Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Thoughts on a power outage: what worked, what didn't

We lost our electrical power for 45 hours as a result of the wildfires and high winds in Northern California.  This is by far the longest power outage we have ever had to endure, and we learned a lot about how to deal with them.  I thought I'd share some of the lessons.

What Worked

This outage was a lot easier to deal with than it might have been because we had a lot of warning.  PG&E started sounding the alarm about two days before the power was actually cut on Saturday night.  Because of that we were able to stock up on ice, stage flashlights, and so on.  The ice in particular proved to be very useful because that was the difference between saving some perishables and having them, well, perish.  It turns out that our freezer can last 24 hours without electricity (provided you don't open it) but 48 is pushing it.

LED lighting is just awesome.  I grew up on old-school incandescent flashlights that lasted an hour or two on a set of batteries.  LED flashlights will easily last 10-15 hours, and produce a lot more light in the process.  Battery-powered LED candles provide really nice mood lighting late at night. We also had some wall-mounted emergency lights that worked quite well, though we found that the first thing we wanted to do once PG&E pulled the plug was to turn them all off because the bluish light coming up from the wall was really harsh.  We also had no idea how long they would last because their internal batteries are quite small.  They are intended mainly for the use case where the power cuts off at night with no notice so you can find the real flashlights without having to go groping around in the dark, and for that purpose they worked quite well.

What Didn't

We have two phone lines, one of which is an old-school POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) line that is supposed to keep working even when the power goes out.  It didn't work.  As soon as the power died, so did the phone.  We even kept an old hard-wired phone to use with that line specifically so we would have comms without power.  That experiment was a dismal failure.  This corresponds to a data point collected from an acquaintance who did a similar experiment with similar results.  The days of reliable hard-wired communications in the face of power outages are apparently over.  And unfortunately, our house sits in a cell dead zone so that doesn't work as a backup for us either.

We had uninterruptible power supplies that kept some of our electronics running for a while, but that was mostly a failure too.  Some of the batteries had apparently aged out and quit after only a minute or two.

For those that kept working, we learned the hard way that having a UPS with a power-out alarm that can't be muted is an incredibly bad idea.  I guess the designers thought that the UPS should be as obnoxious as possible in order to make sure that in the event it was being used to power a computer, the user would know to save their work and shut down.  But there are two serious problems with this theory.  First, when the power goes out, it's pretty obvious.  Even during the day, there's almost always something nearby that's powered by electricity that gives you an indication when it's no longer working.  And second, you might be using your UPS to power something other than a computer, something low-power that you want to keep running for a long time, like a DSL modem.  Also, even if you are using the UPS to power a computer, and even if it's the middle of the day so somehow you miss the fact that the power has gone out, there is no excuse for the thing to go on beeping for more than a few minutes, and absolutely no excuse not to provide some way to silence the damn thing short of chucking it out the window.

(BTW, anyone want to buy a slightly used UPS?)

But the worst problem we faced was that our water heater stopped working despite being powered mainly by natural gas.  It turns out that it also has an electrical element (some kind of blower) and when that's not working, the whole heater just shuts down.  We had residual hot water for about twelve hours, which got us through the first night and the following morning.  But after that we decided to check into a hotel.

This turns out to be the hardest problem to solve for future outages.  But for not having hot water, we could probably survive just about any likely outage.  But cold showers are a show-stopper for us.  To fix this, we'd either need to replace the water heater, or get a generator or a Tesla powerwall.  A generator is kind of loud and obnoxious, and a powerwall is some pretty major coin.  Both would need to be wired into the house in order to power the water heater.

Good thing climate change is a hoax or all this could start to get really annoying.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Joe Rogan interviews Ed Snowden

Joe Rogan has conducted a three-hour-long interview with Edward Snowden.  It is well worth investing the time to listen to all of it.

(If you don't have the time or the patience for that, you can also read his book.)

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

No, Mr. Graham, this is not a lynching in any sense

In a time where brazen dishonesty has become the norm it is sometimes necessary to belabor the painfully obvious, to wit, the impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump are not even remotely within spitting distance of the same ballpark as a lynching.  I feel it necessary to point this out, particularly to Lyndsey Graham, who actually said, in no uncertain terms, "this is a lynching in every sense."

Mr. Graham, let me explain this at you in terms that I hope you will be able to understand: you see, a lynching is when some fine upstanding southern gentlemen go out and kill themselves a nigger.  Now our Mr. Trump here, last I checked, was still alive and kickin' and physically, if not mentally, intact.  Furthermore, Mr. Schiff ain't no fine upstanding southern gentleman.  He's from (brace yourself) California, the same state that Nancy Pelosi hails from.  So there might be something fishy goin' on here, but it ain't no lynching cuz we ain't got ourselves no nigger hanging from a tree.

If we somehow manage to get through this witch hunt and return to the recognition that Mr. Trump has been anointed by God Himself to free us from the scourge of liberalism and Mexican rapists, then maybe, just maybe, we can get ourselves some good old-fashioned legitimate lynchings.  But for the moment, those halcyon days are behind us.  This country hasn't seen a real lynching since 1981.

This is the point at which I would normally come up with a snappy line to close this post, but I'm coming up empty today.  Sorry.  I am just so fucking tired of all this shit.  Life is too short.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

William Barr echoes Adolf Hitler, with "militant secularists" playing the role of the Jews

Attorney General William Barr gave a speech at Notre Dame university where he resurrected some of Adolf Hitler's most odious rhetoric, with "militant secularists" (i.e. people who believe in reason and science rather than medieval superstitions) playing the role previously occupied by the Jews:
He [Barr] insisted that “the traditional Judeo-Christian moral system” of the United States was under siege by “modern secularists” who were responsible for every sort of “social pathology”, including drug abuse, rising suicide rates and illegitimacy.
(Here is the transcript in case you want to read what he actually said.)

I wonder if Mr. Barr considers the sexual abuse of minors to be a "social pathology", because there's a lot more of that going on in the Catholic church than at any secular organization that I know of.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Whatever happened to "no collusion"?

Funny how fast the "no collusion" slogan evaporated after the recent revelations about Trump trying to shake down the president of Ukraine to fabricate a smear campaign about Joe Biden.  Two years of hand-wringing about the Mueller report are suddenly moot.  Instead of "no collusion" it's now, "Sure I colluded, but it was for a good cause.  Collusion with a foreign government is perfectly acceptable if it is done in the name of rooting our corruption.  Oh, and it's just a coincidence that the most egregious corruption in the entire U.S. -- indeed the only such example that merits the enlistment of a foreign power to help ferret it out -- just happens to be my leading political opponent.

Somehow, if the polls are to be believed, over a third of the country actually buys that narrative.

When Trump was first elected there were some who hoped that he would "grow into the office" and become less Trumpy, that with some "adults in the room" to reign him in, disaster might be averted.  I wonder how much worse things have to get before the last holdouts realize that this is not going to happen.  Whenever Trump gets away with something his response is not, "Whew, that was close, I'd better be more careful next time."  Instead it's, "Well, that was cool, I wonder how much more I can get away with?"  In a scant two years we've gone from, "I never talked to the Russians" to "Sure, I use the power of the presidency to coerce a foreign government to interfere in our domestic politics.  So what?"  We've gone from pussy grabbing to concentration camps where children are forcibly separated from their families.  Do we really need to march all the way to the gas chambers before the Republican party wakes up and realizes that Donald Trump will lead them through the gates of hell if they give him even half a chance?  And for what, to overturn Roe v. Wade?  To wreak righteous vengeance against the spotted owl?

Seriously, if you're still a Trump supporter at this point (I'm looking at you, Publius) I really want you to explain this to me.  What is it that Trump is offering at this point that is worth the price of the nation's soul?