Late Recap

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:46 pm, May 1st, 2016

It’s May 1st, so I’m a day late on the three-entries-a-month goal. Let’s pretend that doesn’t bug me and move on with a recap of April…

  • Our rat relocation program is (unfortunately) continuing. We had a company out to give us an estimate on rat-proofing the house, but after they came to the conclusion that 3-4 hours of work would cost us $1700 we decided that the occasional rat in the attic might not be such a bad thing after all. I’m now on a mission to plug every hole in the exterior of the house, and after tearing up a wooden structure on the side of the house and blocking up a hole behind it we actually had a rat-free week. Alas, the cute little bastards apparently found a side entrance to their rat disco club, and they’ve been posing in front of the attic rat cam every night so far this week.
  • Work continues on the HEB.com project. While I would obviously rather be spending my days roaming the earth instead of sitting in front of computer screens, the fact that I have a forty foot commute, that there is a neighborhood sushi restaurant that delivers, and that four squirrels are slowly learning that if they stand in the backyard looking cute that someone will come out and give them treats, makes for about the best work environment you could hope for.
  • As Audrey reminds me, on my lone April trip to Texas I got a free first class upgrade, apparently as repayment by the karma gods for a previous flight where I was in the splatter zone when the passenger in the seat next to me threw up on himself. First class is great and I appreciate the upgrade, but if the karma gods are listening – I don’t mind flying coach if it means I never have to smell like vomit.
  • Finally, on April 8 SpaceX landed a rocket on a boat, because we live in the most awesome time ever.

Spaceship landing on a freaking boat. Mom, turn off the volume, they use some naughty words.

Moneyball 2

Posted from Culver City, California at 4:08 pm, April 30th, 2016

Even though this topic may only be of interest to me, here’s the follow-up now that the 2016 NFL Draft is complete and the Browns have actually traded away their #2 pick. In a series of trades, they first gave the #2 pick to Philadelphia for a king’s ransom of picks that included the #8 pick, then traded that #8 pick to Tennessee for another bounty. Short summary: math won.

Pick HOFer Quality Starter Starter Occasional Starter Substitute Bench Never played
Browns trade:
#2 (1st) 0.17 0 0.67 0.17 0 0 0
2017 4th 0 0 0.05 0.20 0.45 0.05 0.25
#176 (6th) 0 0 0.04 0.04 0.22 0.39 0.30
Total 0.17 0 0.76 0.41 0.67 0.44 0.55
Browns receive:
#15 (1st) 0 0 0.50 0.50 0 0 0
2017 1st 0 0 0.50 0.50 0 0 0
2017 2nd 0 0.25 0.25 0.42 0.08 0 0
2018 2nd 0 0.25 0.25 0.42 0.08 0 0
#76 (3rd) 0 0 0.07 0.27 0.53 0.07 0.07
#77 (3rd) 0 0 0.07 0.27 0.53 0.07 0.07
#100 (4th) 0 0 0.05 0.20 0.45 0.05 0.25
Total 0 0.50 1.69 2.58 1.67 0.19 0.39

The result above is far better than in the example trade with San Francisco that I previously analyzed, and according to their historical drafting results should give the team two good players, another 2-3 decent players, and 1-2 guys who can occasionally contribute. Given the fact that the football gods hate the Browns, the two players drafted by Philadelphia (Carson Wentz) and Tennessee (Jack Conklin) will probably go on to become the greatest ever at their positions, but until that happens the statistical analysis says this was a really impressive result for the new Moneyball regime.

In addition to the two big trades, the Browns made three smaller trades, and overall turned ten draft picks into sixteen. Obviously quantity does not equal quality, but in this case the math says they got good value and, while they aren’t going to be very competitive for at least a couple more years, there might actually be some reason for optimism in Cleveland again.

Moneyball

Posted from Culver City, California at 2:04 pm, April 16th, 2016

The Browns recently hired Paul DePodesta, whose story of bringing an analytical approach to baseball was chronicled in the book/movie Moneyball. Seeing as this hiring provides an opportunity to combine two of my favorite things – the Browns and math – I decided to make my own attempt to play football Moneyball. Since the NFL draft is the most obvious place where statistics can be applied, and since I’m a huge dork, I put together a spreadsheet of all Browns draft picks from 1999-2014, and used a formula based on career starts, Pro Bowl appearances, and Pro Football Reference’s “career value” rating to put each player on a seven point scale from “Hall of Famer” to “Never played”:

Pick HOFer Quality Starter Starter Occasional Starter Substitute Bench Never played
#1-5 (1st) 1 (17%) 0 4 (67%) 1 (17%) 0 0 0
#6-10 (1st) 0 1 (25%) 1 (25%) 1 (25%) 1 (25%) 0 0
#11-20 (1st) 0 0 1 (50%) 1 (50%) 0 0 0
#21-31 (1st) 0 1 (17%) 1 (17%) 2 (34%) 2 (34%) 0 0
#32-46 (2nd) 0 3 (25%) 3 (25%) 5 (42%) 1 (8%) 0 0
#47-61 (2nd) 0 0 1 (12%) 3 (38%) 3 (38%) 1 (12%) 0
Round 3 0 0 1 (7%) 4 (27%) 8 (53%) 1 (7%) 1 (7%)
Round 4 0 0 1 (5%) 4 (20%) 9 (45%) 1 (5%) 5 (25%)
Round 5 0 0 0 4 (25%) 5 (31%) 4 (25%) 3 (19%)
Round 6 0 0 1 (4%) 1 (4%) 5 (22%) 9 (39%) 7 (30%)
Round 7 0 0 0 0 7 (39%) 5 (28%) 6 (33%)

Teams who hold a draft pick in the top five value that draft pick as if it is certain to produce a Hall of Famer, but of the six top-five draft choices the Browns have made, Joe Thomas was the lone great pick, four of the others never made a single Pro Bowl, and the sixth (Braylon Edwards) made one Pro Bowl in his only good season and was traded after three years. Drafting in a position where they expected to find great players, the Browns instead came away disappointed five out of six times.

Since the Browns have done so poorly drafting in the top five, trading back needs to be a consideration. When considering whether to make a trade during the draft, the accepted way to “value” a draft pick in the NFL is the draft value chart. An alternate approach is to use analytics to determine the expected value of a trade, and that approach is more likely than the draft value chart to support trading back to get more picks, stating that the draft value chart over-values high picks. With the huge caveat that my table above is admittedly too small of a sample size to be fully accurate – it should include the draft history for all NFL teams, not just the Browns – here’s my attempt to use math to show why the Browns should listen to analytics and trade back.

The Browns have the #2 overall pick in the 2016 draft, which the draft value chart says is worth 2600 points. Theoretically the Browns could trade with San Francisco and get San Francisco’s first round pick (#7 – 1400 points), second round pick (#37 – 530 points), third round pick (#68 – 250 points), and second round pick in the 2017 draft. Based on what Tennessee just got from the LA Rams the haul would probably be even higher, but for the sake of argument let’s assume that’s the deal. Using the Browns draft history table above, and assuming San Francisco’s 2017 second round pick is in the top half of the second round, here’s what the odds of each of those picks panning out look like, based on past drafting history:

Pick HOFer Quality Starter Starter Occasional Starter Substitute Bench Never played
Browns trade:
#2 0.17 0 0.67 0.17 0 0 0
San Francisco trades:
#7 0 0.25 0.25 0.25 0.25 0 0
#37 0 0.25 0.25 0.42 0.08 0 0
#68 0 0 0.07 0.27 0.53 0.07 0.07
2017 2nd 0 0.25 0.25 0.42 0.08 0 0
Total 0 0.75 0.82 1.36 0.94 0.07 0.07

By giving up one player who the odds say is most likely to end up as a regular starter the Browns get four players and have excellent odds that one of them is a future Pro Bowler while another turns into a regular starter. The math seems clear: you make that trade.

With all of the above said, it’s the Browns, so expect to see them throw analytics out the window on draft night and pick another quarterback that they can then cut after 3-4 mediocre years.

Living in the Future

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 3:35 pm, March 31st, 2016

At 8:30 tonight Tesla will unveil their third-generation electric car. A company that just five years ago was mocked for having the audacity to think they could survive, much less compete with the existing automotive behemoths, is on the verge of launching a $35,000 automobile that is projected to sell 500,000 vehicles every year by 2020, and is one of the most anticipated new car launches in history.

Meanwhile solar panels are now 100 times cheaper than they were in 1977, and as cheap or cheaper than traditional electricity sources in most markets, with prices continuing to drop. At the same time, the major drawback of solar not being viable at night is being addressed by the fact that battery storage solutions drop in price by about 8% every year.

We live on a planet where global warming due to greenhouse gases is already causing massive disruptions to ecosystems not capable of handling rapid climate change, where even an area as remote as the North Pole faces hazardous air quality, and a seemingly infinite number of other environmental problems can easily lead to hopelessness and despair.

In a world faced with challenges that can seem overwhelming, it’s worth marking this date. Tonight the next generation of the automobile is being unveiled, and it changes the paradigm of how transportation affects the environment. This new car is driven by advances in battery technology that will have applications for all sectors of the energy industry, and will almost certainly change the way the world is powered. And it was created in spite of a hostile political environment by engineers who saw a problem and set out to solve it by building the best car that they could design. We live in the future, and the future seems like it’s going to be a good place to be.

Tesla Model 3

It Is What It Is

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 11:08 pm, March 28th, 2016

Aside from wildflower trips to Death Valley the excitement has been limited over the past month, but here’s a recap of the non-happenings:

  • There are obviously lots of critters roaming our neighborhood, and so long as they stay outside all is well. However, a while back we started hearing what I can only assume was a 70s-themed rat disco party in our attic, so we put a Dropcam and a live trap up there, thus beginning what Audrey has dubbed the “Rat Relocation Program”. We’re still searching for whatever opening they’re using to get in, but over a period of almost two months the program has had five applicants, each of whom was captured, photographed, given a drink of water, and then transported to the Ballona Wetlands Rat Sanctuary. I’m hopeful that the program is either nearing its quota or that we’ll finally find the entry to the rat dance club and shutter its door.
  • After almost nine months the work Commerce Architects has done on the HEB.com website was finally ready to launch, and so about two weeks ago I found myself in San Antonio at 11PM in a room with 20-30 other people. In an unfortunate twist they decided to screen Interstellar while waiting for me to run critical upgrade scripts, so I performed my tasks while tense dramatic music blared throughout the room. Luckily things went fairly smoothly, and after a fourteen hour day I headed back to the hotel room at about 6:30 the following morning with bloodshot eyes but without having caused the site’s servers to burst into flame and burn down the data center.
  • On the same San Antonio trip I was tapped to provide onsite support through the weekend, but after slow days on Friday and Saturday they decided no one needed to be in the office on Sunday so I took off on a twenty mile bike ride along the San Antonio Mission Trail. The trail, the river corridor it follows, and the Missions are ridiculously great assets for San Antonio, although I underestimated the sun and had to duck into the first shop I could find to buy a hat. I then spent the rest of the day playing uber-tourist as I visited three of the Missions wearing a “San Antonio Missions” hat, but my head remained pinkish rather than going full-blown lobster red, so if looking like a dork is the price to pay for not dying of skin cancer then it may have been a reasonable trade-off. On a side note, based on regularly biking 16-17 miles on my stationary bike at home I assumed this trail would be a piece of cake, but I forgot to account for the fact that the San Antonio B Cycle rentals are built more like tanks than bikes, contain enough steel to survive an atomic blast, and (apparently) don’t always have working shifters; there was definitely no need for a workout in the hotel gym at the end of this day.

There isn’t a lot of excitement on the horizon, but hopefully a few journal-worthy adventures will come up in the near future. Aaron’s leg is back in one piece and he’s attempting to snowboard again, Ma & Pa are making the best of their retirement and traveling all over, and Audrey is either singing or playing bass with about three hundred different groups these days, so all seems to be well with the world.

Rat Relocation Project applicant #5

Rat Relocation Program applicant #5. The peanut butter is in the trap as bait, but after they run all over looking for an escape we end up sending peanut butter-coated rodents out into their new homes.

Valley of Death

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 6:21 pm, March 21st, 2016

Death Valley received unusually heavy rains this year, resulting in the first “superbloom” of wildflowers since 2005, so of course I wanted to go to there. After plans with Aaron and my dad fell through I concocted a scheme whereby I would drive to Las Vegas on a Thursday night, work from Vegas on Friday, and have Audrey fly in so that we could drive to Death Valley early Saturday. With this genius plan in place I made the long slog through LA traffic to Vegas, and then spent Friday working from a fancy room at the Palazzo Hotel that had a mostly-great view, with the exception of giant gold letters spelling out “Trump” staring back from the high-rise on the opposite side of the Strip.

Audrey arrived mid-afternoon, and after dinner and a search for the dumbest slot machines we could find (the “Reel ‘em In!” fishing game won that contest) we went to bed relatively early, woken only by the sounds of what was either a troop of crazed chimpanzees or else a drunken frat party in the room next door; they departed at 11PM, but returned at 3AM to ensure that we wouldn’t have to worry about getting too much sleep.

I was randomly in Death Valley at the height of the 2005 superbloom, and while this year’s event wasn’t quite as impressive, it was still pretty neat to see the most inhospitable desert in North America completely covered in flowers. After a morning spent enjoying the yellow rock formations at Zabriskie Point and photographing flowers in the valley I took Audrey for a hike through Mosaic Canyon, a tiny slot canyon that affords the opportunity to scramble over boulders and up slickrock. Luckily she remained on speaking terms with me even after we encountered rocks that caused other hikers to turn around, and she came away with some photos that convinced me I need to learn more about the HDR settings on my camera.

Death Valley Wildflowers

The heavy overcast made the scene less vibrant than it might otherwise have been, but the flowers were still shockingly colorful for being in the hottest, driest place in North America.

Death Valley Wildflowers

Bad day for anyone who thinks flowers suck, good day for the rest of us.

Songs in the Forest

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:48 pm, February 29th, 2016

After two postings about heavy metal bands and Donald Trump, the journal is overdue for some nature. The video below is all about the whale-like song of the lemurs, so turn on the volume before playing it and ignore the picture – it’s just Audrey, our guide and me walking through the forest. The sound of the indri lemurs is unlike anything else and still gives me chills when I listen to it, remembering what it was like to be roaming the forest with families of lemurs calling out all around us. Recorded September 2014 in Andasibe National Park

The indri lemur’s song carries for several miles through the treetops. Supposedly if you record them singing on an iPhone and then replay it later they will sing back to you, but I wouldn’t know anything about that…

What if this time is different?

Posted from Culver City, California at 5:09 pm, February 26th, 2016

For at least the past forty years, while everyone else was fretting about Michelle Bachmann or Al Sharpton potentially becoming President, political science has calmly and rationally analyzed the electoral landscape and done an excellent job of predicting how the nomination contest would play out using a theory that is described as “the party decides”. This theory basically states that political parties guide voters to one of their preferred candidates through winnowing and signals from influential party actors. Thus, while a primary season might start out as a giant and chaotic clown show, candidates who lack support drop out after early contests, and the most influential elements within the party then unite behind one or two of the remaining candidates, showering them with media attention, money and endorsements. Voters, whose views are largely shaped by the media and the opinions of people/groups that they trust, end up backing the favored candidates. In the end, candidates who are unacceptable are dispatched, and the party always gets someone that its establishment supports.

This year on the Democratic side Hillary Clinton has the backing of the establishment, and while Bernie Sanders has passionate supporters and incredible homages from Larry David it doesn’t seem at all likely that he’ll be more than a speedbump in Clinton’s path to the nomination. The Republican side, however, is far more uncertain.

In my yearly predictions I said that Donald Trump wouldn’t win more than four primaries, and that Marco Rubio, who holds a huge lead in endorsements, would go on to win the party’s nomination. With Trump already boasting three wins, and the polls pointing towards a big day for him on Super Tuesday, it looks like my long tradition of incorrect predictions is likely to continue, and I (along with many political scientists) have gone from being absolutely certain that Trump would simply be a sideshow to wondering if he might in fact have a chance.

If Trump did actually win the nomination it would mark the first time in four decades that someone the party actively opposed was the nominee. While I would still bet on Marco Rubio based on past history and the likelihood that the party will do everything possible to get a candidate it wants, it’s interesting to assess what fundamental changes might have led to a possible failure in the “party decides” theory of the nomination process:

  • Skewed voter expectations: While there is a large faction in the Republican party that is very interested in passing laws and achieving results, there now exists a significant faction that seems focused on ideology over results. An effective lawmaker needs to be able to get people to work together to pass bills that can become law, but an ideological candidate needs only to promise to fight and never compromise. As an example of the latter, repeatedly voting to repeal Obamacare while the law’s namesake holds a veto pen is an act of protest, and not an act of governance. After seeing party leaders promoting candidates for office who lacked traditional qualifications (see: Palin, Sarah), it’s a confusing message to now try to convince the electorate that a candidate who is all sound and fury like Trump is unsuited for the job of President.
  • Lack of authenticity: In recent times the term “conservative” has become ever more rigidly defined, forcing candidates to disclaim positions they recently held. Thus Marco Rubio sponsors an immigration bill and four years later swears he didn’t actually want it to pass, and any candidate who might have ever suggested anything even resembling a limit on guns now airs commercials in which he fires assault weapons and suggests that even Jesus would push for more open carry laws. Despite the fact that these candidates are clearly full of crap everyone pretends that voters are convinced by the smoke and mirrors. After years of voters feeling like they’ve been played for fools by candidates who are just saying whatever they think the electorate wants to hear, Trump is espousing views so shocking, and so obviously different from anything any other politician would say, that voters believe he’s the only one not lying to them (note that the fact Trump professed very different views just a few years ago seems for some reason not to matter).
  • Truthiness: It’s a maxim to say that all politicians lie, but in the past politicians confronted with the truth have backtracked on their falsehoods. Today politicians confronted with the truth will simply double down on the lie, thus making it impossible to argue using facts. When you say that a climate scientist cannot be trusted on matters of climate change, or that economists who present analysis at odds with your preferred narrative are merely partisan shills, you create an electorate that won’t respect expert opinions. Clearly Mexico won’t pay for a border wall, it is impractical (not to mention inhumane) to simply round-up and deport eleven million people, and everyone isn’t going to get a free pony simply because a guy who built a few casinos sits in the White House, but after years of preaching that experts need not be trusted there is no easy way to plausibly discredit these claims.

While these same problems exist on the Democratic side – Hillary Clinton is shameless in her pandering to whatever audience she is addressing, and liberals will only believe scientists who remember not to point out that there is no evidence that GMOs are unsafe – political scientists seem to be in agreement that the problem is vastly more pronounced on the Republican side. Trump’s success serves as evidence of just how abnormal things have become, where a candidate who should have been dispatched easily by the Republican establishment is instead headed towards a delegate lead that might be hard for the party’s preferred candidate to overcome. Should he actually gain the nomination I feel certain that Trump would get absolutely shellacked in the general election, but I was equally certain that he wouldn’t come close to being nominated in the first place, so it’s a frightening possibility to wonder whether past history can still be considered a reliable guide in this election environment.

Twisted #?@!* Sister

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 8:06 pm, February 23rd, 2016

Audrey has a lot of interesting acquaintances, many of whom work in the music industry in some capacity. One in particular will occasionally invite us to attend a random social event, and when he does it’s invariably a good idea to say “yes”, because it’s going to be a worthwhile evening. Last Monday he asked us to join him for a screening of the rock documentary “We are Twisted F***ing Sister“, and while under normal circumstances my response to anything related to Twisted Sister would probably vary between indifference and active hostility, when Brian asks the correct answer is always an emphatic “YES”.

The theater showing the film was a tiny, one-screen place in Hollywood that gave me flashbacks to college days and the CWRU Film Society – the dingy interior was much like Strosacker auditorium, the disheveled, mostly-male crowd would have fit in perfectly with the engineering geeks I spent four years with, and even the promos before the documentary had the same vibe as what was shown in college – one in particular featured a lengthy and creepy cult initiation scene followed by the words “Join Us” flashing across the screen with information about becoming a member of the theater’s film society.

The documentary is a must-watch for anyone under the misconception that becoming a rock star is easy. During the 1970s and early 1980s Twisted Sister literally played thousands of sold-out shows in clubs in New York, and did so six nights a week, every week, for ten years before they finally got a record deal. Unlike the stereotypical metal band, neither the group’s lead singer or guitarist/founder drank or did drugs, and the documentary made clear that from the beginning they were completely self-aware that music alone wouldn’t create success, and that their job was to do everything conceivable to give people a reason to show up and buy a ticket. Whether it was their over-the-top showmanship, a surprisingly intelligent advertising strategy, the ability to pragmatically deal with adversity, or whatever else might go into becoming a successful band, Twisted Sister thought about it, attacked it, and figured out how to succeed. By the time the documentary showed the group having been together for ten years, performing their hearts out night after night, they might as well have been Rocky saying he just wanted to go the distance against Apollo Creed, with every person in the theater solidly on their side.

Following the show, Dee Snider (the band’s lead singer) did a short Q&A, and turned out to be whip-smart. At one point someone mentioned having been at a Twisted Sister show in Long Beach thirty-five years ago, and Snider not only remembered the show but was still angry at some lady who had been in the audience and dumped an ashtray over the balcony railing. When asked what motivated him during ten years in which Twisted Sister was able to easily fill venues holding 2-3,000 people in New York, yet still wasn’t given the time of day by record companies, he amusingly responded that he was driven by “hatred”, and not in a dark, vengeful way, but simply that he was so angry at everyone who told him he couldn’t make it that it just made him work harder to prevent them from ever being right.

You hear a lot of stories about rock and roll bands being full of themselves or not realizing their good fortune, and while there are plenty of faults to find with Twisted Sister, no one can begrudge them their success – they knew what they were, they worked relentlessly, and very much earned their eventual moment in the spotlight. Putting another spin on it, if a band known for being obnoxious and performing while dressed like women can get this relatively conservative kid from Ohio on their side, clearly there’s a backstory that’s worth celebrating.

Moving Pictures

Posted from Bonaire at 5:22 pm, January 30th, 2016

I’m not so much with the words when it comes to describing the beautiful underwater environment here, so I’ve done my best to condense down an unwieldy amount of video into something that is hopefully borderline watchable. We saw a lot of cool things under the sea this past week. Part of what made things even more amazing on this trip is that on five of our seven dives we were on our own and got to find things without the aid of a divemaster, and without having to share them with a big dive group, so each moment with a fish or turtle was just for us and lasted as long as we wanted to hang out and the animals were willing to have us there. Bonaire will be high on the list of places to return to for future trips.

At the end of the week I had more than forty-five minutes of GoPro video. This is the condensed version, but it’s still five minutes long. Five minutes of underwater awesomeness long.

Chumming the Water

Posted from Bonaire at 8:55 pm, January 28th, 2016

Yesterday was a rest day from diving, and our only adventures were finding a food truck that serves awesome tuna and then driving around the northern part of the island. That wasn’t quite enough material for a standalone journal entry, but now everyone is caught up, so we can move on to today and the boat trip of many barfings.

The west side of Bonaire is calm, and you can wade in from the beach and dive on the reef. The east side is definitely not calm – there is a lagoon where some of the best windsurfers in the world practice daily, and waves crash into the rocks and throw spray fifteen feet into the air, so wading in from the beach is not going to end well for anyone. The upside of diving on the “wild side” of Bonaire is that the sea critters are bigger; you can see sharks, rays, and other things that aren’t found in abundance elsewhere. So we booked a boat trip, and then watched in fear as crazy winds blew constantly for the 48 hours prior to our dive. We showed up at 7:30 this morning expecting the trip to be cancelled, only to find two Dutch guys loading tanks onto a zodiak. When we asked them about water conditions, they ominously replied “it’s going to be rough, but don’t worry.”

After a briefing the boat slowly and carefully maneuvered through breakers that were 8-10 feet tall, getting us to the edge of the reef in a wet-but-alive state. The first dive was good but short – there were some newly-certified divers that blew through their air, forcing us to come up after 40 minutes instead of the hour scheduled. Animals sighted underwater included rays and sea turtles. Where things got interesting, however, was after surfacing while waiting for pickup. While the two Dutch guys scrambled to get people and gear back on the boat, a few of the divers started getting queasy in the huge swells and began chumming the waters. Sea sickness sucks, but it’s even worse when you’re floating in waves that are reminiscent of the end of The Perfect Storm and simultaneously you’re trying not to get smashed by gear and a twenty foot long boat. Luckily neither Audrey nor I got sick, but the mountainous waves and erupting passengers made for a memorable re-entry.

After hanging out in the calm shallows between dives we did a second dive (minus two seasick passengers who stayed behind), and this time the two novice divers were sent up early so that the rest of us could enjoy a longer dive. Sea turtles were everywhere – the dive site was named “Turtle City” – and that’s always fun since they’re such graceful and wise-looking animals. A giant spotted lobster was also roaming the reef, which was my first time seeing one out in the open. Prior to the dive the dive master had requested that each of us give him a hand sign when half of our air was gone, so forty minutes into the dive I let him know I was down to half a tank, and to my horror he then made the signal to end the dive and head towards the surface. I assumed I had screwed up signals and done “out of air” instead of “half a tank” since we were again ending the dive so early, and I ascended in a bubble net of shame. Luckily, when we got to the surface it turned out another diver had run out of air, so I was pardoned of the crime of gross hand signal negligence.

Tomorrow is our last day of diving since it’s unsafe to dive for 24 hours prior to flying. Given that Bonaire is just a two-hop flight from LA (LA-Houston-Bonaire), and that I have a gazillion frequent flyer miles, it’s probably a safe bet we’ll be back here again at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Donkeys on the Road

Posted from Bonaire at 10:22 pm, January 26th, 2016

Being able to walk into the ocean from the shore with a scuba tank, and then being able to see underwater life that exceeds any aquarium, and being able to do so whenever you feel like it, is a ridiculously excellent way to dive. The morning dive was off of the hotel beach, and the afternoon dive was at the loading pier for the Cargill Salt Works. Everything from eels to stone fish to sea turtles to barracuda to groupers made appearances, along with the ten gazillion other fish that are out here.

I also pulled the big camera out of the bag and grabbed a few shots of the local iguanas that come begging at the hotel during mealtimes, then made Audrey drive me around looking for flamingos as the sun was going down. I stood near a lagoon waiting for one of the birds to pull his head out from underwater while she made friends with some of the island’s donkeys. Then we came home and ate seafood and chocolate, ’cause that’s how we roll.

Virgin Gorda Sunset

Sunset last Saturday on Virgin Gorda. This was the view from our room, because I apparently earned a massive number of karma points in a past life.

Iguana

Iguana begging on the hotel deck. There are three that hang around our place, along with an assorted variety of other lizards and hermit crabs.

Flamingo

Flamingo. A shockingly difficult bird to photograph, even when they’re standing with their head underwater just twenty feet away.

Bonaire

Posted from Bonaire at 8:14 pm, January 25th, 2016

We’ll see how the rest of the week goes, but the first day in Bonaire was a damn good one, even if the airline left our luggage in Curacao.

The reason people fly nearly to Venezuela in order to spend time on a speck of an island is that you can walk into the ocean, swim out a hundred feet from the shore, and be diving in some of the most pristine reef in the world. Today Audrey and I put that proposition to the test, and it’s true – we strapped on tanks, waded out a bit, and then dropped down to a reef that was more interesting than almost anywhere I’ve ever dived before. Well played, Bonaire.

In addition to the underwater adventures, above ground we discovered that our super-fancy lodging is a great spot for finding hermit crabs and iguanas. Two of the latter showed up to breakfast, both of them big but one of them jumbo-sized and apparently unafraid of people – he would lounge under someone’s table, probably looking for scraps, until the resort owner would chase him off with a stick. Parrots were hanging out in the trees in front of the resort, flamingos were doing their thing in the salt flats on the south side of the island, and after stopping for a drink at a place with a sign out front asking people to shut the doors so that the donkeys wouldn’t walk in and eat the plants, we passed about five of the big guys trudging down the road after the sun went down.

The big camera hasn’t left the bag very often on this trip, but like Hugh Hefner I’m under no illusion that this journal’s audience is here for the articles, so hopefully there should be a few photos attached to the upcoming journal entries. This island is a pretty awesome place.

Across the Universe

Posted from Beef Island, British Virgin Islands at 12:39 pm, January 24th, 2016

Given the lack of interesting journal material lately, Audrey suggested that the cheese-eating beggar cat at lunch yesterday merited a mention. Of more interest may be the fact that I decided to explore a couple of the random dirt roads running off of the island’s (single) main road. Given the awesome power and traction of the rental Suzuki this was a slightly dicey affair, but our first foray led us to a field filled with giant red hermit crabs, dozens of butterflies, and a baby goat that screamed like a human. After leaving the screaming goat, the adjoining beach had a few footprints on it but was otherwise far less trafficked than the named beaches.

After exploring another random side road we finally found a beach with waters calm enough for snorkeling – in a bit of irony, after a few days of searching the island for places that were calm enough to allow snorkeling, this was literally the closest possible beach to our rental. It was the healthiest coral I’ve seen so far, the fishes were numerous enough to make it interesting, and visibility was a solid 10-15 feet so I didn’t have to worry about snagging my man parts on unseen rocks.

Today is a transit day – the ferry schedule forced us to arrive at the airport more than three hours early, and we’ve got three hops in tiny planes from BVI to St. Maarten to Curacao to Bonaire. After that we’ve got a week of shore diving in the world’s premier shore diving location. The big camera may not see much action on this trip, but I’m hoping the GoPro gets plenty of use making a few more fish videos.

Ditto

Posted from Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands at 9:50 am, January 23rd, 2016

I suspect the “water was too rough for snorkeling, hung out with friends” posts might be getting a bit stale, so just know that yesterday was more of the same. The only new addition was Kalyan’s dance moves at dinner, something none of us was fully prepared for, and none of us will easily forget. Hopefully it won’t be another fifteen years until this group gets together again.

A Little Bit o’ Everything Nice

Posted from Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands at 9:34 am, January 22nd, 2016

The water was too rough for snorkeling again yesterday, so Kalyan and I headed down to the Rockefeller’s posh resort to check out the beach there. After being told by security that we could access the public beach but “not use any of the amenities or interact with the guests” we hung out for a bit at Little Dix Bay. It’s probably for the best that Audrey has cut me off from making any more wisecracks about the naming of that particular body of water.

In the afternoon I took the ferry to pick the girl up from the airport, and after our return we met up with everyone for dinner. Banick had been on a boat trip during the day and invited a couple that was also on the trip to dinner, one of whom is a photographer who is pretty well-known for his underwater dog photos; it turns out that he lives about a mile from us in Venice, so we might have a new buddy to explore restaurants with when we get home. As is typical with this group of friends, there was a lot of laughing throughout the night, but it ended with people literally crying as Banick recounted a night from his college year abroad in England when he was attacked by some hooligans outside of a bar – with everything from Ajay standing on a bench making kung-fu noises to Banick trying to “Hulkomania my shirt off” the story was definitely a throwback to all of our crazy nights sitting up yapping during college.

Day of Three Cakes

Posted from Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands at 10:53 pm, January 20th, 2016

Dan and I attempted snorkeling this morning, but that attempt was thwarted by poor visibility – while swimming out to the reef a swell came by, and at its trough a massive coral head emerged from the depths. The fact that the water was so murky that that I couldn’t to see the coral from about two feet away was reason enough to head back to shore, since the alternative would have been getting ripped to shreds on the reef, something I’m not fond of.

Instead of snorkeling I joined the crew for a resupply mission into town, then hung out and reminisced for hours before enjoying a steak and cake birthday dinner for the many newly-minted 40-year-olds on this trip. Audrey arrives tomorrow, but sadly her arrival coincides with the trip’s end for a few of my friends here – it’s been fun seeing people again and it will be a shame to have to start the goodbyes so soon.

The Baths

Posted from Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands at 11:13 pm, January 19th, 2016

The Baths are a series of small coves created by hundreds of massive boulders on the southwest side of the island, and they are epic. The short “Caves” trail allows you to scramble over, under and around the rocks, wading through water, hanging on ropes, and scrambling on all fours – there are easier paths through the area, but there are enough branches in the trail to create an awesome choose-your-own-adventure route. Making things even better, the snorkeling in the area was also pretty good. Ryan left a happy boy.

Aside from boulder adventures, the day’s other activities were a trip to the old Copper mine, some soul-restoring moments sitting above the ocean, and a dinner at the top of the island at the “Hog Heaven” barbecue restaurant. Also, lest I forget an amusing moment, as we were standing on the beach Rachel (without her glasses) was looking at the crowds trying to identify anyone in our group. Suddenly recognizing someone emerging from the water, she exclaimed “thanks goodness for Jonathan and his great white whiteness”; no truer description of a visitor to the Caribbean from the snowy north has ever been uttered.

Happy-Arrrr

Posted from Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands at 11:50 pm, January 18th, 2016

Stage two of the 2016 Caribbean scuba extravaganza started today, although not without more transportation travails. The ferry was scheduled to depart at 11:45 (arriving at 12:15), but at 12:05 we were still parked at the dock in St. Thomas. A clearly agitated passenger finally leaped out of her seat and ran outside to give her two cents to the captain: “you out there boozin’ and I has an appointment in Tortola – c’mon already”; we were underway two minutes later.

I had to catch a second ferry at 1:30, which didn’t seem like it would be a tight connection, but after arriving twenty minutes late I somehow managed to go from the middle of the customs line to the end as a local youth basketball team proceeded to cut in front of everyone. After finally getting through customs I asked where I could buy a ticket for the ferry to Virgin Gorda, to which the response was “that ferry leaves from Road Town”. Twenty-five minutes by taxi later I was at another ferry terminal, luckily on time, and soon embarked on a trip to Virgin Gorda to meet up with some old friends.

Their plan for the evening was to visit Leverick Bay for the Michael Beans Happy-Arrrr. If ever anyone wants a two hour musical pirate show I can confidently say you will never find a more enthusiastic host, although I discovered my limit for “-arrr” jokes was far less than the allotted 120 minutes. Everyone else seemed to be feeling the same, so we bid the pirate good night and spent the remaining hours catching up on everything that’s happened over the past two decades, all the while with one of the crew randomly breaking into the Whip and Nae Nae – aside from the fact that he’s now a federal patent judge, he hasn’t changed.

Under the Sea

Posted from Red Hook, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands at 11:36 pm, January 17th, 2016

After not diving since October 2014 I jumped out of the boat today only to come swimming back to shamefully admit that I’d forgotten to put on a weight belt. Adding insult to injury, the guy on the boat reported that the BCD had pockets for weight and that I was wearing 14 pounds. They still let me dive, but I’m pretty certain they did so with the assumption that I was brain damaged.

The dive sites were shallow so running out of air wasn’t a concern, thus both dives ended when the divemaster got cold. Scuba diving is always a nice way to relax, and the soft corals pulsing in the current just made it moreso. After diving I also wanted to do some snorkeling at the nearby Coki Beach, but when I got off the boat the beach was a total zoo – apparently a cruise ship had just landed and dumped the equivalent of a mid-sized American city onto the narrow sand. I fled, but returned a few hours later to a spot where they sell “fish biscuits”, so upon entering the water you are swarmed by schools of begging reef fish. Sadly I didn’t realize that the GoPro battery was dead, so while I got a short video of some rays, the hungry reef fish and two cuttlefish sightings will have to go undocumented.

I’m still trying to figure out underwater video, so I’m gonna wait a bit longer before submitting my awesome parrot fish footage to GoPro in hopes of getting a sponsorship.

My seat had a bed

Posted from Red Hook, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands at 8:54 pm, January 16th, 2016

The much-needed vacation and scuba extravaganza of 2016 is officially underway. I was surprised when I printed my itinerary to discover that many moons ago when I arranged the trip I’d cashed in award miles for a business-class ticket, and even more surprised when I got on the flight from LAX to JFK that it was one of those super-fancy planes where the seat folds down flat. We live in a glorious time when you can be in a bed 37,000 feet in the sky, and even moreso when you can enjoy that bed after eating shrimp sliders and vanilla ice cream.

Aside from the seat-bed, most of today’s travel details aren’t worth writing about, although after arriving I did have a flashback to the Turkish side trip of doom. Twenty minutes into the shuttle ride in St. Thomas I realized that the driver was driving across the entire island and dropping everyone off at the ferry terminal, and that I might have gotten onto the wrong van. After the rest of the passengers had grabbed their luggage and departed I sheepishly repeated the name of my hotel, and asked if he thought I was stupid. Luckily no mistakes had been made, he only thought I was a little bit stupid, and five minutes later I was drinking rum punch in the lobby of the Point Pleasant Resort.

The day’s only other adventures consisted of a trip to the local scuba shop to book a dive for tomorrow, followed by a long nap meant to overcome the effects of getting only four hours of sleep last night. The resort’s lone restaurant is right on the water, so I imbibed another rum drink while watching fish swimming past underwater lights. I purposely picked the table farthest from the solo saxophone player who was playing smooth jazz hits in a corner of the restaurant, not realizing that he made frequent field trips to jam out in front of each table; being a lone diner at a fancy resort is uncomfortable enough, but now I have memories of a saxophone player standing two feet away while playing in a manner that can best be described as “suggestive yet awkward”; one can only hope future therapy will not be required to deal with any painful flashbacks.

The Seat Bed

The seat bed. We live in the future.

2016 Predictions

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:40 pm, January 11th, 2016

For the eighth consecutive year, here’s my annual attempt to start the journal off with predictions for the coming year that are guaranteed to be laughably incorrect twelve months later:

  1. Since it’s an election year, here are the election-related predictions:
    1. Hillary Clinton will win the Presidency with a similar margin to Obama’s 332-206 victory in 2012. While Republicans have a structural advantage in House elections, Democrats seem to have a structural advantage in Presidential elections, so barring something like an economic slowdown or a terrorist attack Clinton would seem to be in the driver’s seat.
    2. Marco Rubio will be the Republican nominee. Donald Trump, currently far and away the frontrunner, will win South Carolina and at most three other states. Favorites during the primaries change frequently as voters try to figure out who has the best chance to win the Presidency, but the candidate with the most endorsements tends to also get the most votes.
    3. There are 34 Senate seats up for grabs, 24 of which are held by Republicans. Given those odds, and since Democrats do better during Presidential elections (when turnout is higher), they will pick up between four and seven seats, giving them between 50 and 53 total members.
    4. Marijuana will be legalized in California in 2016, as well as in at least five other states. There are two reasons why I think this will happen: first, 58% of the country now believes marijuana should be legalized. Second, support for legalization is highest among younger voters, who tend to turn out in greater numbers in presidential election years, so those pushing for legalization will make every effort to get the issue on the ballot for November.
  2. Since first rolling off the assembly line in 2012 Tesla has not changed the appearance of the Model-S, so this year they will announce some cosmetic changes – nothing too dramatic, but enough that cars produced after the change will be visually distinct in some way from previous models.
  3. Leonardo DiCaprio will win best actor at the Oscars. Hollywood likes to reward well-liked actors who have been nominated multiple times without winning, so this seems like his year. For the record, I try to avoid predictions that might seem obvious, and I didn’t realize that between starting this journal entry and finishing it that the Golden Globe awards would take place and establish Oscar favorites, so it wasn’t quite the even-money bet that it now appears to be when I first wrote it down.
  4. The Black Lives Matter organization will have mostly disappeared from headlines by the end of the year, hopefully to be replaced by a more effective carrier for a very important message. While many, many people want to see this group’s goals put into action, they cannot be an effective agent for change if they drive away potential supporters with adversarial tactics that include hijacking political events, blocking freeways, and shutting down community outreach meetings.
  5. This is a prediction that I actually expect will be wrong, but I don’t like to make obvious predictions so I’ll say that the 2016 US Olympic Men’s basketball team will lose one of their games. The US should be completely dominant in basketball, but they’ve had a couple of close calls in the last two Olympics after a disappointing showing in 2004, and I think that the team-first nature of international basketball could lead to another letdown for a group that has no experience playing together.
  6. Obama’s job approval numbers, currently at about 47%, will rise to between 53-57% as his term ends and opposition focus moves from him to Hillary. Unless Michelle Obama goes into politics, all of the talk of Obama the Kenyan-Muslim-socialist-who-is-setting-up-FEMA-internment-camps-for-gun-owners will finally end, and people will instead remember a pretty decent guy who raised two great daughters, presided over a decrease in unemployment from 10% down to 5%, and oversaw a notable improvement in the nation’s reputation overseas.
  7. Microsoft’s plans to force upgrades to Windows 10 will backfire spectacularly, leading to frustrated users, lost work hours, and resulting in a PR debacle and calls for the CEO to step down. Despite giving the OS away for free, only 8% of users have upgraded since its release in July (compare that to 27% of Mac users who upgraded just one month after the release of their latest OS).
  8. Batman v. Superman won’t finish in the top ten domestic box office for 2016. The last Superman movie was subpar, Batman without Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale doesn’t generate much fan anticipation, and the release schedule is already crowded with another Star Wars movie and numerous comic book films. Superman is all sorts of awesome, and it’s a travesty that no one has made a great Superman movie since 1978, so I hope that this prediction is spectacularly wrong.
  9. Russia will engage in significant provocation this year in an effort to rekindle a Cold War atmosphere. Putin is opportunistic, as demonstrated by the war in Georgia, and I think he wants to do what he can to make the US administration more hawkish as it allows him to create alliances with countries that the US might otherwise engage diplomatically – when the US has better diplomatic relations with countries like China and Iran it means that Russia is more isolated than it otherwise would be.
  10. Twitter, which traded at a 52-week high of $53.69, will finish 2016 at least 25% lower than its current $20 price. The company’s revenues are supposedly rising, but unless I’m missing something (which is probable!) they have no unique technologies, no obvious way to increase profits without annoying Twitter-ites with more ads, and thus no obvious upside in the immediate future. With that said, for someone who works in technology I’m notoriously bad at technology predictions, so don’t rush out to short their stock based on anything I’ve written.
  11. Nest hasn’t come out with a new product in a while, so I expect this year will see a new offering. Since “a new product from Nest” is kind of obvious, I’ll dig myself into a hole by saying that it will specifically be a security product, combining their Dropcam technology with the motion sensor technology in their smoke detectors, and potentially including something to monitor the opened/closed state of doors and windows (which would also be valuable for future energy efficiency products).
  12. The Browns will have another absolutely, indisputably, undeniably horrendous year in 2016, winning only between three and five games. They just fired their head coach for the third time in five years, which not only means that players like Joe Thomas and Alex Mack are likely to flee to other teams, but will also make it nearly impossible to attract any talent during free agency. I’ll happily go on record as saying that getting rid of Pettine was an extraordinarily dumb move, and that even Vince Lombardi would not have won more than three or four games with the 2015 Browns roster.

There they are. I feel good about this batch of predictions, just as I did when I got them mostly-wrong last year, so expect that most of the above will be unbelievably incorrect in twelve months. As always, the comments link is there for both predictions that anyone wants to add, or any mocking that might be needed due to my insistence on continuing to treat the Browns as a subject worth writing about.

Looking Back at the Look Ahead

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:31 pm, December 31st, 2015

As is tradition, before recounting how bad I am at predicting future events, here is the scorecard from past years:

  • 2009: 31% correct (5 of 16)
  • 2010: 44% correct (7.5 of 17)
  • 2011: 50% correct (7 of 14)
  • 2012: 40% correct (6 of 15)
  • 2013: 11% correct (1.5 of 14)
  • 2014: 12% correct (1.5 out of 13)

Following two horrendous years, the odds favored a rebound… here are the results of the 2015 predictions:

  1. Hillary Clinton will announce she is running for President, and every Democrat of note including Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren will stay out of her way. Sarah Palin will go through the motions but will eventually announce that she isn’t running.

    As predicted, Hillary has pitched a shutout thus far and looks to have pretty much wrapped up the nomination before any votes are cast. Palin, however, made no pretense of running, so this one was only half correct.

  2. After the initial release of the Apple Watch in April, version 2.0 will follow quickly in time for the Christmas shopping season.

    Nope. I still don’t understand the point of having a watch that talks to your phone to… what? Save the two seconds it takes to get your phone out of your pocket? Until they add some useful health features I don’t think it’s going to be a meaningful product in their lineup. It would be neat to visit the alternate universe where Steve Jobs is still alive to see if he would have even bothered to release this thing in its current state.

  3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens will open with the largest weekend box office in history.

    This movie has broken box office records by large margins and is going to be monstrously huge. In twelve days it has already made $600 million and will easily become the biggest movie of all time. That fact means that I’ve got 1.5 out of 3 predictions correct, and will thus at least equal the abysmal performances of 2013 and 2014 – hooray!

  4. SpaceX will launch their Falcon Heavy rocket, have a successful test of their launch abort system (necessary before they can fly humans to space), and they will not only successfully land first stages, but they will have announced plans to re-use one of them on a future test flight.

    An explosion in June set the company back, but they still landed a rocket last week because SO AWESOME SPACESHIPS!!!!.

  5. The Supreme Court will refrain from disallowing subsidies to individuals living in states that do not run their own health care marketplaces in King v. Burwell, and will affirm the federal right to marry for gay couples in a consolidated case.

    Correct in both cases. I don’t usually agree with him ideologically, but so far I think John Roberts has been a surprisingly good Chief Justice.

  6. Facebook is going to announce a significant new service that takes advantage of the massive user profile data sets that they have for their users.

    Nope. Their big announcement this year was a “Haha” button, and somehow the stock is still up almost 50%.

  7. I think the Cavs (currently 26-20 and #5 in the East) will make the NBA Finals, but won’t win.

    They got to the Finals and played six awesome games. Being a fan of Cleveland sports is a tragic comedy played out over decades, so this weird injection of success and excitement was pretty awesome.

  8. The new Republican Congress won’t do anything extreme like shut down the government over the budget or play chicken with the debt limit, but they also won’t pass any significant legislation such as changes to Obamacare, immigration reform, or tax reform.

    I’m on a surprising roll – 4.5 out of 8. Congress opted for no shutdowns and no debt limit showdowns, and also passed no major legislation. That said, while they did briefly descend into chaos searching for a Speaker, they also shockingly fixed a difficult Medicare issue that has lingered since 1997, passed the first long-term highway bill since 2009, and overhauled the No Child Left Behind law. Overall, the performance was far worse than this country is capable of, but still better than expected when the year began.

  9. The St. Louis Rams will announce plans to return to Los Angeles.

    No announcement has yet been made, but it appears likely. If the Rams do move, the new stadium will be really, really impressive.

  10. Tesla will announce a battery pack upgrade for the Model-S.

    They came out with a pack for the Model-S that was a tiny bit larger, and announced a more significant 40% larger pack for the Roadster. Half credit on this one, since I expected a more substantial upgrade.

  11. The value of the Euro will rebound to at least $1.20 by the end of the year as exports pick up.

    The value has continued to fall and is now $1.09, and with the United Kingdom threatening to vote on leaving the EU the outlook for a unified European economy continues to worsen. My financial predictions this year were… not good.

  12. The Browns will make at least three trades in the draft, netting at least one extra pick for next year.

    They traded back in the second round, traded up in the third round, traded back in the fourth round, but amassed no extra picks for 2016. No prediction credit awarded.

  13. Apple is going to announce a television.

    This is like the fifth time I’ve been wrong on this prediction. Steve Jobs would have gotten a TV out by now.

  14. Gas prices, currently at a national average of $2.04, will climb back over $3.00 by year’s end as supply is reduced and usage increases. I’ll peg the prediction range at $3.10 – $3.30.

    It’s $3.03 in Los Angeles, but $2.002 nationally. The Saudis are apparently serious about keeping prices low to eliminate competition.

  15. The Washington Post is going to make some bold moves in 2015 that will show how traditional print media can thrive in the digital world.

    Zuckerberg and Bezos both let me down this year, but if I had to choose between innovation in social media and print media, or innovation in ROCKETS THAT FLY TO SPACE AND THEN LAND BECAUSE OF AWESOME, I’ll choose spaceships every time.

There it is: 5 out of 15 (33%), making this the fourth best year out of the seven years that this game has been played. For once I actually would have beaten a blind monkey throwing darts, but the upcoming predictions for 2016 are almost certain to fare worse, so the monkey may have his revenge soon enough.

Holliday Recap

Posted from Culver City, California at 5:41 pm, December 30th, 2015

Here’s the final recap of 2015:

  • Audrey celebrated her birthday at the end of November, and in addition to a birthday dinner at Ruth Chris I took her to a ghost tour aboard the Queen Mary. After a fancy dinner at the ship’s nicest restaurant we were led on a tour to every haunted spot from bow to stern, including the lower decks where POWs were held during WWII, the now off-limits and very fancy swimming pool, and the huge engine room, hearing stories of all manner of unfortunate events, past hauntings, and ghost cats. Audrey enjoyed the creepiness, and I liked seeing the inner workings of one of the largest ships ever to ply the Atlantic.
  • In between back-to-back work trips to San Antonio I co-hosted a caroling party, thus combining one of Audrey’s biggest joys in life (singing) with one of my biggest fears (singing). Audrey’s professional singer-friends impressed the neighbors with their voices, and her mom brought a giant bowl of delicious meatballs so I got to impress everyone by consuming massive quantities of meatballs.
  • SpaceX landed a rocket!!! I’m still pretty excited about that one.
  • Prior to Christmas I got a text from Aaron saying that he “just broke all of the bones in my ankle”. He later clarified that he is “still learning how to avoid trees when snowboarding” and that he didn’t hurt himself, instead “a tree hurt me”. Upon arriving home for Christmas I found him with his leg in a cast propped up on the couch looking about as stir crazy as a person can be. Despite his lack of mobility Christmas was still fun – there were shenanigans on Aaron’s knee scooter, and Ma delivered a holiday turkey that again let me show off my food-devouring skills.

2015 was another good year in what has so far been a great life, and with 2016 starting with a scuba diving trip the crystal ball predicts that the undeserved good fortune just might continue on a bit longer. Hopefully everyone reading had equally good years – best wishes for 2016!

Holliday Family Christmas

The Skipper is much, much better than he used to be at taking pictures.

There and Back Again

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:22 pm, December 28th, 2015

Six months ago, after seventeen consecutive successful launches, a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket blew up during its journey to orbit. I was bummed.

Last Monday SpaceX returned to flight, and not only successfully completed the mission but also brought the first stage back to the launchpad and landed it vertically. I’m not sure how the average person views that accomplishment, but to this engineer watching the live webcast it was one of those jumping-up-and-down-and-cheering-while-no-one-else-is-in-the-house things. The history of spaceflight since the 1960s has been a series of minor improvements, but this is a major new development that could have vast repercussions for how we access space. Using an imperfect metaphor, a rocket costs a similar amount to an aircraft, and the airlines aren’t charging $60 million per flight, so the ability to use a rocket more than once has the potential to vastly reduce costs for getting things into space. Everyone immediately thinks of sending more humans into orbit when considering cheaper access to space, but think about the revolutionary impact that communications satellites, planetary probes, the Hubble telescope, and earth monitoring satellites have had on our daily lives and our understanding of the universe, and then increase that by at least an order of magnitude if costs decrease. Then jump up and down and cheer.

SpaceX still has some significant technical challenges to address before they can actually re-use their rockets, but there is reason to believe that in the next few years they will have figured out how to use each rocket more than once, and this recent landing will mark a historical turning point when options for space increased dramatically. I’m excited.

This rocket went to space, deployed its second stage, and then returned to the launchpad and landed vertically. That’s ridiculously excellent.