Still going

We are still running on batteries and candles at HCHQ, although several of my friends and coworkers now have power. Still, it could be much worse: a few people are reporting problems with sewers and septic tanks backing up, putting raw sewage right into homes. With the temperatures rising, that’s going to be lovely.

I just heard an ice cream truck drive by. That amuses me quite a bit. Someone’s thinking, that’s for sure.

I’m a little bummed out that Hallowe’en is effectively cancelled. While some parties are still going to happen, I can’t say I’m comfortable with going out at night while my alarm is down, particularly since I’ve been burglarized twice in late October. I’ll be spending the night in my house, thanks for asking.

I’ll be going in to the office tomorrow, to do some work for the emergency operations team. Normally I would be looking forward to the quiet, but I’m getting plenty of that these days.

Night cap

There aren’t any street lights, porch lights, or traffic lights. I can see the stars as if I am in the Everglades. There is the occasional flicker of candlelight from a window, or the bluish glow of a fluorescent lantern. The headlights of the few cars breaking curfew are almost painful.

I am over a mile from I-95, but I can hear the dim roar of highway traffic. The constant whirring of air conditioner compressors has been replaced by the two-stroke purr of suburban generators, broken by occasional bursts of music from a transistor radio, an errant car alarm, or the wail of a siren. But on the porch all I can hear is the buzzing of out-of-season mosquitoes.

The tang of woodsmoke is out of place in Miami; I feel as though I’m back in Kentucky.

And it isn’t so bad, sitting in the dark, quiet house, enjoying some very good rum from St. Lucia, brought to me by very nice people. I could get used to this solitude.

Cabin fever

My office reopened this morning; a location only blocks from the county offices has its advantages. I was able to go in and recharge my laptop, and get caught up on a little work.

Still no power at home, though, and the power company story at the moment is “95% of our customers will have their sefvice restored by Nov. 13.” Gee, only three weeks without a hot shower, how nice! I don’t expect it will take that long, but an NPR interview with a Red Cross rep said they are ready to start providing hot meals tomorrow, so mayne I’m overly optimistic.

This would be a nice, peaceful time for most people, a time to catch up on their reading, chat with their friends, just generally relax. But as this is proving, I have a limited tolerance for relaxation. The battery lamps I have aren’t bright enough to read by without getting a headache, and the cat provides limited opportunities for conversation. At least the weather is cool for now; I shudder to think what this town will be like without air conditioning and temperatures back in the 90s, as we’re expecting next week.

And while this Verizon cellular modem was wonderful yesterday, today it’s having issues. I guess that it only works well when there’s no competition, and now that the other cell networks are getting their towers back on-line, it’s showing its true reliability.

Anyway, I’ll try to sneak in an occasional update from time to time, but I’m not certain how relable it will be until power is restored.

The wait

I took a walk around the neighborhood this evening. There is quite a bit of damage, although nothing terrifying. Landscapers and roofers will be doing a booming business for the next few months, though.

There’s a curfew in place for all of Miami-Dade county, not that it has stopped the steady flow of traffic past my house. But it stopped me from getting into the middle of it, which isn’t a bad idea, given the number of blocked streets.

A huge ficus tree went down on the Barry University campus. A group of students were standing on the enormous root ball being videotaped, shouting “Fuck you, Wilma!”

When the sun started to set I realized I had a good walk ahead of me without streetlights. Fortunately, I’m an ex-Boy Scout, so I had a flashlight in my bag.

Once I got home I decided to take advantage of the stillness and sit on the porch for a while with my radio and HobGoblin. The night is still and cool, the way it is supposed to be, not the way it usually is.

But now I’m sitting in the dark, wrapping up a post, and getting ready to have a drink and go to sleep.

Powerless

As expected, I’ve lost power. We made it through until almost 6:00 am, though, so that’s not too bad. I wonder how long it will take FPL to bring my neighborhood back on-line?

Fortunately I have this handy little Verizon wireless card for my work laptop. It isn’t exactly power efficient, but if I use it judiciously it shouldn’t drain the battery too quickly.

Update – 7am: My land-line phone has gone out. That’s kind of weird, since it hasn’t done that before. I’m doubly glad I have the wireless card now.

Update – 9am: The land-line is back in service, so I don’t have to use my cell battery. Outside my front window the royal poincianas are whipping to and fro like feather dusters. My car is parked between them, or I think it is, as it is currently covered in small broken limbs. A short time ago HobGoblin, who has been watching the front window action, jumped up and stared down at the porch. One of the neighborhood cats, a quasi-feral gray and white tom, was making his way through the tightly packed potted plants. Before I could even think about how to get him inside he had leapt off the end, and disappeared from view.

Mustang Bobby is providing updates from Coral Gables, and the long absent Mish is doing likewise from a condo tower near the beach.

Update – 11:15am: Kids, don’t try this at home!

I braved a few steps off my porch to snap a couple of photos, and got a small movie, too. It’s very creepy, but I admit that the wind feels great! My house is already tremendously stuffy and uncomfortable. But in a couple more hours it should be over.

Update – 1:30pm: It’s pretty much over now except for the clean-up. I’ve been checking in with friends, and hearing the same stories. I lost some roof tiles and quite a few branches, but neighbors saw entire trees snapped or uprooted, some of which nearly hit my house. I have a hunch the property damage is going to be pretty brutal all around on this one.

But for now the worst things for me to deal with are: the humidity, the boredom, and the fact that — in a cruel irony — the song “The Morning After” is lodged in my brain. Things could certainly be worse.

Update – 3pm: This could take a while. Of power utility FPL’s 4.3 million customers, 3.2 million of them are off-line. I’m certain my office will be on-line again soon, though, since it is in the heart of downtown Miami, just a few blocks from the government offices and Federal courthouse. I guess I’ll do the same as last time and bring my gear to work for a recharge.

Might not bother with my cell phones, though. Both my personal Sprint phone and my office Nextel are unable to get a signal. Verizon, however, just keeps right on chugging along.

Once more, with feeling

As yet another hurricane decides to disrupt what passes for normal life in the Hidden City, it occurs to me that those of you living in more hospitable climates may be interested in the preparations require for the event. So, here’s how I get ready for a storm predicted to bring hurricane-force winds and rain to my neighborhood.

Let’s review the possible effects. I’m leaving the wrath of god level scenarios out, since there’s no possible preparation for those.

A strong strike will most likely result in power outages, perhaps for days or weeks. I plug in everything rechargable I might need, to maximize their juice: all the laptops, flashlights, the Tivoli radio, MP3 players, Palm, cell phone, digital cameras, etc. I also locate my DC converter, in case I need to use my car to recharge other items.

Speaking of the car, you need to make certain you have a full tank of gas. No power means no gas pumps, and while the roads may be blocked, you still may need to use your car as an energy source.

If the power is out, there won’t be air conditioning, either, which renders south Florida pretty much uninhabitable ten months out of the year. So I take large ziplock bags, fill them with water, and pack them into my freezer. This will keep my limited supply of frozen food (fish sticks and Boca Burgers) cold if the power is only out for a day or two, and will provide cool water as it melts.

Water may also be an issue. Reasonable people keep several gallons of bottled water on hand for hurricanes; obviously, I don’t have any. However, I fill the otherwise empty (cheese, hot sauce, Grape Nuts, soy milk) refridgerator with pitchers of water, so I won’t dehydrate.

Obviously I may need to eat, so I keep some canned tuna, peanut butter, bread, and crackers in the cupboard. HobGoblin is set with a big bag of his kibble; we’ll share our water.

And of course I make sure I have at least a week’s supply of my medication. There would be little point to the other preparations if I was to keel over on day three.

Once food, water, meds, and technology are squared away, we move on to safety. You need to go around your home and lock away anything lighter than, say, fifty pounds. (This number will vary based on the predicted wind strength.) Trash cans and tools go into the garage, potted plants get moved indoors or otherwise secured, wind chimes come down. Then you look at your neighbors’ homes and make the tough judgment call. Do they look as though they are taking adequate precautions? If not, are they leaving 2x4s in the yard as potential missiles directed at your home? Then you may need to knock on their door and offer your assistance in cleaning up their yard, too. Of course, if you haven’t taken Spanish and/or Creole lessons already, pointing, gesturing, and making scary noises may be required.

With the yard secured, change the sheets and put in laundry. Hey, if the power or water goes out, you’ll want all the clean clothes you can get.

The subject of shutters can be touchy. I’m fortunate that my house has the fancy kind you just roll down from inside the house. I can be cut off from the rest of the world in a matter of five minutes. For others, though, this can involve nailing heavy pieces of lumber over the windows, or attaching steel shutters into pre-installed tracks. This process can take hours. Of course, many people now are opting for impact resistant glass in their windows. This provides the marvelous benefit of zero-effort year-round protection, and allows you to sip a mug of hot chocolate while watching Mini Coopers blow past your house like expensive tumbleweeds.

Okay, so my house is secured and I have my supplies. Now it’s time to think about the unpleasant scenarios, such as: What if that 30′ date palm next to my house decides to fall on the roof? The only preparation you can make for that is to pack a bag with the most critical personally significant items — family photos, data backups, etc. — and have it ready to move, just in case. Deciding what to put in that bag is more than a little difficult, but I know enough people who have lost most of their family records in hurricanes to make it an essential task.

After that, I call my family and local friends to make sure their own preparations are complete. I check in with the office to see if I am needed for anything, and then the countdown starts. Usually, and thankfully, most of the preparations aren’t called into play. Unfortunately, this has led some of my friends to become lackadaisical. Some aren’t even putting up shutters and gathering any supplies. In those discussions, I just hope I don’t have the opportunity to say “I told you so.”

So now the wait begins. Sometime this evening the winds and rain will come, and maybe there will be some green lightning, as with Katrina. And with any luck, Monday Tuesday morning this will all be over. Until the next storm comes.

Decreation

I am in the process of deleting all of Hidden City off my server. Before you ask, no, I’m not shutting it down. I’m just cleaning house as part of the redesign.

Nonetheless, it’s a creepy feeling, seeing files start to disappear. It’s also rather melancholy, in part because memories are being revived that have lain dormant for quite some time. Do not raise up that which you cannot rightly put down again, as Lovecraft once said (or words to that effect). Yes, well, I’m not raising anything on purpose, but things happen.

In other news, any enjoyment of my job I retained has been crushed out of existence by a woman who works in one of our out of state offices. It’s a strange situation for me to know someone is behaving unethically and unprofessionally, but because of the Byzantine hierarchy of the corporation, there isn’t even anyone with whom to file a complaint. It isn’t anything illegal, if course, just pathological lying for personal gain. Hell, that’s the American way, right? She’ll undoubtedly be promoted soon.

The writing class I’m taking is… well, quite odd. Due to the short duration of the class and number of enrolled students, out of ten hours of class I am scheduled for twenty minutes of peer review. Ah well, the purpose was for me to try out school again, after a twenty year absence. The students are interesting, certainly, with about 30-40% of them being currently professional writers looking for tips. Only one is a retired dilettante, which defies the stereotype of a non-credit continuing education class with “creative” in the title.

And it’s less that two weeks before Hallowe’en and I haven’t done anything decorative or celebratory yet. Man, I need to do something to reorder my life.

And yes, if you were wondering, this post is just to allay the concerns of those who wonder if I might have shuffled off to the eternal Buffalo. That’s why it makes less sense even than usual.

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WildLibraryThing

I recently came across LibraryThing, an on-line system for cataloguing your books and sharing the list with others. It is linked to the Library of Congress, Amazon.com, and many other resources, so it has fairly good data for locating your books. I signed up for a free account and entered the first few books that came to view, and it found them all quickly. The only problem I see off the bat is that it doesn’t list multiple versions, so some of my older books will end up displayed under more modern covers.

It looks very flexible, and the author seems to be putting a lot of effort into integrating requested features. When I get a chance I’ll put it to a more strenuous test.

News of the world

All work and no play makes Kevin a dull boy. But I’ve been managing to get in a little play now and again.

  • I read Anansi Boys, the new novel by Neil Gaiman. A light book, the kind of thing sometimes described uncharitably as “summer reading,” but better than you might think. Of Gaiman’s novels to date this is easily his best.
  • The first season of Lost came out on DVD, so I’ve been working my way through that. Not having reliable access to television keeps me from shows I might like, until they come out on disc. This one is worth the wait. Now I just have to hope they don’t screw it up in season two, and that I can avoid as many spoilers as possible for the next year while I wait for it to come out on DVD.
  • I’ve also been watching the original Twilight Zone in the new “definitive edition” sets. It’s amazing how many of those first season episodes have become a part of our cultural language.
  • Dragged myself into the theater to see Serenity, the film follow-up to the prematurely cancelled TV series Firefly. I’ve been waiting for this for literally months, ever since Xkot convinced me to buy the DVD set. Serenity/Firefly is one of the best science fiction series ever developed for television, and a damned fine bit of writing, whatever the genre. The film holds up to that standard, and I highly recommend you give it a shot.
  • I’ve also been banging away on the new version of Hidden City. We’re getting closer now; I just need to figure out how to incorporate this journal/web log into the new structure.
  • Today The Complete Calvin and Hobbes is released. Well, there goes another big chunk of my paycheck, but I’ve been waiting for this a long time.
  • On Tuesday night I am going to do something I haven’t done in decades: start school. Well, just one class, and a continuing education class at that. Oh, and it’s a writing class, too. Creative Non-Fiction, to be precise. Yeah, I’m not exactly jumping back into rocket science, am I?
  • And in a final bit of good news, it looks as though Dave McKean’s Mirrormask is actually going to come to Miami. Will wonders never cease?

And for now, that’s the news of the world.