Open Thread: Surviving Sandy

What are your experiences? Lessons learned?


Don’t Blackout During a Blackout

John Robb on Blackouts
Here are five ways to stay resilient when facing a prolonged blackout.  This list is a little more advanced than buying candles and flashlights.

Stay informed on the loss of power in your area.  A great way to do that is through an outage map.  Many “modern” utility companies have them.  You can find a link to one on their website.  Bookmark it so it’s handy.

Report your blackout to the power company.  Make sure the 1-800 number of the power company is written down and in a handy place.

What’s the advantage to this?

With many companies, if you report the outage, they will also keep you informed on the progress to return power.  They are usually very good at this (they are able to automate it, so it’s really easy for them to do it).

NOTE:  To take advantage of this, you need to have a traditional handset for your phone.  Traditional handsets run off a trick of power from the telephone line.  I’m continuously surprised how many people don’t know that wireless base stations don’t work during a power outage unless they are plugged into a battery backup system.

Put yourself on your town’s reverse 911 call list.

Many towns now have access to inexpensive systems that let them inexpensively robocall everyone in town with important messages (school is cancelled, etc.).

However, you might not get these messages unless you put yourself on the town’s “to call” list.

Buy and install a backup generator.  There are more than a few ways to do this.

Here’s what we did in my home.   We installed 20,000 watt whole house generator.

Here’s what it looks like.  I’d take a picture of mine, but it’s raining pretty hard outside.


Why is this system resilient?

  • It comes on automatically when power is lost.
  • It produces all of the power we need to run the entire house.  We can now produce all of the electricity we use on premises.
  • It produces power continuously, at nearly the same price as we buy it from the electric company, from natural gas (which seldom suffers an outage).  That means we don’t have to refuel it in the storm.

There is one hidden benefit I didn’t include on this list.  Now that we can produce our own power, we’ve become an asset to our community rather than a debit.

Our home is now a refuge for family members and close friends in need of warm bed.  It’s also a benefit to our neighbors.  We can provide hot food or a hot shower when needed.

Over time, as we add more production to our home and community, events like this will fail to have a meaningful impact in anything other than in the most extreme and rare case.

NOTE:  Generators like this are in high demand.  There’s a long, eight month waiting list.   I’m glad we got on the list right after the storms last year.  So, if you want a system like this before next year’s storm season, order it now.

NOTE:  This generator can run on natural gas, propane, and biogas/methane.  It makes my home an energy omnivore.

Live in a town that has a well run municipal power grid.  Experience shows that locally managed grids get back up and running MUCH faster than larger, regional grids.

For example, the August and October blackouts of 2011, lasted nearly a week each.  In contrast, local power companies were able to get back to 100% in a couple of days.

One of the reasons the power outage lasted so long:  the regional power company was being managed to make itself more attractive for buy-out by a larger firm (it’s one of the few ways a management team can get rich in a regulated industry that is guaranteed profits).  To accomplish this, these intrepid managerial “risk takers” cut the tree trimming budget by 30%.  Of course, that proved to be a pretty dumb thing to do.

Local ownership of the power system is also a great way to accelerate the local production of energy.  New “microgrid” systems make it possible for local providers to offer many more features than the regional power company, including micro-markets for local providers.

Unfortunately, it’s tough to buy back infrastructure from the big utility companies.  Boulder, CO is trying to do this right now and it has proven to be very difficult.

Hope to have more tomorrow.  The wind is picking up and the power has flickered a couple of times already.

Some Food Safety Rules

The USDA has compiled a list of tips to help you sort through what is safe to eat in order to avoid food poisoning and other foodborne illnesses in the event of a power outage.

The top three things to remember are:

Meat, poultry, fish and eggs should stay at or below 40 degrees F and frozen food should remain below 0 degrees F. (duh)

  • If you keep your refrigerator, you will be able to keep your food cold for up to four hours. A full freezer will keep its temperature for at least 48 hours if full, 24 hours if half full.
  • Putting food together in your fridge and freezer can help keep it cold, theFDA points out.
  • The FDA also said coolers can help keep refrigerated food keep cold once the power cuts out.
  • Make or buy dry or block ice while you can. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep an 18-cubic foot full freezer for two days.
  • You’ll have to discard most foods in your fridge, but hard cheeses — including Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano – butter or margarine; opened fruit juices; opened can fruits; Fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, dates; most spreads that do not include milk products; breads; pies; and raw vegetables may be safe even if not kept cold. For a full list of foods, check out’s list .
  • If the item has ice crystals and feels as cold as it had been refrigerated, you can refreeze hard cheeses; breads, rolls, muffins, cakes without custard fillings; fruit juice; vegetable juice; cakes, pies, pastries with custard or cheese filling; casseroles – pasta, rice based; flour, cornmeal, nuts; breakfast items including waffles, pancakes, bagels; and frozen meal, entree, specialty items (pizza, sausage and biscuit, meat pie, convenience foods). However, most food will have to be thrown out if it has thawed for over two hours and is over 40 degrees F. A checklist can be found at .

Stock up on foods that can be eaten cold or heated with a gas stove.

  • Shelf-stable food, boxed or canned milk, water, and canned goods should all be safe to eat in case of an emergency.
  • Have a stock of ready-to-use baby formula and pet food if you need it

Food tainted by flood water, which contains bacteria, is not safe

  • Throw away any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is a possibility it touched flood water. This includes screw-cap bottles, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps. Food in cardboard boxes are not safe.
  • Any cans that are swollen, leaking, punctured, rusted or crushed so badly they cannot be stacked should also be discarded.
  • Remove labels on cans that are waterproof because they can contain dirt and bacteria.
  • Wash all the cans with soap and water. Hot water is best if available. If possible, place them in boiling water for two minutes or a solution made from 1 tablespoon of unscented bleach to one gallon of drinking water for 15 minutes. Air dry cans for at least 1 hour before opening or storing them. Use salvaged food as soon as possible, and mark which cans were cleaned and sanitized with a pen

Electricity Rates & Availability

Average Revenue per Kilowatthour by State
(Lowest to Highest Rate as of September 2006)
Rank State Average Electricity Rate for
All Sectors
(Cents per Kilowatthour)
1 Idaho 4.70
2 West Virginia 5.12
3 Wyoming 5.37
4 Kentucky 5.56
5 Washington 6.04
6 Utah 6.32
7 Oregon 6.43
8 Indiana 6.46
9 Missouri 6.52
10 North Dakota 6.63
11 Nebraska 6.72
12 Minnesota 6.81
13 Virginia 6.94
14 South Dakota 7.00
15 Montana 7.07
16 Tennessee 7.23
17 South Carolina 7.28
18 Alabama 7.39
19 Kansas 7.44
20 Illinois 7.50
21 Iowa 7.51
22 New Mexico 7.56
23 Colorado 7.62
24 Arkansas 7.64
25 Ohio 7.77
26 Georgia 7.78
27 North Carolina 7.91
28 Oklahoma 8.01
29 Mississippi 8.24
30 Michigan 8.25
31 Wisconsin 8.32
32 Pennsylvania 8.63
33 Arizona 8.79
34 Louisiana 8.80
National Average 9.26
35 Nevada 10.07
36 Florida 10.49
37 Delaware 10.66
38 Texas 10.75
39 Maryland 11.10
40 District of Columbia 11.34
41 Vermont 11.54
42 Maine 11.88
43 New Jersey 12.77
44 Alaska 12.82
45 New Hampshire 13.62
46 California 13.90
47 Rhode Island 14.06
48 New York 14.89
49 Massachusetts 15.71
50 Connecticut 15.74
51 Hawaii 21.51
Source:  Electric Power Monthly.  Energy Information Administration, Washington, DC.  Nebraska Energy Office, Lincoln, NE.This table was updated on December 18, 2006.  Typically, there is one month between updates.

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Sources: research


Upsiders complain. And they have been complaining about what new conveniences they didn’t get on the latest iPhone. One of them is a technology called NFC. I complained about the Rams in the NFC West, because of those damned Cowboys, but that’s a different story. This NFC is near field communications, a brand new technology that can best be described as secure bluetooth with a shorter range. But how secure is secure. Downsiders want to know.

How about this for a rule of thumb for downsiders? If it can be done automatically, know how to do it manually. Hmm. I like it.  I think this obviously makes sense for paying for stuff at a cash register, but the idea for NFC is that you don’t have to open up your wallet – that the cash register goes into your wallet for you and takes your money automatically. You know, just like a pickpocket. Nice and convenient.

Well what if I told you that there’s an older Upside technology that already does that? Yes, you may remember that it’s called RFID, for radio frequency ID. It broadcasts a little bit of information (and a credit card number is only a little bit) to a receiver. And what if I told you that there’s a 30% chance that you already have that on your credit card. Hey now! Thing is, any hacker can buy a receiver and swipe you. They’d have to be as close as a pickpocket, but it’s possible. Check out the following alarming 6 OClock News style video, if you have a couple minutes to spare.

Now American Express and Visa and those other guys aren’t stupid. They know that fraud limits the upside uptake of their products. That’s why they have mainframes chugging 24/7 to check all of your prior spending patterns against all new purchases. If you’ve never shopped at Nordstrom and bought $1000 worth of shoes, chances are such a transaction is going to raise hackles back at Visa’s cloud. And of course you are reasonably insured on authorizations post-hoc. You’d be surprised at how much computing goes on while you’re waiting at the register. (Enough so that ‘Free’ is profitable if you only pay 4 bucks a year, but that’s another story). So while it’s absolutely true that you can be pickpocketed, it is less true that crime can be profitably followed up as they showed in the video. What’s more likely is that your credit card information will go into a pile to be sold in bulk on the black market.

Nevertheless, you ought to check your wallet to see if you are vulnerable in the first place. Out of the 40 or so cards I have, only my Chase debit card (on the account that is overdrawn $20 bucks) is vulnerable. Plus, that card stays home, not in the wallet.

I promise that we’ll be getting the wiki up shortly so that you’ll have access to these Downsider facts.. Happy shopping!

Revolution: Mommy Apocalypse

MommyWell, it’s official. Men with stubbly beards are back. They are the new swag. It’s called ‘swag’ these days – you can read that as ‘fashionable manhood’. It’s not quite up to the manly standards of Commander Riker, but it’s doing a bit better than the metrosexual standard we have suffered since the disappearance of Burt Reynolds, no disrespect to Denzel Washington, Bruce Willis, Daniel Craig and Jason Statham. We’re about up to 85% of the Mid 80s Winston Man who was about 85% of the Marlboro Man. So things are looking up, mostly – almost to the point at which I can watch prime-time television without having to suppress my gag reflex. 

Now that I’m thinking about leading men for a hot minute, I think I can safely say that we have finally gotten rid of William Hurt, Chevy Chase and the rest of the boarding school boys club of actors which forced the careers of all the other actors, save the above, into weird corners of manhood where only actors like Danny Devito, Dennis Franz and Joe Pesci could have balls. But let me not get distracted.

The subject of discussion is JJ Abrams‘ new show Revolution. It has a fabulous premise and it needs to grow up really quickly. And it needs to start moving with some speed, or else it will be a terrible waste. I don’t know if Abrams is trying to back out of his reputation for shows that go in seven directions at once or what, because right now things are so damned ploddingly linear it’s practically Gilligan’s Island. 

What have we got? We’ve got a semi-rebellious, semi-heroic, semi-motherly girl with a crossbow. She can be really good but she’s got nothing on Abrams’ other heroines. I guess he wanted to do young and Brave and all that Hunger Game flavor.  Check. He’s got Giancarlo Esposito as a smiling borderline sociopathic military commander who actually cares about his cause. Good move. You’ve got uncle badass with deep secrets about the origin of the plague, which is this case is a suspension of the laws of physics such that electricity doesn’t work the way it used to. You’ve got dead dad, and presumed dead mom, and kidnapped asthsmatic baby brother as the emotional cellar for the heroine. Check. And you’ve got bearded fatboy ex-Googler semi-wastecase in the wasteland, and British babe with long braids, jeans and white shirts as hangers-on in the great Trek. There are boatloads of potentials here, BUT.

Here is yet another apocalypse where all of the cops, engineers, first-responders and Denzel Washingtons have just disappeared. The only rebels we recognize are women and slightly less than Mad Maxes. So basically all the rednecks (which lies deep in every American male psyche) have sold their souls to the evil, brutal and criminal Monroe Militia. Oh, didn’t I mention that? No women carrying guns or water for them. Just dudes with scars on their faces and/or pitiful souls. 

So for the purposes of demoralizing macho, we have an excellent platform. She ain’t Laura Ingram, she’s a hunter, not a farmer. But she’s civilizing the wild frontier as are, I suspect, all of the women in this series so far, with nary a naughty wench to be seen. You see it’s all about family, because it’s all feudal now. 

Here’s the crux. Deeper in the emotional celler of our heroine (named ‘Charlie’) is the drawdown scene where her mom fired on the man who threatened her toddler life in a hostage exchange for a little red wagon full of the family’s only food. Dad had the perverted thief in his sights, the thief said ‘I dare you’ and Dad couldn’t manage to fire. Mom, with an appropriate tear and shaky hands wound up doing the deed. One shot, one kill. Motherhood is a mutha!  

There are swords. There are lots and lots of swords. For that alone this is a superb vehicle, but even though it trawls at 10pm, it definitely is on the PG-13 track. Which ought to be good considering the gratuitous depravity of most of the premium channels, but well… The first commercial break advertised Clinique. So that just about says it all, huh?

We are being patient for some good storytelling, but we have been warned. 

I like the whole fuedal narrative, and there is no doubt that war and revolution are coming. Who’s your Leviathan is the entire subtext I’m reading into this, but I think there’s an opportunity here to be flagrantly wrong or right about some fundamental feminist and other social questions. And that, my dears, is what’s particularly enticing about this new dramatic world, if it can stand up and walk.