Stan’s Obligatory Blog

Happy Thanksgiving

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1/31/2006

My pet project

Filed under: — stan @ 10:51 pm

ens screenshot
I don’t usually write much about work here, but today was a momentous day. It was the most excitement I’ve had since the last M6 earthquake.

My project is the Earthquake Notification System. This is a system for automatic email notification of worldwide earthquakes. We’ve had public mailing lists for earthquake notification since about 2000, but they were ‘one size fits all’ in that people could choose only to get either M4 or M3 events, and they had a choice of Southern California, Northern California, or the whole world. This new system is the first time subscribers can pick their own custom geographic boundaries and notification thresholds.

This all started a bit over two years ago as my pet project. People have been asking for something like this for years, but it’s only recently that I figured out how to do it. So for the past two years, it’s been my little office pet. Every so often, I would trot it out and show it to people. They would suggest some more features they’d like to see, and then I’d put it away.

But about a year ago, the people at the National Earthquake Information Center took an interest in it. And it went from being a pet project to being a real project. They even got some web designers to help it look pretty. And today it went public. Yikes. There’s even a link to it off the front page of the Earthquake Hazards Program web site.

It’s kind of fun seeing something I invented being used by lots of people. At the same time, it’s kind of scary, since if it fails, I’m the one who will look stupid.

Have I mentioned recently that I really like my job?

1/29/2006

This just out…

Filed under: — stan @ 8:54 pm


Lucinda just lost her first top tooth today. It’s been loose for a long time, and she had Mommy pull it just after dinner.

An afternoon with the Jumbo Shrimp Circus Academy

Filed under: — stan @ 6:21 pm

Today’s adventure was one that Cathy found. An afternoon with the Jumbo Shrimp Circus Academy. This was a three-hour session for the whole family, to teach basic circus skills.

At the start, they had us to a few group exercises for basic human interaction skills. Then we started out. The first was balancing a peacock feather. It’s not all that hard to do, but it does require a bit of focus. The people who got good at it were encouraged to try balancing it on their nose, or to try tossing and catching it while keeping it balanced.

Next was the spinning plate. They passed out plates and sticks for everyone, and we all had a go at it. The trick was to get it started. Once it was spinning, it was easy. But the people who mastered getting it spinning then had to try to balance the stick on their finger, palm, or nose, which wasn’t so easy. The room was filled with the sound of falling plates hitting the floor.

After a short snack break, we tried some new things. There was a tightwire, juggling balls, the diabolo and devil sticks. Cathy and Lucinda both did the tightwire, and I tried to learn basic juggling. Sadly, it’s not the sort of thing one can pick up in five minutes, or even a half-hour. I made some progress, but I’ll have to practice more. Lucinda did some more plate-spinning, and Cathy tried her hand at the diabolo and devil sticks.

The last part of the class involved some balancing and building a basic human pyramid. Cathy and Lucinda did some of the two-person balancing, and I got picked for the base of the first pyramid.

At the end, they opened up all the activities for anyone who wanted to try something again. I had to try the tightwire, since my father had made a tightwire when I was a kid. He strung it up between two trees and we used to practice walking on it. But the last time I walked on it was 1971, when I was 11 years old. So I was a bit rusty. The wire this time was a bit more wobbly than I remember, but that may be because I’m a bit bigger and heavier. Still, it was interesting to try it again.

This was a fun afternoon activity and Lucinda liked it a lot. We had been planning on having a circus theme for her birthday party this year, so this fit in well. We also bought some clown noses, plates, and juggling balls while we were there, so now we have activities for her party. So overall, it was a fun afternoon.

Also, we have this year’s obligatory ‘cute couple’ picture. Cathy and I were wearing sort-of-matching shirts today, so we had to get a picture.

1/28/2006

Big Tujunga Canyon

Filed under: — stan @ 7:51 pm

Route map and photo locations

Today’s club ride was up Big Tujunga Canyon in the Angeles National Forest. Most people don’t realize just how close Los Angeles is to actual wilderness, and it’s a nice place to ride.

The ride started from Descanso Gardens in La Cañada, but I started out meeting Gene, Philippe and Rick at Victory Park. We headed west and up the hill to get to the ride start.

When we got there, we got our route slips and and we all headed out up Foothill Blvd through La Crescenta. I tried to take another picture of the “Poo Ping” restaurant sign, but the sun was at the wrong angle, so it didn’t come out.

We took a right on Tujunga Canyon Blvd and headed up the hill. At Hillrose, Gene and I took a little side trip up a steep hill to see Elliott’s house from “E.T.”. The view from up there was pretty spectacular.

Coming back down, we got back on the route and took Mt. Gleason Road north a bit and then got onto Big Tujunga Canyon Road. This was where we left the Los Angeles city limits and headed up into the mountains.

We couldn’t do this ride last year because a section of the road had washed out during the winter rains. So today we got to see the washed-out road and the little temporary detour they’d built around it.

Because of our little side trip, the rest of the group was now ahead of us. The group was pretty strung-out from riding up an 11-mile hill, and we caught up to several of them on the way up.

At one point, the road went across the canyon on a high bridge, which was quite spectacular. A bit above that, I stopped at an overlook to see the dam that was built in 1931 for flood control.

Continuing on up the canyon, we finally came out on the Angeles Forest Highway, where we turned right. The route slip said that this was ‘the top’, but it sure felt like we were still going uphill for the next four miles to the Angeles Crest Highway and Clear Creek Ranger Station.

When we got to the Ranger Station, we stopped for water. Then we headed down the Crest Highway, back to civilization. The road down was 10 miles, all downhill. Ordinarily, this would be cause for great rejoicing, but it was cold. So it was not an unalloyed pleasure.

At the bottom of the hill, Gene and I took a left on Foothill and headed back to Pasadena. We passed JPL and then took Woodbury east and then some small streets back to the park.

It was a fun ride. And when I got home, I realized that I had done the whole thing without shifting even once. It was 39×17 the whole way.

52 miles.
cycling

1/23/2006

A Blustery Night

Filed under: — stan @ 9:24 pm

Last night we had some intense Santa Ana winds here. The house was creaking, the dogs were whimpering, and the power went out. So Cathy had to spend the night with our scared six-year-old, and I got to spend the night with two shivering dogs.

This morning, I went outside to survey the damage. Our street is a mess, but it was mostly just branches. Only one complete tree fell down on our block. The power came on at about 7:30 this morning. And I still rode my bike to work today. It was actually pretty amazing how fast I got there, riding with a 50-mph tailwind.

1/22/2006

I’m not paying for this!

Filed under: — stan @ 11:00 am

varla's cd
Last night, we had a rare evening out. We dropped Lucinda off with Aunt Maggi and then headed over to Hollywood to see Varla Jean Merman’s new show, “I’m Not Paying For This!”.

We first went to dinner at the French Market Place in West Hollywood. We had a nice dinner and browsed a bit at our favorite gay gift shop, Dorothy’s Surrender. Then we headed over to the Renberg Theater at the L.A. Gay Center.

“I’m Not Paying For This!” is Varla’s new show, and it’s her tribute to the Seven Deadly Sins. She had a song for each, and it was very entertaining.

According to Varla, Lust leads to “guilt, a fractured tailbone, and a soiled clown suit”.

Varla also displayed a new talent, playing the theme from “Star Trek” on the theremin.

At the end of the show, she did one encore, singing “Girl With a Pearl Necklace” and also her “Schoolhouse Rock” medley.

Afterwards, we bought her new CD and she signed it for us. Overall, it was a very fun evening.

Her show runs through February 5.

1/21/2006

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Oil Well

Filed under: — stan @ 11:40 pm

Route map and photo locations

Today’s ride was a tour of the west Los Angeles oil patch. It’s a little-known fact that most of Los Angeles from downtown out to Century City lies on top of an oil field. In the 1920s, the area near the La Brea Tar Pits was a forest of oil derricks. But years ago, the Los Angeles city council mandated that oil wells in the city have to be hidden. So they are disguised behind walls and inside fake buildings. And today Gene and I went to see just a few of them.

Starting at Victory Park in Pasadena, we rode down Sierra Madre Blvd to Huntington Drive. Then we turned right and headed towards downtown L.A. We turned on Mission and then on North Main St to get into downtown proper. Then we took Spring St past the homeless camp and City Hall down to Olympic Blvd.

It was a chilly morning, and I had suited up appropriately, even to the point of putting paper bags over my shoes. Who needs high-priced cycling-shoe-covers when a paper bag can do the trick? Besides, we can send pictures to the Weekly World News and tell them that we’ve found “Bagfoot”.

Turning right on Olympic, we headed out of downtown and into Koreatown. This is one of the special things about L.A. We can feel like world travelers, even on a simple bike ride. One shopping center had signs almost exclusively in Korean. The only exception was a big sign for “Porno Mania”. I tried to take a picture, but sadly, the lighting was wrong and we were too far away.

We took Olympic all the way out to just past Doheny, where we turned south to Pico Blvd and our first sightseeing stop. It was a pair of fake buildings, one which looked like a church, and the other that looked like a bank. But neither one had signs or a front door. There was just a small sign for Breitburn Energy on the side doors, some mechanical noises, and the smell of petroleum.

Heading back up to Olympic, we entered Beverly Hills. And at the edge of town we came to the second oil well. This one is inside a decorated tower just behind the playing field at Beverly Hills High School. The tower used to be just plain gray, but it’s been painted with flowers now.

From there, we went north on Spaulding to Charleville, and then east a bit to Crescent, which we took north past Wilshire to Foothill Rd and Burton Way. We took a left on Robertson and then a right on Alden to get to Cedars Sinai Hospital. That was where we saw the intersection of George Burns Rd and Gracie Allen Way.

Next, we stopped at the Beverly Center mall, between La Cienega and San Vicente. There is an oil field there, in a little crescent-shaped patch of land between the mall and San Vicente. It’s behind a wall, and we had to go up the parking garage ramp on the mall to see inside.

A left on 3rd St got us heading east again. At Fairfax, we stopped at the Ross Dress For Less store. This is the store that exploded back in 1985. Methane gas from the oil field had seeped up into the store. The explosion blew out the windows and for a time there were flaming cracks in the parking lot. Now the store has been repaired, and there is a vent pipe in the parking lot to safely release the methane.

We turned left on Stanley Ave and headed up into Hollywood. I stopped for a photo-op at the Villa Stanley retirement home. I always take pictures of things that have my name on them. Then we crossed over Melrose Ave and then went west two blocks to get to Genesee Ave, which we took north some more.

At Santa Monica Blvd, we stopped to look at the “Porn Walk of Fame” in front of the former Pussycat Theater. We saw the hand and foot prints of Harry Reems, Georgina Spelvin, John Holmes, and Marilyn Chambers. I took pictures and put them in my Random Photos Gallery. Then we continued on up Genesee to Hollywood Blvd.

Crossing Hollywood Blvd, we went up Nichols Canyon Road, and it was suddenly much quieter. This is one of my favorite roads up the Hollywood Hills, and it was also recently repaved, so it was a very nice climb all the way up to Woodrow Wilson Drive and Mulholland Highway.

Turning right on Mulholland, we rode down into Cahuenga Pass, stopping briefly for water at the Hollywood Bowl overlook. Then we turned on the bridge over the freeway and got on Cahuenga Blvd for one short block. Then we turned off onto some small residential streets to get around the hill and come out on Barham Blvd.

From there, we went down the hill into Burbank and turned on Forest Lawn Drive to get to Griffith Park. Then we took Zoo Drive past the Live Steamers and Travel Town to Riverside Drive.

From there, it was the standard route home across Glendale, Eagle Rock, and Pasadena.

56 miles.
cycling

1/19/2006

Since everyone else seems to talk about TV…

Filed under: — stan @ 8:19 pm

Since everyone else seems to talk about TV shows from time to time, here’s mine.

I don’t watch much TV. Hardly any, in fact. This probably due more to lack of time than to snobbishness, but I have to admit to not being interested in most of it.

But I do see a lot of filming around town, and today they were filming for “Numb3rs” on campus. Caltech gets used a lot as a location, and if you know the campus, you’ll see it a lot.

The funny thing is, when they’re filming, it usually just looks like a bunch of people standing around. Very little visible action goes on. Still, it’s interesting to see this sort of thing, particularly when a location gets dressed up as something completely different.

Addendum: They were still doing it today so I added some more pictures.

1/15/2006

Self-Realization on a chilly day

Filed under: — stan @ 9:20 pm

Today’s ride was the one that goes through the Mt. Washington section of Los Angeles, and past the headquarters of the Self-Realization Fellowship.

It was a chilly day by SoCal standards. It was about 45F (7C) when we started out. I wore a whole bunch of stuff, topped off by my new jacket. So I was warm enough. But for some reason, Michael was getting hot, and he stopped twice to take off layers. The rest of us were quite bemused by this.

We rode up through La Cañada and then down Hospital Hill. We took Verdugo all the way down through Glendale into Glassell Park and into Eagle Rock Blvd.

Eagle Rock Blvd brought us down into Cypress Ave and Cypress Park. Then we took a left on Figueroa and started north. A left turn on Pasadena Ave led us to the foot of Mt. Washington.

The climb up Mt. Washington was nice. The road is rough and winding, but it’s quiet and a very nice ride. At the top, we stopped by the gates of the Self-Realization Fellowship before heading north on San Rafael, back down the hill.

At the bottom, we took El Paso to Ave 50 and then went north again. They were repaving York Ave, so we had to take a detour to get around the work. Then we took Meridian to Ave 64, and then York again across the arroyo into South Pasadena.

We stopped at the little bakery and coffee shop that we’ve been to before. It’s the one with the jar of Twinkies on the counter. But this time, it wasn’t Twinkies. It was Ding Dongs.

I had a bagel.

While we were sitting there, we all had a laugh about the stickers that decorated the back of the street sign above our table.

When we were getting ready to leave, I noticed that my back tire was flat. So I got out the spare tube, and Michael took the picture, so I get to be the latest entry in the Flat Tire Gallery.

From there, we headed east some more, through San Marino and into Arcadia. Turning north, we passed a house with a funny gate on the driveway, and then the San Gabriel Mission Dam.

The last bit of the ride was up into Altadena with Brian. This part wasn’t strictly necessary, since I had already passed my house. But it had turned into a fairly nice day, so I rode up to Altadena and back before going home.

46 miles.
cycling

1/8/2006

Tour de “Get Smart”

Filed under: — stan @ 8:47 pm

Route map and photo locations

Today’s ride was another ‘theme’ ride. We were going to try and visit a couple of sites associated with “Get Smart”.

We started off heading down Sierra Madre, all the way to Huntington Drive. Then we took Huntington towards Downtown. In El Sereno, we turned off onto North Mission and then onto Main St, passing by S&M Liquor on our way into Downtown.

When we got to Downtown L.A., we went through Chinatown to get to New High St. Then we passed a homeless camp before reaching the Hall of Justice on Temple St. This was the building used as the exterior for CONTROL headquarters in the title sequence for the third and fourth seasons. The building itself was damaged by the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, and it’s red-tagged and slated for demolition.

From there we went up Temple to Grand and then turned south. We passed the new Disney Hall and then passed between the towers on Bunker Hill. There was some filming going on there, but it wasn’t clear what they were doing.

When we got to Wilshire, we took a right and were immediately transported to Tokyo. The last three blocks or so of Wilshire are currently dressed up as Tokyo for filming “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”, AKA “The Fast and the Furious 3″. It’s always fun to see our city dressed up to play a new part.

Going west on Wilshire, we went through MacArthur Park and Koreatown. Then we passed the old Ambassador Hotel, which is perhaps best remembered as the place where Bobby Kennedy was killed.

We took a right on Alexandria and went north to Second St. Then we turned left and took Second out to Larchmont Blvd.

We stopped for a bagel at Noah’s in Larchmont Village. Then we continued on north a bit, going east on Clinton so that we would come out on Melrose by the front gates of Paramount Studios, since that was where most of “Get Smart” was filmed.

Continuing west on Melrose, we turned right on Gower and went up to Santa Monica. Then we went into Hollywood Forever Cemetery to look for Don Adams’ grave. Sadly, the directions we had were not clear, and we were not able to find it. I asked at the front gate and at the flower shop, where they sell a map to the stars’ graves. But their map had not been updated yet, so they didn’t know. So we left. I guess we’ll have to come back again some time.

Going north, we went up Bronson to Franklin and then went east to the Shakespeare Bridge. Then we took St. George and Rowena to get to Fletcher, which we took through Atwater Village up to Eagle Rock Blvd.

We rode up Eagle Rock all the way to Yosemite. Then we took that over to Figueroa, and then took a right on La Loma. A few hills later and we were on San Rafael and then Linda Vista to go past the Rose Bowl. By this time, everyone else had turned off to go home, so I just continued on to just below JPL. Then I took Woodbury back across Pasadena, and some little streets to get home.

44 miles.
cycling

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