5 Things I Learned From Sitting Through A Blackout

5 Things I Learned From Sitting Through A Blackout
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Strong winds and rain on Australia’s east coast over the weekend knocked out power to thousands of houses, including mine. I’m very much an early adopter, so I stream almost all of my entertainment — whether it’s through Netflix, through Apple Music, or through Kindle. When you don’t have a TV or internet or a charger for your phone, living a high-tech life gets a lot more difficult.

Storm image via Shutterstock

When it rains, it pours, and lots of things break.

It just so happened that my own blackout coincided neatly with an Amazon Web Services outage which temporarily killed off the Stan and Foxtel Go streaming services — leaving me without a couple of my favourite streaming services, and only a few movies and TV shows saved to flash drives to pass the time. I even had to read a book — y’know, with paper pages and everything. I’ve only recently boxed up my extensive Blu-ray collection to get rid of it — thinking I’d be fine with the combo of a few Ultra HD Blu-rays and online streaming — and I’m already reconsidering whether actually it’s a good idea. Having some physical media handy would have meant that I wouldn’t be so reliant on the ‘net. At least good old paperbacks don’t need to sync over the web.

A good flashlight is more important than anything.

A few months ago, I stumbled onto Reddit’s /r/flashlight forum, and quickly lost about a week of my life to researching the best flashlights. In the end, I ended up with two — a ridiculous 2000-lumen FourSevens X3R and a small but powerful BLF A6. That BLF flashlight — which runs on one of the 18650 cells that make up a Tesla Model S battery pack (by the thousand) — also stands on its tail, making for a convenient indirect uplight. With a couple of backup batteries, the A6 was more than enough to light up my bedroom from the afternoon to the late night, when I gave up waiting for the power to come back on and just went to bed.

We haven’t had a proper day-long power outage at my house for quite a while, and towards the evening when it started getting dark we actually had to dig out the candles and rummage around for torches. I think that I might invest in a few more of these little BLF lights just so I’m not caught out again.

Batteries are handy. So many batteries.

The night before the blackout, I carelessly went to sleep without plugging my phone in overnight, putting myself at a serious electron deficit in the morning when I woke up to no electricity. If I only had a desktop PC at home, I would have been high and dry, but I had a laptop that I could charge my phone off as well as do a bit of work and even kick back with a bit of casual (single-player, offline) PC gaming. And I’ve never been so grateful for USB battery packs as I was yesterday. I’ve accumulated quite a few of them over the last few years, and every one that I could dig up around my house came in handy — for charging my phone, charging other phones, keeping my 4G hotspot alive a little longer. I swear by Xiaomi’s compact, sturdy, high-energy-density 10000mAh battery packs for precisely this reason.

Having a battery-powered backup really helps.

I’m lucky enough to have a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot as a backup for my home ADSL. When my router died, I switched on that hotspot — the Wi-Fi 4G Advanced III — and it gave me and my family good quality Internet for about 14 hours until it ran out of juice. Sure, it didn’t have the luxury of almost-unlimited data that I do on ADSL, but it was a damn sight better than using my phone’s quickly-dwindling monthly quota and it made a bit of streaming possible to pass the time. It was also surprisingly fast, sitting in a suburb where plenty of competing 4G devices were probably already out of power.

The same is true of pretty much every electrical device in my house. Having a bunch of different laptops and tablets handy was really convenient when I wanted to stare at a screen for a couple of hours, but if I had a desktop PC in my house I’d be very disappointed if I didn’t have a good UPS. As it stands, I was fortunate that my Synology NAS was already switched off and didn’t stuff up from the unexpected loss of power.

You don’t realise how useful power is until you don’t have it.

Being stuck inside on a rainy weekend is already boring. Being stuck inside on a rainy weekend when there’s no power is worse. Having no lights in the evening is one thing — we all know how that feels — but it’s the combination of a hundred small instances of no electricity that really stack up. I lost track of the number of times I walked into a room and flicked on the light switch, fully knowing that the power was out but not thinking — it’s just muscle memory. Lying on my bed reading a book, I thought that since I didn’t have the TV switched on I would listen to music instead — so I tried to use my Sonos wireless speakers. I’ve realised that I definitely take hard-wired power for granted.

Throughout the course of the day, I ran flat my Alienware gaming laptop, a Microsoft Surface Book, a Surface Pro 4 and an iPad Pro. Yes, I could have gone for a walk or visited the movies or gone out with friends, but I wanted to play DOOM and I wanted to play some movies — the weather outside wasn’t exactly inviting.