[Technology] Automating my life away

A decade ago, part of a job was to help automate creation
of a report that normally involved a human scanning through dozens of
spreadsheets each year, copying and pasting numbers and generating
graphs and tables, manually.

The place where I worked
predominantly used Perl.  (It was a science laboratory.)   My solution
was to use OpenOffice's GUI to bulk-convert the Microsoft Excel
spreadsheets (binary XLS files) to whichever file format OpenOffice used
at the time that was actually a collection of XML in a zipped
directory. (Was that .sdc?)

I then used Perl's libxml
wrapper (probably wrapping libxml2) to parse the XML into an SQLite
database.  (Or was it PostgeSQL like everything else there?)  I had
tried to use some other Perl XML library, but it was Super Slow compared
to the snappy libxml2 (written in C).  Like, a difference in many
minutes to run versus one second.

From there, I wrote
some Perl CGI scripts to automatically generate most of the tables and
graphics into HTML form, in some fashion that looked nice when imported
into OpenOffice. (Really?!)  The person who was responsible for the
report, who normally took a few weeks to do, said that it would save him
so much of the time, that it would take him now a couple days to look
at the data and write conclusions and maybe do some cleaning.  He
marveled at automation and how quickly he could be replaced.  The
automation revolution in action.

Today I used LibreOffice to convert about a hundred spreadsheets into CSV files with this one command:

find . -name "*.xls" | while read line; do
  (cd "$(dirname "$line")" &&
   libreoffice --headless --convert-to csv "$(basename "$line")");

am not sure that OpenOffice could do headless conversion back then.  I
was probably overwhelmed by all the potential everywhere to discover the
functionality if it exists.  This would have helped free a few hours of
my life.

Automation, a revolution.


Converting to CSV only does the 1st sheet tab.  You apparently can't specify a different sheet to be the active sheet.  I also had to convert some other old spreadsheets for easy parsing (mostly just grep'ing through them to find data).   In that case, I used --convert-to html which was beautiful, even if one of the resultant HTML files was 138MB large.

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