Here at DVICE we often make humorous quips about how this or that device may help you when disaster strikes, but for the last two days I've been dealing with the aftermath of the Sendai Earthquake here in Tokyo, Japan and I've actually had the opportunity to put many of our geek-centric theories to the test.
Let me preface the following by saying that 1) I am in no way an expert source of emergency information, for that, please always check your local authorities, these are just my observations; and 2) Please don't misinterpret the light-hearted nature of this post, many lives have been tragically lost here in Japan, and in fact we are still in danger from a nuclear power plant accident that occurred as a result of the major earthquake.
With that, let's talk geek survival.
After calming down from the shock of experiencing one of the strongest earthquakes in our planet's history (new, unconfirmed estimates claim 9.1 strength) I composed myself and started looking for food and beverage supplies. About a million people had the idea first. Every convenience store I went to was mostly barren of any products. The interesting thing is that while I was able to occasionally find beverages, finding much needed AA batteries proved impossible. D batteries? Sure. AAA? No worries. But in this situation, in a country where sophisticated gadgets are as common as having a wallet or purse, AA batteries have become an amazingly rare and valuable asset. The other thing I noticed was that the staple of bootstrapped tech startups everywhere--instant ramen--went like hot cakes. I actually had to get a little pushy amid a throng of shoppers to be sure I got my hands on some that dry noodle goodness.
Geek Lessons: 1. Stock AA batteries early and often, other battery designations are almost irrelevant in an emergency. 2. You can never have too much instant ramen in the house, it is, simply put, the food that will ultimately allow the geeks to inherit the Earth.
As I expected,the first thing to go was cell phone service. But text messaging on my iPhone still worked fine. I must also grudgingly report that my friend's Blackberry seemed to work more efficiently than my Apple handset during the network distress. Also, as you might have guessed, Twitter has proved to be invaluable for information collection, distribution and two-way communication. Email is great, but Twitter was built for this.
Geek Lessons: 1. In the end, the only phone feature you 'really' need is texting. 2. Hate Facebook all you want, but deny the siren song of Twitter adoption at your own risk.
When the quake hit, thankfully my gas automatically shut off, as it does for most homes in Japan. Turning it back on now is a simple matter, but with continued strong tremors, rather than risk any accident, I'm sticking to microwave heated water. That is, until the scheduled rolling blackouts start. At that point it will be a race against time to see how long my iPhone backup battery and iPad will last. A portable generator would be nice, but even that has a limited impact in these kinds of situations.
Geek Lesson: If you haven't already, make peace with the reality that without electricity, despite all our amazing devices, and until solar energy becomes more efficient, we're all just a few blackouts away from reverting to an abacus for complicated calculations.
When the quake hit, what is arguably the most sophisticated train system on the planet stopped completely. Cars were mostly useless as they idled in vast rows of traffic moving at a snail's pace. My bicycle is neither high-end nor expensive, but after watching thousands upon thousands of people walking home for 5-10 hour treks, I am quite certain that if I tried I could have sold off my rickety, $80 bike for at least ten times the price.
Geek Lesson: Embrace bicycles as an essential part of your geek survival kit. Through all manner of emergencies, a good old human-powered bike can almost seem like a miracle of utility and human engineering.