Archive for 2017


Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 10:31 pm, Sunday, April 9th, 2017

Two weeks ago I returned to the Carrizo Plain with Audrey to catch the height of this year’s superbloom. The flowers did not disappoint.

Wildflowers at the Carrizo Plain National Monument

Dr. Seuss apparently did the decorating.

Wildflowers at the Carrizo Plain National Monument

We had to drive up a super-sketchy “road” that consisted of two tracks through knee-high grass in order to get to these poppies. Totally worth it.

Wildflowers at the Carrizo Plain National Monument

Scale: note the people far away in the top right. There were flowers for days.

Wildflowers at the Carrizo Plain National Monument

From a distance I figured that this massive patch of wildflowers had to be some sort of lavender farm since it seemed inconceivable that there would be acres and acres of solid purple flowers all concentrated in one spot.

The World is Still Mostly Awesome

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:59 pm, Thursday, March 30th, 2017

There seems to be a constant undercurrent of doom and gloom in the world these days, so here are a few developments worth following for those who need reasons for optimism:

  • Today SpaceX re-used a rocket for the first time in history. The launch is a HUGE milestone towards dramatically reducing the cost of spaceflight, and a reason to believe that launch costs will drop by an order of magnitude in the next 5-10 years.
  • The Nature Conservancy recently demonstrated how floodplain restoration along the Truckee River could provide flood control, aquifer recharge, cleaner drinking water, and habitat for wildlife. If they can effectively argue that there are often greater benefits provided by “green” infrastructure instead of “grey” infrastructure then it will be very interesting to see if wetland restoration starts to become a preferred option as the nation deals with aging levees and rising seas.
  • Tesla’s Gigafactory continues to expand on its path towards becoming the world’s largest building. When complete it will produce enough batteries for 500,000 electric cars each year, and they are already producing battery cells and have plans to start churning out drive units for the upcoming Model-3 later this year.
  • I’ve been a frequent critic of Apple’s recent products and corporate decision making, but their new headquarters will be opening in April, and Apple has done an amazing job – it is probably the world’s most impressive corporate campus. The project was the last thing that Steve Jobs worked on, and seeing the finished product is a sad reminder of what the world lost when he died at an early age.
  • California high-speed rail is actually under construction, with viaducts, grade separations, and other major work throughout the Central Valley. Even if it is another decade before trains actually run, some of the improvements being made to roads and bridges as a result of this project will have immediate benefits.
  • The tomb of Jesus Christ recently underwent a lengthy archaeological renovation, with humans viewing the slab on which Jesus was believed to have been laid for the first time since at least 1555 AD. Even for those who aren’t religious, the archaeological value of studying this ancient & revered site has to be exciting.
  • Bloomberg reports that there are now more clean-energy jobs in the United States than oil or coal jobs. The federal government may not be acting to clean up the energy grid, but market forces seem to be betting heavily on clean energy options as prices for solar, wind, and other renewables continue to drop.

There are plenty more reasons not to succumb to despair about the state of the world – the comments link is available for anyone who wants to share any others and thereby help keep the world a slightly more optimistic place.

Seeing this campus nearly complete is a poignant reminder of how much the world misses Steve Jobs; even the parking garages look cool. I worked at this site back in 2001 when it was a Hewlett Packard campus.

An Inauspicious Beginning

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 4:09 pm, Monday, March 27th, 2017

The 2017 journal is off to a rough beginning – February already fell short on the three-entries-a-month goal, and March is getting a late start. Here’s a recap of the past month that hopefully explains why writing about myself hasn’t been a higher priority:

  • March has had three weeks of travel, including two trips to San Antonio and a trip to the Bay Area. The first portion of the Bay Area trip was spent working in a hotel in Sacramento, where I got to visit with younger Holliday, admire his house, and eat a lot of grilled mahi. After leaving him I made a quick stop to ensure that Ma & Pa had working wi-fi and virus-free laptops before heading into San Francisco for a three-day conference; the parents put up with me for another night after the conference ended, but I can be a handful so the intermission was likely a good respite for them.
  • The conference featured all things Google Cloud. I went in skeptical, and shockingly emerged a complete convert – Google is going to own the corporate internet in another five years, and when Skynet becomes operational it will probably do so from a Google data center somewhere. In the midst of learning that I need to come up with a plan to capture part of the tsunami of work that is going to be available as companies transition their IT infrastructure, one of my co-workers managed to find the best ramen I’ve ever eaten, so the trip was a success on many levels.
  • On the drive home from San Francisco it seemed silly not to see if the record rains had caused a Monet to happen on the grasslands, so a detour was made to the Carrizo Plain. Soda Lake has been dry on all of my past visits, but this time I got to see placid waters shimmering in the light of the full moon before Suby III and I spent our inaugural night under the stars together. The next morning when the sun arrived it was clear that the wildflowers were just beginning to bloom, and while they were pretty a return visit might be necessary.
  • Finally, in rodent news, I’ve spent two weekends roaming around on the roof looking for rat entry points. Two weeks ago I taped my phone to a pole, and by maneuvering it into an inaccessible space behind the gutters I was able to see (via video) a previously undiscovered gap. I then spent the next hour crawling through fiberglass insulation in a sweltering attic to an area so claustrophobic that there wasn’t even enough room to lift my head. I jammed a rag into the gap in the rafters, crawled slowly out, spent an inordinately long time ridding myself of fiberglass, and then sat down to savor my victory. That night at 8:30 the rat showed up again on camera and did his own victory dance to ensure that my shame was infinite. The following weekend’s efforts involved a trip to Home Depot, an attempt to remove the gutters without causing permanent damage, a massive quantity of sealant foam, and a valiant effort to re-attach the gutters in more-or-less the condition that I found them; time will tell if that endeavor has finally brought the War of the Roof Rats to an end.

Wildflowers at the Carrizo Plain National Monument

The yellow flowers were just getting started, so a return trip may be required.

Wildflowers at the Carrizo Plain National Monument

In addition to the acres of yellow flowers, there were 23 blue ones.

February was a Month

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:04 pm, Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

Someday when everyone is like “what were you doing in February 2017?” I’ll have this journal entry to refer back to, and everyone else will have forgotten what they were up to, and thus I will win the game.

  • February saw yet another work trip to San Antonio, because I fly around and do work and stuff.
  • After six years of drought this winter has been one of the rainiest in California history, but instead of ending the water crisis the rain nearly broke the nation’s tallest dam. Apparently the universe really doesn’t want Californians to be able to take guilt-free showers.
  • Showing again that Audrey is a far, far better person than I am, she hosted the CA-37 indivisible group at our house and then represented them the following weekend at a town hall hosted by Karen Bass, our House Representative. I’ve been excited to see people passionate about making the world better, and getting more involved in the process is enlightening, but I’m still searching for my own way to help. We live in broken times, and it would be way better if it was clearer how to fix them.
  • In non-political news, Audrey rocked Brennan’s Pub with her band Knightingale a few weeks ago, and took me down to San Diego to hang out with her aunt, uncle and sister this past weekend. Her aunt is an amazing chef, the former mayor of Solana Beach, lives in an incredible house with expansive ocean views, and is the proud owner of two Maine Coon cats, each the size of a small car; hopefully I didn’t do anything to prevent being invited back, because it was a great trip.
  • Finally, in home news, I hired a company to vacuum out all of the old, decrepit, rat-poop-filled insulation in our attic, seal everything, and then lay down new, better insulation. The job came with a “no rodents will get in your attic for a year” guarantee, but no one told the rat who appeared on camera one week later. I’m still going to win the war against them, but the vermin have dominated the battlefield thus far.

Ryan Holliday, General Manager

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 7:04 pm, Monday, February 20th, 2017

I’m pretty sure that writing a post that combines statistical analysis and the Cleveland Browns is a surefire way to drive away any remaining readers of this journal, but math and the NFL’s worst team are two of my favorite subjects, so against better judgement I’m going to indulge myself.

Browns fans apparently hate the idea of trading away the #1 pick in the upcoming draft, but here’s why I’d do it anyhow (see also Moneyball and Moneyball 2 for my past ramblings on this subject). The draft value chart says the #1 pick is worth 3000 points, a number that is almost certainly more than it should be, which means that the Browns should be able to make a trade similar to any of the deals in the table below. Note that in recent years teams have given up more than 3000 points, so the first pick may even be overvalued beyond what is shown below. The table shows the #1 pick from each of the last four drafts, and the players who were picked at positions equal to the value of that #1 pick. Pro-Bowlers are marked with an asterisk(*), and I’ve highlighted trades that I judged as “good” in green, “great” in bold green, “poor” in red, and “terrible” in bold red.

Trade #1 pick (3000 points) for:
  #2 (2600)
#50 (400)
#3 (2200)
#21 (800)
#4 (1800)
#12 (1200)
#5 (1700)
#10 (1300)
#6 (1600)
#8 (1400)
2016 Draft: #1 pick – Jared Goff
  Carson Wentz (QB)
Nick Martin (C)
Joey Bosa (DE)
Will Fuller (WR)
*Ezekial Elliott (RB)
Sheldon Rankins (DT)
Jalen Ramsey (CB)
Eli Apple (CB)
Ronnie Stanley (OT)
Jack Conklin (OT)
2015 Draft: #1 pick – *Jameis Winston
  Marcus Mariota (QB)
Ronald Darby (CB)
Dante Fowler (DE)
Cedric Ogbuehi (OT)
*Amari Cooper (WR)
Danny Shelton (DT)
*Brandon Scherff (OT)
*Todd Gurley (RB)
*Leonard Williams (DE)
*Vic Beasley (OLB)
2014 Draft: #1 pick – *Jadeveon Clowney
  Greg Robinson (OT)
Jeremiah Attaochu (LB)
Blake Bortles (QB)
*Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S)
Sammy Watkins (WR)
*Odell Beckham, Jr (WR)
*Khalil Mack (LB)
Eric Ebron (TE)
Jake Matthews (OT)
Justin Gilbert (CB)
2013 Draft: #1 pick – Eric Fisher
  Luke Joeckel (OT)
Jonathan Bostic (LB)
Dion Jordan (DE)
*Tyler Eifert (TE)
Lane Johnson (OT)
D. J. Hayden (CB)
*Ezekiel Ansah (DT)
Chance Warmack (G)
Barkevious Mingo (DE)
Tavon Austin (WR)

I realize that teams rarely possess two high first-round draft picks, and thus that the table above is purely theoretical, but it gives an idea of how out-of-whack the valuation on the top pick actually is. In the past four drafts, the results of making the hypothetical trade would have been:

  • great: 3 times
  • good: 5 times
  • about even: 9 times
  • poor: 0 times
  • terrible: 3 times

There are exceptions – in 2012 everyone in the world agreed that it would be insane to pass on Andrew Luck – but this draft doesn’t have a can’t-miss quarterback, so if someone offered a deal I’d look at the numbers above and almost certainly make the trade, rather than risking everything on the hope that Myles Garrett won’t be the next Courtney Brown.

Starting out Behind

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:24 pm, Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

It’s not a good start for the 2017 journal when it’s seven days into February and I’m just now writing the third entry for January. DOH! Anyhow, here’s a recap of how the year has gone thus far:

  • The new year has already seen two trips to Texas, marking a solid start towards earning god-like airline and hotel treatment for another twelve months. Luckily during winter months San Antonio has fairly pleasant weather, unlike the summer when spontaneous combustion is a real danger, so I’ve returned from both trips tired but uncharred.
  • The election of the orange President has turned Audrey political, and she hosted an “Un-auguration” party on the day of the new guy’s swearing-in, joined me at a climate change event hosted by our Congressional Representative, Karen Bass, and is now the founder of the indivisible group for our Congressional district. After years in which I was in charge of keeping track of what was going on in Washington, the tables have most definitely turned.
  • In homeowner news, I am disturbingly excited about our new hardwood floors, as well as work we had done to replace a boarded-up closet window with a proper wall. Owning a house is a humbling exercise in trying to reconcile how, as a kid, I belittled my mother’s joy over new carpets and my dad’s fascination with gutters, but now I sadly share that same enthusiasm for garage doors and window treatments (our new garage door rules).
  • Last of all, after six years of drought it’s finally raining regularly in California! The state’s reservoirs are mostly filled beyond their historic averages, our house’s four rain barrels are overflowing, and unlike the 2002 Alaska trip, frequent hot showers appear to be something that I can count on for the coming year.

The Prediction Game, 2017 Edition

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:41 pm, Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

Shockingly, 2017 is now the ninth year in a row that I’ve made a futile attempt at predicting the future. With any luck, at least one of the following will actually come to pass:

  1. While Tesla says it will begin volume production of the Model-3 in the second half of 2017, they will miss that goal slightly, delivering only between 4-8,000 vehicles by the end of the year. Even with that miss, the Model-3 is still going to be a game-changer. The industry underestimates how many advantages Tesla has built for itself – Tesla is several years ahead of anyone else when it comes to electric drivetrain technology, they have a massive, operational battery factory, a worldwide fast-charging network, and their advanced manufacturing experience now exceeds that of other auto manufacturers. If Model-3 is successful, suddenly Tesla will have all of those advantages AND a massive revenue stream that will be limited only by how fast they can grow.
  2. The Browns will trade at least one of their two first round draft picks. Analytics says that high draft picks are overvalued and that there is no sure thing in the draft, so if the Browns can turn one pick into many then they will run the numbers and take the deal.
  3. By the end of the year there will be rumblings in tech publications and among shareholders calling for Tim Cook’s ouster as Apple CEO. I don’t think anyone expected Apple to continue its streak of creating the next big thing once Steve Jobs died, but even the most ardent Apple fanboys are disappointed with the latest laptops, the company hasn’t updated their non-laptop Mac lineup in over three years, the iWatch continues to be a disappointment, and the main innovation that Apple has touted for the last three generations of iPhones and iPads has been “it’s slightly thinner than the last one”.
  4. Donald Trump’s favorability ratings will fall from the current 45% to between 27-32% by the end of the year, and there will be talk of impeachment from both sides of the aisle. I remain hopeful that I’m wrong about him, but the majority of his cabinet picks thus far seem like ideologues and loyalists, he has backtracked on some campaign promises before even being sworn-in, and anyone hoping he would change his behavior can read his Twitter feed to see that isn’t the case. Republicans don’t have any particular loyalty to him, Democrats already hate him, there are numerous potential scandals brewing, and it would be surprising if he delivers on any of his grandiose campaign promises, so I suspect he may be around for less than the four year term he was elected to.
  5. The stock market will end the year down about ten percent, finishing between 16,500 and 17,500. I’m obviously pessimistic about Trump and the ability of Republicans to steward the economy, but even without that pessimism, after several years of growth the market is overdue for a correction.
  6. Hidden Figures (which I haven’t seen) will win the Best Picture Oscar. Coming out of the Golden Globes La La Land has all of the buzz, but I think the combination of being a well-received movie, as well as Hollywood’s desire to send a message of support to minorities and women, will make Hidden Figures an unstoppable force by the time the awards air.
  7. SpaceX will not launch a human spaceflight mission, nor will it launch its new Falcon Heavy rocket, but it will re-fly one of its previously-flown rockets, and will complete at least twenty total missions without another accident. The Falcon Heavy was originally supposed to fly in 2013, and their manned program seems to be at least two years behind schedule, while its two recent launch explosions have also built a backlog of satellite launches that SpaceX needs to address. However, even with those issues they still offer the most promise, innovation, and excitement of any company in America; the missed deadlines can be partially excused by an ambitious timeline that is created without any margin for error in a business where occasional failures are an unavoidable reality.
  8. At least one of the following companies will be purchased by the year’s end: Twitter, Spotify, or Lyft. None of those three companies have clear paths to greater market share, but a Twitter acquisition offers instant social media prominence, a Spotify purchase makes the purchaser an instant media powerhouse, and Lyft is getting clobbered by Uber but would make any company that buys it the second-strongest player in the future ride-sharing economy.
  9. The next Star Wars movie will significantly under-perform the domestic box office take of $936 million earned by The Force Awakens; I’ll predict its box office ends up in the $500-600 million range. The Force Awakens was just an OK movie that benefited from being the sequel everyone had been waiting for since Return of the Jedi. Rogue One was a movie with a far better script, a more interesting story, and more of a Star Wars “feel”, but its box office is currently just over half of its predecessor at $512 million. The excitement level for new Star Wars films has clearly dropped, and will likely only diminish further as nostalgia for the original films wanes.
  10. Obamacare will not be repealed or replaced in any meaningful way. With the reality that repeal will have a lot of negative consequences, that some Republican lawmakers are expressing concerns about constituents losing insurance, and that replacement with “something better” is easy to use as rhetoric but near-impossible to implement as legislation, Republicans will instead end up stalling by passing some minor tweaks, such as eliminating some of the mandates for businesses. Since a failure to repeal the law would obviously be a high-profile defeat, I suspect they may double-down on something like defunding planned parenthood as a way to save face among the base.
  11. 2017 will be a turning point in the switch from cable companies to internet streaming services. HBO Now and CBS All Access already deliver services traditionally offered by cable companies without requiring a cable subscription, and by the end of the year I believe a large number of similar offerings will become available, including ESPN & the Discovery network. Additionally, one or both of Netflix and Amazon will find a way to offer local channels, thus providing an all-in-one service to completely replace traditional cable providers.
  12. I’m not quite sure how to quantify this prediction into something that can be judged true or false in a year’s time, but just as the Tea Party was often driven by anger that frequently turned towards Republicans who were deemed to be insufficiently conservative, I think that the coming actions that Trump and the Republican Congress will take against LGBT rights, abortion rights, the environment, and other issues will create a huge amount of anger on the Left that will manifest itself in similar ways to what was seen with the Tea Party. Given that reality, I worry that Democrats who show any inclination to compromise or adhere to traditional norms of governing will be targeted by their constituents, and while it won’t be fully manifested at the end of the year, tactics like government shutdowns and blanket filibusters will eventually no longer be tools unique to the Republicans as the far Left demands action at any cost.
  13. The Russian election hacking story will just be the beginning of ongoing cyberattacks that will continue in 2017 in an effort to undermine American credibility both domestically and internationally. Russia and other countries benefit from a diminished United States, and as long as these sorts of attacks are effective there doesn’t seem to be any reason they would stop. Like the election releases, released data will include embarrassing communications or incriminating documents, but will not include anything that compromises national security and would thus justify a military response.
  14. Google will announce an operating system to compete with Windows & OSX. There have been rumors about a Google OS for a while, but now that Google is selling its own phones and other products it makes sense for them to further expand their software ecosystem.
  15. The next season of Game of Thrones is going to kill off Cersei Lannister and Littlefinger. The show is totally unpredictable, so the odds of me correctly guessing anything about it are probably nil, but given the theme of Fire & Ice, Daenerys will almost certainly end up in charge of the South, and the Starks are likely to end up in charge of the North, so it’s tough to see the show not eliminating the obstacles to that happening before embarking on its final season in 2018.

There they are, everything from stock market analysis to predictions about the orange President to diminished expectations for the new Star Wars film. Given my track record, expect none of these things to actually come to pass, but as always it’s an interesting exercise, and the comments link is there for anyone who wants to join in the fun and make their own wrong predictions for the coming year.

Everything I Didn’t Know About 2016

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:28 am, Saturday, January 14th, 2017

As is tradition, before recounting how bad I was at predicting what 2016 would bring, here is the scorecard from the annual predictions during 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)
  • 2015: 33% correct (5 out of 15)

Here are the results of the 2016 predictions:

  1. Election predictions:
    1. Hillary Clinton will win the Presidency with a similar margin to Obama’s 332-206 victory in 2012.

      I was wrong.

    2. Marco Rubio will be the Republican nominee. Donald Trump, currently far and away the frontrunner, will win South Carolina and at most three other states.

      It hurts to be so very, very wrong.

    3. There are 34 Senate seats up for grabs, 24 of which are held by Republicans. Democrats will pick up between four and seven seats.

      Democrats picked up two seats. Had slightly fewer Trump voters shown up, or had just a few more Hillary voters gone to the polls, my predictions would have been spot-on, but as it is I’m now zero-for-three.

    4. Marijuana will be legalized in California in 2016, as well as in at least five other states.

      California legalized recreational marijuana, as did Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts. Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas legalized medical marijuana, but since the prediction was for six states to legalize recreational pot the correct prediction count remains at zero.

  2. Tesla will make minor but noticeable style changes to the Model-S.

    Model-S got a new front-end in April, and I finally got on the board with a correct prediction!

  3. Leonardo DiCaprio will win best actor at the Oscars.

    Not only do Leo and I share the fact that we are both winners, but we are also both incapable of growing facial hair that doesn’t appear to be infested with mange. The scorecard moves to two-for-six.

  4. The Black Lives Matter organization will have mostly disappeared from headlines by the end of the year.

    BLM is still around, although they are getting far fewer headlines. My hope had been that they would be replaced with a more effective organization, but instead BLM seems like it might instead be reforming itself to be more effective. An incorrect prediction on my part, but a hopeful development if they can transform into a group that is known less for blocking freeways and chasing Bernie Sanders offstage, and instead one that can meaningfully bring people together to address important racial issues.

  5. This is a prediction that I actually expect will be wrong, but I’ll say that the 2016 US Olympic Men’s basketball team will lose one of their games.

    Does it count that I got the “I actually expect will be wrong” part correct? It doesn’t make sense that a team with vastly better talent than its competition isn’t making Olympic basketball look like the Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals, but while this year’s squad had a few close calls, to their credit they did what they needed to do and went undefeated on their way to a gold medal.

  6. Obama’s job approval numbers, currently at about 47%, will rise to between 53-57% as his term ends.

    His job approval numbers have been at the high end of my prediction, even hitting 58% in one poll, but I’m still going to count this prediction as correct. At least forty percent of the country obviously disagrees, but I think he’s been by far the best president of my lifetime.

  7. Microsoft’s plans to force upgrades to Windows 10 will backfire spectacularly.

    I have no idea what happened on this one – either Microsoft backed off of their plans, or I misunderstood, or something went screwy, because they just didn’t force upgrade people. If I awarded negative points then this prediction would score a minus-one for being so utterly, completely wrong.

  8. Batman v. Superman won’t finish in the top ten domestic box office for 2016.

    This script was so flawed that the key conflict between the main characters was resolved because <spoiler alert> Superman and Batman both had mothers named Martha. Seriously. Yet somehow the film still ended up #8 at the domestic box office. Apparently being the first big superhero movie of the summer was genius positioning, because it did way better than some much better films that came out later in the year.

  9. Russia will engage in significant provocation this year in an effort to rekindle a Cold War atmosphere.

    Hacking servers and attempting to influence the Presidential election isn’t exactly what I had in mind when I made the prediction, but it most definitely counts.

  10. Twitter will finish 2016 at least 25% lower than its current $20 price.

    $16.44 on January 3. The 52 week low was $13.73, and it did drop more than fifteen percent in a year in which the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose by about fifteen percent, but feel free to Tweet about how I got this one wrong.

  11. Nest hasn’t come out with a new product in a while, so I expect this year will see a new security product.

    Nest is quickly rising up my list of most disappointing tech companies. They could have owned the smart home market, yet more than five years after they released a pioneering thermostat their most innovative product is… the same thermostat they released in 2011.

  12. The Browns will have another absolutely, indisputably, undeniably horrendous year in 2016, winning only between three and five games.

    I got the “horrendous” part right, but somehow ended up being too optimistic when I predicted they would win three games. Ouch. At least the awful season means that on draft day they should either be able to pick a beast lineman and then spend 2017 watching him demolish quarterbacks, or else they can trade the top pick for a king’s ransom in another Moneyball masterpiece.

Final score: 4 out of 15 (27%). I was convinced that the 2016 predictions were too obvious, and yet somehow I still misfired on eleven of them. As of this writing I’ve already started on the predictions for 2017, and as wrong as I was about Trump in 2016, it looks like 2017 will see me doubling-down on underestimating the orange one.