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I work at the Idaho Statesman, a Gannett-owned newspaper in Boise, ID where the number of text, QuarkXpress, PhotoShop, Illustrator, Freehand, etc files that flow in and out of here each day literally measure in the hundreds (if not thousands). These files are created, modified, deleted, moved, emailed, FTP'd and archived.

I started here about two years ago. After learning the ropes, I started to understand in some amount of detail the very involved workflow requirements here in terms of where data comes from, where it goes, how it moves around (who deals with it), etc.

Much to my horror however, I found that certain activities were being performed manually each day/week which resulted in thousands of hours lost or wasted. These tasks needed to be automated, so I took it upon myself to do so, even though it was technically not my responsibility. Here are a few of the highlights:

1) After an ad has run, the IBM AS/400 in the business office was generating a printout of the ad numbers that were no longer needed. A person would then take this half-inch-thick document (each line was an ad) and delete each file from two places. We utilize an OPI (Open Prepress Interface) so both the low and high res version of the ad have to be deleted. This was being done 2 times a week or so and would take 3-4 hours each time. I talked to the person running the AS/400 and arranged to have the "printout" printed to a file on disk (and ultimately to a file on a volume accross the network). I then created a Frontier script that takes this file and for each ad in it, delete the respective high and low resolution graphics. They now run this daily and save time and space in the process!

2) Like the first example, after each page of the newspaper had been printed, the stories used in the paper needed to be moved en-masse early the next morning, reviewed to see which ones would be sent to other organizations and then the balance would be deleted. Since the stories were in a number of different folders in a number of different volumes accross the network, this was rather laborious and time-consuming. Now a Frontier script moves all the stories to a single location and clean out the directories in a matter of seconds. It probably saves 30 minutes a day or so.

3) A script to move photographs has also been created. It works similar to the last one just described, only with mugs and photos. The only differance is that it doesn't automatically delete them. It lets them first decide which ones need to be archived. It to probably saves around 30 minutes a day.

4) Each day we submit stories to the Associated Press (AP), Gannett News Service (GNS) and Northwest GNS (NWGNS). Normally these stories required that text files be created from the original Quark documents and then that a proprietary piece of communications software supplied by AP be used to send the stories (one at a time) to the respective news agencies. Anywhere from one to 10 stories might be sent in a given night. Oh yes, and they get to travel at the blinding speed of 1200 baud (300 in some cases)!!! Needless to say, the amount of time necessary to complete this task was non-trivial.

I created a number of "Magic Folders" on the network (one for each news service) such that any text file placed there would be moved to a "Communications Server". Frontier would then add the appropriate routing information in the form of text additions to the file would be added as necessary to the story (it winds up on DEC PDP-11's!), send it to the respective agency by controling an external modem and then a log entry would be made regarding what was sent to whom and when it was sent. This probably saves nearly an hour every day. This one also made me particularly popular with the newsroom-types since no one wants to sit around at 1:30AM and send stories at 1200 baud.

By the way, the "Communications Server" I mentioned initially was no more than an old Macintosh IIfx that was sitting unused in a corner! All I had to was put an ethernet card in it, install an OS and put Frontier (and the sripts) on it. It also speaks out loud it s current status - whether it s sending or looking for a file, etc. You don t even have to look at it to know it s working! A couple of months ago, it was upgraded to a PowerMac 7100 that had been replaced with a new G3 Desktop, but that was just so that I could also have this same machine do some other work (like being an FTP server) at the same time. The fx or any other old Mac would work fine in this case.

5) Before some stories can be sent or archived, they need to be cleaned up to remove or replace certain high ASCII values (128-255) which don't translate well into normal text communications. It's rather trivial to have frontier read in those files as part of the workflow here, clean them up and then let them continue on their merry way.

6) Each day our front page is turned into a PDF and emailed as an attachment to the Newseum in Washinton DC. The PDFing is done by Adobe Acrobat. When it's done, it puts the PDF into a particular folder. Then Frontier launches Eudora, creates an email, attached the PDF and sends it off automatically. This probably saves someone 5-10 minutes or so a day.

7) Along the lines of the last one, certain stories are saved as text and FTP'd to the National Association of the Blind so that they can be "read" to blind people over the phone. Basically I just created another "magic folder" on the network for these stories to be placed in. They initially started just sending a couple stories a night but are planning to send the entire paper within the next year. The amount of time this saves is also substantial.

8) We maintain a BBS for advertisers to send us ads on. Unfortunately, it used to require that someone check it several times a day to see if anything new has been uploaded. This was a pain because you had to check a unique place for each advertiser. With Frontier, I have it simply print a "ticket" telling the artists what file has been sent, where it is and when it was sent. Now they only look at the BBS when they KNOW there's a file there. This is hard to quantify, but it probably saves 15-30 minutes a day.

One additional note about my little "magic folders". They're smart and only process the appropriate files that are put in them. If a non-PDF winds up in the folder where the front page PDF is supposed to go, it just sits there. Basically the users are able to tell if their files are being processed by watching them "disappear".

If you were to actually track the amount of time that's saved with all these scripts, it would equate to more than those of a full time employee (40 hours/week * 52 weeks = 2080). For any environment where lots of files are being created, moved, sent, received or deleted, I would strongly recommend utilizing Frontier!

In terms of future projects, a number of other departments are asking if I can automate the sending/receiving of files via FTP on the internet. These include Web documents/data to our web host, weather map data, etc. In addition, I m thinking of resurecting the fx again to basically be a net monitor. It ll basically just check the network every few minutes to make sure that all our servers and printers are showing up as they should on the network. If there s a problem, I ll have it email or page the appropriate person.

P.S. If any organizations are interested in having me automate some of their workflow, feel free to contact me (rbparker@micron.net).