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Blackout

Over the last six months we've used 3586 kWh of electricity. We used 5838 kWh over the first six months of 2008, which is a savings of 2252 kWh or 38.6%. I think that's a pretty good savings, and I can't really say it's been missed much.

At the moment we're not using any due to a blackout. All the various rechargeable devices — including the laptop I'm typing this on — are slowly burning off their stored energy and will eventually be unpowered. This laptop will be dead within an hour, my cell phone will be dead early next week (freshly charged last night and about a five-day lifespan between charges). I have two rechargeable flashlights with hand cranks, and I estimate they'll provide about a half hour of light with a full charge — but that isn't necessary at the moment. If it reaches that point, I can definitely charge them up as needed. So theoretically they'll last, a half hour at a time, until their rechargeable batteries can no longer sustain a charge. That could be years.

At some point, warm air will displace the cold air stored in the refrigerator, making the food inside unsafe to eat. I'd guess a couple of days for that. The freezer will hang onto its cold air for maybe another day or two. There are plenty of canned goods available, enough to last for a few weeks. Beyond that things would probably get interesting.

My mind goes into survival mode whenever there's a blackout. There's never been a reason for it before — the power company has always come through. Maybe not when I would have liked, but hey.

But what if. What if.

Let's imagine there's a massive instability in the electrical grid, and it's enough to knock out power on a large scale for several weeks. What would happen? I'd guess there would be looting, probably a good bit of general unrest, and most certainly some deaths — either from the aforementioned looting and unrest or among those who were border cases anyway.

What about the rest — people who are relatively healthy yet are dependent upon electricity for basic needs like food? How many could sit down, logically think through their survival needs, and go about procuring them quietly and unnoticed versus just heading to the inevitable shelters and continuing the cycle of dependency?

When the canned goods run out, I have a gas grill and can cook fish caught from the river near the house. I've seen rabbits in the yard as well as a few deer. I have no way to kill either of those at the moment, but you'd better believe I'll find a way if that time comes. I have a few vegetables growing in the garden — though neither enough nor the right kinds for a survival scenario. I do have lots of back issues of Mother Earth News, and I'm sure I could learn (quickly!) which wild plants around here are edible.

At some point the propane would be gone, either from my using it all or someone stealing it — so cooking would be reduced to a conventional fire. And I guess if things reach that point (thinking on the order of months now) I probably couldn't rely on there being any running water or natural gas either. So it's to the river for water, which would have to be boiled to kill off any nasties lurking within.

By this time it's October, and cold weather will be moving in — bringing a whole other set of concerns and probably fresh waves of looters and marauders. The shelters are probably out of commission by now too, adding to the chaos. Winter would be difficult, a bleak Christmas and many deaths.

It's entirely possible people would band together and pool their resources. Likely, in fact. Extended family units huddling together and sharing what they have with each other versus nomadic gangs roaming the abandoned cities searching for weapons. People on watch all night, taking shifts, ready to defend and protect what's left — and others making late-night raids on makeshift cellars, smokehouses, and granaries.

We are who we are, and I think that fact would persist until the bitter end. And — as always — the fittest would survive.

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English police

We all make mistakes. We all make errors. Even I have made the occasional gaffe in English construction. I probably did so quite recently. But you know, I do know how to use apostrophes properly.

Thursday's Here's the sign I saw at Hardee's at lunch today. Please note the apostrophe on the word Thursday's [sic]. Please note also the otherwise professional appearance of this sign. (And disregard the unprofessional photography.) This sign came from a corporate center somewhere — it wasn't printed off by a local store manager. Which likely means it went up and down in a design department somewhere, was approved by management, and was sent out to stores across the country. How many eyes saw the final design before it was? Yet, someone — or perhaps several someones — on the Hardee's corporate ladder thought it was ok.

I've been saying this for years, but I shall say it once more. Apostrophes are not used to form plurals of words. If you don't believe me, here's what Purdue University has to say:

The apostrophe has three uses: to form possessives of nouns, to show the omission of letters, and to indicate certain plurals of lowercase letters. Don't use apostrophes for possessive pronouns or for noun plurals.

How about Oxford University Press?

Don't use an apostrophe to form a plural. A sentence like 'Please keep the gate's clear' is wrong. Use an apostrophe to indicate possession, or to show that a word has been contracted.

I always thought this was common sense, but today, Hardee's proved me wrong. And apparently it's a more common fallacy than I believed — I see things like this everywhere. Given that, this won't be my last post on this subject... so stay tuned.

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Do not call, DAMMIT.

Every phone number I use is now on a telemarketing list of some sort. No huge task there — it's easy enough to electronically generate every possible phone number in a given region, feed it into an automated dialer, and start plugging away. I just did it in a spreadsheet and it took all of two minutes. That's an old trick and I would guess a surprisingly effective one. The legalities may be questionable, but since we're talking about telemarketers here, I'm going to assume skirting the edges of legality is already the order of the day.

I have three phone numbers tied to my workplace and two tied to me personally. One each from these two categories are cell phones. For those, I've set up the most frequently abusing numbers as contacts with a custom ring tone of absolute silence. So basically they can call all they want and the only way I'll even know is by looking at the missed calls list. And, I don't have voicemail set up on either of the cell phones, so I don't have to waste time retrieving their spiels about car insurance, warranty extension, lowering credit card and mortgage rates, and so on.

My criterion for being a "frequently abusing number" is this: You get only one chance. If you turn out to be a robot or a telemarketer, you get blacklisted.

For the home landline, we have Caller ID service with anonymous call rejection. Yes, the number is on the Do Not Call list, but despite the good intentions behind that idea it's turned out to be fairly useless. We also have one of those cordless phone systems with bases scattered throughout the house. These phones (Panasonic) interpret the name sent with the Caller ID and announce it aloud between rings. So not only can we know who's calling before we answer the phone, we can get this knowledge without even getting up to look. If it's something unrecognized, it goes to the answering machine. Let your machine talk to my machine. And every once in awhile one of us will simply purge the answering machine of its collected garbage.

Once upon a time the outgoing message on our answering machine started with the three tones indicating the number was disconnected. Some telemarketing equipment interprets this as "this number is disconnected, so let's completely remove it from the list and not waste time calling it further." It really did work — the number of junk calls dropped quite a bit while we used this technique. Granted, this was several years ago, so it may not be as effective now as it once was.

As for my work landlines, I'll normally just answer — firstly, because that's part of my job, secondly, because they're my work numbers and I really don't care what lists they're on, and thirdly, because it gives me the opportunity to mess with the occasional call agent who happens to get connected to me. And I'll always choose to speak to a live agent if given the option (if not, I hang up). I'm neither rude nor abusive toward them. I'll let them do their blah blah blah thing and I'll just sit there not saying a word. This normally confuses them, so they'll do their blah blah blah thing again — part of their job, you see. Eventually they hang up, sometimes uttering the mystical phrase "operator disconnected" before doing so.

Call agents aren't supposed to be idle. I'm making them idle by doing this, thus introducing a slight inefficiency into the system. I don't know what that accomplishes, exactly, but I like to think at least some of these places are skin-of-the-teeth operations and my actions are having just enough effect to cause some of them to fold. At the very least I'm throwing their stats off a bit, maybe around a tenth of a percent or so.

I've got nothing personal against the call agents themselves. They're not sitting there calling numbers themselves or doing research on who would be a good person to call. It's all computerized and automated — it's a machine whose fingers do the walking (and the dialing), and the people who do the work have shitty jobs in an industry with a high turnover rate. My beef is against the companies who continue to call — and, I'll add, send fake Caller ID info — despite there being a Do Not Call list, despite there being laws against calling cell phones, and despite every effort we make to prevent it.

Just quit, ok? No one is really interested in what you're peddling, and if they were, they'd call you. The paltry amounts of money you've made have come from people you've essentially tricked somehow, and last time I checked, that wasn't called business.

It was called exploitation.

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Life in suspension

This entry has been purged.

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Charleston's new boat dock

Sighted today in an unnamed parking building in downtown Charleston.

A parked boat I don't know whose boat this is. I am morbidly curious, but on the other hand, I really don't want to know. But I'll say this much — they get an 'A' for creative thinking, and they're saving a bundle in dock fees.

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The wide swath of progress

I spent a good bit of time yesterday in my hometown, Beckley, WV. I hated Beckley growing up and was, to say the least, thrilled to leave it behind when the time finally came. Revisiting it again as an adult, I realize it really wasn't a bad place to grow up.

I lived in a little community called Pleasant Hills nestled between Mabscott and MacArthur. Pleasant Hills truly lives up to its name and is marked by gentle rolling hills and wooded areas. The land contains mostly residential property, open fields, and a scant handful of mom-and-pop businesses. There's enough evidence around for me to think it used to be farmland with a grain mill of some sort nearby. Within yards of my house were wild blueberries and blackberries, remnants of wheat fields, an abandoned well, a cow pasture, a farmhouse, and a beautiful barn which collapsed one day in the late 1990s.

The primary road through Pleasant Hills — Old Eccles Road — was, and I presume still is, patrolled heavily by the Mabscott Police Department enforcing the 30 MPH speed limit. One of their most often-used speed traps was directly across from my house. I always found that questionable, as our mailing address was Beckley and thus — in my opinion — outside the Mabscott jurisdiction. But whatever. Either way, it was a pretty safe community; the kind of place where you could leave your doors unlocked at night and not have any concerns about it.

Over the years, Pleasant Hills has changed a bit. Many of the trees lining Old Eccles Road have been cut down. The pastures have become overgrown and untended, and one of the wooded areas I remember has been timbered to make way for a new housing development. The berry bushes, already sparse when I was young, were picked over by the neighborhood boys I grew up with (myself included) — and the well I could see from my back porch was capped and removed before I finished grade school. I'll add that Old Eccles Road itself seems narrower than I remember, but I'm pretty sure my memory there has been fogged by the haze of time.

US 121Less than nine miles southwest lies the end of the new Coalfields Expressway, a four-lane road which will eventually extend through Mullens, Pineville, Welch, and Bradshaw, and terminate in Slate, VA (near Grundy). These are all tiny communities, Welch being the largest with about 2600 people. It's believed the Coalfields Expressway will breathe some life into Southern West Virginia in the form of jobs and industry. Anyone who's familiar with Southern West Virginia knows it was once a booming area rich from coal mining and the heavy equipment necessary for this dangerous job. I assume the hope is the boom times will return with the construction of this new highway.

Just outside of Welch, in Kimball, a Wal-Mart opened in October, 2005. And within the last few years, a Wal-Mart opened in MacArthur — very close to where I used to live. It took out an entire community of homes in the process, including one where some old friends of mine once lived. And while it looks like the Coalfields Expressway is avoiding the (relatively) more populated areas of Southern West Virginia and thus won't be disrupting too many lives with blatant home destruction, there are certain to be some disruptions, perhaps of another type.

I'd love to know how businesses in the Welch area have weathered the arrival of Wal-Mart. I can tell you how at least one business near the MacArthur Wal-Mart weathered its arrival — namely, Kroger Store #750 in Sophia. It's gone. The store is closed. I felt an affinity with that store — I worked there for a few years when I was in college, and in the process, met several interesting people, drew a weekly paycheck, and divined the basics of good financial management by paying off a small car loan.

It's going to be a lot easier for people in Pineville and Mullens to travel to Wal-Mart when this new road is completed. But I'm reminded of the movie Cars where the construction of I-40 all but wipes out the little town of Radiator Springs (and numerous others) on Route 66. I do appreciate what's being done here. I'm glad Southern West Virginia is getting a much-needed infrastructure upgrade. I'm just not sure how a four-lane highway is going to magically create jobs in this area, and I'm really not sure how many people are going to stop and visit the little towns along it — and thus, how much longer they'll really survive.

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