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

May Recap

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:26 pm, May 30th, 2017

Another month, another recap of that month…

  • In house news, after floors and walls were ripped apart, our home improvements for 2017 are now (probably) complete. The month started with installation of new windows and doors, an event that provided the opportunity to spend a day working in a house with massive holes in all of the walls were doors and windows once lived. The end result of all of that chaos is well worth it – the house is quiet, the drafts have stopped, you no longer get sunburned sitting near the glass, and the dog in the yard behind us is now almost hard to hear. The month ended with new bedroom carpets, because once you’ve shelled out the money for windows, carpet seems cheap by comparison.
  • In Audrey news, we made an excursion across the LA basin to Chino Hills a week ago to pick up a cabinet she wanted, and on the way home somehow ended up barefoot while touring the grounds of an amazing Hindu Temple that we had seen from the highway – LA is capable of an infinite number of surprises. Later in the month her new band – either called “Soulful Rick” or “Funk Shui”, depending on which band member you ask – was playing its first show at the Venice Art Walk, but since I was going to miss the show due to work travel I got to sit in on rehearsal; I feel strongly that the insightful tips I offered (“play good”, “dress cool”) are what made their show so successful.
  • In family news, my dad’s side of the family all decided to get together and bring the Holliday craziness to San Antonio for a few days, and I managed to align my work schedule so that I could hang out with two parents, two aunts, and a pair of uncles for three nights. While I spent my days working in a dark basement within the depths of the HEB headquarters they went out and explored San Antonio, but we then got together each evening to watch my mom yell, bang on tables, and otherwise lose her mind during the Cavs vs Celtics playoff series.
  • Finally, in rodent news, there hasn’t been a rat in the attic for four weeks, although it is my understanding that 2-3 years must pass without any sign of rodents for an area to be officially declared rat-free.
Window Replacement in Progress
Something is missing. The eight hours it took to rip out all of our windows and doors and replace them with non-antiques was not my most productive work-from-home day.

The Science Parade

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 9:52 pm, April 25th, 2017

Last Saturday Audrey and I attended the Science Parade, since science rules and we both wanted to contribute to ensuring that the crowd was large enough to get the attention of the Powers-That-Be. The following are observations from a newcomer to these types of events:

  • While I was somewhat afraid that the crowd might resemble Woodstock more than MIT, the majority of those present seemed to have some actual connection to science. There was a blue-haired lady in a bathing suit holding a “this is what a scientist looks like” sign, a booth from Caltech staffed by people carrying “binders full of knowledge”, and a little girl whose sign read “forget princess, I want to be a marine biologist”. I was a fan of the omnipresent nerdy science puns, and Audrey liked that nearly everyone’s spelling was correct.
  • Among those not there specifically for science, there was a group of angry socialists with a megaphone, a guy dressed as an Indian who spent three straight hours banging on a drum, a small number of counter-protesters off to one side with signs noting that “supporting science means you oppose Sharia Law”, and a random handful of other people holding signs for causes unrelated to science. All-in-all it was a similar dynamic to an NFL game, where amidst thousands of people wearing team jerseys or other football-related apparel you can’t help but notice the small handful of folks who for some strange reason came to the game dressed as Santa Claus or the Fonz.
  • I saw something online saying that 50,000 people showed up in Los Angeles, with the comments on that piece asking how the number was calculated, whether the raw data used for the calculation was available, and if the estimate could be reproduced by other counters; the scientific method and those who use it it are all kinds of awesome.
  • One last observation is about a guy we saw walking around holding a giant deer head – after seeing him a second time we asked why he was carrying the head of a deer, and he said it was because we shouldn’t kill animals. We were apparently not the only ones feeling perplexed, since the LA Times chased him down for an interview in which they noted that he “carefully weaved between protesters making sure that an errant antler didn’t take out a stranger’s eye“.

My views and personality are such that I won’t be attending too many marches, but as someone who works in a technical field and graduated college with two engineering degrees, getting up early on a Saturday in order to be counted as a supporter of science was a worthwhile effort that I’d happily repeat in the future, even if doing so means risking an antler to the cornea.

Alternative Cat
Best sign of the day – the other side read “Save the Humans”. Photo by Audrey.

February was a Month

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

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

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

Status Update

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:59 pm, June 25th, 2016

Sadly there isn’t much excitement to report for the journal, but here’s a recap of recent events:

  • For the first time since 1964 a Cleveland sports team won a championship, ending the Cleveland sports curse. After The Shot, The Drive, The Fumble, the blown save in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, and other disasters that everyone who has ever rooted for a Cleveland team revisits regularly in their nightmares, a last-second, heart-breaking, soul-devouring loss to the Warriors was a foregone conclusion; instead the Cavs miraculously staged the biggest comeback in NBA Finals history. Three days later 1.3 million people showed up for the victory parade. For the first time in my lifetime, it was a good time to be a Cleveland fan, although the Borowitz Report checked in with God and found that he still hates Cleveland fans.
  • Audrey’s friend Jocelyn celebrated her birthday with a party at our house where everyone was asked to show off a talent. Surrounded by artists and professional musicians I was rather intimidated, but after digging through some belongings I brought out an old story I’d written and did a dramatic reading from “The Ship Lost at Sea“. The tale may have been written thirty-five years ago during my days in Mrs. Donovan’s first grade class, but it totally holds up.
  • Other minor adventures included an LA Master Chorale concert where we sat behind the singers and were able to watch the conductor make faces at his performers, a new controller that puts our sprinklers on the internet (since everything is better when you can control it with your phone), and a fancy dinner on the Queen Mary last month with a college friend for which I spent ninety minutes in traffic only to realize that I had shown up on the wrong date.
  • Finally, our ongoing rat drama sadly continues; I have now spent more time crawling around in our roof and on ladders under the eaves than I ever expected when I became a homeowner. The latest potential entry point was found hidden way back in one corner of the house, so far under the eaves that I had to contort in order to get the flashlight on it, but after spending an hour hunched over fashioning mesh it was completely plugged. I climbed down from the roof, reveling in my victory, and five hours later was notified by the motion camera in the attic that the little bastards were still up there partying, something they have continued to do every night since. At this point I can no longer answer the question “are you smarter than a rodent” in the affirmative.

The Ship Lost at Sea

The Ship Lost at Sea, a masterpiece of first grade literature.

Twisted #?@!* Sister

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 8:06 pm, February 23rd, 2016

Audrey has a lot of interesting acquaintances, many of whom work in the music industry in some capacity. One in particular will occasionally invite us to attend a random social event, and when he does it’s invariably a good idea to say “yes”, because it’s going to be a worthwhile evening. Last Monday he asked us to join him for a screening of the rock documentary “We are Twisted F***ing Sister“, and while under normal circumstances my response to anything related to Twisted Sister would probably vary between indifference and active hostility, when Brian asks the correct answer is always an emphatic “YES”.

The theater showing the film was a tiny, one-screen place in Hollywood that gave me flashbacks to college days and the CWRU Film Society – the dingy interior was much like Strosacker auditorium, the disheveled, mostly-male crowd would have fit in perfectly with the engineering geeks I spent four years with, and even the promos before the documentary had the same vibe as what was shown in college – one in particular featured a lengthy and creepy cult initiation scene followed by the words “Join Us” flashing across the screen with information about becoming a member of the theater’s film society.

The documentary is a must-watch for anyone under the misconception that becoming a rock star is easy. During the 1970s and early 1980s Twisted Sister literally played thousands of sold-out shows in clubs in New York, and did so six nights a week, every week, for ten years before they finally got a record deal. Unlike the stereotypical metal band, neither the group’s lead singer or guitarist/founder drank or did drugs, and the documentary made clear that from the beginning they were completely self-aware that music alone wouldn’t create success, and that their job was to do everything conceivable to give people a reason to show up and buy a ticket. Whether it was their over-the-top showmanship, a surprisingly intelligent advertising strategy, the ability to pragmatically deal with adversity, or whatever else might go into becoming a successful band, Twisted Sister thought about it, attacked it, and figured out how to succeed. By the time the documentary showed the group having been together for ten years, performing their hearts out night after night, they might as well have been Rocky saying he just wanted to go the distance against Apollo Creed, with every person in the theater solidly on their side.

Following the show, Dee Snider (the band’s lead singer) did a short Q&A, and turned out to be whip-smart. At one point someone mentioned having been at a Twisted Sister show in Long Beach thirty-five years ago, and Snider not only remembered the show but was still angry at some lady who had been in the audience and dumped an ashtray over the balcony railing. When asked what motivated him during ten years in which Twisted Sister was able to easily fill venues holding 2-3,000 people in New York, yet still wasn’t given the time of day by record companies, he amusingly responded that he was driven by “hatred”, and not in a dark, vengeful way, but simply that he was so angry at everyone who told him he couldn’t make it that it just made him work harder to prevent them from ever being right.

You hear a lot of stories about rock and roll bands being full of themselves or not realizing their good fortune, and while there are plenty of faults to find with Twisted Sister, no one can begrudge them their success – they knew what they were, they worked relentlessly, and very much earned their eventual moment in the spotlight. Putting another spin on it, if a band known for being obnoxious and performing while dressed like women can get this relatively conservative kid from Ohio on their side, clearly there’s a backstory that’s worth celebrating.

Forward to the Future

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:47 pm, August 31st, 2015

Los Angeles, Boston, Washington D.C. and San Francisco all submitted bids to be the United States’ entry in the competition to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Boston won that competition, and then backed out a few weeks ago. Now, Los Angeles has been named as a last-minute replacement.

While hosting the Olympics is usually a money-losing proposition (sometimes to a disastrous extent), the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics actually turned a profit, the current bid relies mostly on existing infrastructure, and LA has been pretty fiscally sensible lately, so I’m optimistic that it won’t turn into a boondoggle. An initial review of the bid proposal raised some concerns, but I suspect those will be addressed in order to win city council approval.

Financial considerations aside, having the Olympics in LA would be pretty awesome. I was a poor college student who hopped on a Greyhound and went to the 1996 games in Atlanta without much money or anywhere to sleep, and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Whether I’m still living in LA or not in a decade, this would definitely be the second Olympics that I attend, and this time I wouldn’t have to sneak into venues and would actually be able to afford a ticket for some of the premier events.

Beyond the thrill of being able to attend another Olympics, the benefits that the Games would bring to the city are also exciting. Obviously sporting venues like the Coliseum would get an upgrade, as well as venues like the Convention Center and Shrine Auditorium. Plans for the Athlete’s Village call for developing a downtown rail yard and then converting the development to residential use after the Olympics ended, thus creating a new neighborhood out of a blighted area. Additionally, the Olympics would be cause for a massive housecleaning throughout LA, with everything from metro stations to medians to signage getting spruced up.

The bid still has to be approved by the City Council, something that will almost certainly happen, and then LA will compete with international cities including Rome, Hamburg, Paris and Budapest. With the games not having been in North America since 1996, and with LA making a strong proposal, it seems like the odds of being picked should be pretty good. Count me as excited by the possibility.

Olympic Coliseum proposal

Rendering of the upgraded Coliseum and swimming venue in Exposition Park. Image from LA24 via NBC Sports.

Back to the Past

Posted from Culver City, California at 6:20 pm, August 30th, 2015

There are two big ecological restoration projects in the works for the LA Area. The bigger of the two is the restoration of the LA River. Currently the “river” is little more than a concrete culvert through the city, but LA has secured the support of the Army Corps of Engineers for a $1.3 billion plan to restore eleven miles of the river to a more natural state. While there will be some benefits for nature, this project seems mainly to be about about the recreational and economic benefits of revitalizing an eleven-mile long corridor within LA. That’s not a bad thing – I’m visiting San Antonio twice a month right now, and the San Antonio River Walk shows clearly how a river can improve the quality of life in an area. I suspect that environmentalists won’t be satisfied with the eventual plans that emerge in LA, but the reality is that a small river running through a massive city will never again return to a truly natural state, and the best one can hope for is a waterway that provides some benefits for nature while offering significant quality of life improvements for humans.

The second restoration project is the Ballona Wetlands. At the end of this year the Environmental Impact Report will be released, offering options for restoring the remaining 600 undeveloped acres, or about 1% of the historic wetlands area. This project will be far less expensive than the LA River restoration, and while it will offer far fewer economic benefits it will offer some notable environmental benefits. Wetlands are tremendously important to migratory birds who use them as stopover points, fish that use them as spawning grounds, numerous creatures that use them as a food source, and the surrounding area that benefits from their ability to filter pollutants and lessen flood severity. With so many wetlands already lost to development, restoring even a small one has an outsized effect. Perhaps more importantly, residents of LA have little exposure to nature and thus little chance to learn to appreciate its benefits, so creating a destination for school fieldtrips and weekend visits will expose future generations to an environment that they might not have otherwise realized was important to protect.

Both restoration projects still face numerous hurdles, and have already had setbacks. An effort by the Annenberg Foundation to build a $50 million visitor center in the Ballona wetlands was killed by environmentalists who opposed any development at all on the site. While restoring every available acre might be a noble goal, the reality is that 99% of the historic wetland is already gone, and the remaining wetlands probably have more educational value than environmental value. Similarly, draft restoration plans for Ballona have been opposed for not going far enough in returning the area to its original state AND for going too far, thus disrupting the wildlife that is currently present; ongoing arguments could conceivably halt any attempts at restoration and leave the area in a degraded state. While plans for the LA River are still in the very early stages, the involvement of architect Frank Gehry has already been called “the epitome of wrong-ended planning“, and further conflicts will no doubt threaten to derail the project moving forward.

With luck all parties will realize that compromise is necessary, that “perfect” is the enemy of “good”, and in another 5-10 years LA will have a vibrant river corridor that offers habitat for wildlife and revitalized neighborhoods and recreational areas for humans. Additionally, if all parties can find agreement then restoration of Ballona will move forward to create a healthy wetland that can be used to educate future generations about the value of nature while providing food and shelter for species that currently struggle to survive due to the severe loss of their coastal wetland habitat.

Ballona Wetlands restoration proposal

Artist’s rendering of a proposed Ballona restoration. Fill dumped in the wetlands during the creation of Marina del Rey, currently 20 feet deep in some places, has been removed to allow land to again be inundated by the creek and tides. The levees around the creek have also been partially removed to allow a more natural flow. Image from the Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project.

The Busy-ness

Posted from Culver City, California at 6:32 pm, August 29th, 2015

So much working. Here are the non-working things that have been happening:

  • After getting incredibly lucky and winning tickets on the radio (thanks 100.3 the Sound!) I took Audrey to see her favorite band in the last show of what may be their last tour. After finding our seats at the Fabulous Forum, Rush did a set consisting of their hits played in reverse chronological order, with the stage continuously updated to match the band’s status at the time the song was released. A stage that started out filled with futuristic displays changed to stacks of amps before they ended the night with two amps balanced on chairs in front of a projection of a high school gymnasium while playing “Working Man”, a song off of their first record. I wasn’t a fan of Rush prior to meeting Audrey, but I’ve got to admit that it’s pretty amazing that just three people can produce that much sound.
  • The next big musical event was a return visit to see the LA Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. They performed Wagner, Strauss, Liszt and others, all in perfect sync to act as the background music for the Bugs Bunny cartoons being simulcast on the Bowl’s screens. My knowledge of classical music is so extensive that I recognized each and every piece, from Kill da Wabbit all the way through the Rabbit of Seville.
  • Peppered throughout the last month have been numerous trips to San Antonio for work – they are excited that it is finally cooling down to where high temperatures are only in the nineties.
  • The final adventure of late was a trip to see Audrey in the Bay Area. I flew in from Texas late Friday night, we hung out with my parents for Saturday’s lunch, and met her boss and co-worker for an amazing dinner in Sausalito. On Sunday I wanted to revisit my old haunts in Palo Alto, and in the process discovered that absolutely nothing there is familiar – I couldn’t even pick out the house I used to live in; apparently I was more sleep-deprived during the dotcom days than I realized.

Audrey will be home regularly in September before returning for good at the beginning of October, so life may get more interesting once I again have someone around to force me out of the house on a regular basis.

Rush at the Forum

Geddy Lee and the Rushes at the Fabulous Forum. Taken mid-concert during the “giant stacks of amps” phase of the show.

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

Posted from Los Angeles International Airport, California at 6:33 am, July 15th, 2014

This will be the last entry written on US soil for quite some time – I’m sitting at the Air Canada gate at LAX watching the sun rise, and will most likely be writing the next entry from Istanbul (Istanbul was Constantinople. Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople). In the next two weeks I’ll be setting foot on four different continents, which is one of the most awesome things I’ve ever been able to write in this journal. With that ahead, however, a quick recap of the fun times over the past couple of weeks still needs to be recorded for posterity.

For the Fourth of July Audrey arranged another group trip to the amazing Hollywood Bowl to see Steve Martin, Edie Brickell and the Steep Canyon Rangers. The show this year was with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and included post-show fireworks, and while I preferred the version without the accompanying orchestra (more banjo and fiddle, less French horn), it was still pretty damn fun. As an added bonus, Paul Simon made an appearance to join his wife onstage for one number, and my thought at finally seeing a musical legend whose songs I’ve heard thousands of times was “Wow, that guy is SMALL”. Big talent in a tiny package, apparently.

The following days were filled with many errands as I made a valiant effort to verify travel arrangements and acquire appropriate gear for the trip – Audrey was displeased when I suggested I might take only two pairs of pants on a three month trip, so the pants quota was increased fifty percent, among other last-minute changes. In the midst of the packing extravaganza I made a two day journey up to the Bay Area to visit younger Holliday. A day spent hiking on the Peninsula in search of banana slugs was followed by an evening of adventure, gyros, and albino alligators at the California Academy of Sciences, followed by a day of beer, ping pong, and giant breakfasts, and there was much rejoicing.

And that’s it for my time in the US – future updates involving attempts to avoid accidentally causing international incidents, being chased by dangerous animals, and barfing in foreign countries to follow.

The Holliday Brothers in Half Moon Bay

No one understands what mutated gene in the Holliday DNA is the cause, but taking pictures with wooden people will never, ever stop being fun for us.

Parrots

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:17 pm, June 30th, 2014

This entry is one to file under “weird and wonderful facts about California” (see also: Salton Sea). And that fact is: there are flocks of wild parrots here. They are all descendants from escaped pets or other birds that were brought to California from other places, but the climate suits them and there is plenty to eat, so as you wander around Los Angeles or San Francisco it’s possible to hear loud squawking and see a flock of green flying by. The group that lives in our neighborhood passes over the house a couple of times each day, although they are surprisingly adept at preventing me from getting a decent photo. The shot below is a crop from a larger group of about twelve that has been making a regular stop at the tree across the street each day at 4:30.

More info (and proof that I’m not making this stuff up) at the California Parrot Project.

Wild parrots in Culver City

Not the greatest picture, but clearly wild parrots. Not quite as cool as the peacock that showed up at my uncle’s house in Pennsylvania, but still weird enough to warrant a journal entry.

Meet the Parents

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:08 pm, June 28th, 2014

Three days left in June and a three-journal-entries-a-month goal, but as the saying goes “if it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would ever get done.” Here’s the quick recap of the month:

  • Ma and Pa came to LA for a visit over Father’s Day weekend. The Skipper wanted to see fossils, so we went to the La Brea Tar Pits so that he could pretend to be a paleontologist while taking in all of the dire wolves, mastodons, and saber tooth tigers (RAWR!). Lunch was from a truck serving lobster rolls, and then it was off to dinner at the Saddle Peak Lodge. Ma got to enjoy the fancy settings, Pa got to enjoy elk and venison, and I think everyone went home happy.
  • I’m down to my last four days of work with bodybuilding.com before taking a break for the great African adventure. My last trip out to Boise happened a couple of weeks ago, and beers were drunk, board games were played, and Grant very nearly landed a front flip on the trampoline. Vintage arcade games at Grinkers rounded out a fun work visit.
  • Prior to the visit from the parents there was a disco bowling birthday bash that involved many shenanigans. Watching the (drunk) birthday boy go through an entire dance routine prior to releasing the ball directly into the gutter is an experience that one does not easily forget; John Travolta has nothing on Brett McDermid.

The Skipper at the La Brea Tar Pits

A saber-toothed tiger, a giant sloth, and a happy Skipper.

Mastodon at the La Brea Tar Pits

I would totally ride a mastodon if I could.

Hollywood Nights

Posted from Culver City, California at 6:52 pm, May 31st, 2014

During breakfast this morning with Audrey, the realization that I’ve now been living in LA for about ten years hit. I arrived permanently in August 2005, but was doing contract work at Warner Brothers on and off from December 2002 onwards. That means that I’ve spent more of my life in LA than in any other place besides the Mistake by the Lake Cleveland.

LA is a city that I never would have picked to be the place I would settle down, but I’m tremendously lucky to get to live here. What other city has something that compares to the Hollywood Bowl? Or contains the world’s largest known deposit of Ice Age fossils? While living here I can walk to the ocean to see all manner of sea critters, and enjoy a seemingly inexhaustible number of cool restaurants and cultural activities. LA isn’t without its downsides, but it’s also a town with far more unique and exciting places to discover than almost anywhere else in the world.

Not to say that I’ll be here forever, but so long as Audrey and I do live here there is plenty to appreciate and be grateful for.

The Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center

I get to share a city with the coolest machine ever built by man. SPACESHIPS ARE AWESOME AND I LOVE THEM AND THEY GO TO SPACE AND ROCKET SHIPS RULE!!!!

Red-shouldered hawk

While it’s obviously not a hotspot for wildlife, we still get to count everything from hawks to sea lions to mountain lions as our neighbors.

Ryan and mastodons at the La Brea Tar Pits

Yeah, that’s right, mastodons and tar pits. It’s OK to be jealous. Photo by Audrey.

Headlines

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:54 pm, May 29th, 2014

Four headlines of note this week:

  • SpaceX announced version two of their Dragon space capsule, this one capable of carrying astronauts. They are on track to be carrying people into space by 2017, and this new capsule is both reusable and capable of landing almost anywhere using maneuvering thrusters. The goal is to be able to fly it back to the launch pad, refuel it, strap it to a rocket, and send it into space again, thus greatly reducing costs and putting all of us space nerds one step closer to a trip into orbit. For anyone still reading who isn’t an engineering geek, this announcement may be considered one of the big moments in the advancement of technology in a few decades.
  • A $1 billion restoration of the Los Angeles River (yes, there is one) was announced today. LA’s preferred restoration option was approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, and eleven miles of concrete will soon be removed and returned to a more natural state. I’m torn on this one – any time we can keep something natural, or fix damage that has been done, I’m a fan, but $1 billion could have been used to restore vastly larger and more important wetlands elsewhere (example). That said, bringing some nature back to the concrete jungle of LA will be a welcome change.
  • In more controversial news, the EPA is about to unveil serious efforts to combat climate change by setting CO2 limits on power plants. It’s highly doubtful that the EPA’s proposals are the best solution to the issue of climate change, but since the Senate killed the Cap & Trade bill in 2010, direct executive action has become the only viable option for addressing a very serious problem. With any luck, once these rules go into effect it will spur Congress to debate a better solution that does more to address the problem while producing less chaos in the marketplace, much like what was originally intended with the 2009 Cap & Trade bill.
  • Apple holds their Worldwide Developer Conference next week, where they are expected to announce a framework for integrating iPads and iPhones with home devices like lights, security systems, etc. They may also announce their rumored health-related watch, and while I’m skeptical about it, if anyone can make a device that promotes healthy living it’s Apple, and the thought of people having something on their wrist that encourages exercise, good eating, and other good behavior while also notifying them of serious health issues, that seems like a big win.

That’s a lot going on all at once, and even without a pressing deadline to get in three journal entries before the end of the month, they seemed significant enough to record for posterity. Ten years from now I’ll either read this while looking at my Apple health-monitoring device and watching the latest space tourist launch into orbit, or I’ll do neither of those things and wonder how I could have ever thought these announcements were significant :-)

Carry On

Posted from Boise, Idaho at 8:07 pm, April 29th, 2014

Here’s a riveting recap of the life of Ryan over the past two months:

  • At the end of February / beginning of March I made a quick pilgrimage up to the Bay Area to see Aaron and the folks. Good times were had as always, with much ping pong, the Napa Valley regional cornhole championships (which I officially lost, although there were some questionable circumstances), delicious prawn tacos, and a chance to enjoy Aaron’s new casa in Livermore.
  • Earlier this month Audrey, her LA Times and fellow-Alto friend Martha, Meghen (another Alto), and I visited the Queen Mary in Long Beach for a performance by the Christ Church Cathedral Choir. I thought the music was OK, but getting to see it on a historic 1930s passenger liner was pretty awesome. Before the show started I had an hour to roam around, re-enacting scenes from Titanic, although sadly the bow was roped off so I had to forgo “I’m the king of the world!” and instead settle for “You jump, I jump” at the stern, and “Full speed ahead Mr. Murdoch” in the bridge. The Queen Mary is another addition to the list of good things about LA™.
  • In medical news, after more than two years of waiting for Obamacare’s rules against declining coverage due to pre-existing conditions, I finally switched insurance and visited an actual sports medicine doctor at UCLA. Two weeks later I was inside of an MRI medicine-tube-spaceship-time-machine getting 3-D pictures of the inside of my knee taken; we totally live in the future. I’m meeting a physical therapist this weekend and have a follow-up with the doctor in a couple of weeks, so hopefully soon it will be clear what exactly causes my knee to throw a tantrum and swell up to impressive size whenever I try to run, and with luck I’ll be able to resume the one sport I’m good at again some time in the near future. I know it’s a touchy issue with some people, but for a self-employed person like myself Obamacare has proven to be a massive, massive improvement over the former system.
  • In other news Audrey and I continue planning the grand adventure for this July-October; more details will likely follow in the next journal entry.
  • Last of all, we’ve now lived a mile from the Marina for over two years, and this past weekend we finally went sailing. Audrey’s friend has a decent-sized boat and invited us to join him, his wife, and their friend for a short afternoon on the water, which was a great way to spend a few hours. At one point he told me to take the wheel and just drive around the Marina for a bit, either not realizing or not caring that nearly all of my boat navigating experience was done holding a paddle. Luckily, despite some tight turns and various individuals in kayaks or other rentals criss-crossing all over the place with no realization that a novice captain was doing his best to avoid running them down, everyone emerged alive and well. After Adam again took over we raised the sail for a short jaunt outside of the breakwall to enjoy some decent-sized surf and the company of dolphins.

Ryan sailing in Marina del Rey

I dominated at sailing straight, but turns in the tight confines of the Marina were terrifying. Photo by Audrey.

Kraftwerk

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:59 pm, March 24th, 2014

As part of my ongoing arts and culture education, Audrey took me to see Kraftwerk at Disney Hall last week. I know nothing about electronic music, but apparently for someone who is a fan of the genre seeing Kraftwerk is like an engineer meeting Nikola Tesla or Wernher von Braun, i.e. you bow down while chanting “we’re not worthy” when they appear. The band was doing eight shows over four nights, each show featuring a different album played in full along with a “best of” set, and tickets had sold out in a matter of minutes.

I went in knowing nothing about what was going to happen, beyond the fact that it might be weird. Those suspicions were confirmed after my ticket was taken and I was handed a pair of 3-D glasses, and I settled in for a fun evening. The lights went down, the curtain dropped, and there on the stage were four 60-something Germans, each standing at a lighted console, all in front of a giant screen, with nothing else on stage. Also, they were wearing unitards, because when you’re a 67 year old German electronica legend, why not?

The show was bizarre in a very fun way. The girl was extraordinarily happy, I was entertained, the Germans were very German, and – surprisingly – I thought the music was all right; I even grabbed a copy of Autobahn from iTunes to add to the music collection. Even better, afterwards I read a bit about the band and discovered the following fun tidbit:

The band is notoriously reclusive, providing rare and enigmatic interviews, using life-size mannequins and robots to conduct official photo shoots, refusing to accept mail and not allowing visitors at Kling Klang Studio, whose precise location they used to keep secret. Another notable example of this eccentric behavior was reported to Johnny Marr of the Smiths by Karl Bartos, who explained that anyone trying to contact the band for collaboration would be told the studio telephone did not have a ringer, since during recording, the band did not like to hear any kind of noise pollution. Instead, callers were instructed to phone the studio precisely at a certain time, whereupon the phone would be answered by Ralf Hütter, despite never hearing the phone ring.

Good times, although I will never again be able to go to a concert without feeling slightly let down when I don’t get a pair of 3-D glasses after passing through the gates.

Kraftwerk at Disney Hall

Kraftwerk on stage at Disney Hall. Photo from the LA Weekly.

I Get to Live Here

Posted from Culver City, California at 1:25 pm, October 20th, 2013

Less than two miles from the house is a shockingly good place for wildlife – birds, sea lions, dolphins, and random crawly things like crabs. These photos were all taken in past two months within walking distance of where I get to live.

Elegant Tern

An elegant tern that kindly stayed in focus.

Sandpipers

Sandpipers being cute.

Brown Pelican

Brown pelican taking a bath. At sunset. In really pretty light.

Black Oystercatcher

Black oystercatcher. He was picking these really colorful purple urchins out of the water and having a dinner of uni, but I didn’t photoghrasize that so good.

Willet

Willet. I’m embarrassed to admit how I remember this bird’s name, but yes, I hear them make a loud call and think of a Different Strokes reference.

August Recap Part 1

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:08 pm, August 27th, 2013

As expected, August was a month of much excitement. So much excitement, in fact, that it warrants two entries for the summary, which is a good thing given that it’s the 27th and I still need to write three entries to meet the monthly quota.

The previously mentioned wedding in Santa Barbara was all kinds of fancy, but your humble author was most impressed by the five red-headed woodpeckers hanging out in the palm trees above the bridal party. Another highlight was watching a bunch of engineers on the dance floor – after some unfortunate experiences in my early twenties I’ve learned that dance music and engineering degrees should never be combined, so Audrey and I stayed on the sidelines and enjoyed observing the carnival of awkwardness. Luckily we also got a few minutes to catch up with my very, very busy former roommate and his new bride, something that numerous wedding guests agreed is extremely tough to do these days given his other commitments.

Speaking of all kinds of awesome, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers was an insanely good concert – if they are playing anywhere near you then you should most definitely go to there and see the things. After an opening by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band featuring their giant, prancing tuba player, Steve Martin took the stage. When you start off by bragging about how you’re going to perform a song “that you have completely memorized”, and follow that up with some ridiculously good bluegrass, amazing harmonies, and grammy winning band, you’ve got my attention. Bring in Edie Brickell to sing some songs with lyrics so poignant that all the girls cried, and then strum the banjo at about a million miles an hour, and Ryan is a happy boy.

The month of many events continued with a trip up to the Bay Area for a week working from Berkeley. In addition to single-handedly reducing the productivity of all of my co-workers by at least thirty percent during our office hours, the group headed out on the Bay for a cruise from Berkeley to Tiburon, past the Golden Gate, along the San Francisco waterfront, and then under the new Bay Bridge. While a romantic cruise with a bunch of software engineers isn’t something that’s on my bucket list, it was still a really great evening.

Bay Bridge Self-anchored Self-Suspension Span

This is either a neat photo of the soon-to-be-opened self-anchored suspension span of the new Bay Bridge, or a really, really terrible picture of the moon over San Francisco Bay.

July 2013

Posted from Boise, Idaho at 10:05 pm, July 29th, 2013

Here’s the recap for the month:

  • Audrey is in charge of the 4th of July (I get Thanksgiving), and this year decided to invite the neighbors over for a barbecue before walking down to the Marina for fireworks. Despite a marine layer that partially obscured the fireworks it was a decidedly fun evening, and especially cool since we live close enough to walk to the Marina and thus avoid the horrid traffic.
  • Audrey’s next big social event was getting everyone together to go to the Hollywood Bowl. In an effort to promote culture without confusing me completely we attended the latest incarnation of the LA Philharmonic showing Bugs Bunny cartoons while playing the music live. Beyond seeing “Kill da Wabbit” performed by a world-renowned orchestra, a highlight of the night occurred during the national anthem when the four professional singers and four choir members in our group belted out an impromptu harmony, causing those seated nearby to begin looking around to find out where the singing was coming from, and to then offer an ovation when the last note was sung. Incidentally, the Hollywood Bowl is another place that will eventually make it onto my list of reasons why LA can be a pretty awesome place to live.
  • The month concluded with some friends getting married. While at most weddings having groomsmen in full Scottish attire would have been the best part of the event, for this wedding the highlight was the music. Since they’re both singers a significant portion of their friends are also singers, so in lieu of wedding gifts they asked people to sing at the wedding. The wedding choir included somewhere around fifty people who perform in everything from church choirs to the LA Master Chorale, and after three rehearsals the result was a performance of eight(?) amazing pieces of music; it may have been the most impressive musical event I’ve ever seen in a church.

Things should stay lively through August, with a work trip to Boise this week, a wedding in Santa Barbara this weekend, another trip to the Bowl next week, and numerous other hopefully-journal-worthy activities throughout the month.

Bugs Bunny at the Hollywood Bowl

You don’t get classier than a live orchestra, the Hollywood Bowl, a beautiful evening, and Elmer Fudd.

A Day in the Life

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:27 pm, July 23rd, 2013

During every notable vacation I try hard to do a daily journal entry, but at home few days are exciting enough to warrant their own entry. However, having just read through some journal entries from about ten years ago, writing one entry that captures a snapshot of what daily life is like right now might be an interesting thing to re-read many years from now. Warning to those who continue reading: currently daily life really doesn’t warrant its own journal entry.

  • Today the alarm went off at 7:30, at which time I crawled out of bed and wandered into the kitchen, firing up the two laptops sitting on the table. The birds were making a racket outside, Audrey was still asleep, and the morning news wasn’t making much sense pre-coffee.
  • At 8:00 the workday started with a daily status call. With the rest of the bodybuilding.com team on speakerphone I stumbled through an update on yesterday’s progress and today’s plans, after which I settled in for the workday.
  • With the coffee beginning to clear out the brain fog it was time to start on the day’s tasks. The morning involved helping people out with a random series of issues (loading some test data on a machine, answering some questions, chasing an issue in production for the business) and reviewing and testing some new code I’d written that changes the logic in the site’s shopping cart. The latter task required a fair amount of focus, since a screw-up could very well lead to revenue being lost in quantities that I can barely begin to fathom; with great power comes great responsibility.
  • Another status call followed, with the highlight being a quick discussion about “snacks on the catamaran”. After that it was a quick rush out to Tender Greens to grab a salad and sandwich (and a homemade pop tart because I couldn’t resist the impulse dessert). I got back just in time to call in to a meeting while simultaneously responding to three different people’s questions in various chat windows.
  • The afternoon was mostly filled with reviewing documentation and code related to the multi-language search capabilities of the ATG software that this project uses. In layman’s terms, I read a lot of PDFs, searched through code, and pestered teammates in an effort to build a plan for allowing someone in Brazil to search the site for “proteína em pó”.
  • After yet another meeting, the day finished up with a series of failed attempts to reproduce a bug that has been seen intermittently in the QA environments. In this case I got to play scientist, proposing a theory of what might be going wrong, figuring out a way to test that theory via creation of specific data or code changes, and then going back to square one when my theory didn’t pan out. I am not a good scientist.
  • Work was followed by an excessively long nap – one of the neighborhood dogs has a lovely deep baritone bark that carries forever, and has taken up the hobby of barking non-stop for 5-10 minutes every two hours on random nights. Apparently my sleep schedule has gone all wonky as a result.
  • A ride on my Lance Armstrong stationary bike while catching up on the day’s news and then crashing in the living room to write a journal entry concluded the activities for today. Around midnight it will be time for bed, with the cycle starting again tomorrow morning.

After spending much of 2002-2005 playing, it has now been about eight years of working steadily. While work days pay well, as this journal entry demonstrates they are slightly less fulfilling than those spent trekking around the Antartic or snorkeling in the Galapagos.

Who, What, When, Where

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:30 pm, June 27th, 2013

Here’s all that’s new since the last status update:

  • Proving that at age thirty-seven I am truly a grown up, I called a plumber and got a new water heater installed after the old one died. No nineteen year old is even thinking of hot water heaters, much less bugging the installer with stupid questions about efficiency and reliability as he’s installing it.
  • Audrey and I actually went out and saw TWO movies in one month, which may be a record. Reviews: Star Trek was excellent entertainment, and I even got to make a starfleet insignia and wear it so that Audrey could brag about how cool I was. Man of Steel was average. I wanted it to be great, and you could see how much potential there was in what they were going for with the whole “what is my place in the world” thing, but I never really felt like I cared that much about any of the characters, and as a result it didn’t really matter who was super-punching who at any given moment. Hopefully this series is like Batman, where a lackluster first film is merely setup for an amazing second film.
  • In another stunning example of grownup behavior Audrey and I joined some friends for a fancy dinner at the Getty Museum (side note: the Getty will be near the top of the eventual “great things in LA” list). Despite being a high-end restaurant, there was only one fork to deal with so the meal was completed without any truly embarrassing mistakes.
  • Our friend Greg, who was an early buyer of the Tesla Model-S, invited us to join him at Tesla’s recent announcement about battery swapping. The event was set up like a party, with lights, drinks, many hundreds of well-heeled attendees, and techo music blaring (comment from JB: “I keep telling Elon to let up on the techno but he loves that shit”). The main event was an Apple-style demonstration of a Tesla driving up on stage, the battery pack being automatically replaced from underneath, and the car driving off fully-charged ninety seconds later. I’ve posted about why I’m so impressed with Tesla’s engineering and strategy before, but it will be interesting to see what the next reason people come up with to disparage them will be now that the “no one wants to wait thirty minutes to charge the car during a roadtrip” issue has been addressed.
  • Finally, following the monthly pilgrimage to Boise, we met some friends for a birthday celebration at Mar Vista Lanes. The music and disco lights came on at ten, and while I may have scored the most points, the clear winner of the evening was Brett and his magical (and intoxicating) bowling dancing. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a man in a Green Lantern shirt perform a two minute routine to disco that culminates in a gutter ball. Hopefully a video will someday show up online.

Bouillabaisse at the Getty

A very fancy plate of bouillabaisse at the very fancy restaurant at the Getty, with my super fruity cocktail in the background.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Only the coolest movie-goers wear homemade Star Trek insignias to see the show.