Weekly output: Silent Circle, smartphone battery life, FM radios in phones, Surface,

Not much to show for myself this week, but then again I spent most of the first half of it off the grid. Next week will be busier.

10/30/2012: Silent Circle Promises Spy-Proof Calls, Discovery News

I learned about this company back in June at the Tech Policy Summit, where co-founder Phil Zimmermann spoke on one panel, then got a briefing about from Zimmermann and another co-founder, Mike Janke, in mid-September. But actually testing Silent Circle’s encrypted-calling and encrypted-texting apps took just long enough that I finished and filed the review only an hour or so before the lights went out–ensuring it went online to a Sandy-diminished audience the next morning. That was not so smart.

11/1/2012:  Lessons of Sandy: How to keep your phone juiced longer, USA Today

I was going to write about ways to find and shut down a lost smartphone (that’ll happen next week), but sharing my own experience with keeping phones ticking along in a blackout seemed more timely. My editor thought so too, which is why a column that normally runs on Sunday appeared Thursday afternoon. It also includes a tip about some Android phones including FM radios that you can use even when you have no wireless service; a reader e-mailed to say that some Windows Phone devices share that feature, which was a point good enough for me to echo in a comment I left on the story.

11/3/2012: Microsoft’s Surface, A Tablet With Many Faces, Discovery News

I’m really on the fence about this tablet. The hardware is as tremendous as the first journalists to get a peek at it claimed this summer, but the software–well, if Microsoft had simply killed off the traditional Windows desktop entirely here, at least I’d know what I was dealing with. Meanwhile, I already own two laptops with great battery life that also run an enormous inventory of applications.

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Blacked out and plugged in

When did our first move after a power outage switch from reaching for a flashlight to grabbing a phone to announce on Twitter or Facebook that we’d lost electricity?

I don’t know, but I’ve had a lot of time to think about that this week. As I started writing this post, it had been almost 40 hours and counting since the neighborhood went dark Monday night.

During that stretch–finally ended by the merciful restoration of current late Thursday Wednesday morning–I never lacked for adequate wireless bandwidth. My current surplus of review hardware helped, but even if I’d had only one phone and one laptop I still could have stayed online most of that time. It just doesn’t drain a laptop’s battery much to keep a phone charged, as I’m reminded every time I go to some phone-destroying tech conference.

How did I use that access? I scanned Twitter even more often than usual, realizing that things were a whole lot worse in New York than here. I lingered over some longer stores on the Web on a tablet tethered to a phone (no candlelight needed for this blackout reading, although having one flickering away on the coffee table made for a pleasing steampunk vibe). I got updates about downed trees and power restoration on our neighborhood’s mailing list, while Facebook let me see how friends slightly further away were doing.

I could, in fewer words, realize that we weren’t alone. That’s something.

This didn’t happen by accident. I have to give the wireless carriers an enormous chunk of credit for building out networks sufficiently resilient, and sufficiently backed up by batteries and standby generators, to keep working through these widespread outages. I also need to thank all of the engineers and developers who have spent the last decade finding better ways to put the Internet into a device that fits in your pocket and runs for hours on a charge.

Think about how technology has advanced when, even as your house has gone dark and cold, you can use a miniature computer to view of a photo of the hurricane besieging your city… taken by an astronaut sitting warm and dry on a space station 250 miles above.

10/31, 4:40 p.m.: Cabin fever apparently led me to confuse today with Thursday.