Monday, November 25, 2013

Archaeology Blog Carnival

From now until the April 2014, I am going to be participating in the Archaeology Blog Carnival - “Blogging Archaeology”. From what I can tell, this is a bit of a meta- enterprise in which we write about the process/practice of writing about archaeology. Ill be interested to see how the questions evolve for I fear the degree of meta-ness may produce a bit of self-indulgence and navel gazing. I suppose, however, that the “carnival" provides a forum for folks who are blogging out there in the blogosphere to share some perspectives on their writing habits. We shall see. We even get a twitter hash to use: #blogarch.

The question for November is: Why blogging? – Why did you start a blog?

I began blogging mostly as an experiment and to see what all the hoopla about “blogs” was about. I certainly did not start writing to broadcast a specific message or to report on anything in a consistent fashion (as a review of will show you). From what I had read, the blog medium seemed to be a great way for sharing information and  as an academic, sharing has direct value. It is clearly beneficial to us to share information in as many media forms as possible as measures of academic success center around how many people share the ideas that one has originated (via citation analysis, for example). Of course, sharing is not the only property of value for ideas: they also have to accomplish something. If academics were all about sharing, science (at least) would be an enterprise that encourages Kardashianism rather than the generation of knowledge. While I know that in some areas of the anthropological realms sharing may be the only value held (I’m looking at you faux French philosophers), I choose to believe that knowledge ultimately trumps sharing by itself. Mendel clearly had the latter down but knew nothing about marketing, not that it mattered in the long run. The best situation occurs, of course, when both sharing and knowledge can be merged. The Mars missions, perhaps, are good examples of how the work of scientists can find its way into everyone daily informational lives. Of course, the value of the sharing can be maximized when the sharing occurs between professionals/academics since those individuals not only appreciate what we each are doing but have the opportunity to put shared knowledge into practice. But the value of sharing also goes to those who are just interested or simply wonder where tax dollars go.  

The blog world is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of new ways of communication. Give the rapidity of change in the way in which we share information, it behooves all professionals to become familiar with new media forms, if only to ensure that one's message has the best change of being heard. It remains fairly clear that dead-tree media still retains a core value in the academic world, but the degree of centrality is slipping rapidly as electronic media becomes a larger part of one’s research base (and the holdouts retire). Blogging is a way of exploring digital means of sharing with low cost and low overhead. 

Blogging also gives one a way of sharing ideas that ordinarily do not qualify as material for the standard range of professional publications.  Beyond just the yammering and sharing of groovy photos and whatnot, one can discuss technical details that are difficult to share in traditional academic media. For example, I just wrote about my work on building a multispectral camera based on Raspberry Pi ( How one goes about building and tinkering with such a camera is not ordinarily material that is going to get a journal editor (at least in archaeology) particularly excited. Yet the technology (being inexpensive and opening doors to entirely new ways of studying the archaeological record) can be transformational. So blogging becomes a way of sharing this kind of information. 

In addition to being a platform for discussing technical details and geeky stuff, blogging is also an interactive platform. Individuals can respond to posts or pose public questions to authors that would otherwise be impossible. This interaction can lead to debates, clarifications, or collaborations — all of which mirrors the real kind of interaction that goes on within the closed doors academia but at a dramatically faster pace and with enormously expanded inclusiveness. No longer are some hand-picked crew the only ones allows to write critiques about an article (e.g., the Current Anthropology CA Treatment): everyone can get engaged with academic dialog (for better or worse). Given that the interaction is public (and not some private email chain) and  the publications are nearly instantaneous, the blogosphere opens new doors for enhancing information that exist in other formats (such as dead trees).  For example, I recently responded to a critic about our moai transport work and answered questions that were posed. I like to think that blogging such interaction enhances the value of the publications and contributes to make the ideas clearer.  

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Response to Comment


A Sophist wrote a comment in response to the blog entry Diamond attempts to defend myths of Easter Island: Lipo and Hunt respond :

My questions remain: 1. Were there Palm trees on Easter Island when the first Europeans visited? And if not, then H+L are arguing this was rats and not humans cutting the trees down? 2. If Palm Trees are unable to be made into canoes, how did the people make ocean going canoes? In there were no canoes, how did Dolphin get into the diet? I guess I am missing the problem. This seems to be a lesson in how isolated political leaders who do not feel the pain of their actions (cutting down the forest for whatever bloody reason: fuel, canoes, to move statues, etc) can lead their society to the brink of destruction. 

The questions themselves point to common but false assumptions often made about Easter Island prehistory and they are worthing examining. 

Question #1:  Palm Trees.  I’m not sure how the two different parts to the question are related (i.e., whether there were palm trees at contact in 1722 and whether rats “cut down” the trees). For the first question: no one knows exactly whether there living examples of palm trees on the island in AD 1722 when Roggeveen first arrived nor later in the 1770s when the Spanish and English arrived.  The overall impression we get from these early written accounts is that the island was largely devoid of trees though there are also mentions of “palms” in some of the descriptions.  The pollen and macro  botanical record is equally unclear given the relatively poor dating of the island as a whole and relatively few dates of palm nuts in particular. A major effort to date events on the island (with modern understanding of the need to link past events with dated events) would go a long way to resolve this issue (among many others). 

One difficulty in resolving pre- versus post- contact differences in the island’s landscape and ecology is the fact that point at which researchers arrived on the island to make systematic descriptions is more than 250 years after initial contact and decades after the island was turned into a sheep ranch. Certainly, the presence of 60,000 sheep and associated ranching activities likely resulted in the final termination of many plants that may have been present in small numbers in late prehistory.  So the timing of the final termination of the palm is still a bit unclear.

The second part of the question seems to assume that we (Hunt and Lipo) argued that it was “rats… cutting the trees down.” The statement is absurd to begin with and of course we have never argued this. What we have argued is that arrival of rats with humans on to the island brought immediate and substantial changes to the ecology of the island. The introduction of rats is really the introduction of the first teeth on the island and their presence (as is well documented in many environments) will impact native vegetation especially that which has coevolved dispersal mechanisms with birds. The impact of rat is a fact and indisputable given the evidence that exists of rat gnawing seeds. But did they “cause” the trees to go extinct (as this question implies we say)?

The answer is, of course, no. The rats did not cause the palm forest to go extinct for several reasons. First, things don’t “cause” other things to happen except in common sense (see Sellars 1963: Science, perception and reality).  Second, while rat predation on palm nuts has been an ignored factor in the vegetation changes that are commensurate with human arrivals, rats were not the sole factor.  We *do* know that rat predation on seeds can make massive changes in vegetation and even extinction even when humans are not present.  As Hunt has discussed, the elimination of Pritchardia palm in the Ewa Plain clearly predates the actual arrival of humans (see Hunt, T., 2007. Journal of Archaeological Science 34 (2007) 485-502; Athens, J.S., Tuggle, H.D., Ward, J.V., Welch, D.J., 2002. Avifaunal extinc- tions, vegetation change, and Polynesian impacts in prehistoric Hawai’i. Archaeology in Oceania 37, 57-78.p. 73).

On Easter Island with its tiny size (about 6x10miles), however, there was never a point at which rats were separate from humans. It takes about an afternoon to walk from one side of Rapa Nui to the other: human and rat impacts will be effectively simultaneous across the the entire island.  We know that the people arriving on Easter Island were slash-and-burn cultivationists — a strategy we side widespread across the Pacific (and indeed around the world). Their lives depended on transforming the environment to one that was capable of supporting human life through the growth of Polyensian domesticated plants. Thus, humans burned the forest down right from the get-go.  The combination of human burning for land clearance with rat predation on palm nuts would mean that the forest have a difficult time to grow back on its own.  Recent excavations by a Belgian team up at Vaitea (I believe: I heard about this second hand) show that in prehistory there were attempts to grow these palm trees. This is not at all surprising: the trees were certainly disappearing given activities of slash-and-burn and rat predation and this would be something that prehistoric people noticed (contra the assumptions inherent in claims by Diamond). 

What gets confused as a claim that we (Hunt and Lipo) argued that rats “caused” palm tree extinction are some comments that Hunt made in his paper in American Scientist that:


The evidence from elsewhere in the Pacific makes it hard to believe that rats would not have caused rapid and widespread environmental degradation. But there is still the question of how much of an effect rats had relative to the changes caused by humans, who cut down trees for a number of uses and practiced slash-and-burn agriculture. I believe that there is substantial evidence that it was rats, more so than humans, that led to deforestation.

and in his 2007 JAS article where he says:


In this review I have examined ar- chaeological, palaeo-environmental, and contemporary eco- logical evidence to suggest that the Pacific rat may have played a major role in Rapa Nui’s ecological catastrophe. The fact that rats alone are capable of widespread forest de- struction compels us to evaluate their contribution to the trans- formation of Rapa Nui, as well as in other island ecosystems. While I argue that the role of rats has often been underesti- mated, direct human actions of felling and use of fire likely have played a significant role as well. Additional research will be essential to disentangle the contributing factors. The environmental catastrophe of Rapa Nui is likely a complex history, one that has been masked by speculations about the in- tentions of people cutting down the last tree. Indeed, the ‘‘last tree’’ may simply have died. Rats may have simply eaten the last seeds. Perhaps the lessons of Rapa Nui tell of the effects of invasive species, invasional meltdowns, and the synergy of ef- fects that ensue as people and their portmanteau biota reach evolutionary isolates in the remote islands of the Pacific. 

But what is clear in the context of these quotes is that what Hunt is arguing (as we both do later on) is that the loss of the forest is the outcome of a number of factors among which rats is one. It is certainly possible to argue that rats could have caused the extinction of the palm trees, but in the case of Rapa Nui it also seems clears that the rat predation was occurring simultaneously with human burning and clearing of the palm forest. Empirically, this is undebatable  as we have rat gnawed seeds that are found contemporaneously with burned palm. 

It is also silly to argue that the presence of non-gnawed seeds somehow “disproves” the role of rat predation. Some nuts probably didn’t get eaten especially if the tree was burned before the rats were able to consume them.  Even a small impact to seed production for these trees is likely to have caused changes in the life history structure of the forest whereby there become fewer and fewer young trees. Rats do not have to eat every single palm nut for the forest to go into major decline or even extinction. Clearly the r-selected strategy of palm trees embodied by nut production is a testament to the fact that the palm is evolutionarily successful by maximizing the number of offspring due to the fact on average some of the nuts will grow into new trees, not all.  The novel introduction of toothed predators likely only had to have a small effect to have upset the balance between forest regeneration and failure. Of course, this is topic that clearly needs more research. 

Question #2:  Canoes and Dolphins: In the second part of his/her question, A Sophist writes: "2. If Palm Trees are unable to be made into canoes, how did the people make ocean going canoes?”  I guess the assumption here is that the presence of dolphin remains at Anakena must somehow have required large ocean going canoes. It also refers to the fact that we argue that palm trees are not useful for constructing canoes, at least not the sailing/voyaging canoes used by Polynesians. To disentangle this question, let’s start by saying that it is likely that whatever canoes brought people to Easter Island were likely around for some period after their arrival. We don’t know this specifically since we have no evidence but the faunal record seems to record more deep water/pelagic fish in the early assemblages than later. The acquisition of these fish would have required canoes and early on there would have been the original canoes to use.  It also seems that at some point these canoes rot away, are lost, or used to sail elsewhere as the faunal remains show significantly less pelagic fish. From that point on the emphasis of the population was nearly entirely on terrestrial resources (though some small % of fish from the limited nearshore reef seemed to supplement the diet). The palm trees appear to have been lost over 4 centuries were not used in canoe manufacturing even though they were present.  This is almost certainly because palm trees are not good raw material for canoes: they are flexible grasses filled with mush. 

The presence of dolphin remains at Anakena is certainly interesting but it doesnt seems to contradict our overall understanding of the archaeological record.  The remains are few in number and were never a major source of food. Ethnographically we know that dolphin come into the Anakena bay and were sometime hunted there. The bay is shallow. Traditional means of hunting dolphin often involved trapping them in shallow water by driving them toward shore with rocks knocked underwater (see if you stomach it). Deep water canoes were not necessary for hunting dolphin. 

Final Comment:  The final comment by A Sophist is a bit puzzling: "This seems to be a lesson in how isolated political leaders who do not feel the pain of their actions (cutting down the forest for whatever bloody reason: fuel, canoes, to move statues, etc) can lead their society to the brink of destruction. “ It is not clear at all what “this” refers to or who the “isolated political leaders” are or what “brink of destruction” means. Inherent in here is the idea that somehow the forest was a vital resource upon which people depended. The fact is that there is no evidence that palm trees ever played a central role in the subsistence or settlement activity of people of the island. As sweet potato farmers, the clearance of trees (like all farmers) resulted in more land available for growing crops. The burning of the forest resulted in temporarily increased nutrients in the soil. The fact that rat predation (not to mention the slow growth and reproduction of the tree itself) meant that the forest never regrew was not a catastrophe. Alternative (laborious yet, but indeed clever) means of enriching the soil through rock mulch as well as intensely tended gardens (manavai) were able to keep the soils growing food. The trees simply were not a vital resource to the prehistoric population.

Monday, October 28, 2013

NIR Raspberry Pi Camera

I am excited to read that one can now buy a near-infrared Raspberry Pi camera. The regular one  can be modified to measure NIR light but the process is futzy and error prone. I destroyed 2 cameras trying to get the damn thing apart. This new camera has the NIR filter removed so one is set to go right from the start.  Adafruit has them in stock (as of this morning but I’m fairly certain they will sell out quickly).

My efforts to build the RPi multispectral camera are now made much simpler: 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Remote Sensing with UAVs and eCognition

PLoS published an interesting new article about the use of UAVs to track invasive weeds in maize fields using UAV imagery and remote sensing techniques. This is a good example of an article that uses remote sensing and UAVs in an analytic sense and not just "camera in the air." While elevated camera angles are cool, they do not really take advantage of the technology nor offer much in the way of actual research. This article points to how this kind of work can be done (and will be a good article to use for our REU program).

Monday, October 14, 2013

Giant Human Sized Salamanders

Every couple of years when we lived in Wisconsin, the woods around us would be invaded by different kinds of newts and salamanders. Although I never did figure out what caused these events, I assume that those waves of critters were related to population booms or some conditions that resulted in 1000s of them running across the driveway and into our garage. I would have loved, however, to see a plague of these guys:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Raspberry Pi based multispectral camera


I have been working on constructing a new version of the DIY multispectral camera that I began last year.  The first version was based on a paper by Shaw et al a group at Montana State University. Their MS camera made use of solid-state DVR boards with a 1MP black and white cameras. A X-bee based radio relay triggered all the cameras to take photos on 4 separate SD cards. Each of the cameras has a filter to create Red, NIR, Green and Blue bands. Put together and one can get 4-band multispectral image with good control over the contents of each of the bands (due to the pass/cut filters that select a range of wavelengths of interest for each camera). 
Last year, I replicated what they were doing but found that the firmware on the DVR cards ( left a lot to be desired. The software interface on the cards is clunky and randomly stopped working. With the control software entirely in the firmware there wasn't much I could do to fix things or troubleshoot.  
With the release of the Raspberry Pi camera, I figured this might offer a cheaper and more robust solution. The RPi camera is also 5MP which offers better resolution. With separate Raspberry Pis controlling each camera, I can then potentially add more sophisticated processing (on the fly), have some sanity checks, and generally make the whole thing more robust.  Potentially I can create NDVIs on the fly so that the analysis part is complete by the time the images are downloaded. The demonstration that the IR filter can be removed clinched the decision for me and I dove into building a new RPi based version. 
For this I have 4 Raspberry Pis driving 4 separate CMOS cameras. Separate controllers are needed for two reasons: (1) the PI only has one port for driving a camera. (2) In an aerial setting one needs to take the photos all at the same time -- not in sequence since the camera is moving.  Ultimately, I will add the filters to restrict the light to each of the cameras.  The camera run a python script that listens to a GPIO port for a triggering announcement. A fifth Pi runs as a master. It has a GPS and a real time clock on board to track its location and time.  When sufficient distance from the previous photos has passed, the master pi triggers the other cameras with the GPIO. The master then ftps the images back to a central location and (when the script is done), these are assembled into a single multispectral image using GDAL libraries (aligned and so on). A UBEC provides the power to the whole thing so that it can be run off of the balancing plug of a LiPo battery (assuming its installed in some sort of UAV/plane/copter). 
As of last night, It is all assembled (see photo) and I'm working on the software part of the project.  Ive got the master program working with the gps and so on and the basic triggering scripts for the individual cameras. Using GPIO on the Pi is pretty sweet though having to run the scripts as sudo is a bit wonky IMHO. Ultimately the individual pis will boot in headless fashion and begin running their scripts. Ive got the master pi now functioning as a wireless access device so that the other pis can connect to it. I still have to work on getting the transfers going. That will requiring making sure that the script can find the right images that go together. One way to do that might to have the slave pis ftp to the master using a number scheme to make it clear what goes with what. That is work yet to be done... 

A very useful tool ... Offline USGS topo maps on your phone

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Dangers of the Recent "Anything Goes" Trend in Archaeology...


Last night, the IgNobles were announced:

ARCHAEOLOGY PRIZE Brian Crandall and Peter Stahl, for parboiling a dead shrew, and then swallowing the shrew without chewing, and then carefully examining everything excreted during subsequent days — all so they could see which bones would dissolve inside the human digestive system, and which bones would not.

REFERENCE: “Human Digestive Effects on a Micromammalian Skeleton,” Peter W. Stahl and Brian D. Crandall, Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 22, November 1995, pp. 789–97.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mobius ActionCam as a Near Infrared Camera

I have been working on modifying cameras to allow us to be able to take remote photos using our various platforms (quadcopters, fixed wing, etc) in the near-infrared. Doing so gives us an ability to generate NDVI images and study differences in vegetation health (and thus potentially archaeological features ala crop marks, etc.). The criteria we've had is that the cameras have to be (1) light and ideally (2) cheap. We know we can do this for Canon cameras and get good results.  What is required is taking the camera apart and removing the IR filter that is ordinarily placed in front of the CMOS or CCD sensor.  Some cameras are easier than others to modify in this way.  I have done this for a Canon A380 and for a couple of GoPro Hero (Naked and 2). We also sent one of our Ricoh GR III cameras to a commercial service to have this done (this cost a couple of hundred bucks).

With these point-and-shoot cameras there are some drawbacks.  First, they are mechanical and have parts in them that are easy to mess up once you take the cameras apart. Ive screwed up one or two of our cheaper Canon's this way -- once some spring get sprung they can be nearly impossible to reassemble.  Second, they are heavier than they need to be. With remote sensing we are basically focusing on infinity and we want a relatively wide angle view. As a result, we don't need all the focusing mechanics or any optical zooming and what not. This just complicates the entire camera and weighs it down.  Third, they somewhat expensive. Once you start opening up cameras and yanking out parts, it is preferable to have the cameras cost well under $100 each.


Iam Bouret, one of our fantastic collaborators on our NSF REU program ( suggested that we look into the Mobius ActionCam as a possible candidate for our NIR camera. This camera costs about $70 has a 5MP sensor, is configurable via open firmware and software, is solid-state and easy to take apart.  You can read all about the camera here:  A windows-based GUI allows the camera to be customized ( Using this interface one can set the resolution of the images, the default modes, and the intervalometer.  

Taking the camera apart was very easy. If you follow the guide on the website you can follow along. Basically there are a couple of screws holding the case together and the lens is removable by detaching a ribbon cable from the main board. Once you do that you can open the back of the lens and remove the IR filter (its immediately above the CMOS sensor). Then the entire thing goes back together again in the opposite order. There are thankfully no springs or mechanical bits to make the job messy - it really is about a 10 minute job. 


Once you remove the IR filter you have a camera that records images that include a portion of the near-infrared spectrum.  This is great but what you are doing is simply allowing more light in the camera. The results are still split into the RGB bands - there are just additional wavelengths present (this is why the IR filter is used - to just show the visible spectrum).  To isolate the NIR you need add a filter so that you get the near IR to use one of the bands.  In black and white film photography this is usually done with a yellow filter that cuts out the bus and thus shifts the spectrum up in wavelength so that you get nearIR (N), red (R ) and green (G).  An alternative that seems to be preferable for digital images is to use a blue filter to eliminate the red.  What you get then is a file that records just the NGB (the red is removed). Ideally one would take simultaneous shots with a regular color camera to provide 4-band images (NRGB) but that requires 2 cameras and a way of registering the two sets of images. 

Jeffrey Warren of Infragram ( project on Public Lab sent me a piece of their "infrablue" filter to use with the NIR modified camera. This filter seems to be well suited for removing the red while allowing the near IR band to be collected by the CMOS sensor.  Here is a sample NIR image (compare to the RGB).

Finally, I ran the NIR image through the Infragram sandbox to generate an NDVI. The results look pretty good, but Ill have to check how the spectra to see if we are getting good separation of the bands.  Apparently the Infragram folks have found that some of the cheap-o CMOS based camera sensors are set up in a way in which there is a lot of blue leaking into the NIR band. Obviously this will screw the image up for analytic purposes. From what I understand this is caused in some cases by the fact that a Bayer RGB filter is not always used to separate the light into 3 bands. So there is a need to search for a cheap camera that still has good properties in terms of splitting the bands.  

Given these results, though, it appears that the Mobius Action cam might do the trick. Ill be interested to hear what the folks at the Infragram project think. 








Wednesday, July 10, 2013


American Dog Breeds Came From Asia During Pre-Columbian Times, DNA Study Suggests

Project ideas

From this summer, I've put together a list of possible projects that could be tackled by ambitious (and relatively tech savvy) students for an MA or honor thesis. 

  • Mapping and integrating vertical imaging of surfaces with horizontal imaging (I.e., "greg's" project). This is largely a matter of figuring out how to best integrate the different datasets. Greg focused on the "images" and found they couldn't be matched — which isn't a surprise given the way each program deals with them. But the data are different — the XYZ coordinates. Those should be integrate-able. The images are a separate matter.
  • Detecting and mapping cave features with TIR, NIR and VIS imagery. Jeanette didn't integrate the multiple sources of imagery into a single classification so couldn't get a good product. Im not sure why she didn’t do that other than "not enough time." But this would be the way to go.
  • Multispectral camera (V1.0) use in mapping vegetation. This would be a project that would have a student work on the existing MS camera to map vegetation in an area of interest (e.g., Palo Verde or somewhere else). The current camera is functional and Im working on it to reduce the weight. This way it could be flown with the quadcopters — which means that students can do their own data collect. They would need to be wiling to:  learn some python to process the data, learn to futz with the electronics, have an area interest. But it would be a good project that builds on what we have already and the work that the Montana State University folks did (as ours is a variant of their camera but with more bands). 
  • Multispectral camera (V2.0) The next version of the MS camera is going to be Raspberry Pi based. It will build on the concepts of V1 but have a lot more onboard processing and much higher resolution (and be lighter). What I envision is a camera that has 1 Rpi for each band with a single Rpi acting as controller and data integrator.  The cameras will be the tiny 5.0 megapixel cameras. This would be a great MA project I think. The goal will be to improve on the original  design and make it more modular with better on-board processing (such as automatically producing NDVIs). The student would need to learn python, GDAL, linux and be willing to learn about how the electronics work (but its all fairly simple). 
  • Thermal camera image integration with UAVs — We need someone to take on figuring out how to take thermal imagery with the camera and integrate this into a geospatially referenced mosaic. The project would be electronic, programming, UAVs, and could focus on studying groundwater discharge along the coast of PV (or some other handy area). 
  • Thermal camera mapping of archaeological features. Measuring differences in temperature due to buried rock features has been shown to be a great way to detect archaeology. No one has done this with a platform as small and mobile as what we have. Someone needs to figure out the best procedure for doing this, design a good test study, map some existing features (could do this in Mississippi, rapa nui, guatemala). 
  • Thermal camera detection of artifact composition – Paul Buck (DRI) has demonstrated that long wave sensing can be useful for doing sub pixel mapping of varying density of artifacts. Id like to see if we can use this approach in a micro artifact identification capacity. This would combine image processing (perhaps via ImageJ) and image classification (perhaps via eCognition) to count artifact classes automatically. We would use the thermal camera in a microscope arrangement… 
  • Temper identification in prehistoric ceramics: similar to above but examining how TIR can be used to quantify the composition of ceramics from image analysis alone. 
  • Image analysis for mapping surface archaeological features with X100 We would fly X100 over landscape to map the surface in terms of topography, archaeology, hydrology. We need someone to work on extracting archaeological distributions from the imagery (would need to figure out best sets of filters/wavelengths, techniques in eCognition and so on).
  • Constructing the ideal app for doing aerial photograph connected with photoscan. Someone needs to figure out the timing, georeferencing and processing. This could be a commercial application if done well. The person would need to be willing to learn some programming (well, quite a bit of programming).