Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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8/20/2016

Gyoza 2016

Filed under: — stan @ 3:54 pm

It’s Nisei Week in Little Tokyo, and that means it’s time for the gyoza eating contest. We’ve been there before, and it’s always simultaneously hilarious and horrifying.

In a departure from the format of previous years, they added a few side contests. One was a short one featuring some of the girls who were in last year’s Nisei Week court, as well as one pitting LAPD officers against LA County firefighters. Those were all entertaining, but were just a warm-up for the main event. Lots of the big names in competitive eating were there, and once the ten minutes began, it was obvious that they’re all professionals. The plates held 25 gyoza each, and empty plates started stacking up in front of the top eaters as their heads bobbed up and down and they did little shimmies and jumps to try and pack the food down as they ate. And of course, in the final seconds, they stuffed their cheeks like chipmunks to try and pack in as many gyoza as possible. I guess that’s the competitive eating version of a sprint to the finish.

In the end, Matt ‘Megatoad’ Stonie was the winner again, and by a convincing margin. He was the only one to go over 300. The full results are here:

http://majorleagueeating.com/news.php?action=detail&sn=970


8/13/2016

A Bit of History

Filed under: — stan @ 6:07 pm

Today I took a tour of the Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey with Atlas Obscura. We got a nice treat when they brought in an engineer who worked at North American Aviation, later Rockwell, from the early days of Apollo all the way through the Space Shuttle program. He had some good stories about the early days there.

Later on, we went upstairs, where there was a long conference table in the room. Remember this scene from “Apollo 13″?

This was the table the actual North American engineers used back in 1970 when they had to figure out how to piece junk together to get Apollo 13 home.


8/6/2016

Pangolin

Filed under: — stan @ 9:36 pm

We went to San Diego this weekend to visit my father, and since it’s summer, we also went to the zoo to see the pangolin. The San Diego Zoo is the only place in the western hemisphere to see a pangolin, and they only bring Baba our for 15 minutes a day, and only in summer. I’d taken Lucinda there to see the pangolin last summer, but Kathleen wasn’t able to go that time. So this was her chance to see one of the oddest animals ever.

We got to the zoo a little early, so we walked around and looked at some other animals while we waited for it to be pangolin time. Then we headed over to the children’s zoo. At 1:30 one of the keepers came out with Baba the pangolin. She put him on the little tree and platform they made for him so he could eat. She said that they feed him a slurry of cat food and ground-up insects, all mixed with vanilla-flavored Ensure. Yum. He seemed to like it all right, and it gave us a chance to see his famously-long tongue. After his 15 minutes were up, Baba climbed down off the platform and just started walking back to the building where he lives. This was interesting, since it’s the first time we got to see how he walks on the ground.

After pangolin time, we headed over to the Australia exhibit to see the Tasmanian Devils. As usual, they were all sleeping.

Finally, we walked down the hill to go see the hippos. A few years ago, we got to see a baby hippo there, so we wanted to go back again. And while we were there, we got to see fresh hippo poop. That always makes my day…


7/11/2016

A Weekend in Las Vegas

Filed under: — stan @ 9:34 pm

Last February, when we were in Las Vegas so I could climb the Stratosphere Tower, my old friend Gordon came out from New Jersey to visit. We used to go to Las Vegas a lot back in the ’80s to play blackjack. So this was a fun little excursion to remember the Old Days. In the process, we went looking for prime rib, and ended up at the Orleans, which turned out to also have a pretty good low-key blackjack game. While we were there, Kathleen signed up for their players club, and they sent her an offer for two free nights at the hotel. So that was our adventure for this weekend.

We drove out there on Saturday. When we arrived, we checked in to the hotel, and then I went downstairs to play some blackjack. I’d resurrected the practice program I wrote back in 1990 and played with it a bit this past week, so I was able to remember Basic Strategy this time. I had two losing sessions, took a short break, and then I got lucky and ended Saturday up by a little bit.

After dinner on Saturday, we headed downtown to go to Atomic Liquors. I stopped to take a picture of the big neon sign across the street that announces, “Llamas stay for free!”. Atomic is a little dive bar where people used to sit on the roof to watch the nuclear tests back in the 1950s. Now it’s a bit of a hipster hangout. Apparently, living downtown seems to be an up-and-coming thing in Las Vegas, just like it is here in L.A.

Sunday, I spent almost the whole day playing blackjack, and ended up down by almost $100. But that’s not bad for as much time as I spent at the tables.

On Monday, I went down to the casino before breakfast and quickly got cleaned out of a further $100. At that point, I took a short break before trying again. And this time, the magic worked. I had three good sessions, and in the end, I basically broke even for the weekend.

Before heading home, we went to see the Atomic Testing Museum. We’d gone there before, and it’s an interesting place, so I wanted to go again. It turns out that the place I was born, Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, was one of the four finalists when the AEC was first deciding on where to do nuclear testing. Yikes.

After the museum, we headed home. And in the end, I got to come home a winner. I had brought $500.00 to gamble with, and when it was all done, I came home with $500.50. Yay!

6/18/2016

Towerthon 2016

Filed under: — stan @ 4:11 pm

Today was the 2016 edition of the San Diego Towerthon. This is perhaps the single hardest stair-climbing race I’ve ever done, and also probably my favorite. It’s 422 steps, 239 feet, 72.9 meters from the lobby to the 20th floor. And we climb it over and over and over and over for two hours. This is my fifth time doing this event.

Last year, I only managed to do 19 climbs. The year before, I did 20. The two years before that were in a different building, so they aren’t easily compared. But the 2012 event was the origin of the Vertical Mile as a thing. In this building, 22 climbs is a vertical mile, but I’m not in good enough shape for that right now, although I did manage to do a two-hour vertical mile in practice at the Aon building in 2013.

This time, I started off at my regular ‘easy’ pace. I was aiming to climb the building in a bit over four minutes each time. And I managed to stick to that pace for quite a long time. There were some problems with the elevator shuttle back to the lobby at first. For a time, there was only one elevator running, and we ended up having to wait for several minutes at a time at the top. But after about a half-hour or so, they got the elevators working, and also the herd thinned out a bit.

I had some water and Gatorade on the table in the lobby, and I stopped to tank up about every 15 minutes. At the one-hour mark, I stopped long enough to change to a dry headband. It wasn’t until about 90 minutes in that I really started to slow down. I kept a watch on the time, and I made it in to the stairs for my final climb at about 1:57 on the clock. So I knew that the last climb would count for my total, and that it really didn’t matter how long the last one took. Still, I managed to eke out a little burst of speed for the last three floors, just because I knew that I could stop when I got to 20.

Sadly, I didn’t get a lot of pictures this time. There were a few that other people took near the start, and Jeff showed up about halfway through. He wasn’t racing, owing to having been sick. But he was able to get some pictures for me on the last few climbs.

In the end, I managed 19 climbs, which was the same as last year. I think I’m slightly stronger this year, though. If we hadn’t lost those minutes waiting for the elevators at the start, I think I could have easily done 20 climbs this time. Still, I can’t complain. After all, my 19 is the same as the 19 George did, and he’s generally in better condition than I am these days. So all around, it was a good time.

Full results are at https://gemininext.com/results/?event_id=5066


4/16/2016

The Wende Museum

Filed under: — stan @ 7:52 pm

Today was Obscura Day, when Atlas Obscura puts on events in many cities to showcase odd and interesting things to see and do. We first attended Obscura Day in 2012 to see The Bunny Museum. Last year, Lucinda and I went to Dapper Cadaver. And this time, it was a visit to the Wende Museum. They are a museum dedicated to the Cold War, and they are the reason why there is a section of the Berlin Wall on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.

The tour was in the afternoon, and I was going to be spending at least part of the morning climbing the Aon building in downtown L.A. So I brought my bike along, so I could ride the Metro out to Culver City and ride to the museum for the tour.

The museum didn’t have a lot on display. They are in a little building, and it’s pretty much crammed full. So the tour was mostly being shown around inside, while they pulled out various things for us to look at. It was an odd grab bag of stuff. They had the entire print run of the East German newspaper, Nueue Duetschland, the sign from Checkpoint Charlie, uniforms and parade flags from Soviet and other Eastern Bloc countries, not to mention about 100 busts and statues of Lenin. It was a weird and somewhat overwhelming collection of odd stuff. And of course, that meant that I enjoyed seeing it tremendously.

4/15/2016

Harry Potter World

Filed under: — stan @ 9:41 pm

Today was a special treat. Kathleen and I went to Universal Studios to see the new “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” there. Just for the experience of it, she sprang for the full “VIP Experience” tickets. We got there about 8:45 or so and checked in. Then we went up to the room where they had breakfast for us. While we were there, our tour guide came and found us, and at 9:15, we set out on our tour.

Our first stop was the “Harry Potter” area. As part of the “VIP Experience”, we got to to the front of every line, which was kind of fun. Our first stop was the “Flight of the Hippogriff” ride. This was a small roller coaster, and not terribly exciting. It was about like the “Gadget’s Go Coaster” at Disneyland. But there was nothing wrong with it.

After that, we headed into the main Harry Potter ride. And on the way in to the ride, we got to walk through parts of Hogwart’s, and to see Dumbledore’s office and the Potions classroom along the way. The ride itself kind of defies description. It’s sort of a combination of a real ride and a motion simulator ride. To put it in Disneyland terms, it’s sort of like if you mashed up “The Haunted Mansion” with “Soarin’ Over California” and “Star Tours“. It was very well done.

Next was a visit to Ollivander’s to shop for wands. Which was apparently a very popular thing to do. The shop had a long line to get in. But the little show was entertaining. Then we moved on to our next stop, which was the “Despicable Me” ride. The trophy over the door going in to the ride was funny. This was another motion simulator ride. I’m usually not impressed by motion simulators where just the seats move, and the movie screen is fixed. But this one was good. Even with the screen fixed, it was a convincing effect.

Next, we headed down the hill to the lower lot for the “Jurassic Park”, “Transformers”, and “Revenge of the Mummy” rides. The Mummy ride was the one that Lucinda and I rode eight times on the cold and rainy day we spent there back in 2010. The “Transformers” ride was pretty good, but amazingly loud. I had to make some makeshift earplugs before I could stand it.

Then it was time for lunch, which was included in the VIP package. And the lunch was actually quite good. Considering that you’d probably have to spend $20 for a burger at a theme park, this lunch probably would have cost upwards of $50 each. It was really quite good. And after that, we headed down for the studio tram tour. But instead of waiting in line for the regular tram ride, they had a small tram for just two of our groups, which was about 24 people total. They took us around to see all the regular tour sites, as well as a few that aren’t on the regular tour. They took us inside one of the sound stages to see the hospital lobby set that they built for the TV show “Heartbeat”. It was pretty big, and had a lot of detail. I asked them if they had to take more time building TV sets now that TV has gone HD, and they said that they did. I’d gone to see some sets from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” back in the ’90s, and they looked pretty rough. But this set looked real enough that it looked good even up close.

We saw their collection of movie cars, and the flood set. Then they took us to Wisteria Lane, where we go to get out and go inside Bree’s house from “Desperate Housewives”. They said that most of the houses there were just exteriors, although a few had interiors. The one we went in had just a little bit of inside decoration. Just enough that they can open the front door and it looks like there’s an interior. But on a practical level, it had a bathroom, which was useful.

The next stop was the prop warehouse, where we got to see an enormous collection of all manner of props, most of which were used in any number of movies and TV shows. The only one they pointed out specially was the Evil Queen’s throne from “Snow White and the Huntsman”, which everyone wanted to get their picture sitting in. After that, they took us up the hill to the “Psycho” house and the airplane crash set from “War of the Worlds”. We got to get out there for pictures with the house, as well as the crashed airplane. Getting up close, it was obvious that the airplane was not a prop made of styrofoam and plastic. Looking into the tail section, I could see the aft pressure bulkhead, so it looked like they’d made this set out of a real airplane. They told us it was an actual junked 747 that they bought and had hauled there, and then cut up into pieces to make the crash set. And while we were looking around there, I saw a small pond and building behind the plane crash set that they said was the “Site B” raptor breeding facility from “Jurassic Park”.

After the tour, we all headed back up with our group and saw the special effects show. At that point, it was about 4:30, and we were turned loose to go do whatever we wanted for the rest of the day. Kathleen and I went back to Hogwart’s and rode the Harry Potter ride again, and I rode the Hippogriff roller coaster a couple more times. Then we did the Simpsons ride, and the Mummy one more time. Being able to just walk right up to the ride without waiting in line makes the whole theme park experience much more fun.

Overall, it was a fun day.

11/14/2015

Working Wildlife

Filed under: — stan @ 9:53 pm

Today was a tour of Working Wildlife, which is a ranch in Frazier Park where they train animals for movies and TV. This was yet another Atlas Obscura adventure. As it turned out, it was the same day as the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s stair climb, so I had to leave right after climbing the building in order to have the requisite 90 minutes to make it all the way out there. But I made it just in time, and it was a fun time talking to the animals.

At the beginning, we got a little history of the ranch, and got to meet a few of the smaller animals. Our host and guide was Jeff, who is one of the trainers, and the nephew of the owner. The lemur, porcupine, and the binturong got to just walk up and down the table and meet us directly. And after that, it was time to meet some larger animals. We saw a few foxes before heading over to the lions. We saw a couple of mountain lions, and then some African lions. They all seemed to have a good relationship with Jeff, since they all came over to him and wanted to be petted and scratched just like very large cats. I seem to recall he said that the pumas are the largest cats that purr.

The last stop was to see the bears. They also came over to be petted, although, like with the lions, the petting did not involve us, since the bears and lions don’t know us. The only other part of the operation we didn’t see was the wolves. Apparently, they trained the wolves that were used in “True Blood” and other TV shows, but the trainers were working with the animals and didn’t want them to be distracted by visitors. Still, it was all very interesting to see.

10/24/2015

A bit of aerospace history

Filed under: — stan @ 6:19 pm

Back in the late ’80s, I spent a few years working at Hughes Aircraft Radar Systems Group in El Segundo. Part of our department was moved to offices at the old Hughes Helicopter plant near Culver City. I had occasion to go over there a few times, and I’d heard that the land there had been built up after Hughes Aircraft was divided up and sold in the ’90s. So when I got something from the L.A. Conservancy about a tour of the remaining buildings there and how they were being renovated as new office spaces, I figured a visit was in order. I called up my old friend Kathleen, who I first met while we were both working at Hughes, and we made plans to go visit the old place.

The tour started in Building 15, which is an enormous wooden structure that was built in 1943 to accommodate building the H-4 Hercules, otherwise known as the “Spruce Goose”. It was impressive to see how they were able to build such a big building out of wood. Our docent said that the only metal parts were hinges, nails, bolts, and the reinforcing plates on the support arches. But I put my long lens on the camera and got a close-up picture of one of the plates, and we could see the wood grain of the plywood. So even the reinforcing plates were made of wood. They told us that the enormous building had been used as a sound stage since the early ’90s, and that it was used for movies that needed to build large indoor sets that would be used for an extended time.

The next stop was the building that used to be the company cafeteria. The docents told us about the design of the building, and also about how the Hughes cafeteria was known for serving good food for the employees. Kathleen and I could verify that. The cafeteria where we were in El Segundo was quite good. The old cafeteria building has been fixed up, and now it’s offices for a video game design company.

The next building was formerly the company fire station. It’s been turned into offices and studio space for Youtube. We didn’t get to see much on the inside there, since the studios were all in use. And the final two buildings were formerly office buildings in the Hughes days. And they’re still office buildings. The are leased by an advertising company. But because of that, we were not allowed to take pictures in those buildings.

It was fun seeing the old place again.

9/19/2015

San Andreas Fault Scavenger Hunt with Atlas Obscura

Filed under: — stan @ 5:43 pm

Last November, Sue Hough took a group of us from the USGS office on a field trip to see some earthquake-related sights around the San Andreas Fault. I thought this was all very interesting, and I also thought that this could make a good Obscura Society event. I first talked to Erin about it in February, when we did the bar crawl in Los Feliz. I talked to Sue and she agreed to come along to narrate the tour. And after we worked out all the scheduling details, Field Agent Sandi was ready to put it all together. She arranged for a bus and driver, and I worked out the route and sights. We added three additional sights that were not on Sue’s original tour. This time, we were going to stop at the Lamont Odett Vista Point on the 14 freeway in Palmdale. This overlooks the fault, and we could see the trace of it stretching off into the distance in both directions. The second extra stop was to climb the small hill so we could get a better look at the famous road cut on the 14. And finally, we stopped at the Pallet Creek site where Kerry Sieh did his original trenching studies back in the ’70s. With all that in place, we were ready for the first Atlas Obscura San Andreas Fault Scavenger Hunt.

We started off at Caltech. This was partly because it’s fairly centrally-located and has available parking on weekends, and also so I could take the group on a short tour of the Seismo Lab before we left for the actual field trip. We started out at the downstairs exhibit, including a small piece of the Pallet Creek trench that is in display there. Then we headed upstairs to see the Media Center. I had some fact sheets and such to hand out, and I showed them a bit about the displays there. And on our way out, we stopped at the relief map on the wall in the hallway, and I showed them were we were going to go on the tour today. Then we headed down to the bus.

The first part of the tour was the relatively short ride to San Fernando to see the fault scarp next to the McDonald’s. On the way there, Sue entertained everyone with stories she found when writing her biography of Charles Richter. When we got there, she described to us how the scarp had formed in the 1971 earthquake. There was a guy on the tour who had spent some time back in 1971 traveling around and photographing the earthquake, and he had some good stories to tell.

Then it was off to Palmdale. It’s kind of a long ride to get there, and we’d wanted to play a video about earthquakes on the bus, but the player didn’t work properly. It was having trouble reading the disc, and so the video was choppy. So we gave up on that, and Sue told us about more Richter-lore. When we got to Palmdale, we turned off at the Lamont Odett Vista Point off the 14 freeway. This overlooks Lake Palmdale and the California Aqueduct. And also the San Andreas Fault. The lake started out as a sag pond on the fault, and from there, we could see the trace of the fault stretching out as far as we could see in both directions.

Next up was the famous road cut where the 14 freeway crosses the fault. The movement of the fault has pushed up a little hill, and in the process, it tortured the layers of rock in the hill. Then the freeway came along and blasted a cut through the hill, so we parked the bus and walked up one side of the hill so we could look down into the cut and admire the twisted rock layers.

By now, it was lunchtime. Our lunch stop was at Charlie Brown Farms in Littlerock. This is a very odd place. They have bacon-flavored soda. And kangaroo meat. And dinosaurs outside. It was very strange, but entertaining. So we spent some time there having lunch before heading off for the rest of the tour.

The next stop was only a few miles down the road. There is a spot on Pallet Creek Road where someone has put up a pair of signs to mark where the fault crosses the road. From there, again, we could see the trace of the fault stretching off into the distance as far as we could see in both directions. But mostly, it’s a photo-op to get our pictures with the sign marking the fault.

Just a short distance down the road was the actual Pallet Creek site where Kerry Sieh did his original trenching studies back in the ’70s. This was how he found evidence of large earthquakes prior to recorded history, and was able to estimate that they happen along that stretch of the fault about every 150 years, on average. Ken Hudnut from my office had recently brought a group up to see this site, and he’d prepared a poster to show them to explain what they were looking at, and he’d graciously given it to me to bring along today. So Sandi and I held the poster up, while Sue pointed out the features of the sediment layers, and in particular, the one spot in them where the layers were broken and offset. This marked the actual trace of the fault, and everyone had a chance to go and touch the spot and actually feel a little bit of the San Andreas Fault.

The next stop was a ways down the fault, and up into the mountains. The bus was working hard, climbing up the mountain road to Big Pines. This was a bit of a problem, since when the bus was working especially hard, it would automatically cut off the air conditioner. Coming up from the hot desert, this was a bit of a problem. But we finally made it up the the road cut up in the mountains where the cut went right through the fault, and one side of the cut was entirely sandy fault gouge. Sue showed us how it is basically ground-up rock, but we could dig in it and pull out chunks of rock. But since the rocks had been shattered by earthquakes, we could crush them in our hands. Everyone seemed to enjoy that. It’s not every day when you can take a chunk of granite and crush it in your hands.

From there, we continued on up the mountains and through Wrightwood. We went down the road down Lone Pine Canyon. That is the road that follows the trace of the fault, and it’s the way we went last time we did this tour. But since I was more involved and navigating this time, I realized just how scary a descent that is. The road down the canyon is many, many miles of 10% downgrade, and it was kind of intimidating. But our driver was good, and he got us down to the bottom just fine. We got on the 15 freeway for one exit, and then we got off to go visit Lost Lake.

Lost Lake is a little sag pond on the fault near Cajon Pass. It’s a very improbable thing. A little lake in the middle of the desert. No stream feeds it, and no stream drains it. The water is cold, and it just comes up out of the fault below. One thing I did notice, though. The water in the lake was quite a bit lower than it was last November when we visited. I guess it’s yet another casualty of the drought.

That brought us to the end our our tour. We got back on the bus for the trip back to Pasadena. It seemed that everyone liked it, and Sandi was talking about wanting to do it again. I’m game for that, although I’m not sure Sue was. But I think that’s all right. There are other scientists in the office who might be willing to do this, or, if it comes down to it, I can do the narration myself. So I think we may well do this tour again.

It was a fun day.

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