Difficult Forecasts

I am being driven crazy by the current weather scenario. Not because of what it is, but because of how difficult impossible it is to forecast beyond 60 hours!

It is quiet tonight in the Fox house. Helaine and Stef are asleep. I am alone in my office, lit by a single lamp. It’s 64&#176 outside so the window’s open.

If you’re really still the sound of intermittent rain falling from leaves can be heard. It’s tough to say whether it’s actually raining or if this is residual moisture from earlier showers. It doesn’t matter. To be outside is to be enveloped by the moisture that saturates the atmosphere… and now too the ground.

This is an all weather area. Little that comes from the sky can’t be handled on the ground. In nearly 20 years I’ve never seen our nearby brook do much more than get angry and stray a few feet. It looks pretty when it’s wet.

I never know how to describe this area. We more rural that suburban, though we’re not rural. The homes are spread out here, more because of well water and septic systems than anything else. You need room to produce and process water!

This is probably the first house built on this land. A stone wall in my backyard marks some old property line. Walls were always built in the open, but it’s now hemmed in by mature trees. It’s been a long time since anyone tried to grow anything on this rock infused New England soil.

I am being driven crazy by the current weather scenario. Not because of what it is, but because of how difficult impossible it is to forecast beyond 60 hours! I know a lot of people think 8-days is too far ahead to forecast, but there is some utility–especially the long range temperatures. Now three days has me flummoxed.

The computer models are fine tuned on actual weather, so when something really unusual takes place they have trouble following what’s going on. Obviously, this pattern is exceptionally unusual.

The 12Z GFS (a computer model run at 8:00AM or 12Z) showed a cutoff low in the Northern Plains for next week which basically stood still for days at a time. Could it happen? Sure, but it would be the first I’ve ever seen in 25 years here! And, of course, everything else in the model is closely related to this large feature. If it’s wrong (and it most likely is) everything else is wrong.

“Discard it,” you say. “If it’s wrong just ditch it.”

The problem is going beyond a few days humans aren’t capable of producing a reliable forecast without this high level mathematical help. We may know it’s wrong, but we don’t know what is right and there are a variety of possible solutions.

If it was just a question of working harder to get the forecast right I would. In the meantime I grin and bear it trying not to mislead those who trust me.

Corporate Kvetching

Pardon me for being a little skeptical, but I am. I’m not denying it’s tough to find educated people, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but Mr. Stephenson leaves out an important part of the equation.

The president of AT&T, the telephone giant that was SBC… was Cingular… was SNET… was speaking a few days ago, and he was upset.

As Reuters reported:

“We’re having trouble finding the numbers that we need with the skills that are required to do these jobs,” AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson told a business group in San Antonio, where the company’s headquarters is located.

So far, only around 1,400 jobs have been returned to the United States of 5,000, a target it set in 2006, the company said, adding that it maintains the target.

Pardon me for being a little skeptical, but I am. I’m not denying it’s tough to find educated people, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but Mr. Stephenson leaves out an important part of the equation.

Isn’t this what he meant to say: “We’re having trouble finding the numbers that we need with the skills that are required to do these jobs at the salary we’re willing to pay.?

That’s a question asked yearly when H-1B visas are debated. H-1B is the ‘permission’ required by high tech companies to bring in foreign workers to perform highly skilled jobs.

Bill Gates was talking about this last week and is quoted on SearchCIO-Midmarket.com.

“We live in an economy that depends on the ability of innovative companies to attract and retain the very best talent, regardless of nationality or citizenship,” Gates said. “Unfortunately, the U.S. immigration system makes attracting and retaining high-skilled immigrants exceptionally challenging.”

The thing is, opponents of H-1B visas say, Microsoft and other companies aren’t paying “high-skilled” worker wages. H-1B rules do require that workers are paid the prevailing wage for their job.

Matloff said H-1B workers in the IT industry are “almost always programming of some sorts.”

“It could be a programmer, it could be a software engineer, it could be a system analyst,” Matloff said.

But Matloff and other H-1B critics contend there is no shortage of American workers for those jobs. H-1B workers, they say, just come cheaper and younger.

Quite honestly, is this any different than the complaints raised by farmers, looking to bring in migrant workers? They always say there aren’t enough US workers for these jobs. But is agricultural work more difficult or distasteful than construction or pumping septic systems. People do those jobs, even under difficult conditions.

Is the question finding workers or finding workers at what they’re willing to pay? Is that the fault of the business or the worker? Should American businesses pit Americans against foreigners when it comes to wages?

Back to what AT&T’s Stephenson and Bill Gates said about the state of American education. I couldn’t agree more.

Our high schools and colleges have become more like trade schools than institutions of higher learning. Where is the broad foundation which used to make up a high school or college education?

We live in an era where creative thought is required for more and more jobs. But is that creative thought being nurtured? Are we really well served by our education system?