Just a few minutes ago, I was on my vonage IP phone in my house in Tokyo sipping coffee in my air-conditioned living room listening to the birds outside. I called a friend in Virginia on his cell phone. It rang and dropped. He called me back on a land line. The Verison cell tower just went out in his area. As we were talking, his power went out. He had to switch to a phone that didn't use power. While we were talking, he did a clean shut-down of his computer and his UPS and went outside to see why his diesel backup generator didn't kick in. Then he went and started pulling out all of the oil lamps that he had just put away.

What's going on over there guys? Maybe the power companies and carriers should just step aside and let some new people run the critical infrastructure...

Although I can't say Japan is necessarily better, my phone still works and my air-conditioning is still working. ;-)

16 Comments

Well, weather over has been crazy lately. Maybe it's time to get religious to catch the last train.

The US gave up on infrastructure some time ago -- Enron taught us the pure deal (or is it steal) was much more important.

In our area the cellphone towers get overloaded when kids let out of school.

Hey Joi!

I'm probably not posting this in the right area, but I seem not to be getting my daily dose of Joi. Have I dropped off your list?? Let me know, OK?

Paul

Joi,

Perhaps it is the infrastructure (or lack thereof) in Yuma, Arizona!!

Paul

I currently live in Virginia and can attest to the fact that this summer's weather has been schizophrenic. Humid, hot days followed by enormous thunder storms at night. The blackout in the NE didn't reach that far down the coast fortunately. If you look at what's happened recently in France with the state-run health care and heat wave, the moral of the story is that whenever human beings run things there will be screw ups whether private or state-run.

During my 2.5 years in Silicon Valley before the bubble burst, I experienced several power failures. Pretty tough, because you cannot even get a smoothie or latte while you wait for the lights to turn on again.

As an immigrant from socialist Europe I was wondering why they could not tax these 20-something millionaires a bit more and build a decent infrastructure. Oh well.

Joi, I can tell you for a fact that "critical infrastructure" is only that which allows continuity of government. The commons are screwed. And no, there's no chance of getting anyone in that knows what should be done about infrastructure.

Joi: Virginia is right on the interface between cold storm tracks moving east in the jet stream and the moist humid air of the gulf stream.

This makes truly wonderful thunderstorms, especially in the early evening.

As for Silicon Valley powering out, that was due to (mostly) out-of-state generators intentionally taking their plants offline for "maintenance" in the successful bid to create scarcity windfalls and strong-arm the state into longterm contracts for same.

There are two problems here that share the same root cause. Power failure because of aged infrastructure is because of a regulatory imbalance -- deregulating supply and not demand. Telephony is a regulatory failure deregulating only a portion of the market providing disincentives for competitive new builds.

I am still trying to figure out if bandwidth should be treated as a human right and if subsidizing builds are the only way out of this mess.

There are two problems here that share the same root cause. Power failure because of aged infrastructure is because of a regulatory imbalance -- deregulating supply and not demand. Telephony is a regulatory failure deregulating only a portion of the market providing disincentives for competitive new builds.

I am still trying to figure out if bandwidth should be treated as a human right and if subsidizing builds are the only way out of this mess.

One issue on power brownouts may be the inadvertent effects discussed today through environmental regulations. Because existing plants are grandfathered in, but new ones get more stringent emissions controls there is a perverse incentive to extend the life of old plant by repair rather than replacement, making eventual failure more likely.
A pollution tax would be more sensible.

I'm trying (unsuccessfully) to do the time zone math, Joi, but I would expect the Japan-Virginia time difference would mean that you called him sometime around when a line of major thunderstorms passed through this area.

Power outages are extremely common during thunderstorms, but usually very limited in duration and geographic scope. Trees fall on wires, winds knock down power lines, etc.

There are hundreds of power outages across the country every day, many (if not most) of which have more to do with storms or cars running into power line poles than with poor regulation.

I'm not saying our grid couldn't use with an overhaul, but it does a pretty damn good job considering the amount of electricity this country uses/wastes and the infrequency that we are without it. Let's not assume the sky is falling every time there's a local, temporary power outage.

Besides, I would suspect that any changes to power grid regulation won't apply to severe weather fronts. ;-)

From CNN alerts:

" Major power outage hits south London, cutting subway service during evening rush hour."

How is the weather affected by pollution spewed by humans?

Northern AZ electric is pretty good, only a few hours out per season. Even so, my main winter heat is a wood stove (very reliable once lit). Not much use for air-con up here.

Still, I wish my internet was anywhere nears as reliable as the electric. I like to joke that this internet provider is still trying to reach zero-nines availability (right now I think they're running about 83% uptime).

Woolstar

My x cents worth:

Virginia has a lot of trees and a lot of thunderstorms. Driving down most roads is like going through a jungle compared to Tokyo, where of course, they've paved everything. Not much like trees to fall on the power lines there. ;)

But, they've known about the problem for years. The problem is really that the power lines are all above ground. They just need to bury them all, and someone in the government needs to create economic incentive for it. It would save a lot of headaches, but I'm still not sure it wouldn't just be cheaper to keep it the way it is...

I was in my 'Property' class at George Mason (law.gmu.edu) when the lights went out and backup generators came on. Everyone was taking notes on their laptops and freaked out thinking they were going to get fried. It was ok though. :) We just had the rest of the class in the dark... ;)

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