Catching up after the storm: the cyber-wasteland, how the Kindle was too important to read on, and other bits. Includes some pics.

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Summary: It has now been more than one week since the April 27 tornadoes, and the city of Huntsville lost power for several days. It has also been a bit since I've had a real blog post, and so this kind of catches us up. Hear about the cyber-wasteland tribalism, me using my Kindle to communicate with the outside world, and a few other bits. Includes some pics.

BLOT: (05 May 2011 - 02:32:21 AM)

Catching up after the storm: the cyber-wasteland, how the Kindle was too important to read on, and other bits. Includes some pics.

Went walking around Bridge Street today. It is not fully open, but it is largely open. A few of the food places said to come back Thursday (tomorrow) or Friday, with the big surprise being Barnes & Noble, who are closed until tomorrow. B&N was one of my planned destinations, the other being Vintage Wine & Cigars, so I was disappointed, but I understand. All sorts of who knows whats have to be fixed first. It was sunny, though, and while the place was not packed, there were a number of happy families, glad to be back out and about.

At about 5:30pm this afternoon, we reached the one-week mark from when we lost power, here. Which means it was roughly one-week and 12-hours from when the first tornado came nearby. That was a rough day. When I posted the three pics of my makeshift shelter, part of me assumed that there was a 90% chance that it would be something I was laughing at the next day. And, well, I guess I was. My blanket in a bathtub, an angry cat. Sarah joined us after she got off of work, and we even had a fan going to keep the air circulating. We snacked on chocolates, sipped tea, and chatted. Around 5:05 or so, reports of a tornado on the ground coming roughly down University came out. About this time, we lost power, it got really dark and scary-hairy outside, and the radio station stopped being able to update us. After about half an hour, we came outside, saw the remnants of the clouds and the distant storms, and assumed (wrongly) that power was a few hours away. Sarah put in a call, switchboards were slammed, and we eventually went on to bed.

Next morning we got up, kind of early, and I went downstairs to charge my cellphone and to listen to the radio. The news we got wasn't good. The quote that came out was that after the TVA got power to Huntsville, then it would be about five days before Huntsville was at 90%. That was a scary quote (would put the power coming back about 6-9 days after it had went off). It ended up not taking that long, but that's for later on.

We shoved our cold/frozen foods into our little deep freeze, but made a big mistake of not wrapping it. Had we wrapped it—a couple of blankets with some twine/etc to hold them tight—it would have been fine. Without that, our food was gone in about three days. Ah well. C'est la vie.

From Thursday morning through Sunday morning, our gameplan was much the same. Get up, keep things kind of sane and clean, take care of Cindy and Amphi, and then get some sleep. Amphi was a big problem: a nocturnal lizard that needed heat to function. Taking him out into the sun would have been detrimental, but not taking him out into the sun would have hurt him. We eventually compromised by doing things like leaving towels out in the sun and then letting him absorb heat from them. It worked and he stayed alive and it seems kind of healthy. Cindy, on the other hand, loved the lack of power because without the white noise and the A/C she adapted quick. Became feral hunter. Wandered around the apartment and poked her paw into everything. Stared out of windows with glee. She also, once, fell asleep on me and snored for an hour, but hey...even hunters get sleepy.

Phones were really wanky, with some people being basically without for the interim. Our landline was fine, but our cellphones were pretty much text only (and not always). Strangely enough, my Kindle (Kindle 2 model I got back in 2009) was a champ at getting and staying connected, and through it I was able to get on and visit Twitter and Gmail and to do some searches for information and such. In fact, my Kindle became so important as a chief way to keep up with information that I never used it to read. It was only to be used for the Net. The radio was on a lot, and it was a fair source of info, but the fractured way it was handled led to some conflicting reports, repetition, and outright misinformation (though the latter seemed to be in the minority). Then there was good old snearknet: neighbor talking to neighbor. Though one of our neighbors had a hyperactive sense of doom-and-gloom. By Saturday, he was convinced we would be without power for nearly another week. When we got power back on, he kept telling everyone that they were sure to turn it back off.

Because we were in a city/count/region without power, but we are talking about a fairly tech-savvy region mind you, it was a weird mix of tribal behaviors (neighbors would cook on a communal grill, we would swap stories around the outside table, people got up early and went to bed early) and something of a cyber-"wasteland". So, on Twitter, I started making posts about #cyberwastelandtribalism. Friday night, which should have been the opening of Panoply, Sarah put on a dance costume and danced for a few minutes to get both exercise and to commemorate what would normally have been going on. I tweeted about that, contrasting a Bedouin style situation—the woman, dressed up, dancing in front of the lounging man—with the fact that we were using a couple of little LED lights to light up the place, and the music to which she was dancing was Black Sabbath and Clutch. That's where the idea really took hold. Other tweets on topic declared her trip to Kroger to get bananas as "She went out early, brought fruit back to the hearth..." and so forth. I kind of miss it. I have always fantasized about urban camping and this was pretty close.

The first night, it was dark. The second night, near perfect star gazing. By the third (Friday), some generators in the distances were showing up. On the fourth, the Extended Stay nearby got generator-based lights. Then, on the fifth night, Olive Garden got its lights on through a presumably huge generator. No picture I could have taken could have put it into proper context. The light-pollution from their outside lights was so bright that it lit up our back parking lot and courtyard, and enabled you to almost read (bigger letters, anyhow) in the front one. Our kitchen was lit up by it to a point we didn't need a candle. Strangely enough, this happened the night that we got power back (we got power back about 1:30am on Sunday morning) and so I like to think that whoever was out there in Olive Garden in the middle of the night walked outside at dawn and found they had been running said massive generator all night for no reason.

I guess about half my friends left the area and about half stayed. You know what, though? Talking to both groups the ones who stayed seemed to have enjoyed themselves a lot more. Something about the situation was awesome in its "Please for not 10 or more years from now" sort of way.

In the midst of all of our "fun", Tuscaloosa got hit hard. A handful of students from the University of Alabama were killed, as well as a number of other people. The campus got shut down and an announcement that classes were over went out. Which led to some confusion because some of the schools—like the library and information science one—wanted to try and finish out with some normalcy. The end result being that we are kind of officially closed, but my one big final project is still due by June 1st. I busted my butt on Monday and Tuesday to get everything else done, though. Said goodbye to my class blog (wrote my final post for it). Got a presentation and screencast done in nearly record time. Went through a large backlog of posts and such.

Which brings us back to today. My brain is still weird about the whole thing. I don't quite trust going out at night and I expect to see a dark Huntsville when I do. I took my first longer shower tonight (like 10 minutes) since this happened, still a little freaked out about using too much water. I guess it will just take some time. But hey, I ate lunch with a couple of margaritas at La Alameda and then got to see two old women fight over a parking spot in Kroger parking lot (one had blocked up the lane to get the spot, the other whipped around and took it). Normalcy has returned.

Me in 2011


Written by Doug Bolden

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