Sunday, February 28, 2010

48 Hours without Power

Listening to the roaring winds outside our new home in New Hampshire, we settled in to watch Burn Notice. About 5 minutes into the show, the power flickered and we lost the TV signal. As the cable box reacquired the signal, we settled in for a second time, only to have the entire house go black.

A quick look outside confirmed that we were not alone. Grabbing a flashlight, some candles, and a portable radio, we settle in for a third time. At 11:30 we called it a night. At least we didn’t have to turn out the lights. Not giving it much thought, we went to bed, because we were used to losing power for short periods of time when we lived in New Jersey.

When I awoke at 6 AM, I was surprised to see that we still had no power. One of the first thoughts I had was about an online class that I have to give on Friday night. I normally teach it face-to-face at Pace University in NY, but they had snow and classes were cancelled on campus. We had plans in place to have the students attend online from their homes, but it was looking like I might have a problem.

Time for contingency plans. McDonald’s has free wi-fi. If worse comes to worse, I could always sip a Coke and munch on a Big Mac while I teach.

A few minutes later my cell phone beeped with a text message from my daughter who lives about 25 miles away in MA. She also had no power. I pressed the send button to call her back, but there is no connection. Hanging up, I checked the signal and see that I have only one bar and as soon as I press any button, I have no signal at all. Time to turn on the radio to see what’s up.

The news indicated that those roaring winds I mentioned reached 68 mph and downed trees and power lines across the state. Roads were blocked, and 300,000 people are without electricity. It may be days before power is restored in some places.
It was pretty obvious that McDonald’s was not going to be an option. I wondered how I would get in touch with my daughter, who is obviously concerned about not hearing from us, and how would I get the message to Pace?

It was time to hope into the car and go in search of a cell phone signal. Hopefully the two mile stretch to 101 would be clear. As I walk into the garage, I automatically reach to hit the garage door opener. Little by little, I was beginning to really appreciate the things we take for granted.

As I head out to Rt. 101 in the direction of Epping, it was surreal. No stores were open. No traffic lights were working, but traffic was light and moving smoothly as people are courteously letting cars turn and get on the highway from side streets.
As I drove, I glance at the phone and see 1 bar, then two. I was only a mile from Epping so I decided to get off at Exit 5, see if the McDonald, Lowes, or Walmart were open and place my calls.

As I got off, It was obvious they too had no power. I pulled into the Wallgreen’s parking lot and called my daughter. After easing her mind, I decide it’s too early to wake Dr. Sachs, so I send him a text message to let him know things are not looking good for that night, and head back home.

Having been up for an hour and a half, was I’m hungry. I look at the Mr. Coffee longingly and realize was not lost. We have a gas stove. I heat water, pour it through the filter, grabbed a breakfast bar, open the morning paper, and turn on the radio.

It was now 8:45 and I began typing this blog entry in the present tense, but the battery was low and I had to shut down. (It is now three days later and I just changed it all to past tense.) There wasn’t anything to do, but wait. I figured in a few hours I would head back to Epping to call the some family members back in NJ who might be trying to get in touch and contact Dr. Sachs to figure out what we would do with class. There wasn’t much to do except listen to the radio and assess the situation.

Later that day as the damage became apparent, the Governor declared a state of emergency. They announced that it would take multiple days to restore power to everyone and that it could take up to a week in some areas.

Things were looking serious, but I thought we would be ok. The house is new and well insulated. It was 70 degrees when the lights went out and 12 hours later, it was only down to 65. We have a gas stove and the new refrigerator is tight. It should keep things cool and frozen for a day or two with no problem.

The rest of the day was spent reading, playing backgammon, and going to bed an hour earlier than usual. The computer battery was dead and I was writing with one of those things called a pen, something I had done only on rare occasions. The worse time was the hours between twilight and bed. It’s hard to read or play games by candle light. I guess we’re not as hardy as our forefathers. Let’s be honest, we’re just spoiled.

After dinner, when things got quiet and we could no longer read or play games, we got out the cheese that might spoil, grabbed a box of crackers, and opened a bottle of wine. That did the trick and it was candles out at 10:30.

Normally we are up and around by 7:30, but we figured we would be up earlier because we went to bed early. Imagine my surprise when my wife whispered, “Are you awake? It’s ten of nine.” She had checked her cell phone and bolted awake when she saw the time. Reaching for my phone I squinted and surprisingly confirmed her read. Apparently, doing nothing is tiring.

It was now down to 60 degrees and time to add a layer of clothing. A few years ago, I had an online site for providing professional development. The domain name was, because you could take courses online while sitting in your fuzzy slippers. My daughter made a logo of pair of fuzzy bunny slippers with a mouse attached and I found the real McCoy online. I couldn’t resist getting them just as a lark. Now they were proving useful and somewhat interesting to the cats.
We headed down stairs, boiled water and turned on the radio to get some updates on the situation.

Looking out the window, there was about three inches of snow on the ground. That would not make things easier for the linemen. The roads were clear and we were planning to take a ride to MA, because we needed a few things and from talking to my daughter, we knew some stores were open.

Just about that time, the disc jockey said, “…and it’s now 7:12.” Huh! We both checked our cell phones, and sure enough, he was right. Note to selves: Put on glasses before checking time, because 6:50 looks like 8:50 on the small digital display.

By this time, things were getting a little questionable in the refrigerator. Jill cooked up the half pound of bacon. We would have some of it with the scrambled eggs I was making and munch on the rest later.

After breakfast we decided to take a drive to see what was opened. I plugged in my computer to the adapter in the car and automatically reached for the garage door opener. Oops! After manually opening the garage door, we were on our way.

As we passed the Hannaford’s supermarket, we saw they had trailer with an emergency generator and were opened for business. We could stop there on the way home. We headed to Epping and saw that the commercial center there had electricity. We did some shopping at the Super Walmart for batteries and other essentials like cat food and munchies for us. After that, we headed over to McDonalds where I used their wi-fi to check email and answer a few essential communications. Then it was back home for a quick stop at Hannafords for some essentials in case the outage lasted much longer. We picked up three bottles of wine, some ice, and headed off down the road secure in the knowledge we were prepared.

When we got home I took three plastic buckets and loaded them with frozen and refrigerator goods that were in danger of spoiling, packed them in snow and ice, and put them on the back deck. It was then I saw Jim, the construction manager for the condos. He told me that NH Co-op's power lines ended a few hundred feet east of our development and that PSNH’s lines started there. We had lines behind our clubhouse that were down and then had just moved some equipment in to begin working. He thought we might have electricity by that afternoon.

That would be none too soon, because the temperature was now down to 55 in the house. The cats were none too happy about that and were had just added another layer of clothing. The rest of the day passed much like the previous one, but a little colder. At 10:00 there was still no power. We killed the candles and went to sleep.

It’s funny how your mind works when you are in that twilight sleep. I awoke to my wife screaming, “Yay!” and thought to myself, “Why did she turn on the lights and wake me up”? Then I realized we had power! It had come one just a little more than 48 hours after it went off.

It’s now the third day. Because of our fortuitous location between two power companies, we have electricity, but most of the rest of our town is still dark as is the majority of the 300,000 others who lost power. Many will be without power for days yet.

Our daughter’s family spend the night with friends who had power. From what I gathered on the radio, they are probably still without power and will probably head over here until they get back on the grid.

So that’s our little adventure. While it's insignificant compared to the suffering in Haiti and other places around the globe, it certainly makes one thankful for what we do have.

I’ll post this now and begin catching up on email and planning for making up the class that was canceled by the storm. Hopefully, the next storm scheduled to come through this weekend, will be gentler.

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posted by Art @ 9:12 AM   0 Comments

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why I Like NH Better than NJ - Reason 2

Skilled artisans and technicians can be found in NJ if you look hard enough, but mediocrity is pervasive and don't try to get component level trouble shooting for your TV.

While in NJ, we had a 9 year old large screen projection TV that once turned off, would not turn on again for 4-6 hours. I did some research and found that it was most likely a bad capacitor on one of the boards. I began calling around, but no one would come out to my house and no one would trouble shoot at the component level. The best they could do was have me haul it in and they would replace the entire circuit board for about $450.

When we arrived in NH, I asked around and was told that Tony's TV Repair in Portsmouth would come out and would trouble shoot. I called them and Mark, their tech spent about 15 minutes with me on the phone doing as much trouble shooting as he could that way. He then did his research, ordered a set of 8 capacitors and set up an appointment. He was clear that if they didn't do the job, it would then be a needle in a haystack search that would require bench work at the shop and probably not worth doing.

When he arrived we duplicated the problem, he pressed two keys on the front panel and an LCD flashed out an error code suggesting the capacitors on the signal board were the most likely problem. He replaced them and we gave it a try. While it didn't solve the problem, it did improve things considerably.

He said he could replace the capacitors on the other board, but if they were the problem we would have gotten a different error code. He felt that the problem could also be a transistor, in which case it would have to go to the shop for serious bench work. I decided to leave things as they were.

Watching him work was a pleasure. I'm trained in computer repair and even if I knew which capacitors to replace, it would have taken me at least two to three times as long to do what he did. He traveled 25 miles in each direction and spent well more than an hour here, but since he couldn't fix it, he just charged me the travel charge, the minimum labor charge and the cost of the four capacitors. It cost $156, which considering everything, was a bargain. The set is working better and I am perfectly happy with the results.

Thanks, Mark!

I've had a similar experiences with my house, my car, and even my hair, but more about them in a future posts.

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posted by Art @ 11:55 AM   0 Comments