I thought it was going to be an ordinary working weekend. I was on my way to the sort of technology announcement I go to all the time: The launch – in San Francisco – of Windows Phone 8. I am a fairly recent convert to Windows phone. I like it because it makes doing my job easier and has great tools for students. My kids like it because of its integration with Xbox Live. So I was geekily excited about this announcement, which promised lots of cute new phones and accessories.

A Storm

After I set out on this little journey – with my daughter in tow so we could squeeze in a working vacation — the entire world started watching Hurricane Sandy gain strength on the East Coast. So it became one of those trips where I was constantly calling and texting home to make sure everyone I’d left behind was OK. I was on the phone with my husband – who was reassuring me things were fine at home — when we got off a shuttle bus at our hotel in San Francisco. I’d heard — as I was boarding the bus — that the Giants had won the World Series. I know enough about this city to understand why everyone was happy about that. But I could not understand why my husband was so concerned about us when he was the one in the path of a mega-storm.

Photo from SF Gate.

A Riot

But I soon understood. In the time between boarding our bus and getting off it at our hotel, the city had erupted into a volatile euphoria. By the time we got to our room on the 34thfloor – with a view of the streets below – that euphoria had turned dark. And as my daughter and I stood in our window, looking down, we watched it turn to a riot.

Mobs attacked cars and buildings and raced through the streets, drunk and destructive. We watched people – dozens at a time — leap onto cars that were trapped in traffic, terrifying occupants and destroying their property. We were very glad we were no longer on a bus in those streets. But we were frightened for those who were down there, trying to get home.

We tried to sleep. But, a few hours later, the noise outside became so loud and apocalyptic that we got up again to see what was going on. In the street below us the rabble had set fire to a $700,000 San Francisco city bus. We were stunned at the stupidity and callous destruction of this mob. We were worried for whoever was on the bus when it got attacked. And we were stunned by how much smoke was pouring into the sky.

I know now that no one was injured down there. Even so, I’m sure my daughter will never be a sports fan.

A New Smart Phone

So I was tired and disappointed in humanity when I got to the Windows 8 announcement.  But it, fortunately, was fun and very civilized. Jessica Alba showed up to tell us why she loves her Windows phone. (The new Kids Corner feature and the awesome camera.) And Steve Ballmer (CEO of Microsoft) stopped by to say why he loves his (lots of reasons, including that it’s selling well.) And we got a fun demonstration of the thoughtful tools that make this smart phone a great choice for parents.

There are a ton of new features. But, since most people have an iPhone or Android smart phone, you may not even be familiar with the old features. So I’m just going to share four features that I think are worth considering if you are in the market for a smart phone.

Data Sense: This tool watches your data usage, switches to Wi-Fi whenever possible, alerts you if you are nearing the end of your data plan, and ekes more Web surfing out of the data you have. I like to put my teens on the cheapest plan possible and let them use Wi-Fi. This would take the worry of expensive overages out of that strategy.

Rooms: This feature lets you invite people to a closed “room” where you can share information — calendar, photos, updates, shopping lists, and location — privately. Invite the whole family and get everyone on the same page. A great way to keep your family — or any group of people — informed and connected.

Kid’s Corner: If you have a small child in your life, you know how much damage they can do to contacts or data. When my son was small, he loved to send texts and emails to anyone in my address book with an interesting name. Embarrassing! This lets you set up a safe place on your phone where the can can play without breaking anything of yours.

Xbox Smart Glass: This app lets you control the Xbox from your smart phone. My kids will love this. The phone has a keyboard. And it makes it easy to pull up a movie on your phone and shift it to the TV (if you use the Xbox for entertainment.) Very cool. But it’s also a secret weapon for me since I can log in from anywhere from my phone to see if they are playing games when they tell me they are doing their homework. I can’t wait to try that.

You don’t have to leave your family in storm and dodge a riot to check out the new Windows 8 Mobile features. You can read about it, watch videos, and shop for new phones at WindowsPhone.com.

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