Studio711

Utility History

I like to collect data. It’s rarely interesting at a single point in time, but over the years, it can provide insights or show trends that I didn’t know existed.

For example, my irrigation controller is based on a Raspberry Pi. There’s a webpage for it and it has an API so I can download the actual runtime of each zone. I’ve measured the amount of water used for a minute in each zone (by watching my water meter) so I can get a rough estimate of how much water I’m using through the system overall. Some of the variability is due to the weather, but I’ve also been tweaking the algorithm to automatically adjust the watering schedules based on the forecast.

I have a similar logging system for my HVAC. I haven’t been successful in reducing these costs much as I think I had it pretty optimized to begin with.

So yes, this is geeky, but it’s also frugal. Two things that are super attractive, right?

The Drive Through Incident

I enjoy the No Dumb Questions podcast. Destin Sandlin is the rocket loving engineer from Smarter Every Day and Matt Whitman does a show called The Ten Minute Bible Hour. But even if you never watch either of those, this podcast is a fun conversation between two friends who share some similar world view (both Christians) but have very different educational backgrounds and enough differences to keep things exciting.

They’ve had a lot of good episodes, but their most recent one has popped into my head every day since I listened to it. I’ve thought about sharing it with multiple people but in the end, I think it really requires you to just listen to it. The problem is that probably won’t happen, but seriously, I rarely ask something like this. Go listen and if you think it wasted your time, consider me surprised but apologetic. It’s episode #101 and you can skip right to the 13:00 mark. Matt and Destin call their friend George and have him tell a story and the story is worth hearing straight from George. Give it 5 minutes and stop if you’re not hooked. And if you keep going, skip the insanely long commercial between 27:15 and 38:40.

Be fiercely kind.

COVID-19: Day 300

https://xkcd.com/2395/

Three hundred days of COVID-19 at least for our family. I remember thinking back in May that we’d be out of it before too long because maybe if we just do the lockdown, it will go away. Nope. The only way it’s going away is with a vaccine and thank you God that it’s rolling out.

We’re eager to get the vaccine but we’ll almost certainly be at the end of the line. It sounds like they’re shooting for 1 million per day. It’s unclear to me if that’s 1 million people getting totally vaccinated or just 1 million doses per day. Everyone needs two doses, but regardless, the math on that means we’re going to be well into next fall before we get a vaccine at the projected pace. There have been plenty of hiccups getting the machine spun up in our country but places like Israel are moving very quickly. They have administered vaccines to 18% of their population! (This data is available from Our World in Data and covidvax.live is a nice visualization of the data.)

I wrote about the increased death rate in the last two posts but I finally found the CDC page that shows weekly deaths from COVID, total deaths, and how the total death number compares with what we’d expect based on previous years. Read the footnotes before drawing conclusions, but it shows that a lot of extra people are dying this year. Some members of our government say the COVID numbers are inflated and maybe that’s true, but something is out there killing a lot of extra people this year.

I mostly succeeded in keeping the pandemic out of my end of year post, but there were a lot of related thoughts that I want to capture and they revolve around being a parent through this situation. What is Elijah learning from it? What do I want him to learn from it? How much of it can he grasp at his age? What will he remember when he looks back on this time? I’ve kind of figured that I’m just bumbling my way through it and not doing a very good job, but when I woke him up on December 31 I said, “Hey buddy! It’s the last day of 2020!” Most other people would have replied with “Good riddance!” but Elijah got very sad and said, “But I don’t want it to be over.” I tried to contain my shock and asked him why and he started listing off good things about the pandemic. We’re home together more. We took interesting family adventures. He didn’t have to share his new toys with anyone. The list went one for a while and ended with “But obviously I don’t like the part about people dying.” What a wonderful answer!

It got me thinking more deeply about the specific lessons I’d like teach him. These are too much for a 7 year old to fully grasp but if these are common themes throughout his time in our house then hopefully they’ll stick.

  • How do we decide what is ok to do and what’s not? The first step is always to read the Bible and see if it has anything to say about the topic. If not then a good principle for the pandemic is “If everyone did this, would we have more or less infections?” Unfortunately many people aren’t answering this one correctly and that leads to the next bullet point.
  • How do I know what information is true? The Media Wise project has lots of good information but the basics I try to repeat are looking at the raw data, respecting the experts, and reading conflicting opinions. “Don’t believe everything on the internet.” Along with that comes being willing to change your mind when confronted with better information.
  • What if someone says something I don’t think is true? What if they have authority over me? God tells us in 1 John 4 that we’re supposed to test everything we hear to compare it to what the Bible says. If Pastor preaches something that doesn’t line up with the Bible, it’s my job as an elder to confront him and ask him about it. The same applies to everything we read on the internet or hear, even from those in positions of authority.
  • Why is everyone else doing X but we aren’t? This was a big one for us even before the pandemic, but the answer is the same. “Be in the world but not of the world.” That’s not a direct quote from the Bible but it comes from John 15:19 and John 17:14-16. We’re part of society but this sinful world is not our home. Thanks to our redemption through Christ, we don’t belong here. So feeling different or left out is just one of the many tricks the devil will use to try to keep us from heaven.

When asked about 2020, Bill Gates said, “This is a communications exercise. So far, the U.S. doesn’t get a very high grade.” We took science and made it political and the parties twisted the facts to meet their agendas. Hopefully we’ll do better in 2021, but ultimately I’m hopeful that we’re training our children to be better at this then we were.

John 14:14-16 14 I have given them your word. The world hated them, because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I am not asking that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the Evil One. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.

For the Beauty of the Earth

Here’s one I recorded a while back, but in the Lutheran church we generally use this tune in the season of epiphany and call it “As With Gladness Men Of Old”.

In Jon Schmidt’s recording, he has a beautiful cello playing along with it. So in addition to my normal piano-only recording, I also messed around with digital instruments and added in a cello. There’s no video for this but you can hear me playing along with my digital cello attempt. I played that cello line on my piano, recorded the MIDI file for it and then ran it through this program to make it sound like a cello.

I used Bandlab with a free cello VST plugin so it’s all free and doesn’t sound amazing, but it was such an interesting rabbit hole to dive into. For example, check out the Embertone digital instruments and listen to some of those cello samples! Some day I would love to get a really nice piano file and make my piano sound even better.

2020 Year in Review

Some years I start off this “year in review” post and wonder what I’ll say. This year I start it off wondering how I can write it without diving into all the emotions around the global pandemic that knocked us upside the head. In the beginning, we didn’t know what the virus was, how deadly it was, how it spread, or what preventative measures helped. Much of that got figured out but then it became a communication problem. A vaccine was created unbelievably quickly and it looks like the light at the end of the tunnel but there’s still a lot of tunnel left. It feels like the next couple months could be horribly bad with the spike from people celebrating Christmas and all the other factors that are already contributing to the body count. And there we go, it only took a few sentences and I’m getting sucked in. I’ll leave the wrapup of that stuff to Bill Gates who wrote an excellent post about things to be hopeful for in 2021 and what we can learn from 2020.

Let’s back up a bit. Back in February, I had an amazing adventure (business trip) to Israel. The main purpose was to visit a team that I work with closely and spend time on their turf. That created some strong relationships and partnerships that have been incredibly useful and enjoyable. But beyond that, it was my first time really being out of the country (not counting Canada and Caribbean cruises). On top of that, I got to spend a day walking around Jerusalem. That day plays through my mind on a regular basis. I want to go back and see more of the Biblical sites. While we know the city has changed a lot since Bible times, it’s a lot closer than anything I see around Woodinville. It’s neat to read the Bible with those pictures in my head.

That trip was happening just as the first COVID cases were hitting our area and the first Paris case happened on the day we flew through. On the flight from JFK to Seattle, I sat next to a guy wearing a mask, coughing like mad and downing prescription meds. At the time I thought, “Eh oh well, who knows what he has but hopefully I won’t get it.” Now that situation is the stuff of nightmares!

Work has been very good to me. We were one of the first companies to send everyone home and we’ll be one of the last ones back in the office (current estimate is July 2021.) It took a while to adjust to this but I think a lot of us are realizing that it’s pretty great. I don’t spend ~1.5 hours a day sitting in traffic, I save money on gas and I get to spend more time with my family. Now I wake up and wonder why I’m living in a subdivision when I could be doing this job from anywhere with high speed internet. It’s hard to imagine moving and starting over on all the home improvement projects but it’s getting more and more tempting to move somewhere with a little more land whether that’s 5 acres around here or 50 acres in Montana or Wyoming.

Elijah’s school closed down pretty shortly after I started working from home. Thank goodness that Tyla is a trained teacher because she did a great (and difficult) job helping him to finish off first grade. Schooling from home is going to change the scholastic course of a lot of kids, but for Elijah, so far I’d say that it has been a good thing. We put a strong focus on reading and kudos to him because his reading skill level has skyrocketed. Second grade has been mostly in person with lots of rules to avoid spreading COVID and all that extra reading work has been paying off. He loves math and with his solid reading skills, the other classes are going smoothly too.

The lockdown wiped our calendar clean but we tried to fill it up with more family activities. Here’s at least a partial list of the parks that we visited: Langus Riverfront Park, Tahoma National Cemetery, Brickyard Road Park, Lake Easton State Park, Kanaskat-Palmer State Park, Saint Edward State Park, 60 Acres Park, Flaming Geyser Park, Hyak Sno-Park, Marina Beach Park, Lord Hill Park, Seaquest State Park, Rasar State Park, Deception Pass State Park. Many of those were in the rain or very early in the morning to avoid crowds but it was fun to explore. We even got in a couple camping trips.

Early on in the lockdown, I struggled listening to the internetz talk about how bored they were and how they couldn’t find anything to fill their time. I dream of empty time that I can fill with hobbies like woodworking but even with cutting out my commute time, I felt stretched very thin. Work was extremely busy as we worked hard to find extra capacity for everyone who was ramping up their online presence and also provide extra support for all the research teams who were fighting the virus. Before the lockdown hit, I made some coasters for Elijah’s school fundraiser, but the major project was the chest of drawers. That took me an enormous amount of time and it’s still not quite done because I’m working on smell issues with the finish that I used, but I’m happy to be moving on to other projects.

My time has also been filled up with a lot of work for church. Pastor, the organists and I have been working together to pump out online church services every week. I had intended to learn Davinci Resolve to step up my editing game so when these church services popped up, I dove in. It was a very steep learning curve but I’m so glad that I learned it. Pastor and I have been having some editing fun with a few of the children’s sermons like the one on Pentecost when I made a flame appear over his head.

As an elder, I was (and still am) involved in a lot of difficult discussions about whether we should be having in-person services or not. Amidst all that, I tried to really pump up our online offerings beyond just the online services. We started doing member spotlights, sharing pumpkin carvings, posting Christmas music played by members, etc. I pray that it will play some small part in keeping our members close to God’s Word and that when we’ve able to safely worship together again, the church will be full.

One of the other changes from this year just climbed up the curtain: we got two cats! Tyla and I have spent years chatting about whether or not to get a pet and what kind of pet to get and we finally pulled decided to get two cats. We adopted them from a shelter in Stanwood and they have filled our house with joy and snuggles ever since.

So yes, it’s easy to focus on the negatives from this year, but hitting reset on our entire calendar had a lot of benefits to it too. My hope is that as we look back on this year, we’ll remember a lot of fun family times and how we got through it together.

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