Power Trip: Hurricane Harvey and My iPhone

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Personal note: When I first began to write this blog, I was in the middle of experiencing Hurricane Harvey firsthand. As I tend to approach any adversity with a light-hearted touch, my story below reflects that attitude about my own circumstances. Still, I am sadly aware of the toll on lives that Harvey caused in Texas and of the on-going impact from other storms now ripping across many islands and moving towards the mainland. My heart goes out to all those who have been affected.

Morgan Watkins
September 7, 2017

And now, my story...

I was five years old. I walked into the bathroom and stepped to the sink. I twisted the cold water knob and the unexpected happened. The entire spigot separated from the pipes and water began to gush out. I frantically tried to push the plumbing back into place. The room began to flood and the water rose quickly. As my knees submerged, I panicked. As I desperately sloshed out of my parent's home, a surge of water chased me into the front yard. I scrambled into my 1950s child-sized toy car and began to pedal as fast as I could. I heard a wave crashing behind me and I knew I was in deep trouble. Then, I woke up. That nightmare haunted me many, many times over the years. Now, it feels a little prescient.

Last month, my wife DD and I decided to travel to Houston to spend a few days with my mother. We thought it would be fun to share the partial solar eclipse that would move across Texas on August 21. That day was hot and beautiful. We created a simple camera obscura, a cardboard box with a tiny hole on one side, to safely watch the moon traverse the sun. DD recorded the magnificent event with her iPhone. We enjoyed our pleasant little vacation.

I decided to stay a few extra days at my Mom's house, so my wife drove the 200 mile trek back to Austin for a quick turnaround trip. The weather was gorgeous and the roads were clear to our home. She would pick up the mail, water our parched lawn, and do her cherished volunteering with miniature horses. At the time, our slightly modified itinerary seemed like a great idea.

Shortly after DD arrived back in Austin, my mother and I began to hear about this pesky tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico. It was moving our way, but did not seem to present any threat. And, with a moniker like Harvey, it sounded friendly and innocuous. Surprisingly, Harvey began to rapidly morph into a real monster. There was no safe way for DD to rejoin us, so my mother and I decided to just hunker down in Houston and ride out any impact that might spin our way. We had done it before, and we could do it again.

Mom and I began to plan for a major storm. We had plenty of food, lots of bottled water and a full bag of kibble for my guide dog. Fortunately, I am a serious nerd and just happened to bring my backpack full of toys. I had my iPhone 6S Plus, two new pairs of AirPods, some old wired EarPods, one set of BeatsX wireless headphones, my trusty Logitech Keys-To-Go Bluetooth keyboard, two AC adapters with several Lightning and Micro USB cables, and three external USB-compatible batteries. My collection of goodies would prove truly useful.

Harvey ferociously churned its way into Houston and dumped 51 inches of rain. Water and wind are your biggest enemies in a hurricane. They can sweep your car off the road and invade your home. Hurricanes rip up trees, roads, and infrastructure. Often, hurricanes leave you powerless. Without electricity, you have no refrigeration, no televised alerts and quite possibly no landline telephones.

However, if our local cell towers stayed online during the storm's rampage, we might still be able to communicate. I just had to make sure that my iPhone never ran out of juice during the many hard days of pounding rain.

I began to hoard electrons. Before Harvey came ashore, I topped off all three of my external batteries. I charged up my AirPods, the BeatsX and my keyboard. Most important, I left my beloved iPhone 6S Plus sitting high on a central bedroom dresser, plugged into one of my two AC adapters. It was important that its battery remained full and ready for emergency action. Even so, I hated leaving it all by itself. We were not used to being separated.

Thankfully, it was easy to stay in touch with my iPhone. Apple AirPods and my Keys-To-Go keyboard have excellent Bluetooth range and worked throughout the house. The keyboard did not need recharging during the entire storm, although the AirPods would run down their batteries in a few hours of constant use. However, all I had to do was swap one AirPod pair with the other and recharge the depleted set with my second AC adapter. As long as we had electricity, I could keep everything ready for any power outages.

We did periodically lose our electricity. As soon as the house went dark and the fans quit whirring, I would run into the bedroom and grab my iPhone. I would first plug in my old wired EarPods. Next, I would quickly turn off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Cellular Data, and then switch to Low Power mode. I did not want to use my emergency external batteries unless things really got desperate.

When the power was restored, I would undo my power saving actions and put my iPhone back to work from its central location where it would once again recharge. All I needed were my AirPods and my very lightweight keyboard to feel totally connected.

I learned something cool about my BeatsX wireless headphones. They are more useful than I imagined. I first bought the BeatsX when I purchased my initial set of AirPods. I was curious which audio devices I would prefer. The AirPods won my affection and the BeatsX started to gather dog dander. That is no longer the case. I used to take an old iPhone to bed with wired EarPods for listening to books or old radio shows. During Harvey, I did not want to let my iPhone lose juice while I was sleeping. So, I began to use the BeatsX when I went to bed and my iPhone stayed on the charger. The BeatsX sound quality was great and they were comfortable while I dozed. Even now that Harvey has moved into history, I am still using the BeatsX at night.

I learned much about using the iPhone from my Harvey experience. With AirPods and a good Bluetooth keyboard, I can sit anywhere in my house and do my reading, writing or research. I do not need my iPhone in my shirt pocket to make me happy. In fact, leaving the extra weight and heat from an iPhone 6S Plus in another room felt nice and somewhat liberating. With an extra pair of AirPods and a couple of Bluetooth keyboards strategically placed in the house, I can ceaselessly interact with the world from anywhere. I even keep a keyboard in our minivan. I am Morgan. I am Geek.

Although Harvey was a very serious storm that impacted many thousands of people, we were very fortunate and did not flood. Our cell towers never failed. Although wild and very hectic, Harvey did not become our personal nightmare.

My bad dreams no longer have me trying to outrun a tidal wave. For the last 45 years, a very different nightmare has stalked me.

The veil lifts. I am at home. I am a college student. I have to take a final exam. Today. Right now. But, I don't think I have ever attended the class. I'm not sure of the topic. I don't know the professor. I will not graduate if I do not pass this test. I race to campus. In a panic, I move through crowds and search for the right classroom. And then, I notice I am naked. I hate it when that happens.

*** G. Morgan Watkins spent thirty years at the University of Texas at Austin, most of it in information technology leadership, where he also co-authored a popular Graduate School textbook about a Macintosh programming environment, "The Educator's Guide to HyperCard and HyperTalk." He also served on the Guide Dogs for the Blind Board of Directors and later as their Acting President and CEO.

Morgan is now happily retired again, and learning to stay out of the rain. Morgan has created 18 other blogs for AppleVis, including "Down To Earth: My First Hundred Days With AirPods", "Blind Santa: Audible Books from me to me" and "Sleeping With The Stars: Old Time Radio and my iPhone". Morgan always appreciates your comments and feedback.

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8 Comments

Glad You're Safe

Hi Morgan. I enjoyed reading this post, and am so glad you and your family are safe. I've been hearing news about Harvey's destruction, and the recovery efforts going on. I've never lived through a hurricane, but a few years back while I was still in bed I felt what I later found out was a minor earthquake. I didn't have my trusty MacBook at the time though.

What To Do In A Power Loss Emergency

Hello Morgan. I am glad that you were protected from any harm throughout the storm. Thanks for sharing your power-saving tips when your lights shut down. Very good reminders.

Still praying for those in Texas and now those in Florida.

Wow

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hello Morgan,
Wow. Great blog! So glad you made it through that storm safe and sound. What a scary adventure. Now praying for those in Florida.
I love what you do with the extra keyboards! You are definitely a geek! :-)
Very good to have you back.
Best regards.

Thanks Ekaj

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Ekaj,

Thank you for your very kind thoughts. We were so very fortunate.

I enjoyed hearing about your first earthquake. They are memorable events! Even though I lived in Southern and Northern California for much of my youth, I never felt an earthquake. However during the short time I temporarily moved from Texas to Northern California when working with my guide dog school, I felt four earthquakes. One felt as though the floor in Macy's popped up an inch or so and then settled. I thought perhaps a large man had jumped and caused the floor to tremble. Nope, just my first and rather insignificant earthquake. The second felt like my guide dog had just jumped on the bed. Nope. He was already there. The third caught me asleep. In that case, the bed was shaking rather vigorously and I decided it was just better to stay still and not try to stand up. I would have landed on the floor. my big earthquake was small by California standards, but it got my attention. I was sitting in the home office of two close friends one evening and our conversation was suddenly interrupted by the house jerking back and forth perhaps a half dozen times. Everything happened so quickly, but I do remember suggesting that we open a bottle of wine as my own heart went into high gear when the earth began to move.

The forces of nature can be quite impressive.

Thanks again for your note,

Morgan

Very interesting, sad, miraculous story

I really enjoyed this Blog because it brought issue of the hurricane closer to my heart. I will not personally be able to understand but I will try my best to understand it. I also enjoyed how you make a tragic event related to Apple products; you make my tech nerd heart sing. Finally, I have never experienced any real weather problem. Because mainly just been an inconvenience like when there was flooding in kindergarten for the snowstorm that left me on a bus for six hours.

Howdy Roxann

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Roxann,

I always enjoy hearing from you when I post my blogs. Thank you for your kind thoughts.

I am glad you found my power saving tips of some utility. There is nothing quite like a hurricane and the prospect of losing electricity for a week or more to help focus one's need to conserve electrons. I am planning on buying a heftier backup battery as I don't want to be caught juiceless under any circumstances. It was quite accidental that I had the resources with me. The trip to see my mother had been one of those quick decisions and I just tossed stuff in my backpack to cover any possible needs for a few days. The most amazing display of nature that I anticipated was the few minutes we could enjoy a partial solar eclipse together. Harvey was quite a surprise!

I love being lucky. We kept the household current during most of Harvey and I never had to use my batteries to keep things going. And, we avoided any personal or property damage. Just one heck of a lot of rain.

I should note that my guide dog, Grandin, loved every minute of Harvey. He especially loved being taken out for his relieving breaks. He is a bit of a nut, just relishing the driving rain. We both got very wet many times a day. I think his favorite part was my rigorous drying of him with large, soft towels every time we came back in the house. However, getting so wet, and then dried off so often meant that my Golden Retriever shed and shed and shed.

Having just witnessed Harvey, Irma and the damage she will leave behind is very much in my thoughts. I do worry about those caught in her path. So far, this has been one very wild and dangerous hurricane season.

As always, it is great to hear from you,

Morgan

Yo Human

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Nicholas,

Good day, sir! Thanks for your note. Harvey was an extraordinary storm to experience. It was very clear from the onslaught that we were either going to be lucky or not. The power of the storm was a great reminder of just how truly small we are on this very large planet. We were fortunate. We only got wet when my guide dog asked to go outside. Then, we really got wet! Many times. Every day.

Thanks for all your efforts at AppleVis. I always enjoy your work.

Best wishes,

Morgan

Thanks Pekingese

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Pekingese,

Great to hear from you again. This hurricane season sure has been an active one so far. Like you, I am concerned for all those who were impacted on the continent and all those souls on islands who suffered the greatest damage.

One of the wonderful things I saw in Houston, and all of us can see in other places battered by these storms were the incredible first responders and the thousands of volunteers. They are all heroes.

I should note that I enjoyed your reference to being on a school bus for six hours because of flooding after a snow storm. When I was also in Kindergarten, living in Northern Indiana, before our big move to California, I once walked to school after a 40-inch snowfall. I remember that the piles of snow on either side of the sidewalk were much taller than me. I just hoped they would not collapse and leave me buried!

Cheers,

Morgan