The Power Shortage Continues

By  |  Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 11:38 pm

No PowerRobert S. Anthony of The Paper PC has a fun post up about a new Wi-Fi reading room at the New York Public Library. It’s an “elegant” venue with seats for up to 128 laptop users–and if you don’t have a netbook, they’ll loan you one. Sounds fabulous–except there are no power outlets at the seats. If you’re using the Wi-Fi you’re draining your battery.

The NYPL is in excellent company. Wi-Fi blankets much of our public spaces these days, but power outlets are still hard to find. Many airline terminals seem to have a total of about three outlets, none of them especially convenient to the seating (which is why you’ll often find me camping out on the carpet while I wait for a plane). Some airports now have Samsung-sponsored power “trees,” which is far better than nothing–but they’re bizarrely configured in a way that makes it difficult to plug in a laptop and use it. (Don’t even get me started on most airplanes–yes, I’m looking at you, United.)

Starbucks? Everybody gets two hours of free Wi-Fi a day, but my local one has two power jacks, both at tables usually occupied by people who don’t need them. Hotels sometimes do a bit better, but the average tech-centric conference here in the Bay Area has maybe one outlet per fifty MacBook Pro-toting attendees. Almost everywhere I go, I’m keenly aware that most of our buildings date from the age before large numbers of people toted portable computers with them. (And even structures built recently usually have a shortage of alternating current.)

I know that installing outlets isn’t always cheap and easy. I still long for the day when they’re everywhere. (Literally, almost–one per seat wouldn’t be baf.) But I kinda wonder whether the point will be made moot by laptops with battery lives so long that plugging in becomes less essential. Me, I want fifty hours on a charge…


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6 Comments For This Post

  1. Mari Silbey Says:

    I know battery lives keep getting longer, but my 6-cell netbook battery is still only giving me 3 hrs now. Plus, I often find I need to plug in my phone, camera, or Slacker music player. Best solution I have is carrying around a portable power strip. Amazing the number of friends I can make that way too.

  2. Alan Says:

    I’m not sure that this is unrelated to the recent articles bemoaning the coffee-shop WiFi “moochers”. If you don’t have an outlet, then you can only stay for about 2-3 hours, then you have to go somewhere to recharge. It is a forcing function. Perhaps coffee shops will offer free WiFi, but charge for sockets?

  3. Glenn Fleishman Says:

    Nitpicking: “Everybody gets two hours of free Wi-Fi a day” – only if you make a purchase on or add at least $5 to a Starbucks stored value card. It’s not free; it’s a perk perq.

  4. Mike Cerm Says:

    When I’m on the go, I always carry a Belkin mini-surge protector. It turns one plug into three, and has two USB-charging ports as well. It has come in handy, and I never have to feel like a jerk for monopolizing the few outlets that are available.

    Another bit of advice I have for people is to embrace after-market batteries. I never have to charge my Pre while I’m out because, for less than $15, I bought a spare battery. Carrying the tiny battery is much easier than toting a power adapter, hoping I find an outlet, and then sitting next to it for an hour or two. Likewise, my netbook runs about 5 hours on a charge. For about $40 on eBay, I could pick up a second 8-hour battery that would add less bulk to my bag than the netbook’s AC adapter.

    It used to be that when you ran out of juice, you just popped in some fresh AA’s and kept going. As long as you’ve got a device with a user-replaceable battery, you can do the same thing. Pick up a spare or two, charge them at home, and never worry about tethering yourself to an outlet in public again.

  5. sittininlab Says:

    The other problem with increasing the number of outlets is building codes. Very restrictive, nearly impossible to change. Sure, they date from an era of cloth insulated wires with poorly maintained fuse boxes, where electrical fires were a real possibility, but they haven’t changed much since then.

  6. KevinF Says:

    A hotel outside Detroit I often stay at has a very nice business/conference room — a 2nd floor round room, with windows all around giving a view outside, with a nice big round wooden conference table. First time using this, it was only when my battery was dying that I suddenly discovered this business conference room had NO OUTLETS at all.

    In fact the nearest one was about 10 feet down the hall outside the door. Naturally the staff seemed to have no recognition of this problem, so I wound up borrowing a couple of extension cords a jury-rigging a long distance power connection.