Stan’s Obligatory Blog


More electronics hacking

Filed under: — stan @ 7:06 pm

I recently found out I had some stupendous number of ‘reward points’ on my credit card. I had a look at what I could get with them, and I got this. It’s a little weather station, complete with an outside temperature sensor. So I set it up, and it works well. The only downside turned out to be that the outside sensor eats batteries. A pair of good AA batteries would only last about two weeks in it, which seems pretty pathetic for something that you’re supposed to be able to just set up and leave, like a clock. So I started thinking about what I could do about that. Since I’ve done things like this before, I figured I could rig something up.

One possibility might be to just put more or bigger batteries in it, so that there’s just more power behind it, and they wouldn’t have to be changed as often. But then I remembered that I’d found the remains of a little solar-powered flashing warning light after the wind storm in 2011, and it had two AA-sized batteries and a little solar panel to recharge them. So I thought I might be able to rig something up to have those batteries run the outside sensor, and set up the solar panel to recharge them every day.

The instructions for the weather station unit say specifically not to use rechargeable batteries in it. I think that’s probably because it’s a relatively high-current use, and rechargeables just don’t hold as much as regular batteries. But I did some tests, and I found that the unit could run just fine on a pair of NiMH rechargeable batteries. It just wouldn’t last very long. So it was time to rig up a charger.

I had to make some little wooden fake batteries to go in the battery compartment of the sensor, since it seemed that it would not run if I just hooked wires up to the battery compartment contacts. It seems to want some physical pressure on the contacts to work. So I made some fake batteries and I just ran wires out of it to an external battery pack.

Once that was working, I got the little solar panel and a diode and hooked the whole thing up with alligator clips, and I set it up on the window sill. I got it to work there, and even inside the window, I got a good 3.6V off the solar panel. So it charged the batteries whenever the sun was shining. I left it running like that for about a week. After that, I moved it all outside and set it up there with the batteries and and wires inside a cardboard box, and the solar panel on top. It ran fine for a week, so then I made it slightly more permanent. I put the sensor back on its bracket under the garage roof overhang, and mounted the external battery pack underneath it. I ran a wire across to the south side of the overhang on the garage roof, and I put the solar panel there. And what do you know? It works.

It’s been running on the NiMH rechargeables and solar panel for over a month now, and it’s worked flawlessly. On the other hand, I noticed something else annoying. I’d thought that the indoor unit was just a passive receiver for the signal from the outside sensor, but apparently they must talk back and forth. And because of this, the inside unit eats a pair of batteries about every 2-3 weeks, too. This is annoying, both because of the expense of the batteries, and also the fact that both units need to be powered off and reset to change the batteries, even if only one is being changed. It’s a Pain in the Ass, and it also will cost on the order of $20 a year for batteries alone for just the inside unit. So I went looking and found a little 3V plug-in power supply for $7.99 online. I don’t know what it’s supposed to power, but that doesn’t matter. I just clipped off the plug at the end of the wire, soldered some wires onto the contacts inside the battery compartment, and hooked it all together. And it works.

So now I’m set. The inside unit runs off regular house current, and the outside unit is running on batteries, but they are getting recharged by the sun every day. And it was a fun little project.


A vertical kilometer attempt

Filed under: — stan @ 7:18 pm

I went downtown this evening for some more fun and frolic on the Aon building staircase. My friend Morgan was going to try for a vertical kilometer this evening. That’s five times up the practice course from 4 to 55. I did this here last year in my preparations for the vertical mile climb. I knew I was going to get there a bit late, so I said I’d pace her for the final ascents.

As it turned out, she got there a little late, and only had two laps in by the time I got there at 6:00. So we headed up at a slow, but steady pace. We ended up doing that twice, and then she decided that she’d had enough at four laps. There probably wasn’t enough time for a fifth anyway, but if she gets there closer to 5:00 to start, the vertical kilometer is in reach.


Still feeling my way up the stairs

Filed under: — stan @ 9:34 pm

It’s Tuesday, and time for yet another assault on the Aon building staircase. My back has been worse this weekend, but still nowhere near the levels of pain I was having back in January, so I thought I’d make the attempt.

I got there relatively early, and I started up the stairs at my ‘moderate pace’ of 4 1/2 floors per minute. This time, I was able to maintain that pretty much all the way up. And today was the first time since last year that I did the 51-story climb in under 11 minutes. And it didn’t hurt my back, so I guess that’s all right.

I went up a second time, just taking it easy. I turned it up a little bit for the last few floors, since I saw that I had a chance to get to the top in under 13 minutes. After that, I went up a third time, just because I didn’t feel bad. Nathan was there, so we walked up together, talking and just taking it easy.


A quick stair session

Filed under: — stan @ 9:17 pm

Only two times up the stairs today. I had to take Lucinda to art class again, so I got a late start for downtown, and I didn’t get to the building until 6:00. I tried to go a little faster on the first time up, but ended up not really doing it. And the second time, I just took it easy. It didn’t feel bad, and it didn’t hurt my back, but I’m still kind of afraid to try and push the pace.


Another attempt at the stairs

Filed under: — stan @ 9:13 pm

I’ve been in physical therapy for two weeks now, and I’m able to walk a lot better than before. Still not back to ‘normal’, but enough to try and make another attempt at the stairs. This time, my goal was to do at least three times up, and to do the first time at my vertical mile pace of 4 1/2 floors per minute. I was able to keep to that all the way up to about the 40th floor, and then I fell a few seconds behind. But in the end, I made it up in 11:25, which was only about 10 seconds off my target time.

The second time up I went somewhat slower. I’m still not really using the rail, so I’m missing out on the pulling. But that seems safer for my back for now. I was also trying to avoid twisting, so I was taking extra steps on the landings just to make for easier turns without having to grab the rail and swing around like I usually do.

The third time up, I went a lot slower. This was my first time doing three climbs since November. Veronica was going up on an ‘easy’ climb, single-stepping, and I wasn’t able to keep up with her. So I was going pretty slow. I did catch up to George at about 48, but he was wearing his 40-pound weight vest, so he had good reason for going slowly. In any event, I made it to the top the third time, and then I called it a night.



Filed under: — stan @ 3:14 pm

Today’s bike club ride was the ‘Random Whittier Ride’. Just a meandering route that goes down to Whittier and back, with a snack stop at Merengue in Monrovia. It was cool and overcast, but not a bad day for riding. We stopped briefly in Pico Rivera, since this was Jim’s first time riding this route with us, and so we had to do the obligatory photo-op at Dork St. And that was about it. It was a pretty uneventful ride.

Route Map

43 miles.



Filed under: — stan @ 10:20 pm

So today was my follow-up appointment with my doctor. The X-ray they’d taken showed some disc degeneration, and a little bit of arthritis starting in my lower back, and apparently that’s the reason I was an invalid for the holidays. But after a week and a half of physical therapy, I feel much better. Not back to normal, but good enough for now. And frankly, there’s no telling if I’ll ever get back to ‘normal’ again. But at least this is an improvement.

When I was talking to my doctor, I told her I’d been feeling much better, and better to the point that I went to stair practice and climbed 51 stories twice on Tuesday. Her first reaction was, “You did what?” But when I told her what I did and that it didn’t hurt my back when I did it, she said that it was all right. And the fact that I’m in pretty good physical condition should help me to recover from this. So with that in mind, I went downtown again this evening.

I had to take Lucinda to art class after work, so I got a late start. I got to the building at about 6:00, so I only had about an hour. But that was all right. I’m still experimenting with this, and I’m not going particularly fast. I was only planning on doing it twice, and even at a slow pace, an hour is plenty of time for that.

I wanted to try pushing the pace up slightly from last time, just to see how that felt. I started out trying for my 4 1/2 floors per minute pace that I used last year when I did the vertical mile. I was able to keep that up for about halfway, and then I slowed down a bit. That pace would get me to the 55th floor in about 11:15 or so, and I got there in 12:15. Can’t complain too much about that.

The second time up, I went slower. Part of that was because I wanted to try using the railing as little as possible. I wanted to see if that would feel different, since I kind of got the sense that I might be stressing my back a bit by using the railing to swing around the turns. In the end, it didn’t seem to make any difference. Stair climbing just isn’t hard on my back, and it doesn’t hurt, even when I’m not using the railing and just standing straight upright and climbing. So I guess that’s a good thing. We’ll just have to see, but as long as I’m not in pain, I’m not causing any more damage to my nerves. So I’ll take what I can get at this point.


Back to the stairwell

Filed under: — stan @ 9:30 pm

I had to go downtown today to visit the Federal Building and pick up my new government ID card. I brought along my stair-climbing clothes in case I felt up for some stairs afterward. I’ve been going to physical therapy for a week, and I’m able to walk a bit now, so I thought it might be a good experiment to try if I felt up to it.

After I finished at the Federal Building, it was still too early to go to the Aon building for stair practice. So I walked down the block to L.A. City Hall. I’d heard that they have an observation deck on the top floor there, and I was curious to see it. I went and checked in at the front desk, and they told me how to get up there. I asked them if I could take the stairs. They just looked at me, even though I was standing in front of them with my “Elevators are for Wimps” shirt on and everything. But I managed to convince them that I was serious, and they showed me the way to the staircase.

The climb up wasn’t bad. I figured that if I could climb to the 27th floor at City Hall without any sciatica pain, then I was up for trying the 51 floors at the Aon building. When I got to the top, I took a walk around all four sides of the observation deck. It was kind of the Land that Time Forgot. They had signs on each side showing the major buildings and other landmarks. And it was pretty obvious that the signs date back to the late 1970s. The view of Bunker Hill had the current Aon building, completed in 1973 and the Bonaventure hotel, built in 1976, but was missing the Wells Fargo building, which was finished in 1983.

After that little sightseeing trip, I headed over to the Aon building and got changed for stair climbing. Right now, I’m just trying to practice walking upright so I can learn to do it reliably without pain. So I didn’t plan on using the railing while climbing. I walked up at an easy pace of about four floors per minute, just holding the railing for balance. And I was able to make it all the way to the 55th floor without any back or leg pain. So that was pretty good.

I rode the elevator back down, and I did it again. I went a little slower the second time up, but I was still able to stay upright. So it was a Good Thing. Still, I was kind of tired after the second time up, since I’m a bit out of practice now. So I thought I’d better stop at two. I’m going back to the doctor on Thursday, so I’ll wait for that before deciding if I’m going to go downtown for practice again that night.


The Mt Lee Vineyard

Filed under: — stan @ 6:01 pm

Last week, I read an article in the L.A. Times about a guy who owns some of the land on Mt Lee, near the Hollywood sign. And how he’s planted a vineyard there. The article said the grapes were planted in 2001, and given the number of times we’ve been up that way, I was surprised that we never noticed it before. So this Sunday’s ride was to go see it.

It was a nice day for riding, and we headed out by our standard route to get to Hollywood. We rode up the hill in Beachwood Canyon, and stopped at the Hollywood sign, and then we headed down toward the reservoir. Then, looking back up the hill, we saw the vineyard. It was big and obvious. And it looks like a tremendous amount of effort went into planting it, and maintaining it. We stared at it slack-jawed for a few minutes. And that was that. We continued on our route, going up and over the hill into Burbank. We stopped for snack at Priscilla’s, and then headed home. It was a pleasant ride.

40 miles.

Route map


Another urban oil field story

Filed under: — stan @ 3:23 pm

Today’s bike ride was yet another installment in our continuing series of rides to explore the urban oil fields of Los Angeles. This time, it was to go see the Allenco Energy oil drilling island near USC. We were near there on our ride to see the Doheny Mansion and the location of the first oil well in Los Angeles. This time, we just wanted to go see the oil drilling operation there, since it’s been in the news recently. In particular, there were some stories in the Los Angeles Times about how people in the neighborhood complained about fumes from the oil field, so the EPA sent an inspector out to see, and the inspector became ill from the fumes. Oops.

The day started out with nice sunshine in Pasadena, and we headed south, on our way to downtown Los Angeles. And we promptly rode right into a fog bank. The fog persisted all the way to downtown, and it made for a nice picture of the Bunker Hill towers sticking up into the fog. Unfortunately, looking at the downtown skyscrapers is a bit sad for me right now. Since about Thanksgiving, I’ve been having back problems severe enough that I have trouble walking. Which is not good for climbing the stairs up 50-60 story buildings. The only good thing I can say is that it doesn’t hurt when I ride my bike, so at least that’s still good.

We came out of downtown and found the oil field on 23rd St. Like all oil fields in Los Angeles, it’s out of view, in this case, behind a high wall. The gate was closed, and it was basically impossible to see inside. But then I noticed that there was little hole so that someone with a key could reach inside to unlock the gate. It wasn’t possible to see in through this hole, but it was big enough that I could stick my and and camera inside and take a few pictures. So that’s how we got a view of the inside.

Continuing on, we passed the other oil drilling location on West Adams. Like the Allenco field we’d just seen, this one is also part of the Las Cienegas oil field. The fence around it had been recently raised. Maybe after all the bad publicity surrounding the first oil field, the owners of this one wanted to try and make it even harder to see inside.

Our snack stop was at Noah’s Bagels in Larchmont. After that, we headed home by was of 7th St, and then north through Echo Park and Silver Lake. It was a pleasant ride, even though the sun never really did come out again, and the oil field did in fact smell a bit sulfur-ish.

Here’s the route map:

43 miles.

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