Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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.

4/20/2014

Earthquakes, old and new

Filed under: — stan @ 9:47 pm

This week, I saw an article about how the city is finally going to demolish the remains of the former state office building that stood on 1st St between Broadway and Spring St in downtown Los Angeles. The building was heavily damaged and later torn down after the 1971 San Fernando earthquake. The site has been sitting unused ever since, but now they say they are going to turn it into a park. Why that took over 40 years is a mystery, but whatever…

The route was almost exactly the same as the Metro Rail Tour we did a few weeks ago. The only difference was that we weren’t doing it this time with the intention of bailing out and taking the train home, since the weather was really quite nice, and there was no chance of rain.

We rode into downtown and stopped to look at the foundation of the former building. The article had said they’d started demolition on it, but it looked about the same as it’s looked for the last 30-mumble years since I first saw it. Still, there was a new sign about how it was going to become a park, so I guess that’s a good thing.

After that, we rode over to the site of the new Wilshire Grand hotel. We’d stopped by there recently to see the foundation that they’d made for the new building, so we were curious to see what it looked like now. The building is supposed to be very tall. Almost as tall as the tallest building in Los Angeles. (They keep saying it’s taller, but that’s just because the architect put a spire on the roof. It really doesn’t count unless you can stand on it.) They say it’s supposed to be engineered to withstand the strongest earthquakes here. I suppose we will see. Someday, it will be tested.

The rest of the ride was just our normal route through Koreatown, Larchmont Village, and then home through Chinatown and Lincoln Heights. It was a nice ride.

Route map

43 miles.

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.

4/13/2014

The Public Nuisance

Filed under: — stan @ 1:54 pm

Today’s bike club ride is our old route out to Glendora. Nothing special, but a chance to look in on the construction of the Metro Gold Line extension in Azusa, and also to go by the Huy Fong Foods hot-sauce factory in Irwindale. The city council in Irwindale is thinking of declaring the factory to be a public nuisance, since a few of the people in the neighborhood don’t like the smell of the factory.

It was a cool spring morning, just about perfect for riding. We headed out to the east. When we got to Azusa, we took a short detour to go see the construction of the new Metro station. They are making good progress since we went to see this in February.

We stopped for coffee and snacks in Glendora, and we had a look at the chalk art drawn on the sidewalks there. Then we headed back, passing by some giant inflatable rabbits in front of the the same house that had the giant candy canes and Christmas ornaments in the past. Then we rode by the enormous Huy Fong Foods hot-sauce plant. Then we took in some more of the Gold Line construction in Duarte and Monrovia. All told, it was a pleasant ride.

42 miles.

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