Stan’s Obligatory Blog


To everything there is a season…

Filed under: — stan @ 6:25 pm



The Wall

Filed under: — stan @ 5:31 pm

Sunday’s bike ride was a sightseeing trip to see the one of the traveling reproductions of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. I’d been to see one of them before, many years ago, and it was an amazing experience. The Wall has become a sort of cultural touchstone, and visitors leave photos, letters, and other small items in tribute to their friends and family members who were lost in the war.

It was a perfect day for riding. Cool and sunny, and ready to warm up fast. We headed out from Victory Park and rode down to the Rio Hondo bike path, which brought us down to Whittier Narrows. Along the way, Don dropped his water bottle, and it rolled down into the wash. So we stopped while he walked down the slope to retrieve it.

From Whittier Narrows, we took Durfee Ave over to Peck Rd, which took us to Workman Mill, and Rose Hills Cemetery. The Wall was set up on a patch of ground right near the entrance. The had a display of artifacts in a tent in the parking lot. And there were people there doing a marathon reading of all the 58,000 names on the wall. We walked along the Wall and looked at all the items left there. I think it’s just the saddest thing to see those remembrances of lives lost in what I believe was a completely pointless war.

Leaving the cemetery, we continued on down into Whittier, and then up and over Turnbull Canyon. Coming down the far side, Silvio’s front wheel made a loud ‘SNAP’ noise, and it went wobbly. It was rubbing on the fork, which made the bike unrideable. And the wheel had carbon-fiber spokes that require a special tool to true, so he was pretty much SOL. He called home and his wife came to pick him up. The rest of us continued on.

We took Colima Rd through Hacienda Heights all the way to Azusa Ave. Then we turned north to start our way back. Azusa Ave turned out to be a pretty miserable road to ride on. It was late morning by now, and there was a lot of traffic. So I think that road is off my list for the future.

We stopped at Panera in West Covina for snacks. When I’m going in to a place like that, I generally take my bike shoes off, since walking on a tile floor with bike shoes is a lot like walking on ice. It’s very slippery and kind of precarious. But the manager of the place still gave me a hard time about it. Said he didn’t want to be sued if I stepped on something. I told him I didn’t want to sue him if I my plastic cleats slipped on the tile. So he sort of sulked and walked away.

The last drama of the ride was near the end. David got a flat. He picked up a big staple in his tire, and we ended up having to stop to change it just a mile from the finish. Still, even with all that, it was a nice ride.

58 miles.


How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Filed under: — stan @ 8:06 pm


Today was the first practice day for the Aon Tower stair climb next month. They opened the stairs from the 4th floor up to the 60th for an hour at lunchtime for practice runs. I talked my friend Erik from work into trying the stair climb. We’ve been practicing on the stairs at Millikan Library at Caltech, but that’s only 10 stories. (The building is 9 stories, but we start in the basement.) So we thought it would be good to go and try the real thing. I did this climb last year, but Erik had never done a big stair climb before. And there’s nothing like trying the real thing to know what it’s like.

Can you tell it hurt from the pictures?

The climb from 4 to 60 is 90% of the full climb from the ground to the roof. It took us 11 minutes and 13 seconds. Based on this, we could do the full climb in 12:20, which is very close to my goal for this year of breaking 12 minutes. So the steady pace training we’ve done helped. Next time we’re going to try it with a small electronic metronome for pacing. I’ll set it for about 3% faster than we went today and we’ll see how that goes.

Another anniversary

Filed under: — stan @ 6:36 am

As is human nature, today is an anniversary of sorts, and it’s time to sit back and take stock. It was two years ago today when Cathy moved out. We’d spent nearly 22 years together as constant companions, so when she turned into a stranger and left, it was a major upheaval in my world. I looked back in my private journal and found this tidbit from that time:

I think the fundamental problem I’m having with dealing with her is that she only speaks to me to criticize me or call me an asshole. You know the old saying, “If you can’t say something bad, don’t say anything at all.” And then she wonders why I don’t want to talk to her.

So now she’s denying that she ever said that ‘it was over’ between us. She’s making it out like I’m the bad guy for insisting that we have to split up. That she never wanted to split. But she was the one who said, “I don’t want to be married to you any more.” That seems like a pretty definitive statement. I don’t see much room for interpretation.

I was in the proverbial ‘world of hurt’ back then.

Looking back one year, things were much better. At that time, I thought we were close to a settlement agreement. Looking at my journal from that time bears this out. We were able to talk in a semi-reasonable manner by then, and we managed to reach agreement on some issues. So I was cautiously optimistic. Little did I know that the whole thing would blow up in my face a couple months later and would lead to nearly a year more of fighting, not to mention thousands of dollars in lawyer bills.

Today, things are much, much better. We finally reached a settlement after the near-equivalent of the Cuban Missile Crisis last August. There was a lot of high-stakes brinksmanship to reach this point, but now everything is settled. Our agreement was signed and filed in January, and we settled the buy-out for the house in February. So there are no more major issues to fight about. And this has been a great thing, at least for me. My overall stress level is down significantly, and I’m much more able to enjoy life again. I thought I was doing really well this time last year, but I was still the Walking Wounded then.

There’s been a lot of healing over the last two years, and I hope that this continues. I’ve had some tremendous adventures, and even found a new hobby. Once again, I feel pretty good about where I am now. But that still leaves room for more improvement in the future.

So overall, I’m optimistic, and I don’t even have to qualify that with ‘cautiously’ any more. And that’s progress.


The new and improved Topiary Tour

Filed under: — stan @ 6:24 pm

Today’s bike ride was a new version of the Topiary Tour that I debuted back in November. I’d added one more stop for some topiary animals in a yard in Baldwin Park. It was cool, but basically a very nice day for riding.

The first stop was the Bunny Museum, where they have a giant topiary rabbit on the front lawn. Then on to the Pasadena Elks Lodge and the topiary elks by the front door. The nose of one was brown. There’s a joke in there, I’m pretty sure.

Riding back across Pasadena, we stopped at the Mobil station at Lake and San Pasqual. The topiary Pegasus was kind of overgrown, and didn’t look much like a horse at all.

The next stop was the house in Baldwin Park. They have a giraffe, a bear, a deer, and and an elephant. After that, we continued on to Glendora to the house with the teddy bears and the swan.

Our snack stop was at Classic Coffee in Glendora. Then we took a short detour to see the Glendora Bougainvillea. It wasn’t flowering, so we’re going to have to stop by again next month to see it in bloom.

The route back was pretty straightforward, ending with a final topiary stop in Sierra Madre at the rocking horse. Since it’s spring, the horse had lots of new growth, and it was somewhat in need of a trim.

It was an entertaining little ride.

48 miles.


Heh – More artificial intelligence fun

Filed under: — stan @ 7:16 am

funny google ads
Today I noticed that Google was putting some funny ads on my page here. Apparently they use some sort of algorithm that picks up keywords in the text to decide which ads to put on the page. And so here we have some ads for stair lift machines:

Stairs getting harder? Find out how Low Cost Stair Lifts can help you.

Why yes, when I got up to the top of the Stratosphere Tower core, I’d climbed up about 720 vertical feet of stairs, and yes, the stairs were getting harder. I’m sure that a Low Cost Stair Lift would have improved my time tremendously.


Bright light city gonna save my soul, gonna set my lungs on fire

Filed under: — stan @ 10:13 pm

This past weekend was a grand adventure. Last fall, when I did the “Stair Climb to the Top” at the U.S. Bank tower in downtown Los Angeles, a woman I talked to there told me about the stair climb up the Stratosphere tower in Las Vegas. I looked it up, and it looked like fun. The climb was on Saturday, March 13. And as an added bonus, if I could make the cut and be in the top 50 climbers, I could do it a second time on Sunday in the ‘run-off’ to determine the winner. And besides, it seemed like a good excuse for a weekend in Las Vegas.

Kathleen and I drove out there on Friday afternoon. The trip was pretty uneventful, and we got there just after dark. I was pleased to see that the middle-age-mobile averaged over 30 miles per gallon for the trip. After checking in to the hotel, we took a walk to go find some cheap prime rib, since that’s one of the things Las Vegas is known for. We got a good nighttime view of the tower, and I took a moment to contemplate it a bit. And after dinner, we rode the elevator up to the observation deck to see the view. When we were up there, we asked the security guard where the stairs were, and he showed us the door and the top of the staircase. It looked simple enough. How hard could it be?

Saturday morning, I got dressed in my running gear and got ready to climb. The starting order was pretty random. They said it was just the order that we’d signed up in, so I knew I’d be able to catch and pass at least a couple people on the way up. When we lined up, they gave us a small lecture about the tower stairs. The staircase goes up the central core of the tower. it follows the side of the elevator shafts, so it’s in a roughly triangular space. There are landings on each end of the base of the triangle, and the staircases go back and forth across the space. One way, the staircase is attached to the wall. The other way, it goes directly across the space, about 6-8 feet away from the wall. So that leg is about a 20-step staircase that is just anchored at the ends, and there’s nothing on either side of the railing. This is known to give some people the willies.

When I started climbing, I saw immediately what they were talking about. And yes, it gave me a slight case of the willies. So when I was on those staircases, I just focused on the middle of the stair about three steps ahead and just blocked out the fact that on my right side there was a 300-foot drop. This went on for the majority of the climb. Probably on the order of about 600 vertical feet. I’d been practicing my pacing on the stairs at the library at Caltech, and I set my watch to beep every second to act like a metronome so I could maintain a steady pace. And I managed to do that all the way up. At the top of the tower core, the stairs entered the ‘pod’, which is the round space at the top where they have the bar, restaurant and observation deck. From there it was just a normal staircase for about eight floors up to the observation deck. The stairs let us out into a hallway where they gave us each a towel and a bottle of water. When I got there, I just flopped down on a chair and gasped like a fish out of water. Yow.

As always, I had the “Climber’s Cough” at the top. And everyone else did, too. It was easy to tell who had just finished the climb, because we were all hacking up phlegm. Apparently, this is a known phenomenon caused by high blood pressure in the lungs from the exertion of climbing.

After catching my breath, I had a look at the results that they were tallying on a large monitor. I was pleased to see my time was 11:35.96. I’d hoped to do about 12 minutes, so this was a pleasant surprise. And at the end of the day, it was good for 23rd place overall. This meant that I’d made the cut and could climb in the finals on Sunday.

We spent the rest of Saturday doing Las Vegas-y things. It was good fun.

On Sunday morning, I got dressed again and ready to climb. This time, the starting order was the same as our rank from Saturday. Between that and the fact that they sent us off at one-minute intervals pretty much guaranteed that nobody was going to be passing anyone else today. This meant that it was going to be a solitary climb. Just me against the stairs. Before starting out, I did a little warmup by walking up on the down escalator. Sort of like a stair treadmill. Again, I set my watch to maintain pace, and again I was able to maintain the pace all the way up. For some reason, it hurt a whole lot more the second time. Go figure. But I managed to shave a second and half off my time to finish at 11:34.50, which was good for 26th overall, and 3rd in the 50-59 age group.

I did the math, and my power output for the climb works out to about 0.35 horsepower for the 11.5 minutes it took to get to the top. I’m pretty happy with that for being 50 years old.

So now it’s onward and upward to the AON tower climb next month. And this one is also for charity, so if you can, please stop by and make a donation, however small, to the American Lung Association.


Nerd Battles

Filed under: — stan @ 6:18 pm

Today was the 2010 ME72 Engineering Contest at Caltech. I like to go see this whenever I get the chance. The last time I saw it, the teams built catapult-like machines to hurl a small projectile across the athletic field. In 2007, the machines had to carry a small piece of chain up a mesh slope. This year was a partially aerial contest. Teams had to build at least two machines, and most built three. One was to pick up and transport ping pong balls across the gym, and the other had to fly through a hoop 15 feet in the air above the gym floor. And since the rules explicitly allow for machines to interfere with each other, most teams also built a small wedge-like vehicle to drive around the floor and harass their opponent’s ball-transport machine. Also, the aerial machines had some slow-paced dogfights with one machine trying to prevent the other from being able to fly through the hoop.

As always, this was a lot of fun to watch. It was interesting to see the different designs that each team came up with, both in how they resembled each other, and also how they took different approaches at times. Good geek fun.


A random ride with almost no hills

Filed under: — stan @ 8:21 pm

Today’s ride was my ‘Random Ride to Whittier’ that I cobbled together last fall. It takes pieces of several other routes and puts them together to make a route that basically doesn’t go anywhere in particular, but it does it without going over any hills. Since I’m going vertical next weekend with the Stratosphere Stair Climb, I thought that staying level today would be a good thing.

It rained overnight, and the forecast called for a 60% chance of rain today, so only four of us showed up. But the clouds moved out and we had sun and blue skies for the whole ride. It was very nice. It waited until we got home, and the the sky opened up. So we were lucky.

This route uses the Rio Hondo and San Gabriel River bike paths. The rain last night dropped a layer of fresh snow on the mountains, which made them a very nice backdrop for photos.

When we were riding through Whittier Narrows, Alex got a phone call. But that’s all right. I know it’s supposed to be illegal to drive while talking on the phone, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t say anything about riding a bike.

On the way back, we went farther up the San Gabriel River bike path, and we came to an underpass that was partially flooded. The guys we saw turning around said it was too deep to ride through. But I tried, and it turned out to be only 3-4 inches deep. So that wasn’t so bad.

Our snack stop was at Merengue in Monrovia. Then we rode straight home by way of Sierra Madre.

We didn’t get rained on, so it was a nice ride.

45 miles.


It’s almost spring…

Filed under: — stan @ 6:35 am

And that’s when a young man’s fancy turns to the ME72 Engineering Contest at Caltech. I’ve gone to see this several times over the years, and it’s always great fun. The 2008 contest featured machines hurling a ball across a field. In 2007 they had to place a small piece of chain high up on a net. And the rules explicitly allow machines to interfere with their opponents’ machines, which makes the whole thing much more entertaining to watch.

So next Tuesday, I’m going to walk over to the gym and see this. It should be fun.

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