03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Our Noisy Sun: Happy Solar Outage Month

The other night during dinner I thought of a great new reality TV show: "Extort!"  In my scenario, viewers submit the names of people they want to intimidate and your host, Robert Halderman, conspires how to extract the cash.  It's a lame idea which is why it might just happen.

Anyway, thinking about that got me in the mood to see what Letterman had to say for himself.  But when I turned on my boob-tube, there was no signal.  "One moment please," flashed the frame on every channel, menacingly, smugly.   "Take that for hating me so much," it seemed to say.

When one moment passed, and then another, I did something I haven't had to do in years, since I've been TV-free till now: Picked up the phone and dialed my cable guy for help.  Even though it was past 11 o'clock at night, I actually listened to the recorded message intently.  The lady said something about "solar outages" and how power was to be interrupted, intermittently, unpredictably, for up to fifteen minutes at a time.

"Solar outage."  Does that mean the sun goes out?  If so, that couldn't be my problem since it was night.  I kept staring at my screen and fifteen minutes crept by.  Solar outage could definitely not be my problem.  But I was intrigued; could my cable television be teaching me something new?

Online, naturally, I found dozens of links to explain what turns out to be an electromagnetic phenomenon, a shining example of nature prevailing, albeit temporarily, over technology.  Drat those equinoxes! It seems that this solar outage business happens as sure as the change in season twice a year, in the spring and then again in in the fall. The sun passes directly in front of a satellite and its powerful noise whacks out the source for a bit, temporarily making it impossible for you to receive signal for several minutes. This can go on for up to a week.  

Control freaks take heart: If you must know exactly when this might happen to you and your TV service, type in "solar outage calculator" online and you'll find myriad tools to figure it out.

In my Letterman-free state, I waited for the customer service guy to come on.  I told Mr. Cable I found this idea of a solar outage very amusing.  "That's because you don't work for us and you don't have to answer the phone during them," he said, politely.  Then he told me it would be three days before he could schedule a repairman to come over and see what was wrong.   I accepted the appointment; what else could I do, except wait for the Internet and YouTube to fill me in on what I was missing, long before my service could be restored?