Computers watching computers

Waves along the beach
Waves along the beach

With tropical storm Hannah perhaps becoming a hurricane before making landfall between Mytle beach and Wilmington, all eyes in Eastern North Carolina have been following the weather.

Those with access to a televsion have probably watched The Weather Channel.

Many people in offices must rely on their computers which are signed into a variety of sites from the Weatherunderground to Accuweather and Weather Channel website.

I kept checking the computer when I was at the office Friday morning.  We did have a few minutes of nasty rain before things cleared off early in the afternoon.

It was nice enough that securing our boat and outdoor furniture was a very pleasant job on Friday just hours before the Hanna landfall.

The brief bout of super humid air that passed through the area on Friday morning had disappeared.  At dusk we could only discern clouds to the west and south of our area.  There was no wind and no rain.

We decided to go over to the beach for dinner.  We noticed on the way over that Food Lion in Emerald Isle had closed.  In the restaurant we found out that the grocery store had closed at 3 pm. That was twelve hours before Hannah was scheduled to make landfall in South Carolina close to 100 miles away.

Perhaps they were worried about the wind becoming strong enough to close the bridge to the mainland, and employees being stranded on the island.  Anyway after dinner, I went back to checking the weather sites to see if I could find really detailed information.  It turned out that there was very little new information on the computer sites.  I resorted to calling a friend who lives on the SC/Ga. border.

According to him his area had also seen very little active wether so far.  I wished that I had kep the phone number of our friend near Myrtle Beach. In the end we went to bed not really knowing what to expect in the morning.

During the night we heard both wind and rain.  I got around 7:30 am only to find the power off.  It didn’t take long to figure out that the power had not been off for long since the coffee was still hot.

Not wanting to give up a good cup of coffee, I poured myself a cup and enjoyed that before venturing outside.  There I found a pretty good storm surge, but no worse than we had expected.  Our rain gauge only showed one half inch of rain.  That added to what we got Friday morning gave us a total of one inch of rain from Hanna.

There were a few pieces of pine limbs in the yard and my tomato plants seemed to have taken a beating, but we actually came through the storm in good shape.  By the time I went back inside the power came back on and things were back to normal.  Even the excess water behind the house disappeared quickly.

I guess in the end, the computers checking other computer sites were as effective as any other means in figuring out what might happen.  At least with computers, I could avoid most of the weather channel hype.

I was pleased when the power came back on that I could send pictures of the storm to my friends.

Certainly people responding to other people are the best way to figure out what is happening.  By the end of the day, I knew that the rain from Hanna didn’t make it past the Yadkin River, but that parts of the DC area got flooded while my friend in NJ got a good soaking from Hanna.  Tomorrow I should find out what Hanna has in store for Nova Scotia.

It is nice to be connected even if it is with computers.

The tenuous lines to civilization

Keagy VillageWe work hard at subduing mother nature. This new shopping center off Keagy Road in Roanoke, Va. is a good example of leveling off mountain tops and filling in valleys.

While we can make the landscape look like whatever we want, Sunday’s storms and wind whipped fires in the Roanoke area proved that we are still pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

Today is Tuesday and some people in the Roanoke area will be without power until Friday because of what the high winds did to trees in the area.

It is interesting how as we crowd ourselves together in smaller and smaller spaces that we become more dependent on someone else.

When we lived in the wilds of New Brunswick, we heated with wood, grew our own food, had a spring for our water, and could actually have done okay without the power grid for a week or two since we also had a small generator.

During the wind storm on Sunday, our cable modem connection went down. It was almost as isolating as being in the middle of the Canadian wilderness.

When a blizzard would hit in Canada, we still managed to get around because we were prepared for it. In a worst case scenario, I could put my snowshoes on and go visiting.

There is nothing one individual can do to prevent infrastructure disaster in today’s world. It is a little unnerving to be so dependent on so many other people.

The other challenge is the anonymity of your problem in a large community. I can remember the power going out for a week during an early September snowstorm on the coast of Nova Scotia. We were in small community.  People quickly started figuring out how to help each other.  One neighbor modified a chain saw so it would run our water pumps.  Another put a generator on a trailer and went around running people’s freezers for an hour or two.

Small communities quickly turn to helping each other. I wonder how many people in Roanoke are without power and cold while their neighbors are warm in well electrified homes.

I may just have to head back down to the coast, at least it is a small neighborhood, and I like to believe it would be easier to pull together in a disaster. One of the mayors of the area runs a small farm not far from me.  Somehow that is comforting.

Still we are lucky on the Southern Outer Banks, the worst we have had to deal with is fog.   I hope it stays that way at least until warm weather.

The anonymity of technology

Traffic in Cary, NCWhen I used to drive between college in Boston and my home in Mount Airy, NC in the late sixties and early seventies, I could tell where I was by the radio station.

You could pick up some local news and weather. Today real local radio stations are hard to find. We get our weather from looking at one of the gadgets in the car.

Radio in our case is XM, though it might not be much longer given how poorly the new antenna is performing.

Still technology, google maps, Accuweather long range forecasts, and satellite radio have created a cocoon for us as we travel.

When you throw in chain restaurants and pay at the pump, it is little wonder that it is hard to tell one place from another.

I can still remember one fateful evening on the way back to Boston in the old days. The belt driving the fan on my Jaguar XK-E broke on the Interstate highway. This was well before cell phones. I waited for the engine to cool and drove a mile or so a couple of times.

That got me to a local filling station which was still open on a Friday night. Unfortunately he didn’t have a fan belt to fit my car. He gave me a ride to the local hotel in Hagerstown and said he would pick me up in the morning.

Good to his word, he showed up the next morning, and we found out that the closest thing in town was a belt for a washing machine. I bought three, and he quickly installed one, and I was back on the road.

No Onstar, no cell phone, no triple AAA, and no advance computer registration at the hotel. Laptops had not been invented. Being wireless meant someone ripped your wires out. How did I manage to survive?

I wonder if the lack of interaction with the local world as we fly by in our technology aided cocoons has made for more or less understanding of our neighbors?

River and mind fog

River FogToday, December 29, the air temperatures on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast are so warm that fog is forming over some of the rivers.

Sometimes I think we live in a fog of technology. While the river fog will go away when the weather changes, I think we have to work at losing the technology fog.

Almost every home has a computer, and lots of people depend on email to do their jobs and to stay in touch with friends.

Most people, not including my wife, use a cell phone with a camera phone.

Wireless networks are everywhere, and few homes are without an all in one printer/scanner/copier.

Then there are the digital cameras and movie cameras. We have HD televisions with HDMI inputs so I suppose the next thing is a Blue Ray or HD DVD.

We were in Best Buy the other day and actually stopped for a couple of minutes to look at a comparison between Blue Ray and regular DVD. I will admit to the Blue Ray images being stunning.

What I can do with the technology that we already have in the home and that which is accessible on the web like geotagging and Google Earth is astonishing.

While I cannot yet send an image that rivals Blue Ray, I can send some very stunning images.

Someone sent me some fantastic images that are going around the web. While my images might not be quite in the same class, they aren’t bad. I think a lot of people can say that these days.

We have such good tools today, that anyone can be an expert, by capturing an image, balancing the color a little, and easily sending it by email or MMS.

Not only can you send it to someone, but likely they will be able to get it even if they are traveling. There is so much content, some of it very high quality, and delivered very quickly that we are in an information fog.

There are people who have trouble processing it all. And above all it is harder and harder to get information to stand out.
It is easy to lose track of what you want to focus on because there is so much information. Sometimes it is more than you want or need to know.

There are times you have to back away from the technology and what it delivers until you can see through the fog.

Too much information can take away your decision making ability. Maybe I am old school, but once in a while you have to go with a gut feeling and not let yourself get overwhelmed with instantaneous high tech data.  Once in a while, all this high tech stuff lets you turn something not so appealing into something not exactly as good as it looks.

Maybe it helps to go back to a basic computer that does not overwhelm you with its possibilities. I am trying that with a new Zonbu computer.

Invisible digital ink

Crab Pot Tree ValleyEmail is what I live by in my real estate business.  Most of my clients contact me by email before I actually meet them.

It works fine for the real estate world, but a package of letters returned to me by a friend got me to thinking if we are someday going to regret all the email.

The letter were written in the early seventies to a college friend when I first moved to Canada.  It is interesting to look at them and glance through my thoughts.  They tell a lot about me and what was important to me then.

I only have one friend to whom I still write letters.  Even those letters are typed on a computer.  Most of my communications with friends are instant messages or emails.  We often do instant messages instead of phone calls.  While they are quick and easy, they have little permanence.  Without a lot of work, when the computer is gone the messages are gone.

I used to try to keep CD and then DVD backups of my email.  Unfortunately the volume of mail has grown faster than the storage medium.  Of course I use IMAP for much of my email so it hangs around for a few years, but still eventually it will go.

I have a lot of information on the web in my blogs.  I guess they have some degree of permanence as long as I pay the bills.  I have actually done backups of the information and even backed up a couple of my important websites.

Yet in spite of that I feel that we are on the edge of losing a lot of information.  Maybe there is so much of it that there isn’t enough storage space to store it all.

Even if you could store who would take the time to read through an average person’s email?  Maybe a relative, but they would have to have more time than brains.

Maybe this new age of email and instant messaging means that whatever doesn’t make it into a book will have to be learned over.

Then again maybe technology will rescue us with a way to digest all our emails and dig out some great thoughts that might have been lost to the world without some machine help.

The machines that own us

combineThey say that machines are supposed to work for us.

For a long time I have been skeptical of that.

When I bought my first tractor back in 1971, a very intelligent Uncle of mine said that to really pay for it, I would have to run it day and night.

Well I haven’t yet figured out how to work without a little sleep so I still can’t do that. Perhaps it’s good that I no longer own tractors.

Now I just have to run computers day and night to make them pay for themselves. Still when you have a machine worth a few hundred thousand dollars, it just blows my mind to see that it is only one man and the machine. While this combine was grabbing corn and shelling it (the work of many people), there was another tractor with an auger wagon almost full of corn.

I’m sure the combine driver would finish a load and head home for lunch and come back with an empty wagon. It seems so weird that one person with machinery can do so much work.

I saw another example which I had been waiting to see.

We went over to Beaufort, NC to have a look at Blackbeard’s cannon which had just been raised to the surface after nearly three hundred years under water.

There were some reporters from local television stations setting up to do stories. At least one of them happen to be reporter and crew in one person. She got the camera running and started talking in front of it. She checked the film she had done and then interviewed someone with a camera crew.

I am not so sure, but the machines might be winning.

Communicating without connecting

Roanoke ValleyWe have more ways to communicate today than ever before.

There is instant messaging, smart phones, voice mail, email, presentations, and even the venerable memos.

Sometimes it seems that we are saying more and understanding less.

We have lots of ways to say things and plenty gets said.

Often in spite of all the communication, people don’t understand each other.

Part of the problem is people don’t say what they mean. Another challenge is that some folk hear what they want to hear.

The challenge is to not only get the audience’s attention but to set the stage so that a properly crafted message hits receptive ears.

Few people can do this consistently. There are lots of tips that can help get a message across, most of them don’t involve technology and certainly not Powerpoint slides.

If I could pick one thing as important in setting the stage and delivering a message, I would pick consistent eye contact.

If you cannot look a person in the eye and say what you have to say, then don’t bother saying it.