If you have no electricity, check your computer

My nomination for the Pulitzer Prize for letters to the editor, if there were such a thing, in the aftermath of the great power outage:

Monday, July 2, my third morning in the heat without power (and no power at my workplace), imagine my relief when I saw on the middle of the front page of my print version of the paper, topics listed with potentially helpful information about “The commute,” “Government workers,” “Summer school,” “Weather” and, most importantly, “Heat survival.” Then imagine my utter shock when we were directed to find this information at washingtonpost.com! Was I supposed to turn on my fan to cool off, and listen to my radio while I looked this up on my dead computer? I looked through the paper’s articles about the storm for any references to what seemed available only online. Not a trace. I was aghast. Was it a joke?

It was incomprehensible to me that those of us struggling with power outages were told to use our computers to find this much-needed information. Please use your heads.

Sharon Dodd, Rockville

via Without power, help online is lost – The Washington Post.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • James Sarver

    I am reminded of the Dilbert comic in which a co-worker complains to Dilbert that his email is not working. The response: we only accept support requests via email.

  • James Sarver

    I am reminded of the Dilbert comic in which a co-worker complains to Dilbert that his email is not working. The response: we only accept support requests via email.

  • WebMonk

    It’s not as crazy as the letter writer makes it sound. Almost half the population of the US has a smartphone. I don’t know stats for this particular area, but if I had to guess I would say it was even higher. The newspaper realizes that over half their readers would have a smartphone that can access their website even during a power outage.

    Not only that, but many readers would be reading the article ONLINE from work, from a library (which often serve as cooling centers), or from a friend’s house. While this lady was reading the print version, many others (perhaps even more online readers than physical) would be reading it on a computer.

    Yes, at first glance someone might think it was silly to have directions to go online in a printed article aimed at people without power, but the reality is that for well over half their readers that is a perfectly workable situation.

    As this woman was in the minority of the reading population which was not able to take advantage of the online portion, I can understand her frustration, but the majority of readers were able to handle it just fine, and in that sort of situation it seems like it is reasonable for the WaPo to speak to the majority of their readers.

    Sure, they could have tried to include EVERYTHING in the print version so the minority of their readers who couldn’t get online would have all the information, but print versions are limited in column space. Giving the top few items and instructing readers to see the website for more info seems fine to me when the majority of those readers will be able to do just that.

  • WebMonk

    It’s not as crazy as the letter writer makes it sound. Almost half the population of the US has a smartphone. I don’t know stats for this particular area, but if I had to guess I would say it was even higher. The newspaper realizes that over half their readers would have a smartphone that can access their website even during a power outage.

    Not only that, but many readers would be reading the article ONLINE from work, from a library (which often serve as cooling centers), or from a friend’s house. While this lady was reading the print version, many others (perhaps even more online readers than physical) would be reading it on a computer.

    Yes, at first glance someone might think it was silly to have directions to go online in a printed article aimed at people without power, but the reality is that for well over half their readers that is a perfectly workable situation.

    As this woman was in the minority of the reading population which was not able to take advantage of the online portion, I can understand her frustration, but the majority of readers were able to handle it just fine, and in that sort of situation it seems like it is reasonable for the WaPo to speak to the majority of their readers.

    Sure, they could have tried to include EVERYTHING in the print version so the minority of their readers who couldn’t get online would have all the information, but print versions are limited in column space. Giving the top few items and instructing readers to see the website for more info seems fine to me when the majority of those readers will be able to do just that.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Well, WebMonk, getting your cell phone charged was one of the big problems in the power outage!

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Well, WebMonk, getting your cell phone charged was one of the big problems in the power outage!

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century
  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century
  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @#4 Oops, I missed that this particular unit is rechargeable. I thought it was a one and done. There are also packs with solar cells.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @#4 Oops, I missed that this particular unit is rechargeable. I thought it was a one and done. There are also packs with solar cells.

  • Tom Hering

    What? Nobody out east has a banana peel, a can of beer, and a Mr. Fusion reactor?

  • Tom Hering

    What? Nobody out east has a banana peel, a can of beer, and a Mr. Fusion reactor?

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    “If you have no electricity, check your smartphone” is equally poor advice. If you can access your smartphone, you have electricity. Your computer likely also has a battery, for awhile. If you are reading the newspaper online, you have electricity. If you go to a library or work or a friend’s house so that you can get online or charge your phone or cool off, you have electricity, though you had to find it.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    “If you have no electricity, check your smartphone” is equally poor advice. If you can access your smartphone, you have electricity. Your computer likely also has a battery, for awhile. If you are reading the newspaper online, you have electricity. If you go to a library or work or a friend’s house so that you can get online or charge your phone or cool off, you have electricity, though you had to find it.

  • DonS

    If the power is out, cell networks are often out or overloaded as well.

  • DonS

    If the power is out, cell networks are often out or overloaded as well.

  • mikeb

    The WaPo never ceases to amaze me for their seeming ignorance. But in this case I’ll apply some best construction; perhaps they could have communicated better but what with the newsroom being a shell of its former self I can understand. It’s no surprise that they believed some (many?) of their readers still had Internet access. Their online folks are probably closely monitoring site traffic and verified these assumptions.

    Now, let’s also be honest about power outages. They are a painful disruption to modern life. But rarely are they blanket outages. You have pockets of customers off here while their neighbors–sometimes even across the street!–can still have power. We see that in my area of the Midwest after T-storms, Ice storms, and the like. This is an important reminder that we live in a community and we need to make friends with the neighbors, whether across the street or across town, so we can help each other weather the storm. It’s also a reminder for us former Boy Scouts (fellow Scouts, are we like the Marines and never ‘former’?) to always be prepared. Car chargers for your cell phone could be a life saver. Camping stoves make cooking dinner a snap. Survival skills make life bearable. Shoot, in the heat I bet a cold shower (no electric water heater) is quite refreshing.

    This, too, shall pass.

  • mikeb

    The WaPo never ceases to amaze me for their seeming ignorance. But in this case I’ll apply some best construction; perhaps they could have communicated better but what with the newsroom being a shell of its former self I can understand. It’s no surprise that they believed some (many?) of their readers still had Internet access. Their online folks are probably closely monitoring site traffic and verified these assumptions.

    Now, let’s also be honest about power outages. They are a painful disruption to modern life. But rarely are they blanket outages. You have pockets of customers off here while their neighbors–sometimes even across the street!–can still have power. We see that in my area of the Midwest after T-storms, Ice storms, and the like. This is an important reminder that we live in a community and we need to make friends with the neighbors, whether across the street or across town, so we can help each other weather the storm. It’s also a reminder for us former Boy Scouts (fellow Scouts, are we like the Marines and never ‘former’?) to always be prepared. Car chargers for your cell phone could be a life saver. Camping stoves make cooking dinner a snap. Survival skills make life bearable. Shoot, in the heat I bet a cold shower (no electric water heater) is quite refreshing.

    This, too, shall pass.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Right, Mikeb. The big problem at the Washington Post right now is that they apparently laid off lots of their copy editors. The number of mistakes and typos that get through, in this major American newspaper, is shocking. The issue here is not whether some people could indeed access their computers and get on the internet during the power outages to read the Post’s extended coverage on the web. Of course that was possible under one circumstance or the other. This is another example of lax copy editing. A competent copy editor would have flagged this sort of unintentionally humorous copy.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Right, Mikeb. The big problem at the Washington Post right now is that they apparently laid off lots of their copy editors. The number of mistakes and typos that get through, in this major American newspaper, is shocking. The issue here is not whether some people could indeed access their computers and get on the internet during the power outages to read the Post’s extended coverage on the web. Of course that was possible under one circumstance or the other. This is another example of lax copy editing. A competent copy editor would have flagged this sort of unintentionally humorous copy.

  • http://www.gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    Charge your smart phone in the car during your commute?

  • http://www.gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    Charge your smart phone in the car during your commute?

  • WebMonk

    “If you have no electricity, check your smartphone” is equally poor advice. If you can access your smartphone, you have electricity.

    Whuh? Being able to access your smartphone doesn’t in the least suggest that your neighborhood isn’t powerless. What are you talking about? And like Pastor Spomer said, you can always charge your smartphone in the car. Heck, you don’t even have to be commuting to do that.

    I can’t remember, do you have a smartphone Dr. Veith? Even if you don’t, surely you’re familiar with the concept of using a cell phone even though the power is out. It works the exact same way with a smartphone – you can browse the WaPo’s website on your smartphone even after the entire neighborhood has been out of power for a week.

    Like I said, the WaPo’s article’s advice wasn’t possible for some portion of the readers, but it makes perfect sense for the majority.

  • WebMonk

    “If you have no electricity, check your smartphone” is equally poor advice. If you can access your smartphone, you have electricity.

    Whuh? Being able to access your smartphone doesn’t in the least suggest that your neighborhood isn’t powerless. What are you talking about? And like Pastor Spomer said, you can always charge your smartphone in the car. Heck, you don’t even have to be commuting to do that.

    I can’t remember, do you have a smartphone Dr. Veith? Even if you don’t, surely you’re familiar with the concept of using a cell phone even though the power is out. It works the exact same way with a smartphone – you can browse the WaPo’s website on your smartphone even after the entire neighborhood has been out of power for a week.

    Like I said, the WaPo’s article’s advice wasn’t possible for some portion of the readers, but it makes perfect sense for the majority.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    WebMonk, are you saying that you know for certain that cellular data was working on all networks during the entirety of the power outage?

    Also, I have a several-year-old iPhone that routinely runs down its battery in the course of one day (I could turn off certain apps to improve this, sure). I don’t have a car charger (why would I? I don’t use it in my car). My phone would therefore not be useful throughout the course of a multi-day outage.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    WebMonk, are you saying that you know for certain that cellular data was working on all networks during the entirety of the power outage?

    Also, I have a several-year-old iPhone that routinely runs down its battery in the course of one day (I could turn off certain apps to improve this, sure). I don’t have a car charger (why would I? I don’t use it in my car). My phone would therefore not be useful throughout the course of a multi-day outage.

  • WebMonk

    tODD, yes, cellular service was extremely reliable. There were locations that had degraded service, but cellular services were back up the next day. They were quite proud of that fact. Apparently their towers were designed for dealing with nasty winds, and the power service to those towers are typically buried. The outages were caused by the occasional individual dish that was damaged, and the power loss was typically restored when the main trunk line damage was repaired – one of the first things that got fixed.

    And how do you have a cell phone without a car charger? I’ve always gotten that in the pack with my cell phones. I figured they always came with the cell phones by default. Might that be an iPhone thing?

    Yet another thing that makes Android phones better than iPhones! ;-)

    Oh, and I win this argument because I went down a waterslide yesterday!

  • WebMonk

    tODD, yes, cellular service was extremely reliable. There were locations that had degraded service, but cellular services were back up the next day. They were quite proud of that fact. Apparently their towers were designed for dealing with nasty winds, and the power service to those towers are typically buried. The outages were caused by the occasional individual dish that was damaged, and the power loss was typically restored when the main trunk line damage was repaired – one of the first things that got fixed.

    And how do you have a cell phone without a car charger? I’ve always gotten that in the pack with my cell phones. I figured they always came with the cell phones by default. Might that be an iPhone thing?

    Yet another thing that makes Android phones better than iPhones! ;-)

    Oh, and I win this argument because I went down a waterslide yesterday!

  • http://simdan.com SimDan

    Not only are there smart phones that can be readily charged in the car, but depending on your home Internet connection you may retain a connection there as well.

    For a long time my parent’s home DSL was powered by the electricity from the phone company rather than the power grid. Whenever a storm would knock out the power, the Internet remained on. All we had to do was hook up a laptop to it to get Internet. So long as we didn’t burn through battery, we had access to several hours of non-stop Internet access.

    Granted, I don’t know how many connections are like this though.

  • http://simdan.com SimDan

    Not only are there smart phones that can be readily charged in the car, but depending on your home Internet connection you may retain a connection there as well.

    For a long time my parent’s home DSL was powered by the electricity from the phone company rather than the power grid. Whenever a storm would knock out the power, the Internet remained on. All we had to do was hook up a laptop to it to get Internet. So long as we didn’t burn through battery, we had access to several hours of non-stop Internet access.

    Granted, I don’t know how many connections are like this though.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    WebMonk (@14), it appears to me that you’re arguing whether it was possible for someone to check a website during the power outage. Yes, yes it was. That doesn’t mean it was likely that the average person was able to, or that, even if they were, they would have considered doing so.

    There were locations that had degraded service, but cellular services were back up the next day.

    Then it necessarily follows that those people were not even able to use their smartphones to look up information on commuting, school, weather, etc., for a day.

    And how do you have a cell phone without a car charger?

    (1) It didn’t come with the iPhone, and (2) I don’t actually use my car more than a couple of times a week, so why should I buy one?

    Yet another thing that makes Android phones better than iPhones!

    Yet another fanboy who will find any reason to trumpet Android superiority, even if packaged accessories have nothing whatsoever to do with an operating system.

    And yes, I got your XKCD reference.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    WebMonk (@14), it appears to me that you’re arguing whether it was possible for someone to check a website during the power outage. Yes, yes it was. That doesn’t mean it was likely that the average person was able to, or that, even if they were, they would have considered doing so.

    There were locations that had degraded service, but cellular services were back up the next day.

    Then it necessarily follows that those people were not even able to use their smartphones to look up information on commuting, school, weather, etc., for a day.

    And how do you have a cell phone without a car charger?

    (1) It didn’t come with the iPhone, and (2) I don’t actually use my car more than a couple of times a week, so why should I buy one?

    Yet another thing that makes Android phones better than iPhones!

    Yet another fanboy who will find any reason to trumpet Android superiority, even if packaged accessories have nothing whatsoever to do with an operating system.

    And yes, I got your XKCD reference.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    SimDan (@15), everyone I know with home Internet these days uses WiFi to connect their computers to the router. Some of them may have ethernet cables lying around. Some may not. I do … somewhere, in a box, in the basement.

    But then, I can’t remember the last time I saw any in-home Internet setup that didn’t involve a router or modem that wasn’t powered by an AC cord.

    SimDan, we’re off in the weeds here, but how did the computer connect to the DSL circuit without an intervening device? When I had DSL, there was a regular phone cable connecting the jack to my (AC-powered) modem, and an ethernet cable connecting the modem to my computer’s RJ-45 port. Did your parents’ computer have an internal DSL modem with a phone jack?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    SimDan (@15), everyone I know with home Internet these days uses WiFi to connect their computers to the router. Some of them may have ethernet cables lying around. Some may not. I do … somewhere, in a box, in the basement.

    But then, I can’t remember the last time I saw any in-home Internet setup that didn’t involve a router or modem that wasn’t powered by an AC cord.

    SimDan, we’re off in the weeds here, but how did the computer connect to the DSL circuit without an intervening device? When I had DSL, there was a regular phone cable connecting the jack to my (AC-powered) modem, and an ethernet cable connecting the modem to my computer’s RJ-45 port. Did your parents’ computer have an internal DSL modem with a phone jack?

  • WebMonk

    tODD 16. You’re partly right, I was arguing that it was possible for someone to check online during a power outage. I was also arguing that it’s not only possible, but also very likely, especially in this area.

    You’re right that when the cellular service was degraded that a person couldn’t have checked online even with a smartphone. However, by the time the article hit the papers, cell phone service had already been restored for almost 48 hours. Cell phone outages weren’t a concern when the WaPo wrote their article.

    But, I realize you can’t help making your specious objections to my irrefutable evidence and logic. You’ve bowed down to the tinsel-decorated technology of Apple and closing your eyes to the power and deep beauty that is Android. I will pray (to Linus Torvalds) for you. :-)

  • WebMonk

    tODD 16. You’re partly right, I was arguing that it was possible for someone to check online during a power outage. I was also arguing that it’s not only possible, but also very likely, especially in this area.

    You’re right that when the cellular service was degraded that a person couldn’t have checked online even with a smartphone. However, by the time the article hit the papers, cell phone service had already been restored for almost 48 hours. Cell phone outages weren’t a concern when the WaPo wrote their article.

    But, I realize you can’t help making your specious objections to my irrefutable evidence and logic. You’ve bowed down to the tinsel-decorated technology of Apple and closing your eyes to the power and deep beauty that is Android. I will pray (to Linus Torvalds) for you. :-)


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