Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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9/20/2014

Mt Lukens

Filed under: — stan @ 3:20 pm

Mt Lukens is the highest point within the city limits of Los Angeles, and as such, it’s home to a lot of communications equipment for the Department of Water and Power, and other things like that. Since the seismic network uses some of the DWP network, we have a microwave link up there from the Seismo Lab. So I was curious to see it. I read a post on a hiking blog about climbing this mountain, and it sounded like a fun hike.

Karina is training for the New York Marathon, so she was busy going running, so Kathy and I did the hike. We started out from Deukmejian Wilderness Park in Glendale. The trail started out up the wash in the park, but quickly turned right and went up a steep ridge. The first couple miles were very steep, and pretty soon we were above the clouds. It was kind of gray and overcast down below, but it was a perfect day up on the mountain.

At the top of the ridge, the trail turned into a fire road for a bit along the top of the ridge before we met up with the Mt Lukens road. From there, it was an easy mile or so up the road to the top. At the top, we spent a few minutes looking at the view. To the south, it was just clouds, with some other mountains poking up through them, and to the north it was clear.

Going down, we took the Rim of the Valley trail, which came down a different ridge a bit west of the ridge we’d hiked up. The only really tricky part of the trip down was finding the turnoff, since the main trail goes down to Haines Canyon, and we needed to take the cutoff trail to get back to Deukmejian Park. The saving grace of the southern California mountains is that there are basically no trees, so it’s easy to see the different trails and where they go. So we turned off and headed down toward the park.

At one point, the trail went down into a canyon where there was actually a small stream. It was just a trickle, but it was actual running water. And there were big trees growing at the bottom of the canyon. From there, we had to climb up and out to get over the next ridge, and then we could see where we’d started. The last part of the route was an easy walk back down Dunsmore Canyon to where we started. In the end, it was nearly 10 miles in all, but it was a nice day, so it was a good time.

Here’s the route map: http://www.1134.org/routemap.php?xmlfile=mtlukenshike

9/19/2014

Tower running

Filed under: — stan @ 9:47 pm

Friday evening was time for the stair climb up the U.S. Bank building in downtown Los Angeles. 75 floors, and 1,664 steps to the top. I know. I counted them.

In contrast to past years, I wasn’t thinking about trying to prove anything this time. I just wanted to go up in a non-embarrassing time, and to enjoy seeing all my stair-climbing friends in the process. So my goal was to do about 15 minutes or so, since that’s a reasonably relaxed pace in my book.

I had to leave work a little early to get downtown for my schedules 4:00PM start time. When I was getting signed in, I got a message from Kathleen that she was starting up the stairs. Her start time was 3:30, so I thought that we might come out at the top at close to the same time. So I got changed and headed down to the starting line. When I got there, I was the only one there. That was decidedly weird. Usually, there’s a long line to wait in, but I just walked up to the start and went in.

I was aiming for five floors per minute, and I was able to maintain that pace pretty easily. Unlike other years doing this, there was very little traffic in the stairwell. One guy passed me soon after the start. I caught and passed him again about 30 floors later. And along the way, I passed a handful of people. I passed Kathleen somewhere in the high 50s. At that point, I was still on my pace, but my shoe had come untied at about 35, and by 58, I had to stop and retie it before it fell off. So I lost about 30 seconds doing that. But then I just continued on, and I came out on top with a time of something like 15:34. A little slower than I’d wanted, but, as I said, I’m not trying to prove anything.

After just a few minutes, Kathleen came out on the roof. We looked at the view and took a few pictures, and then headed down the other stairway to the big open space on 71. We had some water, took some more pictures. And then we took the elevator back down to the ground.

At the bottom, I saw some friends who had come up from Orange County to do the climb. So I joined them to go up again. By now, there was a line at the start, so we got to talk for a while while waiting to go. And then I went up for the second time. Part-way up, I got a message from Morgan that she, Jason, and Irving were all there. They had finished their first climb, and they were thinking of going again. So I said I’d go again with them as soon as I got back down. And when I got back down, the four of us got back in the line, and we headed up again. It’s kind of nice to take a leisurely-paced climb up the building. Not that there’s much scenery or anything, but it’s sort of like hiking up an industrial-looking mountain.

After three climbs up the building, I was done, so we got changed and headed home. It was a fun evening.

9/14/2014

what if?

Filed under: — stan @ 5:52 pm

On Sunday afternoon, we took a trip to Santa Monica to go to a talk and book-signing with Randall Munroe of XKCD. He has a new book out: What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. It’s a collection of his what if? columns, and it’s all very entertaining.

The basic format was a conversation between Randall and Wil Wheaton. They talked about the book, about science in general, told stories, and took questions from the audience. It was a fun time, and at the end, we all lined up to get our books signed by Randall. And I got to thank him for the little bit of geek fame I got from when he mentioned my Pet Project in the mouseover text for this cartoon: http://xkcd.com/723/

9/13/2014

The Mt Lowe Railway tour

Filed under: — stan @ 12:26 pm

After doing the hike up Mt Zion two weeks ago, I was ready for more. Karina couldn’t go today, but Kathy could, so we made plans to meet up and do part of the Mt Lowe Railway tour. When I did this last fall with Karina, we walked up Echo Mountain and then all the way up to the location of the old Alpine Tavern. This time, the plan was to go not quite so far, but to make a loop of it.

We met up at the top of Lake Ave, by the Cobb Estate gate. From there, we walked down Loma Alta Dr to Chaney Trail and walked up that road to the actual start of the trail, which was the Sunset Ridge fire road. At the start, there was a sign with a map, showing the route of the old railroad, and some of the points of interest along the way. We took the fire road up the ridge to the Cape of Good Hope, where the fire road meets up with the old Mt Lowe Railway roadbed. From there, we turned and took the railroad route back down through Flores Canyon to Echo Mountain.

At Echo Mountain, we found a small spot of shade under a tree and had a look around. We were joined by Stella, who was hiking with another group. Like most dogs, she was happy to find a bit of shade to lie down in. Looking to the southwest, we could see the big plume of smoke from a brush fire burning in Silverado Canyon in Orange County.

On the way down, there was a sign asking for people to go to Facebook and ‘like’ the Friends of Echo Mountain. Apparently, if they get enough likes, they will get some sort of funding to do trail maintenance and other good things.

By the time we got down, it was getting pretty hot, but since we had started out at 7:15AM, it was only about 11:15 when we got down, so we missed the hottest part of the day. So overall, it was a fun hike.

Here’s the route map

8/30/2014

Mt Zion

Filed under: — stan @ 2:43 pm

After doing a short ’shakedown’ hike last summer, I think I’m up for hiking more again. So today was the day. I met up with Karina and Kathy and we headed up to Chantry Flat. Karina knows a route from there that goes up Santa Anita Canyon, over the summit of Mt. Zion, and then back down another part of the canyon. And perhaps most importantly, since Santa Anita Canyon usually has a small stream flowing in it, most of the route was through forest, so there would be shade.

We tried to get an early start, since parking is very limited at Chantry Flat. We got up there before 8:00, but we still ended up having to park about 1/2 mile back down the road. Then we started out, walking back up to Chantry Flat, and starting down the trail, which began with about 1/2 mile downhill into the canyon. At the bottom, we saw where the stream should have been, had we not been in the middle of an epic drought here. What was supposed to be a flowing stream was just a stream bed, with occasional little pools. Most of the bed wasn’t even visibly damp. Which is why I thought the guy with the fishing pole was being perhaps a bit too optimistic. But he did find a fair-sized pool, although I’m not sure there were any fish in it.

We hiked a good way up the canyon, and then we turned and headed up the side of the canyon, toward Mt. Wilson. There was a little side trail that went up to the top of Mt Zion, which was nice. it was one of the few times we came out of the trees and got a view. After that, we went back to the trail junction and sat down in the shade to have our lunch.

The trail back switchbacked down the south face of Mt Zion. There were some spots where there was a view, which was nice, but it was also getting pretty hot by then. At the bottom of the canyon we came through Hoegees Campground, and a bit farther along, we saw a small cave in the rocks. I went in it a bit just to see how far it went. Finally, the trail came out back at the junction at the bottom of the canyon, below Chantry Flat. From there, we had to walk back up to the road, and then down the road to where we’d parked. In all, it was about 8 1/2 miles or so.

8/10/2014

The Kingdom of Rubelia

Filed under: — stan @ 4:15 pm

Today’s bike club ride was our old route out to Glendora. But there was a twist. The Obscura Society had arranged for a tour of Rubel’s Castle. We’ve been by there many times before, but we never had the chance to go inside. So today was the day. And in the end, I was the only one who bought a ticket to take the tour, but Kathleen drove out and met us there, and the two of us went on the tour. Everyone else just went to Classic Coffee and rode home.

Our guide for the tour was from the Glendora Historical Society, which inherited the castle from Michael Rubel when he died in 2007. We started out at the front gate and the entrance courtyard. There was a small barn and a couple of horses there. And chickens. Several chickens just running around the grounds.

The first major stop was the cemetery. Our guide said that nobody was actually buried there, but Michael just thought that a castle should have a cemetery on the grounds. He got the rejects from a local headstone maker, and later on, had some made for himself and other friends who were important in the story of the castle.

At the back of the property, there were some smaller buildings. They had garage space underneath where they had a variety of old cars, tractors, and so forth. Above were apartments, and our guide said that something like seven people live there full-time, and they help with the upkeep.

There was a barbecue pit back there, and a bird bath. The bird bath was run by an enormous engine inside a shed. There was a whole story of how they got the engine and moved it there. The story involved a truck, some dynamite, and gouging the new pavement on Route 66 on the way back to the castle. It was a pretty funny story.

Back outside, we walked under the big water tower next to the windmill that pumped water up from the well to fill it. Then we took a turn through the caboose. There was a lot of train memorabilia all around the grounds, but the caboose was the single biggest piece of it. And then it was time to go into the castle itself.

The castle is built on what remains of a giant concrete reservoir that used to store water for the citrus orchards. In the middle of the castle courtyard, there is a small house that Michael build out of rocks, bottles, and cement. He lived there for many years while building the rest of the castle around it. It was amazing to see just how much went into building the castle. There were weird objects embedded in the walls, and the walls themselves are something like six feet thick, so there are more weird objects embedded inside them that we can’t see. It’s just incredible to see such a monumental structure built out of junk. Just look at the stairs. They are made out of broken pieces of stone that they just scrounged from somewhere or other.

The clock in the big tower struck eleven while we were there. We got to look inside the tower and see the big clock mechanism working. Then we walked around and into the machine shop building that is in the center of the castle courtyard.

The last stop on the tour was the Tin Palace, where Michael’s mother held her big parties. There were more trains in there, and some memorabilia about Sally Rand, since she was one of the famous people who came to the parties there. That room also had the stained-glass painting depicting the story of bring the big engine to the castle.

The castle is a monument to Michael Rubel’s personal obsession, and it’s truly one of a kind. So it was a real treat to finally get to see inside after all these years. And on top of all that, I had a nice bike ride out there and back.

38 miles.

7/19/2014

The Golden Fire Hydrant

Filed under: — stan @ 11:47 am

Being in the earthquake business, I wanted to do a little bit of sightseeing on Saturday morning before we had to head for home. The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake was the one that started everything in motion that led to the modern-day US Geological Survey Earthquake Hazards Program, so it was an event of great significance to all of us.

There are a lot of stories from that earthquake, but the story of the Golden Fire Hydrant was one I always liked. The city was in flames, the water mains were all broken, but somehow one hydrant had water and saved part of the city. And every April 18th, they have a little street party and give it a fresh coat of gold paint. So I had to go see it.

It was easy to get to. I just got on the outbound J-Church light rail line and got off at the 20th Street stop. The fire hydrant was right across the street.

I took a few pictures, and I also looked around the park a little bit. While I was waiting for the train back, another guy at the station told me the story of the park. Apparently, it had been a Jewish cemetery originally, but when San Francisco decided to move all its cemeteries to Colma, the community there agreed to the move on the condition that nothing be built on the site of their former cemetery. So the neighborhood got a nice little park out of the deal.

And that was the last real bit of sightseeing for our trip. It was a fun week.

7/18/2014

Marine Mammals and more

Filed under: — stan @ 5:17 pm

After leaving the Nike Missile Museum, we went just a short distance away to visit the Marine Mammal Center. This used to be another Nike Missile site, but it has been turned into a hospital and care center for sick and injured marine mammals. We saw seals and sea lions there. They sometimes have sea otters there, but there weren’t any today.

Leaving there, we headed back across the Golden Gate Bridge. And when we were about halfway across, traffic suddenly came to a dead stop for no apparent reason. We sat there for a few minutes, and when it became clear we weren’t going anywhere soon, everyone got out of their cars to look around. After a few minutes more, we noticed that there was no traffic coming the other way, so the northbound side of the bridge was completely empty. That’s got to be fairly rare, so we all started walking over there to take pictures of the nearly-empty bridge. And after a few more minutes, we saw some flashing lights, and a tow truck came across on the empty side of the bridge. They told us that we would be moving again in just a minute, so we all packed up and got back in our cars. We never did find out what had happened, but all the way back to our hotel, we could see the traffic headed for the bridge backed up all across the city.

For dinner, we’d planned to take the cable car over the hill to the wharf to go see the sea lions at Pier 39. But when we got down to Powell St, the cable cars were not running. They said that there was a problem with the cable, and it was going to take some time to fix. So instead, we took the F-line streetcar up Market Street and over to the wharf. We looked a the sea lions, and then had dinner there. It was a pretty entertaining day.

Cold-war nostalgia – The Nike missile site

Filed under: — stan @ 2:55 pm

One of my hobbies is collecting memorabilia from the Cold War, and visiting sites related to it. I’ve been to see the Titan Missile Museum in Arizona, and took a bike ride up in the San Gabriel Mountains to visit the remains of a Nike missile site there. Since we were in San Francisco, I wanted to visit Golden Gate National Recreation Area, since I’d read that an old Nike missile site there had been restored and turned into a museum.

The Nike missiles were intended to shoot down Russian bombers. The first iteration was the Nike Ajax, which was a slim missile with a conventional warhead. It was intended to shoot down bombers that flew higher and faster than regular anti-aircraft guns could hit. Later, as bombers got faster in the late 1950s, these were replaced with the Nike Hercules, which could fly higher and faster, and could carry a nuclear warhead.

The tour started in the little building where they had a disassembled missile for us to look at. We got to see where the solid-fuel rocket motor was installed, and where the nuclear warhead was mounted. Then we went outside to see the radars and the little building where the controlled the missile. In the days when the site was operational, those were located a couple miles away from the launch pads. Something to do with how the radars tracked the missile for guidance meant that they couldn’t do it well if the radar was right next to the launcher. Of course, when we were in the control trailer, everyone wanted to get a picture with the big red button marked “FIRE”.

The next stop was the building where they assembled the missiles. They had both an Ajax and a Hercules missile on display in there. And then we headed underground to the actual missile magazine. Each site had two magazines, each with six missiles in it. The showed us how the missiles were mounted on rails, and they were really pretty easy to move. In the center, there was a big elevator that could lift one missile up to the launcher above, which they demonstrated for us:

After they raised the missile up, we all came back outside, and they showed us how the launcher would raise the missile up to its launch angle, which was something like 85 degrees. Not quite vertical, since they didn’t want the first-stage booster rocket to fall back down on the launch site.

This was a fun and interesting little bit of Cold War history.

7/17/2014

Heading to San Francisco

Filed under: — stan @ 10:29 pm

On Thursday, it was time to leave Monterey and head to San Francisco. But before we left, I did a little sightseeing while Kathleen got ready to go.

I took a walk to the ATM to get some cash, and on the way back, I stopped in at the Cooper-Molera Adobe. We’d walked by it last night on the way back from dinner, so I wanted to see inside. There is a little museum attached to it, and a volunteer who told me the story of the house and how the family fit into the early history of Monterey. She also told me about how the remains of Hartnell Creek were visible behind the parking lot at Trader Joe’s, next to the adobe. That creek was the original reason the adobe was built where it was.

Leaving Monterey, we headed up the 101 toward San Francisco. We stopped for lunch in Gilroy. The idea of an entirely garlic-themed town was just too entertaining to pass up. And yes, they get into it. I had the garlic soup, we saw the garlic murals and banners, and we stopped in at Garlic World.

Continuing north, we took the 280 into San Francisco, passing the two big reservoirs there that began life as sag ponds on the San Andreas Fault. Then we found our way into the city and our hotel. When we got there, they told us that they were overbooked, so they asked if it was all right to move us to a higher floor, which was all right with us. We ended up on the 31st floor. So I asked them if I could take the stairs to get there. They said that that was all right, as long as I entered the stairwell at the third floor, since the doors on 1 are in the alley behind the building and are generally locked, and the second floor was mostly offices and meeting rooms.

We got checked in to our room and spent a little time looking at the views from our window before we headed out for dinner. Our plan was to ride BART across the bay to Berkeley to have dinner with my old friend Jim Ward. Jim is retired now, but back in 1979, he was the owner of Gauntlet, the first body-piercing shop in the world, in West Hollywood. Not many people have had a hand in creating an entirely new industry in our culture. We met up at his favorite Thai place and we had a nice dinner. He has a lot of interesting stories to tell.

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