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


Posted from Bar Harbor, Maine at 6:17 pm, September 17th, 2021

Aaron and I managed to get to the Beehive Trail around 8am before the bulk of the crowds arrived, and we had a great hike up to the top. I had my doubts as to whether a trail in Acadia could measure up to some of the gnarlier routes out West, and while this one was short, it packed a punch. After climbing over boulders, pulling ourselves up iron rungs, and shimmying along sheer cliffs we had a good deal of adrenaline coursing through our systems when we reached the top.

Audrey and I later attempted a “moderate” hike up Gorham Mountain – at least one site rates the park’s hikes using a scale of “easy”, “moderate” and “iron rung”. While there were no iron rungs or scrambling on the day’s second hike, it still gained 500 feet of elevation in a relatively short distance, but thankfully the view was excellent so Audrey was willing to forgive me putting her through physical duress while she’s on vacation.

The day finished with an anniversary dinner for Ma & Pa. We had our last dinner of the trip together next to the ocean, and both of the married couple got the baked stuffed lobster to celebrate. We’ll all be parting ways tomorrow, but it’s been a good first week of vacation, and Audrey and I still have a couple more remaining as we start heading west across New England.

Fall Color, Beehive Trail, Acadia National Park
Early Fall colors from the Beehive trail in Acadia National Park.
Ryan and Audrey, Acadia National Park
Ryan and Audrey in Acadia National Park. She was a good sport and decided to let me live after I made her climb a mountain in the afternoon sun.

Ba Ha Ba

Posted from Bar Harbor, Maine at 6:19 pm, September 16th, 2021

We’re in Bar Harbor for two nights, with plans to go exploring in Acadia National Park tomorrow. The drive up here was along Route One, through a million small Maine towns, past many million roadside antique shops, and (surprisingly) past less than two dozen Dunkin’ Donuts.

The day started with a quick solo hike along the Kennebec River before I returned to fetch Audrey and start off on the journey from Brunswick to Bar Harbor. Because I’m driving, and thus choosing the stops, our only planned stop was at Fort Knox (no, not that one) and the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, a huge cable-stayed bridge that was calling out to this engineer as soon as I saw it on the map. I’ve been reading about the Penobscot for years due to dam removals that led to river herring numbers increasing from a few thousand fish before dam removal to over three million fish in recent years. The fact that there’s now a crazy-cool bridge over the river, AND you can ride an elevator 420 feet to the top of its main pier, made it a can’t-miss attraction for this science nerd.

The plan for tomorrow is to visit Acadia, including the Beehive Trail, which if I understand correctly is essentially a bunch of metal ladders and rungs that make it somewhat possible to reach an impressive view of the sea; I’m excited to give it a go.

Penobscot Narrows and Fort Knox
Penobscot Narrows and Fort Knox from the Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observation Deck.

Goats of Maine

Posted from Brunswick, Maine at 5:49 pm, September 15th, 2021

The destination for the day was Brunswick, Maine, but the path there was a choose-your-own-adventure of Maine locations. Being mature adults, Audrey and I decided to make our way there via Smiling Hill Farm, where we were able to pet cows, goats, sheep, pigs, and a handful of other animals. After being slobbered on by cows and mobbed by some very enthusiastic goats I may need to do laundry sooner than planned – a text message was sent to my parents letting them know I’d need a little extra time before dinner to change because I smelled like a barn – but the stop was very worthwhile and made for some great videos. Of particular note, the farm’s mini horses had apparently learned that they could cajole visitors to drop a token in the food machine and bring them snacks if they stomped their front hoof repeatedly, and it took only a minute or two for them to properly train us in this routine.

The day’s other notable events included a stop in Fort Williams Park to see the Portland Head Lighthouse, and of course have another lobster roll from one of the food trucks. For dinner we re-joined the Holliday Clan and took Ma Holliday to get the fried clams she’s been craving since we left New England in 1984; luckily she was not disappointed and came away a very happy lady. Tomorrow we’re off to Bar Harbor for two nights of exploring Acadia National Park.

Day the Third

Posted from Kennebunkport, Maine at 6:22 pm, September 14th, 2021

We returned to Nunan’s Lobster Hut again tonight, this time with my parents and brother in tow, and it was delightful. My dad licked his plate clean after finishing his blueberry pie.

Prior to dinner, the day included hiking among forest, salt marsh, and a myriad of weird mushrooms and fungi in Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. The entire clan did a one mile loop, and the mosquitos only got to snack on us a tiny bit before the bug spray was fully deployed.

From there everyone mostly went off to do their own thing. Audrey and I stumbled on a farm stand in Kennebunk featuring what seemed like a million pumpkins, then headed to the coast for a few short excursions before returning to our room for a nap. Afterwards I set off on foot to see the coast of Kennebunkport, including George Bush’s family compound, and covered about five miles before returning home. The night concluded with lobster and pie at Nunan’s, followed by drinks outside at the hotel with music and campfire smoke wafting through the air.

Tomorrow we’re continuing north, and the tentative plans suggest that there is a high likelihood of petting goats along the way.


Posted from Kennebunkport, Maine at 6:19 pm, September 13th, 2021

The lobster feast New England trip continued today, with the route taking us from Manchester up to Kennebunkport, Maine. After ambling through backcountry roads in New Hampshire for a couple of hours (total Dunkin’s spotted: eight) we met the rest of the Holliday Clan for a stroll on the Marginal Way along the rocky Maine seashore in Ogunquit. From there we spent a few hours hiking in the Wells Reserve with wild turkeys and among hundreds of migrating monarch butterflies, while passing through fields, forests, a saltwater estuary, and finally along a marshy boardwalk where we met another one of Maine’s native inhabitants: the voracious mosquito. We arrived back at the car down a pint or two of blood, but still happy.

Ma Holliday booked us at a beautiful place along the inlet in Kennebunkport, and after a short siesta we searched around for a dinner spot. In general, the shabbier a place in New England sounds, the better the food – you really want something with “Shack” or “Stand” in the name if it’s available. Our first choice, The Clam Shack, was already closed for the day by dinner time, but luckily we found Nunan’s Lobster Hut, which served up the best lobster rolls so far by a wide margin, as well as homemade blueberry pie that warranted an exclamation after each bite (“oh yeah”, “that’s delightful”, “oh no, there are only three bites left”); we will almost certainly be back again tomorrow.

Nunan's Lobster Hut, Kennebunkport
Nunan’s Lobster Hut, Kennebunkport. This place possessed all of the omens for a great New England seafood place: “Hut” in the name (“Shack” is also acceptable), picnic tables out front, and a packed parking lot. Having now finished our amazing dinner, we can confirm that the omens were most definitely correct.

Back to where it all began

Posted from Manchester, New Hampshire at 6:32 pm, September 12th, 2021

It’s Ma and Pa Holliday’s 50th wedding anniversary this year, and to celebrate five wonderful years together, as well as forty-five additional arduous years having to deal with my brother and me, they decided to do a week-long family trip in New England; Aaron and I were born here and called the place home until we moved to Cleveland in 1984. Audrey and I decided to extend the trip, so in addition to a week with the family, we’ll be spending a total of three weeks on a glorious, work-free adventure through New England, across Southern Ontario, and ending finally in one of the world’s most popular travel destinations, Cleveland, Ohio.

The trip started with a 5:30AM wakeup in Los Angeles yesterday, and we arrived in Boston by late afternoon through the magic of chairs that travel through the sky at 600 mph; airplanes are truly wondrous machines, and the folks causing current increases in air rage incidents really need to go back to using conestoga wagons for a while to regain some perspective.

Shortly after landing in Boston we made the short trek to Manchester, New Hampshire, where we met a high school friend at her family’s home for dinner. After much laughing and some incredible home-cooked food (thanks Erin & John!) we finally returned to the hotel and headed to bed.

We met up with the rest of the Holliday clan early this morning and set off on a trip to the coast and the town of Portsmouth. Audrey and I took the scenic route, revisiting Nashua where I spent the first nine years of my time on this planet. From there we played the “find a Dunkin'” game through rural New Hampshire on our way to the coast (spoiler alert: Dunkin’ Donuts has a location approximately every 250 feet throughout New England). We ate lunch next to several docked tugboats in Portsmouth, roamed across the state border to Maine for a quick stop in Kittery, then enjoyed more of rural New Hampshire by continuing to avoid highways on our 90-minute return trip to Manchester.

The lobster roll count after today stands at two (one for lunch, one for dinner), the moose count is currently at zero, and we’re hoping to increase both of those counts significantly as we start up the coast of Maine tomorrow.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Posted from Culver City, California at 6:36 pm, May 19th, 2021

Over a year ago I wrote that I hoped the COVID-19 pandemic would be handled so competently that people would suggest we overreacted. After fourteen months of masks and lockdowns, over 500,000 deaths in the US, and trillions of dollars of emergency spending, it’s clear that those hopes did not come to pass, but the end of COVID is finally in sight, so it’s worth capturing what this year-plus has been like.

First, it’s going to be interesting to see how history views our response to the pandemic; my impression today is that while the federal response was marked by incompetence, there was also a disturbing lack of personal responsibility from much of our society. Scientists warned us what needed to be done, but simple steps like wearing a mask turned into a weird political battle and resulted in what were likely hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths and millions of unnecessary hospitalizations. Meanwhile, even though we learned that the virus mostly impacted older Americans and that masks were an effective preventative measure, much of the economy shut down completely for over a year, costing us trillions of dollars. While it is too early to say with certainty what should have been different, it seems pretty clear that we handled things poorly.

On a more personal level, the pandemic and lockdown was unlike anything that people alive today have experienced before. For almost a year and a half, anytime I saw someone who was older than sixty I wondered if there was a chance I might somehow accidentally infect them with a disease that could kill them. Some of my friends and co-workers were terrified of being around other people, with a few too scared to even leave their apartments for the entire year. The pandemic also revealed an ugly side to the country that was more pronounced than I realized – despite clear evidence that wearing a mask protected those around us, a not-insignificant number of people treated this commonsense health precaution as an affront to their personal liberty. Videos showing maskless people spitting in the faces of store employees, or attacking people wearing masks, were fairly common during this time. Also, continuing a long and scary trend, scientific expertise continued to be dismissed by political leaders and a large number of their followers. Overall, it did not feel like a shining moment in the country’s history.

All that being said, with vaccination rates climbing, the end is in sight. Despite the fact that this introvert enjoyed a year without work travel or social engagements, I’m looking forward to the world returning to its pre-pandemic state. Going to a movie theater will soon be an option. Eating out with a waiter who isn’t wearing a face shield, and at a table that is indoors, will be something we can do. Audrey and I are planning a vacation in September and not worrying whether businesses will be shuttered. Our friend Jocelyn recently visited, and for the first time in a year excitedly ran up to everyone to give them a hug. Audrey’s church choir will start singing together again soon. And we’ll soon be able to get together with friends without the conversation being dominated by the subject of masks and the pandemic. People are resilient, and after a long period that has been unlike any other, it’s nice to see the world finally starting to return to normal.

All the Things for 2021

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:08 pm, January 20th, 2021

This year will mark thirteen years of making laughably incorrect predictions about the coming year. I have intentionally skipped any predictions related to the on-field performance of the Cleveland Browns to avoid having the universe unleash its jinxing powers against them.

  1. The COVID vaccine rollout will go smoothly once the new administration settles in, and the economy will rebound quickly once vaccination rates hit critical mass, causing the current unemployment rate of 6.7% to drop below 4.0% by the end of the year. I’m basing this prediction on the 1918 Influenza, which ended and saw everyone party during the Roaring Twenties.
  2. At least one of the following Senators will leave the Republican party this year and begin caucusing with Democrats: Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, or Pat Toomey. None of these four need to be too worried about re-election, all have expressed grave concerns with the direction of their party, and with Democrats in control of the Senate they would wield huge legislative influence as swing votes if they decided to switch.
  3. SpaceX will not conduct an orbital test of their new Starship rocket, but will be on track to do so in 2022. SpaceX previously announced that they would start commercial launches of their new vehicle in 2021, and they have already launched prototypes eight miles into the atmosphere, but there’s a huge difference between eight miles and an orbital flight. While it would be awesome to see them pull off commercial flights in 2021, test flights in 2022 with commercial flights a year or two later would still be an incredible achievement.
  4. Rivian will begin delivery of their all-electric R1T truck before the end of the summer, and will steal some of Tesla’s thunder by winning the car/truck/SUV of the year award from Motor Trend. I know some people love Tesla’s Cybertruck, but I think Tesla made a huge mistake by packing amazing tech into an exterior that a majority of current truck owners won’t want to drive. Given its controversial exterior, the Cybertruck provides an opening for Rivian to capture the market for everyone who wants a truck with a technologically-advanced electric powertrain without having to drive something that looks like it came from a Mad Max movie.
  5. The Browns will trade back at least twice during the 2021 NFL draft, and will end the draft with at least one extra 2022 draft pick in the third round or better. I know the draft is in Cleveland and the Browns expect to be competitive next year, but I think the math guys in their front office are aware that if you want a team to be consistently good you need to exploit inefficiencies in the system, and a major inefficiency is that teams undervalue future draft picks. If you disagree, ask the Texans and Dolphins how they feel about this upcoming draft.
  6. Americans will win at least three gold medals in the mid-distance and distance events at the Tokyo Olympics. The world should be able to figure out a way to hold the Olympics by the end of the summer, and while the men’s 800m is the only event in this category in which an American might be considered the favorite, athletes like Emma Coburn and Galen Rupp have the potential to surprise everyone, particularly after being able to use 2020 to get healthy and spend the time base training.
  7. The Avatar sequel will bring people back to movie theaters and will be on its way towards a top-three all-time box office showing by the time these prediction are revisited next year. The original Avatar hasn’t aged well, and conventional wisdom seems to be questioning whether there’s an appetite for a sequel, much less the four that are planned, but there are doubts about every movie James Cameron makes, and he always delivers; I remember snide rumors about how Titanic was over budget and that the director had lost his mind, Fox Studios initially passed on the original Avatar, etc. Time after time people doubt him, but in the end James Cameron knows how to put something new and compelling on a screen.
  8. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will receive permanent protection, either through a national monument designation or via an act of Congress. In its waning days the Trump administration auctioned off drilling rights in ANWR, and big oil companies chose not to bid. Banks don’t want to finance such a controversial project, the world is moving away from fossil fuels, and any drilling attempts will face innumerable lawsuits before they can proceed, so oil companies seem to have given up the push to turn a pristine wildlife refuge into an oilfield, meaning the primary argument against permanent protection is now gone.
  9. Congress will pass bills shoring up Obamacare, addressing voting rights, and dealing with immigration, but nothing will get through the Senate related to gun control, marijuana legalization, or giving statehood to Puerto Rico and Washington DC. While the Left is understandably overjoyed at the election outcome, they will need to lower their expectations as the reality of a 50-50 Senate becomes apparent.
  10. Google will announce some sort of streaming service to compete with Netflix, leveraging its massive library of YouTube content and its expertise in AI for targeting content. While there are currently YouTube apps that you can run on a TV, they are clunky and hard to use, and Google will find a way to better monetize its existing assets while offering additional content via original programming, curated YouTube content, or possibly an acquisition of an existing studio.
  11. 2021 will see high-speed, wireless home internet begin to displace wired home internet. Between ultra wideband 5G and satellite services like Starlink, just as most people no longer use landlines for phone service, 2021 will be the year that begins the transition to home internet that doesn’t require a cable, DSL or fiber connection.
  12. Following Brexit, Scotland will vote for independence and will rejoin the EU. The process of actually putting a referendum in front of voters may take some time, and Scotland leaving the UK may prove just as messy as Brexit was, so it’s probably premature to suggest a vote will happen in 2021, but if I’m going to make incorrect predictions anyhow, why not make bold incorrect predictions?
  13. Facebook and Twitter will take significant actions to address misinformation, threats, and bots on their networks. Both companies are more than capable of better moderation if they choose to do so (Facebook in particular has tons of AI expertise that is currently used to drive clicks, but that could be easily redirected to content moderation), and social media is in the crosshairs of legislators from both parties, so they will be extremely motivated to do whatever they can to change the narrative that heavy regulation is urgently needed.
  14. Tesla will begin production of the Tesla Semi, but will delay production of the Cybertruck to 2022. The Tesla Semi was originally supposed to be available in 2019, then 2020, but 2021 will finally see it deployed. The Cybertruck is supposed to start shipping in 2021, but the factory where it will be built is still under construction and they are planning on using untested new manufacturing processes, so it’s hard to envision it being ready in the next twelve months.
  15. With the NBA season ending a month later than normal, most NBA players will opt out of playing in the Olympics, and as a result the USA will not win the gold medal; I’ll go further and predict that they don’t win the silver medal, either. I hope I’m wrong on this prediction, but after a shortened offseason and very little time between the end of the playoffs and the Olympics, players will be exhausted and will choose to wait three years for their chance to win a gold medal in the 2024 Games.

There they are; with any luck at least three or four will actually come to pass, or if the universe smiles upon me maybe six will come to pass, matching the 40% success rate of 2020. The comments link is available as always for anyone who wants to add their own predictions, and we can laugh at them together in twelve months.

2020 Predictions Recap

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:16 pm, January 11th, 2021

The annual exercise of attempting to predict events for the coming year continued in 2020, and twelve months later it’s time to revisit how awful those prediction turned out. In an ironic twist, however, after the most unpredictable year that anyone has seen in decades, I managed to make way more correct predictions than normal; I still didn’t break fifty percent, but I’m notoriously bad at this game. Here’s the recap:

  1. Here are the election predictions for 2020:
    1. Either Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg will be the Democratic nominee… I suspect that South Carolina will probably be a turning point.

      CORRECT. This one may seem obvious in retrospect, but at the time it was made Biden hadn’t yet won a single primary, and I TOTALLY NAILED IT. Biden was the nominee, and South Carolina was what changed his fortunes.

    2. Democrats will end up gaining 3-4 seats in the Senate.

      CORRECT. After the November election when the Democrats underperformed in Maine and North Carolina this prediction was a clear loser, but with their shocking wins on January 5 in Georgia this prediction rose from the ashes like a phoenix; who would have expected Georgia to be more blue than Maine?

    3. Democrats will maintain control of the House but lose a few seats overall.

      HALF CORRECT. They lost more than a few seats – current counts have them on track to lose thirteen – so I’m only giving half credit.

    4. Trump will lose in the general election.

      CORRECT. Trump lost, but the election was much closer than expected based on the polls. I know a huge chunk of the country loves him, but it scares me that someone so willing to promote lies and viciously attack anyone who disagrees with him remains the face of the Republican party.

  2. Virgin Galactic will launch its first paying space tourists, and Richard Branson will finally take a ride on his new space plane.

    WRONG. When the company was founded they hoped to have their maiden flight by 2009. Space is hard, but even knowing the difficulty of taking something like a space plane from “it works” to “it’s safe for tourists”, I’m still surprised they are taking so long to achieve their goals.

  3. Coming off of a seventh-place finish in the 2019 World Championships, the US men’s basketball team will go undefeated in the Olympics, winning each game by no less than ten points.


  4. Tesla will announce major updates to its Model S and Model X vehicles.

    NOT EVEN CLOSE TO CORRECT. The Model S debuted in 2012, and while it has seen minor updates since its launch, Tesla hasn’t introduced any technology to its flagship vehicle that has made people want to rush out and buy it; instead sales have been steadily cannibalized by the less expensive models. I assume that 2021 has to be the year Tesla rolls out crazy new technology for its top-end models, but attempting to predict what Elon Musk will do next is a fool’s errand.

  5. Lebron James will win his fifth NBA MVP award and his fourth NBA championship.

    HALF CORRECT. I think he deserved MVP, but I’ll take half credit for getting the NBA championship prediction right.

  6. Boeing’s 737 MAX plane, grounded since March 2019, will not fly again in the US until the July-September timeframe.

    WRONG. Flights didn’t resume until December 2020. This engineering snafu cost several hundred lives and lost Boeing between $20-60 billion. Engineering is hard, but from most accounts this disaster was a preventable one that hopefully won’t ever occur again.

  7. The deployment of faster 5G wireless will be slow and problematic through 2020… Verizon will not have made usable 5G available at my house by the end of the year.

    HALF CORRECT. This prediction is a tough one to judge – Verizon has rolled out what it calls “Nationwide 5G” across much of the country, but if you read the fine print it’s mostly a marketing gimmick that means you get 4G speeds while a 5G icon is displayed on your phone. The much faster “ultra wideband” 5G is still only available in a tiny handful of locations, and not in my neighborhood. I’m claiming half credit.

  8. Wonder Woman 1984 will be the top-grossing comic book movie of the year… I’ll predict something in the $275-325 million range.

    SO WRONG. Remember back in the olden days of 2019 when people went to movie theaters?

  9. At least two of the following three things will happen: Drew Brees will return for one more year with the Saints but retire when the season ends, Tom Brady will return for one more year with the Patriots but retire when the season ends, or Andrew Luck will announce that he is ending his retirement and returning to the Colts.

    UNBELIEVABLY WRONG. I knew this one was a longshot when I wrote it, but wow, spectacularly wrong. Has anyone seen Andrew Luck in the past two years? He’s just… gone. And Brady to Tampa Bay… I assume no one saw that coming a year ago.

  10. Mobile phones with folding screens will be the next big idea in tech that turns out to not have a market.

    HALF CORRECT. This prediction is kind of hard to judge since the mobile phone companies are still pushing folding phones, but based on estimated sales figures of just 500,000 Galaxy Fold phones being sold worldwide, it sure doesn’t seem like consumers are rushing out to buy them. I’m going to take a half credit here for a prediction that looks right today, but could still prove wrong a few years from now.

  11. SpaceX will launch astronauts to the space station by the end of summer, but Boeing will not launch astronauts in 2020.

    CORRECT. The Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission carried astronauts Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken to the space station on May 30. Meanwhile Boeing has pushed their second, uncrewed test flight to no sooner than March 2021. Also, spaceships are awesome.

  12. Apple will either purchase an existing studio, partner with another streaming service, or in some other way significantly beef up the content library for its Apple TV service.

    WRONG. Completely and totally got this one wrong, but after the box office carnage of 2020, with studios in debt and theaters empty, I could suggest a great (and economical) way for Apple to vastly increase the amount of shows they offer in 2021.

The final tally for 2020: 6 out of 15 (40%). Shockingly, that ties with 2012 as the third-best showing ever, behind only 2010 (44%) and 2011 (50%). Granted, there were four half-points awarded this year, but after several years of getting most predictions completely wrong, I’ll take it.

Check back in a week or two as I return to making guesses about the coming year that we can all laugh about later.

A Day of Old Trees

Posted at 8:30 pm, October 9th, 2020

This journal entry was written in October but not published until January.

The theme of visiting new places continued today; I started out with 2000 year old sequoias in the Tuolumne Grove, one of Yosemite’s three sequoia groves and the only one that I’d never been to before. After spending a couple of hours among the ancient giants I enjoyed another scenic drive along Tioga Road and through the High Sierras before heading south towards home on Highway 395.

I’ve mostly only been able to visit the Eastern Sierra in winter or spring when snow closes the high passes, so this autumn trip finally afforded an opportunity to make the side trip up to the White Mountains and the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Located at 10,000 feet elevation, this area is home to the world’s oldest trees – at more than 4,000 years of age, these tiny, gnarled trees made the 2,000 year old sequoias look like babies. The road to reach them was a classic western road – narrow, bendy, and traversing impossible terrain with awe-inspiring views of incredible scenery in all directions. After arriving at the Schulman Grove, a 4.5 mile trail led through the old trees and onto ridges with dramatic views of the Sierras and Death Valley. Spending an afternoon free of other people among trees that were around while the Egyptians built the pyramids was an excellent way to escape from the world’s current troubles.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine
This tree has likely seen at least one hundred generations of humans during its lifetime.

Yosemite in the Time of COVID

Posted from Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California at 7:05 pm, October 8th, 2020

This journal entry was written in October but not published until January.

I’ve currently got two weeks of vacation, and it is glorious. Due to coronavirus I didn’t plan anything in particular beyond a visit to see my parents in the Bay Area and a couple of days with my brother at his place up in Truckee. After hiking around Tahoe I said goodbye to younger Holliday yesterday and took random backroads down to a very smoky Yosemite National Park – apparently smoke from all of the fires from the rest of the state is filling the air here. That said, the air doesn’t feel dangerous, so I got in a hike in Tuolumne Meadows yesterday before setting off on a more ambitious journey today. Sadly my number didn’t get picked in the lottery for Half Dome permits, so instead of a death march up one of the world’s greatest (and most tiring) trails I traveled up the first half of the trail before detouring onto a path I’d never taken before towards Glacier Point. Being outside again feels good, the trails were reasonably empty, and I may or may not have spent portions of the hike talking to the squirrels, jays, woodpeckers, junkos, and quail who I met along the way. Sadly, while my workout routine seems to have been sufficient to prepare me for the uphill portions of this journey, whatever muscles are involved in going downhill have atrophied to the point of uselessness, and after a two hour descent of several thousand vertical feet I’m not sure I was able to fully stifle the scream of relief when I finally collapsed into my driver seat at the end of the day. It was a good day, and there’s more to follow tomorrow.

Vernal Falls
Vernal Fall in Yosemite. They turn off the water in autumn, spring photos are generally much more dramatic.

The Supreme Court

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:33 am, September 19th, 2020

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died yesterday, and like everything in today’s politics it kicked off a firestorm that made citizens feel angry while causing a further erosion of confidence in this country’s political system. Republicans are now promising a vote that will replace a liberal Justice with a conservative one, despite spending the bulk of 2016 making the argument that “voters should decide” while blocking Obama’s Supreme Court nomination during an election year. Even the most partisan Republican must understand how hypocritical this position is, but at the same time I suspect many liberals would grudgingly admit that had the situation been reversed, in this political climate Democrats likely would have done exactly the same thing. As a result, we’re moving quickly towards a showdown in which the current Republican position will lead to inevitable Democratic retaliation, further eroding any hope of competent governance of the country.

We probably over-glamorize the great statesmen of the past, but it seems to me that they might have sought a compromise in this situation. Thinking this problem through, I suspect that there may be an opportunity here for current statesmen to solve this crisis while improving our politics in the future.

For many years there have been proposals to implement term limits for Supreme Court Justices, so that in the future an 87 year old woman with cancer will no longer feel compelled keep her job lest she be replaced by someone of a different political persuasion, and that Justices won’t have to time their retirements based on the political leanings of the President and Senate. Most proposals for term limits suggest an 18 year term, with each Justice replaced every two years, but concerns about that proposal have suggested that it could lead to courts that frequently overturn past decisions, given that the swing vote could potentially change every two years, leading to chaos in the legal system.

The argument against injecting too much ideological change into the Court is a solid one – a President who served two terms would appoint nearly half of the Court, meaning (for example) that Obama would have theoretically replaced one Bush Sr nominee and three Clinton nominees, flipping the Court from a 5-4 conservative majority to a 5-4 liberal majority. Trump would then arrive and replace one Clinton nominee and one Bush Jr nominee, flipping the Court back to a 5-4 conservative majority. If Biden were to win he would be replacing two Bush Jr nominees and the Court would flip again.

As a compromise, I’d propose the following: set term limits for Justices, but first increase the size of the Court to eleven members, meaning term limits would be twenty-two years per Justice. Issues with Court ideology changing would still be a problem, but it would be less so with a smaller portion of the Court changing during any given administration, while a larger Court would also have a broader spectrum of ideological viewpoints, thus reducing the likelihood of decisions being regularly overturned.

The problem with increasing the Court’s size is that neither side wants to give the other two new seats on the Supreme Court, and any attempt to increase the size of the Court would be seen as unfair partisan politics. It’s here where the current impasse of RBG’s replacement would come into play. Senators could agree now that if Trump wins re-election then things stay as they are – he appoints a successor to RBG and the number of Justices stays at nine. But if he loses, rather than have a lame-duck Senate approve a lame-duck President’s nominee and Democrats then retaliate in ways that further erode current governing norms, make this compromise: Trump gets his successor to RBG, but the Court size is increased to eleven, meaning Biden gets to appoint two new Justices. Then, starting in 2025, Justices will start to be termed out based on seniority. Conservatives would maintain a 6-5 majority on the Court through Biden’s first term, we avoid the inevitable crisis over RBG being replaced in the midst of an election, and we solve this issue in the future by taking political calculus out of Supreme Court retirement decisions. Additional concessions might need to be made for conservatives, such as guaranteeing that the Filibuster would stay as-is or even giving Republicans the choice of who to nominate for one of the two new seats, but there’s a deal to be made here that would be a win-win for conservatives, liberals, and the country as a whole.

This solution wouldn’t be perfect – we’d probably need a Constitutional amendment, which is a HUGE issue, and we’d still need to figure out what to do when a Justice dies in office, retires early, or gets impeached. But I think those problems are solvable, and this process would defuse a very difficult political issue in a way that feels fair and leaves the system stronger for the future. Statesmen of the past found compromises for the most difficult issues of their day, and with another one brewing now, hopefully someone in our political establishment will be able to turn a situation that causes people to lose faith in our system of government into one that makes it stronger going forward.

Night Critters

Posted from Culver City, California at 5:03 pm, September 7th, 2020

When we first moved in Audrey purchased a handful of internet-enabled cameras to use for security. They give her peace of mind, and she actually captured video of someone stealing a Halloween decoration out of our yard a few years ago, as well as a blurry video of a car theft on our street last Christmas Eve.

Recently Nest (Google) changed their subscription model so that we no longer have to pay per-camera to have video processed and stored in the cloud, and with there no longer being a disincentive to having lots of cameras I decided to expand our use of cameras beyond security. Six shiny new Nest Outdoor cams arrived in the mail a few months ago, providing Audrey with a couple of upgraded cameras for security, giving me a rat cam for the attic (just in case the little buggers ever try to move back in), and, most importantly, giving us a possum cam, a bird feeder cam, and a squirrel cam for the backyard. Getting a notification on our phones at night when the cameras detect motion, or checking in the morning to see whether it was a possum, raccoon, skunk, or someone else who visited in the night, have become some of our new favorite activities.

This is Blaine, one of several possums that like to come by each night and rid our backyard of insects.
Striped Skunk
Dale, with her prominent racing stripes, has only started visiting Casa Neosho in the last few weeks. Her favorite hobbies are digging holes and then eating whatever is at the bottom of those holes.

Baby Hawks

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:36 am, August 2nd, 2020

There’s a family of Cooper’s hawks that have made a nest in a tree across the street. Each year they return to do what comes naturally, and this year we heard the sounds of hungry baby hawks echoing around the neighborhood for a few weeks. Those babies have now left the nest, and one of them decided to spend a morning hanging out in our yard. Apparently his parents haven’t yet gotten to the “humans are scary” lesson, so he mostly just gave Audrey and me dirty looks while we stood a few feet away and took photos.

Coopers Hawk
I got a little too close and this was his angry pose.
Coopers Hawk
The bird nostril lens, living up to its name.

Dusk Rat and Fig Beetle

Posted from Culver City, California at 6:36 pm, June 25th, 2020

Our new backyard is beginning to attract a wider variety of wildlife, including more birds, a bevy of possums, tons of interesting insects, and miscellaneous other critters. We’ve had roof rats around for a while (thankfully not in our roof since the epic final battle), and while people hear “rat” and immediately go “eww”, ours are pretty cute. Two new arrivals have started hanging out on our back wall each night before sunset, and we’ve named them both “Dusk Rat”.

Dusk Rat
As long as he stays out of our attic, Dusk Rat will be our new friend.
Fig Beetle
Fig beetle on the Jones Mallow. They are incredibly pretty when on land, and incredibly terrifying when in the air.