Stan’s Obligatory Blog

2/16/2013

I love a good engineering contest

Filed under: — stan @ 9:40 pm

Last Thursday when I was on my way home from stair practice in downtown Los Angeles, I saw a sign in Union Station that said they were having a popsicle stick bridge-building competition there on Saturday. I love going to see engineering contests, so I thought this might make for a fun destination for a bike ride. So Silvio and I rode down there this morning to see it.

When we got downtown, I saw the first gas station I’ve seen with all its prices over $5.00. A sign of the times.

There were teams from a lot of local high schools there, all showing off their bridges and the story of how they built each one. It seemed that there was a bit of convergent evolution at work, since a lot of the bridges had similar looks, but there were some that were different. In particular, we talked to the faculty adviser for one of the teams, and he said that a careful reading of the contest rules said that in the final testing, force would only be applied right at the center of the bridge span. So their design did not have a lot of bracing at the ends, but had a very sturdy arch in the center. Clever. We talked to one of the other teams and asked them about the testing they had done on their bridge. They said that they had tested it up to some absurd weight over 500 pounds. That was impressive. It was fun to get to see and talk to so many nerdy high school kids.

Afterward, we headed home the same way we’d come. It was a nice day, but I needed to get back early. Still, it was a fun little diversion.

26 miles.

2/14/2013

Close…

Filed under: — stan @ 9:56 pm

It’s Thursday evening, and time to torture myself on the stairs some more.

Tonight I wanted to try a new experiment for handling the middle section of stairs from 24 to 44. Because the floors are 22 steps each, doing double steps leads to an unbalanced pattern, where one leg is doing six doubles and the other is only doing five. In the past, I’ve tried both switching off which leg starts each floor, and also doing one single step at the beginning and the end of each floor. With the single-step strategy, I was able to do a pivot turn without an extra step on the landing, but because the landing is wide, I still ended up losing a fraction of a second on each landing due to the stretch. And doing doubles and switching which leg leads makes a balanced pattern at the cost of adding one extra step per floor. So tonight I wanted to try going with the unbalanced pattern and just adding the extra step to switch sides once every five floors. On the other two sections of stairs I’ve been switching off which leg does the extra work every five floors, and that’s worked well. So I figured doing this on the middle section would be balanced enough and still eliminate unnecessary steps.

I was on schedule all the way to 22, and I had a look at my watch at 24. But at that point I kind of lost track. I was keeping track of five floors at a time to decide when to switch which leg led off, and at the same time I was trying to keep track of six floor chunks to see if I was doing them in one minute according to plan. And it got to be too much. So I just gave up on the timekeeping and concentrated on trying to maintain my pace. And it worked well. I think the ’switch legs every five floors’ strategy is a winner.

At 44, I took a quick look at my watch with the aim of seeing if I made it to 50 in one minute. And when I got to 50, I’d made the one minute target, and it was just a few seconds after eight minutes in. At that point, I knew I had a shot at beating my best time of 8:58. So I ramped up the pace for the last five floors. And when I heaved up onto the landing at 55, I had 8:58. Again. Still, I can’t complain. Last year, when we were climbing up to 60, I did 9:48, but I was only able to do that once. Oddly enough, that was on Valentine’s Day, too. That I’ve managed to do 8:58 twice is a good thing. Maybe next time I can beat it.

After a few minutes of rest, I headed back down to start up again. The second time up, my goal was just to follow the step pattern and try to go up non-stop. When I got to about 39, I could hear someone coming up behind me. I looked over the side and saw that it was Veronica, and as usual, she was moving fast. So I put on a little burst of speed just so I could make it to 44 ahead of her. Then I was able to hold open the two fire doors for her so she could go faster. Then I just sort of cruised up the last 11 floors to the top, and I was pleasantly surprised that I had made it up in 11:32. That’s not bad for a second time, especially when I’d gone fast the first time.

I went back to the bottom and hung around there talking for a while. I wasn’t sure I wanted to got up again. I was sort of hoping Amber and her entourage would show up and I could walk up with them. But they weren’t there tonight. So I finally just decided to do it.. Again, I was just sort of cruising. I was hoping to do about 12-12.5 seconds per floor, and I managed to get close to that. And when I got near the top, I could hear someone ahead of me. Leland had started up a little ahead of me, and I was catching up to him. So that gave me a little boost, and I picked up the pace for the last 10 floors to see if I could catch him. I didn’t catch up before the top, but I came close. And I did 11:14, which is really remarkable. I don’t think I’ve ever done a third climb that was faster than the second.

So all in all, it was a good evening in the stairwell. And on the way home, I saw a sign that they are having the popsicle stick bridge competition at Union Station on Saturday. I think I may have to ride down there to see it. I like seeing engineering contests.

2/12/2013

Another attempt

Filed under: — stan @ 9:51 pm

It’s Tuesday, and that means time for more stairs. After doing the vertical kilometer last Thursday, I was ready to make another attempt to see if I could beat my best time so far of 8:58.

I brought my metronome tonight to try using it again. The last time I used it, I did a 9:01, which is my second-best time this season so far.

I set the metronome on 71, and I was all right with keeping up with it up to 20. I did all right through the little bit of weirdness between 20 and 24, but when I started up the second big set of stairs from 24 to 44, I was having trouble keeping up. I was fine while climbing the stairs, but I was losing time on every one of the big landings. The stairway has wide landings in this section, and I figured out a way to do a one-foot pivot turn on them, but it’s a stretch. And that stretch takes a non-trivial fraction of a second. So I was losing about half a beat on the metronome on every landing. If you look at the width of the landings and the number of them, you can see how this could add up to losing significant time:

So when I came out on the final set of stairs at 44, I was about 10-15 seconds behind schedule. I kept going, and when I got to 50, I looked at my watch and saw that it was just after 8 minutes. I figured I still might break 9 if I hit it for the last five floors. I ramped up the pace as best I could until I ran the last floor up to 55. I flopped on the landing and looked at my watch. I had a 9:01. Not a new best time, but tied with my second-best, so I can’t complain too much about that.

After a few minutes rest, and looking at the sunset colors, I headed back down to do it again. My plan for the second time was to go slow and steady and just try and make it up without stopping. And I did that, pretty much. But as you can see, it was considerably slower than the first time.

Still, all told, it wasn’t a bad outing.

2/10/2013

Whittier

Filed under: — stan @ 5:00 pm

This Sunday’s bike club ride was the ‘Random Ride to Whittier’. We haven’t done this once since 2011, so it was time again. We even had a couple of new riders along this time, so we made a point to stop for the photo-op at Dork St in Pico Rivera.

It was chilly and sort-of-partly-cloudy. We rode down the Rio Hondo bike path, and we could see off in the distance that it was solid overcast down south of us. But then, seemingly without warning, we were under that overcast, and it got colder. I was very glad at that point that I’d overdressed.

We stopped for at Dork St. It looked like they got a new street sign since the last time we were there.

The ride goes down into part of Whittier, and then loops back to the San Gabriel River bike path. When we were going over the Whittier Narrows Dam, we saw some people with little-kid trailers on their bikes. But then we saw that each trailer had a German Shepherd in it. That was novel. We took the bike path north all the way to Lower Azusa Rd, where we got off. We rode up Peck Rd into Monrovia and our snack stop at Merengue.

The route home was the direct way through Siera Madre, and it was time. It felt even colder by then, so we were all pretty glad to be done.

44 miles.

2/9/2013

Who says we don’t have seasons in Los Angeles…

Filed under: — stan @ 11:03 am

People in other parts of the country are fond of saying that there are no seasons in southern California. But we know that’s not true. Right here, we can see the changing seasons.

One morning, I was riding my bike to work, and I saw a film crew setting up some fake autumn trees in the front yard of a house near Caltech. Some time later that day, when they packed up the trees, some of the leaves fell off. So on my way home that afternoon, I picked up some fake fall leaves. And that evening, it changed from fall to winter. There was an ice truck parked in front of the house, and the next morning when I went by, there was snow on the roof of the house. We had two complete seasons in less than 24 hours.

It’s much more efficient that way.

2/7/2013

I’m going to take it easy, I said…

Filed under: — stan @ 11:02 pm

Today, when I was thinking about stair practice this evening, I really didn’t want to push it for speed tonight. I got a little cold this week, and it’s in its final stage now, which means I’m coughing a lot. Add that to the stair-climber’s-cough, and that would make for an unpleasant evening. So I hatched a plan. I said, “I’ll just go there and do low-intensity. I’ll go slow. It’ll be easy. And since it’ll be easy, I’ll plan on going up five times. That will make a vertical kilometer. How hard could it be?”

Where have heard that before?

So that was the plan. A slow-paced vertical kilometer. That’s five times up the 51 floors from 4 to 55. 210 meters each time, for a total of 1,050 meters climbing. I planned on doing each time up in somewhere between 11:00 and 11:45, and I planned on trying to maintain a steady pace for every climb. The pace was about the same pace I did at the Towerthon in San Diego last summer, so it seemed reasonable.

When I got to the building, I signed in and got changed. There was no feeling of dread, since I knew I wasn’t going to go so hard that I’d end up collapsing on the floor or anything like that. So I just started my watch and headed up the stairs. I figured I should be at 13 by 2 minutes, 22 at 4 minutes, 31 at 6, and 40 at 8. That was aiming to be at the top in about 11 1/2 minutes. And when I got to the top, I just walked out of the stairs and went straight to the elevator to ride back to the lobby to do it again.

The first four times up were actually pretty easy. I maintained my pace, and my times were all pretty close. But the last time was hard. I was really dragging the fifth time up the stairs, and I was behind schedule by the first checkpoint. By the time I was halfway up, I knew I wasn’t going to make my cutoff of 11:45 on this trip. So, since it was the last one, I figured I’d push the last 10 floors or so and at least try to make it under 12 minutes. I ended up running the last four floors, but it wasn’t quite enough. Still, I can’t complain too much. I climbed the building five times. That’s 1,050 meters, 3,445 feet vertical, 5,630 steps total. The five climbs add up to 58:08 of actual up-the-stairs time. Each trip down in the elevator added about 4-5 minutes between trips up. At that rate, maybe one of these times I can try doing a vertical mile. I’d only have to go up three more times. I think I could fit that in in two hours. How hard could it be?

2/5/2013

Meh

Filed under: — stan @ 10:17 pm

It’s another stair-climbing night, but nothing special happened this time. I went there with the intention of trying the same mental trick I used last Thursday, and seeing if I could equal or better that time. But it didn’t work out that way.

On the first climb, I was in trouble right from the start. My first time checkpoint was at 10, and I was already a couple seconds behind. I tried to pick up the pace, and I made it to 16 on schedule, but it kind of fell apart after that.

At 24 I started up the big middle third of the building, and I was dragging. I tried going back to my technique of doing the big pivot turn on the wide landings. That means a bit of a stretch on each landing, but it’s balanced, and it saves an extra step. I’m still not sure whether or not it’s worth it. More experimentation is in order. But tonight, even though the pattern felt smooth and steady, I kept falling off the pace by just a few seconds in each six-floor section. My goal is to do each six floors in one minute, and I was consistently falling behind by about three seconds each time. And when I finally heaved up onto the landing at 55, I had 9:10, which is a full 12 seconds slower than last Thursday.

After a few minutes of rest, I headed up a second time. I wasn’t trying for speed this time. Just to make it to the top without stopping. And I did, but I didn’t even bother timing it, since I know it was very slow.

Back at the bottom, I gave out some of the chocolate chip cookies I’d brought along, and thought about whether or not I wanted to do it again. But then I saw my friend Amber and her entourage show up, so I figured I could walk up with them. Then we could get to talk, and that would be a useful distraction from those intrusive ‘what the HELL were you THINKING doing this again!’ thoughts that come up when I’m climbing alone. So that made for a good third climb. Again, I didn’t time it, but that’s all right.

It was a good evening.

2/3/2013

Atlas Survives

Filed under: — stan @ 4:40 pm

A few weeks ago, there was a article in the L.A. Times about a company in Montebello that sells backyard survival shelters. They said that they have one on display in front of their building, so I thought this might make for an interesting bit of sightseeing. So I made up a route, and today was the day.

It was a perfect day for riding. The air was cool, the sun was warm, so it was perfect for riding down into the industrial underbelly of L.A., alongside the Santa Ana Freeway in Montebello. We went straight south through San Gabriel, and then took the Rio Hondo bike path south. We passed the petting zoo where they have the llamas. After a few miles, we turned off and rode just a few blocks to come out on Telegraph Road next to the freeway, and there it was. A big steel survival shelter on display in front of the building.

The banner on the building says what they say it will protect you from. But I don’t think it’s really much good against earthquakes. After all, they come without warning, and if you ran outside and crawled into your shelter, the earthquake would be over before you even got inside. As for all the other things, yes, I could see that it could work for them. But EMP is really only a danger to society and its electronic infrastructure. It’s not much of a danger to individual people. But hey, if it helps make somebody feel better.

After looking at the shelter, we headed back up the bike path. We took it all the way up to Arcadia and Peck Park. Then we took Peck Rd up into Monrovia and our snack stop at Merengue. It was a nice day to sit out on the patio. And when we were done, we headed home.

It was a nice ride.

40 miles.

The L.A. Times article is here: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jan/18/business/la-fi-hiltzik-20130120

They have a picture gallery here: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-selling-shelter-20130117,0,7445794.photogallery

1/31/2013

There might be something to this…

Filed under: — stan @ 9:52 pm

It’s Thursday, and time for more fun and frolic on the Aon building staircase. I went downtown this time with an experiment in mind.

Last weekend was the race at the Aon building in Chicago, and my friend David did it, and he posted a writeup of it on the stair racing group on Facebook. In particular, the part that caught my eye was when he was describing when he hit the 50th floor:

“My legs were starting to feel tired, but i started to play a game i often played in the gym. When i have a workout planned, say 140 steps/minute for 18 minutes. Often at only 5 minutes i find myself thinking i can’t keep up my pace for as long as planned. So what i do is say ‘Ok, maybe i can’t do 10 more minutes, but i can do 2 more and see where i am.’ Often i can keep doing that until i hit my original goal. In this case i had 30 floors left, and the last ten were going to be at a faster pace than what i was doing now. I wasn’t sure i could do it, but 5 more seemed like no big deal, so i focused on going 5 floors, and reassessing. at 55, i felt exactly like how i felt at 50, so i just focused on keeping the same pace to 60.”

I thought that this sounded like a good idea, and I wanted to try something like it tonight. My goal was to do 10 seconds per floor on the climb from 4 to 55. Allowing about 30 seconds extra for the three hallways and four fire doors, that makes for a total climb time of 540 seconds, or 9 minutes. And it’s pretty easy to verify my pace, since 10 seconds per floor means six floors per minute. I figured that I’d start at 4 and check the watch at 10 and 16. The stairs from 20 to 24 are weird, and there are three hallways and two fire doors, so I planned on just checking my watch when I hit the start of the second main staircase at 24. From there, my plan was to make it to 30 in one minute, 36 in two, and 42 in three. Above 42, there is another hallway and two more fire doors, so I planned on checking the time again at 44 and then just trying to make it to 50 in one minute. The fundamental difference between this time and previous climbs was that I wanted to try David’s trick of not thinking about the overall goal, and just taking it one small chunk at a time. So at each time point, I just thought about making it to the next checkpoint in one minute, and I figured that after that, if I really felt bad, I could slow down. But as it worked out, at the end of each minute, I really didn’t feel any worse for wear, so I just kept going. And I made it to 55 in 8:58, which is three seconds faster than my previous best time for the practice climb.

After a few minutes rest at the top, I fired up my nighttime camera app and tried out taking some pictures of the sunset. It was a bit of a challenge holding the phone steady enough for the long exposures, but the pictures came out much better than they do with the standard camera app.

I’d planned on going up a second time, just on general principles. I wasn’t planning on trying to go fast the second time, but I wanted to just try and go non-stop. I managed to do that, but I was pretty slow. Still, I made it to the top, so I really can’t complain.

It was a pretty good outing.

1/29/2013

Yup. You guessed it… more stairs

Filed under: — stan @ 9:29 pm

Tonight was the ‘Kickoff Party‘ for the Lung Association’s Fight For Air stair climb. They had food, videos, speakers, and a news crew at the Aon building downtown, and they had the staircase open for us to practice on, from the ground floor up to 55. So, of course, all the usual suspects were there.

I knew there would be a pretty good turnout tonight, so I brought my Serious Camera to take some pictures. I’d gotten some good photos at last year’s event, and I knew that I’d be able to get better ones this time with the more serious camera. Still, I wanted to do one run for speed at the start, although it turned out to be pretty hard to climb fast while carrying the Serious Camera Bag. It ended up taking me 10:18, which is on the slow side. But when I got to the top, I was able to take a nice picture of the sunset, so it wasn’t all bad.

With the first climb out of the way, I went back down and started up a second time. I wanted to set up to take pictures looking down the stair shaft from the 44th floor. The middle section of stair 6 in the building is a single staircase from 24 to 44, and the two sides are about two feet apart, so you can look over the side and see straight down 20 floors. That’s about 250 feet, and it’s far enough that the stairs seem to just fade off into infinity. I knew this would make for some dramatic pictures.

George started up the stairs for the second time at the same time I did. He was wearing his 40-pound weight vest, and I was carrying my camera bag and tripod. So I was able to get ahead of him and set up on the last flight just below 44 to take pictures. And the image of him climbing the infinite staircase with the weight vest is much like a classic self-mortification ritual.

A couple minutes later, Lisa came up, and she was moving fast. And right after she passed by, a group of people came up, so I got a picture of them all coming up the staircase. As they passed by, they said that the prize raffle was going to be held soon back down in the lobby. So I packed up my camera gear and climbed the rest of the way to 55 so I could get the elevator back to the lobby.

Sadly, I didn’t get any prizes in the raffle this year. But it was still fun to hang around in the lobby and visit with everyone. I’d brought along yet another batch of my award-winning cookies to hand out and tell the story to all the people I know from this event who I haven’t seen since last spring.

After the raffle, we all headed back for the stairs again. There was a camera guy from Channel 2 there, and he wanted to get some video of people climbing the stairs. I told him that he should see if he could get the guards to take him up to 43 so he could shoot the infinite staircase. And when I got up there, he was there with one of the guards. So he shot some video looking down the stair shaft, and then shot a bunch of people as they went by. I think he got some good action scenes.

Once the last person had gone by, I packed up my camera again, and finished the climb up to 55. Then I changed and headed for home. It was a fun evening.

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