September 2017

Photo sequence -- 1: Closed boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts. 2: The boxes are opened, to reveal cut vegetables and dip.

And after they’d killed you, your officemates would treat the vegetables merely as utensils to get to that delicious creamy dip.

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Moto G4 Android phone displaying its FM Radio app. The screen shows that the radio is tuned to 107.3, and the readout below the frequency reads 'CANE - Hurricane Irma coverage.

A photo I took during Hurricane Irma, which shows my Android phone with the FM radio app on.

When Hurricane Irma closed in on the Tampa Bay area Sunday evening, the power went out at around 7:30, and soon afterward, cellular service became spotty and then disappeared entirely. However, we weren’t cut off from information about Irma because we fell back on a 1930s technology, FM radio, which is built into every smartphone, and accessible on many Android phones (including mine).

In the age of the smartphone, you might think your Android or iPhone can replace a radio receiver as a lifeline during a disaster. After all, while a radio receiver is audio-only and one-way, your smartphone can both send and receive text, audio, picture, video, and location information — but only if the cellular towers nearby are up and running. If the nearby tower is damaged, loses power, or gets overloaded, you’ll be cut off and left with the dreaded “No Service” indicator on your phone.

Consult just about any disaster preparation guide for a checklist of “must-haves”, and one of the items on that checklist will be a battery-powered radio. When phone and internet service fails, you can fall back on radio as long as you have batteries. (Better still, if you have a radio with a hand-crank generator, you don’t even need batteries.)

We have a nearly century-long tradition of radio stations providing vital information during disasters of all kinds. In the case of Irma, they did one better and teamed up with TV newsrooms. During the storm, many radio stations in the Tampa area teamed up with TV stations to provide continuous coverage of and information about the storm, such as where it was, how quickly and in which direction it was moving, and what to do. It was a valuable resource for many people, and it may have even saved a few lives.

You may think that you don’t own a portable FM radio, but chances are that you do. It’s just hidden away in your smartphone.

Just about every mobile phone maker — even the big ones who manufacture their own processor and graphics chips, such as Apple and Samsung — gets their cellular modem chipsets from a single manufacturer: Qualcomm. In fact, Qualcomm pretty much has a monopoly on these chipsets, which in addition to sending and receiving cellular signals, have an FM receiver baked in. You wouldn’t know it in the U.S., as fewer than half the smartphones have the FM receiver enabled, and they’re all Androids.

My Android phone is a Moto G4, and in addition to having an enabled FM receiver, it also comes “out of the box” with the FM Radio app, which simply provides a user interface for the FM radio capability. When the power went out in our part of Tampa on Sunday at around 7:30 p.m. and the cell service disappeared shortly after, I fired up the FM Radio app and we had updates on the storm’s progress all night long. In fact, I also used the phone’s FM radio and all day the next day — and there was still battery power to spare and the end. That’s because FM radio uses considerably less power than just about any smartphone function (and it uses no data at all!).

My iPhone doesn’t expose its FM radio capability, and it was useless as a source of updates until the cellular connectivity improved the next day, well after the storm had passed. I can’t say for certain, but I’ll just blame Apple designer Jony Ive, who’s never met a much-loved traditional feature that he didn’t like to remove. I get the feeling that FM radio is too distastefully old school to include as an iPhone capability, even though it’s already there.

While I experienced the usefulness of FM radio in smartphones during an emergency firsthand for the first time during Irma, it’s been clear to broadcasters and public safety officials — FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) included (see the video above) — that there are great benefits to unleashing this capability. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has been lobbying to require the FM radio capability to be enabled in smartphones, and even Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been advocating for this (but he won’t go beyond advocacy). At an NAB event in February, he said:

“It seems odd that every day we hear about a new smartphone app that lets you do something innovative, yet these modern-day mobile miracles don’t enable a key function offered by a 1982 Sony Walkman.”

In Mexico, where there’s a strong radio culture (and a rise in non-commercial and community radio over the past decade), the Federal Telecommunications Institute (CIRT) approved a new rule in April requiring all smartphone manufacturers to enable the FM receiver. CIRT’s rationale was that in emergencies and disasters, having the FM capability would make it possible for people to get alerts and vital information when cellular networks failed. Mexico is the first country to pass such a law, and it’s hoped that other countries will follow suit.

Find out more

The go-to place for the movement to make the FM radio capability that’s already in our phones, waiting to be unleashed, is FreeRadioOnMyPhone.org. It has the latest info on the movement to enable FM radio on smartphones, including:

  • How to get FM radio working on your Android phone
  • How to contact Apple to ask them to enable FM radio listening on their phones
  • How to contact the FCC and ask them to require FM radio be made available on phones
  • The latest new about the movement

You may also find these articles of interest:

And finally, an article that needs to be pointed out because it’s dead wrong (and unsurprisingly, published by 2010-era Business Insider, from the time they were almost stealing content): Mandatory FM Radio: A Dumb Idea For Smart Phones, in which its clueless author says that it’s just a move to prop up the dying terrestrial radio industry.

As with other articles in this series, I’m including an appropriate music video:

Click here to see all articles tagged with “Hurricane Irma Report”.

This article also appears in Global Nerdy.

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Part of today’s hurricane prep involves setting up Fort Kickass, where we’ll hole up if things get really bad. In the case of our house, it’s the closet under the stairs, an L-shaped, surprisingly roomy, carpeted affair.

In case you didn’t know where the name comes from, it’s an Archer reference:

And since this post is about taking shelter in a closet, you’ve probably already guessed what the music video for this post is:

Click here to see all articles tagged with “Hurricane Irma Report”.

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Hurricane Irma report #4: Checking in while the sun shines

by Joey deVilla on September 9, 2017

Here’s a selfie from our yard taken yesterday morning:

Joey deVilla poses in his yard with a blue sky in the background, on the morning of Friday, September 8, 2017.

Yesterday morning.

Here’s another from the same place, taken this morning:

Joey deVilla poses in his yard with a blue sky in the background, on the morning of Saturday, September 9, 2017.

Here’s a wider shot of the yard, also taken this morning:

Anitra and Joey’s yard, with a crepe myrtle in the foreground, and a white picket fence and palm trees in the background.

Click the photo to see it at full size.

And finally, here’s the Lowe’s that’s walking distance from our place at around 9:00 this morning. They closed soon after:

A very full Lowe’s with cashier lines running the width of the warehouse store.

Click the photo to see it at full size.

Our status so far: We have plenty of provisions, and we’ve done the last of the work involved with the outside of the house. For the rest of today and tomorrow, it’s all about securing the house from the inside, which includes preparing our Harry Potter-style shelter in the safest room: the closet under the stairs.

As is the tradition with posts in this series, a thematically-appropriate music video:

Click here to see all articles tagged with “Hurricane Irma Report”.

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Hurricane Irma, as seen from space, with guitar.

As of noon on Thursday, September 7th, I can already find three musical tributes to Hurricane Irma on Youtube.

The people at Under Pressure Power Washing LLC have a side gig as dancehall DJs, if their State of Emergency Song is any indication:

Charity Shine on Me is an earnest, folksy prayer written by Chris Eschete while stuck in a hotel in Shreveport:

And finally, Juan Pastel is playing it up for laughs with Ay Irma (La cancion del Huracan Irma), which he introduces as his only — and possibly last — song. Even with my (very) basic Spanish, I found it amusing.

Click here to see all articles tagged with “Hurricane Irma Report”.

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Cover of the 2014 edition of the FEMA Emergency Supply List document

The latest edition (2014) of the FEMA Emergency Supply List recommends the following items for a basic emergency supply kit:

  • At least one gallon of water per person per day (people who go to Burning Man already know this by heart) for at least 3 days, for drinking and sanitation.
  • At least a three-day supply of non-perishable food.
  • A radio, either battery or hand crank-powered, and extra batteries. If you have one of those NOAA weather radios with a tone alert, even better.
  • Flashlight with extra batteries (and if its battery receptacles are screwed up, fix them!).
  • First aid kit.
  • Whistle to signal for help.
  • Dust mask, to filter contaminated air.
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place.
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation.
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities.
  • Manual can opener for canned goods.
  • Local maps.

It also recommends these additional items, which you may or may not need, depending on your situation:

  • Prescription medications and glasses.
  • Infant formula and diapers.
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet.
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container.
  • Cash. (The guide also recommends traveler’s checks, but have you ever tried using one recently? Nobody knows what to do with them anymore.)
  • Sleeping bag or a blanket for each person.
  • Complete change of clothing including a long sleeved shirt, long pants, and sturdy shoes. This is no time to do the Florida “shorts and flip-flops” thing.
  • Fire extinguisher.
  • Matches in a waterproof container.
  • Personal hygiene items.
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates, plastic utensils, and paper towels.
  • Paper and pencil.
  • Books, games, puzzles, and other activities. (The guide recommends these for children, but why should they have all the fun?)

Since this post is about lists, and since I want to include a song on every Hurricane Irma Report, here’s Hall and Oates:

Click here to see all articles tagged with “Hurricane Irma Report”.

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Map showing the 'earliest reasonable arrival time' of tropical-storm-force winds created by Hurricane Irma.

Here’s the NOAA’s estimation of the “earliest reasonable arrival time”
of tropical-storm-force winds created by Hurricane Irma.
Click the graphic to see it at full size.

With Hurricane Irma expected to hit Florida on Saturday morning at the earliest, you may be wondering if you should stay put or evacuate. Or, as The Clash put it:

In the end, it mostly (but not entirely) comes down to a single question: Are you near the water?

I’ll leave it to Tampa Bay’s most senior TV meteorologist, Paul Dellegatto from local channel FOX 13, to explain:

I am getting a lot of questions asking about when we should evacuate.

You only evacuate to escape storm surge flooding from the Gulf and Bay. It is why we have evacuation zones near the Gulf and Bay.

You do not evacuate from the wind unless you live in a mobile home or you are facing a CAT 5 making landfall and you are expecting Andrew conditions right at the point of landfall.

Water is the killer. Wind is not. You run from water. You hide from wind.

We cannot evacuate the state based on the fact there may be strong winds. Given the options you would be better off riding out a storm in a well built home, out of an evacuation zone, then trying to drive up I-75 to a motel in Valdosta. You do not want to become part of the caravan driving up I-75. Trust me. It is a miserable option.

Hurricane Irma, as seen from space.

Hurricane Irma as seen from space.
Click the photo to see it at full size.

Anitra and I are always stocked for a hurricane, right down to the camping stove in case the electricity and gas go out. I’ve topped off our supplies, and picked up some extra sandbags. The one thing we don’t have is a generator, and hey, we may get one someday.

As of this morning, you’d never know that a major hurricane was coming if you didn’t have the benefit of radar. Here’s what the weather was like, as seen from our yard:

Sunny skies, as seen from Anitra and Joey’s yard, Carrollwood, Tampa.

The view from our yard, around 10:00 a.m., Thursday, September 7, 2017.

For the benefit of friends and family who are wondering how we’re doing, as well as for the curious and those looking for information, I’ll post regularly here. Watch this space!

Click here to see all articles tagged with “Hurricane Irma Report”.

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