Locking Business Travelers out of Power Outlets

This is a ChargeCarte by SmarteCarte in the Cincinnati airport that lets travelers pay to top of the batteries on their mobile devices and laptops:

the ChargeCarte by SmarteCarte

This is the power outlet that’s no longer available to business travelers because SmarteCarte controls it:

Locked Outlet

I wrote about this in Feb 2007 when this first came out and suggested that this would lead to less free outlets for travelers:

Over time, It will surely become more difficult to find open outlets in airports with Smarte Carte power outlets installed since that would cut into the vendor’s profits. Contractually, the airport will probably have to waste money putting caps on non-Smarte Carte publicly accessible outlets. Ever seen a FREE luggage cart in an airport with Smart Cartes installed?

At that time, a SmartCarte representative contacted me (rather than comment) and said this wouldn’t happen.

It did.

I don’t blame SmartCarte for this. The Cincinnati airport has chosen to put a business relationship with SmarteCarte ahead of the travelers who pass through their airport every day.

Do the board members of the Cincinnati airport commission charge visitors to their homes for use of power? No? Then why do they treat their airport’s guests with such disrespect?

What Would You Do With One Outlet?

Imagine you only had access to one power outlet (and no splitter). How would you make the most of your situation?

For example, assume you have access to the one outlet here:

Power Outlet

What do I have plugged in? My computer, of course.

After that, my next most important thing to power is my cell phone. However, I can do that off my laptop via USB, so that keeps me to one outlet.

I don’t need a clock, TV, or radio since my computer covers all of that.

In a pinch, I could unplug my computer for an hour or so while using the outlet for other things. That would allow me to use the outlet to make toast. Life is good.

Paying for Power at Airports

I’ve been disgusted with just how bad airports, in 2008, are at accommodating the needs of business travelers.

As I understand the world of travel, business travelers are the ones who pay a lot for their tickets. I also get the impression that most major airport budgets come from landing fees, which are largely derived from planes carrying business travelers.

With that in mind, doesn’t it seem strange that airports force business travelers to sit on the floor because they don’t put outlets near chairs?

Weary Business Traveler
Weary Business Traveler Charging His Blackberry

Is this how you treat guests in your home? You can plug your computer in over there and sit on the floor?

Some airports are providing Internet kiosks like this one for travelers:

Internet Station

In this case, it includes the option to pay for power.

Internet Station

A better option is to unplug the Internet kiosk that nobody uses and plug in your computer to the wall.

One other option I’ve found for the truly power-hungry. Tell the gate attendants that you have a special condition. After entering the ramp, set up camp at the outlet within boarding ramp.

Airport Ramp Power Outlet

Give it a try and let us know how what kind of reactions you get.

Easily Accessible Power Outlets

Power at Hilton Garden

Apparently, I’ve complained about restaurants not having adequate power outlets for long enough for people to take notice.

I’m now receiving photos from people who’ve found restaurants that actually do have accessible power, like the one above taken at at Hilton Garden Inn in Grand Forks, North Dakota this morning.

However, there can be a side effect to being accommodating: some people may choose to abuse the hospitality, as one Minneapolis coffee shop near my house has found out:

But though they’ve had Wi-Fi for more than three years, Berg has noticed a shift recently. In short, people are treating her coffee shop — and others, according to her friends who own similar places — like a public facility where they can get a free Internet connection, ice water, and bathroom facilities.

This particular coffee shop provides free WiFi and runs power strips around the place, making power easy to find.

While they could password protect their WiFi, they could simply limit the number of seats with accessible power. That would cause people to pack up when their batteries dies rather than camping out all day.

Suspending Wind Turbines from Kites

Robert Cringely penned an article on PBS a few weeks back about a company that has a creative way to improve the efficiency of wind generated power. Rather than using windmills, which rarely run at full capacity due to inconsistent wind at typical windmill heights, why not use ginormous kites to raise windmills up to heights where winds are consistently strong?

Oh, and We Also Saved the World

What’s cool about these tethered tensile wings, he explained, is that they can be designed in such a way that no aircraft fuselage is needed and yet they can lift (vertically, straight from the ground, no runway even required!) enormous weights. And I mean ENORMOUS weights, like a thousand tons. A fully loaded Boeing 747-400 weighs about 400 tons, so a THOUSAND tons would change the nature of airfreight.

But there’s an even better application for this technology than airfreight, he explained, electric power generation. Build a gigantic tethered tension wing and power it with electric motors mounted in the leading edge of the wing. Send the electricity to run these motors up the tether, itself. The wing will take off vertically and once it is at the end of its rope, so to speak, can be made to circle thousands, or even tens of thousands, of feet off the ground without a pilot or any sort of crew.

The idea has intrigued me enough to try it on a much smaller scale. Can I lift a windmill with a kite I handle myself?

I’ve started researching the concept, and am trying to do this on a relatively small budget. As a first attempt, I’ve ordered a kite off Amazon that’s apparently capable of pulling a kayaker a few knots faster. After discounts, that came to around $40.

Now I need a wind turbine that I can attach to the kite. A little searching dug up this model, which happens to be sold by a company within biking distance of my house. That seems workable, but I’m open to suggestions on other wind turbines that may be a better fit for this test.

The next decision is whether to draw that power down the line in a Ben Franklin like fashion, or power some lights attached to the wind turbine. The latter is probably easier, but the former is closer to replicating what Makani Power is trying to do on a much larger scale.

What do you think? Does the kite I’ve chosen have any chance of lifting a wind turbine? Will the weight of a copper line running between the kite and me be too much weight for the kite to handle? Will my hair stick straight out when I’m successful?

Caribou Coffee Add Power Outlets

I had a meeting yesterday afternoon at a newly opened Caribou Coffee in Minnetonka, Minnesota. In fact, I believe it was their first day.

After ordering my drink, I went through my normal routine of surveying the tables to find one near a power outlet. A quick glance found one along a wall, so I started walking toward it.

However, one my way to that table I noticed something I’ve never seen in a coffee shop before:

Caribou Coffee Floor Outlets

Caribou Coffee actually installed power outlets in the floor of this new store, providing easy access to power from every table in the place!

There are tons of coffee shops in Minnetonka, including another Caribou Coffee location only blocks from this location (actually, that’s the one I was supposed to be at, but I went to the new one by accident) but I now have an obvious first choice for meetings in this part of the Twin Cities.

Easily accessible power, free WiFi (you have to buy something every hour), and good drinks. I’m sold.

Airport Closes – Hunt for Power Begins

The Minneapolis / St. Paul International Airport was shut down for a bit this afternoon due to a flash flood. No planes were taking off or landing, so passengers waiting in the terminal decided it was time to hunker down near an outlet while they waited out the storm.

The storm was intense, but passed through quickly (at least this wave of it has):

September 30, 2007 Radar

Since the Vikings game was on, some people chose to watch the Vikings help Brett Favre make NFL history in downtown Minneapolis’ the climate controlled Metrodome:

Packers vs Vikings at MSP

But the techie crowd – or, people with laptops and cell phones running short on juice – found themselves scrambling for outlets, including spots along the floor in Concourse G:

Tethered to Outlets

It’s worth noting that a few passengers turned to books rather than laptops to help deal with their unplanned boredom.

Restaurants Need WiFi and Power

I planned a meeting at a restaurant in Minneapolis called Buster’s on 28th the other day based on the fact that they have WiFi. However, I forgot to take power into consideration.

After scoping the place out, I couldn’t find an outlet in any of the booths, tables, or at the bar. Luckily, one of the waiters pointed out this outlet above the back corner booth near a TV:

I almost killed myself while plugging in, but once that was done, I was in business.

I’d love to see restaurants get to the point where there is an outlet within reach from every booth. That would be ideal for my eating and computing lifestyle. Of course, I wouldn’t expect every restaurant to honor such a request. But, for places interested in serving the geek crowd, WiFi without power comes up a bit short.

Harnessing the Power of Exploding Hot Dogs

A group of Norwegian and Dutch scientists use the power of exploding hot dogs to make a reliable energy source.

Advances in technology make our lives easier in many ways. That is, until the power goes out. Then we realize how dependent we’ve become on power to simply make it through what most would consider a normal day. While I could live without some power sucking devices like television and radio, I’m a big fan of reliable power for refrigeration, internet access, and toast*.

Fortunately, some smart and creative people in the Netherlands and Norway are working on new sources creating new sources of electical power from exploding hot dogs. Well, more directly from the combination of fresh river water with salty oceans:

The new devices are based on a natural process — when a river runs into the ocean, a huge amount of energy is unleashed because of the difference in salt concentration.

“It’s basically harvesting the energy that comes free from a natural process,” Wetsus managing director Johannes Boonstra said in his agency’s laboratory in the Dutch town of Leeuwarden.

“You have the fuel for free and it’s very sustainable — no greenhouse gas emissions.”

Congratulations to the scientists involved for their progress to date, and good luck turning your inventions into the clean and reliable sources of energy they have the potential to be.

* Yes, I could toast my bread in my gas oven or create a fire.