An introduction to data and information
An introduction to data and information

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An introduction to data and information

2.1.1 A day in my life

I wake to a radio-alarm. It's controlled by a small computer that lets me set the time I want to wake up and the radio programme that will wake me.

I prepare breakfast on a cooker which has a small computer that controls the clock, timer, and other functions such as oven temperature.

I take my dog for a walk. She has a ‘microchip’ (i.e. a very small simple computer) implanted under her skin that will enable her to be traced if she is lost or stolen.

I take my son to his nursery in the car. It has a number of small computers that control the steering, manage the engine, and control the braking system.

My son's nursery has a computer that children as young as two can use. The nursery keeps its records on a computer and it has a website.

At work, I write material such as this course using a computer, and find information both from the library catalogues and from the World Wide Web (the web) using my computer. I send and receive emails from colleagues down the corridor or across the world.

During my lunch break I stop at the bank. My computer-produced statement has a confusing entry that I want clarified. On the way out I draw cash from another computer (an automated teller machine or ATM).

I phone a friend using my mobile telephone. It's controlled by a small computer, and my network is able to locate my phone and connect my calls through computer-controlled switching systems.

After picking up my son, I drive to the supermarket. Supermarkets are just one form of business that depends on computers to check stock, order items that are running out and add up sales, among other things. These computers also use my loyalty card to record my preferences, and issue me with vouchers that might entice me to exercise these preferences.

On the way home I pass a police speed camera. If I were exceeding the speed limit, its computer-controlled system would recognise my number plates, identify me as the owner using the DVLC licensing records, and automatically send me a ticket. (Of course, it's not triggered into action as I pass by!)

Later in the evening my partner and I go to visit a friend who's in hospital. Because we aren't too sure where the hospital is, we use an in-car navigation system to help us get there using the best route.

At the very end of the day, I take a shower which uses a small computer to control the temperature and pressure to ensure I'm neither frozen nor scalded if someone else in the house turns a tap on or off.

The one thing I'm fairly certain of is that my bed doesn't (yet) contain a computer.

Exercise 2

Think about your day as I have thought about mine. Note down the places you visit and things you do in the course of the day, and tick those items you think involve a computer of some kind. As you study this course, you may want to return to this list to check whether you were right about computers being involved.

Discussion

Chances are, if you've chosen an ordinary day, you'll do many of the same things I described above. Many, if not most, of these will involve a computer in some form or other. Most modern mechanical devices are now controlled entirely or partially by computers, including buses, trains and aircraft. Even bicycles are sometimes fitted with a computerised speedometer and odometer.

Most activities these days involve exchanging data or finding and using information – tasks that increasingly are being done by computer.

Exercise 3

Imagine wandering around your local supermarket. Mentally observe the behaviour of other shoppers and the staff at the supermarket. Write down the information that these two groups need.

Discussion

There is no single answer to this Exercise. I can only give you some examples.

Shoppers want information about a particular product, where it is, what it costs and perhaps nutritional information associated with the product.

The store manager wants different information, such as:

  • which items are being sold quickly so that shelves can be replenished and stock reordered;

  • what the daily turnover of the supermarket is so that new staff can be hired when business increases.

The staff who stack the shelves need to know what products to put on shelves, and where the products can be found.

Staff at the check-outs need to know what some products are (e.g. different fruits, or how to distinguish pastry items) in order to enter the correct codes.

Exercise 4

What sort of information would a doctor need in the course of his or her working day?

Discussion

Here is my list of the things I believe a doctor needs to know:

  • personal information about a patient which enables the doctor to visit that patient;

  • the patient's medical records which show previous treatments, any adverse reactions to treatments, and so on;

  • information about the external bodies that deal with patients, such as the location of the nearest pathology laboratory, and the name of the consultants at the local hospital who treat particular disorders;

  • information about the latest policies and procedures of the NHS;

  • recent research findings relevant to a patient's condition.

The above list shows how daunting information requirements can be. A doctor needs everything from the simple and obvious (the patient's name and address) to the complex and possibly obscure (the latest research findings on a rare disease).

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