Commentary by Conrad Berube
Why I Put Bugs in My Laptop Computer
When I completed
my bachelor's degree in forestry way back when, I always took solace in the fact
that if things really got bad, I'd always know how to live in the woods. Then,
completing a master's degree in entomology in 1993, I took further comfort in
the fact that I also now know which bugs are safe to
To forestall a sylvan existence foraging for
grubs, however, I've been
occupied since 1982 in entomologically related economic endeavors -- first
in beekeeping and most recently in computer-assisted integrated pest management
Changing political and economic climates have led to
restructuring of provincial, federal and academic programs that previously
provided entomological extension services -- and employment for entomologists
-- in Canada. This reduction in services has not reduced the demand for
such services -- but it has certainly endangered the survival of entomologists.
Given the dwindling demand for entomologists in
government and academic
institutions, I thought I'd share my experiences in what I call "entopreneurship"
-- specifically, one company's "cyberactive" experience in small-scale,
private-sector entomological and IPM consulting services.
new political/economic climate has wreaked havoc on the unevolved institutions
of our profession. At the same time, it has created niche opportunities
for such evolutionary "entoprises" as our company, Island Crop Management.
As independent contractors, we integrate pest
in agricultural and suburban environments. We owe much of our evolutionary
survival success to the adoption of low-end high technology.
For instance, slinging a low-end laptop from a fanny
pack is a much
more efficient way of taking notes in the field than scribbling in a notebook.
What's more, laptops give us a another valuable
advantage in the
field: We can refer to the most up-to-date IPM guidelines -- compiled from
our own experiences, as well as from the various scientific databases on
Low-end, used laptop computers can be purchased for a
dollars and are more than adequate for recording field data and storing
pest management guidelines to bolster a particular recommendation.
Laptops are also useful because writing IPM
recommendations by hand
and carrying them back to a central location where the grower could pick
them up was proving to be a not inconsiderable time sink. Furthermore,
paper records can be inconvenient, difficult to read, easily lost (at least
if I'm handling them) and once filed, are usually never used again.
On the other hand, recommendations written on a field computer can be copied,
filed, faxed and/or e-mailed to growers upon return to the office or one's
Once back at the office, one can use the
Internet to access predictive
computer models and databases, such as those developed by various government
agencies and universities.
One such predictive program was developed by
Agriculture Canada to
forecast late and early blight infection in potatoes. The program continually
extrapolates the rate and extent of infection. Using wind, temperature
and humidity data collected in electronic sensing devices located in monitored
fields, the program periodically generates the latest recommendations to
In addition to such "expert systems," experts
themselves in disciplines
related to IPM can be contacted via the Internet through e-mail or list-servers
such as Entomo-L or Pestcon-L.
Of similar importance are the online databases
such as the integrated
pest management information system, IPMIS, initiated by Linda Gilkeson
and operated by the British Columbia Ministry of Environment (for which
our company and most of the other IPM consulting companies in the region
have gathered data).
As a footnote
regarding computer technology related to IPM, most sound cards for computers
come bundled with a text-to-speech program. Using such a program, it is
easy to use one's computer to record audio cassettes of the technical information
stored in one's computer, such as pest management guidelines downloaded
from IPMIS. The tapes can then be listened to when one is collecting field
samples, while driving from one location to another, and at other times
that do not require intense concentration. If one can get accustomed to
an effect much like Stephen Hawkings lecturing on IPM, the result is more
edifying than listening to the radio all day.
As government and large corporations continue
to downsize, there
will be increased pressure on our company, and probably most others involved
in consulting ventures, towards the evolutionary options to adapt, migrate
or go extinct. Computer technology and cyber-services are one of the most
important means by which we can at least hope to adapt.
ISLAND CROP MANAGEMENT
613 Hecate St.
Nanaimo, B.C. V9R 4K4
(250) 754-2482; fax: (250) 656-8922
Copyright 1997 Conrad
Back to Fleming LTD Home Page