Here are a handful of photos that haven’t shown up in the journal before, all discovered while looking for images to put in the new digital picture frame. Each of these was scanned from a slide taken more than a decade ago, back in the pre-digital days when you’d shoot perhaps three rolls of film during an entire trip and then perform various voodoo rituals to hopefully ensure that maybe one or two of the pictures didn’t completely suck.
Two notes about two of my favorite companies:
It is of course entirely possible that either of these companies could fail in their efforts, but it’s not hyperbole to say that if they each meet their goals that they will change the world as we know it in very dramatic ways. It’s a fun time to be alive.
Here’s a recap of adventures in 2014 thus far:
Not the most exciting of starts to the year, but planning is underway for grand adventures that begin in July, so while it is slow now, there should be many, many days worthy of a journal entry during the latter half of 2014.
The Annenberg Space for Photography is doing an exhibit celebrating 125 years of National Geographic photography. Rather than simply print a handful of photos, the exhibit uses a number of LCD screens to showcase over five hundred iconic photographs. Immediately after visiting I came home inspired and purchased the largest-available digital frame I could find (18.5″) and Audrey and I now have about a hundred of our own photos on display in the living room.
In the process of going through photos to put into the frame I found a bunch from Iceland that may not have made it into the journal before, and since they are pretty and since it’s the end of the month and I need a third entry to meet my self-imposed quota, here are a few of them:
Following a disasterous set of 2013 predictions, predictions for 2014 are now ready to be proven incorrect. For those wanting to read about things that never came to pass, past year’s predictions can be found at the following links: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. Here’s what the crystal ball shows for the coming year:
And there they are. Some of them may not seem impressive in retrospect (everyone would put money on Lebron staying put), but that’s what I’ve come up with after staring at this screen for far too long and trying to predict the future. The comments link is available to anyone who either wants to mock me or add some predictions of their own. See you in twelve months for the (likely embarrassing) retrospective.
2013 marks a new record of futility for my annual predictions, and it breaks the previous record by a margin that can in no way be considered small – while these recaps are usually at least partially tongue-in-cheek, my pride is actually hurt by such an utter and complete failure to guess where the world was headed. I take heart, however, in knowing that dumb luck alone says that I should almost always get at least a couple of correct predictions, so this record of shame is unlikely to be broken in 2014. As a reminder, here’s the past scorecard: 2009: 31% correct (5 of 16), 2010: 44% correct (7.5 of 17), 2011: 50% correct (7 of 14) and 2012: 40% correct (6 of 15). And now, the carnage that was 2013:
Final score: 11% (1.5 of 14). Eleven percent, and that’s after rounding up from 10.7%. To put that number in perspective, there is a woodchuck in Pennsylvania that makes yearly predictions and has a 39% success rate, so my predictions are nearly four times worse than a rodent’s. An octopus, a creature with a brain the size of a green pea, correctly predicted seven straight World Cup match results in 2010. Meanwhile a grown man with a normal-sized, albeit questionably functional, human brain barely exceeded a ten percent success rate. A smarter man would retire in shame, but I am not such a man and will be back shortly with another set of horribly inaccurate predictions for 2014. Watch this space.
After getting home Sunday night I woke up Monday morning at 6:30 and headed down to the Marina to see what was stirring. Turns out that the place is lousy with grebes, which have apparently converged here in huge numbers for the winter.
Today ended up as a meandering journey through the hills and mountains of Southern California. Wake-up preceded the sunrise in the Carrizo Plain, and I wandered about in the early light enjoying the quiet. Following a short hike along the San Andreas Fault the path led in a roundabout way to the Tule Elk State Reserve, which was home to the last of the species when it was formed in 1932, and which has been the source of nearly all of the 4000 tule elk that today roam numerous locations throughout California. From there it was off to the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, which is where much of the protection efforts for the California Condor have been focused. Sadly access to the refuge is closed to the public, and since no birds were visible from the highway I settled for enjoying the mountain scenery and the many hawks that managed to outsmart my photographic attempts.
From there all paths seemed to require crossing Los Angeles County, so despite the inner voice telling me to deal with the traffic and highways of LA and then visit the Salton Sea, I decided to make this year’s trip shorter than in years past and explored the backroads of the Los Padres National Forest while heading in a generally-homeward direction – we’ve got some surprisingly cool mountains within a two hour drive of the Culver City abode. Tonight’s sleeping place will either be back in my own bed, or in the back of the Subaru if an interesting option presents itself along the way.
It’s quiet here. Utterly still. I stood on a hillside this morning and could hear the footsteps of people walking on a trail more than a half mile away, and that was one of the few times that I was around other people. I probably needed to get away to a place like this one.
The Carrizo Plain protects one of the last undeveloped stretches of California grassland, a famous set of petroglyphs, the largest concentration of endangered plants and animals in California, and a stretch of the San Andreas fault that shifted nearly thirty feet during an earthquake in the 1800s. To my eyes the area looks like it needs time to recover from centuries of heavy grazing, but with the relatively recent designation as a national monument hopefully it will get there. As a travel destination it is suffering from the third straight dry year – Soda Lake, known as a good winter wetland spot, is a dry salt flat – but it’s still a great location for getting away from everyone. It seems bizarre to be only about one hundred miles from Los Angeles, but to feel like this is the absolute middle of nowhere. The roads here are almost all unpaved old ranch roads, so I spent the day roaming about before parking for the night in a corner of the park with a view of the plain and absolute silence, aside from the occasional bird flying by. This journal entry is being written from the back of the Subaru with stars blazing, the cell phone showing “No service”, and the nearest town an hour’s drive away.
Audrey has dubbed the annual post-Christmas road-trip the “man-trip”, and this year’s adventure started off in much the same way as last year’s: a visit to the Cosumnes River Preserve followed by a sunrise trip to the Merced National Wildlife Refuge. The Pacific Flyway is busy this time of year, and it’s invigorating for the soul to stand on the edge of a wetland while tens of thousands of ducks, geese and cranes are calling out.
A big part of the fun of these trips is that I generally have no idea where I’m going to end up, and while the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest was considered, the closure of Tioga Pass sent me in the opposite direction, and it looks like I may be spending some time roaming the Carrizo Plain. The area became a national monument in 2001, but shockingly since my road atlas is out-of-date it’s a green dot within California that I’ve somehow never visited, an oversight that will hopefully be corrected tomorrow.
December totally flew by. Wow. Here’s the recap for everything prior to the current road trip:
I haven’t had to make the trek out to Boise since October, so work has consisted of the bedroom-to-kitchen commute, eight work hours that may or may not involve getting dressed, and the agonizing decision over what to eat for lunch – there is a good sushi restaurant that delivers in our neighborhood, which is a very, very dangerous option to have available. On paper, my life is extraordinarily good, and in reality it’s pretty swell, too.
Christmas and birthday gifts are usually something I do only when there’s something good to give, and 2013 was such a year – if you haven’t been to beardhead.com then you are a more mature person than me. The Holliday men spent Christmas Eve sporting new looks and laughing a lot. Aaron’s contribution to the madness was nerf dart guns, so Ma and Pa got to endure their 33 and 38 year old boys rampaging through the house with plastic guns and fake beards.
Christmas day saw Ma and Pa receive a new TV from the boys, and saw some very happy folks from craigslist getting the old TV – everyone won. Ma made a scrumtrillescent turkey dinner, and following that Pa nearly cracked a rib from laughing during a game of Balderdash – it got to the point where if anyone even began to read a definition he would go into spasms, so this game may need to be revisited frequently during future visits. Meanwhile, back in Culver City Audrey hosted her mom, sister, and three others in our fully-decorated house. I’m told the highlight of the meal was her pie with a likeness of Cthulhu made out of crust on top, since it’s not a Wiechman Christmas unless there is dough made into the shape of a human (or part thereof), animal, or mythical cosmic entity.
Post-Christmas, Ma and Pa took me to the Lafayette Reservoir to look for white pelicans since I’ve been chasing all over California trying to get a glimpse of these odd birds. After numerous road trips and no success, of course there were a dozen pelicans twenty minutes from my folks that were practically swimming up to people. Following the visit with the birds and a delicious lunch it was time to depart on the annual post-Christmas road trip, which barring surprises will be covered in subsequent entries.
The Thanksgiving holiday started with Audrey and I making the long drive up to the Bay and paying a visit to my brother at his brand-new townhome. While it was distressing to see a guy who once scored three Turkey Bowl touchdowns with a busted head now enthusiastically discussing window coverings and throw rugs, he saved face somewhat by putting snowboarding videos on repeat on his new giant flatscreen. The following day we arrived at Ma & Pa’s, and Aaron and I immediately set off on a hike on Mt. Diablo followed by some basketball and a photo op on the giant digger that was parked next to the court. Ma did her usual stellar job with the Thanksgiving dinner, and pants had to be loosened before the night was over.
The next day Audrey and I set off for Moss Beach to see her friend Kris. Along the way we got to make a trip over the ridiculously cool new Bay Bridge, and while Audrey was better about containing her excitement than I was, I have no doubt that somewhere deep down inside her inner engineer was jumping and cheering. We paid a quick visit to the sea lions at Pier 39, checked into our posh room at the Seal Cove Inn, then joined her friends for drinks on the coast followed by dinner. Sadly, at some point towards the end of dinner the men in the brain sent a sudden signal that something had gone very wrong, and things reached defcon five just before I could pull into the hotel parking lot, and I had to make a mad dash to refund my dinner on the side of the road. Audrey spent the remainder of the evening with her friends, while I slept off the after-effects of my forced weight loss.
The following day was Audrey’s birthday, and after a fancy breakfast at the hotel we joined her on her annual birthday trip to the library before embarking on a tour of the peninsula. She flew home late that night, while I shacked up in the back of the Subaru and woke up before sunrise to head off for a return visit to the cranes, hawks, and geese at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge. That was followed by a quick trip to the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, and then lots of time to partake in the joy of stop-and-go Thanksgiving traffic on the long route back to LA.
If you haven’t “liked” the Scare the Children Facebook page then you should do so to ensure you don’t miss out on important future scaring updates.
Following the recap of events from 1975 through 1996, here’s a sampling of further major events during the second half of my lifetime. It’s weird how you sort of feel like things haven’t really changed, and then you look at what has happened and realize that computers and cell phones only showed up recently, while things that dominated everyday life for decades like Communism and Pan-American Airlines disappeared only a short time ago and now seem solely like subjects for the history books.
I wrote about rat eradication efforts on South Georgia Island back in March. While it is too soon to know for sure what the result of that effort will be (note: things look really good so far), an older effort is worth examining.
Rat Island, a ten square mile island in the Aleutian Islands, has had to be renamed.
Rats arrived on the island during a shipwreck in 1780, and since that time they have wiped out nearly all of the native bird life. In 2008 efforts were made to remove rats from the island, and today a once silent island is described as “…hardly recognizable among the cacophony of birds calling everywhere; it’s alive with bird fledglings – teals, eiders, wrens, sparrows, eagles, peregrine falcons, gulls, sandpipers.“
As of today there have been over 1100 successful removals of invasive species from islands, including 500 rat removals, worldwide. I’ve seen firsthand how removal of invasive species impacts the native plants and animals in the Galapagos and on the Channel Islands, and hopefully some day I’ll get to see the results on South Georgia.
We live in a world where news about nature always seems to be negative, but there is reason for optimism. Invasive species removal continues on other islands, governments are beginning to look to things like dune, wetland, and floodplain restoration as a cost-effective way to combat flooding, obsolete dams are being torn down to increase fish stocks, and numerous other positive developments are going on around the world. Not all of the news is good, but there is definitely reason to think that the outlook for our future isn’t as bleak as the news might lead us to believe.
The world has changed a lot since I was born – in November 1975 no American craft had visited Mars, Mount St Helens was still intact, communism was very much a thing, no one knew what it meant to “use the Force”, and Michael Jordan was a twelve year old. While reading through Wikipedia’s yearly summaries of important events the following stood out – part two will follow at some point when there is time to review the next eighteen years.
Less than two miles from the house is a shockingly good place for wildlife – birds, sea lions, dolphins, and random crawly things like crabs. These photos were all taken in past two months within walking distance of where I get to live.
Last day of the trip, and the best one by far. I woke up at 5:30 and went out to take another look at the squid and take in the stars, although unfortunately the latter were hidden by clouds. At around six we began a really pretty navigation around the east end of the island before embarking on my favorite hike thus far. With no wind (a first on this trip) and blue skies we set off along the sea cliffs near Scorpion Anchorage with an army of ravens making all manner of weird sounds to send us on our way. The views were spectacular, a peregrine falcon made a brief appearance, and we also saw our first island fox. The destination – the confusingly named Potato Harbor – was home to sheer sea cliffs of many colors and the sounds of sea lions echoing from below.
The return trip was via a slightly different route with the destination being what we had been advised was the best place in the entire island chain for seeing foxes – the campground. And sure enough, we arrived to find a fox sniffing around campsites. These foxes nearly went extinct within the last couple of decades, but heroic efforts led to one of the fastest recoveries in the history of the endangered species act. I followed one mangled old fellow around the campground for about an hour apparently without him caring at all – twice he wandered to within 10-20 feet of me.
The last activity of the trip was a snorkel in the kelp forest next to the pier, and in addition to a ton of decent-sized (1-2 foot) fish I saw three rays. The second ray swam right next to Audrey without her seeing it, prompting the girl to display her sad face. Luckily, a short time later a MASSIVE (3-4 foot) stingray swam by, and I made enough noise to get the girl’s attention. The stingray settled on the bottom, showing off for us for a bit before moving on.
The navigation back through the Santa Barbara Channel started out a bit rough but calmed noticeably, and I don’t think anyone refunded their lunch. As a last farewell the ocean sent us school after school of dolphin – for a good 15-20 minutes they were following along and playing in the bow wave, an experience that feels very akin to sharing pure joy with another animal as they leap and twirl.
We should be home later this evening, and while no further adventures are planned I’ve got three more days off to recover from these two excellent vacations.
I slept ten hours last night but still woke up in time for sunrise. This may be an unprecedented sleep event.
This morning’s activity was a hike through a canyon on Santa Rosa island, aka the windiest island in the world (at least it seemed that way). Unlike yesterday we weren’t required to stay with the guide, so Audrey and I got to roam about on our own. The trail led along the beach, up through a canyon, and then over a ridgeline with incredible views and wind that was strong enough to nearly knock us down. It ended at a campground where they’ve had to build permanent windbreaks to prevent tents from blowing away.
Whether because of the wind, the sun, or something else I finished the trail feeling less than one hundred percent, so after the night of much sleeping I returned to the boat and took a two hour nap. The afternoon’s activity was snorkelling in the kelp with garibaldi and myriad other fish. Having only swum with tropical fish before I had no idea what I was seeing while swimming in the cold kelp forest, but nevertheless enjoyed it greatly. Back on the boat we watched the birds and a group of about one hundred sea lions chasing something that was probably delicious a few hundred feet from where we were anchored. The day’s final event began after the captain set up a floodlight on the side of the boat and thousands of small squid came up from the depths to check us out.
The Channel Islands are an interesting place – the land is pretty bleak, but the ocean is full of life and amazing to explore. Tomorrow we’ll do some hiking and hopefully get another chance for snorkelling before braving the choppy ride back to Santa Barbara.
When Audrey signed us up for this trip to the Channel Islands we had very few details about what to expect, although knowing we would have three days on a boat in the islands was a strong enough selling point to get us to send in our deposits. We were guessing that the trip would be fairly free-form, and that the trip participants might skew older and female, and so far both of those predictions appear to be true. Luckily, while some fears have materialized – nametags were distributed on the first night – as yet we haven’t had to sit in a circle and say our name, home town, and one thing we’re most excited about for the trip, and my current sense of things is that getting to live on a boat and visit the islands for several days will more than outweigh any disadvantages of group travel.
After getting on the boat last night and almost immediately heading to bed, today’s activities started early, with many passengers waking up a couple of hours after departure when the seas got rough at around 5:30. For the next two hours a parade of people visited the side of the ship, including the boat’s two cooks, although Audrey managed to keep things down while I suffered no ill effects and ate a hearty breakfast whilst surrounded by bodily fluids and carnage. Our first stop was the very remote and seldom-visited San Miguel Island, home to 30,000 pinnipeds, although unfortunately they mostly stick to the extreme northwest tip of the island and thus can only be accessed via a sixteen mile round-trip hike. Our visit consisted of a five mile hike to the top of the island, featuring various birds, petrified tree stumps, and steady wind and fog. On the rare clear days I suspect the views would be incredible, but even with the rough weather this was still an enjoyable hike.
Once back on the boat fresh brownies awaited as we motored off to spend the evening anchored in a calm harbor at Santa Rosa island.
I always consider it a sign of a good vacation when you return home completely exhausted, and by that measure this trip has been an excellent one. We’ve got a one day intermission before we head off on phase two, and both Audrey and I will sleep well. There should also be some time to review photos and post these journal entries, although time and internet access will be limited on the next adventure so entries may again get posted a few days after they are written.
For our last day I dragged Audrey out of our fancy room at 6AM and off to Moose Wilson Road in Grand Teton National Park, which numerous people had said was an amazing spot for bears and moose. Unfortunately only one bull moose made a fleeting appearance today, but it was still a pretty drive in the clearing fog, and we emerged at the base of the Tetons with some dramatic views of the mountains.
After a morning of photography we checked out of our fancy hotel and headed over to the ridiculously fancy Amangani Resort – I’m not quite ready to shell out four figures per night for a hotel room, so we settled for having lunch while enjoying their views and decor. After a week of animal watching it felt slightly wrong to eat them, but Audrey nevertheless had a bison short rib sandwich while I went for the lamb, bison and elk sliders – there were slight pangs of guilt, but the food was still pretty damn delicious.
After another animal-free journey up Moose Wilson Road we went for a short walk at Jenny Lake, then hopped on the plane for the flight home. I’m ready for a shower and a shave, and should have just enough time to get myself looking respectable again before we drive up the coast to catch our boat tomorrow night.
The last day in Yellowstone, and both Audrey and I were again up at 6:30 and off to see the animals. A repeat trip up to the park’s north border yielded a bighorn sheep and a herd of elk, including two bulls engaged in a competition to figure out who had the biggest rack. Following breakfast we roamed around the weird terraces created by the bubbling water of Mammoth Hot Springs. Thereafter it was time to head out of the park, and we embarked on the long drive south, waving at the bison and elk along the way (literally).
It was an intermittently stormy day, so when we arrived in the Tetons the skies were pretty dramatic, and many photo stops were made along the way. At nearly 8PM we pulled into our fancy hotel in Jackson, and after checking in headed downstairs for a drink. When the bartender asked for my order I told him that since Audrey had just ordered a tequila and I couldn’t possibly get anything more manly than that, I’d go the other direction and have the raspberry chocolate cheesecake martini. He paused, looked at me sideways, and asked “Are you serious?”. I was, and it was delicious.
Today was the day of many animals. Wake-up at 6:30 was followed immediately by a drive through the northwest corner of the park. Audrey was half-in-the-bag as we communed with elk and sandhill cranes. Following breakfast ninety minutes were allotted for the trip’s first downtime, and then we departed for the park’s north entrance, visiting with more elk, a handful of pronghorn, and a few bighorn sheep along the way. The elk were particularly good sports, with a herd of a dozen or so playing in the river while the resident bull kept tabs on everyone. We then returned to town, where due to its green lawns the park headquarters is an attractive home to a small herd of elk, including a massive bull who attacked no less than five cars this morning (“he got ‘em good” is the word on the street). Park rangers had dutifully cordoned off the elk behind wooden barriers labeled “Event”, so we viewed these city dwellers from a safe distance. With the preliminaries thus completed, the real safari began.
The destination was the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone’s northeast corner, but we stopped numerous times along the way, including at an overlook where we spotted a herd of several hundred bison in the valley below. Upon entering Lamar a pronghorn greeted us at the side of the road, and after we had stopped he ambled directly up to me – I got back in the car to get out of his way, but he was still almost close enough to pet. He then posed for what are likely to be the best photos I’ll ever take of a pronghorn. And this encounter was just the beginning.
Continuing through the valley bison were everywhere, often standing just a few yards off the road. Eventually we stopped at a spot with an expansive view and got out the binoculars to see what we could find – perhaps a hundred bison, maybe fifty pronghorn, and a dozen cranes were the result of that survey. At around 5:30, with the sun beginning to sink, we headed back to a pull-out where earlier a couple had told us there was a nearby buffalo carcass that had attracted bears during the past two nights. As the time went by more and more people appeared, many of them with spotting scopes in hand. After just over an hour of chatting with the many hardcore wildlife enthusiasts who had gathered, I spotted some black dots moving on a far-off hill, and shortly thereafter a lady with a spotting scope began yelling “they’re on the carcass!” For the following hour we watched a mother grizzly and three large cubs feast on buffalo, with a brief interlude while she fought off what was either a pair of wolves or coyotes. Eventually she wandered off, and through binoculars and scopes we followed the family back into the woods. A brilliant sunset, a drive home in the dark featuring deer and elk, and a delicious and most-definitely girly drink (the “Huckleberry Princess”) finished off an excellent day.
We’re going to bed with the sounds of a bull elk bugling a few hundred yards away. This is a good vacation.
This morning’s wake-up call was at 6:30, and even though all activities are optional Audrey joined me for a stroll through the Upper Geyser Basin. We had it mostly to ourselves as the mist cleared, and spent time photographing Morning Glory Pool with two ospreys keeping us company. Following that adventure we ate breakfast at the Inn and then departed Old Faithful, embarking on a tour of many paint pots as we visited Fountain Paint Pots and Artist Paint Pots and their boiling muddy mud. The sound those things make is strikingly similar to what one hears two hours after a baked bean dinner, and Audrey did a lot of eye rolling while I did a lot of giggling during the mid-day excursions.
After the tour of many paint pots it was time for the visiting of much falling water, with photo stops at Firehole Falls and Gibbon Falls; my streak of ugly waterfall pictures continues, but Audrey got some nice ones. With the waterfall options exhausted we hit Norris Geyser Basin, the park’s oldest and hottest. This basin is far-and-away the most other-worldly, and after several miles of strolling the camera’s memory cards were full and we were composing ballads dedicated to Porkchop the magic geyser – the sun was strong today and may have scrambled our brains moreso than usual.
Following our departure from Norris the trip was first interrupted by a bison strolling down the double-yellow of the road and passing within a foot or two of the car, and then by a bugling elk who stopped traffic in front of the Mammoth Hot Springs. After arriving in Mammoth and eating dinner we walked back to our cabin in the dark with more bugling greeting us – apparently the resident stud is out prospecting for additional lady friends. Tomorrow is another animal day, with another early start planned, so hopefully the wildlife gods will smile down upon us yet again.
It’s EXTREMELY late by the standards of this trip, so this journal entry may be somewhat abbreviated.
We’re staying on the geyser side of the park, but the animals mostly reside on the opposite side, so today we got up early-ish (6:30) and headed off to the Hayden and Lamar valleys. The weather was nice, the scenery was tremendous, and elk, bison and pronghorn were out in abundance. Other sightings included an osprey chick on its nest, a few zillion geese, what we assumed were cranes (they were far off, but the shape was right), and some bubbling thermal features that looked scary enough that “do not touch” signs were not a necessity. There was also some confusion early in the day when we pulled over at a sign labeled “Sulfur Cauldron” and encountered a coned-off vent sending a wisp of steam up from the asphalt, but things were clarified quickly thereafter when we realized there was a MASSIVE sulfur spring sending plumes of steam skyward just a few hundred feet away.
Despite the fact that we’re seeing most of the wildlife from a car traveling on a paved road, one of the great things about Yellowstone is that when you’re here you feel like you’re seeing America as it existed 150 years ago. The trees haven’t been logged, there aren’t roads, mines or buildings off in the distance, and the ecosystem is more-or-less what’s it’s supposed to be. While three million visitors each year obviously means that the “pristine” feel is somewhat of an illusion, it’s nevertheless quite inspiring to get at least a glimpse back in time at something that is otherwise mostly gone forever.
We woke up in the Tetons and Audrey and I are now sitting on the third floor of the Old Faithful Inn lobby under the 92-foot high log ceiling and with its 500-ton, 85-foot tall stone fireplace as our view; life could be worse.
The great vacation of 2013 truly got underway today with a meandering drive through the forests, canyons and mountains of Yellowstone and up to the geyser basins, where Audrey and I made a pilgrimage to the Grand Prismatic Spring. The overlook we hiked to isn’t on the maps, but also apparently isn’t a place that the park discourages visiting, and while she wasn’t happy with me initially after forcing her to hike up the steep hillside (no swearing was involved, but if looks could kill then this journal entry would have been written from the other side of the clouds), Audrey later admitted that the views of this unbelievable natural feature were most definitely worth the exertion.
It’s been a while since I’ve had an extended period to just go out and meander in nature, and the following days should be a much-needed chance to refresh the soul – I can’t (and shouldn’t) complain about my work situation, but day after day in front of a laptop doesn’t always leave a person feeling like they are living life to its fullest. Tomorrow’s plans for soul restoration include searching for animals on the east side of the park – aside from a lone bison the beasties have been surprisingly elusive thus far. A late afternoon thunderstorm cut the day short today, but tomorrow the weather forecast is for sun and the plan is to head to Hayden Valley, so photos of critters should accompany future journal entries.
Audrey sent me an email this morning asking if my lodging last night “had wheels”. Yes, yes it did. And it also had an awesome view of the stars through the car’s moonroof.
The beginning of the vacation was delayed for a bit when word came in that the company’s web site was crashing, and since crashes are bad I stayed at the office to help resolve the situation until about 7PM Friday night. This issue occurred while Bodybuilding was celebrating the grand opening of their new headquarters, so the joy of dealing with a site issue was enhanced by having visitors and their many children roaming the office. Once the problem was finally found I headed out to my rental car, and I won’t be writing or thinking about work again for two weeks.
Audrey is flying into Jackson Hole to meet me, so I drove down from Boise to pick her up and am currently writing this from the airport parking lot. The stops along the way were myriad – the route from Boise to Jackson is a pretty drive – but the most notable stop was at Craters of the Moon National Monument, where some improvised spelunking was done (improvised = me, a Maglite, and no idea what I was doing). There are four lava tubes open for exploration, but Boy Scout Cave was the day’s winner. The entrance to that cave is a squeeze around boulders, but the cave then opens up and extends for several hundred feet. It’s cold enough to see your breath, there are tiny crystals on the walls, and when I shut off my flashlight the darkness was so complete that eventually my brain started manufacturing flashes of light that didn’t actually exist. Starting the trip off in a cave while experiencing trippy mental mirages seems like winning strategy.
Tomorrow we’ll begin our five days in Yellowstone, so odds are that a photo of an animal or two may be forthcoming.
I enjoy following politics, and enjoy looking back at old journal entries about political issues, but I also try to avoid writing too much about politics in this journal since it’s a subject that tends to evoke a visceral reaction in a lot of people. People have strong opinions on a lot of subjects, but politics and religion seem to be the two subjects where differences of opinion too often lead to arguments rather than discussions.
That caveat aside, this journal entry is a hopefully non-controversial, and very random, brainstorm of one possible way to address the fact that Congress seems to be making a mess of things. It’s not really a viable solution, but is a fun thought experiment that might generate further (civil) discussion on how to improve the current system.
The upcoming deadlines for passing a budget (important!) and raising the debt limit (much, much, MUCH more important!) are two highly visible instances where Congress seems to be unable to do even its most basic job. After reading this Josh Barro article I’m not as worried that Congress will fail to raise the debt limit and thus plunge us back into economic chaos similar to 2008, but the fact that one has to worry whether the US government will endanger the US economy is a sign of significant problems with the current system. Our Congress should be an example of the best and brightest minds coming together to do great things, rather than a collection of angry people fighting with one another while barely managing to keep the system functional.
As an engineer, any time there is a problem I wonder how it could be fixed. Following standard engineering practices, the first thing to do is to identify the primary source of the problem. After not-nearly-enough thought, I would posit that the US Constitution did a great job of building in checks and balances to our system of government, but it failed to account for political parties, much less a two-party system that incentivizes “supporting the team” over focusing on the merits of specific issues. There are other issues (money in politics, difficulties in scaling representative democracy for a nation that has grown hundreds of times larger, etc), but a very strong argument can be made that it is the tribalism of the two-party system that is most often the impediment to a smooth-running legislative process.
The Ryan Plan
To solve this issue, some reward would need to be introduced to ensure that the most effective, respected lawmakers are focused first and foremost on making the government run well, and that they are rewarded more for being good legislators than they are for being good party members. Note that while elections are supposed to fulfill that purpose, unfortunately our system is heavily impacted by voter apathy, the influence of money, name recognition, and other factors that have little to do with a legislator’s competency. Since the premise of this journal entry is that any option is open for discussion, and reminding anyone still reading that I haven’t had a ton of time to think this through, I offer a plan that allows the best legislators to face re-election less often. This plan is very loosely inspired by another dysfunctional tribal system: that of the TV show Survivor.
Proceeding from the premise that the incentives for lawmakers are too far skewed towards promoting their party interests, any solution must provide an even greater incentive for putting aside party interests in cases where they conflict with the national interests. Since politicians are most interested in their own re-election, why not take a page out of Survivor and its “immunity” challenges and reward the most effective lawmakers with another term without having to face re-election? In both Congress and Survivor, what individuals fear most is being voted off the island, and thus immunity from ejection is the biggest incentive one can possibly offer.
How it would work:
First, some broad principles. This proposal should be created in a way that ensures legislators still have to go before voters, but it would allow the most effective legislators to do so less often. Second, it needs to be structured in such a way that “most effective” really does mean legislators who do the best job of legislating, rather than simply rewarding those with the longest tenure or highest party rank; in the same way that rankings are developed for schools, doctors, and myriad other things, we should be able to identify and reward the best lawmakers. With those disclaimers out of the way, here are some rough thoughts on how this proposal could work:
There are clear holes in this proposal, and the logistical challenges of trying to implement it make it almost impossible – a Constitutional amendment would be needed, and undoubtedly groups would complain about reducing the “voice of the people” – but if it was implemented it would lessen the reward for legislators who merely complain the loudest, and give legislators a chance to actually earn re-election by building coalitions to get solutions implemented. As a side benefit, the best legislators would need to spend less time fundraising and campaigning, and could instead focus on doing their jobs as lawmakers. With less need to focus on fundraising, this approach might also help to address some of the issues related to money in politics, although any such impact would likely be limited and would probably be better addressed via legislation.
This proposal is just a random idea that occurred to me while trying to come up with a third journal entry topic, and was a fun way to engage in political discussion while (hopefully) not offending anyone’s sensibilities. I’d be interested in other crazy ideas that people might have, and will offer two bonus points for anyone who can link their idea with a popular TV show or movie, or three bonus points if the movie is Forrest Gump. Meanwhile, unless October comes and the debt ceiling isn’t raised, this should be my last political post for a while and I’ll return to writing journal entries about bobcats and Steve Martin.
Following the wedding, the concert, and the working, August got a bit more nature-y.
Aaron had two bobcat sightings on Mt. Diablo recently, and since I didn’t want to be the only Holliday child not to see a bobcat in 2013 we did a couple of twilight hikes during the Bay Area visit. After some turkeys, bats and a few deer, the bobcat made an appearance on the trail ahead of us. You haven’t seen an annoyed cat until you interrupt a bobcat on his nightly rounds, but despite the attitude we were both pretty stoked at the find. The next night we took another hike in the same place, and while the bobcat stayed hidden the turkeys and bats were out again, and we also managed to spot a skunk and a tarantula. With Aaron having spotted the tarantula (two points) I negotiated for five points if I could get it to walk across my hand. The evening’s final score: Ryan 6, Aaron 3.
With a full weekend available for the drive home, the trip back to LA was via the scenic route. I’ve done a lot of road trips through the Sierras, but after scanning the map realized I’d never been through Sonora Pass and set off for the second-highest mountain pass in the Sierra Nevadas. It’s been far too long since this grown man slept in the back of a car, so after a late-afternoon bushwhack up a small peak the evening was spent sprawled out at high elevation in an automobile. The next morning the road led over the Sierras and to the ghost town of Bodie. During the gold rush days Bodie was a den of sin and hard-living, but today the sin has mostly gone elsewhere and the California park service maintains the town in a state of “arrested decay”. Another man might have walked through the deserted streets pretending to be a cowboy, but I’m 37 and clearly too mature for such shenanigans.
After leaving the ghosts the highway led to Mono Lake, and beyond that a pilgrimage was made to Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light photo gallery in Bishop; his photos are some of my favorites of all time. After that it was a straight shot south to LA, but Mother Nature intervened to make things interesting – a dust storm brought visibility down to almost nothing for a short time, and that was immediately followed by a lightning storm that struck a town next to the highway, setting something ablaze. Lightning has been rare during my time in California, so to not only see a huge storm but to also see it set a fire was pretty insane.
There are two weeks of vacation scheduled for September, so journal entries should be plentiful as Audrey and I head out on a couple of (brief) adventures, and provided UPS delivers on time they will be done with a new camera in hand.
As expected, August was a month of much excitement. So much excitement, in fact, that it warrants two entries for the summary, which is a good thing given that it’s the 27th and I still need to write three entries to meet the monthly quota.
The previously mentioned wedding in Santa Barbara was all kinds of fancy, but your humble author was most impressed by the five red-headed woodpeckers hanging out in the palm trees above the bridal party. Another highlight was watching a bunch of engineers on the dance floor – after some unfortunate experiences in my early twenties I’ve learned that dance music and engineering degrees should never be combined, so Audrey and I stayed on the sidelines and enjoyed observing the carnival of awkwardness. Luckily we also got a few minutes to catch up with my very, very busy former roommate and his new bride, something that numerous wedding guests agreed is extremely tough to do these days given his other commitments.
Speaking of all kinds of awesome, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers was an insanely good concert – if they are playing anywhere near you then you should most definitely go to there and see the things. After an opening by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band featuring their giant, prancing tuba player, Steve Martin took the stage. When you start off by bragging about how you’re going to perform a song “that you have completely memorized”, and follow that up with some ridiculously good bluegrass, amazing harmonies, and grammy winning band, you’ve got my attention. Bring in Edie Brickell to sing some songs with lyrics so poignant that all the girls cried, and then strum the banjo at about a million miles an hour, and Ryan is a happy boy.
The month of many events continued with a trip up to the Bay Area for a week working from Berkeley. In addition to single-handedly reducing the productivity of all of my co-workers by at least thirty percent during our office hours, the group headed out on the Bay for a cruise from Berkeley to Tiburon, past the Golden Gate, along the San Francisco waterfront, and then under the new Bay Bridge. While a romantic cruise with a bunch of software engineers isn’t something that’s on my bucket list, it was still a really great evening.
Five years ago this month my dad and I were in Iceland taking pretty pictures of pretty things. I’ve still not managed to process most of the photos from that trip, much less get them online in a gallery, but here are a few that seemed nice to look at as I was browsing through them tonight.
Here’s the recap for the month:
Things should stay lively through August, with a work trip to Boise this week, a wedding in Santa Barbara this weekend, another trip to the Bowl next week, and numerous other hopefully-journal-worthy activities throughout the month.
During every notable vacation I try hard to do a daily journal entry, but at home few days are exciting enough to warrant their own entry. However, having just read through some journal entries from about ten years ago, writing one entry that captures a snapshot of what daily life is like right now might be an interesting thing to re-read many years from now. Warning to those who continue reading: currently daily life really doesn’t warrant its own journal entry.
After spending much of 2002-2005 playing, it has now been about eight years of working steadily. While work days pay well, as this journal entry demonstrates they are slightly less fulfilling than those spent trekking around the Antartic or snorkeling in the Galapagos.
It’s not a secret that I think Elon Musk’s three companies (SpaceX, Tesla Motors and Solar City) are three of the most exciting businesses out there, and that each is likely to radically change the world for the better. Enough has been written about Tesla lately, but two items of great excitement with respect to SpaceX haven’t gotten a ton of attention.
First is their efforts towards a more reusable rocket. As Elon Musk has put it, space travel today is comparable to airline travel if you had to throw away the plane after each trip – most of the reason that space launches are so expensive is that you either don’t get the vehicle back after launch (most rockets), or when you do it takes so much work to get it back into flight-worthy condition that there isn’t any cost savings (the space shuttle). SpaceX originally planned on recovering their rockets in the ocean using parachutes, but when that proved infeasible they moved to a vertical takeoff and landing model. Here’s a video of a test of SpaceX’s ten story take-off and landing vehicle rising 250 meters into the air, then landing vertically. They’ll be testing this system on actual rockets returning from space starting later this year, with a goal of being able to reliably land and re-use the rocket in a few years time.
Second, they are planning on a test launch of their new Falcon Heavy vehicle in the coming year. If you need to put 117,000 pounds into low earth orbit, this will be the only vehicle that can do it, and combined with its lower launch costs could create all sorts of new options for satellites (for comparison, the Delta IV Heavy is the current largest rocket on the market, and it can carry around 50,000 pounds). Even more exciting, this will be the first rocket since the Saturn V moon rocket with that amount of power.
It’s sad that after advancing from airplanes to moon rockets in under two decades our exploration of space has seemed to stagnate for fifty years, but it’s hugely exciting to be on the precipice of another major evolution of travel beyond the planet’s atmosphere.
Here’s all that’s new since the last status update:
I recently received papers in the mail notifying me that I was being sued (again). This new case was completely unrelated to the prior debacle, so it is clear that in a past life I was an evil lawyer and in this life I’m getting my comeuppance. The timeline of events for this latest comedy of errors went something like the following:
While this case was resolved, it could have easily gone much, much worse – an immensely powerful bureaucratic apparatus was randomly pointed at me, and I had basically no means available to do anything about it. I heard a much more extreme example of this on the radio the other day where a woman was sent to jail for seventeen years for a crime she didn’t commit, and even after being exonerated she remained in jail for an additional four and a half months while paperwork made its way through the system. Luckily I didn’t face anything even remotely comparable, but both stories illustrate how this powerful and impersonal behemoth can so easily go horribly wrong.
One final caveat: government does many things, and it does a surprising number of them very well – millions of people get their social security checks on time, the national parks are fairly well run, elections almost always go off smoothly, and the FAA directs thousands of planes from point A to point B each day without incident. However, given the nearly limitless ability of the bureaucracy to disrupt our lives, and the fact that often no individual piece of it really seems to care about much else besides passing you on to someone else, it is very easy to understand why so many of us wish the whole apparatus was stripped down to bare bones. I have spent long periods of time going from desk to desk at City Hall to obtain a “business license” so that I could work from home. We’ve all stood in line for hours at the DMV just to be told that some form was filled out wrong. And the theater of the TSA at airports, where one can’t even wear shoes anymore, is enough to make you want to scream out at the idiocy of it all. One can only hope that some day we’ll figure out how to run things better, or at least figure out a way to allow people to call LA County child services without first spending five mind-numbing minutes navigating an automated phone tree only to eventually be sent to an agent who is incredulous at the idea of anyone calling them without being able to provide a support number.
For no particular reason (aside from the fact that it’s the end of the month and I’m one entry short of the three-a-month goal), here’s a random sampling of places that make California so extraordinary:
There is much more – the Redwoods, Mount Lassen volcano, the random roads that traverse the area around Mount Shasta, Joshua Tree, Monterey, San Francisco Bay, the wildlife refuges hidden throughout the Central Valley, etc, etc. Overall, not too shabby of place to have settled down.
For those still reading, Elon Musk recently tweeted the following:
That tweet gets to the heart of something that is both saddening and frustrating about today’s discourse: a number of issues, many of which are very important, are now approached with the mentality of sports fans: “My team is right, your team sucks!” Just as with sports, individuals support “their side” and ignore the merits of the argument.
Consider Musk’s example of global warming: admitting (or denying) that climate change is a serious issue is a litmus test for the far left and far right; commentators on the right are constantly screaming that it is either a hoax or not caused by human activity, while on the far left you might think that anything less than the elimination of all fossil fuel usage is akin to Armageddon. However, looking at it from the standpoint of the scientific community, there is similar certainty that human produced greenhouse gases are heating up the planet at a dangerous rate as there is for theories such as the big bang or evolution. Meanwhile, saying that climate change is a problem that should be addressed will get a politician voted out of office on the right, while far left activists are chaining themselves to the White House gates over the construction of a single oil pipeline, and in the mean time not even a minimal amount of action is taken to mitigate something that will have serious negative future consequences.
Similarly, I’m convinced that ten years from now no one will buy a new car without debating whether or not that car should be electric. From an engineering standpoint (mechanical engineering grad here!) electric cars are undeniably better technology. Consider:
However, with Romney and much of the right wing having labeled Tesla Motors as a “loser” and an example of an Obama “failure” during the campaign, any mention of Tesla is now followed by comments about how the company is a beneficiary of “crony capitalism”, is merely building a toy for the rich, and will be bankrupt any day now. This, despite the fact that Tesla repaid its government loan (issued under a Bush administration program) nine years early, was funded solely with private money for its first seven years, is one of the few new manufacturing ventures in the US, is the first successful new American car company in several generations, has always planned for a mass-market ($30,000) vehicle as part of their roadmap, and has built a car that literally has people cheering after test drives and has won awards from every automotive group that has reviewed it, including the highest score in Consumer Reports history, and Motor Trend Car of the Year. If we can’t support this example of American ingenuity, what has gone wrong in our discourse?
Other issues evoke similar reactions: nuclear power is supported on the right and opposed on the left despite studies that seem to indicate that use of nuclear power has saved lives. Environmental issues are now immediately dismissed as left-wing, although the vast majority of people support clean air, clean water, and a place for wildlife. The list of issues goes on and on: guns, GMOs, healthcare, taxes, immigration; all of these devolve into “my team versus your team”, despite the fact that there is clearly a huge amount of middle ground on which agreement (and action) is possible.
In spite of the seemingly grim atmosphere, things do tend to work out in the end, although given the state of rhetoric today it seems that we’re making it much, much harder to get to that end state than it needs to be.
As a few people noticed, the server that runs the site died an ignominious death last week, so there has been a bit of a scramble to buy a new machine and get things running again. While I’m always excited to get a new toy (16GB RAM!!!), it’s been rather tiring trying to get three web sites and countless applications running on the new computer. At this point mountaininterval.org should be back-to-normal, with the notable exception of email notifications when comments are added (I’ll get to that); please let me know if you see anything else that is amiss.
Technical issues notwithstanding, May has so far been a relatively uneventful month:
Continuing from Part I of the April 2013 recap…
Audrey’s favorite band in the whole wide world is Rush, and they were finally voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. With the induction ceremony being held at the Nokia Theatre in downtown LA it was a matter of seconds from the time tickets went on sale until she had four in hand.
I don’t know a lot about Rush, but I have learned that they have extraordinarily passionate fans. The crowd milling about before the Nokia Theatre doors opened was evidence of this fact as at least half of those present were wearing Rush shirts, Rush jackets, Rush purses, Rush flags, etc, despite the fact that seven other groups or individuals were being inducted (Heart, Randy Newman, Public Enemy, Donna Summer, Albert King, Lou Adler, Quincy Jones). The point was driven home further when the ceremony started, and the chairman of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame began reading the names of each inductee. There was applause and cheering for each individual until he said “And from Toronto”. What followed was two minutes of pandemonium as people screamed, cheered, chanted, clapped, and otherwise lost their damn minds, during which the guy at the podium could do nothing but stand and wait. As Dave Grohl of Nirvana later stated in an interview:
John Mayer had similar thoughts:
Other highlights of the evening included being in the same room with Oprah, Jack Nicholson and Tom Petty, some pretty good music, and a hugely amusing speech from Cheech and Chong. The ceremony will be broadcast on HBO in late May, although hopefully they’ll trim most of Flavor Flav, whose rambling, incoherent induction speech seemed like it would never end, was frequently interrupted by other members of Public Enemy trying to get him to stop, and which Rolling Stone described as a “filibuster”.
The remainder of April was supposed to be uneventful, but Tuesday night Audrey came into the living room shaking, and said that she had gone out to the hot tub, reached into the control box, and barely escaped disaster when she found thousands of bees inside. This seemed clearly to be a job for the Bee Warrior, so I donned appropriate attire and went out to investigate. Citronella candles were ineffective against the swarm, so the next morning we called Bee Capture, which turned out to be a tiny lady in a truck who showed up in the evening. She donned her bee gear (which was lame compared to my own – no Mexican wrestling mask, nor a college letterman jacket) and proceeded to scoop 40,000 bees out of the hot tub controls and into a “bee box” that she had brought along to act as their new mobile home. The next day several hundred bees had returned, so the bee warrior re-emerged to spray them with vinegar, but with the bees still undeterred we called Ruth again and she came back to scoop away the stragglers.
April has been a relatively eventful month so far, with everything from fancy resorts to insect invasions to barfing to rock and roll. Given that there have been so many adventures, and since I need two journal entries in the next three days to meet the three-a-month goal, here’s part one.
At the beginning of the month Audrey had a rare Sunday off from her weekly singing gig at All Saints’ Parish, and I was a bit burned out from work, so we scheduled a four day weekend that was evenly split between nature and relaxation. Unfortunately after spending the night in Ventura and arriving early for our boat ride out to Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park we were told the trip had been cancelled due to weather – despite the calm morning, forecasts for the afternoon called for 40-50 mph winds, and they apparently don’t take people when they can’t guarantee a return trip, which is probably a good policy to have even if we were bummed not to be able to go.
The following day we enjoyed a barbecue with Audrey’s friend in Santa Barbara, then made our way a bit further up the coast to the mighty fancy Bacara Resort. After being the lucky recipients of an upgrade to a suite we checked into our giant room next to the ocean, and while Audrey did some reading I curled up into the fetal position before eventually refunding all of the day’s meals. Whatever sickness I had prevented us from fully appreciating the pillow-top, high thread count sleeping options available as Audrey was forced to spend the night on the couch while I prayed for relief from the host of demons that were madly shoveling things out of my stomach.
Monday morning I rallied, and by “rallied” I mean got a massage (yep, Ryan is pampered) and a very fancy dinner overlooking the sea coast; the life of this programmer is not filled with an inordinate amount of hardship.
After returning home and surviving a short work week we made a pilgrimage to the La Brea tar pits (“La Brea” means tar, so “the tar tar pits”). I’d never visited the world’s largest known deposit of Ice Age fossils, a spot where (according the the Page Museum’s web site):
Living a few miles away from such a weird spot, home to a massive cache of pre-historic animals, is another point in the plus column for LA. AND there’s a really good build-your-own burger place next door, which may not be a reason to move here but is a nice bonus when you’re hungry after a long day of looking at mastodons and giant sloths.
The very sad events at today’s Boston Marathon are cause for grieving, but to a greater extent people seem to be focusing on those who immediately rushed into the smoke to help, or on the fact that in the aftermath so many people donated to the Red Cross that their web site crashed, or on the commitment of the individuals who chose to run the grueling race. On the latter subject, Ezra Klein wrote an article that does a good job of capturing why the marathon is so inspiring entitled ‘If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon’:
It’s thoughts like these that provide hope in spite of tragedies. The runners in a marathon are a case study in human inspiration: yes, running 26 miles is impressive, but the reason to cheer each finisher is as much about the days or years of effort that lead up to that accomplishment, and the idea that any human being who is willing to dedicate themselves to the task can complete such a mind-boggling feat.
A friend of mine in LA, Arkady, not only finished the 50 mile Comrades Marathon through the mountains around Capetown, but was in the top 15% of competitors. Several years before, this same ironman was 80 pounds heavier with 40% body fat, and made the decision to change his life. That single commitment, revisited day after day after day over many years, is what people celebrate when Arkady finishes a race, and is what they were celebrating as he finished (safely) in Boston today.
Another friend, Angela, decided one day that she wanted to run a marathon, and started out by running around the block once. The next day she ran around the block twice, and before long she was carrying a wooden box of matches with her and transferring them from one hand to another to keep track of her laps. Rather than stopping at the marathon, she trained for the world’s toughest race, the 135 mile Badwater Ultramathon through Death Valley in the summer, and today is one of the very few people on the planet to have actually finished that race. That seemingly-impossible accomplishment started out with an average person simply making the decision to do something extraordinary, and then getting out each day to put in the required work over a period of years to make the impossible possible.
Sport is about incredible human accomplishments, but a key reason that we stand along the road and cheer during a marathon is because the athletes in the race show us that a completely normal person who simply makes the decision to commit each day to a task can do something amazing and thus prove that things that seemingly can’t be done are within anyone’s reach. The bombings today are a tragedy, but the fact that so many people are taking notice of good things in the world, and perhaps themselves making a decision to commit to do something inspiring, provides hope that even such a horrible evil can be a catalyst for a great deal of good to come.
I live in a city with a space shuttle, and that makes me very, very happy. Yesterday the girl took me to visit it at the California Science Center, and there was much rejoicing. The supporting exhibits include a wealth of information about the mysterious “space potty”, computers from mission control, and a history of the shuttle program. The highlight, obviously, is the opportunity to visit up close with a vehicle that has traveled at 17,500 miles per hour, fixed the Hubble telescope and built the space station, cost $2.1 billion to build, and withstood temperatures of over 3000°F.
For reference, here are journal entries from past encounters with the spaceship:
Given the opportunity to live in any time period in human history (live in, not just visit), right now seems like a pretty clear winner. Aside from the odd mental patient, no one wakes up each day wondering “is a barbarian horde going to invade my town and burn me alive?”. If you get a cut, or catch a cold, your friends don’t have to place bets as to whether or not you’ll be dead at the end of the week. Very seldom do we head out to the store worrying whether a wild animal will devour us during the journey.
If you have a question, the magical cell phone in your pocket will connect to millions of computers to find an answer. If you want to travel you can visit literally any corner of the earth in a matter of hours or days, and don’t have to worry that scurvy will cause your teeth to fall out along the way. Instead of each day wondering where our food and water will come from, the big concern is whether we’ve eaten too many delicious meals and will have to spend more time at a gym where we can mimic the physical exertion that our bodies have evolved over thousands of years to expect would be needed simply to stay alive.
When I get hungry, I can use my my phone (which has no wires) to call a local restaurant. Without doing anything other than reading numbers from a plastic card I can get them to bring me sushi, which has been caught from who-knows-where and brought fresh to the restaurant. The delivery person travels a couple of miles to my house over communally-maintained roads using a vehicle that runs on drops of a clear liquid at speeds of up to 100 miles an hour. I then return to my job, located in my kitchen, where my background music is any one of thousands of songs which are stored in digital format on my laptop. That job involves collaborating with dozens of people who are hundreds of miles away, each of us using computers to build something that exists only as bits of ones and zeros on a series of magnetic storage devices, something that thousands upon thousands of people will use each day to make transactions that total millions of dollars each year.
With some credit to Louis CK, we live in a time where everything is amazing. Of course, it would still be pretty awesome to pay a visit to the Renaissance, Ancient Rome, or pre-colonization America, but right now is very likely the best time in all of human history in which to live. Not convinced? Here’s a gallery of amazing photos, many of which were taken IN SPACE, that you can browse via the magical internet. Need more? Go to amazon.com and buy anything you can possibly think of just by typing in numbers from a plastic card. Still need more? Go to Google and have any question you can think of answered. Everything is amazing.
There hasn’t been a generic status update in a while, and I’ve got less than three hours to meet my three-entry-a-month goal, so that’s as good of an excuse as any to write one:
This journal entry is the story of how I came home from a vacation in Hawaii last August to discover that I was being sued by a $640 million corporation. Over the next six months the unfortunate ordeal would garner worldwide media attention from outlets ranging from tech sites like Slashdot to major news organizations like the New York Times and London’s Daily Telegraph.
First the backstory. In early 2005 I started contributing to an online travel site that allowed anyone, anywhere to create and update articles based on their own knowledge and experiences. Having recently returned from a trip to the Falkland Islands I was greatly dismayed at the poor state of travel literature on that country, so it was exciting to be able to do a good deed and share some first-hand knowledge. I made additional contributions about the Galapagos Islands and some national parks, and before long I was not only a regular editor but had been granted the role of “administrator” by the community of editors at the site.
Now, a very important point about this travel site: while a guy in Montreal owned the servers on which the site ran, the content that individuals contributed had to be freely licensed. That meant that anyone, anywhere could take any article from the site, and so long as they provided attribution to all of the authors of that content they could re-use it in any way they wanted; someone could use the site’s articles to make a book and sell that book for profit, or they could copy an image to use on their own web site, or re-use the content in just about any other way imaginable as long as they provided attribution to the authors. For the contributors, this license provided assurance that their contributions would never be lost, since it would always be legal to move the content to a new home if there was a compelling reason to do so.
Fast forward a bit, and as that site grew it became too much to manage for the guy in Montreal, and in a surprise move he sold the domain, servers, and trademarks (but not the rights to the content since that was owned and freely-licensed by the contributors) to a large internet company. That company initially made many promises to respect the site’s license and to work with the community of editors who continued to contribute content, so for a while all was well. However, as time went on many contributors became frustrated by technical support issues and the company’s increasingly aggressive plans to monetize the site.
As discontent with the operation of the existing site increased among some of the core editors, private email discussions began about options for “forking” the site. Meatball wiki describes a project fork as follows:
As a longtime admin of the site, and as the person who had the copy of the site content, I was a key contributor to much of this discussion, and also played an important role in finding possible hosts for the new site. Many options were discussed, but eventually a proposal was put forward to set up a new site with the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit group that runs Wikipedia and several similar sites. This proposal was essentially a best-case scenario for those involved: Wikimedia was the group with the most experience in running open source wikis and they had significant resources available.
Not unsurprisingly, the site’s old corporate host was opposed to seeing Wikimedia host a project fork, but the decision to fork the project had not been made lightly, and after many years of perceived neglect the majority of the project’s most active contributors were determined to move on. While an open “request for comment” was running at Wikimedia to gauge support among Wikimedia’s community for starting a travel site, those of us leading the fork effort planned on temporarily setting up shop with the Wikivoyage e.V Assocation, a bunch of Germans and Italians who were running a travel site named “Wikivoyage”. After several long nights working to get my copy of the site’s content running on the server in Germany, and some heroic efforts by the site’s German sysadmin, the English language (and Spanish, Portuguese, Russian…) version of wikivoyage.org went live and I left for a much-needed vacation.
I returned home on Labor Day weekend to find a stack of legal documents waiting for me. While I’m sure that the vast majority of defendants disagree with the lawsuit filed against them, these papers made a number of claims and accusations that seemed particularly objectionable, including suggestions of a “scheme” involving many parties. For example, paragraph 35 noted the following:
Since I had no experience with lawsuits, and since the Wikimedia Foundation was mentioned, I contacted their legal department. On a holiday weekend they got back to me in a matter of hours, and a couple of days later I was on the phone with one of the most respected IP lawyers in California discussing my defense.
The lawyers viewed the case as a clear example of a SLAPP, which is described by Wikipedia as follows:
In the case of a SLAPP, California law provides protection to defendants via the opportunity to file an anti-SLAPP motion, allowing the case to be quickly dismissed with prejudice (meaning the plaintiff is barred from filing another case on the same claim) if two conditions are met. First, the defendant (yours truly) must show that the “challenged cause of action is one arising from protected activity” – essentially, that I’m being sued for a legal exercise of free speech rights. If that is done, the plaintiff must then show a “probability that [it] will prevail on the claim”, otherwise the suit is dismissed. In the most egregious of cases the plaintiff also has to pay legal fees for the defendant.
For those who want the gory details of the case I’ve added links to legal documents, blog posts, and news articles to the end of this journal entry. I can’t say enough good things about the Wikimedia Foundation, who repeatedly impressed me with their professionalism and dedication to defending their community principles, or the ridiculously great lawyers at Cooley who they retained for me. A recent Wikimedia blog post summarizes how the case went:
Being sued sucks, but being sued by a giant company that later drops its key claim since it “was primarily predicated on [an] assumption” rather than on known facts, is particularly maddening. Other claims, such as suing for trademark infringement because I wrote an email in which I described myself as a “Wikitravel administrator” (a role I served in), were equally exasperating, as the law is clear that “nominative use of a mark – where the only word reasonably available to describe a particular thing is pressed into service – lies outside the structure of trademark law“. To consider similar examples, imagine the chaos that would ensue if a lawsuit could be filed every time someone described herself as “a Subaru owner” or “a Hewlett Packard employee”.
This case taught me to choose my words carefully, so I won’t openly speculate on why I was selected as the target of a lawsuit consisting of seemingly unrealistic complaints. Instead, I’ll quote the reply motion filed in my defense, which noted the following:
The suit went before Judge Stephen V. Wilson on November 19 in the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, and it was all over in less than three minutes as the judge announced the case dismissed.
Wikivoyage was officially launched on January 15, 2013 as Wikimedia’s newest project, and the event was covered by just about every major news outlet imaginable. Today the site is growing rapidly, and many contributors again believe that we can do for travel guides what Wikipedia did for encyclopedias.
With regards to legal issues, as of February 14 the Wikimedia Foundation reached a settlement in which “Internet Brands has now released the Foundation and Wikivoyage e.V. (the German not for profit who worked so hard to make the project a success) from any and all claims related in any manner to the creation and operation of the travel wiki project.“
For my part, since the judge dismissed the case primarily on jurisdictional grounds without ruling on the merits of the anti-SLAPP motion I was technically not declared innocent of any wrongdoing, which is dismaying – I can state that “I didn’t do anything wrong”, but I don’t have a statement from a judge that unequivocally backs that up. In addition, for well-intentioned participation in a project that was meant to do some good in the world I got sued, which supports the unfortunate theory that in life “no good deed goes unpunished”. Finally, while I’m hopeful that this lawsuit wasn’t my proverbial fifteen minutes of fame, sadly two of my three mentions in Wikipedia are now due solely to Internet Brands v. Holliday, and there are a huge number of media articles that will appear in search results for years to come talking about the things I was sued for, without a follow-up noting that those claims were later dismissed by the court.
However, despite its negative aspects, this process had some significant positives. The Wikimedia Foundation stepped up to help me out almost immediately, and revealed themselves to be an amazing organization willing to both talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk when it came to fulfilling their mission of helping individuals share knowledge. I learned a huge amount about the legal process and free speech laws, and am gratified to now know that things like the anti-SLAPP law exists. Most notably, it is inevitable that everyone will have to deal with some lousy events in their life, and if this was one of mine then I was insanely lucky to be assisted by an organization that paid the very hefty legal bills and hired a top-notch legal firm to defend me, thus making a stressful ordeal as painless as it could have possibly been.
For More Information
This is a tiny sampling of info about the case – there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of articles, blog posts, and other bits to be found.
The recent journal entries have lacked in pretty pictures, so before boring my twos of readers with yet another verbose saga about the life of Holliday, here are a couple of pretty pictures from the December roadtrip. The first was taken early in the morning fog at Merced National Wildlife Refuge prior to a massive breakfast, while the second is from an afternoon in Death Valley.
This journal entry has gone through a few drafts. What started out as a retrospective on my changing goals in life (quick summary: at age five it was to become a superhero, and at age 37 I’m still trying to figure it out) turned to thoughts of how much of a legacy people actually leave. In thinking about this topic, it seems that a “legacy” is often evaluated based at least partially on luck. Consider someone like Steve Jobs – he was clearly a visionary, he obviously changed the world, and like almost any successful person this was due to a combination of hard work, determination, and intelligence. However, had he stayed at Reed College, or had his first venture into personal computing failed, the name “Steve Jobs” might mean nothing to us today. He undoubtedly still would have lived a notable life, but a man who is today universally revered as a visionary would not have been known to the world at large. In no way do I want to diminish the impact of someone like Apple’s former CEO, but it’s an interesting thought to realize that people you view as having “left a legacy” are often just one or two accomplishments away from relative obscurity.
If a lasting legacy requires at least a small amount of luck, it is also true that a far larger amount of perseverance, hard work, intelligence, and ability to seize opportunities is required. Thus, while it might be a disappointment to my five year old self to discover that his older counterpart lives a happy but relatively un-notable life, the older version of that superhero-wannabe is able to take some pride in still trying to achieve great things, and still making an effort to leave a positive mark on the world. Simple math shows that most people will not make a significant impact on humanity, but it is only those who continue to strive that have any chance of successfully doing so.
Year five of the prediction game is ready for publication. For those keeping track of the steaming pile that is the past year’s predictions, they can be found at the following links: 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.
The comments link is available for anyone who wants to add their own predictions. Alternately, while it may still be early in the year, feel free to begin mocking these likely-incorrect conjectures now.