PUBLISHERS NOTEBOOK: Weather not only thing
to act up this year
Thursday, August 29, 2013 8:32 AM
Farmers know what it is like dealing with the unexpected as weather can always take a drastic turn. Although there haven't been any damaging storms to already-planted crops this year, the extremely wet spring prevented normal planting and then lack of rain threatened later in the summer. The cool temperatures of summer - at least until now - also didn't help.
The extreme swings are likely to continue as a condition of climate change. Still, never knowing which swing is coming adds to the anxiety of farmers, even if they have come to accept variations.
Non-farmers are also experiencing this anxiety, particularly those people living in lowlands, near forests susceptible to burning and on the ocean's coasts.
While we have always been at the mercy of the variations in weather because there is little we can do about it, humans have also created another all-encompassing network that we have become dependent on - the technological grid.
Technology has made our lives easier, but we have also become so dependent on it that lapses can be quite damaging.
Last week, the sudden shutdown of the Nasdaq stock market caught everyone by surprise. Trading of shares of companies such as Apple, Intel and Facebook came to a halt for three hours. Errors in the feed used to disseminate quotes and prices were to blame, according to the Nasdaq website.
Although trading was down for the day, the technological glitch didn't prove damaging, except to Nasdaq's reputation, which has been in question lately.
Also, last week, Amazon.com's website was down for about an hour. The glitch also took down some other prominent services, such as Instagram, that it hosts.
Although there were frantic customers, the downtime was a minor inconvenience, not a catastrophe. Some estimates put the loss to Amazon at $1,104 in sales for every second the site was down, assuming people didn't wait it out and buy later. That would put the loss at about $4 million for an hour, a substantial loss, but probably just a minor blip in Amazon's monstrous operation.
Closer to home, students in Minnesota experienced technology gone awry when they experienced long waits or interruptions while taking the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) tests last spring. The tests measure whether students are meeting state learning benchmarks.
Although the official word is that the technological problems didn't affect the test scores in Minnesota, there are still some administrators questioning that. Parents and administrators have reacted strongly to the possibility because test scores have such high stakes to the future of students as well as schools that are judged by the results.
Even the small businesses we are more familiar with have become dependent on the technological grid. In most local businesses, if a computer server goes down or the power goes out, employees have little they are able to do at work. Even those employees that don't sit in front of a screen have their jobs in some way indirectly dependent on an electronic connection.
The consequences aren't as catastrophic as bad weather can be to farmers since one storm or prolonged string of wet or dry conditions can wipe out an entire year of earnings in agriculture.
Still, we have created a system that we depend on as much as the farmer depends on the weather. Although it is manmade, it is nearly as powerful, and just as mysterious, particularly when it acts up, as Mother Nature.