Studio711

COVID-19: Part 8

We made it through day 50 of the lockdown! Most places in the US seem to have seen their peak hospital utilization. Daily infection rates have flattened out so at least things aren’t getting exponentially worse. Our efforts are working. However, our fight is far from cheap. The economy is struggling to deal with this, unemployment is skyrocketing, and people are antsy to gather in groups again.

Your reading assignment for today is an excellent post by Bill Gates. He has devoted his life to global health issues so it’s extremely interesting to get his take on the situation. If you only have time to read one post, read his!

For my own feeble analysis, let’s start by looking at the IHME models. As we move into the long recovery period, I find this to be a great source of information. They do a good job of showing how the current load relates to the total availability of hospital resources, how the speed of recovery is uncertain and at one point we might get to a day when nobody dies from the virus in the state. I took their data normalized it by state population and then calculated the predicted total deaths per 100,000 people based on the average output of the IHME models. I think this helps to show how various states reacted to the virus and how well their efforts to slow the virus are working. I picked the top 10 states along with a few others where some of you live.

LocationMean Deaths Per 100,000
New York119.4
Connecticut84.3
New Jersey79.5
Massachusetts61
Rhode Island57.7
North Dakota46.7
Louisiana38.3
Michigan33.8
District of Columbia32.4
Wyoming27.8
Illinois16.9
Indiana14.4
Washington10.7
Vermont7.3
Ohio6.9
Minnesota6.4
Wisconsin6.1
Montana1.7

Some states have a harder time containing this than others. Most people are spread out in Montana so a lockdown probably doesn’t need to be very severe. New York City is much denser so they need an extreme lockdown to contain the spread. And then there’s the question of how many deaths the lockdown itself causes. What’s the right balance point? I think all we know for sure right now is that “it depends”. With this heavy social and political push to end the lockdown, it feels pretty inevitable that we’re going to start growing exponentially again. Very little has changed since the first growth period. Social distancing is the only tool we have to fight this. There’s no vaccine or treatment, and now the WHO is evening questioning whether it’s possible to build up an immunity. I do think we’re going to oscillate back and forth a bit until we find the least amount of lockdown that keeps us at some sustainable balance of infections and economic pain. I don’t think anybody has the answers about what that balance point is yet so we’ll have to fail a few times as we get it figured out.

The only way this works is if everyone participates in following the guidance provided by your local government. Doing otherwise is selfish. Stay home. Stay healthy. We can do this if we do it together.

If your government says it’s ok to start easing up on the lockdown, then use your best judgement. I know it’s going to be a long time before the three of us feel comfortable in a crowd again. I’m starting to have dreams at night where the basic premise is that I realize I’m in a crowd and regardless of how I got there, I don’t know how to extricate myself. I’m guessing I’m not alone in those kind of thoughts. Thankfully our management has already said that we will not be among the first to return to the office, and even when it is an option, we’ll all be able to keep working from home as long as we want to. I don’t expect a mad rush to fill up the office spaces again.

It has been an interesting time to be a husband and a parent too. Other than getting food, we have had almost zero contact with anyone outside our house and that’s our continued plan until the lockdown restrictions are eased. While being home together is a chance for us to bond and grow stronger as a unit, we’re very eager to have parks and hiking trails open again so we can get out a bit more. More and more trails will be snow-free as the year warms up so that will spread out the hikers and I’m confident I can find trails with low crowds on them.

Little League thinks they’re going to resume practices on May 11 and June 1. I find it highly unlikely that they’ll be allowed to operate on that schedule. On the surface that feels like a great activity since it’s outside and fairly spread out, but if you’ve ever walked through the fields on a Saturday, you know it’s a huge event. Six fields with ~12 kids each plus coaches, families, umpires, and concession booth workers add up to a big crowd in a tiny space. We opted to skip this year and use our money as a credit toward next year. I also expect a fair amount of other families will be opting out so it will be interesting to see hear if they have to combine teams or anything like that.

In the face of uncertainty, we press on knowing that God has this under control and even though we are being tested, we won’t be pushed beyond what we can bear.

James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Waterfall

Last August, Tyla and I saw the Piano Guys playing in Marymoor (so many people in a crowd! That seems unthinkable now!) Jon Schmidt is the amazing piano player half of that duet and for my birthday, I received one of the piano books he has published for his solo work.

The songs are very advanced so when I picked the first one to learn, I started with the one he said was the easiest piece in the book: Tribute. I didn’t post that one before, but I’ll include it below.

When it came time to pick the next song to learn, I opened to the first one in the book and thought, “Hmm, why not this one?” Then I fired up Spotify and listened to him play it. WHOA. So many notes in 3 minutes! It took me a few months but I was finally able to play it to my satisfaction (albeit about 15% slower than he does it and with a few more bad notes along the way.)

I feel a little silly posting these because obviously if you want to see him play the songs, you can just look them up on YouTube, but I do record almost all of my songs when I learn them because it’s fun to look back at them. I like to record them at church because that piano sounds so nice in that huge room.

So at the very least, go watch Jon Schmidt’s original version of Tribute and Waterfall. They’re beautiful pieces. My attempts are embedded below if you want to see those too.

Online Church Services

Pastor, Dave (our main organist) and I have been rapidly figuring out how to put together online church services more efficiently. The first week was Pastor recording from his laptop in his living room but now we’re doing full services recorded at church with multiple camera angles, music, hymns, and liturgy. It’s far from a professional operation and this makes me want to upgrade our gear even more, but we’re certainly doing a lot with what we have available.

Here’s our basic flow for the week:

  • Pastor records the liturgy and children’s sermon. Those get copied to the computer at church and then it slowly uploads it to our Backblaze cloud backup provider so that I can download it. I usually have the files by Wednesday or Thursday. There is an MP4 file from each of the camcorders and the audio from the mics ends up on a DVD.
  • Pastor records the next day and sends those to me the same way.
  • Dave records pre and post service music along with all of the hymns and liturgy. He can get a WAV output file from his organ/computer at home and those files go on Dropbox.
  • As the files come in from Pastor, I strip the audio out of the DVD files, align it with each of the video files and then I align the video files with each other so I can switch camera angles.
  • From there I watch all the video, cut out the spots where Pastor may have done multiple takes, and remove all the points where the cameras are being moved, etc.
  • For the hymns and Dave’s music, I need to have something to display on screen. We’re using only the public domain hymns so I’m able to get images of the hymns and display those.
  • That would be sufficient but I’ve been adding some polish on them as well:
    • Normalize the audio. Speaking is -7dB and organ is -10dB.
    • Run a dialogue processor over Pastor’s audio to try and clean it up a little. Our microphone setup is really basic. It sounds fine in church but on a recording, it’s not great. This helps a tiny amount.
    • Add titles at various points in the service.
    • Sometimes I’ll do a little color correction on the video and I try to rotate it to make sure it’s perfectly aligned.
    • At any point where the viewers are invited to sing along, I started making animated highlights that show what is being sung.
    • Add subtitles for all Bible readings and the Apostles Creed
  • Once everything is done, I render the video to a single MP4 file. Thanks to my new PC build, this only takes about 15-20 minutes. I end up with a file between 1.5 and 2GB.
  • That file gets uploaded to both YouTube and Facebook. We get better numbers when the files are posted in each place natively instead of posting a link to YouTube from Facebook. Each of those videos needs to have all the metadata tags filled out and I make a description with timecodes for each key point in the service. Then I pick a thumbnail and schedule the release for 8am on Sunday morning.

Then I’m done! With any luck I’m done early afternoon on Saturday, but we’re getting better and Pastor is moving his schedule up so I think that soon I’ll have a week where I’m done by Friday.

Then on Sunday morning, I sit down with Tyla and Elijah to watch the service. I try hard to focus on the message but in the back of my mind I’m always cringing a little bit wondering if there’s going to be some huge mistake in the video. So far so good.

Hello Fresh Review

When I bought my computer, one of the components came with a coupon for Hello Fresh. It was a weird pairing, but it worked. I figured I would just keep the service for the heavily discounted first ~4 weeks and then drop it, but I have yet to cancel. We used to eat out about once a week, but with the lockdown, we’re not doing that. Hello Fresh has helped keep dinner time a bit different on a couple nights a week.

We’ve had the service for six weeks now and here are some of my thoughts:

  • It’s expensive. We pay $51.95 for two meals a week. Each “two person meal” is enough to feed all three of us because Elijah isn’t a huge eater yet. I guess if you are someone who eats out all the time, this will seem like a bargain, but I generally make our meals for a way less than $26/night. In fairness, if you were to buy more meals or get bigger servings, the cost per meal does go down.
  • The food is good! There are a plenty of options to pick from every week and I don’t think we’ve had any real duds. The food is generally a little bit fancier than my normal recipes so it’s a nice change of pace.
  • Those fancier recipes mean quite a bit more work too. It’s always takes a bit of extra concentration when I do a new recipe for the first time, but there are a lot of moving parts in these recipes. They generally have a main dish and two side dishes so it’s a lot to coordinate and time out. The instructions are thorough and do a good job, but they would all be easier the second time around. As it is, it feels a bit like I’m on a cooking show being given a test to see if I can get everything on the table around the normal dinner time.
  • The time estimates are bogus. I feel like after cooking dinner for the last ~20 years, I’m fairly good at it, but I don’t understand how anyone can make most of those recipes in the time specified on the recipe. At the very least I need to preheat my oven much sooner. I learned early on to read the recipe early in the day to build my own time estimate of when I should start making it. I generally expect 30-45 minutes to make dinner. The shorter ones MIGHT fit in on a normal weeknight if I got home from work a little early, but generally those are too long to fit into our schedule. But since I’m working from home right now, it’s fine.

So yes, we’re happy with it. It’s fun to explore and I am saving all the recipes. I expect we’ll put some of them into our regular rotation but once this lockdown dwindles off, I can’t imagine we’ll keep paying for the service. It’s neat for what it is, but it doesn’t fit into our budget.

Spring in Winchester Hills

I think it’s safe to say we could all use a little fresh air and wooosahhhhhh about right now. We’ve been going on a lot of walks and our neighborhood has a lot of beautiful flowers right now. I used a combination of my drone and my cell phone to record some of them and made a quick video. Thanks to all of our neighbors for making our spring very colorful!

Geek note: This is also the first high res video I’ve rendered out with Resolve. It’s 2720×1530 (2.7k) because that’s the max that my drone can record but it still looks gorgeous on my 4k monitor.