Stan’s Obligatory Blog

Happy Thanksgiving

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7/14/2014

Overnight in Santa Barbara

Filed under: — stan @ 11:02 pm

Our plan for this week is to take a trip up the coast, playing tourist along the way. I’ve only been living in California since 1982, and I’ve never done this before. But first, we had one more piece of cleanup from the wedding. We’d rented a deluxe portable restroom to put in Carla’s back yard for the party. It was one that had a sink and a flush toilet in it. Because of that, it had a big water tank in it, and it weighed something like 1,000 pounds. And we needed to move it out of her back yard and into the alley so that the company could come and pick it up later today. They said that they would pick it up by 5:00. but we wanted to leave before then, so we had to figure out how to move it.

Our first attempt to just push it failed miserably. it was just too heavy. So I went back to my tool shed and thought about it for a bit. Then I saw the old wooden curtain rod. I got a 2×6 for a lever, some 2×4 scraps for a fulcrum, and cut four pieces of curtain rod for rollers. We went back to Carla’s and lifted the unit with the lever and put the rollers under it. And with that, it was pretty easy to move. We rolled it out the gate and into the alley. And then turned it and rolled it up against the wall to wait to be picked up. And with that, it meant we were ready to go.

We ended up getting a later start than we’d hoped, and we didn’t get to Santa Barbara until close to 6:00. We checked in there, and then took a walk down State St to look for somewhere to have dinner. One of the first places we passed was Opal. It looked good, but we kept walking, almost all the way to the ocean, looking at menus along the way. Then we decided that nothing else we’d seen looked as good as the menu at Opal, and we headed back there. And it was good.

7/12/2014

We’re a family now!

Filed under: — stan @ 11:19 pm

Today was Kathleen’s and my wedding. We’ve been planning this for some time, but the planning process was put on hold over the winter when my back went to hell. But now that it’s back to normal, we decided to forge ahead, and we’ve spent the last two months planning this day. The event was held in Carla’s back yard. After two years of Sunday bike rides, I’ve heard lots about the tribulations Carla experienced with getting the yard redone, and so when she volunteered it for our wedding, we were very happy. We spent a lot of time working out the decorations, and all of yesterday putting them up. And along the way, we arranged for tables, chairs, a DJ, and professional bartenders. So by the time the actual day came along, we were pretty tired, but still excited.

We consulted with a Unitarian minister for our ceremony. She pointed us in the right direction, and we wrote it ourselves. We thought it would be appropriate if Kathleen and I both walked in with our respective kids along, since they’re part of the new family we’re forming here. I’d asked the minister if there were particular sides for the bride and groom to stand on. She said that there is some traditional way it’s done, but she’s been doing all same-sex weddings lately and can’t remember what the traditional arrangement is. I thought that was a nice sign of the times, and we decided to just wing it. The actual ceremony was only about five minutes or so. We wanted to keep it concise and to the point.

Afterward, it was time to eat. We’d arranged to have the Lobos Truck do the food. We’ve seen them at ArtWalk and other events, but we’d never eaten there, owing to their always having a long line. We took that to be a recommendation, and the food turned out to be pretty good. The only downside to it was that it took a fairly long time to serve everyone, since they cooked each one to order. But it was good.

The bartenders came from Goose on the Rocks, and they did a very good job. They kept track of everything, mixed and served, and they were just good to have there to keep an eye on everything. They’d given us a shopping list of supplies to get, and it turned out to be pretty conservative. We’ve got a lot of booze and such left over. But that’s all right.

Music was by DJ Oda, and he played music the whole time, including making some impromptu mashups later in the evening.

Our cake was my by our friend Karina from my office. She’s become quite a good baker, and knows how to make a cake that looks great and also tastes great. And the cake she made for us was a winner all around.

So it turned out to be a good party.

6/14/2014

The chocolate tour

Filed under: — stan @ 6:57 pm

A few weeks ago, we signed up for a tour of chocolate and candy shops in Beverly Hills. It sounded amusing. And today was the day.

We began in front of Sprinkles cupcakes, where we got to sample a mini-chocolate cupcake. It turned out to be the same kind of cupcake that I’d gotten from the cupcake ATM there when we did the bike club ride to see it. It was pretty good. It was about as good as a bought cupcake could be.

The second stop was at Sugarfina. They had lots of interesting-looking unusual candies, as well as a ‘Candy Concierge’ desk in the back. They also had sparklers for cakes. I think that sounds like a fun variation on candles.

It wasn’t as stop on the tour, but we passed by a place that makes fresh ice cream using liquid nitrogen. That sounds entertaining.

The next stop was at Edelweiss Chocolates. They are apparently famous for two things. First, their chocolate-covered marshmallows. And second, for having the little conveyor-belt machine in the back that inspired the famous “I Love Lucy” episode back in the 1950s.

After that, we took a fairly long walk to get to Lette Macarons, where they were quite careful to explain to us that macarons are different from macaroons. And then we got to sample some. They were all right, but I guess it’s just not my thing.

Next was Vosges Haut-Chocolat Boutique, where we started off sampling a chocolate truffle with a dusting of curry on it. That was a bit odd. They also had a lot of chocolate with bacon and other odd things in it. There were little dishes with small fragments to sample, so we got to try a lot of different variations. They also had the “Sommelier Crafted Water” there. Hmm.

The last major stop was Beverly Hills Brownie, which was pretty much what you’d expect. The brownies we sampled were pretty good.

And that was the candy tour. No Oompa-Loompas, but still pretty entertaining.

6/1/2014

Tasmanian Devil!

Filed under: — stan @ 5:52 pm

Today, we went to the San Diego Zoo. We’d read that they have a new Australian exhibit that has actual Tasmanian Devils on display. None of us had ever seen one before, and many Americans don’t even realize that the Tasmanian Devil is a real animal. So that got us interested.

We were also hoping to see the pangolin, since I’d read about it and seen a short video of it in National Geographic, but it turned out we missed it. There in only one pangolin at the zoo, and it’s the only one in captivity in the U.S., and they only bring it out once a day for about 15 minutes, and we missed it. So I guess we have a reason to go back again.

There were something like four Tasmanian Devils there. We could only see three of them, and they were all sleeping. Even the most ferocious animals are cute when they’re sleeping.

We wandered around some more, and we saw lots of other cute, furry animals. We went to see the pandas again, and we finally got to see the baby panda that was born back in 2012. Of course, he’d basically full-grown now. But we got to see him.

It was a nice day to be outside, and we’ll have to do it again some day. And next time, we’ll be sure to get there in time to see the pangolin.

5/31/2014

Towerthon 2014

Filed under: — stan @ 7:21 pm

Today was my third time doing the San Diego Towerthon. This is the race that’s not up a particularly tall building, but the race is to see how many times you can climb it in two hours. With all the problems I had over the winter with my back and not being able to walk, stair climbing hasn’t been my strongest suit this year. But now that the back issues are pretty much resolved, I wanted to try and make a decent showing.

The first time I did this race, I climbed 24 stories 17 times in two hours. The second time, I did 23 stories 17 times. This time, the race was held in a 20-story building, so the climb was an honest 19 floors. My friend George paid a visit to the building a while back to do a proper survey. It is 422 steps and about 240 feet to the 20th floor. I’m not in as good shape as I was before, so I set an arbitrary goal of climbing the 19 stories 20 times in the two hours. I figured I could do this if I could make about each climb in about 4 1/2 minutes.

We were sent off the line one by one, at 10 second intervals. I started at 2:20 on the clock. I started my stopwatch then, and I figured I’d just go until the watch ticked over two hours. The first couple times up were pretty easy. In fact, the whole first hour was pretty easy. I finished my 10th climb a few minutes before the hour, so I paused in the lobby to stop and gulp down about a pint of Gatorade. I’d been drinking water during each elevator ride down, so I actually felt pretty good.

The second hour got harder. You can see it in the last picture in the lobby. I was about to head up for the 19th time. That was a real slog. I just kept thinking of Dory – “Just keep swimming!” On the 20th time up, I got a little burst of energy at about the 16th floor. I was able to go fast the last four floors because I knew that once I got to the top I could STOP. In the end, I made my goal of 20 climbs with a couple minutes to spare. So it wasn’t a bad outing at all.

So I guess that means I’m not a total loss for this insane sport this year. I didn’t get a medal, but I still did reasonably well, coming in 21st out of 188 or so people, and 5th in my age group. And more importantly, only three people my age or older went faster than me. So I really can’t complain. Too much, anyway.

So onward, to the U.S. Bank climb in September.

Results are here


5/22/2014

Open! – Another adventure with the Obscura Society

Filed under: — stan @ 11:39 pm

Ever since we got on the mailing list for Atlas Obscura, we’ve found the most interesting and odd things to do through them. That’s how we got to tour the Corriganville Movie Ranch, the Hyperion sewage-treatment plant, Pasadena Field Trip Day, and The Bunny Museum. Tonight’s adventure was “Locked – A Lock Picking Workshop”. Lock picking has been a minor hobby of mine ever since I read Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman! back in the ’80s. In the chapter about when he cracked the safes at Los Alamos during the war, he briefly described how to pick locks. And after reading that, I taught myself to do it, using a screwdriver and a paper clip. That was good enough to open desks and file cabinets, but not anything harder. Some years later, I was able to obtain a real lock picking kit, and I was even able to use it to wake Lucinda up when she overslept at her mom’s house one time.

We had a full crew for this adventure. Kathleen wanted to learn, Lucinda’s wanted to learn since that day back in 2010, my friends Steve and Morgan from work wanted to learn, and I wanted to learn how to do it properly, and what all those other funny picks in the kit are for. All these years, I’ve pretty much just used the one pick that most resembles the bent paperclip I first learned with. So I thought seeing it done by an actual lock-picking master would be good.

Our instructor for this was Schuyler Towne, who competes in lock picking contests, does security consulting, and leads workshops such as the one we attended. He was really quite a character, and very entertaining. And the class came complete with a set of basic picks, a tension wrench, and two locks to practice on.

He talked about the history of locks, and about how the basic pin tumbler lock we all use today dates back thousands of years, and has been essentially unchanged since the 1800s. He also talked about variations, such as locks with special pins in them to make them harder to pick, and about different types of locks, and how the principles of picking are very similar for all.

Defeating locks can be done in many different ways. He talked about the Kryptonite bike lock recall of 2004, and how Kryptonite basically shot themselves in the foot there. Apparently, the flaw that was discovered in their locks dates back a long time, and their original locks back in the ’70s were not vulnerable to it. But somewhere along the line, they switched to a slightly cheaper locking mechanism, and that’s where the trouble began. And in the end, I know that it cost them customers. They replaced my old lock for free back in 2005. But the new lock they sent me had a locking mechanism that was so poorly made, it barely worked, and it was very hard to open. So in the end, I junked it and bought one of their competitor’s locks, and it has worked well for nearly a decade now.

Another way to defeat locks is just to get an impression of the key in order to be able to copy it. He showed us how to take a quick impression by pressing the key into our wrist. And no, that’s not my house key. That’s the key to the practice lock from the class.

The last trick we learned was how to use an aluminum shim from a soda can to open padlocks and handcuffs. After all, one never knows what the day will bring.

Overall, this was a very good adventure, even if it was kind of a late night for a weekday. Have I mentioned lately how much I enjoy the Obscura adventures?

4/19/2014

The Corriganville Movie Ranch

Filed under: — stan @ 9:23 pm

Today, we went on a tour of the former Corriganville Movie Ranch, which is a place in Simi Valley where a lot of western movies were filmed in the 1930s and ’40s. It was later made into an amusement park, and now isThis was another adventure we found through the Los Angeles Obscura Society.

It was a nice day for being outside, which was good, since that part of L.A.-adjacent can be pretty unpleasant when it gets hot around here. We headed up there and met up with the group at the entrance to the park. We were joined by our guides, and we headed off to see the ruins of the former movie sets. The landscape, and particularly, the rocks, are pretty distinctive, and they showed us photos from the movies where we could see the rocks around the actors,and from that, we could see that John Wayne had been standing on this very spot.

We also saw the concrete pool, where they filmed some of the early Tarzan movies, as well as some Robin Hood movies. The holes in the little dam at the end of the pool were for filming the underwater scenes. They said that that was where they filmed Tarzan fighting a rubber hippopotamus in one of the movies.

All around, this was a very entertaining little side trip. The Obscura Society is great for finding odd little things around the city.

4/12/2014

It only took me 19 years to get around to this

Filed under: — stan @ 7:20 pm

This weekend, Kathleen wanted to go to Tomatomania. We’d missed their events in Encino and La Cañada when we were away in Seattle and San Diego. So what was left was the stop in Fillmore. At first, I thought going to Fillmore for tomato seedlings seemed absurd. But then I thought about the clipping I have from the L.A. Times from March, 1995 about the Fillmore and Western Railway. Going there and riding the train has been on my list of things to do for 19 years now, so we decided to go and make a day of it.

We went up relatively early so that we could pick out some tomatoes before going to ride the train. We brought a cooler along to put the plants in so that they wouldn’t get baked in the hot car while we were on the train.

The train ride is about 10 miles from Fillmore to Santa Paula. It was pretty scenic, with the train cruising by endless citrus and avocado orchards. Some of them had beehives to pollinate the trees, and the train passed through big clouds of bees there. We were riding in the open-air car, but the bees ignored us.

When we got to Santa Paula, the train let us off for about an hour, so we walked into downtown and had some lunch. Then we took a walk back to the train station, stopping off to look at the memorial for the Saint Francis Dam disaster. While we were there, we found out that the restored WWII bombers that we went to see in Burbank were doing an airshow in Oxnard. We saw the B-17 fly by a couple of times during the afternoon.

On the way back, the train stopped off at The Loose Caboose, which was a very weird grab bag of stuff. Kathleen stopped to feed the goats, and we had a look at the koi ponds and turtles. It was a strange, but very entertaining place.

The trip to Fillmore made for a long day, but it was a fun time.

4/5/2014

I can still see my house from up here

Filed under: — stan @ 4:42 pm

Today was time for the Los Angeles edition of the Lung Association’s Fight for Air Climb. 63 stories up the stairs at the Aon building downtown. This was the first stair climb I ever did, back in 2009. At the time, I had no idea what I was getting into, and certainly no idea I’d still be doing it five years later, or that I’d end up making an actual contribution to this insane little sport.

Since I’ve been having major back issues since November, I went into this with the idea that I wanted to have no expectations. And that was my intention. But since I’ve been doing a little bit of faster stair climbing in practice, I thought I’d maybe try for at least a little bit of speed. But when we got there, I realized that I’d forgotten to bring my watch. So even if I wanted to go for speed, there was no way to really do that without a watch. So that made it easy to go into this event with no expectations.

When we got there, Lisa was warming up in the lobby of the building, wearing an altitude-training mask. She said it’s supposed to restrict breathing just a bit to simulate the lower oxygen levels at high altitudes. Well, mostly, it made her look a bit like a Hannibal Lecter of the stairwell. Which I guess is a good thing.

When it was time to go, we all lined up, roughly in numeric order, and roughly in the order we thought we’d finish in. My only goal at that time was that wanted to not have anyone pass me. And that worked out all right. I didn’t pass anyone, and nobody passed me. So that was all right. And in the end, my time was 12:41. Not especially fast, at least by my standards, but it was all right. It was faster than my time the first time I did this, and even though I was just taking it easy and not trying to go fast, there were only four people my age or older who went faster than me. So I really can’t complain too much about that.

When I got to the top, I took the obligatory picture with the view. and then I headed back down. I knew that Morgan was on her way downtown, and I’d told her I’d walk up with her to pace her. So we met up at the bottom and got in line for the stairs.

Meanwhile, Kathleen had started up the stairs just a bit behind me the first time, and she walked most of the way up with a group of firemen in their full regalia. She also got a picture with the view on top before heading back down.

The second time up, I walked with Morgan. I tried to be an encouraging coach, and she did very well. She maintained a steady pace all the way up. We passed lots of people, and nobody passed us. A few times, we ran up against big groups of people who were hard to get through, and at least once, I had to go ahead to sort of plow a path through them so we could pass. And when we made it to the roof, Morgan realized she should have brought her sunglasses. Who thinks of bringing sunglasses along for a stair-climbing race? But that’s the difference between a Saturday morning in April and a Friday evening in September.

When they started posting the results, I saw that they’d made a typo, and they had me listed as being 14 years old. Hmm. I had to email the timing company after we got home to get that corrected.

All told, it was a pretty good time.

3/30/2014

Weekend in San Diego, and a few stairs

Filed under: — stan @ 8:38 pm

This weekend, we took an overnight trip to San Diego to visit my father, and along the way we did a bunch of other stuff.

The trip started off Saturday afternoon, when we headed down to San Diego. We visited with my father for a bit before we all went to dinner at The Prado in Balboa Park. We had a nice, fancy dinner out, and Trinh got an extra dessert, since Sunday was her birthday.

On Sunday morning, we managed to convince Lucinda, Trinh, and Melissa all to do the Lung Association stair climb with us, so we had five of us signed up to do it. It was a short one, only about 30 stories. The climb was from the lobby to 32, but the building skipped 13. I wanted to go back in and do a proper survey, but the organizers were kind of being redacted about it, and they wouldn’t let me go back in. But we did make the Channel 10 news that night:

www.10news.com/news/fight-for-air-climb-was-an-extreme-sport-for-some-an-emotional-day-for-others-03302014

After the stair climb, we headed back to our room to get cleaned up. We didn’t stay for the awards, but I found out later that I managed to place 3rd in the 50-59 age group. Not bad for coming back from not being able to walk a couple months ago.

Finally, we all went to La Jolla Cove to see the baby seals. The pups are generally born in February, so they were still pretty small, and really, there’s nothing cuter than baby seals.

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