Stan’s Obligatory Blog


Planetary Alignment

Filed under: — stan @ 9:11 pm

I’d read recently that Venus and Jupiter were having a conjunction in the western sky, and that tonight would be their closest approach. From what I’d read, I figured that they might both fit in the same field of view in my telescope, so I took it out to the sidewalk this evening to have a look.

I set up on the sidewalk in front of our neighbor’s house, where I had a good view through the trees to the west. And they were there, very close together. I was able to see both in the same view if I used my lowest-power eyepiece. Then I hooked the camera up to the telescope and tried taking some pictures. I started out with a 1/50 second exposure, and then went up from there. When I got to a 1 second exposure, the Galilean satellites of Jupiter became visible, so I declared victory. So here it is. Two planets in one photo. Doesn’t happen every day.


Towerthon 2015

Filed under: — stan @ 4:29 pm

It’s June, and time again for the two-hour suffer-fest known as the San Diego Towerthon. Climbing a 20-story building is really no big deal in my book. But doing it over and over and over for two solid hours is a whole different experience. Last year, I managed to climb the building twenty times. This time, I wasn’t feeling quite so confident, and I didn’t think I could manage that. But I wanted to see how close I could come to it.

When it was time to go, I started my watch as I headed in the door for the first time. The rules of the event are that your two hours begin then, and as long as you’re in the door and climbing when the two hours runs out, you get credit for the last climb. So I started up the stairs. My target pace was 4 1/2 floors per minute. This used to feel like a very slow pace, and it used to be that I could climb a 50-story building five times in a row at that pace without slowing down.

I managed to do the first three or four climbs averaging about 4 – 4 1/2 minutes each time. But after that, I started to slow down. It was very hard to just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving. It was hot in the stairwell, and we were all suffering. They had powerful fans on the landings at 7, 11, and 16, and those helped a bit. It got to where when I came to those floors, I went up the flight below the fan on all fours to stay low and get the maximum cool air exposure. Still, I was dripping sweat and soaking my clothes.

I took a small cup of water at the top at the end of each climb, and I stopped briefly at the bottom at 30, 60, and 90 minutes in to swill some Gatorade that I’d brought along. That helped a little bit. But by the last half-hour, my socks and shoes were completely soaked. My shoes were heavy, and my feet were making squishy noises like I’d stepped in a puddle. Yick. By that time, I’d lost count of how many times I’d gone up. So I just kept on going. I was going slow near the end, but I didn’t stop. And when I got to the top and my watch said something like 1:52, I knew I’d have time for just one more climb. I rode the elevator down, and headed back up for the last time. I knew that it didn’t matter much how fast I went on the last time, but I wanted to get to the top as soon as possible, since it meant that I could stop. So I kept up my pace, and even had a little bit left for a burst of speed at the end. And then, like I’d promised myself, I got past the timing mat and immediately collapsed on the floor. And apparently, Madeleine was there to take a picture. I don’t even remember seeing her there.

So the final tally was nineteen climbs. That’s 361 floors, about 4,560 vertical feet, 1,390 meters. Truly a unique experience. And in the end, that was good enough for 3rd place in the 50-59 age group. Only four people older than me did more. So I can’t complain. All told, it was a good outing.


The Miniature Engineering and Craftsmanship Museum

Filed under: — stan @ 6:32 pm

A few weeks ago, my friend Bruce sent me a link about a museum in Carlsbad that exhibits working models of airplanes, boats, trains, and so forth, with miniature working engines. Since I was headed to San Diego this weekend for the Towerthon, I thought this might be a good side trip.

The museum is in an unassuming industrial-looking building kind of off the beaten path. Fortunately, I had Waze to tell me how to get there, or I would have had trouble finding it. When I got there, I went inside, and immediately saw the featured exhibit. A tiny scale model of a supercharged V-8 engine. Apparently, it’s fully functional. Yikes. I wandered around the museum, looking at all the tiny engines. There was a board with some tubes attached to it that said it was three miniature steam engines. They were so small I had to look carefully to see them at all. At the back of the museum, they had a model of the Wright Flyer, and a working model of a P-38 fighter. Then, along the back wall, they had a display of miniature steam engines, all hooked up to a compressed air supply, and the sign said that they would run the engines and give a tour of the machine shop at 2:00. Since that was just a few minutes away, I decided to stay and see it. When the time came, they turned on the air, and all the little steam engines started running:

After looking at the tiny model of the Titanic’s engine, we went into the machine shop. The first stop was the “Do-Nothing Machine”, which was featured on Roadside America last year. Our guide described it as “a cat toy for humans”. It was pretty funny:

Next, they showed us four different tiny working engines. There were two different gasoline engines, one Stirling engine, and a fourth of a type that I didn’t recognize at all. Here is the first gasoline engine running:

The last part of the tour showed us another radial airplane engine that they are building there. They even had a model of the model to show us how the inside of the crankcase worked. I’d always wondered how cylinders in a circle could turn a crank, and now I know.

This was one entertaining little museum. At least for anyone with a mechanical and geek bent.


“Can we all get along”

Filed under: — stan @ 5:39 pm

Whenever police misconduct is in the news, the story of Rodney King comes up. He was really the first high-profile case of the modern era where police doing bad things were caught on video. At the time, that was a first, but now, we’re seeing it over and over, and it’s shining a light on something that the police really don’t want people to see. Because of that, and the L.A. riots in 1992, Rodney King became an icon. I’m sure he never wanted to be a household name. After that, he lived his life in a fishbowl, which must have been very unpleasant. Still, the ordeal he went through led to some positive changes for society.

I recently found out that, after several years of being unmarked, Rodney King has a proper headstone. So today’s ride was to go see it, and to remember the reluctant icon.

It was a good day for riding, and we had a pretty big group this time. Apparently, Father’s Day is a big occasion at Forest Lawn, and the place was packed. When we got there, we rode all the way to the back. It’s about a mile from the front gate to the back section where Rodney King is buried. His new marker is nice, and it’s kind of fitting that it features the one line he’s remembered for. In all his time in the media spotlight, he never said much. Maybe he didn’t want to say anything, and maybe nobody ever asked him what he thought. But there is still the one line he is remembered for, and apparently, most people remember it wrong. I looked up on Youtube and found the video clip, and he did in fact say, “Can we all get along”. So there it is. Like the headline on an obituary, to have one’s entire life summed up in one line.

Continuing on, we stopped for snacks at Priscilla’s. Then we headed home, across Glendale. GT’s friend Lura got a flat, so I doubled back for a quick picture for the Flat Tire Gallery. Then we rode up Verdugo and home through La Cañada. It was a nice ride.

45 miles.

Route map and elevation profile


Icehouse Canyon

Filed under: — stan @ 4:53 pm

Today was time for another hike. The plan was to climb Lookout Mountain. I was curious to see the remains of Michelson’s 1924 experiment to measure the speed of light. I’d done that same experiment in physics lab in college back in 1981, so I thought it would be an interesting piece of history.

We’d both read the writeup, and we paid close attention to the instructions of how to get to the start, but neither of us really paid close attention to the part about how to find the trail. Usually, it’s pretty obvious, and we didn’t expect that this would be any different. But when we got there, there were just two fire roads, and we walked some distance down both and didn’t see anything that looked like a trail going where we needed to go. So, after 2 1/2 miles of walking in different directions, and also seeing a cute little baby skunk, we gave up and went to Icehouse Canyon.

Icehouse Canyon was the starting point for the hike up Cucamonga Peak that we did last fall. This time, we just planned to go to the saddle and back, so it wasn’t going to be as long and as hard as Cucamonga was. But today was a hot day in June, rather than a cool day in November. There was no snow on the ground. There was water running in the creek, and there were millions of bugs.

At the top of the saddle, we sat for a bit and had lunch. There were a lot of people on the trail. That’s a good thing. Having the nice mountains in our back yard is one of the great things about Los Angeles, and I like seeing more people coming out to enjoy them.

On the way down, we walked into a huge cloud of bugs, which turned out to be some sort of ladybug convention. I’ve never seen so many ladybugs in one place. And near the bottom, people who were heading up were telling us that there was a rattlesnake next to the trail, so we paid attention. The rattlesnake was a relatively small one, probably only 2-3 feet long. It was coiled up on a rock next to the trail. We gave it an appropriately wide berth and continued on down. At the bottom, there was a big tour bus in the parking lot from a Korean hiking club in L.A. I guess that explains why there were so many big groups of Koreans on the trail today. Despite the heat and the bugs, it was a fun hike.

Route map and elevation profile


Burger Tourism

Filed under: — stan @ 1:54 pm

Last fall, we rode out to Baldwin Park to see the replica of the original In-N-Out Burger stand that they built down the street from their In-N-Out University and company store. This past week, I realized that if we did that same route in the other direction, we’d get to the In-N-Out museum right around 11:00, and it’s open from 11-2 Thursdays through Sundays.

We started out from Victory Park and headed east. We rode through Monrovia and Duarte to get on the San Gabriel River bike path. We took that to Irwindale, where we rode past the Huy Fong Foods sriracha hot sauce factory, and then south into West Covina.

We stopped for snacks and such at Panera in West Covina. Then we continued south to La Puente, making a big loop that brought us back to Baldwin Park. Unfortunately, our timing was a little off, and we got to In-N-Out at 10:45. Since we had a few minutes to wait, and it was pretty hot by then, I went and rode through the regular In-N-Out drive-through and got some iced tea. The drive-through is a big part of the total In-N-Out experience, and just because I was on a bike wasn’t going to stop me from experiencing it.

By then, it was 11:00, so we rode back under the freeway to the In-N-Out museum. Karen was our docent, as it were. She said that she is a regular In-N-Out crew member, but she spends three hours of her shift working at the replica of the original stand, greeting visitors, answering questions, and generally telling the story of how In-N-Out got started. She took our picture in the drive-through at the replica, and she showed us the washing machine that they used in the old days to wash and spin-dry the french fries before they cooked them. She also showed us a picture of the guy whose job it was to sit out back and peel potatoes by hand. After the potatoes were peeled, they cut them into fries by hand with the same machines they use today. It was all an interesting piece of history.

The ride home from Baldwin Park was mostly uphill, but not unpleasant. It was a warm day, and summer is definitely on its way.

43 miles.

Route map and elevation profile

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