Computer Data

I was in college when the world gave birth to home computers. I had been typing all of my college reports on a typewriter. The first computers were little more than word processors; exactly what I wanted. I desperately needed a home computer, but I would have to sneak it into the house without my wife knowing. Some where she read an article of women becoming computer widows. She made it clear that I would never have a computer while I was married to her.

I had a choice to make: leave the wife or hide the computer. When my wife wasn’t looking, I bought an Adam computer. The manufacturer claimed that with the high-speed cassette drives, the computer would boot up quickly. I would turn on the computer and start a pot of coffee. When the coffee was done peculating, the computer would be finished booting up a few moments later. The computer was built around a daisy wheel printer, so the end result gave the appearance of having been typed. The dot-matrix printers at the time produced horrible print results.

Shortly after, the internet was invented and we could access the worldwide web at a dazzling 300 bauds. You could feel yourself grow old while you waited for a photo to download to your computer. When we got computer modems that could reach 5.6k speeds when thought we were in heaven. Now, we complain if our download speed gets below 5mb/s. I got involved with AOL’s Pet Care Forum and managed a couple online forums. I was witnessing my wife’s predictions coming true. Fortunately, the AVMA took over the forums and many of us old timers lost interest and I was spending more time with the wife… I have children to prove it.

The first “real” home computers came with three hard drive size options: 10, 20, or 30 megabytes. We were told that no one could ever use up that much space on these drives in a lifetime. If you know of anyone who has loaded Microsoft Office with 32 floppy disks… these are the old timers. We’ve seen it all.

I stayed current with the evolution of computers; I wrote a couple articles for the National Animal Control Association’ newsletter to help introduce this new technology to our profession. I lectured on computer technology at a conference and gave a final exam in which the attendees would explain a computer sales ad so that they could understand the language used in the new era.

I found myself overseeing technical support for an animal shelter management software tool called PetWhere. I grew to have a great appreciation for technical support people everywhere; well almost everywhere…. Now, you talk to someone who claims that they are speaking English, but you cannot discern a word that they are saying.

I remember providing technical support to a guy that was have problems with our software program and, to be honest, I was losing my patience with him. I spent a half hour trying to teach him the difference between his left and right mouse buttons. I quickly realized that the problem the guy was having with his computer was himself. In a moment of frustration, I asked the guy to walk out to his lobby and see if he could find a twelve-year-old child to bring back to his computer. So, to all of the technical support people out there, I felt your pain. Some people should just not be allowed near a computer keyboard (or a mouse).

I used to love getting data disks from animal shelter with corrupted data: it was a great feeling to save the day. I remember an animal shelter in Texas backing up their data every night on tape, not realizing that those tapes would eventually wear out. They had been backing up their data for years using the same tapes, night after night. There is nothing worse that losing all of your data. Even now, I make backups of my backups. You can easily find an external 4 terabyte drive for under $100. If you have a large database you should save backing up your files after hours, so that you are not bogging down the system while your front counter folks are trying assist people.

Computers today make backing up your data easy. I suggest that you make two backups every night and take on offsite. When Hurricane Katrina hit, one shelter had to evacuate and left behind their computers that were four feet underwater. Can you imagine losing your data? It is always a good idea to have your data replicated to a laptop computer, so that if your network goes down due to power loss, you at least have one working computer that you can query. Don’t think you are off the hook because you have a power backup system in place for your servers, eventually those batteries will stop providing power after a few hours. And, many facilities don’t have their desktop computer with a backup power supply. So much of what we do is sitting on a server somewhere. You need to remember that your data is your weak link. When you lose your data, that is when you figure out how important it is to have a backup plan. Please don’t think the plan of having your data at an online location is the solution either; infrequently the internet goes down as well; but, it can provide one location for your backup data.

In preparing for a power loss, you will find it helpful that your kennel cards, the cards placed on every animal’s kennel describing the animal, should contain sufficient information about the animal that you can discern the status of the animal without the need to run to a computer. Information as to whether the animal is on its stray hold time, or available for adoption are important when all other data is inaccessible. It would not hurt that any medical treatment be posted as well. Many shelters will actually stick the vaccination stickers on the kennel cards to show that the animal had been vaccinated in the shelter. Keep in mind that during disasters and facing possible power loss for an extended period of time, your kennel card should be sufficiently “useful” for the task. Always be prepared with a paper-based system for incoming animals when computers are down.