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

Status Update

Posted from Boise, Idaho at 10:17 pm, September 18th, 2012

It’s been a while since there’s been a boring old “here’s what’s going on” post…

  • Audrey and I headed off to the Hollywood Bowl last Wednesday to see the very talented Mr. Dave Matthews and his band. After spending an hour trying to drive (literally) two miles through sanity-testing traffic on Highland we finally arrived at the show, and despite missing the first couple of songs a good time was had by all.
  • Work for Bodybuilding.com is now in its fourteenth month, and things look like they may continue on into 2013. I’m enormously grateful to have avoided financial difficulties during the Great Recession, but it would be a huge lie to say I didn’t selfishly reminisce about the freedom from a daily job that was last experienced in December 2006.
  • The latest addition to the new house is a ridiculously awesome backyard fountain, which was procured from Luigi’s House of Fountains since the birds looked like they might be getting parched. Watching the neighborhood birds splashing around never ceases to be entertaining, and it’s a pretty huge thrill to occasionally look outside and see one of the local hawks perched on the edge getting a drink. Other unusual visitors have included a zebra finch, a native of Australia who obviously heard about our fountain and flew 7500 miles to see it.
  • In less personal news, a spaceship is coming to Los Angeles; expect this engineering nerd to make a field trip to welcome it.

Zebra Finch

Zebra finch, native to Australia, getting a drink from our backyard fountain in Culver City, California. A very similar scenario was chronicled in the movie Crocodile Dundee 3.

Extreme Beach Cruising

Posted from Honolulu, Hawaii at 11:03 pm, August 31st, 2012

Aaron and I got up for sunrise this morning, enjoyed a fine Mexican breakfast, then joined Ma and Pa for some biking on the coast. After a leisurely ride along a rocky shoreline the Holliday boys unsurprisingly found a way to make the return trip into a game, and spent the next thirty minutes playing beach cruiser tag. The game ranged along the bike path, next to cliff edges, around surprised picnickers, and generally anywhere where escape seemed plausible and death seemed at least somewhat unlikely. After much sweat and some laughter from onlookers Aaron emerged victorious at the bike rental shop, but next time the tables will be turned.

Following the bike ride, and after drinks, sunset, and failed chicken catching, Aaron and I took off for the airport, where Aaron managed to get bumped off of his flight in exchange for a travel voucher, a nice hotel room, and another full day in Kauai. Meanwhile my ticket takes me to Honolulu for a layover of doom and despair (from 11PM to 7AM) – sleeping on a bench in the ticketing area seems probable.

The six day vacation was a good one, with a nice mix of relaxation and adventure. The Napali kayak was obviously the biggest of those adventures, and the following snippet from a local travel magazine seems a fitting, albeit overly dramatic, view of the trip from another perspective:

Known as the “Mount Everest” of ocean kayaking, arms of steel are necessary to embark down the famed Napali Coast. This adrenaline pumping, action packed journey traverses the breathtaking northwest coast of Kaua’i, navigating the open ocean at the base of 4,000-ft cliffs. There’s nothing more physically demanding than this 17-mile voyage over the unpredictable ocean that will challenge your strength, endurance and agility. But the sights along the way are equally rewarding and worthwhile.

The Holliday Family in Kauai

The Holliday family in Kauai. Beach cruisers were a solid plan from Ma and Pa.

A Day of Many Turtles

Posted from Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii at 9:13 pm, August 30th, 2012

Scuba diving in Kauai was definitely not a bad idea. All of my previous 27 dives were outside of the US, and the difference in a domestic dive appears to be higher costs, more paperwork, bigger boats, and much better equipment. The first dive site was OK, and a good refresher lesson on how to scuba dive. The surface interval included a visit from some bottlenose dolphins, and then it was off to Sheraton Caverns, aka sea turtle wonderland. We had a turtle in the water on entry, and then a turtle under every ledge once on the bottom – I was six inches away from a human-sized giant near the end of the dive. Overall the dive was great – underwater lava tubes, a white tip reef shark, turtles that didn’t care about divers swimming by, and a ton of brightly colored fish including a cleaner wrasse who was working on two much larger reef fish. To close things out in style a sea turtle followed us to the surface, and while it was probably just a coincidence, she paused her ascent at our safety stop, floating with me fifteen feet below the surface for a minute or so. Once back on the boat, a pod of spinner dolphins came in to visit us, including one tiny baby – maybe a foot long – who was leaping along with the adults.

The afternoon was less eventful – Aaron and I made a rush checkout from the Hyatt (so nice there!), grabbed lunch, then moved in with Ma and Pa for a night. It’s been a mighty good week.


Posted from Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii at 9:21 pm, August 29th, 2012

Life is definitely going good when you can look back at your day and be surprised by a thought like “I only went swimming once today”. After yesterday’s kayaking extravaganza today ended up being a rest day, with a fair amount of floating, a few more trips down the hotel’s water slide, multiple servings of fish tacos, and drinks at sunset with the parental units. Tomorrow morning is a scuba adventure for me and some eclectic yoga for Aaron, followed by a checkout from the Hyatt and a night at Ma & Pa’s timeshare before this quick adventure sadly comes to a close.

The ‘Squatch

Posted from Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii at 10:31 am, August 29th, 2012

After a full day spent kayaking in the Hawaii sun, Aaron and I were both asleep within sixty seconds of hitting the beds once we got back to our hotel room last night, hence the lack of a journal entry. The Napali Coast kayak was pretty epic – it started at 5:45 AM at the kayak shop with everyone but the guides still half asleep. The guy driving the van (nicknamed the “Hawaiian Sasquatch”, because that’s exactly what he looked like) was jamming to reggae on the drive up and at one point failed to notice a lane shift, and after jerking out of the way of oncoming traffic the guide riding in the passenger seat nonchalantly commented “Yeah ‘squatch, they moved that lane”.

Within two minutes of setting out in the kayaks we were in the midst of dolphins, and had a second pod doing 720° corkscrews out of the water about an hour later. The seventeen mile kayak led along the base of three thousand foot cliffs, occasionally broken up by ridiculously awesome sea caves (see video below). One of the caves ended in a huge shaft that was open to the sky, creating the opportunity for a quick snorkel in water that was crystal clear for at least sixty feet down to the bottom.

Other highlights included kayak surfing whenever we could manage to catch a wave properly, one of the guides breaking out the “sail-brella” and coasting past us without use of paddle, the many light showers and high clouds that kept temperatures comfortable, a few monk seals, and many tropic birds, sooty terns, boobies, and frigate birds. Surprisingly the seventeen mile slog wasn’t deathly exhausting, and while I’m not excited about possibly having to use my upper body in any way today, aside from some soreness and a bright red zebra pattern sunburn (spray-on suncreen: bad idea) neither Aaron nor I are that much worse for wear.

Kayaking through a cave with a friggin’ waterfall coming through the roof. Most Tuesdays are not this exciting.

Preparing for the Kayak of Doom

Posted from Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii at 8:13 pm, August 27th, 2012

Aaron and I are doing a seventeen mile kayak along the Napali Coast tomorrow, so if there are no further journal entries after this one, that’s the place to tell the rescuers to start searching for bodies.

After plunking down deposits for tomorrow’s eight hour death march we did a snorkel in murky, turbulent waters and followed that up with three trips down the hotel’s water slide – surprisingly a request from two grown men for the wristbands that allow repeat trips down the slide did not elicit even a raised eyebrow from the hotel staff, so they’re either really well trained or we weren’t the only ones who appreciated the mad g-forces on the turns. After the watersports Ma and Pa joined us for sunset and a few chases of the local chickens before we headed to bed at the late hour of 8PM.

Sunset in Kauai

Sunset in Kauai.

I Got Carded

Posted from Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii at 9:05 pm, August 26th, 2012

Day one of the Hawaii vacation involved much legroom and warm cookies during the first-class ride over (note to American Airlines: if the first class ticket is somehow fewer award miles, don’t even both to offer the economy tickets). Post-arrival activities included some snorkeling with the Skipper and a handful of pretty fishes, followed by a tropical beverage on the beach at sunset. The conversation that led to the tropical beverage being procured was one that gets rarer with each passing year:

Ryan: "Can I have a piña colada?"
Bartender: "You’re twenty-one, right?
Ryan: "Do you want to see my ID (reaching for ID)?"
Bartender: "Are you twenty-one?"
Ryan: "I’m thirty-six."
Bartender: "That was a piña colada, right?

Aaron arrives tomorrow, and we’re staying at a separate hotel from the elder Hollidays in an effort to promote family harmony, and also because the stock market is up 1000 points so a fancy hotel became an option. We booked the super-snazzy resort down the road, and aside from some sticker shock there don’t seem to be any downsides – when you don’t get that much vacation, going big seems like a winning strategy. Scuba appears to be on the schedule for Tuesday (yes, we are for scuba), and undoubtedly many shenanigans will unfold over the coming week.

I should be better than this

Posted from Culver City, California at 11:48 pm, July 30th, 2012

I should be a better person than to write this post, but I’m one short of my three-posts-a-month goal, I get a ton of these sorts of requests, and I’m not in line for sainthood. So here goes – I received the following email today:

From: Elise Pearson <EPearson@vacationroost.com>
Subject: Question About Your Site
Date: Mon, 30 Jul 2012 16:46:37 +0000

Good Afternoon,

My name is Elise and I manage web relationships for a mountain reservation travel agency called Vail Destinations. I am trying to get the word out about our business, and would love to have it be through a blog like yours. We are flexible with the opportunity, but have found that most people opt to:

1. Have us write a unique guest blog post for you and have you post it yourself
2. Have you write an honest review of our site, what you think

In exchange we are offering a $20 Starbuck or Target Gift Card. Please let us know if this is something you are interested in. If you have any questions you can contact me at (801) 559-3256.

Elise Pearson | Online Marketing Coordinator
P: 801.559.3256 | epearson@vacationroost.com

I do love Starbucks, and unlike many people who may take Ms. Pearson up on her offer, I have actually visited Vail (in December 2010), so I’ll go with option #2 and write an honest review of what I think, taking special care to ensure that my review has maximal online marketing value. I can already taste my lattes and scones…

Vail is a truly amazing place with a vast number of lodging options, so visitors should have plenty of choices. Companies in Vail can attract customers by offering great accommodation, excellent prices, or by employing shady and dishonest attempts to artificially inflate their results in search engines. Even though I’ve never used their travel portal, it seems unlikely that Vail Destinations and its parent company Vacation Roost would promote businesses that cheat customers, provide terrible customer service, or operate fraudulently. They have asked me to write a review for them sight unseen, but that does not imply they are engaging in manipulative online marketing, such as one sees with hotels whose rooms pose dangers of exposure to crabs, lice, fleas and STDs.

Since I have not actually used the Vail Destinations travel portal it is important to focus on what I can surmise from their unsolicited emails. At the same time as Ms. Pearson’s email arrived I also received several spam emails, including advertisements for escorts, pornography, and illegal drugs, but Vail Destinations and its parent company Vacation Roost are obviously very different from those internet scams. Also, while some might find it suspicious and unusual for a company to ask complete strangers to write about their business, what are the odds that they would rip-off travelers? Unfortunately I cannot recommend them without doing additional research, but clearly they would not want to pay for reviews like this one if they were just another crappy travel portal that should be avoided at all cost.

Erik the Rhino

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:21 pm, July 16th, 2012

Highlights of last week’s trip to San Diego, including a visit to the San Diego Safari Park:

  • We got to the safari park at opening time and Audrey went immediately to the bat house. The girl is not shy around the creepy-crawlies.
  • Following the bats we were first into the lorikeet enclosure, where Audrey was swarmed by the hungry buggers. Sadly I somehow overexposed the pictures, but in three trips (nectar in hand) we met about twenty of the resident birds in a very up close and personal way.
  • From the lorikeets it was on to goat brushing, since girls like having goats snuggle up to them and use their big goat eyes to say “will you please brush me?”.
  • There may have also been some goose feeding. If you’re getting the sense that we went for the “hands on” trip, you would not be mistaken.
  • As temperatures approached levels usually reserved for blast furnaces our trip became a bit less adventurous, but still included most of the remaining animals of the park. There may have also been a delicious pudding break, since there’s always time for pudding.


Maximum lorikeet landings-on-Ryan at once was five, which is most likely a new world record. Photo by Audrey.

Getting Amped

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:44 pm, June 30th, 2012

Audrey’s friend was the 237th person to place a reservation for the new Tesla Model S and asked if we were interested in joining him at an invitation-only test drive event today (my response: “Um, YES!”). Only reservation holders were allowed to drive, but even just as a passenger I’m confident in predicting that this new electric car is going to be very much talked about – we flew down a closed road at eighty miles an hour (0-60 time: 4.4 seconds), took a turn at about fifty with the car feeling like it was glued to the road, and changed the car’s steering and breaking characteristics via software on the huge touchscreen console. The interior is massive – it’s open through to the back, and the engine is in the rear axle so the front is what Tesla calls a “frunk” to provide additional storage space. JB and the rest of the Tesla team have a winner in this car – every single person who completed a test drive walked away ridiculously enthusiastic, a reaction that is probably only seen as frequently at Ferrari and Lamborghini dealerships.

Tesla Get Amped Pass

Only the cool kids are invited to get amped. Luckily I knew one who could get me in.

Model-S Photo

Post test-drive in the photo booth. Awesome car, awesome gangster poses, cheesy fake palm tree background.

Travelin’ Man Part 2

Posted from Culver City, California at 1:31 pm, June 23rd, 2012

The month of many travels concluded with a long weekend spent driving with Audrey from the Bay Area back to LA along the coast.

Thursday July 14

After working in Berkeley I picked Audrey up at Oakland airport and we then headed to Ma and Pa’s for the evening. The night concluded with a viewing of photos of young Ryan in an awesome Superman outfit, and questionable shots of a younger Skipper in a speedo.

Friday July 15

After bacon at the Hick’ry Pit in Walnut Creek we visited the Lindsay Wildlife Museum, because girls like to see cute animals and go “Awwwwww!” The museum’s eagle was calling, the hawks were hawking, and the owls were owling. Following that excursion we headed to Moss Beach under amazingly non-foggy skies to meet Audrey’s best friend Krissy, who is now a docent at the state beach across the street from her home and thus empowered to yell at anyone who gets too close to the seals. She gave us the beach tour, then took us on a walk that ended at a restaurant with amazing views and awesome Pisco Sours – everything after the second drink is a bit of a blur.

Saturday July 16

The next morning Audrey and Krissy went stand-up paddle boarding in Half Moon Bay while Krissy’s husband and I went kayaking. I got the sleek red kayak with flames on it ’cause it was super awesome, and jetted off to chase baby seagulls, loons, and other critters for the next two hours. Following that adventure we met JB at his new place, which somehow has a 1500 year old redwood in the middle of it. He gave us a tour in the back of a Polaris ATV before we had to drive down to Carmel for the evening. Audrey took me to a fancy restaurant with beautiful gardens for dinner, where I ordered a meal of buffalo chicken strips in an effort to keep things classy.

Sunday July 17

The trip through Big Sur involved many stops, including a visit to the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park where we were visited by five red-headed acorn woodpeckers. Further down the road we stopped in Piedras Blancas to see the elephant seals, made a visit to Hearst Castle (although sadly it was too late for a tour), then had the following encounter further south on Highway 1:

Me: “Why are all of those cars stopped ahead? What are they looking at?”
Me: “There are zebras on the top of that hill.”
Audrey (not wearing her glasses): “C’mon! Tell me what it is, really?”

As it turned out, the last remnants of William Randolph Hearst’s private menagerie now roam the Hearst ranch, and it was indeed a herd of zebras grazing by the road. Definitely not something you expect to see on the California Coast, and yet another reason why road trips are such awesome endeavors.

Audrey in Piedras Blancas

Audrey being pretty in Piedras Blancas.

Travelin’ Man Part 1

Posted from Culver City, California at 11:16 pm, June 19th, 2012

Three Weeks Ago

The month of many travels started with a trip to Boise. Nothing too exciting to report from that outing, although I did get to fulfill the dream of getting sunburned at work during a particularly glorious afternoon spent working outside.

Two Weeks Ago

The traveling continued with a return trip to Boise the following week. The approach to the airport in a tiny commuter airplane was made with 49 mile per hour winds; it was not dull.

Once back to LA, Ma and Pa came down to see the new house. After they had driven six hours to get here I immediately put them back in a car and then spent forty-five minutes fighting traffic into downtown, but it was well worth it for a ridiculous dinner at WP24 – there was definitely more than one “wow” uttered during the meal. The next day was the day of many birds – Pa was impressed by the backyard feeders, Ma enjoyed the waterfowl during a walk around the Marina, and Pa and I tied on rabbit spotting 1-1 while looking at flying things at the Ballona wetlands.

One Week Ago

The consultants I work with at Bodybuilding.com are all contracted through Commerce Architects, but since we work remotely and rotate weeks onsite in Boise I’d only met one of the other guys in person. Last week we all got together to work from the Berkeley office for the week, and I managed not to do anything worthy of firing despite the fact that they had to spend two hours confined on a sailboat with me during a team outing.

On Thursday night Audrey flew into the Bay for a long weekend trip, but since it’s late in June and I made it a goal to write three entries a month, that summary will follow in another post.

YAY Spaceships!

Posted from Boise, Idaho at 9:05 pm, May 31st, 2012

Although it’s a little dismaying to be so excited about something that the country first did fifty years ago*, the launch by SpaceX to the space station is still a big deal. While NASA has done amazing things, the private sector is far better positioned to someday make us all into astronauts and help fulfill my childhood fantasies of looking at the earth from the other side of the clouds.

The second Falcon 9 launch (the mission prior to the most recent one) on December 8, 2010.

*This comparison is only correct insofar as the destination is still low earth orbit; the technology behind the Falcon 9 rocket is at least an order of magnitude beyond the rockets of the early 1960s.

The Nature

Posted from Boise, Idaho at 7:35 pm, May 29th, 2012

This post started out as a brainstorm of “things that matter”, but morphed into one about positive developments in conservation. Apologies in advance if it feels a bit too tree-hugger-ish, but these sorts of things excite me and seem worth writing about from time-to-time.

I’m a longtime member and a big fan of the Nature Conservancy. The group started in 1951 as an organization that purchased land for conservation purposes, and as of 2009 the conservancy’s assets totalled over $5.64 billion with more than 119 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers protected worldwide. Over the years, while continuing to buy and conserve land, the conservancy expanded its mission to include scientific research and partnerships with a huge variety of organizations, and today is known for its ability to find ways to bring together individuals who might otherwise be battling one another.

One early example of how the conservancy worked to bring together two very different groups is with ranchers. Historically environmentalists and ranchers haven’t been allies, despite the fact that most ranchers want to see their land kept natural and most environmentalists would far prefer a ranch to a subdivision. The Nature Conservancy wanted to maximize its conservation dollars, and so began experimenting with an arrangement known as “grass banking“, wherein they buy a ranch and allow neighboring ranchers to graze cattle on it in return for agreeing to manage their own lands more sustainably. Quoting a New York Times article on the practice: “A result is that the ranchers get more range than they could otherwise afford, and the conservancy protects more range than it could afford to buy.”

In contrast with the gloom and doom that seems to be the status quo for most of the environmental movement today, here are a small selection of conservancy projects and partnerships that provide reason for optimism:

  • Oyster reef restoration. Scientists have recently been paying more attention to the role that oyster reefs play in creating wildlife habitat. Compared to historic numbers oyster populations have crashed, and as a result the reefs that once protected shorelines and helped to filter sediments out of the water have disappeared in many places, resulting in water that is too murky for plant growth, waves that are stronger and cause more erosion, a smaller food supply for fish and birds, and a major degradation of the local ecosystem. The conservancy has thus been working to restore reefs in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast and has already seen noticeable improvement to shoreline wildlife habitat in project areas. In addition to wildlife, beneficiaries of this work include fisherman, who will enjoy improved fish spawning habitat, and land owners, who should see reduced damage from storms.
  • Floodplain restoration. After years of levee building and river straightening, floods today are often increasingly destructive since the entire output of a storm is now forced into a single, narrow channel, instead of being able to spread out in a wider area as would happen naturally. One of the conservancy’s areas of focus is in proving that by selectively removing levees, thus allowing a river to reconnect to portions of its historic floodplain, that flood damage can be reduced while simultaneously improving river health and wildlife habitat. In one example, during a flood in Mississippi when a river prematurely breached a levee that had been scheduled for demolition, the volume of water that entered the adjacent floodplain almost immediately reduced the water level in flooded towns downstream. The hope is that the conservancy’s work will spur government to reconsider floodplains as tools for combating flooding, while simultaneously helping restore natural ecosystems.
  • Migratory bird protection. While areas of high wildlife concentration are obvious targets for protection, the conservancy also began looking into other threats to wildlife. For migratory birds, having “stopover” points during migration is a key to ensuring survival, so the conservancy identified and purchased several sites along the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere that were shown to be important rest stops for birds making long journeys. Even though the species in question might be there only briefly, having places to rest and refuel during migration proved to be vital to the species’ long-term viability.

Oyster reef restoration in Alabama.