Stan’s Obligatory Blog


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.


Second attempt

Filed under: — stan @ 9:32 pm

Today was the second practice session at the 777 Tower. This time, I was armed with my complete stair chart and my stopwatch, and I was ready to see if I could improve my time from Monday.

I figured out that the actual floor count of the climb is an honest 50 stories, so I decided that I would use floors 10, 20, 30, and 40 as time points. Each 10 floors in this building is a vertical climb of 134 feet, which is almost exactly the same as the 142 feet we climb in 10 floors when we’re practicing at the Caltech library. I’m usually able to do that climb in 1:40 or less, so I decided to aim for doing the complete 50 floors in 8:30. This would be about 1:42 per 10 floors. So I made up a little card with time goals and clipped it to my glove, next to my watch.

Nick and I started out together. I used the stepping pattern I’d planned, and things were going well. At 10, we were about 2 seconds behind schedule, which I thought was pretty good. At 20, we were still just 2 seconds behind. Same at 30. At 33, the concrete steps started, and I decided to count them down, just for a distraction. Nick had been tailing me all the way up, but he fell off at about 37. I kept going, and at 40, I was 4 seconds behind schedule. I kept on going, and put on a little sprint from 47 to 50. I flopped down on the landing, and when I looked at my watch, I saw 8:34, which is pretty close to my goal for the evening.

We rode down to the lobby and rested outside for a few minutes before starting up again. The second time, I wasn’t going for time. I was just going to practice my stepping, and also to experiment with doing an occasional triple-step to try and even out the load on my legs during the main portion of the climb. So there I was, yakking away all the way up, describing the most efficient line to take and how to do the turns. Nick said he could hear me talking, but that in his stair climbing fog, it sounded like the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons. At the end, I raced up the final five floors, but when I remembered to look at my watch, it was still running. So I don’t know what my time was. My best guess is it was about 10:45 or so. Not bad for taking it easy.

By this time, Kathleen had arrived. We had a dinner date up the street at Engine Company 28, so we left to go there. Nick said he was going to go up again before going home.

A bit later, my phone chirped at me. Nick said he was going to go up a fourth time. Which led to this message exchange:


Next practice is Monday. Onward and especially, upward.


New building smell

Filed under: — stan @ 8:33 pm

Today was the first practice climb at the 777 Tower in downtown Los Angeles. This is a pretty big building, with 52 floors plus a penthouse. It’s actually a little bit taller than the Wells Fargo building that we will be practicing in come September. This is part of the practice series organized by the downtown YMCA in preparation for the U.S. Bank Tower stair climb at the end of September.

I went downtown with Nick and Morgan from the office. I brought my notepad.

We rode the train downtown, and when we got to the building, we got signed in and ready to go. My first time up, I went slowly, taking notes along the way. The building has stamped steel stairs, seven inches high. They are all stamped steel, except for floors 33-43, where the stairs are concrete. That was odd, and I figured it would make a good landmark.

The building has a 13th floor.

It’s almost all right turns, and most floors are 23 steps, divided up in a 12/11 configuration. This is good. I can treat 12/11 as if it were 12/12, and then it makes for a nice smooth 12 steps per floor to climb it. If I start right foot first, I will hit every landing with my left foot, which is perfect for a one-step pivot turn. And I don’t have to waste any steps on the landings. The only downside is that the pattern is not perfectly balanced. The right leg is doing about 9% more work than the left. But in practice, I’ve found that that difference isn’t too noticeable.

The practice climb was only up to floor 50. The door was open there, and one of the YMCA guys was standing there directing us out to the hall.

When we got to the top, we found the elevator to come back down. I put away my notepad, put on my gloves, and I was ready to make a run for it. I started out, and Nick was tailing me up the stairs. We got all the way to about 20 before he fell off the pace. This was unfortunate, since at that point, I found it hard to maintain the pace, too. Still, I managed to keep going, and even put on a little extra at the end. At the top, I did the traditional face-plant on the 50th floor landing. When I looked at my watch, I had 8:49. I’d hoped for a bit faster than that, but really didn’t know what to expect.

After catching my breath, I noticed that there was nobody hanging around the 50th floor landing. So I walked up the remaining four flights to the roof door. I counted the steps, and also took pictures so I could add the final bit to my stair chart for the building. Turns out it’s exactly 100 steps from the 50th floor landing to the roof door. Added to the 1,138 to get to 50, the building had a total of 1,238 steps.

It was a nice outing, and now I’m ready to make the stair chart for the building, which should help for planning split times for next time.

The chart is here:



Filed under: — stan @ 2:19 pm

Today’s bike club ride was a sightseeing trip to the Stonehurst Cottages in the northeast San Fernando Valley. Since we went to see the Watts Towers last week, it seemed appropriate to go see yet another local oddity that was built by one man with a vision and a lot of time on his hands.

We’ve done this ride before, and it’s a fairly pleasant one, with just a few hills.

The prop company in Sun Valley still had the pair of giant hands outside their building. I found another hot-rod mailbox for my collection. We toured around the cottages, and marveled some more about the single-minded determination of Dan Montelongo for building them. And of course, we saw the beer-keg mailbox.

Our snack stop was at Goldstein’s Bagels in La Cañada. It was a pleasant ride.

45 miles.


The Two-Headed Monster Tour

Filed under: — stan @ 11:59 pm

A few days ago, I saw a posting on Facebook from the Greek Theater. They said that they were filming some scenes for the season-ending show of “Californication” there on Thursday night. They needed an audience for the fake rock concert, and they were offering us free tickets and a little bit of a show to go along with the filming. And since this is Los Angeles, they also offered free parking. They know the way to our hearts. In any event, since we’re fans of Hank Moody and his tales of woe, we thought this could be a fun time.

The basic premise appeared to be a rock show at the Greek with a fictitious rock star named Atticus Fetch, played by Tim Minchin, as well as the real Marilyn Manson. The banners all said it was the “The Two-Headed Monster Tour”. They gave away about 1,000 tickets, so the Greek was nowhere near full, but they had us all sit in the front section, so as far as the cameras could see, it looked like a full house.

The show was a bit of a grab bag. They had one guy whose name I’ve forgotten who was not part of the show, but he played some songs for us. They had a stand-up comedian to perform while they were moving things around on the stage. Then Tim Minchin performed a bit as himself. He was really funny. This was followed by Steve Jones, who did a very strange and mellow version of his old Sex Pistols song, “Bodies“, followed by “Hotel California”.

By this time, it was dark, and it was time to make the sausages. They had Steve Jones as the announcer introducing Atticus Fetch, and then a big opening number, complete with some impressive pyrotechnics. They did that maybe three times. After that, they took a short break, and Marilyn Manson came out and did a couple of songs for us.

Here’s a little video of the first number. And check out the big Panavision camera on the boom that was gliding over our heads:

Then they moved some things around on the stage to get ready to hold a wedding. They had Charlie and Marcy Runkle on stage getting married, again, presumably, with Atticus officiating. Pamela Adlon said it was a spoiler alert, but she assured us that something terrible would happen at the end of the episode to keep our interest. After this, Atticus asked if anyone else wanted to get married, and Hank appeared to be proposing to Karen, although that seems unlikely, given the history of his character. But I guess we’ll see one of these days, when the current season is over and on DVD, and Netflix has it.

At one point, they wanted us to all sing along with the chorus of one of Atticus’ songs:

Preggers and poor
bed on the floor
wolf at the door

It should be interesting to see how that gets worked into the story.

They had said that they had to be finished by 11:00, due to city noise regulations at the Greek. But they were still going at 11:45. At that point, there was still no end in sight, so we left. It was just a bit too late for us to be out on a weeknight. They had made up T-shirts for the fictitious tour, and they were offering them to anyone willing to stay the distance. That might have made a fun collector’s item, but it was just too late for us. Still, it was a fun little evening adventure.


More staircase fun

Filed under: — stan @ 10:57 pm

Today was the last day for practice sessions at the Mellon Bank building in downtown Los Angeles. And this time, Morgan and I had an entourage. Her friend Chris and my friend Nick agreed to come along. On the way there, they were both saying that they only wanted to climb the building twice. I was planning on doing it at least four times, and maybe five if time allowed. Each time up was 26 stories and 580 steps.

I did the climb three times for time. The fourth I did just to go slow and practice the footwork to make the most efficient path up the stairs. My best time was 4:36, which really isn’t all that good for a building that height. But then again, I’m just coming back from several months off, so I’m out of practice. Yeah, that’s it.

In the end, Nick and Chris both climbed the building four times.

It made for an amusing, albeit painful evening.


It begins again…

Filed under: — stan @ 9:45 pm

Today was the start of stair climbing season for me. I’ve been practicing at the library at Caltech all summer, but this was my first trip downtown to climb a big building. The venue was the Mellon Bank building at 400 S. Hope St in downtown Los Angeles. It’s only 26 stories, but that’s about the same size as the building we raced in in San Diego back in June, and so I thought that this could be good practice for that event next year.

I rode the train downtown with Morgan from my office. We got signed in at the YMCA and walked across the street to the building. My first trip up the stairs was a leisurely one. I’d brought a pad and pen to make notes on the way up so I could make a map of the stairs. I didn’t time my first trip up, but I think it was about 6 minutes. At the 25th floor they had the door open and a sign directing us to the elevator for the trip down. But the stairs continued on, so we kept going up to the roof door, which was two more floors up.

On the way back down, I had a look at my notes. It was 533 steps to the 25th floor, and 580 to the roof door. Almost all of it was flights of 11 steps with right turns. This was good, since it meant that the pattern I’d worked out last spring at the Aon building would work here. So when we got to the bottom, I stashed my notepad, put on my gloves, and we headed up again.

My first timed run came in at 4:43, which works out to about 10.3 seconds per floor. I was averaging 10 seconds a floor for 56 floors at Aon practice last spring, so I think I need to get back in the swing of things. I climbed the building three more times after that, posting 5:05, 5:21, and 5:23. By the end, I was really dragging. Still, that’s not bad. The climb to the roof is an honest 26 stories, so that makes for 130 stories, 2,900 steps, and about 1,765 vertical feet.

And of course, I made a chart of the staircase:

We’ll be heading back there on Wednesday to do it again. And then next week, we move to the 777 Tower, which is 52 stories. Good times.


The Watts Towers

Filed under: — stan @ 2:41 pm

This Sunday’s bike club ride was a sightseeing trip to Watts to see the Watts Towers. I’ve always been fascinated by strange things that are the product of someone’s strange obsession. And since the towers were built by Simon Rodia out of junk he found over a period of more than 30 years.

The route was basically straight south to Whittier Narrows, where we got on the southern portion of the Rio Hondo bike path. That took us down through Pico Rivera and Downey to the Los Angeles river. Then we got off on Imperial Highway and rode across Lynwood. We crossed Alameda Blvd, and I took a moment to look down into the trench to see the railroad tracks that they built to carry the freight that is shipped into the port of Los Angeles.

When we crossed into Watts, we saw “111st St”. I presume that is pronounced, “eleventy-first street”.

Then we got to the towers. There is a small park around them, and there are plaques that tell the story. There are docent-led tours there, and Carla said that they are interesting. Someday I’ll have to go see that.

I rode down to the end of the block to see the Blue Line tracks there. I rode the train to Long Beach once, and I didn’t know that the tracks go right by the towers.

On the way home through Montebello, we saw some emus and llamas by the side of the bike path. That was odd. The sign said “Montebello Barnyard Zoo“.

It was a nice ride, with some cultural interest, and almost no hills at all.

49 miles.


Fortunately, the miasma theory of disease has been disproven

Filed under: — stan @ 5:37 pm

I recently read The Ghost Map, which tells the story of the 1854 cholera outbreak in London. Central to the story is the fact that, according to medical thinking at the time, disease was spread by bad odors from sewage. And as a result, great efforts were made to build a sewer system to pipe all the sewage into the Thames. Sadly, the Thames was the main source of drinking water for London, so you can pretty much guess how well that worked out. But due to the efforts of Dr John Snow, it was established that cholera was transmitted by contaminated water.

So we know now that bad odors don’t spread disease. But that doesn’t change the fact that they do, in fact, stink.

My neighbor’s house caught fire back in June, and they are currently in the process of fixing it up. So the construction company has set up to do a complete rebuild of the interior of the house. They’ve been working on it for about two or three weeks so far. The construction guys said that it was probably going to be several months before they’re finished.

At first, I was a bit concerned when I saw that they’d put their portajohn on the driveway about five feet from my bedroom window. But it wasn’t a problem.

At first.

Now that it’s been a few weeks, and it’s been hot, it’s becoming a problem. It cools off nicely here at night, so I generally put a window fan up to bring in the cool air. And it brought in more than cool air last night.

I called the company today, and they said that they’d make arrangements to move it and call me back. You can pretty much guess the rest. I came home, and it’s still there. And it’s Friday afternoon. Fortunately, it’s not all that heavy. So I was able to just scoot it about 10-15 feet away from my house and onto the neighbor’s front lawn. This should take care of the problem for now.


2012: Odyssey’s End

Filed under: — stan @ 5:04 pm

We didn’t have time to do any more tourist-things before we left to go home on Tuesday. Gordon gave us a ride to the airport, so we didn’t have to make the epic journey by train this time. And it also gave us a little more time to visit.

When we were getting ready to take off, I looked out the window and saw an Airbus A380 for the first time. It was on the taxiway, right behind a little regional jet, which made it look even bigger, and it’s pretty comically big to begin with.

There were thunderstorms most of the way across the continent today, and some of the thunderheads went up to over 40,000 feet. So the airplane spent a good deal of the trip sort of slaloming between the big thunderheads. This went on all the way to Nevada, where the clouds ended. I saw the big solar power plants that are under construction in the desert just inside the California border.

And finally, we were home. It was a fun little trip.

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