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.

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Weekly output: CES, CES and more CES (plus WiFi speed and BlackBerry woes)

What a long, strange week it’s been. CES accounted for the vast amount of my work since last Saturday–not to mention what must have been several thousand words’ worth of tweets–but this list does include one token item that has nothing to do with the electronics show.

1/8/2012: Tip: Simplify your Wi-Fi to speed it up, USA Today

I wrote this after troubleshooting my mom’s router over Thanksgiving–hers was set in Verizon’s default configuration of mixed-mode 802.11b and 802.11g support, and we saw notably better performance downstairs after switching it to “g” only. The rest of the piece rates Research In Motion’s chances: I rated them as dismal but not impossible, which enraged a few BlackBerry readers who took to the comments to say how much they loved their PlayBook tablets.

1/10/2012: Lessons from 15 years of change at CES, CEA Digital Dialogue

At the start of my 15th CES, I devoted this week’s post on their blog to how I’ve seen the show change and what those shifts mean for the electronics industry in general. After I’d filed it, though, I realized that I could have written a more distinctive show-opening column by grading the analysis I’d written of the last two shows. (For one thing, I was too optimistic about Android tablets after CES 2011.) Can you all remind me about that next January?

1/13/2012: Displays Get Bigger, Thinner and More Costly, Discovery News

My state-of-the-show piece for Discovery looked at changes I saw afoot at CES across five categories of screens: TVs, computers, tablets, phones and–oh, yes–watches. It closes with a jab at the single biggest problem in the electronics industry, one that’s always more painful at CES: inadequate battery life in portable gadgets.

1/13/2012: Mediatwits #33: CES Jumped the Shark?; SOPA Battles; Google+ in Search, PBS MediaShift

The hosts of PBS’s Mediatwits program, Mark Glaser and Rafat Ali, interviewed me and Techdirt’s Mike Masnick about our takes on CES, the Stop Online Piracy Act and CES attendees’ dislike of it, and the general history of tension between the entertainment and electronics histories. Mike and I are on from about the five-minute mark to 23 minutes in.

1/13/2012: Top Strange And Impractical Tech From CES 2012, Discovery News

The headline on this slide show might be a little unfair; while OLED TV sets may not be anything more than technology for the 1 percent and overinflated phones like Samsung’s Galaxy Note just look ridiculous, I could see myself buying an Ultrabook and am certainly interested in trying cameras that do better at teaming up with phones over WiFi. Plus, isn’t the robot on the last page cute? To iOS and most Android users reading this, who can’t see the Flash presentation of this gallery on Discovery’s site: my apologies.