Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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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.

8/31/2013

A gallery afternoon

Filed under: — stan @ 6:33 pm

This Saturday was a gallery day for us. We went to A+D to see the “Never Built: Los Angeles” exhibit. This is a show of models, drawing, and other materials from projects that were proposed, but were never built. The projects on display covered a full range from things that might have been pretty useful to things that were clearly absurd. For instance, the model showing proposed development behind Union Station was perhaps a bit grandiose, but it really wasn’t absurd. By comparison, the proposal for an offshore causeway freeway from Santa Monica to Malibu was perhaps the most absurd idea floated there. Most of the others fell somewhere in between. There was a map of the original plan for the freeway system, of which about one-half has been built. There was also a drawing showing Disney’s original plan for Disneyland in Burbank. They said it never made if off the drawing board because the city of Burbank thought it would have too much of a ‘carnival atmosphere’ and not be a good thing for the city. So Disneyland ended up in Anaheim. All told, this was an interesting exhibit.

After “Never Built”, we headed west to the Annenbery Space for Photography in Century City. The exhibit there is “Helmut Newton: White Women – Sleepless Nights – Big Nudes”, which presented a selection of his photography over the years, along with a short documentary film about his life. His style was very distinctive, and has influenced a whole generation of photographers.

This all made for a fun afternoon.

8/18/2013

Johnny Ramone and John Waters

Filed under: — stan @ 11:35 pm

This evening was the 9th Annual Johnny Ramone Tribute at Hollywood Forever cemetery. This year, the event included a screening of “Cry Baby“, and a personal appearance by John Waters to introduce the film. Add to that that Johnny Depp, Traci Lords, and others from the movie were going to be there, Being a big fan of both the Ramones and John Waters, this was an event not to be missed.

Since Kathleen was laid up at home recovering from her surgery last Thursday, Lucinda and I made plans to go to this, along with my friend Lisa from the West Coast Labels stair-climbing team. I made us a too-big picnic to bring along, and dug out our Tommy Bahama chairs, and we were ready to go.

We set up camp on the lawn, and Lisa got in line to get autographs from John Waters. I didn’t bring anything for him to sign, largely because everything I have by him is already signed. And as it turned out, that was a good thing. She waited in line for a long time, and then they cut the line off just before she got to the front.

Lucinda spent some time sightseeing in the cemetery and taking pictures. They had Johnny Ramone’s statue decorated for the occasion, and they turned on the lights as darkness fell.

Before the film, they held question and answer session with John Waters and the others from the film on the stage. Lucinda was excited when she found out that the panel would be introduced by none other than Dita. They took some questions from the crowd and talked about making the movie. Then John Waters took the stage by himself to introduce the film. As always, he was very funny to listen to. After he finished, we watched the movie, and as always, it was very entertaining. It had been years since I saw “Cry Baby”, so all around, this was a very fun evening.

8/15/2013

Scouting the West Side

Filed under: — stan @ 8:00 pm

Kathleen had to have surgery today, and due to the requirements of it, we had to go to the West L.A. Kaiser hospital. They said it would take 2-3 hours, and that I should be available during that time. Since just sitting in the waiting room is just excruciating, I made sure they had my cell phone number, and I brought my bike along to scout out some possible sightseeing for the Sunday morning bike club ride.

Since we’ve done a couple of rides to see different aspects of the history of the Los Angeles oil fields, I’ve done a bit of reading about this. And I ran across an article about fracking wastewater disposal that mentioned polluted water bubbling up out of the ground in a dog park on the west side of L.A. They weren’t very specific about where it was, and when I finally tracked it down, it turned out to actually be in Culver City. But as it turns out, this is just a couple of miles from the Kaiser West L.A. facility, so I had my first sightseeing destination.

To get there, I rode down Venice Blvd, which isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds like it would be on a Thursday morning. There is a bike lane, and it was really only a problem going under the big bridge under construction for the Metro Expo Line. Then I turned on Culver Blvd and rode over to the park in Culver City. There was a line of pawprints painted on the sidewalk marking the way to the dog park. When I got there, it was an acre or so of dirt, complete with oil wells pumping away just up the hillside beyond the fence. There was also a little fenced-in enclosure across the street from the entrance, with humming equipment inside that was pretty obviously something to do with the oil field.

Another recent sightseeing theme on the Sunday morning ride was to see the Mulholland Dam and the Hollywood Reservoir. This came out of having gone to a talk about the St. Francis Dam disaster in 1928, which is considered to be one of the worst civil engineering failures of the 20th century. During that talk, they mentioned that the dam collapse is largely forgotten in Los Angeles, possibly because all the death and destruction it caused happened far outside the city. So during the question-and-answer period, I asked the panel to compare this to the 1963 Baldwin Hills Dam collapse, which is also kind of forgotten, even though it happened within the Los Angeles city limits, just about 8 miles west of downtown. They said that they thought that that was probably because of the combination of the fact that the destruction it caused was much less than the St. Francis Dam, and also because it happened in December, 1963, just weeks after the Kennedy assassination. In any event, I’ve wanted to go see the site of the Baldwin Hills Dam for some time now, and it’s only a few miles east of Culver City and the dog park. And to add to the connection, the prevailing thinking now is that the dam collapse was probably caused by ground subsidence due to operations in the Inglewood oil field just south of the reservoir. The remains of the dam and the bowl of the reservoir have since been landscaped and turned into Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area.

So I rode over to Baldwin Hills, and I headed up a street that looked like it might lead to a way in to the park. The main entrance to the park is on La Cienega Blvd, but on the section that was built decades ago as a section of the planned Laurel Canyon Freeway. Even though it’s officially just a street, I really don’t want to be riding my bike on the freeway, so I was looking for another way in to the park. I rode up a steep hill to a place where I had a good look at the former dam, complete with the dip in the wall where it broke. I continued on up to the end of the street, where there was a locked gate. So I asked someone who was out walking in the neighborhood. She said that she thought there was a way in off the street on the other side of the former reservoir, so I rode back down the hill and up the other side, only to find more locked gates. I finally did find a gap in the fence with that looked like a goat path that may have led into the park. But that’s not really what I was looking for. The only lesson I can draw from this is that for some reason, the powers that be REALLY, REALLY don’t want people to come to this park by bicycle. Still, I did get a pretty good view in through the gates to see the nicely landscaped bowl of the former reservoir.

On my way back down the hill, my phone made some noise. It was a message from the nurse that Kathleen’s operation was nearly done, and that everything had gone well. So I headed back to the hospital. As I’d learned back in 2007, going for a bike ride is a good way to pass the time while waiting for these sorts of things. So it worked out well for both of us.

6/23/2013

A day with the animals

Filed under: — stan @ 8:48 pm

On Sunday after the Towerthon, we spent the day playing tourist in San Diego. In our case, that meant having breakfast with my father, and then going to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido. It was a perfect day to be outside, so that worked out well. Lucinda asked if she could do the zipline this time, so we got tickets for her and London to do that.

It was a fun and entertaining day. Highlights included feeding time for the meerkats, the new lemur exhibit, where Kathleen got closely inspected by one of the residents, and the baby antelope running around it its enclosure. Pictures of the zipline adventure are in Lucinda’s album. And the best of the animal pictures I took that day are here.

6/22/2013

Towerthon!

Filed under: — stan @ 8:33 pm

This past weekend was my second attempt at the San Diego Towerthon. And it was a mixed bag. Fun in a weird sort of way, but also funny in a weird way.

Last year, I’d gone in to this race with no expectations. I’d never done an endurance stair climb before, so I really didn’t know what to expect. And I think I did pretty well. I climbed the staircase from 1 to 25 seventeen times. That was enough times that I was able to later make the staircase chart from memory. And, more importantly, I calculated later that if I’d done it eighteen times, it would have been a vertical mile. More on that later.

So for the past year, I’ve been thinking about the vertical mile as a goal and a challenge. And I even did it once at one of the Aon building practice sessions in downtown L.A. last March. So I went into this race with a goal of doing the vertical mile.

A few days before the race, I got an email from P.J. saying that they’d had to change the course for the race, and that we were only going to be going up to 24 this time. The organizers had already said that they were going to make up some sort of special award for all climbers who went a mile or more, so they wanted to know how many times up would make a mile with the shorter climb. I ran the numbers and came up with 18.6, which meant climbing the staircase 19 times. I worked out a pace for that, and I set an alarm on my watch for 6:20, since that was how fast I’d have to do each lap, including the elevator ride down and the run from the lobby to the staircase entrance outside.

So race day dawned, and when I was in line and about to go, my friend George told me that he’d measured the steps in the staircase, and they were a bit taller than I’d figured in my calculations. They were something like 7 3/8 inches instead of 7. At that point it was too late to redo the calculations, so I just started up the stairs. I think that’s why I look a bit haunted in the starting line picture.

All the way up the first time, I kept thinking about how the taller steps threw all my careful calculations off by about 4%. Which is enough to notice over a 2-hour climb. Still, I made it up on target, and I managed to keep on pace for about 5 or 6 climbs. But then I started to fall of behind. Expectations are a terrible thing. Once I knew I was off my planned pace, I kind of lost the will to go on. And my lap times for the middle set of climbs were kind of slow. I managed to perk up a bit towards the end, but by that time, I’d lost count of how many times I’d been up the stairs. You can see in the pictures the wear that going up that staircase over and over caused.

At the end, I got to the top and then immediately flopped face-down on the floor. The top of the climb was an unfinished floor, and we discovered that our sweat-soaked shirts made sort of prints on the concrete. These were dubbed ’sweat angels’. After a suitable recovery time, we got together for a team picture before heading down for the awards.

When the posted the results, I found I’d climbed the staircase 17 times. Not bad, but not a mile. And when I had a few minutes, I recalculated, and found that with the taller steps, 18 times up made a mile on this year’s course. So I really didn’t need to aim for 19, and if I’d aimed for 18, I might have made it.

The really funny bit came later, when I was on the train leaving downtown to go back to my father’s place. I wondered just how close my 17 climbs last year were to a mile, since the steps were taller than I’d thought. So here’s the calculation:

Climb from 1 to 25 -> 506 steps
506 x 7.35 = 3,719 inches = 310 feet
310 feet x 17 climbs = 5,270 feet

This is just short of a mile. But on every lap, there were four steps we had to go up when we got out of the lobby. So doing 17 laps meant climbing those four steps 16 times, and they were about 6.5 inches. So those steps added:

16 x 4 x 6.5 = 416 inches = 35 feet

5,270 + 35 > 5,280

So the funny thing is that I actually did the vertical mile last year. But because I’d thought that I hadn’t, it became a year-long obsession. I talked about it, and other climbers took it on as a goal as well. And the whole thing took on a life of its own. Which I found tremendously funny.

Overall, even though I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped, I really can’t complain. It was a good experience, and good fun.

Full results are here: http://www.geminitiming.com/posts/san-diego-towerthon-4/

5/25/2013

Battleship

Filed under: — stan @ 6:33 pm

The new attraction on the L.A. waterfront is the battleship Iowa. It’s been parked there for about a year now, and a good bit of it is open as a museum. So we went to see it today.

The tour is self-guided, and takes in most of the upper part of the ship. We got to see a lot about the history of the ship in World War II, and later on in the Cold War. I recall thinking it was a bit odd that in the ’80s they were refitting several of the old battleships for active duty again. But they put cruise missiles on them, complete with nuclear warheads. And they had the Phalanx super-duper gatling gun to defend the ship from incoming missiles.

Here’s a video of a demonstration of the Phalanx in action:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmUfiPRrbMw

All told, it was an interesting afternoon.

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