Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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4/4/2015

The Dearly Departed Tour

Filed under: — stan @ 4:45 pm

Today, Lucinda and I went on the Dearly Departed Tour. This is the Hollywood tour that takes us to all the spots where the stars died, as well as a stop at the Pierce Brothers Westwood cemetery, which is the final resting place of many of the biggest stars in Hollywood. I took her on the Helter Skelter Tour about the Manson Family last year, so it seemed like it was time to do the regular tour now.

We had a nice brunch at Off Vine before the tour. That’s still one of my favorite restaurants. Then we headed over to the tour office on Sunset Boulevard. The tour showed us a weird collection of locations, including Bela Lugosi’s last apartment, the apartment in West Hollywood where Marilyn Monroe lived for a time, and the bit of sidewalk in front of the Viper Room where River Phoenix collapsed and died. In between, we had a stop at Pierce Brothers in Westwood, where we saw many of the most famous stars’ graves. And we weren’t even the only parent and kid group on the tour. There was a mother and son, about our ages, who were visiting from somewhere in the midwest. They had even gone so far as to be staying in the motel room where Janis Joplin died. They were making it a complete death-pilgrimage experience.

We had a nice time on the tour. And on the way home, I let Lucinda drive my car for the first time. It was actually her first time driving on the freeway, and she did pretty well at it.

3/22/2015

Climbing the tower

Filed under: — stan @ 10:51 pm

Sunday was the big day. We got up early and got dressed to climb lots of stairs. We walked over to the building from our hotel. When we got there, we met up with our group and got ready to go. This event is very well-run. It has to be, since they have something like 6,000 people doing it. We went off in the first group to go up, which was nice, since it meant that the stairwell was relatively clear. Pretty much everyone in front of me was going faster, so I really didn’t see anyone on the way up, aside from a few people who passed me. As I’ve been doing, I didn’t go particularly fast. But I maintained a steady pace, and I didn’t stop. I figure there’s no point stopping. There’s no scenery to look at in a stairwell. So I just kept going until I got to the top.

When I got to the top, I walked around and looked at the views. This is one of the few races where we come out in an observation deck level in the building, so there are views to look at on all sides. So I just hung out there until Kathleen came out of the stairs. Then we took a picture together before heading back down.

At the bottom, we didn’t hang out for very long. We had to get back to our hotel to get cleaned up and checked out. And then we were going to meet my cousin Irene for lunch before heading back to the airport. We rode the train to near where she lives, and then we went to lunch from there. Afterward, we got back on the train for the short ride to the airport. When we got there, we went looking for some food we could get to bring aboard with us, since it was going to be dinnertime when we were in the air. In the process of scouting out the SeaTac airport, I was very amused to see that Sub Pop had a store there. Overall, it was a fun trip.

One thing I thought was a bit odd, though. On the way back, at least four times, we passed very close by other airplanes flying the other way at nearly the same altitude as us. I thought it was unusual for air traffic to pass close enough that we could look out the window and recognize the airline flying by.

3/21/2015

Playing tourist in Seattle

Filed under: — stan @ 9:35 pm

The Big Climb wasn’t until Sunday, so Saturday was our day to play tourist in Seattle. In the morning, I took a walk over to the storefront that had an exhibit about the tunneling project they are doing there. We’d heard about this last year, when the big news was that the tunneling machine, Bertha, had gotten stuck on something. Apparently, she got unstuck, and is again tunneling away. I was interested to see that they said that this whole project was set in motion by the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake in Seattle. The Nisqually Earthquake is one that I’ve always felt close connection to, even though it wasn’t in southern California. This was the earthquake that caused a tremendous surge of traffic to the USGS earthquake program web servers, and most of them were crushed by it. But the two that I ran survived. And that made my reputation around the office. So it was an exciting day. But aside from that, apparently, this earthquake caused a fair bit of damage to the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which was built in the early 1950s, and the engineers had to strap steel girders to it to stabilize it so it wouldn’t fall down while they were boring the tunnel to replace it. So I asked the docents at the museum where I could see the temporary repairs, and it turned out that they were down the street, almost right next to our hotel. So I walked over there to see them. And I was also glad to see that the temporary repairs were providing good nesting spaces for birds.

After that, we went to Pike Place Market. That’s the big tourist attraction in Seattle where they have the fish market with the flying fish. And we were not disappointed. We saw the flying fish and more. It was a fun time.

Finally, we went back to Pioneer Square to take the original Underground Tour. Last time, we’d taken the other underground tour, which was also fun and entertaining, but this time, we wanted to take the original, just to see something different. It was obvious that this tour had been operating a lot longer than the other one. The spaces they took us through had wooden walkways constructed for the tour, while the other tour was much more rough and wild. Each has its place and charm.

Finally, we went and had a nice dinner at Wild Ginger. Then back to our hotel to sleep and get ready for the Big Climb in the morning.

3/20/2015

Visiting Seattle Again

Filed under: — stan @ 9:48 pm

It’s March, and time to visit Seattle for the Big Climb again. We did this last year, and it was a fun time, so we signed up again.

We flew there on Friday morning on JetBlue out of Long Beach. That little tiny airport is so easy that it made up for having to get up too early to get there early in the morning. We made it to Seattle by lunchtime, and we took the train from the airport to our hotel in Pioneer Square. Our plan was to play tourist for the afternoon and then meet up with my cousin Irene for dinner. I’d read recently about the EMP museum there, and I thought we should pay a visit. We’d seen it last year when we rode the monorail, but we didn’t have time to go inside then. So that was our plan for the afternoon.

We rode the train to the end of the line downtown, and then got on the monorail to get to the museum. Going in, we didn’t quite know what to expect, but once we were inside, we realized it was a great collection of odd and interesting stuff. We started off with the “Star Wars” costume exhibit. We’d both seen a similar exhibit some years ago at the Fashion Institute in downtown Los Angeles. After that, we wandered through the gallery about the history of Nirvana, complete with hand-written notes on songs and guitars smashed by Kurt Cobain at the end of shows.

Wandering upstairs, we found a gallery about music videos. They had an exhibit about variations of music videos. The “Gangnam Style Without Music” video was funny, and they had examples of “literal music videos”. Look them up on YouTube. They’re hilarious.

Heading back downstairs, we saw the gallery of costumes and artifacts from fantasy and magic movies, including costumes from “The Wizard of Oz”, some of the “Harry Potter” movies, and others. Then we went down to the bottom level for the horror movie gallery, where we saw Simon Pegg’s bloody shirt from “Shaun of the Dead”. All told, the EMP museum was great fun, and well worth the visit. Next time we’re going to plan on getting there earlier so we don’t run out of time.

After that,we rode the train back and met up with Irene for dinner, and we made plans for playing tourist on Saturday.

3/13/2015

The view from Mt Hollywood

Filed under: — stan @ 11:10 pm

A couple days ago, I ran across this article:

la.curbed.com/archives/2015/03/spotlights_los_angeles_marathon_route.php

The plan was to put up 27 powerful searchlights along the Los Angeles Marathon route from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica, and have them turned on for about 90 minutes on Friday night. Of course, in their artist’s conception, it looked pretty cool. While it remained to be seen how good it would look in person, I was curious.

I figured that any suitably high overlook would be mobbed with people trying to see, so I thought that hiking up Mt. Hollywood in Griffith Park might be a good alternative. There’s usually a small crowd up there on any normal night, but regardless, I figured the fact of having to hike several miles to get there would ‘thin the herd’ a bit. So in the end, I went there with Karina, Morgan, and Jason from my office, and we hiked up the back side of the mountain.

This was my first time hiking this mountain since 2011. We went by way of the ‘anklebreaker trail’. I don’t know why they call it that, since it’s not a bad trail by any means. In any event, it was a fine way to get up the mountain, and we were at the top in just about one hour. At the top, there were a lot of people. More than on a regular evening, but still nothing like the crowds that had to be down below at the observatory. Looking down, I could see the road up to the observatory, and it was packed solid with cars, and nobody was moving. So I was glad not to be there.

We broke out some snacks while we were waiting for the 8:40 to come around. I put my camera on the tripod and took some test photos of the city lights, just to get a feel for how different exposure times would come out. I started at 1/30 and went up to a full second, and I figured that the longer exposure would give the best results. Fortunately, between the tripod and the remote shutter release, I was able to keep the camera very still for the shots.

When they turned on the searchlights, it wasn’t as spectacular as the artist’s conception. If there had been more haze, it would have been better. But I started taking pictures, and with some more experimenting, I found that by pushing the exposure time up to 6-8 seconds, I could get the lights to show up pretty nicely. So I took several photos looking toward the marathon start near downtown, and several more looking toward Santa Monica.

We looked at the lights for a little while before we had to head back down so we could be out of the park before the closed the gates at 10:30. On the way down, I stopped and took one more picture of the lights, this time with the mountain blocking the city lights. For that shot, I put the exposure up to 15 seconds, since I didn’t have to worry about city lights being overexposed.

On the way down, we took the fire roads most of the way. It was a little longer, but very easy to follow in the dark. And I got to try out the uber-powerful little flashlight I got last November, after Karina and I got caught in the dark on the way back from Cucamonga Peak. It worked quite well, so I was happy. This was a pretty fun little adventure.

3/7/2015

Mt Lowe

Filed under: — stan @ 4:17 pm

I’ve been wanting to hike to the actual summit of Mt. Lowe for some time. I did it once, back in about 1985 or so, but that time, we started at Eaton Saddle, over by Mt. Wilson, so it was a very easy hike. This time, we were going to do it the harder way, starting at Lake Ave in Pasadena. Still, it turned out to be quite a bit harder than I’d anticipated.

The hike up to Echo Mountain was pretty easy. We’ve done that plenty of times before, and there’s not much to it. From there, we headed up the Castle Canyon trail to Inspiration Point. I’ve only done that once before, so I didn’t remember much about it. I didn’t remember that the hike from Echo Mountain to Inspiration Point is actually a bit harder than the hike to Echo Mountain. And it’s really quite steep at the end. But we made it just fine, and spent a few minutes looking at the view from up there before continuing on to Mt Lowe.

According to the map, it’s about 1 3/4 miles from Inspiration Point to the top of Mt Lowe. And as it turned out, it was reasonably steep, too. The trail wraps around the north side of the mountain, and there was even some snow on the trail there. But when we got to the top, there was a bench to sit on, and a very nice view in all directions. Looking down into the valley, I could see the Caltech campus, so the net time I’m stair-climbing at Millikan Library, I’ll have to take a minute to look up and see which peak is Mt Lowe.

On the way down, I fell once. It was the usual thing of slipping on some sand on a steep part of the trail. But this time, after slipping just about a foot, my foot caught on a rock, and I ended up rolling forwards. For a brief moment, I thought I might end up rolling down the hill, but I was able to stop the roll and avoid going over the edge of the steep slope. Still, my hat came off and rolled down the slope, where it ended up impaled on a yucca plant. I had to walk down to the next switchback, which was below the yucca plant, and then I was able to climb up on a tree and rescue my hat by knocking it loose with one of the hiking poles. Sheesh. But I figured that Indiana Jones never left his hat behind, either.

When we got back down, we had 12 1/2 miles, and I know I’m going to be sore from this. Here’s the route map and the elevation profile.

1134.ddns.net/routemap.php?xmlfile=MtLowe

2/28/2015

The St Francis Dam Disaster

Filed under: — stan @ 5:32 pm

Back in 1978, I rode in the Bouquet Canyon Road Race, which was a bicycle race that went up Francisquito Canyon, across through Green Valley, and back down Bouquet Canyon. And at the time, I remember us riding up the canyon, and then, where the road went through a narrow spot, I saw great chunks of concrete next to the road. It was obviously the rubble from some great structure that had met an untimely end. So, years later, I looked it up and read about the St Francis dam and its collapse in 1928. And today, the Obscura Society was doing a tour of the site.

We met up at the fire station that is below the dam site, and next to DWP Power Plant #2. They had a small exhibit with photos of the dam both before and after the collapse. Our guide for the tour was Ann Stansell, who has studied the disaster, and who wrote her thesis about it. After looking at the photos and at the power plant, we all headed up the road to just above the dam site.

The old road through the canyon that I remembered riding on had been washed away in about 2005, and a new road was built around the washed-out section. So we met up at the top of the abandoned section of the road, and then we walked back down the canyon to the actual dam site. Along the way, we saw the foundations of a small hotel that had stood in the canyon before being flooded out when they started filling the reservoir.

When we got to the dam site, we could see the big piles of concrete rubble that I’d seen in 1978. It was all more overgrown now, but still an impressive pile of rubble. While we were standing there, I had a look at the west wall of the canyon. That was the rock that was implicated in the collapse, as it is a soft rock that I was able to break apart with my hands. In the final report on the collapse, it was described as “a reddish conglomerate which, even when dry, was of decidedly inferior strength and which, when wet, became so soft that most of it lost almost all rock characteristics.”

The group was going to climb up to the remains of the wing dike on the hillside above the west wall of the canyon, but before doing that, I followed Sandi down into the rubble field to see the big chunks of concrete.

After looking at the rubble close-up, I headed up the hillside to catch up with the group. They’d said that it was steep, and kind of a hard climb. But I figured it couldn’t be much worse than climbing skyscraper stairs, and I was able to catch up with them. And at the top, we got to see the remains of the wing dike. We walked out to the end of it, and from there, we could look across the canyon and visualize what the dam looked like when it was still standing. It was really pretty large. Ann also pointed out that the trees growing in the part of the canyon that used to be the reservoir are much greener and thicker than the ones below the dam site. She said that during the few years that there was a reservoir there silt collected on the bottom, and apparently the trees like that.

Leaving the dam site, we headed downstream a few miles to see the Ruiz family cemetery. A large number of the Ruiz family members were killed in the flood, and they were all buried there. The cemetery itself is on a small hill, so it was just above the level of the flood waters.

2/23/2015

The Garden of Water and Fragrance – Heh…

Filed under: — stan @ 4:37 pm

Last March, we had a chance to take a tour of the Hyperion sewage treatment plant. When we were there, they mentioned that there is another plant in Van Nuys that treats some tens of millions of gallons of wastewater every day, and it’s the reason why the Los Angeles River has water in it year-round now. And this week, the Obscura Society people set up a tour of it. The Tillman plant is quite a bit smaller than Hyperion, but it has the distinction of having a nice artificial lake and a Japanese garden outside, and the main building was used as the exterior shot of Starfleet Academy in several episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”.

When we got there, they put us in hard hats for the tour of the plant. Just as at Hyperion, the headworks building was pretty smelly. From there, the water went to the aeration tanks, which had big brown frothy mats of bacteria floating on top. Yick. We were all a bit horrified by the life preserver rings they had next to each tank. But I guess the only thing worse than falling into a tank of sewage would be to fall into a tank of sewage and drown. That would be worse than being a drummer for Spinal Tap. After that, the water went to skimmers that skimmed off the floating material and whatever settled to the bottom. And finally, the relatively clear water was chlorinated to kill bacteria, and then de-chlorinated before being released into the lake, to Lake Balboa across the street, and into the L.A. River.

After the plant tour, a second docent took us on the tour of the Japanese Garden. And yes, he said that the choice of the garden’s name as “The Garden of Water and Fragrance” was deliberate. He took us around, pointing out the various birds, and the rocks and plants, with some attention to the aesthetic goals of how things were set up there. Along the way, we stopped in at the Tea House, which was used for filming a scene from “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery“. Apparently, the garden gets filmed a fair bit. Finally, we walked around the outside of the lake and over the zig-zag bridge.

It was an interesting and entertaining tour. And hey! Starfleet!

2/16/2015

Jones Peak

Filed under: — stan @ 3:53 pm

Since it’s a government holiday, we have the day off, so I went hiking with Karina and Erin from my office. Our destination was Jones Peak, which is just a little mountain in the front range of the San Gabriels, just above Sierra Madre. The trail is not very long, but it is reputed to be much harder than it seems like it should be.

Like the trail up Mount Lukens, this trail didn’t fool around. It was steep from the start. There was just a short walk up into Bailey Canyon before it turned and started switchbacking up the side of the canyon, before coming out at the top of the ridge connecting Jones Peak and the main mass of Mount Wilson. From there, it was just a short, but very steep climb up to the actual top of the mountain. There wasn’t anything much on top, but the view was very nice.

On the way down, we took a look down a little side trail. It went to the ruins of a small cabin. Since it’s in Bailey Canyon, someone had taken the trouble to make a up a plaque proclaiming that the cabin had belonged to George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

A bit farther down the trail, we stopped at a scenic overlook with a couple of benches. One of the benches was very tall, and our feet didn’t reach the ground below it. That was when I noticed the small plaque on the bench saying that it “…meets or exceeds All NBA standards”. Heh. It was a nice hike.

1/10/2015

The Marine Mammal Care Center

Filed under: — stan @ 2:58 pm

Today’s adventure was yet another tour arranged by the Obscura Society. This time, it was a visit to the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro. This is sort of a companion to our visit to the Marine Mammal Center near San Francisco last summer.

The Marine Mammal Care Center is the place to go for treatment and rehabilitation of rescued seals and sea lions in Los Angeles. It’s a relatively small place, with just a handful of pens with small pools for the animals. There’s also an office/lab/classroom building there, where the director of the center told us about the place, and about the animals they treat. He passed around a sea lion skull for us to look at. Apparently, the takeaway from all this is that sea lions have sharp teeth. That, and that harbor seals may look cute, but they also bite. So don’t get too near them.

After the talk inside, we went outside to see the animals. There were mostly sea lions there. He had said that they get a lot of malnourished and dehydrated animals there, and he described the procedure for tube-feeding sick animals. And when we were outside, we got to see three people wrestling a small sea lion to hold it down for tube-feeding. Afterward, the little pup looked like he’d just endured an alien abduction.

There was another pen that had several sea lions in it. They said that they were all nearly healthy enough to be released back into the ocean. They were being fed, but they were feeling good enough that they were playing with the fish. Which was fine with the very large bird sitting and watching them. Whenever they would toss a fish out of the water, the bird would come down and steal it.

It was an interesting morning. And since were were already in San Pedro, we took a short side trip to see the Korean Friendship Bell in the park down the street. Then we went home by way of Dim Sum in Chinatown. All together, that made a for a fun time.

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