by Kim S. Nash

Tomatoes, Oil, Internet Addiction: How Tech is Cramping My Lifestyle

Jul 08, 20084 mins
IT Leadership

Technology is really cramping my lifestyle this summer. Some of this technology is being used too well (oil industry), some too poorly (by me), and in other cases, there’s not enough technology (food supply). As a result, I’m suffering. You are, too. How? I’m glad you asked.

First, tomatoes. A few weeks ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration linked tomatoes with an outbreak of salmonella poisoning: 887 cases in 28 states, plus Washington D.C. Red plum, Roma and something called “red round” tomatoes (aren’t most red and round?) are the likely culprits, the FDA says, when eaten raw.

I love raw tomatoes and in the summertime, eat them like a maniac.

The FDA is good at tracing outbreaks. When a rare strain of salmonella popped up in sick people last year, we wrote about how FDA doctors, scientists and computer experts within a couple of weeks traced it to ConAgra’s Peter Pan peanut butter factory in Georgia.

But what the FDA isn’t so good at is preventing bad food from reaching store shelves in the first place. That’s in part because the FDA suffers a dire lack of technology and trained staff needed to monitor the food supply.

Right now, for example, even if it had enough inspectors to look at the 189,000 non-U.S. food facilities under its purview, the FDA needs can’t do the kind of trend analysis it wants to on food imports, to flag risky products, as the Government Accountability Office noted in June. It needs better databases, better analysis tools and more business analysts.

The FDA’s own advisory board has concluded that it’ll cost hundreds of millions of dollars to fix the FDA’s information technology. Congress has made noise about helping with funding, but so far no big money has followed the big talk. We all know there won’t be any tech without money first, and oversight of our food supply will remain poor.

And I have to grow my own tomatoes. In fact, a bunch of us in my town are holding a contest to see who can grow the biggest tomato by Labor Day. Send me any tips you have for growing a ginormous (salmonella-free) specimen.

Next, gas. You’ve seen those high prices at the pump. Crude oil is trading at all time highs, too. If you’re a regular reader, you know how big oil and gas companies are using business intelligence technology to figure out the most profitable places to drill, refine and sell their products.

As well they should, right? That’s the name of the game. Any company can learn from what these guys are doing with data modeling, statistics and BI. They are masters at crunching data, and capitalizing on it. More’s the pity for those of us who have to, oh, I don’t know, drive anywhere.

Like to Home Depot for Tomato-Gro. Or to various campgrounds in New York and Ohio.

Which brings me to my final technology cramp, the Internet. I’ve been asking around about whether and why people bring BlackBerrys, laptops and other gadgetry on vacation. Responses have ranged from an appalled, “Why would I?” to a matter-of-fact, “Yep, I need to for work.”

Then there was Chris Rapp, director of technology at Sovereign Bank in Dallas. He’s the connectivity addict who answered me at midnight by e-mailing me on Facebook. With his BlackBerry. While driving his family to their yearly get-away to Kansas City. When the missive came in, I was reading on my Treo, so I zapped a message right back. “Poor guy,” I thought. “To be so addicted…”

Then I realized I am, too.

That big tomato contest originated via furious late-night e-mailing among seven people. Once the contest rules were debated on e-mail, we followed up with a group blog to track (OK, flaunt) our progress.

As I write this, I’m trying to talk myself down from bringing the Treo camping later this month. I don’t need it for work. Most of the friends and family who’d need me urgently will be under the stars with me. Then again, I won’t be able to update Twitter. Or see anyone else’s Tweets. I’ll miss Scrabulous on Facebook and my new favorite game there, “Word Challenge.” (Challenge me!)

Eh, there probably won’t be connectivity that high up in the Catskills.

But if there is, I’ll ping you from my gas-guzzling minivan as my husband drives me to the hospital for tomato-induced salmonella sickness.