Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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2/26/2017

Scale the Strat 2017

Filed under: — stan @ 6:52 pm

Today was the 2017 edition of the Scale the Strat stair climb. Up the core of the Stratosphere tower to the observation deck. That’s 1,391 steps and about 805 vertical feet. I’m not really trying to go fast at these things any more. My goal for the day was just to make it to the top without stopping, and to average at least one foot per second vertical.

When we lined up, I made sure to get toward the back of our group, since many of them were planning on going considerably faster. When it was my turn to go, I started my watch, and then started up the stairs at a fairly relaxed pace. For some reason, the climb seemed shorter this time. It’s only about 20 flights to get to the first rest area, and then 23 more to get to the second. Then 21 more to the top of the tower core, and then it’s just 7 short floors to the finish. In the end, my time was 13:20, which is exactly 800 seconds. So I made my goal, and even though I was coughing for a good bit of the rest of the day, it wasn’t too bad this time.

After getting cleaned up, Gordon and I went downtown to play some blackjack at the Fremont and at the El Cortez.

Here’s my chart of the staircase.

2/11/2017

The Santa Susana Field Laboratory

Filed under: — stan @ 2:22 pm

Some months ago, I ran across some information about Boeing giving tours of the old Rocketdyne Santa Susana Field Laboratory. This is the bit of rugged terrain in the hills west of Chatworth that I’ve seen lots of times from the window of an airplane on its way to landing at Burbank. But I didn’t know that they offered tours. So this was a chance to see some aerospace history, as well as an infamous bit of nuclear power history.

Rocketdyne built the engines for nearly all U.S. ballistic missiles, from the earliest ones with engine designs based on the German V-2 rockets, all they way through the Saturn V and on to the Space Shuttle. And most of them were tested on the stands at Santa Susana. They tested engines all the way up to the J-2, which powered the second and third stages of the Saturn V. The F-1 engines for the Saturn V first stage were tested out in the desert at Edwards Air Force Base.

Not all of the test stands are still there, but the small one where they tested the engines for the Atlas missile, and the large one where they tested the J-2 were still there. At the first stand, we got a short talk by a Rocketdyne retiree who was there in the 1950s, and worked on the Atlas project. He told us about how they did the tests, and how they calculated everything on slide rules.

A lot of what goes on at the site now is related to cleanup from the old days. Apparently they used a lot of trichloroethylene to clean the rocket engines between test firings, and a fair amount of it got spilled on the ground. They told us that studies have shown that most of it soaked into the sandstone underneath the site. That’s good in that it kept it from going into the groundwater. But it’s bad in that it makes the solvent essentially impossible to clean up. So there’s that…

The other big piece of sightseeing was the site of the Sodium Reactor Experiment. That’s an infamous bit of nuclear history in that the reactor suffered a partial meltdown in 1959. For something that’s just over the hill from the San Fernando Valley suburbs, that’s a pretty terrifying idea. There’s basically nothing left of it on the site any more. Just a flat plain where the building housing the reactor used to be. In any event, it was interesting to see the site, and it’s appropriate in that I’m signed up to take a tour of the Nevada Test Site when we go to Las Vegas at the end of this month.

So all around, it was an interesting morning.


12/1/2016

More on the earthquake tour

Filed under: — stan @ 10:01 pm

I found out this past week that one of the people on the earthquake tour is a writer for the Los Angeles Times travel section. And she wrote a short article about our tour, and about how Atlas Obscura does tours of all sorts of odd things.

http://www.latimes.com/travel/deals/la-tr-southern-california-atlas-obscura-tours-20161129-story.html

11/20/2016

Mt Washington and Doo Dah

Filed under: — stan @ 1:52 pm

Today’s bike club ride was our old Mt Washington route, but cut a little bit short to end up at the Doo Dah Parade route right about when the parade was scheduled to start. I went to see the parade on my own in 2012, and the Sunday Ride went to see it in 2008.

It was cool and overcast, and it even rained on us for a few minutes just as we were starting out. We headed up into Altadena and then to La Cañada. Then we had about seven miles downhill through Glendale all the way to Eagle Rock Blvd in Cypress Park. We made a loop around, and then headed up Mt. Washington. That was where we saw the garage sale with the “Fuck Trump” painting, and also the DeLorean with the “STAYNLS” vanity plate.

After going over the hill, we headed back home, ending up at the Doo Dah parade on Colorado Blvd. We watched the parade for a while before it started to rain. At that point, we bailed out and headed home.

32 miles.

Route map and elevation profile


11/19/2016

Earthquake Tour with Atlas Obscura

Filed under: — stan @ 8:55 pm

Last year, I helped put on the San Andreas Scavenger Hunt with Atlas Obscura. It was pretty popular, and people have been asking when we’d do it again, so today was the day.

We met up at the Seismo Lab at Caltech for a quick tour. I brought everyone in to the first floor exhibit, where our geologist guide Kate explained the peel from Pallet Creek and told a bit of the history of trenching studies and how they tell us about the history of earthquakes at a site. Kate was a good guide for this, since she does trenches as part of her research at the USGS.

Next, we went upstairs to the Media Room, largely so everyone could see the room where the TV people go after an earthquake. Jen is the new staff seismologist at Caltech, and she spoke for a bit about how the displays work and how they are used after an earthquake.

Then we all got on the bus for our first stop at the McDonald’s in San Fernando. This is the small fault scarp from the 1971 earthquake that they just sort of smoothed over and planted grass on. Kate brought along a poster that showed a map of surface ruptures from the 1971 earthquake.

Our next stop was the overlook off the 14 freeway in Palmdale. That was a long ride from San Fernando. But it also meant we got to pass by Vasquez Rocks. I made sure to point out the famous spot where Captain Kirk faced off with the Gorn in the original series episode, “Arena”. When we got to the overlook, Kate explained what we were looking at and how we could see the trace of the fault stretching off into the distance. Then we got back on the bus for the short ride to Avenue S, where we walked up the hill to look at the famous road cut where the 14 freeway goes through a small hill that was pushed up by motion on the San Andreas.

Our lunch stop was at Charlie Brown Farms, which is a weird little place in Littlerock. And after that, we went to our photo-op stop at the signs marking the fault line on Pallet Creek Road. We took a group photo, and make sure to point out that from that side, we could see the trace of the fault going off into the distance in both directions.

Then we went just a short distance down the road to the Pallet Creek site. This was where Kerry Sieh did his original trenching studies back in the ’70s and established a timeline of past earthquakes going back several hundred years. Kate does trench studies, so she was able to point out lots of details in the face where the fault trace was exposed.

The next stop was a road cut near Big Pine. One side of the cut is a hill of sandy fault gouge. I showed everyone how you can dig out seemingly-solid chunks of rock from the sand and crush them in your hands. That’s always a hit.

After a short stop in Wrightwood, we headed down the other side of the mountains. Then we turned off to go to the last stop of the tour at Lost Lake. As we got to the railroad crossing, there was a train slowly making its way up the mountain. And then it stopped. We sat there for a few minutes, and then a very long train came by, going down the mountain. We figured that the stopped train might be waiting for the downhill train to pass, so we waited it out. When the downhill train finished passing, the stopped train still sat there. And then another downhill train came by. We waited again until it had passed. Then the uphill train started moving again and finally cleared the crossing. And we finally made it to Lost Lake. Sadly, the drought has taken its toll, and the lake was no more. The bottom was soft mud, which shows that there is still a bit of water there, but not much. Also, there had been a fire there recently, and the parking lot gate was closed. This presented a problem for turning the bus around. We ended up having to back up about 1/4 mile to a turnout to get the bus turned around.

By the time we got moving again for the trip home, it was dark. And the traffic on the 210 freeway was very heavy. So we ended up getting back to Caltech about 1 1/2 hours later than planned. But it still seemed like everyone liked the tour.


8/20/2016

Gyoza 2016

Filed under: — stan @ 3:54 pm

It’s Nisei Week in Little Tokyo, and that means it’s time for the gyoza eating contest. We’ve been there before, and it’s always simultaneously hilarious and horrifying.

In a departure from the format of previous years, they added a few side contests. One was a short one featuring some of the girls who were in last year’s Nisei Week court, as well as one pitting LAPD officers against LA County firefighters. Those were all entertaining, but were just a warm-up for the main event. Lots of the big names in competitive eating were there, and once the ten minutes began, it was obvious that they’re all professionals. The plates held 25 gyoza each, and empty plates started stacking up in front of the top eaters as their heads bobbed up and down and they did little shimmies and jumps to try and pack the food down as they ate. And of course, in the final seconds, they stuffed their cheeks like chipmunks to try and pack in as many gyoza as possible. I guess that’s the competitive eating version of a sprint to the finish.

In the end, Matt ‘Megatoad’ Stonie was the winner again, and by a convincing margin. He was the only one to go over 300. The full results are here:

http://majorleagueeating.com/news.php?action=detail&sn=970


8/6/2016

Pangolin

Filed under: — stan @ 9:36 pm

We went to San Diego this weekend to visit my father, and since it’s summer, we also went to the zoo to see the pangolin. The San Diego Zoo is the only place in the western hemisphere to see a pangolin, and they only bring Baba our for 15 minutes a day, and only in summer. I’d taken Lucinda there to see the pangolin last summer, but Kathleen wasn’t able to go that time. So this was her chance to see one of the oddest animals ever.

We got to the zoo a little early, so we walked around and looked at some other animals while we waited for it to be pangolin time. Then we headed over to the children’s zoo. At 1:30 one of the keepers came out with Baba the pangolin. She put him on the little tree and platform they made for him so he could eat. She said that they feed him a slurry of cat food and ground-up insects, all mixed with vanilla-flavored Ensure. Yum. He seemed to like it all right, and it gave us a chance to see his famously-long tongue. After his 15 minutes were up, Baba climbed down off the platform and just started walking back to the building where he lives. This was interesting, since it’s the first time we got to see how he walks on the ground.

After pangolin time, we headed over to the Australia exhibit to see the Tasmanian Devils. As usual, they were all sleeping.

Finally, we walked down the hill to go see the hippos. A few years ago, we got to see a baby hippo there, so we wanted to go back again. And while we were there, we got to see fresh hippo poop. That always makes my day…


7/11/2016

A Weekend in Las Vegas

Filed under: — stan @ 9:34 pm

Last February, when we were in Las Vegas so I could climb the Stratosphere Tower, my old friend Gordon came out from New Jersey to visit. We used to go to Las Vegas a lot back in the ’80s to play blackjack. So this was a fun little excursion to remember the Old Days. In the process, we went looking for prime rib, and ended up at the Orleans, which turned out to also have a pretty good low-key blackjack game. While we were there, Kathleen signed up for their players club, and they sent her an offer for two free nights at the hotel. So that was our adventure for this weekend.

We drove out there on Saturday. When we arrived, we checked in to the hotel, and then I went downstairs to play some blackjack. I’d resurrected the practice program I wrote back in 1990 and played with it a bit this past week, so I was able to remember Basic Strategy this time. I had two losing sessions, took a short break, and then I got lucky and ended Saturday up by a little bit.

After dinner on Saturday, we headed downtown to go to Atomic Liquors. I stopped to take a picture of the big neon sign across the street that announces, “Llamas stay for free!”. Atomic is a little dive bar where people used to sit on the roof to watch the nuclear tests back in the 1950s. Now it’s a bit of a hipster hangout. Apparently, living downtown seems to be an up-and-coming thing in Las Vegas, just like it is here in L.A.

Sunday, I spent almost the whole day playing blackjack, and ended up down by almost $100. But that’s not bad for as much time as I spent at the tables.

On Monday, I went down to the casino before breakfast and quickly got cleaned out of a further $100. At that point, I took a short break before trying again. And this time, the magic worked. I had three good sessions, and in the end, I basically broke even for the weekend.

Before heading home, we went to see the Atomic Testing Museum. We’d gone there before, and it’s an interesting place, so I wanted to go again. It turns out that the place I was born, Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, was one of the four finalists when the AEC was first deciding on where to do nuclear testing. Yikes.

After the museum, we headed home. And in the end, I got to come home a winner. I had brought $500.00 to gamble with, and when it was all done, I came home with $500.50. Yay!

6/25/2016

Strawberry Peak At Last

Filed under: — stan @ 5:46 pm

There is a tendency of people in Los Angeles to regard the San Gabriel mountains as being like sort of a painted backdrop to the city. I know that I tended to think of them that way when I first moved here in 1982. But one day, my friend Gordon mentioned going hiking in the mountains, and I realized that these mountains were a real place where we could go and actually get out in actual nature.

My first-ever hike in the San Gabriels was Strawberry Peak via the Colby Canyon trail, which I climbed with Gordon in January, 1983. I liked it a lot. The trail was interesting and entertaining, and the view from the top was pretty amazing. I went back there again by a different trail in the summer of ‘83. In the summer of 1986, I hiked up Colby Canyon to Strawberry Peak with my mother and my cousins Irene and David. And that was the last time I was at the top of the mountain. I made an attempt in the summer of 2007. And I made two attempts with my hiking partner Karina in January and April of 2015. None of those trips made it to the top. But today, I finally made it back up there again.

Today’s trip was with Jen, who is the new Staff Seismologist at Caltech. She came into that position after Kate Hutton retired. I told her about the trail, and she was game to try it. So we headed up into the mountains and hit the trail. The first two miles were pretty easy, just walking up the trail to the saddle between Strawberry Peak and Josephine Peak. We stopped there to sit in the shade for a bit before striking out for the summit. The trail went up the crest of the ridge, and it included two sections of steep rock climbing.

We got to the first rock section and climbed up it. Then we followed the ridge for a while before reaching the second section of rock. The second was much longer and harder than the first. My memory of this trail was that it was interesting and entertaining, but this time, I was just marveling that the climb was about ten times harder than I remembered it being. I think that this is effect of 30 years passing since the last time I did it. We made it to the top, but I was the laggard here. Jen just scrambled up the rocks and left me behind. I was carefully picking my way, and moving very slowly. I think that was largely why in the end, the hike was a bit over six miles, but it took us seven hours.

At the top, we sat down and had lunch while looking at the view. We were up there for about a half-hour before heading back down. And the climb down the rocks was an exercise of carefully picking hand and foot holds. Again, I was the slow one, and I blame old age for my perhaps excessive caution. But we made it down the rocks all right, and made it back to the saddle and the water tank where we got to sit in the shade for a few minutes before heading back down the canyon trail. The last two miles down the canyon went pretty fast. I kept thinking about the bottle of ice water that was in the cooler in the trunk of the car. But when we finally got there, the formerly-iced water was warm. I guess it really was that hot today. Despite that, it was a fun time. And I finally made it up to the top of that damn mountain again, for the first time in 30 years.

Route map and elevation profile

6/18/2016

Towerthon 2016

Filed under: — stan @ 4:11 pm

Today was the 2016 edition of the San Diego Towerthon. This is perhaps the single hardest stair-climbing race I’ve ever done, and also probably my favorite. It’s 422 steps, 239 feet, 72.9 meters from the lobby to the 20th floor. And we climb it over and over and over and over for two hours. This is my fifth time doing this event.

Last year, I only managed to do 19 climbs. The year before, I did 20. The two years before that were in a different building, so they aren’t easily compared. But the 2012 event was the origin of the Vertical Mile as a thing. In this building, 22 climbs is a vertical mile, but I’m not in good enough shape for that right now, although I did manage to do a two-hour vertical mile in practice at the Aon building in 2013.

This time, I started off at my regular ‘easy’ pace. I was aiming to climb the building in a bit over four minutes each time. And I managed to stick to that pace for quite a long time. There were some problems with the elevator shuttle back to the lobby at first. For a time, there was only one elevator running, and we ended up having to wait for several minutes at a time at the top. But after about a half-hour or so, they got the elevators working, and also the herd thinned out a bit.

I had some water and Gatorade on the table in the lobby, and I stopped to tank up about every 15 minutes. At the one-hour mark, I stopped long enough to change to a dry headband. It wasn’t until about 90 minutes in that I really started to slow down. I kept a watch on the time, and I made it in to the stairs for my final climb at about 1:57 on the clock. So I knew that the last climb would count for my total, and that it really didn’t matter how long the last one took. Still, I managed to eke out a little burst of speed for the last three floors, just because I knew that I could stop when I got to 20.

Sadly, I didn’t get a lot of pictures this time. There were a few that other people took near the start, and Jeff showed up about halfway through. He wasn’t racing, owing to having been sick. But he was able to get some pictures for me on the last few climbs.

In the end, I managed 19 climbs, which was the same as last year. I think I’m slightly stronger this year, though. If we hadn’t lost those minutes waiting for the elevators at the start, I think I could have easily done 20 climbs this time. Still, I can’t complain. After all, my 19 is the same as the 19 George did, and he’s generally in better condition than I am these days. So all around, it was a good time.

Full results are at https://gemininext.com/results/?event_id=5066


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