The Lapidary Lemur

Musings from Brandon Weaver

Automate It

The better programmer is not the one who flies across the keyboard, generating hundreds of lines of code, but the one who has but a few strokes that do the same work in half the effort.

When to Automate

  • Did you use it more than twice in a day? Automate it.
  • Does it take more than five keystrokes? Alias it.
  • Are you repeating yourself? Automate it.
  • Did you just wonder if you should automate it? Do it.

Automation seems to be a scary concept for some, a black magic that many try and avoid because they already know all of their commands and appreciate their vanilla editors.

But it takes too much time!

XKCD 974

In some cases, yes, you are spending far more time automating something than actually getting it done. Then again, really, how far and inbetween are those cases that you can justify it all away with just that? XKCD, as always, has our backs on timing it out:

XKCD 1205


If you’re in a Unix environment, your shell should be your best friend. Know your way around a command prompt well enough and you’ve already made some serious headway in reducing the amount of time it takes to do something!

I would seriously suggest taking a look into ZSH and its’ extension Oh My ZSH! as they alone will save you a lot of time in a shell prompt.


Now let’s take a look at a few of the aliases I frequent:

alias v="vim"            # Shorten Vim
alias vrc="vim ~/.vimrc" # Edit my Vimrc
alias vc="vim ."         # Open the current directory in Vim

alias vzpf="vim ~/.zprofile"  # Edit my zprofile
alias zsrc="source ~/.zprofile" # Reload my zprofile

These, of course, being pulled from my Special Sauce Repository.

So what rule of thumb do I use when adding new aliases? If it takes more than five keystrokes to do, I alias it. Digging into my .zprofile will show you a most_used command which I have to keep me honest about how much I use commands.

The amount of time I save from just that adds up quickly as I type many of those commands several hundred times a day. Adding an alias, and sourcing my .zprofile takes me all of five seconds to do.

It adds up

So what, we have a few niceties and aliases around. We may save five minutes a day with a basic set. Perhaps, but the more you alias and the more you start to chip away at your daily repetition, the more you will realize that you’re quickly outpacing your normal speeds.

Be Lazy

Really. Be lazy. Hate to repeat yourself so much that adding an alias is a natural twitch. Hate doing things by hand so much that you crack open your editor and start scripting it out!

Learn the keyboard shortcuts, and stop touching that mouse. If you’re really hardcore on it, learn Vim or Emacs and get to town on Macros and keybindings.

Automate it

When in doubt, automate it and document it. Sharing is caring, and many people are quite kind as to post their zprofiles, so take a peek and learn.