Ryan Holliday, General Manager

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 7:04 pm, February 20th, 2017

I’m pretty sure that writing a post that combines statistical analysis and the Cleveland Browns is a surefire way to drive away any remaining readers of this journal, but math and the NFL’s worst team are two of my favorite subjects, so against better judgement I’m going to indulge myself.

Browns fans apparently hate the idea of trading away the #1 pick in the upcoming draft, but here’s why I’d do it anyhow (see also Moneyball and Moneyball 2 for my past ramblings on this subject). The draft value chart says the #1 pick is worth 3000 points, a number that is almost certainly more than it should be, which means that the Browns should be able to make a trade similar to any of the deals in the table below. Note that in recent years teams have given up more than 3000 points, so the first pick even may be overvalued beyond what is shown below. The table shows the #1 pick from each of the last four drafts, and the players who were picked at positions equal to the value of that #1 pick. Pro-Bowlers are marked with an asterisk(*), and I’ve highlighted trades that I judged as “good” in green, “great” in bold green, “poor” in red, and “terrible” in bold red.

Trade #1 pick (3000 points) for:
#2 (2600)
#50 (400)
#3 (2200)
#21 (800)
#4 (1800)
#12 (1200)
#5 (1700)
#10 (1300)
#6 (1600)
#8 (1400)
2016 Draft: #1 pick – Jared Goff
Carson Wentz (QB)
Nick Martin (C)
Joey Bosa (DE)
Will Fuller (WR)
*Ezekial Elliott (RB)
Sheldon Rankins (DT)
Jalen Ramsey (CB)
Eli Apple (CB)
Ronnie Stanley (OT)
Jack Conklin (OT)
2015 Draft: #1 pick – *Jameis Winston
Marcus Mariota (QB)
Ronald Darby (CB)
Dante Fowler (DE)
Cedric Ogbuehi (OT)
*Amari Cooper (WR)
Danny Shelton (DT)
*Brandon Scherff (OT)
*Todd Gurley (RB)
*Leonard Williams (DE)
*Vic Beasley (OLB)
2014 Draft: #1 pick – *Jadeveon Clowney
Greg Robinson (OT)
Jeremiah Attaochu (LB)
Blake Bortles (QB)
*Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S)
Sammy Watkins (WR)
*Odell Beckham, Jr (WR)
*Khalil Mack (LB)
Eric Ebron (TE)
Jake Matthews (OT)
Justin Gilbert (CB)
2013 Draft: #1 pick – Eric Fisher
Luke Joeckel (OT)
Jonathan Bostic (LB)
Dion Jordan (DE)
*Tyler Eifert (TE)
Lane Johnson (OT)
D. J. Hayden (CB)
*Ezekiel Ansah (DT)
Chance Warmack (G)
Barkevious Mingo (DE)
Tavon Austin (WR)

I realize that teams rarely possess two high first-round draft picks, and thus that the table above is purely theoretical, but it gives an idea of how out-of-whack the valuation on the top pick actually is. In the past four drafts, the results of making the hypothetical trade would have been:

  • great: 3 times
  • good: 5 times
  • about even: 9 times
  • poor: 0 times
  • terrible: 3 times

There are exceptions – in 2012 everyone in the world agreed that it would be insane to pass on Andrew Luck – but this draft doesn’t have a can’t-miss quarterback, so if someone offered a deal I’d look at the numbers above and almost certainly make the trade, rather than risking everything on the hope that Myles Garrett won’t be the next Courtney Brown.

Starting out Behind

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:24 pm, February 7th, 2017

It’s not a good start for the 2017 journal when it’s seven days into February and I’m just now writing the third entry for January. DOH! Anyhow, here’s a recap of how the year has gone thus far:

  • The new year has already seen two trips to Texas, marking a solid start towards earning god-like airline and hotel treatment for another twelve months. Luckily during winter months San Antonio has fairly pleasant weather, unlike the summer when spontaneous combustion is a real danger, so I’ve returned from both trips tired but uncharred.
  • The election of the orange President has turned Audrey political, and she hosted an “Un-auguration” party on the day of the new guy’s swearing-in, joined me at a climate change event hosted by our Congressional Representative, Karen Bass, and is now the founder of the indivisible group for our Congressional district. After years in which I was in charge of keeping track of what was going on in Washington, the tables have most definitely turned.
  • In homeowner news, I am disturbingly excited about our new hardwood floors, as well as work we had done to replace a boarded-up closet window with a proper wall. Owning a house is a humbling exercise in trying to reconcile how, as a kid, I belittled my mother’s joy over new carpets and my dad’s fascination with gutters, but now I sadly share that same enthusiasm for garage doors and window treatments (our new garage door rules).
  • Last of all, after six years of drought it’s finally raining regularly in California! The state’s reservoirs are mostly filled beyond their historic averages, our house’s four rain barrels are overflowing, and unlike the 2002 Alaska trip, frequent hot showers appear to be something that I can count on for the coming year.

The Prediction Game, 2017 Edition

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:41 pm, January 24th, 2017

Shockingly, 2017 is now the ninth year in a row that I’ve made a futile attempt at predicting the future. With any luck, at least one of the following will actually come to pass:

  1. While Tesla says it will begin volume production of the Model-3 in the second half of 2017, they will miss that goal slightly, delivering only between 4-8,000 vehicles by the end of the year. Even with that miss, the Model-3 is still going to be a game-changer. The industry underestimates how many advantages Tesla has built for itself – Tesla is several years ahead of anyone else when it comes to electric drivetrain technology, they have a massive, operational battery factory, a worldwide fast-charging network, and their advanced manufacturing experience now exceeds that of other auto manufacturers. If Model-3 is successful, suddenly Tesla will have all of those advantages AND a massive revenue stream that will be limited only by how fast they can grow.
  2. The Browns will trade at least one of their two first round draft picks. Analytics says that high draft picks are overvalued and that there is no sure thing in the draft, so if the Browns can turn one pick into many then they will run the numbers and take the deal.
  3. By the end of the year there will be rumblings in tech publications and among shareholders calling for Tim Cook’s ouster as Apple CEO. I don’t think anyone expected Apple to continue its streak of creating the next big thing once Steve Jobs died, but even the most ardent Apple fanboys are disappointed with the latest laptops, the company hasn’t updated their non-laptop Mac lineup in over three years, the iWatch continues to be a disappointment, and the main innovation that Apple has touted for the last three generations of iPhones and iPads has been “it’s slightly thinner than the last one”.
  4. Donald Trump’s favorability ratings will fall from the current 45% to between 27-32% by the end of the year, and there will be talk of impeachment from both sides of the aisle. I remain hopeful that I’m wrong about him, but the majority of his cabinet picks thus far seem like ideologues and loyalists, he has backtracked on some campaign promises before even being sworn-in, and anyone hoping he would change his behavior can read his Twitter feed to see that isn’t the case. Republicans don’t have any particular loyalty to him, Democrats already hate him, there are numerous potential scandals brewing, and it would be surprising if he delivers on any of his grandiose campaign promises, so I suspect he may be around for less than the four year term he was elected to.
  5. The stock market will end the year down about ten percent, finishing between 16,500 and 17,500. I’m obviously pessimistic about Trump and the ability of Republicans to steward the economy, but even without that pessimism, after several years of growth the market is overdue for a correction.
  6. Hidden Figures (which I haven’t seen) will win the Best Picture Oscar. Coming out of the Golden Globes La La Land has all of the buzz, but I think the combination of being a well-received movie, as well as Hollywood’s desire to send a message of support to minorities and women, will make Hidden Figures an unstoppable force by the time the awards air.
  7. SpaceX will not launch a human spaceflight mission, nor will it launch its new Falcon Heavy rocket, but it will re-fly one of its previously-flown rockets, and will complete at least twenty total missions without another accident. The Falcon Heavy was originally supposed to fly in 2013, and their manned program seems to be at least two years behind schedule, while its two recent launch explosions have also built a backlog of satellite launches that SpaceX needs to address. However, even with those issues they still offer the most promise, innovation, and excitement of any company in America; the missed deadlines can be partially excused by an ambitious timeline that is created without any margin for error in a business where occasional failures are an unavoidable reality.
  8. At least one of the following companies will be purchased by the year’s end: Twitter, Spotify, or Lyft. None of those three companies have clear paths to greater market share, but a Twitter acquisition offers instant social media prominence, a Spotify purchase makes the purchaser an instant media powerhouse, and Lyft is getting clobbered by Uber but would make any company that buys it the second-strongest player in the future ride-sharing economy.
  9. The next Star Wars movie will significantly under-perform the domestic box office take of $936 million earned by The Force Awakens; I’ll predict its box office ends up in the $500-600 million range. The Force Awakens was just an OK movie that benefited from being the sequel everyone had been waiting for since Return of the Jedi. Rogue One was a movie with a far better script, a more interesting story, and more of a Star Wars “feel”, but its box office is currently just over half of its predecessor at $512 million. The excitement level for new Star Wars films has clearly dropped, and will likely only diminish further as nostalgia for the original films wanes.
  10. Obamacare will not be repealed or replaced in any meaningful way. With the reality that repeal will have a lot of negative consequences, that some Republican lawmakers are expressing concerns about constituents losing insurance, and that replacement with “something better” is easy to use as rhetoric but near-impossible to implement as legislation, Republicans will instead end up stalling by passing some minor tweaks, such as eliminating some of the mandates for businesses. Since a failure to repeal the law would obviously be a high-profile defeat, I suspect they may double-down on something like defunding planned parenthood as a way to save face among the base.
  11. 2017 will be a turning point in the switch from cable companies to internet streaming services. HBO Now and CBS All Access already deliver services traditionally offered by cable companies without requiring a cable subscription, and by the end of the year I believe a large number of similar offerings will become available, including ESPN & the Discovery network. Additionally, one or both of Netflix and Amazon will find a way to offer local channels, thus providing an all-in-one service to completely replace traditional cable providers.
  12. I’m not quite sure how to quantify this prediction into something that can be judged true or false in a year’s time, but just as the Tea Party was often driven by anger that frequently turned towards Republicans who were deemed to be insufficiently conservative, I think that the coming actions that Trump and the Republican Congress will take against LGBT rights, abortion rights, the environment, and other issues will create a huge amount of anger on the Left that will manifest itself in similar ways to what was seen with the Tea Party. Given that reality, I worry that Democrats who show any inclination to compromise or adhere to traditional norms of governing will be targeted by their constituents, and while it won’t be fully manifested at the end of the year, tactics like government shutdowns and blanket filibusters will eventually no longer be tools unique to the Republicans as the far Left demands action at any cost.
  13. The Russian election hacking story will just be the beginning of ongoing cyberattacks that will continue in 2017 in an effort to undermine American credibility both domestically and internationally. Russia and other countries benefit from a diminished United States, and as long as these sorts of attacks are effective there doesn’t seem to be any reason they would stop. Like the election releases, released data will include embarrassing communications or incriminating documents, but will not include anything that compromises national security and would thus justify a military response.
  14. Google will announce an operating system to compete with Windows & OSX. There have been rumors about a Google OS for a while, but now that Google is selling its own phones and other products it makes sense for them to further expand their software ecosystem.
  15. The next season of Game of Thrones is going to kill off Cersei Lannister and Littlefinger. The show is totally unpredictable, so the odds of me correctly guessing anything about it are probably nil, but given the theme of Fire & Ice, Daenerys will almost certainly end up in charge of the South, and the Starks are likely to end up in charge of the North, so it’s tough to see the show not eliminating the obstacles to that happening before embarking on its final season in 2018.

There they are, everything from stock market analysis to predictions about the orange President to diminished expectations for the new Star Wars film. Given my track record, expect none of these things to actually come to pass, but as always it’s an interesting exercise, and the comments link is there for anyone who wants to join in the fun and make their own wrong predictions for the coming year.

Everything I Didn’t Know About 2016

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:28 am, January 14th, 2017

As is tradition, before recounting how bad I was at predicting what 2016 would bring, here is the scorecard from the annual predictions during 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)
  • 2015: 33% correct (5 out of 15)

Here are the results of the 2016 predictions:

  1. Election predictions:
    1. Hillary Clinton will win the Presidency with a similar margin to Obama’s 332-206 victory in 2012.

      I was wrong.

    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.

      It hurts to be so very, very wrong.

    3. There are 34 Senate seats up for grabs, 24 of which are held by Republicans. Democrats will pick up between four and seven seats.

      Democrats picked up two seats. Had slightly fewer Trump voters shown up, or had just a few more Hillary voters gone to the polls, my predictions would have been spot-on, but as it is I’m now zero-for-three.

    4. Marijuana will be legalized in California in 2016, as well as in at least five other states.

      California legalized recreational marijuana, as did Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts. Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas legalized medical marijuana, but since the prediction was for six states to legalize recreational pot the correct prediction count remains at zero.

  2. Tesla will make minor but noticeable style changes to the Model-S.

    Model-S got a new front-end in April, and I finally got on the board with a correct prediction!

  3. Leonardo DiCaprio will win best actor at the Oscars.

    Not only do Leo and I share the fact that we are both winners, but we are also both incapable of growing facial hair that doesn’t appear to be infested with mange. The scorecard moves to two-for-six.

  4. The Black Lives Matter organization will have mostly disappeared from headlines by the end of the year.

    BLM is still around, although they are getting far fewer headlines. My hope had been that they would be replaced with a more effective organization, but instead BLM seems like it might instead be reforming itself to be more effective. An incorrect prediction on my part, but a hopeful development if they can transform into a group that is known less for blocking freeways and chasing Bernie Sanders offstage, and instead one that can meaningfully bring people together to address important racial issues.

  5. This is a prediction that I actually expect will be wrong, but I’ll say that the 2016 US Olympic Men’s basketball team will lose one of their games.

    Does it count that I got the “I actually expect will be wrong” part correct? It doesn’t make sense that a team with vastly better talent than its competition isn’t making Olympic basketball look like the Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals, but while this year’s squad had a few close calls, to their credit they did what they needed to do and went undefeated on their way to a gold medal.

  6. Obama’s job approval numbers, currently at about 47%, will rise to between 53-57% as his term ends.

    His job approval numbers have been at the high end of my prediction, even hitting 58% in one poll, but I’m still going to count this prediction as correct. At least forty percent of the country obviously disagrees, but I think he’s been by far the best president of my lifetime.

  7. Microsoft’s plans to force upgrades to Windows 10 will backfire spectacularly.

    I have no idea what happened on this one – either Microsoft backed off of their plans, or I misunderstood, or something went screwy, because they just didn’t force upgrade people. If I awarded negative points then this prediction would score a minus-one for being so utterly, completely wrong.

  8. Batman v. Superman won’t finish in the top ten domestic box office for 2016.

    This script was so flawed that the key conflict between the main characters was resolved because <spoiler alert> Superman and Batman both had mothers named Martha. Seriously. Yet somehow the film still ended up #8 at the domestic box office. Apparently being the first big superhero movie of the summer was genius positioning, because it did way better than some much better films that came out later in the year.

  9. Russia will engage in significant provocation this year in an effort to rekindle a Cold War atmosphere.

    Hacking servers and attempting to influence the Presidential election isn’t exactly what I had in mind when I made the prediction, but it most definitely counts.

  10. Twitter will finish 2016 at least 25% lower than its current $20 price.

    $16.44 on January 3. The 52 week low was $13.73, and it did drop more than fifteen percent in a year in which the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose by about fifteen percent, but feel free to Tweet about how I got this one wrong.

  11. Nest hasn’t come out with a new product in a while, so I expect this year will see a new security product.

    Nest is quickly rising up my list of most disappointing tech companies. They could have owned the smart home market, yet more than five years after they released a pioneering thermostat their most innovative product is… the same thermostat they released in 2011.

  12. The Browns will have another absolutely, indisputably, undeniably horrendous year in 2016, winning only between three and five games.

    I got the “horrendous” part right, but somehow ended up being too optimistic when I predicted they would win three games. Ouch. At least the awful season means that on draft day they should either be able to pick a beast lineman and then spend 2017 watching him demolish quarterbacks, or else they can trade the top pick for a king’s ransom in another Moneyball masterpiece.

Final score: 4 out of 15 (27%). I was convinced that the 2016 predictions were too obvious, and yet somehow I still misfired on eleven of them. As of this writing I’ve already started on the predictions for 2017, and as wrong as I was about Trump in 2016, it looks like 2017 will see me doubling-down on underestimating the orange one.

Man Tripping No More

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:46 pm, December 30th, 2016

The 2016 Man Trip finished up yesterday with a morning visit to the Carrizo Plain National Monument, a virtually unknown national monument west of Bakersfield. The park is home to Soda Lake, which is supposedly an internationally-known area for birds, but the last time I visited it was completely dry. This time I left Bakersfield and spent an hour and a half meandering through the hills, oil fields and solar farms of Kern County before arriving at Soda Lake, which despite several recent storms was still bone dry; I think I heard the universe laughing at me.

Despite the dry lake it was still nice to be reminded how nice silence is – the modern world is constantly filled with the sound of cars or appliances or planes, but you don’t realize it until you’re in a place that is just completely still, and I sat at the end of a boardwalk for about an hour just enjoying the peace. Afterwards I wandered a bit more before pointing the car towards home, where I’ll hopefully get some rest and recharge before starting off the 2017 work year.

Sunset at the Kern NWR

Taken during sunset at the Kern NWR.

Man Tripping

Posted from Bakersfield, California at 8:39 pm, December 28th, 2016

I’m pretty sure that the entire San Joaquin Valley reeks of cow manure. Someone really needs to look into it, because it can’t be benefiting tourism to have things smelling poopy.

Woke up at 5:30 this morning, an hour before my alarm, since the universe likes it when you see the sun come up. Merced National Wildlife Refuge was the sunrise destination, and Kern National Wildlife Refuge was the sunset destination, and both were chock full of birds and people shooting at birds (duck stamps help pay for wildlife refuges). Wedged in between those two visits was a giant biscuit at the Black Bear Diner, because it wouldn’t be a man trip without a manly breakfast.

Snow geese in Merced NWR

I zoomed in on the full resolution image, and so far as I can tell not a single one of these snow geese is bumping into his neighbor. Taken in Merced NWR.

Red-tailed hawk in Merced NWR

Red-tailed hawk in Merced NWR.

Man Trip, 2016

Posted from Merced, California at 8:47 pm, December 27th, 2016

Like most years, I started this year’s post-Christmas man trip with no real destination in mind. Since we don’t get much time together anymore it seemed like a good idea to spend the start of the trip with my brother, and on the way to his place I stopped to see the birds at the Cosumnes River Preserve. Upon arriving I discovered that all of my camera batteries were dead; the cranes flying low overhead had a mocking tone to their calls.

This morning after departing Sacramento I pointed the car towards the mountains and did some exploring in Gold County, one of the only parts of California I haven’t really wandered around in. The route began with a visit to Placerville, which is home to the oldest continually-operated hardware store west of the Mississippi; it’s actually cooler than it sounds, and I spent a while admiring the old-timey bins and beams and such. From there I meandered down to Murphys, taking in the rolling hills and small town scenery along the way. After a lunch in the historic Murphys Hotel I almost booked a room so I could spend a night in a building built in the 1850s, but instead decided to get a nature fix and headed up to Big Trees State Park to see sequoias in the snow, since snow obviously makes giant trees even better. While continuing along Highway 49 I passed a bizarre group of buildings, and sensing that the universe wanted me to stop I spent a short time exploring Columbia State Historic Park, which has a super-weird Williamsburg-wannabe-in-the-middle-of-nowhere vibe. I left the place almost as confused about it as when I arrived, but later learned that the state bought the town in the 1940s and now runs it as a living museum. From there it was on to Merced, where I’ll be making the seemingly annual pilgrimage to see the birds at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge tomorrow morning at sunrise.

December Recap

Posted from Merced, California at 8:32 pm, December 27th, 2016

December was one of those months that both flew by and at the same time seemed to go on forever. Here’s the recap:

  • A trip to San Antonio at the beginning of the month got things started, followed by a trip to Spokane the following week for the Commerce Architects Christmas party. The party coincided with a polar vortex hitting the northern states, which for non-meteorologists means SO COLD NO WARMTH CAN’T FEEL FINGERS. We celebrated on the top floor of a 17 story office building with temperatures outside hovering right around zero; at one point I looked out and wondered where smoke was coming from, but apparently when it’s super cold water just magically condenses out of the air into smoke. I very much appreciated living in LA when I returned home.
  • Life in LA continues more-or-less as usual, although Audrey and I did share much excitement over a new garage door and opener; being a homeowner makes you get excited about really, really dull things.
  • Christmas was again spent with Ma & Pa in the Bay Area, meaning I got to take the new car on his first road trip; among many other reasons why this car rules, adaptive cruise control is all sorts of awesome when you’re spending many hours on the Interstate. Christmas went according to plan, with Ma pulling off another amazing turkey dinner, Aaron stalking me with a semi-automatic Nerf gun, and the Skipper all kinds of happy when I showed him how to watch nature documentaries in HD on his new Amazon Fire TV.
  • Following Christmas the annual man-trip began, but for the first night I stayed with Aaron in Sacramento and we went to see Rogue One, since both of our significant others would be unable to tell the difference between a Stormtrooper and a storm cloud. It’s not a high bar to clear to be the best Star Wars movie since the Empire Strikes Back, but this movie cleared that bar with tons of room to spare; it not only looked and felt exactly like it belonged with the original movies, but the story filled in some plot points that made Star Wars an even better movie – to cite the biggest example, George Lucas needs to send the writers a huge “thank you” for freeing him from hordes of nerds who have mocked the original movie for having a moon-sized based that could be blown up with a single missile. Now? Totally plausible.

November Recap

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 5:36 pm, December 7th, 2016

Here’s a recap of what the second-to-last month of 2016 brought:

  • Work continues at HEB in San Antonio, and November saw back-to-back weeks spent in the Lone Star state. While devoting 8-12 hours to travel during the week might not be the preferred way to maximize time on this earth, I’ve been at it enough this year that I’m now getting free upgrades on United and checkin gifts from Marriott, so while I may be tired, I’m tired in comfortable airplane seats. In addition, the amount of travel made one of those fancy credit cards worth the annual fee, and the number of points now queued up towards the next vacation is borderline ludicrous.
  • The Browns are 0-12. That’s sad but also exciting if you’re a fan of Moneyball, and I may not be able to resist writing a future post about the shenanigans I hope to see pulled off during the next draft.
  • Our monthly cable bill was stupid expensive, and included a bunch of required “extras” like $15 for “regional sports” (since every Cleveland fan wants to pay for LA sports), $13 for a set-top box that probably cost the cable company $75 to build, and another $25 for taxes and fees. Having finally had enough, we got rid of cable. So far Fire TV and an HD antenna is actually better than the super-premium cable package we used to have; Amazon Prime streams a zillion shows without commercials, so we can now enjoy epic nights of entertainment such as the episode of the Twilight Zone where the guy at the diner has three eyes, followed by MacGyver disarming a bomb with chewing gum. After years of horrible customer service and mandatory fees, the cable companies will only have themselves to blame when most of their customers realize that cutting the cord is a much, much better way to get home entertainment.
  • For Thanksgiving Audrey and I tried to avoid LA traffic by departing on Tuesday night and staying in a hotel in Visalia, a town that had hidden charms and an unmistakable odor of manure. After working a half day from the hotel on Wednesday we avoided the worst of the holiday traffic on our way up to Ma & Pa’s place in the Bay Area, where Aaron later arrived bearing Star Wars pajamas and a ring toss game that involved inflatable reindeer antlers (yes, I’m 41). Thanksgiving morning included a hike on Mount Diablo that was inexplicably devoid of wild turkeys, followed by another one of Ma Holliday’s amazing Thanksgiving dinners.
  • The Friday after Thanksgiving we forced the folks to join us for a walk around the Lafayette Reservoir, where the wild turkeys finally made an appearance. After a family lunch Audrey and I departed for the long drive home, stopping at the Merced NWR for sunset. The was Audrey’s first visit to a spot that I head to annually during the man trips, and as the sun set she got to enjoy geese in abundance, hundreds of sandhill cranes trickling in from the surrounding fields, the sun turning the waters red, and two owls who kept up a running commentary – not a bad first visit.

I’m not quite sure what the schedule for December is going to be yet, but with any luck there may be some excitement to share from a post-holiday excursion.

Audrey, Ryan and Aaaron

Star Wars pajamas for the win.

Suby III

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:41 am, November 30th, 2016

The original Suby was the first car I ever bought, way back in 1999, and thus far he is the favorite of all the cars that I’ve owned. We went on an epic 13,000 mile road trip through Alaska, explored the Western United States, and only parted ways because 145,000 miles had elapsed over seven years and I was beginning to fear for his health.

In 2006 Son of Suby arrived, and while that car didn’t share as many adventures as its predecessor, we still managed the occasional 7,000 mile bonding experience.

Son of Suby passed his tenth birthday a while ago, so on Sunday I sent a few emails, haggled over trade-in values, and eventually went to the dealer to make the acquaintance of Suby III. As I write this he is parked out in the driveway, looking dapper, and he has a moonroof. Good times lie ahead.

The Suby and me on the Dalton Highway

The Original Suby on the Dalton Highway, way up in Northern Alaska.

Son of Suby

Son of Suby on our last day together.

Suby III

Suby III, showing his game face at the dealer.

I Was Wrong

Posted from Culver City, California at 12:41 pm, November 29th, 2016

I was wrong – Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. In my 2016 predictions I said that he would win no more than four states in the primary, and in February I still thought that he would get “shellacked” if he made it to the general election. Three weeks ago he lost the popular vote by about two percent, but won throughout the Midwest, North Carolina, and Florida, thereby taking the electoral college by a decisive margin.

My thoughts on the election may not be worth reading, but it’s been a learning experience for me so here are some random bits to record for posterity:

  • Just before the election the mathematical analysis that I most trusted indicated that Trump had approximately a one-in-three chance of winning, but it still felt like a blindside when results started coming in and states that had previously been considered sure wins for Clinton turned out to not be so sure. Polls indicated Clinton had a clear, often huge, lead for months, and up until the final days before the election even the Republican National Committee was forecasting a Trump loss, so after an entire campaign in which the Democrat was leading, the final result was a significant shock.
  • The election showed me that, despite making an effort to seek out opinions different to my own, in this case I really had no idea that so much of the country would vote for someone like Trump. A big takeaway from this result is that I need to make more of an effort to listen to and understand others.
  • Prior to the election the pundits were all writing about how the Republican party was doomed, and post-election the same pundits seem to be writing that the Democratic party is doomed. While the results obviously have massive ramifications, before overreacting both sides might do well to recognize that even though Trump won, he received two million fewer votes, and if just one out of every hundred Trump voters had flipped to Hillary, America’s first woman President would have been elected by a large margin.

  • Following the election, protests erupted with people chanting “Not my President”, and petitions are circulating asking the electoral college to change the outcome. I understand the desire people have to do something to deal with what they foresee as a dangerous person moving into the Oval Office, but I worry about these specific tactics – while I believe that Trump will do damage to the country as its President, questioning his legitimacy and attempting to circumvent both the sixty million Americans who voted him into office and the process that put him there, is also damaging.
  • Much of what I saw from Trump on the campaign trail scares me – I think his environmental policies are dangerous, I believe that his tax and trade policies are likely to balloon the debt and cause a recession, and I think his foreign policy is likely to do lasting damage in the world. It’s frustrating that a narrow victory can have such extreme ramifications – looking back at the 2000 election, a difference of just a few hundred votes might have prevented the Iraq War, to cite just one dramatic example. That said, Trump’s sixty million voters clearly feel differently, and I need to work harder to listen to and understand the issues that motivated them.
  • While I truly hope that I’m wrong and that Trump is an excellent President, at the moment he threatens many things that matter to me, and thus it seems more important than ever to take action instead of passively relying on a President, governor, or other person to make things right in the world. As a small effort, the day after the election I increased my monthly donation to the Nature Conservancy, but much more is possible; hopefully this desire to take personal responsibility for the state of the world won’t fade and will actually lead to useful action.
  • Last of all, America is an amazing country, but it is only at its best when unified. When there is a disaster Americans of all creeds and colors rush to help. People came together here to put a man on the moon, to give birth to the National Parks, to create amazing companies like Apple, Tesla and Boeing, and to invent everything from the airplane to the internet, along with countless other businesses and ideas. “United we stand, divided we fall” is a phrase commonly associated with figures from American history ranging from Patrick Henry to Abraham Lincoln, and now more than ever it seems vital to put those words into action by trying to ignore divisive voices, to remember that the stories in the news and on social media represent extremes rather than the norm, and to try to stay level-headed and keep an open mind when it comes to discussions on today’s hot-button topics.

Scare the Children 2016

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 6:49 pm, November 7th, 2016

“I’ll get the rest of the fake blood cleaned up later this afternoon” is not a sentence I would have expected to be saying before I met Audrey; now it’s probably going to be an annual occurrence.

This year’s incarnation of Audrey’s Halloween extravaganza included a new “mad scientist lab” in the garage, since it’s not really Halloween unless someone is using rusty tools to dismember someone else. Holdovers from past years included Ozzie as a scary clown in the alley, and Jocelyn in the coffin, although Ozzie managed to up his game by finding an even creepier clown mask that he could peel away to reveal a bloody red skull underneath. Yes, it’s likely that everyone participating in this event has issues that should be addressed in a professional setting.

My role in the shenanigans is typically to hide in the darkness next to our entryway and jump out at whoever actually makes it to the door, but we were shorthanded this year so I was instead tasked with handing out candy. Since sweetly telling everyone that they can have two pieces from the giant cauldron isn’t particularly scary, I instead decided to sit in the entryway without moving or saying a word, making the trick-or-treaters guess whether they were dealing with a real person or a dummy, and it turned out to be the most Halloween fun I’ve had so far. One group of teens came to the door and deliberated before approaching closer than six feet. Finally a particularly bold girl in the group crept up and poked me in the leg with a stick she was carrying, and still unsure poked me in the arm. Still unconvinced, she poked me in the cheek, and getting no response confidently told her friends I wasn’t real. When she stepped forward to grab some candy I let out a yell, and suddenly teens were running down our front walk; to my continual delight that scene was repeated many times throughout the night, and the piles of dropped candy that we found scattered over our entryway when the evening was over were a testament to the successful scaring.

If you want to see more photos, or follow in the madness for next year, Audrey’s Scare the Children Facebook page has much more to see.

Scare the Children 2016

The little kids that turned around well before the door, telling their parents “I don’t want the candy from this house”, and the teens that yelled “Oh hell no” and refused to come up the front walkway, were almost as much fun as the ones that made it to the door but ran away when the “dummy” jumped out at them. It was a good year.

The Windy City

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:15 pm, November 1st, 2016

The month(s) of many travels is finally at an end as I’ve just returned from a wedding in Chicago, reconnecting with several college friends while one of them got married. Ajay was a year behind the rest of us, and showed up at Case in the Fall of 1995 as a somewhat awkward, but incredibly good natured, newcomer to the Hitchcock dormitory. Nearly twenty years later he’s an incredibly successful software developer living in Trump Tower in Chicago, and he threw a wedding that filled the Sheraton Grand Hotel’s ballroom with 400-500 guests.

I flew out Thursday night, worked from a hotel next to O’Hare on Friday, and then traveled downtown to meet my old friend Kalyan before we headed over to Ajay’s Mehendi party. The invitation said 6:30, but we were the first to arrive when we showed up just beore 7:00, and the caterer looked annoyed as he told us the party didn’t start until 7:30. Other guests eventually arrived, including Ajay, and we got a few minutes to catch up with him before some traditional ceremony began that involved a number of women rubbing herbs all over the groom. When it became clear that Kalyan and I weren’t required to rub herbs on our friend we snuck out and returned to the hotel to watch the Indians beat the Cubs in game two of the World Series (side note: Indians & Cavs in the SAME YEAR??? Madness!). Later that night our friends Carrie and Dan arrived, and the hotel bar was shutting down when we finally retired to bed.

The next morning we all poured into the streets at 10AM to watch another traditional Indian ceremony as a hype man fired up the hundreds of guests, a drummer banged away on his instrument, and Ajay paraded through the streets on a white horse; if I had any doubts as to whether this wedding would be like others that I had attended, they were quickly disspelled. From the streets we moved into a hotel ballroom for a nearly three hour long ceremony in Hindi and Sanskrit that involved singing, chanting, fire, scarves, mango lassi, and a bunch of other bits that I didn’t understand, before it finally completed and we moved to another room for lunch.

When lunch ended we had four hours until the evening reception, so Carrie and I wandered off to Millenium Park to see the Bean, after which I made a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago to re-enact scenes from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I got back to the hotel with enough time remaining for a quick nap, then it was off to the evening reception / talent show.

This reception was far larger than anything I’d been to before, and there were no less than five dance numbers, four skits, two MCs, and six speeches before all was said and done. During his speech, Ajay noted ironically that when he purchased a huge block of rooms to house his guests he wasn’t too worried when the Sheraton added a clause indicating room prices would be hiked if the Cubs made the World Series – what were the odds, right? – and that he was probably the only one in Chicago cursing when they won the National League Championship (the rest of us were checking our phones throughout the reception – Indians victory!) The music was still blaring after midnight when we finally hugged the bride and groom and wandered home to sleep.

As always happens with these reunions, it ended too quickly, with Carrie leaving before sunrise, and Dan heading off just after breakfast. Kalyan and I consumed a shocking amount of Chicago-style pizza before we had to part ways, although there is some hope that the group may be able to reunite again in the near future.

Ajay's wedding

When there are 400-500 people at a wedding it’s tough to get much time with the groom, so this photo will have to do.

N’Awlins

Posted from Culver City, California at 11:04 pm, October 26th, 2016

The month(s) of many travels continued three weeks ago with a trip to New Orleans for a high school friend’s birthday. Whether due to serendipity or her magnetic personality, about 30 people showed up from all corners of the country; if I tried to do a destination party I’d be thrilled if there were more than twos of attendees, so kudos to Amy for a job well done.

Audrey and I arrived late on Friday night to the hotel, which was less than half a block from Bourbon Street. The location made it easy to visit everything in the French Quarter, and even easier to hear the street party continuing into the wee hours of the morning (after the first night we discovered that running the bathroom fan worked wonders for drowning outside noise). The revelers were out in force as we roamed Bourbon Street after our 10PM arrival, and it was only a short time before we had appropriate beverages in hand and joined them. I made my first- and second-ever visit to a voodoo shop, and then we had some midnight gumbo before calling it a night.

We spent Saturday roaming the city with the high school friends before converging on the pre-designated birthday party spot in the evening. The next day was the totally optional brunch™, after which people sadly started to depart. After brunch Audrey and I separated from the group and made a visit to the Audobon Insectarium (Audrey likes insectariums), and then we returned to join the remaining members of the group for what would be my second, third and fourth bowls of gumbo for the day. After a late return we magically transported back to 1994 as the high school crew gathered in a room to reminisce until the wee hours.

Our last day in the city involved more roaming and reminiscing before an afternoon flight back to Los Angeles. The flight home was completely unremarkable until its final minutes – shortly after landing I ended up kneeling in front of the plane’s lavatory while we taxied to the gate, and afterwards had to promise the Uber driver a big tip as I attempted not to fill a plastic bag during the drive home (I failed); luckily whatever caused my stomach to turn inside out came and went very quickly.

The month(s) of many travels concludes just before Halloween with a trip to Chicago for a college friend’s wedding – when Audrey saw the dates on the invitation she immediately noted “you know that’s right before Halloween, right?” – so I will be attending this wedding stag. Coincidentally, Cleveland apparently made a deal with the devil and not only won an NBA championship, but now the Indians are playing the Cubs in the World Series, so I might get to bask in some reflected sports glory while roaming the Windy City.

Amy, Sarina, Caitlin and Ryan

Unofficial Shaker Heights High School reunion. Lying around on couches is basically the same thing we were doing when we would get together as teenagers twenty-five years ago.

The Garden Island, Part 2

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:06 pm, October 2nd, 2016

Following the recap from Day 1-5, here’s the remainder of the Kauai trip:

Day 6

Aaron and I had done the seventeen mile kayak trip along the Napali Coast in 2012, a trip my dad has always wanted to do, so this year, with Aaron already having returned to California, the Elder Holliday and I signed up to do it together. It turned out our trip was the last one of the season since the waters get too rough in the winter, and we set out in the morning after a night of high swells that were supposed to decrease during the day. After a pre-dawn van trip around the island we reached the launching point in the north, and it was clear from the first moments that the swells had not subsided and that this was going to be a very different experience than 2012. After watching the first kayak in the water capsize in the waves my dad and I were the second boat to launch, and we then sat just offshore watching boat after boat get wiped out and washed back to the beach as the others tried to launch. And this was just the beginning of the trip.

After paddling along the high cliffs for a couple of miles we saw another group of kayakers turning around, finding out later that their guides had decided not to continue and eventually had to radio a boat for pickup. Despite the waves we seemed to be doing well, then out of nowhere our kayak was upside-down, and sadly my GoPro chose that moment to make an escape – apparently I had not tied it down well, so now it is off on an adventure across the Pacific (hence the lack of scuba videos from this trip). After righting our ship and continuing on we reached the first of several sea caves along the route, but while it had been a placid affair in 2012, this time the cave was being battered with waves that were tossing kayaks all over the place; after making it out safely the guides didn’t attempt to enter any of the remaining caves along the route.

Under even the worst conditions the Napali Coast is a beautiful route, and seeing green cliffs shooting thousands of feet up from the water, or watching waterfalls descend from the heights, was an impressive experience. I did my best to stop and enjoy the scenery as much as possible, but the swells hitting us from different directions meant a significant amount of mental effort went into steering, balance, and trying to stay out of the way of other kayakers – we capsized once more during the day on a water break, again catching us totally by surprise. Luckily after we made it eleven miles down the coast and stopped for lunch the route turned a corner, and after that the swells were big but generally moving in one direction, making for a much smoother trip.

…Until the landing site. The large swells that were pushing us along broke directly onto our landing beach, and with massive waves crashing onto the shore it was clear that the guides didn’t quite know what to do. The first guide took her boat in to meet a staff member on shore, but was wiped out on the way and then had to rescue her boat in the surf. Eventually word came out that we’d be going in one at a time, with the original guide treading water 100 feet offshore to offer assistance, while people on shore waited to deal with the inevitable shipwrecks.

As we watched, some boats wiped out spectacularly while others made it nearly the entire way before flipping. After what seemed like about 30 minutes, just two boats remained to go in – the second guide, and our boat. The guide told us to shadow her as we went in, so we aligned our boat with the direction of the waves and started into shore.

And then something unexpected happened. We paddled like crazy over the tops of large waves, with the staff member on shore yelling for us to stop or go depending on the size of the waves behind us. As a huge wave rolled past the staff member signalled us to paddle, and through sheer luck we caught the wave perfectly. To our right the guide’s boat capsized, but Poseidon God of the Sea lifted us up and hurled us perhaps fifty feet forward, directly onto the sand. We jumped out of the boat, pulled it up the beach, and thus ended the day in once piece and with a great story to share.

Day 7

The day after the oceans unleashed their fury was spent on land. I took Audrey up to see Waimea Canyon, and we visited the Kauai Coffee Plantation on our return before heading into town to see two of her high school friends who had relocated to the island. Afterwards Ma & Pa came over to the Hyatt to join us for drinks at sunset, followed by a twilight walk that featured fat and apparently invasive toads hopping slowly away as the Skipper chased them with his camera flash.

Day 8

And thus the great Kauai Adventure of 2016 came to an end. We enjoyed one last buffet breakfast, fed the koi for a final time, took a last trip down the resort’s lazy river (the water slide wasn’t open yet, sadly), and then headed to the airport where Audrey’s fear of babies and confined spaces collided on a completely full flight in a tight coach seat with a mother and child in the middle seat – the kid was just young enough to be a lap child, but old enough to be a strong kicker with big lungs. For my part, the inflight entertainment options included the new X-Men movie, so I had a mostly-awful film featuring superheroes and Olivia Munn’s cleavage to distract from the baby drama on my left for the six hours until we arrived safely home in Los Angeles.

Audrey and me at Waimea Canyon

The girl and me in front of a pretty canyon.

The Garden Island, Part 1

Posted from Culver City, California at 6:27 pm, October 2nd, 2016

Two weeks ago Audrey and the Holliday clan gathered in Kauai for snorkeling, beaches, sunsets, tropical beverages, and a really great waterslide. Here’s part one of the recap:

Day 1

My mom is a night owl, going to bed after midnight, while my dad is a morning person, waking up around 5AM. Thus after flying across the Pacific and arriving in Hawaii, it was no surprise when I entered their timeshare at 10:30 PM Hawaii time (1:30 AM Los Angeles) that my mom met me energetically at the door while everyone else was sleeping. She was clearly disappointed and unsuprised when I declined her offers of dinner and conversation and instead crawled into bed. The next morning at 5AM my dad attempted to sneak out the door, only to have his two sons pounce on him before he could get away, but he didn’t seem too disappointed to be taking his boys along to see the sunrise. When we got to the beach a dark shape was silhouetted against the barely-brightening sky, and it is to my dad’s everlasting shame that he insisted it was a monk seal even after we said it looked like a sea turtle. Several more of the large turtles were resting on the sand further down the beach, making for a pleasant welcome to the island as the sun turned the sky pink while an army of roosters announced their presence to the world.

The day’s other activities included multiple rounds of snorkeling, massive fish burritos from Da Crack, a cat on a surfboard, and drinks at sunset. All in all not a bad way to start the trip.

Day 2

Day two again started with an early wakeup and another trip down to the beach to see the sea turtles. There was more snorkeling, more tropical drinks, etc, but other days had more journal-worthy moments so let’s move on to Day 3.

Day 3

The previous day I had moved from Ma & Pa’s timeshare to the Hyatt next door, picking up Audrey from the airport in the evening, while Aaron and Helen relocated to an Air B&B rental on the north side of the island. Audrey has the amazing ability to defy jet lag, so she was having none of my arguments that getting up at 5AM was the same as getting up at 8AM in Los Angeles, thus I roamed around the hotel grounds at sunrise before dragging her out of bed at 6:30 and heading off to our fancy hotel breakfast buffet next to the koi pond. From there we were off to do some snorkeling, then we meandered our way around the island to see Aaron, stopping to photograph the Autumn mist in Hanalei enroute. With the full Holliday clan present we attempted a bit of snorkeling off of the beach near the beginning of the Napali Coast, but choppy waters had reduced visibility to only about ten feet, and in an underwater landscape filled with lava cracks that looked like they might descend hundreds of feet it was hugely disconcerting to wonder what might be hiding down below. When Aaron called me out for saying that it was an uncomfortable place to swim I told him to follow me out into the murky water – hundreds of feet offshore and notoriously afraid of sharks, the sound he made as we swam over rocky ledges that descended to unseen depths was something between a whining puppy and a bawling child; we turned back fairly quickly.

Day 4

Audrey’s one request prior to starting the trip was that she wanted at least one “lounge day”, knowing that otherwise I’d do my best to ensure that each day would end with us collapsing from exhaustion after non-stop activities. Thus, Tuesday saw us hanging out at the resort pools, where Audrey read a book while I set the Hyatt master’s record for most rides on their water slide in a 24-hour period – all of the five year olds seemed slightly peeved at the bald guy who made their wait in the line a bit longer by going down the slide again and again.

Day 5

Wednesday was our scuba diving day. Sadly, because someone is sued in America every 0.2 seconds, they wouldn’t let my dad join us once he checked one of the “do any of the following apply to you” boxes on the release forms, so Audrey and I were the only family representatives underwater this year. After many scuba trips to Mexico with rental equipment that inevitably leaks Audrey and I have become reasonably good on air, so as the other divers in our group ran out of air and had to surface we ended up getting a lot of underwater time to ourselves. We saw sea turtles, fish, corals, and lava caves, but the highlight of the two dives was a giant moray hiding in a crack in the rock – the thing was so massive that as I was swimming over I first wondered what a seal was doing in the rocks, before realizing we were seeing an eel that would be bigger than most sharks if it chose to come out and play.

The recap for the rest of the trip, including the story of how Poseidon God of the Sea sent a magical wave to assist my dad and I in returning our kayak to shore amidst raging seas, will follow shortly in the next journal entry.

Sea Turtle in Kauai

Monk seal Sea turtle resting on the beach in Kauai.

Nene in Kauai

Nene (rhymes with nay-nay), the state bird of Hawaii.

The Month of Many Travels

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:56 am, September 9th, 2016

After several months without much excitement, airport security will be seeing me a lot during September and October:

  • 1-September: After the second of two consecutive work trips to San Antonio my plane returned to LAX Thursday night at about 6PM, leaving ample time to do laundry and re-pack for the next flight about 36 hours later.
  • 3-September: I dragged Audrey to LAX in the morning and we departed for a long weekend in Seattle. After landing we grabbed a rental car, checked-in to our shockingly nice hotel, and then I drove us up to Everett to see airplanes at the Boeing factory. Audrey and I usually try to meet each other halfway in our planning, but in this case she knew better than to suggest alternatives when I told her we’d be spending the afternoon with airplanes. Seeing a factory full of giant jets in various stages of assembly had me basically running around screaming “AIRPLANES AIRPLANES AIRPLANES” for a few hours, and whether it was the impressive sight of the massive machines or the less-impressive sight of her dorky boyfriend having a complete geek-out, Audrey seemed OK with the events. Afterwards, since I’m a lot to deal with under normal circumstances and can only imagine what a handful I must be when I become a grown-up three-year-old, I made sure she got a nice seafood dinner on the water as the sun went down over Puget Sound.
  • 4-September: I haven’t been to Mt. Rainier in more than a decade, so we set off to roam around on a 14,000 foot volcano. Mother Nature conspired to keep the mountain mostly hidden behind clouds, but “Paradise” is not mis-named, and the mountain meadows and marmots made for a pleasant journey, even if I did go all environmental nutjob and yell at a couple of foreigners who either couldn’t read or were ignoring the “don’t walk on the fragile meadow flowers” signs. After a full day of walking up and down the steep slopes of the mountain another nice dinner was again called for, this time at our fancy hotel restaurant.
  • 5-September: The long weekend concluded with a day spent roaming around Seattle, including a tour of the “underground city“, created after the 1889 fire when they rebuilt the city by raising street level about ten feet, entombing the first floors of a 30 block area. The day concluded with a trip up the fourth-tallest building in the world (or at least it was, in 1914), with the journey made in a period brass elevator that had see-through walls and a wide-enough gap between elevator and building to put the word “plummet” front-and-center as you stepped inside. The top of the Smith Tower offered great views from an open-air, wraparound deck, and decent drinks at a speakeasy-style bar. When we finally returned to the hotel, dinner consisted of a shared cheeseburger, since not every night needs a fancy meal.
  • 6-September: Audrey got to sleep in before her flight back to LAX, while I set off bright and early for a flight to Spokane. I work remote the majority of the time, so my first visit to the new Commerce Architects office was a chance to finally meet several employees who I’ve worked with on a daily basis for months but wouldn’t recognize if we were sitting next to each other in the same room. Cost of living in Spokane is significantly less than in California, so the Spokane office (located in a historic building) put the old Berkeley digs to shame, while the hotel I stayed in was on par with some of the nicer LA hotels, but about one-third of the price; with three senior partners living in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Spokane, they clearly made a tremendously sensible choice on where to set up shop.
  • 7-September: The rest of the CA partners arrived to begin two days of company meetings, followed by a team outing consisting of a dozen people on a pedal-powered trolley roaming the streets of Spokane and visiting a couple of local bars. Afterwards the five partners gathered for a super-fancy dinner, something that is apparently a tradition for those rare times when they all get together. My previous lifetime best was four courses in a single meal, and over two-and-a-half hours this dinner beat that record by two. I made it back to the hotel stuffed, tipsy, and happy about my recent career choices.
  • 8-September: Day two of meetings included a team lunch and plenty of administrivia, after which it was time to depart for a 6PM flight back to LA via Seattle.

One week in, September is off to a roaring start. My flight back from Spokane landed at 11PM, I’ll work a nearly-full day today, then after a glorious eighteen hours home it’s back to the airport for the next phase of the month’s adventures. There’s just enough time to do laundry and pack – life has gone from slow to fast, and it should make for a fun month.

Marmot on Mt. Rainier

Marmot demonstrating “extreme napping position” on Mt. Rainier.

Olympics

Posted from Culver City, California at 4:31 pm, September 1st, 2016

The latest Olympic Games are now over, and as always they were a grand spectacle. While Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, and the entirety of the US women’s gymnastics team got the bulk of the headlines (deservedly) in Rio, I was most excited about the runners. In the 1990s I was a mediocre runner in high school and college, and during those years my role models were elite American distance runners who were getting totally obliterated by the Africans at all major competitions, to the point where it was exciting just to see an American distance runner qualify for a final.

In recent years American distance running has experienced a resurgence, and in the Rio Olympics the Americans absolutely killed it, bringing home seven medals, which is more than they’d won at the past four Olmpics combined.

After a generation in which American kids might have believed that the East Africans were literally invincible in distance running, today there’s a small army of Team USA runners to be inspired by. Clayton Murphy, a junior from the University of Akron who two years ago was only the sixth-fastest runner in the Mid-American conference, is now the 800m bronze medalist and owner of the fifth fastest 800m time ever run by an American. Galen Rupp, already the defending silver medalist in the 10,000m from London, earned a bronze medal in only the second marathon he’d ever run in his life. Matt Centrowitz won a surprise gold medal in the 1500m, becoming the first American in 108 years to win that event, and admitted that when he crossed the line he “literally was still looking at the board like, did somebody go by me? Did I really just win?”. Other medalists included Evan Jager in the steeplechase (silver), Paul Chelimo in the 5,000m (silver), Emma Coburn in the steeplechase (bronze), and Jenny Simpson in the 1500m (bronze).

Sport is one of the few opportunities in life to discover your limits, and in almost all cases it turns out that those limits are far greater than anyone believes possible. Every four years the Olympics offer a chance to see that principle on full display, and the Games in Rio, particularly for a former distance runner like myself, were an emphatic affirmation that humans are capable of amazing feats.

Matt Centrowitz

Matt Centrowitz wins the Olympic 1500m. Image from NBC Olympics.

Trump

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 8:37 pm, August 30th, 2016

Donald Trump won the Republican primary with about 14 million votes, and during the general election he will almost certainly get between 50-70 million votes. Among my liberal friends, and also among some of the Republican ones, the question always arises: how could anyone vote for Trump given his divisive rhetoric and the fact that he seems to be obviously selling snake oil (make Mexico pay for a wall, eliminate the debt in ten years, etc, etc). Many who oppose him seem too willing to write off his supporters as racists, or as people who aren’t smart enough to see that they are being misled, but I think that in November the majority of Trump votes will come from people who actually object to him as a candidate, and what’s more I believe that if the situation were reversed, Democrats would do the exact same thing. Here’s my reasoning based on the three groups I believe constitute Trump’s major supporters:

The Believers

First, there are some Trump supporters who believe him when he says he will fix all of the country’s problems. They point to the fact that he’s rich, has appeared on a TV show that ostensibly celebrates his business acumen, and the fact that many prominent figures on the Right tout his abilities. I may view his claims of being able to eliminate the debt in a decade as (literally) mathematically impossible, or think that it’s just dangerous bluster when he repeatedly asserts that “toughness” is the solution to all security problems, but it’s not right to fault people who honestly think he’s capable of delivering on his boasts. I suspect that this group is fairly small, but that it is well-represented at his rallies and thus makes up his most visible and enthusiastic supporters.

The Bad People

Second, there are clearly some people supporting Trump because of some of the nastier elements of his campaign. I refuse to accept that there are a particularly large number of Americans who truly believe that most Mexican immigrants are rapists and thieves, or who think that a judge with Latino heritage can’t perform his duties without bias, but there is undoubtedly a constituency for that sort of rhetoric. I honestly think it’s a very tiny slice of the population, but it’s a group that is also clearly represented at Trump rallies.

The Unhappy Majority

Finally, that leaves millions and millions of people who aren’t racists and who believe Trump is full of crap, but will vote for him anyhow. And this is where I think Democrats would make the same choice, and thus need to consider the very difficult decision most Republicans are facing. For a Republican in this election, opposing Trump means handing the White House to a Democrat, and in the process ensuring that the Supreme Court flips from conservative to liberal and will thus issue hundreds upon hundreds of rulings in the coming decade that conservatives vehemently disagree with. Meanwhile, voting against Trump means Republicans would be giving up the chance to pass their legislative agenda – with control of the Presidency and Congress there would be no obstacle to passing into law all manner of legislation that never had a chance against Obama’s veto pen. If the situation was reversed, and it was (for example) Marco Rubio vs. Kanye West, plenty of Democrats would be willing to accept a divisive, temperamentally unsound, unqualified President rather than empower a court that would rule against their views on climate change, gay rights, gun control, abortion, etc, along with a Congress that would weaken Obamacare, cease action on climate change, eliminate social programs, etc.

About a year ago I published my rules of etiquette for this election, which included a reminder to try to understand those with whom I disagree. Many Democrats are asking how anyone could vote for Trump; I suspect a better way to think about Trump support is to recognize that if the situation were reversed, the decision would not be a simple one. It’s easy to oppose Trump from the opposite side of the ideological spectrum when there is nothing to lose, but much, much harder when taking a stand against a dangerously flawed nominee also means sacrificing tangible and meaningful legislative and judicial achievements. As a result, I think it’s important to bestow a great deal of respect upon people like Senator Jeff Flake, Senator Susan Collins, and all others who have decided to take a stand knowing full well what it will cost them; hopefully in inevitable future disagreements their opponents across the aisle will remember their demonstration of integrity and treat them with the respect that they have earned by making an extra effort to deal in good faith and to meet them part way.

In addition to trying to understand the support for Trump, there is another question about why our politics is so broken that conservatives would vote for a President whom they believe to be potentially disastrous rather than enable a liberal Supreme Court, or why liberals viscerally dread the possibility of conservatives gaining the ability to pass their legislative agenda, but that’s a subject to ponder in a future journal entry. In the mean time, the comments link is there as always for those who have their own thoughts on the current Presidential race, or those who might feel the need to lambast me for daring to assert that The Donald won’t really be able to get Mexico to pony up the estimated $10-25 billion it would take to build a 2000 mile long wall.

Engineering is Awesome

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 11:09 pm, August 29th, 2016

Here’s a round-up of exciting news in the engineering world, which means this is a journal entry that probably only my dad and I will read in full:

  • On August 14th SpaceX landed its sixth rocket (two on land, four on a barge at sea), making this amazing feat of engineering seem almost ordinary. Even better, the first rocket that they ever landed is now on display at their headquarters down the road in Hawthorne, so Audrey and I got to visit it this past weekend, and can do so again anytime I need a spaceship in my life (i.e. a lot). Supposedly they will be launching the initial flight of their Falcon Heavy rocket, the most powerful rocket to take to the skies since the Apollo era, before the end of the year. SpaceX also claims to be on schedule with their manned program, so people may be regularly going to space in a non-Russian rocket again starting next year. Finally, they are going to announce details about their BFR (yes, it stands for what you think it stands for) for traveling to Mars in the coming months. We live in the best time in history.
  • Tesla just announced an upgrade to the Model-S that they have dubbed the P100D. The new model goes 0-60 in 2.5 seconds, travels 315 miles on a charge, and costs more than the combined price of six Subarus. Luckily, the trickle-down effect ensures that their less expensive cars will eventually inherit much of this new technology, so those of us who don’t want to take out a second mortgage to buy an electric car won’t have to do so. Additionally, they continue to claim that the Model-3 is on schedule for deliveries in late 2017, the ginormous Gigafactory, while still only a fraction of its eventual size, is already being used to produce battery packs, and all-in-all Tesla remains the coolest car/energy/battery company that has ever existed. Did I mention that we live in the best time in history?
  • In non-Elon Musk news, Boeing’s new 737-MAX airplane is well into its test flight schedule and might actually be ready to deliver earlier than planned; the new plane was originally scheduled to begin service with Southwest in the third quarter of 2017, but it looks like it will be delivered several months sooner. Given the fact that the 737 is the most common passenger plane in the air today, the majority of air travelers will soon enjoy quieter, more comfortable, and more efficient air travel. Planes aren’t as awesome as spaceships (what is?) but they occupy an exclusive level of coolness that is shared with few other human endeavors.
  • Locally, the much-maligned California High Speed Rail project is actually under construction, with bridges, viaducts and other structures being built near Fresno. The project thus far is a great idea that has spawned a series of ever-more-dismaying disappointments, but even with its problems it now seems highly likely that in 10-25 years it will actually be completed, after which Californians will probably wonder why anyone would have opposed such a valuable piece of infrastructure. And for the record, high speed trains occupy a similar realm of coolness as airplanes.

There’s obviously lots of other excitement going on in the engineering world, but I like spaceships and planes and trains and batteries, so that’s what goes in the journal. If you’ve read this far and are lamenting the lack of stories about animals attacking me in the Antarctic or mornings spent thawing boots after a frigid night sleeping in the back of a Subaru, the coming months will have a bit of travel in them, so give it another few weeks before you decide to delete your bookmark.

Full webcast of the launch and landing of the SpaceX JCSAT-16 mission on August 14, because no one should ever get tired of seeing a spaceship land on a boat.

What happens in July stays in July

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:10 pm, July 31st, 2016

July 2016 hasn’t had a ton of excitement in it, so here’s a look back at this month in years past.

  • July 2015 – This time last year the New Horizons spacecraft was zooming by Pluto, sending back some mind-boggling photos of the farthest object humans have visited in our solar system.
  • July 2014 – In 2014 I spent the first half of July roaming around Turkey, and by the end of the month was starting on a two week safari in Tanzania. 2014 alone provided enough great July memories to ensure that I will never be able to complain about any slow years.
  • July 2008 – I dragged the Skipper halfway around the world on a trip to Iceland to see puffins and glaciers and geysers. How Iceland isn’t a more popular destination for nature travelers is a mystery – I’d go back in a second.
  • July 2002 – The month this journal was born was the month that the Great Alaskan adventure kicked off. It’s rare that you have an experience that you know will change your life, and I was insanely lucky to get to spend a full three months on a journey with full awareness that it would become a defining moment in life.

African elephants at Ndutu

July 2014. Elephants are one of many reasons why the world is awesome.

Puffin

July 2008. Puffins are proof that God has a sense of humor.

July Happened

Posted from United Airlines Flight 6009 at 4:55 pm, July 27th, 2016

For those wondering what’s new since last time:

  • Earlier this month Audrey & I spent a weekend in San Francisco to celebrate her friend’s wedding. The night before the wedding we went to an incredibly fancy dim sum place and were joined by Aaron, who had been at Lake Tahoe earlier and nonchalantly enjoyed the posh surroundings while wearing a swimsuit and flip-flops. The following day we attended the first combination wedding / improv comedy show that I’ve ever been to, an event which included musical numbers, vows that made everyone cry, and comedy skits; rarely is San Francisco boring. On our last day the Skipper met us for a trip to see the bugs & fishes at the California Academy of Sciences, after which we blew his mind by showing him how Uber works (in fairness, I used Uber for the first time on the same trip, and it is magical).
  • After many years of incredibly solid management, Commerce Architects made the first truly questionable decision that I’ve seen them make when they offered me the opportunity to join them as a junior partner. My career continues to mirror that of Forrest Gump, as I have been successful primarily by blankly staring at someone and then saying “OK”; also, like Forrest, I’ve been lucky with occasional investments in fruit companies.
  • The rats in the attic are still winning. I’m confident we’re going to eventually prevail and will then get to enjoy a rat-free attic, but like many epic conflicts throughout history, I have vastly underestimated my opponent and my resolve has been tested to the point where I’m fairly certain that the enemy is mostly just continuing the fight in order to mock me.
  • While I am battling rats and spending my hours building grocery store websites, Audrey is spending some of her time with the Threshold Choir and will be helping ease the pain of dying people by singing to them; clearly any good karma I experience in this life is merely bits that were directed at her but instead hit the bald guy by her side.

The World is Actually Awesome

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:27 pm, July 24th, 2016

Without delving too much into politics, a candidate recently gave an important speech that painted a pretty grim picture of today’s world (*cough* Trump did it *cough*). Particularly during political campaigns, the focus seems always to turn to what is wrong with the world, causing everyone to get depressed and thus forget about the miracles all around us. So for anyone feeling pessimistic, here are just three reminders of why the present is actually the best time in the history of mankind:

  • Safety Despite the headlines you see in the news, you should feel safer than in the past. During World War I 17 million people were killed. During World War II that number was 50-80 million deaths. After those wars, the Cold War saw America and the USSR pointing massive nuclear arsenals at one another, with the potential to obliterate cities and send the rest of the planet into a deadly nuclear winter. Today terrorists kill or maim far too many people, and while the impact of that violence is horrible, the reality is that these tragedies are on a scale of thousands in a world populated by billions, with nearly all of that carnage taking place far away from the day-to-day realities most of us inhabit.
  • Quality of Life We’re healthier than we’ve been. In the USA in 1900, average life expectancy was 47. By 1960 that number was 70. Today it’s 79. What’s more, medical technology means we’re living more productive lives. To cite just three examples, 1) I tore my meniscus and rather than limping for the rest of my life I went to the hospital where a doctor put tiny cameras into my knee and proceeded to fix the tear. 2) My dad’s hip deteriorated due to years of wear and tear, and now he has a magical new titanium hip. 3) No one gets polio, the measles, or smallpox anymore. Furthermore, medical technology is continuing to improve at phenomenal rates – in the next few decades we may live in a world where Alzheimer’s has been cured, stem cells can repair nervous system damage, and cancer is nearly always survivable.
  • Standard of Living Our lives are less difficult than they’ve ever been. In addition to advances in medical technology mentioned above, today anyone can have a cell phone that gives them access to all of the world’s knowledge – in Africa I saw a Masai warrior wearing shoes made from tires, holding a homemade spear, and talking on his cell phone as he herded cattle across the plains of Africa. Everyone in America has access to safe drinking water, electricity, public schools and hospitals. Airplanes can take you to any corner of the world in a matter of hours while cars are getting safer and in some cases can now even drive themselves. Power generation is becoming much cleaner, replacing dirty smokestacks with renewable sources. Farms now produce vastly more food on less land while using fewer resources. Wherever you look, technology is making life more efficient and safer, and the trend seems to only be accelerating.

There are obviously plenty of issues that need to be addressed better in today’s world – the economy, race, guns, immigration, etc, etc – but there are surprisingly few problems that are worse today than in the past, and anyone describing the present in terms of bleak despair is most definitely selling a fallacy. For those feeling pessimistic, remember that we live in a healthier, safer, more amazing world than any that has ever existed, and there is every reason to believe that things will be even better in the years to come than they are today.

Louis CK makes the case that everything is amazing far better than I can.

When I Grow Up

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:40 pm, June 30th, 2016

monster.com ran a Super Bowl ad in 1999 that I still remember vividly. It featured a bunch of kids making statements starting with “When I grow up”. The image of the second kid in particular is one that has replayed a few thousand times in my head. The camera zooms in close on a boy who is maybe eight years old. He has a bowl cut, just like I rocked for the first decade of my life, and he looks like a tiny badass. He stares directly into the camera, and with a mix of disdain and bravado spits out the words “When I grow up, I wanna claw my way up to middle management”.

I came out of college, spent a summer roaming Europe and driving across America, and then went to work for Andersen Consulting (which became Accenture after a split with its sister company Arthur Andersen). I worked insane hours at jobs all around the world, met impossible deadlines, solved problems that someone fresh out of college had no business solving, and learned a TON; I’m still grateful for that experience, which was an incredible opportunity. Unfortunately, after four years of going non-stop I was burned out, bitter, and life had turned into more of a slog than a journey. So I quit, got in my car, and drove to Alaska in an effort to try and figure things out. It was an amazing experience, but three months later when I came back I was faced with the inevitable “what now?” decision.

The last fourteen years of this journal tells the story of the decision I made. While I’ve had the opportunities for many amazing adventures, and gone long stretches where I was free to pursue passions, the majority of those years have been spent doing very similar work to what I was doing prior to the Alaska trip, albeit with more reasonable hours and far more knowledge. Lest anyone misunderstand, I don’t regret that decision. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I love what I do, my work is generally really interesting, I get a ton of flexibility, it provides me the means to do some amazing things, and I still get to take long, epic journeys around the world. That said, like most people who do the same job month after month, that image of the kid staring at the camera, and the words “I wanna claw my way up to middle management”, still hits a nerve, and I sometimes wonder how life might have been different if I hadn’t mailed my resume to Warner Brothers back in 2002, but instead sent it to someone like the National Park Service, or maybe just decided not to send it out at all.

The Holliday Economic Platform

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:05 pm, June 28th, 2016

The 2016 election season has been going on for what feels like decades, and somehow still has four long months remaining. I’m not running, and would face a merciless beating that would make me cry if I did run, but if I were in the race then here are four straightforward proposals to improve the economic outlook of this country that I would campaign on:

  1. America’s infrastructure grade is a D+ with an estimated $3.6 trillion backlog of investments needed. Since the middle class would disproportionately benefit from infrastructure jobs, and solid infrastructure provides huge benefits to the economy as a whole, fixing and improving existing infrastructure seems the most obvious way to benefit the largest number of people. Spending on infrastructure supports jobs, improves efficiency for everyone who uses the infrastructure, and saves money in the long run – as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Also, to this engineer, infrastructure is super cool – I like bridges and water mains and the electrical grid. The current federal budget allots around $100 billion annually for infrastructure, so I’d propose doubling that for the foreseeable future, which still wouldn’t even come close to dealing with the current maintenance backlog. Since the US currently gets far less bang for its buck than other countries due to red tape and other issues, I’d also require that spending be allocated to reward the best-managed projects, encouraging fixed-cost contracts, fast-tracking projects where appropriate, and giving preference to projects that have local dollars behind them already.
  2. To pay for this infrastructure spending, and in the process ensure that no one would vote for me, I would propose increasing the gas tax (which hasn’t been raised since 1993). Raising the tax by five cents per year over the next two years would move it from the current level of 18.4 cents per gallon to 28.4 cents per gallon, after which it should be automatically increased each year based on the inflation rate. Currently the gas tax brings in about $34 billion per year, so this move would increase that amount to $52 billion. I’d augment that with a one percent levy on new vehicles, since as vehicles become more fuel efficient the gas tax is a less accurate way of ensuring that those using the road pay their fair share. Given that there were $570 billion in new car sales in 2015, plus a similar amount for commercial vehicles, this levy would raise about $11 billion annually. That gets about $30 billion of the $100 billion needed, and when you factor in the stimulus effect of increased infrastructure spending (project workers pay taxes on their earnings, etc), and the fact that fixing things now saves money down the road, you could probably add another $5-10 billion, but additional revenue would still be needed, so…
  3. Raise the capital gains tax rate from 20% to 25%, which should produce about $40 billion in additional annual revenue. Currently it seems fundamentally unfair that someone working forty hours a week is paying a significantly higher tax rate compared to someone who primarily makes their money from investments. That still leaves a gap in the revenue needed to pay for the increased infrastructure spending, so to close it and also ensure that opposition to my election would be as energized as possible I would propose phasing out the mortgage interest deduction, but doing so over the next 20 years to avoid causing financial distress to current homeowners. The current cost of that deduction is $70 billion per year, with most of the money going to people who don’t really need it. Furthermore, it’s a deduction that doesn’t make a lot of sense – why should the government provide a deduction to homeowners but not renters? And before anyone screams that these proposals are just soaking the rich, I currently benefit from both the capital gains rate and the mortgage interest deduction and nevertheless think they are bad policy.
  4. The above proposals actually generate about $35-45 billion more than is needed to cover the increased spending on infrastructure, so if I’m extrapolating the tax revenues correctly, some of the pain from the loss of the mortgage interest deduction and the increased gas tax could be offset by using the leftover revenue to phase-in middle class tax cuts of 1-3% for single filers making less than $91,150 or joint filers making less than $151,900, thus reducing the current 10-25% tax brackets down to 7-22%; no reductions would be made to higher tax brackets.

I realize that, while everyone gets to enjoy better infrastructure, the above proposals would mostly benefit the middle class at the expense of the rich. I don’t in any way think that’s a bad thing – I would personally pay more taxes under these proposals and would be OK with doing so since a strong middle class improves the economy for everyone. More importantly, from the standpoint of fairness, economic benefits have disproportionately benefited the wealthy over the past thirty years, so a correction is overdue in a country where many households are currently forced to choose between fixing the family car or sending their kid to summer camp.

I won’t be running for office anytime in the foreseeable future, and if I made proposals like those above they would be guaranteed losers, but for a journal entry it’s a fun subject to think about and put forward for discussion.