Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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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?

3/15/2014

Helter Skelter

Filed under: — stan @ 5:46 pm

Since I took Lucinda to the Museum of Death last year, I got us tickets to go on the Dearly Departed Helter Skelter tour. I’ve gone on their regular Tragical History Tour many times, as far back as 1990, when it was still called the Grave Line Tour.

We rode around in the van for the whole morning, and we got to see most of the locations associated with the Manson Family murders in 1969. It’s a multimedia tour, too, featuring movie and TV clips from the time with people involved in the case, as well as songs written by Charles Manson. There was even a song he wrote that was recorded by The Beach Boys. It was all very interesting, at times horrifying, and very entertaining tour. A very good father-daughter bonding activity.

12/31/2013

2013 Year-end Wrap-up

Filed under: — stan @ 6:47 pm

It’s the end of the year, and time for my annual wrap-up of the year’s adventures. And yes, being old-fashioned, I still print copies of this and mail them tucked inside physical cards. My personal rule is that the letter must fit on one side of one sheet of paper. So here it is, complete with links:

www.1134.org/xmas/xmas2013.html

9/21/2013

County Fair time again!

Filed under: — stan @ 10:45 pm

It’s time for the 2013 Los Angeles County Fair, and time to go visit my award-winning blueberry muffins in the display case there. We got lucky this time, and it was a very pleasant day. Usually, it’s blazing hot out there in Pomona, but today was very nice. Warm in the sun, cool in the shade, and with a pleasant breeze.

We went to see my muffins first. The ribbon came in the mail last week, and I’m quite pleased that these are my first non-cookie prize winners. We spent a bit of time looking around at everything else there. I’m hoping they come out with a cookbook of the winning recipes this year, so I can try making the muffins that beat mine. I want to know what’s in them.

After lunch, we got some Dr. Bob’s ice cream, and then went and saw a show with dogs leaping in the air catching frisbees. That was entertaining. We also got to pet a hedgehog. Then we walked over to the old train exhibit. I’ve wanted to see that for a long time. And we saw a display case with some bent and broken rails from the 1971 San Fernando Earthquake.

We took a turn through the buildings where they have all the booths selling random stuff. I thought the teeth-whitening booth looked kind of creepy. Like something from “Alien”. And then it was time for the pig races. The pig races are entertaining, and we get a coupon good for a free pound of bacon. What’s not to like about that?

It was a fun afternoon.

8/18/2013

Johnny Ramone and John Waters

Filed under: — stan @ 11:35 pm

This evening was the 9th Annual Johnny Ramone Tribute at Hollywood Forever cemetery. This year, the event included a screening of “Cry Baby“, and a personal appearance by John Waters to introduce the film. Add to that that Johnny Depp, Traci Lords, and others from the movie were going to be there, Being a big fan of both the Ramones and John Waters, this was an event not to be missed.

Since Kathleen was laid up at home recovering from her surgery last Thursday, Lucinda and I made plans to go to this, along with my friend Lisa from the West Coast Labels stair-climbing team. I made us a too-big picnic to bring along, and dug out our Tommy Bahama chairs, and we were ready to go.

We set up camp on the lawn, and Lisa got in line to get autographs from John Waters. I didn’t bring anything for him to sign, largely because everything I have by him is already signed. And as it turned out, that was a good thing. She waited in line for a long time, and then they cut the line off just before she got to the front.

Lucinda spent some time sightseeing in the cemetery and taking pictures. They had Johnny Ramone’s statue decorated for the occasion, and they turned on the lights as darkness fell.

Before the film, they held question and answer session with John Waters and the others from the film on the stage. Lucinda was excited when she found out that the panel would be introduced by none other than Dita. They took some questions from the crowd and talked about making the movie. Then John Waters took the stage by himself to introduce the film. As always, he was very funny to listen to. After he finished, we watched the movie, and as always, it was very entertaining. It had been years since I saw “Cry Baby”, so all around, this was a very fun evening.

6/23/2013

A day with the animals

Filed under: — stan @ 8:48 pm

On Sunday after the Towerthon, we spent the day playing tourist in San Diego. In our case, that meant having breakfast with my father, and then going to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido. It was a perfect day to be outside, so that worked out well. Lucinda asked if she could do the zipline this time, so we got tickets for her and London to do that.

It was a fun and entertaining day. Highlights included feeding time for the meerkats, the new lemur exhibit, where Kathleen got closely inspected by one of the residents, and the baby antelope running around it its enclosure. Pictures of the zipline adventure are in Lucinda’s album. And the best of the animal pictures I took that day are here.

3/24/2013

Weekend and animals

Filed under: — stan @ 8:31 pm

This weekend was the San Diego edition of the American Lung Association’s stair climb. I’d originally planned on doing it, but after being sick this week, that just didn’t seem like such a good idea. But we’d already planned on going there to visit my father, and also to see the baby seals and the baby panda.

We went to La Jolla Cove on Saturday afternoon to see the baby seals. There were a lot of them out on the beach, and because it’s pupping season, they have the beach roped off to keep people away. So we got to see all the seals snoozing on the beach.

Saturday evening, we went to dinner with Dad at Costa Brava in Pacific Beach.

Sunday morning, we went to the zoo early, since we’d read that the baby panda was on display from 9:30 to 11:30. But when we got there, they told us that the baby panda was not going to be out today. Still, we got to see the other giant pandas, as well as the red pandas. And we also got to see a baby koala, which pretty much made up for the missing baby panda.

All in all, it was a fun weekend, even if it didn’t involve climbing any stairs.

Pictures are here:

http://www.1134.org/gallery/main.php/v/stan/nature/sandiego032013/

10/20/2012

Eeek

Filed under: — stan @ 6:15 pm

Today I went with Lucinda to go see the spiders at the Natural History Museum. We’d gone to see them two years ago, but we missed them last year.

We rode the train there this time. And now that the Expo light rail line* is running, it was an easy trip. There was even a USC football game today, and it was still no problem. Hooray for progress.

When we got there, we went in to see the spiders first. They were big and creepy-looking, as we’d hoped. A lot of people are afraid that the spiders will drop on them, but they really don’t move much. They just pick a spot to build a web, and then they just sit there. There was one spider that somehow had ended up standing on another spider’s web, and for a minute it looked like they might get in a fight, but the interloper backed off and moved away.

After the spiders, we went inside to see the new Dinosaur Hall. They’re redone the whole dinosaur exhibit there, and it’s pretty good. It’s nowhere near as big as the Hall of Dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, but it’s still way better than their old exhibit. And they did have one place where they had a painting of the current vision of a velociraptor with feathers. Sure, that kind of blows the whole ‘bloodthirsty killer dinosaurs’ idea from Jurassic Park, but that’s the Advance of Science for you. They’re still killers, but they’re much cuter and cuddly-looking with feathers.

We spent a little time looking around the rest of the museum before we had to go home. On the way out, we stopped to peek into the building where they stashed the space shuttle. Then we got on the train to go home. It was a nice afternoon outing.

* Also known as the ’slightly lighter shade of blue line’.

8/12/2012

Sea World to end the summer

Filed under: — stan @ 9:32 pm

It’s the end of summer, and almost time for school to start again. So that means it’s time for a visit to San Diego to see Grandpa and play tourist. The plan this time was to go to Sea World, mostly to ride the new Manta roller coaster. Now, why they have roller coasters at Sea World is an open question, but whatever. It looks like fun.

We went down on Saturday to visit with Grandpa. We stayed in a guest apartment in his building this time, and that was great. It was just as big and comfortable as the Residence Inn suites we usually stay in, but it was right there in the same building. So that was convenient. We visited for a bit in the afternoon, and then we all went to Prado in Balboa Park for dinner.

On Sunday morning, while everyone was getting ready, I took in the stairs at my father’s building. It’s 20 stories tall. 316 steps from the first floor to the top. So I did that five times. My best time was 2:09.

We had lunch with Grandpa on Sunday, and then we headed to Sea World. When we got there, we went straight for the Manta. They said the wait was 45 minutes, but it turned out to be more like 25. And it was a fun ride.

After that, we headed over to see the penguins and the Wild Arctic exhibit. The little piece of Antarctica they have in the building there was full of penguins. But because it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it was winter in the penguin exhibit. So it was dark in there, and hard to get good pictures.

In the Wild Arctic, we got to see a polar bear facepalm. We also got to see a walrus, some beluga whales, and magellanic penguins outside. They’re cute birds, but very smelly.

We went to see the Sea Lions Live show, which is always fun. They didn’t have the sea lion jumping over a bar with a ball balanced on his nose, but it was still a good show.

At the turtle exhibit, we got to see big sea turtles gliding around the tank, and also a freshly-minted turtle turd. The fish in the tank seemed very excited by that. Yick.

The sea otters weren’t very lively. They were just floating on a little raft and snoozing.

And finally, Kathleen and I went back and rode the Manta again. The line was shorter then, and it was still a fun ride.

It was a fun day, and a fun weekend.

3/18/2012

A quick jaunt up the stairs

Filed under: — stan @ 10:25 pm

This weekend was the San Diego edition of the Lung Association’s “Fight for Air” stair climb. It’s only 30 stories, hardly worth showing up for. But it’s an excuse to go visit my father and go see the baby seals at La Jolla. So we all went down there for the weekend. Because this is a short one, Lucinda even agreed to do it.

We spent Saturday going to see the seals and visiting with Grandpa. And on Sunday morning, we headed downtown to the Omni Hotel. Our assigned start time was with the 12:00 group. There was some kvetching about this from the other West Coast Labels people, and most of them agitated for and got an earlier start. So they were all done by the time we got there. But I figured that as long as I started at the front of our wave, it would be all right. They allowed several minutes between waves to clear the stairs, and as it turned out, I didn’t have to pass anyone on my trip up.

Last year, I did this one in 4:03. I knew I could go faster, so I was aiming for 3:30 or better. So I figured I’d look at my watch at 11, after 10 floors. My goal was to do that first 10 in as close to a minute as I could. So when I got to 11, I looked at my watch, and it said 1:15. My immediate thought was,

“Crap! I need to go faster!”

So I turned up the heat, and I didn’t look at my watch again. When I came out at the top on 31, my watch said 3:27. So I knew I’d managed to increase my pace significantly for the last 20 floors. And when we went back down, I saw that my time was 3:23, which I was pretty happy with. It was good for 7th overall, and 3rd in my age group. The only guy older than me who went faster was Mark, and that’s normal. And both Kathleen and Lucinda improved their times from last year. Sadly, Lucinda missed getting third place by 4 seconds. Still, it was a good outing.

While we were waiting for the awards, I talked to a group of cute tattooed girls who were doing the climb for the first time. I’m always a fan of cute tattooed girls, and if they’re wearing bunny ears, so much the better. And I thought that the “Breath Takers” team name and logo were very good. The girl I talked to said that she was a lung transplant recipient, which I thought was very remarkable on many levels. She had done the climb, and she was very chipper for someone who had undergone such a major procedure.

At the end, I got a medal for 3rd place in the 50s age group. And the West Coast Labels team pretty much swept the awards. And in general, any day that includes time up on the podium for an award is a good day. So it was a good day.

Results are here: http://raceresults.eternaltiming.com/index.cfm/20120318_Fight_For_Air_Stair_Climb_-_San_Diego.htm?Fuseaction=Results&Class=Stair+Climb+Individual~All

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