Stan’s Obligatory Blog

Happy Thanksgiving

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12/29/2005

Stroke

Filed under: — stan @ 12:35 am

So on Monday we got the call that we dread. My father is retired and lives in a luxury retirement community in San Diego. It’s an ‘independent living’ facility, but the staff watches over the residents and helps them out as needed. And on Monday they called me and said that they had sent him to the hospital. They said he had slurred speech and weakness in his right hand. The first thing I thought was that he had had a stroke.

I called the hospital and they confirmed that he was there and they said that the doctor would call me after they had done some tests. About an hour later the emergency room doctor called and confirmed that my father had had a mild stroke. The doctor said that he would probably be in the hospital for several days, but that he was already improving. I also talked to his nurse, who said that he was doing well.

When I got there, he looked rather forlorn, sitting up in the hospital bed. They had him hooked up to the usual machines. This was hard for me to see, since it brought back memories of the time when he was poisoned by methyl iodide back in 1974. He tells the story of this on his web page, but his perspective was very different from mine. At the time, I was 14 years old, and I found it profoundly frightening to see my seemingly-invincible father brought low by neurological damage. When I was little, he was strong and seemed capable of anything. He could do gymnastics, walk on his hands, and ride a unicycle. And after being poisoned, his coordination never really came back. He seemed physically just a shell of his former self.

It’s been more than 30 years since that happened, and we’ve all grown accustomed to the new Paul, but now with the stroke, he was having new problems with coordination and vision. And seeing this brought back all the old memories from seeing him in the hospital in 1974. I could still feel the fear of a kid afraid that his father might die.

The physical therapist came soon after I got there, and she gave him a set of tests of strength, coordination, and vision. She gave him some instructions for exercises to do to help regain his right-hand coordination, along with a little tub of silly putty to do hand exercises with. She found that he was having vision problems with a blind spot on the right side. She said that this is fairly common for stroke patients. After that, the emergency room doctor who had examined him when he first came in stopped by. He said that my father was improving well and that he would be able to go home soon.

Around 15:00 or so, they moved my father to a different room, since they had decided that he did not need to be monitored as intensively as before. So he was wheeled over to a room in the ‘regular patient’ wing of the hospital. Then, a short time later, his new nurse came by and said that she had heard that he was going to be discharged that day. The actual discharge order came through at about 18:00, and I drove him back to his apartment. I stayed with him until bedtime to be sure he was all right.

The next day I came back to his place and we spent the day together. He did some of his exercises with the silly putty. He was concerned that his signature was now different due to his right-hand coordination problems, so I took him to the bank so he could make a new signature card. Late in the day he tried to play the piano, just to see what would happen. He was able to do it, but had a lot of problems with the right-hand parts. But overall, he is doing very well, considering what has happened.

12/24/2005

The Ride Before Christmas

Filed under: — stan @ 11:29 pm

Route map and photo locations

(With major apologies to Clement C. Moore, and thanks to www.rhymezone.com)

‘Twas the day before Christmas, and here in L.A;
We went for a bike ride, no snow for a sleigh;

We rode from Pasadena, the Rose Parade town;
Orange Grove west, and soon we went down;

Colorado St. Hill, in to Eagle Rock;
Yosemite Drive was down the next block;

A right turn on Fletcher was just the right bill;
On into Silver Lake, down the big hill;

A brief stop in Silver Lake, in some nice shade;
The “Music Box Steps” where the movie was made;

Snow White’s wishing well was also some fun;
At Second and Larchmont it stood in the sun;

On Virgil!, on First St!, on Second! and Third!;
Across Hancock Park we rode undeterred;

To the big House of David with statues, fake snow;
A cheesy display, but impressive show;

North on Rossmore, we went to go see;
The Hollygrove Home, it is history;

Marilyn Monroe lived there as a child;
Seeing it in person, we were quite beguiled;

West to La Brea, it was just a short jog;
To stop and see Pink’s, the famous Hot Dog;

North into Hollywood, we passed my old house;
The garage where I once had run over a mouse;

Then Hollywood Boulevard, the glittery street,
Was next on our route, it’s always a treat;

A left turn on Bronson, and up a slight hill;
We turned left on Franklin, the climb was near nil;

Riding up Beachwood, ahead was a sign;
It said “HOLLYWOOD“, letters all in a line;

A left turn on Ledgewood and the hill was so steep;
We soon found ourselves almost ready to weep;

Right on Durand, the last part of the climb;
Up to just right below the big Sign;

The street said “No Outlet”, which caused us to frown;
At the top of the hill, so we turned and rode down;

A right turn on Ledgewood, and up once again;
To Mulholland Highway, which was there at its end;

Down off the hill, we passed the dog park;
Then turned left on Tahoe, without a remark;

We rode past Lake Hollywood, and then up the hill,
So hard and so steep it about made me ill;

Down in to Burbank, then Forest Lawn Drive,
And on into Glendale, riding under I-5;

On Kenneth and Mountain, rolling eastward until;
Verdugo Drive north, up Hospital Hill;

Then down back to home, a nice downhill glide;
Merry Christmas to all, and it was a good ride!

51 miles
cycling

12/21/2005

More geek stuff

Filed under: — stan @ 8:30 pm

I have a home-made CAPTCHA on my pages to keep out comment spam. It uses an image with a random character string. I noticed that once in a while, the image would be broken and have unprintable characters in it.

I finally figured this out, so I figured I should write it down for my records and just in case anyone else ever has this problem.

There is a function that makes up a random string like ‘DGQZA’, which is then run through mcrypt to turn it into garbage. This renders it as an encrypted string that may or may not be printable. So then I run it through base64encode to make it into a fully printable string so it can be passed to the image-generation script to make up the image. The problem was when the base64-encoded string had a ‘+’ or ‘/’ or such in it. These characters break the URL. So the fix was to run it through the urlencode function to render the string as something like ‘wDhn8h%2BI2hg%3D’.

Nota Bene: The act of sending the encoded string through to the image-generation script automagically decodes the special characters in the URL, so it is not necessary to send it through ‘urldecode’. In fact, doing that breaks it.

So now it works.

I think.

If anyone notices it behaving badly, please let me know.

Have I mentioned lately that I hate people who hotlink my photos?

Filed under: — stan @ 1:55 pm

I was reading Digg today at lunch, and they had an article about another method of stopping bandwidth theft by hotlinking:

www.thesitewizard.com/archive/bandwidththeft.shtml

So I went and implemented this in my blog photos and also in my photo albums. Take that, myspace.com.

Here are the most popular photos with the hotlinkers:

1134.org/blog/images2005/IMG_0667a.jpg
1134.org/gallery/albums/random/ace.sized.jpg
1134.org/blog/images2005/IMG_0453a.jpg

All together, these three photos account for 2.6% of my total bandwidth for the month. Hmm. Maybe this isn’t as big a deal as I thought. Still, it’s annoying.

12/18/2005

Trying to make Newton say ‘uncle’

Filed under: — stan @ 11:01 pm


Route map and photo locations

Today’s ride was a new route that Gene made up. Newton had been saying he wanted to do more hills, so today we did hills. Fortunately, I like riding up hills, too.

It was kind of a chilly day by SoCal standards. About 50 degrees, so we were all relatively bundled up.

We started out heading east to Sierra Madre. But where we usually just go through the town to get to Arcadia, we turned and went up into one of the canyons above the town. It was a steep climb. The route made a loop, and we came out of the canyon at the same place where we’d gone in. Then we went east a bit more and then headed down Mountain Trail.

We rode all the way down the hill, almost to the 210 freeway. Then we went east a bit to Santa Anita. A left turn pointed us back up the hill. We rode up the hill and into another canyon. Up near the top we hit a portion with an 18% grade. It was about here that I said ‘uncle’ and shifted to a lower gear. Normally, I never shift, and apparently I have something of a reputation for riding up hills in ridiculous gears. But this time I shifted.

At the top, we got onto Highland Oaks and rode down the long hill all the way to Foothill Blvd. There, we turned left and went just a bit to 5th Ave. Then we turned left and headed back up towards the mountains.

Crossing into Monrovia, we went up yet another canyon. This one was also steep, and I had to shift again near the top. Shifting twice in one ride is nearly unheard-of for me, so I took a picture.

The roads in the canyon made a loop again, and we came down into Hillcrest right by where we’d turned off to go up. Then we turned left and continued on into Monrovia.

We took Hillcrest and Greystone and then turned on Norumbega. This made yet another loop up into a canyon. This time the climb wasn’t quite as hard as the others. I managed to make the whole thing in my 39×17, which is my usual all-purpose gear. And on the way down out of the canyon, we saw three deer grazing near some houses. This was quite novel to see, since the San Gabriel Valley is generally pretty urban, and we don’t see actual wildlife very often aside from the occasional coyote early in the morning. So I took some pictures of the deer as we rode by.

At the bottom of the hill, we turned left on Mountain and then headed east a bit more through Bradbury to Duarte. Doug got a flat on the bike path in Duarte, and so became the latest entry in the Flat Tire Gallery. We rode all the way out to the edge of the San Gabriel River wash. Then we went south on Encanto to Foothill Blvd. Turning right, we made our way back to Monrovia. We stopped for a snack at the Coffee Bean at Myrtle and Foothill.

After the snack stop, the group sort of split up. Some people had to head directly home. The rest of us went south a bit to Colorado and took that back to Pasadena. I rode with Vikki all the way to her street near Old Town.

Passing through Old Town, I took Prospect to get to Arroyo and Windsor Road. At the trailhead across the arroyo from JPL, I saw some people with horses. This is also a bit novel, although it’s still more common than seeing deer.

Heading east on Ventura, I started for home. I went up to Mendocino St. At Fair Oaks I had to go north a couple of blocks to get to Mariposa. That was where I passed the Little Red Hen CoFFee Shop.

After crossing Lake Ave, I went down to Mendocino and headed west across Altadena. At the country club they were having a snow day. They’d brought in a huge amount of shaved ice to make an ersatz snow slope for the kids to sled on.

The final part of the ride was to head down the hill and back to Victory Park.

It’s a good thing I like riding up hills. This was a fun ride.

46 miles
cycling

12/10/2005

Bike Riding on Dicks Street

Filed under: — stan @ 11:30 pm
playing tourist
my bike decorated for the holidays
Dicks St
a plea for quiet
the view from Sunset Plaza
steel giraffe
an imposing gate
the flying saucer house
The Void: For Sale By Owner


Route map and photo locations

A couple of weeks ago, I read an item in the paper about Dicks Street in West Hollywood, and how the neighbors are lobbying to have the name changed. It turns out that Dicks St. is just off the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd which is commonly known as “Boys’ Town”, due to the large number of gay bars there. And of course, just like when I heard about Dork St., I started planning a ride to go and see it. I figured it would be a nice 50-mumble mile ride from Pasadena.

I met Matt at Victory Park at 7:30 and we set out on our pilgrimage. We went west on Orange Grove, intending to go across the Colorado Street Bridge. But when we got there, the bridge was closed off and a sheriff’s deputy indicated that we should take the other fork, which was the freeway entrance. We decided that we didn’t really want to try riding on the 134 freeway, so we took Grand Ave down into the Arroyo. A right turn on La Loma and a couple of hills later, we were in Eagle Rock.

After a turn on Fletcher, we crossed the L.A. River and headed into Silver Lake. A few turns and one small hill later, we were on Hollywood Boulevard. At this point, Matt pulled out his camera and played tourist a bit.

We rode down Hollywood Blvd all the way to the Chinese Theater. Then we headed south a bit to get on Fountain Ave. We took this all the way to its end at La Cienega.

A few quick turns later, we were at Dicks Street. I took a picture of the sign for my collection. Then we headed up the hill on Doheny up to the Sunset Strip.

Riding on the Sunset Strip is always a strange experience. We rode just a few blocks east to get to Sunset Plaza, then we turned left and headed up the hill.

On the way up the hill, we stopped to look at a sign that pleaded for quiet on the streets. We also stopped at the top to admire the view of Century City and West L.A., as well as to look at the steel giraffes and ostrich in front of one house. Also, we saw a house that had what has to be the single most imposing-looking front gate I’ve ever seen on a private residence.

Continuing down the other side, we went down towards Laurel Canyon. Then we turned left and headed up Laurel Pass Rd and Allenwood, coming out on Mulholland Drive at Fryman Canyon Park.

After a brief stop to refill our water bottles, we headed east on Mulholland. We stopped again for some more sightseeing at the Universal City overlook. I snapped a picture of the flying saucer house up on the hill above us. A little bit farther down the road, we saw a sign offering us the void, For Sale By Owner.

At the bottom of the hill in Cahuenga Pass, we crossed the freeway and headed up Wonder View toward Lake Hollywood. Coming down off the hill, we got on Barham Blvd and cruised down into Burbank. A quick right took us past Forest Lawn and into Griffith Park.

After the park, we went into Glendale, going up Sonora and Graynold to get to Kenneth and Mountain. We took Mountain over to Verdugo and headed up to Hospital Hill. From there, it was all downhill back to Pasadena and home.

56 miles
cycling

12/7/2005

More stupidity

Filed under: — stan @ 10:29 am

After the follies on Monday with the collection agency who was looking for someone who’s not me, here is some additional stupidity involving them.

On Monday when I called them, they said that they would take me out of their system. But that’s what they said the time before that. Then yesterday, they called again.

So I looked up some information about what to do in cases like this. I found this page at the California Attorney General’s Office:

http://ag.ca.gov/consumers/general/collection_agencies10.htm#bill

It says:

Not Your Bill. If you are not the person the agency is looking for, write and explain the mistake. You may be asked to provide a drivers’ license or social security number to prove that you are the wrong person.

So I called them back (800-227-4000 x3036) again this morning. Once again, I explained that I’m not the person they are looking for and they said that they will take my phone number out of their system. But that’s what they said the two times before. So I asked for their company address so I can send them a letter like the CAG advises. The guy became belligerent, refused to give me the address and then hung up on me.

So I called back to their main number and asked to talk with his supervisor. They connected me with a woman who also refused to give me their address. She insisted that I don’t need to write them a letter and she flatly refused to give me their address. Then she hung up on me.

So, through the magic of Google, I put in their phone number and found:

NCO Financial Services
507 Prudential Road
Horsham, PA 19044
800-220-2274

NCO Financial Systems Inc
150 Crosspoint Parkway
Crosspoint Business Park
Getzville NY 14068
800 227-4000

NCO FINANCIAL SYSTEMS INC
3850 NORTH CAUSEWAY BLVD 3RD FLOOR
METAIRIE, LA United States 70002
(800)227-4000

I don’t know which of those is the actual office that’s harassing me, or if it’s yet another offce, since they seem to be just about everywhere.

I also found that they apparently have a lot of people unhappy with their business practices, and a lot of unsatisfied complaints against them with the BBB. I can’t imagine why, what with the obviously professional crew they have working there…

So just for grins, I filled out the online form to file a complaint about them with the Federal Trade Commission and another with the BBB.

Addendum: I got back a response from the FTC. They also said that I should write to NCO and tell them to stop bothering me. They pointed me to USC 1692, which is the relevant law governing this sort of thing. Offhand, I’d guess that this may be why they didn’t want to give out their address. And perhaps this also implies that their refusal to give out their address is a violation of the law. Maybe I can find a lawyer to file suit and we can split the $1000 punitive damages…

12/6/2005

Something stupid

Filed under: — stan @ 6:43 am

I got a very insistent message on my answering machine yesterday. It sounded like it was from a collection agency. This has happened before, and they are always looking for somebody else with the same name as me. So I called them back. They said I have a Bank of America Visa, which I don’t. They said I was born in 1958, which I wasn’t. They said I live in Los Angeles, which I don’t.

Then the stupid part: After establishing that I’m not the guy they’re looking for, he asks me, “Do you know how I can contact him?” Like I keep a list of contact information about people who just happen to have the same name as me. Right.

12/5/2005

More artwork

Filed under: — stan @ 10:50 pm

Lucinda went to a new art class today. They had her do a drawing just to assess her art skills. And this is the result. We think she’s really quite good, although we’re perhaps a bit biased. In any event, here’s some more waves to Grandma and Grandpa and Grandpa.

12/4/2005

Sunday ride with one hill

Filed under: — stan @ 8:07 pm


Route map and photo locations

Today’s ride was one we haven’t done since last year. One of the roads on the route washed out in the rains last winter, so we’ve been avoiding it. But Gene recently heard that the road was closed to cars but passable by bike, so we went to do it today.

We started out going east to Arcadia and then south to Temple City. This was just to pad the ride out a bit, since it would have been very short if we just went and rode up the hill.

We made a loop back through San Marino and South Pasadena and then headed up into the San Rafael Hills. We rode past the burned-out mansion there. The mansion that burned is next door to the house that was used as “Bruce Wayne’s house” in the old “Batman” TV series. Original reports said that the Batman house had burned, but it later turned out to be the house next door.

Next, we headed down Linda Vista and passed the Rose Bowl. Then we turned up Inverness and started climbing. Right about here, we met up with Ben Bertiger, who was out riding with his parents. The decided to join us for the hill portion of the ride. Ben is the Southern California Junior 10-12 Track Omnium Champion. Track racers are not generally known for being good hill climbers, but he gave us all a run for our money. He may have been the first to the top, but I don’t know. He was well ahead of me.

On the way up the hill, we had to stop to portage the bikes past the fence where the road was closed. Then we stopped to admire the washed-out road. It was impressive. After that, there was one more fence to cross, and the the rest of the climb to the top.

At the top of the hill, we went down the other side and took Lida back down to the Rose Bowl. We passed the Bowl and then went into Old Town for a snack at Il Fornaio.

After the snack stop, we went past the Rose Bowl yet again, this time on Prospect St. Then we took Arroyo and Windsor Road up to Altadena Drive. From there it was a nice three-mile downhill back to the park.

46 miles
cycling

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