Column: Computers and the modern ranch

Columnist David Zirnhelt talks about the death of his laptop

A couple weeks back, I was in town doing some business and I had my first computer crash.

Not the type of system failure that makes you lose your work and documents, or a virus which corrupts all aspects of the performance of this essential piece of equipment.

It was a real, fatal crash. I was driving up the hill north out of Williams Lake when a pickup pulled up beside me and a neighbour held my briefcase out of their truck window and said it had fallen off my truck when I pulled out of the DQ.

It isn’t like me not to take care of my laptop, on which I have come to depend. I write this column on it and I have a lot of documents filed away on my hard drive. And I use it for email and managing information for all the meetings I take on the phone and in person.

I was thankful for the rescue by the neighbours. However, when I sought to fire it up, it seemed the stock trailer I was towing which is wider than the pickup ran over the hard drive. The cracked screen was the least of my worries.

We had a good laugh at my obvious oversight of setting the computer bag on the back of the truck while I had a good discussion with someone. I am never absent minded in town, just busy, busy…

The computer shop said I might be able to retrieve the files on my hard drive for $1500, as it would have to be sent out to a “clean room” for investigation.

I opted to hang on to the hard drive until I could see what I can retrieve from email attachments. It turns out I rarely use the many thousands of documents I have stored for “future use”.

When looking up information on planting, equipment, livestock, and farm economics to mention just a few, one needs to get the latest information so I am on the net searching the information anyway.

So with a new computer in hand, I am assessing just how valuable all my old files are.

It was stupid of me not to back up my files on an external hard drive. I am sure that is why “the cloud” was invented for backing up your stored information. Presumably the cloud is infallible.

It used to be that our memories, some paper files and books stored our information.

So now many of us we have created a bit of a dependency on the computer for every day functioning. There are just so many applications relevant to farming and ranching that “information” has become one of the costs of doing business.

For us ranching, we need a few things that would help us: better access to information held by government about all aspects of ranching; perhaps a local or regional chat group to discuss common problems; the emergence of pests, for example.

There are so many passwords we need to know that one had better keep a hard file (paper) in case we lose our memories – even just in the short term.

There are so many ways to do business online, such as paying taxes and bills, that one can save precious time and fuel going to town to do business.

In our case, we use our smart phones and iPads to take picture of animals for identification, to get the model and serial numbers from our machines when we need parts.

We are starting to use mapping apps for measuring fields (to commute fertilizer and amend application), locate underground waterlines and record pasture management.

All of this is not to say we are always happy with the technology. I wish some of mine would not fall off the truck.

Doing a good job of assessing the value of technology and knowing how to use it will help make it cost effective.

This is one more reason to hand over the reins to the upcoming generations.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher in the Cariboo and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake Campus.

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