Sunday, November 21, 2010

Good to be a programmer. Or: custom solutions are sometimes better

I signed up for a free Evernote account a year ago last April but never really used it. After reading an article in the New York Times this morning about sharing data across computers and handheld devices I decided to install the Evernote app on my Android cellphone. I also installed the web clipper Evernote Chrome browser extension. After setting up notebooks for major interests (writing tools, writing ideas, different technology areas), I spent some time using Evernote (OS X app, browser interface, and Droid app). Really nice.

I thought of using Evernote for my to-do tasks but my own custom web app my-foc.us works better for me. This reminded me how great it is to be a programmer and make things just the way you want. Now, I must admit that my-foc.us is very simple (it has just the functionality that I want and nothing else). This project is open source and took me perhaps 6 hours to write and deploy on Heroku. It is really a great feeling to make something just for yourself (although other people are welcome to use it).

Some background for another "just for me" web app:

About four years ago I almost died very quickly from two large pulmonary embolisms. Fortunately I am almost fully recovered (e.g., I can do 5 or 6 hour hikes, but not the 8 or 9 hour hikes I used to do) but I need to monitor my intake of vitamin K because it interferes with the small doses of blood thinner I take daily. Now, vitamin K is absolutely vital to have in your diet (one example: keeps calcium deposits out of arteries and heart valves and promotes bone growth and general health). So, four years ago I created a simple web app cookingspace.com that contains many of the recipes that I use and some convenience foods that I like. What is different about cookingspace.com is that it uses the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 20 to show the nutrients in food I eat. At first, I referred to the nutrients per serving for individual recipes and for complete meal plans but after a while, I trained myself to remember the approximate amounts of vitamin K and about 20 other nutrients in food. You can see displays for random recipes by clicking this link a few times. This web app turned out to be a large project, taking me about 40 hours to write because the recommended USDA database had a lot of errors so I ended up using their much larger "research" database and then trimming out things I didn't need. Anyway, for me this was time well spent.

Anyway, it is great to be a programmer :-)

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