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

Walking on Water

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

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

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

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

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

A Night Without Lights

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Show

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

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

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

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

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

Space Weather

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

Some random notes from our time in Fairbanks thus far:

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

My Friend Aurora

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

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

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

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

My Boogers Froze Today. Twice.

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

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

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

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

November Recap

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 7:57 pm, December 5th, 2017

In an effort to make sure I have a record of events so that it’s possible to relive good times when I eventually become senile, here’s a recap of November:

  • Given my engineering background I am not so savvy when it comes to the arts, but Audrey and her friends are doing their best to get me up to speed. Just before Thanksgiving Audrey and her band played a set at Trip in Santa Monica, and Jocelyn opened for them with a rare live show; I know talented people.
  • Following the night of much music I took a few vacation days prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, joining Aaron at his new place in Truckee where we threw hatchets at a pumpkin (we’ve clearly matured greatly over the years). Following that visit I made a detour to Muir Woods before picking up Audrey at the airport and heading to Ma & Pa’s for Thanksgiving. The annual family gathering saw much delicious food consumed, much laughter, and a display of amazing skills in playing Uno.
  • The month ended with Audrey’s birthday, which she celebrated with her tradition of roller skating and a visit to the library, after which I took her out for a fancy steak dinner before we joined her choir friends for celebratory beverages.
Barred owl in Muir Woods
Barred owl posing for tourists in Muir Woods.
Muir Woods Redwoods
Muir Woods Redwoods and a cloudy sky.

Hatchet throwing 101 #killthepumpkin #manactivities #hatchets

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Non-Totality

Posted from Culver City, California at 6:50 pm, August 27th, 2017

Since obviously eclipse glasses are for wimps (and also I didn’t buy any before the prices exploded), I took a zoom lens into the backyard and attempted to focus as much sunlight on my retinas as possible; my vision should return in time for the next eclipse in 2024.

The Eclipse in the Clouds
The marine layer started burning off just as the eclipse was getting started, and luckily the clouds acted as enough of a filter that I was only mostly blind after shooting a few photos.
The 2017 Eclipse
As the clouds burned off and the sun became too bright to look at through the viewfinder I was reduced to pointing the camera in the general area of the bright thing in the sky and hoping to get something in frame.

15 Years of Random Musings

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:22 pm, August 7th, 2017

The journal celebrated its fifteenth anniversary on July 24, although I’m a bit behind on postings and thus this entry is being published two weeks after the actual date. In an era before Facebook and other social media, and even before the (awful) word “blog” had made it into most people’s vocabularies, this site was my way to record travelogues for posterity, and more importantly it gave me an excuse for being too lazy to send people regular emails, since I could just point everyone to this site as a way to keep in touch.

The obligatory stats to recap the past decade-and-a-half:

It’s anyone’s guess how long the journal will continue, but nearly 5,500 days after starting this narcissistic endeavor, there doesn’t seem to be any clear end in sight. Thanks to the twos of visitors who have read along regularly, and to the random folks who have dropped by on occasion to say hello and (incorrectly) point out typos.

Denali from Reflection Pond

My favorite image from the trip that spawned this journal, Denali (Mt McKinley) taken from Reflection Pond while I was camping in Alaska.

Tanzania Revisited

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 9:50 pm, July 18th, 2017

It’s been too long without photos in the journal, so here are a couple from the 2014 safari in Tanzania that didn’t previously make it online:

Cheetah in Ndutu
When a cheetah is sitting in front of you on a log, you take a million pictures; when you have to decide which of those pictures is the best, the one with the tongue sticking out obviously wins.
White-bellied Canary in Ndutu
White-bellied Canary in Ndutu. This particular puddle was home to just about every bird that I normally only associate with Petco.

Superbloom

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

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

Wildflowers at the Carrizo Plain National Monument
Dr. Seuss apparently did the decorating.
Wildflowers at the Carrizo Plain National Monument
We had to drive up a super-sketchy “road” that consisted of two tracks through knee-high grass in order to get to these poppies. Totally worth it.
Wildflowers at the Carrizo Plain National Monument
Scale: note the people far away in the top right. There were flowers for days.
Wildflowers at the Carrizo Plain National Monument
From a distance I figured that this massive patch of wildflowers had to be some sort of lavender farm since it seemed inconceivable that there would be acres and acres of solid purple flowers all concentrated in one spot.

An Inauspicious Beginning

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

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

  • March has had three weeks of travel, including two trips to San Antonio and a trip to the Bay Area. The first portion of the Bay Area trip was spent working in a hotel in Sacramento, where I got to visit with younger Holliday, admire his house, and eat a lot of grilled mahi. After leaving him I made a quick stop to ensure that Ma & Pa had working wi-fi and virus-free laptops before heading into San Francisco for a three-day conference; the parents put up with me for another night after the conference ended, but I can be a handful so the intermission was likely a good respite for them.
  • The conference featured all things Google Cloud. I went in skeptical, and shockingly emerged a complete convert – Google is going to own the corporate internet in another five years, and when Skynet becomes operational it will probably do so from a Google data center somewhere. In the midst of learning that I need to come up with a plan to capture part of the tsunami of work that is going to be available as companies transition their IT infrastructure, one of my co-workers managed to find the best ramen I’ve ever eaten, so the trip was a success on many levels.
  • On the drive home from San Francisco it seemed silly not to see if the record rains had caused a Monet to happen on the grasslands, so a detour was made to the Carrizo Plain. Soda Lake has been dry on all of my past visits, but this time I got to see placid waters shimmering in the light of the full moon before Suby III and I spent our inaugural night under the stars together. The next morning when the sun arrived it was clear that the wildflowers were just beginning to bloom, and while they were pretty a return visit might be necessary.
  • Finally, in rodent news, I’ve spent two weekends roaming around on the roof looking for rat entry points. Two weeks ago I taped my phone to a pole, and by maneuvering it into an inaccessible space behind the gutters I was able to see (via video) a previously undiscovered gap. I then spent the next hour crawling through fiberglass insulation in a sweltering attic to an area so claustrophobic that there wasn’t even enough room to lift my head. I jammed a rag into the gap in the rafters, crawled slowly out, spent an inordinately long time ridding myself of fiberglass, and then sat down to savor my victory. That night at 8:30 the rat showed up again on camera and did his own victory dance to ensure that my shame was infinite. The following weekend’s efforts involved a trip to Home Depot, an attempt to remove the gutters without causing permanent damage, a massive quantity of sealant foam, and a valiant effort to re-attach the gutters in more-or-less the condition that I found them; time will tell if that endeavor has finally brought the War of the Roof Rats to an end.
Wildflowers at the Carrizo Plain National Monument
The yellow flowers were just getting started, so a return trip may be required.
Wildflowers at the Carrizo Plain National Monument
In addition to the acres of yellow flowers, there were 23 blue ones.

Man Tripping No More

Posted from Culver City, California at 9:46 pm, December 30th, 2016

The 2016 Man Trip finished up yesterday with a morning visit to the Carrizo Plain National Monument, a virtually unknown national monument west of Bakersfield. The park is home to Soda Lake, which is supposedly an internationally-known area for birds, but the last time I visited it was completely dry. This time I left Bakersfield and spent an hour and a half meandering through the hills, oil fields and solar farms of Kern County before arriving at Soda Lake, which despite several recent storms was still bone dry; I think I heard the universe laughing at me.

Despite the dry lake it was still nice to be reminded how nice silence is – the modern world is constantly filled with the sound of cars or appliances or planes, but you don’t realize it until you’re in a place that is just completely still, and I sat at the end of a boardwalk for about an hour just enjoying the peace. Afterwards I wandered a bit more before pointing the car towards home, where I’ll hopefully get some rest and recharge before starting off the 2017 work year.

Sunset at the Kern NWR

Taken during sunset at the Kern NWR.

Man Tripping

Posted from Bakersfield, California at 8:39 pm, December 28th, 2016

I’m pretty sure that the entire San Joaquin Valley reeks of cow manure. Someone really needs to look into it, because it can’t be benefiting tourism to have things smelling poopy.

Woke up at 5:30 this morning, an hour before my alarm, since the universe likes it when you see the sun come up. Merced National Wildlife Refuge was the sunrise destination, and Kern National Wildlife Refuge was the sunset destination, and both were chock full of birds and people shooting at birds (duck stamps help pay for wildlife refuges). Wedged in between those two visits was a giant biscuit at the Black Bear Diner, because it wouldn’t be a man trip without a manly breakfast.

Snow geese in Merced NWR

I zoomed in on the full resolution image, and so far as I can tell not a single one of these snow geese is bumping into his neighbor. Taken in Merced NWR.

Red-tailed hawk in Merced NWR

Red-tailed hawk in Merced NWR.

The Garden Island, Part 1

Posted from Culver City, California at 6:27 pm, October 2nd, 2016

Two weeks ago Audrey and the Holliday clan gathered in Kauai for snorkeling, beaches, sunsets, tropical beverages, and a really great waterslide. Here’s part one of the recap:

Day 1

My mom is a night owl, going to bed after midnight, while my dad is a morning person, waking up around 5AM. Thus after flying across the Pacific and arriving in Hawaii, it was no surprise when I entered their timeshare at 10:30 PM Hawaii time (1:30 AM Los Angeles) that my mom met me energetically at the door while everyone else was sleeping. She was clearly disappointed and unsuprised when I declined her offers of dinner and conversation and instead crawled into bed. The next morning at 5AM my dad attempted to sneak out the door, only to have his two sons pounce on him before he could get away, but he didn’t seem too disappointed to be taking his boys along to see the sunrise. When we got to the beach a dark shape was silhouetted against the barely-brightening sky, and it is to my dad’s everlasting shame that he insisted it was a monk seal even after we said it looked like a sea turtle. Several more of the large turtles were resting on the sand further down the beach, making for a pleasant welcome to the island as the sun turned the sky pink while an army of roosters announced their presence to the world.

The day’s other activities included multiple rounds of snorkeling, massive fish burritos from Da Crack, a cat on a surfboard, and drinks at sunset. All in all not a bad way to start the trip.

Day 2

Day two again started with an early wakeup and another trip down to the beach to see the sea turtles. There was more snorkeling, more tropical drinks, etc, but other days had more journal-worthy moments so let’s move on to Day 3.

Day 3

The previous day I had moved from Ma & Pa’s timeshare to the Hyatt next door, picking up Audrey from the airport in the evening, while Aaron and Helen relocated to an Air B&B rental on the north side of the island. Audrey has the amazing ability to defy jet lag, so she was having none of my arguments that getting up at 5AM was the same as getting up at 8AM in Los Angeles, thus I roamed around the hotel grounds at sunrise before dragging her out of bed at 6:30 and heading off to our fancy hotel breakfast buffet next to the koi pond. From there we were off to do some snorkeling, then we meandered our way around the island to see Aaron, stopping to photograph the Autumn mist in Hanalei enroute. With the full Holliday clan present we attempted a bit of snorkeling off of the beach near the beginning of the Napali Coast, but choppy waters had reduced visibility to only about ten feet, and in an underwater landscape filled with lava cracks that looked like they might descend hundreds of feet it was hugely disconcerting to wonder what might be hiding down below. When Aaron called me out for saying that it was an uncomfortable place to swim I told him to follow me out into the murky water – hundreds of feet offshore and notoriously afraid of sharks, the sound he made as we swam over rocky ledges that descended to unseen depths was something between a whining puppy and a bawling child; we turned back fairly quickly.

Day 4

Audrey’s one request prior to starting the trip was that she wanted at least one “lounge day”, knowing that otherwise I’d do my best to ensure that each day would end with us collapsing from exhaustion after non-stop activities. Thus, Tuesday saw us hanging out at the resort pools, where Audrey read a book while I set the Hyatt master’s record for most rides on their water slide in a 24-hour period – all of the five year olds seemed slightly peeved at the bald guy who made their wait in the line a bit longer by going down the slide again and again.

Day 5

Wednesday was our scuba diving day. Sadly, because someone is sued in America every 0.2 seconds, they wouldn’t let my dad join us once he checked one of the “do any of the following apply to you” boxes on the release forms, so Audrey and I were the only family representatives underwater this year. After many scuba trips to Mexico with rental equipment that inevitably leaks Audrey and I have become reasonably good on air, so as the other divers in our group ran out of air and had to surface we ended up getting a lot of underwater time to ourselves. We saw sea turtles, fish, corals, and lava caves, but the highlight of the two dives was a giant moray hiding in a crack in the rock – the thing was so massive that as I was swimming over I first wondered what a seal was doing in the rocks, before realizing we were seeing an eel that would be bigger than most sharks if it chose to come out and play.

The recap for the rest of the trip, including the story of how Poseidon God of the Sea sent a magical wave to assist my dad and I in returning our kayak to shore amidst raging seas, will follow shortly in the next journal entry.

Sea Turtle in Kauai

Monk seal Sea turtle resting on the beach in Kauai.

Nene in Kauai

Nene (rhymes with nay-nay), the state bird of Hawaii.

The Month of Many Travels

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:56 am, September 9th, 2016

After several months without much excitement, airport security will be seeing me a lot during September and October:

  • 1-September: After the second of two consecutive work trips to San Antonio my plane returned to LAX Thursday night at about 6PM, leaving ample time to do laundry and re-pack for the next flight about 36 hours later.
  • 3-September: I dragged Audrey to LAX in the morning and we departed for a long weekend in Seattle. After landing we grabbed a rental car, checked-in to our shockingly nice hotel, and then I drove us up to Everett to see airplanes at the Boeing factory. Audrey and I usually try to meet each other halfway in our planning, but in this case she knew better than to suggest alternatives when I told her we’d be spending the afternoon with airplanes. Seeing a factory full of giant jets in various stages of assembly had me basically running around screaming “AIRPLANES AIRPLANES AIRPLANES” for a few hours, and whether it was the impressive sight of the massive machines or the less-impressive sight of her dorky boyfriend having a complete geek-out, Audrey seemed OK with the events. Afterwards, since I’m a lot to deal with under normal circumstances and can only imagine what a handful I must be when I become a grown-up three-year-old, I made sure she got a nice seafood dinner on the water as the sun went down over Puget Sound.
  • 4-September: I haven’t been to Mt. Rainier in more than a decade, so we set off to roam around on a 14,000 foot volcano. Mother Nature conspired to keep the mountain mostly hidden behind clouds, but “Paradise” is not mis-named, and the mountain meadows and marmots made for a pleasant journey, even if I did go all environmental nutjob and yell at a couple of foreigners who either couldn’t read or were ignoring the “don’t walk on the fragile meadow flowers” signs. After a full day of walking up and down the steep slopes of the mountain another nice dinner was again called for, this time at our fancy hotel restaurant.
  • 5-September: The long weekend concluded with a day spent roaming around Seattle, including a tour of the “underground city“, created after the 1889 fire when they rebuilt the city by raising street level about ten feet, entombing the first floors of a 30 block area. The day concluded with a trip up the fourth-tallest building in the world (or at least it was, in 1914), with the journey made in a period brass elevator that had see-through walls and a wide-enough gap between elevator and building to put the word “plummet” front-and-center as you stepped inside. The top of the Smith Tower offered great views from an open-air, wraparound deck, and decent drinks at a speakeasy-style bar. When we finally returned to the hotel, dinner consisted of a shared cheeseburger, since not every night needs a fancy meal.
  • 6-September: Audrey got to sleep in before her flight back to LAX, while I set off bright and early for a flight to Spokane. I work remote the majority of the time, so my first visit to the new Commerce Architects office was a chance to finally meet several employees who I’ve worked with on a daily basis for months but wouldn’t recognize if we were sitting next to each other in the same room. Cost of living in Spokane is significantly less than in California, so the Spokane office (located in a historic building) put the old Berkeley digs to shame, while the hotel I stayed in was on par with some of the nicer LA hotels, but about one-third of the price; with three senior partners living in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Spokane, they clearly made a tremendously sensible choice on where to set up shop.
  • 7-September: The rest of the CA partners arrived to begin two days of company meetings, followed by a team outing consisting of a dozen people on a pedal-powered trolley roaming the streets of Spokane and visiting a couple of local bars. Afterwards the five partners gathered for a super-fancy dinner, something that is apparently a tradition for those rare times when they all get together. My previous lifetime best was four courses in a single meal, and over two-and-a-half hours this dinner beat that record by two. I made it back to the hotel stuffed, tipsy, and happy about my recent career choices.
  • 8-September: Day two of meetings included a team lunch and plenty of administrivia, after which it was time to depart for a 6PM flight back to LA via Seattle.

One week in, September is off to a roaring start. My flight back from Spokane landed at 11PM, I’ll work a nearly-full day today, then after a glorious eighteen hours home it’s back to the airport for the next phase of the month’s adventures. There’s just enough time to do laundry and pack – life has gone from slow to fast, and it should make for a fun month.

Marmot on Mt. Rainier

Marmot demonstrating “extreme napping position” on Mt. Rainier.

What happens in July stays in July

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:10 pm, July 31st, 2016

July 2016 hasn’t had a ton of excitement in it, so here’s a look back at this month in years past.

  • July 2015 – This time last year the New Horizons spacecraft was zooming by Pluto, sending back some mind-boggling photos of the farthest object humans have visited in our solar system.
  • July 2014 – In 2014 I spent the first half of July roaming around Turkey, and by the end of the month was starting on a two week safari in Tanzania. 2014 alone provided enough great July memories to ensure that I will never be able to complain about any slow years.
  • July 2008 – I dragged the Skipper halfway around the world on a trip to Iceland to see puffins and glaciers and geysers. How Iceland isn’t a more popular destination for nature travelers is a mystery – I’d go back in a second.
  • July 2002 – The month this journal was born was the month that the Great Alaskan adventure kicked off. It’s rare that you have an experience that you know will change your life, and I was insanely lucky to get to spend a full three months on a journey with full awareness that it would become a defining moment in life.

African elephants at Ndutu

July 2014. Elephants are one of many reasons why the world is awesome.

Puffin

July 2008. Puffins are proof that God has a sense of humor.

Valley of Death

Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 6:21 pm, March 21st, 2016

Death Valley received unusually heavy rains this year, resulting in the first “superbloom” of wildflowers since 2005, so of course I wanted to go to there. After plans with Aaron and my dad fell through I concocted a scheme whereby I would drive to Las Vegas on a Thursday night, work from Vegas on Friday, and have Audrey fly in so that we could drive to Death Valley early Saturday. With this genius plan in place I made the long slog through LA traffic to Vegas, and then spent Friday working from a fancy room at the Palazzo Hotel that had a mostly-great view, with the exception of giant gold letters spelling out “Trump” staring back from the high-rise on the opposite side of the Strip.

Audrey arrived mid-afternoon, and after dinner and a search for the dumbest slot machines we could find (the “Reel ’em In!” fishing game won that contest) we went to bed relatively early, woken only by the sounds of what was either a troop of crazed chimpanzees or else a drunken frat party in the room next door; they departed at 11PM, but returned at 3AM to ensure that we wouldn’t have to worry about getting too much sleep.

I was randomly in Death Valley at the height of the 2005 superbloom, and while this year’s event wasn’t quite as impressive, it was still pretty neat to see the most inhospitable desert in North America completely covered in flowers. After a morning spent enjoying the yellow rock formations at Zabriskie Point and photographing flowers in the valley I took Audrey for a hike through Mosaic Canyon, a tiny slot canyon that affords the opportunity to scramble over boulders and up slickrock. Luckily she remained on speaking terms with me even after we encountered rocks that caused other hikers to turn around, and she came away with some photos that convinced me I need to learn more about the HDR settings on my camera.

Death Valley Wildflowers

The heavy overcast made the scene less vibrant than it might otherwise have been, but the flowers were still shockingly colorful for being in the hottest, driest place in North America.

Death Valley Wildflowers

Bad day for anyone who thinks flowers suck, good day for the rest of us.

Donkeys on the Road

Posted from Bonaire at 10:22 pm, January 26th, 2016

Being able to walk into the ocean from the shore with a scuba tank, and then being able to see underwater life that exceeds any aquarium, and being able to do so whenever you feel like it, is a ridiculously excellent way to dive. The morning dive was off of the hotel beach, and the afternoon dive was at the loading pier for the Cargill Salt Works. Everything from eels to stone fish to sea turtles to barracuda to groupers made appearances, along with the ten gazillion other fish that are out here.

I also pulled the big camera out of the bag and grabbed a few shots of the local iguanas that come begging at the hotel during mealtimes, then made Audrey drive me around looking for flamingos as the sun was going down. I stood near a lagoon waiting for one of the birds to pull his head out from underwater while she made friends with some of the island’s donkeys. Then we came home and ate seafood and chocolate, ’cause that’s how we roll.

Virgin Gorda Sunset

Sunset last Saturday on Virgin Gorda. This was the view from our room, because I apparently earned a massive number of karma points in a past life.

Iguana

Iguana begging on the hotel deck. There are three that hang around our place, along with an assorted variety of other lizards and hermit crabs.

Flamingo

Flamingo. A shockingly difficult bird to photograph, even when they’re standing with their head underwater just twenty feet away.