Statistical “Events”

We’ve had significant flooding in the area twice in the last 10 years of so.

Back in 1996 there was significant flooding in the area. At the time it was declared, depending on where you lived, as a “100 year flood” or a “thousand year flood”. Out in Vernonia, I guess each was referred to as a “500 year flood”.

We also had significant flooding in 2007.

Side Note: All of this presumes a wealth of historical data which I think is suspect to begin with. I realize that we can find indications in historical data to predict some events, but given that our insight in to the weather of 500 years ago in the Northwest is pretty limited, I have to be a bit wary of the putting much weight on it.

Statistically, if you buy a 1:500 chance of something happening, the odds of it happening back to back are 1:250000 or one in a quarter million. I realize it’s not quite that since it’s been 10 years between 1996 and 2007, but the number is big. And yet it happened.

Could it be a statistical anomaly? Sure. We could go another 10,000 years and not have it happen, but I’m not holding my breath.

Whether you believe in Global Warming or not. Whether you believe this is a cycle influenced by humans or not, things seem to be changing in the weather. Even our current administration finally had to acknowledge the changes, if not agree on the source.

In that case, I wonder how often such determinations as “one in a 100/500/1000” are recalculated?

If it happens again in less than 10 years, then do the experts say “yeah, 3 times in 20 years would seem to indicate our estimates are a bit off. Or does it only take two times?

I’m sure there are people trying to figure this out right now. Surely people who sell flood insurance are going to be going over the data. Two “events” that were supposed to be 1:500 in 10 years has really got to put a kink in their bottom line, I would think.

And I can only image that it will really be a bad thing for people who were purchasing flood insurance based on data indicating they were only at risk once in five hundred years suddenly have their rates spike when the insurance companies change their estimates and declare it to be a much higher risk. Potentially a higher enough risk to make flood protection prohibitive.

What a terrible thing to have to deal with on top of potentially losing much of their possessions, to then have to look at either paying a significantly increased premium or, even worse, having to sell, perhaps at a reduced value, because of the now increased risk of flooding.

Make: Making Movies!

My goal for this evening was to try and turn a video captured from a camera in to something to be shared via the Internets.

The source material was a dance competition. The material was about 2:30 in length. No real editing since it was basically from start to finish.

Since I’m working with a Mac these days, I tried to use tools that were available to me there.

I chose to use iMovie ’08 since that was the latest version I had available to me.

I’ve never used the tool before, so I was coming at it as a complete newbie.

The use model was pretty simple. All I had to do was import the movie that I’d downloaded from the camera. But I also wanted some Title and End pages. I created those in Photoshop with a simple black background and white font. I dragged those to the project and had to move the Title to the front and the End to, well, the end.

Here is where I found what appears to be a common annoyance with iMovie ’08 and that’s the Ken Burns effect on photos. This is a Zoom effect where the size of the title card (for example) is varied for the duration of the shot.

This appears to be the default for photos in iMovie.

I had to do a bit of searching on the web, but eventually I discovered that if I selected the photo, then the crop tool, it brings up a screen with three options: Fit, Crop and Ken Burns (which is selected by default). Simply choose Fit and Done and life goes back to what we’d expect for a simple Title card. This eliminated that problem for me.

After being satisfied with that part, it was time to Export. My first pass was to export at the video size, which was 640×480. The original movie was 81M, so I had hoped it would get smaller. Nope. It got larger. Like 121M larger. Well, that won’t work. Waaaay to big, even in these days of giant (relatively speaking) pipes.

To avoid this, I then exported in a smaller size and accepted the Mobile option in iMovie and exported at 480×360 for size.

Since I figured most of the viewers would be Windows users, I next used a tool called Visual Hub to convert the movie to .avi, which I thought would be more easily viewed. This made it smaller (like 14M) but not viewable for some reason on Windows boxes.

After a bit more searching on the subject of optimal formats for the best odds of viewing across machines, it appeared the front runner was Flash. So, breaking out Visual Hub again, changed options to Flash and generated a Flash version that was only slightly larger than the previous (non-functional) AVI version.

Once I uploaded this to my server for testing and simply giving it the URL, I was faced with a pixelated version blown up to fill the size of the browser window. I could always change the size of the window, but that’s inelegant.

Even a bit more searching and I was able to discover an embedded version that set the size of the flash window. Something like so:


<title>Zoe's Dance Competition - 02/23/2008</title>



<embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="480" height="360"></embed>



And that did it!

You can see the result at:

Thing Learned:

  • iMovie
    • Basic usage
    • Trimming bits
    • Modifying Photos to avoid the Ken Burns effect
    • Adding simple transitions
  • Visual Hub
    • Export to AVI didn’t work as expected
    • Export to Flash worked great
  • Web Stuff
    • How to create a simple page with embedded Flash that controls the size to avoid Flash filling the browser and appearing pixelated

Time Spent: 2 hours

New Year, new site

Okay, I might usually try and do this in January, but that didn’t happen.

Now it’s February.  And the latter part of February at that and I’m updating my site.

I’ve done some sort of redesign most years since I’ve had the site.

I started this back in 1999 according to my records.  Using the Internet Archive (or Wayback Machine) it looks like goes back to at least the start of 2000 in various incarnations.

So, this is the start of probably the eight year of having a personal web page.

I was thinking about why I have a personal web page.  Sometimes it’s been to share things like when I was doing CG animation (the results can still be seen at Desktop Studios).  Sometimes it’s been to share photos from trips with family.  Much of it has probably been just to have something to learn about and play with.  I’ve learned HTML and now some CSS for web styling and even touched a bit of PHP.  I’ve spent time working with Photoshop for graphic design.

Then when I was in the midst of fiddling with the front page yet again, I wondered why the heck I was doing this.  Do I care that perhaps no one will see the result or read anything I happen to write?  Maybe not.  If someone creates something and no one sees it, does the act of creation still matter?

If an artist (not that I’m claiming the status) were to paint his entire life but hide the results in an attic until his death, sharing with no one, is it still art?  Does art require the participation of a viewer to be art?  I don’t know the answer.

Same thing applies to the web page and this writing.  If no one were to read it or view it or interact with it, is the act of creation sufficient to justify the time and effort?  Maybe so.

Maybe it is enough to simply create for the sake of creation.

And maybe it’s enough to make something just to learn how.

I have built a few Adirondack chairs using a plan I found on the web (google “Jake’s Chair” to see what built).  Does it matter that I only made them for myself as an exercise in woodworking?  I never sold them or shared them with others, other than offering a chair to a visitor.  But I still made it and enjoyed the act of creation and the process and the learning.

Interesting side note: There is someone selling those chairs for $225, including the footstool.  They’re asking $225 for both.  I assume that’s for a built chair and stool.  Even with (relatively) inexpensive cedar, I think the materials are close to $100 if I recall.  Maybe $80.  That means the maker is netting let’s say $150 for the work.  It’s not a tough thing to build, especially after you have built a pattern, some blanks and done your first chair.  If they’re clearing $100, they’re making … maybe $10/hour?  I’m not sure I’d be willing to build them at that rate.  A pair can consume a weekend really easily, especially if you seal and/or stain them.  Anyway, that’s off topic, but does touch on the subject of art or craft for profit.  That’s another good reason to create, if you can pay for your time.

Back on topic: Is it sufficient for a personal web site, or any other crafted thing, to exist solely for the exercise, for the personal enjoyment and for the learning?  Sure, I think that’s reasonable.

Make: Calendars!

This isn’t a long one.

I was struggling with an interesting idea for Valentines Day. Something more than chocolates and flowers and a card. Something creative, something at least a bit different.

After some brainstorming, I decided a customized calendar was in order.

It turns out the Costco Photo Center not only has a pretty decent print service (and is close to home), but it offers some other things you can create with you own pictures, like mouse mats, coffee cups and calendars.

The first thing to do was search through my photo collection to arrive at a photo set that seemed appropriate.

Then I had to upload those photos to Costco. Here I hit one of the negatives with the service: You can only upload 12 pictures at a time and you have to browse for each. I’d really have preferred some sort of drag & drop or group select for pictures to upload. I ended up with something like 72 pictures I thought I might use (yes, it was excessive) and uploading those 12 at a time was a pain.

Next you get to create your calendar. You can choose some basic styles then start dropping pictures on the calendar. You get to choose the front page pic and the text on the front page. For each month you can pick one or several pictures in different configurations. A feature I really like was being able to drop pictures on particular dates and add captions, like a kids’ picture on their birthday. Very nice.

Just for fun, I also picked a day or two extra each month and dropped other pictures in, like National Grandparents Day (which is real!) and Hug Your Sister Day and things like that.

You can choose from either 8.5×11 inch or a large 11×17, which turns out to be pretty darn big.

Because I came to my idea a bit later than I should have, I ordered the expedited delivery.

It came on time and the quality was very good for the size of pictures being printed.

This would be a great idea for Christmas gifts also. The price was also pretty darned reasonable even compared to a calendar filled with puppies with huge eyes or your favorite wrestling stars, though probably not in the same calendar.

Time Spent:

  • 1 hr idea
  • 2 hr selecting source photos
  • :45 upload
  • 1 hr design
  • :15 order

Cost: Less than $20 for the calendar (expedited shipping extra)

Second home, first visit

The Arrival

Recently we purchased a second home. This is not something I thought likely for me, but we made it happen and I’m pretty excited about it.

It’s near an area that flooded in recent storms, so there has been a fair bit of damage to homes, roads, infrastructure, etc. It is very much still in recovery.

Up to the cabin for the first time. Weather was nasty with a storm hitting the coast and the Coast Range. Evidence of the storm was all over the road in the form of branches and tree bits. It was windy, wet and nasty.

But, having said all that, I am looking forward to having the place, even looking forward to being alone in the place for the evening. Fun!

I pull up the road and … what the heck?! The lights are on in the cabin.

My first thought was that our realtor, knowing that I was planning on being there that evening, had put the lights on for me. But, no, there is a truck above the cabin on the road. Again, what the heck?!

As I approached the front door and looked in, I was thinking the best odds were that the electrical contractor I was expecting the next morning was perhaps getting an early start on the work to be done tomorrow.

Sure enough, all I could make out was the lower half of a man up on a ladder in the loft area. So, if he was thieving, he was picking the wrong place to start. If he was the contractor, that would make sense.

I unlocked, went inside and he came down and introduced himself: “I’m the electrician.” “Hi” I replied, “I’m the owner.”

He explained that he has family he is staying with this weekend up here and thought to come by and scope out the work for tomorrow to be sure he has everything and to avoid trips back and forth tomorrow. I suspect he still won’t have everything he needs to get done what he needs to tomorrow. That would result to a trip to the nearby town (a half hour away) I don’t recall any good sized stores there. Well, hopefully, between he and the general fix-it guy, they’ll have what they need.

He also informed me that the electrical panel right behind the toilet in the master (half) bath is totally outside code. I pointed out the county inspector signed off on it (he did), but he said again that it was totally in violation of the electrical codes to have the panel there. I asked what the alternatives where and he said outside, but that’s bad because it’s too wet out here. Not sure what, if anything, we can do about this now. Our inspector didn’t say anything about it, so I don’t have that leg to stand on.

Unloading the car

Getting ready to move the futon mattress. Rainy, wet, dark. Thinking “Well, this could go wrong in lots of different ways”.

Then, as if to prove the universe’s infinite ability to surprise me, as I started to pick up the futon, the universe demonstrated a brand new and unexpected way for things to go sideways.

I set off the emergency horn on the car. While it was honking over and over again, loudly, for what seemed like very, very long minutes, I was struggling with the keys. I managed to hit the unlock button on the remote. That didn’t stop it, unlike two other vehicles that behaved that way. I tried locking it again. Nothing but the unceasing honk of the horn in the otherwise quiet night. I tried getting in the car and starting it. Nope. Nothing.

Then, totally on a whim, I tried hitting the only other button I hadn’t yet already hit: the emergency button again. And it stopped! Ye gods!

Poked around this evening doing a few small projects inside. Stayed up till 10pm doing things. 10pm didn’t used to seem so late. Maybe it’s just because I’m up here all by myself and get tired because there’s no one to talk with. Yeah, maybe that’s it…

Note: It’s really, really dark out here if you turn off all the lights.

Next Morning

Need slippers! The floors are cold, even if the heat is up. At least in the dead of winter.
Alarm clock or clock of some sort in the bedroom. Only electrical clocks are on the appliances in the kitchen.
Heaters are noisy when they run and when they turn on. Woke me up several times.
Shower worked great. Fortunately we have towels, shampoo, conditioner and soap up here! Makes a guy feel human to start his day.
Stove stinks when heating up water!

Oatmeal and oranges for breakfast. Not that interesting, but probably much more healthy than many alternatives.

I can’t shake this notion that as we get older, we trade the pleasures of the flesh (good, rich food, bad habits) for the hope of living longer. And we hope that the trade is worthwhile in the long run with a better quality of life. The Grasshopper and the Ant teaches us to give up the joys of the immediate for the long term comfort of planning ahead. But, what if winter never comes? What if you don’t make it that far? But, by contrast, if you plan that way, what if it does? *sigh*

While sitting in the dining area futzing on my computer, I looked up and out the front to see a deer (“Doh! A deer! A female deer!”) walking across my field of view in front of the porch.
I kept still and she walked in front of the porch and around to the side.
Curious if she was still there, I peeked out the front side window and … hey! There’s two of them! And hey! They’re eating my shrubs!

My first instinct was to make a loud noise to scare them away, but first I took a couple pictures from inside the house (bad glare, so not good pictures). Then I slipped on my shoes and carefully and quietly slipped out the front door to take some pictures of them (without flash) by sneaking the camera over the railing.

About that time, the contractors showed up and I decided they’d had enough of a snack, so I said “Hello, ladies. How’s breakfast?”
At that point, they decided to exit stage left in search of someone else’s shrubs.
But, what a great thing to wake up to in the morning! I realize it’s only deer, but it’s still pretty darn cool!

Contractors (electrical and general fix-it guy) here at 9 am.

The fix-it guy said he saw three coyote on the way in and asked if I heard them singing last night. (I didn’t) But, again, how cool?

Mr Fix-it grunts, a lot, when he works. Also talks to himself. When he’s not talking to me or the electrician.

When the electrician noted that the sheetrock piece he was working on was all angles, Mr Fixit replies “A remodel like this: Ain’t nothing that’s plumb, level nor square!”

We need a couch. You need a couch before you can really relax. Plus I think I’ll try this heater/stove thing. It’s nippy up here, even though I have both heaters turned up to a reasonable level. I think it’s because my feet (which are only in socks) are cold.

It’s cold and nasty outside. Pretty darn grey day. But, hey! At least it’s not raining at the moment.

There is a lot of water running through the creek. Lots. It’s wide, fat, fast and brown. Doesn’t look like it’s in imminent danger of jumping the banks, but it’s not hard to imagine that if it did, the amount of damage that could do is significant!

The lower part of the property, the area down by the creek, is looking pretty nasty. It looks like it has been used by some people to get over to their property to perhaps salvage docks or something. I conclude this on the basis of the tire tracks filled with water down there. But, regardless, it’s wet and nasty and I do wonder how likely or possible it will be to turn that in to something useable.

I imagine filling in a good portion of it, having a gravel road/parking area below with stairs leading up to the house. Eventually adding the dock. Maybe a picnic table and/or a firepit down there.

All for not if that area is going to flood every few years.

It’s now raining/sleeting. In any case, bits of ice appear to be falling from the sky. I wish I could tell you it was nice or pretty, but really it just makes me glad I’m inside and warm.

Things accomplished on this trip:

  • Turned on water to house (must remember to turn it off when leaving!)
  • Wiped down floor where I got it wet
  • Put together dining room table. Dunno how well it will work. It’s high and the chairs have no backs.
  • Made bed
  • Cleaned toilet
  • Verified hot water is working
  • Set out plunger, toilet cleaner, bathroom garbage cans, kitchen garbage cans
  • Some kitchen stuff, more to put away tomorrow
  • Fixed slider on door blinds on right side front door
  • Raised light in the dining area so I don’t brain myself.

Things we still need:

  • Window blinds
  • Silverware insert (13 inch drawer)
  • Outside welcome mat
  • Outside wide broom
  • Ladder to loft

Longer Term:

  • Need to think about sealing deck, putting sand on for traction
  • Sandpaper strips on stairs from above (19 steps)
  • Back of main toilet: 4 inches clearance behind. 21 inch wide top of toilet. Can only go 52 inches, tops, along side of toilet before hit sloped wall
  • Back of master toilet: 5 inches, 21 wide, 60 inches before hit slope of wall
  • Remove unnecessary links in dining area light so it’s less unsightly.