As most of you know, I started officially collecting data about dragonfly swarms on my blog last summer. About 2 weeks later, I got SO many dragonfly swarm reports that I watched my humble little side project eat up 3 or 4 hours of my limited free time most nights. I don’t have that kind of time this year, so I’ve been on a quest to simplify the way I collect data. The first step was to create an automated dragonfly swarm report form that delivered the data to my e mail inbox, but it was still taking too long to process the reports. I’m trying to write a dissertation after all. There had to be a better way!
One problem though: I’m not a programmer. In fact, I might be the worst programmer on the planet! My father’s a software engineer and is a total whiz at sifting through code and finding problems. Me… Well, let me just give you an example. I was tasked with learning PERL for a graphic design job I had before I started grad school and I spent nearly a month working on a 20 line piece of code. It took twenty minutes to write, but 30 days to figure out why my code wasn’t working. Armed with this knowledge of my utter failure as a computer programmer, I was horrified when I started looking into simplifying my data collection and learned that I was going to have to *gasp!* write programming code to make it work! Eeek! Serious heart palpitations ensued.
Then out of blue, I remembered that WordPress started supporting Goggle Docs a while back. It got me thinking: doesn’t Google Docs have a spreadsheet program? Hmmm… I looked into it and discovered exactly what I wanted, code for linking a Google Docs form to a spreadsheet within WordPress.com blogs. It involved copying one piece of code and pasting it into my blog, something I’ve done a million times since I started my blog. Easy! But, it didn’t work. I spent 5 hours trying to figure out why it wasn’t working. Copy, paste. Even I couldn’t screw that up! Eventually, I discovered that the code WordPress was generating was incorrect (i.e. I debugged a piece of code, in less than a day!!!), so I fixed the code manually and everything magically fell into place! Now when you enter data into my swarm report form, it will dump the data into a spreadsheet for me. Goodbye manually entering data, hello finishing my dissertation!
Of course, there are downsides to automating. I think the biggest one is that, while they were really hard to sift through, letting people leave their reports as comments on my blog allowed people to look though comments other reporters left. When they did, they could see when and where other swarms occurred in their areas. People started asking each other questions and conversations were starting up. It felt like a little community was starting to form, a community of vigilant dragonfly swarms watchers! It was fabulous. I hate to lose that because it added something extra to my project, a great human element, but I simply have to make the data collection easier.
I think I’ve come up with a sort of compromise though: Swarms Sundays! Every week during the dragonfly swarming season, I’ll post the locations of all the swarms that occurred the previous week. If you’re interested in where dragonfly swarms have occurred, you can check my blog on Sundays and look! And, if you want to leave comments and/or discuss sightings with others, you may still do so on the Sunday posts. This way, I can collect my data quickly and easily, but you all can still have those conversations about sightings that I loved so much. Hopefully this will offer the best of both worlds!
I’ll make my first post next week, with all the data I’ve collected from 2011 so far. Hope you’ll check back!
(My Monday post is going to be a day late this week. Check back on Tuesday for a discussion of a fascinating new scientific paper!)
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