Moving Pictures

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

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

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

Chumming the Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donkeys on the Road

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

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

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

Virgin Gorda Sunset

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

Iguana

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

Flamingo

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

Bonaire

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

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

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

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

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

Across the Universe

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

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

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

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

Ditto

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

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

A Little Bit o’ Everything Nice

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

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

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

Day of Three Cakes

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

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

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

The Baths

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

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

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

Happy-Arrrr

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

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

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

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

Under the Sea

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

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

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

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

My seat had a bed

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

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

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

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

The Seat Bed

The seat bed. We live in the future.

2016 Predictions

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

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

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

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

Looking Back at the Look Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  13. Apple is going to announce a television.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holliday Recap

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

Here’s the final recap of 2015:

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

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

Holliday Family Christmas

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

There and Back Again

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

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

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

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

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

Former Glory

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:59 pm, November 29th, 2015

In elementary school I was picked last at recess for everything: I was the smart kid without coordination who would watch others kick the kickball to the edge of the schoolyard, then when it was my turn I’d rush at the bouncing ball hoping for the best, only to kick it just far enough that I might make it to first base before being thrown out. By the time I graduated from high school, however, a member of the yearbook staff remarked that she was sick of seeing my name while tallying votes for “most likely to win a gold medal”.

The transition started in the fifth grade with the Ludlow Elementary School mini-marathon. This “marathon” consisted of a bunch of elementary school children running around the block, but at each of the practice runs the kid who was always picked last somehow managed to beat everyone except for one older boy. When the actual race day came around, that older boy sprinted out ahead, but two-thirds of the way through the race he was bent over throwing up and I crossed the finish line first. In middle school I was the school’s top runner both years, winning the conference mile championship as an eighth grader, and in high school I set the school’s cross-country record and made All-State as a junior.

I’m writing about these things in the journal not (solely) in some sad attempt to relive high school glory days, but because after 23 years my name was finally bumped from the record book when Justyn Moore became the first runner in Shaker Heights High School history to break sixteen minutes in the 5K, running 15:58 at the state championships three weeks ago. I won’t pretend I wasn’t a little sad at seeing one of the only chronicles of my high school days wiped away, but it’s also pretty cool to see someone from the alma mater running fast. From what I can tell Justyn is better at track than he is at cross-country – his track times are much faster than mine ever were – so I’m actually excited to see what else he might do in the Spring. Also, I still hold the record for fastest cross-country time by a junior, so my name hasn’t been entirely erased from history just yet :-)

Ludlow Mini-Marathon

Thanksgiving Recap

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:55 pm, November 28th, 2015

Thanksgiving has always been a big deal for the Holliday family – in 2000 I was working in Singapore, but embarked on the 17 hour one-way flight just to be home for two days during the holiday. Since then the Thanksgiving travel has been less extreme, but no matter what it takes everyone still sits down in front of a giant turkey that my mom will inevitably say will be too dry or too overdone – this year’s bird somehow ended up cooking upside-down, which my mom was convinced would ruin it; it was delicious, as always.

The 2015 Thanksgiving odyssey started out Wednesday before noon when I finished up a half day of work and Audrey and I attempted to beat LA traffic. “Beating” LA traffic is an impossibility, but it wasn’t quite the nightmare that it could have been and we only sat in traffic jams for about thirty minutes before we were out of the city’s boundaries. Our lunch stop in the Central Valley was crowded beyond belief – the line was around the counter, past the door, and through the eating area – so plan B ended up being Subway and a few bags of trail mix from the gas station convenience store. Many more miles of driving took us to Harris Ranch, site of the “salt pie” of Thanksgiving 2011 fame. After seven-and-a-half total hours of driving, including a detour along a curvy road in the hills above Livermore, our journey finally ended in Concord with Audrey slightly carsick but otherwise unharmed.

The following day on Thanksgiving morning, Aaron and I headed off for a hike on Mount Diablo, and he won the animal-spotting contest by finding a very seasonal flock of wild turkeys eating someone’s yard near our trailhead. The jaunt through the woods was followed by a day of much lounging, a delicious meal of much gluttony, and finally a card game that involved much losing on my part. Post-Thanksgiving we joined Ma & Pa for breakfast, made a brief visit to the Cosumnes River Preserve, and then visited Aaron’s new place in Sacramento before spending an evening out in downtown Sacramento and a night in a downtown hotel. Today we braved traffic back home – the seven hour return trip was long, but nothing compared to a flight from halfway around the world. With any luck next year will be much the same, and the Holliday family Thanksgiving tradition will continue.

Child Scaring

Posted from Culver City, California at 11:02 am, November 22nd, 2015

Our fourth Halloween child scaring event at the new house saw Ma & Pa Holliday make the trek down to Los Angeles to join in the frightening. Audrey’s mom also showed up, and she unveiled a wicked cackle during the evening’s festivities. Before the night ended my dad, dressed as an insane clown, was telling stories of how he ran out of the fog on all fours at a group kids, barking like a dog, “scaring the bejesus out of them”, so all was well.

For those who want to know more, Audrey has a Scare the Children Facebook page with a more complete description of the evening’s shenanigans, as well as an account of how many children actually crossed the street to avoid being within 100 feet of our house.

Scare the Children 2015

Scare the Children 2015, before it got dark and we turned on the fog machines and lights.

Scary Clown, Scare the Children 2015

For some reason everyone seems to remember the clown.

Holliday Family, Scare the Children 2015

Pa didn’t seem enthusiastic about Scare the Children until we told him we were going to dress him up as a scary clown and give him chains that he could bang into gates, to which he replied “Really? That sounds kind of cool”. Ma gets excited about everything and enthusiastically donned a purple mask and took on the job of giving out candy.

Jocelyn, Scare the Children 2015

For 364 days each year Jocelyn is an incredibly kind-hearted musician and children’s author, but every Halloween we paint her white and put her in a coffin.

13 Years of Journals

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:21 am, October 31st, 2015

This journal started slightly more than 13 years ago as a way to relay my adventures back to friends while I spent three months traveling through Alaska and Northern Canada. When that trip ended I wasn’t quite sure whether or not to continue writing, but decided to keep going and see how things went. Over the years the journal has been a useful way for me to record travel adventures, share photos, and capture random thoughts that seemed like they might be worth revisiting in a few years’ time.

In today’s world where social media is the primary tool for keeping friends informed of life’s events, an online journal is less useful for recording daily adventures and instead seems like a bit of a platform for egotism – it’s somewhat presumptuous to ramble on several times a month as if what I was writing had any special merit. That said, these entries have merit to me. While I’ve posted things that made me cringe a bit at the thought that they were out there for the world to see, I’m still glad to have posted them. There is no doubt that some of my ramblings cause people to roll their eyes, but writing them helps me think through issues more completely, and trying to convey things clearly for public consumption forces me to examine those issues in ways that I might not otherwise have done.

I’ve got no idea how long I’ll keep this journal going, or if at some point I’ll perhaps drop the three-entries-a-month goal and just use it to document travels. For now, however, I’m glad to have a way to share adventures and to record thoughts that can then be revisited in the future. And for those times when life isn’t exciting and there aren’t adventures to share, it still seems like a worthwhile mental exercise to pick a random topic of interest and then think it through, trying to put thoughts into words in my own fumbling way.

Denali from Reflection Pond

My favorite picture taken during the trip that was the reason for this journal’s creation. Photo from a really good day taken at Reflection Pond in Denali National Park.

Compromise is Not a Four-Letter Word

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:20 pm, October 29th, 2015
Compromise
an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.

As I write this, GOP Presidential hopefuls are railing against the latest budget agreement, stating that “Republicans have made with this president… a rotten to the core deal“. By a margin of 62-37, Republicans say that they want someone who will stick to their principles rather than compromise with Obama (the numbers are reversed for Democrats, with 60 percent favoring compromise). The recent search for a new Speaker of the House briefly descended into chaos due to the fact that there was no suitable candidate for a job that requires finding solutions that the President won’t veto when a significant portion of the Republican caucus views working with that President as betrayal.

The United States is a large and diverse country with a population that seldom agrees, so the job of legislator requires someone who is good at finding mutually agreeable solutions with those who hold different ideological views in order to get things done. Note that this does not mean surrendering one’s principles, but instead means making acceptable concessions in order to make progress. From the very beginning, the process of governing has been notable as a process of compromise – the Constitution is perhaps the finest example of compromise in the nation’s history. Any politician thinking that he can simply plant his feet in the ground and eventually get anything done in the US system of government is either unfit for the job or willfully refusing to govern.

While the previously-mentioned poll makes clear that the demonization of compromise is much, much more pronounced among conservatives, Democrats also fall into this trap. The response to the increase in mass shootings is a useful case study – liberals almost universally called for gun restrictions, but almost nowhere in the media, my social network feeds, or elsewhere did anyone propose anything to reassure existing gun owners that their rights would not be infringed. While gun control is an issue where getting anything done is nearly impossible, demanding action without simultaneously working to gain the support of those who might not fully share your position is a sure way to guarantee that nothing will get accomplished.

One of the things I love about America is that this country’s potential seems limitless – if we could actually agree on things, I have no doubts that we could eliminate the national debt, cure cancer, or do just about anything we set our minds to. Sadly, while we have the potential for greatness, we seem to fall short the majority of the time. In the coming election season, keep an eye out for candidates who speak to the country as a whole rather than just factions within it, and who avoid casting aspersions on those with whom they hold differences. When we can agree without being disagreeable, and work together to find mutually beneficial solutions, the future is far brighter. Today’s climate of “my way or the highway” will only end when voters reward those who seek out win-win solutions, and legislators again begin treating the other party as colleagues with differing opinions instead of combatants to be vanquished.

Month in Recap

Posted from Culver City, California at 11:19 am, October 25th, 2015

Here’s the summary of all of the excitement from the past month:

  • Three weeks ago I drove up to the Bay Area to bring Audrey home after eight months. We made a quick visit to see Ma & Pa, had a night out with her co-workers and friends, and then the Subaru was packed to the gills to haul her stuff back to Culver City.
  • On her first weekend home we went to Ojai for a friend’s wedding. The bride was originally from Bangladesh, so night one of the wedding was celebrated Indian-style, with guests wearing loaned Indian attire, traditional dancing, and washing of the hands with milk, which sounds gross but is only kind of gross. The next night was semi-traditional: the bride wore an American wedding dress and the groom wore a tuxedo, but he also came down the aisle in a pair of Converse while the guitarist played Metallica. Definitely a fun time and one of the more original weddings I’ve ever attended.
  • The following week I flew to Texas for work, and since the temperature has dropped from insanely hot to uncomfortably warm I decided that this was as good of a time as any to stay for the weekend and do some exploring. The tiny town of Lockhart, an hour northeast of San Antonio, is supposedly the mecca for barbecue, so I visited Kreuz’s Market, a business representing half of a family dispute that national media dubbed the “barbefeud“. Apparently the question of whether barbecued meat should have sauce on it is a matter that can lead to fist fights, and while I thought the meat at this particular establishment was perhaps the best prepared barbecue I’ve ever had, I learned that I am clearly a member of the pro-sauce contingent. The weekend’s other activities included a trip to the LBJ Presidential library, a trip to the Texas Capitol to view portraits of early legislators and their insanely creative facial hair, and some time spent roaming around Austin’s 6th street, where it seemed like every other bar had a live band. The next day I headed off towards the town of Marble Falls thinking that a waterfall traversing a marble canyon sounded like a sight worth seeing, only to learn that in true Texas style the falls now lie at the bottom of a reservoir.

The coming weeks are reserved for Audrey’s annual Scare-the-Children Halloween extravaganza, so expect a future journal entry detailing exactly how many children lost control of bodily functions while seeking out candy at our abode.

This time last year…

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:04 pm, September 30th, 2015

It seems like longer than fourteen months since the days were filled with colorful kingfishers and tiny deer.

Grey-headed kingfisher at Lake Manyara

Grey-headed kingfisher at Lake Manyara in Tanzania.

Klipspringer in Serengeti National Park

Greater kudu in Samburu Game Reserve

Trains that go fast

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:24 pm, September 29th, 2015

I wrote the following about the California High Speed Rail project 18 months ago:

Caveat: high speed rail is something that should absolutely be built to connect America’s cities, as is done throughout the rest of the world. However, the $68 billion California high speed rail project has missed every deadline so far and has no viable solution for moving forward. I don’t envy the people trying to make it work – they are saddled with a set of difficult and often conflicting constraints that are set by law, a political environment in which financing is uncertain, and everyone from Congress members to farmers trying to use whatever legal options are available to delay or kill the project – but more than five years after approval there is absolutely no excuse for not having a workable plan.

Since I wrote the above there have been a few positive developments:

  • California has budgeted 25% of all cap and trade funds to high speed rail, amounting to $750 million in 2015 and likely increasing in future years, so the project now has a not-insignificant portion of its funding. Whether devoting such a large percentage of cap and trade revenue to high speed rail is the best use of the funds is highly debatable, but viewed solely from the standpoint of the rail project it is a positive development.
  • Construction has started in the Central Valley, and even if the project somehow fails to be completed the initial work will still offer safety and traffic benefits via grade separation of existing rail lines.
  • Nearly a decade after the project was conceived, Caltrain and high-speed rail finally seem to be doing some coordination on development in the Peninsula with Caltrain announcing plans to standardize the height of their boarding platforms with high speed rail.
  • There has been discussion about expediting the Palmdale to Burbank section of high speed rail, which could be operated on its own to reduce commute times in LA from ninety minutes down to twenty. While the Bay Area and the Central Valley are fighting high-speed rail, Southern California has so far been enthusiastic about the potential for improved transit options.
  • Of the two segments of the network that have been bid out for construction, both have come in under the projected budget. The first segment, 30 miles from Madera to Fresno, was estimated to cost $1.2-1.5 billion but was bid for $985 million. The second segment, 65 miles from Fresno south, was estimated to cost $1.5-2 billion, but was bid for $1.36 billion.

Despite the positive developments there remain an enormous number of reasons for concern:

  • In its first real chance to prove that it can get things done now that construction is starting, the rail authority is already one year behind its own schedule for acquiring land in the initial segment that is currently being built.
  • The rail agency is still sticking with cost estimates that are almost certainly unrealistic. While the two segments in the Central Valley came in under budget, building a route through the mountains and across active seismic faults, as well as through the densely populated Bay Area and Los Angeles area, will most definitely be difficult and expensive, and that cost and difficulty will only be increased by the ongoing delays.
  • In the Bay, Caltrain and high-speed rail will share the same corridor, but the two have barely coordinated. Caltrain is spending $231 million on a train control system that is incompatible with high-speed rail, is spending over $1 billion to electrify just 51 miles of rail and doing so without fully coordinating with the high speed rail project, and until recently was considering buying new trains with doors at a different height than the high speed rail trains, meaning platforms could not be shared. Both projects would save MASSIVE amounts of time and money if they would just work together, but for whatever reason they repeatedly fail to do so.
  • High speed rail has unfortunately become a political issue, with all Republicans now expected to state their opposition to anything that resembles a high-speed train, no matter what its merits may be. There would be tremendous benefit in having critical yet rational oversight of California’s rail project, but politicizing things unfortunately has the effect of causing one side to promote the project and gloss over its faults, while the other promises to kill it at the first opportunity despite its obvious benefits.
  • There is still NIMBY opposition to high speed rail from wealthy Bay Area communities like Palo Alto that at worst could kill the project, and at best will result in compromises that will harm the system as a whole. The Peninsula is perhaps the most important segment in the entire route, and sadly is also by far the most troubled and least advanced.

I hope that this project is eventually built, but I’m far less enthusiastic than I once was due to the poor management that has characterized things so far. In my own community I’ve watched millions of dollars disappear into legal fees as Beverly Hills fought a much-needed subway for no reason that anyone can understand, and I’ve watched my own neighbors fight changes to make flights into LAX more efficient solely because some areas might occasionally get slightly louder plane noise; neither of those situations inspire confidence that a questionable management team will be able to quell the opposition to the much larger and more complex rail project sufficiently to allow the project to be a success. That said, it’s worth remembering that nearly every major infrastructure project, whether the Golden Gate bridge or the interstate highway system, was loudly opposed by some of the populace, but once built the opposition disappeared as the benefits became obvious. With luck, in another 20 years we’ll be riding the train to San Francisco and wondering how anyone could have ever opposed such a useful transit option.

This video will be much more awesome when it isn’t CGI.

Ryan’s Rules of Etiquette

Posted from 30,000 feet over Texas at 6:15 pm, September 23rd, 2015

With the 2016 Presidential election season already in full swing it seems like everyone has opinions they want to shout at everyone else, be it on cable news, on Facebook, or elsewhere. That got me thinking about guidelines for keeping things civil during the thirteen-plus months until the elections, and I came up with the following, most of which aren’t specific to political discourse. Please call me out if I fail to follow any of these on this journal or elsewhere, and please suggest others that might be useful:

  1. Recognize the difference between a debate and an argument, and avoid the latter.
  2. Never ignore or dismiss facts that conflict with your preferred position.
  3. Don’t complain about what’s wrong without also suggesting a way to fix it.
  4. Make an effort to understand those you disagree with. Make an effort to be critical of those you agree with.
  5. A solution where both sides win is infinitely better than a solution where one side loses.
  6. Always consider the possibility that you might be wrong and that those you disagree with might be right.
  7. Remember that politics is not the same thing as government.