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Archive for August, 2011

Be prepared

With last week’s hurricane and earthquake affecting dozens of friends, I thought I’d show how I am prepared for when the power goes out during a natural disaster.

The easiest part is communications. I bought a 7-inch battery powered TV two years ago, when the government pulled the plug on analog TV. The portable TV is able to get all of the Nashville area channels using the handy antenna I built out of scraps earlier this year. It also has a 12v plug so I can use it with my car battery or the marine battery I bought to run my key machines when I had a locksmith business.

While that’s neat, radio is still the most reliable way to learn about what’s going on around you during a disaster. I picked up a hand-cranked radio for $5 when Sharper Image went out of business a few years ago. Crank for 30 seconds and you have 30 minutes of power.

Freeplay radio with Tough Stuff 6V solar panel

Since I bought the floor model, I didn’t get the AC charger that normally comes with it. (You do get what you pay for these days.) The small solar panel built in worked to some degree, but I found I’d have to crank the radio every few times I used it, despite leaving it out in the sun for a couple of days. Still, it was useable for what I needed, which was primarily camping. (It has a built in flashlight.)

I also bought a solar-powered light from Tough Stuff, a non-profit that sells solar powered lights and battery packs in Africa for villagers to use in place of kerosene lamps. The light was neat but for whatever reason, it died after a year. In trying to figure out a way to still use the 6v solar panel that came with the light, I discovered that it was compatible with my Sharper Image radio.

So I put the solar panel in my home office window and plugged it in to my radio on top of a bookcase nearby. Two years later and I’ve never had to crank the radio battery to use it on camping trips or to catch a Saints or LSU game on WWL-AM after dark.

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What good is a smartphone if you don’t download a bunch of apps? I asked myself that question right after I got my first smartphone last month.

I like gadgets and programs and if you tack on the word FREE, you’ve got my attention. So you can imagine my glee when I made my first visit to my new smartphone’s app store.

Within a day of getting my new phone, I had a dozen apps loaded up, allowing me to check my bank balances, look at weather radar, browse the news and get my pants whooped by my cousins in Words with Friends or whatever you call that Scrabble clone game.

As a former news man, I also thought I’d need lots of news apps. I got the NY Times app because I’m a subscriber to the Sunday paper and get the news for free online. I started downloading all the local TV station apps in Nashville, Baton Rouge and New Orleans. But while downloading one of the Baton Rouge TV station apps, I took the time to read what parts of my phone the app would access.

If you haven’t done that, you should. I can see why they’d want to know my location, maybe, but some of those apps want access to my phone contacts as well as my camera. Why would a news app want access to my phone’s camera? I’m sure there’s a simple reason for that, but I don’t care. It’s my damn phone and my damn camera. If you want a picture from me, ask me nicely because you’re not getting access to my phone’s camera.

It was with much sadness that I uninstalled all the news apps except for the NY Times. But using experience gleaned from having a low-tech web-enabled phone for a half dozen  years, I created a mobile website that allows me to visit my favorite sites without the use of a privacy invading app. (I haven’t seen my data usuage yet, but I’d be willing to bet it’s less with a WAP page than it would be for an app. I’ll keep you posted.)

You can reach my mobile site by directing your phone’s browser to http://lafourche.mobi.

It lists many of my favorite sites. If you’d like to see a site listed, let me know. (This is not an invitation to spammers, so y’all can just go away.)

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