Building My Robot Army

Automator & Simon - Building My Robot ArmyIf you’ve watched popular sci-fi movies, you might be able to spot a common theme — computers and robots are bad. At some point, they’ll advance so far that they’ll rage against humanity. If that’s true, there can only be one defense — other robots. I can’t fight as tirelessly as a robot. So if there are evil machines out there to get me, then I’ll need ones to protect me. If it’s so easy to imagine evil robots, why not imagine robots that fight on the side or righteousness? Recently, I’ve taken a big step in building my own robot army.

Surprisingly, this is not science fiction or paranoia. Right now, there are evil robots out there to get me. Or more specifically, they’re out to gain control of my website. It’s not just this site. Hackers and spammers use evil robots to scan for vulnerabilities in websites. Unfortunately, I can’t defend against every unknown. What I can do is keep a lookout for trouble and be alerted to when it happens. That’s where the first benevolent robot enters the scene.

Robot #1 – Dejal Simon

Obviously, I’m not going to wake up at 3 AM and check if my site is online… and then again at 3:05 AM… and then again at 3:10 AM… 3:15 A There’s software that can do it for me. Simon is a Mac application that can periodically check websites for changes and failures. If I see a green arrow on my dock, then I know that my site is online. That’s a lot easier than constantly hitting the “F5” key in my web browser. My main complaint with this robot is the expense. Simon Free and Simon Express are in the Mac App Store. But for advanced features, like improved notifications or additional services to check, the Standard Edition is required.

Robot #2 – Automator

This little guy is part of the Mac operating system. And yet, the power of Automator could easily be overlooked. By combining Automator with iCal, I can schedule periodic maintenance. Disaster can happen at any moment. But with an automated backup, it’s easier to recover. I’ve used Automator to backup web files on a Mac server. Every day, it creates a nice little archive. With variables, those archives can be dated. With search, older archives can be automatically deleted to save disk space. And with AppleScript, Automator can even empty the trash.

Robot #3 – CRON

This is not a new member of my robot army, but I might have new work for it soon. In a Unix/Linux environment, periodic tasks can be scheduled — like backing up a MySQL database. CRON is similar to the power of Automator. CRON is also a common feature on shared web hosting servers. And ultimately, the entire web server is like a friendly robot. Instead of printing out pages and handing them out on the street, a computer is distributing web pages to the world.

Obviously Simon, Automator and CRON are not the equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator, but it’s a start. By automating the tedious aspects of my work, life becomes more enjoyable. It also gives me a sense of optimism in the future. Robots can be cool!