October 20, 2021 was a gloomy day. Gloomy enough that I had turned on the floor lamp by my desk even before I logged in to work. Just before noon, I was in the middle of an important meeting, listening to a colleague answer my question. About halfway through the answer, my lamp flickered, and then went off. Still trying to focus on the answer, which was starting to stutter, I said to myself, “Sigh, will I need to buy a new lamp now?”
It wasn’t a long time before my monitor went off and Zoom kicked me out. And then it struck me: My electricity had gone off. I scrambled to figure out how to get back to the meeting and managed to listen in from my phone. In the background, I was walking around the house checking for burnt smells or blown fuses. It wasn’t. “Was it just me?” I raced to the corridor. It wasn’t. I breathed a sigh of relief, and got back to my meeting.
About 10 minutes later, the meeting ended and I started trying to figure out what was going on. Since this hadn’t happened to me in years, I wasn’t sure what to expect. There had been electricity fluctuations leading to loss of power for a couple minutse, but this had been gone for about 15 minutes at this point. So, definitely not just a momentary fluctuation. That brought out an all-out survival mode.
I sent out an update to my team on Slack about me potentially being offline through the rest of the day. The battery on my work laptop has been in poor condition for months, but I haven’t bothered getting it fixed. My phone was at ~70%. My travel power bank wasn’t charged. And that’s when I put my phone in low power mode, which pushed my 5G reception to 4G LTE.
Around that time, my electricity provider sent an update saying the outage was affecting ~4000 customers. One customer corresponds to one house, so this could be affecting about 10000 people. “Damn, that’s a huge outage. Wonder when it’ll be back…?”
With that, I decided to cancel the couple other meetings I had scheduled for later that day. But emails from my phone wouldn’t go. Hmmm… I tried hotspotting from my phone, but my laptop refused to connect. A few minutes later, I gave up, but really didn’t have anything else to do.
“Maybe I should just sit by, wait and drink some coffee? Yeah, I can do that.” I walked to the kitchen only to realize the microwave wouldn’t work. That’s fine, I could brew myself a fresh cup (hey V60!. But wait, how do I heat water for it? My electric kettle. That was a problem. Okay, stove top… Urm, electric induction stove top. “Oops.”
Disappointed, I went back to my laptop. I finally managed to get hotspot working on my laptop. But neither my phone or my laptop would connect to the internet. Ugh. Airplane Mode on. Airplane Mode off. “Ugh.” Rinse and repeat. “Ugh.” As a last resort, I turned off low power mode. Suddenly, internet on my phone and laptop (which was on hotspot) started working.
💡. Remember the 10000 people who had lost electricity? USA has 3 big cellular providers. So, let’s assume 33% of them are using the same provider as me. That meant there was a sudden influx of 3333 (give or take) new connections that were on WiFi, were now using 4G to get work done. Or trying to, in my case. But the 5G spectrum was open. Hurray, my new phone purchase panned out!
I continued working, draining out my laptop battery and phone battery. About an hour and a half later, minutes before my laptop battery warning on low battery would come on, electricity was back. A few minutes later, WiFi was working again.
The outage lasted about 2 hours. Electricity disruption in a remote tech employee’s life was a microcosm, that made the scale of the ongoing global supply chain disruption all too real. Our world is deeply connected.