Sniff For Power Resumption and Message Me
November 2, 2012 12:07 PM   Subscribe

I'm a Sandy refugee, living with friends until my power's restored (latest estimate: 11/9). There's got to be a way to remotely detect that - to sniff for current in an AC plug, or detect light from a bulb or the reestablishment of my WiFi network....and then use the WiFi to let me know. The tech would be trivial. Does anything like that (aside from $$$ home monitoring set-ups) exist? Or could I rig one up?
posted by Quisp Lover to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: One note....there's no computer at home (I have only a laptop, which is with me).
posted by Quisp Lover at 12:07 PM on November 2, 2012

Is there a wired phone in the house, and, if so, do you have an answering machine?

Otherwise, I'd say put a lamp in the window.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:14 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Could you call your answering machine (if you had one)?
posted by grog at 12:15 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

What if you (went and got and) set up your router for remote administration? Then you could attempt to connect to it remotely; if it worked, you'd know your power and internet were back up. Not exactly passive, but at least you can check remotely rather than having to go by and see if the lights are on. This might be prone to hax, but you're talking about a small window of time, you can turn it off afterwards and reset your password or flash the firmware if you want.

My power came back before my internet, fwiw.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 12:15 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, my parents lose power a lot and their test is to call home and see if the answering machine picks up. Requires a landline though.
posted by ghharr at 12:16 PM on November 2, 2012

(Oh, an answer-phone is obviously the easiest way to do this, curse my inevitable Millenial reliance on internet.)
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 12:16 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you have a decent router (such as one running DD-WRT or Tomato custom firmware) you could set it up to automatically register its IP address with a free dynamic DNS service every time it comes online. Even if you don't have anything on your network that can be pinged through the router like a web server or VPN server, you could just set the dynamic DNS IP to some dummy value and check periodically to see if it gets updated to a valid IP from your router. This is useful in general for being able to access your home network remotely so I recommend it in general.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:24 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

If your landline is nonexistent, next best option is a router + dynamic DNS so you can test connect to it regularly and find out when the power is up. Annoyingly you need electricity to do this. I wouldn't trust it without having it setup and tested first.

Low-tech option: Turn on a light and ask a neighbor/friend/whatever to call you when it comes on.
posted by zug at 12:26 PM on November 2, 2012

Response by poster: No landline, no answering machine.

Made of Star Stuff and burnmp3s: Interesting, but I suspect it'd be sketchy without the setup and testing (per zug) which would be necessary and would require power + net connection.
posted by Quisp Lover at 12:29 PM on November 2, 2012

My local power company has an online site ( example )where I can check for power outages. I used this system to monitor a house that was empty for a few months to make sure power (and heat) were on, it was accurate for that purpose. Check to see if your local power company has such a system.

This answer assumes a lot, but is worth checking on.
posted by HuronBob at 12:37 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you have an ipad or iphone that you are willing to live without, I think the following might work:

(1) Enable Find My iPad.

(2) Make sure that its current location is registered as your parents' home, then drain the battery.

(3) Take it to your home and plug it in to the wall.

When the power returns, it will charge your device, and the location will change from your parents' home to yours.
posted by googly at 12:38 PM on November 2, 2012 [7 favorites]

You could build a tweet-a-watt. But it's very possible by the time you get all the parts your power will already be restored. While burnmp3's, zug's, and MoSS' suggestions look daunting, it's probably the simplest/most direct way as it only requires the router....but again that router needs to be able to use dyndns or similar services.

What kind of router do you have currently?

Another option would be to have a PC device behind that router that is scripted to fire off an e-mail, upload a file, or write an IM/tweet upon booting. You'd have to have a device that'd power on normally when AC is applied, and then boot up to a point where it could perform those actions.

A third option would be to by a lan line phone and a magic-jack or vonage VOIP controller. If you can ring it, it's online...(of course cancelling the service when you don't need it won't be fun, and you're out the money for the equipment)
posted by samsara at 12:40 PM on November 2, 2012

Response by poster: Great idea, googly, thanks. But I'm trying to figure out why this should be set up at my parents home. They live in Florida.
posted by Quisp Lover at 12:59 PM on November 2, 2012

I think googly misread and thought you are currently staying at your parents'. The point is that the current location, which will persist after it runs out of power, should be reset to something that is not your apartment so that when it starts to charge at your apartment its location will change.
posted by telegraph at 1:01 PM on November 2, 2012

I think googly might have accidentally misread that you are staying at your parents' instead of your friends' -- it seems to me the point is that the iPad/iPhone needs to show a different location than your own apartment. So make sure it registers at your friends' place on Find my iPad/iPhone, drain the battery and then proceed as instructed.
posted by andrewesque at 1:02 PM on November 2, 2012

Best answer: Does your power company provide a service that calls when your power is restored? DC-area residents have had power outages of this length (most recently this past summer), and I always sign up for alerts to be called when the power is restored to my condo, and they've been very reliable.
posted by amarynth at 1:02 PM on November 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: amarynth, yeah, the power co claims they'll inform me. It's great it worked for you, but I'm skeptical that they'll do so in any more of a timely or competent manner than they do anything else! But, yeah, that is a backup dependency already in place.

Telegraph and andrewesque, yeah, I got the's a great solution.
posted by Quisp Lover at 1:07 PM on November 2, 2012

Set up your wireless router to use dydns, when dynamic dns updates, you have power.
posted by iamabot at 1:56 PM on November 2, 2012

Hey, neighbor who is riding it out, could you give me a call at this phone number when the power comes back on again so that I can know to come back? I'd really appreciate it, and here's a six pack of beer to show my appreciation.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:57 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is your individual house without power, or your entire town, neighborhood, street, etc?

Because it seems like it might be simpler to just watch the news, or call a neighbor who is still in the area, or monitor things on social networking sites.

For example, power just came back on in New York's East Village neighborhood, and it feels like entire fucking internet just exploded with that news.
posted by Sara C. at 2:41 PM on November 2, 2012

Yeah, sorry, I somehow thought you were staying at your parents' place. But, then again, you could FedEx your iPad to them in Florida, locate it, drain the battery, etc. and then you just have to see what state it's located in... 8)
posted by googly at 4:05 PM on November 2, 2012

Draining a lithium battery to empty, then letting it sit, is a perfect recipe for destroying one. So I recommend not going with googly's advice.

So router + dynamic DNS ( is your best bet. Set up dynamic DNS on your router at another location to confirm it works, then plug it in at home. When it gets Internet, it will adjust the IP address of the dynamic address from the previous location to its new IP. You can get the IP by running the following on another computer in a command window or terminal:

posted by flimflam at 4:05 PM on November 2, 2012

Response by poster: flimflam, googly's advice predicates using an unused idevice (people will naturally have their active ones with them). And, as with most people, I'd guess, my old iphone does sit drained. So this is a perfect use for it.

The bonus is that this scheme will tell me when power goes on, regardless of presence of WiFi. The latter requires working power PLUS working Internet (in my case, via cable), and there are at least two scenarios where I might have the former but not the latter (1. electrical cables repaired but cable wires not yet repaired, or 2. general internet outage....which is still a problem where I am, fwiw).
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:31 PM on November 2, 2012

Your router may have an external IP address that can be pinged. But some routers come with external ping turned off by default, so you might have to enable it. That and you'd have to know the address, which may change if the ISP uses dynamic address. For that you can sometimes make use of services like, but my experience with them has be inconsistent over the years.

Another alternative is put a remote access program like the one from on a machine and leave that machine set to always boot when powered up. Most PCs have an option in the BIOS to either stay off, always power on or resume to last state. And be sure to disable any power saving sleep or shutdown modes. Then it'd be a simple matter of using a browser on a remote PC to see if that machine has become accessible again.

I've made use of this on machines used by less-than-technical folks I've helped. If I see a machine hasn't been online for a while I ask them about it.
posted by wkearney99 at 7:02 AM on November 3, 2012

Perhaps your cable TV/Internet provider shows service status for your account on their website. Mine (Optimum) does.
posted by Dragonness at 9:15 AM on November 3, 2012

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