Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Smartphones and Facebook in the Aftermath of the Haitian Earthquake

I ran across this story from Haiti today, about how a smartphone and Facebook were used in the aftermath of the recent earthquake.

You cannot count on cell phone or Inter service being available in the aftermath of a disaster, but you should be prepared to take advantage of them if they are available.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Commuter SNAFU

Tonight's commute home turned into a real SNAFU and an example of why you should be prepared to deal with unexepected situations, especially during Winter.

Background: I work in Center City Philadelphia, PA, and commute to and from there on the SEPTA R6 line.  In the past week, we had two Nor'easters blow through, dumping around 40 inches of snow in the  Philadelphia region.  (We're at 71.6" of snow for the season, making it Philly's snowiest on record.)

My ride into town today was delayed about 45 minutes.  My train home was a few minutes late leaving Suburban Station, then when we got a bit past Temple, sat on the tracks for about 40 minutes.  Apparently, a switch was frozen in place, preventing my train from getting on the correct track for the remainder of the trip.  Eventually, we got diverted to Wayne Junction, a station not on the R6 line. Incidentally, it's not in what I'd call a good neighborhood.  More like, "Da hood."

I got off the train at Wayne Junction and called my wife and asked her to come get me.  Thankfully, she exactly where to meet me, since she drives by the station on her way to work.  I had to wait at least 45 minutes for her to arrive, however, due to heavy Friday night traffic and poor road conditions left over from the storms.

OK, so why is this a preparedness post?  A few reasons:

1. The temperature was in the 20s.  I was appropriately dressed in a fleece vest, Wall's Blizzard Pruf jacket, wool gloves, ball cap, and Merrell Outlander boots with wool socks.  I started to get cold about 10 minutes before my wife showed up but I could have held out a while longer.  Many of the other people on the train weren't as well dressed for the conditions, most notably in the lack of a hat and/or hood on their jacket.  Also, while tight pants and high heeled boots look great on fit young women, they don't insulate all that well, nor are such boots good for walking in snow.

2.  I was stuck down in the 'hood and needed someone to come get me.  Commo was in the form of my cell phone, a Motorola Droid.  This helped me in identifying exactly where I was with the built-in GPS and Google Maps.  My battery was getting on the low side so I was able to swap it out for a fully charged spare.  (This is one reason why I won't get an iPhone -- no user-swappable battery.)  If the Droid had failed I also have a Blackberry on me, which I have because I'm a floor captain at work.  I'd say for most folks a second cell phone is overkill as long as you have a spare charged battery, or some kind of booster that you can plug into your cell phone.

3. On the way home, we got diverted onto a side street.  Now I understand why Philly schools have been closed since Wednesday.  The roads in Philly are atrocious.  The side street was covered in a good 6" of hard packed snow with ruts.  My wife's Mazda 5 got caught in a rut so I got out an pushed, to make sure she didn't drift into a parked car.  I was really glad I was wearing my Merrells.

Two things I will change: I'll add a knit watch cap and a snack bar or two to my bag.  I already have a 24 oz. Nalgene bottle of water, a flashlight with spare batteries, first aid kit, and even a space blanket.  Had it been raining or snowing I had an umbrella to keep the precipitation off.

Just because you're within the realm of "civilization" doesn't mean you won't have to deal with some uncomfortable situations.  Be prepared. 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snowpocalyspe Gear Review

As you may know, the Mid-Atlantic region just got hit with the second Nor'Easter in less than a week.  This has given me the chance to wring out some gear.

Troy-Bilt 5524 snow blower: I bought this about five years ago directly from the manufacturer.  At the time it was their smallest two-stage unit, with a 24" wide by 18" high cut.  It's worked spendidly this week, though the 5.5 HP engine did get bogged down a bit at one point by the heavy wet snow we got this time.  As long as I took care not to try and force it through too much snow at a time.  I believe that the current model is a little more sophisticated than mine, e.g., it has a crank to adjust the chute.

Wall's Blizzard Pruf Jacket : This is a traditional cotton canvas work jacket with a hood that I picked up at WalMart last year.  Carhartt and Dickies sell similar jackets.  It's fleece lined and warm into the upper 20s with no extra layers underneath.  Because it's cotton, I sprayed it down with a NixWax water repellency treatment, which helps a little.  I wore it for several hours out in blowing snow yesterday and I stayed warm and dry, but even after brushing off most of the snow, it got wet once I came inside and the snow melted.  It takes a long time to dry, too.  Good for work around the house but I wouldn't want it in the field if I expected foul weather, unless I had a shell or poncho to put over it.

Mountain Hardwear Alchemy Softshell Jacket
: I bought this at REI last Fall and have worn it a lot while commuting.  It's very water resistant -- unless you're in a sustained downpour it'll keep you dry.  It's also windproof.  I wore this over a wicking t-shirt, flannel shirt, and my REI Polartec 200 fleece vest when I went out last night to clean off the cars again and wound up staying outside for about a half hour to do one more run with the snowblower.  Even though it was in the 20s with a strong wind I stayed warm and dry.  I wore it again today when cleaning up after the snowplow came through and it was plenty warm.

If I was sedentary in this weather the Alchemy wouldn't be warm enough, but for strenous activity it's fine.  The main thing I'd change on this jacket would be to make the cut a bit less slim in the sleeves, to facilitate layering over a fleece jacket.  Also, pit zips would be nice, and the next softshell jacket I buy will probably have a hood.

Orc Industries PCU Level 5 Softshell Pants:  These are USGI technical softshell pants. I ordered these factory direct on February 2nd, after Punxatawney Phil saw his shadow.  They arrived yesterday.  I wanted something that I could wear over jeans, BDU pants, sweats, or even just long johns that would be water resistant, wind proof, and more breathable than my German surplus rain pants.  I am quite pleased with them.  Note that these are not waterproof, but the only moisture that made its way inside was when I sat on a chair with some snowmelt, and even then my behind didn't get too wet.  They are very windproof, as well.  IMO, these make a good, less expensive alternative to civilian technical pants.  Unlike some civvie softshell pants, these have no fleece lining, so they're just a shell.

One feature of these pants that I took advantage of are loops inside down near the hem on each leg.  I used these today to tie on some paracord stirrups to hold the pants down over the tops of my boots to seal out the snow.  I didn't do that yesterday and they rode up exposing my ankles.

Military Morons has a good review of the Orc pants here, which find I very on-target.

REI merino wool hiking socks: I wear these or similar socks from Wigwam every day, unless I'm wearing sandals.  Comfy and warm, even when wet.

Merrell Outland Mid-Height Boots:
These are waterproof and although not insulated, in combination with my REI merino wool socks are warm enough down into the teens when I'm active. They come up a bit over my ankles so for this storm I could've used higher boots.  (Once I made paracord stirrups to prevent my softshell pants from riding up this was a non-issue.)  The Merrells have good Vibram soles which provide good traction on slippery surfaces.  The one downside to these boots is that they are not very breathable, resulting in sweaty feet if it's warm.