Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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8/17/2018

The Corpse Flower

Filed under: — stan @ 5:34 pm

Last week, there was great excitement around here because one of the Corpse Flower plants at the Huntington looked like it was about to bloom. Kathleen and I went there to see it, and we were ready to go back as soon as the flower opened. But it never happened, and in the end they dissected the flower to try and see why it didn’t bloom. But then on Thursday, we heard that one of their other plants had bloomed unexpectedly, so at lunchtime on Friday, I rode my bike over there to go see it.

It’s reputed to be the biggest flower in the world, and yes, it’s big. It was roped off, which made it hard to lean in close enough to smell it. I was able to just pick up a little bit of the famous smell of the flower. But still, ever since I first heard about this plant on an episode of “Nature” on PBS back in 1986, I’ve always wanted to see one. And now I’ve finally had the chance.

7/7/2018

More Failure

Filed under: — stan @ 8:56 pm

Last February, we went to see the Museum of Failure when it was set up in an old warehouse in the Arts District. I recently found out that after that closed, they set it up at Hollywood and Highland. So today we went to see it. A lot of the exhibits were the same as before, but there were a good number of pieces that were not in the old museum. Each one had a card next to it that described what it was and why it failed. And always snarky comments about each failure.

One good bit was the small room at the back with pens and Post-It notes so that people could anonymously confess to their own personal failures. Some of them were really hilarious. Kind of like PostSecret.

After that, we went and had a very nice dinner in Hollywood at Off Vine.


6/15/2018

The Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library

Filed under: — stan @ 3:47 pm

Last week on “The Daily Show”, Trevor Noah mentioned that they were going to have the Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library in Los Angeles for two weekends. Since I took Thursday off to go to Santa Cruz to fetch Lucinda, I also took Friday off, just because I have a ton of leave that needs to be used. So I figured that today would be a good day to make the trip to West Hollywood to go see this.

Right at the entrance, they had the Trump Nickname Generator. Everyone ran the generator, and then was given a little nametag. Mine said that my Trump nickname was “Total Amateur Stan”.

Next to the nickname generator, there was a timeline of Trump twitter, all the way back to his first tweet on May 4, 2009. There was a display analyzing his tweets by the number of mentions of people, of numbers of times he used particular words, and topics that tweets were about.

Possibly the highlight of the museum was the little Oval Office set, complete with American and Russian flags, a desk, and a golden toilet. Everyone wanted to get their picture taken sitting on the golden toilet.

In the corner, they had the Trump Inauguration cake. The cake was made of styrofoam, covered in fondant icing, with only a small sliver of actual cake in one spot on the bottom layer.

The “SAD!” retrospective was also very funny. Just a sampling of the many things Trump has deemed to be “SAD!” over the years.

Overall, this was all tremendously funny. It had to be, since the actual underlying reality of it is pretty horrifying.

6/9/2018

Spahn Ranch with Atlas Obscura

Filed under: — stan @ 2:05 pm

Today I got to go on yet another Atlas Obscura tour, this time of Spahn Ranch. This was a movie ranch a long time ago, and later was notorious for the Manson Family living there for a time in 1969. And now it’s a county park. A few years ago, I took Lucinda on the Dearly Departed Helter Skelter tour, so this was sort of a companion piece to that.

We walked up the hill to the back of the ranch, where there were a couple of rusted hulks of cars that were stolen and abandoned there in 1969. Apparently, they would steal cars to get the engines, which they used in building dune buggies.

Next, we walked down to the large flat area next to the road. This was where the Spahn house had been. When the land was converted into a park, the county came in and covered that whole area with several feet of new dirt, I suppose to discourage people from hunting for artifacts there. Then we walked down into the creek-bed. There were large trees down there, as well as the famous little cave where Life magazine staged a photo of the Manson Family in 1969. And of course, we all had to get photos sitting in front of the little cave. Overall, there wasn’t a lot here that I hadn’t heard about before, but the whole point was to get to see the places where it happened.

5/26/2018

Earthquake Tour Again

Filed under: — stan @ 7:11 pm

This Saturday was the fourth time I’ve been part of leading the San Andreas Fault tour with Atlas Obscura. The last time I did this was in October of last year, and my partner that time was Morgan from the USGS office. But this time, she was offered a chance to go to a conference in Japan, so Nicholas was my partner for the tour. We also had a special guest along this time. Back in April, Kathleen and I had gone on the Nastie Nellie Oleson Tour with Alison Arngrim in Hollywood. This was tremendously entertaining, and along the way, I told Alison about the earthquake tour. She was interested, but the tour was already sold out. But it turned out that Sandi had held one seat in reserve in case Nicholas or I wanted to bring a guest, so Alison got the guest seat for the tour.

After a quick tour of the Seismo Lab, we headed up to the fault scarp at the McDonald’s in San Fernando. I also went inside to get some iced tea and to use the bathroom. That was where I saw what I can only assume is an unfortunate typo on the soap dispenser.

In Palmdale, we took in the view from the overlook by the freeway, and then climbed up the little hill so we could look down into the famous road cut where the 14 freeway crosses the fault. Then it was time for our lunch stop at Charlie Brown Farms. After that, it was time for Pallett Creek. We knew that the mysterious signs that marked where the fault crosses the road had been recently vandalized after more than a decade of marking the spot. So I’d made a new sign, which we brought along to use for the photo-op, even if it’s not properly planted in the ground. Then we traveled the quarter-mile or so to the actual trench site next to Pallett Creek. It’s not much to see, but it’s a chance to talk about how Kerry Sieh invented the science of paleoseismology there, back in the 1970s.

Heading up into the mountains, we stopped at the road cut near Big Pines to dig in the fault gouge. Then a quick bathroom stop in Wrightwood before heading down the other side of the mountain into Cajon Pass. There, we got to see Lost Lake, a small sag pond on the fault there. I like Lost Lake just because it looks like such an improbable thing. A pond all by itself, surrounded by desert. We also were very lucky this time. To get to the lake, we have to cross four railroad tracks. On the way in, we saw a train that had just finished passing the crossing when we got there. And while we were at Lost Lake, I saw another train come by. But that one finished passing by just as we were leaving. Cajon Pass is one of the toughest stretches of railroad in the U.S., and the trains there tend to be very long, and very slow-moving, so we were lucky to have missed both of them this time.


2/10/2018

The Museum of Failure

Filed under: — stan @ 8:21 pm

A few months ago, I saw an item in the L.A. Times about the Museum of Failure, which was a temporary exhibit of products and ideas that were complete and abject failures. It sounded funny. Of course, then I forgot about, and when I looked at the article again, it said that the exhibit was only until February 4th. Crap. But on the off chance something had changed, I had a look at their web site, and it said something to the effect of, “we’re such failures that we failed to close on the 4th, and we’re here for two more weeks”. So we had a second chance.

There were lots of things that were just kind of silly, some were weird ideas that left us wondering, “what were they thinking?”, and some were downright horrifying. They also had a few video monitors up, playing commercials for weird failed products. Like who thought that orange-juice flavored cereal was a good idea?

They had one fairly large exhibit devoted to Donald Trump, who has presided over numerous failed products, a failed airline, and even a few failed casinos.

The lobotomy tools definitely fell into the ‘horrifying’ category. The stories of movies made for budgets in the millions, but total box office gross under $1,000 were just funny. And of course, they had one bit about Olestra, the failed fat-substitute that added the term ‘anal leakage’ to our vocabulary.

All told, this exhibit was hilarious.


10/14/2017

San Andreas Fault with Atlas Obscura

Filed under: — stan @ 7:51 pm

Today was yet another edition of the Atlas Obscura San Andreas Fault Scavenger Hunt. This is the third time I’ve been doing this tour with Atlas Obscura, and it seems to be as popular as ever. This time, my partner for leading the tour was my friend Morgan from the office.

We all met at the Seismo Lab, and we started off with a quick tour of the lab. We saw the lobby exhibits about the history of earthquake study, the media center upstairs, and a small exhibit about Charles Richter and Beno Gutenberg, who started the Seismo Lab and systematic study of earthquakes back in the 1930s.

The first stop of the tour was the small fault scarp next to the McDonald’s drive-through in San Fernando. This is a small remnant from the 1971 Sylmar earthquake.

The next stop was the scenic overlook and the famous road cut along the fault in Palmdale. When we were walking up the hill to look at the road cut, we ran across a tour group of students from Long Beach State. They were apparently doing about the same tour as we were, but traveling in the opposite direction.

We stopped for lunch at Charlie Brown Farms, which is still a deeply weird place. This time, I noticed that they had camel meat in the freezer. I suppose it tastes like chicken…

After lunch, we had a pair of stops close together. One at the signs marking the fault, and then at the Pallet Creek trench site, which was where the science of paleoseismology was born. The signs are kind of a silly stop, but it’s a chance for a photo-op. The trench site is interesting from the standpoint of it being important to the history of science.

Now it was time to go into the mountains. We stopped at the road cut that has the fault gouge on one side, and we showed everyone how the rocks in the sand could be crushed by hand. That’s always popular. Then we continued on to Wrightwood.

The last stop was at Lost Lake in Cajon Pass. Last year, it was suffering from three years of drought, and the lake had no water in it. But this time, it had some water, and was actually a lake.

And that was our tour.


8/20/2017

Lava River Cave

Filed under: — stan @ 5:25 pm

Today was our last day at Newberry Volcano, and we got up early to go and see Lava River Cave before it was time to head back to Salem for the eclipse.

The cave opens at 9, and we got there a bit before that, just so we could be in the first group to go tour the cave. The rangers gave a short talk about cave safety, and then we picked up our rental lights and headed down to the entrance. Even though it’s August, the inside of the cave was an even 42 degrees, so it was actually pretty chilly.

The cave itself was pretty big. Most of it was just easy walking. There were just a few places where the roof was low, and we had to stoop a bit. The floor of the cave was covered in sand. The rangers said that the sand was actually ash from the eruption of Mt Mazama, about 7,000 years ago. That eruption left a thick layer of ash over the whole of what is now central Oregon, and the ash was washed down into the cave by rain over the years.

The walk through the cave was about a mile to get to the end. The cave went on, but the ceiling was very low, and the sign said to turn around and go back. So that was our little cave adventure, and now it was time to head back to Salem to see the eclipse.

8/19/2017

Newberry Caldera and Lava Butte

Filed under: — stan @ 8:52 pm

Today was our day to play tourist in the caldera at Newberry Volcano. We were staying in a little bed-and-breakfast place, and while we were having our breakfast, we saw couple of bucks wandering by. Then we headed over to the volcano. The first stop was at Paulina Falls. This is the western edge of the caldera, and it’s where water from Paulina Lake drains out of the crater. From there, we went to the visitor center. They had a stack of the USGS fact sheets about the volcano. I told the guys there that it was that fact sheet that got me interested to come there and see it.

Our next stop was the Big Obsidian Flow. This is one of the newest lava flows, at only about 1,300 years old. Apparently, obsidian was an ideal material for making arrowheads and other cutting tools in the ancient world. And it’s usually hard to come by. But this lava flow had lots of it. So the people who lived around here were able to collect it and trade it for other things. The signs along the trail said that arrowheads made from Newberry obsidian are found all over the western U.S.

After the obsidian trail, we went to the East Lake Resort for lunch. We also walked along the shore of the lake a bit, looking for hot springs. Apparently, the two lakes are both fed by hot springs that just sort of seep out of the lake shores.

The next stop was Lava River Cave. This is another lava tube cave. It’s open during the day, and the rangers there rent out lights to use in the cave. But when we got there, there were too many people already there, and we couldn’t get in. So instead, we went on the main visitor center at Lava Butte.

Lava Butte is a small cinder cone volcano. It formed in an eruption about 7,000 years ago. It’s also surrounded by a large lava flow that came out at around the same time. We took the short trail through the lower part of the lava flow. After that, we rode the shuttle bus up to the top of the cone. There, we walked the short trail that goes around the rim of the crater. By this time, the wind had shifted a bit, and the air wasn’t as smokey as this morning. Since we missed seeing the cave, we made plans to come back first thing in the morning to see it before heading back to Salem.


8/18/2017

Salmon and sloths

Filed under: — stan @ 9:30 pm

Today was an odd day. It was mostly traveling from Mt St Helens down to central Oregon to see Newberry Volcano. And along the way, we went to see a salmon hatchery on the Lewis River, also a sloth rescue, and we met up with my aunt Karen for dinner.

We started off at the salmon hatchery. One of the guys who worked there gave us a short tour of the facility. He said that the salmon would be returning starting in a couple weeks. At that point, the fish get diverted into the tanks there, and then they are sent into the sorting room. Wild fish are separated out and put in tanks to be taken up river in trucks. The hatchery fish are taken and ‘artificially spawned’ to create the next generation, and the fully-grown fish end up being given to food banks.

Our next stop was the sloth center in Ranier, Oregon. They took us on a short tour, and then we got to have a close-up meet-and-greet with some of the sloths. They gave us a little bowl of cucumber wedges to feed to the sloths. And they said that we could pet the sloths while they were (slowly) chewing on the cucumbers.

We had to pass through Portland, so we met up with my aunt Karen for dinner there. This was the first time I’d seen her since 1994.

The last part of the journey was up and over the mountains between Salem and Bend. We saw some nice lenticular clouds over Mt Jefferson there. After that, we descended down the eastern side of the mountains, and into a tremendous cloud of smoke from some big forest fires that were going on there. The city of Bend was completely enclosed by the smoke. We were going to be staying a bit south of there, right outside the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. I’d run across a USGS fact sheet about this volcano at my office, and it sounded like an interesting place.

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