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

What If…

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:19 pm, April 2nd, 2018

I know politics are a turn-off for a lot of folks, but it seems like an interesting thought exercise to imagine what it would be like if a few states had voted slightly differently, making Hillary Clinton the 45th president. Please feel free to use the comments to add any additions or corrections to this alternative timeline…

November 2016: If Democrats had turned out in numbers that were just large enough to give Clinton the victory in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, that turnout likely would have also provided narrow Democratic victories in the Wisconsin & Pennsylvania Senate races, resulting in a Senate that was split 50-50, with Vice President Tim Kaine the deciding vote in case of ties.

January 2017: With Clinton in the White House and a Democratic Senate, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer would have invoked the “nuclear option” in order to overcome Republican obstruction against Hillary Clinton’s nominees (just as Republicans did with Trump’s nominees), enraging conservatives and leading to an uproar in conservative media. The end result would be a bitterly divided Senate, a re-energized Tea Party, and a Supreme Court with a liberal majority.

June 2017: In this alternate timeline, the US would not have dropped out of the Paris Climate accords, nor would DACA have been rescinded. Similarly, there would have been no discussion of a border wall, a Muslim ban, or withdrawing from NAFTA.

September 2017: With the House still in Republican control, and conservatives enraged by the actions of President Clinton, the odds of a budget agreement would have been zero, almost certainly resulting in a shutdown of the government. Conservatives likely would have demanded documents and testimony for their many ongoing investigations over Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation, and Clinton’s email servers as a minimum precondition for any re-opening of the government.

October 2017: While Trump rescinded Obamacare’s cost sharing subsidies, resulting in health insurance premiums that were about ten percent higher than they otherwise would have been, President Clinton would have spent her time looking for ways to strengthen the health care law. Without Republican support it is unlikely there would have been much she could do, but in this alternate timeline Obamacare would not have been weakened, premium increases would have been lower, and Congress would not have spent months debating how to repeal the law.

November 2017: With Clinton as President and Trump likely viewed as an outcast in Republican circles, the one thing that the parties would probably have agreed on was addressing Russian interference in the 2016 elections. In this timeline, FBI director James Comey’s investigation into Russian meddling would have reached its conclusion, and with the support of the Senate and European allies the US would have imposed strict sanctions that isolated Russia internationally. In addition, bipartisan action to improve voting security and combat future meddling would be one of the year’s very rare examples of the parties actually working together.

December 2017: After a temporary agreement to end the previous shutdown, the divided government would again be unlikely to find a budget agreement, resulting in yet another shutdown. With huge deficits projected, Republicans would probably be rallying around the debt and deficit and demanding steps to address those issues as preconditions for any budget agreement. Note that in this timeline, the Republican tax cuts of 2017, with their corresponding reduction in federal revenue, would never have become law.

January 2018: With the North Koreans conducting nuclear and missile tests throughout 2017, President Clinton would have most likely pushed for an international response that was led by China and based on the framework used in the Iran nuclear agreement. While any deal would have been condemned by the Right (like they have done with the Iran nuclear deal), faced with real pressure from its one main ally (China), North Korea would have been boxed into a corner, forced to choose between sanctions that could finally threaten King Jong Un’s power or pausing its nuclear ambitions.

April 2018: After almost no legislative progress, two government shutdowns, ongoing investigations, and a huge block of Bernie Sanders voters still fomenting dissent on the Left, Hillary Clinton’s approval ratings would likely be dismal. The Republican establishment would be railing non-stop against Clinton corruption and deficits, and Tea Party rallies would be even larger than they were under Obama. In this environment, political scientists would be predicting a massive Republican wave in the midterms that would not only increase the Republican House majority, but would also flip 6-10 Senate seats to Republicans. Pundits would be questioning how the Democrats could possibly regain any path to a viable governing majority, and openly wondering if Clinton should consider stepping aside after just one term.

Moneyball V

Posted from Culver City, California at 12:02 pm, March 25th, 2018

In an ongoing effort to drive away readers by combining my love of the worst team in the NFL with my love of math, here’s another post about the upcoming NFL draft.

As I’ve posted previously, I buy in fully to the idea that most NFL teams are bad at valuing draft picks, and that the Browns have done a great job in recent drafts of taking advantage of that quirk of NFL management (note: they’ve done a great job acquiring picks, and a terrible job of using those picks). For example, while one can argue about whether Deshaun Watson should have been the Browns’ choice last year at #12, it’s tough to argue against the value they got for that trade, giving up #12 in 2017 for #25 in 2017 and #4 this year.

In my predictions for 2018 I suggested that the Browns would take a quarterback #1, and then take advantage of teams willing to overpay to move up by trading away the #4 pick. The Jets recently traded up to the #3 position, heavily overpaying for that privilege according to the traditional draft value chart:

IND trades NYJ trades Result
#3 (2200 points) #6 (1600 points)
#37 (530 points)
#49 (410 points)
2018 2nd round pick (270-580)
2200 points for 2810-3120 points
(28-42% premium)

Assuming the Browns would get a similar premium for the #4 pick (worth 1800 points), the following are all trades that I suspect will be viable in this year’s draft based on the fact that there are four quarterbacks being discussed as top picks, and all of the following teams need QBs; were I the Browns’ GM, I would accept any of these offers without hesitation:

Trading partner Picks traded Result
Denver #5 (1700 points)
#71 (235 points)
1800 points for 1935 points
(8% premium)
Miami #11 (1250 points)
#73 (225 points)
2019 1st round pick (590-3000)
1800 points for 2065-4475 points
(15-149% premium)
Buffalo #12 (1200 points)
#65 (265 points)
2019 1st round pick (590-3000)
1800 points for 2055-4465 points
(14-148% premium)
Arizona #15 (1050 points)
#47 (430 points)
2019 1st round pick (590-3000)
1800 points for 2070-4480 points
(15-149% premium)

Obviously making mathematically-smart trades won’t matter if the Browns don’t do a better job of actually drafting players that have success in the NFL, and thus the Browns clearly need to improve their talent evaluation. That said, statistically they’ve made all the right moves when it comes to maximizing their draft capital, and I hope that they don’t forgo that success this year when teams offer to trade a king’s ransom for whoever the fourth-best quarterback ends up being.

Long Overdue Recap

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:50 pm, March 18th, 2018

It’s been a long time since there was a recap entry, so here’s a quick overview of the events since November:

  • Due to work I ended up skipping the annual Man Trip over the Christmas break, and instead just made a two day rush up to the Bay Area to enjoy the holiday with Ma, Pa, and Younger Holliday. As always mom cooked a tremendous dinner, we got to go for a couple of walks wearing dad’s goofy hats, and it was nice to be home be with family for a bit.
  • Following the New Year Audrey and I headed north to Alaska for the Northern Lights trip that has previously been chronicled in this journal. I had decided not to use vacation for the trip since the weather was likely to keep us indoors, and sadly the ongoing project that caused me to forgo the 2017 Man Trip followed me to Alaska – it has been three years since the job required an all-nighter, but there were two all-nighters required while in Alaska; the universe may owe me some time off.
  • Continuing a theme, there have three work trips to San Antonio so far in 2018, although luckily they have been uneventful (i.e. no hurricanes).
  • In non-work news, Aaron came to LA two weeks ago and stayed with us for a night. There was much sushi, a walk around the Venice canals, and fun with his new toy – a drone that apparently doesn’t like all of the airspace restrictions around my house due to LAX and the Santa Monica airport.
  • Finally, in home news we haven’t done any major projects aside from some tree-trimming, but we now support a small zoo each morning as 4-6 squirrels, a few dozen sparrows and finches, several badass hummingbirds, and a murder of crows stop by for daily brunch.

Ten years of getting it wrong

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:52 pm, February 14th, 2018

Starting in 2009 I began making predictions about the coming year. Now in its tenth year, the annual predictions for 2018 are ready to go:

  1. First, some obligatory election predictions:
    1. Republicans will barely lose the House, with Democrats holding a post-election advantage of between 1-10 seats; currently the House is split 241-194 Republican/Democrat. All signs point to a big year for Democrats, but current districts are drawn such that Republicans have a built-in advantage that will limit gains by Democrats.
    2. Republicans will end the year with either 49 or 50 Senate seats. While it looks like a good year for Democrats, they are defending 26 seats while Republicans only have to defend eight, and only seven of the 34 races are currently expected to be competitive. Democrats have decent odds to pick up seats in Nevada and Arizona, but they must also play defense in tough states like Indiana, Missouri, West Virginia, North Dakota and Montana, and I would expect that at least one of those could end up flipping to Republicans.
    3. Efforts to eliminate gerrymandering will get a boost, with ballot measures passing in at least five states. Additionally, the Supreme Court ruling in Gill vs. Whitford will accept the argument that overly-partisan districts are unconstitutional, leading to lawsuits in several states against the current maps.
  2. After twelve years in development and many setbacks, Virgin Galactic will finally get their new ship into space. It’s hard to believe that it’s been fourteen years since Spaceship One became the first manned private vehicle to reach space.
  3. Avengers: Infinity War will become the highest-grossing Marvel movie. The first Avengers movie currently holds that title with a $623 million box office haul, so I’ll peg the new movie’s box office take at $650-700 million.
  4. The Browns will draft a quarterback at #1 and trade back from the #4 pick. I’m confident in the prediction that a quarterback will be the pick at #1, but less so about the trade back – the new general manager may not think like his Moneyball predecessors who recognized that high picks tend to be over-valued. That said, there are a lot of good quarterbacks in this draft, thus there will be a lot of teams scrambling to get their guy before he’s gone, so I think the Browns will pick their man at #1 and will then be unable to ignore the bidding war from QB-needy teams wanting the fourth pick.
  5. Tesla will not hit its goal of producing 5,000 Model 3 vehicles per week by the end of Q2, and will finish the year with total Model 3 deliveries between 170,000-190,000.
  6. Jeff Bezos, who purchased the Washington Post for $250 million in 2013, will expand his presence in the news world. Bezos has turned the Post profitable, and more importantly has turned the software platform that the newspaper runs on into a service used by many other major news organizations around the world. My impression is that he is trying to show traditional journalism companies how to be financially viable in the digital world, and as such I expect that he will create some sort of Amazon news portal, will purchase additional news organizations, or will otherwise launch some major effort to further that goal.
  7. The new Han Solo Star Wars movie will significantly underperform the other Star Wars films, a result of audience fatigue and a film that has had a troubled production. The film is going to be released just six months after The Last Jedi, and just one year after the original directors were fired, so I’m going to guess its box office will be between $375-425 million, far less than the $530 million earned by Rogue One.
  8. Boeing will not complete its first 777X airplane in 2018 as scheduled. After the new 737-MAX airplane was actually delivered sooner than Boeing anticipated it is tempting to believe that the 777X will also be delivered on time or early, but the changes in the 777 are more ambitious, including a folding wingtip, and it seems very likely that Boeing will find it harder to put together than anticipated.
  9. Despite reportedly spending $1 billion on producing television shows in 2018, Apple will still end 2018 without any popular programs. Unlike Netflix or Amazon, which make their content available on all devices, Apple’s strategy seems tied to using content as a way to sell the overpriced $180 Apple streaming TV device, so unless Apple manages to strike gold and create the next Game of Thrones, it seems highly unlikely that enough people are going to see Apple’s shows to make them successful.
  10. While I don’t think the California High Speed Rail project will be significantly changed so long as Jerry Brown is in office, given the fact that the first and easiest section of the route is already 30-50% over budget, lawmakers and candidates for governor will rebrand the project, and instead of describing it as a route between LA and San Francisco, it will start to be described as a route that connects the job-rich coastal cities with the affordable housing of the Central Valley. This strategy will allow them to de-emphasize cost overruns and delays in building the statewide system, giving them the ability to declare that “success” means opening an operational segment from Fresno to San Jose. In fairness that strategy actually does make some sense given the higher unemployment in the valley and crazy housing prices on the coast, but I am still hugely dismayed at how badly California is screwing up such an important project.
  11. The Simpsons will finally come to an end after 30 seasons, announcing that the 2018-2019 season will be its last. Thirty seems like a nice round number to go out on, even if the cast and creators might be willing to go on for another decade or two. If this prediction does come true, it will be the first time since I was in the eighth grade that I’ll live in a world without new Simpsons episodes.
  12. The Bitcoin bubble will finally burst. The cryptocurrency is down nearly fifty percent from its high of $20,000, but the bubble will finally burst for good sometime this year, and prices will be well under $1,000 by the time 2018 comes to a close. A “currency” that is difficult to actually use in making purchases, and that requires massive amounts of energy to sustain, is not something that lends itself well to longevity.
  13. Finally, despite constant rumors to the contrary, Lebron James will not leave the Cavs. This prediction is based on two pieces of evidence: one, when he returned to the Cavs he said he was going to finish his career in Cleveland, and as long as the Cavs give him the opportunity to win more championships I think he’ll stick to that, and two, I desperately want it to be correct.

And there they are. As I do every year, looking over the list now I wonder how any of them could possibly end up being incorrect, and I look forward to revisiting this list a year from now and wondering how I could possibly have believed that any of them would end up coming to pass. If anyone wants to add predictions of their own, or if you would like to (rightfully) mock the predictions I’ve made, the comments section is available as always.

2017 Predictions – the Aftermath

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:55 pm, February 5th, 2018

In what has become an annual tradition, at the beginning of 2017 I made fifteen predictions about the coming year. In what has also become an annual tradition, I was horribly wrong about most of them. Scorecards from past years prove without a doubt that I do not have the powers of Nostradamus, and the following tally of 2017’s glorious ineptitude merely reinforces that fact. I remain undaunted, however, and will be back with predictions for 2018 in an upcoming journal entry.

Without further ado, here’s the recap of 2017:

  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.

    WRONG Tesla actually did far worse than even I expected, delivering just 1,550 Model-3 vehicles in 2017. As late as August 2017 Tesla was estimating deliveries of around 25,000 vehicles, so this was a pretty huge miss for them, although demand for the vehicle seems to be robust so there is an enormous amount of potential revenue awaiting them if they can get volumes up.

  2. The Browns will trade at least one of their two first round draft picks.

    CORRECT The Browns traded their #12 pick to the Texans for the #25 pick and what became the #4 pick in this year’s draft. For any other team that would be an amazing haul, but since it’s the Browns, the player the Texans took at #12 – Deshaun Watson – looks to have all the makings of the league’s next great QB. Luckily the 2018 NFL Draft is less than three months away.

  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.

    WRONG I was WAY off in my predictions about the stock market – I assumed it was due for a correction, but instead stocks rose over 30%, and in that environment very few CEOs are going to be losing their jobs, much less the head of the world’s most valuable company. For the record, I think Apple has lost its way and needs a leader who can provide a sensible vision, and while Tim Cook may be great at supply chains and logistics, it doesn’t inspire confidence that every year he proclaims his newest iPhone to be “magical” because it is 0.001 mm thinner and has a camera with an extra few pixels.

  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.

    WRONG While his 38% approval rating at the end of the year is a record low for a President in his first year, I was very wrong about how the Republican Party, whose members in many cases skipped or only reluctantly attended their own nominating convention in the summer of 2016, and Fox News, a network that once feuded with candidate Trump to the point that he didn’t attend one of their sponsored debates, would fall in line behind a President Trump.

  5. The stock market will end the year down about ten percent, finishing between 16,500 and 17,500.

    WRONG The market closed 2017 at 24,719, up 25.1%. This was a big miss on my part, but the correction I expected in 2017 may be now happening a few months later – as I write this entry the stock market has dropped 1,800 points in two days.

  6. Hidden Figures (which I haven’t seen) will win the Best Picture Oscar.

    WRONG But in my defense, even the Oscar ceremony didn’t get the Best Picture Oscar right.

  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.

    CORRECT I’m going to count this prediction as a win, despite the fact that they had 18 launches instead of 20. Their previous best year was 2016 when the had eight successful missions, so they more than doubled their previous record, they became the first company to re-fly a rocket, and I correctly predicted the delay in both the Falcon Heavy and manned missions. That puts me at a miserable two out of seven correct predictions, and it’s not going to get much better…

  8. At least one of the following companies will be purchased by the year’s end: Twitter, Spotify, or Lyft.

    WRONG I didn’t foresee Uber repeatedly shooting itself in the foot and leaving Lyft looking stellar by comparison, or Apple Music failing to do anything to meaningfully distinguish itself from Spotify, and I continue to be mystified by Twitter’s business model. In any case, this prediction was another one that was spectacularly wrong.

  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.

    WRONG As of February 4, The Force Awakens has a domestic box office total of $614 million; it’s tempting to count this prediction as correct since I’m so close, but close is relative – for all but a handful of very rich people, $14 million isn’t really a number that should just be shrugged off, so this one needs to go down as wrong despite a really, really strong argument for partial credit.

  10. Obamacare will not be repealed or replaced in any meaningful way.

    CORRECT I was surprised that Republicans got to the point where only John McCain’s thumb saved Obamacare from significant changes, but in the end their years of promises to “repeal and replace” hit the hard reality that “replace” is an easy thing to say and a very difficult thing to do.

  11. By the end of the year ESPN & the Discovery network will offer streaming services, while one or both of Netflix and Amazon will find a way to offer local channels.

    WRONG I’m amazed at how badly content providers are doing in adjusting to the new reality that people are moving away from traditional cable and towards streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. While ESPN has (finally) announced a streaming service, details are scant and it won’t launch until later this year (at the soonest), while most other networks seem to have their heads in the sand. Meanwhile, although YouTube and DirecTV stream local channels, I was wrong about the interest by other services in providing a full-fledged replacement for cable TV.

  12. 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.

    CORRECT While it doesn’t yet appear that Democrats are going to quite the extremes that the Tea Party did (no major Democrats seem to be in danger of losing their seats in primaries), there was sufficient anger to create a two day government shutdown, a huge backlash against any sign of Senators supporting Trump nominees, and a massive amount of anger directed towards Washington. While this prediction may seem obvious in retrospect, I get a lot of “obvious” predictions wrong, and am thus still going to count this one as correct.

  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.

    WRONG While Russia appears to be gearing up to try and influence the 2018 elections, the fact that investigations into Russian hacking have become politicized has made it very difficult to determine if the attacks are continuing or not; in any case, they have not been the major story that I expected they would be. I’m biased based on my field of work, but in my mind cyberattacks and attempts by a foreign power to divide Americans by manipulating social media are threats that should be taken much, much more seriously, and it should be a topmost priority of the NSA and similar organizations to identify and shut down foreign bots and fake accounts as quickly as possible.

  14. Google will announce an operating system to compete with Windows & OSX

    WRONG While Google apparently has an operating system in testing, they barely acknowledge it exists and most definitely didn’t announce it as a Windows competitor in 2017. In all honesty, I didn’t really think this prediction was going to come true when I wrote it, but I’d been working on the “predictions” journal entry for a few days and just couldn’t come up with anything better.

  15. The next season of Game of Thrones is going to kill off Cersei Lannister and Littlefinger.

    (Spoiler alert) HALF CREDIT Game of Thrones is a really interesting show, with excellent characters and compelling storylines, but now that the show has pushed beyond the books it’s clear that the twisted mind of George R. R. Martin was not guiding the demise of one of his best characters – Lord Baelish deserved a more devious ending than what he got.

Final score: 4.5 out of 15 (30%), making this only my sixth worst showing (out of nine years). WOO HOO! Predictions for 2018 will be online in the coming days.

Walking on Water

Posted from Fairbanks, Alaska at 10:57 pm, January 16th, 2018

With the Northern Lights in hiding we’ve turned to other activities – yesterday’s adventures included a trip down memory lane involving a visit to the Knotty Shop, a stop in North Pole to send mail and giggle about the postmark, and a visit to the Chena Lakes Recreation area where we roamed over the frozen lake. The lake’s ice was thick enough to not only support a small army of ice fishing huts, but also apparently strong enough to support the pickup trucks that drove across the lake and parked next to the huts.

In a bizarre twist, today Fairbanks is experiencing highly unusual temperatures that are nearly up to 30°F, while San Antonio and much of the Southern United States is getting a rare ice storm. Ironically the host at our B&B told us that while Fairbanks never shuts down due to cold, the warmer temperatures bring ice (we’ve got freezing rain here tonight), and thus when it gets warm in the winter they usually end up cancelling school because things melt and then re-freeze, making the roads treacherous.

Given the lack of Auroras I don’t have any exciting photos from the past few days, so here a couple more from four nights ago during the Big Show.

Night sky above Fairbanks
This photo was taken around 10PM and captures the stars and the glow of the Fairbanks city lights against the clouds. Fifteen second exposure using a 10mm lens.
Aurora Borealis, taken north of Fairbanks
We didn’t know in advance that the entire sky was going to light up, so I naively thought that this picture, taken around midnight, would end up as my favorite photo of the evening. Fifteen second exposure using a 10mm lens.

A Night Without Lights

Posted from Fairbanks, Alaska at 12:10 am, January 15th, 2018

The space weather forecast for last night was calling for the most active light display thus far, but the meteorological forecast was calling for cloudy skies, so our hopes were low. Ironically we ended up with relatively clear skies but little in the way of Aurora activity – our current lodge doesn’t offer the easy Aurora viewing of our last place, but despite waking up frequently and looking out of the windows it seemed to be a quiet evening in the heavens.

Today Fairbanks enjoyed a heat wave, with downright balmy temperatures reaching all the way up into the twenties, so we’re able to be outside at length without fear of dying. We took advantage of the tropical weather by spending the day up at Chena Hot Springs, which was a really neat and at the same time very hokey place to visit – they had an amazing Ice Museum, it was ridiculously relaxing to soak in the hot springs under the dark skies while surrounded by snow drifts, and the restaurant was surprisingly good, but at the same time it very much had the feel of a place where tour buses drop off a load of people to be led around from activity to activity. Despite the touristy feel it was a great place to spend an afternoon, and the Ice Museum in particular was a neat find. It was clearly a kitschy thing to have an appletini at their “ice bar”, but who could pass up a cocktail served in a handmade, single-use cocktail glass made out of ice, while sitting at a bar that is also made from solid ice? We were even reluctant to part with our cup, and only did so once our fingers got cold from carrying it and we finally admitted that a glass made of ice was probably not something we could bring home in our carry-on baggage.

Tonight, given the forecast of snow the odds of seeing the Northern Lights are low. Tomorrow I’ve got a day free of work due to the MLK holiday, so depending on weather we’re thinking of making a trip to North Pole, Alaska, which ironically is located a few miles south of Fairbanks.

The Ice Museum in Chena Hot Springs
The Aurora Ice Bar in the Ice Museum, home of very manly appletinis. With the exception of the mirror and a small number of other items, everything in this photo is made out of ice.
The Ice Museum in Chena Hot Springs
Details in the Ice Museum – these ice globes each had a different design embedded inside of it, and formed a ring around an altar that they use when people want to get married amidst the ice art.

The Big Show

Posted from Fairbanks, Alaska at 9:16 pm, January 13th, 2018

We had an inkling that last night might be good for the Aurora based on the space weather forecast, and after enjoying a couple of hours of nice displays, something suddenly changed and in a matter of minutes the sky went from “nice” to “utterly magical”.

Last night was our last night at the Aurora Borealis Lodge, and since they had a lot of guests we decided to hike a few hundred yards up the hill from the main lodge to enjoy the skies with a bit less noise. It wasn’t terribly cold (perhaps 20°F), so Audrey and I soaked in the solitude for a while before wandering back down to the lodge to warm up. No sooner had we taken our hats and gloves off when the sky started to light up, and we rushed back outside for what the lodge owner later called the best display thus far in 2018. Auroras lit up the northern half of the sky, then danced overhead and filled the southern half of the sky with light. There were multiple colors, pulsing and dancing lights, streams of fire that burned across the horizon, and enough magic to make you believe in the ancient stories of the Aurora being heavenly spirits or flames in space. The show finally started to fade just after 2AM, and we reluctantly returned to our cabin exhausted but elated.

Sadly the weather forecast for the next several days is calling for mostly cloudy skies, but we embarked on this trip hoping for at least one great night, and we definitely got that, so no matter what happens from this point onward the trip has been a successful one.

Aurora Borealis, taken north of Fairbanks
The moment when things started going from good to insane. Eight second exposure using an 18mm lens.
Aurora Borealis, taken north of Fairbanks
The Aurora, directly overhead. Six second exposure using an 18mm lens.
Aurora Borealis, taken north of Fairbanks
At the time this photo was taken I’d been outside in the cold for nearly four hours straight and wasn’t close to wanting to go back indoors. Fifteen second exposure using a 14mm lens.

Space Weather

Posted from Fairbanks, Alaska at 9:38 pm, January 12th, 2018

Some random notes from our time in Fairbanks thus far:

  • The cold is not as bad as expected, even at temperatures that have dipped down as cold as -20°F. That is, it isn’t as bad as expected until the wind blows, at which point a freezing blowtorch of pain reminds you that you’re in Interior Alaska in January.
  • The Northern Lights vary a LOT. Sometimes they are so faint that you can only see them after taking a long camera exposure, other times they seem bright enough to read by. Sometimes they look like a glowing cloud spread across the sky, other times they look like dancing ribbons. Sometimes they appear white, sometimes green, sometimes red, sometimes purple, and sometimes a combination of all of these colors.
  • For anyone chasing the lights, the SpaceWeather.com Aurora “oval” forecast and the nightly weather forecast are your two best friends; clear skies and a portion of the oval in your vicinity will make for a happy evening.
  • Three of our four nights at the Aurora Borealis Lodge have so far had great displays, generally starting around 10PM and ending around 2AM when we are finally so tired that we head off to bed; the only night we didn’t see the lights was due to cloudy skies.
  • Finally, in the “things you wouldn’t think about in the Lower-48” department, a tanker truck came by to deliver water to our cabin today – the lodge is too remote for there to be city water available, and a well would freeze, so regular water deliveries are what allow us to take an occasional shower.
Aurora Borealis, taken north of Fairbanks
A moment of extra happiness last night. Eight second exposure using an 18mm lens.
Aurora Borealis, taken north of Fairbanks
While the Aurora sometimes looks like the sunset, this picture was taken facing north, eight hours after the sun had disappeared in the south. Six second exposure using an 18mm lens.
Aurora Borealis, taken north of Fairbanks
Finding a sharp focus in the dark has been quite the challenge, so I’m insanely proud of the fact that these tress stand out as clearly as they do. Six second exposure using an 18mm lens.

My Friend Aurora

Posted from North of Fairbanks, Alaska at 9:44 pm, January 10th, 2018

We’ve started on phase two of this trip, moving from our temporary home in downtown Fairbanks to the Aurora Borealis Lodge on a ridge twenty miles outside of the city. Without any city lights the aurora is visible across the northern sky, and we’ve had two straight clear nights where the displays were epic. Tonight there are clouds covering the sky, but the forecast calls for some clearing around 1AM, so it may be a late-night wake-up to catch the evening show.

The logistics of photographing this natural wonder are still a challenge to me – between keeping the camera steady for long periods, focusing in the pitch black, and not freezing to death it has been interesting. At one point last night I was heading back outside after coming in to warm up and noticed that everything looked blurry in my viewfinder – turned out there was a layer of ice covering my lens, and I had to wait a bit to let the camera thaw; that was a first in the three decades since my dad gave me my first 35mm.

Aurora Borealis, taken north of Fairbanks
Last night’s northern lights display, taken just before midnight.

My Boogers Froze Today. Twice.

Posted from Fairbanks, Alaska at 7:22 pm, January 7th, 2018

Since my job lets me work from anywhere with an internet connection, spending two weeks in Fairbanks in the dead of winter seemed like it would be a great idea. Audrey and I will be huddled together for warmth in the coming days, hoping that the northern lights make an appearance at some point.

After arriving late last night we spent today’s sparse daylight hours bundled in every piece of clothing that we own, roaming past the frozen Chena River through Griffin Park in downtown Fairbanks, before we were finally forced into the (very impressive) Visitor Information Center to escape the -8°F temperatures. Tomorrow we head further north to spend the rest of the week in a tiny cabin outside of the city lights in the hopes that the Auroras might peek out at us once or twice. Wish us luck.

Fairbanks Weather Outlook
The weather forecast for the week gives us nearly four hours a day of the sun’s warmth, so we should have decent odds of not freezing to death.
Frosty tree branch in Griffin Park, Fairbanks in Winter
This tree in Griffin Park got dominated by the Fairbanks winter.
Statue in Griffin Park, Fairbanks in Winter
Even the statues in Fairbanks are freezing.