Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

Landscaping, Part 2: Design

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:13 am, August 18th, 2019

Continuing from Part 1, our journey to convert the boring grass landscaping of our home into a wildlife-friendly, low-water environment with more usable space took an eternity for us to figure out how to begin, but the project accelerated greatly in May 2018 when we met with Tom Stout of Stout Design Build, and after getting excited by his initial sketches we hired him in June 2018 to do a full design.

After we struggled to make even the most basic decisions about what our yard should look like, it was humbling to have Tom come over and within five minutes see a drawing start forming that got us excited. Not only did his ideas show a beautiful, functional yard, but he integrated our suggestions while making sure more mundane needs like drainage were being accounted for. At one point during his initial visit I mentioned that I wanted a fountain or some other sort of water feature for the animals, he looked at the drawing he was making, and said the now-fateful words “what about a stream”? Audrey’s eyes opened wider than any human’s eyes should be able to open, and she practically yelled “OH MY GOD I WOULD LOVE A STREAM!”. I was skeptical, but they proceeded at a furious pace to discuss ponds and other features, so it felt like a win when I was finally able to dial things back to “just” a stream. Audrey was practically glowing for the next several months every time she talked about having a stream in the yard, and now that it’s actually flowing I will freely admit that my concerns about turning our yard into the Disneyland Jungle Cruise were unfounded and that Holliday Creek is one of the best decisions we made.

Aside from the stream, plans evolved such that the back yard would be a native plant, wildlife-friendly area, while the front yard would be filled with all sorts of weird plants that Audrey referred to as her “alien garden”. We added a flagstone patio close to the house to create the usable outdoor space we wanted, and new flagstone walkways to provide natural paths through the area. Swales in the front and back were included to allow rainwater to permeate back into the soil instead of draining to the sewers, and drainage was modified to fill the swales, including reconfiguring gutters and adding cuts in our driveway to catch water that would otherwise have flowed across the concrete and into the street. We sadly agreed to remove the giant ficus in our back yard – it was an amazing tree that filled the sky and had twisting branches that I climbed and Audrey hung lanterns from, but it was clearly intent on eating our property, with its roots tilting the wall on the property line and most likely turning the foundations of the house into Swiss cheese. Audrey added a small seating area for the front that doubled as the home for the coffin on Halloween (Tom noted that this was his first plan that required a place for a coffin), and other changes included new landscape lighting, drip irrigation, work to shore up a wall, a cement foundation for a new shed, etc.

By November of 2018 the project was ready to start, so I began some demolition work prior to the arrival of Tom’s team. While we could have contracted his team to handle the full demo, we were still experiencing post-traumatic stress from the project price estimate and wanted to find some ways to reduce costs, and I was more than happy to have a reason to smash things after long days sitting in front of the computer. One of the previous owners of our house had a love affair with brick, so we had a brick patio that had been mangled by the ficus tree that needed to come out, numerous brick walkways, and a brick porch, in addition to a decrepit shed and a termite-eaten trellis that I attacked with vigor. Each day I would spend 8-11 hours in front of the computer, then end the day with a mallet and chisel, annoying the neighbors as I loudly chipped bricks out of the mortar. In the end we sold or gave away hundreds of bricks that were still usable, and the rest filled several dumpsters that were hauled away by Culver City sanitation.

Finally, with plans drawn up and after several weeks of brick-smashing, in December 2018 the crew arrived, and the next journal entry in this series will cover what ended up being more than five months of muddy work that completely transformed our outside space.

Neosho back yard
Progress photo showing the demo of the shed, trellis and brick patio using nothing other than a mallet, a chisel, and my now broken back.
Neosho front yard
One of the previous owners LOVED bricks; we sold or gave away hundreds of them, and filled several dumpsters with the rest. This pile is just a tiny portion of what we got rid of.

Landscaping, Part 1: Where to Begin

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:09 pm, August 14th, 2019

It’s been quiet on the journal lately, but in an effort to record major life events so that I can remember them once I start going senile I’m going to publish a few entries before the year ends.

Obviously a lot has happened in 2019, but one of the highlights has been our project to redo the landscaping at our house. Unlike most homeowners whose first big project would be a bathroom or kitchen remodel, several years ago Audrey and I decided that we wanted a friendlier outdoor space that didn’t require tons of California’s scarce water supply for irrigation. However, we’re still relatively new to this whole homeownership thing, and we were utterly lost as to where we should begin.

One of our first forays into figuring out what our new landscaping should be was attending a workshop on “turf removal” where we actually went to someone’s house and were given instructions on how to assist them in removing their grass. Any benefits the owners might have gotten from the free labor were likely erased by having amateurs doing the work; I was told to dig a trench around the edge of the yard and promptly put a shovel through a buried irrigation line, and while others were less destructive with their incompetence, mistakes aplenty were made. As the workshop proceeded we learned how to use a turf cutter to remove grass, assisted in digging a new swale for rainwater capture, and introduced mulch and humate into the dirt to promote better soil biology. Unfortunately, while we left more knowledgeable about the process of removing turf, and also with the important insight that we didn’t want amateurs doing the work at our house, we were no closer to figuring out what we actually wanted our yard to look like.

Further efforts at figuring out our future yard design included joining the annual Theodore Payne Foundation Native Plant Garden Tour. This local event is sponsored by an organization that promotes landscaping with native plants and operates an impressive nursery & educational center in the Valley. The tour let us see how other people on the Westside had created native plant gardens, and also gave us the chance to talk to several different landscapers responsible for the designs. In many cases these yards felt like rocky deserts or disorganized tangles of weeds, but some of them captured the feeling of being in nature that we were hoping for, while still providing the functional outdoor space we wanted. We got contact info from one landscaper we liked, and booked an appointment for him to pay us a visit and make some suggestions. Sadly, after discussing our vision for the yard he proceeded to mostly ignore our requests and spent the bulk of his visit doing calculations to determine how deep he would need to dig swales to capture the rainwater from our roof, and we ended the day without any better idea of how to begin our project.

For the next few months I occasionally researched local landscapers online, but none seemed to match what we wanted. Some focused entirely on plants and didn’t seem like they could integrate a patio or other non-plant elements into the design. Some were contractors whose projects all seemed to be sterile creations of stone and concrete with a tiny bit of greenery thrown in as afterthoughts. Finally I stumbled on Stout Design Build, and felt like maybe his combination of landscaping and contracting experience matched what we were looking for. We scheduled a consultation, and shortly thereafter Tom Stout was patrolling our backyard, notepad in hand, sketching out ideas as we described what we wanted our yard to become.

The story of our landscaping project is going to spill into several posts, so I’ll provide a spoiler now: things didn’t go perfectly, but we’re very, very happy with the end result. The designs Tom sketched out in that first visit got us incredibly excited, and by the time he left it was tough to see our yard as anything other than what he had drawn on his notepad. We knew we wanted native plants (at least in the back) that would be attractive to birds, insects, and the other critters that roam our neighborhood, but we also wanted functional outdoor space. Tom’s designs gave us those things, so after overcoming our shock at the cost estimates we signed a contract and began demolition of our existing yard.

Neosho front yard
Our boring front yard with its thirsty grass. Mjolnir, the mighty hammer I used to demo the brick, is visible in front of the bucket.
Neosho back yard
The original grass backyard. The giant pile of brick and concrete was created as I removed a patio that was probably level at one point, but that the ficus had turned into a twisted battleground of uneven stones.

Super Bloom 2019

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:43 pm, April 30th, 2019

Three weeks ago I needed to drive to Las Vegas to meet my brother, who was starting a road trip across the country and wanted to spend a day together in Sin City. I figured that this trip was the perfect excuse to take a day off of work, allowing me to see this year’s Super Bloom while avoiding the “poppy apocalypse” created by weekend crowds. I expected the flowers at the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve to be nice, but to say they exceeded expectations would be a gross understatement.

Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
Landscape by Dr. Seuss, Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve.
Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
“The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your entire life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.”
Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
The orange flowers and the yellow flowers were best friends.
Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
It was nearly impossible to take a photo that didn’t include at least a dozen poppies.

Guessing About 2019

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:44 pm, January 21st, 2019

Since 2009 I’ve started each year by making predictions for the new year, and since 2009 I’ve mostly gotten those predictions wrong. Despite being horrible at it, this annual effort at forecasting the future is an amusing exercise, so continuing the inglorious tradition, here’s a bunch of guesses about what’s (probably not) going to happen in 2019:

  1. Tiger Woods will return to the world golf #1 ranking at some point in 2019. Assuming he can stay healthy this year, his season-ending victory at the Tour Championship in 2018 should be an omen of good things to come. The golf world seems very ready to have its superstar winning tournaments again.
  2. Democrats will not seriously pursue impeachment of Donald Trump in 2019. I may be either giving Democrats too much credit, underestimating what Robert Mueller’s investigation will uncover, or be too optimistic about Trump not doing anything so crazy that impeachment becomes inevitable, but I think the Democratic leadership wants to avoid this fight unless forced into it. Absent facts emerging that demand impeachment, Pelosi & Schumer seem to understand that they need to be seen as using their power responsibly, and also that pursuing impeachment without bipartisan agreement on wrongdoing would set a dangerous precedent in which future Congresses would no longer view impeachment as a last resort but instead as a way to eliminate an opposition President.
  3. After Disney’s $71.3 billion acquisition of Fox Studios, 2019 will see another massive media merger. It may be something like Sony merging with Netflix, Warner Brothers buying the Fox Network, Google gaining a broadcast or studio presence, or something else entirely, but it will be comparable in magnitude to the Disney-Fox deal. With its acquisitions of Pixar in 2006, Marvel in 2009, Lucasfilm in 2012, and now Fox Studios (which included a large stake in Hulu), Disney is dominating the entertainment market, and the other major players will be looking for ways to compete.
  4. After making almost $60 billion in profits in 2018, Apple will see its lowest yearly profits since it made $40 billion in 2014. Steve Jobs introduced the iPod, iPhone and iPad, but since his death Apple hasn’t created any new products that have had a major impact in the market, and with competitors now offering comparable devices at cheaper prices, 2019 will be the year that Apple’s failure to innovate without Steve Jobs finally starts to catch up to it.
  5. Despite massive privacy violations Facebook won’t make any significant changes this year and will begin to see its active user base erode. By the end of the year the number of people “quitting Facebook” will be a noticeable minority, and other companies will be either planning or promoting legitimate Facebook alternatives in an effort to snatch up the Facebook deserters.
  6. With dozens of Democratic candidates testing the waters of a Presidential run, by the end of the year the leading candidates will be Elizabeth Warren, a new face that the party’s Progressive wing coalesces around (probably someone like Kamala Harris), and someone with executive experience (a governor, military leader, or former executive branch leader) who no one is paying any attention to right now. If Bernie Sanders runs he’ll lose most of his 2016 supporters to whoever the new Progressive darling ends up being.
  7. SpaceX will successfully launch a crewed flight to the space station this year, but Boeing will further delay their first crewed mission until 2020.
  8. With the rollout of 5G cellular service already beginning, Google will make a move towards acquiring an existing wireless company or deploying its own 5G network. From 2010 until 2016 Google was actually building out a fiber network to provide internet access directly to homes and business, and with that effort having stalled it seems possible that they have instead decided that 5G wireless networking is a cheaper and better way to pursue the company’s goals of providing internet directly to consumers.
  9. Avengers: Endgame will outperform Star Wars: Episode IX at the box office. This may not be a particularly risky prediction given that Star Wars: The Last Jedi took in $620 million vs $678 million for Avengers: Infinity War, so I’ll up the ante by saying that the next Avengers movie will earn at least $100 million more than the next Star Wars film.
  10. After Virgin Galactic finally reached space in December, their flight test program will continue through 2019, but they won’t fly any paying customers. They will, however, do a test flight with Richard Branson on board during 2019 – the Virgin CEO set ballooning world records in the 1980s and 1990s, so hopping on a test flight to space is right up his alley.
  11. Despite predictions of bidding wars, during NFL free agency Le’veon Bell won’t be offered anything that comes close to the reported $70 million that he turned down from the Steelers. While he’s arguing that he should be paid $17 million per year, at best he’ll be the NFL’s third-highest paid running back behind Todd Gurley ($14.375 million per year) and David Johnson ($13 million per year). Owners won’t want to reward a player who sat out a season, while general managers won’t want to devote a large chunk of their salary cap to a guy who seems to have an inflated ego and who was immediately replaced by someone who put up better numbers.
  12. Tesla will introduce a major refresh of its Model S and Model X vehicles, including a new battery pack technology. The specs they have been promoting for their upcoming semi truck indicate that they’ve got some exciting new battery technologies ready, but at a minimum they will want to get all of their vehicles using the 2170 battery cells that they produce at their Gigafactory rather than the 18650 cells they currently purchase from battery manufacturers.
  13. Boeing will officially announce its new 797 plane this year, touting a signature oval-shaped, composite fuselage meant to maximize passenger space while limiting aerodynamic drag. There have been conflicting reports about the construction materials and shape of the new plane’s fuselage, but I think an oval, carbon-fiber fuselage will be favored as a baby step towards the much more efficient blended wing body designs that will (hopefully) become the norm in future aircraft.
  14. While US politics will continue to be a dispiriting example of how not to run a country, at least one major piece of legislation will pass this year since both Trump and the Democrats will be eager to show that they are capable of getting things done. Priorities for Democrats seem to be some sort of voting rights act, fixes for Obamacare, and changes to the immigration system. Trump would be happy with either a wall or something that he can call a trade deal. Both sides would probably settle for an infrastructure package. Thus, I suspect that if investigations and scandals don’t swallow the entire agenda that a bargain will be cut to give each side a “win” that they can tout to their supporters ahead of the 2020 elections.
  15. PG&E, now teetering on the edge of bankruptcy due to liability from the recent deadly wildfires, will be split up and in many cases turn into municipal utilities. The process will be a painful one – it makes sense for a big city to purchase electrical poles and power plants, but would be too costly for a rural area to purchase and maintain – so the story of PG&E’s demise will slowly escalate into a major crisis for the state of California during the coming year.

That does it for 2019. The comments link is available for anyone who wants to add their own predictions, otherwise check back in one year to see if I could beat 2018’s rate of 25% correct predictions. Note that the Browns have been intentionally excluded from this year’s predictions in order to avoid jinxing what everyone is cautiously hoping will be a promising season.

Things That Didn’t Happen in 2018

Posted from Culver City, California at 5:47 pm, January 6th, 2019

It’s been a while since there was a journal update, but the recap of my predictions for 2018 warrants a return from my hiatus. Spoiler alert: I didn’t get many right. Here’s the recap:

  1. Here are the election predictions for 2018:

    1. Republicans will barely lose the House, with Democrats holding a post-election advantage of between 1-10 seats.

      Pending the outcome of the disputed race in North Carolina, Democrats will have gained either 41 or 42 seats and currently hold a 235-199 advantage, far more than the 1-10 seat advantage I predicted. I thought Democrats would do well, but they ended up with one of the best performances by any party since Watergate.

    2. Republicans will end the year with either 49 or 50 Senate seats.

      While Democrats got a similar percentage of votes for Senate races as they did for House races (53 million total votes vs 35 million for Republicans), those votes were overwhelmingly in large states like California and New York, and Republicans actually gained two seats overall, giving them a 53-47 edge. Missouri and Florida are two states that I thought would stay blue, and I expected Democrats to make at least one surprise pickup, but Republicans did well in states that voted for Trump.

    3. Efforts to eliminate gerrymandering will get a boost, with ballot measures passing in at least five states. Additionally, the Supreme Court ruling in Gill vs. Whitford will accept the argument that overly-partisan districts are unconstitutional, leading to lawsuits in several states against the current maps.

      I’m giving myself half credit for this one. Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Colorado and Utah all passed measures to limit or eliminate gerrymandering, and hopefully more states will follow in coming years as it is ridiculous how districts are currently drawn in many places. Meanwhile the Supreme Court essentially punted on their gerrymandering case, voting 9-0 to send the case back to the lower courts because the defendants had not demonstrated “concrete and particularized injuries”. The case was brought against the state of Wisconsin, where Republicans ended up with 63 out of the 99 State Assembly seats despite Democrats winning 53% of the vote.

  2. After twelve years in development and many setbacks, Virgin Galactic will finally get their new ship into space.

    Scaled Composites launched a similar design out of the Mojave airport in 2004, capturing the $10 million X-Prize as the first private vehicle to reach space, and on the morning of December 13 they returned with the first spaceship built to carry average citizens into space. We live in exciting times.

  3. Avengers: Infinity War will become the highest-grossing Marvel movie.

    While the new Avengers movie earned $687 million at the domestic box office to surpass the $623 million earnings of the original Avengers movie, Black Panther beat it to the punch, taking in $700 million after its February launch to claim the mantle as Marvel’s highest-grossing film.

  4. The Browns will draft a quarterback at #1 and trade back from the #4 pick.

    John Dorsey chose not to trade his picks, but by all indications he apparently nailed the 2018 draft, taking likely Rookie of the Year Baker Mayfield at #1, and Pro Bowler Denzel Ward at #4. I’m a big fan of the math behind trading back from high picks, but I’m a bigger fan of the Browns sucking less and thus I’m happy to have gotten this prediction wrong.

  5. Tesla will not hit its goal of producing 5,000 Model 3 vehicles per week by the end of Q2, and will finish the year with total Model 3 deliveries between 170,000-190,000.

    Tesla pulled out all of the stops and barely hit the 5,000 Model 3 per week goal in Q2, but they have been averaging just under 5,000 vehicles per week since then and came out lower than I expected for the year with 145,846 Model 3 deliveries.

  6. Jeff Bezos will expand his presence in the news world.

    Since buying the Washington Post in 2013 Bezos has helped grow the paper’s profits, staff and subscribers. Additionally the software created to manage the content and web site for the Post is being used by an increasing number of newspapers around the world, helping them refocus on journalism and letting someone else handle the technical side of running a newspaper in the internet age. Despite these successes, Bezos has surprisingly not made any further ventures into the news world, so this prediction, like most of the others, is incorrect.

  7. The new Han Solo Star Wars movie will significantly underperform recent Star Wars films, earning between $375-425 million

    I got the “underperform” part right, but vastly underestimated how little interest audiences would have for this film. The final box office for “Solo” was just $214 million, far less than the $532 million box office of its predecessor Rogue One.

  8. Boeing will not complete its first 777X airplane in 2018 as scheduled.

    While the 787 faced years of delays that cost Boeing billions of dollars, the 777X completed final assembly on time and by all reports should be flying on schedule in early 2019, ready for first delivery in 2020.

  9. Despite reportedly spending $1 billion on producing television shows in 2018, Apple will still end 2018 without any popular programs.

    While Apple reportedly has almost thirty shows in development, they have so far only released two: Planet of the Apps, which Mashable charitably called a “successful disaster“, and Carpool Karaoke, which got renewed for a second season despite “lacking critical and audience acclaim“. I miss Steve Jobs.

  10. The California High Speed Rail will start to be rebranded as a route that connects the job-rich coastal cities with the affordable housing of the Central Valley.

    I actually got this one right! After years of touting connectivity between San Francisco and Los Angeles as its primary benefit, the first point in the 2018 High Speed Rail Business Plan is “Connecting the Central Valley to the Bay Area and the Los Angeles economic megaregions through highspeed rail will give businesses around the state new opportunities to choose locations based on labor force availability and to tighten linkages with businesses and field offices.” I’ve noted previously how disappointed I am in the management of this project, but still firmly believe that having a high speed rail line connecting California’s major cities will ultimately be a huge win for the state.

  11. The Simpsons will finally come to an end after 30 seasons, announcing that the 2018-2019 season will be its last.

    As of 6-January there is no confirmation whether The Simpsons will be back for Season 31 or not, so I’m making this prediction my first-ever “neither right nor wrong” prognostication. I think it’s odd that if TV’s longest-running scripted series was going to end that there wouldn’t be an announcement made as soon as possible in order to drive up final season ratings, but thus far all has been quiet on the subject of the animated family from Springfield.

  12. The Bitcoin bubble will finally burst. The cryptocurrency is down nearly fifty percent from its high of $20,000, but the bubble will finally burst for good sometime this year, and prices will be well under $1,000 by the time 2018 comes to a close.

    The price continued to drop throughout the year, but closed just under $4000, and not “well under $1000” as I predicted it would. I’m still dumbfounded that it is worth as much as it is – do even ten percent of the people investing in Bitcoin even know what a Bitcoin actually is?

  13. Lebron James will not leave the Cavs.

    He went away again, but it was nice to see Cavs fans giving him a standing ovation in his first game back in Cleveland after joining the Lakers. As a former Clevelander I’m hardly in a position to criticize anyone for leaving, and Lebron did the impossible by taking the Cavs to four straight NBA Finals and winning Cleveland’s first professional sports championship since 1964, so kudos to him, and best of luck with the new team.

Final score: 3.5 out of 14 (25%), my third-worst showing in ten years behind only 2014 (12%) and 2013 (11%). Predictions for 2019 should follow soon.

The Sound of Music

Posted from Culver City, California at 6:01 pm, July 15th, 2018

While there hasn’t been a ton of journal-worthy excitement lately (obviously), the past month was notable for a number of incredible musical events.

When I was a kid, Paul Simon’s Graceland album was one of the very first albums I remember thinking was my own personal musical discovery – not something I bought because it was on the radio or because everyone else was listening to it, but that I owned and listened to on repeat because it was music that appealed to me. When it was announced that this year’s tour was Paul Simon’s farewell tour I snagged two tickets, and on May 23 Audrey and I sat down to say goodbye to a singer who had shaped my taste in music since I was a kid. At 76 years of age he still had plenty of energy, and the program covered 50 years of music in a way that reminded you of how much of an influence he’s had on our culture. When he came out for the final encore with a single spotlight and an acoustic guitar to play “Sounds of Silence”, it was one of those rare goosebump-inducing moments with the realization that that guy is singing that song and you are lucky enough to be there and hear it. All in all a very special night.

Six weeks later we trekked up to one of our favorite venues, the Mountain Winery in the hills overlooking the San Francisco Bay. You can’t go wrong with a pre-show dinner in a winery, a 2400 seat venue with views of the Bay, and a stage set in front of a historic winery cellar. The first of the two shows we saw was the Indigo Girls, one of the few groups where Audrey’s musical tastes and my own overlap. There’s something special about seeing singer-songwriters in a small venue – the energy in the crowd is different, and the feeling takes you back to singalongs around the fire at summer camp – and this show did not disappoint, with audience members occasionally yelling out requests, and the ladies on stage more often than not going “yeah, let’s do that” and then launching into the requested song. Despite Emily apparently having a bit of a cold that caused her to lose a few notes, this was another very memorable evening.

Night two at the Mountain Winery featured Steve Martin and Martin Short, which the pre-show marquis jokingly advertised as “See them before they’re dead”. We’d seen Steve Martin’s musical act with Edie Brickell and the Steep Canyon Rangers twice before, but this was more of a comedy show, with a couple of musical interludes. Our seats were probably within a hundred feet of the stage, so obviously it was amazing to see a couple of comedy legends in person, but as good as the comedy was, I think the music Steve Martin is creating is even better – a performance by the Steep Canyon Rangers brought the house down, and Steve Martin on banjo is a sight to behold.

These shows were all a reminder of how lucky I am to be living a life filled with incredible experiences – many days pass by and are quickly forgotten, but seeing Paul Simon in the Hollywood Bowl, or Steve Martin under the stars in a winery, are those rare special occasions that get etched into the memory banks for all time.

Paul Simon at the Hollywood Bowl
Saying goodbye to Paul Simon at the Hollywood Bowl.
Audrey, me and the Indigo Girls at the Mountain Winery
Audrey, me and the Indigo Girls at the Mountain Winery. Oddly, in a venue that seats 2400, our seats for the Indigo girls were in the same row and section, and were in fact immediately adjacent to, our seats the following night for Steve Martin.

I’m in a Funk

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:28 pm, June 14th, 2018

If there are any readers of this journal left, it’s become painfully obvious that I’m falling far short of my three entries per month goal. I’ve got no good excuse – every time I sit down to write something I’m coming up empty. At some point either we’ll head out on the road and this page will again become a travel journal, or else inspiration will strike and I’ll launch into a twenty-part treatise on solving the mysteries of life, the universe, and everything, but until either of those things happen it’s probably going to be quieter than normal. In the interim, feel free to use the comments section to suggest any future topics that might help break the current radio silence.

Sometimes the world gets better

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:50 am, May 20th, 2018

Too often the message of conservationists is only about doom and gloom – unstoppable global warming, coral reefs dying, deforestation – which is a shame, because there is plenty of good news about the environment to buoy people’s spirits and remind us that we are capable of making positive changes in the world.

  • I’ve written about the decade-long rat eradication program on South Georgia Island before, but to recap: starting in 2010, and continuing in 2012 and 2014, teams in helicopters dropped poison bait across the entire island in an effort to eliminate rats that had been brought to the island two centuries ago by whalers and sealers, decimating the island’s nesting birds. While using poison to kill rats is an unfortunate solution for a man-made problem, the chance of making the island safe again for as many as 100 million nesting seabirds far outweighs any negatives. Had the effort left even one breeding pair of rats alive it would have been a failure, but last week it was announced that two years after the last bait was dropped, and with thousands of chew sticks examined, tracking tunnels checked, and a team of rat-sniffing dogs having scoured the entire island, no signs of rats were found and the island has been officially declared rat-free. As the years go by bird populations will increase, and someday the island may again reclaim its title as one of the most important seabird nesting sites in the world.
  • Closer to home, dam removal throughout New England has for the first time in centuries re-opened rivers to anadromous fish (fish that spawn in rivers but spend their lives in the ocean). On Maine’s Penobscott River, where just one herring was seen a decade ago, 1.8 million herring were counted in 2016. Other waterways where dams have been removed also show huge increases, and just as importantly the otters, raptors, and other animals that depend on those herring should also greatly benefit.
  • Finally, in 2011 a Dutch teenager named Boyan Slat gave a TED talk about cleaning up plastic in the ocean using floating screens that drift in currents. In most cases you would expect that to have been the end of the story – a nice viral video that a lot of people watched, with no follow-up. However, in this case Boyan doggedly persisted, founding the Ocean Cleanup Project, raising over $30 million, and this week the now-23-year-old Boyan and his team launched a prototype cleanup system for tests in the Pacific outside of San Francisco Bay. Although I’ll admit to being skeptical about the likelihood of success with their current design, the fact that this project has persisted, and has managed to capture funding and attention year after year, makes me optimistic that they will eventually succeed and make a significant dent into removing some of the estimated five trillion plastic objects currently floating in our seas.
Grey-headed albatross on South Georgia Island
Grey-headed albatross on South Georgia Island in 2004. This photo was actually taken on a smaller, rat-free island just off of the South Georgia coast, but with rats gone from the mainland these birds will now have vastly more rat-free nesting territory available.

What If…

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:19 pm, April 2nd, 2018

I know politics are a turn-off for a lot of folks, but it seems like an interesting thought exercise to imagine what it would be like if a few states had voted slightly differently, making Hillary Clinton the 45th president. Please feel free to use the comments to add any additions or corrections to this alternative timeline…

November 2016: If Democrats had turned out in numbers that were just large enough to give Clinton the victory in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, that turnout likely would have also provided narrow Democratic victories in the Wisconsin & Pennsylvania Senate races, resulting in a Senate that was split 50-50, with Vice President Tim Kaine the deciding vote in case of ties.

January 2017: With Clinton in the White House and a Democratic Senate, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer would have invoked the “nuclear option” in order to overcome Republican obstruction against Hillary Clinton’s nominees (just as Republicans did with Trump’s nominees), enraging conservatives and leading to an uproar in conservative media. The end result would be a bitterly divided Senate, a re-energized Tea Party, and a Supreme Court with a liberal majority.

June 2017: In this alternate timeline, the US would not have dropped out of the Paris Climate accords, nor would DACA have been rescinded. Similarly, there would have been no discussion of a border wall, a Muslim ban, or withdrawing from NAFTA.

September 2017: With the House still in Republican control, and conservatives enraged by the actions of President Clinton, the odds of a budget agreement would have been zero, almost certainly resulting in a shutdown of the government. Conservatives likely would have demanded documents and testimony for their many ongoing investigations over Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation, and Clinton’s email servers as a minimum precondition for any re-opening of the government.

October 2017: While Trump rescinded Obamacare’s cost sharing subsidies, resulting in health insurance premiums that were about ten percent higher than they otherwise would have been, President Clinton would have spent her time looking for ways to strengthen the health care law. Without Republican support it is unlikely there would have been much she could do, but in this alternate timeline Obamacare would not have been weakened, premium increases would have been lower, and Congress would not have spent months debating how to repeal the law.

November 2017: With Clinton as President and Trump likely viewed as an outcast in Republican circles, the one thing that the parties would probably have agreed on was addressing Russian interference in the 2016 elections. In this timeline, FBI director James Comey’s investigation into Russian meddling would have reached its conclusion, and with the support of the Senate and European allies the US would have imposed strict sanctions that isolated Russia internationally. In addition, bipartisan action to improve voting security and combat future meddling would be one of the year’s very rare examples of the parties actually working together.

December 2017: After a temporary agreement to end the previous shutdown, the divided government would again be unlikely to find a budget agreement, resulting in yet another shutdown. With huge deficits projected, Republicans would probably be rallying around the debt and deficit and demanding steps to address those issues as preconditions for any budget agreement. Note that in this timeline, the Republican tax cuts of 2017, with their corresponding reduction in federal revenue, would never have become law.

January 2018: With the North Koreans conducting nuclear and missile tests throughout 2017, President Clinton would have most likely pushed for an international response that was led by China and based on the framework used in the Iran nuclear agreement. While any deal would have been condemned by the Right (like they have done with the Iran nuclear deal), faced with real pressure from its one main ally (China), North Korea would have been boxed into a corner, forced to choose between sanctions that could finally threaten King Jong Un’s power or pausing its nuclear ambitions.

April 2018: After almost no legislative progress, two government shutdowns, ongoing investigations, and a huge block of Bernie Sanders voters still fomenting dissent on the Left, Hillary Clinton’s approval ratings would likely be dismal. The Republican establishment would be railing non-stop against Clinton corruption and deficits, and Tea Party rallies would be even larger than they were under Obama. In this environment, political scientists would be predicting a massive Republican wave in the midterms that would not only increase the Republican House majority, but would also flip 6-10 Senate seats to Republicans. Pundits would be questioning how the Democrats could possibly regain any path to a viable governing majority, and openly wondering if Clinton should consider stepping aside after just one term.

Moneyball V

Posted from Culver City, California at 12:02 pm, March 25th, 2018

In an ongoing effort to drive away readers by combining my love of the worst team in the NFL with my love of math, here’s another post about the upcoming NFL draft.

As I’ve posted previously, I buy in fully to the idea that most NFL teams are bad at valuing draft picks, and that the Browns have done a great job in recent drafts of taking advantage of that quirk of NFL management (note: they’ve done a great job acquiring picks, and a terrible job of using those picks). For example, while one can argue about whether Deshaun Watson should have been the Browns’ choice last year at #12, it’s tough to argue against the value they got for that trade, giving up #12 in 2017 for #25 in 2017 and #4 this year.

In my predictions for 2018 I suggested that the Browns would take a quarterback #1, and then take advantage of teams willing to overpay to move up by trading away the #4 pick. The Jets recently traded up to the #3 position, heavily overpaying for that privilege according to the traditional draft value chart:

IND trades NYJ trades Result
#3 (2200 points) #6 (1600 points)
#37 (530 points)
#49 (410 points)
2018 2nd round pick (270-580)
2200 points for 2810-3120 points
(28-42% premium)

Assuming the Browns would get a similar premium for the #4 pick (worth 1800 points), the following are all trades that I suspect will be viable in this year’s draft based on the fact that there are four quarterbacks being discussed as top picks, and all of the following teams need QBs; were I the Browns’ GM, I would accept any of these offers without hesitation:

Trading partner Picks traded Result
Denver #5 (1700 points)
#71 (235 points)
1800 points for 1935 points
(8% premium)
Miami #11 (1250 points)
#73 (225 points)
2019 1st round pick (590-3000)
1800 points for 2065-4475 points
(15-149% premium)
Buffalo #12 (1200 points)
#65 (265 points)
2019 1st round pick (590-3000)
1800 points for 2055-4465 points
(14-148% premium)
Arizona #15 (1050 points)
#47 (430 points)
2019 1st round pick (590-3000)
1800 points for 2070-4480 points
(15-149% premium)

Obviously making mathematically-smart trades won’t matter if the Browns don’t do a better job of actually drafting players that have success in the NFL, and thus the Browns clearly need to improve their talent evaluation. That said, statistically they’ve made all the right moves when it comes to maximizing their draft capital, and I hope that they don’t forgo that success this year when teams offer to trade a king’s ransom for whoever the fourth-best quarterback ends up being.

Long Overdue Recap

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:50 pm, March 18th, 2018

It’s been a long time since there was a recap entry, so here’s a quick overview of the events since November:

  • Due to work I ended up skipping the annual Man Trip over the Christmas break, and instead just made a two day rush up to the Bay Area to enjoy the holiday with Ma, Pa, and Younger Holliday. As always mom cooked a tremendous dinner, we got to go for a couple of walks wearing dad’s goofy hats, and it was nice to be home be with family for a bit.
  • Following the New Year Audrey and I headed north to Alaska for the Northern Lights trip that has previously been chronicled in this journal. I had decided not to use vacation for the trip since the weather was likely to keep us indoors, and sadly the ongoing project that caused me to forgo the 2017 Man Trip followed me to Alaska – it has been three years since the job required an all-nighter, but there were two all-nighters required while in Alaska; the universe may owe me some time off.
  • Continuing a theme, there have been three work trips to San Antonio so far in 2018, although luckily they have been uneventful (i.e. no hurricanes).
  • In non-work news, Aaron came to LA two weeks ago and stayed with us for a night. There was much sushi, a walk around the Venice canals, and fun with his new toy – a drone that apparently doesn’t like all of the airspace restrictions around my house due to LAX and the Santa Monica airport.
  • Finally, in home news we haven’t done any major projects aside from some tree-trimming, but we now support a small zoo each morning as 4-6 squirrels, a few dozen sparrows and finches, several badass hummingbirds, and a murder of crows stop by for daily brunch.

Ten years of getting it wrong

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:52 pm, February 14th, 2018

Starting in 2009 I began making predictions about the coming year. Now in its tenth year, the annual predictions for 2018 are ready to go:

  1. First, some obligatory election predictions:
    1. Republicans will barely lose the House, with Democrats holding a post-election advantage of between 1-10 seats; currently the House is split 241-194 Republican/Democrat. All signs point to a big year for Democrats, but current districts are drawn such that Republicans have a built-in advantage that will limit gains by Democrats.
    2. Republicans will end the year with either 49 or 50 Senate seats. While it looks like a good year for Democrats, they are defending 26 seats while Republicans only have to defend eight, and only seven of the 34 races are currently expected to be competitive. Democrats have decent odds to pick up seats in Nevada and Arizona, but they must also play defense in tough states like Indiana, Missouri, West Virginia, North Dakota and Montana, and I would expect that at least one of those could end up flipping to Republicans.
    3. Efforts to eliminate gerrymandering will get a boost, with ballot measures passing in at least five states. Additionally, the Supreme Court ruling in Gill vs. Whitford will accept the argument that overly-partisan districts are unconstitutional, leading to lawsuits in several states against the current maps.
  2. After twelve years in development and many setbacks, Virgin Galactic will finally get their new ship into space. It’s hard to believe that it’s been fourteen years since Spaceship One became the first manned private vehicle to reach space.
  3. Avengers: Infinity War will become the highest-grossing Marvel movie. The first Avengers movie currently holds that title with a $623 million box office haul, so I’ll peg the new movie’s box office take at $650-700 million.
  4. The Browns will draft a quarterback at #1 and trade back from the #4 pick. I’m confident in the prediction that a quarterback will be the pick at #1, but less so about the trade back – the new general manager may not think like his Moneyball predecessors who recognized that high picks tend to be over-valued. That said, there are a lot of good quarterbacks in this draft, thus there will be a lot of teams scrambling to get their guy before he’s gone, so I think the Browns will pick their man at #1 and will then be unable to ignore the bidding war from QB-needy teams wanting the fourth pick.
  5. Tesla will not hit its goal of producing 5,000 Model 3 vehicles per week by the end of Q2, and will finish the year with total Model 3 deliveries between 170,000-190,000.
  6. Jeff Bezos, who purchased the Washington Post for $250 million in 2013, will expand his presence in the news world. Bezos has turned the Post profitable, and more importantly has turned the software platform that the newspaper runs on into a service used by many other major news organizations around the world. My impression is that he is trying to show traditional journalism companies how to be financially viable in the digital world, and as such I expect that he will create some sort of Amazon news portal, will purchase additional news organizations, or will otherwise launch some major effort to further that goal.
  7. The new Han Solo Star Wars movie will significantly underperform the other Star Wars films, a result of audience fatigue and a film that has had a troubled production. The film is going to be released just six months after The Last Jedi, and just one year after the original directors were fired, so I’m going to guess its box office will be between $375-425 million, far less than the $530 million earned by Rogue One.
  8. Boeing will not complete its first 777X airplane in 2018 as scheduled. After the new 737-MAX airplane was actually delivered sooner than Boeing anticipated it is tempting to believe that the 777X will also be delivered on time or early, but the changes in the 777 are more ambitious, including a folding wingtip, and it seems very likely that Boeing will find it harder to put together than anticipated.
  9. Despite reportedly spending $1 billion on producing television shows in 2018, Apple will still end 2018 without any popular programs. Unlike Netflix or Amazon, which make their content available on all devices, Apple’s strategy seems tied to using content as a way to sell the overpriced $180 Apple streaming TV device, so unless Apple manages to strike gold and create the next Game of Thrones, it seems highly unlikely that enough people are going to see Apple’s shows to make them successful.
  10. While I don’t think the California High Speed Rail project will be significantly changed so long as Jerry Brown is in office, given the fact that the first and easiest section of the route is already 30-50% over budget, lawmakers and candidates for governor will rebrand the project, and instead of describing it as a route between LA and San Francisco, it will start to be described as a route that connects the job-rich coastal cities with the affordable housing of the Central Valley. This strategy will allow them to de-emphasize cost overruns and delays in building the statewide system, giving them the ability to declare that “success” means opening an operational segment from Fresno to San Jose. In fairness that strategy actually does make some sense given the higher unemployment in the valley and crazy housing prices on the coast, but I am still hugely dismayed at how badly California is screwing up such an important project.
  11. The Simpsons will finally come to an end after 30 seasons, announcing that the 2018-2019 season will be its last. Thirty seems like a nice round number to go out on, even if the cast and creators might be willing to go on for another decade or two. If this prediction does come true, it will be the first time since I was in the eighth grade that I’ll live in a world without new Simpsons episodes.
  12. The Bitcoin bubble will finally burst. The cryptocurrency is down nearly fifty percent from its high of $20,000, but the bubble will finally burst for good sometime this year, and prices will be well under $1,000 by the time 2018 comes to a close. A “currency” that is difficult to actually use in making purchases, and that requires massive amounts of energy to sustain, is not something that lends itself well to longevity.
  13. Finally, despite constant rumors to the contrary, Lebron James will not leave the Cavs. This prediction is based on two pieces of evidence: one, when he returned to the Cavs he said he was going to finish his career in Cleveland, and as long as the Cavs give him the opportunity to win more championships I think he’ll stick to that, and two, I desperately want it to be correct.

And there they are. As I do every year, looking over the list now I wonder how any of them could possibly end up being incorrect, and I look forward to revisiting this list a year from now and wondering how I could possibly have believed that any of them would end up coming to pass. If anyone wants to add predictions of their own, or if you would like to (rightfully) mock the predictions I’ve made, the comments section is available as always.

2017 Predictions – the Aftermath

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:55 pm, February 5th, 2018

In what has become an annual tradition, at the beginning of 2017 I made fifteen predictions about the coming year. In what has also become an annual tradition, I was horribly wrong about most of them. Scorecards from past years prove without a doubt that I do not have the powers of Nostradamus, and the following tally of 2017’s glorious ineptitude merely reinforces that fact. I remain undaunted, however, and will be back with predictions for 2018 in an upcoming journal entry.

Without further ado, here’s the recap of 2017:

  1. While Tesla says it will begin volume production of the Model-3 in the second half of 2017, they will miss that goal slightly, delivering only between 4-8,000 vehicles by the end of the year.

    WRONG Tesla actually did far worse than even I expected, delivering just 1,550 Model-3 vehicles in 2017. As late as August 2017 Tesla was estimating deliveries of around 25,000 vehicles, so this was a pretty huge miss for them, although demand for the vehicle seems to be robust so there is an enormous amount of potential revenue awaiting them if they can get volumes up.

  2. The Browns will trade at least one of their two first round draft picks.

    CORRECT The Browns traded their #12 pick to the Texans for the #25 pick and what became the #4 pick in this year’s draft. For any other team that would be an amazing haul, but since it’s the Browns, the player the Texans took at #12 – Deshaun Watson – looks to have all the makings of the league’s next great QB. Luckily the 2018 NFL Draft is less than three months away.

  3. By the end of the year there will be rumblings in tech publications and among shareholders calling for Tim Cook’s ouster as Apple CEO.

    WRONG I was WAY off in my predictions about the stock market – I assumed it was due for a correction, but instead stocks rose over 30%, and in that environment very few CEOs are going to be losing their jobs, much less the head of the world’s most valuable company. For the record, I think Apple has lost its way and needs a leader who can provide a sensible vision, and while Tim Cook may be great at supply chains and logistics, it doesn’t inspire confidence that every year he proclaims his newest iPhone to be “magical” because it is 0.001 mm thinner and has a camera with an extra few pixels.

  4. Donald Trump’s favorability ratings will fall from the current 45% to between 27-32% by the end of the year, and there will be talk of impeachment from both sides of the aisle.

    WRONG While his 38% approval rating at the end of the year is a record low for a President in his first year, I was very wrong about how the Republican Party, whose members in many cases skipped or only reluctantly attended their own nominating convention in the summer of 2016, and Fox News, a network that once feuded with candidate Trump to the point that he didn’t attend one of their sponsored debates, would fall in line behind a President Trump.

  5. The stock market will end the year down about ten percent, finishing between 16,500 and 17,500.

    WRONG The market closed 2017 at 24,719, up 25.1%. This was a big miss on my part, but the correction I expected in 2017 may be now happening a few months later – as I write this entry the stock market has dropped 1,800 points in two days.

  6. Hidden Figures (which I haven’t seen) will win the Best Picture Oscar.

    WRONG But in my defense, even the Oscar ceremony didn’t get the Best Picture Oscar right.

  7. SpaceX will not launch a human spaceflight mission, nor will it launch its new Falcon Heavy rocket, but it will re-fly one of its previously-flown rockets, and will complete at least twenty total missions without another accident.

    CORRECT I’m going to count this prediction as a win, despite the fact that they had 18 launches instead of 20. Their previous best year was 2016 when the had eight successful missions, so they more than doubled their previous record, they became the first company to re-fly a rocket, and I correctly predicted the delay in both the Falcon Heavy and manned missions. That puts me at a miserable two out of seven correct predictions, and it’s not going to get much better…

  8. At least one of the following companies will be purchased by the year’s end: Twitter, Spotify, or Lyft.

    WRONG I didn’t foresee Uber repeatedly shooting itself in the foot and leaving Lyft looking stellar by comparison, or Apple Music failing to do anything to meaningfully distinguish itself from Spotify, and I continue to be mystified by Twitter’s business model. In any case, this prediction was another one that was spectacularly wrong.

  9. The next Star Wars movie will significantly under-perform the domestic box office take of $936 million earned by The Force Awakens; I’ll predict its box office ends up in the $500-600 million range.

    WRONG As of February 4, The Force Awakens has a domestic box office total of $614 million; it’s tempting to count this prediction as correct since I’m so close, but close is relative – for all but a handful of very rich people, $14 million isn’t really a number that should just be shrugged off, so this one needs to go down as wrong despite a really, really strong argument for partial credit.

  10. Obamacare will not be repealed or replaced in any meaningful way.

    CORRECT I was surprised that Republicans got to the point where only John McCain’s thumb saved Obamacare from significant changes, but in the end their years of promises to “repeal and replace” hit the hard reality that “replace” is an easy thing to say and a very difficult thing to do.

  11. By the end of the year ESPN & the Discovery network will offer streaming services, while one or both of Netflix and Amazon will find a way to offer local channels.

    WRONG I’m amazed at how badly content providers are doing in adjusting to the new reality that people are moving away from traditional cable and towards streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. While ESPN has (finally) announced a streaming service, details are scant and it won’t launch until later this year (at the soonest), while most other networks seem to have their heads in the sand. Meanwhile, although YouTube and DirecTV stream local channels, I was wrong about the interest by other services in providing a full-fledged replacement for cable TV.

  12. The coming actions that Trump and the Republican Congress will take against LGBT rights, abortion rights, the environment, and other issues will create a huge amount of anger on the Left that will manifest itself in similar ways to what was seen with the Tea Party.

    CORRECT While it doesn’t yet appear that Democrats are going to quite the extremes that the Tea Party did (no major Democrats seem to be in danger of losing their seats in primaries), there was sufficient anger to create a two day government shutdown, a huge backlash against any sign of Senators supporting Trump nominees, and a massive amount of anger directed towards Washington. While this prediction may seem obvious in retrospect, I get a lot of “obvious” predictions wrong, and am thus still going to count this one as correct.

  13. The Russian election hacking story will just be the beginning of ongoing cyberattacks that will continue in 2017 in an effort to undermine American credibility both domestically and internationally.

    WRONG While Russia appears to be gearing up to try and influence the 2018 elections, the fact that investigations into Russian hacking have become politicized has made it very difficult to determine if the attacks are continuing or not; in any case, they have not been the major story that I expected they would be. I’m biased based on my field of work, but in my mind cyberattacks and attempts by a foreign power to divide Americans by manipulating social media are threats that should be taken much, much more seriously, and it should be a topmost priority of the NSA and similar organizations to identify and shut down foreign bots and fake accounts as quickly as possible.

  14. Google will announce an operating system to compete with Windows & OSX

    WRONG While Google apparently has an operating system in testing, they barely acknowledge it exists and most definitely didn’t announce it as a Windows competitor in 2017. In all honesty, I didn’t really think this prediction was going to come true when I wrote it, but I’d been working on the “predictions” journal entry for a few days and just couldn’t come up with anything better.

  15. The next season of Game of Thrones is going to kill off Cersei Lannister and Littlefinger.

    (Spoiler alert) HALF CREDIT Game of Thrones is a really interesting show, with excellent characters and compelling storylines, but now that the show has pushed beyond the books it’s clear that the twisted mind of George R. R. Martin was not guiding the demise of one of his best characters – Lord Baelish deserved a more devious ending than what he got.

Final score: 4.5 out of 15 (30%), making this only my sixth worst showing (out of nine years). WOO HOO! Predictions for 2018 will be online in the coming days.

Walking on Water

Posted from Fairbanks, Alaska at 10:57 pm, January 16th, 2018

With the Northern Lights in hiding we’ve turned to other activities – yesterday’s adventures included a trip down memory lane involving a visit to the Knotty Shop, a stop in North Pole to send mail and giggle about the postmark, and a visit to the Chena Lakes Recreation area where we roamed over the frozen lake. The lake’s ice was thick enough to not only support a small army of ice fishing huts, but also apparently strong enough to support the pickup trucks that drove across the lake and parked next to the huts.

In a bizarre twist, today Fairbanks is experiencing highly unusual temperatures that are nearly up to 30°F, while San Antonio and much of the Southern United States is getting a rare ice storm. Ironically the host at our B&B told us that while Fairbanks never shuts down due to cold, the warmer temperatures bring ice (we’ve got freezing rain here tonight), and thus when it gets warm in the winter they usually end up cancelling school because things melt and then re-freeze, making the roads treacherous.

Given the lack of Auroras I don’t have any exciting photos from the past few days, so here a couple more from four nights ago during the Big Show.

Night sky above Fairbanks
This photo was taken around 10PM and captures the stars and the glow of the Fairbanks city lights against the clouds. Fifteen second exposure using a 10mm lens.
Aurora Borealis, taken north of Fairbanks
We didn’t know in advance that the entire sky was going to light up, so I naively thought that this picture, taken around midnight, would end up as my favorite photo of the evening. Fifteen second exposure using a 10mm lens.

A Night Without Lights

Posted from Fairbanks, Alaska at 12:10 am, January 15th, 2018

The space weather forecast for last night was calling for the most active light display thus far, but the meteorological forecast was calling for cloudy skies, so our hopes were low. Ironically we ended up with relatively clear skies but little in the way of Aurora activity – our current lodge doesn’t offer the easy Aurora viewing of our last place, but despite waking up frequently and looking out of the windows it seemed to be a quiet evening in the heavens.

Today Fairbanks enjoyed a heat wave, with downright balmy temperatures reaching all the way up into the twenties, so we’re able to be outside at length without fear of dying. We took advantage of the tropical weather by spending the day up at Chena Hot Springs, which was a really neat and at the same time very hokey place to visit – they had an amazing Ice Museum, it was ridiculously relaxing to soak in the hot springs under the dark skies while surrounded by snow drifts, and the restaurant was surprisingly good, but at the same time it very much had the feel of a place where tour buses drop off a load of people to be led around from activity to activity. Despite the touristy feel it was a great place to spend an afternoon, and the Ice Museum in particular was a neat find. It was clearly a kitschy thing to have an appletini at their “ice bar”, but who could pass up a cocktail served in a handmade, single-use cocktail glass made out of ice, while sitting at a bar that is also made from solid ice? We were even reluctant to part with our cup, and only did so once our fingers got cold from carrying it and we finally admitted that a glass made of ice was probably not something we could bring home in our carry-on baggage.

Tonight, given the forecast of snow the odds of seeing the Northern Lights are low. Tomorrow I’ve got a day free of work due to the MLK holiday, so depending on weather we’re thinking of making a trip to North Pole, Alaska, which ironically is located a few miles south of Fairbanks.

The Ice Museum in Chena Hot Springs
The Aurora Ice Bar in the Ice Museum, home of very manly appletinis. With the exception of the mirror and a small number of other items, everything in this photo is made out of ice.
The Ice Museum in Chena Hot Springs
Details in the Ice Museum – these ice globes each had a different design embedded inside of it, and formed a ring around an altar that they use when people want to get married amidst the ice art.