Archive for 2015

Looking Back at the Look Ahead

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:31 pm, Thursday, 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, Wednesday, 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, Monday, 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, Sunday, 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, Saturday, 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, Sunday, 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, Saturday, 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, Thursday, October 29th, 2015
Compromise
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, Sunday, 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.

This time last year…

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:04 pm, Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

It seems like longer than fourteen months since the days were filled with colorful kingfishers and tiny deer.

Grey-headed kingfisher at Lake Manyara

Grey-headed kingfisher at Lake Manyara in Tanzania.

Klipspringer in Serengeti National Park

Greater kudu in Samburu Game Reserve

Trains that go fast

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:24 pm, Tuesday, 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, Wednesday, 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, Monday, 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, Sunday, 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, Saturday, 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.

The Final Frontier

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 5:42 pm, Friday, July 31st, 2015

As is often the case, when it’s the end of the month and I don’t have anything in particular to write about, I write about spaceships.

  • The cause of the SpaceX rocket explosion has been announced as a strut that snapped due to a manufacturing defect. It doesn’t sound like there is 100% confidence that’s actually what happened, but if it was the cause then it’s a relatively easy fix and one that will lead to a more reliable vehicle. Future launches aren’t expected to be postponed more than a few months while the issue is addressed.
  • NASA’s giant new rocket, creatively named the “Space Launch System (SLS)”, has had several successful engine tests and is scheduled for first flight in 2018. It would be the most powerful rocket ever launched, but is unfortunately a machine without a clear purpose – there are no imminent plans to send people to Mars or the moon, and with a price tag of at least $500 million per launch (and up to $5 billion by some critical estimates) it is far more expensive than any other option for satellite launches or space station resupply missions.
  • The New Horizons spacecraft just zoomed by Pluto, providing some surprising information about a dwarf planet that is about 40 times further away from the sun than the Earth is. This plucky little spacecraft was initially cancelled in 2000, but a large backlash revived its funding, and it spent nearly a decade after its 2006 launch reaching the edge of the solar system. Its useful life is expected to be 15 years, meaning there should be plenty of science to come as it travels through the Kuiper Belt.

Last of all, for anyone not quite clear on how far away Pluto really is, here’s a model of the solar system that has been scaled so that the moon is the size of a single pixel. Spoiler alert: Pluto is FAR away.

False color image of Pluto

False color image of Pluto, taken by the New Horizons spacecraft. We live in a time when robots are sending us photos of other planetary bodies from 4.7 billion miles away, and that is AWESOME. Photo from NASA.

Not Political

Posted from 35,000 feet over Texas at 10:48 pm, Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Despite the higher-than-normal number of recent journal entries on political topics, there’s still a bunch of political stuff that I’d like to think through further via a journal entry – the ongoing drama surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline, the controversy over the hunting death of Cecil the Lion, the Iran nuclear deal, etc. But too much politics gets old fast, so here’s an entry about groceries and Tanzania instead.

Exactly one year ago today on July 28, 2014 I was travelling from Istanbul to Tanzania on a plane that turned out to be too broken to fly. This flight occurred after two amazing weeks exploring Turkey and with two-and-a-half months remaining in what may be the most epic trip I ever take in my life. I woke up the following morning with a view of Mount Kilimanjaro, spent the next four weeks on safari, then roamed South Africa for two weeks before Audrey and I embarked on a four-week odyssey in Madagascar. In what seems to be some sort of time displacement that gets more pronounced as I get older, that trip feels like it took place an incredibly long time ago, but simultaneously it somehow doesn’t seem like a lot of time has passed since it ended.

Today I’m writing this journal entry from a plane on a comparatively much less exciting trip to San Antonio for work. HEB made the prudent choice of selecting Commerce Architects to take care of their web site in the coming months, so I’ll be visiting Texas on a regular basis and working with a small team to turn their site into a streamlined grocery-dispensing beast. While photographing lemurs would be more exciting, selling groceries online is a surprisingly interesting application given all the constraints around what can be shipped, what needs to be picked up from the store, differing inventories across hundreds of stores and warehouses, etc, so it should be a fun technical challenge. I’m not one of those people who would gush about loving his job – I’d rather be on an extended road trip – but especially when things are going smoothly I enjoy the constant problem-solving, and it’s extremely rewarding when the solution to those problems ends up being particularly elegant or clever. The flip side of that “rewarding” aspect is that Audrey often discovers me spending an inordinate amount of time pacing around the living room when the elegant solutions prove to be elusive, often resulting in long periods of frustration followed by concentrated bursts of inspiration, but if that wasn’t the case they probably wouldn’t call it “work”.

Life continues to move along in positive directions, and I continue to be grateful for the abundance of good fortune I’ve experienced thus far.

Cappadocia sunrise

Cappadocia sunrise from last July. Life lesson: when you are taking time to enjoy the sunrise on a regular basis, things are usually going pretty good.

Flags

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:51 pm, Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Against better judgement, here’s one more political post about a current event that’s been on my mind. Journal entry topics should return to postings about the heat in San Antonio and pictures of birds very soon.

The Confederate flag has been in the news, and companies have been scrambling to disassociate themselves from it, even to the point where TV Land pulled re-runs of Dukes of Hazzard from its schedule. I’ve got three thoughts.

First, I think many of those opposed to the Confederate flag have failed to recognize its legitimate use as a symbol of Southern identity. Just as Black culture or Irish culture or Japanese culture is a thing, so is White southern culture – hunting, fishing, country music, saying “ma’am”, driving a pickup truck, drinking sweet tea, etc. Insofar as people identify with that culture, having a shared symbol of that identification is a way of celebrating a lifestyle, and many of those flying the Confederate flag view efforts to remove it as an attack on their identity as a group. Despite that obvious fact, I’ve not heard anyone who opposes the flag tempering their opposition with a recognition that people should have every right to celebrate their identity. The General Lee didn’t have the Confederate flag on it because Bo & Luke were racists, it was there because they were Southern and proud of being country boys.

Second, it’s inarguable that to many people the Confederate flag represents racism. The KKK doesn’t carry the flag at marches to show that they like fishing, and if you’re a Black person you most definitely don’t see the flag and think of country music. Insofar as the Confederate flag was the symbol of a society that embraced slavery and oppression of minorities, it has no place in public squares or on government buildings. Furthermore, those that display it as a way of celebrating Southern identity should recognize that what to them is a celebration of culture is something that represents the worst of humanity to many others. Southerners have every right to celebrate their identity, but it’s long overdue for there to be a serious discussion about finding another symbol of Southern identity that isn’t simultaneously a symbol of racial hatred.

Finally, the focus on the flag came about after a horrific series of murders by a white supremacist. While this horrible act had the positive effect of focusing attention on issues of race, it seems to me that those who captured the moment focused almost all of the attention on a symbol of racial injustice at the expense of addressing the actual issues. One thing about the political correctness movement that irks many people (myself included) is that it seems to generate unending outrage, but little in the way of meaningful results. Raising awareness about why the Confederate flag is seen as a horrific symbol is good, but it’s a minor issue when compared with the actual problems related to race in America. Wouldn’t we be better off if the same amount of effort and attention that was put into repudiating the Confederate flag was instead put into encouraging people to attend events that promote positive interactions between different ethnic and social groups, or to attend a service at an inner city church, or to begin a serious national effort to address the continuing under-representation of minorities at colleges and businesses? Gay marriage was legalized because the majority realized that gay people were their friends and neighbors, not because we censored the word “faggot” from everyday language; similarly, racism will only disappear when we stop seeing people as different, and not because a flag is lowered. In this case, I can’t help but feel that media attention, protests, and speeches by politicians was a lot of effort devoted to winning a “victory” that will have little or no permanent effect on the real problems that truly matter.

As with most things, both sides in this debate paint it as black-and-white, when the truth is that the issue is hugely complex. Those opposed to the Confederate flag have a responsibility to recognize that Southern culture is real and worth celebrating, while those flying the flag have a responsibility to recognize that the symbol they have chosen to represent their culture comes with a massive amount of racist baggage. That said, the fact that the country chose to focus the debate on a flag, going so far as to celebrate a “victory” when a single copy of that flag was lowered at a state Capitol, while doing almost nothing that might actually address the very real racial divide that still exists in America, is a dismaying commentary on both the desire and ability of the USA to address this issue meaningfully.

It IS Rocket Science

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 9:37 am, Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

Despite being wiped out from four straight weeks of travelling for work, I got up at 7AM Sunday morning, partly because my brain is running on Central time and partly because I’m an engineering geek and wanted to watch the latest SpaceX launch to see if they would finally be successful in their ludicrous attempts to land a rocket on a barge in the middle of the ocean. Instead, about two minutes into the launch, I saw a live webcast of the rocket disintegrating as it was traveling at a speed of approximately 4000 km/h. From the video it was clear that something exploded on the second stage portion of the rocket, but unfortunately more than 48 hours later there still doesn’t seem to be any clue as to what specifically went wrong.

I’m bummed about it.

Prior to this flight the Falcon-9 rocket had a perfect record – yes, there were some minor glitches on previous flights (an engine exploded once…), but it successfully completed its primary mission on each launch, and did so at a fraction of the cost of any other rocket. At the same time, the way SpaceX was operating was a throwback to the early days of flight and space, when people dreamed big and not only tried to do impossible things, but succeeded with surprising regularity. Since those early days aerospace has become slow, bloated and hugely risk averse, so the upstart SpaceX provided the hope that they might be the ones to bring the future that seemed all-but-certain in 2001: A Space Odyssey closer to reality. With luck their engineers will be able to pinpoint the cause of the failure and return to service with an even more robust vehicle, but at this moment the cause of the explosion is a complete mystery, and thus the Falcon-9 is a machine with an unknown fatal flaw. For anyone who was amazed at the incredible successes of SpaceX thus far, and excited about what this rocket meant for the future of spaceflight, this setback is a disheartening reality check.

However, rocket science is very, very, very hard – that’s one reason I switched to computer programming, where if I make a bad assumption in my work it usually won’t result in pieces of a $60 million machine being scattered over a vast swath of the Atlantic. Given their surprisingly successful track record to this point, I would not bet against SpaceX recovering from this failure in a big way – they still have plans to ferry astronauts to the space station in a Falcon-9, are still on the verge of being able to land and re-use a rocket, and they still have a long list of customers anxious to use their lower-cost rockets for satellite launches.

On Saturday night prior to the launch I was watching a documentary about the dawn of powered flight that highlighted the competition between Glenn Curtiss and the Wright Brothers. On an early demonstration flight for the army the Wright’s flying machine crashed, killing an army lieutenant and putting Orville Wright into the hospital for months. Similarly, on a test flight the day before his first public demonstration, Curtiss had mechanical difficulty and his machine crashed. The Wrights regrouped and were soon aloft again, and Curtiss rebuilt his machine overnight and then made the longest powered flight in history the following day.

Elon Musk got the worst possible gift for his 44th birthday on Sunday, but there seems to be little doubt that history will remember him as one of the great engineer entrepreneurs of of the 21st century, and like Curtiss and the Wrights he will most certainly emerge from this setback stronger than ever.

Video of the “anomaly” that caused the loss of the Falcon-9 rocket on Sunday. Skip to 2:25 if you want to see the sad part.

Gay Marriage

Posted from Culver City, California at 11:07 pm, Sunday, June 28th, 2015

WARNING: political post ahead, and a potentially controversial one. Skip this entry if you mainly read this journal for the pretty pictures.

On Friday the Supreme Court made gay marriage legal nationwide. From my standpoint, that decision is indisputably the right move – sexuality is not a choice for the vast majority of people, and the government thus should not be telling a homosexual couple that they cannot have the same rights as a heterosexual couple. I think it is also indisputable that a not-insignificant percentage of the opposition to gay marriage is homophobia justified as religious objection; if the concern was solely religious there would be equal objection to the government allowing divorced people to re-marry. Similarly, if the Old Testament’s prohibitions against homosexuality are inviolate, the same should be said about prohibitions against eating shellfish (Leviticus 11:10), getting a tattoo (Leviticus 19:28), or wearing blended fabrics (Leviticus 19:19), yet those concerns are somehow ignored when the prohibitions against homosexuality in Leviticus are cited.

With the above said, some people do object to gay marriage based on a legitimate religious conviction. For many, religion means faith without room for doubt, so when the church states that homosexuality is a choice, rather than an innate human characteristic, and that expressing support for homosexuality is sinning, that becomes something that members of that church must accept without question. When the proponents of gay marriage dismiss the concerns of those who have been taught that supporting homosexuality is a sin, it reinforces the viewpoint of those individuals that this is a battle against religion, rather than a fight for civil rights, and history shows that people will double-down on a belief and go to tremendous lengths to defend their religion.

Legalizing gay marriage was the right thing to do, and in another generation I suspect that nearly everyone will recognize it as a civil rights issue instead of a religious issue, just as interracial marriage was initially opposed on religious grounds but is now seen solely through the lens of civil rights. However, it takes time for opinions to change, and I wish that more politicians, media outlets and individuals were making it clear that this court decision solely affects how the government interprets the meaning of marriage, and still leaves churches the religious freedom to interpret marriage as they see fit. I’m personally glad to see UCC churches and Episcopal churches celebrating gay couples, and hope that other churches will eventually move in a more inclusive direction, but I’m concerned by the fact that opponents of gay marriage are now immediately dismissed as bigots when many of those people have for their entire lifetime only heard their church addressing this issue by telling them that homosexuality is a sin that could not be questioned. To many, that view now seems obviously wrong, but for others it will take time to come to grips with the change that is happening around them. Yes, gay marriage is and should be the law of the land, but separation of church and state is also the law of the land, and I think some allowance needs to be made so that, while gay marriage is legal in the eyes of the government, it is clear that view will not be forced upon churches that aren’t yet ready to accept it.

Working Boy

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 9:09 pm, Thursday, June 18th, 2015

After a relaxing month off, I’m back to work and spending a lot of time in airports – you wouldn’t think the smell of one person’s refunded lunch could permeate an entire terminal at LAX, but you would be very wrong. Vomit aside, with Audrey out of town I kind of like the travel since it forces me out of the house and off to new adventures, even if adventures in the extreme heat of San Antonio tend to be limited after a long day of work. Anyhow, here’s the update since last time:

  • After the road trip I visited Audrey and the family in the Bay Area, then returned to LA for some lounging about. The last week of May, and my last work-free week, I made another trip up to the Bay as a way to force myself to shower, shave, leave the house, and take a break from writing manifestos.
  • Aaron sold his place in Livermore and bought a place in East Sacramento, so I went up to see him, sit around his backyard firepit, eat fancy breakfasts, and ride beach cruisers. All told we covered about twenty miles on bike through Sacramento, hitting the Capitol, stopping for the famous banana cream pie at the city’s finest Chinese restaurant, enjoying floating beverages at the Virgin Sturgeon, and generally behaving like two mature gentlemen in their late-thirties should.
  • After leaving Aaron I spent an hour trying to cross the Bay Bridge to meet Audrey after work for drinks, and then the following day took her to Bodega Bay and Muir Woods. Shockingly I’d never been to Muir Woods, and have thus missed out on this tiny paradise north of the Golden Gate.
  • The next day we visited Ma & Pa in Concord. The Skipper’s preference is to limit himself to one activity per day, so after he had gone to church and then spent an afternoon at a barbecue we crashed into him like a tornado, dragging him off to the dog park for a walk and then fiddling with the TV setup (something both Ma & Pa fear to their very core) so that they would be able to watch Netflix on demand.
  • The next day was a return to work, this time on a project for the HEB grocery chain, based in San Antonio. The current project is a reunion with Khalid of DirecTV fame, and Joe, one of three partners at Commerce Architects. The first week was spent working from the CA office in Berkeley, and the following week saw three days in the HEB office in San Antonio.
  • Of special note, Audrey has a friend who works at Pixar, so during the week I was working from Berkeley, and after many years of stalking the perimeter of the Pixar compound in Emeryville, I finally got to enter the gates. It was by far the nicest work environment I’ve ever seen, and while my skillset doesn’t really match anything they would need, if they ever decided to lease office space and I was tired of working in my pajamas in the kitchen, Pixar’s campus would be an ideal spot to toil.
  • San Antonio is another place I’ve never visited, and while the weather is a bit like living on the surface of the sun, once the evening arrives and the temperatures dip into the nineties, it’s kind of a neat place. Joe and I watched game three of the NBA finals (Cavs won?!?) from a bar in the Riverwalk, and I went for a run along the river and past all manner of historic structures. Given the near-weekly visits for at least the next two months, there should be plenty of additional opportunities to explore.
  • Last of all, Audrey was home this past weekend to sing in a concert at Disney Concert Hall. Around 200 choir members and the booming Frank Gehry-designed organ amidst an awesome venue was not a bad way to spend a Friday evening.

Mike, Sully, and Ryan at Pixar

Mike, Sully, and me. I tried to play it cool while we were roaming around the Pixar campus, but if you were privy to my inner monologue you would have basically heard excited shrieking for two straight hours. Photo taken by Audrey.

The Day of Five Caves

Posted from Shasta National Forest, California at 8:17 pm, Sunday, May 10th, 2015

Lava Beds National Monument is a pretty cool spot. By 1PM I’d explored five of the park’s caves, all of them very different. Golden Dome Cave had me on my belly at one point pushing between rocks, Sentinel Cave was an easy 1000 meter underground stroll, Skull Cave was a short yet ENORMOUS cavern, with a lava tube passage large enough to fit an airplane. Valentine Cave and Sunshine Cave offered a bit of everything, with some scrambling and some easy bits. I lucked out and had every cave almost completely to myself – being in absolute darkness with only the sounds of dripping water is a stupendous environment for sitting and thinking.

Following the below-ground explorations I did a bit of above-ground exploration, then returned to the Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge before moving on. Now I’m parked in the forest under Mount Shasta as thunderstorms intermittently pass by. So far this has been a much-needed break from life in the city.

Sunshine Cave in Lava Beds National Monument

Sunshine Cave in Lava Beds National Monument.

Western Grebe in Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Western Grebe in Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

All the Caves

Posted from Lava Beds National Monument, California at 8:59 pm, Saturday, May 9th, 2015

I only saw one other car this morning as I was roaming around the antelope refuge, and that sort of set the tone for the day – for the most part, today was a day of little-used roads, the sort where if you see another vehicle then the drivers wave at one another. After roaming the dusty dirt roads of the antelope refuge I headed back towards California via some apparently little-used state roads. Once back in the state where pumping your own gas is legal I headed towards Goose Lake, which is a spot on the map that has always intrigued me. It’s as big as Tahoe on the map, but you never hear about it. And when I arrived, I found out why – it’s not there; a dry lakebed and plumes of dust filled the spot where a ginormous lake was supposed to be. A missing lake seems like reason #5,346 why the world needs to figure out the whole fresh water supply thing.

After the non-lake I made a brief trip through the Modoc National Wildlife Refuge, then it was on to the surprisingly awesome Lava Beds National Monument, and the neighboring Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge. I won’t do a species list since that would be boring, but the summary report is that the snake I saw today most likely was of the poisonous variety, and apparently California is home to pheasants, something I never realized despite living here for 17 years. The other attraction of this park is that it is lousy with caves, and with one half-mile long lava tube explored today, the plan for tomorrow is to see what some of the others are like.

Also, since it’s a neat thing, as I started writing this entry I could see the silhouettes of two deer next to my car, licking ash from the campground firepit; sharing a campsite with deer is not an experience I tend to have while working.

Yellow-headed blackbird in the Tule Wildlife Refuge

From the same people who brought you the ever-so-creatively-named “red-winged blackbird”, this is the “yellow-headed blackbird”.

Where the Deer and the Antelope Play

Posted from Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, Oregon at 7:52 pm, Friday, May 8th, 2015

I’ve got a couple of weeks between projects, so I put the Subaru in drive mode and went up to San Francisco to take the folks out for a nice meal, visit with Audrey, and then I took off with no particular destination in mind.

Day one took me through Feather Canyon, which is the lowest elevation pass through the Sierras, and a place I’d never visited before. A bald eagle flew by to say hello, which was nice, and a deer burst out of the bushes next to the road and tapped my front bumper, which was less nice, although she bounced back up and ran into the woods so hopefully all was well. From there I passed through Lassen Volcanic National Park, although even in the midst of a drought almost everything but the main road was still closed by snow. On a less nature-y stop I went to Starbucks in the evening and was entertained by a stoner who kept standing up in his seat every few minutes to yell out “I feel His power, man! Glory to Him!” The night was spent sleeping soundly in the back of the Subaru in a national forest campground near Lake Shasta.

The behemoth volcano Mount Shasta towered 14,162 feet overhead the next morning, and an equally large biscuit greeted me at the original Black Bear Diner, which I stumbled on while meandering through the area. Post-breakfast I was in Oregon, a state known for its fear of allowing people without proper training to pump their own gasoline. I made it up to Oregon Caves National Monument, but decided against descending into a subterranean cavern for 90 minutes when a carload of six screaming kids pulled into the parking lot behind me, each of them making their best effort to ensure that I fully appreciated how peaceful it had been prior to their arrival. After a nice hike through the forest I took the next available tour, this one mercifully with just two very well-behaved kids on it, and spent the next hour-and-a-half scrambling around underground on the rocks. After another aboveground hike I was leaving the park when one of the park’s employees flagged me down, and I ended up giving a short ride to a girl who offered to let me know what plans the universe had for me according to her astrology book. I politely declined, dropped her off at the employee housing, and spent the night camped next to a stream down some random logging road.

Today I stopped in Klamath Falls where another bald eagle was hanging out, and then made my way east to the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge – I saw it on the map and figured anything in the middle of nowhere and full of antelope must be worth a visit. I did some hiking, hung out with deer, pronghorn, sandhill cranes, hawks, vultures, snakes, and myriad other critters, and now I’m parked for the evening in a quiet corner of the refuge with no one around and a herd of deer staring at me from a hundred yards away as I type, they munch, and the sun sets. It’s a far cry from sitting in my kitchen working in front of a computer, and a much-needed chance to make sure life is going the way it should be and figure out what course corrections that might be needed.

Gopher snake in Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge

The logical voice in my brain said “I’m 99% sure that this is not a poisonous snake and I should move him off the road so that he doesn’t get hit”. Hopefully the snake eventually got out of the road on its own, ’cause that 1% worth of doubt won the argument.

I bless the rains down in Africa

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:58 pm, Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Since it’s the end of the month and I’m one entry short of the three entry goal, here are two more pictures taken during last year’s World Tour, this time from Tanzania.

Little bee-eaters in Serengeti National Park

Little bee-eaters in Serengeti National Park.

Zebra in Ngorongoro Crater