Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

One Foot in Front of the Other

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:00 pm, December 31st, 2007

The forecast twenty degree temperatures never materialized, and it was a balmy thirty-one degrees when I awoke at 3:45 AM with something very, very wrong in my neck. As near as I can tell at some point during the evening my body rolled but my head didn’t get the message, and my neck bore the brunt of this miscommunication. In any case, after a short drive this morning I turned up the Mount Whitney Portal Road in Lone Pine, and then made a hike of the last few miles of road, past ice and rockfalls that were obviously the source of the “road closed” signs posted below. This route is the homestretch of the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon, and it was with a renewed respect for those athletes that I huffed and puffed my way over the short distance and 2,000 foot elevation change to the trailhead.

From that point all paths led homeward, and after a brief stop for a burrito (yum) and a car wash I was home and scrubbing mightily to remove the many layers of dirt that had accumulated over the past few days. Now it’s one day of rest before heading back to work, and another six months before the great Iceland adventure brings more fodder for journal entries.

Leave the Pieces

Posted from Taboose Pass Trailhead, Inyo National Forest, California at 4:50 pm, December 30th, 2007

Twenty-three degrees at sunrise this morning. Not warm – invigorating is probably the term that puts the best spin on it, although it’s also probably most accurate – when your breath is the first thing you see after opening your eyes in the morning it makes you feel just a bit more alive. I walked around Mono Lake and snapped photos for about an hour after sunrise before continuing south along the Eastern Sierra. The Sierras rise gently from the west but drop abruptly on the eastern side, so I was looking straight up at snow-covered 13,000 foot peaks as the road descended from 8,000 feet down to 4,000 feet.

After an early lunch in Mammoth I moved on to the Owens Valley, passed a few more lakes, some incredible mountains, and a herd of about fifty elk before turning off the highway and heading up an interesting-looking but rough dirt road that eventually led to the Taboose Pass trailhead. I had no plans of going all the way up to the pass, which I imagine must be an ordeal similar to what Frodo and Sam undertook to get into Mordor. Instead I went only a short way, but given that any trail around here heads more-or-less straight up it was tiring enough, and after returning I’m now camped out for the night with a forecast for an evening low of twenty degrees, guaranteeing that my breath will again be my first sight in the morning. Luckily an additional advantage of the cold air is that, combined with the lack of city lights, the stars stand out prominently, so in addition to struggling to keep my core temperature above freezing I’ll also be gazing at the depths of the Milky Way as I head to sleep.

Bear Crossing

Posted from Mono Lake State Reserve, California at 3:40 pm, December 29th, 2007

It’s usually a good day when you see a “bear crossing” sign; today was such a day. After five days of holiday cheer, super chicken burritos, and golfing I left the homestead late last night and spent the evening sleeping in the Subaru as snow fell along I-80 near Truckee. The morning took me to Lake Tahoe, and by afternoon I was wandering down Highway 395 on the eastern side of the Sierras. Tonight the Subaru is parked along the shores of Mono Lake, next to an array of weird volcanic formations that the lake is apparently famous for.

Tree Otters

Posted from Concord, California at 10:40 pm, December 23rd, 2007

After several false starts throughout the night due to sleepiness, limited mental capacity, and confusing the full moon for the morning sun, I finally got going as the sun was rising this morning and headed off to see the seals. In a world where habitat loss, global warming and other threats are pushing species to the brink the elephants seals are a nice change, with a population that was once threatened now expanding onto new beaches – Piedras Blancas had no seals only a few years ago, but today I saw hundreds.

In addition to the seals the trip up Highway One yielded tons of birds, a coyote, sea lions at Monterey, and a new find north of Monterey – Elkhorn Slough is a salt marsh that is being restored to its natural state, and today it was home to a harbor seal, at least five sea otters, thousands of birds, and one animal that I tentatively identified (from a distance) as a bulldog riding in a kayak and wearing a life jacket.

I Don’t Know From Dogs

Posted from Concord, California at 8:00 pm, December 23rd, 2007

Apparently it wasn’t a bulldog – Aaron says the photo below is a Boston terrier. Maybe the fact that it is wearing a life jacket and a wetsuit threw me off.

Boston terrier, in a kayak, wearing a life jacket, and a wetsuit

Boston terrier, in a kayak, wearing a life jacket and a wetsuit. This photo is magnified a LOT – he was far away.

Me and Charlie Talkin’

Posted from San Simeon, California at 9:40 pm, December 22nd, 2007

Due mostly to the fact that I ate lead paint chips as a child I’ve asked for only one day of vacation during the past twelve months, so the Christmas holiday was a chance to get more than three consecutive days away from the office. As a result I’m spending the evening in the comfortable confines of the Subaru for the first time in ages, and it feels pretty good. Given nine glorious days during which the powers that be at DirecTV freed me from my computer I decided to return to the Bay Area by way of Highway One, and am parked for the night just south of Hearst Castle, close enough to Piedras Blancas that I should be able to visit the seals at first light.

The drive is a good one to allow the mind to wander, and tonight I got to thinking about how the first two years of my thirties sort of blew by, but also how different things are from where I expected to be at this age. Like most people, my life turned out considerably different from the plans I made when I was a kid or attending school at Case, but I’m nevertheless pretty happy with how things have ended up. During high school it seemed impossible that by thirty I wouldn’t have things all figured out with a wife and a family, and during college it was unthinkable that eight years could pass without making a significant impact on the world, but the journey still feels like it’s heading in the right direction, and the stops along the way have been pretty awesome. Of course, I’m fully expecting that in another ten years I’ll be closer to the original plan, but when that doesn’t pan out I’m prepared to re-use the paint chip excuse to justify my inability to learn from experience.

‘Crastinating

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:00 pm, November 22nd, 2007

Only one journal entry for November, and I’m making it on the last day of the month. I’m not very good at having a web site. Anyhow, here’s the summary for the past month:

For me the month has been fairly uneventful as I’ve continued slogging away at work. Aaron, however, decided that November was as good a month as any to become a vagabond, and, after living with his work partner for two weeks, he moved in with Audrey and I for two weeks. Having someone who likes to snuggle sharing the bed necessitated the building of a giant pillow barrier, and all man-touches were prevented.

Thanksgiving brought the annual Turkey Bowl, and while I didn’t play I had the pleasure of witnessing Aaron come home covered in blood at halftime, only to slap on a band-aid and score three touchdowns in the second half before heading off to the emergency room for stitches. Following two hours during which Charlie Chi and I tried to make Aaron laugh while the doctor was putting needle and thread through his eyebrow we started the Thanksgiving dinner, and once again Sally put together a feast that put all other Thanksgiving dinners to shame. There was no eating contest this year, but Aaron managed to walk away victorious after putting two scoops of potatoes and an entire muffin in his mouth at once.

Last of all, here’s the obligatory pretty picture:

The Sphinx

The Sphinx. In Egypt.

Fuego

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:35 pm, October 22nd, 2007

Los Angeles is on fire again; the TV coverage is pretty awesome, and the view from my office window of smoke pouring out of Malibu is something to see, particularly around sunset. It’s probably a bit callous to get any sort of enjoyment out of watching natural disasters, but quotes like the following make it tough to have too much sympathy for people fleeing multi-million dollar homes:

“We’re all scared to death and we have nowhere to go,” Susan Nuttall, 51, told The Associated Press as she sat in her black Mercedes in a cul-de-sac after fleeing her condominium near the Pepperdine campus. She was wearing a bathrobe and holding her Chihuahua.

In other news, the Goob and I made a trip to the Hollywood Bowl a couple of weeks ago to see Mr. Dave Matthews and his fine band put on a show. Kabobs from Daphne’s and satays from Thai Dishes started the evening out properly, and it only got better as Dave brought out guests including a rocker on the banjo (the dude played hard), Jon Mayer, and finally Steven and Damian Marley. Quote of the night:

Me (while washing my hands in the bathroom): “Dude, I reek of pot and beer…”

Random guy two sinks down: “That’s awesome man! Everyone reeks of pot and beer!”

Fuego

Fire, as seen by space. Image taken by NASA.

Workin'

Posted from Culver City, California at 5:45 pm, October 13th, 2007

I got an email yesterday saying that there had been a last-minute cancellation and asking if I was interested in a substantially discounted spot on a boat to South Georgia in two weeks. Retired Ryan would have gone in less than a fraction of a millisecond. Working Ryan is in the middle of a very large and very busy project, and his co-workers laughed out loud when he asked if there was any chance he could get away for four weeks. Working Ryan misses Retired Ryan.

Retired Ryan

Retired Ryan in October 2004.

Halfway to Hazard

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:00 pm, September 29th, 2007

For those who suspect that during the past few months I’ve been lazy about updating the journal, and only add entries at the end of the month when I realize I haven’t written anything in a while, you are correct.

This month was the first time in my life that I completed a round of golf, not counting an outing in high school where, after mishaps on my first couple of swings, I was asked to just throw the ball rather than further risk anyone’s safety. My current golf skills are such that I can claim to have scored par on only my second hole played, and can also proudly report that I’ve lost two balls into the water on a single hole and even lost a ball while practicing on the chipping green. Aaron and I played two nine hole rounds a few weeks back, and while I feared to use anything larger than a four iron Aaron hit driver on a few holes, highlighted by the final hole of the day when he brushed the ground as he was hitting and sparks flew out from his club as he made contact with the ball; it was awesome. The shot sucked, but who cares when there are flames coming off of your driver?

My other new endeavour for this month has been observing Ramadan and not eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. One of my co-workers suggested I should try it for a few days to provide her with moral support, and since it seemed like a fairly hardcore thing to try, and also since I’d never really done anything like it before, I figured why not? The no water thing is annoying, and I have to get up every day by 6:30 to make sure I get something to drink before the sun comes up, but otherwise it’s not bad and the bonus is that since I’m up so early I get my eight hours at work done by 3:30; with the recent workload I still don’t get home before 7:00, but it’s nice to know that I could leave in time to catch the after-school cartoons if I wanted to. Cartoons rock.

Last of all, Aaron and I took a one-day Vegas trip over a Thursday and Friday. Mandalay Bay was running a promotion, so we got a good room and a couple of spa passes. As usual Vegas took a fair share of my cash, but the spa and pools at the hotel made it worthwhile, and even though he hit on 20 at blackjack (A-4-5) Aaron dominated Roulette and a few other games and came home with extra cash. The spa was a great find, and despite having to witness some naked calisthenics both the Goob and I came away thoroughly refreshed. The ride home featured some pretty ridiculous weather, including a tornado warning – it was the first time I can actually remember hearing that “this is a test of the emergency broadcast system” thing used for something that wasn’t a test. I took off the following day for a brief visit back to the Bay Area for my mom’s birthday – Virgin America is a cool airline, although sadly their live TV didn’t include the Browns game.

And that’s it. Below is the obligatory pretty picture. Assuming my normal pattern persists this may be the last entry until Halloween. On a similar note, apologies to everyone who I owe email to; the inbox is overflowing with messages that go back several months – I’m not very good at this internet thing.

Aaron & Me

The Holliday brothers prior to Turkey Bowl 2005.

Daisy Loved the Hell Out of Me

Posted from Culver City, California at 12:00 am, August 26th, 2007

A quick summary of where life stands right now:

I’ve been working at DirecTV for ten months now, after previously managing to mostly avoid work for two years. Life has become a seven day routine of work-work-work-work-work-sleep-sleep, repeat. Not ideal, but I definitely can’t complain. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to keep it up for a couple of years, after which some new adventures may definitely be in order.

My second job is also going well, despite the fact that instead of 40-60 hours a week I now only have 10-20 hours a week to devote to JAMWiki development. Conservatively I’d estimate that after less than 15 months of existence JAMWiki is one of the three best Java-based wikis available, and probably among the ten best overall. There have been at least thirty or so people who have contributed code and translations, and probably double that number who have provided bug reports and feature requests. Total downloads are at 7,600, which is pretty cool. Translations include everything from French to Chinese to Croatian, with sixteen different languages available. A number of different companies are now using the software, including DirecTV, which is also gratifying. I’m not sure I really care whether or not this project ever turns into a way to support myself financially, but just as JB spent years tinkering with electric cars for the fun of it before becoming CTO of Tesla Motors, I suspect that there is a chance that the project could eventually lead to some interesting opportunities.

In other news there isn’t much to report. Aaron and I continue to have our weekly Funday, and the folks at work were kind enough to teach me how to play Texas Hold ‘Em the other night. The game seems to be 30% about calculating odds, 30% about reading people, and the rest luck. Oddly, for once in my life luck was with me, so I managed to walk away from my first game in the black, but I suspect that future games won’t be as lucrative. The planned trip with my dad to Iceland is a distant 290 days away (not that anyone is counting), and next month I’ll be taking my first vacation day since starting work at DirecTV for a trip to Las Vegas with Aaron. Although not exciting, life is still very good.

Girls in Cowboy Hats

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:15 pm, August 14th, 2007

Friday (or lately Saturday or Sunday) has been dubbed Funday. Aaron and I get together and go mini-golfing, play baseball, watch a video, or head to a random Brazilian restaurant and eat until we want to die. Good stuff. Last week Funday went to another level when Aaron decided we should go see Tim McGraw and Faith Hill in Anaheim. More good stuff. As usual our concert experience began with an odyssey as I cruised down I-5 looking for a place I could drop my car before eventually finding an Applebee’s and meeting the Goob a short time later. From there it was a short jaunt to Anaheim, and the festivities began.

We started by roaming the lot around Arrowhead Pond searching for scalpers – there are a surprising number of sketchy folks that hang around arenas, but in this case none passed the scalper test (scalper test = make eye contact in a non-creepy way). During this treasure hunt we were also trying to remember if a cop had to admit his profession if you asked – “Do you have tickets, and are you a cop?” seemed like a good defense against any illegal ticket purchases. And most importantly, as we carried out our ticket search we made sure to keep in constant contact with the predominantly female concertgoers. Life was good and about to get better.

After nearly circling the arena we finally ended up at the box office, and having been unsuccessful in our attempts to navigate the black market underground of concert tickets we asked at the window about availability and were rewarded with (expensive) seats that were less than thirty feet from the stage. Life continued to improve. Entering the arena we found ourselves in a sea of girls, cowboy hats, and the smell of Christmas. After a brief opening act Tim and Faith came onstage and entertained for four hours, by far the longest I’ve ever seen two people play for. During that time they managed to interact with hundreds of people sitting around the stage, including four girls that Faith brought up on stage. We ended up returning home after 2:00 AM, but it was another concert odyssey to remember.

More of the Best

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:55 pm, July 29th, 2007

Aaron and I were watching clips of the Wonder Years on YouTube tonight, a show that makes you want to write about being a kid. I’ll hold off on any Winnie Cooper-like stories lest they get too sappy, but instead go for the closest thing to a Paul Pfeiffer tale that I have…

Summer 1989

I didn’t have a lot of close friends growing up – my family moved before I started the third grade, and I didn’t really make any friends the first year in my new school. I then switched to another school for the fourth grade, and Rob, a kid down the block, switched to the same school at the same time. For the next five years we rode the bus together every day, and he became the closest thing I had to a best friend. We joined the Boy Scouts together but never told anyone about it because we didn’t want the other kids to make fun of us – despite the fact that the Scouts let us go rock climbing and whitewater rafting it was far from being a “cool” thing to do. Still, we had a lot of fun and were pretty active through about the eighth grade, and both of us ended up becoming Eagle Scouts together.

Of all the things we ever did in Scouts, the time that I remember the best was the Summer of 1989 at Summer Camp when we earned our wilderness survival merit badge. Amongst other requirements, to earn this badge we had to build a shelter using only rope and natural materials, and then sleep in it for two nights. For most of the kids going for this badge this requirement involved throwing something together in a few hours and then enduring two long nights; Rob and I had other plans. We started out lashing the frame for a lean-to against two trees, and made sure that the lashings were tight enough that we could both jump and hang on the bracings without anything slipping. We then started piling brush onto this structure to create a roof and walls, and we didn’t stop until the roof was a mass of brush about four feet thick. We followed that up by throwing leaves and pine needles on the structure for water-proofing, and then piling about a foot of pine needles inside for mattresses.

That night we slept like babies, but it was the following night, when the camp was hit by a torrential thunderstorm, that our lean-to proved itself. We woke up the following morning completely dry and discovered that everyone else in the camp, most of whom were in tents, were soaked. Rob and I got lucky – we built our lean-to as strong as we did just because we wanted to take a fun requirement and push it to ridiculous levels, but it was still pretty cool to see it succeed as well as it did. At the time it seemed like a memorable event, but looking back at it today it was one of those quintessential boyhood moments that grandpas tell their grandkids about, and that friends reminisce about during the rare times that they see each other again.

The Best

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:05 pm, July 17th, 2007

One of the last episodes of this season of Lost (the best show in the history of television) featured the Hobbit guy making a list of the five best moments in his life. Supposedly that was also done in High Fidelity, but it still made for a cool scenario. After talking about the idea, Aaron and I came to the conclusion that it’s probably impossible to come up with the five greatest moments, but it’s pretty nice to try making a list of good moments. What I discovered in trying to list those moments is that it’s tough to sum up an experience in a single line, but since this journal is meant to be a way not only for me to keep in touch with people but also to record moments that I want to remember in years to come, I’d like to occasionally add entries about times that for one reason or another left a lasting and memorable impression. So in no particular order…

Spring 1989

I was in the seventh grade, I was on the track team, and I had finally discovered a sport that I was good at. During my elementary school years recess meant being picked last for whatever sport we were playing – football, soccer, kickball, whatever, I was last pick. And it sucked. And then one day the gym teacher had everyone run around the block, and I wasn’t last. From there things improved steadily, and by the seventh grade I had a tentative grip on the position of best distance runner in the school, which when you’re thirteen seems like a pretty big deal. Of course, I realized that most kids didn’t care about distance running, but after years of being last pick the fact that people knew my name because I was a runner was a night-and-day improvement to me.

So that’s the background to a Spring workout in which Coach divided everyone up and had us run the quarter mile. I was a miler, and most of the team was faster than me at the quarter, so I lined up expecting to finish in the middle of the pack in the best case scenario. Coach yelled for us to start, and sure enough at about the halfway point I was fairly far back of the leaders, who were tearing along at a solid clip. And then it happened. Standing at the side of the track and screaming AT ME was Betsey, a family friend who I’d known since the third grade, and one of the only girls who ever passed me notes in classes. As I went by her she yelled at an insane volume “MOVE YOUR BUTT”, and she yelled it AT ME. I was already struggling, but knowing that someone was paying attention to me, out of everyone running, was motivation enough that I picked it up a bit. Running now at a speed I wasn’t sure I could sustain I saw that the runners ahead of me were getting noticeably closer. Despite feeling fairly distressed I dug a bit deeper and realized I might have a chance of catching them. And finally, not knowing if my legs would turn to mush before the finish line I made a final effort. And I beat the rest of the runners.

Running is all about limits. When you first begin your brain always thinks it can do more than the body is ready for, and the reality involves a lot of pain and often some humiliation. However, as you get into shape the body allows you to go places you didn’t know you could reach, at the cost of a great deal of pain. On that day I realized that there were different levels of pain involved in running, and that only by pushing well past what I thought I could handle did I discover what I was actually capable of. And along the way a cute girl with a ton of energy had cheered me on, and I didn’t feel like the last pick anymore.

Dancing

Posted from Culver City, California at 1:10 pm, June 30th, 2007

If I ever get married it will definitely be to a woman – I’m just not into guys that way. Not that there’s anything wrong with being into guys, of course. BUT, if for some reason I HAD TO marry a guy – for example if someone was going to blow up the earth or bring back disco unless I got hitched to a dude – I would marry Dancing Matt. In addition to being an obvious travel partner, our dancing skills are about equal so I wouldn’t have to worry about being the only one who looked like an idiot on the dance floor.

And as long as I’m admitting to potential gay marriage partners, Bob Seger has to be on the list, too. Bob rules. And the obligatory quick macho male-chauvinist bit to salvage manhood: Claudia Schiffer, Kate from “Lost”, and Natalie Portman are all super-hot…

Car Phone Warehouse

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:25 pm, June 12th, 2007

In the five years I’ve kept this journal, this is (unsurprisingly) only the second entry that has anything to do with opera. The clip below is from a British show that’s similar to American Idol, and the guy singing is a car-phone salesman. Watching it made me happy.

90210

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:20 pm, May 30th, 2007

When we were kids Aaron and I frequently made bets, and against all odds he always seemed to win. The most ridiculous win was probably during the 1993 playoff game between the Bills and the Oilers; at halftime, with the Oilers leading by thirty-two points, I gave him twenty-to-one odds that the Bills wouldn’t win. Today that game is known as the greatest comeback in NFL history.

While the football bet was the most improbable of Aaron’s wins, it wasn’t the most lucrative. At some point we actually made a bet for a cool million: TV Guide or some other source had reported that Alyssa Milano would be taking Shannon Doherty’s role on Beverly Hills, 90210, and Aaron didn’t believe it. So sure was I of TV Guide’s accuracy that I shook his hand, and a year later when the Who’s the Boss alum still wasn’t on 90210 realized that I owed my brother a million bucks.

Since I obviously don’t have a million bucks to hand over I’ve been working off the bet over time; emphasis on working, since Aaron doesn’t spend his cash loosely. This past weekend the opportunity to earn back $50,000 came up while we were playing catch. I’m not sure when, but at some point either intentionally or not Aaron took a throw to the chest, and from his reaction it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Not wanting to be outdone I tried the same, and before long the game had (as usual) completely degenerated. During this bout of masochism the thought struck me that it would really suck to take a throw to the head, and my $50,000 plan was launched. In a moment worthy of Jackass we discovered that the sound of a baseball hitting someone’s noggin is pretty much exactly the same as the sound effect they use in cartoons. No permanent damage was done, and today my debt stands at a mere $370,000.

Sweet Home Alabama

Posted from Culver City, California at 11:20 pm, May 20th, 2007

More than likely at some point everyone struggles with the realization that they like where they are, but they miss where they’ve been. If given the chance to go back to any point in my past I don’t think I would want to take advantage, but at the same time I miss the college days of daily runs with the team and all-nighters with my friends in the dorm, or the high school days when we all leaned on each other so heavily for support that calling someone at 2 AM or dropping everything when someone needed a person to talk to was a weekly event. Or when I was a kid in New Hampshire and the block on Summer Street was the entire world, and my mom and dad were superheroes. There were also the times just after college when the work world was a brand new adventure, and the friends that started with me all had dreams of greatness that seem to have been mostly laid aside over time.

I miss all of those times – people and places have changed since then, and it’s sometimes painful reconnecting with someone from years ago only to realize that one or both of us is different. But at the same time, while working fifty hours a week in an office may not be life-changing, these days aren’t without their charm, and the road ahead seems like a good one. Ten years ago I would have never guessed at all of the amazing things I’ve gotten to do, and the incredible people I’d meet, and one can only wonder what the next ten might bring.

Skip and Ryan, Glacier Bay

My dad and I in Glacier Bay, Alaska, September 1999.