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

Central Idaho

Posted from Stanley Basin, Idaho at 8:24 pm, September 10th, 2011

Whatever its faults may be, America is a pretty spectacular place to live, as today’s roadtrip through Central Idaho reminded. In addition to experiencing the scenery on the trip up here, poor planning on my part combined with a dearth of local lodging options to lead to a night of car camping in a Dodge Charger, so the view from my “bed” includes the Sawtooth Mountains and the Stanley Basin, while my neighbors for the evening will be falcons, deer, and sandhill cranes.

The leisurely drive up here was filled with mountains, streams, trees, and a smattering of wildlife, including the first sandhill cranes I’ve seen since 2002. Interestingly, the thing I always forget about the mountains until I’m back in them is the smell – there’s something about the air that makes you want to just close your eyes and breath deeply for a while. A bum knee has limited the hiking, but just being able to get outside and stand next to a mountain stream, or to watch a dozen cranes from the roadside, has been a good reminder of why it’s important to leave the city and refresh the soul from time-to-time.

Sandhill cranes in Central Idaho

If there had been a chance for a better photo I would have hung out with these birds for hours, but they were heading away from me and I was pretty sure that following them would freak them out, so getting an acceptable sandhill crane photo remains on the TODO list.

Smoky landscape in Central Idaho

The Sawtooth National Recreation Area brochure boasts that this area has the clearest air in the lower-48 states, but a nearby wildfire conspired to keep things hazy.

Prairie Falcon, Central Idaho

The caption for this photo would be something like “The Watcher” if I was an artist, or “Where the hell did the rest of the fence go?!?” if I wasn’t.


Posted from Culver City, California at 9:30 pm, August 31st, 2011

Thomas Jefferson (born 1743) was 33 years old in 1776 during the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. James Madison (born 1751) was 36 when his ideas formed the core of the US Constitution. There are a fair number of other people who did some of their most impressive work in their thirties – it seems to be an age at which you’ve done enough to actually have a significant depth, although perhaps not a breadth, of experience in at least one or two areas.

While I harbor no illusions about being a Jefferson or Madison, it’s interesting to be at the same age as when they made arguably their biggest marks on history. Personally, the mid-thirties is the first time in life at which I’ve worked regularly on specific subjects for multiple decades – my first computer program was written more than 20 years ago; my first photograph was taken almost 25 years ago.

Everyone dreams that they will do important things in life, but for most people something gets in the way – a job, lack of motivation, or just a sense that things can always be done later; days go by slowly, but years somehow fly by. There was a line at the beginning of Dead Poet’s Society from a Walt Whitman poem: “that the powerful play goes on, and that you will contribute a verse”. To which Robin Williams’ character asks: “what will your verse be?” At this point in life there’s a mild fear of missing the chance to contribute that verse, although with several endeavors in various states of completion there is also optimism that some day an entry like this one won’t be about hopes, but will instead be about accomplishments. Granted, those accomplishments won’t end up as centerpieces of the National Archives, but not everyone is cut out to be a Founding Father.

Things Worth Noting

Posted from Culver City, California at 5:16 pm, August 28th, 2011

Here are a handful of random current events that seem worth writing down. These types of posts are fun reading in retrospect, and are also good when it’s nearly the end of the month and I haven’t met the three entry goal:

  • Steve Jobs has resigned as CEO of Apple. While his supposed tendency to yell and micromanage would normally be negatives for a CEO, the guy had an unbelievable ability to discern trends and focus on what was both important and within his company’s area of strength, and it is sad to see him go.
  • Mono Lake has risen two and a half feet this year, putting it seven feet from the restoration goal level, twelve feet above its all-time low, but still about thirty-five feet below its historic average.
  • Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman made news by stating that Republicans should embrace evolution and global warming. It’s more than a little scary that 150 years after Darwin a theory that underpins biology is still so controversial…
  • Four years late, the Boeing 787 finally gained its FAA certification. While the technology behind the plane is clearly a huge step forward, the delays unfortunately appear to have caused significant harm to Boeing’s ability to compete with Airbus and will take some time to recover from.
  • Following a political crisis in which the US nearly defaulted on its debts, the stock market has dropped about ten percent, but more notably has been regularly going up or down by three to five percent daily and giving those of us with a lot invested reason to sweat.
  • SpaceX has been granted permission to combine its remaining two test flights, and thus could be cleared to service the space station by the end of the year.
  • The next Olympic Games are almost exactly eleven months away.

Iceland Photos

Posted from Boise, Idaho at 11:11 pm, August 14th, 2011

The return to full-time work has made subjects for journal entries hard to come by. Audrey suggested that I devote one of August’s entries to the crowd-pleasing topic of city planning, but because it’s been over a month since any photos have been posted, and because I don’t want to bore my twos of readers, that topic will have to wait until at least the next entry. In the mean time here are a handful of photos from the 2008 trip to Iceland. Although the bird in the first photo was the subject of a previous journal entry, all three images are seeing their world debut tonight.

Atlantic Puffin

Atlantic puffin on the Latrabjarg cliffs. There is probably a “proper” way to photograph these birds, but “get really close in good light” worked well enough for me.

Skogafoss Waterfall

Skogafoss waterfall. The Iceland trip started out as a photography workshop led by Rod Planck, during which time I learned that if you’re not a great photographer, just photograph a waterfall in cloudy weather using a long exposure and all will be well.

Hverir, Myvatn

Thermal features near Myvatn. The Myvatn region of Iceland is an active volcanic area, and thus there seems to be steamy pools and odd landscapes around every corner.

I Just Felt Like Runnin’

Posted from Boise, Idaho at 9:30 pm, July 31st, 2011

Back in the day I was bad at every sport that required coordination, but did have the dubious talent of being able to run at a fast pace without barfing for longer than most other people. Since those days I’ve run less-and-less, and thus eventually reached a state in which I was bad at every sport, including those involving running and vomit.

It’s easy enough to make excuses and much harder to find time and motivation, but at the end of 2010 being out of shape had become a big enough issue that something had to be done. As a result, including today I’ve now run a minimum of 1-2 miles every day for 213 consecutive days. After spending January just trying to do two miles a day, last week was the first time in years where I ran over forty miles in a week – not a particularly impressive total, but obviously far better than doing nothing.

Distance running isn’t glamorous, but it teaches a good life lesson: a difficult task begins with the first step, and is only successful when that first step is followed up consistently with many more. That lesson has been a valuable one to have learned early, as even the most daunting endeavors no longer seem overwhelming – just like training for a distance race, many tough challenges can be met by just going out there each day, putting in some work, and knowing that while it may not seem like anything is changing, every step is absolutely necessary in order to get to the end goal.

Of course, with all that said, it would be a lie to say that there isn’t a small part of me that wishes I’d been blessed with a bit more coordination and thus writing today about how my years of fame as the football team’s running back taught the valuable life lesson of teamwork…

Building Bodies

Posted from Boise, Idaho at 5:28 pm, July 21st, 2011

Given my alleged programming skills and overwhelmingly massive, bulging muscles, it was inevitable that Bodybuilding.com would eventually call and ask me to do some work for them. As a result, after seven weeks of freedom I’m now in Idaho trying to figure out how to work the coffee maker and find the bathrooms at a new client. A fact that I was previously unaware of: Boise averages 90-100°F at this time of year, so while the city and its immediate environs seem like an inviting place to explore, the week has mostly been spent in the much-cooler confines of the office and the local Marriott; however, future explorations of the potato state are probably inevitable.

While “overjoyed” might not be the most accurate description of how it feels to again be spending the days in an office, the co-workers seem like good folks and the long off-time was a more-than-adequate break that turned out to be ridiculously productive:

  • Audrey and I got two weeks to swim with whale sharks and other fishes.
  • JAMWiki, my ongoing side-project, gained a number of new features, and JAMWiki 1.1 is almost ready for release to the masses.
  • JAMGuides, my newest side-project, is making steady progress and slowly approaching a usable state.
  • The rest of the Holliday clan endured having the oldest child visit them twice, including an unfortunate incident during which Ma Holliday sent her son to an ignominious defeat in a game of P.I.G.
  • Last but not least, the always-intimidating TODO list on the fridge was reduced from horrifying proportions to a merely unmanageable size.

Stories may be limited in coming weeks due to work, but with any luck there will still be enough excitement to justify the three-journal-entries-a-month goal.

July the Fourth

Posted from Culver City, California at 12:49 pm, July 11th, 2011

Audrey took charge of July Fourth plans this year because, had I been in charge, we likely would have just gotten take-out and then gone to bed early. Instead we spent the afternoon at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach where we got to use the special members-only entrance (membership has its privileges) and spend some time with a group of not-so-hungry lorikeets, one of whom rudely stole my cup of nectar after biting Audrey. After the fishes we enjoyed a massive buffet at Fuego that was far better than any take-out would have been, followed by a lengthy fireworks display next to the Queen Mary. Thereafter we were treated to a leisurely 15mph drive home with (apparently) every other resident of the greater Los Angeles metro area. While bedtime was far from a reasonable hour, Audrey’s version of July Fourth is clearly superior to my own.

Fireworks over Long Beach Harbor

Fireworks over Long Beach Harbor.

Rainbow Bridge in Long Beach

This bridge is either called the Rainbow Bridge or the Queensway Bridge or the Rainbow Harbor Bridge. And it’s in Long Beach.

Dookie on the Trail

Posted from Culver City, California at 11:42 am, June 30th, 2011

Here’s a summary of last weekend’s trip to the Bay Area:

  • Saturday night and Sunday morning turned into another Brother Day event, with appearances from mom and the Skipper. Arrival in Concord on Saturday afternoon involved an ever-so-delicious Zachary’s pizza. Following that, Aaron and I set off on a hike up Mt. Diablo that ended up being both scenic and tick-filled, with much sweating, many turkeys, a few lizards, and some dookie on the trail. After rootbeer floats at Mudville Grill we cajoled Ma & Pa into a little basketball, where Ma surprised us all with her underhand shooting prowess. The festivities came to an end after a night spent at Aaron’s new temporary home in North Beach and a massive breakfast burrito.
  • At noon on Sunday the former roommates of Otterson Court got together again for the first time in nearly nine years. Unsurprisingly JB was initially a no-show, but he finally arrived after being bombarded by incessant text messages and threats to toilet paper his house, apologized for being late, and redeemed himself by offering a tour of the Tesla showroom and headquarters. From humble beginnings in the garage at Otterson and the living room in Glendale, JB’s cars have come a very, very long way – the Roadster is an awfully fun vehicle, and the Model-S is looking pretty badass.
  • After the Tesla tour I got a late start back to LA, got stuck in traffic, and ended up getting home after 11PM. Since I hadn’t run yet, and since missing a single day is just the excuse I need to quit altogether, it was a very tired Ryan that slogged six laps around Raintree Circle late Sunday night.


Posted from Culver City, California at 5:21 pm, June 23rd, 2011

Despite a lightning storm that kept us on the tarmac for two hours in Dallas and a cab driver who repeatedly fell asleep at the wheel while driving us home from LAX (Audrey to me: “Put your seatbelt on. NOW.”) we made it home in one piece and have since been unpacking and re-adjusting to life with drinkable tap water. It’s a rare trip that doesn’t end too soon, but it’s also a rare trip where it isn’t nice to come home, and on both accounts this one was no exception.

Isla Mujeres from the air

Isla Mujeres and the blue waters of the Caribbean, taken from the airplane window while flying out of Cancun.

SCUBA Steve! Damn You!

Posted from Cozumel, Mexico at 9:05 pm, June 20th, 2011

Apparently there is a tropical storm on the Pacific side of Mexico that has been causing the recent weather on the Caribbean side, and the rainy stuff continued on our final two dives today. We joined the couple from Missouri, two other folks from yesterday, and Gabi Loco for what would turn out to be adrenaline-filled dives. The first dive was the more mellow, with a decent current (perhaps twice normal) pushing us along past eels, a nurse shark, some pretty coral, and with a surprise leg cramp during the safety stop to add an element of human interest. The second dive is where things really got interesting – the storm was having a significant effect on the local waters, and the current was flying along, making the diving feel like underwater body-surfing more than SCUBA – after the dive Gabi said that we had covered three reefs in forty minutes, when you would normally see one reef in about an hour.

Prior to the second dive Gabi had promised to introduce us to his “dog” Pancho, a massive grouper, and we were zipping along a sandy channel next to the coral when a ginormous fish suddenly appeared. It was (very literally) an ass-over-teakettle moment as people clambered to get handholds in the current. Mark and I perhaps fared the best – he found a rock to hold but left a line in the sand as he and twenty pounds of stone were pulled along the bottom, while I was nearly elbow deep in the sand and hanging on for dear life, somewhat apprehensive of what might be buried in the seafloor under me. Pancho was of course unperturbed, and the giant-headed beast hung out calmly a foot away from Mark and me waiting for Gabi to offer the expected bit of fish. At a later point in the dive I made an attempt to re-position and went flying, accidentally flailing my arms and almost knocking out Mark’s regulator. For those not in-the-know, that’s the number one worst thing you can do on a dive – there is literally nothing more inept and evil, and while Mark laughed and forgave me I wouldn’t be surprised to get a sternly-worded letter from the PADI surgeon general about the value of air to fellow divers. The dive’s other excitement came from a loggerhead turtle that was at least five feet across, although most of the group was blasted along too quickly to give him much attention.

After diving Audrey and I said goodbye to our new friends, packed our very, very funky smelling wet gear, and made the taxi-ferry-taxi journey back to Cancun. Along the way an offering was made to the gods of heating and cooling technology that resulted in an air-conditioned hotel gym, meaning that for the first time in two weeks the daily workout didn’t involve whimpering, tears, and heat stroke. Tomorrow the girl and I are on different outbound flights, so she’ll have a few extra hours in the Mexican Riviera while I’ll be going stir crazy in DFW before we meet up for our return flight from Dallas to LA.

Se llama Gabi Loco

Posted from Cozumel, Mexico at 9:09 pm, June 19th, 2011

“My name is Gabriel, but you can call me Gabi Loco”. Those ominous words began our morning dive. “Gabi Loco” was our divemaster, and due to the weather suggested we dive nearby where visibility would be a bit better and we could watch him chase lion fish. An hour later, with a spear filled with seventeen lion fish in tow (remember: they are bad) Gabi Loco earned his tips by providing a free lunch for his six person dive team. The scary thought is that even after spearing nearly twenty lion fish, there were easily another fifty hanging out in the area we dived – without divers trimming their numbers they really would take over the reef.

The remainder of the day’s activities included a second dive, a lunch of lion fish tacos, and a run in the hotel’s sauna gym with a three-plus foot long iguana watching from a ledge outside of the window. The day concluded with our dive friends and Arturo, the hotel restaurant owner, enjoying a Mexican barbecue, many drinks, and more than a few laughs. Sadly, tomorrow is our last day of diving before we return to Cancun and fly home on Tuesday.

Gabi Loco and a Lion Fish

Gabi Loco showing off the poisonous spines of one of his many victims. They are pretty fish, but very bad for the reef. Photo by Audrey.

A spotted moray snacking on Gabi Loco’s string of speared lion fish. Video by Mark Hahn.

I don’t have the Bends

Posted from Cozumel, Mexico at 8:23 pm, June 18th, 2011

Apparently exercising within 24 hours of SCUBA diving may induce symptoms similar to the bends. This fact may explain some of my recent near-death experiences while running, which is reassuring since the other explanation would have been that I was just really out of shape.

We awoke to lightning this morning, and the good folks at Scuba Mau immediately informed us that they were still planning on taking us out on the water so that we could help act as human bridges for current passing from sky to sea – it is possible we haven’t been tipping the divemasters well enough. Luckily they agreed to reschedule us for the afternoon, and we then enjoyed two cloudy and electricity-free dives on reefs that reminded me of an underwater version of Paradise on Mt. Rainier with all of the tiny, colorful plants. Fish were plentiful, regulators were leaky, and a huge green moray eel came out to give us an all-too-close greeting. The divemaster did a quick check after descending to verify that we were all good, and then spent his time spearing lionfish and feeding them to the trigger fish (remember, lion fish are bad), and in between pointed out everything from turtles to eels to crabs to giant parrot fish.

More diving (and rain) is scheduled for tomorrow, and if all goes well there should hopefully also be a video or two available from Mark, a fellow from Missouri that we’ve been diving with.

Inventory of Broken-ness

Posted from Cozumel, Mexico at 8:59 pm, June 17th, 2011

On yesterday’s trip into town I picked up a bottle of nasal spray to ensure that any congestion I had would be gone by the time we were diving today. Having never used the stuff before, something that would have been good to know in advance is that it would turn my nose into Niagara Falls. I arrived at the dive shop this morning, Kleenex in hand, and had no less than three people recoil in horror at the prospect of me going underwater. Luckily the sinuses were clear, and, while the mask needed frequent clearing during the dive due to what could charitably be described as an excess of goo, I didn’t have any problems at all with pressure equalization.

We dove again today with a couple from Missouri that we met on Wednesday and the same divemaster we dove with previously. Similar to Wednesday we did our first dive along a huge coral wall with numerous swims through coral caves, and a variety of fish to keep us company including a big grouper who swam up to most of the divers to give us each a closer look. The second dive was Audrey’s and my first ever dive on a shipwreck. The Mexican Navy had intentionally sunk a WWII-era minesweeper in 1999 in about eighty feet of water, and swimming through it was like something out of the Poseidon Adventure with perspectives twisted by the effect of being underwater, tight passages, air from the regulators seeping out through unseen crevices in the ship’s structure, random fish and coral throughout, and a tour of the ship’s latrine where a photo was taken by one of the Missouri folks that I’m hoping will never see the light of day. At times we were winding our ways along narrow, enclosed passageways with sharp metal all around us, including one piece that slightly caught Audrey on the leg and made her the designated shark bait for the dive. Other highlights of this dive included a school of tuna that passed by, several starfish, a few jellyfish, and the normal complement of amazingly-colored reef fish.

Following the morning’s diving and a mid-afternoon nap I again attempted a sunset run and again came home completely beat up after only a very short time. While the heat and humidity is an obvious culprit, Audrey and I started doing a rundown of my broken-ness on this trip and came up with an impressive tally: one day of barfing, one mangled toe, a wicked sore throat, a lingering head cold and a pretty beat up set of legs. Somehow I’m the only person in the world who can come to a beach paradise in Mexico and contract more ailments in ten days than I would in a year within the smoggy confines of LA – clearly this body was built for the extremes of Antartica or Alaska, and a tropical paradise throws the systems into utter disarray.

Bahama Shorts Fidel Castro

Posted from Cozumel, Mexico at 9:06 pm, June 16th, 2011

We’ve been pretty lucky with timing on this trip, as today’s example proved: for no particular reason we decided not to schedule any SCUBA diving for the day, and overnight a sore throat I’ve been fighting turned into a full-blown cold. For those who have never been diving, a cold equals sinus issues which in turn means you can’t equalize pressure as you dive which in turn means that it feels like someone is pounding on either side of your head with a sledge hammer the deeper you go. Long story short: good day not to be eighty feet underwater.

In lieu of diving we lounged around and then headed into town, where every shopkeeper in Mexico ran out to tell us about the amazing things we had to see inside of his/her store. Surprisingly, the amazing things almost always turned out to be sombreros or t-shirts with classy slogans like “I chased tail in Cozumel, Mexico”; I did not make any purchases. I did, however, find the awesome Bahama-shorts clad Fidel Castro pictured below outside of a cigar shop, which made the whole trip to town more than worthwhile. The day’s other noteworthy highlight was waking up to discover the world’s largest cruise ship docked just down the coast – any horror at the thought of a 6,000 passenger edifice to overindulgence was more than overcome by seeing an 1,187 foot engineering marvel that dwarfed the cruise ship docked next to it.

Whale Shark near Isla Mujeres

Me and Bahama-shorts Fidel Castro. Photo by Audrey, although to her credit I forced her to take it and she mumbled “I can’t believe I’m dating you” while doing so.

Scuba Mau

Posted from Cozumel, Mexico at 10:37 pm, June 15th, 2011

After five years without diving there was a trail of rust behind me in the water today, but luckily I managed to not do anything completely stupid like getting dead. We did two dives, the first one through giant coral heads including some awesome little caves. The interlude between dives was at a beach with a school of “Mexican piranha” hanging out at the dock – they looked fearsome, but followed Audrey and I around like puppies. The second dive had more fish, including a couple of nurse sharks, some giant parrot fish and grouper, and a handful of sea turtles including one who was scratching his back on the coral twenty meters down. The plan for tomorrow is to have a recovery day with more diving to follow thereafter.

Things that did not suck today: diving, seeing sharks, hanging out with sea turtles, eating fajitas next to the ocean. Things that sucked today: there was a mosquito in the room at one point, and also the little umbrella in my pina colada blew away in the breeze; it’s a rough life.