Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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There might be something to this…

Filed under: — stan @ 9:52 pm

It’s Thursday, and time for more fun and frolic on the Aon building staircase. I went downtown this time with an experiment in mind.

Last weekend was the race at the Aon building in Chicago, and my friend David did it, and he posted a writeup of it on the stair racing group on Facebook. In particular, the part that caught my eye was when he was describing when he hit the 50th floor:

“My legs were starting to feel tired, but i started to play a game i often played in the gym. When i have a workout planned, say 140 steps/minute for 18 minutes. Often at only 5 minutes i find myself thinking i can’t keep up my pace for as long as planned. So what i do is say ‘Ok, maybe i can’t do 10 more minutes, but i can do 2 more and see where i am.’ Often i can keep doing that until i hit my original goal. In this case i had 30 floors left, and the last ten were going to be at a faster pace than what i was doing now. I wasn’t sure i could do it, but 5 more seemed like no big deal, so i focused on going 5 floors, and reassessing. at 55, i felt exactly like how i felt at 50, so i just focused on keeping the same pace to 60.”

I thought that this sounded like a good idea, and I wanted to try something like it tonight. My goal was to do 10 seconds per floor on the climb from 4 to 55. Allowing about 30 seconds extra for the three hallways and four fire doors, that makes for a total climb time of 540 seconds, or 9 minutes. And it’s pretty easy to verify my pace, since 10 seconds per floor means six floors per minute. I figured that I’d start at 4 and check the watch at 10 and 16. The stairs from 20 to 24 are weird, and there are three hallways and two fire doors, so I planned on just checking my watch when I hit the start of the second main staircase at 24. From there, my plan was to make it to 30 in one minute, 36 in two, and 42 in three. Above 42, there is another hallway and two more fire doors, so I planned on checking the time again at 44 and then just trying to make it to 50 in one minute. The fundamental difference between this time and previous climbs was that I wanted to try David’s trick of not thinking about the overall goal, and just taking it one small chunk at a time. So at each time point, I just thought about making it to the next checkpoint in one minute, and I figured that after that, if I really felt bad, I could slow down. But as it worked out, at the end of each minute, I really didn’t feel any worse for wear, so I just kept going. And I made it to 55 in 8:58, which is three seconds faster than my previous best time for the practice climb.

After a few minutes rest at the top, I fired up my nighttime camera app and tried out taking some pictures of the sunset. It was a bit of a challenge holding the phone steady enough for the long exposures, but the pictures came out much better than they do with the standard camera app.

I’d planned on going up a second time, just on general principles. I wasn’t planning on trying to go fast the second time, but I wanted to just try and go non-stop. I managed to do that, but I was pretty slow. Still, I made it to the top, so I really can’t complain.

It was a pretty good outing.


Yup. You guessed it… more stairs

Filed under: — stan @ 9:29 pm

Tonight was the ‘Kickoff Party‘ for the Lung Association’s Fight For Air stair climb. They had food, videos, speakers, and a news crew at the Aon building downtown, and they had the staircase open for us to practice on, from the ground floor up to 55. So, of course, all the usual suspects were there.

I knew there would be a pretty good turnout tonight, so I brought my Serious Camera to take some pictures. I’d gotten some good photos at last year’s event, and I knew that I’d be able to get better ones this time with the more serious camera. Still, I wanted to do one run for speed at the start, although it turned out to be pretty hard to climb fast while carrying the Serious Camera Bag. It ended up taking me 10:18, which is on the slow side. But when I got to the top, I was able to take a nice picture of the sunset, so it wasn’t all bad.

With the first climb out of the way, I went back down and started up a second time. I wanted to set up to take pictures looking down the stair shaft from the 44th floor. The middle section of stair 6 in the building is a single staircase from 24 to 44, and the two sides are about two feet apart, so you can look over the side and see straight down 20 floors. That’s about 250 feet, and it’s far enough that the stairs seem to just fade off into infinity. I knew this would make for some dramatic pictures.

George started up the stairs for the second time at the same time I did. He was wearing his 40-pound weight vest, and I was carrying my camera bag and tripod. So I was able to get ahead of him and set up on the last flight just below 44 to take pictures. And the image of him climbing the infinite staircase with the weight vest is much like a classic self-mortification ritual.

A couple minutes later, Lisa came up, and she was moving fast. And right after she passed by, a group of people came up, so I got a picture of them all coming up the staircase. As they passed by, they said that the prize raffle was going to be held soon back down in the lobby. So I packed up my camera gear and climbed the rest of the way to 55 so I could get the elevator back to the lobby.

Sadly, I didn’t get any prizes in the raffle this year. But it was still fun to hang around in the lobby and visit with everyone. I’d brought along yet another batch of my award-winning cookies to hand out and tell the story to all the people I know from this event who I haven’t seen since last spring.

After the raffle, we all headed back for the stairs again. There was a camera guy from Channel 2 there, and he wanted to get some video of people climbing the stairs. I told him that he should see if he could get the guards to take him up to 43 so he could shoot the infinite staircase. And when I got up there, he was there with one of the guards. So he shot some video looking down the stair shaft, and then shot a bunch of people as they went by. I think he got some good action scenes.

Once the last person had gone by, I packed up my camera again, and finished the climb up to 55. Then I changed and headed for home. It was a fun evening.


Another article about stair racing

Filed under: — stan @ 10:00 am

There was a reporter who came to the CFF stair climb here in L.A. last December. He said he was writing an article about stair racing for the New York Times. And the article came out this past Sunday. Here are the money quotes:

…running in an unventilated stairwell may be the least pleasant form of recreation ever conceived.

It is suffering distilled, and its practitioners embrace the agony with an almost religious ardor.

Yup. That about sums it up. Here’s the link to the full article:


And yet again, up the stairs…

Filed under: — stan @ 9:54 pm

Here we go again. Heading downtown for another evening of torture in the Aon Center stairwell.

It was raining today, so I had to take my car to work. And when I parked at the Metro station to go downtown, I saw a caterer’s car with a vanity license plate that said “GOT FOIE” I thought we couldn’t have that in California any more…

On the way downtown, I read as a tactic to avoid thinking about the fact that I was going there to climb stairs. I got the National Geographic app for my iPhone, so I was reading an article there about the Kyrgyz people who live in a little-known corner of Afghanistan, high up in the mountains. It was interesting, but at the same time, it read like if Monty Python were doing a sketch about the worst place in the world to live.

Much of it is above 14,000 feet. The wind is furious; crops are impossible to grow. The temperature can drop below freezing 340 days a year. Many Kyrgyz have never seen a tree.

Sounds wretched. But it gets worse.

I met one couple… who had 11 children. “Every year,” said Abdul, “one would die.” They died as infants, as toddlers, as little kids.

Even bits of everyday life sound wretched.

The basic unit of Kyrgyz currency is a sheep. A cell phone costs one sheep. A yak costs about 10 sheep. A high quality horse is 50. The going rate for a bride is 100. The wealthiest families own the ultimate Kyrgyz status symbol — a camel, the two-humped kind, called a Bactrian, that appears perpetually foul tempered.

And then for a final bit of wretchedness:

Er Ali Bai is the owner of the only chicken in Kyrgyz country. The chicken, a hen, has one leg. The other was lost to frostbite.

So with that as preparation, climbing 50+ flights of stairs didn’t sound so bad any more. I got to the building and got ready to head up the stairs.

This time, I managed to stick to my split times up to the six-minute mark at the 39th floor. But by eight, I was a few seconds behind. Still, I made it to the top in 9:04, which is right in the range of the other times I’ve done this building recently, and it consistent with my times from practice last year. So I can’t complain. At least I don’t have to try and figure out how to make change when buying things with sheep.

After a brief rest, I headed up a second time. My goal for the second time was just to do it non-stop. I didn’t much care how fast I did it. I just wanted to make it up to the top. It was grim, but I made it in 11:37, which is not bad for a second time.

There was a nice sunset going on when I got to the top of the building. I tried to take pictures of it, but the iPhone camera didn’t do a good job of capturing the low light. I did some looking, and I found that there are special camera apps for taking pictures at night, so I got one to try out next time.

And thus ended another session of mortification in the stairwell.


Next stop: 55th floor

Filed under: — stan @ 9:26 pm

It’s Tuesday, and it’s time for the latest installment of climbing stairs for fun and pain. Once again, I went downtown to the Aon building to do battle with stairway 6. And once again, I was dreading it all the way there on the train.

I got there a few minutes late today, so all the other regulars had already started up the staircase. I started my watch and headed up. I was a few seconds ahead of schedule at two minutes, but by four minutes, I was about 10 seconds behind. The gap grew a little bit more up to the 8-minute mark. Then I put on a good sprint for the last three floors. I’d been thinking about my old racing days at Kissena Velodrome in New York. Back then, my favorite racing strategy was to attack on the back stretch at 1 1/2 laps to go. We’d be riding into the setting sun there, so that gave me a little cover. And at least at first, nobody thought I’d be able to pull off a full-on sprint for 600 meters to the finish line. But I could, and I did. So back in those days, a 600-meter sprint took me about 45 seconds. So when I got to the 52nd floor, I just envisioned the back stretch at Kissena and just started running. I managed to maintain that up to 55, where I fell in a heap on the landing. After a few minutes of moaning and panting, I got up and had a look at my watch. I had 9:07, which is not great, but not bad. It’s slower than the 9:04 I posted last time I was here, but faster than the 9:10 I did a week ago.

I went back down and started up again. I wanted to just see if I could do a 12-second-per-floor ascent the second time. If I’m fresh, 12 seconds feels pretty slow. But on the second time up, it’s hard. In the end, I made it up the second time in 11:44, which works out to an average of 13.8 seconds per floor.

After the second time, I was done, so I changed and headed for home. It wasn’t a great outing, but it wasn’t bad, either. And it’s all good preparation for the race in April.


Keep watching the skies

Filed under: — stan @ 10:51 pm

Tonight was a close conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter. I had heard about this, but didn’t really pay attention until I saw a picture of it posted by Dave Palmer, who does some nice photography. So I went outside to see if I could get a picture of it. I’ve tried to photograph things in the sky before, and it’s always an interesting exercise.

I put the 300mm zoom lens on the camera, and I mounted it on a tripod with a remote shutter release. I set it on manual mode and started playing with the settings. I had to go back inside to consult the manual to find out how to change the f-stop. Since I was having to focus manually, I thought that stopping down the lens might help to make the focus a bit sharper, since there was plenty of light to work with. I tried a lot of different exposures to see what gave the nicest balance of gray shading on the Moon. I ended up with f16, 1/15 second exposure on 200 iso, and it came out pretty well for just experimenting on on the driveway.


Tour de Terminator

Filed under: — stan @ 5:09 pm

Today’s bike club ride was a sightseeing trip around Los Angeles to see four locations where scenes from the 1984 film, “The Terminator” were shot. I got the idea for this tour the other day when I found out that the restaurant where Sarah Connor worked in the movie was played by the Carrow’s in South Pasadena, and we’ve been by there a hundred times. So I looked up a few more locations, made a route, and here we are. I made a point of watching the movie again last night, just to be familiar with the locations and how they were shot. And now, almost 30 years later, the film really holds up quite well.

We started out from the park at 8:00. It was kind of chilly, and it didn’t help that the first 15 miles or so of the ride are downhill. We rode down into South Pasadena and stopped at Carrow’s. I leaned my bike up against the tree that Sarah Connor locked her scooter to in the film. It’s grown a bit over the last nearly-thirty-years.

Next, we rode down into downtown Los Angeles. Our first stop was on Hill St. We found the storefront that was turned into the Tech Noir nightclub in the film. The shutters were down, so it didn’t look like much. But even when they’re up, it’s just a jewelry store.

We found the alley off 7th St where Reese materialized after traveling through the time portal. It’s got a gate across it, which I guess is why the alley is so clean now.

Leaving downtown, we rode out to Larchmont to get bagels at Noah’s. By then, it had turned into a very nice day, and we had to wait a bit for a table outside. But we had our snacks and got ready for the ride home.

The route back dipped a bit south so we could get below Wilshire Blvd. This was so we could turn north on La Fayette Park Place. That was the location of the building that played Sarah and Ginger’s apartment. That particular location was only in the movie for a few seconds as an establishing shot showing the Terminator walking into the building.

All the sightseeing done, we cut over one block to Benton Way and headed for home. We rode back across Silver Lake and Eagle Rock, up the Colorado Hill, and home. It was a nice ride.

41 miles.


Actually, this isn’t that bad

Filed under: — stan @ 9:54 pm

It’s Thursday, and time to go torture myself on the Aon building staircase again. As always, I was dreading it and trying not to think about it all the way there on the train. And when I got there, I just suited up and headed up the stairs.

As has been usual lately, I was on target at the 2-minute mark, and about 10 seconds off pace at 4 minutes. I managed to stay 10 seconds off pace to the 6-minute mark, and I lost a few more seconds on the final 15 or so floors. I got to the top at 55 in 9:04. That’s faster than Tuesday’s time, but a bit slower than last Thursday’s. But when I was reviewing my write-ups from practices there last year, when I was doing the climb from 4 to 60 in about 9:50, several times I made mention that I was passing 54 right at the 9-minute mark. Which means that if I’m getting to 55 in 9:10, then I’m right on the same pace as my best practice times last year. So I don’t feel bad about doing a 9:04 tonight.

After a few minutes rest, I headed back down and started up again. The second time is always hard, and my only goal for it was to do it without stopping, and at a steady pace. I went pretty slow, at least by my standards. But I kept a steady pace, and I even passed one guy. Right at the end, one of the other regular climbers caught up to me, so we ran together up the last four or so floors. For a second time up, 10:50 isn’t too bad for me.

I knew that Lucinda wasn’t going to be home early tonight, so I knew I had time for one more round. The third time was just planning on walking it. I didn’t time it, and stopped to take pictures along the way. But it’s telling that even when I’m taking it easy and going slow, I still end up soaked in sweat. No matter how you slice it, stair climbing is hard. At times like these, I remember JFK:

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”

Sure, climbing skyscrapers isn’t going to the moon. But when you’re climbing that many stairs, it really feels like it.

After that, I packed up and went home. It was a pretty good outing.


Once more up the stairs

Filed under: — stan @ 10:04 pm

It’s Tuesday, and that means it’s time to go to stair practice again. And again, all the way there on the train, I was wondering just why do I do this? It’s insane.

So I got to the building, got suited up, and headed up the stairs. I’ve found that it hurts the same whether I just go or if I sit around talking to everyone at the bottom. So I didn’t waste any time. Several people went up before me, but I only caught one of them by the time I got to the top. I used my same splits from last time, but I was only able to stay on schedule up to the 4-minute mark. By 6 minutes, I was about 15 seconds off the pace, and when I heaved up onto the 55th floor landing, I had 9:10, or about 20 seconds slower than I’d wanted to do.

A few minutes later, George came up and out of the stairs, and he proceeded to roll around on the floor in agony for a couple minutes. In this sport, that’s how you can tell that you’re doing it right.

After a few minutes rest, George and I went back down and got out some supplies. He’d brought a 25-foot tape measure, and I had a notepad and pens. We wanted to get some more accurate measurements to figure the step height in the staircase.

We walked down to ground level and started up from there. We took two measurements on the 80-step staircase that leads from ground up to 4. One was three flights, 17 steps, and the other was four flights, 24 steps. Based on those measurements, it appears that the first staircase up to 4 averages about 7.5 inches per step.

The rest of the way up, we took two measurements on each of the three major sections of the stairway. Each measurement was one floor, 22 steps. Based on those measurements, the steps on the staircase above 4 average about 7.36 inches. Doing some math:

80 x 7.5 = 50 feet to the 4th floor
1,313 x 7.36 = 805 feet from 4 to the roof
50 + 805 = 855 which agrees well with the published height of 858 for the building

After all that, I was done. And it was time to get changed to head over to the Central Library. Kathleen and I had reservations for the ALOUD program tonight. It was author Amy Wilentz talking about her new book about Haiti, Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter from Haiti. And in one of those weird cosmic coincidences, I’d found out that her brother Tommy and I had been in the same third grade class back in 1967 in New Jersey. It’s kind of funny that I was able to remember that, since even though there were only 11 of us in that class, I can only remember names for maybe three of the kids who were there. But he was one of them. Anyway, it was an interesting talk, and we enjoyed it.

It was a fun evening, and now I can go correct my stair chart for the Aon building.


This is pretty remarkable for Los Angeles

Filed under: — stan @ 8:24 am

This is the coldest I’ve ever seen it get in 30 years here. Yesterday, the pan of water just had an ice crust on top of it. Today it’s actually frozen. I know it’s not all that cold compared to other places, but for here, it’s pretty cold. Especially since my house has only minimal insulation. That’s how they built all the old houses around here. Since, after all, it never gets all that cold here.

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