Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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3/19/2017

A Little Piece of History

Filed under: — stan @ 2:57 pm

Today’s bike club ride was one to visit a little bit of my personal history. Back in 1978, I was bike racing, and I was here in Los Angeles that spring. And the first big race I rode in was the Griffith Park Road Race on March 19, 1978. The race was on the order of 50 miles, since that was pretty standard for Category 1-2 races in those days. And when we went around for the first lap, I realized that the course reminded me very much of the course we used to race in the Tuesday and Thursday evening training races at Old Westbury, on Long Island. It was a short loop with a long out-and-back dog-leg with a U-turn at the end. I remember seeing signs for the Merry-Go-Round, so I knew pretty much where it was, and the dog-leg was the out-and-back on Crystal Springs Drive. So today’s ride was to go back and visit the race course again.

The race itself went by in a blur. There were about 100 riders, and we were going fast the whole time. Nobody managed to break away. I don’t remember even making it to the front of the pack. I just stayed in the middle of the pack, hanging on. In the end, it was a pack sprint for the finish, and I recall that the winner was Jerry Ash. I had just graduated out of Juniors, so I felt pretty good to be racing in Category 2, and it didn’t seem particularly hard at the time. Which seems kind of ridiculous now, since I can’t even begin to think about riding my bike as fast as I could then. And even if I could, I think I’d be terrified by the speed…

After visiting the old race course, we rode back through the park and got on the L.A. River bike path and rode down to Spoke. We had some snacks there, and then continued on down the river and then up Figueroa St. The route home was up the Arroyo Seco, and then back across South Pasadena, through Caltech, and then my regular route home from work.

44 miles.

Route map and elevation profile
Note that the map is incomplete. I forgot to turn my GPS thingy on until 4.4 miles into the ride.

3/12/2017

“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi…”

Filed under: — stan @ 6:06 pm

Today’s bike club ride was yet another celebrity grave tour. This time, it was a visit to the Hollywood Hills Forest Lawn to see Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. It was forecast to be a very nice day, and there was no chance of rain, so it was safe for us to venture forth far away from the nearest Metro Rail station.

We rode through South Pasadena, and then all the way down Figueroa St to the L.A. River. Then we rode over the nice new bridge that put us right onto the L.A. River bike path. We took the bike path all the way up to the exit by the zoo. Then we got off and made our way over to Forest Lawn.

We checked in at the information booth at the entrance to tell them why we were there and where we were going. I’d looked up the location on findagrave.com, but it turned out my mental picture of the orientation of the building was faulty, so I was looking in the wrong corner at first. But there were other people who knew, and we got directions to the proper spot in the building. I’d brought along a little R2-D2 figure for the photo-op.

While we were there and talking about some of the other famous people we’d been to see there, it came out that Chris had never been to Rodney King’s grave. So we took a short side trip up the hill to visit him.

Leaving Forest Lawn, we rode over to Priscilla’s for snacks. While we were there, we met Fred. Fred is a little rescue dog, and he was very cute and had a nice personality.

The route home included the usual slog up Verdugo and Hospital Hill, then the long downhill glide back from La Cañada to Pasadena. It was a nice ride.

45 miles.

Route map and elevation profile

3/9/2017

ME72 2017

Filed under: — stan @ 5:43 pm

Today was the annual ME72 Engineering Contest at Caltech. I try and go see it whenever I can. It’s generally very entertaining.

The basic premise is that teams of students have to build a machine or machines to engage in a contest. With advances in technology, the contests have become more elaborate. And in recent years, they’ve even added a requirement that the machines operate autonomously for the first 40 seconds of each contest.

This year’s contest was to build three machines to navigate an obstacle course and deliver a baseball into a hole at the far end of the course. The first machine had to drive through a field of concrete-filled pylons, and then transfer the ball to the second machine. The teams got extra points if their machine could make its way through the pylons autonomously. The second machine had to drive up and over a teeter-totter, and then up a 30-degree slope, across the flat top of the platform, and then transfer the ball to the third machine that was waiting on the other side. The third machine then had to open a small gate and carry the ball to the goal.

It turned out that this set of tasks was quite difficult, and in the first round, only the V15TA team was able to get all the way to the goal. In the end they made it to the goal in several matches, and only Team Soul was able to make it all the way even once. Based on that, we all figured it was going to be V15TA in the end, and that’s what happened. In the final match, their machines performed a flawless run from start to finish. It was pretty impressive.

3/5/2017

626 Golden Streets

Filed under: — stan @ 1:25 pm

Today’s bike club ride was to go to the 626 Golden Streets event. This was supposed to be last fall, but was canceled then due to heavy smoke from a fire in the mountains above Duarte. So today was the rescheduled date, and we were headed there.

The event was a Ciclavia-style thing, with a route of closed streets for us to ride on all the way from the Mission St Metro station in South Pasadena to the downtown Azusa Metro station. That’s something like 17 miles. So we started out by riding to South Pasadena, where we picked up the event route. It wasn’t too crowded, and we were able to maintain a pretty good pace most of the way.

We rode to the far end of the route, where we continued east into Glendora for out stop at Classic Coffee. Then we headed back the same way. The ride back was pleasant, until it started raining in Monrovia. At that point, Carla and I decided to bail out and take the train back to Pasadena. The rest of the group decided to take a chance and keep riding. But I figured that I already had 40 miles, and with the two miles to get home from the Metro station, that would make 42 for the day, which was fine, and I really don’t like riding in the rain.

40 miles.

Route map and elevation profile

2/28/2017

Visiting the Nevada Test Site

Filed under: — stan @ 8:59 pm

I first met my friend Gordon at our first job out of college, back in 1982. We were at McDonnell-Douglas in the department that dealt with modeling nuclear weapons effects. So we read and thought about nuclear weapons quite a bit in those days, and we both thought that it would be interesting to get a chance to see an actual nuclear test. Since above-ground testing ended in 1962, and even underground testing ended in 1992, it’s just not possible. But going to see the place where they did the tests back in the 1950s was the next best thing.

The tours of the test site are given once a month, and they fill up fast. I signed us up for this tour last July. And Tuesday morning, we headed over to the Atomic Testing Museum for the tour.

There were about 45 people on the tour. We all got on the bus for the long ride out of town to the test site. On the way there, we passed by Creech Air Force Base, where we saw a drone flying around and practicing touch-and-go landings. A little bit farther out, we finally got off the main road and entered the test site. The streets in that part of the base were all named for nuclear test series’ from the 1950s. Tumbler, Snapper, Ranger, et al. We had a snack stop there, and then we got back on the bus to head out to Yucca Valley.

On the way to Yucca Valley, our guide pointed out some old wooden benches next to the road. He said these were the benches that spectators sat on to watch the early tests at Frenchman Flat.

We rode the bus all the way through that valley and over a small pass to get to Yucca Flat. There, they took us to see the site of the last prepared underground test. It was put together and ready to go in 1992 when all nuclear testing was stopped. So we got to go inside the tower and see the test rig, complete with a small dummy warhead at the bottom and all the instruments to record the explosion mounted above it. The whole thing was suspended over the hole, ready to be lowered down for the test.

Continuing on in the bus, we stopped for our one photo-op of the tour. The guide had a camera, and he took a group picture of us on the observation platform at the edge of the crater left by the Sedan test in 1962. This test was supposed to be a demonstration of ‘nuclear earthmoving’, and there was actually a proposal to use this to dig a harbor in Alaska, and even talk of using nuclear bombs to dig a giant roadcut for Interstate 40 in California.

Getting back on the bus, we headed back toward Frenchman Flat, with a short side trip to see one of the houses that was built for the Apple 2 test in 1955.

We stopped for lunch at the cafeteria at the test site. In the hallway there, there were large photographs of some of the tests.

After lunch, we got back on the bus to go to Frenchman Flat. We saw the nuclear waste dump site there. And then we went to see the remains of the buildings and other structures built for the 1957 Priscilla test. The railroad bridge with the bent steel girders was particularly impressive.

That was the end of the tour, and the bus headed back to Las Vegas. As always, one must exit through the gift shop, so we got to go to the Atomic Testing Museum’s gift shop at the end. It was an interesting and entertaining day.


2/27/2017

A day in Las Vegas

Filed under: — stan @ 10:12 pm

Monday was our only full day in Las Vegas between the stair climb on Sunday morning and the Nevada Test Site tour on Tuesday. So Gordon and I spent the day playing blackjack. It was entertaining, much like when we used to play back in the ’80s. Then that evening, we went downtown to Atomic Liquors. And that was our day.

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.


1/29/2017

The Airplane-Theme Ride

Filed under: — stan @ 3:38 pm

Today’s bike club ride was a trip to Burbank to see the F-104-on-a-stick in the park, and also to see how the new airplane topiary at Burbank Airport is coming along. And today, we also came home by way of the L.A. River bike path and the new segment that’s just opening on the new Riverside Dr bridge over the river.

The ride out was pretty much our standard route across Eagle Rock. When we got to Burbank, we saw the F-104 in the park. Then we headed to the airport. Sadly, we can’t go see the tortoises any more. When we got to the airport, we could see that the new topiary was pretty much filled out. It’s pretty much back to what it was before they had to replace the bush in it. You can see what it looked like early after the replacement here. And for comparison, here’s what it looked like with the old bush.

We went for snacks at Priscilla’s, and then we headed down the L.A. River bike path. In the past, this ended just a little bit before Riverside Dr went over the river on the new bridge they’ve been building for the last N years. But this time, the path continued on, going over the bridge on a piece of the bridge separated from traffic and featuring both bike and pedestrian lanes. It was pretty nice. We found out later that tomorrow is going to be the official Grand Opening of that little bit of the path.

All around, it was a fun ride.

45 miles.

Route map and elevation profile

1/21/2017

Can you spot the theme here?

Filed under: — stan @ 2:08 pm

As I tell everyone, we’re really quite appalled by what’s happening in our country now. So we joined up with a few hundred thousand of our best friends and went to downtown L.A. to yell about it.

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