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Published: April 11th 2010
Play Golf With Your Friends
Stephen, Farhad and I played a great round of frisbee golf in Goleta.
Why Did I leave?
Visiting Santa Barbara over the last ten days has brought back many fond memories. I lived here from 1993 to 1996 and the place hasn't changed much and is still one of the most beautiful places in the world. SB is known as the American Riviera because of it idyllic weather and its location between the mountains and sea. The city receives abundant sunshine because its the largest southern facing coastal plane in California. The Santa Ynez mountains tower over the back of the city and the Channel Islands lay a few miles off the coast. Most of my friends from that time are still here and wouldn't live anywhere else.
People from all over the world come here to enjoy the golf courses, culture, great cuisine and beaches. Many students move here to go to college and never leave. The Univeristy of California Santa Barbara has over 21,000 students and Santa Barbara City College weighs in with over 19,000 full and part-time students. Three other smaller colleges (Westmont and Antioch Colleges and the Brooks Institute of Photography) bring lots of fresh faces to the community. A significant high-tech work force is established here also,
so I could get a job. Santa Barbara has a lot of things going for it.
So why did I quit a good job and move away from paradise you might ask (some of my friends did)?
My answer is three fold.
1) Expensive real estate. Because they've limited growth here since the 1970s, house prices are astronomical. Condos here are hard to find for under $500,000 and most detached houses are from $600,000 for a fixer upper to multiple millions for a sweet home. When I was here right out of college, I didn't see how I could save $20k for a downpayment on a small place and still be up to my ears in debt. I could have teamed up with someone, but that didn't happen. Two incomes is what it takes and most of my friends have bought into the SB dream and bought a house. The ones who bought in the 90s have a load of equity now. Others who bought later have some pretty fat mortgages. My friends seem to be doing pretty well though and are happy that they've invested in SB.
Check out some homes here if your interested:
What I could have done a decade ago was buy a non-mobile home - the ones that stay in a trailer park. That would have let me at least own my property for cheap, but I didn't think of it seriously and wouldn't ahve gotten much equity. I like living in a small space like the RV since it's easy to clean and take care of. I was definitely afraid to get behind a $200,000 mortgage in the 1990s. Times have changed though and I could afford more now. If I were to buy now, I would more than double my mortgage from Kansas City to $4-5,000/month.
2) No fiber optic jobs. I wanted to work in fiber optics out of college and I wasn't finding any jobs in that field in SB. Most of the work was related to government funded projects such as satellites or defense contracts in Santa Barbara. They were pretty stable, but they didn't have the growth that I still hope to find in my current job. If you didn't know, I work for Brocade (BRCD) and our stock is hopefully going to grow into something soon since it'd detracted from $9
Photos of Earth
This picture shows how the satellite I made takes pictures of earth that are used to monitor the environment. The satellite takes pictures in stripes and can measure the temperature of the oceans very accurately with infrared.
to $6 over the last few months. I've thought that I could profit form my stock now for quite a while and just celebrated my 10th anniversary of working there. Some analysts think it will go over $10 next year, but it hasn't been the boon I was hoping for.
My friends still work in some great jobs here. A couple of them are working for 20 hours/week and getting full benefits. They're valuable employees and the companies want to give them the freedom to raise families. I could handle that kind of job.
3) Travel lust. While I loved SB, I still loved the road more. When I saved my first $5k with Hughes Aircraft, I didn't want to sink it into a house. I went on a year-long vacation to New Zealand, Fiji, the US and finally Taiwan. That was money well spent and I would do it again. I was on a leave of absence from Hughes for the first 6 months of my trip and they wanted me to come back to work. I told them that I didn't need their money and kept traveling for another 6 months. If I would have stayed
in SB, I wouldn't have met Grace, so that's another bonus of leaving SB.
So in the end, I have some regrets of leaving Santa Barbara. It's giving a couple hundred thousand people a great place to live. My friends are all doing well and raising families now. Life looks good for them and SB will always be there. I only have one life to live though and things have worked out well for me. I had a great time when I lived there and I had a great time visiting. I hope to go back more, but I've already moved on.
When I graduated from Cal Poly, SLO, I got a job as a rotating engineer at Hughes Aircraft's Santa Barbara Research Center (SBRC). Rotating engineers worked four different jobs over a two year period before they had to settle on a particular job. In my two years, I worked on an environmental monitoring satellite (MODIS), implemented document management software in IT, testing semiconductors and a developed a fiber optic link for a satellite. The fiber optic project ended, so I went back to work full time on making the satellite. I actually
Mardi Gras Spirit
Emily (in the background) put all of our decorative beads on her little brother Evan. Farhad and Wendy's kids know how to party!
put together part of an satellite that is still orbiting earth today and taking pictures that you can see here:
It was really interesting work making space ships and SBRC is famous for making the LANDSAT satellite cameras and many interplanetary spacecraft that have been to 7 of the 8 planets.
Why I'm telling you this is because Hughes was a really good company and they hired groups of rotating engineers like me every year. My class had 6 fresh faces and 5 of us became good friends. The rotators were a pretty close group and some even fell in love. When Grace and I got back into town, we had a BBQ and 5 rotators came over to catch up. Here's a rundown of them:
Stephen - I used to play ultimate (frisbee) with Steve (before he became Stephen) at our University in San Luis Obispo and he was an Electrical Engineer (EE) like me. We had some classes together, but we spent more time throwing plastic around the fields of Cal Poly. He graduated before me and went to grad school at UC Davis. We both did interns at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories
Farhad, Gill Steve and Roya dig into Grace's tacos.
and saw each other there as well. We started work on the same day at Hughes as rotators. It was great to cross paths with him over the years and we ended up living together before I left SB. Stephen teaches computer science at SBCC now and consults on the side as well. Stephen is one of the most intelligent people I know and does a rigorous analysis on everything he does.
Roya - Roya was one of two women rotators that was in our class of 6. Stephe and Roya started car pooling that first year and have been pooling their resources ever since. I was probably one of the first people to see them showing public displays of affection. Who says you can't find romance at the workplace? Roya and Steve went on an around-the-world trip for a year and Stephen proposed to her on New Years Eve in 2000 in Thailand. She works 20 hours a week at Raytheon (the company that bought SBRC) so she can give lots of love to Kian. They have a son Kian who is a really cool little kid. Roya has a great sense of humor and is always looking
Through the Brush
Steve threw one disk through the dense growth.
for a laugh and causing trouble.
Farhad - Farhad grew up in the greater LA area and is Persian like Roya. They both grew up in Iran and left when the Shah was overthrown. Farhad is a mechanical engineer and works for FLIR Systems which makes infrared (IR) cameras. SBRC was famous for making IR cameras and some spinoff companies like FLIR are based in the SB area. I got to know Farhad well on some backpacking trips that I used to lead the rotators on. His wife Wendy used to go backpacking with us too and they now have three beautiful kids that they watch over and they're building a tree house for right now. Farhad always has an amusing anecdote to tell and he's always got a smile on his face and that look in his eye that he's up to something.
George - George graduated in a rotator class before me and is an electronics tinkerer. He develops software, hardware and debugs equipment to make it road worthy. His punk band the Oxidizers used to light up State Street in the 90s. They were a great performance band and would dress up in bizarre costumes,
jump around and sing about Euell Gibbons eating "rocks and sticks and dirt!". The funniest costume I could remember was when George dressed up like Princess Leia with two honey buns stuck to the side of his head. George has a quick wit and is always ready to chat over a beer.
Lisa - Lisa is a younger rotator and became half of another rotator couple when she married George. She made all of the right moves at Raytheon and quickly lead projects at Raytheon before her time. She only works 20 hours now so she can raise her two sons Riley and Dane. Lisa is very curious and kind and keeps things in perspective.
I have to give credit to SBRC for making the rotator program such a success. Without that program, my experience in Santa Barbara would have been much more isolated. They created a community of young engineers who naturally became good friends and some became more than that.
A Great Week
My time in Santa Barbara was action packed. Here's a rundown of what I did:
Thursday- arrived in the park and went out to dinner at an excellent
Italian restaurant named Ca'Dario. Their rotisserie chicken was luscious and their squid steak was delic.
Friday - We went to happy hour at George and Lisa's. They have a neighborhood full of kids that play while the parents hover and socialize.
Saturday - RV BBQ at its best. Grace cooked chicken and fish tacos topped with homemade salsas. All the rotators came over as well as their kids and my friend Gill.
Sunday - Stephen, Farhad and I played a killer game of frisbee golf. The course was incredibly difficult and set in the middle of a forest. Afterwards, Grace and I went and saw How to Train your Dragon.
Monday - Our friend Debbie visted us from Kansas City. We had dinner at her friend Frank's condo in Carpenteria. Frank has a special apron that you can see pictures of. Debbie's friend Cassandra was also in from New York and we had a wonderful dinner. Debbie took a break from building her house in KC made of containers. Check that out here:
Tuesday - I bicycled to Stephen's office hour at SBCC and continued to cycle along the beaches of SB and back
to the RV through downtown.
Wednesday - Gill, Farhad and I did a sweet hike about 30 miles outside of SB to the Gaviota Wind Caves. This short hike took us to some interesting sandstone caves and we hiked through some overgrown, yellow mustard plants to get to it.
Thursday - I visited George for some late night beers after putting his kids to sleep.
Friday - Farhad and Wendy had us over for some dessert wines and desserts. Steve and Roya bought Kian over for a final sendoff as well
Saturday - We went to the downtown Farmer's market before practicing to park the RV in the empty parking lot.
In the end, I don't have many regrets of Santa Barbara, because I did all I could in the time I had there.
PS. Note there are two pages of pictures. Phil Sell sent me some photos of his latest wood sculpture. He made a huge thrown that is going to be used in a music video. Check it out.
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