Archive for 2011

Se llama Gabi Loco

Posted from Cozumel, Mexico at 9:09 pm, Sunday, 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, Saturday, 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, Friday, 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, Thursday, 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, Wednesday, 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.

Still More Whale Sharks

Posted from Cozumel, Mexico at 9:53 pm, Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

At the risk of overkill, here are three more photos from last Sunday’s whale shark extravaganza. I will do my utmost to refrain from posting more, but sometimes awesome things need to be posted over and over and over.

Whale Shark and swimmer near Isla Mujeres

The surface view, with a swimmer for scale. From head to dorsal fin is less than half of the shark.

Whale Shark near Isla Mujeres

The non-business end of the whale shark.

Whale Shark and Audrey near Isla Mujeres

Audrey dutifully does her job of providing scale as a freakin’ whale shark swims next to her.

Self-Contained Underwater…

Posted from Cozumel, Mexico at 9:38 pm, Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

A checkout dive is typically done when SCUBA diving so that the dive master can verify your skill level and make sure all is well. However, in Cozumel a checkout dive apparently consists of the dive shop giving you equipment, directions on where to swim from the docks, and then saying “let us know if there are any issues” – this approach was eerily similar to my first dive ten years ago in Malaysia when the divemaster showed me how to put on the gear, told me to jump in the water, asked “are you nervous?”, and then took me underwater for forty-five minutes. In both cases, all ended well.

Our checkout dive today lasted for more than an hour as we enjoyed the sea life at between five and twenty feet; for me this was my first ever dive in the Caribbean. In addition to an odd artificial-reef thing filled with dozens of yellow French grunt and several mannequins, the obligatory species-sighted list includes: three different eels, three stingrays, numerous shrimps and crabs, a scorpion fish, two lion fish, and about a gazillion other reef fish. The lion fish in particular were ridiculously pretty, but as an introduced species they’re apparently having a bad effect on local fish populations so seeing them is bittersweet.

Tomorrow we’re off for a couple of dives, followed in coming days by even more diving. My camera is waterproof only down to five meters so sadly there won’t be any pictures, but no doubt tomorrow’s journal entry will contain a story about stupid things Ryan did while underwater since it’s been five years since the last dive trip and the rust is bound to show.

Best. Videos. Ever.

Posted from Cozumel, Mexico at 9:21 pm, Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Here are my two favorite videos from Sunday’s adventure:

Apologies for the idiot who jumps into frame just before the end of this video.

It was important to find a way to show how big the sharks are, so sending Audrey in to swim next to this one’s mouth seemed like a good idea.

Purple Toe

Posted from Cozumel, Mexico at 9:32 pm, Monday, June 13th, 2011

Since this trip journal has suffered terribly from a lack of stories about toe injuries, here’s a quick one: in the midst of the whale shark excitement yesterday I whacked the hell out of my pinky-toe-neighbor toe on the side of the boat, and under any other circumstances might have called for an injury timeout, but with whale sharks awaiting a toe was not going to be a cause for distraction. Overnight that toe magically grew two toe sizes and turned all sorts of shades of awesome, events that would have tempted a lesser man to post pictures on Facebook (I had no readily-available internet connection). For better or worse the toe now seems to be on the mend, and is merely one toe size larger than normal and a curious shade of grape.

With the obligatory toe adventure story out of the way, today was mostly a travel day and thus of relatively little note for journaling purposes. We awoke to thunderstorms, started on the seven part journey from Isla Mujeres to Cozumel at around noon (taxi to ferry to taxi to bus to taxi to ferry to taxi), and managed to cut two steps out of the journey by paying $50 for a taxi directly from the Cancun ferry terminal fifty miles south to the Playa del Carmen ferry terminal. Shortly thereafter we departed on the ferry, and after thirty minutes of enjoying the ridiculously blue waters of the Mayan Riviera arrived on Cozumel to checkin to a hotel that Audrey had previously visited on a dive trip in 2000. Following a sauna-like run in the hotel’s “gym” we enjoyed a dinner featuring unbelievable Mayan sauces that was hosted by the garrulous old Mexican restaurant owner. The coming days will likely involve some SCUBA diving and perhaps even some moped-ing mixed in with siestas and bebidas before our departure date arrives in another week.

The One with WAAAAAY More Whale Sharks

Posted from Isla Mujeres, Mexico at 4:00 pm, Sunday, June 12th, 2011

As amazing as Thursday’s whale shark experience was, it turns out it gets way, way better. WAY better.

We debated whether or not we should go on the whale shark trip again because we were afraid the second time wouldn’t be as good, but we finally decided that it would be silly not to go again and try our luck. The trip started out ominously – sixteen people showed up at the docks, but the boat was supposed to take a maximum of nine, our guide was the son of the guide we expected and spoke almost no English, and our captain from Thursday was going fishing so not only did we have a different captain but we got a smaller boat. Despite this beginning, all worked out. Seven of the people at the dock departed on other boats, the water was ridiculously calm so the smaller boat wasn’t an issue, and as we headed out we heard stories of “another area” in which a hundred whale sharks had been seen the previous day – while hopes were raised, we prepared for this number to be an exaggeration with a best case of a few more sharks and more time in the water.

The ride out involved dolphins and a few sea turtles, and then suddenly we were in magic land. As soon as the first shark was spotted six more were found within a hundred yards of it, and an area that was perhaps a mile across ended up having 100-200 whale sharks in it; literally everywhere you looked there was a set of massive fins sticking out of the water as the sharks filtered plankton at the surface. Not only were there more than enough sharks to avoid the need for sharing between boats, we actually had to be cautious of bumping into sharks while swimming as they crossed and re-crossed paths. To describe this experience as “awesome” would not do it justice. The water was ridiculously clear, the sharks were moving slowly enough that it was possible to swim with them, and we got four trips into the water for five-to-ten minutes each time where we swam within arm’s length of the largest fish in the ocean. One of the sharks in particular was huge (perhaps 35 feet long) and kept making 180 degree turns, giving Audrey and me the experience of following next to a beast only to have it turn, gaze at its followers, and then slowly pass by us at close range.

Some of today’s videos give a reasonably good impression of the experience, but a bit of editing and a faster internet connection will be needed before anything is ready for posting, so hopefully these two photos offer some hint of what it feels like to swim with giants.

Whale Shark near Isla Mujeres

Whale shark with attendant fish, each of which was between one and two feet long. One of these smaller fish actually left the shark and swam to within a foot of me for reasons which no one but that fish will ever know.

Whale Shark near Isla Mujeres

This is the giant shark that Audrey and I swam with for about ten minutes, giving us a look before making a 180 degree turn.

Big ‘ol Stingin’ Rays

Posted from Isla Mujeres, Mexico at 10:49 pm, Saturday, June 11th, 2011

The troops rallied dramatically today, and I was eating toast, drinking juice, and keeping it down like a champ at breakfast time. The day’s big activity was a double-dose of snorkeling at the far end of the island featuring a good number of fish whose names I do not know. A few photos were attempted, but underwater photography is a mystery best summed up as “chase the fish and hope it stays in the frame”, so the examples below are all that are forthcoming from that endeavor. Tomorrow we decided to book a second trip to see the whale sharks, so barring bad luck another video of me swimming frantically behind a giant fish (“chase the fish and hope it stays in the frame”) may be the main subject matter of tomorrow’s journal entry.

Audrey Underwater

Audrey modeling her wicked awesome swim shirt.

Stingray

The very rare kitten-faced stingray.

Sick Day

Posted from Isla Mujeres, Mexico at 9:42 pm, Friday, June 10th, 2011

Audrey spent today shopping and lounging while I added Mexico to the list of seven countries (and four continents) within which I have barfed. This doesn’t seem to be food poisoning since the girl and I have been eating all the same foods, but with any luck I’ll wake up tomorrow, see solid food, and not cringe at the sight. Our plan for today had been to rent a moped and see the rest of the island, but instead the view was mostly limited to the iguanas that hang out in the hotel’s back yard and a brief excursion after sunset to a restaurant full of begging cats, some of whom have apparently become so spoiled by the fancy cuisine that they won’t eat unpeeled shrimp – it seems that the tourists aren’t the only ones living the good life here.

The One with the Whale Shark

Posted from Isla Mujeres, Mexico at 10:08 pm, Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Here’s how this went down: 6:00 AM the alarm goes off, and Ryan is out on a run. It’s hot and humid, the legs feel like lead ballast, and the army guy at the waterfront gives me a dirty look; this won’t be a day that is remembered for exercise. 7:15 AM Audrey and I arrive at the docks, have a quick breakfast, and then we’re off on a boat with six other passengers and two Mexican crew. At 9:30 AM we’re about twenty miles from Isla Mujeres watching sea turtles do it; this wasn’t a planned part of the itinerary, but sometimes the universe puts two horny sea turtles in the water in front of you and you just say thanks and go along with it. For the next two hours we’re racing around looking for giant fish, and having no success. And after that, the real fun begins.

Two other boats had found a smallish whale shark (thirty feet!) and our boat joined the rotation, putting two people in the water with it as soon as the other boats had a turn, with each group getting about two-three minutes with the shark. Audrey and I were the third group on our boat to go in, and we hit the water, got temporarily disoriented in the open ocean, then looked down to see a submarine of a fish swimming under us. The obvious but unmistakeable first impression is that whale sharks are big. We swam along on the surface about six feet above the shark, apparently alarming it no more than any of the dozens of other fish that were following it, and while my watch showed that we were in the water for two minutes the first time, it seemed a lot longer. Over the course of almost two hours we got three turns with the shark, and while more time would have obviously been great, those six total minutes will undoubtedly be some of the most memorable 360 seconds of our lives.

Life has treated me very well, and while I don’t know what it is that I’ve done to deserve it, I’m extraordinarily grateful that things have worked out as they did. More adventures await over the coming days.

Second trip with the whale shark. That’s Audrey at the very end, and the whale shark is the giant fish that is never fully in frame. My life is good.

The Birds Steal Condiments

Posted from Isla Mujeres, Mexico at 8:44 pm, Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

First full day scorecard: two pina coladas, two substantial naps, one swim, six fish tacos and two iguanas. An attempt to beat the heat by running at 6:30 AM failed miserably due to temperatures that fell somewhere between “sauna” and “convection oven”, but complaining about weather on a tropical island is a bit like whining about taxes after winning the lottery, and therefore such commentary is hereafter banished from this journal. Tomorrow’s activity is a boat trip to swim with whale sharks (yeah, that’s right, whale sharks) and rumor has it that they are here in large numbers so tomorrow may be one of those rare days that will gain permanent storage in the memory banks along with a handful of other notable adventures.

Never Say Never

Posted from Isla Mujeres, Mexico at 10:01 pm, Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

After visiting over thirty countries during my 35 years, a long-overdue trip to America’s southern neighbor has finally added Mexico to the list of places in which I’ve set foot. The day’s journey started with a wakeup call at the ungodly hour of 4:15 AM, was immediately followed by an even more ungodly thirty minute run, and then improved noticeably with a first-class seat from LAX to DFW, some barbecue in the Dallas airport, and another first-class seat to Cancun. From there it was a mere two hours of standing in line to get through customs, and an hour and a half to get out of Cancun and across the water to Isla Mujeres, after which Audrey and I set about finding our hotel and appropriate island beverages. The coming days promise much in the way of water, sand, and napping, with fish tacos and pina coladas to be employed as often as possible in service of maximizing island time.

Not Workin’

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:27 am, Monday, May 30th, 2011

After another quixotic four months the contract at Backcountry has ended for the second time. With the day job gone time is now available for side projects – the TODO list that is posted on the fridge is imposing, but I’m anticipating attacking it with furious gusto and incomparable determination over the coming days, while simultaneously engaging in frequent catnaps and large amounts of snacking.

Also, as a preemptive strike against the number one most likely question: yes, there is a trip planned. More accurately, Audrey planned a trip and we’ll be off in about a week. Pictures will be posted, and the three-entries-a-month goal should be easily reachable for June. Because it’s fun to pretend I’m mysterious the destination will remain a secret for now, but provided all goes as planned the question “How many whale sharks have you seen in your life” will soon have an answer that is much larger than “one“.

On Safari

Posted from Culver City, California at 5:42 pm, Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The second Brother Day took place over the weekend in San Diego. The quick and dirty summary:

  • I headed down to San Diego on Saturday night and the Goob and I went for a run around the bay before sitting down to a meal of Thai food and a hatefully respectful showing of Get Him to the Greek.
  • The thought-provoking question of the weekend was “What person, real or fictional, wanted something the most?” After extensive consideration of everything from Woody’s quest for a twinkie in Zombieland to the terminator’s relentless pursuit of Sarah Connor, Gollum’s never-ending mission to regain the Ring emerged as the victor.
  • Sunday was spent at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The park’s lorikeet exhibit was a highlight, and we arrived early enough that the lorikeet hunger meter was still on extreme. Also, due to the open air habitats the park turns out to be a great place for native California animals, so in addition to the giraffes, elephants, tigers, red river hogs and Eric the baby rhino, the park was the best viewing of egrets I’ve ever seen, and also home to somewhere around sixty-three billion baby toads.

Aaron and the Rainbow Lorikeets

Aaron and the Rainbow Lorikeets. Sounds like a band name.

The Holliday Brothers on Safari

The Holliday Brothers on Safari. That would make a good album name.

Mr. Tambourine Man

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:15 pm, Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

In November 2004 I was staying in a converted farmhouse on tiny Pebble Island within the Falkland Islands. Including guests there were probably no more than a dozen people on this island, and the majority of the visitors were a quirky bunch of old British folks who explained to me that Venice Beach was the place to go for birdwatching in LA. At the time I looked at them as if they’d just told me about the great nightlife in North Dakota and went about ravenously consuming the steak pie that had been set in front of me.

Fast forward almost seven years, and the Venice Beach Pier is one of the places Audrey and I are most likely to head to for an evening walk. Last Saturday night our company on this walk included an egret who was fishing in the canal, a flock of pelicans that were plunge diving for mackerel, a heron that was intently observing the pier’s activities from atop a street lamp, and a few dolphins that were out enjoying the twilight. While it’s in no way comparable to areas along the Central Coast or even a place like La Jolla, I’ve got to admit that those crazy Brits might have known what they were talking about.

Black-crowned night heron

Black-crowned night heron. Taken on Pebble Island in the Falklands, but these guys also keep Audrey and I company on our strolls through Venice.

Finding Time to Think

Posted from Culver City, California at 5:20 pm, Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Audrey and I watched The Social Network a couple of weeks ago (good flick, by the way) and it was a reminder of what it was like to have the time and energy to focus on an idea and try to make it happen. Every software engineer that you’ve ever heard of became famous at a young age: Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Linus Torvalds and Steve Jobs were all famous by the time they were in their mid-twenties, and a major reason for it was because it was at that point in their lives that they had the focus and available time to take a chance on a big idea. They were probably also all single, but for software engineers that’s a separate, and likely unrelated, issue.

One major reason why older software engineers tend to make less of a splash is the same as it is for many jobs that require creative energy – once you’re spending 8-10 hours a day in a cubicle working for a company it’s terribly hard to find motivation to devote any significant amount of outside time to a similar endeavor. At the same time, quitting a good-paying job to pursue an idea that likely won’t pan out doesn’t make a lot of sense when weighed against the risk-reward formula that scientific types are ever-so-good at calculating. The end result is that by the mid-twenties a good software engineer is probably employed in a well-paying job that sucks up vast amounts of motivation that might otherwise have been spent founding Microsoft or Facebook.

It’s also for this reason that many older software engineers aren’t in as much demand as some younger ones – if you aren’t constantly learning new things and experimenting with new ideas, it’s tough for a company to justify paying 2-3 times more than what a young engineer might garner. While there are some very notable exceptions, software engineering seems primarily to be the province of the under-forty crowd.

The struggle between pursuing personal projects and working steadily is one that I’m given a chance to revisit whenever a job ends or a contract comes up for renewal. While it would be naive to believe that every idea will grow into something incredible if just given enough time and energy (the dotcom era drove that lesson home hard), there are always a million little projects waiting to be explored that, like any great unknown, are likely to generate at least a handful of interesting results. As a result, and understanding that in my field of work complacence often replaces excitement and innovation, I’m looking at my current work situation and doing some evaluation. While the ability to pay rent and buy groceries cannot be under-appreciated, the prospect of having some time to work on my own projects and potentially produce something new is an exciting one. The next few months may be interesting.

Bang or go home

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:48 am, Sunday, April 24th, 2011

I was trying to think of where I’ve been on this date for the past several years, and was surprisingly able to nail it down fairly exactly from old journals and emails. This may not be interesting to anyone but me, but IMHO I’ve been lucky to have such a wide range of experiences during the past 14 years:

  • 1998 On April 24 I was in my final year at Case Western, and on this particular weekend I was with the track team in Atlanta for the conference championships where I was running the 10,000 meters in insanely hot conditions. I’d broken up with a girlfriend two weeks prior, was finishing up classes, preparing for the final races of the track season, and planning a six-week trip to Europe for the summer. Life was moving fast.
  • 1999 I was living in Oakland and working at Andersen Consulting’s research group in Palo Alto as the dotcom era was really picking up steam. My car had died a dramatic death during rush hour on the Dumbarton Bridge two days prior, and I was two days away from purchasing the best car ever. Other activities at the time included planning my first trip to the Galapagos Islands for the year’s end.
  • 2000 After a long stint working a job in Phoenix I had been sent to Singapore and was just finishing my first week there. The project was only supposed to be for three weeks, but it ended up being more than a year before I was back in the US full-time.
  • 2001 After two projects in Singapore and a short job in Korea I was assigned to a project in Kuala Lumpur, but due to delays I ended up taking some vacation and going to Cambodia and Indonesia. April 24 found me sunburned while exploring the temple complex of Angkor Wat. Two days later while flying to Indonesia (via Singapore) I got the worst case of food-poisoning in my life and ended up living in the airport for 24 hours, too sick to even move.
  • 2002 After taking my dad to Egypt in March I was back at work in Los Angeles doing a job for Disney. A month later I would get dominated when a co-worker convinced me that I could do the San Diego marathon without training.
  • 2003 After quitting my job at Accenture the previous August I had traveled to Alaska and then taken a contracting gig at Warner Brothers in Burbank where I was spending my lunch hours roaming the movie studio lot. I was running more regularly than at any time since college, and a second trip to the Galapagos was looming in May.
  • 2004 I was back at Warner Brothers for another job after having fulfilled a lifelong dream the previous January by traveling to Antarctica.
  • 2005 A month-long road trip through the Southwest had just concluded, and I returned to my rented room in Lafayette with no concrete plans for the future. April was the mid-point of an eleven month stretch without work that didn’t end until August, when I went back to LA and rented a room from a girl named Audrey.
  • 2006 I moved to Culver City in December and visited the Antarctic again in January, and on this date was just a few weeks away from what would end up being my final trip to the Galapagos. Despite not having worked in a while I traded the car that had shepherded me through the Far North and on many, many road trips for a new model on April 25, a decision that actually led me to get a bit nervous about money and start looking for a job.
  • 2007 April found me five months into a contract with DirecTV, a job I would continue for three years. The previous June saw the creation of JAMWiki, an open source project I’m continuing to work on today.
  • 2008 My brother and I were spending more time together since he had moved to nearby Palmdale, and April saw us on a fishing trip in which he spent the entire voyage curled up in the fetal position barfing while I never ended up putting a hook in the water.
  • 2009 After going to the Dominican Republic with Audrey to snorkel with whales in March, April 24, 2009 was spent flying to Florida for my grandmother’s 90th birthday. The following day was spent at Cape Canaveral looking at spaceships, something I’m known to do from time-to-time, followed by an evening at Disneyworld’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (yes, I am a dork).
  • 2010 After leaving DirecTV in December I took a contracting job at Backcountry.com, but late April found me away from work and hiking through the Grand Canyon with my brother.

Not a story about the airport

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:19 pm, Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Since the only real excitement thus far this month has been a (*ahem*) roundabout flight to Salt Lake City nine days ago, it seems that another subject for a journal entry is needed. While spending a very, very long time at the airport I started going through photos from the Autumn 2009 road trip and found a few more that I kind of liked:

Yellowstone Canyon

Cliffs in Yellowstone Canyon.

Fall Color in Yellowstone Canyon

Fall Color in Yellowstone Canyon.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park.

Good Things

Posted from Culver City, California at 6:18 pm, Thursday, March 31st, 2011

There is a line in the James Clavell book Shogun that I’ve always liked:

“Always remember, child,” her first teacher had impressed on her, “that to think bad thoughts is really the easiest thing in the world. If you leave your mind to itself it will spiral you down into ever-increasing unhappiness. To think good thoughts, however, requires effort.”

In a world where the country is fighting three wars, the economy is looking at its third straight bad year, and the environment is seemingly headed to ruin, it can be easy to overlook good news, but there are a lot of things going on that are worth feeling positive about:

  • After disappearing for nearly one hundred years, 62 miles of the Owens River is now flowing again. In another victory for the Eastern Sierra, after losing forty-five feet of water depth and 99% of its ducks and geese, Mono Lake is slowly being restored, and with record snowfall this year it should gain a few more feet of water depth. In both cases the original devastation was due to diversion of water for LA, but for the most part the restoration has been done without diminishing LA’s water supply.
  • Habitat loss has had a damaging effect on migratory birds, but the Nature Conservancy is working with farmers in Washington state to allow flooding of fallow fields during bird migrations, providing stopovers for wildlife without affecting the land’s usefulness for crops. Early results show improved bird habitat and increased soil fertility. Similarly, the conservancy also restored twenty-five square miles of floodplain in Louisiana by removing a levee, apparently helping to reduce the downriver severity of a major flood in 2009 as a result.
  • After years of delay, the Boeing 787 will finally launch later this year. It offers 20% better fuel efficiency than comparable older planes, meaning that a flight that previously would have burned 10,000 gallons of jet fuel will now be using 2,000 gallons less. At the same time it’s a quieter plane, which is nice for those of us living in the flight path of a large airport.
  • An eradication of brown rats on South Georgia Island is underway. While this is obviously bad news for the rats, since arriving with whaling ships in the early 1900s they have decimated many of the native nesting birds, and with the retreating of glaciers on the island it is inevitable that they will spread and destroy even more bird colonies. Thus, the prospect of their removal is a hopeful one for the future recovery of the island’s amazing native wildlife.
  • In 2008 LA approved a sales tax increase to fund transportation projects over the next thirty years. The mayor then proposed accelerating those projects through the 30/10 plan, in which LA would borrow funds from the federal government against the future sales tax revenue in order to implement in ten years what would have taken thirty. Since building rail, highways, and subways in 2011 dollars is cheaper than doing it in the future, and since there are immense benefits to having better transit options now rather than later, AND since this is a loan that is backed by a revenue stream that has already been voter-approved, the plan is moving forward quickly and seems to be supported from both the left and the right, with those of us living in LA set to benefit from much-needed infrastructure improvements in the coming decade.

It’s nice to step back occasionally and get a reminder of why, despite constant predictions of doom and gloom, the future continues to be a hopeful one. The comments link is available for anyone wanting to spread some additional positivity, as good news should definitely be shared.

We Liked the Birds

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:32 am, Monday, March 28th, 2011

The first of many Brother Days took place last weekend with a trip to San Clemente (roughly the halfway point between Culver City & San Diego). Seafood was eaten, baseballs and basketballs were thrown, and minor injuries were sustained. All-in-all a smashing success. Another highlight of the day was a new game – to answer the question “how hard is acting”, we decided the best option was to come up with lines and deliver them; it is apparently tougher to be a pirate, checkout clerk, or random pedestrian than might have previously been suspected.

Following Brother Day I flew to Utah for a week of work in the snow. Upon returning home Audrey and I became proud members of the Aquarium of the Pacific, where, amongst dozens of tanks, the best exhibit is clearly the birds. They’ve got an enclosure that you can walk through with a cup of nectar and be swarmed by colorful birds – the “lorikeet hunger meter” was at “very hungry” when we entered, and three of the voracious animals immediately landed on Audrey when she emerged from the entrance; good times. The aquarium’s fish weren’t bad, either, particularly a sea horse that looked like a plant, a sawfish (aka carpenter shark), and a giant pacific octopus. As card-carrying aquarium members we’ll likely be back a few times in the coming year.

Basset Hound Running

Audrey and the lorikeets.

Writer’s Block

Posted from Culver City, California at 6:42 pm, Thursday, March 17th, 2011

The hope that March would yield journal-worthy moments has not been fulfilled; things remain slow in the world of Holliday. The most notable events over the past weeks have been the bi-weekly trips to Park City, Utah to be onsite at Backcountry. The specific project that they brought me back to work on has since been postponed until later this year, and in the interim I’ve been relegated to a “fill-in” role, helping out where needed. Some days have seemed a little long.

Aaron left Vail to take a new job in San Diego, making a monthly brother get-together a certainty. Sadly the major attractions located halfway between my home in Culver City and his abode in San Diego are a sprawl of stripmalls and a nuclear generating plant that looks like boobs, so our outings might not be as exciting as one would hope. Still, never bet against the Holliday brothers finding odd ways of entertaining ourselves.

And lastly, because it would be a shame to end a post without pictures of little dogs in motion, photos of basset hounds running single-handedly justifies every dollar that has ever been spent to create the internet.

Basset Hound Running

Basset hound at full speed. Photo from buzzfeed.com.

This is Mainly Filler

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:12 pm, Monday, February 28th, 2011

A handful of moderately interesting bits that may or may not be worth recording:

  • Space Shuttle Discovery is on its final mission. More than thirty years ago I remember my mother taking me to the Nashua Science Center where they gave a presentation on the great new replacement for the Apollo rocket. After one more mission that era will be over for good, which is an odd thing to consider.
  • In the world of airplanes (which are awesome) Boeing is getting ready for the first flight of the 747-8i, the world’s longest commercial airplane, and will shortly be announcing plans for the plane that will replace the 737.
  • The wicked awesome JAMWiki 1.0 was unleashed upon the world at the end of January to a roar of silence, although on February 11 apparently 5800 Kazakhis downloaded it, a new record for single-day eastern bloc installs.

And with that, February now has three journal entries. Hopefully March will yield slightly more material and the last minute panic entries can be avoided.