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Programming in the Dark: An Interview with Our Favourite Canadian


We interview Frank Manno, the Managing Editor of our weekly newsletter, who has been through the dramas that were supposed to have occured on the new years day of 2000.

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By: Ben Shepherd
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August 19, 2003

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We interview Frank Manno, the Managing Editor of our weekly newsletter, who has been through the dramas that were supposed to have occured on the new years day of 2000.

Introducion

Everywhere around the world either read or heard about the blackouts on the eastern seaboard of North America on August 15th at 4:15pm EST. The reason why I wanted to interview Frank Manno, our newsletter managing editor, was to find out what happened and how this affected the programming community along the eastern seaboard as well as to find out whether they were totally prepared.

Upon reading this interview, you'll read about what happened and what you can do to prepare yourself just in case this ever happens to you in the future.

The Interview

Ben:

The blackout was heard on nearly every form of media around the world, how does the chain of blackouts effect your production?

Frank:

The blackout came as a complete surprise to everyone.  Because we had no warning of the outage, most people were left in the dark with candles and flashlights.  Some had the privilege of running off generators – which had been purchased back when the fear of Y2K was the hot topic – but the majority of us were left living in the dark. 

My business partner had a UPS backup running in his office at home, which gave us a little extra power.  Unfortunately, it didn’t last as long as the power was out, so we were left with no choice but to stop working for the night.  We were without power for nearly 12 hours – others in different neighborhoods were left without power for up to 24 hours. 

Ben:

What are the latest developments and how is your company dealing with this problem?

Frank:

We’re back up and running, although, we’re not at 100%.  We’ve been advised by government and hydro officials that we need to scale back our daily power consumption.  Corporate and government offices have been asked to scale back up to 50%.  In some cases, employees have been asked to stay home (temporary lay-offs), while others have been asked to work from home. 

We’re running into a heat-wave at the moment, with temperatures soaring into the 30’s (Celsius), added to that the unbearable humidity, which makes working conditions very tough.  The office I’m currently working in for the summer feels like an oven at times. 

Ben:

How do you think this is going to affect a company that hosts/maintains websites?

Frank:

For any companies that host or maintain websites, whose servers reside in the affected areas, had to deal with unexpected downtime.  At this point, blame cannot be placed onto these companies, as there was no real control over the matter.  Our servers reside on the west-coast, fortunately, allowing our clients to operate; however, had this happened on the west-coast, our servers would most likely have been affected as well.

Many companies are following this practice.  Financial institutions are working on a best-effort basis, informing their clients that the blackout was out of their control, therefore, any processing that would had to have been done on the days affected, would not have been processed until the following week (Monday).

The event is something that would have to be understood by clients.  Because of the magnitude the blackouts had, people world-wide are aware, and will hopefully understand. 

Ben:

How do you think this will affect a systems data and do you think companies were prepared?

Frank:

Most companies have BRP’s (Business Recovery Plans or Backup Recovery Plans) in which they follow during circumstances such as these.  The company I am working for had employees working all throughout the weekend ensuring that our systems would be back up for Monday morning operations.  They were successful in having most of the systems operational for the morning rush, and had everything back to normal by noon.

My company was not affected by any data loss.  It was all systems go come Monday.  We were fortunate in that we were able to resume our client work as normal.

Ben:

What do you think is a good strategy to protect yourself in this situation?

Frank:

Always have backups of your data.  We were fortunate in that our systems were fine once the power was back on.  Also, if you’re hit with a blackout, be sure to UNPLUG your systems from the outlet.  Even though you may have a surge protector, its’ advised that you unplug the device from the wall.  Electricians were advising that the spike in electricity when the power comes back on can damage devices that are plugged into a protector.  Unless you’ve spent $300-400 for a surge protector, it’s wise to follow their advice.

Also, we’ve created a voice-mail message that advises our clients of any “emergency situations”, and we’ve provided an email address, for those who still have power, to contact us for updates.  By using our PDAs and cell phones, we’re able to download and reply to our emails.

As for any other advice: stay calm, and enjoy the downtime.  There really isn’t much you can do.  Fortunately for us, we have a great bunch of neighbours on our street, so we all gathered, told jokes, drank beer, and hung-out for the night!

Ben:

How much do you think businesses are losing due to the blackouts?

Frank:

It’s tough to say.  We’ve been told that many companies have had to cut production by up to half.  Some of the automobile plants have scaled down production by 50%, while others remain at full.  Small businesses are definitely suffering.  Restaurants, supermarkets, dry cleaners, amusement attractions, etc., have been losing money.  Restaurants and supermarkets had to throw away large amounts of spoiled food, dry cleaners have had to turn away business as the heat conditions make the work environment unbearable, and amusement parks have had to remain closed to conserve the province’s energy levels.

Regardless of the size of the business, there will be some affect to their everyday operations for the next little while.  Hopefully the losses aren’t too extensive.

Ben:

Has any aftershock been felt now that the worst is over?

Frank:

So far the biggest issue has been the cut-back on electricity consumption.  We’re used to having our air conditioning on during the summer months, especially with humid temperatures.  Having to turn down the air, in some cases having to turn it off completely has made working a lot tougher.  Office buildings look abandoned as most of them have their lights turned off, while many have drastically cut their workforce down.  We’ve also been asked to cut down on our water usage.  Many cities have placed bans on the unnecessary usage of water (ie: washing cars and watering lawns).  This rule has also had an affect on our “everyday” activities.  Lawns across the city are starting to turn yellow, which is forcing many to abandon the rule and water their lawns in hopes of keeping them alive.

We’ve been told that we should expect to have rolling blackouts during the week.  Rolling blackouts are basically random blackouts for a set period of time (we’ve been told 2 hours), whereby certain areas would be left without power, while others would have power, and then there would be a rotation of electricity.  It seems a little absurd, but we’ve been told it’s a reality.

Ben:

What measures are the electrical companies going to enforce to prevent the same thing happening again?

Frank:

This is still an issue that has been kept from most citizens.  I’ve heard many theories on what caused the blackout: from computer viruses, to lightning strikes, to an excuse to changeover the current power-grid system to a much better one.  We’ve been told that our power-grid system is comparable to that of a 3rd-world country, so it’s a theory that does make sense.  Rather than warning everybody ahead of time, it’s best to do it unexpectedly.  This would reduce the rate of crime that would occur if they (government and electrical officials) would have warned us ahead of time.

Ben:

How could this problem be prevented in the future?

Frank:

I wish I had an answer for this question.  So far, we’ve been educated on how to cut down our power consumption, which appliances use the most energy, and when to use make use of those high-consumption appliances.  The fact of the matter is that most people will eventually go back to their old ways.  It’s routine for them.  Most don’t like change.

Our government needs to invest money in upgrading our electrical systems.  Of course, this would mean an increase in taxes.  Would people be willing to pay the extra money for the added convenience?  It’s tough to say.  Most would argue that they pay enough, and that it’s the government’s responsibility to cover the expenses.  The truth is if the government was to spend “their” money, it would in fact be “ours”.

So the question would be: Are you willing to invest your time and money to ensure that these blackouts will not occur in the future?  The answer: to be determined by the citizens of this province.

Final word

Thank you Frank for your tremendous input! To read more about this issue you can go to Frank's blog site http://blog.frankmanno.com. Take care and remember to keep a flashlight handy ;)


DISCLAIMER: The content provided in this article is not warranted or guaranteed by Developer Shed, Inc. The content provided is intended for entertainment and/or educational purposes in order to introduce to the reader key ideas, concepts, and/or product reviews. As such it is incumbent upon the reader to employ real-world tactics for security and implementation of best practices. We are not liable for any negative consequences that may result from implementing any information covered in our articles or tutorials. If this is a hardware review, it is not recommended to open and/or modify your hardware.

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