I've always been obsessed with automation. When I had a house I had automatic robot lawnmowers to mow my lawns and a matrix of motion detectors to control my lights. These days I have a simpler life that doesn't necessitate such extreme solutions, but I still benefit from automation.
There's a saying among programmers: if you have to do it three times, automate it. That may be a bit extreme for non-programming tasks, but maybe the equivalent is: if you have to do it every week or more, automate it. Here are a few interesting automations that I have set up.
I invest mechanically according to filters I've set up. Before automating it, I had to log in every day, see if I had money available, see if there were investments available, and then invest. This only took a few minutes a day, but even three minutes a day is an hour and a half per month.
One day I decided to take a shot at automating it. I installed Ruby, Watir, and Headless (nerd stuff that I'm only mentioning in case you're a nerd and want to set up some web automation) and within an hour I had build a program that automatically did all of my investing for me. It's been running without a hitch for six months, which has probably saved me ten hours or so.
I'm intentionally not being specific about where I'm investing because I don't want this to show up on searches for it, so please don't guess or ask questions about it in the comment. Ruby/Watir/Headless perfectly emulate a browser, so there's no way they can tell that it's automated. They probably wouldn't care, since I'm doing the same thing I would have done without automation, but I'd rather not bring it to their attention.
Paying all of my Credit Cards
I log in to mint.com all the time mainly to see if I have any credit card payments due. It's hard to keep track of which have been scheduled and which haven't, though, so I still worry about it all the time. Last month I paid one credit card a day late, which cost me $30 in fees.
Yesterday I took about twenty minutes to log in to each credit card account and set up automatic payments to pay the full balance on the day it's due. This is something that anybody could do, and it's a great failsafe. It feels great to not worry about when credit cards are due anymore. A compromised version of this automation would be to set each one to pay the minimum. You'd still have to check all the time to pay the full bill, but this would ensure that you never mess up your credit by missing a payment.
Finding Cheap Flights
Besides all of the fare alerts I mentioned in this post, I've also now automated finding deals at the FlyerTalk forums. This was a lot easier than the investing because I didn't need to log in or interact with the site. It took only half an hour to make a thirty line program in PHP that parsed all of the links on the front page and searched for deals from SFO, LAX, OAK, and LAS. If it finds one it stores a hash of the URL in the database to check for dupes later, and emails me.
This actually saves me more time than you may think, because I've sunk a lot of time into trying to get deals that already expired by the time I found them. This program runs every couple minutes, so if I see a deal, it will still be available.
Amazon has a great program called Subscribe and Save, which allows you to schedule monthly orders at a discount. By default you get 5% off, but if you order five things or more, you get 15% off, which is pretty significant. I get coconut water, sardines, tuna, and a couple other things through the program. Since I eat the same thing every day, most of my grocery shopping is already taken care of. I just pick up bread, hummus, spinach, and mayo on the way back from the gym when necessary.
Amazon's prices are way better than the grocery store, especially with the 15% discount, and they have better quality canned fish. If I'm traveling within the US I just divert that months shipment to wherever I'm going, and if I'm leaving the US I just skip a month. Very easy.
A hint-- if you're getting more than one of something, consider ordering one of each variation. When I bought two cases of coconut water (I like Taste Nirvana), it counted as one item towards the 15% mark, but when I got one with pulp and one without, it counted as two.
Do you have anything that you automate? I'd be interested in hearing about it below, as would other readers...
Photo is some lawns on Macchu Picchu. It's automatically mowed (by llamas).
I am actually currently in the process of founding a web app company that does exactly this kind of automation. It's called Routiny and basically provides a web interface that records your click path (and data entry) on external websites and then runs it on an automated schedule.
It'll be a while until you can specify parameters like you did in your automated investment program but basically what you described is the foundational idea of the app. Just that anyone can do it without being a coder.
And the reason I started working on it in the first place because I had the exact same thoughts that you described. Why waste your time when computers can do it for you :)
No need to reinvent the wheel: http://docs.seleniumhq.org/projects/ide/
Yeah, we know our competition. But there are still plenty of people who still find Selenium too technical and difficult to use. Plus you need to download it and have your computer running to execute the routines. Yes, there are selenium cloud solutions but we're really aiming for a dead simple cloud-based solution.
+1 to this. I could fill an entire book with reasons why it's stupid to quit an idea just because you discover someone else has done it first. The tech side is essential, but beyond that it's all promotion.
Good luck with it. To me, it sounds like privacy hell. I don't use Selenium often, but I used it to batch-delete Facebook photos when it wasn't really possible to do so. You'd need my Facebook login data to do a similar task, and these, I'd rather keep on my machine.
But then again, I'm not your target group, since I'm a technical person. I hope you can tackle the security problem and provide a safe and good solution :)
Can you provide more details on the Trading Automation?
How to you integrate?
Ware you willing
to sell this software?
Tynan, did you explore other investment automation options like l e n d o r a t o r before building your own? If so, what did they lack?
Tynan, I'm surprised that you have credit cards. We went credit card free about 6 months ago. We never really used them before that and don't buy into the building credit thing so we ditched them. One less thing to automate or even think about.
Tynan, how do you have your script set up to query flights every few minutes? Are you running it on whatever server hosts tynan.com or do you leave your computer always on with cron or something similar running the script?
i'm currently reading a story about automation. it's by cory doctorow of boing-boing. it's about a guy whose hoarder father dies and the young hip funeral director has an app for inventorying and getting rid of his stuff. that's as far as i've gotten. when i ran into the word roomba it reminded me of your post. http://boingboing.net/2013/06/13/by-his-things-will-you-know-hi.html . speaking of boingboing, i spent some time on the phone today with maggie, who is their science editor and also writes for the nyt. we were discussing my gig as a test subject for new medicines.
I'm a bit FlyerTalk MR guy. Where can I learn about automation for this type of thing? Would you share your PHP code?
I think the most powerful thing I've automated is my breakfast; this is my favorite Biohack so far!
Every morning, I make bulletproof coffee, which is made from the highest quality mycotoxin free beans (which seriously prevents against cloudy thinking and coffee crashes), grass-fed butter (full of healthy Omega-3 fats), and MCT oil / coconut oil (the PERFECT brain food). This keeps me full for half of the day, yet also keeps me in an intermittent fasted state; then I fit in the rest of my food the other half of the day (which also helps reduce decision-fatigue by spending energy trying to decide what to eat).
My most powerful financial automation? I would have to say automating my physical mail and check depositing process; I use Virtual PostMail, not only do they process and scan my physical mail (which is conducive to living a paperless nomadic lifestyle), they also handle my monthly rent payments from my Condo that I am renting out by automatically depositing my tenant's check into my bank account. Sweet!
The most powerful tech-related automation I can think of is how I handle my e-mail inbox; I religiously filter e-mails, especially newsletters and other recurring items. Now, the only e-mails that hit my main inbox are actual communication from real people contacting me; I use the Mailbox app on iOS which only shows the main inbox and is very conducive to achieving inbox zero; I easily get to inbox zero every day I check my mail now, and then occasionally catch up on lower priority items such as filtered newsletters and blog posts when I can spare the time.
I'm always interested into seeing how I can automate and outsource to help make my life more effective, so keep the great suggestions coming everyone! :)
Does the bulletproof coffee thing really hold water? I've been meaning to try it, since a lot of people seem to dig it, but I'd like to avoid spending the money on something that turns out to be over-hyped.
I've been doing it for about 3 weeks straight now. Honestly, I can't imagine living without it now. It's THAT good :)
I find it unlikely that you're a paid shill for Dave Asprey. So I'll bump it up on the to-buy list then.
One question: do you make it the "proper" way, with Kerrigold grassfed butter and MCT oil?
Yep, Kerrygold butter and MCT oil, definitely. The MCT oil was on backorder for a little while from UpgradedSelf.com, but until then I used some good cold-pressed coconut oil (although I have a sensitive digestive system, and coconut oil did give me the runs if I used too much) and mixed it all up in my Vitamix blender =)
The MCT oil is much easier to tolerate and works amazingly well for mental energy & focus, I use 2 Tbsp in my coffee every morning :) You can also find MCT oil on Amazon as well.
I'd recommend making it in a French Press, if possible, as the coffee oils not absorbed by a paper filter also have beneficial health properties, and combine well with the butter & MCT oil.
You can probably get your $30 in credit card fees waived just by emailing your credit card's customer service and asking them to refund them. This has always worked for me in the past. I work in a bank, and each customer profile has a small section called something like "fees available for refund", so they fully expect to reverse fees for people as a normal part of business.
For the past three months I have been using Rescue Time, which is a really amazing tool to track your time usage.
It runs in the background and logs every single thing you do on your computer. Then when you log in to the web dashboard you can categorize the sites and programs you use and also rate them according to productivity.
From there it draws out a few stats and lets you see where your time is being spent.
I've gotten a lot of emails lately, which has been fantastic. My email volume keeps going up.
There's one question I've gotten a few times, in a few different forms. "How do you do so much [thing]?" Reading is a common one, since I read a lot of books. Or balancing projects with working, traveling, tourism, connecting with people.
First off, I don't think I'm so good at getting stuff done. I see there's a lot more I could do. There's probably a lot better role models than me - if you can find someone who works a stimulating high powered job, competes athletically, parents, and does some philanthropy or art, that person is way ahead of me and you ought to look them up and ask them for their thoughts next time you see them.
I used to be insanely busy like that, with 3-5 things that should be a full time effort on the go at the same time. That's probably part of the secret to it right there - if you overload yourself without getting to breaking point, you'll be amazed at what you can do.
There's ripple effects when you're extremely busy. You stop screwing off and wasting time, because you can't. And other people start respecting your time more, too. If your entire calendar is open, people are flaky and whimsical and ambiguous with plans. But when you say, "My only time free for the next three weeks is this Saturday, at 8AM" - guess what? People come meet you at 8AM Saturday. Now, it'd be absurd to ask someone to commute into the city to meet you at 8AM on Saturday if you weren't busy, but if you are busy, you do it because you have to. And people respect your time.