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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Does Not Compute

I had trouble deciding what to write about today.  I decided to jog my thought process by doing a little web browsing, maybe look at a few zoo sites, or check some of the animal care groups on facebook.  While I was at it, I thought I'd catch up on some data entry.  That's something I'm technically supposed to be doing at work, but never seem to have time to, and besides, we only have one (occasionally) working laptop there anyway.

Not that my personal laptop is doing much better - it froze every other minute (sometimes for ten minutes at a stretch), dropped pages, and spent forever opening pages which turned out not to exist.  All sorts of exciting new programs seem to download themselves all the time without my knowledge or permission, none of which are stopped by my useless virus protection.  My internet connection is lousy, my laptop is getting old, and my major accomplishment for the evening is me not putting my boot through the screen.

I really hate computers.  And then, suddenly, I knew what to blog about - me hating computers.

You know, it's downright amazing how many picture options come up when you do a Google Images search for the words "punch" and "computer"...

Virtually every profession these days involves computers in some capacity.  In some cases it is more obvious than others, but pretty much everyone relies on email, the internet, book-keeping software, or at the very least a word processor. Zoo and aquarium keeping have, like many other fields, been brought into the computer age, sometimes enthusiastically, sometimes kicking and screaming.  Often kicking and screaming, actually.  That the director, the marketing coordinator, education curator, and other office-types need computers is fairly obvious, but what about the keepers?  Whenever we raise the question of getting better computers (or at least a second equally-crappy one), I imagine the folks at city hall scratching their heads...

"Why do a bunch of pooper-scoopers need computers at work, anyway?"

There are actually a lot of things zoo staff need computers for.  A major component of the job is record-keeping.  Many zoos now use specialized record-keeping programs - ZIMS, TRACKS, ARKS, and all sorts of other fancy acronyms - to keep track of animal data on subjects ranging from diet and behavior to enrichment and training.  Not only does this data prove useful to current keepers, allowing them to organize information about their animals, it is also essential for historical data.  I often find myself looking back at data from keepers years ago (such as changes in diet over time, or how behavior changes prior to a pregnant animal giving birth), and I expect keepers in the future will find uses for the data we collect now.  The alternative to putting it in convenient, readable, searchable computer programs are stacks and stacks of paper records that get waterlogged, lost, burnt, or are just plain unreadable.

A second way in which computers are essential to zoo and aquarium keepers is research.  The field of animal care is constantly changing with new developments, and new information and discoveries are being made all the time.  Some of this is shared in online articles and encyclopedias.  A whole lot of it, however, is from emails, listserves, and, surprisingly often, facebook.  A day doesn't go by without me getting a half dozen emails on a listserve on topics ranging from animal placement (i.e., trying to find homes for confiscated or non-releasable animals) to behavioral problems to exhibit design.  The same is true with facebook - special groups devoted to zookeepers allow animal keepers from around the world to quickly, easily, and informally exchange information and bounce ideas off of one another.

None of these explanations goes over tremendously well at work.  I think some folks just develop images of zookeepers hiding in the office all day playing Farmville instead of working.  So, until someone in our department wins the lottery and buys us a new computer (or, more likely, takes the money and retires to Cancun the next day), I'll keep bringing work home with me... and cursing this laptop the whole time.

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