Monday, May 28, 2007

Purple Passage

I happen to think purple is a silly color for a tree, but the jacarandas all over Long Beach disagree with me. They sure are pretty. They just look like Dr. Seuss colored them, or maybe some kid working with a crayon on a Denny’s placemat.

If you picture these bursting with orange flame, it really makes a powerful image in Bad Religion’sLos Angeles Is Burning,” which is never far from mind in a season like this.


I’m only saying:

I dropped by an Apple Store this morning, and the Apple “Genius” had never heard of an iBook that wouldn’t start for this reason before. He spent about 10 minutes poking around at his screen and came up with nothing, and he even went back into the private service area to see if anyone had ever heard of it. No luck.

Kinda funny, calling him a Genius (TM) when he couldn’t find what a five-minute search on Google for “ibook g4 black screen startup” yields several informative sites for (including one that belongs to Apple itself).

For me, that’s 0 for 2 for the Apple “Geniuses.” I suppose for other people the service works fine.

I get suspicious as soon as I walk in and hear the lite modern music blaring in the “Genius Bar” area. I’m no computer genius, but I do know you can’t diagnose a computer you can’t hear. When you turn it on and listen for the hard disk whirring, for the fan, for the CD reader engaging, you can identify a series of problems to either consider or disregard right away.

Last time I went to the “Genius Bar,” I had a crapped-out Apple hard drive in my machine. The “Genius” couldn’t hear it, let alone identify that this was the sound of a bad hard drive. I ended up taking my machine to CompUSA, where they had no music playing in the service area, but they fixed the machine just fine.

The main difference this time was that I was less shocked at how stupid Apple’s “Geniuses” are, so I stayed much more friendly for the whole performance. As soon as I determined that he was as useless as a switch on a dead circuit, I abandoned his ship and went straight to Plan B.

Thus far I’ve got e-mail recovered and working well, music playing, Web browser bookmarks up and running, database software alive and well. I still have various financial and office software to kick back into gear, but I’m optimistic. Lucky for me, I don’t count on other people to “Genius” me back into business—I keep my own set of backups.

That’s the third significant computer failure in two weeks for me (two were at work; this one is at home), and thank goodness for planning ahead for system failure, because thus far none of them has resulted in a catastrophe. Good and current backups, plus a modicum of skill at coaxing stubborn machinery, has kept us up and running with only minimal downtime and just about zero panic. Each one was on a machine at least two years old. I’d rather see the machines lasting a little longer, but I don’t have time to gripe about that right now—the main thing is that the machinery failures haven’t become huge obstacles, and for that I’m happy and grateful.

I could mutter on about how Steve Jobs’s shoddy manufacturing practices cost me the better part of a beautiful Memorial Day, but I’ve got better ways to spend my time. I’m no “Genius,” but I know the time to forage for moochable barbecues is when the day’s sun starts to edge over into the western part of the sky. I could sit here and check out my image-capture software, but I think I’d rather strap on my bike shoes and go hunt for someone with hot coals.

Happy Memorial Day to all!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Gloria Mundi

Not quite a transit, but a close visit: On May 19, this was the moon and Venus not long after nightfall on the west coast of North America.

I think they came closer to each other, but I wasn’t watching at the time. Caught this pretty much by accident. With any luck my cousin, who has been taking lots of moon shots lately, was paying more attention and took pictures with his better camera and better lens.

Foot of Pride

It was billed as “The Only Kosher Ride in the West,” and as you can see, the sign-up tables for the Foothill Century featured a mix of bike helmets and traditional kippot. This is in Sunnyvale, at the South Peninsula Hebrew Day School, which organized the ride as a fund-raiser. It was a metric century, which is to say it was 100 kilometers, not 100 miles.

100 kilometers (62.1 miles) is quite enough for me at this point in the season. Last year I finished a 70-mile ride in May, but it was almost completely flat, and I’d had a little more time to build up to it, because I started regular riding earlier in the year. This year I’ve had distractions both at work and at home that kept me off the streets in the early season. It’s nice to be out working the pavement again.

Did he make it to the top?
Yeah, he finally did and dropped
—Bob Dylan

This was (literally) the high point of the ride, about 500 feet above sea level—maybe a third of the way through the ride. The ride was in rolling foothills, with a total of 3400 feet of climbing. (The glass-half-empty folks will note that also implies 3400 feet of downhill.)

I’m not proud; I was in my absolute lowest gear as I cranked my way up the hill, a good rise. It wasn’t terrible; it was a challenge. “Your bike has such a beautiful frame!” cooed one woman as she rode by me. Uh, yeah.

Stopped at the top to take a picture of the downhill road ahead. By the way, that’s the San Andreas Fault you’re looking at there, in the crease of the valley.

The sheriff’s car is one of a few that were going up and down the road closing it to auto traffic. Every Sunday this stretch is dedicated to bicycles, bladers, joggers, and the like. (Pogo stick, anyone?)

Do note the scale of a California live oak. The jogger is closer to the camera than the tree is.

Interstate 280 connects San Francisco and San Jose. CalTrans bills it as “The Most Beautiful Freeway in the World,” which Dad used to observe was canny on their part, since freeways only really exist in California. The rest of the world has highways, interstates, autostradas, autobahnen, turnpikes, thruways—but nothing they call a freeway.

Check out the orange-colored dome-shaped house up on the left under the overpass. This bridge has various names; one thing we used to call it was “the broken arm bridge,” because when I was a boy learning how to make skid marks with my bike (using coaster brakes) on the neighbors’ driveway across the street, and had broken my arm doing so, our family went for a walk across this bridge one weekend, just before it was opened to regular auto traffic. I was still in my cast, hence the nickname for the bridge.

I must have been in kindergarten or first grade. I’ll call it kindergarten. Mom came to school one day to take me out of class and bring me up to this bridge—this was after we’d taken our family hike on the bridge. It was official opening day for Interstate 280, the Foothill Freeway, and the bridge had been the final section to be completed, finishing the road from San Francisco to San Jose, a beautiful and fast alternate road to Bayshore Freeway, the 101—flat, drab, billboarded, pavement constantly beat up from truck traffic.

Mom was a big one for walking across bridges. I’ve walked across the Golden Gate Bridge with her, on a day when it nearly buckled under the weight of all the people crowding its roadway, and in her time she also walked the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, the old cantilever spans and the new suspension bridge at Carquinez Strait, and other assorted bridges opened to pedestrians for momentous occasions.

But on this occasion we weren’t walking across the bridge. We were watching the official opening of the whole freeway. Hap Harper—a local radio traffic announcer and one of the guys who invented traffic reports from the air—fired up his single-engine plane and rolled forward to cut the ribbon with his propeller before taking off to soar over the new freeway. The Stanford Band was there to play—what else?—“Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”

From this angle, you’ll notice, I am looking up at the bottom of the bridge. More on that in a minute.

Crystal Springs Reservoir. James Bond aficionados will recognize it as the lake some villain or other intended to use to create a massive earthquake throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s a reservoir, part of the Hetch-Hetchy water system, which starts at O'Shaughnessy Dam up in Yosemite National Park and has fingers reaching into the South Bay Area, including Palo Alto, where I grew up. (One of its underground pipelines runs right past the high school Brother #3 graduated from, and right past the cemetery where we laid Mom to rest last year.) It sits in the same valley as you saw a few pictures back, with San Andreas Fault running right up the middle of it.

This is the dam I was standing on to take the previous two pictures. This is near the spot where the road crosses Sawyer Camp Trail, a footpath Mom used to like to walk, sometimes with her friend Jan, sometimes by herself, sometimes with various combinations of us kids. You can take shorter or longer walks on the trail. Although Mom's knees and feet started giving her various painful complaints as she got a little older, she kept up her regular hikes to stay healthy.

Hey, wait a minute—just a minute ago, weren’t we looking up at this freeway?

Yup, there’s been some climbing here. Not as bad as that first hill. But part of the 3400 feet, sure.

It was a lot of climbing, but a few moments like this make it worthwhile. I might as well add here that the organizers did a nice job of finding a day with spotless weather, and a light wind that mostly blew us back to the starting point, instead of making us fight our way back after we were already tired from the first half of the ride.

(Stop me if you’ve seen this tree before.)

Like a Ren and Stimpy eedjit, I completely forgot to take a picture of Las Pulgas Water Temple, one of the main manmade attractions in this part of the world. We had a rest stop right there, and I never pulled out my camera.

I like Las Pulgas Water Temple partly because it’s a fine public monument, built on a circular foundation like the oldest temples in ancient times. It celebrated the completion of the Hetch-Hetchy aqueduct, a major public-works achievement for the San Francisco Water Department.

I also like it because Las Pulgas means “the fleas,” which I think is a funny way to name your finer public monuments.

Scenery was uniformly beautiful along most of the ride. This is at the Windy Hill rest stop.

Not only did the course take us right past the cemetery where Mom and Dad are buried, and not only did it take me past the “broken arm bridge,” and past one of Mom’s old favorite hikes, and past Filoli, the mansion and botanical garden she used to enjoy visiting, whose tea I still have on a shelf somewhere in my kitchen, and in fact also past the doubly named Lake Lagunita, where she and we used to watch the big Stanford Bonfire every November before Big Game, when Stanford’s football stalwarts would take the field to beat cross-bay rival Cal—the ride also took us swooping down Alpine Road to make a hard right turn on Arastradero Road at “Zot’s,” which would be Rosotti’s Alpine Beer Garden, about ten feet outside of Santa Clara County, where Mom used to go socialize with her cohorts back when she was a Stanford undergrad.

Leland Stanford deliberately built his university outside of all the nearby towns, because they all had too many saloons for his taste. He talked the city of Palo Alto into passing an ordinance prohibiting the sale of alcohol within town limits, so students at his august institution would not suffer the temptations of any nearby taverns.

In more recent years we kids went to Rosotti’s with Mom. Zot’s has outdoor tables and a very casual atmosphere, a great place to have a burger or one of a few varieties of sausage on a hot dog bun. They’ve got Anchor Steam Beer and other local brews newer and more traditional. You’re out there at a picnic table under the eucalyptus trees, and you can smell the dry grass in the hills, and as the sun sets slowly in the west, you eat off paper plates and enjoy each other’s company. Hard to beat for a good time.

After Zot’s, it was off down Arastradero Road through the Enid Pearson Nature Preserve, not the first time I’ve cycled past these oaks.

This stretch has some excellent downhill speed bursts. I had to skid my tires once or twice to stop and get shots like this. No broken arms this time (I’ve learned), but some of my fellow cyclists looked at me funny. To me, it was worth the loss of momentum to grab a classic landscape.

I passed the cameras at 11:36 on May 20. They have two other shots there if you feel like looking them up. This was my one free shot; for the others I would have had to pay.

Since I’ve been featuring greasy bike chains lately, here’s an example of what a relatively clean chain looks like after a 100 kilometer ride, almost entirely on pavement.

Photo of Mom by Sister #1.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Making Movies

For about a week now I’ve had to ride a different route because someone is making a movie on my usual course. They’ve got scenery and equipment parked all over, and a security guard sitting in a plastic chair telling me I can’t go in there. Also officers from the local constabulary, paid I’m sure by the film producers.

No idea what the movie is. The security guard told me it’s “some kind of science fiction thing, with a robot.” I gather it also involves some explosions. Note the hydrogen-powered buses (one for filming and one that looks like a spare), and the truck trailer that something has burst out of or into or through. (There also are two truck trailers with ragged holes, though you only see one in the top picture.)

Zounds! Drat! Something has blown a big hole in the retaining wall!

Mostly when I ride by during the day, they’re setting up shots. At night, they have the whole stretch of road lit up, and it looks like they’re actually filming, with extra cars driving around looking like freeway traffic.

I rode over to the edge of the overpass to take a peek, and the rented security told me, “Get going—they’re filming.”

This is my city. I live here. I pay taxes. These are public roads, and they’re inconveniencing me and a lot of other people who live and work here every day. I’m sure they paid the city a hefty permit fee, and I know they think they’re special. I’m sure the movie they’re making will be a regular Citizen Kane when it’s done.

But when someone tells me “Get going” without adding “please,” I get thinking.

Oh—I get it! There wasn’t really a hole! Just a hole in a fake wall that sits in front of the real retaining wall! These movie guys are so clever!

It looks as if something terrible happened to the poor old hydrogen bus. So much for alternative vehicular power.

As I rode by on my emission-free two-wheeler and squeezed off a couple of shots, a guy in a windbreaker up in a nearby parking garage called down to me, “Hey, sir! No pictures!”

At least he called me sir.

“Welcome to Long Beach!” I called back up at him, and I stopped taking pictures and rode home.

On a Clear Day You Can See Tustin

September 4, 2006

May 13, 2007

Sunday there was still a little haze in the air (and Catalina was still nowhere to be seen), but it’s turning more into a typical white Southern California “June gloom,” less the yellow-tinted stain of wood smoke.

Temperature was perfect for a good ride, and the overcast did burn off, though the air wasn’t crystal clear. I’m getting a late start getting into training this year; Sunday I got as far as Newport Beach and was glad to turn around. Without doing the math, I’d guess that’s about a 40-mile round trip—not bad, but I know these legs have more oomph in them.

The wind cheats, in case anyone asks. On the southward trip, I was pumping about three-quarters into the wind; as I rode past the big cooling stacks at the Huntington Beach power plant, I cocked an eye upward and was glad to see the rising steam showed a sturdy breeze pushing against me. That meant it would be behind me on the way home.


By the time I passed the same stacks on my way back home, the rising steam was telling a different story. The wind had pivoted around and was blowing directly across my path. I’d gone a little further than my legs wanted to, confident in the knowledge that the way back would be easier. The wind pulled further and further around; by the time I hit Long Beach it was in my face.

I must be making sacrifices to the wrong gods.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Taking the Sacrament

Last month I had to visit our state capital and our state capitol. I took pictures, and I never got around to posting them.

The decoration is supposed to remind you of the frugality with which the legislature allocates our hard-earned wages, collected in the form of various taxes.

I don’t remember ever being in this building before, or even noticing it. It’s about a block west of the Capitol. I happened to run across it because it was between my parking garage (and my morning stop) and the Capitol.

Our state capital, like so many other cities in the state, is named with Christian intent. The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament celebrates the ritualization of the Last Supper. It lends its name to the city.

In California the church and the state government are separated by about a block and a half.

It was my mother’s birthday, so I paid a dollar and lit a candle in the chapel dedicated to Our Lady and the Saints of the Americas, which presumably would include both Mary and Father Serra. (Well, it may one day. Technically he’s only been beatified so far, not canonized. Never let facts stand in the way of a worthless pun.)

Actually, I was specifically interested in this cathedral because after an extensive renovation it recently won an award for its woodwork. I was in the capital on woodworking business, so it seemed appropriate to have a look.

Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books of the Bible, for various reasons. These words come from that book.

Names Make All the Difference

These flowers are right by the intersection of Palos Verdes Drive East and Palos Verdes Drive North, right before what old bards used to call “the really stupid part, where the road climbs relentlessly for a thousand miles of tortuous curves.” After taking this picture, I didn’t take my feet from the pedals until I was at the top of the hill.

These flowers are part of the George F. Canyon Nature Park and Preserve. I used to wonder who George F. was and why they named a canyon park for him without including his last name. (Do all the trails have twelve steps?)

I got passed today going up this hill. I believe that’s the first time I’ve been passed on that stretch of road. It’s not that I pedal so fast: I don’t. It’s just that not many riders choose this climb for recreation. I do see a lot of bikes coming down it, though.

The payoff is the vista (and the downhill) on the other side. As you can see, we still don’t have Catalina Island back.

Kind of a murky day for a Saturday, with lots of haze still lingering from all the fires this week. The haze was mostly white, but still with a yellowish tint.

On Palos Verdes Peninsula, they have a word for people who don’t drive cars.

It’s not a nice word.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Smoke on the Water

Something is burning, baby—are you aware?
—Bob Dylan, Knocked Out Loaded

After a parched winter in arid Southern California, we’re bracing ourselves as fire season starts early.

Already this week hillsides have opened up in flames in Yorba Linda and Griffith Park. Above was the view last night from my balcony looking north as flames licked around the hills north of Dodger Stadium—easily twenty miles away, but looking closer as the night sky drew down around the rising billows of smoke.

Driving home on the freeway tonight I caught glimpses of what looked like a huge fog bank south of the mainland. Streaks of smoke marked the sky, not clean white clouds but brown spraypaint smears. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that big puff of fog looked like the smoke rising off a brushfire, but there’s nothing out over the water to burn.

Nothing, that is, but Catalina Island.

I went out to the beach road to have a look, and even from 26 miles across the water the view was breathtaking. On the TV news tonight, and on Websites like, even more dramatic close-ups showed the fire looming over Avalon (try this for frequent updates, until another story takes over the mantle of “breaking news”).

So far this week I’ve had fires to my north, my east, and unbelievably my south, out across the water. The sunsets with all that soot in the air are incredible. But it looks as if I’d better get in my rides early this year out on Palos Verdes Peninsula, because that’s about the only spot west of here where a brushfire could start—and this is only May.

As I type here tonight, I hear the sound of choppers overhead, carrying firefighters and equipment out to the island. The Marines down at Camp Pendleton have activated a fleet of hovercraft to ferry out heavy trucks and firefighting equipment. Avalon is the only settlement on the island, about 3,200 people in about a square mile (640 acres), and from the TV news tonight it looked as if most of them were going to wait and watch. Some were evacuating on the Catalina Island ferries that normally shuttle residents and tourists back and forth from Avalon to San Pedro, to Long Beach, to Newport Beach. The ferries have announced they’ll be running all night. Each boat can carry 400 people.

Everybody’s hoping the fire won’t reach the houses on the outskirts of town. Nobody wants to think what will happen if the first row of houses lights up.

Midnight update: Latest report is 4,000 acres have burned, and evacuees are storming shelters set up by the Red Cross in Long Beach and San Pedro, but firefighters say they’ve saved most of the major building areas in Avalon . . . so far.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Last Tuesday—a week ago yesterday—I set out for a quick morning spin on the velocipede and suffered a sidewall blowout less than half a mile from home.

A small bang and a hiss like the air brakes on a bus made me turn my head a fraction of a second before the feel from my rear wheel let me know I’d lost all pressure.

Luckily I was barely as far as the river road close to home. I took a quick survey of the situation—long enough to determine that I hadn’t suffered an inner tube puncture, but a tire failure from age and miles—and pushed my tired wheels home.

I’ve owned this bike long enough that this is the second time I’ve worn out a rear tire. It’s actually a satisfying feeling. It means I’m using the bike. On a typical bike the tire is supported by a pressurized inner tube; the pressure is contained in the tube, so the tire doesn’t have to be airtight. But when the tire wears out and splits, the inner tube will typically fail immediately, bursting at the same spot where the tire no longer holds it in.

And that turned out to be exactly what had happened. Kinda a bummer, because that was a good tube, with an extra beefy outer section to ward off thorns. It was far from ready to trade in. I’m still hemming and hawing over whether to patch it. My history with patched bike tubes leaves me never trusting them completely. Last thing you need when you’re thirty miles out on a ride is to find out your patch has a slow leak. Still, I hate to chuck the tube. Lots of good rubber in it.

(I don’t know what they call blowouts on French bikes, by the way. The title above comes from too many hands of Mille Bornes played when I was a boy and my elder siblings were learning French, but it’s the word used when you’re driving a car. Maybe for les bicyclettes the French have a different word.)

Wednesday was too busy to get a new tire; Thursday I got to the bike store thirty-five seconds after they locked the door and shut down the register. Friday I went to REI instead (open till 9 p.m., and they’re having their spring sale) and bought a couple of new tires, a couple of new tubes, and some chain cleaning gear. Saturday dawned bright and clear, a fine day for patient maintenance.

As long as I had the rear wheel off to replace the tire, I figured I might as well catch up with some other too-long-deferred maintenance projects.

Actually, I’d cleaned the chain briefly a few weeks before. For that, I got a chain brush and some degreaser. That was fine as far as it went, but at REI I’d picked up a plastic chain-cleaning machine, a gizmo you attach around your chain, with brushes and scrubbers inside, and a reservoir of cleaning fluid. Then you just run the chain through it, and the grease magically comes off. More or less.

I’ve taken this bike hundreds of miles in all conditions and never seriously cleaned the chain with more than WD-40 and a rag—just added fresh clean grease from time to time—so I’m working on the premise that it’ll take a few cleanings to get it completely right.

First time out, with the brush, was a good first step. That gave the grit and filth that decorate the derailleurs and gear cassettes a fresh place to migrate to. It also swapped sticky old grease for cleaner, more fluid fresh grease.

I got the chain-cleaning machine gizmo for a more thorough second round. A clean, well-oiled chain moves effortlessly, but with all the riding I do on the beach, I had to assume I was carrying around a lot of fine dust that was grinding every time I turned the pedals. That means you work a little harder, plus it eventually wears out the chain.

The top picture above is after I’d finished cleaning the chain, before I took off the wheel to replace the tire and tube. The next picture is after I took the rear wheel with me into the shower, where the hand-held jet fixture did a very nice job of pressure-washing off a lot of caked grease and grit.

(One reason you have to love the Germans is that they call bicycling Radsport. Rad indeed!)

After a major overhaul like this, it’s important to remember how everything was put together, or you may cause permanent damage when you reassemble the machine.

As you can see, the first time out I put it all together all wrong, with the wheels facing completely in the wrong direction. (But note the squeaky-clean new rear tire!) I realized this couldn’t be right when I got on the bike and took it for a very painful test ride. After a couple of laps around the block, I pulled up in front of my garage again, resolved to find the problem and fix it.

When I took it all apart and put it back together again, I remembered a right-left orientation I’d got wrong the first time. This time it reassembled with the wheels facing in the conventional direction, toward the ground.

On my next test ride, the bike rode like a whisper, jetting out around curves and swallowing up straightaways the way the wind whips through a mountain pass.

I’ve been riding happily ever since!