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Update on Life
Feb 20th, 2012 by defselektor

Obviously, this blog has become little more than a placeholder, a colorful bookmark for a nice-sounding domain name. The reason is simple: Facebook has become the new blog. With my now over 500 “friends”, I have a built-in audience for my thoughts, links, videos, photos and so on that I don’t have here, and I don’t have the time or really the inclination to add much on this forum. Long-form personal blogging is SO 2002 anyway.

All that said, I’ve just read through my journal entries from my 2008 trip to China, the last big foreign adventure I’ve been on. What a weird, turbulent time in my life that was. Anyway, as I have the day off this Presidents’ Day of 2012, I thought I’d put down a few words on where I’m at in life, if merely for posterity’s sake. I recently read the amazing book “The Guns of August“, which is about the months leading up to, and first month or so of hostilities of the first World War. The reason I mention the book is because so much of the primary research comes from the personal letters, journals, autobiographies and other written production of the actors and players of the time. Their personal blogs, to use today’s language, informed a definitive history of one of the most important events in history. I do not expect that my vague and inconsistent ramblings would ever be comparable, but I’d like to be able to look back in a bunch of years and recall some of the minor things of days past.

I’ve been living in Los Angeles for just short of three years. Since moving here I’ve had two addresses and three different living situations. Right now I live in the Miracle Mile area of the city, about halfway between Fairfax and La Brea. I have a cozy guest-house type attached room with bed, dresser and desk in a single level home with a pleasant backyard and patio, shallow unheated pool and non-functional hot tub. My roommates are Adrian (also the homeowner), 36ish, of I believe Mexican descent, who runs his family’s autoparts import company as well as his own clothing company, which sells colorful menswear basics (underwear, tank tops and t shirts), and Charles, who claims to be 21, from Surprise, AZ, who works alternatively as model, tv/film extra, Apple iProduct accessory dealer, and massage therapist. While pleasant enough, both of my housemates exhibit the trademark LA shallowness in relation to other people and I have not gotten to know them very well. It’s perfectly ok to not be friends with your roommates, however.

I cook occasionally, usually a veggie stir fry or something easy, and stick to salads, sandwiches, burritos, Thai food, and sometimes pizza at work. Vegetarianism is easy here, and is still very important to me. Overall, physical health has become something extremely important to me for fitness of mind, body and spirit. I am also trying to consume art and literature as much as possible. I feel more than ever that even in my own country, there is an infinite number of things to do and see. I still play video games, such as Angry Birds, Portal 2, and Call of Duty, and am looking forward to Diablo III. At present I have a beard and small handlebar mustache, which seems to have developed its own fan club.

I work for a utility solar power and infrastructure developer in the tony Brentwood area of west Los Angeles, a place where we receive special traffic alerts when President Obama comes to town to do fundraising. My (self-assigned) job title is Associate; I’ve come to realize this title is meaningless beyond belief. What I function as is secretary, IT manager, solar project manager, film-festival coordinator, and executive sounding board for my boss, who seems to know everybody worth knowing in California, from political elites to entertainment biz honchos and publishing celebrities. He is a true example of the classic California entrepreneur, getting involved in anything lucrative, sexy, or just plain fun, from a Dim Sum restaurant to commemorative Playboy coffee table book publishing to agriculture and now to a solar power farm and ultimately, a sustainable city built from the ground up.

On many days there is little to do, so I spend plenty of time reading on the web. Facebook, Andrew Sullivan, and The NY and LA Times are my starting points, and trails in various directions including Ta-Nehisi Coates and other authors at The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Greentech Media, Wired, Boing Boing, TYWKIWDBI, the Big Picture, New York Magazine and any number of other assorted blogs and sites. Mixed in with the words are many stunning images and thought-provoking or interesting videos.

My whole family now lives in the LA area, a completely unexpected transplant from our New England and New York area roots. I have two boisterous nephews about age 5 and two adorable nieces around 1. I have a serious girlfriend, J, from Kansas City, MO, who works as a production manager in the fashion industry and is also a singer. We are considering moving in together but can’t agree on a location or if it will be a good thing for the relationship.

I am in the middle of applying to business schools. While I’ve been tossing the idea around for a while, limbo and uncertainty at work helped push me to get the process started last fall. I took a GMAT preparation class called Manhattan GMAT, took the test twice in December and January, and have thus far applied to UCLA Anderson and Berkeley Haas. I will hear from those schools by the end of March, and if I choose to also apply to Stanford and USC Marshall, round three applications are due April 1st. Next weekend I will travel to Berkeley for an interview and class visit as well as to take a statistics waiver exam, which I am not confident of passing. My plan is to focus my electives on sustainable business practices and renewable energy with an international focus. California is the place to be at the moment, but I see many opportunities to be explored around the world.

Many of my friends seem to be getting married and having children. Some have even been divorced. I’m not really ready for all that, though at the same time my taste for partying and being unserious is also flagging. My main goal in coming here was to seriously begin and advance my career, and several years into the process I think that while I’m certainly not on a “fast track” I am steadily making moves in the right directions. I go out two or three nights a week, either to one of my lady friend’s bands, a country-rock band of some friends of mine called the LA Hootenanny, or a house party. It seems like it’s someone’s birthday or going away party or whatever just about every day.

I climb at a gym a couple nights a week and get out to Joshua Tree, Malibu Creek, Devil’s Punchbowl, Tick Rock, Stoney Point, Point Dume or Echo Cliffs when I can. I’m leading sport in the 5.10 range and will attempt climbs up to about 5.12 on toprope. This year I hope to being leading trad and to start building a rack. J is a good sport and comes along for the climbing and camping. My first bike, a bright red Miyata 14-speed road bike, was stolen over a year ago from my sister’s porch while I was inside eating dinner. Since then I’ve built a new one, based around a De Bernardi hybrid aluminum/carbon road frame and Campagnolo Veloce groupset. I sometimes put it on the bus in the mornings and ride it home from work. I also sometimes join a group ride with the Critical Mass chapter of LA.

I don’t take as many photographs as I’d like, though I love the handy-ness of my iPhone camera. My only consistent project of late has been to take snaps of vanity plates and post them to a Tumblr. Sitting in traffic requires something creative to do. I would like to upgrade my DSLR and get a super wide angle lens, but these are not big priorities. I’d also like to get another motorcycle.

This summer I will go to the east coast for the wedding of my old friend Tom and then hopefully back to Europe for a couple weeks to see my sister perform at the Bregenz Festival in Austria and also to see friends in Hungary. Business school starts in August and I will probably be swamped for the next three years.

I am happy and in good shape. I often think about my years in Japan and Hungary and miss the people and experiences I had in those places but also value my present situation. Many questions and challenges still lie ahead, but I am optimistic.

Hiking Mt. Wilson, San Bernadino Mountains
Jun 27th, 2011 by defselektor

Met up with old school homey Rico and some hiking folks this last weekend for a romp in the woods. I have been needing to get out of the city, so despite having to wake up at 6am on a Saturday after an epic week at work, I was in for the win. There were about 10 of us, pretty evenly split between guys and gals.

We got to the parking area a bit late (8:45ish) and so had to park down the road a good mile or so. Chantry Flats filled up quick! The guy at the general store where we bought our State Parks passes said it was full by 7am. Lordy. The big draw are some pretty waterfalls and swimming holes a couple of miles in.

Just after the falls is where things got bad. Not steep bad, or overly hot bad, but bad because we were suddenly swarmed by thousands of flies bad. Hoping they would get bored, we pressed on another couple of miles, but by then realized they were going to be pestering us for the duration. I guess it was a good motivation to keep moving (I barely even stopped for water breaks – just drank as I hiked), but it sort of ruined the chance to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

Anyway, got to the top and thankfully the flies disappeared due to the slight breeze. We hung out on top for a while, grabbing a sandwich at the little lookout cafe and checking out some of the huge observatory telescopes. It’s pretty developed on top, with several radio and TV antennas, as well as a half dozen telescopes.

The hike down wasn’t nearly as awful as the way up, mostly because we could outrun the flies. Took a pretty good toll on my not-so-young-anymore frame, and I was still feeling sore two full days later.

Rico tracked the trip with his nifty GPS unit and imported the data into Google Maps. Here are some stats and images:

Mt. Wilson Summit Loop via Santa Anita Canyon / Winter Creek Trail
total distance from parking down back to the trail head: 17 miles
starting elevation:  1938ft (car) / 2129ft (trail head)
lowest elevation: 1784ft. (sturtevant falls)
summit elevation: 5690ft (cafe)
total climb: 3906 (top to bottom)
total time: 8.5 hrs

Google Map with route overlay (click to enlarge):

Elevation tracking (click to enlarge):

Rico also added the hike to his awesome new website ReCreateLA.com. Check it out and give the boy some love. Or at least get outside and play!

(As a side note, yes I know my updates are pathetically rare. But I had a pretty nostalgic look back at my posts over the past couple of years today, and just thought it would be a good idea to make a post now and then.)

Waking Up With: Billy Joel
Dec 12th, 2010 by defselektor

This one’s a bit embarrassing, if only because the Piano Man is so out of style these days. I heard this tune on the radio the other day, and it’s been stuck in my head since then, so this is partly an effort to purge the saccharine sweetness from my cerebral AM playlist.

When I was a kid I was super into BJ, and probably knew all the lyrics to every song on the Greatest Hits compilation of 1985. I possibly even purchased the album that came out after that one, River of Dreams, but I lost the habit for this style of musical theatre pop when I met a kid at computer camp who was WAY more into Billy Joel than me. Like, superfan status. Knowing I couldn’t compete with that level of sheer cornball, and also anticipating a time when I might want to actually *date a girl*, I started listening to gangster rap instead.

Anyway, check out the awesome video above (not so subtle racial stereotyping included!). 1984 was a million years ago, huh. If you’re feeling extra nostalgic, check out this one too.

Halloween Interlude: How To Make a Tea-bagger Costume
Oct 29th, 2010 by defselektor

My buddy Peter has created the ultimate 2010 Halloween costume. Check out his How-To video below.

CA Midterms 2010: The Propositions
Oct 27th, 2010 by defselektor

Californians, YOU have the chance to MAKE HISTORY this November 2nd. On this year’s ballot there will be nine State Measures, ranging from mundane democratic reforms to critical environmental support to a culture-shifting proposition that will have effects far wider than the state boundaries. Before I give you my choices, feel free to click HERE for a non-partisan breakdown of the propositions, by the League of Women Voters. Now let’s get into it.

Vote YES on Proposition 19.

This is the big one folks. Prop 19 would legalize the personal possession, cultivation and transportation of marijuana, and would set up a showdown with Federal law. I support this proposition because the drug war is by all accounts an abject failure – a horrific waste of money and lives that has not had one iota of impact on the global drug trade and only supports the massive military industrial complex and foreign despots and criminals. Legalizing pot will be a huge weight lifted off the shoulders of law enforcement as well as the state court and prison system, and will be a huge blow to the brutal Mexican drug cartels. The taxes raised from the legal, above-board sale and distribution will be more than enough to pay for added drug-treatment centers, education, and other uses. In addition, we can expect to see a Supreme Court fight that could lead to broader decriminalization/legalization. Make history – vote YES on Prop 19.

Vote NO on Proposition 20 and NO on Proposition 27.

These two, related Measures concern the complicated and corrosive process of congressional and local redistricting. Historically, elected representatives “rig” the district lines every ten years (after the census) to conform to their party, which helps entrench incumbent power by consolidating their supporters while dividing their opponents. In 2008, CA voters passed a proposition to create a 14-member, bipartisan commission to establish Assembly, Senate and Board of Equalization districts – a step in the right direction. However, I believe we have not yet gotten conclusive evidence that this commission is cost-effective or actually improves fairness, and it should not be given the additional power to redraw congressional districts at this time. Let’s give them more time to prove themselves by voting NO on Prop 27, which would take away all of their authority, but also voting NO on Prop 20, which would give them more power.

Vote YES on Proposition 21.

This would establish an additional $18 surcharge on your car registration in order to help fund state parks and wildlife programs. Everyone hates taxes, I know, but the CA State Park system is one of the best in the nation, and is currently underfunded. This prop would offset over $200 million of other funding sources currently being used, and anyone who pays gets a free pass. We all need to spend a little more time outdoors, and this is the perfect kick in the pants. Get outside and play in the state parks! Vote YES on Prop 21.

Proposition 22 – no strong opinion, probably NO.

I don’t really know who would go to all the trouble to collect the tens of thousands of signatures necessary to get this one on the ballot, but basically it would further restrict the state government from moving funds from transportation, redevelopment or local government projects and giving it to, say, education or some other area, even in a budgetary emergency. It’s one group of state employees versus another, and I think we can do without the additional restrictions on the legislature’s ability to pay the bills when/where they come up, so I will probably vote NO. However, if you’re the kind of person that thinks tax money should only go to EXACTLY where it was originally slated for (keep in mind none of us actually get to decide where it goes in the first place), then vote YES.

Vote NO on Proposition 23.

This one is absolutely 100% critical to defeat, both for personal as well as economic and environmental reasons. The supporters are two Texas oil companies, Valero and Tesoro, that simply do not want to see their market share of the energy supply in the state to go down. They only care about profits. At stake, however, is the burgeoning green-tech/renewable energy sector, which is the fastest growing industry in the state and has the potential to provide thousands of in-state jobs for decades into the future, including MINE. The passage of Prop 23 would also kill clean air standards in the state, and if you think our air quality is bad now, just wait until you’re choking on smog and drowning in acid rain. Stand up for environmental progress and the clean-energy economy, VOTE NO ON PROP 23!

Proposition 24 – no strong opinion, possibly YES.

This measure would repeal a tax cut for some businesses that gave them some flexibility in terms of what they can write off as losses, what state their income is taxed in (if operating in multiple states), and the ability to transfer tax credits to other businesses. This flexibility likely has some positive effect on some business areas, but the state could also probably use the $1.3 billion the measure would reclaim. I am in favor of a friendly business climate, as that will increase economic growth and jobs, but the education system in CA is one of its most vital resources, and needs the funding too. I would love to see some education reform, but until then I don’t think we can keep starving the children of their right to decent public schools. So, probably vote YES on Prop 24.

Vote YES on Proposition 25.

Another pretty critical vote, which will help to break the budget deadlock that has been so brutal this year. Currently the CA legislature requires a 2/3 majority vote to pass a budget, which, as is readily evident from our disfunctional national Senate, gives the minority party undue power to hold the budget hostage until their special demands are met (usually money for their districts). Passing this measure would withhold the lawmakers’ salaries until they do their damn jobs and pass the budget. Keep in mind that a 2/3 majority would still be required to raise taxes, so you can be rest assured that they wont go up very easily. Help democracy do its job – vote YES on Prop 25.

Vote NO on Proposition 26.

This is the “rename business fees as taxes” measure, which is an underhanded way for corporate interests to avoid paying for potential damages to society or the environment. If the fees are reclassified as taxes, which everyone hates, then the legislature will require a 2/3 majority to impose them, thus making them unlikely to be assigned. The reason you should vote NO is because the government needs the power to assess fees for the ill effects of business when and where they occur. In addition, the power to impose fees is the most direct and effective way to address underfunded state assets, such as entrance to state parks or continuing garbage service. So, vote NO on Prop 26.

In summary:

19 – YES!

20&27 – NO

21 – YES

22 – no?

23 – NO, NO, A HUNDRED TIMES NO!

24 – yes?

25 – YES!

26 – NO

CA Midterms 2010 – Jerry Brown for Governor
Oct 20th, 2010 by defselektor

For the top spot on the CA ticket this year I endorse Jerry Brown, a Democrat. Whatever else you might say about this guy, the thing that distinguishes him the most from his main opponent, Meg Whitman, is that this guy really knows government. In addition to already being governor from 1975-1983, he’s served in many other public positions, including the Mayor of Oakland and Secretary of State (CA), and is currently the state Attorney General.

Basically, my thinking comes down to a few points. First, California is a mess. The political system is screwed up, and the reality of actually attempting to fix it will take an intimate knowledge of all the different players, agencies, interest groups and so on to coordinate. Brown is a career politician, which I believe is a good thing – better than simply wanting to jump into politics for a quick romp and then exit to a high-paying lobbying job. This guy actually wants to work for the state. Crazy, I know.

Second, Brown supports the clean tech economy and environmental leadership that California will hopefully continue to lead in. This one hits close to home for me, as I work in the renewable energy sector. Much work still needs to be done to improve the green business climate in the state, and due to the reasons above, I believe Brown will be able to understand and cut the red tape faster and more effectively than Whitman. I believe Whitman would also be a good thing for business in the state, but much in the same way that Arnold Schwarzenegger spent years simply learning the ropes, I believe her effectiveness would be limited and/or misguided. In terms of actual climate policy, as well, Whitman is suspect, promising to suspend the incredibly important AB-32, which established California’s Renewable Portfolio Standards (which mandate that the utilities get 20% of their power from renewable sources by 2013) and set the state up to be a leader in the new clean tech economy of the future. VOTE NO ON PROP 23! (more on that in a subsequent post).

Third, I am much less worried about Brown’s “ulterior motives”. While in his previous stint as Governor he ran several times for President, his age would now preclude that possibility, as well as the previously mentioned golden parachute as a lobbyist. This guy will probably be a public servant until he dies. If not, he’s spent more than 35 years trying to fool us otherwise.

What gives me serious pause to Meg Whitman is first and foremost her disregard for politics for most of her adult life, having rarely voted at all. Her work as a businesswoman is impressive, but the state is simply far more complicated than running an IT company, and it strikes me that her goal to be governor is not out of a sincere desire to serve the state’s interests (as opposed to just business’s interests). I also don’t like the idea of Whitman’s use of her massive personal fortune for campaigning. What it says to me is that rich people can simply buy their way into politics (see: The Governator) without really having a demonstrated interest in serving the interests of the people. Brown may be supported by unions, which have their problems, but unions at least represent real people, banding together for collective and community betterment. There are no union chiefs who are billionaires, and a very few who are millionaires. Whitman represents the few, the powerful, the elite, who don’t necessarily want more than to enrich themselves and their friends. They see themselves as Masters of our Universe, who should simply be trusted to set the listing ship straight. But aren’t they the ones who got us into this mess?

In addition, Whitman supported Proposition 8, which took away the right of gay and lesbian people to marry. I would never vote for a person who supports taking away the civil rights of others.

If people really want to see uncorrupted campaigns based on real issues and policies, they should also support public financing of elections (which probably equates with a large tax hike). Otherwise politics will always be dominated either by the wealthy elite with big business behind them or the less-wealthy elite with giant unions and a lesser portion of big business behind them.

Vote for Brown on November 2!

This article is part of the CA Midterms 2010 series.

CA Midterms 2010: Why You Should Vote
Oct 11th, 2010 by defselektor

They’re voting. And if you don’t, they win. And everybody loses.

This article is part of the CA Midterms 2010 series.

CA Midterms 2010: An Introduction
Oct 6th, 2010 by defselektor

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard that there’s an election coming up in November and that it’s a very important one. So important, in fact, that it’s broken records for how much money has already been spent both by those running for office as well as third parties seeking to influence the results, with totals rivaling and potentially surpassing a Presidential election.

Why all the hubbub? Well, there’s a sense among folks that these are desperate times, and indeed they may be – persistent unemployment, record low faith in government, a worsening deficit and a worn-thin patience for much “change” in the short term. In addition, the recent Citizens United Supreme Court decision has allowed the floodgates to open in terms of unlimited corporate spending by both named and, perhaps most controversially, anonymous donors.

In the following weeks, I’ll be adding posts outlining my advice on how to vote on the various important offices and propositions on the California ballot. Be warned, I will be endorsing progressive candidates and causes, so consider this first post to be the only fully neutral one of the bunch. Rest assured I will be doing my research and hope to at least paint an accurate picture of both sides of the issues and candidates.

So educate yourself! Here are some dates and links to get you started.

  1. REGISTER TO VOTE! DEADLINE IS OCTOBER 18th! Do it today!
  2. Anyone, even you, can vote by mail. Get the vote-by-mail application HERE (.pdf) THE DEADLINE TO APPLY IS OCTOBER 26th. Do it today!
  3. Read the candidate statements and learn what propositions will be on the ballot starting HERE. You can also download the entire guide HERE (.pdf).
  4. Election day is November 2nd. Be there or be square.

*Yes, I DO think it’s important to vote. It’s the only way we regularly have the privilege of contributing to and shaping our communities, culture and economy through the democratic system of government. We have to argue and compromise, but therein hopefully lies its strength – that the result is either the will of the people’s vision or the vision of people with will.

This article is part of the CA Midterms 2010 series.

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