting more work done and giving me job security quite the way throughput can, it helps pare down on free time wasted.  I can't recall the number of times I've gone from thin to fat and needed to change pictures and profile information on Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Fitocracy, what have you.  I've had similar success with an if-then task: every time I favorite a  video on YouTube, its name and URL is appended to a log on Evernote.

For the less slacker-minded, I've had a great deal of success with a similar recipe for appending appointment information to two logs - one on Google Drive, one on Evernote.  I can later make note of what the doctor advised, their suggestions on mecication - so effectively I finally have a simple medical dossier to track my success and setbacks with hypothyroidism.

Outsourcing so far has been a pickle.  While I'm on a waitlist for Zirtual and have registered interest with Fancy Hands, I couldn't secure an assistant in time to test my process - essential appointment-making.  I absolutely hate wading through a phone tree darting from one voicemail to another trying to secure an appointment at a dermatologist or dentist, and per call it eats somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes of what little free time I have between class and my part-time student job.  That's time I could be spending reading or writing or playing video games - or on a particularly good day, exercising. I was really looking forward to handing this task off to someone else as-needed.

That said, many questions can be answered for free through a service like Cha-Cha or an increasingly intelligent Google Now or Siri, and I've been making more use of both in lieu of my planned "process."  Cha-Cha especially saves me considerable time parsing information in even a "simple" Google Search, and I've found questions that can't be easily answered in a search query - like, say, "who was taller - King George or George Washington?" As for the mechanical counterparts to Cha-Cha operatives, I've been tempted to use something with OpenTable integration to make Valentine's Day plans.

In fact I think I will.  I have the time for a simple reservation from using these three tasks alone. I certainly have the time to tell someone or something else to do it for me.

I don't know if androids dream of electric sheep, but the possibilities from simple automation and delegation are beyond my own wildest.

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