PowerBooks, FileMaker Pro & Biodiversity research

Derek Sikes dss95002 at UCONNVM.UCONN.EDU
Wed Jun 23 09:58:58 CDT 1999

Dear Taxacom subscribers,

Over the last three days there have been articles posted on a website
devoted to news about Macintosh- MacCentral (http://www.maccentral.com/)
which describe the use of Apple technology in ecological (Daniel Janzen),
bioinventory (Project ALAS), systematics (Orthoptera Species File), and
museum (UConn Biological Collections) research.  Two of these articles
are included below for those who might be interested:

-Derek Sikes & Piotr Naskrecki
article 2:

PowerBooks, FileMaker Pro essential to biologist's research
by Dennis Sellers, dsellers at maccentral.com June 22, 1999, 7:00 am ET

 Yesterday's "Famous People" column spotlighted Dr. Daniel Janzen, the
man behind the Guanacaste Conservation Area (incorporating Santa Rosa
National Park) in Costa Rica, and a big booster of the Mac platform.
Recently, Janzen sent us some information on how Macs are being used in
the "940Species Home Pages" pilot project that's designed to make
scientific information freely available to anyone who needs it.

 The 940 Species Home Pages project shows how to gather a large mass of
disparate biological information from a conserved wildland and make it
user-friendly and available to the entire world, accomplishing this with
nothing more than paraecologisits drawn from the resident community and
armed with transport, PowerBooks, FileMaker Pro, digital cameras, Adobe
Photoshop and a Web site. The project will show how a tropical resident
community can take charge of its own wild biodiversity and offer it to
the world.

 "The democratization of science in a tropical setting REQUIRES an Apple
PowerBook --170, 540c, 5300ce, 3400, G3 has been the progression -- and
FileMaker Pro," says Janzen. "These extenders of the human mind allow
magnificent idea and data generation and management. They are incredibly
cross-platform, allowing both communication and synergism across
languages, cultures, social class, motivation and topic. And like
learning to walk and talk, building them into your head is
self-teachable, maximizing a sense of self and self-accomplishment,
perhaps the most powerful development tool ever."

 The scientists says PowerBooks "tolerate everything" - - backpacks,
mountain "roads," drenching humidity, death valley heat, termites, ants,
coffee, porcupines, and clouds of dust (though he's not yet tried
dropping one in the ocean). He adds that the opportunity for teamwork
offered by PowerBooks and FileMaker Pro is "truly phenomenal." He
describes the hardware-software combination as a desk that's bigger than
a 10-story building with hundreds of assistants - "with an overhead of a
few backups and upgrades."

 "A major part of field biology today uses and is coming to use FileMaker
Pro because of the collaborative mindset so prominent among Apple users,
and so explicitly nurtured by Apple products," Janzen says. "In 1988 I
was walking through the Philadelphia airport with a MacPlus hanging from
my finger tips. A suit screeched to a stop, reversed, snatched a floppy
out of his shirt pocket, thrust it into my hand, said 'you have to know
about this,' and ran on... I timorously put it in, and there in front of
us was the FileMaker heaven for those who work with jillions of small
units, each with many traits. And that is, of course, what biology is in
the field. How else could I carry around 100,000 caterpillar histories in
my backpack, and display them for you at any moment? How else could I
show a farm wife to organize and retain her bumpy road to biodiversity
management from 1841 to 1999 in six months?"

 Janzen says there's simply no way his crew could have set out to create
a guild of bioliteracy-empowered biodiversity managers in the field
without Apple portables and FileMaker Pro. Curiosity is the only thing
the human resource needs to bring to the table, he says.

 "With nothing but an Apple PowerBook and FM Pro, I can create a
computer-literate from a cowboy, a rural farm wife, a third grade
dropout, and upgrade their lives forever. It's then only a hop to the
'Net, to control of your life, to truly belonging," Janzen says. "In no
way could we do real field biology with 3X5 cards and Kodachrome slides."

 There is simply no way that he and his co-workers could manage
biodiversity and biodiversity information without Apple hardware and
applications, he says, adding that FM Pro is the answer to every field
biologist's prayers. Twenty years of his academic and scientific life
sits in 12 overfull file cabinets, and fills more than 50 meters of shelf
space. The next 15 years' worth sits under his hands and goes everywhere
in his backpack, says Janzen. To take away his laptop and FM Pro would be
"worse than a lobotomy," he says.

 "Like eyeglasses, airplanes and telecommunications, an Apple PowerBook
and FM Pro make me a greatly improved human," Janzen says. "There is
simply no way that I could handle my worlds of academia, field biology,
conservation, two cultures, and ordinary living without these two
extensions of my body... Without Apple not only my science comes to a
screeching halt, but all the force and opportunity of the democratization
of science and environmental management here in rural Costa Rica dies."

article 3

 Apple tech vital to biodiversity projects
by Dennis Sellers, dsellers at maccentral.com June 23, 1999, 7:00 am ET

After yesterday's story of Dr. Daniel Janzen and his scientific work
involving PowerBooks and FileMaker Pro, Derek Sikes and Piotr Naskrecki
sent us three more examples of biodiversity related applications of Apple
technology. The following cases are based on info from Sikes and
Naskrecki and the Web sites mentioned.

Project ALAS (http://viceroy.eeb.uconn.edu/ALAS/ALAS.html). In 1992 a
small group of biologists undertook what seemed to be an impossible task
to inventory the most diverse group of animals in a tropical rain forest:
insects and arachnids (spiders and their relatives). When they began
their task at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica there were no
tools to deal with such a huge amount of biological data.

Dr. Robert Colwell of the University of Connecticut, the technical head
of the project made a decision to use Apple computers and create a
custom, relational database to handle this task. He started with Fox Pro
but quickly discovered its limitations. Then he decided to try building a
database using 4D. It was the right decision and his program now holds
hundreds of thousands of biological records of the project ALAS,
including thousands of images captured right in the middle of the Costa
Rican rain forest using a variety of digital techniques. This database,
called "Biota: The biodiversity database
manager"(http://viceroy.eeb.uconn.edu/biota) has since become a
commercial product and is published by Sinauer. All this was possible in
part thanks to the generosity and continued support of Apple, who donated
computer equipment during the early stages of the project. Now, with a
suite of new G3 Macs, ALAS workers are moving to the next stage of the
project: making the enormous wealth of data accumulated over the last
seven years available online.

The Orthoptera Species File (http://viceroy.eeb.uconn.edu/Orthoptera). In
1997 the National Science Foundation funded a project to create a global,
Internet-based database of the Orthoptera: a group of insects that
include economically and ecologically important locusts, grasshoppers,
katydids and their allies. Two scientists from the Academy of Natural
Sciences of Philadelphia and the University of Connecticut created a
relational, FileMaker-based database that now includes nearly 30,000
records, including over 7,000 images and song recordings of crickets and
katydids. Virtually all images were taken digitally in major museum
insect collections in Europe, Australia, and North America using a
Kodak-Nikon digital camera attached to a PowerBook 5300.

The database is freely available to entomologists, plant protection
agencies and general public, and serves as the ultimate source of
taxonomic classification of these insects. The database has been running
continuously for nearly three years off a UMAX clone, with Mac OS 8.0.
This database is now published on a CD ROM, using FileMaker Pro Developer
Edition as its database engine.

Biological Collections (also at the University of Connecticut). Thanks to
the ease of use of FileMaker and the Mac OS, the Department of Ecology
and Evolutionary Biology was able to quickly and inexpensively create a
Web site with databases of their biological collections (birds, mammals,
fish, insects, fossils, parasites, and plants). Check it out at

This site includes seven different FileMaker databases (built on a first
generation Powerbook G3) being served using FM Pro's own Web-plug-in, run
on a Windows NT server. No professional programmers or web designers were
hired for this project, which reinforces the experiences of many -- that
the Mac OS enables average users to accomplish tasks usually relegated to
costly, contracted professionals.


Derek Sikes
Dept. of Ecology and Evol. Biology U-43
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT 06269  USA

FAX: 860-486-6364

dss95002 at uconnvm.uconn.edu

"Remember that Truth alone is the matter you are in Search after; and if
you have been mistaken, let no Vanity reduce you to persist in your
mistake." Henry Baker, London, 1785

More information about the Taxacom mailing list