Can We Build Tornado-Proof Houses?

by James Wallace Harris, 12/15/21

The recent tornado in Mayfield, Kentucky has me worried. I’m old, retired, and have health issues, so having my home destroyed would be immensely stressful. I feel so sorry for people in disasters like this, but especially when I see old people having to be helped because they are so helpless. I fear being helpless.

One thing I noticed in the pictures from Mayfield is some buildings survived the devastation. My friend Connell told me after Hurricane Andrew hit Miami they realized how houses were poorly constructed and made changes to the building codes. The newer homes are much more hurricane-resistant. I’m wondering if the same kind of codes can be applied to protect homes from tornadoes.

However, I don’t want to wait for new building codes or move to a new house. I doubt there are practical retrofit possibilities. One of the things that trouble me about tornadoes and other forms of weather damage is having to leave my home. If the house is a complete loss, there’s no choice, but what if there’s only some damage? Say a tree crushes one side of the house. I’d want to rebuild, and I wouldn’t want to leave my partially good house either.

So I’ve been thinking of something else. People use to have storm cellars. What if I could have a tiny home or a mother-in-law wing addition to my house that was built to strict specifications, could it survive a tornado? Something that Susan, the cats, and I could live in while our house was being rebuilt, or when storms are about to happen. Would this be practical? And how much would such a building cost?

Is Tornado Alley Shifting to the Southeast?

I’m starting to see reports that Tornado Alley is shifting to the east, with some maps putting it where I live in Memphis, Tennessee. Other people are saying it’s not shifting with widening.

This article says tornado alley is an outdated concept and suggests a new shape.

Then I saw this article about high winds. Now that’s pretty scary.

How big would a lifeboat house or addition have to be? Should it be partially underground? Or could it be built with concrete blocks and a steel frame to withstand most weather-related disasters? It would need to have a bathroom and shower, but otherwise, everything could be in one room, including a kitchenette. Should we assume water and sewer systems survive most disasters? What about gas lines? Or should it be totally self-sufficient?

This is something to think about. Maybe it’s a business opportunity for a new industry. Could a prebuilt pod be designed and mass-produced to reduce the cost of such a need? Basically, a tank-like RV or small house trailer that could be partially buried might be a good design.

Remember the bomb shelter craze of the 1950s and 1960s? Maybe we’ll have a new climate change shelter craze?


Samsung Smartcam HD Pro–On the Trail of a Savvy Rat

By James Wallace Harris, Saturday, November 15, 2014

This is a story of a rat. I didn’t know my mystery critter was a rat when my story began. That’s why we bought a security camera. So this is really a story about a rat and security camera. Most people coming to this page from Google will be researching security cameras and I have useful information for you. But I also hope you find the rat fascinating too. For sensitive people, the rat dies in the end, and for sick people, I don’t show it.

I’m including some video clips from the camera below, but only about three minutes worth. Some are taken in light, and others using the built in night vision. Just enough to give you an idea how how I used the camera. I’m not going to make a video of me reviewing the camera. This is my first time to edit a video and put it on YouTube, so it’s very basic.

A few weeks ago my mystery began. I had put out some roach bait that comes in a little plastic strip about four inches long. It’s a little trough full of brown goo that is poison to cockroaches. It works very well because we seldom see a cockroach and when we do it’s dying. Well, the next day I noticed that all the brown goo was gone from this new strip.

“Damn!” I thought. Did a whole family of roaches have a reunion dinner on that bait? The bait has never disappeared before.  So I put out new strip of bait.  A few days later I went to check on it, this time the bait AND the plastic strip was gone.  WTF? Roaches just don’t carry off plastic plates to dine on later. It was kind of freaky. Then I went into the kitchen and noticed that the bottom inch of a banana was missing from a bunch on the kitchen island.

“Shit! We’ve got a critter!” I called my wife who lives out of town during the work week. This unnerved her.

We have a million squirrels and chipmunks outside our house, and I know the chipmunks live in the crawlspace below the house, so I wondered if one of them had gotten in some way. I also wondered if it was a roof rat. Because I didn’t know what kind of critter I had invading the house I got a live trap from a friend.

I put another strip of roach bait on the trigger thinking the critter must love that stuff. But he wouldn’t go in the trap after several nights. 

My wife Susan then decided we needed a security camera and bought me a Samsung Smartcam.  We chose it over Dropcam Pro because Dropcam requires paying a $10 monthly fee to store the video online from one camera. The Samsung Smartcam stores the video on a micro-SD card. Of course, if your burglar also latched onto your Smartcam, you lose your evidence.  We didn’t think the critter would take the camera.

I set the Smartcam up in the bathroom focused on the live trap.

A few clips from the Smartcam

The next morning I had the evidence it wasn’t a squirrel or chipmunk. It looked like a very big mouse, or a small rat.  “Please, please, let it be a mouse,” I thought at the time. The idea of a rat roaming the house and attic seemed particularly creepy.

Now here’s my problem. Should I put out a mouse trap or rat trap? If it was a rat, a mouse trap might only annoy it, leaving me with an angry rat running around with a mouse trap stuck to part of its body. If I put out a rat trap and it was a mouse, I might end up crushing its hindquarters, but not killing it.  So I thought I’d try and catch it live.

I moved the live trap to the front of the house, and started closing the door to the hall, so the rat could only roam up front, and I didn’t have to worry about waking up with a rat curled up in my warm lap.

For several nights running I got to film the rat – and it became obvious that it was a rat, even a big rat, when I got to see more film. And he was a smart one too. Several times a night he’d go out and check out that live trap. Walk around it, stare into it, get up on its back legs and look at the top.  He even stuck his head in it one time and got one of the temptation chunks of cheese, but wouldn’t go in all the way and touch the trigger.  Watching the rat on the Smartcam video showed me how savvy he was, and I was getting to like him.

I realized I had another problem. If it had been a squirrel or chipmunk I would have taken it down to the woods and let it go. But I couldn’t ethically take a roof rat anywhere to free it. They will travel miles to get into a house, and I wouldn’t want to push my problem on someone else. I’ve had a couple women friends who had roof rats and they ended up hiring professions that charged a $1,000. I knew if I caught the rat I’d have to kill it, and the only way I could think of doing it was dropping the live trap in a tub of water.

I went down to Home Depot and looked at their solutions.  I bought two large rat traps, the old fashion kind.  They were powerful. I bet they could break a finger. The first night I baited it will Stilton cheese, nice and smelly.  I put them in the pantry where I thought he was coming down from the attic.  I left the live trap and camera out.  Mr. Rat was caught maybe 10 times that night checking out the live trap. The Smartcam has a motion activated mode (as well as a sound activated mode) so it only films when something moves or makes noise. This mode is perfect for critter watching.  He wasn’t interested in the killing traps (which were off camera behind an open door), and was fascinated by the live trap.  He was smart, and could smell a rat himself.

So the next night I put peanut butter on top of the cheese in the killing traps. This morning I got up and checked my Nexus 7, and saw there was one motion event, just after midnight. The rat was again checking out the live trap.  The last I saw of my friend Mr. Rat on film was when he was heading into the pantry closet where the killing traps were. It was sort of sad. I had a hunch there was a reason there were no more motion events on the camera.

I got up and went into the kitchen and opened the pantry door. He was lying dead, with the trap upside down on his head. When I turned it over I could see the wire had snapped right across his skull, killing him instantly. There was a little pool of blood next to his head, like a miniature crime scene. I had killed my critter. I was both relieved and sad. I’ve been a vegetarian since the 1960s, so I’m not into killing creatures. But I have an exception to my rule – if pests come in the house I kill them. I won’t step on a roach if it’s in the driveway, but if he comes in I’ll squash him. That applies to rats and mice. I would have relocated a squirrel or chipmunk.

I wished I could have saved the rat. He was clean and not filthy looking as their reputation, and he left damn few droppings, unlike mice. If you watch the film, you’ll see he lives in his own little world.  It’s a shame his world was an invasion of my world.

The camera was an aggravation to learn at first, but using it for several nights taught me how it works and I’m happy with it. From everything I read the Dropcam Pro is a better camera, but they charge per camera per month for video storage. If you’re serious about crime detection, then that’s the way to go. The Samsung Smartcam is advertised for monitoring children, pets and older adults, and for other monitoring that includes two-way sound. It can be use for burglar security, but if they steal it, you won’t have any video of them doing it. The Samsung is great if you want to set it up and watch your home at work or while on vacation.  It’s very easy to log into the web or use a mobile device to check the camera, or call up the stored video. It was particularly easy to use on my Nexus 7, and I like the interface better on the Android than the browser.

Setting up the camera is easy, but can be annoying. It’s meant to be so easy that you only need one small piece of paper for instructions. The mobile app guides you through everything. The part that bugged me was the two passwords. One login is for your account at the Samsung web site, and the other is for the camera itself. The camera requires being plugged into a wall socket. Unplugging it turns it off. The first time I moved the camera it felt like the camera wanted me to reconfigure it completely, so I reset the camera password. Actually, if I had let it sit for a while after plugging it back in it would have remembered everything, but the instructions didn’t tell me that, and I keep screwing around with passwords, until I got confused to what they were.

Be sure and pick passwords you can remember, and just be patient, the camera will reconfigure itself automatically after the first time each time you unplug it.

The camera is also picky about connecting to the Wi-Fi. However, I also learned if I waited long enough it seems to find it. It seems to me, that it was easier to configure when I had it near my Wi-Fi router getting a good signal, so I recommend setting it up in a strong signal location and then moving it to where you need it. The device does have an Ethernet port. It’s possible to permanently mount it, and I’m sure it would be much more responsive if wired. However, the Wi-Fi worked well enough for my mystery critter monitoring. There is a lag though, so two way communication will be like talking to someone on the Moon from Earth.

Now that I’ve caught my critter I’m going to put the camera in the attic and see if any other critters are up there. Over the years we’ve had our workshop out back robbed. I could put the camera in the window to monitor our yard, but I’m not sure I want to see how many strange people walk on our property. We used to have a fox that went through our yard. I’m thinking it might be more fun to have the camera watch the yard to see how many different animals visit us. I can think of a bunch of fun things to do if we still had pets. Ever wonder which dog tore up the pillow?

We now live in a age where we film everything. The Samsung Smartcam HD Pro is essentially a spy camera for when you’re not around. It let me play nature photographer and observe the activities of a rat in my house. That was cool, although I would prefer not to have had a rat, or the need of the camera. If you need one this Smartcam is nice once you learn how to use it. I do wish it had some features that it doesn’t. I wished I could have streamed the video to a hard drive or cloud drive instead of storing the video files on a micro-SD card.

The camera would be cooler if it had 32-64 GB of internal memory that could be accessed over the net. Right now, you sneaker net the micro-SD card band and forth between your computer when you want to edit film.  I think Samsung assumed most people would never want to keep the film, and would only look at it from a browser or mobile device and then erase it. And that might be true for most people. If I hadn’t want to include some of the results in this blog I would have done that. I imagine most people would prefer having a card slot to built in memory, but I think we’re moving away from physical media. My 32GB card could store days of continuous filming, and after I switched to motion detected filming, could have recorded weeks of occasional motion events.

It would also be cool if it had a rechargeable battery so it could be placed somewhere for 12-24 hours without any wires. Of course, that would have added a good deal to the cost of the camera.  It comes with mounting brackets, and the ability to shared with nine other cameras, so I get the feeling Samsung thinks most people will be buying multiple cameras and permanently mounting them in several locations. I’m cheap, and just playing around with the device, so I wanted one that was easy to move. To me the perfect solution would be a device with rechargeable batteries that saved film clips to local net devices.

Unless you have a real reason to have a security camera I’m not sure if they are worth the money as a casual toy. If you need to monitor something unattended, or from a distance, this Samsung Smartcam might be a good choice. Read the reviews carefully. It was a big help in catching the rat, but I’m not sure if I have any use for it now. Think hard about why you want a security camera. If you’re really have burglars, then the Dropcam Pro is probably what you want, but be prepared to pay the monthly fees.


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