Wednesday, November 12, 2008


One of the things that strikes me is how much more computers have become than I ever imagined. I had no doubt that they would be powerful and useful and interconnected. What I did not anticipate, at all, was how much would be possible effectively free of charge.

My son and I use Google Calendar to keep track of his homework assignments. I use it to keep a calendar of my own, one that will email and text me if I set a reminder. I can text items to my calendar, and within reason, the calendar application will parse what I send it and insert the new item into my schedule.

I have a blog now that I am working on as a message passing system. I email or text messages to SMS Data Collection. I have some Google spread sheets set up to retrieve and parse this data. So far, if you bother to go to the SMS Data blog, you will see nothing of interest. I am doing all of the data sending by hand, largely just to work out the details of how to retrieve and chop up the data. Even after I get things going, there won't be much to see, and a lot of it may be quite cryptic. I am just using it as an intermediary.

There are a couple of things I plan to do. First, I have an idea for keeping track of a vehicle on a road trip. This device here will get GPS data and text it to the blog. A Google Documents spreadsheet will periodically go and get the data and parse it into pieces that will tell location, speed, and so on. This will feed a map that people that are invited will be able to look at, showing our location and anything else I decide to . I imagine using it as a way to keep my Dad updated on progress when we drive home, and as a way to post pictures and routes when we go to Canada or out West.

Various programs that take data for me, using LabVIEW or other software, can also email stuff. All of this can be processed using free, readily available web software and turned into something anyone with access to the Web could potentially use.

The fact that so much of what is available is opening up to being programmed by people who are not necessarily professional programmers is particularly exciting. The ability to use the power that exists in technology has resided in a subset of people that doesn't necessarily overlap with the subset of people who might do really interesting and creative things with the technology and data. The leveling of this, so that one need not be an acolyte of the computing profession, is a very good thing.

At this point, it is still esoteric enough that I spend far too much time trying to do things that ought to be simple. But things are improving, and the barriers to entry are far lower than they were just a few years ago. I imagine that there is some level of sophistication, when computers are finally programmable by anyone who can describe in a fairly logical fashion what it is that they want done. Everything that we have seen up to this point is prelude to the creative explosion that will occur on that day.


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