Computers are incredible. They make complicated tasks simple and enable me to do things impossible without them. The cut and paste commands in the simple word processor on my first personal computer amazed me, easing the drudgery of editing manuscripts. Ten years later, I'm surfing waves of digital information in bibliographic databases on CD-ROM (Compact Disc-Read Only Memory), creating color slides for presentations, printing camera-ready copy on a laser printer, and networking with other occupational safety and health professionals via computer bulletin boards.
Computers are a pain. They complicate simple tasks and enable me to do terrible things impossible without them. Printing an address on an envelope is so convoluted I continue to address envelopes by hand or typewriter. Computer viruses" or power surges can quickly destroy volumes of valuable information. Why do I remember to back up my hard disk after I've lost 80 megabytes of irreplaceable files?
Welcome to Occupational Hazards' "computers" column, where we examine the heaven and hell of personal computers in occupational safety and health (OSH). Here we will discover how IBM-compatible and Macintosh computers help harried professionals. We'll see how standard applications -- spreadsheets, word processors, database managers, and graphics software -- solve real-world OSH problems. During the next year, we'll review CD-ROM information resources, computerized regulations, OSHA recordkeeping, occupational exposure, and program information management, and the latest developments in telecommunications and bulletin boards. Don't expect exhaustive software reviews. Do expect honest opinions on a product's strengths and weaknesses and whether it lives up to its advertising.
Writing a column is a lonely business. The writer writes; the reader reads. This column is different. With your support, "Computers" will serve as a focal point for exchanging information and ideas on using computers in the OSH professions. You can participate by electronic mail so that "Computers" focuses on your interests, questions, and concerns.
At the end of each column, I'll solicit your comments, opinions, and ideas. Tell me about your favorite programs, why they are special, and how you use them. What books helped you climb the learning curve? Have you written a program, spreadsheet, or database template useful in your practice? Send me a copy and I will share it with our readers. We can even make your software and templates available on-line for others to download as freeware or shareware.
This will only happen if you take time to participate. Please contact me via electronic mail at my Compuserve, Genie, America On Line, or internet addresses listed below. You can also reach me by mail through Occupational Hazards.
Many OSH professionals are not satisfied with simply using a computer for word processing. Technological innovations and sharp price cuts over the past two years have placed the power of multimedia and worldwide communications within reach of limited budgets. We've heard the President's call for a national information super highway and we want to drive it.
There's never been a better time to buy a computer, but once the shopping starts, confusion strikes. Should I buy a Macintosh or an IBM compatible? How much Random Access Memory (RAM) do I need and how big a hard drive? While I can't answer all the questions here, I can provide some practical advice on buying a computer and what should be included in your shopping list.
1. Time your purchase. Computing power increases and prices drop with time. If you're simply curious about computers, waiting until your curiosity is unbearable will maximize the value of your purchase. If you need a computer, don't hesitate to buy one. The benefits gained more than compensate for future price cuts.
2. Decide what specialty software you will use before selecting your computer. …