Saturday, May 9

Is this the answer?

During the summer months we split into a company with two locations, operationally speaking. I stay here in the foothills and handle phone calls and emails. Backpackers send information that I put in a database that needs to be available to the folks at the high ranch up there in the wilderness. We both connect to the Internet via satellite. We use a database program called FileMaker Pro. I designed a form that holds all the necessary information concerning resupplies for hikers.

We have literally hundreds of people showing up at the high ranch each season to get their stuff. We need to be able to keep the database up to date regarding pickup dates, whether the hikers already paid for the service, and whether or not the package has been delivered to the hiker. Part of the phone calls I get come from parents/spouses/buddies/siblings: “Did [insert name of hiker here] pick up his food cache today? He promised to call me when he got to the ranch, and I haven’t heard from him.”
I say, “There’s no phone at the ranch, so that’s why he didn’t call.”
“Oh dear. I’m so worried he may be dead,” the caller laments.
“I wouldn’t worry,” I say. “Most hikers that don’t show up probably broke a leg and rolled into a deep canyon where they get nibbled on by rodents till they’re stumbled upon by a rabid assault rifle-toting hunter with a seething irrational hatred for girly-man hikers. The hunters usually release them alive after they’ve ‘had their way’ with them, if you get my meaning.”
“Whew! Thanks!” the caller says with a sigh of relief.

Our way of keeping the database files coordinated in the past has been awkward and sometimes one file would over-write another and wipe out data. I think I have finally figured out what’s needed: a central server where the files are accessible by both parties over the Internet. This requires a computer that is always on, and is the sole source of data for the users. The server will be at the foothill ranch since we have continuous electrical power. The high ranch sometimes runs out of hydro power partway through the season, then has intermittent diesel backup that turns off at 10 at night and sometimes during the day. At the lower ranch we have solar power, so we can’t have a power-hungry server going day and night. I hope we can install the unit shown in the picture, an Apple Mac Mini computer. It doesn’t have a keyboard, mouse, or display; it’s just a power-sipping little teensy computer.

I hope this blog entry helps readers who have two locations that need to access and update data in a coordinated fashion and have intermittent power at one location, satellite Internet communications, limited solar power at the server’s location, non-existent telephone access at the most important location and callers who are worried to death about loved ones/buddies/spouses/rivals.

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