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

California Has the Things

Posted from Culver City, California at 12:34 pm, June 1st, 2013

For no particular reason (aside from the fact that it’s the end of the month and I’m one entry short of the three-a-month goal), here’s a random sampling of places that make California so extraordinary:

  • Death Valley Most places that have “death” in the name probably don’t deserve it, but this one most-assuredly does. That said, visiting outside of the summer months is awesome – Badwater Basin is an expanse of salt flats like no where else, the surrounding mountains rise to over ten thousand feet in elevation, and the rock at lower elevations is a rainbow of mineral-stained artistry. Visiting the backcountry requires traversing roads and terrain that make you wish you had an extra two feet of ground clearance and rock climbing gear. And around each corner is something surprising, ranging from giant craters to dry lakes to remote signposts decorated with teakettles.
  • Big Sur It is doubtful whether anyone has ever put together a list of “prettiest roads in America” that didn’t include Highway 1 along the Big Sur Coast. Seacliffs are always scenic, but then you also get redwoods, sea otters, millions of birds, raging oceans, and a road not meant for those prone to car sickness.
  • The Salton Sea. The first time I visited this engineering debacle I was shocked to discover how bizarre it was. Several years later when I returned with Audrey she remarked that she was shocked that it was “exactly as weird as you described”. Ghost towns consisting of 1960s vacation homes, a stinking toxic lake filled with huge numbers of birds, and scattered human populations that seem reminiscent of a Mad Max movie. PLUS, it’s 120 degrees in the summer, so you get to take in the scenery while slightly delirious from heatstroke.
  • The Sierra Nevadas Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park are the two most obvious highlights, but Highway 395 along the Eastern Sierra passes by the massively-odd Mono Lake, travels past the highest mountain in the lower-48 states, and then lets you out next to the home of Virgin Galactic and an airplane graveyard.

There is much more – the Redwoods, Mount Lassen volcano, the random roads that traverse the area around Mount Shasta, Joshua Tree, Monterey, San Francisco Bay, the wildlife refuges hidden throughout the Central Valley, etc, etc. Overall, not too shabby of place to have settled down.

Brown pelican in La Jolla

For a photographer of limited skill looking for birds to “stand still and look pretty”, La Jolla is a top-notch destination.

Badwater Salt Flats in Death Valley

Taken during a road trip in 2005 after an unusually wet winter, the salt flats were particularly crusty and other-planet-like.

I Don’t Get It

Posted from Culver City, California at 11:39 pm, May 27th, 2013

This journal entry is a rant. Posts about mastodons and tar pits will return in the future, but those expecting stories of spaceships parked at donut shops might want to skip this entry.

For those still reading, Elon Musk recently tweeted the following:

It is unfortunate that climate change was brought to public attention by Al Gore, as it then became a “left wing” issue.

That tweet gets to the heart of something that is both saddening and frustrating about today’s discourse: a number of issues, many of which are very important, are now approached with the mentality of sports fans: “My team is right, your team sucks!” Just as with sports, individuals support “their side” and ignore the merits of the argument.

Consider Musk’s example of global warming: admitting (or denying) that climate change is a serious issue is a litmus test for the far left and far right; commentators on the right are constantly screaming that it is either a hoax or not caused by human activity, while on the far left you might think that anything less than the elimination of all fossil fuel usage is akin to Armageddon. However, looking at it from the standpoint of the scientific community, there is similar certainty that human produced greenhouse gases are heating up the planet at a dangerous rate as there is for theories such as the big bang or evolution. Meanwhile, saying that climate change is a problem that should be addressed will get a politician voted out of office on the right, while far left activists are chaining themselves to the White House gates over the construction of a single oil pipeline, and in the mean time not even a minimal amount of action is taken to mitigate something that will have serious negative future consequences.

Similarly, I’m convinced that ten years from now no one will buy a new car without debating whether or not that car should be electric. From an engineering standpoint (mechanical engineering grad here!) electric cars are undeniably better technology. Consider:

  • Battery technology today allows a range of 300 miles, and that technology is improving at about eight percent each year.
  • Maintenance on electric cars is minimal – no oil changes, no belts or hoses, no transmission, no emission system.
  • Electric engines are approximately three times more efficient than gas engines.
  • The driving experience in electric cars is vastly better – you have full torque immediately, offering a ridiculously fast acceleration.
  • Electric cars have no emissions – the smog and related pollution issues of cities like LA will diminish significantly with a move to electric vehicles.

However, with Romney and much of the right wing having labeled Tesla Motors as a “loser” and an example of an Obama “failure” during the campaign, any mention of Tesla is now followed by comments about how the company is a beneficiary of “crony capitalism”, is merely building a toy for the rich, and will be bankrupt any day now. This, despite the fact that Tesla repaid its government loan (issued under a Bush administration program) nine years early, was funded solely with private money for its first seven years, is one of the few new manufacturing ventures in the US, is the first successful new American car company in several generations, has always planned for a mass-market ($30,000) vehicle as part of their roadmap, and has built a car that literally has people cheering after test drives and has won awards from every automotive group that has reviewed it, including the highest score in Consumer Reports history, and Motor Trend Car of the Year. If we can’t support this example of American ingenuity, what has gone wrong in our discourse?

Other issues evoke similar reactions: nuclear power is supported on the right and opposed on the left despite studies that seem to indicate that use of nuclear power has saved lives. Environmental issues are now immediately dismissed as left-wing, although the vast majority of people support clean air, clean water, and a place for wildlife. The list of issues goes on and on: guns, GMOs, healthcare, taxes, immigration; all of these devolve into “my team versus your team”, despite the fact that there is clearly a huge amount of middle ground on which agreement (and action) is possible.

In spite of the seemingly grim atmosphere, things do tend to work out in the end, although given the state of rhetoric today it seems that we’re making it much, much harder to get to that end state than it needs to be.

End of the Month

Posted from Culver City, California at 3:18 pm, May 26th, 2013

As a few people noticed, the server that runs the site died an ignominious death last week, so there has been a bit of a scramble to buy a new machine and get things running again. While I’m always excited to get a new toy (16GB RAM!!!), it’s been rather tiring trying to get three web sites and countless applications running on the new computer. At this point mountaininterval.org should be back-to-normal, with the notable exception of email notifications when comments are added (I’ll get to that); please let me know if you see anything else that is amiss.

Technical issues notwithstanding, May has so far been a relatively uneventful month:

  • Audrey and I finally managed to visit the saltwater portion of the Ballona Wetlands a couple weeks ago. Most of the existing wetlands were destroyed or filled in during the construction of Marina del Rey and Playa Vista, but the undeveloped portions (which are now basically grassy fields) are on the state’s list for habitat restoration, so hopefully in the next few years the area will return to a more natural state and again become the home to fish and birds.
  • We also put our memberships to the Natural History Museum to good use and visited them early for Bug Fair. Audrey was excited about the creepy-crawlies, and I was excited about getting to visit the spaceship again at the next-door science center after our morning with the insects was over.
  • Somewhere during the month I also added to my haul of Marriott Rewards Points™ with yet another trip to Boise. Amazingly I’ve now been working with Bodybuilding.com for nearly two years. Being able to work most days from my kitchen, in pajamas, with music blaring, on a project that is well-managed with good co-workers is definitely a nice situation to be in.

April 2013, Part II

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:17 pm, April 30th, 2013

Continuing from Part I of the April 2013 recap…

Audrey’s favorite band in the whole wide world is Rush, and they were finally voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. With the induction ceremony being held at the Nokia Theatre in downtown LA it was a matter of seconds from the time tickets went on sale until she had four in hand.

I don’t know a lot about Rush, but I have learned that they have extraordinarily passionate fans. The crowd milling about before the Nokia Theatre doors opened was evidence of this fact as at least half of those present were wearing Rush shirts, Rush jackets, Rush purses, Rush flags, etc, despite the fact that seven other groups or individuals were being inducted (Heart, Randy Newman, Public Enemy, Donna Summer, Albert King, Lou Adler, Quincy Jones). The point was driven home further when the ceremony started, and the chairman of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame began reading the names of each inductee. There was applause and cheering for each individual until he said “And from Toronto”. What followed was two minutes of pandemonium as people screamed, cheered, chanted, clapped, and otherwise lost their damn minds, during which the guy at the podium could do nothing but stand and wait. As Dave Grohl of Nirvana later stated in an interview:

They didn’t even say the name and the place went fucking crazy… It was pretty awesome tonight to see Jann say, “And from Toronto,” and the fans just went, “FUCK YEAHHH.” Everyone at the tables were just like, Jesus! It was amazing. That’s what it’s all about.

John Mayer had similar thoughts:

As Mayer stepped into his Escalade, he was still blown away by Rush’s fans, who cheered the band for several minutes when Hall of Fame Chairman Jann S. Wenner’s mentioned a “band from Toronto.” “Man, I want Rush fans to come to my shows now, that is some fandom,” Mayer told Rolling Stone. “If you’re a Rush fan, you should get in any show free.”

Other highlights of the evening included being in the same room with Oprah, Jack Nicholson and Tom Petty, some pretty good music, and a hugely amusing speech from Cheech and Chong. The ceremony will be broadcast on HBO in late May, although hopefully they’ll trim most of Flavor Flav, whose rambling, incoherent induction speech seemed like it would never end, was frequently interrupted by other members of Public Enemy trying to get him to stop, and which Rolling Stone described as a “filibuster”.

The remainder of April was supposed to be uneventful, but Tuesday night Audrey came into the living room shaking, and said that she had gone out to the hot tub, reached into the control box, and barely escaped disaster when she found thousands of bees inside. This seemed clearly to be a job for the Bee Warrior, so I donned appropriate attire and went out to investigate. Citronella candles were ineffective against the swarm, so the next morning we called Bee Capture, which turned out to be a tiny lady in a truck who showed up in the evening. She donned her bee gear (which was lame compared to my own – no Mexican wrestling mask, nor a college letterman jacket) and proceeded to scoop 40,000 bees out of the hot tub controls and into a “bee box” that she had brought along to act as their new mobile home. The next day several hundred bees had returned, so the bee warrior re-emerged to spray them with vinegar, but with the bees still undeterred we called Ruth again and she came back to scoop away the stragglers.

Audrey and I at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

Audrey wore a Rush shirt to the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony because Rush was being inducted. I wore a Captain America shirt because Captain America is awesome.

Ryan Holliday, Bee Warrior

One member of the household was stung during the bee invasion; it was not Ryan Holliday, Bee Warrior.

April 2013, Part I

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:37 pm, April 28th, 2013

April has been a relatively eventful month so far, with everything from fancy resorts to insect invasions to barfing to rock and roll. Given that there have been so many adventures, and since I need two journal entries in the next three days to meet the three-a-month goal, here’s part one.

At the beginning of the month Audrey had a rare Sunday off from her weekly singing gig at All Saints’ Parish, and I was a bit burned out from work, so we scheduled a four day weekend that was evenly split between nature and relaxation. Unfortunately after spending the night in Ventura and arriving early for our boat ride out to Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park we were told the trip had been cancelled due to weather – despite the calm morning, forecasts for the afternoon called for 40-50 mph winds, and they apparently don’t take people when they can’t guarantee a return trip, which is probably a good policy to have even if we were bummed not to be able to go.

The following day we enjoyed a barbecue with Audrey’s friend in Santa Barbara, then made our way a bit further up the coast to the mighty fancy Bacara Resort. After being the lucky recipients of an upgrade to a suite we checked into our giant room next to the ocean, and while Audrey did some reading I curled up into the fetal position before eventually refunding all of the day’s meals. Whatever sickness I had prevented us from fully appreciating the pillow-top, high thread count sleeping options available as Audrey was forced to spend the night on the couch while I prayed for relief from the host of demons that were madly shoveling things out of my stomach.

Monday morning I rallied, and by “rallied” I mean got a massage (yep, Ryan is pampered) and a very fancy dinner overlooking the sea coast; the life of this programmer is not filled with an inordinate amount of hardship.

After returning home and surviving a short work week we made a pilgrimage to the La Brea tar pits (“La Brea” means tar, so “the tar tar pits”). I’d never visited the world’s largest known deposit of Ice Age fossils, a spot where (according the the Page Museum’s web site):

Since 1906, more than one million bones have been recovered representing over 231 species of vertebrates. In addition, 159 species of plants and 234 species of invertebrates have been identified. It is estimated that the collections at the Page Museum contain about three million items. Our current Project 23 excavation may, when completed, double this number.

Living a few miles away from such a weird spot, home to a massive cache of pre-historic animals, is another point in the plus column for LA. AND there’s a really good build-your-own burger place next door, which may not be a reason to move here but is a nice bonus when you’re hungry after a long day of looking at mastodons and giant sloths.

Mastodon skeleton at the Page Museum

The mastodon was a prehistoric animal that was very similar to modern day elephants, but with 50% more awesomeness.

Ryan and mastodons at the La Brea Tar Pits

I might have been excited about the giant mastodons and pools of tar. Photo by Audrey.


Posted from Boise, Idaho at 9:32 pm, April 15th, 2013

The very sad events at today’s Boston Marathon are cause for grieving, but to a greater extent people seem to be focusing on those who immediately rushed into the smoke to help, or on the fact that in the aftermath so many people donated to the Red Cross that their web site crashed, or on the commitment of the individuals who chose to run the grueling race. On the latter subject, Ezra Klein wrote an article that does a good job of capturing why the marathon is so inspiring entitled ‘If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon’:

My wife has been training for a marathon. She leaves the house early in the morning and runs for hours and hours. She comes home tired and sore. And then she does it again. And again. And again.

There’s no reason for her to do it. There’s no competition or payoff or award. It’s just a quiet, solitary triumph over the idea that she couldn’t do it, and it all happens before I even wake up.

It’s thoughts like these that provide hope in spite of tragedies. The runners in a marathon are a case study in human inspiration: yes, running 26 miles is impressive, but the reason to cheer each finisher is as much about the days or years of effort that lead up to that accomplishment, and the idea that any human being who is willing to dedicate themselves to the task can complete such a mind-boggling feat.

A friend of mine in LA, Arkady, not only finished the 50 mile Comrades Marathon through the mountains around Capetown, but was in the top 15% of competitors. Several years before, this same ironman was 80 pounds heavier with 40% body fat, and made the decision to change his life. That single commitment, revisited day after day after day over many years, is what people celebrate when Arkady finishes a race, and is what they were celebrating as he finished (safely) in Boston today.

Another friend, Angela, decided one day that she wanted to run a marathon, and started out by running around the block once. The next day she ran around the block twice, and before long she was carrying a wooden box of matches with her and transferring them from one hand to another to keep track of her laps. Rather than stopping at the marathon, she trained for the world’s toughest race, the 135 mile Badwater Ultramathon through Death Valley in the summer, and today is one of the very few people on the planet to have actually finished that race. That seemingly-impossible accomplishment started out with an average person simply making the decision to do something extraordinary, and then getting out each day to put in the required work over a period of years to make the impossible possible.

Sport is about incredible human accomplishments, but a key reason that we stand along the road and cheer during a marathon is because the athletes in the race show us that a completely normal person who simply makes the decision to commit each day to a task can do something amazing and thus prove that things that seemingly can’t be done are within anyone’s reach. The bombings today are a tragedy, but the fact that so many people are taking notice of good things in the world, and perhaps themselves making a decision to commit to do something inspiring, provides hope that even such a horrible evil can be a catalyst for a great deal of good to come.


Posted from Culver City, California at 8:56 pm, March 31st, 2013

I live in a city with a space shuttle, and that makes me very, very happy. Yesterday the girl took me to visit it at the California Science Center, and there was much rejoicing. The supporting exhibits include a wealth of information about the mysterious “space potty”, computers from mission control, and a history of the shuttle program. The highlight, obviously, is the opportunity to visit up close with a vehicle that has traveled at 17,500 miles per hour, fixed the Hubble telescope and built the space station, cost $2.1 billion to build, and withstood temperatures of over 3000°F.

For reference, here are journal entries from past encounters with the spaceship:

The Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center

This vehicle has been to space, repeatedly, which pretty much makes it the coolest thing ever built.

The Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center

While it takes rocket scientists to build a space shuttle, decorating one apparently requires a dyslexic flag painter.

Everything is Amazing

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:39 pm, March 28th, 2013

"’I had to sit on the runway for 40 minutes.’ Oh my god, really? What happened then, did you fly through the air like a bird, incredibly? Did you soar into the clouds, impossibly? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight and then land softly?…You’re sitting in a chair in the sky. You’re like a Greek myth right now."

–Louis CK

Given the opportunity to live in any time period in human history (live in, not just visit), right now seems like a pretty clear winner. Aside from the odd mental patient, no one wakes up each day wondering “is a barbarian horde going to invade my town and burn me alive?”. If you get a cut, or catch a cold, your friends don’t have to place bets as to whether or not you’ll be dead at the end of the week. Very seldom do we head out to the store worrying whether a wild animal will devour us during the journey.

If you have a question, the magical cell phone in your pocket will connect to millions of computers to find an answer. If you want to travel you can visit literally any corner of the earth in a matter of hours or days, and don’t have to worry that scurvy will cause your teeth to fall out along the way. Instead of each day wondering where our food and water will come from, the big concern is whether we’ve eaten too many delicious meals and will have to spend more time at a gym where we can mimic the physical exertion that our bodies have evolved over thousands of years to expect would be needed simply to stay alive.

When I get hungry, I can use my my phone (which has no wires) to call a local restaurant. Without doing anything other than reading numbers from a plastic card I can get them to bring me sushi, which has been caught from who-knows-where and brought fresh to the restaurant. The delivery person travels a couple of miles to my house over communally-maintained roads using a vehicle that runs on drops of a clear liquid at speeds of up to 100 miles an hour. I then return to my job, located in my kitchen, where my background music is any one of thousands of songs which are stored in digital format on my laptop. That job involves collaborating with dozens of people who are hundreds of miles away, each of us using computers to build something that exists only as bits of ones and zeros on a series of magnetic storage devices, something that thousands upon thousands of people will use each day to make transactions that total millions of dollars each year.

With some credit to Louis CK, we live in a time where everything is amazing. Of course, it would still be pretty awesome to pay a visit to the Renaissance, Ancient Rome, or pre-colonization America, but right now is very likely the best time in all of human history in which to live. Not convinced? Here’s a gallery of amazing photos, many of which were taken IN SPACE, that you can browse via the magical internet. Need more? Go to amazon.com and buy anything you can possibly think of just by typing in numbers from a plastic card. Still need more? Go to Google and have any question you can think of answered. Everything is amazing.

The Planet Mercury

The planet Mercury, located 96.6 million miles from Earth. Photographed by the Messenger spacecraft, a robot that traveled through space and then sent pretty pictures back to Earth at the speed of light.


Posted from Culver City, California at 9:01 pm, February 28th, 2013

There hasn’t been a generic status update in a while, and I’ve got less than three hours to meet my three-entry-a-month goal, so that’s as good of an excuse as any to write one:

  • The job at Bodybuilding.com is in its nineteenth month and is scheduled to run through the end of the year. Shockingly, after spending more than half of my days between July 2002 and August 2005 on one adventure after another, I’ve now been working more-or-less solidly for almost eight years.
  • In yet another sign that I’m becoming a grown-up (at age 37), last Friday we hired tree trimmers to take care of a ficus that was attempting to eat the back office, as well as a star pine that made the Leaning Tower of Pisa look straight. With significantly less vegetation now blocking the western edge of our yard Audrey and I stood outside on Friday night with the sound of sea lions barking a mile away in the marina clearly audible. Our house is awesome.
  • Younger Holliday is working again, this time selling houses in the Bay Area for Shea Homes. With the real-estate market heating up I may not be the only Holliday boy who owns the roof over his head much longer.
  • Audrey’s favorite band of all-time is getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so she scored tickets for us to go to the Nokia Theatre on April 16 to see Rush at the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. There are some downsides to living in LA, but there aren’t a lot of cities that regularly host events that you can re-watch a few months later as an HBO special.
  • Speaking of the girl, our adventures have been mostly culinary lately. We accidentally hit a food truck extravaganza on Abbott Kinney a few weeks ago and enjoyed massive lobsta rolls for dinner. On Valentine’s Day lobsta was again on the menu as the girl cooked steak and lobster tails. The following night I took her to a fancy dinner at a restaurant that had lights made out of underpants ’cause I’m all about ambiance. The weekend prior to Valentine’s Day saw us making a pilgrimage to the ridiculously delicious Sadle Peak Lodge, which is now by far number one on my list for French toast – the homemade-bread-and-bananas-foster delight that was served to me at Saddle Peak puts them so far ahead of anyone else that the competition can probably be declared permanently over.
  • And that is all. Things have been slow, but with luck there will be baby bird videos to share soon.

Dante's View, Death Valley

Dante’s View in Death Valley. Sponsored by Nike. Just do it.

Lawyers, Guns and Money – Internet Brands v. Holliday

Posted from Culver City, California at 5:03 pm, February 23rd, 2013

This journal entry is the story of how I came home from a vacation in Hawaii last August to discover that I was being sued by a $640 million corporation. Over the next six months the unfortunate ordeal would garner worldwide media attention from outlets ranging from tech sites like Slashdot to major news organizations like the New York Times and London’s Daily Telegraph.


First the backstory. In early 2005 I started contributing to an online travel site that allowed anyone, anywhere to create and update articles based on their own knowledge and experiences. Having recently returned from a trip to the Falkland Islands I was greatly dismayed at the poor state of travel literature on that country, so it was exciting to be able to do a good deed and share some first-hand knowledge. I made additional contributions about the Galapagos Islands and some national parks, and before long I was not only a regular editor but had been granted the role of “administrator” by the community of editors at the site.

Now, a very important point about this travel site: while a guy in Montreal owned the servers on which the site ran, the content that individuals contributed had to be freely licensed. That meant that anyone, anywhere could take any article from the site, and so long as they provided attribution to all of the authors of that content they could re-use it in any way they wanted; someone could use the site’s articles to make a book and sell that book for profit, or they could copy an image to use on their own web site, or re-use the content in just about any other way imaginable as long as they provided attribution to the authors. For the contributors, this license provided assurance that their contributions would never be lost, since it would always be legal to move the content to a new home if there was a compelling reason to do so.

Fast forward a bit, and as that site grew it became too much to manage for the guy in Montreal, and in a surprise move he sold the domain, servers, and trademarks (but not the rights to the content since that was owned and freely-licensed by the contributors) to a large internet company. That company initially made many promises to respect the site’s license and to work with the community of editors who continued to contribute content, so for a while all was well. However, as time went on many contributors became frustrated by technical support issues and the company’s increasingly aggressive plans to monetize the site.

And thus we get to the part of the story that would eventually lead to me sitting in front of a judge on a mid-November afternoon. While anyone was legally allowed to freely use the site’s content, no one but the company who now owned the servers possessed a complete copy of that content, and the site owner was unwilling to make that copy available to anyone else. Since it was a concern to many of the volunteer contributors that there was no available copy of a project that had taken thousands upon thousands of volunteer hours to create, I started work to build one. Over a period of many months I ran automated scripts (in accordance with the site’s terms of use) that would fetch a single article, image or revision each 30 seconds, until I eventually had a full copy of the millions of individual edits that collectively made up the site’s content.

As discontent with the operation of the existing site increased among some of the core editors, private email discussions began about options for “forking” the site. Meatball wiki describes a project fork as follows:

In the strictest sense, a fork happens any time development proceeds along two or more different paths. The right to fork is inherent in the fundamental software freedoms common to all open source software. A new fork in development does not start from scratch, but continues to build on the resources of the project available up until the time of the fork… Forking isn’t unique to free software projects, but also takes place in non-profit associations and political and religious movements. What happens is that a group of voluntary members walk away to form a new community.

As a longtime admin of the site, and as the person who had the copy of the site content, I was a key contributor to much of this discussion, and also played an important role in finding possible hosts for the new site. Many options were discussed, but eventually a proposal was put forward to set up a new site with the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit group that runs Wikipedia and several similar sites. This proposal was essentially a best-case scenario for those involved: Wikimedia was the group with the most experience in running open source wikis and they had significant resources available.

Not unsurprisingly, the site’s old corporate host was opposed to seeing Wikimedia host a project fork, but the decision to fork the project had not been made lightly, and after many years of perceived neglect the majority of the project’s most active contributors were determined to move on. While an open “request for comment” was running at Wikimedia to gauge support among Wikimedia’s community for starting a travel site, those of us leading the fork effort planned on temporarily setting up shop with the Wikivoyage e.V Assocation, a bunch of Germans and Italians who were running a travel site named “Wikivoyage”. After several long nights working to get my copy of the site’s content running on the server in Germany, and some heroic efforts by the site’s German sysadmin, the English language (and Spanish, Portuguese, Russian…) version of wikivoyage.org went live and I left for a much-needed vacation.

The Suing

I returned home on Labor Day weekend to find a stack of legal documents waiting for me. While I’m sure that the vast majority of defendants disagree with the lawsuit filed against them, these papers made a number of claims and accusations that seemed particularly objectionable, including suggestions of a “scheme” involving many parties. For example, paragraph 35 noted the following:

“Additional defendants and causes of action are expected through amendment, potentially including other Administrators that have been most corrupt in this scheme and any entity or individuals that provided them support or otherwise participated in these wrongful acts. This potentially includes the Wikimedia Foundation, members of its Board, other individual members of the Foundation, or anyone else who acted tortiously.”

Since I had no experience with lawsuits, and since the Wikimedia Foundation was mentioned, I contacted their legal department. On a holiday weekend they got back to me in a matter of hours, and a couple of days later I was on the phone with one of the most respected IP lawyers in California discussing my defense.

The lawyers viewed the case as a clear example of a SLAPP, which is described by Wikipedia as follows:

“A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. The typical SLAPP plaintiff does not normally expect to win the lawsuit. The plaintiff’s goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticism. A SLAPP may also intimidate others from participating in the debate.”

In the case of a SLAPP, California law provides protection to defendants via the opportunity to file an anti-SLAPP motion, allowing the case to be quickly dismissed with prejudice (meaning the plaintiff is barred from filing another case on the same claim) if two conditions are met. First, the defendant (yours truly) must show that the “challenged cause of action is one arising from protected activity” – essentially, that I’m being sued for a legal exercise of free speech rights. If that is done, the plaintiff must then show a “probability that [it] will prevail on the claim”, otherwise the suit is dismissed. In the most egregious of cases the plaintiff also has to pay legal fees for the defendant.

For those who want the gory details of the case I’ve added links to legal documents, blog posts, and news articles to the end of this journal entry. I can’t say enough good things about the Wikimedia Foundation, who repeatedly impressed me with their professionalism and dedication to defending their community principles, or the ridiculously great lawyers at Cooley who they retained for me. A recent Wikimedia blog post summarizes how the case went:

“Internet Brands (owners of a for-profit wiki-based travel project) sued two Wikimedians visibly involved in supporting the travel wiki project. Internet Brands branded the proposed new site an “Infringing Website” and claimed that the volunteers were acting “for the benefit of the Wikimedia Foundation” to “usurp” the community of users of Internet Brands’ site and taking actions that included “deliberately misleading statements, and Trademark infringement and violation of Internet Brands’ intellectual property rights.” Internet Brands identified the “Wikimedia Foundation, members of its Board, and other members of the Foundation” as potential “co-conspirators” who were “corrupt in this scheme”.

Unintimidated, the Foundation moved in to defend our volunteers and to protect our community’s right to an open and meaningful discussion about the project.

We contacted one of the most respected law firms working in this field, Cooley LLP, and asked that they represent and defend the two volunteers facing legal action from Internet Brands. Cooley was engaged, and with our financial support, the volunteers moved the case to federal court and also filed an anti-SLAPP motion against Internet Brands, alleging that their freedom to openly discuss the project was under threat. Internet Brands responded by abandoning its federal claim, essentially admitting it had no factual basis. The federal court then dismissed all of Internet Brands’ remaining claims.”

Being sued sucks, but being sued by a giant company that later drops its key claim since it “was primarily predicated on [an] assumption” rather than on known facts, is particularly maddening. Other claims, such as suing for trademark infringement because I wrote an email in which I described myself as a “Wikitravel administrator” (a role I served in), were equally exasperating, as the law is clear that “nominative use of a mark – where the only word reasonably available to describe a particular thing is pressed into service – lies outside the structure of trademark law“. To consider similar examples, imagine the chaos that would ensue if a lawsuit could be filed every time someone described herself as “a Subaru owner” or “a Hewlett Packard employee”.

This case taught me to choose my words carefully, so I won’t openly speculate on why I was selected as the target of a lawsuit consisting of seemingly unrealistic complaints. Instead, I’ll quote the reply motion filed in my defense, which noted the following:

“It was IB’s decision to file this lawsuit, and IB chose not to sue the Wikimedia Foundation, the entity that will create and operate the new travel guide. It instead chose to sue two individual volunteers to intimidate them and scare others who would otherwise be inclined to support the creation of a new travel guide. These are hallmarks of a SLAPP suit.”

The suit went before Judge Stephen V. Wilson on November 19 in the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, and it was all over in less than three minutes as the judge announced the case dismissed.

The Aftermath

Wikivoyage was officially launched on January 15, 2013 as Wikimedia’s newest project, and the event was covered by just about every major news outlet imaginable. Today the site is growing rapidly, and many contributors again believe that we can do for travel guides what Wikipedia did for encyclopedias.

With regards to legal issues, as of February 14 the Wikimedia Foundation reached a settlement in which “Internet Brands has now released the Foundation and Wikivoyage e.V. (the German not for profit who worked so hard to make the project a success) from any and all claims related in any manner to the creation and operation of the travel wiki project.

For my part, since the judge dismissed the case primarily on jurisdictional grounds without ruling on the merits of the anti-SLAPP motion I was technically not declared innocent of any wrongdoing, which is dismaying – I can state that “I didn’t do anything wrong”, but I don’t have a statement from a judge that unequivocally backs that up. In addition, for well-intentioned participation in a project that was meant to do some good in the world I got sued, which supports the unfortunate theory that in life “no good deed goes unpunished”. Finally, while I’m hopeful that this lawsuit wasn’t my proverbial fifteen minutes of fame, sadly two of my three mentions in Wikipedia are now due solely to Internet Brands v. Holliday, and there are a huge number of media articles that will appear in search results for years to come talking about the things I was sued for, without a follow-up noting that those claims were later dismissed by the court.

However, despite its negative aspects, this process had some significant positives. The Wikimedia Foundation stepped up to help me out almost immediately, and revealed themselves to be an amazing organization willing to both talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk when it came to fulfilling their mission of helping individuals share knowledge. I learned a huge amount about the legal process and free speech laws, and am gratified to now know that things like the anti-SLAPP law exists. Most notably, it is inevitable that everyone will have to deal with some lousy events in their life, and if this was one of mine then I was insanely lucky to be assisted by an organization that paid the very hefty legal bills and hired a top-notch legal firm to defend me, thus making a stressful ordeal as painless as it could have possibly been.

For More Information

This is a tiny sampling of info about the case – there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of articles, blog posts, and other bits to be found.

Too Many Words

Posted from Boise, Idaho at 7:35 pm, February 18th, 2013

The recent journal entries have lacked in pretty pictures, so before boring my twos of readers with yet another verbose saga about the life of Holliday, here are a couple of pretty pictures from the December roadtrip. The first was taken early in the morning fog at Merced National Wildlife Refuge prior to a massive breakfast, while the second is from an afternoon in Death Valley.

Foggy Landscape in Merced NWR

Foggy Landscape in Merced NWR.

Foggy Landscape in Merced NWR

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park.

The Plan

Posted from Boise, Idaho at 6:35 pm, January 31st, 2013

This journal entry has gone through a few drafts. What started out as a retrospective on my changing goals in life (quick summary: at age five it was to become a superhero, and at age 37 I’m still trying to figure it out) turned to thoughts of how much of a legacy people actually leave. In thinking about this topic, it seems that a “legacy” is often evaluated based at least partially on luck. Consider someone like Steve Jobs – he was clearly a visionary, he obviously changed the world, and like almost any successful person this was due to a combination of hard work, determination, and intelligence. However, had he stayed at Reed College, or had his first venture into personal computing failed, the name “Steve Jobs” might mean nothing to us today. He undoubtedly still would have lived a notable life, but a man who is today universally revered as a visionary would not have been known to the world at large. In no way do I want to diminish the impact of someone like Apple’s former CEO, but it’s an interesting thought to realize that people you view as having “left a legacy” are often just one or two accomplishments away from relative obscurity.

If a lasting legacy requires at least a small amount of luck, it is also true that a far larger amount of perseverance, hard work, intelligence, and ability to seize opportunities is required. Thus, while it might be a disappointment to my five year old self to discover that his older counterpart lives a happy but relatively un-notable life, the older version of that superhero-wannabe is able to take some pride in still trying to achieve great things, and still making an effort to leave a positive mark on the world. Simple math shows that most people will not make a significant impact on humanity, but it is only those who continue to strive that have any chance of successfully doing so.

2013 Predictions

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:07 pm, January 12th, 2013

Year five of the prediction game is ready for publication. For those keeping track of the steaming pile that is the past year’s predictions, they can be found at the following links: 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.

  1. The resolution to the current debt ceiling debate will permanently defuse the debt ceiling as a future threat. Either Obama will simply ignore the debt ceiling since he either breaks the law by breaching the debt ceiling or he breaks the law and tanks the global economy by adhering to the debt ceiling and not spending money Congress budgeted, or else legislators will compromise on something like the McConnell Plan so that future debt ceiling fights become purely symbolic exercises. With regards to the current debate, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin summed it up well when he said “Something has gone terribly wrong when the biggest threat to our American economy is the American Congress.”
  2. Usain Bolt will not win an individual gold medal at the 2013 Track & Field World Championships and will be overshadowed by his training partner Yohan Blake who will win both the 100m and 200m.
  3. A la carte cable, in which consumers can choose only the channels (or even the shows) they want, will be announced (or on the verge of reality) from one or more companies capable of making it happen for the vast majority of America. Whether it’s Apple allowing people to get HBO and other channels via an internet-connected box, Google striking some deal, or another major player, the cable companies’ lock on programming bundles will begin to crack soon.
  4. The unemployment rate will drop from its current rate of 7.9% to around 7.3% (+/- 0.1%). It was 8.3% one year ago, so this would represent a continued gradual improvement to economic conditions.
  5. With Washington and Colorado having legalized marijuana, there will be a push at the national level to either reduce penalties for marijuana or to give states greater flexibility. Right now marijuana is completely illegal at the federal level but legal for medical or other purposes in a number of states. Since federal law trumps state law, this year will see efforts to provide some clarity to the issue.
  6. With agreements in place for the construction of the Farmers Field sports complex in downtown LA, the NFL will announce a deal to bring a football team to the city. There seems to be a number of reasons why LA won’t get a team this year, but with a stadium project approved it seems hard to believe that the powers-that-be won’t find a way to get a team in America’s second-largest television market.
  7. Star Trek Into Darkness, Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Man of Steel will be three of the five highest grossing movies of the year. They absolutely must make a kickass Superman movie.
  8. The next iPhone will offer the same form factor as the current iPhone 5, but will add the ability to use the phone for credit-card-like payments using near-field communication (NFC). The most recent software update added Apple Passbook, which seems like an oddly limited feature and suggests that something more is planned.
  9. Increased demand for the Model-S will cause Tesla to increase its production target for 2013 from 20,000 vehicles to at least 30,000. As its many awards and enthusiastic user reviews demonstrate, this car is going to be extremely popular, and Tesla will find it in its best interests to try to more quickly meet a growing demand.
  10. Congress will not pass significant immigration reform this year. Immediately after the election Republicans softened their stance on immigration, and this seems to be an area where the two parties might actually try to get something done, but I suspect that the politics of the issue are such that passage will be more likely after next year’s primary elections, when GOP members are less likely to fear a primary challenge from their right flanks and more anxious to gain favor with moderates.
  11. At least one of the following companies will not survive the year: Sears, J. C. Penney, or K-Mart (note: owned by Sears). I remember how strange it seemed when Montgomery Ward, a fixture of the retail world for 129 years, disappeared in 2001, and I suspect that this year may claim another iconic retailer who hasn’t adapted well to the internet age.
  12. Spacex will carry out 4-5 launches of its Falcon rocket (they have at least six planned) and one successful test launch of their massive new Falcon Heavy rocket. How awesome is it to live in a time when you can make predictions about rocketships that actually have a chance of coming true?!?!?
  13. California High-Speed Rail will break ground in the Central Valley as scheduled this year. Critics say that this is a government boondoggle, and they may be right, but high-speed passenger rail is still a good idea for the state’s future.
  14. Jinxes are real, so this is a prediction I shouldn’t make, but the Browns will have a winning record in 2013. The team was better than the 5-11 record indicates this year, and they’ve not only got a pretty good young roster, but they’ve got a high draft position that should translate into an even better group of players for next year. And yes, this is the type of prediction Browns fans make every single year, and are wrong about every single year.

The comments link is available for anyone who wants to add their own predictions. Alternately, while it may still be early in the year, feel free to begin mocking these likely-incorrect conjectures now.

2012 Prediction Scorecard

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:21 pm, January 9th, 2013

To review the sad four year history of my annual predictions, here’s the past scorecard: 2009: 31% correct (5 of 16), 2010: 44% correct (7.5 of 17), and 2011: 50% correct (7 of 14). With that out of the way, here’s the review of 2012:

  1. Obama will win re-election with no fewer than 320 electoral college votes in 2012.

    Obama 332, Romney 206. Score one for rholliday, but it’s downhill from here.

  2. Democrats will lose 1-3 Senate seats.

    When I made this prediction Democrats were projected to lose five seats, but between unfortunate rape comments and surprises in Montana and South Dakota they actually picked up two seats. Maybe it should count that my incorrect guess was less incorrect than the political scientists?

  3. Democrats will gain 15 seats (+/-5) in the House.

    Despite getting 49.2 percent of the votes (versus 48.0 percent for the Republicans) Democrats only picked up eight seats and remain in the minority.

  4. Tesla Motors will begin deliveries of the Model-S during July/August and will receive excellent reviews and heavy sales. They will not meet their delivery target of 7,000 vehicles for the year, but things will look good for them going into 2013.

    Deliveries started in the summer, about 3000 cars were delivered by year’s end, and so long as Motor Trend Car of the Year counts as an “excellent review”, this is my second correct prediction.

  5. American men’s distance runners will win 2-3 medals (out of nine available) in the 1500, 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the London Olympics.

    Galen Rupp took silver in the 10,000, becoming the first American since Billy Mills in 1964 to medal in that event. In the 1500 Leo Manzano roared past a number of bigger names in the final stretch to grab a silver. The prediction scorecard rises to three-out-of-five before launching into a steep nosedive.

  6. Following the Arab Spring of 2011, 2012 will see change spread to Iran.

    Not a peep out of that part of the Middle East this year. A spectacularly wrong prediction.

  7. The long rumored Apple television will finally launch in 2012.

    I’ve been predicting an Apple television every year since 2010, and I’ve been wrong every year since 2010.

  8. Despite a handful of analysts predicting doom, the Euro will easily survive 2012, and 2012 will see centralized European institutions strengthened.

    After fears in 2011 that Europe would literally explode into a cloud of ash and dust that smelled faintly of spanakopita, things calmed down significantly in 2012. In terms of “strengthening central institutions”, the ECB emerged as a more powerful force, but overall this is a half-credit prediction.

  9. The Browns will not draft Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III.

    They didn’t draft either player, but if Washington hadn’t traded a ridiculous number of first round draft picks then the Browns would have given away almost everything to make RG3 wear orange. While technically I was right, based on the spirit of the prediction add one more to the “incorrect” column.

  10. Virgin Galactic’s space plane will have several successful test flights by the end of 2012. SpaceX will successfully launch two missions to the ISS but will not launch the Falcon Heavy as currently scheduled on their launch manifest.

    It hurts me not to get the spaceship prediction one hundred percent correct. SpaceX had a great year, sending two flights to the ISS and moving ahead with a bunch of exciting new upgrades. Virgin Galactic has been more of a mystery, with a few drop tests but no rocket-powered flights.

  11. Neither the Supreme Court nor Congress will do anything to meaningfully affect Obamacare.

    While there was a great deal of uncertainty leading up to the Supreme Court ruling, in the end it only added some limitations to Medicaid and the healthcare law is moving forward as designed.

  12. The Dow Jones will finish the year near 13,000.

    The Dow closed the year at 13,104. Somehow, despite a horrid record of predictions I’ve guessed the stock market close correctly three out of the three times I’ve tried. Because jinxes are real, there will be no prediction on this topic for 2013.

  13. Tiger Woods will have an exciting 2012, winning 1-2 majors and 4-6 tournaments.

    Tiger won three tournaments but no majors. While that’s an insanely great year for most golfers, it’s not stellar by the standards Woods set earlier in his career. The prediction scorecard again dips into the red with six correct and seven incorrect.

  14. Hollywood will announce that they are re-making at least one of the following five movies: Grease, It’s a Wonderful Life, Spartacus, Jason and the Argonauts, or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

    Not even close. It’s probably a good thing that we’re not living in a world where the Twilight kid ends up playing Danny Zuko.

  15. Either Yahoo or AOL, or both, will not survive 2012.

    After making a prediction that Yahoo would go away every year since 2009, I’m not predicting anything about these companies ever again. How both Yahoo and AOL still exist is a mystery to me.

Final score: 40% (6 of 15). While this score doesn’t beat 2009’s record for futility, it does stand as a mark that should embarrass and shame the prognosticator. However, all shaming aside, I feel confident in stating that the upcoming predictions for 2013 will challenge 2009 in the record books. Stay tuned.