~ A bit of joie de vivre, a comprehensive joy of life, with an occasional edge.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

"Four Hours..."

A New Lie for the New Millennium

Was on the 'Net last Wednesday evening, viewing the news, checking some blogs, reading and sending email messages, all the normal things we do with about eight or nine windows open at the same time. The television was on as white noise in the background. The air conditioner was on as the temperature had hit 97 late that afternoon, and due to the high humidity the index was over 105. Had also been preparing another photo for my New Hope series being posted elsewhere.

Then suddenly the lights went out.

It was a mad scramble to try and shut things down, but I had been neglecting the fact for about six months that my UPS battery was very low, and only had about 30 seconds to try and shut down. Was exiting when the shutdown sound emitted a strange sound, and for some reason I remember thinking that it was like one would imagine an albatross in its death throes... then all went black.

Where was my flashlight? Found a candle that I had just relocated a couple of days before, but couldn't find any matches, then remembered that I had an old Bic lighter left over from my smoking days, and it still worked... success; there was light!

And suddenly the lights went out... where are those effing candles!

Went outside to the diminishing light of dusk to find a flashlight in my car, encountered a couple of neighbors who were wondering what happened as well. Nobody had a clue as to what was happening. A neighbor was just returning home from work, and she was surprised that our cul-de-sac was the only one in the area that was dark. Wandered down to the end, looked both ways and saw that she was right, everything else seemed to be well-lit.
The neighbors were beginning to congregate now, but I politely declined what seemed to be a growing social occasion, excused myself and went back inside. My project manager mentality kicked in and I shut off the central air to avert any problem when the power was restored. Then I started cursing myself for not having previously centralized flashlights, candles and such, which is unforgivable for a so-called disaster recovery expert who has written project plans for companies advising them how to prepare for such occurrences.

The term effing was to be used as an adjective quite a few times in the hours that followed.

Finally located candles, flashlights and batteries, and put them where they could all be accessed easily. Must admit here that I'm pretty obsessive about batteries, maybe even borderline OCD about them, and always seem to pick up extra at every visit to the store.

Went back outside to see what was happening a bit after 9:00 PM, and found that the trucks from the power company were there, and two of the three employees were opening manhole covers to access the underground utilities and locate the source of the problem. There seemed to be a block party surrounding the other employee, who was trying to reassure my neighbors that power would be restored soon. When pinned down for an exact figure by one woman, he paused for a moment and replied, "Four hours."

That answer caused a number of vocal responses, ranging from expletives about food going bad in the refrigerator, one about how a man's date that evening was going to be ruined, and a woman exclaiming, "You're gonna make me miss 'CSI' on TV, and I never miss it!" But was not the last time that we would hear "Four hours."

Went back inside, pulled out my handy-dandy book light (just love such gadgets) and read a cool series of articles about Mayan culture in my son's August edition of National Geographic. Did you know that around the year 800 they had a king by the name of Kan Maax? Then I picked up his July issue, and discovered that malaria is rarely found in the United States. That was comforting to know, as I impulsively scratched the mosquito bite received earlier that evening when I had gone outside.

The power was still off. I went back outside to charge my cell phone in the car (another cool and essential power gadget) and encountered a couple of power company people in their white helmets fiddling around in a nearby manhole. I asked them how things were going. One just shrugged his shoulders and looked at the other, who replied "Four hours."

Saw another neighbor approaching them with a cell phone to his ear and a confrontational look on his face, and not wanting to hear any rants at this point, nodded and went to my car. I partially charged the cell phone battery, then went back inside. The house was still reasonably cool from having the a/c on earlier, but our two dogs were restless, sensing that something was different. I comforted them, and they were happy. My son had gone to a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game and a visit with his mother for the night, otherwise he would have been their constant companion. It was easy to see that they missed him.

Settled in for the rest of the dark evening with Carl Hiassen's Nature Girl, his 11th novel, and one which I had been meaning to start for months now. He's one of the funniest mystery writers there is, and a long-time favorite Florida author who has worked for years as a journalist for the Miami Herald, as has humorist Dave Barry. As I got into the book, the late night time slipped by, and I fell asleep in about the middle of the book's 300+ pages.

Woke at about 5:00 AM on Thursday, and the power was still off. Went to the refrigerator to get something cold to drink, then remembered that if the power was off, I needed to keep the door closed to preserve any food possible. The drink of tap water was unsatisfying, so I opened a warm Coke and walked outside. It was dark and silent, and there were no power company trucks in sight. Thought about a pre-dawn bike ride but had to rule it out as my bike light needed recharging, and I have no death wish on the streets at that hour.

Finished the warm Coke and went back inside, opening the back door as the temperature was now about the same as inside. Let the dogs outside, but the pampered critters wanted breakfast. Since It wasn't time, I settled them back down and got a bit of a restless snooze. Maybe there was more caffeine in the Coke than I had realized.

The dogs woke me again with big wet slurps to the face a couple of hours later, so I fed them and let them outside again. When I let them back in, I closed the back door as I could already feel it warming up, and remembered that the forecast for Thursday had been for record heat in the high-90s, along with high humidity. Went back out front and there were now power truck in sight. Two neighbors were there and motioned me over, so I joined them. One had lived on the street for over 25 years, and in the whole time she had never seen the power out for more than 15 minutes at a time.

Went back in and picked up my book again, picking up where I had left off. One of the characters claimed to his wife that he was suffering from Aphenphosmphobia, the fear of being touched, and his wife was skeptical, as she had surmised (correctly) that he was having a wild fling with another woman. Made a note to look this one up to see just how real it was. But the scene that author Hiaasen painted with this was hilarious.

Shortly after 9:15 I thought that I heard some trucks outside, so I went out front. There were two large power company trucks with cherry pickers there, and the neighborhood block party was already growing, like bees returning to their hive. One of the power company employees then said that they had been dispatched to the wrong location, they were equipped for pole wire problems, and not for underground repairs. They left, and now the friendly neighbor "bees" were beginning to resemble angry wasps.
Went back inside and got my bike, taking it out for an abbreviated ride as the heat was already climbing. Had not showered as I don't relish cold water, so I was feeling sticky already. As I pulled back into our street, paused to chat with a newly arrived power company man who had arrived with a smaller truck, and was already pulling up a manhole cover. You can by now guess what his response to my question was: "Four hours."
My son came back home shortly after 9:30 AM, spent some time with the dogs then went over to a friend's house on the next street. He wasn't stupid: they had power and air conditioning. Most of my day was pretty much the same: reading and trips outside to see what progress was being made.

Most of the day went pretty much the same, with occasional trips outside to hear the same platitude of "Four Hours." It hit 90+ degrees in the house today, but I napped through much of the heat. Finished the book, and can say it is highly recommended. It's witty, outrageous in parts, and it's many plots are pulled together quite well by author Carl Hiaasen. I'll be giving this one a five-star review rating on Amazon.com, without any doubt.

The morning dragged on to afternoon, and the heat was up into the high 90s. Went outside again shortly after 5:00 PM, and another power company truck had been added to the lineup. People had been calling the power company on their now-dying cell phones, and one neighbor was telling everyone how to get reimbursement forms from the power company for refrigerated food lost during the outage. My son came back home about 5:20 and went inside to feed the dogs on schedule. Suddenly one of the power company men got out of his truck and announced to the cluster of about a dozen sweating people that the power would be back on in ten minutes.

One of the women asked, "Not four more hours?" He just smiled and replied that he was going to turn it on down the street. And precisely at 5:35 PM we all saw our power come back on, amidst actual cheers from people who might as well have been Phillies fans at the ball game my son had attended the night before, when they downed the Florida Marlins, 6-4, in game two of a three-game series at Citizens Bank Park. I just smiled.

Went back inside, and turned that air conditioner on. Checked the refrigerator and found that a generous summer supply of ice cream sandwiches had melted, so out they went, and the rest could be dealt with later. Then it was time to check the computer, an all was fine there. All that remained was to wait for the water to heat so that I could take a long, hot shower.

And so ended almost 22 hours without power.

But there were things to be learned from this, the foremost being to update, consolidate and centralize my own Disaster Recovery Kit... and get more batteries, which I already did. The other will be to compose a letter to the power company suggesting politely that they equip each truck with one of those talking bird toys that can be trained to say "Four Hours! Four Hours!" over and over again.

Maybe "four hours" should be added to list of the 50 greatest lies of the new millennium.

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Thursday, August 2, 2007

Oh, No! Not Elmo!

Elmo and Friends Recalled!

Toy-maker Fisher-Price is recalling Elmo and many of his friends, including the Big Bird, Dora the Explorer and Diego - 83 types of toys in all. It turns out that their paint contains excessive amounts of lead.


Please note that the Elmo shown in the illustration here is a composite, and does not indicate that this particular mode is being recalled.

The worldwide recall was announced Thursday 8/2/2007, and involves 967,000 plastic preschool toys made by a Chinese vendor and sold in the United States between May and August. It is the latest in a wave of recalls that has heightened global concern about the safety of Chinese-made products. This is the the first for Fisher-Price and its parent company Mattel Inc. involving lead paint. Children's products found to have more than .06 percent lead accessible to users are subject to a recall under the current regulations.

It is the largest recall for Mattel since 1998 when Fisher-Price recalled and pulled about 10 million Power Wheels right from toy stores.

This was detected by a Fisher-Price internal probe and then reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Mattel is legendary for its strict quality controls, and this recall is particularly alarming since it is considered a role model in the toy industry for how it operates in China.

Statements were issued Wednesday by Fisher-Price (Adobe Acrobat .pdf file) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) stating that parents need to keep toys in question away from children and contact the company. The CPSC works with companies to issue recalls when it finds consumer goods that can be harmful.

According to Fisher-Price, this recall was troubling because Fisher-Price has had a long-standing relationship with the Chinese vendor, which had applied decorative paint to the toys in question. It was stated that the company would use this recall as an opportunity to put even better systems in place to monitor vendors whose conduct does not meet Mattel's tight standards.

This recall allowed the company to quarantine two-thirds of the toys before they even made it to store shelves. In negotiating details of the recall, Fisher-Price and the government sought to withhold details from the public until Thursday to give stores time to get suspect toys off shelves and Fisher-Price time to get its recall hot line up and running. However, some news organizations have prematurely posted an embargoed version of the story online, and some of there were stated to have been in the public interest.

Sen. Dick Durbin, (D-Illinois) had introduced a bill last month that he contended would dramatically expand the product safety commission's ability to protect consumers. In a statement Wednesday night, Durbin also called for better safety standards for products imported from China. "Sadly, this is the most recent in a series of disturbing recalls of children's toys. While the toys may be different, they have one thing in common - they were manufactured in China," he said.

"With the current tools and resources the Consumer Product Safety Commission has, it cannot adequately protect American consumers."

To see pictures of the recalled toys, visit http://www.service.mattel.com or their Mattel Customer Relations Answer Center. One of the links below may help to provide additional information as well. If you find that you own a recalled toy, it can be exchanged for a voucher for another product of the same value. For more information, call Mattel's recall hot line at 800-916-4498.

Again, please note that the Elmo shown in the illustration here is a composite, and does not indicate that this particular model is being recalled.

Official list from U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Also see current CPSC Recent Recalls

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