Friday, December 14, 2007

Technology in an Ice Storm

Kansas got hit with an Ice Storm on Monday night December 10th 2007. It took out the electricity from more than 80,000 homes, and by the date of this entry this author did not have electricity in his home. This was written at his place of employment where power was restored within 24 hours of the storm.

The obvious dilemma when power is out is that almost all the technology we come to depend on doesn't work. I woke up on the morning after the storm to no lights, no PC, no Satellite TV, and no heat. Fortunately of the gadgets I own one was a Zune. With it's FM radio I could listen to local stations for closings and weather reports. I suppose I've got a radio somewhere in the house, but none have kept me distracted enough with simple radio to have me keep them running with fresh batteries. The Zune entertains me with music and videos and as such gets charged every night. The radio feature is a bonus that proves invaluable during power outages.

The second gadget I've come to rely on is an ancient Casio Pocket TV. I bought the Casio several years ago to use as a monitor for a video camera. I was still using it as a monitor for the DVD player I use to play music on my deck. It had fresh batteries in it since it had been running off it's power adapter. Built in UHF/VHF tuners and telecoping antenna allow it to receive local analog TV broadcasts. Fortunately my local stations are still broadcasting in analog. On a normal day the little Casio doesn't get very good reception from the main TV towers 40 miles away or so. With the ice storm shutting down all electric devices, the lack of interference made for surprisingly good reception. The screen is tiny, but I've been able to keep up with my local TV programming with it. It uses three AA batteries, and fortunately in this crisis AAs are still easy to find. My D cell flashlights are worthless as D cell batteries are sold out everywhere.

My Ipod Touch didn't prove as worthwhile. With my wireless router not working, it's just another media player. I've got more music and videos stored on the Zune's 80 gig hard drive than I do on the iPod's 8 gigs. The Zune wins when power is out. Both media players have to be recharged from either a wall adapter or a PC's USB port. I could fortunately take both to work and charge them from my work PC, but the inability to use standard batteries makes both less useful when resources are limited. As such I'm looking for a media player with FM radio that can run on AA batteries.

The gadget I realize I'll need to find now is a portable TV with a digital TV (ATSC) tuner. Within a year or two those analog broadcasts will be turned off. When that happens my little Casio TV will be demoted to monitor again.

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