Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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3/10/2014

The Crappiest Place on Earth

Filed under: — stan @ 8:22 pm

This morning, Kathleen and I took a tour of the Hyperion sewage treatment plant on the beach just south of LAX. This outing was organized by the Obscura Society. We’d been on their “Field Trip Day” last fall, as well as trips to Pinball Forever and the Bunny Museum. So when we got the notice about a trip to “The Disneyland of Poop“, well, we just had to sign up.

The tour began in their visitor center, where they issued us hairnets and hard hats. Then, we got on a tram, just like at Disneyland, for the ride around the plant. We saw the big settling tanks, and the tall digesters, all of which were mercifully covered. We stopped in to the building where they load the sludge on trucks to be taken to the farm that DWP owns in the Central Valley. They said it’s used to fertilize the crops there, which are then sold for animal feed.

Next, we went to see Headworks. This is the first stage of processing, where the raw sewage is passed through coarse screens to filter out large solid objects. They said they get a lot of candy wrappers, and also a fair amount of money. And indeed, we saw a dollar bill that was raked up by the automated screen-scrapers. They told us the money is sanitized and ends up back in circulation. And here, I always thought “flushing money down the toilet” was just a figure of speech. But it’s a real thing. Mostly, though, the rakes were just continuously pulling up a foul-looking and smelling glop of toilet paper and such. Yick.

The final stage of treatment is the clarifying tanks. By now, the water is clean enough that the tanks can be open, and there were ducks and seagulls in them. At the end of the tour, we came back to the visitor center, and we went upstairs to see their little museum. They had a piece of 12-foot sewer pipe to stand in, just to get an idea of just how much sewage they process every day.

Lastly, we got a tour of one of the labs with a marine biologist who works there. She showed us a fish tank with specimens of the sorts of fish and other creatures that live in Santa Monica Bay. It is the biologist’s job to be sure that the outflow from the plant doesn’t damage the undersea habitat.

So, after all that was done, it was only about noon. Since we had taken the whole day off, we thought that going to the real Disneyland might be a fun way to round out the day. So we went from “The Crappiest Place on Earth” to “The Happiest Place on Earth”. This adventure sort of bookends the whole human experience in a way.

1/21/2014

Back to the stairwell

Filed under: — stan @ 9:30 pm

I had to go downtown today to visit the Federal Building and pick up my new government ID card. I brought along my stair-climbing clothes in case I felt up for some stairs afterward. I’ve been going to physical therapy for a week, and I’m able to walk a bit now, so I thought it might be a good experiment to try if I felt up to it.

After I finished at the Federal Building, it was still too early to go to the Aon building for stair practice. So I walked down the block to L.A. City Hall. I’d heard that they have an observation deck on the top floor there, and I was curious to see it. I went and checked in at the front desk, and they told me how to get up there. I asked them if I could take the stairs. They just looked at me, even though I was standing in front of them with my “Elevators are for Wimps” shirt on and everything. But I managed to convince them that I was serious, and they showed me the way to the staircase.

The climb up wasn’t bad. I figured that if I could climb to the 27th floor at City Hall without any sciatica pain, then I was up for trying the 51 floors at the Aon building. When I got to the top, I took a walk around all four sides of the observation deck. It was kind of the Land that Time Forgot. They had signs on each side showing the major buildings and other landmarks. And it was pretty obvious that the signs date back to the late 1970s. The view of Bunker Hill had the current Aon building, completed in 1973 and the Bonaventure hotel, built in 1976, but was missing the Wells Fargo building, which was finished in 1983.

After that little sightseeing trip, I headed over to the Aon building and got changed for stair climbing. Right now, I’m just trying to practice walking upright so I can learn to do it reliably without pain. So I didn’t plan on using the railing while climbing. I walked up at an easy pace of about four floors per minute, just holding the railing for balance. And I was able to make it all the way to the 55th floor without any back or leg pain. So that was pretty good.

I rode the elevator back down, and I did it again. I went a little slower the second time up, but I was still able to stay upright. So it was a Good Thing. Still, I was kind of tired after the second time up, since I’m a bit out of practice now. So I thought I’d better stop at two. I’m going back to the doctor on Thursday, so I’ll wait for that before deciding if I’m going to go downtown for practice again that night.

12/31/2013

2013 Year-end Wrap-up

Filed under: — stan @ 6:47 pm

It’s the end of the year, and time for my annual wrap-up of the year’s adventures. And yes, being old-fashioned, I still print copies of this and mail them tucked inside physical cards. My personal rule is that the letter must fit on one side of one sheet of paper. So here it is, complete with links:

www.1134.org/xmas/xmas2013.html

11/16/2013

Code Name: Dalmatian

Filed under: — stan @ 4:27 pm

Today was the last race of the year here in Los Angeles. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s climb up the Wilshire-Figueroa building in downtown L.A. This year was the first time that we were going to race all the way to the roof, making the total climb 1,245 steps, or the equivalent of 54.1 ‘regular’ floors in this building.

We’ve been climbing this building since July, since it was the site for our practice climbs before the YMCA’s climb up the U.S. Bank Tower. And just last Monday, I reached my 100th climb up the staircase. In honor of this occasion, I emailed Rebecca, the event organizer, and I asked if I could get bib number 101 for today, since the race would be my 101st climb up the building for the year. She wrote back that she had planned on assigning the first 20 numbers in the order we’d finished last year, and I’d been 7th overall last year, so I was slated to be ‘007′. Hmmm. That was a tough one. But in the end, I told her that I thought ‘101′ was still funnier and more appropriate for the day, so she agreed to give it to me.

In the morning, we headed downtown to the building. Kathleen was going to do the climb, too, so we got checked in and ready to go. Being in the ‘fast’ group, I went up near the front of the line. We all know each other up there, and we sorted ourselves out by how fast we expected to be. Besides my 101st climb, my only other goal for the day was to beat George. So I started a few places ahead of him. I was maybe the 8th or so person off the line, and that worked out well. I didn’t pass anyone, and nobody passed me. I was even able to maintain focus the whole way up. I did have one small wave of ‘what-the-HELL-are-you-trying-to-prove-here’ at about the 35th floor, but I was able to press on through it by just concentrating on my goal of beating George. I knew that he was coming up the staircase behind me, so I knew that I had to stay ahead of him.

I was aiming for a pace of 6 floors per minute, and I was able to keep to that up to about 30. After that, I came up about 3 steps short on each 1-minute block. Still, I went faster than I’d gone all year in practice, so that was a good thing. I tried to sprint up the last two floors, and when I saw the light from the roof door, I was able to sort of run up the last bit to the roof. I don’t think I need to describe just how painful that was. But I made it to the roof, and my reward: collapsing on the concrete helipad there. I spent a minute or so lying down, and when I looked up, I saw George lying on the concrete a few feet away. After we’d both caught our breath, we took a picture together on the roof before heading back down.

When they posted the results, I saw that I’d done 9:29. This was reasonably good. I could have possibly gone faster, but it was still faster than I’d gone in any of the practices or other races this year. And more importantly, I beat George by 4 seconds. Not much, but enough. I ended up being 12th overall, which I can’t complain about, since there were something like 200+ people doing the climb. So overall, I was satisfied, even if I didn’t make the top three in my age group this time.

Now I get about six weeks off from stair climbing before practice starts up again in January for the Lung Association’s climb up the Aon building. Fun times.

Full results are here: raceresults.eternaltiming.com/index.cfm/20131116_CF_Stair_Climb_Los_Angeles.htm

11/4/2013

Time to play tourist, finally

Filed under: — stan @ 10:25 pm

Since we missed playing tourist in Chicago on Saturday, Monday was the day. We went to the Field Museum to see the exhibit about the 1893 World’s Fair. Since I’d been reading about that last year when we were here, it all fit together nicely.

We saw Sue the T-Rex in the main hall of the museum. Then we went to see the World’s Fair exhibit. It was interesting to see how the attitude of the fair seemed quite foreign to us. It seems that back then, nature, animals, and the world itself were all regarded as things to be used, rather than things to be studied or understood just for themselves. After that, Kathleen wanted to go see the Hall of Gems. And along the way there, we stopped in to see an exhibit about fracking for oil in the Bakken Shale in North Dakota, followed by an exhibit of Nazi Propaganda. It was interesting, although it was a bit far afield from ‘Natural History’. But it did make a nice companion piece to the exhibit we went to see a few years ago about Nazi medicine. And parts of it were uncomfortably close to things we’re hearing and reading about today.

After all that, we went to the airport for the trip home. Despite the unpleasant beginning, this turned out to be a pretty good, if short, trip.

11/3/2013

Time to climb

Filed under: — stan @ 12:08 pm

Sunday morning came much too early. I was supposed to be downtown for a 7:30AM start up the building. We got up and headed over to the train station. There were puffed-up pigeons roosting in there, just trying to stay out of the cold wind. And on the train downtown, I noticed that there were many, many people on there way there for the Hot Chocolate 5k run. I couldn’t help but notice that they were all smiling and laughing like they were going to have a grand time, while I felt a bit like a lamb being led to slaughter.

Once we got downtown, we walked over to the building. Because we’d gotten in late, I had not been able to get my packet yesterday, so I found out I had to go talk to the people and get a new number assigned so I could run. By the time all that was done, it was almost 8:30 when I got in line. I started out at the same time as Michael from the WCL team, so we stood for a green-screen picture at the bottom. Then it was time to go. As has been the case all year, I just couldn’t face trying to go fast, so I just went up at a modest pace. 4 1/2 floors per minute. It’s fast enough that I pass about 90% or the people there, but not so fast that it’s seriously painful. Still, I got stuck in traffic in the stairwell. There were people with prosthetic legs and crutches climbing the building. While I admire their courage, do they really need an entire entourage around them, blocking the whole stairway for everyone else?

Anyway, I made it up in reasonable style. Felt pretty good at the top. No collapsing like a sack of potatoes this time. I spent a little time looking at the view and socializing, and then I headed back down. At the bottom, I rounded up some paper, a pen, a piece of cardboard and Jane and Steve to climb with me. The three of us got back in line and went up a second time. I took notes along the way so that I can fix up the chart that I made last year from PJ’s GoPro video.

After the second climb, I headed back down and we went back to the hotel to get cleaned up and ready to go to Kathleen’s aunt and uncle’s house.

11/2/2013

Off we go

Filed under: — stan @ 10:10 pm

On Saturday morning, we headed down to LAX again in hopes of actually getting to Chicago today. And despite the chaos yesterday, it seemed normal today, aside from the fact that Terminal 3 was still closed, and there was a solid like of police cars parked in front of it. Everything else was normal, and we got out on time.

Arriving in Chicago, we got our bags and took the train to our hotel. Then we rode the train into the city to have dinner at the Blue Line Lounge. That was supposed to be our activity for Friday night, but that didn’t work out. Still, I got to have the tarragon chicken pot pie. And after that, we headed back to go to bed, although I did take a minute to look at the Sears Willis Tower from the train platform.

11/1/2013

Never a good sign

Filed under: — stan @ 6:58 pm

Today was the day for our trip out to Chicago for the Sears Willis Tower stair climb. We headed down to LAX, arriving at the parking lot at about 9:30. As we were arriving there, was heard some sirens and saw a couple of fire trucks headed into the airport. We didn’t think too much about this, since that’s not more than what we’d see if there was a car accident of something like that. But then we noticed five or so news helicopters hovering stationary over the airport terminal area.

Hovering news helicopters are the buzzards of the modern world. Seeing them is never a good sign. When the shuttle bus arrived, the driver told us she had orders not to bring anyone in to the airport, and that they were closing down all operations there for an indefinite time. We waited around for an hour or so to see if the situation would be resolved, but it quickly became clear that it was going to be a long time. So I called United, and they transferred us to the same flight on Saturday, and we went home. Fortunately, since we were out in the long-term parking lot, we were able to leave, unlike the people who were locked down in the terminals.

So we went home. I made a turkey pot pie for dinner, and we went to a movie. And that was that.

10/16/2013

Mount Wilson

Filed under: — stan @ 3:43 pm

Last week, when Karina, Gary, and I were on the hike to the Bridge to Nowhere, we talked about doing Mount Wilson this week. Our original plan was to go up the trail that starts at Chantry Flat. Karina said that one is more scenic and not as difficult as the trail from Sierra Madre. But on the way home from Sunday’s bike ride, I’d gone by the bottom of the Chantry Flat road and found that it, too, was closed due to the government shutdown. So Sierra Madre it was.

I met Karina at the trailhead at 7AM. It was barely past sunrise when we started up the trail. The sign at the bottom said that the trail had been built in 1864 by Don Benito Wilson, and that it was originally intended for mule trains and horses. Which explains why the trail builders didn’t seem to care all that much about taking the most efficient path up the mountain. There were several places on the way up where the trail dropped into narrow canyons, only to climb back up and out of them on the other side. I hate it when that happens.

A good bit of the lower part of the trail is through actual forest. That’s nice, since forests are kind of rare in southern California. We came across a couple of deer on the trail at one point. They ran away when they saw us coming.

Karina woke up with a cold this morning, so she was sort of dragging. She said that if she could make it to the trail junction at the top of Manzanita Ridge, she thought she’d make it to the summit. When we got to the top of the ridge, we stopped for a few minutes, and then continued on to the junction with the old Mt. Wilson Toll Road. At that point, Karina said ‘uncle’ and decided to turn back. I kept going, since we were almost at the top, and I’d never done that trail before.

The rest of the walk to the top took about 1/2 hour. I stopped briefly at the top to refill my water bottles. Then I headed down. I wanted to see if I could catch up with Karina before she made it back to the bottom. I stopped to take some pictures on the way down, including the steps on the foundation of Orchard Camp. I figured that was the closest I’d be coming to stairs today. I managed to average almost 3 miles per hour on the way down. I reset my GPS at the top, and when I got to the bottom, it said it was just a bit over 7 miles, and it took me 2 1/2 hours to do. Karina’s car was gone, but I later heard from her that she’d only gotten to the bottom about 40 minutes before I did.

In the end, it was a fun hike. It was pretty hard. Probably harder than Mt. Baldy was, even though that’s a much higher mountain. Still, I didn’t feel too wiped out. And I started thinking about maybe doing downtown for stair practice in the evening. I thought that doing that might be a good capstone of insanity for the day.

14 miles, 4,700 feet of climbing

10/14/2013

Monday furlough-cation

Filed under: — stan @ 9:54 pm

It’s Monday, and the government shutdown continues. But today would have been a holiday if we weren’t shut down. And Kathleen had the day off, too. So we made plans to ride the train to the science museum to go see the space shuttle on display there. I’d taken the Sunday morning bike club to see it being moved last year, so now we could see it in its new, albeit temporary, display hall. And then, since we were going to be near downtown, we planned on stopping off at the Wilshire-Figueroa building for some stair-climbing on the way home.

The train ride down was easy. It’s just so convenient. I can hardly remember what it was like when we had to drive everywhere. And since it’s a minor holiday, the museum wasn’t terribly crowded, and we didn’t have to reserve tickets to see the shuttle.

The exhibit is in two parts. The first has some background information about space flight and the shuttle, including the tires it landed on on its last flight, and the control center from Rocketdyne where they monitored the performance of the main engines during every launch. Then there was a short film about how the moved the shuttle from LAX to the museum. And then we went out to the building where it’s housed. There was a display around the outside of the room with a summary of each of the 135 shuttle flights. The two flights that ended badly had plaques with a black background. It’s interesting to note that in his addendum to the report on the Challenger disaster, Feynman estimates the overall probability of failure of the space shuttle:

“If a reasonable launch schedule is to be maintained, engineering often cannot be done fast enough to keep up with the expectations of originally conservative certification criteria designed to guarantee a very safe vehicle. In these situations, subtly, and often with apparently logical arguments, the criteria are altered so that flights may still be certified in time. They therefore fly in a relatively unsafe condition, with a chance of failure of the order of a percent (it is difficult to be more accurate).”

And he concludes as any good physicist would:

“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

In any event, looking back now at two failures in 135 launches, it seems Feynman was pretty much right on target.

Still, we don’t want to dwell on failure. The shuttle is still an amazing machine, and that it worked as well as it did is still pretty remarkable.

After leaving the museum, we took the train back to the 7th St Metro station and headed over to the building. We got changed and ready to climb. My plan was to go up several times, and I was going to try and do the first two in close to 10 minutes each time. Kathleen headed into the stairs just behind me. I caught up with her near the top on my second ascent. My times were all right, but not great. After that, I went up one more time, just because it was there. And then we went home.

It was a fun little adventure.

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