Thanks(giving) it’s over

We had a great Thanksgiving Day meal with friends and family. Great people joining us, enough food for a small village and a great selection of wines and desserts. My traditional over-the-top meal, if I say so myself. My most ambitious dish, a turkey breast in mole sauce, was good but not great. I was going for great. The mole was missing something – not sure what – and the turkey breast shredded when I tried to cut it. So it goes.

And now for 2+ days after that I’ve indulged in a favorite time of year. Leftovers, holiday movies and general sloth. It’s truly an indulgence. But unlike past years when I was younger and healthier, after a couple of days of couch sitting and leftovers every couple of hours, I don’t feel too well. Pretty bad, in fact. The body just can’t take the abuse it used to.

So…today starts an effort to regain health. It isn’t that complicated. Just eat less than 2000 calories per day, get 30+ minutes of exercise each day and keep alcohol to a minimum (if at all). Eat less, drink less, get some exercise and write every day. Uncomplicated but hard to stick with. We’ll see.

In other holiday news my dad isn’t doing well. While my health issues are relatively minor and fixable, his aren’t. He’s very weak, not eating, falling down a lot. Several of us think he has congestive heart failure, but we haven’t gotten that specific diagnosis from an MD yet. That may not matter – it’s just putting a name to the thing that’s killing him with little/no hope of doing much about it. I’m on my way to see him in the next couple of weeks.

All in all, I have to say the holidays feel different now that I’m retired. They’re not the gigantic break in routine from going-to-work that they used to be. Whatever happened on the holidays…that break from work was something. Now, the holidays are actually more work than a regular day. Not complaining, just observing the difference.

Unwelcome guest

In addition to the very welcome family guests we had the last couple of weeks, there has been a more recent unwelcome guest at our home. A virus. I don’t get sick very often (all that clean living), but both Kathryn and I have been down with some kind of a virus for the last 10 days. I think we’re on the recovery side of things, but the sinus problems and general bodily weakness due to this thing keep hanging on. We’ve had to renege on a couple of fun get-togethers with people just so we wouldn’t infect them. Like many emotionally-mature decisions, that one isn’t much fun.

I’ve used the down time to get some reading and writing done, but that’s losing its appeal quickly. Cabin fever is setting in.

Say it ain’t so

(OK, this has nothing to do with travel, but it’s such a big deal to me I had to write about it. We’ll return to our regular programming in the next post.)

I read something today that has left me stunned. Amazed. I was reading an article on deep learning networks and AI by a brilliant guy named Jeffrey Dean, from Google Research. In that article he highlighted a fact that I was unaware of. A big, surprising fact, at least for me.

I should digress. I’ve spent my entire professional life working with a few truths in mind. For example, your reputation is everything, so don’t do anything to mess it up. That’s a truth. But the one I’m focused on today is called Moore’s Law. In the early 1980s Gordon Moore of Intel observed that computing power and efficiency was doubling every couple of years. At the time he made that observation, it was interesting but not earthshaking. But as the years went by and Moore’s Law was observed to be true for 10, then 20, then 30 years, it became one of the only constants in an ever-changing technology world. I can’t tell you how many times I quoted or took Moore’s Law into account as we were planning the technology future of one company or another.

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So, to see this chart in Dean’s paper highlighting the end of Moore’s Law was a real shock to me. How is this not in all the newspapers? Dean is saying (showing, based on evidence in his paper) that it will now take twenty years for the next doubling of CPU/GPU speed instead of two. That’s…amazing. And amazingly bad, from my point of view.

Moore’s Law has driven the technology companies and economies to gigantic heights over the last 40 years. If it’s now over, what does that mean for tech companies in general? It will take a while for the effects to be noticed, but this will have an effect. It’s truly the end of an era.

 

Fire and Rain

With a nod to James Taylor, our long annual dry spell is finally over. It’s raining here in Socal, the first rain in six months. Hopefully this begins a four to six month pattern of cool days and sporadic rain, ending this year’s fire season.

Even after thirty years here it’s hard to get used to the compressed Socal seasons. There are only two seasons – a cool and mildly wet “winter” and a long, hot and dry “summer”. Spring and fall are conspicuously missing. I find that I like the winters here a lot and have come to hate the summers. Part of it is that I tolerate heat less and less in my dotage, making me wonder “why do older people move to Florida? Or Phoenix?”. The other part of it is that with summer comes the threat of Socal wildfires, a quite recent existential threat to those of us daring to live in areas with trees.

But I digress. With each first rain I feel a palpable sense of relief, a sense that everything is OK again. Six months without rain wears on me.

Postscript, 11/20: About 24 hours into our first “major” storm of the year we’ve gotten two tenths of an inch of rain. Color me unimpressed.

Postscript 2, 11/10: Ok, we got almost an inch of rain and some solid thunder and lightning this afternoon. I’m happy.

And just because I still love the song, here are JT’s immortal, poetic words from 1968 (!):

Fire and Rain
Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone
Susanne the plans they made put an end to you
I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song
I just can’t remember who to send it to
I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again
Won’t you look down upon me, jesus
You’ve got to help me make a stand
You’ve just got to see me through another day
My body’s aching and my time is at hand
And I won’t make it any other way
Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again
Been walking my mind to an easy time my back turned towards the sun
Lord knows when the cold wind blows it’ll turn your head around
Well, there’s hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things
To come
Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground
Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you, baby, one more time again, now
Thought I’d see you one more time again
There’s just a few things coming my way this time around, now
Thought I’d see you, thought I’d see you fire and rain, now

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.