2006 definitely had its share of memorable adventures – here’s hoping that everyone else has similarly fond memories, and best wishes in 2007.
Archive for 2006
The Great Retirement of 2005-2006 came to an end three weeks ago after nearly thirteen months (new record!) and these days I find myself slaving away to make Direct TV’s web site run smoothly and look pretty. Despite no longer being able to control my own schedule, there are some definite upsides:
Happy holidays to everyone, especially those poor schmucks buried under a mile of snow in Denver!
This year’s Turkey Bowl ended with a collision that was described as sounding “like two pumpkins smashing together”, and while I didn’t make the tackle I stumbled to my feet before Miner did, so I’d like to believe I won the battle. The epic three hour football marathon was the longest in history, with everyone involved in considerable pain the next day.
Other Thanksgiving highlights included Skip’s joy at discovering Aaron had set up an eight foot tall inflatable Santa in the front yard, the eleven hour drive home (traffic is awesome), and some atomic wedgie action that is probably better forgotten.
The latest retirement will be coming to an end on Monday after more than a year, the Browns are not very good, and JAMWiki is cruising along. Also, this story is super-cool, and this video is inspiring for anyone who has ever felt dumb.
This is a really good deal: for anyone else out there with a DVD addiction (Lost is evil), Deep Discount DVD, already one of the lowest-priced DVD sites, is now offering 20% off of all DVDs with free shipping through November 18 (as pointed out on the DVD Talk forums). Pick your DVDs, and then enter the code “DVDTALK” at checkout to get the discount.
Lost is very addictive; Aaron and I finished season one last night, just five days after Audrey gave it to me.
And for the first time in a long time, an election made me happy.
This is the first year since 2002 that I’m not going to be in Antarctica during the Winter, and I’m going through a bit of withdrawal. Reading through my journal entry from this day two years ago, however, makes the withdrawal a bit easier to bear:
Even with the threat of hideous seasickness it would be nice to be heading back again.
So it costs $83 to go to Disneyland. That’s a lot. It’s a magical place and all, but $83 is not cheap; Mickey and Minnie definitely aren’t eating ramen noodles for dinner.
Costs aside, the Goob, the Sandra and I had fun on Sunday. We took the scenic route down to Anaheim (actually past Anaheim, back through Anaheim, and then back to Anaheim again) but arrived at the park before the crowds were too insane. A little Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain later and all was well. We then headed over to the California Adventure part of the park, where the Tower of Terror sent my anxiety factor shooting skywards – I’m a total wuss when it comes to rides involving steep drops. To entertain ourselves in line we played “who’s the weirdest dude here”, and quickly found our winner, dubbed Freaky Frank. And of course, when they sat us down to go on the ride, Frank and I were sharing armrests; having anxiety AND having a weirdo staring at you are a great combination when you’re about to be dropped twelve stories.
The day concluded at Big Thunder Mountain, which conveniently broke down as we were about to get on. The timing was actually pretty good, as we were all pretty tired and being stuck on a ride with animatronic squirrels for an hour probably would have reduced the magic factor somewhat. And speaking of magic factor, yeah, I high-fived Goofy.
As Vegas is wont to do, my winnings of day one turned into losings on day two, but it was still a fun trip – there was a midget on a bar pouring shots, after all. Life has since returned to normal, with the Browns losing, JAMWiki progressing, and many fewer midgets around to pour shots. We saw Audrey’s friend Shark (yes, that’s his name) at a show a while back, which was all good. The government here is more insane than I suspected they could be, the weather is nice again, and did I mention that the Browns are losing? Life goes on as usual.
Lest it get lost from memory, in the last journal entry I forgot to mention the outing Audrey set up to go see a performance of Carmina Burana at the Hollywood Bowl. I know nothing about the music, but apparently it’s a famous piece and everyone has heard parts of it in movies at some point (trust me, you have). Anyhow, given the joy that is Los Angeles traffic we decided to meet Greg and Bronwyn in downtown Culver City to catch a shuttle bus to the Bowl. As we left to meet them I realized that I was having discussions with my stomach about a vanilla latte I’d consumed twenty minutes earlier. Unhappy with the state of discussions, my stomach sent a few gallons of cold sweat up to my head about fifteen minutes into the bus ride, and my head returned the favor by draining of all blood. By this point Audrey was searching through our picnic dinner for a bag to give me, but we arrived at the Bowl without incident. Once there I calmly followed the group to our seats, dropped off my jacket, and then headed to the men’s room to lose my latte. After that the concert was fairly awesome, and ended with fireworks and massive flame towers that I swear raised the outside air temperature several degrees throughout the Bowl.
And that was all of the excitement in my life until Friday. Aaron called to find out if I wanted to drive with him to Vegas – he was going for a bachelor party, and his driving buddy had bailed. The catch was that I had to find my own lodging, and that we wouldn’t be able to hang out together until Sunday; not a problem – I’m admittedly cheap, so rather than shelling out $100 for a crappy room I figured I’d just crash for the night in the Suby.
So I picked up Aaron, we had a fun drive here, and then I dropped him off at the Luxor and headed over to the less-pricey end of the Strip to see if I could find a $5 Let-It-Ride table. Six hours later with $20 of winnings in my pocket and having seen a three-foot-tall man dressed as a leprechaun running up and down a bar pouring shots I headed out of town to a spot I’d parked at for the night on a previous trip. Unbeknownst to me, however, Nascar was in town, so my nice quiet exit twenty miles outside of town was filled with hundreds of cars leaving the Las Vegas speedway. Luckily five miles later the next exit had only a few semis that were parked for the evening, and I slept like a baby until the sun woke me up at 7:00.
Life over the past two weeks:
Labor Day Weekend
The somewhat delayed Sixth Annual Meat Massacre took place at Ma & Pa’s residence, with this year’s total weighing in at thiry-three pounds. Despite the charcoal grill, an abbreviated home run derby, and underestimating the number of guests the event again went off pretty well. We even managed to get super-smart folks like JB and Gene to focus their mental energies on figuring out whether a rodeo bull could beat a rhino, or an elephant standing in four feet of water could best a great white shark. And much meat was consumed. Even the old neighbors from Cleveland made a visit, so the event was definitely a good one.
Post-Labor Day Weekend
Bellies full, Audrey and I set off in the Son-of-Suby for Yosemite. I figured it would be easiest to camp in the Valley, so we set up the tent in the backpacker camp (Camp IV) and I was soon sleeping soundly. Unfortunately Audrey wasn’t quite at home in a tent, and spent most of the night playing “bear or neighbor?” with the sounds she heard outside. The next day we headed off on the Half Dome trail, and made a leisurely hike up to Little Yosemite Valley. That evening we again jumped in S-o-S and headed down to the beautiful and alluring city of Fresno, got directions to Chevy’s from a hostess who got north and south backwards, and imbibed of the world’s best chain margaritas before crashing for the evening at the lovely Fresno Day’s Inn. Have I mentioned yet that Fresno was alluring? The next day we made a brief stop to see the big trees in Sequoia before finally heading past the wonderful city of Bakersfield and returning home.
A friend from Singapore came to town, and despite the fact that I’ve got much less hair and many fewer brain cells than when I saw her last in 2001 she wasn’t overly frightened. Aaron and I watched the Browns score an eighty yard touchdown on their first play of the 2006 season, and predictably watched it be called back by a penalty, after which they seemed to forget that the goal was to advance the ball forward. JAMWiki marches onwards, with the next release on the horizon, and the rest of the world remains insane as always.
Spent the past two days in Catalina with Audrey, her mom, and mom’s husband. There are stories circulating that I may have let a dingy float away while grabbing a bag off the back of the boat, but I can assure everyone that it was all intentional – I just needed an excuse to dive in and chase down a rubber raft.
The Catalina trip offered tons of time to read, and I’m on to another Carl Sagan book – The Dragons of Eden, a non-fiction book about the evolution of human intelligence. At the beginning of the book he makes an attempt to give some idea of how long the time periods are when discussing evolution. To illustrate the point, he condenses all of history into one year, and then lays out the following dates:
It’s a pretty cool way to look at it; if it takes (relatively) just four minutes to go from the last Ice Age to the present it puts in perspective how much things can change over a much, much longer period of time.
On a lighter note, Jason found a site that allows you to generate a list of states and countries that you’ve visited.
WARNING: I generally avoid politics in these journal entries, but the following is something I’ve been mulling over and want to record so that I can re-read it in years to come. If I’ve bored you already, stop reading. And Aaron, you said I should write more about my thoughts, so here goes.
Given the state of the world today it’s really easy to complain and criticize, and I definitely do my fair share. However, when I do complain I often think of a quote from the book Shogun:
That quote has stuck with me – it’s easy to be negative, but more difficult to be positive. In the past years I’ve become increasingly worried about the direction that America is headed in, but I don’t think I’ve really done anything about it other than criticize. I’ve tried to learn as much as I could, I’ve voted in elections, and I’ve talked to people who were willing to discuss rather than lecture, but I haven’t really offered solutions or done anything truly meaningful.
So instead of criticizing I started thinking about BIG things that could be done to make the future better. One of the answers seems (to me) to be to use less oil. Terrorism, global warming, and economic problems all seem to be direct or indirect results of America’s use of so much oil. If America uses less oil it will have fewer interests in the Middle East, and thus not need to interfere with politics there. Using less oil means less carbon dioxide, and thus less contributions to global warming. And finding alternative energy sources means benefits to the US economy, as a new industry could be born.
People won’t voluntarily use less oil, because even at $3 a gallon oil is still cheaper in the short term. So how can people do what’s right without a major upheaval? For years everyone argued against higher gas taxes, saying consumers wouldn’t pay them and the economy would be damaged. But at $3 a gallon, it’s clear that people will pay whatever they have to for gas, and the economy will find ways to cope. So what if gas taxes were higher, but the government offered incentives to use less? Less demand for oil would bring down prices, and less use of oil would benefit the environment. Similarly, if there were incentives for developing more economical alternative energy sources it would have the added benefit of driving new sectors of the economy.
Gas taxes vary by state, but the federal portion of that tax is 18.4 cents per gallon, which generated $20.4 billion in revenue in 2001 . Raising that tax by ten cents each year over the next three years (thirty cents total) would generate an additional $33.3 billion each year in revenue. For argument sake, let’s assume that money gets split, with one-third going to tax credits for fuel-efficient vehicles, one-third going to mass-transit, and one-third going to alternative energy research and development.
In the US there are about twenty million new cars sold each year , getting an average fuel economy of 20.8 mpg . $11 billion in additional revenue should be enough for the government to offer a $500 tax credit for cars getting over 30 mpg, and an additional $500 for each five mpg thereafter. Someone buying a Prius (50-60 mpg) would get between $2500 and $3500 in tax credits. I don’t have a study to cite, but my gut tells me that such a move would make fuel-efficient cars more economically feasible and would drive price-conscious shoppers to buy more efficient cars. If average fuel economy goes up five percent annually until 2010, that saves 1.5 million barrels of oil each day and as much as 4.7 million barrels per day by 2020 . Less demand for oil should translate into lower oil prices.
In addition, plowing $11 billion each year into mass transit triples the amount of money available for mass-transit projects, while investing $11 billion per year into renewable energy would spur development of new energy options. LA might finally get a decent transit system, wind and solar power would become more attractive, and construction and commercial opportunities would abound. To my small brain it seems like this could position the United States as a world leader in renewable energy technology, a market that is growing rapidly around the world, thus producing potential economic windfalls for the future.
The downside is that no politician wants to propose raising the gas tax by thirty cents per gallon, even if the long-term benefit is cheaper gas, a better economy, and a cleaner environment. However, if the issue is re-stated as “What can we do to ensure a better future” then a few cents extra at the pump doesn’t seem like such a large cost. I might be crazy in thinking that this is a good idea, and it’s very possible I’m missing something obvious; maybe someone has already tried to do it and failed. I’d be interested in other people’s opinion on the matter – is this a bad idea, is there something else that could be done, is it a good idea that can’t happen, what? And remember, it’s easier to be negative than positive, but in the long run it’s positive thinking that changes the world.
Somewhat randomly I was looking for something on the site today and realized that it was exactly four years ago today that this journal got started. The days sometimes go slowly, but the years fly by. Since that day in July I’ve taken a 13,000 mile roadtrip through Alaska, been to the Antarctic three times, visited the Galapagos twice, lived in at least seven different apartments, transitioned from a corporate peon to an independent corporate peon, and much, much more. Also during that time different friends have gotten married, gotten divorced, started their own company, changed careers, and experienced all sorts of other changes. Pretty crazy.
The development of JAMWiki moves on, with the current release up to 0.0.6, and 0.0.7 on the horizon. It’s still very much a work-in-progress so I haven’t really publicized it that much, but already a guy from Russia has contributed bug reports and a new default design, and a few others have installed the software and reported that it works for them. This thing actually has the potential to be kind of a big deal, which is cool. Granted, most non-technical folks out there have absolutely no idea what exactly it is that I’m building, but trust me, it’s good.
J.B.’s company is launching their new electric car tomorrow in Santa Monica, and Mr. Straubel came through with two invites for Audrey and I. It seems like their timing is perfect, with gas around $3.50 per gallon here and more and lots of rich movie stars driving around in environmentally-friendly cars. Having just watched An Inconvenient Truth over the weekend, and given the current mess in the Middle East, it seems it’s none-too-soon to be getting cleaner cars on the road that can run on something other than oil. For those who don’t know J.B., keep an eye out for news on Tesla Motors, ’cause they have a lot of potential.
And the only other news is that Audrey invited me to a jam session the other night with her on bass, Tommy on guitar, and Alex on drums, and all I can say is that my girl can wail. Totally improvised, and totally awesome. Makes me realize I need a talent (and no, using big lenses to capture nostril shots of albatross isn’t really a talent).
At the moment the work on JAMWiki is still keeping me really busy, although Audrey has managed to get me out of the house each of the past three nights. Last night we met up with Aaron and Saundra at Phillippes for double-dipped roast beef sandwiches, and in the process discovered that any made-up story becomes vastly more believable when you add insignificant details. Compare:
Stupid details seem to be the trick – we tried it with about a dozen stories, and everytime the detail is what made the story work. Anyhow, on Friday night Audrey tried to take me somewhere where I could absorb culture, but she’s smarter than to just throw me into a symphony hall or some such. So we went to the Hollywood Bowl to see the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra (sidenote: what distinguishes an orchestra from a philharmonic orchestra???), but the catch was that instead of just performing classical music they were performing the music from old Bugs Bunny cartoons, and to make matters better they were projecting the cartoons on huge screens. I saw “Kill da Wabbit” performed live. It rocked.
Thursday night I actually wanted to go out – the Indigo Girls were giving a free concert on the Santa Monica Pier. Yeah, that’s right, I wanted to see the Indigo Girls, and I admit it freely. As one friend once described them, “It’s good music, and plus there are lots of chicks in the crowd making out with each other. What’s not to like?” We had spots less than a hundred feet from the stage and the show was really good – it’s definitely more fun seeing people live when they have actual musical talent. My favorite moment of the concert came at the end when, after performing a song with the singer from Ally McBeal, the blond Indigo Girl made the comment “You folks near the stage can’t see it, but next to the pier down on the beach there are like a thousand more people.” She stepped back from the microphone, paused, and then said “You know, that’s cool as shit.” And she was right – it was.
Mr. Gallaway gave his blessing, so JAMWiki has been born. It’s still in its very early stages, but jamwiki.org and the Sourceforge project site are now up and running. For anyone who didn’t believe me when I’ve mentioned the total lack of excitement around here lately, this monumental event should be proof that I really wasn’t kidding.
Still alive, but no excitement to report. I’ve been working on an open source project called Very Quick Wiki intermittently over the past few months, but due to some differences of opinion with the guy running the project I decided to work on my own version about a week ago, and have been putting in a ton of hours on that since – I actually didn’t sleep a few nights ago while trying to get some coding done. The end result (hopefully) will be a Java clone of the MediaWiki software that runs sites like Wikipedia and Wikitravel.
The development of the code is going well – I should have it running on this site in a week or two – but I need help with the name for the project. I’ve been calling it “Java MediaWiki”, ’cause, well, that’s what it is and I’m not creative, but I’m fairly sure there are trademarks around “MediaWiki”. After drinking some wine Audrey and I came up with “JAM Wiki”, which sounds like an acronymn for “JavA MediaWiki” and has the added benefit of being pronounced “Yahm VeeKee” in Swedish, but after sobering up again I’m not so sure about that one. And no, Centrificon is just not gonna work this time. So if anyone has suggestions I’d love to hear them, and if I use your suggestion then you’ll not only receive fame and glory, but I’ll either buy you a beer the next time I see you or else send you a picture of a squirrel on waterskis (up to you). Things to consider:
Suggestions are welcome, the comments link is below…
There isn’t much in my own life worth writing about right now, so here are a few tidbits from the lives of others that might be interesting:
Last of all, a pretty picture for good measure:
The Galapagos photos are online now, which means that I no longer have any excuse for not looking for work:
There are at least a couple of photos that aren’t painful to look at, which I credit to having a really, really big lens. As Aaron says, nostril shots are the way to go.
Day the last. After waking up to find that the hotel was (surprisingly) offering running water to all guests, we cleaned up and discovered that Gregorio had stopped by for breakfast, so our last day on the islands was hosted by our fearless and bearded tour leader. Audrey and I had to leave the table early to make an excursion into the depths of the Darwin Research Station in search of a t-shirt exchange. Despite our efforts and exertions we were not to find any satisfaction. An hour later the taxi across the island ($15, muy rapido) took us through the finch killing fields and back to the other side of the island where we caught the ferry, followed by the bus, followed by the plane, followed by the other bus, and arrived at our hotel in Quito. The plane ride was made more entertaining by the presence of three of the four horsemen of the Apocolypse: the puker, the tiny screamer (and hair puller), and most noticeably, the egg farter.
The trip’s final dinner was at La Ronda (which is Spanish for “the restaurant with the marriachi band and the guy with the saxophone where they serve decent food and tasty vino”) where we had a nice dinner with Travis, Roberta and the Canadians. Our wakeup for the morning is at the magic hour of four, with a pickup to the airport at 4:15. In the morning. Before the sunrise. Before anything at all happens, actually. The plane ride home promises to be a sleepy one, but after the amazing trip, and with mamosas to help us along, it’s a small burden to bear.
Day thirteen. After waking and finding the hotel again without water we headed out to breakfast, during which time one of the hotel staff asked “Did you want us to turn the water back on for you?” Not being one who would ever want to flush the toilet, shower, or wash my hands in the morning I simply responded that I had to be somewhere and not to worry about it. Our last day of scuba saw just Audrey, Roberta, Travis and I diving at Cousins. The seas were calm on the way over, and after an hour and fifteen minute boat ride over to Santiago Island we jumped into the water with Javier, our guide from yesterday, and a new guide, dubbed “El Ganga”. Immediately after getting in the water we found ourselves in the midst of a school of tens of thousands of black salema. People were diving through them, forming tunnels of fish so thick that the light disappeared and made it almost impossible to find other divers. It took a few minutes to swim out of the school, and we then dove along the weird lava cliffs of the rock to see seahorses, fish, rays, and several sea lions who would hover upside down staring in people’s masks. A really great dive site that everyone enjoyed. The second dive was in the same location, and we enjoyed more of the same despite a surprising drop in water temperature.
After finishing the dives and dealing with Jonathan, our holey-underwear-clad-backpacker-scuba friend from Wales, we started for home, but rough seas were conspiring to slow us down. Captain Insane-O didn’t believe in delays, however, and for the next hour we were bounced mercilessly across the waves. At one point the smell of smoke and gas became overpowering, and thinking that the combination of flame, gasoline, and compressed oxygen might be a problem we asked the captain to investigate. We did slow down, but the boat never actually came to a stop while the solution (an almost imperceptible increase in ventillation) was implemented. Audrey and I came up with our own solution, which was to breathe through snorkels stuck through the boat’s canvas walls. Luckily despite the fact that we were measuring the distance to the nearest islands in the case of a shipwreck we made it home alive.
Also, some memorable trip quotes:
Day twelve. Diving in the Galapagos was a bit of a letdown on the last trip only because the snorkeling was so great, and the same seems to be holding true on this trip – our dive at North Seymour Island actually started out yesterday in the dive shop when we all tried on our equipment. The first wetsuit that was suggested for me was almost loose enough that I could bend my elbows, but the fact that I couldn’t lower my arms was agreed upon by everyone present to be a potential hindrance. The second wetsuit provided a nearly partial range of motion while only slightly cutting off circulation to less-used parts of the body (such as arms and legs) so that one was a winner. We returned to the dive shop today at 7:00 AM, climbed into trucks that took us across the island at nearly double the posted 70 km/hr speed limit, and then boarded a boat that required people to constantly change seats in order to prevent capsizing. The dive site was choppy, although the two dives weren’t bad – we started out with a field of sea snakes and ended with a school of six foot long white-tipped reef sharks circling only a few feet away. The interlude between dives provided an opportunity to partake of some fine tupperware cuisine, which one member of the dive party promptly returned to the ocean; luckily the captain was available to aid the seasick by politely dousing her with jugs of water while she puked; the phrase “Please just hold my hair back” is apparently not one that non-English speakers are familiar with.
After returning to town and navigating Puerto Ayora’s water taxi system I failed miserably in my attempts to resolve Greg and Thalia’s email problems, and later met a group to have dinner in the Highlands. Oswaldo met us at the taxi, led us into the restaurant (which we had completely to ourselves) and for the next three hours we dined on crepes, fish, cake, coffee and drinks that would cause lesser men to go blind, all for $16 per person. Audrey is reminding me that there was also a pool visit prior to dinner, and while I didn’t witness it stories are circulating about an old man, laps around a pool, and unfortunate collisions with Caitlin’s crotch. Tomorrow is the last full day in the islands, after which this trip sadly begins its end.