reflections on 24 hours without power in Ottawa

The 2018 Ottawa-Gatineau tornado and associated windstorm took out power to much of Ottawa and Gatineau.  I lost power for 24 hours.

I don’t have particularly profound reflections, I mostly thought about how to power my cellphone.  Kudos to Rogers to keeping cellphone service including cellphone data working continuously.

Recommendations

  • Have some portable batteries and keep them charged.
  • Have a portable radio, with appropriate batteries / charge.
  • Have some flashlights, with appropriate batteries / charge.
  • Have some AA and AAA batteries on hand if that’s what your devices use.
  • Have a crank power / solar power battery that provides USB out.
  • Leave solar powered devices in the sun (e.g. on a windowsill) so that they have a charge when you need them.
  • Know where all your emergency devices are.

Note: For radios/flashlights that use AA/AAA batteries, you may want to leave the batteries out of most of the devices, otherwise without a regular replacement schedule the batteries will eventually die and burst in the device.

You could consider e.g. having a box of ermegency devices in one place, and writing the battery replacement date(s) on the box, and put a calendar reminder to check it once a year.

I did ok, I basically had everything except my crank power / solar power radio+lamp is so old (it’s a big Freeplay plus) that it doesn’t provide USB power out.  (I don’t even know exactly what it has inside, probably a big spring and maybe a battery.)

I will buy a newer radio with USB power out.

You probably want to follow actual expert preparedness advice from the federal government and the provincial government rather than my cellphone-focused musings.

Main Discoveries

  • A portable speaker with USB out is basically a big battery.
  • CBC Radio One 91.5 MHz FM has pretty terrible signal, at least for analog tuning radios in some areas of Centretown.  (I tried multiple radios in several locations, I was only able to get a clear signal in one location with a Grundig Mini World 100 PE small portable radio.  It seems like there are powerful radio channels just to either side of 91.5, and/or CBC has a weak signal.  Ended up streaming the radio over cellphone data more than using the actual radio.)  I also secondarily realised that I have no idea what the local radio stations are or what frequencies they’re on.
  • Local news including the Ottawa Citizen (via Internet) and radio were useful, I also used Twitter quite a bit.  Hydro Ottawa’s website was not particularly useful, both because it was initially overwhelmed by demand, and because the scale of the disaster meant they couldn’t provide very detailed outage recovery time info.

Power Story

  • I first used my regular portable batteries to charge my phone.  It’s good that I always keep them charged.  I have an old 1800 mAh Kensington (no longer made) and a newer 10000 mAh Aukey.
  • I realised I could use my portable speakers as big batteries to charge my phone.  I had thought the USB power out on my speakers was kind of useless, but it turned out to be a very useful feature.  (I keep them plugged in, so they always have a full charge; I normally use them just as small speakers rather than actual portable speakers.)
  • If the portable batteries and speakers had been discharged, I next would have used my laptop as a big battery.
  • If the laptop had been discharged I next would have used my big and very not portable UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply; basically a giant battery with multiple power outlets), which in theory could have provided many many hours of cellphone power.  (I have a large UPS which has a button to turn off the continuous “power is out” beeping; many smaller UPS units don’t have this feature.)

The Orville season 1

My summary for The Orville is: subverts expectations.

The thing to understand about The Orville is it is straight-up Star Trek, specifically Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), with Seth MacFarlane’s sense of humour layered on top.

Every element of TNG is here: starship, bridge, colour-coded uniforms, Captain, Executive Officer, Security Officer, Doctor, Science Officer, helmsman, navigator, Chief of Engineering, replicators, no money, crew lounge, touch control panels, holodeck… this show is TNG.  A TNG with seat belts and cup holders, and without transporters and synthehol, but nevertheless TNG.

The expectation that is set up, given that this is not actually in the true Star Trek universe, is that this will be a Galaxy Quest type of parody or satire but… it isn’t.  It’s straight up science fiction with all of the Star Trek conventions.  The ship is definitely TNG, some of the missions are a bit more The Original Series (TOS).

There are some nice touches I like, for example the spiral staircase up to the bridge.  Or the Wright Flyer on the Captain’s desk.  Or when Commander Grayson puts a cannabis brownie in her pocket, setting up a Chekhov’s Gun (um, different Chekhov) expectation of it being used and then… it isn’t.

To try to describe the mix of the show is pretty hard.  It is more a kind of science fiction with a sense of absurdity than “comedy-drama”.  In an episode about a two-dimensional universe you first have Seth MacFarlane as Captain Mercer talking sincerely about Flatland, the classic story of two dimensions, and then the Captain and the navigator with tissues stuffed up their noses from the giant nosebleeds they got from being partially flattened.  It’s basically very sincere Star Trek fan fiction, written by MacFarlane.  (In a way it’s similar to Star Wars VII and VIII, which are basically Star Wars fan fiction written by J.J. Abrams.)

The Orville probably works best if you’re very familiar with TNG.  I have seen all of the TNG episodes as they aired and many many times afterwards.  But I can’t count myself exactly as a fan.  Roddenberry did a bold thing, but I think ultimately a failed thing, in making the show not just a future in terms of technology, but a utopia in terms of people.  Everyone in TNG is nice, professional, calm, supportive, rational, sincere, intellectual.  It’s kind of perfect adults, all super-ego, all control, no id.  It’s a kind of remarkable aspiration to put into a show.  But it also makes for a super boring show.  There’s no drama when everyone is super nice.  They drink sometimes in the very calm, very subdued 10 Forward, but even their alcohol is non-alcoholic.  It’s Jacques Cousteau, except on a cruise ship.  They could never even make it seem like the TNG crew were friends, despite very forced attempts to e.g.  put them all together in weekly poker nights.  The cast is super stiff in the early seasons, it gets a bit more relatable in later seasons.

Also, as with TOS, TNG has basically no cultural anchors in the 20th century.  No one watches TV or movies.  It’s basically as if culture ended some time in the 19th century.  (If you want to contrive something, the Third World War probably didn’t help with 20th century cultural preservation.)

The Orville is basically all the future technology and look and structure of Star Trek, but with characters who are all id.  They drink (in fact to rather enthusiastic and frequent excess, as if they were all in first year university).  They swear.  They’re crude.  They have sex.  They’re basically kind of stereotypical American young adults except with adult jobs.  It’s very Seth MacFarlane’s humourverse, in other words.  It is to be honest a lot more relatable than the perfect humans in TNG.  And it very definitely is populated with people who are in our cultural universe.  From Seinfeld to The Sound of Music, it’s all there.  (Even a scene with observations on which fictional characters have Tardis-like houses, which I’ve always wondered whether anyone would ever put together.)  It also has other aspects of MacFarlane’s style, with digressive discussions about elevator music or hobbies.  Sometimes MacFarlane works a bit too hard to insert his sense of humour into scenes unnecessarily, but otherwise I find it mostly works.

Science fiction is often basically present-day people and culture, wrapped in a future technology envelope.  Roddenberry took a remarkable step in trying to populate the Enterprise-D with 24th century people in addition to 24th century technology.  It made it aspirational but really made it difficult to have any kind of relatable drama.  I basically never found that it worked for me.  Every episode would either end up with a conclusion that happened to match exactly late-20th-century liberal ideals, or with Geordi doing some made-up-particles equivalent of magic.  By contrast MacFarlane has basically populated the Enterprise-D with 21st century people, and they make lots of flawed decisions with imperfect conclusions.  For the most part, it makes for a much more relatable show.

I’m not sure how long you can maintain the cognitive dissonance between a serious science fiction show and characters who say things like “let’s get the engines to 97% efficiency so we can finish work early and all get wasted”, but for now I am enjoying the attempt.

 

 

Pleasantville and Ready Player One

The 1998 Pleasantville movie is basically the antithesis of Ready Player One, the 2011 book.  (For various reasons, the Ready Player One 2018 movie is not as direct a comparison.)

Pleasantville is about smashing nostalgia, while Ready Player One is about celebrating it.

If Wade Watts had been transported to Pleasantville, it seems fairly likely that he would have quite happily stayed in black and white, reciting memorized lines episode by episode until he reached the end of a rerun cycle and looped back to the beginning again, looping endlessly without change, much like Pleasantville’s Main Street goes nowhere, its end just taking you back to its beginning.

One has to wonder whether he would have lived out this existence happily, a kind of static safe immortality in an unchanging world, or if at some point he would have wanted to break out.  Would pleasant safety have outweighed all other considerations?

It may be hard to imagine that someone could crave that endless sameness, but to some extent it depends on your learned experiences and mental processing about uncertainty.  The past stays in place, it stays at a safe distance.  The present can be overwhelming.  Pleasantville celebrates the reality of our colourful, noisy, chaotic, uncertain world, but not all of us are equipped by nature or nurture to embrace that experience.

Margaret Henderson: “What’s outside of Pleasantville?”
[long pause]
David / Bud: “There are some places that the road doesn’t go in a circle. There are some places where the road keeps going.”

Margaret: “So what’s it like?”
David: “What?”
Margaret: “Out there.”
David: “Well, it’s a … it’s louder, and… scarier, I guess, and it’s a… lot more dangerous.”
Margaret: “Sounds fantastic.”

And it is fantastic but also, it can be overwhelming, and painful.  Beautiful

David and Margaret in Pleasantville.

David and Margaret in Pleasantville.

but also painful.

David’s Mom: “I’m 40 years old, I mean it’s not supposed to be like this.”
David: “It’s not supposed to be anything.”

The past is predictable.  The Romans will always invade Britain in 43 AD, Harry Potter will always be sorted into Gryffindor, Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy will always save the world from nuclear war.  Wade Watts will watch Family Ties over and over again and Michael J. Fox will always be Alex P. Keaton, no more and no less.  You can loop around and around in reruns or rewatching or rereading and the characters never get to rebel, the events never change.

I’ve written about this kind of toxic nostalgia in the context of Ready Player One, but I didn’t talk a lot about why.  James Halliday has toxic nostalgia because he’s damaged.  He can have everything that money can buy, but he can’t have a different past, all his coding and control can’t change the fact that Kira Underwood married Og, not him.

There are only two ways through that.

Eternal Safety

In My-So Called Life, Brian will never ask out Angela, he will always be standing in episode 19, the last episode, watching her drive away with Jordan.  Because it’s the safe choice, the controlled choice.  In Star Trek: Generations, Tolian Soran will destroy an entire world just to escape back to the safe and controlled immortality of The Nexus.  Both destroying the future to stay safe alone.

In BBC Radio 4 – Archive on 4 – Commuterville, Matthew Sweet reaches his conclusion about the endlessly repeated routine of our lives in very English school essay fashion, calling on Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence.  There is a definite comfort in routine, but also a kind of madness.

Endless Change

George Parker: “So what’s going to. happen now?”
Betty Parker: “I don’t know.  Do you know what’s going to happen now?
George Parker: “No, I don’t.”

It’s easy to say we should embrace this uncertainty, that we should learn the lesson of 1993’s Groundhog Day and work on making ourselves better as we go through our routine days.  But have empathy for those who are struggling to escape their life experiences and expectations.

It’s not supposed to be anything

There is supposed to be a kind of arc, a youthful embrace of change followed by an adult settling into a safe routine.  But Pleasantville challenges this arc.  While it certainly does celebrate youthful change, it makes it clear there is no winning, there is no right ending.  There’s just uncertainty.  Ready Player One is about what happens if you reject that uncertainty.  This is playing out at a large scale across our society.  People miss the factories… but you know, the factories were kind of terrible too.  We can’t go back.  It’s not coming back.  All you really get to choose is whether you’re going to be James Halliday and Wade Watts, endlessly jumping through a portal into an unchanging past, or if you’re going to be David, finding that there is beauty in change after all.

Infinity War and The Wrath of Khan

SPOILERS

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a movie about consequences.

Heroes usually have the luxury of avoiding consequences, as they go from episode to episode always succeeding. Star Trek II is quite explicitly about how Kirk has avoided consequences for his entire life, starting with him beating the Kobayashi Maru scenario at Starfleet Academy.

David: Lieutenant Saavik was right: You never have faced death.
Kirk: No, not like this. I haven’t faced death. I’ve cheated death. I’ve tricked my way out of death and – patted myself on the back for my ingenuity.

In Star Trek II the consequences all come at once, whether it is a long-forgotten enemy or a son.
And in the end, the ultimate consequence, the death of Spock.

Which, in usual Heroic fashion, turns out to be reversible in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

James T. Kirk: [Looking up from the planet surface to see the remains of the Enterprise burning in the atmosphere] My God, Bones, what have I done?
Leonard McCoy: What you had to do, what you always do. Turned death into a fighting chance to live.

And Star Trek II and Star Trek III are about the dialogue between the needs of the many and the needs of the few, or the one.

Sarek: But at what cost? Your ship. Your son.
James T. Kirk: If I hadn’t tried, the cost would have been my soul.

Infinity War Part 1 is definitely also about consequences, as I have written in Infinity War Part 1 – a universe out of balance. Presumably Infinity War Part 2 will be about the search to undo what has been done in Part 1.

I have to say that Star Trek II & III are rather more elegantly and clearly about these philosophical questions and about the consequences of a lifetime of heroic actions, but these ideas nevertheless are in Infinity War and (presumably) will emerge in Part 2 as well.

Infinity War Part 2

In ROT13 because spoilers.

Gur trareny bhgyvar vf cerggl pyrne, naq vf onfvpnyyl: Gvzr Fgbar.
Bgure guna gung, vg frrzf irel yvxryl gung Pncgnva Zneiry jvyy cynl n ebyr, naq gung Gbal Fgnex jvyy nyfb or xrl. (Guvf vf n svggvat flzzrgel, tvira gung Veba Zna ynhapurq gur Zneiry Pvarzngvp Havirefr va 2008.)

Gurer’f n cbffvoyr vagrerfgvat pyhr sebz gur Zneiry qrfpevcgvba bs gur (znyr) Pncgnva Zneiry (Zne-Iryy), va gur Cebgrpgbe bs gur Havirefr frpgvba: “Gunabf orpnzr pbaivaprq gung ur unq qenvarq gur Phor bs vgf cbjre naq qvfpneqrq vg, nyybjvat Pncgnva Zneiry gb teno gur Phor naq erfgber ernyvgl gb n gvzr orsber Gunabf unq tnvarq pbageby bire gur havirefr.”

Gur erfg vf cerggl zhpu qrgnvyf.

Va Vasvavgl Jne Cneg 1, vg’f vagrerfgvat gung znal bs gur fgbarf ner jba ol Gunabf jura fbzrbar tvirf gurz hc gb fnir n fvatyr yvsr. Ybxv tvirf Gunabf gur oyhr Fcnpr Fgbar sebz gur Grffrenpg gb fnir Gube (naq qvrf nf n pbafrdhrapr). Tnzben tvirf Gunabf gur ybpngvba bs gur benatr Fbhy Fgbar gb fnir Arohyn (naq qvrf nf n pbafrdhrapr). Qe. Fgenatr tvirf Gunabf gur terra Gvzr Fgbar gb fnir Fgnex (naq qvrf nf n pbafrdhrapr). Ner gurer tbvat gb or nal pbafrdhraprf gb gur snpg gung yvirf jrer serryl tvira sbe nyzbfg rirel fgbar?

Gur rzcunfvf ba Gunabf naq Gvgna (juvpu vf n cynarg, abg Fnghea’f zbba Gvgna) vf vagrerfgvat. V pbhyq frr gur Gvzr Fgbar orvat hfrq gb jvaq onpx gb Gunabf ba Gvgna ybat ntb naq univat uvz unir gb svaq n orggre pubvpr guna xvyyvat unys gur crbcyr. Cerfvqrag Gunabf bs Gvgna? Be jvaqvat onpx gb Tnzben’f cynarg naq univat uvz znxr n qvssrerag pubvpr (guvf frpbaq bcgvba frrzf dhvgr hayvxryl).

Vapvqragnyyl guvf tvirf zr na bccbeghavgl gb zragvba gung guvf irefvba bs Gunabf vf onfvpnyyl n cnegvphyneyl haercragnag Nagba Xnevqvna / Xbqbf “gur Rkrphgvbare” bs Gnefhf VI, rkprcg jvgu yrff Funxrfcrner.

Vg’f cbffvoyr gung fbzr bs gur punenpgref jvyy unir gb qvr. V pbhyq frr Gube qlvat. Znlor abg Gbal Fgnex abj gung ur’f zneevrq. Ohg zbfg jvyy pbzr onpx.

Vg nyfb erznvaf gb or frra jurgure gur hfr bs gur Gvzr Fgbar jvyy nyfb haqb zhpu bs gur qrfgeblrq jbex bs cerivbhf zbivrf. Thneqvnaf bs gur Tnynkl – fnirq Knaqne. Vasvavgl Jne – xvyyrq unys be zber bs gur Knaqnevnaf? Gube: Entanebx – fnirq Nftneq (va gur sbez bs fbzr bs vgf pvgvmraf). Vasvavgl Jne – xvyyrq Nftneq (va gur sbez bs nyy bs vgf pvgvmraf fnir Gube).

Cneg 2 unf nyernql orra fubg. Fperrajevgref Puevfgbcure Znexhf naq Fgrcura ZpSrryl unir fnvq “Jr qba’g jnag — naq pregnvayl bgure zbivrf unir orra npphfrq bs guvf — gb gryy bar ovt fgbel, phg vg va unys, naq fgrny lbhe zbarl.” Vg’f uneq gb frr ubj guvf jba’g or gur pnfr hayrff Cneg 2 vf ernyyl n frevbhf qrcnegher. Gurl fnl vg vf: “Jr vagraq gurz gb or irel qvssrerag rkcrevraprf,” ZpSrryl fnlf. “Gurl ner cenpgvpnyyl qvssrerag traerf, V’yy gryy lbh gung. Vg jvyy srry gung jnl. … Jr jbhyq yvxr gb gryy gjb pbzcyrgr [fgbevrf].”

“N dhrfgvba naq na nafjre,” Znexhf nqqf.

Cerfhznoyl gur dhrfgvba vf “Qb gur arrqf bs gur znal bhgjrvtu gur arrqf bs gur srj, be gur bar?” (v.r. ubj qb gevyyvbaf bs yvirf jrvtu ntnvafg n fvatyr yvsr?) naq gur nafjre va hfhny zbivr snfuvba vf “gur arrqf bs gur bar bhgjrvtu gur arrqf bs gur znal”. Guvf vf nyernql n gurzr vagebqhprq va Cneg 1. Naq vg zvtug rira or Gunabf va gur raq jub haqbrf jung ur qvq, fb gung ur zvtug erfgber whfg bar yvsr, Tnzben.

Previously:
August 20, 2017 watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe