Deja vu

On Nov 12 and 13 this week I found myself drawn back into the land of corporations – a land full of meetings, conferences, esoteric experts, Powerpoint and vats of bad coffee. I attended the TechVision Research (TVR) inaugural technology conference in San Diego. I have some deep connections with TVR – part-time consultant for them, investor, and occasionally an author of technical advisory notes. I also led a panel discussion on the topic of analytics, something I still find fascinating.

After most of a year spending my time on non-technology things, these two days back in corporate-ville felt pretty strange. Familiar, but strange. Full of terms like hypervisors, elastic search, devops, APIs, workflows and microservices. They (we) speak a foreign language in the land of corporate technology. Fortunately I still understand that language but I found myself wondering “why?”. Why should I bother to stay up to date on this when I’ve pretty much left that land and focused on other aspects of life?

My reasons for making this journey back are pretty thin. One, it’s hard to break the habits of 30+ years. I’ve studied and evangelized digital technology my entire adult life, and it’s hard to leave it behind. Two, I am on the board of one technology company and invested in another, so there’s that. Third and finally, because I can. I get satisfaction from understanding how digital systems work, so an occasional refresher in that feels good.

I get so much satisfaction from digging into tech that I’ve often thought of dedicating another blog/website to observations on technology, but…that’s not the direction I want my life to go. I want more writing, more family and more self-improvement, not the deja vu satisfaction of technology cred.

Fortunately, this journey was a short one. I spent two short days in Corporate-ville, then I traveled back to a steady diet of KY basketball, reading, writing, travel, golf and plain old laying about. In other words, retirement.

 

Staycation part two, 11/9/19

One trip that all our visitors wanted to take was the short drive up Palomar Mountain to see the observatory. It had been years since I was there so I was looking forward to it.

It was only an hour from our house, a nice though curvy drive climbing 5000 feet up to the observatory. Upon arriving we went immediately to the main event, the 200 inch Hale Telescope. It’s still an amazing engineering feat, even 70 years after its inception. And it’s still very, very relevant in terms of astronomy. Caltech scientists have been able to keep it working and competitive all these years by installing new detector systems at the business end of the scope and by maintaining the basic system faithfully.

In the picture below (not a great one; taken through a glass partition) you can see a person climbing around in the operator’s station right under the mirror itself.

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We were lucky to be able to attend one of the observatory’s Saturday lectures while we were there. A docent spent about 45 minutes giving us the history and some inside stories about the telescope’s beginnings and its current use. We all came away with a great appreciation for the “big science” investments made decades ago and how they’re still yielding knowledge and discovery dividends.

Recon country

Yesterday we had the distinct honor of attending the graduation ceremony for Marine Amphibious Recon Class 5-19, in which our nephew Capt. Erik  Christensen was one of the graduates. It was an inspiring ceremony and really makes one appreciate the rather extreme training the men and women in service go through. Congrats Erik!

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Staycation, 11/4-11/5

My brother Mike came to town for a visit this week and we’re taking advantage of that to do some touristy things. Touristy isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a description of things that we typically do to show off our hometown (county) to visitors.

The first thing I did for the visit was break in the new smoker and cook a prime brisket. Thanks and kudos to my friend Terry for tips on pro-level brisket smoking with a Traeger smoker. My first effort turned out great – very rich, tasty brisket.

Mike and I took a classic touristy trip to the La Jolla area one day, visiting his happy place, the Torrey Pines Gliderport (which is coincidentally right next to my happy place, the famous Torrey Pines golf course). The gliderport is a unique spot and was a great place to get some practice in with the new camera. I’m happy with the results.

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From there we went to another picturesque spot, La Jolla Cove. The cove never fails to deliver stunning views of wildlife and the rugged coastline in a mostly-serene setting. We were there on a perfect day – clear skies, cool temperatures, lots of seals, sea lions and birds on display and a crystal clear ocean. It’s pretty much an urban paradise. I was really happy with how the Fuji zoom lens performed here, but you be the judge.

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We ended our touristy day with a visit to my favorite Socal taco place, Puesto in La Jolla. The food there is very good, with rich and unique taco creations. The kicker for me is that they have a great wine list full of Guadalupe wines, completely unique in my experience. Having just come from the Valle I couldn’t resist getting a bottle of Lomita Tinto de Hacienda, one of our favorite Guadalupe wines. Both Puesto and the Lomita delivered, comprising a great meal.

We returned home happy with our touristy day. Sometimes I wonder why we bother to travel much, as Socal has so much to see and do. But it’s a big world out there.

Valle de Guadalupe, 10/26-10/29

We made our third trip to the Valle with Chris Gluck and the Wine Vault crowd. This one was excellent as usual, but it took a lot out of me. You’ve got to have an iron constitution (mostly liver) to visit four wineries every day for three days.

We had superb pairings of wine and food. The food is always the surprise in the Valle – there’s a restaurant culture there that’s as good as anything in the States or Europe – it’s just smaller and found out on dusty roads in the middle of nowhere. Our best stops this week were:

  • Lechuza for a gnoshing walkaround dinner, supplied partly by Laja.
  • Piojan Vineyards, a great new find for us. Great wine, 10-year aged balsamic and a chocolate sausage (really).
  • Clos Tres Cantos, the pyramid winery. Great vibe, interesting people and really good wine. We bought one of our two allotted bottles there.
  • A superb dinner at La Lomita.
  • A memorable final dinner at Fauna.

 

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  • A fun stop at my favorite microbrewery, Agua Mala.

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Our residence in the Valle at El Cielo Villas was first class. Comfortable, large, impeccable landscaping and situated very conveniently on the new road in the Valle center.

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It was a great few days with great friends, but we were really happy to be home. Time for some normal life.

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Weather jinx

I’m developing a reputation as a weather jinx. Everywhere I travel the weather seems to take a rapid and severe turn for the worse. Evidence:

  • Every trip I’ve taken to Kentucky this year the temperatures have zoomed to new all-time highs and then immediately dropped back to normal when I leave.
  • Our trip to Malta and Sicily led to our suffering higher than normal temperatures there for a couple of weeks. Was beautiful after we left.
  • I dropped into New Orleans for this weekend and a weird tropical storm blew through, doing more damage than the last hurricane. Closed the airport and cancelled our annual golf tournament.
  • I’m soon on my way to Guadalupe Valle in Mexico, and they’re in the midst of wildfires throughout the area.

Perhaps this is my hidden superpower. Along with making wine disappear.

The trip to NOLA was weird but fun. Heavy rain, power outages, a golf bag lost by the airlines and a golf tourney at an old school country club, Tchefuncta. My great friend Jon is a member there and this was our second time competing. This might have been our year – we won our first match (of four) and were way up in our second match before the storm stopped the action. So it wasn’t to be. But we had great fun and we can brag about the victory that almost was for the next year.

We had some really great food. Perfect fresh fried seafood at Rip’s on the north shore of Lake Ponchatrain. Some of the best sushi rolls I’ve ever had at Aki in Covington. And a perfect sausage Po’Boy at Bear’s. The Cajuns know how to eat well. I’m happy to learn from masters.

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The final weirdness of the trip was that NOLA area experienced big power outages as a result of tropical storm Olga. The airport was shut down for about five hours, so by the time I wandered in it looked like a Christmas Eve crowd – huge, desperate, cranky and occasionally rude. My favorite traveling partners. But I leveraged my A-list and TSA-Pre  status and got through without too much trouble.

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Update from Mexico – my weather jinx hasn’t followed me here. Weather is good, but the damage from the wildfires of a few days ago is widespread. We and quite a few others on the trip brought donations of clothes and goods for the now-homeless people of La Mision which was hit hard by the fires. Hoping for a speedy recovery for all of them.

 

An ill wind

It’s my least favorite time of the year in Socal. For the last decade late October in Socal has produced at least a week of wildfire-producing conditions – unnaturally high temperatures, high east-to-west winds (the Santa Anas), and single digit humidity. All those conditions will exist today (10-24) in San Diego and Fallbrook, and likely again tomorrow. It’s predicted to be 97 degrees today in Fallbrook.

For those in the area, stay alert and make sure your vehicle is gassed up (or charged up) and ready to roll. Have a go-bag already packed and in the vehicle. If you have animals, do what you need to do to get them ready to move. And for those with loved ones in the area, stay in touch with them.

2019 olive harvest, first pass

The last two and a half days have been consumed by our first-pass olive harvest for 2019. It was a success but it was a lot of hard work.

On Wednesday I acquired a truck from Enterprise and got all the harvest equipment staged – rakes, nets, sorting stations, and bins. That was the half day; not big deal.

On Thursday three hired helpers and I picked olives while Kathryn and our friend Caroline sorted out leaves and bad olives. We worked steadily for eight hours and picked about 750 pounds before sorting (660 pounds after sorting), filling 3/4 of what’s called a macrobin. It wasn’t as much as I had hoped but it was all we could do.

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Picking is reasonably hard work, even with nets and rakes. You position the nets on the hillside, nestled up against the tree trunks. Then you attack the olives with rakes, making it rain olives onto the nets. When either the trees are stripped or you’ve got almost too much to carry, you roll the nets up and hoist the olives to the sorting stations. Then you do it all again. And again.

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For a young person I think it’s light work, and my hired guys seemed to think so. But for a 63 year old, scrambling around the hillside and carrying heavy loads takes its toll. I was and am very, very sore.

The sorting is also hard work, but more from the repetitive and monotonous nature of it. It’s assembly line work. It’s basically quality assurance – you can mill the olives with damaged/bitten olives and with lots of leaves, but the end product will suffer. It won’t taste as good.

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At the end of the harvest day we celebrated with some good wine (probably a bit too much) and some Mexican food. The next morning we took our olives to the be milled at Cougar Vineyards in Temecula. The owners at Cougar are great people and grow olives in addition to Italian grapes, and I’ve struck up a deal to process our olives using his milling equipment. (BTW, their wines are superb. If you live in Socal you should visit them.)

We had some technical problems that took up the first couple of hours. An electrical problem kept the mill from starting at all, then a mechanical problem kept us from operating continuously. Rick the winewaker, one of his helpers, a technical rep from the manufacturer (by phone) and I all worked through those problems. Finally, we got the cantankerous equipment working.

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After about five hours of milling, our 660 pounds of olives yielded 10 gallons of oil, which turns out to be 11.5% oil content. That’s a little low – we should get 15-18% oil from our olives. But we kind of expected that – the longer the fruit stays on the tree, the higher the oil content, and an October harvest is fairly early.

Another side effect of an early harvest is that the oil will have a sharp, somewhat bitter flavor. That flavor does mellow out on its own in a few weeks, but the freshly-milled oil is a little harsh. One treatment for that is filtering, which we may try this year. Rick at Cougar thinks that’s a helpful process, so we’ll see.

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All in all, a hard couple of days but a success. I don’t know how many more such days I’ve got in me, but we’ll need at least 2-3 more to harvest the bumper crop we’ve got this year. Next harvest days will probably be right after Thanksgiving.

 

Time flies

I like to say “time flies, whether you’re having fun or not”. That’s always been my excuse for doing fun things (golfing, reading, watching UK basketball, cooking, wine tasting, visiting with friends/family) rather than working at things I consider a duty, things  I “should be doing” (earning a living, maintaining the property, exercising). That’s never been more true than now.

I now have the opportunity to do what I want, for the most part when I want. That’s retirement, and it’s a great thing. I don’t yet have the optimum balance of fun and duty, but I’m getting there.

One thing that’s also true about time flying is that time seems to go faster and faster as we get older. It’s a near-universal feeling. I’ve always wondered why, and it turns out the answer can be found in neuroscience. From a 2016 Scientific American article by James M. Broadway:

“There are good reasons why older people may feel that way. When it comes to how we perceive time, humans can estimate the length of an event from two very different perspectives: a prospective vantage, while an event is still occurring, or a retrospective one, after it has ended. In addition, our experience of time varies with whatever we are doing and how we feel about it. In fact, time does fly when we are having fun. Engaging in a novel exploit makes time appear to pass more quickly in the moment. But if we remember that activity later on, it will seem to have lasted longer than more mundane experiences.

The reason? Our brain encodes new experiences, but not familiar ones, into memory, and our retrospective judgment of time is based on how many new memories we create over a certain period. In other words, the more new memories we build on a weekend getaway, the longer that trip will seem in hindsight.

This phenomenon, which Hammond has dubbed the holiday paradox, seems to present one of the best clues as to why, in retrospect, time seems to pass more quickly the older we get. From childhood to early adulthood, we have many fresh experiences and learn countless new skills. As adults, though, our lives become more routine, and we experience fewer unfamiliar moments. As a result, our early years tend to be relatively overrepresented in our autobiographical memory and, on reflection, seem to have lasted longer. Of course, this means we can also slow time down later in life. We can alter our perceptions by keeping our brain active, continually learning skills and ideas, and exploring new places.”

I love this explanation. It makes perfect sense, and it gives one hope. Even in our doddering old age we can slow the arrow of time by experiencing brand new things. That’s a great principle to live by in retirement –  try or do something new, often. Break out of old habits.

I’ll start that just as soon as I finish my morning coffee, sitting in the same chair in the same room at the same time…

 

10/7-10/9, Lake Hemet revisited

On a Monday afternoon we returned to one of our favorite campsites, Lake Hemet. We last visited on the July 4th weekend, and we liked the place a lot in spite the innumerable holiday weekend campers we had to content with. Once we were on the lake you could get away from the hordes and it was a beautiful spot.

Visiting in October, on weekdays, was completely different. The first thing I noticed as we drove up the mountain was the distinct brownness of everything on SR79 and 371. It hasn’t rained in Socal for about 7 months and it shows. Right now it’s as dry as it gets here. We saw remnants of some small fires along the 371.

The second thing that struck me as we climbed upward was the yellowish-greenish-brownish color of the scrub (manzanita, creosote bush, etc.) along the road, in fact as far as the eye could see. It’s an unusual color; there’s no name for it. I guess it’s what fall looks like in a high desert setting.

Upon entering the campground and finding our spot we noticed a lot more permanent-looking “campers” tucked into their sites. RVs and trailers with porches, sheds, woodpiles, makeshift enclosed add-on rooms – these are not rigs you pack up and go in an afternoon. My only explanation for this is that it’s a cheap

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_c85e.jpg retirement option. Pay $20-40K for a used RV, get it here, then pay $400-500 per month for a long-term space rental and you’re good to go. That’s a LOT cheaper living situation than anything else I can think of in Socal, and the setting is beautiful. My first reaction upon seeing all this was…who in the world would live like this? My more considered reaction is…I get it. Simple, cheap, peaceful, safe, and surrounded by beauty.

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When we left the Temecula area it was 91 degrees. The temperature at the lake was a much more comfortable 81 at the peak afternoon heat. We walked around the almost silent property and took in the views, some shown here. The lake itself was down about 8 feet from its spring 2019 high – I suspect that this level is more the norm. We’ll see how that affects the fishing tomorrow.

We enjoyed a simple meal of hamburgers grilled over charcoal, heated up baked beans, cole slaw and some apples from a tree just yards away. Camp grub at its finest.

Later that night we learned firsthand that the high desert nighttime is cold. We don’t have a thermometer, but I estimate it got down to 35ish. Cold enough to get your attention in the Socal uniform of T-shirts and shorts.

All told after our first afternoon and night back at Lake Hemet I am very satisfied. It’s a peaceful place. The lack of cell phone service and Wifi is disconcerting at first – we’re so seldom disconnected these days – but even that feels good this morning. Now for the fishing…

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Postscript from day 2. Double disappointment. While the half-day fishing on the lake was beautiful, we caught no fish and didn’t see our eagle buddy. That’s fishing. Before we return I’m going to do some research on this lake and lake trout fishing techniques to be better prepared.

Still no flying car, but this might do

The primary mode of travel for most Americans isn’t an airplane, a bike or a train – it’s a car. I’m the same – I’ve driven 200,000+ miles over the last decade, mostly associated with my too-long work commute to San Diego and LA. Even retired I’m driving something like 12,000 miles per year, so having a good vehicle is important.

I’m a year away from needing to replace my primary traveling tool, my car. The BMW 5-series plug-in hybrid has been and continues to be a great car. Drives like a BMW, is beautiful and most importantly qualifies for the carpool lanes. Carpool lanes are essential in Socal unless you want to spend hours in heavy, heavy freeway traffic.

In retirement my needs have changed somewhat, so I’m thinking a truck. But also needing the carpool lanes leads one to wish for an electric truck – something that doesn’t exist yet but looks like it will in late 2020, pretty much perfect timing for me. So I’ve put myself on the waiting list for two prospective EV trucks – the Rivian and the Atlis. I’m hoping for the Atlis (better looking design) but the Rivian is much more likely to produce a vehicle in the near term. Rivian has huge orders from Ford and Amazon and is extremely well capitalized. Atlis not so much.

The specs on both are amazing (see below), so either way it would be a great vehicle. BMW performance, truck utility and EV efficiency and conservation. Win-win-win. The only downside is price – they’re going to be expensive. It should be noted that neither company has produced a single ready-to sell vehicle yet, so that makes things a bit risky. But that’s where Tesla was a few years ago.

Anyway, stay tuned. We’ll see what the EV truck landscape looks like a year from now.

From motor1.com: “Rivian intends to offer the pickup with three available powertrain options. The base model has 402 horsepower (300 kilowatts), 413 pound-feet 560 Newton-meters), and a 105 kWh battery capacity offering a driving range over 230 miles (370 kilometers). The middle step has 754 hp (562 kW), 826 lb-ft (1,120 Nm), and a 135 kWh battery with a range over 300 miles (483 kilometers). The range-topping version has slightly less power at 700 hp (522 kW) and 826 lb-ft (1,120 Nm), but it packs a 180 kWh battery with a range over 400 miles (644 kilometers).