Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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7/21/2014

Time to get moving

Filed under: — stan @ 9:17 pm

Now that our wedding is done, and we’re back from our trip, it’s time to get moving again. So tonight was yet another practice on the stairs at the Bank Formerly Known as Mellon, in downtown L.A. Tonight, my plan was to do it three times up to 20, aiming for five floors per minute. And then after that, I did it three more times, just taking it easy.

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.

A stairway interlude

Filed under: — stan @ 10:42 am

The Grand Hyatt is probably the swankiest hotel we’ve stayed at. When we were checking in, they were telling us about the amenities, including that there was a gym on the 35th floor. So on Friday morning, I went to the gym. Three times. I didn’t use any of the equipment. I just climbed the stairs to get there. The hotel stairs were just regular steel stairs, 17 steps per floor in a 9/8 configuration. Hotels have shorter floors than office buildings, so my times were pretty fast, even though I wasn’t really trying to go especially fast. But I was still pretty sweaty, and it was nice that they had towels at the gym.

For future reference, stairway 2B was the best one to take to the gym. I had to enter the stairs on 3, and they skipped 13. Stay fit at Hyatt!

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.

7/16/2014

Visiting Monterey

Filed under: — stan @ 11:44 pm

After traveling through Big Sur, we arrived in Monterey. We headed to Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We were hoping to see some sea otters there, among other things. As it turned out, we got there just in time to see the sea otters get fed, which drew a big crowd. And after that, we went outside, and we saw a couple of wild otters floating in the kelp just offshore.

Next, we went to see the “Tentacles” exhibit. Check out the colors on this cuttlefish:

There was also a big exhibit of jellyfish, and a lot of history of the sardine canneries that used to be there.

When we went to check in to our hotel, we stopped for a photo-op with the bell across the street. We’ve been seeing these bells all the way up the 101 since before we left L.A. And when we got in our room, we had a laugh about the evacuation map and instructions. Then we headed out for yet another fancy dinner, and later on, we settled in by the fire pit back at the hotel. All told, it was a fun day.

Traveling up the coast

Filed under: — stan @ 2:08 pm

On Wednesday morning, we headed back up the coast. The plan was to stop and see the elephant seal colony at Piedras Blancas, and then continue on up to Monterey. We left Moonstone Beach and headed north. When we were close to the visitor center at Hearst Castle, we saw some zebras running on the hills next to the road. The tour guides at the castle had said that there were still some feral zebras on the ranch there, descended from the ones that were in the Hearst private zoo. Then, a few miles north of the castle, we saw the sign for the elephant seals. There were quite a few of them lounging on the beach. The volunteer from Friends of the Elephant Seal told us that most of the seals there were males, and that the females were out at sea feeding at the time. There were several pairs of males out in the waves, jousting with each other. She said they do that when they’re young as practice for later on, when it becomes a serious business for mating.

Here’s a short video clip of a pair of seals jousting:

After the seals, we continued north, through Big Sur, where we saw a new type of animal crossing sign that I can add to my collection.

Hearst Castle and Moonstone Beach

Filed under: — stan @ 10:39 am

Our second day plan was to travel from Santa Barbara to San Simeon. We’d signed up for two tours of Hearst Castle for the afternoon, and then we were spending the night in Cambria.

The castle was impressive in an absurd way. Completely over-the-top excess. The tours we took were the “Upstairs Suites Tour” and the “Designing the Dream”. I was pretty much dumbfounded and left speechless by this.

After the castle, we headed down to Cambria and Moonstone Beach. When we checked in, they told us they were going to move us to one of the ocean-view rooms. We didn’t complain about that. The view from the front porch was nice. We walked down the street and had dinner at the only restaurant right on the beach. Then we went back to our room and opened the windows. We listened to the waves all night. In the morning, I took a walk down the beach, hoping to see an otter or two. I didn’t see any, but I did see seals and some dolphins.

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.

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