"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
Archive for 2013
Posted from Culver City, California at 1:03 pm, Tuesday, December 31st, 2013
After getting home Sunday night I woke up Monday morning at 6:30 and headed down to the Marina to see what was stirring. Turns out that the place is lousy with grebes, which have apparently converged here in huge numbers for the winter.
Western grebe in Marina del Rey. As I told Audrey, the bird’s red eye is really pretty and also a clear indication of demonic possession.
Posted from Ojai, California at 6:53 pm, Sunday, December 29th, 2013
Today ended up as a meandering journey through the hills and mountains of Southern California. Wake-up preceded the sunrise in the Carrizo Plain, and I wandered about in the early light enjoying the quiet. Following a short hike along the San Andreas Fault the path led in a roundabout way to the Tule Elk State Reserve, which was home to the last of the species when it was formed in 1932, and which has been the source of nearly all of the 4000 tule elk that today roam numerous locations throughout California. From there it was off to the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, which is where much of the protection efforts for the California Condor have been focused. Sadly access to the refuge is closed to the public, and since no birds were visible from the highway I settled for enjoying the mountain scenery and the many hawks that managed to outsmart my photographic attempts.
From there all paths seemed to require crossing Los Angeles County, so despite the inner voice telling me to deal with the traffic and highways of LA and then visit the Salton Sea, I decided to make this year’s trip shorter than in years past and explored the backroads of the Los Padres National Forest while heading in a generally-homeward direction – we’ve got some surprisingly cool mountains within a two hour drive of the Culver City abode. Tonight’s sleeping place will either be back in my own bed, or in the back of the Subaru if an interesting option presents itself along the way.
Sunset over the Santa Barbara Channel. Were I better with Photoshop and less conscientious about altering photos the towers on the mountain would not be in this photo any longer.
Posted from Carrizo Plain National Monument at 6:37 pm, Saturday, December 28th, 2013
It’s quiet here. Utterly still. I stood on a hillside this morning and could hear the footsteps of people walking on a trail more than a half mile away, and that was one of the few times that I was around other people. I probably needed to get away to a place like this one.
The Carrizo Plain protects one of the last undeveloped stretches of California grassland, a famous set of petroglyphs, the largest concentration of endangered plants and animals in California, and a stretch of the San Andreas fault that shifted nearly thirty feet during an earthquake in the 1800s. To my eyes the area looks like it needs time to recover from centuries of heavy grazing, but with the relatively recent designation as a national monument hopefully it will get there. As a travel destination it is suffering from the third straight dry year – Soda Lake, known as a good winter wetland spot, is a dry salt flat – but it’s still a great location for getting away from everyone. It seems bizarre to be only about one hundred miles from Los Angeles, but to feel like this is the absolute middle of nowhere. The roads here are almost all unpaved old ranch roads, so I spent the day roaming about before parking for the night in a corner of the park with a view of the plain and absolute silence, aside from the occasional bird flying by. This journal entry is being written from the back of the Subaru with stars blazing, the cell phone showing “No service”, and the nearest town an hour’s drive away.
Posted from Paso Robles, California at 7:32 pm, Friday, December 27th, 2013
Audrey has dubbed the annual post-Christmas road-trip the “man-trip”, and this year’s adventure started off in much the same way as last year’s: a visit to the Cosumnes River Preserve followed by a sunrise trip to the Merced National Wildlife Refuge. The Pacific Flyway is busy this time of year, and it’s invigorating for the soul to stand on the edge of a wetland while tens of thousands of ducks, geese and cranes are calling out.
A big part of the fun of these trips is that I generally have no idea where I’m going to end up, and while the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest was considered, the closure of Tioga Pass sent me in the opposite direction, and it looks like I may be spending some time roaming the Carrizo Plain. The area became a national monument in 2001, but shockingly since my road atlas is out-of-date it’s a green dot within California that I’ve somehow never visited, an oversight that will hopefully be corrected tomorrow.
Great blue heron at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge. He sat in the water thirty feet away so long as I stayed in my car, but the second the door opened he was gone.
Sandhill cranes at sunrise. The one on the left is bad at following.
Killdeer. After the heron experience I didn’t tempt fate by even thinking about exiting my vehicle.
Posted from Paso Robles, California at 6:56 pm, Friday, December 27th, 2013
December totally flew by. Wow. Here’s the recap for everything prior to the current road trip:
I haven’t had to make the trek out to Boise since October, so work has consisted of the bedroom-to-kitchen commute, eight work hours that may or may not involve getting dressed, and the agonizing decision over what to eat for lunch – there is a good sushi restaurant that delivers in our neighborhood, which is a very, very dangerous option to have available. On paper, my life is extraordinarily good, and in reality it’s pretty swell, too.
Christmas and birthday gifts are usually something I do only when there’s something good to give, and 2013 was such a year – if you haven’t been to beardhead.com then you are a more mature person than me. The Holliday men spent Christmas Eve sporting new looks and laughing a lot. Aaron’s contribution to the madness was nerf dart guns, so Ma and Pa got to endure their 33 and 38 year old boys rampaging through the house with plastic guns and fake beards.
Christmas day saw Ma and Pa receive a new TV from the boys, and saw some very happy folks from craigslist getting the old TV – everyone won. Ma made a scrumtrillescent turkey dinner, and following that Pa nearly cracked a rib from laughing during a game of Balderdash – it got to the point where if anyone even began to read a definition he would go into spasms, so this game may need to be revisited frequently during future visits. Meanwhile, back in Culver City Audrey hosted her mom, sister, and three others in our fully-decorated house. I’m told the highlight of the meal was her pie with a likeness of Cthulhu made out of crust on top, since it’s not a Wiechman Christmas unless there is dough made into the shape of a human (or part thereof), animal, or mythical cosmic entity.
Post-Christmas, Ma and Pa took me to the Lafayette Reservoir to look for white pelicans since I’ve been chasing all over California trying to get a glimpse of these odd birds. After numerous road trips and no success, of course there were a dozen pelicans twenty minutes from my folks that were practically swimming up to people. Following the visit with the birds and a delicious lunch it was time to depart on the annual post-Christmas road trip, which barring surprises will be covered in subsequent entries.
The men of the Holliday family. Photo credit goes to Aaron.
Posted from Culver City, California at 9:55 pm, Sunday, December 1st, 2013
The Thanksgiving holiday started with Audrey and I making the long drive up to the Bay and paying a visit to my brother at his brand-new townhome. While it was distressing to see a guy who once scored three Turkey Bowl touchdowns with a busted head now enthusiastically discussing window coverings and throw rugs, he saved face somewhat by putting snowboarding videos on repeat on his new giant flatscreen. The following day we arrived at Ma & Pa’s, and Aaron and I immediately set off on a hike on Mt. Diablo followed by some basketball and a photo op on the giant digger that was parked next to the court. Ma did her usual stellar job with the Thanksgiving dinner, and pants had to be loosened before the night was over.
The next day Audrey and I set off for Moss Beach to see her friend Kris. Along the way we got to make a trip over the ridiculously cool new Bay Bridge, and while Audrey was better about containing her excitement than I was, I have no doubt that somewhere deep down inside her inner engineer was jumping and cheering. We paid a quick visit to the sea lions at Pier 39, checked into our posh room at the Seal Cove Inn, then joined her friends for drinks on the coast followed by dinner. Sadly, at some point towards the end of dinner the men in the brain sent a sudden signal that something had gone very wrong, and things reached defcon five just before I could pull into the hotel parking lot, and I had to make a mad dash to refund my dinner on the side of the road. Audrey spent the remainder of the evening with her friends, while I slept off the after-effects of my forced weight loss.
The following day was Audrey’s birthday, and after a fancy breakfast at the hotel we joined her on her annual birthday trip to the library before embarking on a tour of the peninsula. She flew home late that night, while I shacked up in the back of the Subaru and woke up before sunrise to head off for a return visit to the cranes, hawks, and geese at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge. That was followed by a quick trip to the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, and then lots of time to partake in the joy of stop-and-go Thanksgiving traffic on the long route back to LA.
California quail that showed up in the garden outside of our hotel room to greet Audrey for her birthday.
Black-necked stilt at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge.
Posted from Culver City, California at 9:10 pm, Tuesday, November 26th, 2013
Here’s a belated recap of the annual Halloween extravaganza (see also: 2012, 2005):
- This year’s big addition was a well with images of a ghost projected into it – imagine the freaky angels at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but flying up from a well. Too many people walked by not realizing what was inside, but for those who looked it was pretty creepy.
- Audrey added a new set of teeth to her costume. “They’re really horrific” was her enthusiastic endorsement after trying them on for the first time.
- I again got the best job in the world as I was dressed in all black and stationed inside of our blacked-out entryway, with my sole responsibility being to be invisible, wait until someone got close, and then growl. At the end of the night we found a pile of candy next to where I was stationed – I apparently literally scared the candy out of a few people.
- The proof that our efforts were worth it came early in the evening when a kid stood in our driveway for a good thirty seconds loudly repeating “it’s not worth the candy… it’s not worth the candy”. He didn’t make it to the door, but gets the honor of being a part of Scare the Children lore for years to come.
- Others who participated in the scaring this year included a guy dressed as a clown with an axe (“that’s really disturbing” was the initial assessment), Audrey’s current boss who made a surprise appearance and was later found hovering in a tree over the sidewalk, her friend Monty who stood completely still, looking fake, and got a few screams when he reached out at folks walking by, longtime participants Gina and Shelly, Meghen in the coffin, an executioner who didn’t take kindly to the many kids who mistook him for a ninja, and Audrey’s friend Stephanie doing logistics.
- Finally, in what may not have been the best move for building relations with the neighbors, our across-the-street neighbor came by and chatted with Stephanie at the door for three minutes before asking “where’s Ryan”. Unseen and six inches behind her, I whispered “Boo”. She immediately retreated back across the street, and word has it that “Ryan’s dead”.
If you haven’t “liked” the Scare the Children Facebook page then you should do so to ensure you don’t miss out on important future scaring updates.
That’s my girl.
Posted from Culver City, California at 12:01 pm, Saturday, November 23rd, 2013
Following the recap of events from 1975 through 1996, here’s a sampling of further major events during the second half of my lifetime. It’s weird how you sort of feel like things haven’t really changed, and then you look at what has happened and realize that computers and cell phones only showed up recently, while things that dominated everyday life for decades like Communism and Pan-American Airlines disappeared only a short time ago and now seem solely like subjects for the history books.
- April 13, 1997 – Tiger Woods wins his first major golf championship at the Masters, setting records for youngest winner (21), lowest score (-18), and largest margin of victory (12 strokes).
- May 11, 1997 – IBM’s Deep Blue computer beat chess grand master Gary Kasparov in a six game match, the first time that a computer defeated a chess world champion.
- July 9, 1997 – Eleven years after being ousted as CEO of Apple Computer and only months after his return to the company, Steve Jobs is named interim CEO. At that time Apple was losing money and had to negotiate a $150 million investment from Microsoft; in 2012 the company would report a yearly profit of $41.66 billion on $156.5 billion in sales and would have $121.25 billion in cash on hand.
- August 31, 1997 – Princess Diana dies after a high-speed car chase in Paris. Her funeral on September 6 was watched by over two billion people.
- September 4, 1998 – Google is founded in Palo Alto by two Stanford PhD candidates.
- November 25, 1998 – The first module of the International Space Station is launched into orbit from Russia. Humans take up permanent residence on November 2, 2000, meaning that for over thirteen years there has been a continuous human presence in space.
- December 31, 1999 – The US transfers control of the Panama Canal to Panama after 85 years of American operation.
- January 10, 2000 – America Online (AOL) announces an agreement to purchase Time Warner for $164 billion in what was, at that time, the largest-ever corporate merger. In 2002 the failing of AOL would result in a write-off of $99 billion, which was also a record for its time as the largest loss ever reported by a company.
- July 25, 2000 – The Concorde crashes after take-off in Paris, leading to the end of supersonic passenger transport in 2003.
- December 12, 2000 – Thirty-five days after the election, the Bush v Gore Supreme Court decision is announced, leading to George W. Bush being declared the winner of Florida by 537 votes (out of almost six million cast), and thus the next President of the United States.
- January 15, 2001 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit, launches.
- September 11, 2001 – September 11 terrorist attacks.
- October 7, 2001 – The War in Afghanistan begins.
- October 23, 2001 – Apple introduces the iPod.
- January 1, 2002 – Euro notes and coins go into circulation in France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Finland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Austria, Ireland and the Netherlands.
- February 1, 2003 – Space Shuttle Columbia and its seven member crew is lost during re-entry after sustaining damage to its protective tiles during launch. This accident would lead to the end of the shuttle program in 2011.
- March 19, 2003 – The Iraq War begins. US forces would seize Baghdad on April 9, but the war would continue until the last personnel left Iraq in December 2011.
- February 4, 2004 – Facebook launches with membership initially limited to students of Harvard College.
- June 21, 2004 – Spaceship One successfully completes the first privately funded human spaceflight.
- December 26, 2004 – A magnitude 9.3 earthquake in the Indian Ocean spawns a massive tsunami that impacts countries around the world and kills over 180,000 people.
- April 2, 2005 – Pope John Paul II dies. He is succeeded seventeen days later by Pope Benedict XVI.
- August 29, 2005 – Hurricane Katrina makes landfall along the Gulf Coast, killing at least 1,833 people and doing $81 billion in damage.
- January 9, 2007 – Apple introduces the iPhone; it goes on sale June 29, 2007.
- September 15, 2008 – Lehman Brothers files for bankruptcy, a major catalyst of the Great Recession.
- September 28, 2008 – The SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket reaches orbit, becoming the first privately developed space launch vehicle to do so.
- January 20, 2009 – Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.
- February 17, 2009 – President Obama signs a $787 billion stimulus package into law as an effort to address the Great Recession.
- June 25, 2009 – Michael Jackson dies just before his 51st birthday, and just prior to a scheduled fifty show tour at London’s O2 Arena.
- January 27, 2010 – Apple announces the iPad.
- March 23, 2010 – President Obama signs the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) into law.
- April 20, 2010 – The Deepwater Horizon oil platform explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil being released (compared with between 260,000 and 750,000 barrels released during the Exxon Valdez spill) over a period of 87 days.
- January 14, 2011 – After twenty-three years in power the President of Tunisia flees the country following protests. Before the end of the Arab Spring the longtime rulers of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen would all be forced from office.
- March 11, 2011 – A magnitude 9.0 earthquake strikes Japan (the fifth strongest in recorded history) and causes a tsunami that decimates the coast and cripples the Fukushima nuclear reactor.
- July 21, 2011 – Shuttle Atlantis lands following the completion of its mission to the International Space Station, marking the end of the shuttle program after 135 flights.
- March 13, 2013 – Following the resignation of Pope Benedict, Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina is elected as the 266th pope, becoming the first pope from the Americas.
Posted from Culver City, California at 10:20 pm, Wednesday, October 30th, 2013
I wrote about rat eradication efforts on South Georgia Island back in March. While it is too soon to know for sure what the result of that effort will be (note: things look really good so far), an older effort is worth examining.
Rat Island, a ten square mile island in the Aleutian Islands, has had to be renamed.
Rats arrived on the island during a shipwreck in 1780, and since that time they have wiped out nearly all of the native bird life. In 2008 efforts were made to remove rats from the island, and today a once silent island is described as “…hardly recognizable among the cacophony of birds calling everywhere; it’s alive with bird fledglings – teals, eiders, wrens, sparrows, eagles, peregrine falcons, gulls, sandpipers.“
As of today there have been over 1100 successful removals of invasive species from islands, including 500 rat removals, worldwide. I’ve seen firsthand how removal of invasive species impacts the native plants and animals in the Galapagos and on the Channel Islands, and hopefully some day I’ll get to see the results on South Georgia.
We live in a world where news about nature always seems to be negative, but there is reason for optimism. Invasive species removal continues on other islands, governments are beginning to look to things like dune, wetland, and floodplain restoration as a cost-effective way to combat flooding, obsolete dams are being torn down to increase fish stocks, and numerous other positive developments are going on around the world. Not all of the news is good, but there is definitely reason to think that the outlook for our future isn’t as bleak as the news might lead us to believe.
Posted from Culver City, California at 12:01 am, Wednesday, October 30th, 2013
The world has changed a lot since I was born – in November 1975 no American craft had visited Mars, Mount St Helens was still intact, communism was very much a thing, no one knew what it meant to “use the Force”, and Michael Jordan was a twelve year old. While reading through Wikipedia’s yearly summaries of important events the following stood out – part two will follow at some point when there is time to review the next eighteen years.
- May 18, 1980 – Mount St. Helens erupts.
- April 12, 1981 – The first shuttle, Space Shuttle Columbia launches on its first orbital flight.
- November 18, 1981 – IBM introduces the PC computer.
- October 1, 1982 – Epcot Center opens in Orlando.
- November 30, 1982 – Michael Jackson’s Thriller album is released.
- January 3, 1983 – Kīlauea volcano begins erupting in Hawaii; the eruption continues today.
- October 26, 1984 – Michael Jordan plays his first NBA regular season game, scoring 16 points against Washington.
- March 1, 1985 – Mikhail Gorbachev becomes Secretary General of the Soviet Communist Party.
- May 16, 1985 – The ozone hole is discovered by British scientists in Antarctica.
- November 18, 1985 – Calvin and Hobbes debuts in 35 newspapers.
- March 14, 1986 – Microsoft holds its initial public offering. By July 2010 the stock had risen to 288 times its IPO price.
- April 26, 1986 – The Chernoybl nuclear reactor explodes, resulting in the worst nuclear power plant disaster of the twentieth century.
- November 22, 1986 – Mike Tyson beats Trevor Berbick to become heavyweight champion.
- March 24, 1989 – The Exxon Valdez runs aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, spilling 240,000 barrels of oil.
- June 4, 1989 – The Tiananmen Square square protests end with thousands of casualties as the Chinese military clears the square after six weeks of occupation by students.
- November 9, 1989 – Fall of the Berlin Wall.
- April 24, 1990 – The Hubble Space Telescope is launched aboard Space Shuttle Discovery. Shortly after launch the telescope’s mirror is determined to be flawed, and it will not be fixed until a servicing mission in 1993.
- November 13, 1990 – The first known web page is written.
- January 16, 1991 – Operation Desert Storm begins with air strikes and eventually involves over 500,000 US troops.
- December 4, 1991 – Pan American World Airways ceases operations after 64 years.
- December 26, 1991 – The Soviet Union is formally dissolved by the Supreme Soviet.
- May 22, 1992 – Johnny Carson’s final appearance as host of the Tonight Show.
- October 31, 1992 – Pope John Paul II issues an apology, and lifts the edict of the Inquisition against Galileo Galilei.
- June 12, 1994 – Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman are murdered outside the Simpson home in Los Angeles, California.
- March 1, 1995 – Yahoo is founded.
- September 4, 1995 – eBay is founded.
- December 31, 1995 – The final Calvin and Hobbes comic strip is published.
Posted from Culver City, California at 1:25 pm, Sunday, October 20th, 2013
Less than two miles from the house is a shockingly good place for wildlife – birds, sea lions, dolphins, and random crawly things like crabs. These photos were all taken in past two months within walking distance of where I get to live.
An elegant tern that kindly stayed in focus.
Sandpipers being cute.
Brown pelican taking a bath. At sunset. In really pretty light.
Black oystercatcher. He was picking these really colorful purple urchins out of the water and having a dinner of uni, but I didn’t photoghrasize that so good.
Willet. I’m embarrassed to admit how I remember this bird’s name, but yes, I hear them make a loud call and think of a Different Strokes reference.
Posted from Santa Barbara Channel, California at 3:41 pm, Tuesday, September 17th, 2013
Last day of the trip, and the best one by far. I woke up at 5:30 and went out to take another look at the squid and take in the stars, although unfortunately the latter were hidden by clouds. At around six we began a really pretty navigation around the east end of the island before embarking on my favorite hike thus far. With no wind (a first on this trip) and blue skies we set off along the sea cliffs near Scorpion Anchorage with an army of ravens making all manner of weird sounds to send us on our way. The views were spectacular, a peregrine falcon made a brief appearance, and we also saw our first island fox. The destination – the confusingly named Potato Harbor – was home to sheer sea cliffs of many colors and the sounds of sea lions echoing from below.
The return trip was via a slightly different route with the destination being what we had been advised was the best place in the entire island chain for seeing foxes – the campground. And sure enough, we arrived to find a fox sniffing around campsites. These foxes nearly went extinct within the last couple of decades, but heroic efforts led to one of the fastest recoveries in the history of the endangered species act. I followed one mangled old fellow around the campground for about an hour apparently without him caring at all – twice he wandered to within 10-20 feet of me.
The last activity of the trip was a snorkel in the kelp forest next to the pier, and in addition to a ton of decent-sized (1-2 foot) fish I saw three rays. The second ray swam right next to Audrey without her seeing it, prompting the girl to display her sad face. Luckily, a short time later a MASSIVE (3-4 foot) stingray swam by, and I made enough noise to get the girl’s attention. The stingray settled on the bottom, showing off for us for a bit before moving on.
The navigation back through the Santa Barbara Channel started out a bit rough but calmed noticeably, and I don’t think anyone refunded their lunch. As a last farewell the ocean sent us school after school of dolphin – for a good 15-20 minutes they were following along and playing in the bow wave, an experience that feels very akin to sharing pure joy with another animal as they leap and twirl.
We should be home later this evening, and while no further adventures are planned I’ve got three more days off to recover from these two excellent vacations.
Island Fox on Santa Cruz. This guy was a bit scroungy-looking and he was adept at staying out of the good photography light, but nevertheless still pretty cute.
Same fox (note the mangled ears) after digging up something that was apparently pretty tasty.
Common Dolphins in the Santa Barbara Channel. Any day spent with dolphins is a good day.
Posted from Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, California at 8:47 pm, Monday, September 16th, 2013
I slept ten hours last night but still woke up in time for sunrise. This may be an unprecedented sleep event.
This morning’s activity was a hike through a canyon on Santa Rosa island, aka the windiest island in the world (at least it seemed that way). Unlike yesterday we weren’t required to stay with the guide, so Audrey and I got to roam about on our own. The trail led along the beach, up through a canyon, and then over a ridgeline with incredible views and wind that was strong enough to nearly knock us down. It ended at a campground where they’ve had to build permanent windbreaks to prevent tents from blowing away.
Whether because of the wind, the sun, or something else I finished the trail feeling less than one hundred percent, so after the night of much sleeping I returned to the boat and took a two hour nap. The afternoon’s activity was snorkelling in the kelp with garibaldi and myriad other fish. Having only swum with tropical fish before I had no idea what I was seeing while swimming in the cold kelp forest, but nevertheless enjoyed it greatly. Back on the boat we watched the birds and a group of about one hundred sea lions chasing something that was probably delicious a few hundred feet from where we were anchored. The day’s final event began after the captain set up a floodlight on the side of the boat and thousands of small squid came up from the depths to check us out.
The Channel Islands are an interesting place – the land is pretty bleak, but the ocean is full of life and amazing to explore. Tomorrow we’ll do some hiking and hopefully get another chance for snorkelling before braving the choppy ride back to Santa Barbara.
Santa Cruz Island Sunset. The tiny black dot is a pelican – they were being highly uncooperative despite repeated requests to come in closer and thus provide a nice silhouette against the setting sun.
Posted from Santa Rosa Island, Channel Islands National Park, California at 7:28 pm, Sunday, September 15th, 2013
When Audrey signed us up for this trip to the Channel Islands we had very few details about what to expect, although knowing we would have three days on a boat in the islands was a strong enough selling point to get us to send in our deposits. We were guessing that the trip would be fairly free-form, and that the trip participants might skew older and female, and so far both of those predictions appear to be true. Luckily, while some fears have materialized – nametags were distributed on the first night – as yet we haven’t had to sit in a circle and say our name, home town, and one thing we’re most excited about for the trip, and my current sense of things is that getting to live on a boat and visit the islands for several days will more than outweigh any disadvantages of group travel.
After getting on the boat last night and almost immediately heading to bed, today’s activities started early, with many passengers waking up a couple of hours after departure when the seas got rough at around 5:30. For the next two hours a parade of people visited the side of the ship, including the boat’s two cooks, although Audrey managed to keep things down while I suffered no ill effects and ate a hearty breakfast whilst surrounded by bodily fluids and carnage. Our first stop was the very remote and seldom-visited San Miguel Island, home to 30,000 pinnipeds, although unfortunately they mostly stick to the extreme northwest tip of the island and thus can only be accessed via a sixteen mile round-trip hike. Our visit consisted of a five mile hike to the top of the island, featuring various birds, petrified tree stumps, and steady wind and fog. On the rare clear days I suspect the views would be incredible, but even with the rough weather this was still an enjoyable hike.
Once back on the boat fresh brownies awaited as we motored off to spend the evening anchored in a calm harbor at Santa Rosa island.
Posted from 35,000 feet over Wyoming at 6:33 pm, Friday, September 13th, 2013
I always consider it a sign of a good vacation when you return home completely exhausted, and by that measure this trip has been an excellent one. We’ve got a one day intermission before we head off on phase two, and both Audrey and I will sleep well. There should also be some time to review photos and post these journal entries, although time and internet access will be limited on the next adventure so entries may again get posted a few days after they are written.
For our last day I dragged Audrey out of our fancy room at 6AM and off to Moose Wilson Road in Grand Teton National Park, which numerous people had said was an amazing spot for bears and moose. Unfortunately only one bull moose made a fleeting appearance today, but it was still a pretty drive in the clearing fog, and we emerged at the base of the Tetons with some dramatic views of the mountains.
After a morning of photography we checked out of our fancy hotel and headed over to the ridiculously fancy Amangani Resort – I’m not quite ready to shell out four figures per night for a hotel room, so we settled for having lunch while enjoying their views and decor. After a week of animal watching it felt slightly wrong to eat them, but Audrey nevertheless had a bison short rib sandwich while I went for the lamb, bison and elk sliders – there were slight pangs of guilt, but the food was still pretty damn delicious.
After another animal-free journey up Moose Wilson Road we went for a short walk at Jenny Lake, then hopped on the plane for the flight home. I’m ready for a shower and a shave, and should have just enough time to get myself looking respectable again before we drive up the coast to catch our boat tomorrow night.
Grand Teton summit.
Posted from Jackson, Wyoming at 10:00 pm, Thursday, September 12th, 2013
The last day in Yellowstone, and both Audrey and I were again up at 6:30 and off to see the animals. A repeat trip up to the park’s north border yielded a bighorn sheep and a herd of elk, including two bulls engaged in a competition to figure out who had the biggest rack. Following breakfast we roamed around the weird terraces created by the bubbling water of Mammoth Hot Springs. Thereafter it was time to head out of the park, and we embarked on the long drive south, waving at the bison and elk along the way (literally).
It was an intermittently stormy day, so when we arrived in the Tetons the skies were pretty dramatic, and many photo stops were made along the way. At nearly 8PM we pulled into our fancy hotel in Jackson, and after checking in headed downstairs for a drink. When the bartender asked for my order I told him that since Audrey had just ordered a tequila and I couldn’t possibly get anything more manly than that, I’d go the other direction and have the raspberry chocolate cheesecake martini. He paused, looked at me sideways, and asked “Are you serious?”. I was, and it was delicious.
Audrey looking pretty as she photographs some Tetons.
Backlit trees at sunset. Yes, after a day of photographing some of the most dramatic mountains in the world, I looked at all of my photos, hung my head in shame, and decided to post a picture of trees.
Posted from Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming at 9:36 pm, Wednesday, September 11th, 2013
Today was the day of many animals. Wake-up at 6:30 was followed immediately by a drive through the northwest corner of the park. Audrey was half-in-the-bag as we communed with elk and sandhill cranes. Following breakfast ninety minutes were allotted for the trip’s first downtime, and then we departed for the park’s north entrance, visiting with more elk, a handful of pronghorn, and a few bighorn sheep along the way. The elk were particularly good sports, with a herd of a dozen or so playing in the river while the resident bull kept tabs on everyone. We then returned to town, where due to its green lawns the park headquarters is an attractive home to a small herd of elk, including a massive bull who attacked no less than five cars this morning (“he got ’em good” is the word on the street). Park rangers had dutifully cordoned off the elk behind wooden barriers labeled “Event”, so we viewed these city dwellers from a safe distance. With the preliminaries thus completed, the real safari began.
The destination was the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone’s northeast corner, but we stopped numerous times along the way, including at an overlook where we spotted a herd of several hundred bison in the valley below. Upon entering Lamar a pronghorn greeted us at the side of the road, and after we had stopped he ambled directly up to me – I got back in the car to get out of his way, but he was still almost close enough to pet. He then posed for what are likely to be the best photos I’ll ever take of a pronghorn. And this encounter was just the beginning.
Continuing through the valley bison were everywhere, often standing just a few yards off the road. Eventually we stopped at a spot with an expansive view and got out the binoculars to see what we could find – perhaps a hundred bison, maybe fifty pronghorn, and a dozen cranes were the result of that survey. At around 5:30, with the sun beginning to sink, we headed back to a pull-out where earlier a couple had told us there was a nearby buffalo carcass that had attracted bears during the past two nights. As the time went by more and more people appeared, many of them with spotting scopes in hand. After just over an hour of chatting with the many hardcore wildlife enthusiasts who had gathered, I spotted some black dots moving on a far-off hill, and shortly thereafter a lady with a spotting scope began yelling “they’re on the carcass!” For the following hour we watched a mother grizzly and three large cubs feast on buffalo, with a brief interlude while she fought off what was either a pair of wolves or coyotes. Eventually she wandered off, and through binoculars and scopes we followed the family back into the woods. A brilliant sunset, a drive home in the dark featuring deer and elk, and a delicious and most-definitely girly drink (the “Huckleberry Princess”) finished off an excellent day.
Hats off to this pronghorn for posing against a perfect background.
I’m not sure what the protocol is for having a wild animal approach within a couple of feet, so as he walked a bit too close I snapped a photo and retreated back into the car; this photo was not taken at maximum zoom.
Lamar Valley sunset. Awesome end to an awesome day.
Posted from Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming at 9:45 pm, Tuesday, September 10th, 2013
We’re going to bed with the sounds of a bull elk bugling a few hundred yards away. This is a good vacation.
This morning’s wake-up call was at 6:30, and even though all activities are optional Audrey joined me for a stroll through the Upper Geyser Basin. We had it mostly to ourselves as the mist cleared, and spent time photographing Morning Glory Pool with two ospreys keeping us company. Following that adventure we ate breakfast at the Inn and then departed Old Faithful, embarking on a tour of many paint pots as we visited Fountain Paint Pots and Artist Paint Pots and their boiling muddy mud. The sound those things make is strikingly similar to what one hears two hours after a baked bean dinner, and Audrey did a lot of eye rolling while I did a lot of giggling during the mid-day excursions.
After the tour of many paint pots it was time for the visiting of much falling water, with photo stops at Firehole Falls and Gibbon Falls; my streak of ugly waterfall pictures continues, but Audrey got some nice ones. With the waterfall options exhausted we hit Norris Geyser Basin, the park’s oldest and hottest. This basin is far-and-away the most other-worldly, and after several miles of strolling the camera’s memory cards were full and we were composing ballads dedicated to Porkchop the magic geyser – the sun was strong today and may have scrambled our brains moreso than usual.
Following our departure from Norris the trip was first interrupted by a bison strolling down the double-yellow of the road and passing within a foot or two of the car, and then by a bugling elk who stopped traffic in front of the Mammoth Hot Springs. After arriving in Mammoth and eating dinner we walked back to our cabin in the dark with more bugling greeting us – apparently the resident stud is out prospecting for additional lady friends. Tomorrow is another animal day, with another early start planned, so hopefully the wildlife gods will smile down upon us yet again.
This is the stock bison photo that everyone who visits Yellowstone takes, with the one exception being that this photo is of Stumpy the tail-less bison.
Like most photos I take, this one doesn’t come close to doing justice to its subject – the Porcelain Basin in Norris Geyser Basin truly feels like something from another planet.
Posted from Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming at 9:57 pm, Monday, September 9th, 2013
It’s EXTREMELY late by the standards of this trip, so this journal entry may be somewhat abbreviated.
We’re staying on the geyser side of the park, but the animals mostly reside on the opposite side, so today we got up early-ish (6:30) and headed off to the Hayden and Lamar valleys. The weather was nice, the scenery was tremendous, and elk, bison and pronghorn were out in abundance. Other sightings included an osprey chick on its nest, a few zillion geese, what we assumed were cranes (they were far off, but the shape was right), and some bubbling thermal features that looked scary enough that “do not touch” signs were not a necessity. There was also some confusion early in the day when we pulled over at a sign labeled “Sulfur Cauldron” and encountered a coned-off vent sending a wisp of steam up from the asphalt, but things were clarified quickly thereafter when we realized there was a MASSIVE sulfur spring sending plumes of steam skyward just a few hundred feet away.
Despite the fact that we’re seeing most of the wildlife from a car traveling on a paved road, one of the great things about Yellowstone is that when you’re here you feel like you’re seeing America as it existed 150 years ago. The trees haven’t been logged, there aren’t roads, mines or buildings off in the distance, and the ecosystem is more-or-less what’s it’s supposed to be. While three million visitors each year obviously means that the “pristine” feel is somewhat of an illusion, it’s nevertheless quite inspiring to get at least a glimpse back in time at something that is otherwise mostly gone forever.
Posted from Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming at 8:13 pm, Sunday, September 8th, 2013
We woke up in the Tetons and Audrey and I are now sitting on the third floor of the Old Faithful Inn lobby under the 92-foot high log ceiling and with its 500-ton, 85-foot tall stone fireplace as our view; life could be worse.
The great vacation of 2013 truly got underway today with a meandering drive through the forests, canyons and mountains of Yellowstone and up to the geyser basins, where Audrey and I made a pilgrimage to the Grand Prismatic Spring. The overlook we hiked to isn’t on the maps, but also apparently isn’t a place that the park discourages visiting, and while she wasn’t happy with me initially after forcing her to hike up the steep hillside (no swearing was involved, but if looks could kill then this journal entry would have been written from the other side of the clouds), Audrey later admitted that the views of this unbelievable natural feature were most definitely worth the exertion.
It’s been a while since I’ve had an extended period to just go out and meander in nature, and the following days should be a much-needed chance to refresh the soul – I can’t (and shouldn’t) complain about my work situation, but day after day in front of a laptop doesn’t always leave a person feeling like they are living life to its fullest. Tomorrow’s plans for soul restoration include searching for animals on the east side of the park – aside from a lone bison the beasties have been surprisingly elusive thus far. A late afternoon thunderstorm cut the day short today, but tomorrow the weather forecast is for sun and the plan is to head to Hayden Valley, so photos of critters should accompany future journal entries.
Grand Prismatic Spring – we had a much more dramatic and complete view than the (tiny) people on the boardwalk at its edge.
Posted from Jackson Hole Airport, Wyoming at 8:35 pm, Saturday, September 7th, 2013
Audrey sent me an email this morning asking if my lodging last night “had wheels”. Yes, yes it did. And it also had an awesome view of the stars through the car’s moonroof.
The beginning of the vacation was delayed for a bit when word came in that the company’s web site was crashing, and since crashes are bad I stayed at the office to help resolve the situation until about 7PM Friday night. This issue occurred while Bodybuilding was celebrating the grand opening of their new headquarters, so the joy of dealing with a site issue was enhanced by having visitors and their many children roaming the office. Once the problem was finally found I headed out to my rental car, and I won’t be writing or thinking about work again for two weeks.
Audrey is flying into Jackson Hole to meet me, so I drove down from Boise to pick her up and am currently writing this from the airport parking lot. The stops along the way were myriad – the route from Boise to Jackson is a pretty drive – but the most notable stop was at Craters of the Moon National Monument, where some improvised spelunking was done (improvised = me, a Maglite, and no idea what I was doing). There are four lava tubes open for exploration, but Boy Scout Cave was the day’s winner. The entrance to that cave is a squeeze around boulders, but the cave then opens up and extends for several hundred feet. It’s cold enough to see your breath, there are tiny crystals on the walls, and when I shut off my flashlight the darkness was so complete that eventually my brain started manufacturing flashes of light that didn’t actually exist. Starting the trip off in a cave while experiencing trippy mental mirages seems like winning strategy.
Tomorrow we’ll begin our five days in Yellowstone, so odds are that a photo of an animal or two may be forthcoming.
Craters of the Moon landscape. Because lava is hard to photograph I took pictures of flowers with lava far, far away in the background.
Outside of the entrance to Beauty Cave. I go on vacations and spelunk and stuff.
Posted from Culver City, California at 8:30 pm, Saturday, August 31st, 2013
I enjoy following politics, and enjoy looking back at old journal entries about political issues, but I also try to avoid writing too much about politics in this journal since it’s a subject that tends to evoke a visceral reaction in a lot of people. People have strong opinions on a lot of subjects, but politics and religion seem to be the two subjects where differences of opinion too often lead to arguments rather than discussions.
That caveat aside, this journal entry is a hopefully non-controversial, and very random, brainstorm of one possible way to address the fact that Congress seems to be making a mess of things. It’s not really a viable solution, but is a fun thought experiment that might generate further (civil) discussion on how to improve the current system.
The upcoming deadlines for passing a budget (important!) and raising the debt limit (much, much, MUCH more important!) are two highly visible instances where Congress seems to be unable to do even its most basic job. After reading this Josh Barro article I’m not as worried that Congress will fail to raise the debt limit and thus plunge us back into economic chaos similar to 2008, but the fact that one has to worry whether the US government will endanger the US economy is a sign of significant problems with the current system. Our Congress should be an example of the best and brightest minds coming together to do great things, rather than a collection of angry people fighting with one another while barely managing to keep the system functional.
As an engineer, any time there is a problem I wonder how it could be fixed. Following standard engineering practices, the first thing to do is to identify the primary source of the problem. After not-nearly-enough thought, I would posit that the US Constitution did a great job of building in checks and balances to our system of government, but it failed to account for political parties, much less a two-party system that incentivizes “supporting the team” over focusing on the merits of specific issues. There are other issues (money in politics, difficulties in scaling representative democracy for a nation that has grown hundreds of times larger, etc), but a very strong argument can be made that it is the tribalism of the two-party system that is most often the impediment to a smooth-running legislative process.
The Ryan Plan
To solve this issue, some reward would need to be introduced to ensure that the most effective, respected lawmakers are focused first and foremost on making the government run well, and that they are rewarded more for being good legislators than they are for being good party members. Note that while elections are supposed to fulfill that purpose, unfortunately our system is heavily impacted by voter apathy, the influence of money, name recognition, and other factors that have little to do with a legislator’s competency. Since the premise of this journal entry is that any option is open for discussion, and reminding anyone still reading that I haven’t had a ton of time to think this through, I offer a plan that allows the best legislators to face re-election less often. This plan is very loosely inspired by another dysfunctional tribal system: that of the TV show Survivor.
Proceeding from the premise that the incentives for lawmakers are too far skewed towards promoting their party interests, any solution must provide an even greater incentive for putting aside party interests in cases where they conflict with the national interests. Since politicians are most interested in their own re-election, why not take a page out of Survivor and its “immunity” challenges and reward the most effective lawmakers with another term without having to face re-election? In both Congress and Survivor, what individuals fear most is being voted off the island, and thus immunity from ejection is the biggest incentive one can possibly offer.
How it would work:
First, some broad principles. This proposal should be created in a way that ensures legislators still have to go before voters, but it would allow the most effective legislators to do so less often. Second, it needs to be structured in such a way that “most effective” really does mean legislators who do the best job of legislating, rather than simply rewarding those with the longest tenure or highest party rank; in the same way that rankings are developed for schools, doctors, and myriad other things, we should be able to identify and reward the best lawmakers. With those disclaimers out of the way, here are some rough thoughts on how this proposal could work:
- Each election cycle a non-partisan office (similar to the CBO) would be responsible for creating a nomination list of the most effective legislators, with the list to include 30% of the legislators up for re-election, divided in proportion to party. As an example, for the 2014 election that would mean:
||Democrats up for re-election
||Democrats to be nominated
||Republicans up for re-election
||Republicans to be nominated
||201 * 0.3 = 60
||234 * 0.3 = 70
||21 * 0.3 = 6
||14 * 0.3 = 4
Factors to consider when developing this list might include things like the legislator’s effectiveness in passing legislation, the legislator’s approval ratings in their district, their ability to find innovative solutions to legislative problems, etc.
- From those candidates identified by the non-partisan office, each house of Congress would then be responsible for narrowing down the list by a further one-third (representing 20% of the legislators up for re-election), again in proportion to party.
||Democrats up for re-election
||Democrats exempt from re-election
||Republicans up for re-election
||Republicans exempt from re-election
||201 * 0.2 = 40
||234 * 0.2 = 46
||21 * 0.2 = 4
||14 * 0.2 = 3
The final list would need to be a compromise arrived at by both parties, and would need to pass with a two-thirds majority to ensure there was broad support from both parties. This process would ensure that the parties still had some say in approving or rejecting individuals that were of particular interest.
- A Senator could not be exempt from re-election for two election cycles in a row, so even the best Senator would still have to face re-election each twelve years. A House member could not be exempt from re-election for three election cycles in a row, so a stellar House member would still face re-election every six years.
- A recall process could be set up for cases where voters in a district were unhappy with this process, although the need for a recall should be very, very rare if the non-partisan office did its job correctly.
There are clear holes in this proposal, and the logistical challenges of trying to implement it make it almost impossible – a Constitutional amendment would be needed, and undoubtedly groups would complain about reducing the “voice of the people” – but if it was implemented it would lessen the reward for legislators who merely complain the loudest, and give legislators a chance to actually earn re-election by building coalitions to get solutions implemented. As a side benefit, the best legislators would need to spend less time fundraising and campaigning, and could instead focus on doing their jobs as lawmakers. With less need to focus on fundraising, this approach might also help to address some of the issues related to money in politics, although any such impact would likely be limited and would probably be better addressed via legislation.
This proposal is just a random idea that occurred to me while trying to come up with a third journal entry topic, and was a fun way to engage in political discussion while (hopefully) not offending anyone’s sensibilities. I’d be interested in other crazy ideas that people might have, and will offer two bonus points for anyone who can link their idea with a popular TV show or movie, or three bonus points if the movie is Forrest Gump. Meanwhile, unless October comes and the debt ceiling isn’t raised, this should be my last political post for a while and I’ll return to writing journal entries about bobcats and Steve Martin.
Posted from Culver City, California at 11:03 pm, Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
Following the wedding, the concert, and the working, August got a bit more nature-y.
Aaron had two bobcat sightings on Mt. Diablo recently, and since I didn’t want to be the only Holliday child not to see a bobcat in 2013 we did a couple of twilight hikes during the Bay Area visit. After some turkeys, bats and a few deer, the bobcat made an appearance on the trail ahead of us. You haven’t seen an annoyed cat until you interrupt a bobcat on his nightly rounds, but despite the attitude we were both pretty stoked at the find. The next night we took another hike in the same place, and while the bobcat stayed hidden the turkeys and bats were out again, and we also managed to spot a skunk and a tarantula. With Aaron having spotted the tarantula (two points) I negotiated for five points if I could get it to walk across my hand. The evening’s final score: Ryan 6, Aaron 3.
With a full weekend available for the drive home, the trip back to LA was via the scenic route. I’ve done a lot of road trips through the Sierras, but after scanning the map realized I’d never been through Sonora Pass and set off for the second-highest mountain pass in the Sierra Nevadas. It’s been far too long since this grown man slept in the back of a car, so after a late-afternoon bushwhack up a small peak the evening was spent sprawled out at high elevation in an automobile. The next morning the road led over the Sierras and to the ghost town of Bodie. During the gold rush days Bodie was a den of sin and hard-living, but today the sin has mostly gone elsewhere and the California park service maintains the town in a state of “arrested decay”. Another man might have walked through the deserted streets pretending to be a cowboy, but I’m 37 and clearly too mature for such shenanigans.
After leaving the ghosts the highway led to Mono Lake, and beyond that a pilgrimage was made to Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light photo gallery in Bishop; his photos are some of my favorites of all time. After that it was a straight shot south to LA, but Mother Nature intervened to make things interesting – a dust storm brought visibility down to almost nothing for a short time, and that was immediately followed by a lightning storm that struck a town next to the highway, setting something ablaze. Lightning has been rare during my time in California, so to not only see a huge storm but to also see it set a fire was pretty insane.
There are two weeks of vacation scheduled for September, so journal entries should be plentiful as Audrey and I head out on a couple of (brief) adventures, and provided UPS delivers on time they will be done with a new camera in hand.
I decided to do some hiking in the high mountains, and pulled off the road by a smallish granite dome. My trailblazing was less-than-impressive, and I emerged three hours later with cut feet, torn pants, and this photo.
The ghost town of Bodie. The park guide notes that “by 1879 Bodie boasted a population of about 10,000 and was second to none for wickedness, badmen, and ‘the worst climate out of doors’“.
The tufa towers of Mono Lake. These should be underwater, but diversions for the city of LA have dropped the level of Mono Lake by more than thirty feet.
Posted from Culver City, California at 10:08 pm, Tuesday, August 27th, 2013
As expected, August was a month of much excitement. So much excitement, in fact, that it warrants two entries for the summary, which is a good thing given that it’s the 27th and I still need to write three entries to meet the monthly quota.
The previously mentioned wedding in Santa Barbara was all kinds of fancy, but your humble author was most impressed by the five red-headed woodpeckers hanging out in the palm trees above the bridal party. Another highlight was watching a bunch of engineers on the dance floor – after some unfortunate experiences in my early twenties I’ve learned that dance music and engineering degrees should never be combined, so Audrey and I stayed on the sidelines and enjoyed observing the carnival of awkwardness. Luckily we also got a few minutes to catch up with my very, very busy former roommate and his new bride, something that numerous wedding guests agreed is extremely tough to do these days given his other commitments.
Speaking of all kinds of awesome, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers was an insanely good concert – if they are playing anywhere near you then you should most definitely go to there and see the things. After an opening by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band featuring their giant, prancing tuba player, Steve Martin took the stage. When you start off by bragging about how you’re going to perform a song “that you have completely memorized”, and follow that up with some ridiculously good bluegrass, amazing harmonies, and grammy winning band, you’ve got my attention. Bring in Edie Brickell to sing some songs with lyrics so poignant that all the girls cried, and then strum the banjo at about a million miles an hour, and Ryan is a happy boy.
The month of many events continued with a trip up to the Bay Area for a week working from Berkeley. In addition to single-handedly reducing the productivity of all of my co-workers by at least thirty percent during our office hours, the group headed out on the Bay for a cruise from Berkeley to Tiburon, past the Golden Gate, along the San Francisco waterfront, and then under the new Bay Bridge. While a romantic cruise with a bunch of software engineers isn’t something that’s on my bucket list, it was still a really great evening.
This is either a neat photo of the soon-to-be-opened self-anchored suspension span of the new Bay Bridge, or a really, really terrible picture of the moon over San Francisco Bay.
Posted from Boise, Idaho at 11:08 pm, Wednesday, July 31st, 2013
Five years ago this month my dad and I were in Iceland taking pretty pictures of pretty things. I’ve still not managed to process most of the photos from that trip, much less get them online in a gallery, but here are a few that seemed nice to look at as I was browsing through them tonight.
Lesson #1 on this trip was that rain and generally crappy weather (both of which Iceland provides in large quantities) is ideal for photographing moving water.
The Skipper modelling typical Icelandic beachwear.
Razorbills at Latrabjarg.