Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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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.

More government shutdown fun

Filed under: — stan @ 12:04 pm

I’ve been out of a job for the last two weeks due to the shutdown of the federal government, but today I got to enjoy a rare treat because of it. Turns out that the road up to Chantry Flat is closed to cars because of the shutdown, and so it’s become a 4-mile hike and bike trail for the last two weeks. So this morning, I went out to ride it.

I’ve ridden up this road many times before, but it’s rare to get to do it with no cars. And it was a perfect day for riding, so it was a winner all around.

16 miles.

10/11/2013

The Bridge to Nowhere

Filed under: — stan @ 6:34 pm

For many years, I’ve wanted to do the hike up the East Fork of the San Gabriel River to see the Bridge to Nowhere. So today was a good day. I went with Gary and Karina from my office, since we’re all on furlough-cation.

We headed out and got on the trail at about 9. I’d brought along some hiking poles, since the guidebook mentioned having to cross the river several times along the way, and I thought they would help for balance while rock-hopping.

The trail pretty much follows what’s left of the former road. There are a few places where there’s still enough pavement that it almost looks like a road, but for the most part, it’s all gone. In many places, I looked at the canyon and wondered what they were thinking back then to think they could even build a road through there.

We saw the foundations of a couple of bridges across the river along the way. There were places where the trail was hard to follow. Then two women and a dog passed us. They had a definite air of we-know-where-we’re-going, so we followed them for a bit. When they stopped to take a break, I talked with them and got some hints about the rest of the trail. At that point, we were almost at the Bridge.

The last part of the trail is pretty high up on the side of the canyon, and it’s easy to follow. Then it came around a bend, and there was the Bridge. The river is going through a narrow gorge at that point, so the bridge is high, and it’s anchored in the rock walls of the gorge, which I guess is why it didn’t get washed away when all the rest of the road did. We stopped for a bit at the bridge and had lunch. Then Gary and I went on, following the trail for about another 1/4 mile of climbing around the bend in the gorge, and then down to the river. There is a camp there, and it’s really a nice setting.

The way back was better, since we had a much better idea what we were doing. It turned out that we’d crossed the river more times than we needed to on the way out. Coming back, we only crossed it about four times.

In the end, we did about 10 miles. The total climb was about 1,000 feet. It wasn’t a hard hike, but it was interesting and fun.

10/10/2013

Rubio Canyon

Filed under: — stan @ 4:34 pm

It rained all day Wednesday, and I’m still a bit sore from the hike up Baldy on Tuesday, so today was a day to do something easy. I rode my bike up to Rubio Canyon and walked up the trail to the site of the old Rubio Pavilion. I’d been up there before, but that was back in 1996. That time, I got a nice picture of one of the waterfalls up there. But since then, the waterfalls were buried by a rockslide in 1998, and subsequently uncovered by a flash flood in 2004. So I was curious to see what the place looked like now.

The ride up to the trailhead was up some steep hills. Oddly enough, when we’re looking down on that neighborhood from up on Echo Mountain, it looks pretty flat. But it’s all on a pretty steep slope. When I got to the trail, I found a post and locked my bike up. Then I headed up the canyon.

The walk up the canyon is pretty easy. It’s only about a mile or so to the foundations of the old pavilion at the base of the former funicular up to Echo Mountain. Not a lot remains. Continuing up the canyon, I climbed over the rocks that had come down a few years ago until I saw the waterfall that I’d photographed back in 1996. There was no water today, even though it rained all day yesterday.

This was a nice little walk, and now I’m ready for the hike to the Bridge to Nowhere tomorrow.

10/8/2013

On top of Old Baldy

Filed under: — stan @ 8:22 pm

Well, I’m still on furlough-cation this week. I’ve recovered from last Thursday’s hike, so it’s time for another. I wanted to go and climb Mt San Antonio, colloquially known as Baldy, since I haven’t been up there since 1996. I’d only been up there three times ever, so I figured it was time. So I made plans to do this with Karina from my office.

We got an early start, and hit the trail from Manker Flat up to San Antonio Falls at 8AM. After a short walk up the fire road, we turned off onto the trail up the Bowl on the south slope of Baldy. The sign at the bottom mentioned that there were Jeffrey Pines in the forest above, and those are the ones with the bark that smells like vanilla. So I had to stop and smell the trees on the way up. We stopped for a break at the Sierra Club Ski Hut.

From the hut, the trail turned and went across the slope for a bit before it started a very steep climb up to the top of the ridge that comes off the summit on the south side. When we got to the top of the ridge, we had to take a rest. I checked my GPS, and it said we were close to 9,000 feet, so that meant the summit wasn’t too far away.

The final climb up to the summit was hard. It was steep, and there wasn’t enough air to breathe. When the GPS said 9,800 feet, I knew it wasn’t far, and that and the magnificent scenery were the only things between me and the crushing wave of “What the HELL are you trying to prove here?!?” that I always get while doing stair-climbing races. So this wasn’t so bad. And of course, we made it to the summit all right.

We had lunch on the summit, while trying to get away from all the bees. (Why are there bees living on top of a 10,000 foot mountain, anyway?) Then we headed down by way of the Devil’s Backbone Trail. This trail is famous for the section where it’s on a knife-edge ridge, with steep drops on both sides of the trail. And yes, that kind of gave me the willies. But we made it down all right, walking down into the ski area, and then down the very long fire road from the ski area back to where we started. That fire road was a long walk, but at least it was something where we could pretty much walk normally, rather than having to climb over boulders or anything like that. So it was pleasant enough. In the end, we made it back to the start in just a bit more than 8 hours. Not bad for 11 miles and about 4,000 feet of climbing. So yes, this was a fun day.


10/3/2013

Furlough-cation

Filed under: — stan @ 5:42 pm

Today, I’d made plans to go hiking with my friend Karina from work. Since our office has turned into a pumpkin, we don’t have anything to do. She hikes a fair amount, but I haven’t been up in the mountains since 4th of July last year. So we arranged to meet up a the trailhead a the top of Lake Ave. We figured we’d start out by going up Echo Mountain, and then just see what we had time for after that.

The trail up to Echo Mountain is about 2 1/2 miles, and it’s not hard. At the top, we turned left and headed up the old Mt. Lowe Railway roadbed. Most of it is still passable. The bridges have all been taken out, and there are signs along the way, indicating points of interest, and with photos showing how it looked when it was still operating. We ended up walking the entire length of the former railroad, all the way to the Mt. Lowe Trail Camp, which is at the location for the former Alpine Tavern that was at the end of the line. We stopped there for lunch, since they have some picnic tables there.

After lunch, we continued on up the trail to Inspiration Point, which is on top of the ridge behind Echo Mountain. There is a little shelter built up there, along with a sign telling the story of the One Man and a Mule Railroad, which used to bring people up to Inspiration Point from the Alpine Tavern. After that, we headed back by way of the Upper Sam Merrill Trail, which took us back to Echo Mountain. Then we headed back down the way we’d started. All together, it was about 12 1/2 miles, which is easily the longest hike I’ve done in many years. But it was a good time, and a good thing to do on a day when we have nothing else useful to do.

9/27/2013

Battling my inner demons

Filed under: — stan @ 10:23 pm

So it’s the end of September, and time to climb the U.S. Bank Tower in downtown Los Angeles again. And oddly enough, it never gets any easier. After all the practice sessions, climbing the Wilshire-Figueroa building 68 times, I was as ready as I was going to ever be. I’d worked out split times based on a pace of 5 1/2 floors per minute, which felt reasonable in practice. I thought I had a chance of being able to maintain that pace all the way up the 75 floors.

I got a phone call in the afternoon from George. He had run early, with the elite group, and he’d turned in a very respectable 13:49. That’s about seven seconds faster than my best time in that building. He also told me that I’d made a couple of errors in my stair chart. George has a great eye for detail. So based on what he told me, I went back and adjusted my split times.

I rode the train downtown just like every other time, and I walked over the YMCA to get changed and ready to climb. And when 4:00 rolled around, I was in line and ready to go.

The first 30 or so floors were fine. I kept to my pace, and I didn’t have trouble passing people. For the most part, the message is finally getting out to allow faster climbers to pass on the inside. But the hardest part was still to come. About the 55th floor or so, I was suddenly overcome by a crippling wave of “What the HELL am I trying to prove here?!?!?” And that’s something that makes it very hard to go on. I managed to keep moving, but I must have slowed down quite a bit. My schedule was to get to the top in about 13:45, and it ended up being 14:47. That’s my second-slowest time ever for this building. Still, I can’t complain too much. I’m still quite a bit faster than the Average Bear. I was something like 120th out of about 2,900 people. But I know that if I could just maintain focus, I’m sure I could go a lot faster.

After hanging around the bottom, visiting with everyone and handing out samples of my award-winning blueberry muffins, I saw Morgan from my office. I’d told her I’d walk up with her when she got there, so we went down and got in line. I told the people at the starting line that I was going to walk up with her, since I felt sort of responsible for the fact that she got talked into doing this crazy sport in the first place. So we walked up, making it to the top in just under 18 minutes. That was a new best time for her, and I thought it was reasonably leisurely. I stopped for water a few times, and I talked a lot. She later told me that telling her, “This is the floor where I lost the will to live” wasn’t particularly motivating. Oh well. Still, it was a good time, and it was interesting to see the stairway at a moderate pace.

So all told, it wasn’t one of my better outings on the stairs, but it was still a fun evening.

Full results are here: http://www.hallucinationsports.com/event/show/39511880#/results::1380915635626

9/21/2013

County Fair time again!

Filed under: — stan @ 10:45 pm

It’s time for the 2013 Los Angeles County Fair, and time to go visit my award-winning blueberry muffins in the display case there. We got lucky this time, and it was a very pleasant day. Usually, it’s blazing hot out there in Pomona, but today was very nice. Warm in the sun, cool in the shade, and with a pleasant breeze.

We went to see my muffins first. The ribbon came in the mail last week, and I’m quite pleased that these are my first non-cookie prize winners. We spent a bit of time looking around at everything else there. I’m hoping they come out with a cookbook of the winning recipes this year, so I can try making the muffins that beat mine. I want to know what’s in them.

After lunch, we got some Dr. Bob’s ice cream, and then went and saw a show with dogs leaping in the air catching frisbees. That was entertaining. We also got to pet a hedgehog. Then we walked over to the old train exhibit. I’ve wanted to see that for a long time. And we saw a display case with some bent and broken rails from the 1971 San Fernando Earthquake.

We took a turn through the buildings where they have all the booths selling random stuff. I thought the teeth-whitening booth looked kind of creepy. Like something from “Alien”. And then it was time for the pig races. The pig races are entertaining, and we get a coupon good for a free pound of bacon. What’s not to like about that?

It was a fun afternoon.

9/15/2013

Field Trip

Filed under: — stan @ 9:34 pm

A few weeks ago, I went to an event put on by Atlas Obscura where we went to a pinball museum in Orange County. While we were there, they mentioned that they were doing a ‘Field Trip Day’ excursion in Pasadena soon. This was put on in conjunction with Google, which has created a ‘Field Trip‘ smartphone app. So today was the day, and we headed over to Old Town to do some exploring on foot and seeing some of the history and culture around there.

We all met up in an alley behind Lucky Baldwin’s, where everybody got a little packet to start off with. It listed about 25 locations that were within reasonable walking distance. At each place, there was a flag and a small sign telling a bit about the place and its history and significance. One of the things in the packet was a list of questions to try and answer about some of the locations. This made it sort of a scavenger hunt, which added some entertainment value. And at some of the locations, they had actors dressed up as characters who had something to do with the history of the place. So it was an interactive scavenger hunt.

At the start, we headed out to the first few stops in the order they were listed on the sheet. One of the oddities was Gold Bug. I’d been by there, but never stopped to look in the windows. They have a lot of weird stuff in there. At Kendall Alley, we read the sign and talked to the officer to get the answer to the puzzle question for that location. Then we went across the street to the Blind Donkey to sample some beer.

We saw the Raymond Theater, which has been converted to condominiums. This was where the concert scenes from “This is Spinal Tap” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” were filmed. The Holly Street Livery Stable is a very old building that I’ve been by countless times, but never really noticed. But it’s a piece of history that it still standing.

At the old YWCA building, we met the architect, Julia Morgan, who designed many buildings for the YWCA in California. She told us the story of the building. Then we walked over to Pasadena City Hall and saw the Jackie Robinson memorial there. We also learned that his brother Mack was a runner, and that he’d competed in the 1936 Olympics, coming in second behind Jesse Owens in the 200 meter race.

From there, we went off the route, and we went to the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. The bit of history here was that this was where the 1983 “Motown 25″ TV show was filmed, and it was the first place where Michael Jackson performed the moonwalk. So of course, they had Michael Jackson there to teach everyone how to do it.

After that, we headed east, out of Old Town, where we stopped at the Pasadena Playhouse, where Tennessee Williams was holding auditions for their production of “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Again, this was an interactive adventure. And because we’d gone off the route, we got there ahead of the main group of people doing the tour. They started to arrive just as we finished there.

We stopped in the little coffee shop in Vroman’s Books to get some cold drinks. Then we started back, going by the Scottish Rite building, and the Pacific Asia Museum. Then we went to the Luggage Room, which is a restaurant in what was part of the old Santa Fe railway station in Pasadena. They were holding a little cocktail tasting on the patio, so we got to sample some odd cocktail flavors.

The last stop on the tour was at Rocket Fizz, which has a lot of decidedly strange and funny sodas. Not really historical, but interesting in an odd way. Then we headed over to the after party at Castle Green. And after the party, we walked over and had dinner at Cafe Bizou before going home. All told, it was an interesting and amusing afternoon adventure.

9/8/2013

Nigerians and Chandeliers

Filed under: — stan @ 10:35 pm

On Sunday evening, we went to Hollywood to see Dean Cameron’s show, “The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam“. We’ve gone to see this show several times before, and it’s always tremendous fun. Each time, the show is a little different, and tonight was no exception. He was trying out a new ending for it, and as always it was tremendously funny. If you can, go see this show. As the web site says, “You’ll schnertz!”

On the way out of the theater, we passed a shop that sells set decorations for movies, and they had a display of chandeliers in the front window. And I thought we should go see the Chandelier Tree in Silver Lake on the way home. I’d been to see it with the Sunday morning bike club group, but this was a chance to see it at night.

So we had an evening of Nigerians and Chandeliers. Actually, that was a good combination.

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