Hurricane madness -

Hurricane madness


Isabel has come and gone, but for awhile she made quite an impression. I left the Embedded Systems Conference in Boston earlier than planned to prepare for Isabel. She arrived slowly; the wind Thursday was just a nice sailing breeze even into evening. The hurricane party at the marina reached raucous levels as revelers, fueled by drink, lost their fear of the slowly approaching storm. Some stayed up to await developments; others crashed, their alcohol-soaked brains ensuring a sound night's sleep despite escalating developments outside.

By midnight the rains started and the wind grew to gale and eventually storm force. The tempest drifted inland, sparing Baltimore from anything over 50 knots. But for 12 hours or more the constant southeast stream blew the sea up the Chesapeake Bay. We watched as the floating docks rose over 7 feet and the land disappeared under a blanket of dirty-brown water. By morning those of us on the dock were isolated from shore, refugees on a thousand foot-long floating pier. Finally the water started to recede. We drove down Aliceanna street — in a dingy.

Ashore, people's basements were flooded, possessions ruined, cars sunken. Fallen trees downed power lines in every neighborhood; 1.2 million Marylanders lost power. Though ours came back in less than 24 hours many folks remain blacked out.

Our cable was still down four days after the storm. The TV mattered not, but without cable there's no broadband Internet access here. I wired the PC to the phone line and, after struggling without success to establish a dialup connection remembered the modem had failed a year or two ago. So I had to use my wife's computer over a painfully slow telephone link.

Spoiled by an always-on, very fast connection I'd forgotten how much of daily life revolves around the 'net. It's faster to go to than to pull down the dead-tree version from the shelf. Most of my research is done online. People at the conference had recommended a half-dozen books, which I'd normally order via the one-click shopping on In searching for a theater showing The Magdelene Sisters , we went on-line but at 50kbps is maddening; Internet Explorer blithely indicated “20 items remaining.” Then 18. Later 14. When it eventually hit zero, I'd forgotten what we wanted to know.

The Internet has changed our lives. Only when deprived of it — or any technology — do we realize just how central it is to life. Without a phone we're adrift, cut off from friends, family and business. Without a cell phone we're moored to a desk or house. Our neighbors still have no power and can neither cook nor keep perishables; extension cords snake across the street from the electron-rich west side so they can at least get by till repair crews finish their work.

We who build technology also build dependence on that technology. Sometimes a storm that crashes our interconnected lifestyle is a good thing; we remember, at least for a day or two, the almost miraculous transformation effected by the 'net, by electricity, running water, and so many other taken-for-granted aspects of civilization. And our compassion swells for those billions on the planet who as yet have none of these benefits, whose lives remain tragically short and destitute.

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. He founded two companies specializing in embedded systems. Contact him at . His website is .

Reader Feedback

Emergency Prepardness is a good thing for everyone to go through from time to time. Do you have a week's worth of water stashed away? How about a weeks worth of simple food that will not spoil? Do you have an AM/FM radio that runs on batteries and spare batteries? Do you have a means to cook that does not take electricity or gas? Do you have first aid supplies?

Do you have sleeping bags or similar for staying warm if the heat goes out in the winter for an extended period of time? Do you have a place to meet away from home?

All things to think about when nature is less than benevolant.

– Bill Murray

Your article about our dependence on technology (Hurricane Madness) reminds me of a realted problem I've had to deal with recently.

Two months ago my father passed away. When my mother had a stroke two years ago he took over responsibility for keeping their checking account and paying the bills. Dad was always fond of technology, and when their local bank and utility companies started offering online statements and bill paying, Dad signed up.

When Dad died, Mom the technophobe (who had recovered wonderfully from the stroke) had no way to take up the financial duties. They hadn't received a paper bank statement in months, and only about half of their bills came in the mail.

Fortunately, Dad had all his online account user names and passwords in his PDA, which was in his pocket when he collapsed. My brothers and I (all of whom work with computers in one form or another) were able to piece together the status of all the accounts.

I guess my point is that we don't just rely on technology, we rely on the people who know how to make it work.

So between the two of us, I think we can make a good case for 1) having a backup plan for when the technology doesn't work, and 2) having a backup plan for when the person who runs the technology doesn't work.

– Dave Hinerman

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