Power Hungry

Just before 5:30 yesterday evening, the power went off here. We are lucky not to get that many power cuts, but that also means that when we do, they are all the more unexpected, and irritating. I usually expect the electricity to come back on within half an hour or so, but after about twenty minutes, I received a text message from the power company. It was an ‘unplanned outage’, and I could find out more by following a website link attached to the message.

I was unable to do that using my ‘smart’ phone, as the phone signal wasn’t strong enough to download the information. We have a signal booster to cure this localised issue, but of course that requires power to work. Back to the old Catch 22 of an online life. No electricity equals no Internet. Although it wasn’t unduly cold, it was a dull and dank evening, so the room soon became dark. Candles were an option, but we thought we might save them for later, just in case. Besides, we were planning to go out yesterday, to social function; musical entertainment and a barbecue, organised by the local British Legion. We had bought the tickets earlier this week, and thought it might make a change.

Trouble was, Julie could not have a shower, then dry her hair. The shower is powered by electricity, to make sure it works with good pressure. She could have had a bath, using a jug to wash her hair, but it would then take ages to dry, and would be harder to style. Nothing to do but wait for the power to return. At 7:20, a neighbour called round. She told us that she had been able to contact the power company using an old style phone, and they told her the line was down to this area, and would not be back on until 9:30 at the earliest. So, the idea of going to the barbecue was scrapped, as for all we knew they had no power there, and Julie wasn’t happy to go with ‘mad hair’ anyway.

What to do for dinner then? The cooker is all-electric, so that was out of the question. The toaster is electric, so we couldn’t even have toast. I keep microwave meals for a speedy dinner solution, but the microwave is also electric, so no joy there. We have a portable camping gas stove for emergencies, but best to keep that in reserve for a harsh winter. I decided to drive out in the car, and see what was open to provide a take-away meal from a restaurant. A mile up the road, the local Thai was ablaze with light, so I went in. They were surprised to hear about the power cut, which must have been extremely local to just one side of one road. Our side of our road, unfortunately. I bought a meal, and took it home. We were very happy to demolish the food, as it was well over an hour past our usual dinner time.

As it was now almost dark, a few candles were alight, and we wondered what to do with the rest of the evening. Reading by using a torch or candle is not an option with my eyesight, and with no TV or computer, it was actually quite pleasant to just sit quietly for a while. I had the brainwave of using one of Julie’s tablets to read a Kindle book. None of them had enough power left to operate, but even if they had, I would have needed the wi-fi to be working, to be able to log on. Then I remembered the laptop, tucked away for computing emergencies. We could watch a DVD film on that, to while away the last couple of hours of power cut time. No chance though, as it hadn’t been fully charged, so wouldn’t stay on.

As promised, the power returned at 9:30. Lights came on, the TV restarted, and Julie began to plug all her devices into the assorted chargers around the room.

Life had returned to the 21st century, once again reminding us that without electricity, we are as good as helpless.

Online dependency: The Catch 22

It seems to me that very soon, we will be unable to do anything unless it is online. We can no longer get utility bills, except by having an online account, and the banking system keeps trying to ‘force’ us online too. Shops urge us to pay by card, presumably using accounts managed online. They don’t really want cash anymore. It takes too long to count it, then they have to pay a fee to have it collected by a security van, to be deposited in a bank that charges them a fee for handling that same cash.

Cards can be controlled of course. Tracked, monitored, watching what you spend, and how and where you spend it. Cash is anonymous. And that just won’t do. Try booking a table in a restaurant, an appointment with a doctor, or any ticket for transportation. They will suggest you do it online, and make the process of using a telephone to do it so taxing, that you will eventually resort to logging on. No more Yellow Pages here, and street maps soon to disappear too. They are all online after all, so who needs any paper alternatives anymore?

This all presumes that things work of course. Leaving aside the disregard for those who cannot afford the Internet costs, or the very old people who find it too confusing to learn how to use a computer, it all depends on a reliable signal. Good broadband speed, stable Wi-Fi, and the latest modem technology. Try struggling on a dial-up connection, or poor broadband reception in some remote district, and you will soon discover that nobody cares. If you are not online, you are out of the game, irrelevant.

This reached new heights of absurdity last year, when I had Internet problems with the previous supplier. I called them on the telephone explaining that I had no signal in the house, and I was unable to get online. This is how the conversation went.

Them. “Sorry to hear you have a problem sir, I suggest you report it as a fault”.
Me. “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”
Them. “If you go online, you can use our fault checker. If that stil doesn’t work, then it will be reported”.
Me. “If I could get online to use your fault checker, then I would have Internet, and we would not be having this conversation”.
Them. “Have you tried using a different computer or device?”
Me. “I have no Internet, so what would be the point of that?”
Them. “Can you not go to the home of a neighbour or family member and use their computer to report the fault?”
Me. “My neighbour is at work, and my nearest family member lives almost 90 miles away”.
Them. “How about a local Internet Cafe, or Library?”
Me. “You want me to walk 4 miles into town to use the Library? That’s crazy”.
Them. “Well it would speed up the fault-reporting process”.
Me. “You could have logged the fault by now, instead of just telling me this rubbish”.
Them. “I am unable to do that sir, you have to be the one who reports it. I can only send out an engineer, and that will mean a substantial callout fee”.
Me. “So you want to charge me money to repair a fault that is your issue, and meanwhile I am paying my subscription charges but have no service. Is that about it?”
Them. “The fault may well be with your equipment sir, I have no way of knowing if the problem is at our end”.
Me. “I have been a loyal customer for many years, yet you are telling me that you will not report the fault, and will charge me for someone to come out and look at it. If that’s all you have to offer, then I will change providers, then tell everyone I know not to use your company, are you happy with that?”
Them. “It is your right to change providers at any time, sir.”

So I did. But what happens when it all fails, as one day it surely will?