Twenty-Five Years Ago Tonight

January 16, 1994.

I don’t remember a lot of details about the evening, but no doubt it was very similar to tonight. The kids were all in grade school, none yet over the age of ten. It was a Sunday night, but Monday would have been Martin Luther King Jr Day, so it was probably a school holiday. (To be honest, I would have to go look to see if MLK Day was a LA Unified School District holiday then. That’s a weird thought.)

At that age the kids would have all been in bed by 8:00 or 8:30. For all I know I might have been watching the Australian Open, much like I am tonight. I don’t remember what we had for dinner, or if I did the dishes and loaded the dishwasher, if I was doing laundry that evening, or any other details.

There was no reason to remember any of them. It was just another Sunday night in mid-January.

Until 4:31 AM on Monday morning, January 17, 1994.

I remember jolting awake with the first strong shock. If you’ve lived in earthquake country for any length of time and felt one of the “little” ones we get, you learn to react, even if you’re asleep. I woke up to the shock, immediately knew it was an earthquake, adrenaline pumping, and waited for half a second.

It’s that half second that makes the difference. The majority of the time it’s filled with the sleep-blurred memory of the first shock, but the rest of the quake is just a few seconds of fading jolts. Maybe one or two more decent shakes. Then it’s over, seeming like a minute or two but really only five or six seconds.

That didn’t happen this time.

The shaking didn’t go away, it intensified. Within about five seconds it was like riding a bucking bronco. The floor was bouncing. Books and computer disks and papers and boxes and all sorts of junk was falling onto me from the bookshelves in the room. It was pitch dark as the electricity had gone out within seconds. The noise was incredible, like I was lying just inches from a freight train going by at hundred miles an hour.

I didn’t have time to be scared, I just reacted. I had to get to the kids and Janet.

I was sleeping in the fifth bedroom at the far end of the house. The kids were each in their rooms on the other side of the dining room, kitchen, and front foyer from me. In the pitch blackness I started screaming at the top of my lungs, “GET INTO THE HALLWAY! GET INTO THE HALLWAY! GET INTO THE HALLWAY!” I had no idea if the kids or Janet could hear me, but I was hoping they would remember what to do.

I manged to get out of the bedroom and had a decision to make. They say to get into a doorway, but the bedroom doorway was a bad place to be because there were a couple of file cabinets there and I was afraid those drawers would open up and either block the door, clock me in the head, or both. I managed to get out by feel and then had a choice to go through the kitchen (the shorter, more direct route) or through the dining room.

I could hear things smashing and flying in the kitchen. I remember some training that the local PBS station had done and a warning that was quite clear was to stay out of the kitchen. Drawers would fly open and many sharp objects might be flying about. Lots of glass things would be coming out of cupboards and breaking. Kitchen + earthquake = dangerous. I picked the dining room.

I couldn’t stand to save my life. The floor was bouncing and rippling. The chandelier was swinging and threatening to break loose. Dining table chairs were dancing around. And always, the noise. Partly from the house trying to tear itself apart, partly from me still screaming.

I crawled through the dining room, finally making it onto the carpet in the front foyer. I think I was about halfway across that area, maybe eight feet or so, when the shaking finally stopped. Or at least subsided. I was able to get to my feet, open the hallway door, and get to the kids.

Everyone was safe. Two of the kids were out in the hallway and Janet was coming out of her bedroom. If I remember correctly, one of the girls slept right through it and I had to go wake her up and bring her into the hallway.

The central hallway was the safest, most structurally sound place in the house. I got everyone bedded down there for the moment, then went to grab some clothes, shoes, and a flashlight.

I took a quick tour of the house and yard, looking for gas leaks, critical damage, broken glass, and so on. As I was wandering around outside, neighbors were doing the same and we did a quick comparison of notes. Everyone made sure that we were all okay.

Our neighborhood was lucky. Even though we were less than five miles from the epicenter, I don’t think anyone on our block got “red tagged,” i.e., had their house condemned as unsafe to occupy. There were plenty who were “yellow tagged,” but we escaped even that.

We had a couple of cinder block walls separating our yard from the neighbors that were down. Our water heater had cracked and dumped its hot contents all over the laundry room next to the bedroom where I had been, but only after I had crawled by. That would have been fifty gallons of super hot water that would have been another obstacle to overcome to get out of that room.

We had plenty of stuff dumped off of shelves and out of drawers. The kitchen was a mess and most everything in the refrigerator and freezer was out on the floor, but with the electricity out it was going to spoil quickly anyway.

Of course, electricity, gas, and water were all out. But we didn’t have any gas or water leaks other than the water heater. There was no broken glass. There were plenty of cracks in plaster and brick walls, but no structural damage that would prevent doors or windows from opening or closing.

After a quick survey I went back to Janet and the kids, who of course were scared. They were all great though, never panicked, never got freaked out. The kids wanted to go see what was going on, so after they got dressed I took them around to see what was happening.

Most importantly, we had survived. That PBS documentary on surviving “the big one” pointed out that at this point, assuming you weren’t hurt or had some other critical problem like a fire, you could take a deep breath and relax a bit. For the average person, you had survived what was statistically likely to be the most terrifying, dangerous natural disaster event of your life.

Now you just had to deal with the aftermath.

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Filed under Castle Willett, Disasters, Los Angeles

Headphone Quest – Jan 15th Update

A while back I asked the group mind for suggestions about headphones and/or earbuds for when I’m running or just rambling around the office.

I got a number of good suggestions, most of which I haven’t had an opportunity to implement yet. I’m working on it.

One thing I have done was to buy a few pairs of wired earbuds to try, figuring that if I found something great I could follow up by buying a couple of pairs so that I would have spares for when I lose or destroy them.

My search criteria was simple – look at the pictures on Amazon and try to find some that had similar over-the-ear form factors to the ones I really, really, really liked but can’t get any more.

These guys – remember? GREAT running earbuds – no longer made.

So I went out and got these:

These green things are from a company called “Mucro” – never heard of them, but the shape was right. The fit is better than on the generic “NOT-over-the-ear” designs, but not real comfortable. This set has volume and next/back controls on the cord where the others don’t. But that’s not a benefit that offsets the fact that the sound is very tinny and marginal. In fact, the sound sucks.

The orange set is from Philips – it might be made by the “Philips” that’s the huge electronic conglomerate that has a lot of high end stuff, but for something I impulse bought on Amazon I wouldn’t bet my life on it. These are more simple than the green Musco set, lacking the in-line controls that I never use to begin with. But they fit pretty well (although not as über fantastic as the blue Sony set that is my gold standard) and the sound is much better than the Musco (although not as über fantastic as the blue Sony set that is my gold standard).

I suspect the orange set will be fine if I’m out running or exercising and sound quality isn’t critical. If I’m at mile eight of a twelve-mile run, I need distraction and entertainment, not concert-hall quality sound.

I would still love to find a few pair of those old Sonys…

The other thing I would note about both the Mucro and the Phillips – both were $19.90 including tax and shipping from Amazon, so it’s not like I was spending top dollar for premium sound. You buy something cheap, you get something cheap. On the other hand, for some applications, good enough is good enough.

Next step (sometime before the end of 2019 due to my copious free time being even more not-so-copious at the moment) is to go into a store and look at actual headphones (like Beats), wired and wireless, for that really good sound that I would like if I’m just listening at home or in the office. I might have to (and be willing to) spend a few more dollars there.

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Filed under Music, Photography

Pillow Fort Day

Cold, rainy. Hard rain. At least three more days of it to follow.

T’would have been an excellent day to stay home, build a pillow fort, get a good book and some hot chocolate, and just hide for the whole day.

Maybe with some of those peanut butter filled pretzel things for snacks.

And M&Ms.

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Filed under Los Angeles, Photography, Weather

The Big One

We’re coming up this week on the 25th anniversary of the Northridge earthquake. For those who don’t know, it’s the biggest earthquake to hit the Los Angeles area in Southern California in about 165 years. It’s easily the biggest since we had a decent sized city here instead of a mission or pueblo. And historically on average we have them about every 100 year or so, so we’re overdue.

In part related to that, one of the local NPR stations has started a new podcast series.

I rarely listen to podcasts simply because I don’t have the time, but this intrigued me. I listened to the first episode tonight and it scared the shit out of me, as much as any horror story.

It’s very well done. I think what triggered me was not where they talk about Northridge (although that didn’t help) but the segment with a woman who survived being buried in a building collapse in a New Zealand earthquake.

If you’re interested, I recommend subscribing to the podcast. This first episode was about the actual quake and what happens in the first few minutes afterward. Subsequent episodes will follow up how we all try to survive the aftermath in the chaos of the weeks and months that follow.

One of the biggest problems that emergency planners have with getting the public ready to survive a major earthquake is that people don’t focus on a danger that’s neither imminent nor predictable. We know statistically that it’s going to happen, but we don’t know if it will happen tonight or forty years from now. When it does happen, we don’t know if it will be in the middle of the night (like Northridge) when most people are at home asleep in relative safety, or if it will happen in the middle of a work day or rush hour when tens of thousands of people could be killed on the freeways and in collapsing office buildings.

I like to think we’re above the curve on preparation. We have bugout bags prepared with water, flashlights, food, and so on. We have made a habit of having a flashlight at our bedsides, with shoes and clothes next to the bed if we should need them in the middle of the night.

But I have no illusions about how quickly those preparations will be proven to be woefully inadequate when the 8.0 quake hits, tens of thousands die, multiple tens of thousands are injured, hundreds of thousands are homeless, and there’s no water, electricity, gas, internet, cell phone service, or any other utilities for weeks or even months.

This week’s reminders in general, and this podcast series in particular, will help to remind all of us who live on shaky ground that no matter what we think we’ve done, we need to do much better. With luck, we’ll pay attention and do better.

First resolution to remember, courtesy of this episode’s simple tips at the end of the show – try to never let your gas tank get less than half full. Don’t go until you’re on fumes and then fill up as most of us (myself included) do. When the big one hits, there might not be any gasoline available for weeks. If you have to evacuate and it happens to hit on a day when you’re on fumes, you’re screwed.

Just what I needed, one more thing to worry about.


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Filed under Disasters, Los Angeles

A Brief Respite From The Rain

Los Angeles is hardly turning into a tropical rain forest, but we are in our “rainy season.” There’s quite a bit of variation in what that term means from year to year as well, but this one seems to be tending toward the more rainy, wet, “El Nino-ish” end of the spectrum.

My sense of that could also be skewed by the fact that it rained almost every day in Seattle and Kansas City a couple of weeks ago.

Regardless, we’re looking at a weather forecast that has it raining almost every day for the next six days or so, and we got rain last night and this morning. So it was a pleasure when I came out of the hangar this afternoon to find that the sun was breaking through.

(Click to enlarge)

As I was hoping, this in turn led to a nice sunset.

It’s important to appreciate the little things every day if you can. Everything out there doesn’t suck, even if a lot of things do. Find the non-sucky items and embrace them.

For instance, the way the different layers of clouds are illuminated and glowing at different intensities and  all different shades of pastel colors.

That’s non-sucky.

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Filed under Panorama, Photography, Weather

Tonight’s Tunes

I’ve got nothing tonight, too much going on and too little time to do it and I’m feeling like Tia Lioni at the end of “Deep Impact” as she’s on the beach looking at that mile-high tidal wave coming at her at 500 mph…

But music, as it often does, has made a big difference tonight and last night. That’s a good thing, so let’s not be a buzzkill and talk about that for half a second.

Tonight it’s Dave Kendall’s “Party 360” on SiriuxXM Channel 33 First Wave. Lots of dance mixes and 80’s songs and some of the weird stuff along with the dancing stuff. It’s great to really crank it up (sorry in the next room!) when it’s time to Wang Chung, and I had completely forgotten about “Warm Leatherette.”

Yesterday was Jimmy Page’s 75th birthday, so it was “Led Zeppelin II” and “Led Zeppelin IV” for me. Tasty, tasty stuff.

What are you listening to in order to keep your head from exploding in the current shitstorm?

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Filed under Music


So, at risk of going off on a rant about a particular thing that really triggers me, let me just say that there’s this program that I think really, REALLY ***SUCKS*** but I’m being forced to use it. For reasons.

Among the many reasons I think this particular online, cloud-based product is so terrible is how limited it is, especially compared to the full, desktop version, which I use every day and think is spectacular. But this online version is the genetically mutated, stunted, warped, weird-looking, keep-it-locked-away-in-the-woodshed version. It’s buggy.

And it it slower than hell. I keep being told by those who are forcing me to use it that it must be my system or my connection – bullshit, I have new Dell top of the line systems with a high-speed connection that runs just fine on 99.99999999% of other uses. Perhaps if 999,999 programs work perfectly well and this one doesn’t, then perhaps it’s the mutant that’s the problem.

Okay, I’m stuck with it.

What can I do to maybe lessen the pain? There’s no online help with this thing. Every time I run into a brick wall trying to get it to do something trivial I go looking for help or a FAQ or something, only to be referred to a “user’s group.” The UG apparently is populated by those who somehow believe this program to be the greatest thing since sliced yogurt.

Wait… There’s an “Absolute Worst Program Ever Created for Dummies?” Overnight that sucker to me, Amazon!

I spent a big chunk of tonight looking for the secrets, the magic, the special codes that would let me be at the very least semi-functional using this useless piece of shit excuse for a program.

Q: How do I do task “A” which should be trivial?

A: You don’t. It can’t do that.

Q: WHAT? Wait, so then how do I do task “B” that’s absolutely critical?

A: You don’t. It can’t do that.

Q: YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING! Well surely it can do task “C”, right? Even someone like SCROTUS would figure that out!

A: What part of “you don’t” are you not understanding. It can’t do that. Ha! Fooled you! You’re totally screwed!

As has been noted, “Who’s the more foolish, the fool, or the fool that follows him?”

Maybe I can just fake it in Excel and plug in the totals.

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Filed under Computers