When the Lights Go Out

I'm on hour 16 without power thanks to a wind storm that blew through Oregon last night. I'm speaking to you live from my laptop, connected to my cell phone via bluetooth, using a Cingular data connection. I love living on the edge of a small town—the positives outweigh the negatives. But one of the drawbacks is that power seems to take a little longer to come back for us once it goes out, and the power even occasionally blinks on and off for no apparent reason. So I've had to do some contingency planning for situations just like these.

A couple weeks ago I talked about planning for hard drive failure, so I thought I'd talk about planning for power failure now that I'm in the middle of dealing with it.

One of the best investments I've made is an APC battery back-up (aka Uninterruptible Power Supply) for the main computers and monitors in the house. (I picked up two APC ES 650s, available at Amazon.) Basically a UPS will give you about 15 minutes to save everything you're working on and shut down the computer once the power goes out. But I've really found it useful for those power blips where it just goes out for a minute or so. The UPS keeps your computer humming along, and you won't lose any work.

I also picked up a smaller UPS for my less-power-hungy cable modem and router. Typically if the power goes out, the cable connection will still work as long as my modem and router have power. So in those 15 minutes of power I have for my computer, I can still access the Internet and power blips won't force a modem/router reboot.

And finally that bluetooth modem connection has been a lifesaver. Not only can I still check email and surf the web during a blackout, but I can use the connection whenever I travel. I pay Cingular $20/month for unlimited data transfer, but it also means I don't pay access fees at airports, hotels, or greedy coffee shops (I'm looking at you Starbucks). Granted, the connection is painfully slow, but at least I can check websites, send emails, and post long-winded messages to my blog.

Unfortunately I can't turn on my main computer now, so I can't get much done. But at least I didn't have to worry about losing data. I guess the next level of redundancy is some sort of portable generator. Luckily these long power outages are few and far between, so I'm not sure it's worth it.

My laptop is at 46% power so I better sign off. No telling when the lights will come back on.


If you don't mind my asking, what kind of phone do you use for the Cingular connection? I use Cingular for my cellphone and wouldn't mind being able to get on the internet with my MacBook through it.

ben . prince +at+ gmail . com
I have my monitor, pc, and modem on a belkin ups. I love that thing! The warm glow of my monitor gave us enough time to light candles and break out our flashlights.
good luck. I'd be interested in a meeting/get together type thing for the corvallis orblogs people, if that ever happens....it's a neat site and thanks for creating it.
my parents are apparently powerless too.
This might be just the thing you are looking for in the field of portable generators:

Ben, I have a a Sony Ericsson S710a. It's a nice phone, but a couple years old. It has a nice camera and the bluetooth modem works well.

Chris, yeah it'd be fun to meet a bunch of local bloggers sometime.

By the way I'm at 26 hours without power now. That generator is looking better and better.
woohoo! The power is back, my fast wireless network is up, and the house is filled with the sounds of electronics and appliances humming.
my story...

two hurricanes (power out for 3 and 7 days) and one ice storm (out for 6 days) have taught me to have the following top 10:

1. generator. nothing beats it. period.

2. chain saw with all the extras.

3. bottled water. can't have too much.

5. convenience food: PopTarts, Lance, etc.

6. paper products. T.P. especially.

7. batteries to run all the flashlights, radios, etc. that you will use.

8. outdoor grill. after a hurricane, this is your stove.

9. Land-Line phone. after the ice storm, cellphone towers collapsed and the cable went, too. only LL phones worked. as a result, DSL worked also.

10. kerosene heater or two with extra wicks.

finally, here's the Great Satan of power outages: candles. i came close one time. the candle sputtered and a piece of ash floated into a Kleenex box. i saw it/that's how i know/and i emptied my Mountain Dew on the flames. battery-operated lighting (especially LED's) is much better.