The Power Outage and the Engineering Lifestyle

I only have one class on Thursdays, so this Thursday I decided to take a leisurely morning.  So I slept in later than I have all semester – until 8:00 a.m.

Since I didn’t have to be anywhere or do anything until 1:00, I watched a movie while I was getting ready, had French Toast for breakfast and made it out the door around 10:00.You get very few leisurely mornings as an engineering student due to the demands of your classes, so I relished in the time I had to “chillax.”

I stepped into the Senior Design Lab around 10:15, began to get settled at one of the stations with the dual monitors, and turned on the computer.  The computers on campus always take a long time to boot up first thing in the morning, so if you can find one that has already booted up, you usually go for that one.

As the computer slowly loaded, I got out my binder for preliminary design, refreshed myself on deadlines, and began to create a to do list for my work session.

Finally, the login screen appeared and I typed in my username and password.  “Loading your personal settings…” the computer told me.  Only about a minute left until I could use the computer.

Then suddenly the buzzing of the computers and engineers hard at work died with the lights.  The power was out.  It was dead silent before one of the engineers dramatically screeched “I don’t remember the last time I saved! I’ve lost all my data.”  Other engineers commented on how far along they were in their work.

Then it was quiet again, the quietest I’d ever heard it in the design lab. One of the students commented on how lame it was that “no one in the lab had enough of a life to leave, and that they were just going to sit at the computers waiting for the power to turn back on.”

Shortly after that, the conversation in the design lab turned to politics and whether or not California should legalize marijuana. There were very strong and passionate arguments on either side of the topic.

I pulled my net book out of my backpack and started checking my email.  About 1/3 of the students in the lab pulled out their own laptops.  “I only have 30 minutes of battery left!” I announced in panic to the inhabitants of the design lab, which responded by laughing.

After I’d sorted through junk mail and responded to other emails, I decided to head home. There were still about 15 people sitting in the dark design lab when I left.

At the beginning of the year, I signed up for Code Red, the campus’s emergency notification service which calls and texts students about campus closures and emergencies.  I received a call from them letting me know the power was out on my way back from campus, which made me laugh.

It’s amazing how much of our lives depend on electricity and without it, the campus pretty much shuts down and the engineers don’t know what to do.

The power was back on in time for class, and life pretty much went back to normal; but for a short time I, as an engineer, with my life on a computer, simply didn’t know what to do.

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