Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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6/8/2014

The Gold Line Extension tour

Filed under: — stan @ 1:54 pm

Route Map

Today’s bike ride was a repeat of our tour of the Metro Gold Line Extension. It’s been four months since we last did it, so we wanted to see how the construction is coming along.

The first stop was the new Arcadia station. They have made visible progress, although the tracks are not yet built there. They’re put in the tracks down the center of the freeway, though. And they’ve started construction on the big parking structure next to the station.

The Monrovia station is coming together. The tracks to the east of it to Duarte are in, and they look like they’re almost finished ballasting and leveling the new tracks there.

Heading east on Duarte road, we were stopped at the light at California when Metro bus pulled up alongside us and the driver proceeded to harass us. He said we were not ’sharing the road’. I snapped a picture of the bus as he pulled away to document the time this occurred and the bus number. We caught up with the bus down the road, but the driver was nowhere to be seen. Still, I got the numbers on it, and I told every one that I felt a letter coming on.

The far point of the ride was when we rode through Azusa and a bit of Glendora. We saw the two Azusa stations under construction. The first one is pretty far along, while the second one seems to still be just a sign saying it’s coming.

On the way back, we saw the site of the Irwindale station. There’s still not a lot there, but it’s definitely more than last time.

Addendum, June 17:
After we got home, I spent some time reviewing the relevant sections of the Vehicle Code. I even found a “Bike Pocket Guide” on the Metro web site that explicitly says that what we were doing was proper and appropriate. Then, I contacted the City of Pasadena Bicycle Coordinator to find out who I should contact a Metro about this incident. He supplied me with a name and address. So here is the letter I wrote to Metro about their jerk driver who harassed us: metro-harassment.pdf

44 miles.

6/3/2014

The Destruction of Money

Filed under: — stan @ 9:30 pm

A few weeks ago, I signed up for yet another tour with the Obscura Society – L.A. This time, it was a tour of the Federal Reserve in downtown Los Angeles. This is where they handle distributing cash to all the banks in southern California, and all the way to the casinos in Las Vegas. So even though they don’t actually print money there, they do handle astoundingly large amounts of it. And in addition, this is where money goes to die. As the cash passes through there, bills that are too worn are shredded.

We saw the room where they sort the money, picking out counterfeit bills, and putting the stacks of bills into the machine that inspects them. Apparently, the machine automatically detects and shreds the worn-out bills, and the shreds are just blown up a pipe into the ceiling to some sort of trap up above.

They showed us the carts they move money around on. Each cart holds something like 460,000 bundled bills, so a cart holds anywhere from $460,000 to $46,000,000. After we’d worked that out, they showed us the vault. It looked like the last scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, only with carts full of money instead of wooden boxes. At that point, I ran out of zeros to count with. That vault had to have held a couple billion dollars in cash. Yikes. No wonder security at the building is tight.

At the end, they had us fill out a little survey and gave us each a small bag of shredded money to take home. It was a unique little adventure.

Towerthon – Addendum

Filed under: — stan @ 10:10 am

After my first time doing the Towerthon in 2012, I made up the stair chart for the building, and I used that to estimate how far I’d climbed that morning. And my estimate came out to be just a bit under one mile. And this is where I got the idea of doing the two-hour Vertical Mile.

This became a bit of an obsession for me the next year. I made a couple of attempts at practice sessions at the Aon building in downtown Los Angeles, and I finally managed to do it one evening.

Of course, in the end, the joke was on me. In that at the 2013 Towerthon, George had gone in and measured the steps at the building, and it turned out that they were about 3/8 inch taller than my original estimate. And that 3/8 inch multiplied by the 8,602 steps I’d climbed actually meant that I’d done the mile that first time. But because I’d thought I’d fallen just short, it became an all-consuming obsession.

Along the way, a few other people tried doing the Vertical Mile, and the idea sort of took on a life of its own. Even to the point where the 2013 Towerthon made up special shirts to be given to all finishers who managed to climb over a mile. And this year, they did that again. In this year’s building, 22 climbs made a mile. And my friend Leland managed to do it. This was his first time doing the Vertical Mile, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that apparently my name as become associated with the idea. So once again, I’m glad to have contributed something to this insane little sport of ours.

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?

5/18/2014

This was much harder than I’d expected

Filed under: — stan @ 6:19 pm

Over the years, we’ve ridden our bikes up to just below the Hollywood sign many, many times. The spot we go to is pretty close below the sign, but I recently found out that there is an actual road up to the summit of Mt Lee, just above the sign. Actually, I’d know that the road existed for a long time, but what I just found out is that there is a small gate to allow hikers through. I figured it would be interesting to carry our bikes through and try riding it.

As always, the ride up to the top of the Hollywoodland neighborhood was very steep, but we got to the top just fine. We walked our bikes through the gate, and started up the road. At first, it was a pleasant enough winding mountain road. And then it got steep. And there was sand on the road. It turned out to be a very difficult climb. Pat later told me it was 500 vertical feet from the gate to the top of the mountain. I guess it’s sort of deceptive. Looking at the sign, one doesn’t realize how high the hill is, since it’s not obvious that the letters themselves are 45 feet tall.

We finally made it up to the top. The view was great, and we spent a few minutes looking at it before heading back down. Between the hikers and the steep hill and the sand on the road, I thought it prudent to go very slowly down the hill. But we made it down all right. And then we had to make our way to the other side of the canyon to get to the road to Burbank. And as it turned out, that involved dropping halfway down the canyon and climbing back up the other side. Which was yet another ridiculously steep hill. Sheesh. But we made it across, so we could go down past the dog park and around the reservoir, which meant we had to climb up the hill on Lake Hollywood Drive. By this time, even I’d had enough of the hills.

We stopped for snacks and drinks at Priscilla’s. And they were nice enough to refill our water bottles, too. We dropped a few extra dollars in the tip bucket, since they were very nice about it.

On the way home, we stopped to see the site of an oil pipeline break this past week. The article talked about how the oil sprayed out on the walls and roof of The Gentlemen’s Club, which was right next to the break. No word on whether or not they sent dancers out to wrestle in it. But the cleanup crew was hard at work scooping up the sand that they’d put down to contain the oil. And the smell of oil was quite strong. Sort of like the time we did the Tour de Oozing Oil, back in 2006.

From there, we took the straightest and flattest route home, straight across Glendale and Eagle Rock. We groaned up the Colorado hill back in to Pasadena, and then we were done.

42 miles

5/11/2014

Overtaken by events

Filed under: — stan @ 4:56 pm

This week, I saw an article about an old house here in Pasadena with a swastika-shaped pond in front. Of course, being that I like going to see odd things, I immediately looked up where it is, and made a route to ride there.

We made our way up the hill on Sierra Madre Villa. And the house was pretty high up the hill. But when we got there, it was very obvious. The swastika is big, and right off the street. The article said that the house was built at least 20 years before the rise of the Nazis, and the swastika was taken from an Indian design. The article implies that the swastika, being Indian, is backwards from the Nazi symbol. But a quick image search shows that this swastika is oriented the same as the Nazi one. In any event, the front-lawn decor of this very old house has obviously been overtaken by events.

From there, we went back down the hill. The route I’d made just made a big loop, not really going anywhere, since the two sightseeing stops were at the beginning and the end of the ride.

When we got to Encanto Park in Duarte, John got a flat. We stopped and fixed it, and the continued on. We made it about two or three miles before it went flat again. This time, Jeff had a close look at the tire, and found a small chip of glass embedded in the tire tread. After taking that out, we fixed the tire again, and we were off.

We skipped our usual snack stop, since we’d had a lot of stopped time fixing the flats. The final sightseeing stop was something odd I’d found on Atlas Obscura. It is an old milestone dating back to the early 1900s from the first Foothill Boulevard that was built from downtown Los Angeles to the San Gabriel Valley. It’s just standing by the curb on present-day Colorado Boulevard, in front of a McDonald’s. It’s just very odd that it’s still there.

After that last stop, we headed home. It was a pleasant ride.

39 miles.

Route Map

5/4/2014

The Back-Yard Boat

Filed under: — stan @ 1:45 pm

Last Sunday, there was an article in the L.A. Time about a guy who’s building a 64-foot boat in his back yard in Sun Valley. Since 1977. And of course, I thought we should go see it. I figured that 64 feet is about three times the size of a car, so it should be pretty easy to spot in the Google Maps aerial view. I had a look, and it turned out to be very near Elmer Ave, the “green” street we went to see recently.

We headed out by basically the same route as usual to get to Burbank. In Eagle Rock, we saw that someone had placed a giant baby bird in a nest on top of one of the tall concrete posts at a construction site. It looked impossible, but I’d guess they probably were able to reach it with a pole from up on the hillside behind the post.

In Burbank, we took a few minutes to stop and see the tortoises again. They were very active today.

After passing the airport, we arrived at Arminta St in Sun Valley, and the boat was right there. We looked at it from the street for a few minutes. Then Mr Griffith came out to talk to us, and he offered us a tour of the boat. This was a real treat, and we all walked in and up the ladder to see the inside. He showed us the two big motors below decks, as well as the sleeping quarters. Up on the deck, there was a hatch to a refrigerated hold that he said would hold 10 tons of fish. He told us that he thought it would be finished by August or September this year. We all thanked him for the tour, and then we headed back down into Burbank and our snack stop at Priscilla’s.

It was a very nice day, and not terribly hot. On the way back, we went through Glendale, and then up and over the Chevy Chase and Linda Vista hill, coming down by the Rose Bowl. Not the easiest way back, but it’s something different from our usual route back up the Colorado hill in Eagle Rock.

44 miles.
Route map

4/27/2014

Turnbull Canyon again

Filed under: — stan @ 10:00 pm

Today’s bike club ride was our old route up Turnbull Canyon in Whittier. We’ve done this one many time before, so there’s not really anything new along the way. Just a few odd sight’s.

At the park where we meet, I picked up a potato chip bag that was on the ground. I took it over to a trash can, and I noticed a prescription bottle on the picnic table next to the trash can. I thought that was bit odd, so I had a look at it, and it was a medical marijuana prescription bottle. That was a bit odd, and it was certainly something I never would have thought I’d see just a few years ago. But it was empty, so I tossed it.

The ride was pleasant enough, although it was kind of hazy, so the view of downtown Los Angeles wasn’t very good from the top of Turnbull Canyon. I couldn’t even point out the Wilshire-Figueroa building and tell everyone how I’d climbed that building 101 times!

We headed down the other side, and then rode back home by way of Monrovia and Merengue. And then back to Pasadena, where we saw some guys cruising the neighborhood in an antique car.

As always, this route is longer than I think it is. But it’s a nice ride.

49 miles.

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