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March 1997

Commentary by Conrad Berube

Why I Put Bugs in My Laptop Computer

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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 eat.

 

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 (IPM) consulting.

Changing political and economic climates have led to downsizing and 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.

 

catrpilr.gifThe 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 management strategies 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 the Internet.

Low-end, used laptop computers can be purchased for a few hundred 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.

 

beetle.gif 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 home office.

 

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 mitigate infection.

 

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).

aphid.gif 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.

 

ICM logo

Conrad Berube
ISLAND CROP MANAGEMENT
613 Hecate St.
Nanaimo, B.C. V9R 4K4
(250) 754-2482; fax: (250) 656-8922
email:
uc779@freenet.victoria.bc.ca

Copyright 1997 Conrad Berube

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