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

Looking Back at the Look Ahead

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:31 pm, December 31st, 2015

As is tradition, before recounting how bad I am at predicting future events, here is the scorecard from past years:

  • 2009: 31% correct (5 of 16)
  • 2010: 44% correct (7.5 of 17)
  • 2011: 50% correct (7 of 14)
  • 2012: 40% correct (6 of 15)
  • 2013: 11% correct (1.5 of 14)
  • 2014: 12% correct (1.5 out of 13)

Following two horrendous years, the odds favored a rebound… here are the results of the 2015 predictions:

  1. Hillary Clinton will announce she is running for President, and every Democrat of note including Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren will stay out of her way. Sarah Palin will go through the motions but will eventually announce that she isn’t running.

    As predicted, Hillary has pitched a shutout thus far and looks to have pretty much wrapped up the nomination before any votes are cast. Palin, however, made no pretense of running, so this one was only half correct.

  2. After the initial release of the Apple Watch in April, version 2.0 will follow quickly in time for the Christmas shopping season.

    Nope. I still don’t understand the point of having a watch that talks to your phone to… what? Save the two seconds it takes to get your phone out of your pocket? Until they add some useful health features I don’t think it’s going to be a meaningful product in their lineup. It would be neat to visit the alternate universe where Steve Jobs is still alive to see if he would have even bothered to release this thing in its current state.

  3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens will open with the largest weekend box office in history.

    This movie has broken box office records by large margins and is going to be monstrously huge. In twelve days it has already made $600 million and will easily become the biggest movie of all time. That fact means that I’ve got 1.5 out of 3 predictions correct, and will thus at least equal the abysmal performances of 2013 and 2014 – hooray!

  4. SpaceX will launch their Falcon Heavy rocket, have a successful test of their launch abort system (necessary before they can fly humans to space), and they will not only successfully land first stages, but they will have announced plans to re-use one of them on a future test flight.

    An explosion in June set the company back, but they still landed a rocket last week because SO AWESOME SPACESHIPS!!!!.

  5. The Supreme Court will refrain from disallowing subsidies to individuals living in states that do not run their own health care marketplaces in King v. Burwell, and will affirm the federal right to marry for gay couples in a consolidated case.

    Correct in both cases. I don’t usually agree with him ideologically, but so far I think John Roberts has been a surprisingly good Chief Justice.

  6. Facebook is going to announce a significant new service that takes advantage of the massive user profile data sets that they have for their users.

    Nope. Their big announcement this year was a “Haha” button, and somehow the stock is still up almost 50%.

  7. I think the Cavs (currently 26-20 and #5 in the East) will make the NBA Finals, but won’t win.

    They got to the Finals and played six awesome games. Being a fan of Cleveland sports is a tragic comedy played out over decades, so this weird injection of success and excitement was pretty awesome.

  8. The new Republican Congress won’t do anything extreme like shut down the government over the budget or play chicken with the debt limit, but they also won’t pass any significant legislation such as changes to Obamacare, immigration reform, or tax reform.

    I’m on a surprising roll – 4.5 out of 8. Congress opted for no shutdowns and no debt limit showdowns, and also passed no major legislation. That said, while they did briefly descend into chaos searching for a Speaker, they also shockingly fixed a difficult Medicare issue that has lingered since 1997, passed the first long-term highway bill since 2009, and overhauled the No Child Left Behind law. Overall, the performance was far worse than this country is capable of, but still better than expected when the year began.

  9. The St. Louis Rams will announce plans to return to Los Angeles.

    No announcement has yet been made, but it appears likely. If the Rams do move, the new stadium will be really, really impressive.

  10. Tesla will announce a battery pack upgrade for the Model-S.

    They came out with a pack for the Model-S that was a tiny bit larger, and announced a more significant 40% larger pack for the Roadster. Half credit on this one, since I expected a more substantial upgrade.

  11. The value of the Euro will rebound to at least $1.20 by the end of the year as exports pick up.

    The value has continued to fall and is now $1.09, and with the United Kingdom threatening to vote on leaving the EU the outlook for a unified European economy continues to worsen. My financial predictions this year were… not good.

  12. The Browns will make at least three trades in the draft, netting at least one extra pick for next year.

    They traded back in the second round, traded up in the third round, traded back in the fourth round, but amassed no extra picks for 2016. No prediction credit awarded.

  13. Apple is going to announce a television.

    This is like the fifth time I’ve been wrong on this prediction. Steve Jobs would have gotten a TV out by now.

  14. Gas prices, currently at a national average of $2.04, will climb back over $3.00 by year’s end as supply is reduced and usage increases. I’ll peg the prediction range at $3.10 – $3.30.

    It’s $3.03 in Los Angeles, but $2.002 nationally. The Saudis are apparently serious about keeping prices low to eliminate competition.

  15. The Washington Post is going to make some bold moves in 2015 that will show how traditional print media can thrive in the digital world.

    Zuckerberg and Bezos both let me down this year, but if I had to choose between innovation in social media and print media, or innovation in ROCKETS THAT FLY TO SPACE AND THEN LAND BECAUSE OF AWESOME, I’ll choose spaceships every time.

There it is: 5 out of 15 (33%), making this the fourth best year out of the seven years that this game has been played. For once I actually would have beaten a blind monkey throwing darts, but the upcoming predictions for 2016 are almost certain to fare worse, so the monkey may have his revenge soon enough.

Holliday Recap

Posted from Culver City, California at 5:41 pm, December 30th, 2015

Here’s the final recap of 2015:

  • Audrey celebrated her birthday at the end of November, and in addition to a birthday dinner at Ruth Chris I took her to a ghost tour aboard the Queen Mary. After a fancy dinner at the ship’s nicest restaurant we were led on a tour to every haunted spot from bow to stern, including the lower decks where POWs were held during WWII, the now off-limits and very fancy swimming pool, and the huge engine room, hearing stories of all manner of unfortunate events, past hauntings, and ghost cats. Audrey enjoyed the creepiness, and I liked seeing the inner workings of one of the largest ships ever to ply the Atlantic.
  • In between back-to-back work trips to San Antonio I co-hosted a caroling party, thus combining one of Audrey’s biggest joys in life (singing) with one of my biggest fears (singing). Audrey’s professional singer-friends impressed the neighbors with their voices, and her mom brought a giant bowl of delicious meatballs so I got to impress everyone by consuming massive quantities of meatballs.
  • SpaceX landed a rocket!!! I’m still pretty excited about that one.
  • Prior to Christmas I got a text from Aaron saying that he “just broke all of the bones in my ankle”. He later clarified that he is “still learning how to avoid trees when snowboarding” and that he didn’t hurt himself, instead “a tree hurt me”. Upon arriving home for Christmas I found him with his leg in a cast propped up on the couch looking about as stir crazy as a person can be. Despite his lack of mobility Christmas was still fun – there were shenanigans on Aaron’s knee scooter, and Ma delivered a holiday turkey that again let me show off my food-devouring skills.

2015 was another good year in what has so far been a great life, and with 2016 starting with a scuba diving trip the crystal ball predicts that the undeserved good fortune just might continue on a bit longer. Hopefully everyone reading had equally good years – best wishes for 2016!

Holliday Family Christmas

The Skipper is much, much better than he used to be at taking pictures.

There and Back Again

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:22 pm, December 28th, 2015

Six months ago, after seventeen consecutive successful launches, a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket blew up during its journey to orbit. I was bummed.

Last Monday SpaceX returned to flight, and not only successfully completed the mission but also brought the first stage back to the launchpad and landed it vertically. I’m not sure how the average person views that accomplishment, but to this engineer watching the live webcast it was one of those jumping-up-and-down-and-cheering-while-no-one-else-is-in-the-house things. The history of spaceflight since the 1960s has been a series of minor improvements, but this is a major new development that could have vast repercussions for how we access space. Using an imperfect metaphor, a rocket costs a similar amount to an aircraft, and the airlines aren’t charging $60 million per flight, so the ability to use a rocket more than once has the potential to vastly reduce costs for getting things into space. Everyone immediately thinks of sending more humans into orbit when considering cheaper access to space, but think about the revolutionary impact that communications satellites, planetary probes, the Hubble telescope, and earth monitoring satellites have had on our daily lives and our understanding of the universe, and then increase that by at least an order of magnitude if costs decrease. Then jump up and down and cheer.

SpaceX still has some significant technical challenges to address before they can actually re-use their rockets, but there is reason to believe that in the next few years they will have figured out how to use each rocket more than once, and this recent landing will mark a historical turning point when options for space increased dramatically. I’m excited.

This rocket went to space, deployed its second stage, and then returned to the launchpad and landed vertically. That’s ridiculously excellent.

Former Glory

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:59 pm, November 29th, 2015

In elementary school I was picked last at recess for everything: I was the smart kid without coordination who would watch others kick the kickball to the edge of the schoolyard, then when it was my turn I’d rush at the bouncing ball hoping for the best, only to kick it just far enough that I might make it to first base before being thrown out. By the time I graduated from high school, however, a member of the yearbook staff remarked that she was sick of seeing my name while tallying votes for “most likely to win a gold medal”.

The transition started in the fifth grade with the Ludlow Elementary School mini-marathon. This “marathon” consisted of a bunch of elementary school children running around the block, but at each of the practice runs the kid who was always picked last somehow managed to beat everyone except for one older boy. When the actual race day came around, that older boy sprinted out ahead, but two-thirds of the way through the race he was bent over throwing up and I crossed the finish line first. In middle school I was the school’s top runner both years, winning the conference mile championship as an eighth grader, and in high school I set the school’s cross-country record and made All-State as a junior.

I’m writing about these things in the journal not (solely) in some sad attempt to relive high school glory days, but because after 23 years my name was finally bumped from the record book when Justyn Moore became the first runner in Shaker Heights High School history to break sixteen minutes in the 5K, running 15:58 at the state championships three weeks ago. I won’t pretend I wasn’t a little sad at seeing one of the only chronicles of my high school days wiped away, but it’s also pretty cool to see someone from the alma mater running fast. From what I can tell Justyn is better at track than he is at cross-country – his track times are much faster than mine ever were – so I’m actually excited to see what else he might do in the Spring. Also, I still hold the record for fastest cross-country time by a junior, so my name hasn’t been entirely erased from history just yet 🙂

Ludlow Mini-Marathon

Thanksgiving Recap

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:55 pm, November 28th, 2015

Thanksgiving has always been a big deal for the Holliday family – in 2000 I was working in Singapore, but embarked on the 17 hour one-way flight just to be home for two days during the holiday. Since then the Thanksgiving travel has been less extreme, but no matter what it takes everyone still sits down in front of a giant turkey that my mom will inevitably say will be too dry or too overdone – this year’s bird somehow ended up cooking upside-down, which my mom was convinced would ruin it; it was delicious, as always.

The 2015 Thanksgiving odyssey started out Wednesday before noon when I finished up a half day of work and Audrey and I attempted to beat LA traffic. “Beating” LA traffic is an impossibility, but it wasn’t quite the nightmare that it could have been and we only sat in traffic jams for about thirty minutes before we were out of the city’s boundaries. Our lunch stop in the Central Valley was crowded beyond belief – the line was around the counter, past the door, and through the eating area – so plan B ended up being Subway and a few bags of trail mix from the gas station convenience store. Many more miles of driving took us to Harris Ranch, site of the “salt pie” of Thanksgiving 2011 fame. After seven-and-a-half total hours of driving, including a detour along a curvy road in the hills above Livermore, our journey finally ended in Concord with Audrey slightly carsick but otherwise unharmed.

The following day on Thanksgiving morning, Aaron and I headed off for a hike on Mount Diablo, and he won the animal-spotting contest by finding a very seasonal flock of wild turkeys eating someone’s yard near our trailhead. The jaunt through the woods was followed by a day of much lounging, a delicious meal of much gluttony, and finally a card game that involved much losing on my part. Post-Thanksgiving we joined Ma & Pa for breakfast, made a brief visit to the Cosumnes River Preserve, and then visited Aaron’s new place in Sacramento before spending an evening out in downtown Sacramento and a night in a downtown hotel. Today we braved traffic back home – the seven hour return trip was long, but nothing compared to a flight from halfway around the world. With any luck next year will be much the same, and the Holliday family Thanksgiving tradition will continue.

Child Scaring

Posted from Culver City, California at 11:02 am, November 22nd, 2015

Our fourth Halloween child scaring event at the new house saw Ma & Pa Holliday make the trek down to Los Angeles to join in the frightening. Audrey’s mom also showed up, and she unveiled a wicked cackle during the evening’s festivities. Before the night ended my dad, dressed as an insane clown, was telling stories of how he ran out of the fog on all fours at a group kids, barking like a dog, “scaring the bejesus out of them”, so all was well.

For those who want to know more, Audrey has a Scare the Children Facebook page with a more complete description of the evening’s shenanigans, as well as an account of how many children actually crossed the street to avoid being within 100 feet of our house.

Scare the Children 2015

Scare the Children 2015, before it got dark and we turned on the fog machines and lights.

Scary Clown, Scare the Children 2015

For some reason everyone seems to remember the clown.

Holliday Family, Scare the Children 2015

Pa didn’t seem enthusiastic about Scare the Children until we told him we were going to dress him up as a scary clown and give him chains that he could bang into gates, to which he replied “Really? That sounds kind of cool”. Ma gets excited about everything and enthusiastically donned a purple mask and took on the job of giving out candy.

Jocelyn, Scare the Children 2015

For 364 days each year Jocelyn is an incredibly kind-hearted musician and children’s author, but every Halloween we paint her white and put her in a coffin.

13 Years of Journals

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:21 am, October 31st, 2015

This journal started slightly more than 13 years ago as a way to relay my adventures back to friends while I spent three months traveling through Alaska and Northern Canada. When that trip ended I wasn’t quite sure whether or not to continue writing, but decided to keep going and see how things went. Over the years the journal has been a useful way for me to record travel adventures, share photos, and capture random thoughts that seemed like they might be worth revisiting in a few years’ time.

In today’s world where social media is the primary tool for keeping friends informed of life’s events, an online journal is less useful for recording daily adventures and instead seems like a bit of a platform for egotism – it’s somewhat presumptuous to ramble on several times a month as if what I was writing had any special merit. That said, these entries have merit to me. While I’ve posted things that made me cringe a bit at the thought that they were out there for the world to see, I’m still glad to have posted them. There is no doubt that some of my ramblings cause people to roll their eyes, but writing them helps me think through issues more completely, and trying to convey things clearly for public consumption forces me to examine those issues in ways that I might not otherwise have done.

I’ve got no idea how long I’ll keep this journal going, or if at some point I’ll perhaps drop the three-entries-a-month goal and just use it to document travels. For now, however, I’m glad to have a way to share adventures and to record thoughts that can then be revisited in the future. And for those times when life isn’t exciting and there aren’t adventures to share, it still seems like a worthwhile mental exercise to pick a random topic of interest and then think it through, trying to put thoughts into words in my own fumbling way.

Denali from Reflection Pond

My favorite picture taken during the trip that was the reason for this journal’s creation. Photo from a really good day taken at Reflection Pond in Denali National Park.

Compromise is Not a Four-Letter Word

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:20 pm, October 29th, 2015
an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.

As I write this, GOP Presidential hopefuls are railing against the latest budget agreement, stating that “Republicans have made with this president… a rotten to the core deal“. By a margin of 62-37, Republicans say that they want someone who will stick to their principles rather than compromise with Obama (the numbers are reversed for Democrats, with 60 percent favoring compromise). The recent search for a new Speaker of the House briefly descended into chaos due to the fact that there was no suitable candidate for a job that requires finding solutions that the President won’t veto when a significant portion of the Republican caucus views working with that President as betrayal.

The United States is a large and diverse country with a population that seldom agrees, so the job of legislator requires someone who is good at finding mutually agreeable solutions with those who hold different ideological views in order to get things done. Note that this does not mean surrendering one’s principles, but instead means making acceptable concessions in order to make progress. From the very beginning, the process of governing has been notable as a process of compromise – the Constitution is perhaps the finest example of compromise in the nation’s history. Any politician thinking that he can simply plant his feet in the ground and eventually get anything done in the US system of government is either unfit for the job or willfully refusing to govern.

While the previously-mentioned poll makes clear that the demonization of compromise is much, much more pronounced among conservatives, Democrats also fall into this trap. The response to the increase in mass shootings is a useful case study – liberals almost universally called for gun restrictions, but almost nowhere in the media, my social network feeds, or elsewhere did anyone propose anything to reassure existing gun owners that their rights would not be infringed. While gun control is an issue where getting anything done is nearly impossible, demanding action without simultaneously working to gain the support of those who might not fully share your position is a sure way to guarantee that nothing will get accomplished.

One of the things I love about America is that this country’s potential seems limitless – if we could actually agree on things, I have no doubts that we could eliminate the national debt, cure cancer, or do just about anything we set our minds to. Sadly, while we have the potential for greatness, we seem to fall short the majority of the time. In the coming election season, keep an eye out for candidates who speak to the country as a whole rather than just factions within it, and who avoid casting aspersions on those with whom they hold differences. When we can agree without being disagreeable, and work together to find mutually beneficial solutions, the future is far brighter. Today’s climate of “my way or the highway” will only end when voters reward those who seek out win-win solutions, and legislators again begin treating the other party as colleagues with differing opinions instead of combatants to be vanquished.

Month in Recap

Posted from Culver City, California at 11:19 am, October 25th, 2015

Here’s the summary of all of the excitement from the past month:

  • Three weeks ago I drove up to the Bay Area to bring Audrey home after eight months. We made a quick visit to see Ma & Pa, had a night out with her co-workers and friends, and then the Subaru was packed to the gills to haul her stuff back to Culver City.
  • On her first weekend home we went to Ojai for a friend’s wedding. The bride was originally from Bangladesh, so night one of the wedding was celebrated Indian-style, with guests wearing loaned Indian attire, traditional dancing, and washing of the hands with milk, which sounds gross but is only kind of gross. The next night was semi-traditional: the bride wore an American wedding dress and the groom wore a tuxedo, but he also came down the aisle in a pair of Converse while the guitarist played Metallica. Definitely a fun time and one of the more original weddings I’ve ever attended.
  • The following week I flew to Texas for work, and since the temperature has dropped from insanely hot to uncomfortably warm I decided that this was as good of a time as any to stay for the weekend and do some exploring. The tiny town of Lockhart, an hour northeast of San Antonio, is supposedly the mecca for barbecue, so I visited Kreuz’s Market, a business representing half of a family dispute that national media dubbed the “barbefeud“. Apparently the question of whether barbecued meat should have sauce on it is a matter that can lead to fist fights, and while I thought the meat at this particular establishment was perhaps the best prepared barbecue I’ve ever had, I learned that I am clearly a member of the pro-sauce contingent. The weekend’s other activities included a trip to the LBJ Presidential library, a trip to the Texas Capitol to view portraits of early legislators and their insanely creative facial hair, and some time spent roaming around Austin’s 6th street, where it seemed like every other bar had a live band. The next day I headed off towards the town of Marble Falls thinking that a waterfall traversing a marble canyon sounded like a sight worth seeing, only to learn that in true Texas style the falls now lie at the bottom of a reservoir.

The coming weeks are reserved for Audrey’s annual Scare-the-Children Halloween extravaganza, so expect a future journal entry detailing exactly how many children lost control of bodily functions while seeking out candy at our abode.

Trains that go fast

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:24 pm, September 29th, 2015

I wrote the following about the California High Speed Rail project 18 months ago:

Caveat: high speed rail is something that should absolutely be built to connect America’s cities, as is done throughout the rest of the world. However, the $68 billion California high speed rail project has missed every deadline so far and has no viable solution for moving forward. I don’t envy the people trying to make it work – they are saddled with a set of difficult and often conflicting constraints that are set by law, a political environment in which financing is uncertain, and everyone from Congress members to farmers trying to use whatever legal options are available to delay or kill the project – but more than five years after approval there is absolutely no excuse for not having a workable plan.

Since I wrote the above there have been a few positive developments:

  • California has budgeted 25% of all cap and trade funds to high speed rail, amounting to $750 million in 2015 and likely increasing in future years, so the project now has a not-insignificant portion of its funding. Whether devoting such a large percentage of cap and trade revenue to high speed rail is the best use of the funds is highly debatable, but viewed solely from the standpoint of the rail project it is a positive development.
  • Construction has started in the Central Valley, and even if the project somehow fails to be completed the initial work will still offer safety and traffic benefits via grade separation of existing rail lines.
  • Nearly a decade after the project was conceived, Caltrain and high-speed rail finally seem to be doing some coordination on development in the Peninsula with Caltrain announcing plans to standardize the height of their boarding platforms with high speed rail.
  • There has been discussion about expediting the Palmdale to Burbank section of high speed rail, which could be operated on its own to reduce commute times in LA from ninety minutes down to twenty. While the Bay Area and the Central Valley are fighting high-speed rail, Southern California has so far been enthusiastic about the potential for improved transit options.
  • Of the two segments of the network that have been bid out for construction, both have come in under the projected budget. The first segment, 30 miles from Madera to Fresno, was estimated to cost $1.2-1.5 billion but was bid for $985 million. The second segment, 65 miles from Fresno south, was estimated to cost $1.5-2 billion, but was bid for $1.36 billion.

Despite the positive developments there remain an enormous number of reasons for concern:

  • In its first real chance to prove that it can get things done now that construction is starting, the rail authority is already one year behind its own schedule for acquiring land in the initial segment that is currently being built.
  • The rail agency is still sticking with cost estimates that are almost certainly unrealistic. While the two segments in the Central Valley came in under budget, building a route through the mountains and across active seismic faults, as well as through the densely populated Bay Area and Los Angeles area, will most definitely be difficult and expensive, and that cost and difficulty will only be increased by the ongoing delays.
  • In the Bay, Caltrain and high-speed rail will share the same corridor, but the two have barely coordinated. Caltrain is spending $231 million on a train control system that is incompatible with high-speed rail, is spending over $1 billion to electrify just 51 miles of rail and doing so without fully coordinating with the high speed rail project, and until recently was considering buying new trains with doors at a different height than the high speed rail trains, meaning platforms could not be shared. Both projects would save MASSIVE amounts of time and money if they would just work together, but for whatever reason they repeatedly fail to do so.
  • High speed rail has unfortunately become a political issue, with all Republicans now expected to state their opposition to anything that resembles a high-speed train, no matter what its merits may be. There would be tremendous benefit in having critical yet rational oversight of California’s rail project, but politicizing things unfortunately has the effect of causing one side to promote the project and gloss over its faults, while the other promises to kill it at the first opportunity despite its obvious benefits.
  • There is still NIMBY opposition to high speed rail from wealthy Bay Area communities like Palo Alto that at worst could kill the project, and at best will result in compromises that will harm the system as a whole. The Peninsula is perhaps the most important segment in the entire route, and sadly is also by far the most troubled and least advanced.

I hope that this project is eventually built, but I’m far less enthusiastic than I once was due to the poor management that has characterized things so far. In my own community I’ve watched millions of dollars disappear into legal fees as Beverly Hills fought a much-needed subway for no reason that anyone can understand, and I’ve watched my own neighbors fight changes to make flights into LAX more efficient solely because some areas might occasionally get slightly louder plane noise; neither of those situations inspire confidence that a questionable management team will be able to quell the opposition to the much larger and more complex rail project sufficiently to allow the project to be a success. That said, it’s worth remembering that nearly every major infrastructure project, whether the Golden Gate bridge or the interstate highway system, was loudly opposed by some of the populace, but once built the opposition disappeared as the benefits became obvious. With luck, in another 20 years we’ll be riding the train to San Francisco and wondering how anyone could have ever opposed such a useful transit option.

This video will be much more awesome when it isn’t CGI.

Ryan’s Rules of Etiquette

Posted from 30,000 feet over Texas at 6:15 pm, September 23rd, 2015

With the 2016 Presidential election season already in full swing it seems like everyone has opinions they want to shout at everyone else, be it on cable news, on Facebook, or elsewhere. That got me thinking about guidelines for keeping things civil during the thirteen-plus months until the elections, and I came up with the following, most of which aren’t specific to political discourse. Please call me out if I fail to follow any of these on this journal or elsewhere, and please suggest others that might be useful:

  1. Recognize the difference between a debate and an argument, and avoid the latter.
  2. Never ignore or dismiss facts that conflict with your preferred position.
  3. Don’t complain about what’s wrong without also suggesting a way to fix it.
  4. Make an effort to understand those you disagree with. Make an effort to be critical of those you agree with.
  5. A solution where both sides win is infinitely better than a solution where one side loses.
  6. Always consider the possibility that you might be wrong and that those you disagree with might be right.
  7. Remember that politics is not the same thing as government.

Forward to the Future

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:47 pm, August 31st, 2015

Los Angeles, Boston, Washington D.C. and San Francisco all submitted bids to be the United States’ entry in the competition to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Boston won that competition, and then backed out a few weeks ago. Now, Los Angeles has been named as a last-minute replacement.

While hosting the Olympics is usually a money-losing proposition (sometimes to a disastrous extent), the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics actually turned a profit, the current bid relies mostly on existing infrastructure, and LA has been pretty fiscally sensible lately, so I’m optimistic that it won’t turn into a boondoggle. An initial review of the bid proposal raised some concerns, but I suspect those will be addressed in order to win city council approval.

Financial considerations aside, having the Olympics in LA would be pretty awesome. I was a poor college student who hopped on a Greyhound and went to the 1996 games in Atlanta without much money or anywhere to sleep, and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Whether I’m still living in LA or not in a decade, this would definitely be the second Olympics that I attend, and this time I wouldn’t have to sneak into venues and would actually be able to afford a ticket for some of the premier events.

Beyond the thrill of being able to attend another Olympics, the benefits that the Games would bring to the city are also exciting. Obviously sporting venues like the Coliseum would get an upgrade, as well as venues like the Convention Center and Shrine Auditorium. Plans for the Athlete’s Village call for developing a downtown rail yard and then converting the development to residential use after the Olympics ended, thus creating a new neighborhood out of a blighted area. Additionally, the Olympics would be cause for a massive housecleaning throughout LA, with everything from metro stations to medians to signage getting spruced up.

The bid still has to be approved by the City Council, something that will almost certainly happen, and then LA will compete with international cities including Rome, Hamburg, Paris and Budapest. With the games not having been in North America since 1996, and with LA making a strong proposal, it seems like the odds of being picked should be pretty good. Count me as excited by the possibility.

Olympic Coliseum proposal

Rendering of the upgraded Coliseum and swimming venue in Exposition Park. Image from LA24 via NBC Sports.

Back to the Past

Posted from Culver City, California at 6:20 pm, August 30th, 2015

There are two big ecological restoration projects in the works for the LA Area. The bigger of the two is the restoration of the LA River. Currently the “river” is little more than a concrete culvert through the city, but LA has secured the support of the Army Corps of Engineers for a $1.3 billion plan to restore eleven miles of the river to a more natural state. While there will be some benefits for nature, this project seems mainly to be about about the recreational and economic benefits of revitalizing an eleven-mile long corridor within LA. That’s not a bad thing – I’m visiting San Antonio twice a month right now, and the San Antonio River Walk shows clearly how a river can improve the quality of life in an area. I suspect that environmentalists won’t be satisfied with the eventual plans that emerge in LA, but the reality is that a small river running through a massive city will never again return to a truly natural state, and the best one can hope for is a waterway that provides some benefits for nature while offering significant quality of life improvements for humans.

The second restoration project is the Ballona Wetlands. At the end of this year the Environmental Impact Report will be released, offering options for restoring the remaining 600 undeveloped acres, or about 1% of the historic wetlands area. This project will be far less expensive than the LA River restoration, and while it will offer far fewer economic benefits it will offer some notable environmental benefits. Wetlands are tremendously important to migratory birds who use them as stopover points, fish that use them as spawning grounds, numerous creatures that use them as a food source, and the surrounding area that benefits from their ability to filter pollutants and lessen flood severity. With so many wetlands already lost to development, restoring even a small one has an outsized effect. Perhaps more importantly, residents of LA have little exposure to nature and thus little chance to learn to appreciate its benefits, so creating a destination for school fieldtrips and weekend visits will expose future generations to an environment that they might not have otherwise realized was important to protect.

Both restoration projects still face numerous hurdles, and have already had setbacks. An effort by the Annenberg Foundation to build a $50 million visitor center in the Ballona wetlands was killed by environmentalists who opposed any development at all on the site. While restoring every available acre might be a noble goal, the reality is that 99% of the historic wetland is already gone, and the remaining wetlands probably have more educational value than environmental value. Similarly, draft restoration plans for Ballona have been opposed for not going far enough in returning the area to its original state AND for going too far, thus disrupting the wildlife that is currently present; ongoing arguments could conceivably halt any attempts at restoration and leave the area in a degraded state. While plans for the LA River are still in the very early stages, the involvement of architect Frank Gehry has already been called “the epitome of wrong-ended planning“, and further conflicts will no doubt threaten to derail the project moving forward.

With luck all parties will realize that compromise is necessary, that “perfect” is the enemy of “good”, and in another 5-10 years LA will have a vibrant river corridor that offers habitat for wildlife and revitalized neighborhoods and recreational areas for humans. Additionally, if all parties can find agreement then restoration of Ballona will move forward to create a healthy wetland that can be used to educate future generations about the value of nature while providing food and shelter for species that currently struggle to survive due to the severe loss of their coastal wetland habitat.

Ballona Wetlands restoration proposal

Artist’s rendering of a proposed Ballona restoration. Fill dumped in the wetlands during the creation of Marina del Rey, currently 20 feet deep in some places, has been removed to allow land to again be inundated by the creek and tides. The levees around the creek have also been partially removed to allow a more natural flow. Image from the Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project.

The Busy-ness

Posted from Culver City, California at 6:32 pm, August 29th, 2015

So much working. Here are the non-working things that have been happening:

  • After getting incredibly lucky and winning tickets on the radio (thanks 100.3 the Sound!) I took Audrey to see her favorite band in the last show of what may be their last tour. After finding our seats at the Fabulous Forum, Rush did a set consisting of their hits played in reverse chronological order, with the stage continuously updated to match the band’s status at the time the song was released. A stage that started out filled with futuristic displays changed to stacks of amps before they ended the night with two amps balanced on chairs in front of a projection of a high school gymnasium while playing “Working Man”, a song off of their first record. I wasn’t a fan of Rush prior to meeting Audrey, but I’ve got to admit that it’s pretty amazing that just three people can produce that much sound.
  • The next big musical event was a return visit to see the LA Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. They performed Wagner, Strauss, Liszt and others, all in perfect sync to act as the background music for the Bugs Bunny cartoons being simulcast on the Bowl’s screens. My knowledge of classical music is so extensive that I recognized each and every piece, from Kill da Wabbit all the way through the Rabbit of Seville.
  • Peppered throughout the last month have been numerous trips to San Antonio for work – they are excited that it is finally cooling down to where high temperatures are only in the nineties.
  • The final adventure of late was a trip to see Audrey in the Bay Area. I flew in from Texas late Friday night, we hung out with my parents for Saturday’s lunch, and met her boss and co-worker for an amazing dinner in Sausalito. On Sunday I wanted to revisit my old haunts in Palo Alto, and in the process discovered that absolutely nothing there is familiar – I couldn’t even pick out the house I used to live in; apparently I was more sleep-deprived during the dotcom days than I realized.

Audrey will be home regularly in September before returning for good at the beginning of October, so life may get more interesting once I again have someone around to force me out of the house on a regular basis.

Rush at the Forum

Geddy Lee and the Rushes at the Fabulous Forum. Taken mid-concert during the “giant stacks of amps” phase of the show.