No sooner had I written the title of this post than a friend in Barbados sent me a message on Skype: ‘Bloody power went off so I missed the whole thing’. He was referring to activity today in financial markets. Before I could get to complete my own ideas, I read that the White House lost its Internet connection yesterday. We assume that the dependence of the President and his staff on e-mail and mobile phones and access to the Internet has a bearing on the balance of world power rather than on their ability to keep in touch with their friends on Facebook or their followers on Twitter. So, I know that the problem I have had most of this week was neither unique nor limited to ‘ordinary people’. When the world is wondering whether President Mubarak will agree to step down from power as Egypt’s president immediately, I have to wonder if our dependence on power in the form of electricity and the Internet is now complete. As I wrote yesterday (The revolting use of social media), political regimes also realise that cutting off such access can cause a lot of dislocation.
Snow, freezing rain, strong winds, and other nasty winter weather over the past 10 days caused more than a few problems in the local area. The degree of bad weather was not as severe as in many other places, such as the midwest of the USA, but weather disruption is relative. Texas is not accustomed to snow and now that state is having to figure out how to deal with its arrival just ahead of this weekend’s Super Bowl there.
The problems caused by winter weather are to be expected and we can usually deal with most of them by wearing the right clothes, building a cozy log fire, and by not trying to venture out unless really needed. But, one by-product of winter storms that affected this area more than I expected is the loss of electricity, whether for a few minutes or a few hours. Our local provider, PEPCO, has been under the hammer for its response to the weather problems during the summer and now again this winter, especially in its promises to restore power that were then not fulfilled as indicated. The recent snow-thunderstorm was just another test that they seem to have failed.
I work at home, and like many who work in offices, I rely heavily on the Internet, so it was a burden to return home from a trip to find that the loss of power over the weekend bashed the modem for our service. An hour on the phone with Verizon convinced the agent that we needed a new modem, and that would be sent immediately by UPS. Sure enough, it arrived within 48 hours, and it did not take an hour to reset the connections. But, in the meantime, I had to figure out whether I could realistically continue to work if it meant trying to surf the Internet on my mobile phone or hunkered down in a Starbucks that has free wi-fi. Most local households are now aware of the benefit of securing their Internet services and every possible connection was protected. I, therefore, did not have to deal with any moral dilemmas about piggy-backing a neighbour’s wi-fi. I’ve seen plenty of people who seemed to be hunkered down in Starbucks on a regular basis, and for many hours. Many of them are set up as they would be in a library, with papers and books spread across a table…oh, and a cup of coffee. But, for the trading that I do, it’s not practical to tote two computers around into a coffee shop and have them set up to look at charts and read news streams. I resigned myself to a very bitty week. The danger of not being set up properly is that you may be tempted to do things without proper review.
Sometimes, being on the sidelines of financial markets is the right thing to do, but I think I would prefer to choose to do that than find it’s forced on me. But, if there’s another benefit, it’s to put a day or week into perspective: there will always be another trade. Sure, you may think that you missed some great moves, but many more are out there.
Trading in financial markets is now an online activity (even if there are traders who have to be present on a trading floor), whether for big firms or retail traders, like myself. It is essential for both product and productivity. Following the stream of information and data depends on constant access to the Internet. Following price movements means looking at how charts are developing in real-time. Placing trades can be done at the press of button which will execute them instantly. You cannot do any of that very effectively on a mobile phone. I could smile at the thought of going back to life several decades ago and trying to do charts by hand and making trades by phone or telex (know what that is?).
It does not take much to bring us down to Earth with modern technology. But, then it’s always a sobering contrast to think about how these times compare with those in Guinea, where I was based a few years ago. There, power outages were a constant, and for some people, their everyday lives meant being without electricity on a regular basis (say many days each week). I remember the sight of children sitting in the forecourts of gas stations in the evenings, as they always had lights. I remember my Internet connection at home hanging up with that annoying spinning hour-glass being the only thing that moved on my computer screen. My office did not rely on local connections but had a satellite connection, as was common for many private or international institutions. By contrast, many government offices were often afflicted by connections that did not work. Unreliable power sources meant having a generator for backup was standard. Unreliable Internet there meant calling a technician and have him come to our residence and recheck the cabling, hoping that he could come by in a few days. I have to feel overjoyed that all I had to do this week was call a 1-800 number, talk for an hour with an agent, unplug every cable for the Internet connection, reconnect every cable, check the battery box, check the coaxial cable for the service, then wait for UPS to deliver new equipment.