Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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8/2/2015

Pangolin!

Filed under: — stan @ 7:03 pm

About two years ago, when I was riding the train downtown for stair-climbing practice, I read a short article in National Geographic about the pangolin. The pangolin is an odd little animal that looks like a cross between an armadillo and an anteater, but apparently is not related to either of them. The electronic edition of the article also had a short video of a pangolin walking through the forest. I was immediately fascinated, and I wanted to see one of these animals. Doing some research, I discovered that there is only one zoo in the United States that has a pangolin. That would be the San Diego Zoo, and the animal in not on regular exhibit. They only bring it out with a keeper once a day in the summer for about fifteen minutes. When we went to the zoo last year, we missed it by just a few minutes. Back in June when we were here, I called the zoo to ask about it, and they said that they were not on the summer schedule yet, and so the pangolin would not be making an appearance. So this time, I checked that they are indeed on the summer schedule now, and that the pangolin would be coming out at 1:30.

We got to the zoo at about 1:15, and we set off to look for the place where the keeper would have the pangolin. It turned out to be in a remote corner of the zoo. It was a place we had never been to before. We had to ask directions, and one of the zoo employees took us over there, since he said that he couldn’t describe how to get there. But we made it there, and we waited just a few minutes by the sign before the keeper and the pangolin came out.

The zoo’s pangolin is a tree pangolin, which is the smallest of the pangolin species. It has a long prehensile tail so that it can hang from branches. The tail is covered by scales, and the tip of the tail looks like a finger, complete with a fingernail. All in all, it is one weird little animal, and I’m glad we finally got to see it up close.

The pangolin was the main attraction of the day. After seeing it, we went down the canyon to see the giant pandas. One was taking a break off-exhibit, but the second was sitting out and eating bamboo. The keeper said that the pandas have massive jaw muscles, since the bamboo they crack open to eat is tough like bones, so they need very strong jaws and teeth.

After the pandas, we took a walk to the Australia exhibit to see the koalas. They were all sleeping in their trees. We only could see one baby koala this time. Then we went over to see the Tasmanian Devils. They were all sleeping, too. They’re kind of cute in a ferocious way. Just look at those fangs. And that made our day complete. We’d seen the fabled pangolin, so we headed for home.

7/26/2015

That’s an even bigger telescope…

Filed under: — stan @ 1:26 pm

Last September, we went to Mt. Wilson for an evening with the 60-inch telescope. But last spring, I got a notice from the Atlas Obscura people that they were going to be doing an evening with the 100-inch telescope. That telescope is the one that Edwin Hubble used to discover Cepheid variable stars in the Andromeda nebula, which enabled him to establish that it was in fact another galaxy. This was a major discovery, since it proved that the universe consisted of far more than just our galaxy. It was also the telescope he used to discover the expansion of the universe. All told, it’s a big piece of astronomical history.

Our group met up in La Cañada before heading up Mt. Wilson. At the top, our session director, Shelly Bonus met us and led us back to the telescope. Inside, we got a tour of the dome while we were waiting for nightfall. As it started to get dark, they pointed the telescope at the moon so that we could have a look. The magnification on such a big telescope is pretty large, and we could only see a few craters in the small field of view. After that, they moved the telescope just a bit to have a look at Saturn. The Cassini Division was clearly visible, and this was the first time I’ve ever seen the C-ring. The planet also showed some nice color, and bands in the clouds.

Next up was M13, the big globular cluster in Hercules. I didn’t recognize it in the big telescope. In my little telescope, it looks like a ball of fuzz. But here it was big, and it was resolved into stars. Many, many stars. Then we moved just a short distance away to M92, which is a smaller globular cluster. It didn’t fill the field of view, so it was more easily recognized as a globular. We looked at a few double stars just to admire the resolution of the big telescope. Then we looked at Campbell’s Hydrogen Star. The nebula around the star was a deep red color, and it looked good. All in all, it was a fun time in a geeky way.

7/2/2015

The Griffith Park Tea House

Filed under: — stan @ 7:17 pm

Yesterday, I read about how some unknown artists had popped up a little Japanese-style tea house on an old concrete pad on top of one of the peaks in Griffith Park. Apparently, it was done on the sly in one night, and from the pictures I saw, it looked like it was very nicely done. Since it was unclear how long it would be there, I figured it was something we should go see immediately. Fortunately, Morgan and Jason from my office were up for it, and we headed over there this afternoon.

The instructions on how to find it from Modern Hiker were for starting out from the observatory, but parking there is always a problem, and coming from Pasadena, it’s just easier to start from the other side of the park, by the Old Zoo. We headed up the trail just like we did back in March, when we went to Mt Hollywood to see the marathon lights. When we got to the part of the trail that goes around just below Taco Peak, we looked up, and the tea house was there. Just a short distance up the trail, we came to the spot and saw it close up. There were quite a few people there to see it. I guess everyone had the same reaction to hearing about it.

The artists had left pencils and little wooden chips to write wishes for Los Angeles on, but all the wood chips had been used. We went inside to see them all hung on the pegs and read what people had written. It was all very nicely done. The construction of the house was first-rate, and it really looked like it belonged there. It’s unclear what will happen to it, but at least we got to see it when it was still fresh.

It kind of reminded me of Amir’s Garden, which is another place in the park that was built by one man with a vision. So on the way down, we took a route to go through there. It was nicely cool and shady there, as the garden is irrigated with what I can only assume is reclaimed water. But it was very nice there. Then we took a very steep trail down the end of the ridge to get back to the trail that would bring us back to our starting point. It was a good little afternoon adventure.

Route map and elevation profile

6/26/2015

The Miniature Engineering and Craftsmanship Museum

Filed under: — stan @ 6:32 pm

A few weeks ago, my friend Bruce sent me a link about a museum in Carlsbad that exhibits working models of airplanes, boats, trains, and so forth, with miniature working engines. Since I was headed to San Diego this weekend for the Towerthon, I thought this might be a good side trip.

The museum is in an unassuming industrial-looking building kind of off the beaten path. Fortunately, I had Waze to tell me how to get there, or I would have had trouble finding it. When I got there, I went inside, and immediately saw the featured exhibit. A tiny scale model of a supercharged V-8 engine. Apparently, it’s fully functional. Yikes. I wandered around the museum, looking at all the tiny engines. There was a board with some tubes attached to it that said it was three miniature steam engines. They were so small I had to look carefully to see them at all. At the back of the museum, they had a model of the Wright Flyer, and a working model of a P-38 fighter. Then, along the back wall, they had a display of miniature steam engines, all hooked up to a compressed air supply, and the sign said that they would run the engines and give a tour of the machine shop at 2:00. Since that was just a few minutes away, I decided to stay and see it. When the time came, they turned on the air, and all the little steam engines started running:

After looking at the tiny model of the Titanic’s engine, we went into the machine shop. The first stop was the “Do-Nothing Machine”, which was featured on Roadside America last year. Our guide described it as “a cat toy for humans”. It was pretty funny:

Next, they showed us four different tiny working engines. There were two different gasoline engines, one Stirling engine, and a fourth of a type that I didn’t recognize at all. Here is the first gasoline engine running:

The last part of the tour showed us another radial airplane engine that they are building there. They even had a model of the model to show us how the inside of the crankcase worked. I’d always wondered how cylinders in a circle could turn a crank, and now I know.

This was one entertaining little museum. At least for anyone with a mechanical and geek bent.


5/30/2015

Dapper Cadaver for Obscura Day

Filed under: — stan @ 5:10 pm

Today is Obscura Day, and the Atlas Obscura people are putting on about 20 events all around the Los Angeles area. And one of them is a visit to Dapper Cadaver, which is one of the premier places for supplying horror movie props. Since Lucinda and I went on the Dearly Departed tour of Hollywood, as well as the Helter Skelter tour, and we also visited the Museum of Death. So I figured this would be right up her alley.

There was a pretty big group there for the tour. We were shown around the different rooms where they showcase the things they make there. There were lifelike animals, and deathlike humans. There was a an entire room dedicated to body parts and bodies in various stages of dismemberment.

Another room was dedicated to ‘things in jars’. Lucinda perked up when he showed us the baby skull in a jar that was used on an episode of “American Horror Story“.

In the end, there weren’t any props that we just had to have for our house, but we did pick up a catalog to take home. I got Lucinda one of their shirts, and everyone on the tour got a Dapper Cadaver shot glass for a souvenir. It was a fun, albeit horrifying experience. But that was the idea.

5/9/2015

Hello!

Filed under: — stan @ 5:08 pm

Today, we went to Little Tokyo to visit the Japanese American National Museum to see “Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty“. This was an entire exhibit devoted to the history and everything else about Hello Kitty.

Hello Kitty started in about 1974, and we learned all sorts of things about her. Apparently, she has a blood type, although she does not age. She is five apples tall. And she has been made into and onto all sorts of things over the years. It was really quite amazing to behold. The entire first floor of the exhibit was all official Hello Kitty items from Sanrio. The second floor was more about the influence of Hello Kitty on popular culture, including art by various artists who did Hello Kitty-themed pieces. We even saw Lady Gaga and Katy Perry’s Hello Kitty outfits.

And yes, it was all, in a word, supercute.

At the end of the exhibit, we came out into the JANM exhibit about the wartime Japanese internment camps, which was kind of a depressing and jarring transition. But still, Hello Kitty was very cute, and it was well worth the visit.

4/26/2015

Working for the Mouse

Filed under: — stan @ 5:18 pm

A couple years ago, we went to see “Pulp Shakespeare” in Hollywood at Theater Asylum. Since then, I’ve been on their mailing list, and this week I got something about some small shows they were putting on this weekend. I read the synopsis about “Working for the Mouse“, and it sounded funny, so we got tickets. The basic story is that it’s a one-man show by Trevor Allen recounting the time he spent working at Disneyland as some of the costumed characters.

It was all really funny and entertaining, and if he brings the show back to L.A., we’ll go see it again. Looking on YouTube, I found a few clips he posted of excerpts from the show. Here’s one about his time working as the Mad Hatter, which he said was a step up from being Pluto, since he didn’t have to wear a full head, and he also got to hang out with Alice:

If he ever brings this show anywhere near you, go see it.

4/18/2015

Baby kangaroo!

Filed under: — stan @ 3:52 pm

A couple weeks ago, I got an email from the Los Angeles Zoo, promoting their new baby animals. In particular, they said that the baby kangaroo was just out of its mom’s pouch, and that they are running a contest to name the new ‘roo. So I thought it would be fun to go see the animals, since it’s been years since we’ve been to the L.A. Zoo. We tried to go last week, but it was totally full and we couldn’t get in. So today we arranged to get up early and get there right when they open at 10.

When we got inside, we headed straight to the Australia exhibit. The baby kangaroo was there, hopping around the enclosure. At one point, the joey crawled back into the pouch, perhaps to nurse a bit. It looked funny with two feet and a tail sticking out of the pouch. In the same place, they had some koalas sitting in the trees, and one of the koalas had a baby with it. We saw baby koalas at the San Diego Zoo a couple years ago, and they’re just astonishingly cute. We also took a turn through the Australia House, which used to be the koala house when it was first built back in the ’80s, but now it’s home to a very sleepy wombat.

At the bighorn sheep exhibit a docent was telling us that they had a five-day-old baby bighorn there, so we stayed there for a bit to watch it trotting around on the fake mountain there.

We got to see the new Rainforest of the Americas exhibit. The high point of that was getting to see feeding time for the giant river otters. Everyone thought they were very cute animals, and they were pretty lively chasing after bits of fish thrown in by the keepers.

Our last stop was the children’s zoo, mostly to see the prairie dogs. I’ve always liked the prairie dog exhibit, complete with clear domes so we can pop up in the middle of the prairie dog town.

It was a fun day, but we don’t have any ideas about what to suggest for the name of the baby kangaroo.

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.

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