In the not-so-distant past, if the power went out, you were never sure if it was just your house or the entire neighborhood that was affected.
It's late Wednesday afternoon as I pen these words. I've been working from home today because we were having some stuff done to the house, so I commandeered the dining room table and festooned it with monitors and notepad computers.
At around 4:15 p.m., we had a power outage and the lights and monitors went out (the computers stayed up due to their internal batteries).
Happily, about three years ago, we installed a honking big natural gas backup generator with automatic rollover (see Feel the Power (of a Backup Generator)). Thus, after about 25 seconds (10 for the generator to decide this wasn't a momentary glitch, and another 15 for it to warm up and perform its internal system checks), the house's core systems sprang back to life.
It then took a little time for the wireless router to reboot itself, but it wasn't long before I was fully reintegrated into the Internet, with emails zipping back and forth, instant messages clamoring for attention, news alert windows flickering in and out of existence, and all the other stuff we tend to take for granted.
My first thought when the power went out was "Bummer!" My next thought when the generator kicked in was "Happy Dance!" And then I started to think "I hope it's not just us." I wasn't being mean here, and it wasn't a case of "misery loves company," it's just that if the whole neighborhood is down then the utility company has more of an incentive to get things sorted out.
In the not-so-distant past, if the power cut out in your house, you were reduced to wandering miserably around your neighborhood looking at other people's houses to see if they had power or if you were all in this together. This time, I performed a quick Google search for "Power Outages, Huntsville Alabama," and immediately saw messages from the Huntsville Utilities Twitter feed saying that there was an outage in Northwest Huntsville and that they didn’t know what was causing it yet. There was also a link to a Power Outage Map, which resulted in the following:
Click Here for a larger image (Source: hsvutil.org)
Wow, that's pretty amazing, they've linked everything into Google Maps (so you can zoom in) and they are updating things in as close to real-time as one could hope for. If you look at the large version of this map, you'll see that it says the data was last updated at 4:20 p.m., which was only five minutes after the power died in the first place.
I'm not sure why, but knowing that our whole area is without power is somewhat comforting because it means we're not alone.
Ha! The main power just came back on. That was quick. I doff my cap to the guys and gals at Huntsville Utilities. I am very, very impressed, not least by the incredibly fast dissemination of useful information. How about you? Have you noticed anything like this -- that is, utility companies making full use of the power of the Internet -- where you live?
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting