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

2024: Things That Probably Won’t Happen

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:17 pm, January 16th, 2024

Per the annual tradition, below is my list of things that probably aren’t going to happen in the coming year. My batting average over the past 16 years of predictions would have me riding the bench in the peewee leagues, so check with your financial advisor before placing any bets based on what’s below. As happens every election year, the obligatory political predictions lead things off, so skip over the first three if you’re tired of the bare-knuckle-cage-match-inside-of-a-lunatic-asylum that is today’s political process.

  1. Joe Biden (or another Democrat if his health fails) will be elected President.

    Democrats are (understandably) unexcited about having a past-his-prime Joe Biden at the top of the ticket, but if he is running against Trump again he has a number of advantages. For one, Trump isn’t an unknown anymore, and a large swathe of centrist voters won’t support him because of his rhetoric, temperament, and penchant for unleashing mobs to burn down the Capitol. Second, while many Democrats are disillusioned over what they didn’t achieve under Biden, they may look much more favorably on his administration when compared with Trump, who appointed Supreme Court judges that overturned Roe v Wade, demonizes immigrants, wants to exit NATO and abandon Ukraine, doesn’t believe global warming is a threat, wants to repeal Obamacare, etc. That being said, this election could easily go either way, which is a scary thought.
  2. Democrats will lose two Senate seats and lose control of the Senate.

    A lot of Democrats who have been bashing Joe Manchin will miss him greatly when he retires, because he was the only Democrat on the planet who could get elected in West Virginia. Democrats also have to hold seats in Montana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada and Virginia if they want to keep control, which would take a minor miracle to achieve.
  3. Republicans will lose the House of Representatives, with Democrats gaining a thin majority of between 2-10 seats.

    This prediction is one that could easily be wrong given that several states (North Carolina in particular) are redrawing the election maps in ways that should guarantee Republicans a few more seats, but in recent elections abortion has been a motivating issue, and just as with the Presidency, it should drive turnout for Democrats and push them over the edge in close races. Also, Republicans did cannibalize their own Speaker in 2023, so they have an uphill climb on winning the “don’t eat your leaders” voter.
  4. SpaceX’s Starship rocket will successfully deliver cargo to orbit but won’t have a successful landing.

    Starship is the largest and most powerful rocket to ever be built, and the crazy engineering geniuses at SpaceX will eventually get it to be as reliable as their Falcon 9 rocket, which currently launches (and lands) every 3-4 days. But I don’t think that’s going to happen in 2024, although they should succeed at getting payloads in orbit soon, given the fact that their last launch came tantalizingly close to reaching orbit before exploding spectacularly.
  5. The US men’s Olympic basketball team will go undefeated, will win every game by at least fifteen points, and will romp to an Olympic gold medal.

    The US lost to Canada and Germany on their way to a fourth place finish in the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, but much like the 2008 “Redeem” Team, that means that the 2024 Olympic team goes in with a chip on its shoulder. The team looks like it’s going to feature Lebron James, Steph Curry, Joel Embid, Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant, all of whom see this Olympics as possibly their last chance to play together, so it should be the most impressive team the US has fielded since 1992’s Dream Team that featured Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and eight other future Hall of Famers.
  6. Twitter will either be sold or spun off into a non-profit foundation.

    Elon Musk’s takeover and management of Twitter has been much mocked, so while it may take more than another year, the end seems near. If he sells it will be for a tiny fraction of his $44 billion purchase price, but he’s one of the few people in the world that could look at $44 billion as a bad bet, so he may just choose to write down the whole thing and spin Twitter off into some sort of non-profit foundation in the name of “promoting free speech”.
  7. 2024 will see the start of antitrust actions against Apple over its app store and iOS ecosystem in both the US and EU, but nothing will be close to changing by end of year.

    Regulators have been increasingly upset about Apple’s practice of forcing all transactions for app store purchases through Apple (where they take a 30% cut), and of making its text messaging incompatible with non-Apple devices, among many other practices. Apple proactively announced that it will support the more standard RCS text messaging format, likely due to scrutiny from regulators, and the iPhone 15 was forced to use USB-C connectors instead of Apple’s proprietary lightning connector due to EU action, but Apple is going to fight tooth and nail to keep its app store monopoly, and thus the long process of forcing them to change will only just be getting started when 2024 ends.
  8. Deadpool 3 will become the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time.

    The MCU has been a hot mess lately, with plots that are confusing, bad writing, and a fanbase that is suffering from superhero fatigue. But Deadpool is going to prove that Marvel can still produce a winner, and it will easily top Joker to become the highest grossing R-rated movie of all time. There is literally no one on the planet who doesn’t love Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman, it will have been eight months since the last MCU movie, and the Spiderman movies prove that crowds will show up for a film about a character that they like.
  9. Marvin Harrison Jr and four quarterbacks will be the top five picks in the NFL draft.

    Quarterback is the most important position in sports, CJ Stroud and Joe Burrow have proven that rookie quarterbacks can succeed, and the 2024 draft is regarded as one of the strongest QB drafts in years, so Jayden Daniels, Bo Nix, or another prospect will rise up during draft evaluations to join Caleb Williams and Drake Maye in the top five picks. Meanwhile, Marvin Harrison Jr is supposedly the second coming of Megatron, so he’ll be the lone non-QB in the top five. This prediction goes against what most mock drafts are saying right now, but what’s the fun in predicting the same thing as everyone else?
  10. Either Paramount Studios or Warner Brothers Studios (or both) will be sold to Netflix, Google, or another media company anxious to enhance their streaming offerings.

    I’ve been very wrong about studio sales before, but there are already rumors that Paramount is for sale. Both Paramount and Warner Brothers are struggling to compete with the existing streaming services, and streaming media companies hungry for content could see the catalogs and production capabilities of these legacy studios as a bargain for their current market caps of around $9 billion (Paramount) and $26 billion (Warner Brothers).
  11. Both the Tesla Cybertruck and the Apple Vision Pro headset will see disappointing sales and will have to either cut production targets or drop prices to attract buyers.

    In a way these are repeats of predictions from last year, but now that the Cybertruck has launched and the Apple Vision Pro has a launch date it should be possible to measure sales. Estimates are that Apple will produce only 400,000 headsets in 2024 while they figure out how to build them, and the Apple fanbase should never be underestimated, but I wouldn’t be surprised if sales slow to a trickle after launch. Meanwhile Cybertruck supposedly has 1-2 million preorders, but as customers are asked to convert those into firm orders a lot of people are likely to balk given the price is much higher than initially announced, the range is much lower than originally announced, and driving a stainless steel triangle is a weird lifestyle choice.
  12. The Dow Jones Industrial Average will end the year up 15-25 percent.

    I hate making stock market predictions because it seems a sure way to jinx everyone’s retirement savings, but by most objective measures (unemployment, consumer spending, etc) the economy has been strong lately. While currently bonds and savings accounts are paying a guaranteed five percent return, with the Federal Reserve signaling that interest rate cuts may be coming in 2024 money should migrate back to stocks, causing an increase from the 37,701 close at the end of 2023.
  13. AI generated content will lead to confusion and scandals during the 2024 election cycle.

    The world is still figuring out how to reliably discern content created by humans from content created by AI, and the latter will become a big problem in the 2024 election cycle. It’s very easy today to write a LOT of convincing (but fake) content using ChatGPT or other AI tools, and AI image and video generation makes it similarly easy to create realistic but fake visual media. Combined with pushback that has led to social media companies doing less policing of fake content, this election cycle will see a flood of questionable content circulated that impacts voters and makes it harder to decide what information is trustworthy.
  14. Despite the doors literally falling off of 737-MAX planes, Boeing won’t face additional troubles in 2024 and will be on track for a very successful 2025.

    A door fell off of a 737-Max in flight, which is one of the most terrifying things an airline passenger could imagine, but less commented on was that despite exposing the passengers to a whole new way of flying, no one was hurt and the plane landed successfully, speaking to how safe planes have become. Since the disastrous launch of the 737-Max revealed corporate and regulatory issues that were far more serious than anyone might have imagined, Boeing has been reorganizing and retooling, and the internal changes will start to bear fruit towards the end of the year as airlines continue ordering large numbers of 737-Max planes, and the new 777-X completes its certification and prepares for first deliveries in 2025.
  15. Both the Jeddah Tower and the Dubai Creek Tower will resume construction this year, portending new records in the “world’s tallest” category.

    The Jeddah Tower, slated to become the world’s first building taller than one kilometer, started construction way back in 2013, but was halted in 2018 with the building only one-third complete after being stopped by COVID and a Saudi corruption scandal. The Dubai Creek Tower was Dubai’s answer to the Jeddah Tower, and was set to become the world’s tallest structure (but not officially a “building”) when completed, but coincidentally (wink, wink) construction stopped at the same time as Jeddah Tower construction stopped. Both will resume construction this year, and the world may soon have two new engineering marvels rising high above the desert.

Like most years, I’m looking at these predictions and thinking “of course these things will happen”, but like most years I also expect to look back at them in twelve months to wonder how the hell I thought any of these were likely. This is year sixteen of this game, and it remains a fun annual exercise in thinking about the world and then being embarrassed at the later realization of how little I understand this giant blue marble.

The 2023 Predictions Scorecard

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:21 pm, January 5th, 2024

Here’s the annual scorecard for the predictions about the coming year. The original 2023 predictions were made twelve months ago when they seemed far less ludicrous than they do now.

  1. SpaceX is going to have several spectacular failed launch attempts of its new Starship rocket, but will get the vehicle to orbit.

    WRONG. They turned their new rocket into the world’s largest firework twice, but didn’t make it to orbit on either attempt. Still, there’s every reason to believe that this new rocket will eventually be successful, at which point humanity will be significantly closer to the science fiction future that I’ve been waiting for since I was a six year old at the science museum.

  2. Apple is going to launch a new VR headset, but despite a ton of initial press it won’t catch on with consumers.

    WRONG. Apple actually announced the Vision Pro headset back in June, but it isn’t yet on sale yet and thus it’s not possible to accurately judge consumer interest. Still, how many people want to pay $3499 so they can have creepier virtual meetings?

  3. The Ukraine war will end by summer, with Russia ceding all claims to Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, in exchange for some sort of face-saving gesture like a promise that Ukraine won’t join NATO.

    WRONG. There are so many reasons to be dejected about this war, and sadly after rapid gains by Ukraine last year, it has turned into a long slog with no signs of ending.

  4. Ford will be responsible for 30% of all US EV sales by the end of the year.

    WRONG. I have no idea what I was thinking with this prediction. The F-150 Lightning is one of the best electric vehicles on the market, and Ford’s electrification strategy is better than the other legacy automakers, but they’re not remotely close to holding 30% of the domestic market.

  5. The US will default on its debt for the first time in history.

    WRONG. Wrong, but my 401k is incredibly happy to be wrong about this one after a deal was signed in July. I’m not optimistic that legislators won’t blow up the country’s credit the next time the debt ceiling needs to be raised, but at least this year the lid stayed on Pandora’s Box.

  6. Tesla will begin deliveries of its new Cybertruck by June 2023, but they won’t offer the truck for the $39,900 that was initially announced, and won’t sell a model that costs less than $50,000 in 2023.

    WRONG. The Cybertruck didn’t launch until November, and did so at a higher price with lower range, towing, and payload capacity than they originally announced. I’m still a huge fan of Tesla – they build the world’s best electric vehicles and have forced every other automaker to innovate to keep up – but they could have given every truck owner a reason to go electric if they had focused on building a vehicle that catered to the needs to truck owners rather than building a stainless steel triangle because the CEO wanted to live out his Mad Max fantasies.

  7. Donald Trump will drop out of the 2024 Presidential Race before the end of the year.

    WRONG. I thought his legal troubles might drive him to drop out of the race, but instead it seems like he has decided that the best way to get out of legal jeopardy is get the job back that lets him pick the Attorney General.

  8. Layoffs will continue in the technology sector in 2023, but there won’t be a broad recession.

    CORRECT. Finally! A correct prediction! After a hiring spree during COVID, the tech sector trimmed over 200,000 jobs in 2023, but somewhat miraculously the economy as a whole continued to do well and avoided a recession while adding jobs.

  9. At least two of the following three things will happen in the NFL: Tom Brady will retire (for real this time), Aaron Rodgers will retire, and Jimmy Garoppolo will join the New York Jets.

    WRONG. Brady retired, so I at least got one. Rodgers should have retired, and the Jets would have been better off with Garoppolo at the helm after Rodgers played only four snaps for them.

  10. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny will be a flop, earning less than the $317 million that the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull made.

    CORRECT. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Desiny had a $174 million box office, making it the lowest-grossing film in the franchise. My brother said it was a good film, but (like most of the world) I still haven’t seen it.

  11. Joe Biden will announce that he is running for a second term, and no major Democrat aside from (maybe) Bernie Sanders will announce that they are running against him.

    CORRECT. Democrats are lamenting the fact that the guy most likely to be their nominee next year is 81 and far from his peak years, but much like the Republicans with Trump, you’d be hard pressed to find two people who agree on who should be running instead.

  12. Kathleen Kennedy will be removed as the head of Lucasfilm.

    WRONG. How is she still in charge of Star Wars?!?! The last Star Wars movie was in 2019, and just about everyone hated it. The next announced movie is still several years away and sounds like another cash grab rather than a compelling story. Hey Disney: please, please, please go find one of the nerds who has seen the original trilogy a thousand times, owns a Stormtrooper outfit, and gets incensed at the thought of Greedo shooting first, and get them to plot out the future of the franchise.

  13. Twitter will see declining revenue and user engagement under Elon Musk, but no viable competitor will emerge by the end of the year.

    CORRECT. I think history will remember Elon Musk fondly because of the achievements of Tesla and SpaceX, but whether due to drug use, hubris, or because he’s just plain lost his marbles, his work of late has a certain Dr. Evil vibe to it. Still, no one else has filled the void left by Twitter’s slow demise, despite Facebook’s efforts with Threads and former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s attempt with Bluesky.

  14. Athing Mu of the USA will break the 40 year old world record in the women’s 800m.

    WRONG. First, as a former runner I might be the rare person who even knows who Athing Mu is, but she’s a special talent in the running world. In 2023 the reigning Olympic gold medalist finished third at the World Championships, and afterwards seemed very ready to be done with running for the year. Hopefully the Olympics re-ignites her passion for the sport, but as someone who failed to reach his full potential as a runner I can understand how hard it can be to push yourself every single day for years on end if the motivation isn’t there.

  15. 2023 will see two “quiet” supersonic planes successfully flying over our heads.

    WRONG. I so want there to be supersonic passenger planes again, and hopefully Boom’s XB-1 plane flies this year, as well as NASA’s X-59, but sadly both missed their planned 2023 first flights. Just as SpaceX reinvigorated the space industry, I want to see someone make aerospace exciting again and put the X-Jet or other crazy new vehicles in the sky, rather than just making small iterations on the wing-and-tube designs that have been with us for the past 50 years.

Final score: 4/15. At first glance that’s a pretty awful score, but tigers are supposedly successful on only 10-20% of their hunts, so 4/15 is a score that puts the best tiger to shame. Predictions for 2024 will be online soon.

Willy Wonka

Posted from 35,000 feet over the Atlantic at 10:07 am, September 3rd, 2023

For our last day in Dublin we decided to take a cab into the city, because the thought of driving and parking in Dublin’s city center frightened me to my core, and upon seeing that he was taking us to the Guinness Storehouse the cabbie muttered “quelle surprise”. We fully admitted that there was no more touristy thing we could do than start our day with a tour of Dublin’s most notorious tourist hotspot, but who goes to Dublin and skips the Guinness Tour? Even the cabbie couldn’t argue with that logic. The “factory” tour is actually through a former storehouse that has been converted into a museum, and upon entering Audrey’s first exclamation was “Oh my God, it’s Willy Wonka’s!” And that was totally apt – the building was old and industrial, with riveted girders and crumbling tiles, but they’ve filled it with escalators and LEDs and even a waterfall, so it felt like Gene Wilder and a troop of Oompa Loompas was going to burst into song around every corner. The experience itself was surprisingly well done, and we left two hours later a bit tipsy and much more knowledgeable about beer making, barrel making, and everything else related to Dublin’s finest ale.

We wandered through the city after the Guinness tour, hitting St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Stephen’s Green along the way, and just as Audrey was starting to fade I made the request that we walk through the Temple Bar section of town just to see what music we could find playing in the pubs. Navigating the crowds, I heard a fiddle, and echolocated my way into a crowded bar where a guy on a guitar was accompanying another fellow who was playing up a storm on the fiddle. I thought we’d found our spot to enjoy a few drinks, but the Irish music finished, and the guitarist said “sing along”, and suddenly the music went from folk to the White Stripes. I was having none of that, so we headed further north and heard the unmistakable notes of the song “Galway Girl” coming from a bar. That being my favorite Irish tune, we made a beeline into the bar, and spent the next 45 minutes drinking another Guinness while the Murphy Sisters absolutely killed it with amazing harmonies, a guitar, a banjo, and an accordion. All in all it was an excellent way to bring the trip to a close.

Choir details in St. Patrick's Cathedral
The choir in St. Patrick’s cathedral sings under a bunch of helmets and swords for reasons that probably made more sense 300 years ago.

Medieval Times

Posted from Dublin, Ireland at 2:27 am, September 2nd, 2023

For our last two nights in Dublin I was debating where to stay; the city center would obviously have been fun, but parking is a pain, and the hotels were expensive, small, and many were already sold out six months ago. We settled on Clontarf Castle Hotel, which is outside of the city center and closer to the airport. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect after booking it – there was definitely a castle on this site at one point, but I told Audrey as we were arriving in Dublin that it might be more like Medieval Times than an actual castle. As we entered the lobby, with suits of armor all around us and banners hanging from the ceiling, Audrey looked at me with a HUGE smile and said “it’s TOTALLY Medieval Times”; I had forgotten how much she loves that place.

Prior to our arrival in Dublin we had our longest driving day of the trip, as we traversed the country from west to east. Of course, on a day when we were mostly driving it was also the best weather of the trip, with sun almost the entire time. Leaving the amazing landscapes of the Connemara, we stopped at Joyce’s Craft Shop, where there was a massive and imposing statue next to a scenic lake with the following inscription carved into its base:

This is
(Conn Son of the Sea)
Built in 1999
By Joyce’s Craft Shop
For no apparent reason

For the long drive today we didn’t want to miss the landscapes of Ireland by taking the motorway the entire way, so we decided to put our lives on the line by taking backroads through the countryside. This route made our journey a bit longer, and there were plenty of moments where we passed another car on the tiny roads with about an inch to spare between mirrors, but the country is so pretty here that it was definitely worth it. The bogs of the Connemara turned into pastures lined with stone walls northeast of Galway, followed by rolling fields and pastures in central Ireland as we reached the River Shannon. Our first major stop for the day was at Clonmacnoise, a 1500 year old monastery complex on the banks of the Shannon that was abandoned over 800 years ago after repeatedly being pillaged by Vikings and local tribes. Of course, as soon as we arrived the sun dipped behind clouds for the first time all day, but such is Ireland, and it was still an amazingly pretty site next to the river.

We then hopped in the car and headed a short distance down the road to our last bog of the trip. Clara Bog Nature Reserve is one of the few remaining bogs in Ireland that hasn’t been extensively damaged by peat harvesting, and we hiked the one kilometer boardwalk through the sphagnum moss while (of course) it rained for the first time all day. Despite the weather it’s still always neat to be out on a spongy bog, knowing that you’re standing on top of twenty-foot thick layer of moss and decayed organic matter, surrounded by some of the planet’s weirdest plants and animals.

Today is our last full day in Ireland, and we’re off to explore Dublin’s city center with what the forecast suggests will be mostly good weather. Ireland has been a fun place to visit, and the incredible landscapes will be something we remember for the rest of our lives.

Connemara, Son of the Sea
Connemara, Son of the Sea. Memorialized here for no apparent reason.


Posted at 11:47 pm, August 31st, 2023

The Connemara is definitely my favorite landscape in Ireland. Every bend in the road has a new lake or bog or mountain, and then suddenly you’re back on the coast looking at inlets from the sea. It’s pretty spectacular.

As planned, we visited Connemara National Park yesterday and did a nice hike through hilly bogs in weather that alternated between rain and sun. Beforehand we made a short stop at Kylemore Abbey, a Benedictine Abbey that was founded on the grounds of a former castle. Our final stop for the day was the appropriately named “Sky Road”, a 14 kilometer loop that goes high up in the hills and provides some pretty spectacular views over the sea. As is customary with the pretty roads in Ireland, the road was barely wide enough for one car, which made for some interesting maneuvers whenever we came around a blind turn and met another oncoming car.

For those keeping score at home, so far on this trip Audrey got to pet a deer, a horse, a cat and (surprisingly) a dog. Yesterday we pulled off at a scenic stop and were mobbed by sheep (the attention was explained by a sign and box nearby: “sheep food 1 Euro”), so she added sheep to the list as well. We also encountered some ponies in a field, so add them to the list. The cows have remained standoffish.

Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey. I can see why someone would be tempted to become a Benedictine nun when you get to live here.
Sky Road
The view from upper Sky Road in Connemara. There is an “upper” Sky Road and a “lower” Sky Road; we couldn’t come up with a single reason why any right-thinking person would take a road named “Sky Road” but then forgo the upper road for the lower road.

Mussel Mike

Posted from Ballynahinch Castle, Ireland at 1:10 am, August 31st, 2023

We’re traveling through the Connemara, which is the region west of Galway. It’s full of coastal inlets, bogs, lakes, wildflowers, and hills, and has my favorite scenery in Ireland thus far. At one point yesterday we pulled off the road to take some photos, and an older Irish gentleman approached us from the sea carrying a bucket of mussels that he had gathered. He introduced himself as Mike, and told us a rambling story of his adventures in America, which included time in Milwaukee for reasons that were never made clear, before we finally had to flee due to clouds of midges. Our route then led us along a one-lane road through a bog where piles of peat were left out to dry (it is used like firewood). After that we somehow ended up retracing our steps; we passed a store that I was 90% sure we had stopped at earlier in the day, then experienced deja vu for the next 45 minutes as whatever map mistake I had made gave us a repeat viewing of the beautiful coastline.

Our lodging for the night is in the very fancy Ballynahinch Castle, which is located on several hundred acres of forest with trails throughout. The river in front of the manor is stained a coffee brown, apparently from all of the decayed plant matter that the water filters through, and is surprisingly scenic. Audrey continues to talk to sheep and pet any animals that come close (yesterday it was horses), and I continue to get up early each day to roam around in the rain. We’ve got another day here in the Connemara, so if the weather cooperates we’ll be off to drive the Sky Road and see the bogs of Connemara National Park before settling in for a beverage at the castle this evening.

Galway Oysters

Posted from Galway, Ireland at 1:55 pm, August 29th, 2023

When we were planning this trip we thought it might be neat to visit the Aran Islands from Galway. They are rugged, remote islands off of the coast that are home to prehistoric ruins and hardy farmers, but we didn’t want to go if the weather wasn’t perfect, since boats only run every few hours. Sadly, despite today’s perfect weather, we decided that since we’re both still recovering from what we assume was COVID that hiking across the islands and up the steep cliffs would be too strenuous, so instead we spent the day around Galway. I expected this town to be more like Monterey, but it has a more industrial feel to it, with a more utilitarian and less tourist-friendly waterfront. We visited their aquarium this morning, which was actually a pretty good find, but then decided to leave town and headed south through the countryside to Moran’s Oyster Cottage for a late seafood lunch. This place ended up being a great find, with oysters pulled right out of the nearby estuary, and grilled crab claws for Audrey since she’s not a fan of slimy bivalves. From there we visited the nearby Coole Park Nature Reserve, and Audrey fell in love with all of the vine-covered trees.

The trip thus far has been good. The falconry yesterday was obviously a highlight, but the countryside is incredibly pretty, the Gap of Dunloe and Dingle Peninsula were quite memorable, and it’s amazing how many old castle and church ruins are hiding on random backroads. Driving continues to be fun, with tiny farm roads bordered by stone walls and flocks of sheep. The prehistoric sites have also been a surprise; I read about them beforehand, but it’s still a bit mind-blowing to find a 5000 year old building or tomb next to the road. I haven’t liked the towns as much as I expected to, but I think I was expecting them to be more like New England, with a church and a few little shops around a town square, while Irish towns tend to mostly have a more utilitarian layout, with a pub, a restaurant, a pharmacy and a grocery store lined up next to a narrow road.

Tomorrow we’re off to spend two nights in a castle, something we’ve been excited about since we first booked it, so it will be an opportunity to experience another side of this country before our trip begins coming to a close.

Frodo and Dingle

Posted from Galway, Ireland at 12:35 am, August 29th, 2023

One of the activities that came up while we were planning our trip was falconry, and of course that seemed like something not to be missed. Thus it was that we found ourselves on the grounds of Ashford Castle yesterday, standing outside the gates of the Ireland School of Falconry, getting ready to walk through the forest with hawks accompanying us.

Our guide Kiva introduced us to the birds: Frodo was younger and more rambunctious, screaming and jumping the moment he was out, while Chewie was older and more stoic. The birds seemed to care not a bit about us, viewing us more as mobile perches, and their eyes were constantly probing the surroundings. Once in the forest we were instructed to let them fly free, and the birds immediately took off into the trees. From there we would regularly call them back, using bits of meat in a raised glove, and the birds inevitably returned, grabbed their snack, and then took off again after whatever caught their attention. They followed us through the forest, and it was an odd experience to regularly have a Harris hawk swoop inches over your head as it darted through the woods looking for the next perch.

After an hour in the forest with the hawks we returned the birds to their roosts, then it was off to meet Dingle, a Eurasian Eagle Owl. Kiva explained that the “wise old owl” expression didn’t hold much truth, and that compared to the hawks Dingle was a bit slow, so rather than taking him outside they mostly flew him in a long barn-like structure where he was more comfortable. On a day that didn’t seem like it could get much better, we then spent the next twenty minutes calling an owl to our outstretched hands, and then holding him next to us while he absently listened for any interesting noises in the area (apparently an owl can hear a mouse’s heartbeat from quite some distance away).

It’s nice to have days that you’ll remember for years to come; this was definitely one of them.

Falconry at Ashford Castle
Chewie and Frodo after a nice walk through the woods.

The Cliffs of Insanity

Posted from The Burren, Ireland at 12:13 am, August 28th, 2023

Audrey spent yesterday in bed recovering from the flu, but the hotel has two house cats and 30+ outdoor cats, so she didn’t mind being stuck here too much. I visited the Cliffs of Moher, filming location from the Princess Bride, and battled winds that were occasionally strong enough to knock people over while walking along the crags. It was surprisingly pretty and made for a good morning trip. From there I took a drive through the Burren, enjoying the weird rocky landscape with its millions of wildflowers. The area is home to a number of prehistoric sites, including the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a large, five thousand year old stone tomb that overlooks the landscape.

The evening’s final adventure was a trip back into Doolin for music. McGann’s Pub is known for its traditional Irish music, but after arriving the server said the musicians had cancelled for the evening, so I escaped up the street to Fitz’s Pub where what I assume was a group of family and friends had instruments out. Two fiddles, and three instruments that I didn’t recognize kept everyone tapping their toes for the evening, and at one point a teenager in the musical group even put down his instrument and started doing some traditional Irish dancing, which got a huge reaction from the assembled patrons.

The Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher. Only Fezzik is strong enough to go up this way.

Slea Head Drive

Posted from The Burren, Ireland at 11:29 pm, August 26th, 2023

This morning’s adventure was driving Slea Head Drive at the western end of the Dingle Peninsula. Audrey stayed in bed fighting the flu, so I had the early morning sea cliffs and prehistoric stone structures all to myself. The terrain was similar to Highway One in California, and the drive was one of my favorites thus far on this trip. We later made a side trip to Glanteenassig Forest, a moss-covered forest park where we did a neat boardwalk hike around a mountain lake with waterfalls coming down the valley walls. It ended up being another one of my favorite outings on this trip.

From there the route took us through the Shannon Estuary and up to The Burren, a rocky region in Ireland’s west that is one of the few places where the land isn’t fifty shades of green. While here we’ll hopefully be tapping our feet to the music in the pubs of Doolin, a town known for its traditional Irish music.

Slea Head Drive on the Dingle Peninsula
Slea Head Drive on the Dingle Peninsula. All of those words make me giggle.


Posted from Dingle, Ireland at 12:46 pm, August 25th, 2023

The weather today alternated between rain and almost-sun, so it was an alternately pretty and gray day to drive around the Ring of Kerry, a highway loop along the southwest coast. Prior to setting out on the Ring route I got up early and took the car up the Gap of Dunloe before the horses and hikers were on it, and had the beautiful scenery mostly to myself, with only a couple of times where another car came along and we had to figure out what options existed to let each other past.

I expected the Ring of Kerry to be a bit like Big Sur in Monterey, but it reminded me far more of the Falklands, with rocky green pastures, rolling hills, and sheep on every rock. The peninsulas jut out into the Atlantic, and it’s surprisingly sparsely populated for such a scenic area. The day ended up being more driving than I had anticipated, and we arrived to our B&B on the Dingle Peninsula around 5pm. Audrey has contracted whatever cold I’ve been suffering with, so I left her to sleep while I wandered into town to find dinner. Tomorrow I’m hoping to get up early again and explore the far west of the peninsula before we continue north towards the Cliffs of Insanity Cliffs of Moher, where hopefully we’ll be spending some time in the pubs of Doolin enjoying local music.

Ladies View in Killarney National Park
Ladies View in Killarney National Park on a very gray day.

The Gap of Dunloe

Posted at 12:09 pm, August 24th, 2023

So far the Irish haven’t been winning awards for poetic naming. Today’s example was an incredibly picturesque pass through the mountains, full of flowers, streams and lakes, which leads to the town of Dunloe. The Irish name for it? The Gap of Dunloe. Nearby, one of the country’s dozens of “Upper Lakes” reinforces the Irish penchant for the prosaic. While the Gap is technically a public road, it’s a tiny, narrow road filled with cyclists, hikers, and “jaunting cars”, aka horse drawn carriages, so driving is discouraged. We hiked a few miles of it, but may return early tomorrow to traverse the rest in our vehicle if the weather is good and before the crowds make driving a hazard. I enjoyed the scenery along the route, while Audrey continued to talk to the sheep, and also made friends with a few horses along the way.

The afternoon took us on a short boat trip across Loch Lein, followed by an encounter with the friendliest deer in the world; this tiny sika deer was hanging out next to the trail and was more like a cat than a deer, waiting for passerby to rub its neck or scratch its shoulder. Had I been wagering on whether Audrey would get to pet a sheep or a deer first on this trip, I would have lost that wager.

The Gap of Dunloe
The Gap of Dunloe.

Kilkenny to Killarney

Posted from Killarney, Ireland at 11:49 pm, August 23rd, 2023

We woke up yesterday morning to rain and gray, which is probably not going to be an unusual event on this trip. We’re unfortunately having to rush through a few things at the start of the trip – Ireland is a big place and we can’t see it all – so we made a short stop in the morning at Kilkenny Castle, made a detour off of the motorway in Waterford to see some nice crystal, and finally took a bunch of random tiny roads to Blarney Castle outside of Cork. I wasn’t keen to kiss the castle’s famous stone, but was more interested in seeing the gardens and castle ruins. However, once we were a hundred feet in the air at the top of the castle Audrey decided to dangle backwards over empty space to kiss the germy rock, so she is now endowed with whatever magical properties the stone bestows. Magic rocks aside, the castle was a neat one; it’s built on an outcrop so it seems taller than most, there are gaps in the topmost battlements that allow you to look straight down to the ground from 100 feet above (terrifying in a building made hundreds of years ago), and there’s a “murder hole” used for dumping boiling tar on invaders, with what looks like black tar stains all around it to remind you of the awful deaths past combatants must have endured.

After the castle we traversed tiny backroads to get to Killarney, where we’re staying for a couple of nights. The weather forecast calls for sun, so with any luck we’ll be able to see Killarney National Park and the Ring of Kerry before moving on.

Kilkenny Castle roof detail
The roof of the portrait room in Kilkenny Castle was built to resemble a Viking longship.
Blarney castle
An unfortunately gray view of Blarney Castle. The Blarney stone is in the outer battlements at the very top of the castle, and despite the kitsch factor of hanging upside down to kiss a stone, it was a surprisingly interesting place.

Drive on the Left

Posted from Kilkenny, Ireland at 12:38 pm, August 22nd, 2023

There is a large sticker on the passenger side of our rental car that reads “Drive on the Left”. Luckily we haven’t needed that reminder, but it’s nevertheless been a bit of an adventure as we’ve started our road trip across Ireland. In addition to constantly having to remember to stay on the left, the roads have gotten progressively more narrow throughout the day; we started in Dublin with tight lanes, but they were clearly lanes. We then headed across the old Military Road through the Wicklow Mountains National Park, where lane markers were no more but there was room for two cars heading in opposite directions to pass one another. From there it was off to Glendalough, an old monastic city and nature area, where most of the roads had room for two cars if one pulled over a bit. Finally we finished our day just outside of Kilkenny, where weeds brushed the doors on some roads and I had to constantly keep an eye out for places to get off of the road should another car be spotted anywhere on the horizon.

The Irish countryside is as pretty as everyone said it would be. The mountains were filled with wildflowers, rugged scenery, and sheep that were very willing to engage in long conversations with Audrey when she called out to them. The valleys and flat lands are an impossible shade of green that doesn’t seem like it should be real, with crumbling stone walls dividing one perfectly green field from the next. We’ve seen our share of ancient religious ruins today, gone hiking in weather that was sunny one second and rainy the next, and are spending the night at an estate next to a river where baby horses are racing one another by the water as we watch from the room. I’ve said this before, but I did something right in a past life to end up here today.

Land of Guinness

Posted from Dublin, Ireland at 1:03 pm, August 21st, 2023

Today we jumped across the Irish Sea (technology RULES) and landed in Dublin for the second stage of our trip. We didn’t plan much in the way of activities since we didn’t want to risk shenanigans with travel logistics, so the day’s activities were limited to a trip to the Botanical Gardens, the Glasnevin Cemetery, and the adjoining Gravediggers pub where we had our first taste of Guinness on Irish soil. Tomorrow we start on our clockwise loop around southern Ireland, and we’re both pretty excited to get out and see the countryside.

England was a lot of fun, if only for a brief visit. Audrey loved singing with the choir at Canterbury (video of her doing a quartet last week), I loved all of the museums and castles and cathedrals, and it was neat to see it with friends from back home. Below are a few more photos from last week, both from Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey detail
The plants haven’t been particular about where they decide to set down roots.
Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey wasn’t too shabby.