Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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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.

11/29/2014

Sightseeing downtown San Diego

Filed under: — stan @ 9:17 pm

On Friday and Saturday this week, Lucinda and I went to San Diego to visit my father. He was sick for a while recently, and it’s only in the last month that he’s been feeling better. Since it’s a holiday weekend, the only Residence Inn that had suites available was the one in downtown San Diego. So we stayed there on Friday night, and on Saturday morning, I went out for a little sightseeing walk.

I’d seen the Star of India there before, but I hadn’t realized that it’s part of a larger maritime museum, and that they have both a Russian and a U.S. submarine on display there. All that, and an exhibit about sailors and tattoos. I think we will have to go there the next time we go.

A little farther down, I passed the Midway Museum. We went to see that some years ago. Next to that was the “Unconditional Surrender” statue. I’d heard about this, but not been to see it before.

Heading back to the hotel, I went through part of downtown to see the buildings I’ve climbed in past stair races. The One America Plaza building is the tallest in San Diego, and we all climbed it last March. The 550 Corporate Center building is only 20 stories, but it was the location for the 2014 Towerthon. I climbed that building 20 times in two hours that day.

I walked through the San Diego Trolley station, where I saw the Orange and Green Line trains. Again, I think that San Diego MTS is channeling Magritte. The trains say Orange and Green on them, but they are clearly Red.

The last building I looked at was Columbia Center. This was the setting for the 2012 and 2013 Towerthon. Both times, I climbed the building 17 times in two hours.

Back at the hotel, I got Lucinda up for breakfast, and afterward, we took a walk through Little Italy. They had a big farmer’s market going there. We got some fresh juices, looked around, and we were both a bit disturbed by the fresh sea urchins. Still, it was a fun time. And afterward, we went to visit with Grandpa.

11/22/2014

Cucamonga Peak

Filed under: — stan @ 10:38 pm

Last month, when we climbed Mt Baldy, Karina had mentioned that she thought that the hike up Cucamonga Peak was actually a bit harder than the Baldy hike. Given how hard Baldy is, I was a bit skeptical. Still, I’d always wanted to try Cucamonga Peak, since it’s one of the highest mountains in the front part of the San Gabriels.

We started up the trail at 9:23 in the morning. It was promising to be a nice day, although we thought that there might be a bit of snow up high, since it had rained a tiny bit a couple nights ago. Starting out up Ice House Canyon, we passed by several cabins, and several more ruins of former cabins. Judging by the size of the boulders in the canyon that had pretty obviously fallen from high up, it was not surprising to see that some of the cabins had been destroyed. As we got a little higher up the canyon, we could see that there was a thin layer of snow on the south wall of the canyon. The north wall was in sunlight, and the snow there had melted. There were just some small patches in the shade of trees or rocks.

At that point, the trail got steep, and we went up a series of big switchbacks to climb up out of the canyon. And then we came out in Ice house Saddle. At that point, there were trails going off in different directions to climb various nearby peaks. It was here that I realized how cold it really was, and I put on my sweatshirt and sweatpants.

The trail to Cucamonga Peak goes around the side of Bighorn Peak, and the first part of the trail is across the north side of the mountain. There was quite a bit of snow there. The side of the mountain there is very steep, and the trail is just a narrow path carved into the steep slope. With snow on it, it was really kind of scary. I got out both my poles to use for balance and stability.

As we came around to the saddle between Bighorn Peak and Cucamonga Peak, the snow went away, although the trail was still crossing some intimidatingly-steep slopes. When we got to the saddle, we stopped and had lunch. From the sounds we were hearing, it sounded like the wind was blowing pretty hard higher up, so we figured that it was probably better to stop in the relatively-sheltered saddle for lunch. While we were there, another group of three hikers passed us. We had passed them on the way up Ice House Canyon, so I said we should make it our goal to catch them before the summit.

Leaving the saddle, the trail started up some more steep switchbacks, including a couple of crossings across a big scree slope that kind of gave me the willies. Fortunately, it was on the west side of the peak, so there was no snow there. There was more snow farther up the trail, but the north-facing slopes there had a fair number of big trees on them, so it didn’t feel so exposed. We caught up with the other group just a short distance below the summit.

At the top, I made a point to climb up and stand on top of the highest rock, just, you know, because. We had a look at the view down into Cajon Pass, where we’d been on the office field trip last week. I was particularly impressed by how steep and rugged the south face of Etiwanda Peak was. After a few minutes, the other group came up to the summit, and we got them to take our souvenir picture with the view. I also gave them some of my water, since I wasn’t going to use all that I’d brought along.

When we started back down, we made much better time than on the way up. It first, I thought we’d make it back before sundown, but we really missed that extra hour of sunlight that we had for Baldy last month. And sunset came when we were still about a mile from the end. At that point, i was glad that I’d thought to put a flashlight in my pack. It wasn’t a particularly bright one, but it helped. And we made it back to the end. On the way home, we wondered what had become of the group we’d seen at the top, since we didn’t see them at all on the way down, so they must have come down much later than us. Anyway, it was a fun hike, and yes, I agree now that it’s harder than Mt Baldy. I also think that a hike this long was perhaps a bit over-ambitious for this time of year. We really didn’t like walking that last mile in the dark. Still, it was a good time.

11/12/2014

Field Trip!

Filed under: — stan @ 8:50 pm

A few weeks ago, Sue Hough sent an email out to the office to see who would be interested in a field trip to tour the San Andreas Fault in the Antelope Valley, a bit north of Los Angeles. The sights would be taken from her book, Finding Fault in California. As it turned out, there was quite a bit of interest. In the end, it was enough interest that we rented a 24-passenger bus and driver for the day so we could take the trip.

We met at the office early Wednesday morning, and then we headed out. We went past JPL, which is located right on the trace of the Sierra Madre Fault, and has a very nice, steep scarp right behind it. Our first real stop was the small fault scarp next to the McDonald’s at 1955 Glenoaks Blvd in San Fernando. This scarp was formed in the 1971 San Fernando Earthquake. I took the bike club there to see the scarp last June.

Continuing on up the freeway, we went through the 5/14 freeway interchange. This interchange fell down in the 1971 earthquake. It was rebuilt, and then fell down again in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. Then we went up the 14 freeway, through the mountains, coming out in Palmdale. We went one exit farther up the freeway than we needed to, since that let us go through a somewhat-famous road cut on the freeway. It’s where the freeway crosses the trace of the San Andreas Fault, and in that cut, the rock layers look particularly jumbled and twisted from the motion of the fault.

Heading east out of Palmdale, we went along the northern edge of the San Gabriel Mountains. We stopped for a photo-op at a place where some people put up signs on the road to mark the trace of the fault. Makes it really easy to find, when there’s a big sign pointing it out. This site was very near where Kerry Sieh did his first trenching studies on the fault, back in the ’70s.

A little while later, the road started to climb into the mountains, still following the trace of the fault. We stopped at another road cut where the cut went right through the fault gouge. The side of the cut was basically packed sand and pulverized rock. Digging into it with our hands, there were some solid pieces of rock buried in there, but as Sue showed us, those solid pieces were actually shattered, and we could crumble them to sand in our hands. We also saw a tree there that was kind of bent at the top. There has been some research done on trees in that area that grow along the fault line. There are trees that show signs of having been broken off in past earthquakes.

In Wrightwood, we took one small side trip to look at some recent debris flows, and how the town has attempted to guide future debris flows to minimize damage to the town.

Coming down the east side of the mountain from Wrightwood, we ended up coming out by the 15 freeway in Cajon Pass. We took one more side trip to see Lost Lake, which is a small sag pond on the fault there.

This made for an interesting day of sightseeing. Have I mentioned lately that I really like my job?

11/3/2014

Chicago 2014

Filed under: — stan @ 11:08 pm

This weekend was our yearly trip to Chicago to visit, play tourist, and to climb the stairs up the Sears Willis Tower. After the ordeal we had last year on this trip, we were hoping that things would go smoother this time. Last time, our trip out was delayed a day by the shootings at LAX, so the odds seemed to be in our favor this time. We got to the airport at about 9:45 for our 11:05 flight, and everything seemed all right. But almost immediately, they said that the flight was delayed to 12:15. And a little while later, that was pushed back to 1:20. So we had some lunch and waited some more.

The next time I checked, our flight was listed as ‘Canceled’. It was about this time that we started to hear talk of bad weather in Chicago, and that air traffic bound there from all over the country was being delayed. I went to one of the check-in kiosks to see what I could find out. It told me that we’d been rescheduled for a new flight at 3:41. So that didn’t seem too bad. It was about this time that I finished reading the book I’d brought along. And since we weren’t going anywhere any time soon, I went looking for something else to read. I picked up a copy of The Martian and started reading it.

When it came time to get on the airplane, as soon as we were all aboard, they said that we were going to be delayed another hour, and that if we wanted to, we could get off and walk around some. But soon after that, they announced that we were going to push back from the gate. We weren’t leaving. But they needed the gate for another flight coming in. So we got to sit in the airplane for about an our, parked out on the taxiway. I was glad that I’d found an entertaining book to read, otherwise the waiting would have been even worse.

We finally got under way at about 5:30. The flight was pretty uneventful, and we got to Chicago at about 11:45 Friday night. By now, it was far too late to go for dinner, and almost everything in the airport was closed. So we walked over to the Airport Hilton, where they had a bar and restaurant still open. We stayed there for a short time, and then rode the train to our hotel.

Saturday morning, we went downstairs and got breakfast. Then we rode the train downtown to pick up our race packets at the Sears Willis Tower. And after that, we had to immediately head over to the Weird Chicago tour we’d signed up for. It was three hours on a bus, traveling around the city, visiting sites significant to the city’s Mob history. It made a nice companion piece to the time we went to the Mob Museum in Las Vegas. After the tour, we got on the train and headed over to the West Loop neighborhood to meet up with all our stair climbing friends for dinner.

On Sunday morning, we got up bright and early and headed downtown. We got to the building at about 8:15, and I got right in line to climb. There was kind of a lot of traffic in the stairwell. On several occasions, I had to push through groups of people. There were a few people who were climbing who were obviously handicapped, using canes and such. For them, I went around the outside. But they were going slow enough that going around wasn’t a big problem. For everyone else, I just pushed through, up the inside railing.

I managed to maintain my target pace of five floors per minute up to about 65 or so. Then I started to slow down a bit. In the end, I made it to the top in 23:10. Not blazing fast, but not bad, either. That works out to something like 4.6 floors per minutes average. It was pretty close. I was originally planning on going back down and walking up with Kathleen, but my knee was not feeling good, so I just sent her a message that I’d just stay at the top until she got there. I took a guess at when she’d get there, and I made a point to go over near the door then. And when she came out, she started crying. It was a hard climb. The stairs there are steeper than most normal office building stairs, and psychologically, that’s hard. But she perked up pretty fast. We went around and looked at the view, and we got our picture taken on the south side of the building, where the sun came in. That way, we could get a picture of us with the view, but without us being just silhouettes against the window. Most of the time, when people try and take those pictures, it ends up looking like Witness Protection climbed the tower.

After the climb, we went back to our hotel and got cleaned up. After that, we went back downtown to meet up with my old friend Laura. She’s in the restaurant business and recently moved to Chicago to oversee the setup and opening of the restaurants in the soon-to-be-opened Virgin Hotel there. We had a nice lunch, and after that, we went to Union Station to get the train to Libertyville to visit Kathleen’s aunt and uncle there. We spent the night at their house, and we all went to the Chicago Botanic Garden the next day. And after that, they dropped us off at O’Hare for our flight home.

Our flight home was not delayed like Friday’s flight out. In fact, the delay coming back was only about an hour or so. Still delayed, but nowhere near as much as on Friday. So all told, it was a fun trip, aside from the actual traveling part. And yes, I liked The Martian. It’s not that often I chew through a 350+ page book in under 24 hours.

10/18/2014

Mt Baldy 2014

Filed under: — stan @ 7:33 pm

Last year’s government shutdown involved a good bit of hiking in the local mountains. Since there was no furlough-cation this year, we had to take a weekend day to go climb Mt Baldy. We wanted to do it before November, since it’s going to get cold up there, and there could be snow. So today was the last available day in October.

Like last year, I went with Karina from my office. We went up to Manker Flat to the trailhead. On the way up there, I collected a new animal crossing sign for my collection. When we started up the trail, we got a nice view of San Antonio Falls. Even with the drought, there was still a little bit of water going over the falls. Just hearing running water is such a novelty for us these days. We also heard a woodpecker, and we were lucky enough to see it going at the trunk of a dead tree.

Because it was Saturday instead of a weekday, there were a lot of people on the trail. That was all right. It was just strange, since last year’s hikes left me with the impression that all these trails are deserted. There was a small crowd at the hut about halfway up the mountain. And a very friendly Golden Retriever named Butter, who begged snacks from everyone there.

Leaving the hut, we walked across the bowl to the place where the trail climbs steeply up the ridge to the south of the summit. In the bowl, there is a big field of boulders, and it’s pretty obvious that they all fell from the crags at the top of the ridge. I couldn’t help but wonder what that must have sounded like.

The last part of the climb to the summit was hard. Just as hard as it was last year. But we made it, and we settled in for lunch on top of the mountain. Just us and about fifty other people. At least with that many people up there, there were lots of people for the bees to bother, so they didn’t bother us so much as when we were the only ones there.

On the way down, I stopped to take a picture of the waning crescent moon hanging just over the rocks below the summit. And I also got some pictures along the trail. I’ve decided that there are parts of the Devil’s Backbone trail that really give me the willies. But that’s all right. We made it down just fine. At the ski area, they were getting ready for ski season. There were some crews practicing rescuing people from the chair lift, and there were CPR dummies spread out on a blanket nearby. We went in the restaurant so I could refill my water bottle. And we got a picture, looking back up at the summit. Then we started down the service road back to Manker Flat.

Like last year, the service road seemed to go on forever. It’s long. But I was expecting that this time, so it was all right. And we made it back to the car just fine. According to my little GPS thingy, it was 4 1/4 miles from the start to the top, and it was 10.9 miles for the whole loop. Good fun.

10/11/2014

A lot of Nowhere

Filed under: — stan @ 6:49 pm

Last year, I finally got to do the hike to “The Bridge to Nowhere”. And today I got to do it again. The main difference this time is that it was a Saturday, rather than a Friday, and there was no government shutdown in effect. Last year when we did this, the place was deserted. We saw just a handful of people on the trail. But today, when we got to the trailhead, we had to park about a quarter-mile back down the road, since the little parking lot was completely full.

I’d gone up there with my hiking friend Kathy, and we were going to meet up with my stair-climbing friend Crystal and her boyfriend Barry. When I saw all the cars there, I thought it was going to be hard to find them. But when we parked, it turned out they were in the car right in front of us. That was convenient.

We started out down the trail. The first time, I didn’t really know what to expect, so it was easier this time. I knew the basic pattern for following and finding the trail, and we made good time. It only took us a little over two hours to make it to the Bridge. When we got there, the bungee-jumping people were out in force. It was a far cry from the deserted bridge I remember from last year. We crossed, and then followed the trail down into the gorge below the bridge so we could watch the bungee jumpers. Here’s a sample:

We had lunch down there in the gorge, and then we headed back. The hike back went pretty fast. It was a perfect day, and all around, it was a fun time.

9/22/2014

That’s a big telescope

Filed under: — stan @ 5:50 pm

Tonight’s adventure was a trip up Mt. Wilson with the Obscura Society for an evening of looking at the stars with the 60-inch telescope. We headed up to the top of the mountain, where we were met by our guide, Shelley Bonus. She led us in to the telescope and told us the history of it while we were waiting for nightfall. And once it was fully dark, we were able to get started. And since Matt from the Obscura Society had suggested bringing baked goods along for the evening, I brought a batch of my blue-ribbon-winning chocolate cookies. They disappeared fast, so I guess that’s a good sign.

Shelley explained that the telescope has its strong and weak points. It’s great for observing stars and small star clusters. Because it has such a long focal length, it is best run at what would be considered impossible magnifications for a small amateur telescope. There was one night back in 1997 when the air was very still and I was able to run my 8-inch Celestron up to 300X. But normally, about 100X is as far as I can go. But with the 60-inch, we were routinely running close to 400X, and the image in the eyepiece was rock-solid and clear.

We started out with Epsilon Lyrae. Splitting the two double stars is a test of the resolving power of any telescope, and the big telescope did it easily. And while we were in the neighborhood, we had a look at M57, The Ring Nebula. This is another thing I’ve looked at with my telescope, but it was much bigger and more detailed here. We also had a look at the Dumbbell Nebula, but it wasn’t such a great sight. It’s a relatively large object, so it didn’t fit well into the field of view a high magnification.

We looked at a couple of globular clusters, which were very nice. They actually looked like balls of stars, rather than the round patches of fuzz they look like in smaller telescopes. And we ended the evening with a look at Neptune. It was nice and big and blue, and its moon Triton was clearly visible. Triton has a visual magnitude of about 13, which is beyond the reach of my little 8-inch telescope, but it was obvious here.

All in all, it was a good evening of nerdy fun.

Addendum: I didn’t make the connection until the next day, but I knew Shelley before. Back in 1990, I took a class at UCLA Extension called “How to Perform Stand-Up Comedy”, and she was the instructor. But because it had been so long, and being in a completely different context, I didn’t put it all together at the time. But in any event, it was a very weird coincidence.

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