Successive Approximation: Not just for artistes

You might very well be excused for thinking that the Nine Precepts of Lichtenbergianism are only for artists: painters, writers, composer, bartenders, those sorts of people.  Let me explain why you are limited in your thinking.

In my spare time, I'm a volunteer with an organization that produces a regional version of Burning Man.  It's all volunteers, in fact, and it takes a ton of hippies to make that thing go.

Look at All the pretty lights...

Look at All the pretty lights...

I have a moderate amount of web skilz, and so a couple of years ago I volunteered to be the "web content task lead" for the art fundraiser.  It seemed simple enough: just create a web page for each art project seeking funding.  What could go wrong?


First of all, each project had to have two web pages, one on the regular site, and then one using the commerce module so that the hippies could throw money at it.  And then all the projects had to be put onto a home page linking them all.

Second of all, people who got there before me decided to use Drupal to create these websites.  It's free, and all that.


I won't bore you with all the technical things, but trust me when I tell you that "open, transparent, and intuitive" are not words I would use to describe the back end of Drupal.

Fortunately, I decided long ago when dealing with computers that if you have to do anything more than three times, and you're going to have to do it on a regular basis, automate it.  The time you spend creating the macro or script to deal with it is more than repaid when all you have to do is type a command and the whole thing just happens.

I use a macro program called Keyboard Maestro, and it's solid.  With it, I could create macros that would

  1. Suck up the information from the spreadsheet where the hippies' applications had been dumped, using named clipboards, and even making decisions about stuff based on the data;
  2. Create a "product" page on the commerce side of things: paste data into the appropriate fields; type out headers, including HTML tags;
  3. Create a "project" page on the regular website;

There was very little I had to do by hand, and I could knock out these web pages in no time.  My reputation as a wizard soared.


We have two burns a year, one in the spring and one in the fall.  This is my fourth time doing this, and each time I pull up my macros and double-check them.  Has Drupal changed its interface?  Did whoever is in charge of the fundraiser change the application form and therefore the spreadsheet data? Have updates to Keyboard Maestro itself changed the way things work?

I have to step through each macro and make sure it's going to do what I need it to do.  Drag and drop those macro steps into the correct order.  Enable or disable the number of right-arrows or tabs needed to get from one item to the next.  Add steps, delete them.

Are there further shortcuts I can take?  Can I combine macros or string them together?  Are there corners of Keyboard Maestro I haven't explored? Again, the time I spend doing this saves me hours when it comes to getting the job done.

So, yes, boys and girls, even programmers can (and should) use the Precepts to do what they do.  Start with what you think is going to work (ABORTIVE ATTEMPT), figure out why it doesn't (GESTALT), and fix it (SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION).

Now, if I could convince Keyboard Maestro to include "mouse click" as one of their Pause until... conditions (GESTALT, guys: it's missing!), life would be zoom zoom.


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