Stan’s Obligatory Blog


Getting back on the horse -er- stairs

Filed under: — stan @ 10:51 pm

It’s Tuesday evening, and time for yet more eternal agony climbing the stairs at the Aon building. After the problems I had over the weekend at the Stratosphere Tower, I wanted to see if I could still go fast up the stairs this evening.

I got suited up and headed up the stairs. No use waiting around at the bottom. It doesn’t get any easier. As always, I was aiming for 10 seconds per floor, and I managed to stay close to that, except through the middle section from 24 to 44 with the wide landings. But I made it to 55 in 9:04, which is solidly in the range of normal times I’ve been doing at practice. So I’m not any slower now than I was last week.

I went up a second time just to try out a couple of different ideas for dealing with the wide landings in the middle section of the staircase. Maintaining a steady but slow pace, I made it up in 11:50.

And just for sheer perversity, I went up a third time. I didn’t bother timing it. It was slow, but steady. I managed to make it all the way up without stopping, so that’s not too bad.

On the way home, the subway train stopped for a minute on the approach to Union Station, and I saw an electrical conduit on the wall outside with a stern warning on it:


Yup. I’m not inclined to think they’re kidding on that.

Weekend in Las Vegas

Filed under: — stan @ 10:09 pm

Here’s a selection of pictures from the rest of our weekend in Las Vegas.

On the way there, we stopped at the beef jerky place in Baker. Kathleen likes their jerky a lot. And it’s a chance for a photo-op with the alien.

When we got there, we met up with the whole West Coast Label stair-climbing team for dinner at The Peppermill. And after that, we went back to the hotel to get ready for the race on Saturday morning.

On Saturday afternoon, we headed downtown to go see the The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement. Since that name is a mouthful, it’s just called the Mob Museum. There, we saw the entire history of the Mafia from its roots, and how Prohibition was the thing that made the Mob into a major organization. In later parts of the museum, they went into the Kefauver Hearings and RFK’s crusade against the Mob. An interesting afternoon.

On the way back from downtown, we saw the big sign at the Plaza, advertising “Hawaiin Favorites!” Being spelling and grammar geeks, we were of course appalled. That, or the sign was made by LOLcats.

Dinner on Saturday was the obligatory prime rib and martini that I always have in Las Vegas. After that, we went back to the Stratosphere and went up the tower, since I’d been up there earlier, but I was too wiped out at the time to look at the view.

On Sunday, we went to the Erotic Heritage Museum before heading home. We got to see such treasures as Larry Flynt’s gold-plated wheelchair, and a walrus penis-bone. It was an amusing time, and I highly recommend it.

After that, we headed home. Waze showed us that we were just ahead of the big wave of traffic coming back to L.A., and we made it home early enough for dinner. It was a fun weekend, aside from my disappointing performance on the stairs.

I have a tendency to over-think things…

Filed under: — stan @ 10:01 pm

This weekend was the “Scale the Strat” stair climb in Las Vegas. This is my fourth time doing this event, and the first time since I did the survey climb and made the chart of the stairway at last year’s event. I thought this would help with planning.

A few days before the event, George had emailed me and asked about some discrepancies in my chart. It seems that some of the step counts and the elevation signs posted on the landings didn’t agree. We decided that either I’d made a mistake counting the flights, or some of the elevation signs were wrong, or perhaps both. In the meantime, I worked out some planned times for the three big landmarks on the way up the tower, based on the posted elevations above street level:

  • The first rest area at 247 feet;
  • The second rest area at 522 feet;
  • The top of the tower core at 775 feet.

The climb up to the top of the tower core is just a little bit more than the practice climb from 4 to 55 that I’ve been doing at the Aon building in downtown Los Angeles, so I figured on being at the top of the tower core at about 9:15 or so. For the other two, I made up goal times based on the elevation. And this was where the trouble began.

When it was my turn to go, I started up at a reasonable, but brisk pace. Taking a quick look up, I could see the first rest area up above, and headed for that, reaching it right at 2:30, which was my goal. At that point, my lips were tingling, which doesn’t usually happen until the end of these things, but I figured that since I was on schedule, it was all right, and I kept going at the same pace.

I reached the second rest area at 6:00, which was also on schedule, but I was in trouble there. And I hit The Wall very soon after that. By the time the elevation signs got over 600 feet, I was slowing down, and when I got into the final staircase up the pod at the top of the tower, I was happy just to still be upright and moving. I made it to the top and flopped on the floor. My time was 11:47, which was a full minute slower than my time from last year.

So I spent some time lying on the floor at the top before heading back down. Kathleen was downstairs in the theater, where they had a big video monitor set up showing the feed from the four cameras in the stairwell. She’d gotten pictures of it when I went past the second rest area, and also at the finish. And when she saw my time, she knew that something was wrong. We hung around and schmoozed for a while, which was fun. And then we headed back to the room so I could get cleaned up and try to figure out what had gone wrong.

I didn’t work out what had happened until a couple days later. When George sent me his notes from surveying the staircase, I could see that the sign that said “247′” by the first rest area had to be wrong. The starting line is about 47 feet above street level. Based on the count of steps to that point, the rest area was about 226 feet above the starting line, and I’d thought it was 200 feet. So that meant I was going about 14% too fast on the first leg, and because my projected time was wrong, when I got there, I thought I was on schedule and kept on going at the too-fast pace. To put it in perspective, when I’m doing the practice climbs, I aim to do about 10 seconds per floor, and my pace here was the equivalent of about 8.5 seconds per floor. Not much of a difference, but it adds up by the time you’ve climbed the equivalent of 45 floors.

So now it all makes sense, and I’ve corrected my chart. As it turns out, I’d missed counting one 20-step flight near the beginning, and I miscounted the last fight as 10 instead of 9. So the final tally for the climb now stands at 1,391 steps. And I know now that the elevation signs in the stairwell are not to be taken as truth, although they’re still useful as markers. Guess I’ll just see how that works out next time I do it.


Last rehearsal

Filed under: — stan @ 9:56 pm

This evening, I went downtown for one last hard practice on the stairs before this weekend’s fun and frolic up the Stratosphere Tower. The plan was the same as before, which was to come as close to 10 seconds per floor for the 51 floors. I planned again on taking it in six-floor chunks, and just seeing how far I could get doing those in 1-minute increments.

On the first climb up, I made it all the way to 22 on schedule. Then I lost a few seconds going through the two fire doors on the hallway there. But that was all right. I expect to lose some time opening those doors. Then, when I got to 24, I had a look at my watch. I wanted to see if I could make it to the 30th floor in one minute.

As it turned out, on the 18 floors from 24 to 42, I lost about 5 seconds in each 6-floor chunk. I’m still trying to work out the fastest way to take the wide landings in this section, and so far I just haven’t worked out a good way to do it.

At 44, I went through the second set of fire doors, and then I was on the home stretch. I managed to get back on pace for 10 seconds per floor there, with a sprint to the finish from 51 to 55. I heaved up onto the landing at 55 in 8:59. One second off my best time, but I can’t complain too much.

After a few minutes of rest, I started up the stairs again. The second time, I just wanted to go slow and experiment with some different methods for dealing with the wide landings from 24 to 44. I’ve come up with about four different methods for handling them, and I’m still not sure which one is the best. I timed the second climb, but I wasn’t expecting to do anything particularly fast.

At the end, I decided to go up one more time, for no reason in particular. I didn’t want to go fast. I didn’t stop, but I went very slowly, and I didn’t even bother timing it.

It was a reasonably good outing.


Cameron Woods

Filed under: — stan @ 6:23 pm

This week’s bike club ride was yet another sightseeing expedition. This time, our destination was Cameron Woods. This is a single block of Orion Avenue in Van Nuys, which holds the distinction of being one of the most-filmed streets in Los Angeles. It’s an odd place, with big lots and houses and landscaping that make it able to pass for just about anywhere in the eastern U.S., right smack in the middle of the San Fernando Valley. I’d read about this some time ago when there was an article about it in the Los Angeles Times, and so we finally got to go see it today.

It was a nice day for riding. It’s the last Sunday of the month, so it’s time for our monthly ’slightly longer’ ride. We headed out, west across Eagle Rock and Glendale and into the Valley. Somewhere in Studio City we saw Ringside Liquors, advertising “Fine Booze”. Somehow, it seems that if you’re calling it ‘booze’, the adjective ‘fine’ just doesn’t fit any more.

We rode through part of Van Nuys, which looked just like we expected. Lots of auto-body shops and kind of run-down apartments. And then we turned the corner onto Orion Ave. And everything changed. We were suddenly transported to suburban Connecticut or something like that. It was very strange. We rode down to the end of the block at Victory Blvd, where Los Angeles reappeared. It was a very odd feeling.

Coming back, we rode back down Orion Ave and got on the Metro Orange Line bike path. We took that all the way back to North Hollywood, and our snack stop at Panera. Then we continued on the bike path into Burbank before turning off. The route back was pretty much the reverse of the way out. It was quite warm and sunny by then, so all told, it was pretty much a perfect day for riding.

53 miles.


More letter-to-the-editor snark

Filed under: — stan @ 2:02 pm

Last week, the L.A. Times had an article about one man’s experience with bicycle commuting in Los Angeles. The overall message was that it’s really not bad. This matches my experience with riding here. Of all the cities I’ve spent time riding in, L.A. is one of the best for the overall experience.

My favorite tidbit from the column:

I have the pleasure of seeing the city through a different lens. Riding at a pace between 15 and 20 mph, the city is a slide show instead of a blur.

This mirrors what I’ve said for years. The bike is in many ways the perfect sightseeing vehicle. It can cover a lot of ground, but not at a speed where you will miss anything along the way.

Still, I felt that something was missing. So I sent in yet another letter to the editor, and they published it in today’s paper:

Re “A new spokesman for the thrill sport of biking in L.A.,” Column, Feb. 19

As a longtime cyclist, both for commuting and recreation, I enjoyed reading Ben Poston’s article about his experiences cycling in L.A. But he left out the best part: Cycling in Los Angeles is exciting; it’s like doing the running of the bulls everyday.

Stan Schwarz



A vertical half-mile

Filed under: — stan @ 9:03 pm

This past weekend was a three-day holiday weekend, and we spent all three days packing and moving Kathleen out of her house and in to mine. So when Tuesday morning came, I was pretty weary, and I really didn’t feel like going for speed on the stairs tonight. Although, I suppose it’s a testament to my insanity that I never considered not going to climb the stairs today.

Since I was low on energy, I thought I’d do something like a couple weeks ago, when I did the vertical kilometer. I’ve been thinking that one of these weeks I want to try for a vertical mile. That would be eight times up the stairs from 4 to 55. Each time up is about 689 feet, so eight add up to 5,512 feet, which is just a bit over a mile. I’m pretty sure I can fit that into the two hours we have for practice. So my plan tonight was to do a vertical half-mile and see if I could do all four climbs, plus the associated elevator rides back down, all within one hour.

I rode the train downtown as usual, and when I got suited up for climbing, I got out my second stopwatch and started it. Then I just tucked it into my pocket, started my main stopwatch, and started up the stairs. As with the vertical kilometer, the plan was to aim for a pace where I would do 9 floors every 2 minutes, and that would get me to the top in about 11:15 – 11:30 each time.

As you can see, I started out a little excited, and perhaps a little too fast. But the pace seemed easy enough for the first three climbs. By the fourth one, I was starting to drag, though. I think the sore-and-tired factor from the weekend caught up with me. But when I finished the fourth climb, I fished the other stopwatch out of my pocket, and I saw that I’d done the four climbs in comfortably less than an hour. Of course, the second hour will be harder than the first, but I think if I start fresh, without a long weekend of moving boxes, I think I have a chance at making the mile in two hours.

I’ll probably try for the vertical mile some time in March, after we get back from climbing the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas.


Since the topic came up…

Filed under: — stan @ 10:23 pm

This past week, talk of alleged misconduct by the Los Angeles Police Department was in the news again. So I thought it was time to pay another visit to the man who unwittingly became the virtual ‘poster boy’ for LAPD misconduct, Rodney King.

It was a nice day for riding. A bit chilly in the morning, but it warmed up fast. The route took us through South Pasadena and Highland Park to the L.A. River bike path. Then we rode that up to the end on Riverside Drive. Then we rode over to Forest Lawn. After our experience at the Glendale Forest Lawn back in December, we made a point to stop at the information booth at the entrance to ask directions. That way, they knew why we were there, and it’s been our experience that they tend to be more accommodating when they know we’re there to actually visit someone.

We made our way up to the back of the cemetery, up on the hill. It’s actually a pretty picturesque location. Sadly, Mr King still does not have a headstone, which seems unfortunate. Even though it always seemed like he wanted to just be left alone, he became a figure in local history. Life is strange that way.

After the cemetery, we rode over the Priscilla’s in Burbank. It was a nice day to sit outside in the sun. That was where we saw the electric BMW parked across the street. Then we rode home by way of Hospital Hill and La Cañada. On the way back across Altadena, I saw that the Senior Center is showing a documentary about Brown v. Board of Education. Since that part of Altadena is largely a black neighborhood, it’s seemed appropriate.

It was a pleasant ride.

45 miles.


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.



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.

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