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

The More You Know…

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:40 pm, February 28th, 2015

Confirmation bias is a well-studied aspect of human behavior that shows that people will interpret or cherry pick information in a way that confirms their own beliefs. In practice this means that in some cases, people who are more educated about a subject tend to be more adamant that an incorrect position is correct than those who are less educated on the same subject. This fact helps explain why no amount of additional info will convince someone who believes that vaccinations are harmful that their opinion is deeply flawed, or convince a global warming skeptic that 97% of climate scientists really do know what they are talking about, or convince someone who thinks that GMOs are inherently dangerous that 88% of scientists really do know what they are talking about.

A recent Facebook posting from National Geographic that referenced global warming as a likely cause of craters in Siberia provides an example of this bias. Assuming that National Geographic attracts a fairly educated audience, most of the comments still deny that current climate change is a problem created by man:

  • “The global warming or climate change theory is getting out of hand. The scare tactics don’t work on anyone with the ability to think and see for themselves. The planet goes through changes on its own and regardless of what anyone says it’ll continue long after man.” — Sean Stuart
    Cherry picking the fact that climate changes naturally reinforces his belief, despite the fact that no scientist denies natural climate fluctuations. The current concern is mostly with the rate of climate change – in past cycles ecosystems have been stressed even with centuries to adjust, while the current cycle is on a scale that will be measured in decades.
  • “Oh good grief. Really. The push the agenda through guilt routine is getting a little old.” – Judith Pannozo
    The mistaken belief that climate change is a hoax used to “push an agenda” can be reinforced by the fact that a search will reveal plenty of examples of groups mis-using science as a way to get what they wanted. However, the idea that the entire worldwide climate science community has somehow coordinated to coalesce around a fake explanation for current warming trends in order to achieve some undetermined goal (more environmentalism? more grant money?) both ignores how scientific peer review works, and requires a conspiracy that could only be successful if practically every scientist in the world was involved and none of those hundreds of thousands of scientists purposefully or accidentally revealed the conspiracy.
  • “The last two years michigan has had big time global warming. -42 below one of the many below zero temperatures that has lasted for months. I run around in flip flops cause its so warm and its getting hotter.” – Elaine Berry
    An individual’s view that the local winter weather is representative of global climate stands as evidence that the global theory is wrong. The misconception that “global warming” means that no place will ever see record cold misses the fact that climate change refers to average worldwide temperatures, and that while some places may actually get cooler, the average temperatures across Earth as a whole will increase. An analogy might be a prediction that if the NFL made touchdowns worth ten points instead of seven that average points per game would increase, and then claiming that because the Browns lost a single game by a score of 13-0 that the prediction had been proven wrong.
  • …and many more like those.

Given the reality that people cannot be convinced by providing them with more information, a lot of the world’s problems might seem hopeless – how do you solve a problem that a significant percentage of the population is dangerously misinformed about when more information will only reinforce their existing belief? What gives me hope is that while the population at large often despairs over such issues, anytime I sit down with a group of engineers the conversation is inevitably about understanding the problem and figuring out what solutions are viable. If society can’t be convinced to take action on an issue through the government, engineers search for other options. We already have the examples of Tesla Motors changing the paradigm on electric cars from “greenest vehicle” to “most desirable automobile”, and Solar City changing the paradigm on solar panels from “greenest solution” to “most economical solution”, and I’m optimistic that this trend will continue. It is probably too late to undo much of the inevitable environmental disruption that will ensue from climate change – sea levels will rise, animal populations will be displaced or disappear, and weather will become more severe – but in the end I honestly believe that the problem will be solved in spite of the fact that denial of the issue, reinforced by confirmation bias, makes the eventual solution far more difficult to reach.

Photographs and Memories

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:34 pm, February 26th, 2015

Exactly six months ago I was just over halfway through the world tour and spending my third day in Kruger National Park, and that is as good of an excuse as any to post some pictures from the trip that didn’t previously make it into the journal.

Gerenuk in Samburu Game Reserve

One of many animals that I previously never even suspected existed on this earth, the gerenuk likes to eat standing up. Taken in Samburu Game Reserve, Kenya on 20-August-2014.

White rhinoceros in Timbavati Game Reserve

Red-billed oxpecker. Taken in the Timbavati Game Reserve, South Africa on 28-August-2014.

Rockfig, Jr. in Timbavati Game Reserve

Best leopard in the world, Rockfig, Jr. Taken in the Timbavati Game Reserve, South Africa, on 29-August-2014.

Cape weaver in Oudtshoorn

Nature’s Christmas tree, brought to you by the cape weaver. Taken in Oudtshoorn, South Africa on 6-September-2014.

Coquerel's sifaka in Anjajavy

Coquerel’s sifaka enjoying tea time. Taken at Anjajavy, Madagascar on 13-September-2014.

Unfortunate Ryan

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:42 pm, February 22nd, 2015

One of the tricks to life is coming up with mental constructs to deal with difficult situations. Religion fills this role for a lot of people – when bad things happen the way to cope is by saying that it is God’s will, or a test of faith, or some other divine intervention. For me, using religion as an explanation for tragedy is tough since I’m unconvinced by the idea of the Creator spending His valuable time devising unfair and often petty difficulties for each and every creature in the universe, so other coping mechanisms are in order.

One of those coping mechanisms came out of a discussion with my brother ages ago. In one of our many, many unusual discussions that have occurred over the years Aaron started talking to me about Unfortunate Aaron – his twin out there somewhere in the universe, or maybe in a parallel dimension, who had the exact opposite fortunes. Aaron’s life was good, which meant Unfortunate Aaron’s life was bad. If Aaron got sick, Unfortunate Aaron finally got to enjoy a healthy day. If Aaron ducked a punch in a bar fight, Unfortunate Aaron got decked. It’s obviously a ludicrous proposition, but the idea of Unfortunate Aaron, and later Unfortunate Ryan, helped highlight how good things were for us, and gave us something stupid to smile about when things were bad. The most pointed example came on a fishing trip where Aaron got horrifically seasick. He must have thrown up a few dozen times, and at one point when I went inside the boat to find him curled up in the fetal position, his surprisingly upbeat attitude was that “Unfortunate Aaron is so happy not to be barfing for once!”

I’ll be the first to admit that the idea of a bizarro twin with the exact opposite fortunes of myself is a ridiculous concept with absolutely no basis in reality, but it’s an idea that still makes me feel better during bad times. I have a great life, and when things do get rough the thought of Unfortunate Ryan’s fortunes improving slightly highlights how good I have it most of the time. This idea of a shadow Ryan in a parallel universe is no more valid than that of an old guy in a toga who wants to micro-manage every hardship I might face, but it’s one that seems to allow me to put the inevitable bad times into perspective in a way that a bearded man on a cloud dishing out misery does not.

My House is not a Snack

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:21 pm, January 31st, 2015

Shockingly, Audrey and I have been homeowners for almost exactly three years now. Mostly because it’s interesting to me to go over the changes we’ve made to the house, here’s a list of the biggies, past, present and future:

  1. Shortly before moving in we had the asbestos in the ducts ripped out, on account of not wanting to get the cancer from our new home. While we planned on getting a new furnace and ducts installed shortly thereafter, we underestimated how long it would take and spent a couple of weeks in a house without heat braving record-low temperatures.
  2. The next big adventure was obviously getting a new furnace, ducts, and air conditioning installed. Today we have a magical touchscreen thermostat from the future that keeps our house very pleasant.
  3. Our backyard previously contained a star pine that was growing at an alarmingly non-vertical angle, and a giant ficus whose roots were almost certainly engaged in an underground battle with the foundations of the house. Luckily a man with a chainsaw from Forest Green Tree Service quickly disassembled the Leaning Star Pine of Neosho, and a team of men with ropes and shovels descended to resolve our other issues.
  4. Plumbing is fun for every homeowner, and our house hasn’t been an exception. A new hot water heater, snaking of pipes, and other adventures have made us friendly with the local plumber. He also ran a gas line to our garage so that our laundromat no longer needed to be in a closet inside the house that smelled a bit mildewy. Now we have an extra closet and a dryer that plays happy music when it finishes drying.
  5. The most recent escapade involved fixing termite damage and tenting the house to ensure that any remaining bugs would move their buffet to the neighbors’ houses.
  6. Future excitement involves a roofer coming to charge gobs of money to replace the office and patio roofs. In addition, Eduardo the gutter man will be visiting to ensure that the rain stops draining directly into our foundations and providing drinking water delivery for termites that might wish to re-colonize our house. Longer term, in an effort to make it less drafty and simultaneously dampen the sounds of the neighbor’s dog’s constant barking, the ancient windows on the house will be going to the giant home improvement store in the sky.

Homeownership clearly has its challenges – every time the contractors told us the price for the above items the involuntary response was inevitably “DOH!” – but unlike when we were renting, the expenditures kind of feel like putting money in the bank, with the added bonus that we get to live in a house without leaks or creepy bugs.

Termite tenting

Sometimes when your house is getting eaten by bugs the only thing to do is to let it go camping for a few days.

2015 Predictions

Posted from Marina del Rey, California at 10:05 pm, January 28th, 2015

Based on my past track record the following predictions are statistically highly unlikely to come true – if you are looking for more accurate predictions, buy a magic eight ball or make use of a small herd of puppies. That said, I actually spent more time than normal trying to come up with well thought-out predictions for 2015, but history suggests that re-reading this list in twelve months will be an embarrassing endeavor:

  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. Bernie Sanders is already in, but he is going to be the Ron Paul of 2016 for the Democrats, with lots of yard signs and spirited rallies, but no significant victories. On the Republican side, Sarah Palin will go through the motions but will eventually announce that she isn’t running.
  2. After the initial release of the Apple Watch in April, version 2.0 will follow quickly in time for the Christmas shopping season. I think calling this device a “watch” was a mistake, and my guess is that version 2.0 will be a significantly better device for monitoring health and fitness, and will appeal more broadly.
  3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens will open with the largest weekend box office in history. The Avengers holds the current record at $207 million.
  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. I love living in a time when space technology is again advancing rapidly.
  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. John Roberts seems to be walking a fine line between ensuring that the court isn’t viewed as political while at the same time giving justices some flexibility to vote their political conscience, so I would be a bit shocked if he seriously rocked the boat in either of these cases.
  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. Mark Zuckerberg is no dummy, and with people facing Facebook fatigue and the available pool of new users shrinking, he must have something brewing. My guess is that while today you “friend” people that you already know, this new service might be more of a “suggestion” service, sort of like a match.com meets LinkedIn melded with Meetup, with Facebook serving as the accommodating host. It makes sense – Facebook has the user data to make such a system work, and it would give people a new reason to log on each day.
  7. I hate to jinx them, but I’m gonna go on record as saying I think the Cavs (currently 26-20 and #5 in the East) will make the NBA Finals, but won’t win. The East just isn’t that good, and I think the Cavs can run through every other team if they can stay focused in the playoffs.
  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. After the last election the Republicans have a weird mix of House members from deep red districts who want to show that they won’t compromise in any way and Senators from purple states who want to show that they are more moderate than their compatriots in the House, while the Democratic Senators will filibuster anything they see as too extreme, and I think the result of this mix will be a lot of inaction.
  9. The St. Louis Rams will announce plans to return to Los Angeles. There are any number of rumors out there about Jacksonville moving to LA, the Chargers coming to LA, AEG building a stadium, etc, but I think the Rams owner’s recent announcement that he will build a stadium near the Forum is the one that will actually result in a team coming back to America’s second largest TV market.
  10. Tesla will announce a battery pack upgrade for the Model-S. Battery technology has improved 20-30% since the first Model-S deliveries in June 2012, and with other manufacturers announcing electric vehicles with ranges that are starting to approach Tesla, I bet Elon will be anxious to prove that his company still offers technology that is generations ahead of the competition.
  11. As Europe’s financial situation has worsened, the value of the Euro against the dollar has gone from $1.35 down to $1.12. I suspect it will continue to drop for a few more months, but will rebound to at least $1.20 by the end of the year as exports pick up – the current drop of $0.23 makes a Mercedes nearly 20% cheaper, and I bet a lot of people wouldn’t mind twenty percent off a German luxury car.
  12. The Browns have ten draft picks in the upcoming draft, including two in the first round. Statistics have shown that it is better to trade down and amass picks, and I think Ray Farmer buys into that philosophy, so I’ll predict at least three trades in the Browns draft, netting at least one extra pick for next year. As to who they draft, I just hope they go for safe picks instead of grabbing talented QBs with bad attitudes and poor work ethics.
  13. Apple is going to announce a television. I’ve been wrong on this prediction repeatedly, but it’s something Apple has admitted to working on, and with 4K starting to take off, streaming media replacing DVDs, and a need for some sort of home automation hub, the time has never been better.
  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.
  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. Jeff Bezos is a smart guy, and pairing Amazon, a company that completely changed how we buy books, with the flagship newspaper of the nation’s capital, is bound to generate some interesting results.

There they are. You can let the mockery begin now, or you can wait until January 2016 to mock in hindsight. For the truly bold, the comments link is there for you to make your own predictions and show me how it should be done.

2014 Prediction Scorecard

Posted from Culver City, California at 1:17 pm, January 10th, 2015

First, to put the embarrassment that are my 2014 predictions into their proper context, here is the record of futility 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)

I can at least say that this year’s picks were only my second-worst showing of all time…

  1. Election predictions:
    1. Democrats will hold the Senate, barely, with their 55 member majority reduced to between 50-52 members.

      Not even close. Democrats lost nine seats. It was a horrible map for the blue team with many races in conservative states, and they will almost certainly regain several seats in 2016, but I was way off.

    2. The House will stay under Republican control – currently Republicans hold 234 seats, and after the election they will hold 224-234 seats.

      Again, not even close. Republicans gained thirteen seats for a total of 247. My understanding of the electorate clearly demonstrates why I will never be a politician.

  2. The values of Facebook (currently $56) and Twitter (currently $63) will both decline by at least twenty percent.

    Facebook closed the year at $78.02 and Twitter closed at $35.86. The number of people who seem to think “Farmville” is the key to gigantic revenues continues to confuse me. Zero-for-three with the predictions so far.

  3. Tiger Woods will win at least two major championships.

    Ouch. In 2014 he won… nothing. Nada. Only one top-25 finish all year. Granted, his back was messed up, but I still don’t see how the guy who was the Michael Jordan of golf suddenly looked more like the Michael Jordan of baseball. He’ll come back, but in the meantime I’m still not on the scoreboard.

  4. No significant new laws will be passed in the areas of gun control or immigration reform prior to the mid-term elections.

    HE’S ON THE BOARD. I continue to believe that it’s simply impossible – logistically and from an economic standpoint – to kick eleven million people out of the country and then deal with the repercussions that come from losing a significant portion of the country’s low-income workers. Thus it seems like Republicans should just pass something to get this issue out of the way, deal with the fallout, and stop it from continuing to hurt them with the nation’s fastest growing minority. Despite my clearly omniscient advice, the House never put the Senate’s immigration bill up for a vote during the entire 113th Congress, so immigration will again be a major reason for Latinos to vote Democrat in 2016.

  5. Google is going to make some sort of HUGE move into the entertainment space.

    I was probably two years too early on that one. It’s coming – Google and Apple are the only ones who could pull it off, and both of them will do something eventually.

  6. Lebron James will re-sign with the Heat, as will Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.

    BEST WRONG PREDICTION EVER. Granted, the Cavs still aren’t winning very much, but at least now they win occasionally, the games are entertaining enough to be televised, and Aaron and I again have reason to break out the Anderson Varejao wigs.

  7. Apple’s share of the tablet market will drop another ten percent to less than twenty percent of the total tablet market by the end of 2014.

    The most recent data available had Apple dropping to 22.8% in the third quarter of 2014, but that percentage was expected to jump slightly in the fourth quarter due to the new iPads being released, thus missing my 20% target. I continue to be bad at understanding technology.

  8. Tesla will not deliver the Model X as scheduled in 2014, but will plan on delivering their next vehicle no later than Summer 2015. They will also not have rolled out their battery swapping technology due to a lack of demand. Finally, they will not have moved forward on their plans for a battery factory.

    The Model X is now scheduled for release in early 2016 – Tesla makes unbelievable automobiles, but is horrible at estimating release dates. They opened their first battery swap station in December, and I was very, very wrong about them putting off building a battery factory – they have staked their future on the Gigafactory, which is now being built outside of Reno. I am usually better at the Tesla predictions, and the scorecard falls to an impossibly low one-for-nine.

  9. The next evolution of TV – 4K resolution – will be well underway by year’s end. By year’s end cable companies will have streaming 4K offerings, a few shows will announce plans to film in 4K, and the movie studios will be on the verge of announcing a 4K format to succeed blu ray.

    4K televisions were all over Best Buy this past Christmas, but content is still next-to-impossible to find, with only Netflix making much content available in 4K. More out of self-pity than anything else I’m giving myself half credit here, bumping the tally up to a pitiful 1.5 correct.

  10. The Browns will draft a quarterback with their first pick, and whoever they get is not going to be successful.

    They traded the #4 overall pick, then picked Justin Gilbert, a cornerback, with the #8 pick, and also took Johnny Manziel with the #22 pick. I’ve never been a fan of Johnny Football, and am even less of one after seeing what he did this past season, but despite their picks not panning out, at the time it seemed like a far better draft than I was expecting. Hopefully the extra first-round pick this year turns into someone who is best known for his prowess on the field, and not for photos of him drinking in a pool while riding on an inflatable swan.

  11. Following Colorado and Washington, California and at least two others states will vote to de-criminalize marijuana use.

    Didn’t happen, although Jack-in-the-Box didn’t seem to care and launched an entire “Munchie Meal” campaign aimed at potheads.

  12. Apple and Google will both unveil products and strategies that will focus those companies heavily on home automation.

    This one will happen, but it didn’t happen in 2014 to the extent that I expected. We should have motion detectors tied to smart lights that are tied to smart water heaters that work with smart thermostats that sync up with smart sprinklers, all updated from the internet and controlled from cell phones. I mean, it’s 2015 – Marty McFly is supposed to be getting chased by Griff on a hoverboard by now!

There it is: 1.5 out of 13 (12%). Had I made one more pick I might have tied 2013’s record of futility. Getting the Lebron pick wrong at least softens the blow – even if the Cavs aren’t winning, basketball is more fun when the NBA’s best player is on your favorite team. Now onwards to 2015, when the picks have to go better, don’t they?