Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Coming Storm, by Michael Lewis

Audible Studios, July 2018

The age of Big Data is upon us, and mostly what we hear are the troubling and potentially terrifying consequences of business and government having easy access to all of our data. That's a real problem that we have to devote time and attention to dealing with.

Yet Big Data can do many other things, many of them very beneficial. The misnamed Department of Commerce collects enormous amounts of data about, among other things, the weather. Before the growth of the internet into its modern form, that data mostly sat on paper, and later on tape, and eventually some of it on servers, in the bowels of NOAA--the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, inside the Commerce Dept. Then a grad student with the foresight to see how useful vast stores of data could be went looking for weather data to test out a theory for his research, and stumbled upon a hole in the Commerce Dept. systems that let him download that data and work with it.

He didn't even know that it was the Commerce Dept. he'd gotten into. He had no idea NOAA was part of Commerce.

This book is a discussion of how much weather forecasting has improved because of NOAA's research and data collection, and what they and other clever people have been able to do with it.

It's about why people still discount National Weather Service warnings that could save their lives.

And it's about the private corporations that are trying to lock up that data so that, after you the taxpayer have paid for that research and data collection, you would then be required to pay again, to for-profit companies, for any use of that weather, including getting weather forecasts.

You may think you get your weather news from your local tv station or Accuweather  or the Weather Channel, or your favorite weather app (I have several, for different purposes), but all that data comes from the National Weather Service, which is to say NOAA.

I happen to like how the Weather Channel repackages that information, but you and I and everyone with internet access can get the same information directly from NOAA's websites.

Also, Accuweather is lying to you when they say they're more accurate than NOAA. They're cherry-picking particular dates and locations when their meteorologists did a better job of interpreting NOAA's data than the National Weather Service did. That will happen sometimes; someone who knows nothing about horse racing will sometimes bet on the right horse when the expert picks the wrong one. It happens.

With weather forecasting, it doesn't happen often. And that data? Accuweather wouldn't have it if your tax dollars hadn't paid for NOAA to gather it.

Michael Lewis gives us a clear, lucid discussion of what's going on and what it all potentially means.

And also why you should not roll your eyes at the weather forecast, no matter whether you get it from the National Weather Service, or from one of the for-profit companies repackaging it for you.

Highly recommended.

I received this audiobook at no cost from Audible as part of their Audible Originals program, and am reviewing it voluntarily.