Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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8/22/2015

Gyoza!

Filed under: — stan @ 3:33 pm

Today was the gyoza eating contest, which is one of the events in Little Tokyo for Nisei Week. We’ve been to see it in 2011 and 2012, and it was both hilarious and horrifying. That makes it a “must-see” in my book. So we took the train down to Little Tokyo to go see it.

As always, the announcer from the IFOCE was great. He knew all the statistics, the rankings of the eaters, what contests they’d each won. And he introduced each one with enthusiasm and stomach-turning stories about how much they could eat. Each eater who had competed in this event before had a number on the back of their shirt signifying how many gyoza they had eaten before. Joey Chestnut was there, and he holds the record with 384 gyoza in ten minutes. At the same time, the tables were prepared with stacks of plates, each plate carrying 25 gyoza. The announcer had the audience count down from ten, and they were off and eating. It’s really amazing to watch. The intense concentration, the heads bobbing up and down, swigs of water to wash it down, and occasionally jumps and shimmies to try and pack the food down in the stomach. The contest was ten minutes. And nobody stopped eating. They were stuffing their mouths as fast as they could swallow, and nobody suffered the dreaded “Reversal of Fortune“. When the countdown to the finish came, they all stuffed their cheeks like chipmunks, since any gyoza that are already in their mouth at the finish count as long as they swallow them.

In the end, they tallied up the results, and Matt ‘Megatoad’ Stonie won with 343 gyoza. He didn’t set a new record, but it was enough to win. Joey Chestnut came in second with 339. Miki Sudo came in 3rd with 178. Full results are on the Major League Eating web site. As I said, watching this contest is both hilarious and horrifying. I recommend it highly.

8/15/2015

Getting close…

Filed under: — stan @ 12:25 pm

Back in May, Carla and I rode to Monrovia for the dedication of the Metro Operations Campus. And today was the first of the dedications of the new stations that they are finishing up on the Foothill Extension of the Metro Gold Line. Since I’m not going to be able to make the other ones, I made a point to ride out to Duarte for this one.

It was very hot today, but the ride out there is only about 10 miles, so it’s not bad, even in the heat. They had a short stretch of Duarte Road closed for the event. There were tents set up for shade, and the dignitaries were making their speeches. The station itself looks like it’s basically complete, although they had it roped off. They had a train parked there, which I guess means that the track from Pasadena to Duarte is passable by train now.

They had a table set up to tell the story of the artwork in the station. Every Metro station has some sort of art in it. The art at the Duarte station has steel pillars with carved limestone at the top. The carvings are supposed to evoke something of the history of the area near the San Gabriel River. Or at least that’s what they told me. In contrast, I passed the Arcadia station on the way out there, and it had a big peacock on it. That seemed appropriate, since Arcadia is known for its large collection of feral peafowl.

They had some cakes there, but I didn’t want to stay out there in the heat until they served them. I did manage to bum some ice from the caterers, so I filled my water bottle with ice and had cold water for part of the ride home.

21 miles.

8/2/2015

Pangolin!

Filed under: — stan @ 7:03 pm

About two years ago, when I was riding the train downtown for stair-climbing practice, I read a short article in National Geographic about the pangolin. The pangolin is an odd little animal that looks like a cross between an armadillo and an anteater, but apparently is not related to either of them. The electronic edition of the article also had a short video of a pangolin walking through the forest. I was immediately fascinated, and I wanted to see one of these animals. Doing some research, I discovered that there is only one zoo in the United States that has a pangolin. That would be the San Diego Zoo, and the animal in not on regular exhibit. They only bring it out with a keeper once a day in the summer for about fifteen minutes. When we went to the zoo last year, we missed it by just a few minutes. Back in June when we were here, I called the zoo to ask about it, and they said that they were not on the summer schedule yet, and so the pangolin would not be making an appearance. So this time, I checked that they are indeed on the summer schedule now, and that the pangolin would be coming out at 1:30.

We got to the zoo at about 1:15, and we set off to look for the place where the keeper would have the pangolin. It turned out to be in a remote corner of the zoo. It was a place we had never been to before. We had to ask directions, and one of the zoo employees took us over there, since he said that he couldn’t describe how to get there. But we made it there, and we waited just a few minutes by the sign before the keeper and the pangolin came out.

The zoo’s pangolin is a tree pangolin, which is the smallest of the pangolin species. It has a long prehensile tail so that it can hang from branches. The tail is covered by scales, and the tip of the tail looks like a finger, complete with a fingernail. All in all, it is one weird little animal, and I’m glad we finally got to see it up close.

The pangolin was the main attraction of the day. After seeing it, we went down the canyon to see the giant pandas. One was taking a break off-exhibit, but the second was sitting out and eating bamboo. The keeper said that the pandas have massive jaw muscles, since the bamboo they crack open to eat is tough like bones, so they need very strong jaws and teeth.

After the pandas, we took a walk to the Australia exhibit to see the koalas. They were all sleeping in their trees. We only could see one baby koala this time. Then we went over to see the Tasmanian Devils. They were all sleeping, too. They’re kind of cute in a ferocious way. Just look at those fangs. And that made our day complete. We’d seen the fabled pangolin, so we headed for home.

7/26/2015

That’s an even bigger telescope…

Filed under: — stan @ 1:26 pm

Last September, we went to Mt. Wilson for an evening with the 60-inch telescope. But last spring, I got a notice from the Atlas Obscura people that they were going to be doing an evening with the 100-inch telescope. That telescope is the one that Edwin Hubble used to discover Cepheid variable stars in the Andromeda nebula, which enabled him to establish that it was in fact another galaxy. This was a major discovery, since it proved that the universe consisted of far more than just our galaxy. It was also the telescope he used to discover the expansion of the universe. All told, it’s a big piece of astronomical history.

Our group met up in La Cañada before heading up Mt. Wilson. At the top, our session director, Shelly Bonus met us and led us back to the telescope. Inside, we got a tour of the dome while we were waiting for nightfall. As it started to get dark, they pointed the telescope at the moon so that we could have a look. The magnification on such a big telescope is pretty large, and we could only see a few craters in the small field of view. After that, they moved the telescope just a bit to have a look at Saturn. The Cassini Division was clearly visible, and this was the first time I’ve ever seen the C-ring. The planet also showed some nice color, and bands in the clouds.

Next up was M13, the big globular cluster in Hercules. I didn’t recognize it in the big telescope. In my little telescope, it looks like a ball of fuzz. But here it was big, and it was resolved into stars. Many, many stars. Then we moved just a short distance away to M92, which is a smaller globular cluster. It didn’t fill the field of view, so it was more easily recognized as a globular. We looked at a few double stars just to admire the resolution of the big telescope. Then we looked at Campbell’s Hydrogen Star. The nebula around the star was a deep red color, and it looked good. All in all, it was a fun time in a geeky way.

6/26/2015

The Miniature Engineering and Craftsmanship Museum

Filed under: — stan @ 6:32 pm

A few weeks ago, my friend Bruce sent me a link about a museum in Carlsbad that exhibits working models of airplanes, boats, trains, and so forth, with miniature working engines. Since I was headed to San Diego this weekend for the Towerthon, I thought this might be a good side trip.

The museum is in an unassuming industrial-looking building kind of off the beaten path. Fortunately, I had Waze to tell me how to get there, or I would have had trouble finding it. When I got there, I went inside, and immediately saw the featured exhibit. A tiny scale model of a supercharged V-8 engine. Apparently, it’s fully functional. Yikes. I wandered around the museum, looking at all the tiny engines. There was a board with some tubes attached to it that said it was three miniature steam engines. They were so small I had to look carefully to see them at all. At the back of the museum, they had a model of the Wright Flyer, and a working model of a P-38 fighter. Then, along the back wall, they had a display of miniature steam engines, all hooked up to a compressed air supply, and the sign said that they would run the engines and give a tour of the machine shop at 2:00. Since that was just a few minutes away, I decided to stay and see it. When the time came, they turned on the air, and all the little steam engines started running:

After looking at the tiny model of the Titanic’s engine, we went into the machine shop. The first stop was the “Do-Nothing Machine”, which was featured on Roadside America last year. Our guide described it as “a cat toy for humans”. It was pretty funny:

Next, they showed us four different tiny working engines. There were two different gasoline engines, one Stirling engine, and a fourth of a type that I didn’t recognize at all. Here is the first gasoline engine running:

The last part of the tour showed us another radial airplane engine that they are building there. They even had a model of the model to show us how the inside of the crankcase worked. I’d always wondered how cylinders in a circle could turn a crank, and now I know.

This was one entertaining little museum. At least for anyone with a mechanical and geek bent.


5/31/2015

Ciclavia Pasadena

Filed under: — stan @ 1:41 pm

Today was the day that they had the first Ciclavia in Pasadena. We occasionally go to these on the Sunday morning bike ride, and since it’s right here, I figured we could go to it on the way home today. Our route was the old Mt Washington ride, just modified to come back by way of Old Town Pasadena to pick up the Ciclavia route. And as a special treat, I’d gotten a message that my old bike friend from college was going to be there. I haven’t seen Aaron since I graduated in 1982.

It was a perfect day for riding. We started out by heading up to La Cañada, and then down Hospital Hill and the long downhill through Glendale. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. It’s something like eight miles downhill and about 1,000 vertical feel. When we got down to Cypress Park and the L.A. River, we turned north and then took the short side trip up and over Mt Washington. Then we continued on through Highland Park and South Pasadena to get back to Pasadena and the start of the Ciclavia route.

I found Aaron and Sharon by a little bakery near Lake Avenue. It’s hard to believe that 33 years have gone by. But I’d like to think that we’re both holding up pretty well for being in our 50s.

It was a nice ride, and it was good to see Aaron again.

33 miles.

Route map and elevation profile

5/30/2015

Dapper Cadaver for Obscura Day

Filed under: — stan @ 5:10 pm

Today is Obscura Day, and the Atlas Obscura people are putting on about 20 events all around the Los Angeles area. And one of them is a visit to Dapper Cadaver, which is one of the premier places for supplying horror movie props. Since Lucinda and I went on the Dearly Departed tour of Hollywood, as well as the Helter Skelter tour, and we also visited the Museum of Death. So I figured this would be right up her alley.

There was a pretty big group there for the tour. We were shown around the different rooms where they showcase the things they make there. There were lifelike animals, and deathlike humans. There was a an entire room dedicated to body parts and bodies in various stages of dismemberment.

Another room was dedicated to ‘things in jars’. Lucinda perked up when he showed us the baby skull in a jar that was used on an episode of “American Horror Story“.

In the end, there weren’t any props that we just had to have for our house, but we did pick up a catalog to take home. I got Lucinda one of their shirts, and everyone on the tour got a Dapper Cadaver shot glass for a souvenir. It was a fun, albeit horrifying experience. But that was the idea.

5/29/2015

Flying Machines

Filed under: — stan @ 6:28 pm

For twenty years, I’ve been getting the little catalog of PCC Extension’s courses in the mail, and I never paid any attention to it. But this time, Kathleen was looking through it, and she said, “Hey, they have some day trips and tours in here that you might like.” I picked it up, and had a look, and then I went online and signed up for the day trip and tour of Edwards Air Force Base. I’d gone there about 30 years ago to see the Space Shuttle land, but never went for a tour. I thought it could be interesting.

So I rode my bike over to PCC in the morning to meet up with the tour bus. I figured that it’s 1/2 mile closer than riding to work, so there really was no reason to take the car. And I figured that since PCC is a college, finding bike parking would be easy. I certainly had no idea how hard it was going to be. In the end, I found a fence on the edge of the parking lot and put it there. I’m still a bit dumbfounded that there was not one bike rack anywhere near that parking lot.

It’s a long ride up to Edwards, but we finally got to the gate. We had to wait at the entrance for the public relations guy to come out to meet us. While we were waiting, we had a look at the airplanes they had parked outside the gate. They told us later that they will eventually have a museum at that location.

When the public relations guy got there, he introduced himself and made the arrangements with the guards to let us in. Then he escorted our bus to the NASA flight research center. It used to be Dryden, but it was renamed after Neil Armstrong. We had lunch at the little food court there. Then we had a little time to visit the NASA gift shop, and to look at still more airplanes on display out front.

Then an Air Force bus came to take us on the actual tour of the base. They had a P-59 on display outside. They said it was the first jet-powered fighter for the U.S., but that it didn’t see combat. They said that the German jet fighters didn’t turn out to be decisive in the war, largely due to lack of suitable fuel for them to run on. So that was why our combat planes remained propeller-driven until after the war.

Then it was time for our tour of the flightline. We passed the headquarters building that they said was built in the shape of the B-2 bomber, and then we passed through the gate. They said that we had to put our cameras away at that point. The bus took us around to see airplanes in hangars being repaired, tankers parked outside, and lots of F-22 and F-35 fighters, each one parked under a tent-like canopy. We got to see a pair of F-22s taxi by after returning from a flight. They may be invisible to radar, but they were very loud.

At the start of the tour, they had promised us something extra, and we got that in the middle of the flightline tour. We stopped at a hangar where they have airplanes being restored for display in the museum there. The highlight of that was getting to see the F-117 up close. The guides said that it had had its radar-absorbing coatings removed, and the engine exhaust outlets were covered, since they said that some aspect of the design of the outlets is still classified.

After seeing the restoration hangar, we headed back outside. They took us on a tour of the rest of the base, including the base housing and schools, and even a Starbucks. I guess Starbucks really is everywhere. At the end, they dropped us off at the base museum. We had about 45 minutes there before it was time to head for home. It was all interesting in a nerdy way.

5/23/2015

Train of Thought

Filed under: — stan @ 1:57 pm

Today was the dedication and open house at the new Gold Line Operations Campus in Monrovia. So Carla and I took a short bike ride out there to go see it. We figured it’s our one chance to get to see inside and close-up.

It’s not all that far away, so we rode a little extra on the way there, and we arrived just about when the politicians were starting their speeches. While they were talking, we walked around and looked at things. They had one of the new-style trains parked there, sticking out of the train wash building. It had a nice little steel platform on top of the coupler on the front of the train, so I wanted to get my picture taken sitting on it. I figure that I’ll probably never get another chance to sit there on the train again.

After the outdoor speeches, the herded everyone into the shop building for more speeches. They had a couple of trains parked inside for us to see, and we got to see the maintenance area where they had catwalks to get on top of the trains, and the tracks were elevated to get underneath.

After all that, we headed back, stopping in the parking lot on the way out to look at the Messerschmitt KR200 someone had driven there. That was one weird little car.

This was a short ride, but interesting sights to see.

21 miles.

5/9/2015

Hello!

Filed under: — stan @ 5:08 pm

Today, we went to Little Tokyo to visit the Japanese American National Museum to see “Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty“. This was an entire exhibit devoted to the history and everything else about Hello Kitty.

Hello Kitty started in about 1974, and we learned all sorts of things about her. Apparently, she has a blood type, although she does not age. She is five apples tall. And she has been made into and onto all sorts of things over the years. It was really quite amazing to behold. The entire first floor of the exhibit was all official Hello Kitty items from Sanrio. The second floor was more about the influence of Hello Kitty on popular culture, including art by various artists who did Hello Kitty-themed pieces. We even saw Lady Gaga and Katy Perry’s Hello Kitty outfits.

And yes, it was all, in a word, supercute.

At the end of the exhibit, we came out into the JANM exhibit about the wartime Japanese internment camps, which was kind of a depressing and jarring transition. But still, Hello Kitty was very cute, and it was well worth the visit.

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