Entries in Information technology (25)

Yes we AVNO bananas

The thought of blogging on Tropical Storm Fay was as far from my mind as praising Supari, until I was reading Mike Coston's Avian Flu Diary blog.  He has been covering Fay and its potential computer-driven trajectories.  In my job as a powerful and influential State government CIO, it is my duty to watch hours and hours and hours of Weather Channel broadcasts until I can expertly predict which outfit Sharon Resultan will wear.  So I pulled myself away from watching Cheryl Lemke (nailed the blazer perfectly), and dutifully pulled up Mike's blog from the weekend, which had computer models showing Fay was headed anywhere from Tallahassee to Ft. Myers to Uzbekestan. 

I noted that the computer model AVNO was the best at predicting the actual trajectory of Fay, followed by a combination of CMC's entry point (Ft. Myers) and BAMD's exit point (Cocoa Beach).  But AVNO nailed it with entry and exit points perfectly -- and I mean perfectly. 

So now, AVNO shows the storm lolligagging (that's a meteriorlogical term, as the President would say) and crossing over (no, not the John Edward crossing over) back to the Gulf coast, and eventually headed for Pensacola.  This would give Fay the opportunity to a) water my lawn dang good without messing it up with tree limbs and such, and b) strengthen into a hurricane, since the northern Gulf waters are quite hot where Fay would go, according to AVNO.

God, where else on the Net are you going to get this kind of in-depth analysis?  Latest computer models at:

http://my.sfwmd.gov/sfwmd/common/images/weather/plots/storm_06.gif

And let's hear it for the fool who went kite surfing on Ft. Lauderdale Beach and got slammed into a) the beach and then b) a building.  There are always people who want to straddle that fine line between adrenaline and a coffin.  I know he was an experienced kite surfer, but you never, NEVER test Mother Nature's patience during such things as tropical storms. 

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/miami-dade/story/649030.html

http://www.local6.com/weather/17229517/detail.html

Why telecommuting will probably fail in a pandemic, Vol. 5

parking%20meters.jpgA story in today's Washington Post brings the "bandwidth crunch" issue to light, and shows what Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are doing to try and regulate the flow of ones and zeroes.

First, here are some quick excerpts and a link to the whole story.

Heavy Internet Users Targeted
Providers to Test Charges, Delays

By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 4, 2008; D01

 

Cable service operators Comcast and Time Warner Cable said yesterday that they would begin testing new approaches that would slow Internet access for heavy users and charge more to those who want additional speed.

The tests come as the Federal Communications Commission wraps up an investigation on complaints that Comcast blocked certain users from sharing video, music and other files. The complaints fueled a larger debate, with hearings in Congress and by the FCC, on how much control Internet service providers should have over the flow of data.

"The cable companies see a hammer hovering above their heads and are scrambling to find ways to reduce the appearance of wrongdoing," said Ben Scott, head of policy for the public interest group Free Press, which advocates for better oversight of cable operators. He called the plans "Band-Aids" on the bigger problem of network capacity, which he said can be solved only by larger investments in the cable companies' networks.

Comcast said that on Friday it would begin tests in Chambersburg, Pa., and Warrenton, Va., that would delay traffic for the heaviest users of Internet data without targeting specific software applications. Public interest groups complained in November that Comcast targeted users of BitTorrent, a file-sharing application, by blocking or delaying video and other files exchanged with the technology. Free Press said the practice discriminated against certain content and impeded users from having full access to the Web.

Analysts said the test would not differ significantly from Comcast's current network-management practices. The new approach would, however, target a broader range of heavy bandwidth users instead of delaying all traffic using BitTorrent. Roger Entner, a senior vice president at Nielsen IAG, said about 5 to 10 percent of peer-to-peer users -- those who directly exchange files with other users -- gobble up about 50 percent of all Internet bandwidth. (bold mine)

"This is the politically correct version of doing what Comcast had been doing before, though it takes the occasional [peer-to-peer] user off the hook," Entner said.

Time Warner Cable is trying a different approach with a test that will charge customers more for larger volumes of data and faster Internet access. The metered-billing test, which the company compared to cellphone billing structures that charge extra for those who go over their minutes, will begin tomorrow with new customers in Beaumont, Tex. The company said its approach allows customers to choose plans that fit their needs.

"Instead of raising prices across the board, consumers who are excessive users would pay," said Alex Dudley, a spokesman for Time Warner Cable. "It is clearly the fairest way to fund the investment that is going to be required to support that use."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/03/AR2008060303248_pf.html

Note that five to ten percent of all Internet users consume fifty percent of all Internet bandwidth.  And much of that is peer downloading of crap, usually in the form of illegally pirated music and movies.  That makes it very difficult for the other ninety to ninety-five percent of the rest of us, who only occasionally download crap.

The ISPs all want to move to a "metered" system, similar to how you pay for electricity today.  You pay for what you use.  Personally, I think this is a wonderful idea, and I will expand on this idea over at my blogsite on Computerworld.com.  Paying for what you use could be exported as a fee to university students, where a good deal of this illegal file sharing and downloading goes on.

It is not the only answer, however.  Internet providers must continue to invest in bigger pipes and newer solutions. 

What does this all have to do with a pandemic?  As I have mentioned many times, "telework" or "work at home plans" will not be successful in a severe pandemic.  Why?  think about the bandwidth that will be consumed at home, while Jimmy plays XBox Live and his mom and dad are frantically trying to log into the corporate mainframe and email systems at their jobs.

Cable Internet connectivity is a communal experience.  that means a neighborhood is sharing a single point of access back to the home office.  They may tell you that a five jigabit connection is coming to your home, but it is divided by the number of packets of ones and zeroes that is simultaneously being transmitted and received by every other Internet connection in your community.

DSL claims that it is a "home run" cable pull all the way back to the Central Office of your Telco, but I seriously doubt that.  That is because DSL connectivity is horrifyingly unreliable.  I speak from experience: In my day job, I have over 120 "edge routers" connecting back to my network, and about 73% of those connections are DSL.  Failed DSL connections represent 93% of all my wide area network outages.  In any given week, up to 21% of all DSL connections can fail for extended periods of time.  I have the metrics to prove this.

So the chances are extremely good that if you are a cable subscriber, you will experience extremely slow activity at home during a pandemic.  And if you are a DSL subscriber, count on your DSL failing repeatedly  in a pandemic of any severity.

So your telework will be thrown out the window, along with your computer.  Businesses that depend on such telework will reluctantly call their employees back into work, because nothing will get done otherwise.  This is especially true for government employees, because government overall still moves on paper while business moves digitally.

Will those employees report for work?

Have their bosses bought them masks, gloves and hand sanitizer?  Have they trained their people to know what to do and what to expect in a pandemic?  Have they prepared them for the pain, the PTSD that will inevitably occur, while giving them the resources and the knowledge to think and act for themselves?

Employers, you can answer that question a lot better than I.  Perhaps it's better not to ask at this time.  Much better that your employees ask you these things now, rather than later.

Because the next pandemic might not be H5.  It could be H7.

Osterholm, Fugate and coming bird flu blogs

With the exception of Indonesia and South Korea (and India too, I suppose), the bird flu front has been relatively quiet.  This has given me the opportunity to catch up on my posting on my "other" blogsite, the Web home of the computer publication Computerworld Magazine blogs.computerworld.com/mcpherson. That site, as you can imagine, deals with my profession, which is information technology.  But I serve up my observations with the same wit, or lack thereof, so feel free to drop by over there and read those blogs when you can.  they can occasionally overlap, and are a great resource for people used to dealing with calamity and catastrophe.  Emergency managers, DR/COOP/BCP planners, Republican Congressional political consultants, that sort of thing.

My Outlook task list is overflowing with blog ideas for these slow periods.  Of course, impatient one, you can also go to the Websites and blogsites that deal with avian flu on a much more dependable, daily basis.  They are all posted on the left frame of this Website, and they are all worthy of your time.

One item that I am looking forward to writing is a critique of the pandemic guide of the American Civil Liberties Union.  I suppose they will sue bird flu to death, yuk yuk.  Seriously, this topic needs to be debated.  That there will be some sort of temporary cessation, or suspension of some subset of civil liberties is all-but-assured.  The scope of that suspension cannot be determined in advance.  It has to be planned for, exercised, and chronicled.  We also need to define, legally, when that cessation of that subset of civil liberties itself ceases.  Is it when cases drop back below the epidemic threshold?  Is it when the Congress says so?  The governors?  The military?  Homeland?

I will also be turning toward the plague of Dengue Fever and DHF that is becoming endemic in the Caribbean, and how we may be only a blow away from Dengue on our own doorstep.  Hurricanes can bring the United States more than just a lot of rain, wind and property damage.  It can bring misery on a scale not seen since the late 1800s. 

I want to comment on something I read in Mike Coston's blog, Avian Flu Diary.  Dr. Mike Osterholm is a genuinely good person and, I am happy to say, a friend of mine.  Mike's stamina as regards pandemic fatigue is remarkable.  I have found that I need to "charge my batteries" from time to time, leaving the topic of bird flu for days to weeks in order to energize.  Mike Coston has the luxury of a Florida beach apartment to lounge in and recharge, curse him.  Me? I have a backyard with a pool that is forming its own ecosystem.  But thank God that Mike Osterholm is the Energizer Bunny of pandemic planning. 

Dr. Mike has given a seminal speech in his native Minnesota, speaking in front of hundreds who were treated to Vintage Osterholm.  the story is at: http://www.postbulletin.com/newsmanager/templates/localnews_story.asp?z=2&a=342839

Osterholm back on the speaking circuit and getting picked up by the media is a good thing: There is no one else in the world today with the gravitas to match Dr. Mike when he speaks about supply chain disruptions, along with the upcoming potential failure of essential services such as municipal fresh water systems and electric utilities.  And Mike consistently gets it right.  He is Cassandra, but so am I.  So are we all.  And we are right and correct in our beliefs. 

I am barely qualified to carry his water when it comes to these topics.  In fact, he is where I draw much of my inspiration from when I blog about IT and the incredible vulnerability our society has if the technology fails.  Yet that is what I am expert in -- IT -- and I mean IT like IT that means the difference between life and death, good and bad, success and failure on an enterprise scale.  So when I see the train wreck that is the failure of multiple essential services like coal mining, petroleum refining and data center failures, I have been there and done that.

One of the countless things I learned while preparing the entire state of Florida for Y2K was that it is not the loss of fresh water that worries me as much as the inability to move waste.  You see, waste flows downhill as they say, and in most areas of Florida (and probably in your area too), that downhill flow has to be power-assisted.  If there are serious disruptions to the electric grid (and you can count on those in a moderate-to-severe pandemic), human waste will back up and become quite a public health problem.  Sure, there are generators that are responsible for doing their thing at transfer stations, but they, too, require energy -- in the form of petroleum products.  When that flow is disrupted, the other flow will be, too.

So add to that cascading series of probable failures, the failure to move human waste from Point A to Point B.  And that means a very real possibility of diseases such as cholera to suddenly appear as a secondary infection during a severe pandemic with accompanying disruptions to the electrical grid.

When I did the Sandy Springs radio show last week, I mentioned that a pandemic is like Y2K where the people fail, not the machines -- at least not in the beginning.  Eventually, however, machines will fail too.  Not all of them at once, but enough of them to make life pretty miserable for an extended period of time.  Machines break.  Computers break, too, because computers are machines at their core. they all require maintenance.  No maintenance, or reduced maintenance, equates to disruptions and failures.

Now factor in Nature.  Nature does not schedule its rage sequentially, in a linear timeline.  Mother Nature likes to "pile on," like some football coach running up the score on Hapless U. to get a few extra poll votes or points in a computer ranking.  So it is that over half of the influenza pandemics of the past 300 years had waves in what is known as Hurricane Season, June 1 to November 30.  Imagine the problems if a major hurricane hit the United States while a flu pandemic raged?  Can we even begin to imagine what happens when the entire veneer of a modern lifestyle is peeled back by a killer virus and then a natural cataclysm?  Anyone who thinks the infrastructure could withstand that is buying illegal substances from Mexican cartels.

Last Sunday, my wife and I were en route to our church when we noticed all the traffic signals were dormant in the mile leading to the church.  We performed the quick calculus and concluded the power would be off in the church and we thanked our God that He gave us the wisdom to dress very Summery.

Sure enough, when we entered the church, it was beginning to get pretty sticky in there.  We became grateful for the incense!  The point is that within about forty-five minutes, the church began to swelter.  That is how long it took for people to become really uncomfortable with the conditions.  Now transpose that to hours or even days.  It is not so unlikely a scenario:  A few months ago, our City of Tallahassee power was off for just shy of eight hours, caused by a mild thunderstorm.  What was maddening was that our power stayed out while the next street over had electricity within three hours.  Why our block was subjected to torture while another was quickly restored is still a mystery.

An increasingly thin veneer separates us from chaos.  That veneer is abraded today by absurdly high gas prices, unemployment, foreclosures and malaise.  It can be stripped bare by natural disasters such as tornadoes, earthquakes or hurricanes.  It can be blown to smithereens by a severe flu pandemic.  Every single thing we can do to ensure the success of the supply chain and the delivery of infrastructure, utilities, food and energy during a pandemic is important, welcomed and is absolutely essential.

My good friend Craig Fugate is the emergency manager for Florida.  He spoke yesterday at the Governor's Hurricane Conference in Ft. Lauderdale ("Ft. Liquordale" to the oldies there).   The topic was hurricane preparedness, but he also spoke indirectly to this culture of victimization and how it is a cancer upon our society.  People are not taking responsibility for their actions.  Read on::

(Florida Governor Charlie) Crist and Craig Fugate, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, urged people to stock up on food, water, gasoline and other provisions. Fugate said residents should adopt a proactive approach, instead of relying on government to ride to their rescue.

"You don't have to get ready: Somebody's going to take care of you. Your house got tore up? Blame somebody else," Fugate quipped. "Ice didn't get there today, 12 hours after a hurricane? Blame the government.

"So when did we suddenly decide that we were going to play the role of victim?" he asked.

The man tells it like it is.  We could speak the same words regarding a pandemic. We need more Osterholms and Fugates.

Why telecommuting will probably fail in a pandemic, Vol. 4

south%20park%20no%20internet.bmpSorry for the dearth of posts since my open letter to the Indonesian president.  Been very busy!  But I also had the bad fortune of missing last night's South Park.  You can't get any better, dead-on social commentary than this cartoon show for grown-ups.  That's grown-ups, don't let kids under 16 watch!  Because they probably won't get it, anyway.

But I digress.  Last night's episode is titled "The Day the Internet Stood Still," and it is a sci-fi spoof of the day the Internet just isn't there.  Television stations cannot broadcast any news, Dad can't watch porn, and Mom can't read endless emails.  The town's hysteria grows, until -- well, I didn;t see the dang show, so I don't know!

But I can give you this clip, courtesy of Website Gawker.com, and props to the Drudge Report for the heads-up.  The link is:

http://gawker.com/380877/south-park-the-day-the-internet-stood-still?autoplay=true

I don't think this is too far from the truth!

Plan one category higher

A few weeks ago, the trade publication Computerworld asked me to start blogging on their Website.  I blog over there for IT professionals who get the print magazine as well as those who surf the Website, and I focus mainly on IT and disaster recovery matters.  In fact, it was my frequent quotes regarding IT pandemic planning that got me the gig over there, although there is no compensation and there is a considerable draw on my time.

I wanted to vector you to that blog, titled "For hurricanes and pandemics, plan one category higher".  Just click on the link.