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Holyoke is pushing the high tech envelope

Date: 2/15/2010

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

The scene in the conference room at Holyoke Community College on Wednesday morning had a science fiction air about it. On a television monitor was Wim Elfrink, an official from Cisco Systems, conducting a conversation with Holyoke Mayor Elaine Pluta and Kathy Anderson, the city's head of industrial development.

Elfrink was in Bangalore, India, where Cisco is working on a "Smart+Connected Community" project. The company wants to do something in neighborhoods in Holyoke and will be working with the city on developing a pilot project to determine just what.

In other places Cisco is developing two-way computer-based television communications systems that would allow, for instance, a house bound senior to "see" a nurse or doctor about a health question.

Science fiction, indeed, but it is real.

This is huge. Holyoke is the first city in the nation that Cisco has chosen for one of these projects.

With the high speed-computing center, the influx of young people creating an arts scene, innovative private developments such as Open Square and the return of some passenger rail service, Holyoke is a city on the move forward.

If I had the money, I'd buy a building in the Paper City. There will be real development opportunities there in the next five years.

Now what I hope will happen is there will be a spillover from this development into Springfield and Chicopee. Perhaps we will see a high tech revival throughout the region.


During my days at UMass, I successfully avoided a math class by taking science classes, which I found much more interesting. Generally I did okay, but I had some problems with an introduction to meteorology class taught by a good guy named Thomas Arny.

Despite his fine tutelage, I found weather to be tough going. I think I was able to get a B, though.

I say this because I understand predicting the weather is difficult, but my sympathy decreases as the show business puffery on the television forecasts increases.

The fact that every forecaster completely missed what really happened on Wednesday should say something about the methodology they use. The problem is that schools, businesses and events were closed, costing people time and money.

And the next time they cry wolf, school officials may not be inclined to listen, which then can create a public health and safety issue.

I wouldn't be so steamed about this issue except weather is marketed on television in a way to suggest the forecasts are routinely correct. I'd like to see one of these folks occasionally look into the camera and say "There are no guarantees."

At least that would be honest. It might not be "good TV," though.

It's bad enough weather gets more attention in a newscast than any other single element. We have the moment at the top of the half hour where we are told about local conditions.

I know about local conditions. I have windows.

Then we're told about tonight's forecast. That is moderately more interesting if you have a nighttime event.

That's followed up by the next day and the seven-day forecast. Seven day? Please.

Finally we have a little happy talk moment in which the weather is discussed again. I also like the convention in which a news anchor "blames" or "thanks" the weather person for bad or good weather. That's been going on for decades. Please stop it!

And please stop touting your weather technology. First there was radar, then Doppler radar, then super Doppler radar, and then super 3-D Doppler radar and you still can't get it right! How about licking your finger and holding it out a window?

Did the late John Quill have super 3-D Doppler radar? Or an army of volunteer weather watchers phoning in local conditions? Nope. And I am willing to bet his forecasts were just as accurate as those of the new generation of forecasters.

I can't help but wonder what is their percentage of accuracy in the forecasts. Now that could be the basis of a marketing campaign.

Well, at least I have a copy of this year's "Old Farmer's Almanac" to help me out. Perhaps the area school superintendents should get one for themselves.

This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to or to 280 North Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028.