Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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Tour of California

Filed under: — stan @ 8:22 pm

Today was the final stage of the Tour of California. We had gone last year and enjoyed it, so I took Lucinda down to Long Beach to see the race.

We got there just as the main event was starting. We found a nice spot with a concrete barrier to sit on, and we watched the race for a few laps. While we were there, we saw Vikki from my office. We all thought that was funny, since with the crowds there, it’s like seeing someone you know at Woodstock. So she took our picture before going back to her friends.

A little while later, we walked up to closer to the finish line and crossed over to the center divider of the road. That way we were able to see the racers twice on each lap. There was a booth where people could make their own signs to hold up for the racers, and we saw a girl holding a sign that said, “Go Tour of Calaifornia”. And people have the nerve to say the schools here are no good.

The end of the race was very exciting. The pack caught the breakaway at 1/2 lap to go, and then it came down to a pack sprint, which is always entertaining. We didn’t see who won, but that didn’t matter. It was still a fun time.


A simple ride

Filed under: — stan @ 7:54 pm

Tomorrow is the last day of the Tour of California, and I’m going to be taking Lucinda down to Long Beach to see the race. So I went riding today.

The ride was Gene’s “Corner Bakery” ride, which just sort of noodles around the San Gabriel Valley, with a highlight of going up the nice hill between La Cañada and Glendale.

We rode out to Arcadia, and then south to Temple City. Then back west to San Marino. Along the way, I spotted an abandoned couch on Camino Real. So I got a picture for the Abandoned Couches Blog.

After passing through San Marino and South Pasadena, we turned north and rode through the San Rafael Hills. Then we went down Linda Vista and passed the Rose Bowl and continued on into La Cañada.

We started the climbing with a left on Corona Dr. The route sheet warned: steep. And it was. The guys with the fancy bike computers said it was about 14%. It was a steep couple of blocks, but I made it up in my 39×17, which I continue to insist is a fine hill-climbing gear.

At Inverness we went left, passing by the place where the road washed out two years ago. It looks like the repairs are almost done. Then we continued on up the hill on St. Katherine to the top. We regrouped at the top, and I marveled at the view. The air was very clear. I could see San Gorgonio, San Jacinto, and Saddleback all at the same time. And I even got all three in one picture.

Coming down the other side, we rode around the Rose Bowl and back into Pasadena. We stopped at The Corner Bakery for our rest and social time. Then we rode back to the park and we were done.

It was a pleasant ride, even though it never really did warm up all that much.

40 miles.


The jig is up…

Filed under: — stan @ 9:27 pm

Lucinda is going to be eight next week, and she’s now old enough to understand what it means that we have no cable TV. And she’s been lobbying for it for several months now.

So being the doting parents that we are, we agreed to get it for her. I think we must be remembering things we felt we were denied as children, and we figured that we could spring for it.

We signed up for DirecTV, which seemed to have the best deal for what we wanted. Or at least what Lucinda wanted.

On the other hand, this also means I get to watch “The Simpsons” again. I’ve been missing them ever since KTTV replaced their transmitter several years ago. The old transmitter made a decent signal at our house, but the new one has a more directional beam, and it goes right over our house because we’re too close to the mountain. Since we got the satellite thingy, I figure I should get some enjoyment from it, too.

So let the games begin. Can you hear our IQs dropping?


The mellowest dog ever

Filed under: — stan @ 6:19 pm

On Monday, Lucinda had the day off school, so her friend came over to play. They were playing with the robot in the living room. And at one point, the robot walked up to Ripley’s dog bed and was pushing against it and making loud motor-whirring noises. Our other dogs were all more high-strung, and they would have freaked out at this. But not Rip.


Toluca Lake

Filed under: — stan @ 10:03 pm

Today’s bike ride was out to Toluca Lake and back, with a stop at Priscilla’s for orange juice and a bagel. It was a very nice day for riding. We’ve done this ride many times before, so there’s no need to describe the route. But here are the highlights.

In Glendale, we saw an unusual car on the road. So Steve was talking to the driver at a light to find out more about it.

Right next to Priscilla’s I saw a poster for “Rocket Men“, which sounds like it could be fun.

On the L.A. River bike path, there was a Call Box. This was odd. I’ve never seen one anywhere but on a freeway. The bike path runs between the river and the 5 freeway, and right across from the Autrey Museum I saw a couch on the side of the freeway. It looked like it had fallen off a truck and been abandoned there. So of course I had to stop for a photo for the Abandoned Couches Blog.

In Highland Park, I came across another couch on Ave 50. It didn’t have the same sense of drama as the other one, but I collected it just the same.

At the end of the ride, I took a little trip out to Arcadia and back, since it was a very nice day for riding. That was where I saw the pickup with the pinup girls on the back.

As I said, it was a perfect day for riding.

50 miles.


A little trip

Filed under: — stan @ 6:17 pm

I had to take a little trip to the USGS office in Menlo Park for a two-day meeting. The topic was the Volcano Hazards Program’s web site and how they are going to host it. They knew that I’d done some research on how to handle large surges of web traffic after earthquakes.

The trip up was easy enough. I was up at 00-dark-hundred and went to the airport in Burbank. While waiting for the shuttle bus, I was treated to the sight of dawn breaking in the east. The flight up to San Jose was short, and when I got there, I saw a limo driver holding a sign with my name on it. That’s the first time that’s ever happened. They had sent him to pick me up and take me to the office.

When I got to the office we all took our places at the conference table. And we stayed there. All day. They had lunch sent in so we would have no reason to leave the room. Yikes.

At the end of the day, I took Caltrain up to San Francisco to have dinner with an old friend. Jim and his wife Heather are both people I knew back when we lived in Texas. And it turned out that they met because of me. So I went to the city to meet him for dinner. The train ride was pretty nice. The last time I rode Caltrain was in ‘93, and it was a wretched rough ride. But now they’ve put in new concrete ties and welded rail, so it’s a lot better. And the train up to the city was an express, so it only stopped a few times along the way. I was impressed.

When I got there, Jim was at the station. We walked a few blocks and just randomly picked an Italian restaurant. It was good. We each got a small pizza, and we traded half so we could try the different flavors.

After dinner, I had to head back. The train back was a bit slower, since it stopped at every station.

The next morning, I got up and decided to walk to the office. There were other people from the meeting staying at the same place, and they offered me a ride, but I thought that the walk would be entertaining. I saw the Animal Art Gallery, with dog photographs by ‘the dogumentarian‘. I saw seagulls perching on top of the train station. And I saw an intersection where the city provided orange caution flags for pedestrians to use while crossing the street. The light poles on each side had tubes welded to them to serve as flag holders.

When I got to the office, I saw the “I’m Out of Estrogen – And I Have a Gun” bumper sticker. Then I got a cup of tea and went in for the day’s meeting. Being that it was Valentine’s Day, we had a little plate of Hershey’s Kisses and heart-shaped Dove chocolates on the conference table right next to the speaker phone.

At then end of the day, SuperShuttle took me back to the airport. They got me there early enough that I was able to switch to an earlier flight. But I had a little trouble finding the proper gate, since the video screen for departures had a Windows error message box on it.

I got home about 8:00 on Wednesday night. Total time away from home: 38 hours. I’m an incredibly bad traveler.


Welcome to Pig Pig Family

Filed under: — stan @ 6:59 pm

We went and had dinner with my aunt and uncle and cousins this evening for Chinese New Year. After dinner, Lucinda wanted to go into one of the stores there. It was filled with Hello Kitty and Monokuro Boo and lots of other things I’d never seen before.

But a couple of items made me stop in my tracks and say, “?” The first had Betty Boop and said, “You Will Be Relieved When You Can See Your Favorites”. And of course, my favorite was the scissors with “Welcome to Pig Pig Family” on them. Offhand, I’d guess these are just more examples of Engrish.


Those were the days…

Filed under: — stan @ 9:32 pm

So today I saw this article about how people who did a lot of aerobics back in the ’80s are all suffering from various overuse injuries caused by all the jumping and such. That’s kind of sad. I worked as an aerobics instructor from 1987 to 1991, and I thought it was great fun. I did classes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings after work. It was my ‘hobby job’. But I only did two classes a week. So I didn’t overdo it. On the weekends, I rode my bike, so I was getting a lot of exercise back then, but not that much of it was involving jumping and running.

Anyway, I thought this was kind of a sad article. We’re all getting old:

Whatever Happened to Jane Fonda in Tights?

Besides, I’ll always have fond memories of aerobics, since that’s where I met my wife. Cathy and I both had the same favorite instructor, so that’s how we met.



Filed under: — stan @ 9:45 pm

I just finished reading Eat This Book: A Year of Gorging and Glory on the Competitive Eating Circuit. This is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time. A lot of the characters in it could have stepped out of a John Waters movie, but they are all real people. And of course there is vomit. Not a lot of vomit, but some. ‘Reversal of fortune’, or ‘urges contrary to swallowing’, as they call it.

There’s also a lot of talk about different strategies and techniques of speed-eating, and the author even tries is a little towards the end. His descriptions of how it felt during and especially after a contest are a thing of beauty.

Anyway, if you’re like me and think this sort of thing is funny, this is a must-read.


Toy hacking

Filed under: — stan @ 9:11 pm

A few weeks ago we bought a new vibrator at Babeland. We were looking for something with good power that’s also portable. The Silk Touch Egg fit the bill. It’s powerful and portable.

There is an old engineering proverb that says, “Faster, Better, Cheaper — choose two of the above”. There are tradeoffs to everything. In this case, the motor goes like Gangbusters for about 10 minutes and then it starts to stumble. The little AAA batteries just don’t last long enough.

I checked the Energizer web site. They have data sheets on their different batteries. For the AAA Energizers, the data sheet shows that the total capacity of the battery depends strongly on the discharge rate. At 25mA draw, you can get 1,200mAh out of it, but at 400mA you only get about 400mAh. So I hooked up my little multimeter to it. Turns out my meter only reads current up to 250mA, because it pegged immediately. So we know the current draw is over 250mA. And this definitely puts the batteries into the ’short-life’ range. And according to the graphs on the second page, at that level of discharge, we should see the voltage start to drop in a fraction of an hour, which was what we saw.

So, bein’ a geek, I started thinking about rigging up a bigger battery pack for it. The simplest thing to do would have been to put an external battery pack on it and just use the existing control. But the control has five pulsed modes that we’re not interested in. We just want the continuous mode. And the speed control is a little thumbwheel that’s kind of hard to use. So I figured I could just build my own speed control unit and attach that to a battery pack.

So I borrowed Lucinda’s Snap Circuits set for testing. I set up a basic NPN transistor circuit to control the motor speed. I experimented with different components. Then I got some actual components from my electronics junk box, just wiring everything together with alligator clips on the floor. After a few tries, I settled on a basic configuration. The transistor I used for the main speed control is a bit oversized for this. It’s rated at something like 40W, and this circuit is only dealing with about 1-2W. But that’s all right. It was just sitting in my junk box.

I had a little Radio Shack ‘project box’, so I used that for the case. I had to buy a volume control and knob, a diode, an LED for a power indicator, as well as a tiny little circuit board to mount stuff on. Then I had to cut the circuit board down to get it to fit into the box. Everything was so packed in that I had to put electrical tape on all the connectors to keep things from shorting out. But in the end, I got it to fit. The batteries are just mounted on a little piece of plywood. I’ll get a digital camera case or something like that for them to live in.

Power comes from either a D-cell three-pack, or from a 5VDC power supply that I found in my junk box. So it can run with or without an outlet. And either way, it’s pretty powerful.

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