power outage at home and at work
Friday, November 1 2019
I'd awaken several times in the night to the roar of winds. It wasn't as loud or as whistly as the hurricanes I've experienced, but it was damn powerful for an approaching cold front. By this morning, our household power had failed, meaning I had to conduct my morning pre-work business using a little LED headlamp (which I did not put on my head; for some reason its straps had stretched out to a size suitable for bridling a horse). On the drive down Dug Hill Road, there was a fair amount of debris in the road, and at least one pile of wood someone had cut up just to get through.
There was power in the office, and initially I thought it was going to be a normal day. Unusually, I went to Hannaford in the mid-morning, mostly just to get coffee I could use in the reusable cartridges I put in the Keurig machine.
A little before noon, power failed in part of the office, and, strangely, the outage spread from there until, by 12:20PM, power was out in the entire office. Had I been working on my old data importer, I probably could've continued working, since all of that work can be done locally. But the work I wanted to do today required a distant server to authenticate, and the office had lost its internet connection. The inability for most people to do work gave the office a bit of a festive mood as we marveled at where power was available and where it wasn't and the janky nature of the gooseneck lamps I'd bought on eBay.
While the power was still working, I was able to microwave my usual lunch of pupusas, this time using that reusable wooden plate I'd bought for $3 at the Tibetan Center Thrift Store. Unfortunately, the wooden plate turned out not to be all that microwave-safe. It became scorching hot and started off-gassing unpleasant smells from its varnish, which, happily, didn't noticeably contaminate the food.
At around 1:00pm, I decided there was no sense in remaining at work, so I got my road beer out of the office refrigerator and drove out to the Tibetan Center thrift store on an early-version of my usual Friday afternoon ritual. The traffic light at the intersection of Rokeby Road and US 9 was not working at all, so people were treating it like a four-way stop (sort of).
I probably shouldn't bother going to the Tibetan Center any more; the prices on the things I would buy now aren't any better than what one can find on eBay, and there's rarely anything I want there anyway. Today I was looking for a plastic plate to replace my not-microwaveable wooden plate, and I actually found one (it featured a colorful depiction of the Planet Earth). But then I saw on the back that it was not to be put in a microwave oven.
I headed home from the Tibetan Center in the way that I always do, which is to cut over from Route 28 to Route 28A at the vegan-unfriendly restaurant named Hickory. I then headed west on 28A to the north end of Dug Hill Road. Somewhere along 28A, I crested a hill and suddenly saw someone putting out flare along the road. Then I saw several firefighting vehicles were responding to a downed powerline that was producing a pinkish-orange ball of plasma as electricity gleefully emptied into the ground. The air smelled like ozone. Things were obviously under control, but it's not the sort of post-apocalyptic thing one sees every day.
Back at the house, Gretchen was in the living room grading papers written by prisoner-students. There was still no power, and, since I am allergic to media not presented on a screen, I was forced to subsist on the dwindling power of my smartphone. Earlier today I'd heard a podcast about the Boeing 737 Max, the 1967-era jetliner that was refitted several years ago with larger, more efficient engines to better compete with Airbus. But the engine refitting had resulted in a series of problems that were in turn fixed with hacks. The engines needed to be moved forward somewhat in order to fit beneath the plane, which then didn't handle like the old 737. So a software fix tried to abstract away these difference in order to keep the 737 "still a 737" (thus avoiding the need for retraining of pilots). But this fix, a kind of automation, only read one sensor, which it didn't cross-check with other data. So, should this one sensor go bad, the automated abstraction layer would "correct" the plane's flight in ways that could lead to a crash. This is apparently what happened with 737 Maxes in both Indonesia and Ethiopia. Despite the power outage, I continued learning more about this case throughout the afternoon. Perhaps the most damning information was the fact that the automation software had been written by outsourcers in India paid only $9/hr.
When evening came and we still had no power, I decided to join Gretchen on her Friday-night activities. She'd be meeting Sarah the Vegan and Nancy at Pie For The People on Wall Street and then attending a series of lectures at a social-justicey "How to Survive the Future" conference at the George Washington School (across the street from PftP). I was mostly interested in the pizza part of this outing, but Gretchen insisted the conference would be "right up" my "alley."
On the drive to pizza, we stopped at the Hurley post office to see if a package that was supposed to be delivered today but then wasn't happened to still be there. The post office was closed, but Gretchen is the kind of person who will knock on a pulled-down grate to see if someone is still actually back there. The person who was back there happened to be someone who knows and loves Gretchen, and she searched for something like fifteen minutes, but the package could not be found.
At PftP, we all sat at the one table with a nearby pair of power outlets so Gretchen and I could charge our phones and portable batteries over dinner. Sarah said she'd never lost power and though Nancy had, it had come back on this morning. For my part, I felt I was looking a bit rough. Had I known the power would definitely be going out, I probably would've showered or bathed while I still could. We ended up ordering two pizzas, neither of which were ideal for me. One had mushrooms and faux cheese (which I like), but it also had olives and overly-strong broccoli rabe (which I don't much do). The other was a pesto pizza covered with fresh arugula, and the the only thing about it that I especially liked was the presence of jalapeño mushrooms. This is not to say that both types weren't delicious; they just weren't the slices I would've ordered had it all been for me. Topics of dinner conversation included the subject of cholesterol, which Nancy recently learned she had too much of. Evidently her doctor's office tries to keep things super-simple when explaining what the implications of test results should be. In this case, they'd told Nancy simply to "avoid fat." But as Gretchen was quick to point out, cholesterol is only present in animal fats. Nancy should be able to eat all the olive oil she wants. But she was a little slow on the uptake with this information, wondering if somehow sugars contributed to cholesterol. Unless sugars are extracted from animals, the answer would have to be no. We also talked some about past power outages. Interestingly, it's apparently not general knowledge that one can flush a toilet simply by dumping in a bucket of water. This is the implication of the story Sarah told of once abandoning her house with toilets full of shit, even though it's located adjacent to a pond. (I often take for granted the knowledge I have from having grown up in a somewhat-luddite rural setting.)
The conference lectures were happening in George Washington's auditorium. When we arrived, there were about two hundred people there. They were a refreshing mix of races and ages (given our experience with these sorts of things). The content of the talks was about how to organize locally to build communities more likely to survive in the face of ecological and societal collapse. This includes things like forming financial systems allowing poor people to bootstrap their own businesses. More radical versions include local currencies (though I'm skeptical of the utility of those) and more aggressive wealth distribution (which I think is inevitable if the wealthy want to keep their heads from ending up on sharpened sticks).
The final speaker was Kali Akuno, from Jackson, Mississippi, and he started by guiding our minds through what it might've been like to be captured, put in a slave ship, and end up as a forced laborer in the American south. He described this as a personal apocalypse, a one-person end-of-the-world. Later, he explained the huge odds against gubernatorial candidates in Mississippi, who can win the popular vote and still lose. This is because, like the American Electoral College, gubernatorial candidates must win a majority of house delegate districts, the shapes of which have been designed to pack as many African Americans into as few of them as possible.
Overall, I found the lectures much more interesting than I expected them to be. The speakers were all very thoughtful and rational, and the things they were saying weren't even particularly controversial. Yet, and I pointed out to Gretchen later, such viewpoints are completely marginalized in American discourse, while patently-absurd conspiracy theories eat up a significant portion of the media oxygen.
By the time we returned to our car (at around ten or eleven at night), a thin layer of frost at formed on its roof. Just last night, condition had been like those in August. And now it already felt like late December.
Pre-sunrise on the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge this morning.
A blow-up black cat at the drive-through snack food place adjacent to the Tibetan Center (visible in the background).
For linking purposes this article's URL is:feedback
previous | next