Stan’s Obligatory Blog

Happy Thanksgiving

4/3/2016

More antique streetlights

Filed under: — stan @ 2:30 pm

A few weeks ago, we saw some antique street lights in Glendale that were decorated with swastikas around the base. This past week, I’d heard that there were also lights like that in downtown Whittier, so that was the sightseeing for today.

We rode down to the Rio Hondo bike path and took that down to Whittier Narrows. Then we crossed over the river and the freeway to get to Pioneer Blvd, which took us into Whittier, where we picked up the Whittier Greenway Trail. This is a former railroad right-of-way that took us all the way into downtown Whittier. And there we saw the old streetlights with the swastikas around the base. Then we stopped for snacks at Mimo’s Cafe before heading over to the San Gabriel River bike path for the trip back.

In the end, the ride turned out to be a bit longer than I’d anticipated, but it was a flat route, so it was all right. And it was a nice day, so we had a nice time.

50 miles.

Route map and elevation profile

3/20/2016

Hogwart’s

Filed under: — stan @ 1:21 pm

This weekend, Kathleen was going to get a haircut, and she said she could see the towers of Hogwart’s at Universal Studios from the road. So I thought that this should be the Sunday Morning Ride’s sightseeing for this weekend. The route was our old “Toluca Lake” ride, with a brief stop at the intersection of Forest Lawn Drive and Barham Boulevard to look up and see the back side of Hogwart’s. As it turned out, it was kind of foggy this morning, and when we got there, it was still kind of misty, but then again, Hogwart’s is the sort of place that is perhaps best viewed through the mist.

On the way out, Carla got a flat. I volunteered to help fix it, since my years of working in bike shops, although being almost 40 years ago, still make me one of the fastest tire-changers in our Sunday morning group. So after just a few minutes, we continued on our way. We crossed over into Highland Park, where we saw a billboard advertising a street fair celebrating Figueroa Street, complete with Chicken Boy. And the billboard was right next to the actual Chicken Boy, so I had to stop and get a photo.

The plan had been to take the LA River bike path, but the city had closed most of it in anticipation of big El Niño rains that have not yet come. So we ended up taking Riverside Drive all the way up to Griffith Park, and then through the park to Forest Lawn Drive. We were still pretty far from Barham when I first saw the towers of the castle. And when we got to Barham, it was pretty plainly visible, even with the mist. I took a quick picture before continuing on to our snack stop at Priscilla’s.

The route home went across Glendale and then up Verdugo all the way to Hospital Hill, and then home by way of La Cañada. When we got back to Pasadena, Silvio, Carla, and I took a short side trip to see a fault scarp in Altadena. I’d read about trenching studies that were done there in the lat ’90s, and I was thinking about possibly including it on the next version of the Earthquake Tour for Atlas Obscura. The scarp was fairly big and obvious, but I’m not sure it’s quite worth making the side trip with the big group. Still, it was a nice ride.

44 miles.

Route map and elevation profile

3/13/2016

The Little Brown Church of the Valley

Filed under: — stan @ 2:31 pm

With all the talk about Nancy Reagan dying this week, the L.A. Times ran a short article about the Little Brown Church of the Valley in Studio City. This is where Ron and Nancy Reagan were married in 1952. So I thought this might make a good bit of sightseeing for the Sunday Morning Ride.

The route was basically the same as our Studio City for Gelato ride. Pretty much a straight shot west across Glendale and Burbank into the Valley,and west on Moorpark St to Coldwater Canyon. The church is just a few hundred feet north of Moorpark St. And it’s little all right. It’s a quaint little church.

Heading back, we stopped at the Gelato Bar in Studio City. I don’t remember how we found that place, but we stop there whenever we’re out that way.

To get home, we rode back across Glendale and up and over Chevy Chase and Linda Vista back into Pasadena. In the middle of Glendale, I noticed a street with some 1920s-vintage antique street lights. It was pretty obvious that they dated to before the ’30s, since the bases of the poles were decorated with a band of swastikas. So they clearly had to date from a time before the swastika was co-opted into a symbol of evil. The final bit of weirdness we saw was when we got back to Pasadena. There was a house on Orange Grove that had two little chihuahuas in the yard. The odd bit was they both had no front legs. But this didn’t slow them down much. They were both hopping around the yard like little kangaroos, guarding their yard just like dogs do. That was a very strange sight. But even though it was a bit weird, it was a pleasant ride.

43 miles.

3/8/2016

ME72 2016

Filed under: — stan @ 6:29 pm

Today was the ME72 contest at Caltech. This is the engineering class where the students get a box of junk and have to use it to make one or more machines to compete in a contest. I’ve been going to see this for as long as long as I’ve been at the USGS office at Caltech, and it’s always great fun. This year’s contest was the Tridroid Cup, where each team was supposed to build three robots to compete as a team to score points by putting small soccer balls through goals at the far end of the playing field. The two floor-level goals were worth one point, and the single raised goal was worth three points.

All the teams get the same junk to start with, but they all come up with different approaches to the problem. Most of them had machines with sort of a scoop on the front to be able to push the balls through the floor-level goals. The Caltech Armored Division team’s machines were very fast and manouverable, and they were able to score lots of points by just pushing lots of balls through the goals. But then one of them got stuck trying to drive over the divider down the middle of the field, which was a limitation of their low-to-the floor design.

Today’s contest was special in that it was the first time in 20 years of coming to see these things that I saw one of the machines catch fire during a match. Their machine was just driving across the floor when a small circuit board on it just suddenly caught fire. They smothered the fire with a wadded-up T-shirt, and the match continued.

In the end, it came down to the Blitzkrieg Bots against TBD. The TBD team had machines that could pick up several balls at a time and fling them through the high goal. At three points for each ball, they won lots of matches by just parking their machine in front of the goal and shooting balls through it. But the Bots had a low-slung ball-pusher machine, and a tall machine that they used to block the balls being flung at the high goal, and in the end, that divided strategy worked, and they were the winners. And the whole thing was very entertaining to watch.

2/13/2016

Animal Tracks with Atlas Obscura

Filed under: — stan @ 5:31 pm

Today’s adventure was a visit to Animal Tracks in Agua Dulce with Atlas Obscura. Like the Working Wildlife tour last fall, this was another exotic animal tour. The tour started out with some smaller animals, including a tarantula, a scorpion, an African bullfrog, and a large albino Burmese python. After that, we walked up the hill to the main compound, where we met the other animals.

There was a fat little armadillo, some sugar gliders, a pair of ferrets, a serval, a kinkajou, and an enclosure with a wallaby and red kangaroo in it. The kangaroo had the softest fur I’ve ever felt on any animal. We also saw a pair of emus, and got to hold an emu egg, which looked a lot like a giant avocado. The last animal encounter was when they brought out a baboon, and the baboon walked up and down the long picnic table, letting us take turns grooming her.

It was a fun and entertaining morning.

2/7/2016

An Empty Freeway in Los Angeles is a Surreal Sight

Filed under: — stan @ 2:30 pm

Back in November, we took a ride downtown to see the 6th St bridge close-up. At the time, it had been announced that it was going to be torn down and rebuilt, but the work had not started yet. But this weekend was when the actual work got underway. The plan was to demolish the section of the bridge where it passed over the 101 freeway, just east of downtown Los Angeles. As with the famous “Carmageddon” on the 405 freeway a few years ago, this was going to require closing a section of the 101 freeway for about a day and a half. The closure was supposed to start on Friday night, and run until afternoon on Sunday. So of course, I figured the Sunday morning Foothill Cycle bike club ride should go and see it. A closed and empty freeway is extremely rare in Los Angeles. In 30 years living here, I’d never seen one before.

I’ve only been on a freeway on my bike two times. Once was when I was about 12, and there was about a two-mile stretch of the then-future Mt Nittany Expressway that was built but not opened yet. My friends and I rode our bikes there just for the novelty of riding on it. The other time I was in 1977, when I was a bike racer. One day when I was out riding, I caught a flat-bed truck carrying a bulldozer on an uphill stretch. Somehow, that truck made the perfect draft*, and I was able to draft off it for a good 10 miles, doing 40-45mph the whole way. I knew that the road we were on turned into a freeway up ahead, and I wanted to see if I could keep up with it when it hit full freeway speed. When it got going, I was able to keep up, spinning as fast as I could in my top gear. We didn’t have bike computers then, so I don’t know how fast I was actually going, but it was fast. Fast enough that, even though I was 17, I somehow realized that this was probably Not a Good Idea. I figured I’d made my point and I should probably get off the freeway at the first exit. Still, that was an experience.

Our route took us straight south to Rosemead, and then west through Monterey Park to East L.A. and Boyle Heights. We got to where 1st St crossed under the 101 freeway. There was an on-ramp to the northbound 101 which did not say it was closed. Cars were getting on the northbound freeway there, but it was pretty obvious that there was none of the usual freeway sound coming over the sound wall. So we headed south a few blocks to 4th St, which crosses the 101 on an overpass. From there, it was easy to see the completely empty freeway. There was an off-ramp from the freeway up to 4th St, so I rode down it to see it close-up and ride a quick circle on the empty freeway. Wow, that felt weird.

Continuing on, we took the 4th St bridge across the L.A. River to downtown. Then we rode the bike lanes down Spring St and 7th St before turning north and heading up to Echo Park. We stopped for snacks at Chango Coffee. Our route home went up the Arroyo Seco bike path back to South Pasadena, and then home from there.

40 miles.

* Drafting a truck on a bike was tested by the Mythbusters, and they deemed it “Plausible”, but I can personally attest that it is “Confirmed”.

Route map and elevation profile

2/5/2016

My Pet Project Turns Ten

Filed under: — stan @ 11:00 pm

The USGS Earthquake Notification Service, also known as My Pet Project, went online to the public on January 31, 2006. It all started back in about 2000, when I was talking to someone from Caltrans, and he was asking if we could set up something where they could put in lat/lon coordinates of key freeway bridges and interchanges, and then be notified any time there was an earthquake within some distance of any of them. At the time, we couldn’t do anything like that. But then, fate intervened.

We have occasional cookouts at the office, and in 2003, I thought it would be nice if I could set up a web form for people to fill out online so that I knew who was coming and what food they wanted. I thought this would be sort of like a gift registry, so I went on Sourceforge and found a little gift registry program that someone wrote. I downloaded it, and I hacked it to make an online signup for our office cookouts. In the process of doing this, I learned a bit of MySQL. And then, when I was riding my bike in one morning, I realized that a database like MySQL could do something like what the guy from Caltrans had asked for. So I whipped up a simple database with some rudimentary geographic information, I plugged in the worldwide earthquake feed, and it started sending me earthquakes from all over the world.

I recruited a few ‘guinea pigs’ around the office to set up accounts in it for testing. They suggested other things they would like it to do. At first, it could only define geographic regions as lat/lon points defining a box. People asked for circles, and then arbitrary polygons. Drawing a polygon on the map and figuring out if a given earthquake fell inside it kept me thinking for a while, but I worked out a reasonable way to do it. And while all this was happening, my little system was being shown around to everyone, until the National Earthquake Information Center saw it and decided that it should be an official product of the Earthquake Hazards Program.

We had a few old-style mailing lists that were open to the public at that time. One for worldwide quakes M5.5 and over, and two for California quakes. One for M3 and higher, and one for M4. Those mailing lists formed the initial subscriber base. I wrote some scripts to port the mailing lists over, creating an account for each person with notification rules that would give them the same earthquakes they had been getting before. All told, this made for about 100,000 initial subscribers.

Now it’s been ten years, and it now has about 400,000 subscribers. Over ten years, that’s an average of about 80 new subscribers every day. Most days get about 30-35 new subscribers, but this goes way up after big earthquakes. The largest jump was about 75,000 new subscribers in the two weeks after the 2011 M9 Tohoku Earthquake in Japan.

Because this all started from wanting to have an online signup form for the office cookouts, I thought we should have a cookout for the occasion. I made a cake, and we all gathered out on the patio behind the office. It was a nice time. And it’s still amazing to me that this thing I wrote that started out as a little Pet Project has turned into a thing. And that’s it’s used by 400,000 people. And in the end, I guess that’s the greatest satisfaction.

1/21/2016

First stairs of 2016

Filed under: — stan @ 9:09 pm

So here we go again. This was my first practice session at the Aon building in downtown Los Angeles. 1,126 steps, 691 feet, 210 meters from the 4th floor to the 55th. My only goal for the evening was to make it up the building five times for a Vertical Kilometer. The first two times I was able to maintain my target pace pretty well. After the second climb, I took a minute to look at the nice sunset view from the 55th floor. Then I headed back down for the third climb. That was quite a bit harder, and I went a bit slower. But when I got to the top, I found Nathan up there. So we did two more climbs together, just taking it easy and talking all the way up. But still, climbing this big staircase is just fundamentally a different experience from doing the little 10-story climb at Millikan Library. Even doing that 12 times in a session is not as hard as doing 51 floors all at once. But still, I made my vertical 1-k.

1/17/2016

Visting the point of impact

Filed under: — stan @ 1:40 pm

I’ve recently been binge-watching the airplane disaster series “Mayday“. One of the episodes told the story of Hughes Airwest Flight 706 which crashed in the mountains just north of Duarte in 1971, after colliding with a Marine Corps fighter jet. In the process of reading more about that incident, I fell down the Wikipedia Rabbit Hole, and discovered that there had been another crash involving a mid-air collision near here, and it occurred just a few blocks off of one of our regular bike ride routes. Since it happened 41 years ago, I knew that there would be no trace of it now, but I still thought it might be interesting to visit the site.

The accident in question was Golden West Airlines Flight 261, which was a short hop from Ontario to LAX. They were heading west toward LAX, directly into the setting sun, when they were hit from the side by the second airplane, and the debris fell in Whittier.

We took our usual route down the Rio Hondo bike path to Whittier Narrows. Then we tried a little experiment, taking Durfee Rd to Peck, and then Rooks Rd down the west side of the 605 freeway. Then we resumed our regular route into Whittier. A second experiment was to take the Whittier Greenway Trail, which is an old railroad right-of-way that has been converted into a bike path and walking trail. That turned out to be very pleasant, and I think we will have to go back and see some more of it another day.

A short side trip brought us to Katherine Edwards Middle School, where the fuselage of Flight 261 fell on the playing field behind the school. Other parts fell on the neighborhood surrounding the school.

Leaving the crash site, we headed back up the San Gabriel River bike path to Whittier Narrows. Then we took a short side trip to Legg Lake to see a bit of a cyclocross race that was being held there. We also ran across a small military museum just on the north side of the 60 freeway. Then we continued north on Tyler Ave, heading for Arcadia.

We stopped briefly at the El Monte Metrolink station to see the station artwork, which recalled the days when El Monte was known as the home of Gay’s Lion Farm. Continuing north, we got to Arcadia, and then headed home from there. It was very cold when we started out this morning, but it warmed up nicely, and in the end it was a very pleasant ride.

45 miles.

Route map and elevation profile

12/22/2015

Last stairs of 2015

Filed under: — stan @ 5:46 pm

About the middle of November, I was curious, and I added up how many times I’ve climbed the 10-story staircase at Millikan from the basement to the landing at the roof door. At the time, it was something like 1,240 times, so I decided to set a goal of making it to 1,500 climbs by the end of the year. When I go over there with Nick to climb, we generally do a set of 12 climbs each time. So I figured that doing 260 climbs over six weeks was possible. That’s not quite 22 sessions over 42 days. So the clock was ticking.

Today was the finish. And not a moment too soon, since the building is closed from Christmas day through the end of the year, so I had to finish by the 23rd. And I wanted to space out the sessions so I wouldn’t have to do a marathon session at the end. A few years ago, I went and climbed it 18 times on the last day it was open, and that got grim the last four or five times.

So here it is. 1,500 climbs up Millikan. That makes 63km vertical in this building alone. And with the 21,640 meters of climbs in other buildings, my total stair climbing for the year stands at almost 85km, which is just a bit over 52 vertical miles. That means I averaged a vertical mile of stairs every week this year.


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