Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What, I'm not still 25?

It didn't really hit me until I was filling out a survey the other day and clicked the 20-25 year-old age group and then realized that I was over 25. I wasn't just over 25 I was three years older than 25! I am closer to 30 than 20 and I suddenly felt older. Not old, necesarrily, but older.

27 was one of the best years of my life. I think it had a lot to do with it being my golden year (27 on the 27th of November). It started out celebrating Thanksgiving with my bother and sister, getting our first christmas tree, and having our first Christmas at our house. There were a lot of other firsts this year too, my first stay at a B & B, my first professional massage, watching my first official dog show, and running our first half marathon together.

I got to spend time with some wonderful friends, David and Kellie Parry (yurtin' for certain!), Mary-Frances Kenney (talking and crocheting late into the night), Denise Costello (running, walking, getting encouraged), Rod and Jessani Miner (having deep conversations late at night and eating lots of great food!), Brian and Kristi Towne (wedding!) and so many more that I am blessed to have!

I got my dream car and my amazingly cute puppy, Vinnie, and I realized just how lucky I am to have an amazing husband who takes care of me and gives me everything I need and want!

27 was awesome. So, although 28 is one more year closer to 30 I don't feel old, or sad...I feel so excited and thankful that God is giving my one more year to experience life! The ups and downs and everything in between. He is in control of it all and He has blessed me with more than I could ever want. 28, yeah, it's going to be good.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Warm Machine

Thanksgiving was awesome. We stayed at a friend's house and even spent the night. Vinnie did OK. The problem is that he's kind of a terrorist to other animals. He just wants to play, but most animals are not ready for his intense nose poke.

In an attempt to subdue him, Jessi and I brought our little space heater with us. At home, Vinnie completely melts in front of it as the picture above shows. Unfortunately, it didn't work that well on Vinnie because there were too many other distractions. However, it did work for some of the other little ones running around. My favorite part is that she called it a "Warm Machine". I agree.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving! 5 Things I'm Thankful For

  1. I'm thankful for Jessi, who is willing to help out with projects like a Septic Tank.
  2. I'm thankful for being able to practice jiu jitsu to stay healthy with my friend, David.
  3. I'm thankful for my job. HP is an awesome company to work for. Fun projects, smart people, and flexible work environment & hours. That's tough to beat.
  4. I'm thankful for Vinnie. Pretty darn cute.
  5. I'm thankful for our church. It's an awesome family that consistently challenges Jessi and I to grow in our faith.

Now quit reading blogs and go hang out with your family. :)

[image from winthrop.edu]

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Storage Wars: Part 2

As you'll recall, I've been going to storage auctions with a friend. I haven't bought anything yet, but today was the closest. Mostly because Jessi came with me since she has Thanksgiving week off. We drove up to a Public Storage facility in South Salem... and it was poring rain! About 30 other people braved the weather too.

I gave Jessi a budget if she found something she liked. One of the things that is surprisingly difficult to do is estimate how much everything is worth in a very short amount of time. We found one that didn't have much stuff, but there were some electronic gadgets, like an Xbox 360. The bids ultimately went higher than we wanted to pay, but it was fun watching the action.

While leaving, Jessi told me she had a lot of fun. It was about what she expected, though with many more people. She did however say, "Auctions are cool, but owning the storage facility would be even better." Great. I envisioned spending a couple hundred dollars and Jessi starts talking about spending a million dollars plus to buy the whole thing.

I personally think the real money is in buying a plot of land and constructing a storage facility. Of course, I would need to get over the fact that I would implicitly be encouraging people to store items instead of simplifying their lives and spending on experiences instead.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Septic Tank Sand Party

As you might recall, Jessi and I recently discovered a septic tank not properly abandoned in our backyard. After much effort, Jessi and I successfully filled in the hole and reseeded (the original point of this whole endeavor. I thought I'd share some of the stats we kept track of.

1 Hole

2 Piles
1 sand
1 dirt

14 Yards
10 sand
4 dirt

144 Wheel Barrow Trips
96 sand
48 dirt
96 by James
48 by Jessi (every 3rd trip)
~1/10th of a yard on average

2 Spills
1 by James
1 by Jessi
They both happened in a row, we decided to take a brake...

2,688 Shovel Scoops
20 scoops for a James trip
16 scoops for a Jessi trip
Jessi used a round-point shovel, James used a flat-point shovel. We split scoops.

12,960 Steps
80 round-trip steps from James per load
110 round trip steps from Jessi per load
Plus steps while shoveling, walking around, cleaning, etc

0" of Rain
God blessed us

1 Day
Started at 7:30am
Stopped at 5pm

7 hours
~ 1/2 an hour per Yard
We also raked leafs and trimmed bushes while waiting for the second load of dirt to arrive

0 Remaining Holes

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Proper Use of the Null Hypothesis When Discussing Transformers

Setting: James and Jessi are getting ready for work in the morning. Vinnie is sleeping in front of a space heater, being cute.

James: "No sacrifice, no victory! I live by the Witwicky motto!"

Jessi: "What?! Why would you base your decisions on Transformers?"

James: "Seriously? They are robots that are alive. AND they can transform. Why wouldn't I base all my decisions around them?"

Jessi: "Umm... Transformers are not real."

James: "Whoa. You cannot make such an outlandish definitive statement. All you can say is, 'There is not enough evidence to confidently claim Transformers are real'. Thus leaving the possibility open that they DO exist."

Jessi: "Sure. Whatever. There is not enough evidence to confidently claim Transformers are real. I'm leaving for work now."

James 1.

Jessi 0.


What just happened there? Statistics 101. That's what.

The subtly of the debate is around statistical hypothesis testing.

We start with what Jessi foolishly thinks to be true: "Transformers are not real".

We then need to create the null hypothesis, which is the status quo, what Jessi assumes to be true unless we find evidence to suggest otherwise: "Transformers are not real".

If there is sufficient evidence suggesting otherwise, we reject the null hypothesis and accept the alternative hypothesis, which is the opposite: "Transformers are real".

The next step is to gather evidence to reject the null hypothesis.

Generally, the reason why the goal is to reject the null hypothesis is because normally things are being measured, like the weight of sand bags. The chances of finding every single bag to weigh exactly 50 pounds are so small you'll never be able to fully accept it. However, by looking to reject (sand bags are different than 50 pounds), all you need to do is show that there's a substantial difference in weight from 50 pounds ("substantial" being pre-defined by your tolerance for error). In all honesty, most groups doing these types of tests don't actually try to formally reject, they'll just say "sand bags are 50 pounds +/- 1 pound". As long as their sand bags fall within that range, life is good. They're inherently setting up the null hypothesis, just not technically saying it.

Anyways, the whole point of giving the rejection background is to say that typically the null hypothesis is testing something with a large enough accessible population to actually generate a sample and measure some aspect of it (there are lots of bags of sand, and we can measure their weight). The Transformer case is special because, as far as I know, there are not a lot of them around that are accessible, and we're not measuring some aspect on them, but actually counting them. The null hypothesis was not originally intended for this type of question, but it still gets applied regularly (i.e. "Does God exist?") and does kind of work - especially when harassing your wife.

OK here's what we have:

Null hypothesis: "Transformers are not real" (again, assumed as true by Jessi unless proven otherwise)
Alternative hypothesis: "Transformers are real" (must be true if null is rejected)

The next step, would be to set out and try to gather evidence to reject the null hypothesis. Now, we could go into a long winded and mind-blowing discussion on experimental design, but I'll spare you. For now, let's just look at what the two outcomes could be:

Reject the null hypothesis: You, via an elegantly designed experiment that was expertly conducted to minimize error, gather enough evidence to show a substantial difference from the null hypothesis (i.e. I saw a Transformer... on TV!). Therefore, I can confidently reject the null hypothesis and declare the alternative hypothesis, "Transformers are real."

Accept the null hypothesis: You cannot gather enough evidence to show a substantial difference (I know, sounds weird, but remember the original intent of hypothesis testing). Unfortunately for Jessi, the conclusion cannot be as strong as a rejection, "There is not enough evidence to confidently say Transformers are real." There still exists the possibility that a Transformer does exist.

You see, statistics can be a wonderful thing. You can make a claim. Then create a null hypothesis for that claim. You can then gather evidence to see if you can reject the null hypothesis. Now you can see why you want to reject the null hypothesis: you can make much stronger statements. That is why I can confidently claim that Transformers exist, and Jessi can only tentatively say they do not.

For you Atheists out there, I fully acknowledge that I did not provide any evidence either way for this particular debate. I simply walked through the process and reason why Jessi needed to choose her words wisely. There is still the burden of proof, but clearly any rationale person can't flat out deny the existence of Transformers.

Hopefully you also see why it's critically important to set up your null hypothesis correctly. Could you imaging doing it the other way? I would never be able to make a strong statement, and Jessi would never be able to fully check every corner of the Universe, thus never allowing her to make a strong statement either. Meaningless really.

[Image from themoviedb.org - also makes for an epic desktop wallpaper]

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jury Duty Update

Well... there really isn't one. I was supposed to go on Wednesday, but apparently Albany is fantastic at resolving conflicts before they go to court. I guess I should be happy for myself and the other affected parties. But still, I can't help being bummed.

Given the structure of our society, conflicts often get resolved in a court room. Actually, I just finished a real estate class which spent a great deal of time talking about the role the courts play in property management conflicts - and it's a lot! So, given our society and that Jessi & I are investing/managing real estate, eventually I'll get the opportunity to learn more than I probably want to know.

Until then, I'll just need to use my hours of experience watching Law & Order as a proxy.

[image from salem-news.com]

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Case of the Hidden Septic Tank

So, one enterprising morning I toiled away in the backyard rototilling a section of grass which died over the summer. We purchased a "manual" rototiller for our garden (aka small spaces), and this space looked about 6'x13'. While toiling away, I heard a strange knocking sound... Strange indeed. Throwing caution into the wind, I grabbed my shovel to find whatever treasures lie beneath.

Eventually, I uncovered a 6'x13' concrete slab. With more poking, I chipped a small hole... A hole big enough to reveal a cavern below going down about 6', and mostly full of water. Cool! A hidden in-door swimming pool... Or maybe a dungeon for my next D&D adventure... Or, an old septic tank not properly abandoned... After a few phone calls to the city and a visit by some who actually knows what they're looking at, it turned out to be a old septic tank.

Great. Now what?

The proper protocol for abandoning a septic tanks involves a few steps.
  1. Pump out the raw sewage. Thankfully already done, the only water in the tank came from rain.
  2. Poke a couple holes in the bottom of the tank to let future rain water seep into the ground.
  3. Collapse the lid into the tank. See the video below for the fun.
  4. Fill the tank in. Oregon requires either sand or pea gravel... at $29 yard.
  5. Add new top soil and re-seed.

We're on step 4. I put an ad on Craigslist hoping someone bought too much of either sand or pea gravel. So, next weekend Jessi and I get to move about 14 yards of soil. According to WeatherSpark there should only be off and on rain. The good news? We get to buy a new toys: a wheelbarrow and flat point shovel.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Best Cartoon Series Ever

I don't watch a lot of TV. Actually, the only "TV" I watch is on Hulu and Netflix. On any given week, I watch at most 5-10 hours TV/movies. Not much by normal standards. So, you need to trust me when I say I've found something worth your time. Furthermore, this series is only 3 seasons long, and each episode is only half an hour - not too much of a time hog. Ready for it?

Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series. NOT the movie, which I hear is horrible, but somehow something I should still watch.

It is hard to express how fantastic this cartoon is. I laughed. I cried (yep). I cheered. I gleefully clicked next episode after episode to find out what happens next. There's comedy, action, suspense, romance, tension between good vs. evil, and well crafted character development.

Please excuse my gushing.

It has a heavy Asian/Anime influence, but is still very much an American cartoon. The world is comprised of four nations: Water, Earth, Air, and Fire. Each nation has people capable of bending those elements. As the intro states: the four nations used to live in harmony. Then the the Fire nation attacked. Only the avatar, master of all four elements, could stop him, but when the world needed, he vanished. A hundred years later, a brother and sister discover the new avatar - and airbender named Aang. His airbending skills are great, but he has a lot to learn before he can save anyone from the fire nation. This series tells their story.

If you have Netflix, watching this is a must. You can also get it on Amazon for a very reasonable price. Trust me, you'll love it too.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The One Minutes Sales Person [Book Review]

The One Minutes Sales Person by Spencer Johnson and Larry Wilson is a quick listen - the entire thing is about an hour. It starts off with a worn out sales person looking for advice to do better at sales. The man then talks to various people and learns some fundamental principles to being a successful sales person.

Each principle he learns can be done in just a minute (or so). That minutes sets up the rest of the sales process to be more effective.

As someone looking to improve my sales skills, this was a welcome book. I like getting solid principles I can internalize, which then shapes my behavior later.

A few highlights:

  1. Stay on purpose: Take one minute to remember why you're selling. The reason should go beyond "to make money", it should be a deeper purpose. This is the cornerstone principle of the entire book.
  2. Genuinely care about the other person: Take one minute to put yourself in their shoes, their situation. This will help you connect and, hopefully, not push them to do something they wouldn't want to do.
  3. People hate to be sold, but they love to buy: Therefore your job is to help people discover if they need or want the product/service you're providing. Furthermore, draw out their needs with questions instead of just telling them.
  4. Use the word "Person" instead of "Prospect": This will help you remember that this is a real person on the other side. A person with feelings, with needs, with a heart. Take a minute to remember who you're dealing with - it's not just "a numbers game", it's "connecting with people".

Notice a theme? The reason I like this book is because it's about genuinely connecting with people with a purpose. It gives principles on how to be a better person, not how to trick people into buying.

It's a quick read at a reasonable price. I recommend reading it.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Jury Duty

On Wednesday I get to enjoy participating in our glorious legal system with jury duty. I'm actually pretty excited about it. For various reasons, I've managed to avoid getting called in the past, like going to school out of state and then once getting called a week after I moved out of the county.

The only other time I've been in a court room was when dealing with some tenants we inherited. I was excited to see and learn a lot, but we ended up going first in the morning. I was in the court room a whole 10 minutes and didn't see anything. Good for our business, kind of a let down for me. Hopefully this time I'll get to see and learn a little more.

If anything exciting happens I'll make sure to share it.

[Image from free-extras.com]

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Movie Previews With Netflix

I've been thinking about Netflix a bit lately. Most of it around how such a great company can make such bad decisions. Truly remarkable. However, today I had a different thought.

One of the things I love about going to the theater is seeing all the new movie previews. I can't imagine I'm alone on this one. It's exciting to see what's up and coming. Assuming I'm not the only one who likes movie previews...

What if Netflix also showed movie previews? Like in the theater, on their streaming service. I know what you're thinking, this is nothing but the start of commercials. Well... maybe... but I think if Netflix is smart about it, people would love it.

Here's what I think Netflix should do to make it a success:

  1. Limit themselves to only trailers like a theater. It could be for TV shows too, but the key is for trailers/previews only.
  2. Only show one trailer before each movie - let's not get crazy here.
  3. Use their magic-movie-matching algorithm to only show trailers I'd really be interested in.
  4. Related, if a person only matches on a couple trailers, don't repeat it over and over and over again.  Hulu does this and it's annoying. Just go straight to the movie.
  5. Let me skip the preview just like on a DVD. It's OK.
  6. Netflix could also use this system for content discovery. There's got to be thousands of old trailers for old movies. Include these trailers for movies currently streaming, again, that I might be interested it based on your magic-movie-matching algorithm (and let me add it to the queue instantly with a single click).
  7. Obviously, charge production studios to advertise their movies on Netflix. If done reasonably, Netflix could easily pick up a few extra million dollars - to put towards getting better content.
I honestly think people would enjoy seeing the trailers, again, in reasonable doses. I would! Of course, I think Netflix should offer trailers on-demand because sometimes their movie descriptions aren't the best...

What's really cool about movie previews is that it's another way for Netflix to generate revenue without charging customers, while still entertaining them and adding better content over time.

I'm sure the engineering hurdles are massive to create a system like this, but I really think this could be huge for Netflix. Just imagine sitting down to watch a movie and first getting to experience something as glorious as the Avengers trailer.