Sunday, September 7, 2008

Post Mortems on Power

Just a few observations post Gustav...

It is easy to overlook the small things, and a few small things can make riding out a storm much more pleasant. I had all the big bases covered - water, food, shelter. What I missed when the power was down was a quick and easy way to make a cup of coffee. I don't even LIKE coffee, but somehow, someway, having a hot cuppa cafe mocha while you're sitting in a dark room listening to the wind rock the house is comforting.

Storm-riding can be damn boring. Sitting alone in a dark, humid, hot room gets old pretty quick. You can only sleep for so long. A few good books, board games, art supplies, some knitting, ANYTHING helps. But, you need some light you won't feel guilty about using.

While in the Corps, I had an earlier version of this stove. It was a fast and easy way to heat water, and used any fuel from avgas to alcohol. I missed it dearly. Sure, I had charcoal and other ways to cook, but they were too much effort for a beverage, and impractical to use indoors.

Half of the city was wandering around looking for a way to charge cell phones.

Generators are loud and expensive to run. Ours (5500 Watts) burned 25 gallons of gas per day, running at approximately half load. That much fuel is rarely easy to procure during a storm, and somewhat of a pain to stockpile before one.

You don't NEED A/C, a full-size refrigerator and TV, all the normal comforts of home during a natural disaster. A small fan, a 12v electric cooler, some light, a tiny combo TV/radio to stay up on the news, and you're golden. That stove I linked earlier? It'll easily heat a typical room if a blizzard is more likely to be your likely disaster.

Toss in a cell phone and a netbook, and you're better off 90% of humanity today, and 100% of all the humans that lived more than say, 50 years ago.

Don't count on your computer or the internet for either entertainment OR information. Too many ways for the infrastructure to fail. Radio is your reliable friend.

I can see a real market for cheap, temporary, micro-power generation. I mean just enough juice for a small LED light, a battery charger, and that coffee. The latest generation of netbooks from ACER, HP, or Dell wouldn't overtax such a system.

A wind generator is the perfect choice for a hurricane - you know there will be a breeze. I'm talking something the size of a sat dish, max, that could be thrown up or taken down in a few minutes.

Another idea would be a micro gas generator. Something powered by a tiny four-stroke engine, 50 cc max, maybe as much as half that size. It could run quietly for days on a five gallon supply.

Of course, a solar power panel would be handy in some cases. The ultimate setup would be a system incorporating all three - you'd be covered in any situation.

Bikes are a great way to get around after the crisis winds down, but before things are back to normal. Many hybrid bikes are on the market - even Wal-Mart sells one. It would seem a simple undertaking to design one that could charge a battery as you cruise around the city looking for that hotspot. :-) Done right, the battery would be compatible with your home wind/solar/microgen system. Add a trainer for the bike, and you could human-power your system indoors during the emergency if needed.

More exotic options exist. Two that come to mind are fuel cells, and thermoelectric generation. But, both of these options are much more pricey, though recent interest in hydrogen/methanol fuel cells for automotive use will eventually change that. However, after your battery bank is fully charged, your home system could switch to production of hydrogen via electrolysis for even greater reserve power capacity.

Well, let's see how much of this stuff I can scrounge before Ike gets here. :-)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Not Long Now...

Everything newsworthy has happened.

I'll post two or three more posts in the next few days, assuming we get power. Topics will include some tips I discovered for getting through things like this, and some thoughts on why a few crazy people stay here with a Gustav bearing down.

Thanks for listening.

Warning - Gory Graphics! You have been warned.

(DON'T scroll down if you don't like the sight of blood)

So, good deed done, we decide to take off again down St. Charles to proceed further uptown.

I'm minding my own business, riding along the sidewalk, and decide to head into the street. I see a nice short curb onto the strret. Chris is a few feet behind me.

Later, he said he knew something was wrong when my front wheel disappeared.

There was this storm drain, you see, and it was about 18 inches deep.

Problem was, it was full of leaves and twigs that had blown off the trees, so it looked very innocent. It wasn't. Chris later called it a "Tiger Trap." I'm pretty good on a bike, but Lance Armstrong wasn't getting out of this one.

I'm pedaling along, and before I even know I'm going down I have face-planted into the asphalt, and can't see out of my right eye for blood, and something that won't blink out. (eyebrow flap)I'm seeing stars, and dazed.

Pic below for non-squeamish....

Chris was cussing me when he took that pic, as he was standing downwind and it was still gusty. My blood was blowing all over him. Scalp wounds, you know.
A few hours and three stitches later, I'm out of the emergency room. The docs and nurses were glad to see me, as they had had a VERY slow day, and they all enjoyed seeing the pics of Bush's tree.
They said I was actually pretty damn lucky, as some folks that do a head-first dive into the pavement break a neck. All I know is, my entire right neck, back and shoulder feel like they've been beat with a bat by a large surly man, and the right side of my head is all swollen and deformed. They say it'll go away.
I asked the doc as he was sewing me up if I'd have a scar. He said the standard boilerplate - "anytime you get stiched, there is a possibility you'll have a scar. I said, "Cool. Chicks dig scars."
I was a lil loopy on endorphins, I think. :-)
So, there you have it - how I lost a fight with a pothole.

No Good Deed...

I went out to see how the city was faring yesterday morning. The wind was blustery, still gusting 40-50 mph from time to time, which made for what Charles Johnson would call a really fascist headwind.

We saw a few large trees down, oaks taken in their prime...

Down on Decatur, by Cafe du Monde, a pelican decided that fighting the wind was just too much hard work, and was taking a break under the Cafe du Monde awning. He started getting antsy when I snapped this pic, as I was barely six feet from him.

So then (my cycling buddy Chris and I) decided to take a run down St. Charles Ave. to see how Uptown and the Garden District had fared, as that part of the city is Big Tree Central.

We opted to run down Bourbon, to see how all the bored reporters were dealing with the slow news day, and say hello to the Chubby's folks.

I ran into Jorge fron the Spanish News Agency. He got a kick out of me taking a pic of him taking a pic of us. As I said, slow news day.

As we're passing Lafayette Park, Chris yealls out, "Hey, the President's tree is down!" I'm like "huh?"

He tells me to go read the monument. I do:

The tree is down. Gustav got it.

Well, I allow that we ought to do something about that. So, I struggle and lever the tree up. But the wind is still gusting, so it only remains upright for a few minutes. I sure that some will find some potent symbolism in this, but I'll leave it alone. :-)

Howver, I had reason to be talking to a few cops shortly after that, and they got the message to the Powers That Be about the tree. Mayor Nagin mentioned today in his latest press confrerence that they knew the tree was down, but that his experts told him they were sure it could be saved.

Why was I talking to the cops? Well, there was this fight...


Well, Gustav ended up hammering the coastal parishes and Baton Rouge a lot harder than it did New Orleans.

Power is a big problem. The regional electric Monopoly says it has never been hit harder - to include Katrina. It makes a bit of sense, as Gustav was much more of a wind storm than a surge or rain-bringer. 13 of the 14 main transmission lines bringing power to the city went down. They're talking two weeks to get power completely restored.

I'll have more thoughts on how to cope with power outages later, in another post. I hae Definitely learned a lot, and there are several things I would do different.

Now, about that fight...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Power down

Shutting down to conserve UPS . Will try to update hourly as long as power lasts.

Godot? Godot? Is that you?

Looks like the Guest of Honor has deigned to grace us with his presence.

This is the part that scares me. I'll tell you why. When the moist air of the storm mixes with the dry air over the land, THAT is when tornados form. After Gustav is well and truly here, that chance goes away.

It's all ears on deck to hear that tell-tale sound of a twister. Only warning I'll get. It's a sound I know. I grew up in Kansas, and have heard it before.

So long as I don't hear that train a' comin', we'll be fine.

If it's any consolation, the twister spawned by hurricanes are generally small, short-lived, and weak ones.

Emergency Poontang Rescue Button

Contrary to what you might think...

Liveblogging a death-threatening storm is NOT a way to meet pretty bisexual girls that will come kidnap your sexy ass. Otherwise Geraldo would be bonking a Bourbon Street stripper at this very moment rather than torturing SheepDogs with questions that a grade school newspaper intern would not voluntarily acknowledge as his own creation.

Kimberly and I are previously umm, uh, well-acquainted, and she is certainly qualified to comment on my ass.

In the interests of fair play, I must disclose that women are about evenly divided as to whether or not I am more accurately described omitting the word "cute."

It is nice to know, however, that in my perilous situation this "looky-loo" (hat tip - Fox News) has an Emergency Poontang Button to press if things down here get too gnarly to save his ass, be it cute or no.

Smite me, Gustav!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Every Story Needs Some Comic Relief...

So, Fox, in their grok of the Dramatic Verities, brings you ....


No people on the streets, no wind, no rain... Whatever shall we talk about?

Me, I'd put on Firefly reruns. Failing that, I'd send Geraldo and his crew down to Johnny White's and have them get loaded toasting FEMA and Jindal, and the NG and the cops and the bus drivers and so on... do a viewer call in for suggestions for the next category of SheepDogs to slam a shot for.. at least that would be entertaining.

But NOOOOO....

I swear, you can't make this shit up...

He's interviewing some of the NG troops. Fine, give the poor guy a few minutes of face time on the national toob.

So, he asks this junior enlisted guy if he knew when he was going back to Iraq!

The poor trooper would get his ass handed to him if he said, in the astronomically unlikely event that he knew. I garan-dam-tee he doesn't. He mumbles something inaudibly vague...

Foiled at this attempt to earn a Pulitzer, Geraldo pauses, wheels grind...
"How many people are here, you think, soldier?"

NG: I think not any, sir.

Geraldo: Why do you think the evacuation was so effective?

And you know, YOU KNOW, from that look on his face that the guy would give his next promotion to say...

"Because they got their asses blasted last time, you fucking moron!"

But, Discipline prevails.

NG: I think we did a better job on our mission this time, sir.

So, Geraldo starts interviewing his engineer. They're talking about the cables they're using on their broadcast setup, complete with lovingly detailed closeups more aptly used on a Pussycat Dolls backside. For an encore, we get closeups of the broadcast team's stack of water, and Gatorade. They have Gatorade!

This is gripping stuff. Please can we cut to Greta with some updates on that Callee kid?

Oh, wait, news! In the distance, a vehicle is coming down the street. In a display of intuitive genius unrivaled in broadcast history, Geraldo opines...

"I bet it's either a police car or a Hummer."

Gustav, save us....

And So It Begins...

The first squall just hit, a steady rain, some gusts, and it got dark in a hurry.

Too dark for decent outdoor pics, but that never stopped me. :-) I had to jack the gamma into lower earth orbit, but those aren't stars you're seeing, but raindrops.

Then, as swiftly as it hit, it was gone.

Yahoo Chat

My Yahoo IM handle is mliviusii.

Where's Marcus? And Why?

Some folks have been curious about exactly where in New Orleans I'm sheltering.

It's very near to here.

I'm not going to be more specific for obvious reasons. :-)

Some emails and comments imply that I have some sort of death wish, or that I'm a thrillseekin' idjit.


I am in a well built multi-story home. This home took 4-5 ft. of water during Katrina. A 30 ft. storm surge would not flood the upper stories of this residence. The lower floor is constructed entirely of steel-reinforced cinder blocks. It would require a direct hit from a Fujita Class V tornado to take down this home. The French Quarter hotel where Mayor Nagin and the rest of the emergency staff, along with virtually all the media reporting on the storm, are staying, is no better protected.

The only place I can readily imagine that could be safer would be in a bank vault, provided I could locate one high enough not to flood.

I think that for the vast majority of people, evacuation in the face of this storm is the only prudent course of action. I believe my situation to be unique, or I would have bugged out.

I have been a believer in disaster preparedness for a long, long time. I could survive for at least, I don't know, three months maybe, without any outside resources. The most likely repercussion, the almost certain repercussion, is that I'll be without power for awhile, and thus unable to access the Net. I have no doubt that someone that reads this will then conclude that I have met my reward, in more ways than one. We shall see.

I realize nobody is bulletproof, and Fate can fsck you. A tree branch could blow through a window into my skull - or a tornado could hit before I get downstairs. But the chances of that happening are much less than the everyday ordinary risks that you will certainly take today if you choose to get into an automobile, and I for sure hope that none of you thinking I'm a fool smoke cigarettes.

So, enough with the RIPs and composing my eulogy, Ok? Thanks. :-)

Silver Linings

I never thought I'd be able to take my very own picture of the St. Louis Cathedral in daylight hours without having a gaggle of tourists clogging up the picture.


There will always be those folks that are just too stubborn, or, some would say, too stupid, to evacuate.

Johnny White's is famous in the Big Easy as the bar that NEVER closes. Open 24/7/365, it somehow stayed open during Katrina and the aftermath. So, of course, this tiny little locals bar, popular with the late night service industry crowd, has no plans to close for Gustav, either.

I popped in to say hello. Marita, working today until 11 tonight, confirmed what I knew would be the case. They'll be there come Hell AND High Water.


Johnny's is a tiny bar, with only a half-dozen stools. It was full, for the record. Helping her keep things in order is her dog, whose name I didn't get. He didn't seem too worried about things. :-)

Further up Bourbon toward Canal was a Philly Sub Shop called Chubby's. They've only been open a year or so, but it run by Nawlins natives, and they're not closing either.

Security was not a problem there, either. They've set out free coffee and sodas for the uniformed folks, and the place had several NOPD cops and NG troopers ordering, and believe it or not, PAYING for their sandwiches. They do make one helluva cheesesteak.

Not shown on the menu are the daquiris and beer. :-)

Like many Nawlins businesses, it's a family affair. I talked briefly with Dominic, who assured me that they were staying open. I asked him what he was going to do when the power inevitably failed. He simply shrugged and said they'd figure something out.

I asked him what he was going to do for customers after the curfew came into force. He laughed and waved at all the uniforms in the place.

The only time he wasn't smiling was when I pointed the camera at him.

Running the the grill was his dad, Barry.

The French Quarter did not flood during Katrina. I am willing to bet it will not this time either. The Quarter, and the Garden District, are two of the oldest sections of the city for a reason - they are the highest in elevation. The neighborhoods that flooded for Katrina are parts of the town that were only developed upon after the levees were built. They were essentially undrainable marsh before then. These folks will have to deal with an extended loss of power, and maybe minor flooding from the rain - it is not uncommon for Bourbon to overspill its gutters simply from the torrential downpours the city sees. But storm surge? I'll bet good money not.

The other Katrina problem was looting. With the improved enforcement this time around, that won't be a problem either.

I don't think that these folks are as foolish as many might believe.


I'm happy to report that the Powers That Be, no doubt singed by their Katrina experience, seem to be on top of things. Both the NG and NOPD are all over the Quarter, and I'm told the rest of the city. Nagin has been all over the tube warning looters that they will go to jail, directly to jail, in this case, Angola, the state prison.

The National Guard on Bourbon

Troops of the 141st

I talked with these soldiers for a bit. Most have been to the SandBox. The boarded windows are de rigeur for all of The Quarter.

All the participants are on the stage, just waiting for the Special Guest to arrive. Hurry up and wait.


It seems unreal - popped onto to bike and took the short ride to The Quarter, which is, predictably, deserted. The weather seems normal - that is, hot, humid, a smattering of clouds.

Decatur Street @ the French Market is normally full of vendors and shoppers

Looking Down Bourbon to Canal

There are more media than locals on the streets. Invariably, the first question locals asked after seeing me with a clunky digital camera was, "Who are you with?"

When I told them myself, and that I'd be blogging events, they all wanted me to take a pic and give them the link.

Response from the MSM was, shall we say, a bit chillier. You could almost see the disdain in their face when I mentioned I was a blogger.

Some AP crew - the talking head wouldn't give me her name

Of course, there will ALWAYS be someone on the street. NOPD showed up and took him to a shelter about an hour after I snapped this.

Sleeping It Off

I did manage to achieve another aim. I found a small grocery store still open on Dauphine, so I picked up a few odds and ends (coffee, snacks) that I could have done without, but still wanted.

The latest reports say that that it's about 24 hours til it gets interesting, and this idyllic weather will seem as unreal as gale force winds seem now.


Mandatory evacuations have been issued for the entire city, and the coastal regions of, from what I can tell, the entire state. Curfews are being issued at dusk.

Non-buggin' diehards like me have been told not to expect any emergency services, they're not going to endanger emergency personnel, so don't even bother to call.

Nagin's exact words, well, a paraphrase, were, "you're gonna be chopping yourself out of your attic by yourself." They're evacuating very nearly all of the emergency folks to keep them out of harm's way.

I don't know if I believe him, or if he is taking artistic license to scare folks into evacuating, but Nagin claims that he know of not a single building in the city that has been engineered to withstand winds of more than 140 mph. Not even the downtown office buildings.

Gustav is currently running about 135, and was almost 150 earlier today.

Well, time to get some sleep. I'm going to try and get up early and take the bike through the French Quarter before things get too bad. It'll be weird to see it deserted. I want to take the camera and see what I can shoot.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

St Bernard Bugout

The St. Bernard Parish firefighters are leaving, as they don't think that their trucks are gonna survive if they stay. They're going to redeploy, and return as soon as possible afterward.

For you people that aren't familiar with LA, "parishes" are what you call counties. St. Bernard parish is the eastern part of New Orleans, one of the lower lying parts of the city, and one of the hardest hit by Katrina. It was 99% flooded.

Orleans Parish is the older and higher part of the city - what most of you saw if you've visited. The French Quarter, Garden District, etc. Katrina got 80% of it.

The first fire station just re-opened in St. Bernard a few months ago.

New Atlantis

Nagin had a press conference in which he stated the dilemma for West Bank residents in the direst tones. He says that the West Bank levees are incomplete, and at best eight feet high. While Gustav is predicted to generate a storm surge of twice that height.

Unless something radically changes in the predicted track, the West Bank is about to pull an Atlantis.

I personally don't have high hopes for the levees anywhere.

Why Aren't You Gone?

Good Question.

First, I'm prepared. I've got food and water for weeks, batteries, and all the stuff you need.

Second, I'm in a good place, though in a bad location. Well-built multi-story house, cinder block ground level, (for twisters) three stories plus an attic, (for floods). The house took about five feet of water during Katrina. It'd take a 30 ft. flood, minimum, to drown me.

Third, I've ridden out storms before, most notably Allen in '80. I'm former Marine infantry, first aid instructor certified, blah-blah-blah, so I feel as though I can pretty much handle whatever could happen. Only real likely Bad Thing I can forsee getting me would be a tornado with no warning. I feel safer here with my gear as opposed to huddling in a shelter somewhere.

I'd rather be on hand to help with the immediate aftermath if it's bad. Think of me as an unofficial First Responder. Rather be a sheepdog than a sheep.

So, I figured while I'm here, I might as well post an eyewitness account of the festivities. I've got still and video cameras, and will post what I can for as long as the power, and then my UPS, holds out.

Gustav is presently hammering Cuba. Things are supposed to be getting interesting here in about 24 hours. I'll snap a few "before" pics tomorrow when it gets light.