Category Archives: Los Angeles

Red Leaf Saturday With Berries

Fall has started to arrive in SoCal.

It might not be the Black River Valley or Franconia Notch, but we do get some color.

Not sure what these are, but there are a bunch of them in the parking lot at my office.

Even better, with COVID the lot and the building were almost empty, so I didn’t have to deal with anyone wondering why some lunatic was wandering around the parking lot taking pictures of leaves.

Yeah, like that’s EVER stopped me!

It was odd being in the office for a couple hours (computer problems, had to get it back online) but at least I had something spectacular to look at when I came out!

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Filed under Los Angeles, Photography

Bobcat Still Burning

After last night, when some defensive backfires were set on the east side of the Mount Wilson Observatory, which looked scary but were actually controlled and to prevent worse, we were hoping that Mount Wilson was out of danger from the Bobcat Fire.

Not so fast.

This afternoon another flare up occurred on the north side of the mountain. You can see it start just after 12:30 (time stamps in the upper left) in the 12:00 to 15:00 time-lapse video, then blow up in the 15:00 to 18:00 video, and continue to spread to the north in the 18:00 to 21:00 video. (All videos and images from the HPWREN webcam system unless otherwise noted.)

Here’s where we are now:

The good news is that all of this new fire growth is pushing away from the Observatory grounds. This is all about a mile to the north on the next ridge over, pushing up toward Highway 2.

(Image from Google Maps – incredibly professional graphics from yours truly.)

There have been a LOT of water and Phos-Chek drops today. At one point someone monitoring the radios tweeted that all air tankers had been diverted to Mount Wilson to make a stand there. It obviously worked.

These are the TV and radio transmission towers on the ridge just west of the ridge where the observatory is. You can clearly see them in the HPWREN pictures I shared on Thursday. But as I said, the flare up isn’t super close to the observatory – just close, not super close.

Also, while I’m obviously invested in the Mount Wilson Observatory site being protected, this fire continues to grow almost out of control for the fifth day with thousands of homes being threatened on the south side of the mountains where the San Gabriel Valley is and on the north side where the Antelope Valley lies.

Up in the Antelope Valley, they were using our pair of Canadian Super Scoopers, refilling them on the fly from Lake Palmdale. Since that lake is a recreational site and at least the shore facilities aren’t closed off, it’s drawing crowds to watch.

(Video credit to Matt Winheim, Executive Director/Superintendent of the Palmdale Aerospace Academy)

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Filed under Astronomy, Disasters, Los Angeles

Panic Not

I tell you this in advance – this is not necessarily a terrible thing. It’s under control, even if it doesn’t seem that way. We’ll get through this and come out stronger and better on the other side.

You and I aren’t the experts. Don’t try this at home.

All images from the HPWREN cameras on Mount Wilson, run by UC San Diego. (I would also note that they put out time-lapse videos for each of the four cameras for every three-hour period, 24 hours a day, and the archive goes back a couple of years. There’s an interesting one on my birthday of it snowing like crazy up there. For those who don’t know how it can snow in Los Angeles County, remember this is at about 5,700 feet. Lots of things are different there. That’s why we have ski resorts just a 90 minute drive from the beach.)

Again, this national treasure is *NOT* burning to the ground tonight – but it sure looked like it if you didn’t get the memo. Just a few minutes after 19:00 local time, looking east, just beyond the line of big domes, there was a puff of smoke:

A half-hour later it was a huge blaze. What we had missed was this:

The “good window of opportunity with favorable conditions” equals cool(er) temperatures, higher humidity, light winds, and most importantly, winds that will push the flames away from the domes and back down the ridge to where it had already burned.

That “existing retardant line?” I think this picture from yesterday explains that:

So the pros saw their chance and took it!

It’s up on top of the ridge where the observatories are and looks like it’s only a few meters from some of the facilities. That’s because it was.

Then it started to die down a bit over there…

…before flaring up over here.

And now it’s all died down and is being put out.

Mount Wilson appears to have been saved from this horror. The fire is less than 20% contained and on the north side, leading into the Antelope Valley, there are more new evacuations tonight. Some of the evacuation areas on the south side around Glendale (where all of those lights are in the right center) have been lifted, but many are still in place for the eighth day. But for now, looking at the weather and the containment lines and defensive burns like tonight’s, it seems that Mount Wilson is safe.

So many thanks to the firefighters who have made this happen. In this hell of a year, we need to grab our victories where we can.

And for those who might think that I’ve slipped into a fugue state and obsessing over Mount Wilson because I can’t face what’s going on in the real world these days – go back and read the first sentence.

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Filed under Astronomy, Disasters, Los Angeles

Mount Wilson Tonight

They thought they were out of the woods on the Bobcat fire after a flare-up that got within 500 yards of Mt. Wilson Observatory a couple nights ago.

Not so.

The Bobcat fire started just before noon on Sunday, the 13th. Four days later, it’s only 9% contained and it’s now threatening thousands of homes in both the San Gabriel Valley on the Los Angeles side of the mountains as well as communities on the northern, Antelope Valley side of the mountains.

And now it’s dangerously close to the Mount Wilson Observatory again.

These might be backfires, set deliberately by the firefighters under controlled conditions to increase the amount of defensible space around the facility. It’s hard for fire to burn through an area that’s already burned – no fuel.

But from the webcams on the observatory domes, it looks very close and very dangerous. (Photos below from the UC San Diego HPWREN network.)

The only good news is that it seems that it was worse a couple hours ago in terms of flames leaping fifty feet into the air. These photos were taken at 23:00, 23:16, and 23:25 respectively.

The lights of Los Angeles are beautiful – they also seriously limit the ability of this world-class astronomical observatory to do world-class observations.

You can also see, through the clouds, in the upper right of the left-hand frame, Jupiter and Saturn drifting through the smoke.

Let’s hope that Mount Wilson is still there in the morning. And next week. And onward.

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Filed under Los Angeles, Photography, Space


We hear helicopters pass by all the time – LA’s a busy place. Between police, fire, television, traffic, military, and just business aircraft, helicopters are not uncommon.

But most are just passing by. When you hear that heavy beat from a big one and you hear it for five, ten, fifteen minutes, then something’s going on. If it’s circling, that’s always a police helicopter. If it’s hovering, and REALLY making a racket and rattling the windows, then it’s probably a fire department chopper. Which in turn means one of two things: a brush fire (not uncommon right now) or a rescue.

Today it was another rescue, the second in about three weeks.

You’ve seen plenty of pictures of Castle Peak that’s directly off to our west, with the baseball and soccer fields at their base. You’ve seen it on fire, you’ve seen it under a comet, and one of these days you may see the view looking back this way. It’s in a wilderness park and folks climb it all the time. Folks also underestimate the difficulty level of the climb all the time. And if they fall and break a leg, or collapse due to heat exhaustion, they need to get rescued, often by helicopter.

When I finally paid attention to the fact that I had been “feeling” the beat of that heavy, hovering helicopter (I had on my noise cancelling headphones) and went out, it was just descending below the neighbor’s house, down onto the baseball fields. I could hear the engine wind down but not stop, holding there for about ten minutes as the patient was offloaded into an ambulance.

I was hoping he would come right overhead – if it were an LA County helicopter he would have, heading back to Van Nuys Airport to the east. The one a couple of weeks ago did, and he ended up making a couple of trips from the mountain to the baseball field, so there might have been several folks hurt.

Today we got one of the Ventura County helicopters. (They’re blue and yellow, LA County’s helicopters are orange and white.) Not sure what the distinction is that would cause them to call one or the other, although the county line does run right along the base of the mountain on this side. Maybe it depends on where exactly you get hurt?

When he was done he went straight back out to the west, toward Camarillo Airport. Their base is right next to our CAF hangars out there, so I’m familiar.

What if you get hurt on the Ventura County side, but roll down the mountain to the LA County side? Do they each take half?


Filed under Flying, Los Angeles, Photography

Plus ça Change – April 18th

Most of the restaurants in our area have made the shift to delivery and pickup only and we’re trying to do the best we can to patronize them and keep them going. Tonight I had an interesting and enlightening experience picking up dinner.

One of the local pizza places that was a standard, go-to place for kid’s birthday parties, team parties for soccer and baseball and basketball, Monday Night Football viewing, and so on (a mom and pop place, not a national chain) has reopened with limited hours and strict ordering and pickup routines. Not onerous, but they’re not fooling around.

You order online only, pay for it online in advance, then go down and park. They have a fairly extensive area in front of the restaurant cordoned off and you don’t go inside of the barrier. They’ll come to the door and holler at you to see who you are, give you an update on your order’s timing, then go back inside. Once your order is ready they’ll put it on a table outside, they’ll go back inside, THEN you can go inside the cordoned off area to pick up your food and leave. Simple.

I got there and parked. There were two or three people sitting around in their cars, waiting for their orders. Everyone’s wearing masks and observing social distancing and then some. I told the folks in the restaurant who I was and was told it would be another ten minutes. I moved away from the door area to wait.

In comes a huge SUV, which parks right next to the doors in a handicapped space. No sign of any handicapped tags or plates. Out pops a woman who would fit a Central Casting call for “middle-aged white trash.” She does not have a mask of any kind, but she’s smoking a cigarette. She goes up to the ropes, is told it will be another ten minutes or so, and chooses to start giving a ration of shit to the waitress.

She finally goes back to stand next to her car, crushes the cigarette on the ground (yet another of my favorite antisocial behaviors), and lights up another. Someone new has parked over yonder and is walking up, sees her, and makes a comment about her not having a mask.

“I can’t smoke if I’m wearing a mask!”

Well, that’s probably true. This new guy decides to point out the option to not be smoking.

“FUCK YOU! Mind your own business!” At which point she got into her illegally parked SUV and shut the doors to wait for her food.

My order came up about then so I took it, walked the long way around Patient Zero, and left.

It’s America in a nutshell right now as I see it. 80% or more of people doing the best they can, a bit confused perhaps, almost certainly trying to function way outside of their comfort zone, but getting by and working for the common good. All accompanied by a very small minority that are either not intelligent enough or not mature enough (or both) to be able to do what’s right.

I don’t have a dog in the hunt re: Ms. Chain Smoker. I didn’t get involved, just moved further away.

But I will say this – I’m rooting for the lung cancer.

Let’s bring back consequences for stupidity.

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Filed under CoronaVirus, Los Angeles

April Snow

It sounds absurd to many to hear that the six straight days of rain in SoCal left as much as a foot of snow. It would be absurd if there were 12″ of snow in downtown LA or at LAX or at our house at ANY time of year. (I’ve been here over 45 years and I remember once getting what could generously be called a “dusting.”) Yet from the hangar today in Camarillo, there it was!

The key, of course, is to realize that there’s a lot of elevation to play with around here. LAX is at 125′ elevation, Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley (my part of town) is at 802′. I think our house is at 1,041 feet. We don’t get snow.

But up in the mountains on the northern end of Ventura County (shown) they get up to 5,000′ or more. And in Los Angeles County, those gorgeous peaks you see in the background during the Rose Parade every January 1st, several peaks climb to over 9,000′ and Mount Baldy is over 10,000′. So, yes, they get snow. There are ski resorts up there. (Yes, in LA in the winter you can often go surfing in the morning and snowboarding in the afternoon. If you surf. And snowboard. I don’t do either, BTW.)

That all having been said, it is a bit odd to get snow this late in the year. But then again, it’s also odd to get rain for six days in a row (over 4″ around our house).

So we don’t have it nearly as bad as the folks in Maine who got a foot of heavy snow late this week and were losing power all over the place, or all of those who are going to get up to a foot of it across huge swaths of the Midwest tonight and tomorrow.

Ours just made for some picture postcard views.

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Filed under CAF, Los Angeles, Photography, Weather


When there are brush fires nearby, or even if it’s just really hot and dry and windy and they’re talking about “Red Flag” weather, there’s an ominous expectation, knowing that there’s danger out there. You’re probably going to be okay, although you may end up going through some real shit if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, but for the most part you go about your business as usual. You make some preparations and get ready “just in case,” but you still go to work and carry on with life as usual.

This has that same feel – but different. Sometimes a LOT different.

It’s the scale that does it. A brush fire, even one of the really big ones like they had in Northern California a couple years ago, can kill hundreds and destroy thousands or even tens of thousands of homes and businesses. But ultimately, it’s restricted to a relatively local area, maybe a few counties at worst. (The Australian fires earlier this year were obviously an exception to that rule and may be coming our way soon, but one disaster at a time, please!)

With the COVID tsunami approaching our hospitals, already overwhelming them in Italy and Seattle, ominously close in New York and the Bay Area, and now flaring up in Los Angeles, Chicago, DC, St Louis, Kansas City, and Dallas, and the worst case scenario potential for the death toll to be in the millions just here in the US, it’s simultaneously a huge source of anxiety and also numbing. It’s just too much to take in or comprehend at times.

So while we’re fine for the moment, with every cough or tickle in the back of the throat, the thought is there. “Is this how it begins?”

My job is secure (as secure as any can be these days, at least) and I’m actually working my ass off from home, juggling deadlines for both the office and the hangar. It’s a little bit odd working from home, but I have a decent home office setup and do a fair amount of hangar work here to begin with, so it’s not too huge of an adjustment. But then you think about the entire economy and what potentially could fall apart if we have to start grounding airlines for an extended period or the health care system starts to fracture and fail.

In short, staying at home is comfortable, but there’s a growing sense of impending doom. Will all of this disruption to our lives and the economy allow us to dodge the worst of this epidemic? Or did the utter failure of the Trump Regime to take the threat seriously for over two months lead us down a road that we can’t recover from and we’ll just have to fight our way through?

It’s a very odd sort of dichotomy. And not “odd” in a good way.

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Filed under CoronaVirus, Los Angeles

When I’m Sixty-Four

The Younger Daughter said that I was a Nintendo. I hadn’t thought of that. I just sort of was thinking about it terms of powers of two – I’m now 2^6 years old. What are the odds of getting to 2^7th? Less than stellar, even before this pandemic swept across the globe.

My brother was the first to point out the obvious. His email this evening was the first time that anyone had actually made the Beatles joke. Will they still need me? Will they still feed me?

Well, yes, to the latter. I just finished off a nice chunk of carrot cake in celebration and there was a lovely dinner earlier (at home, of course), so my status hasn’t changed there.

But it was during dinner that the phone started to light up. First it was the notices from the City alert system, telling us that the Mayor was putting a “shelter in place” order into effect at midnight. The banks, grocery stores, essential services (which is a pretty long list, really) all will stay open while exercising all of the social distancing that we’ve been practicing for the last couple of weeks. But shopping malls, other retail stores, offices, most other places are off limits and everyone should stay home for at least the next couple of weeks.

Then the Governor put an order into place for the entire state. California, which by itself would be the sixth biggest economy in the world, is on lockdown in an effort to prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths in the next month to eight weeks. And even if it “works,” we’ll probably still have thousands or tens of thousands of deaths here, with hundreds of thousands or even millions across the US.

Happy Birthday to me, right?!

Despite the low-level anxiety of this whole debacle (and the white-hot rage every time I start reading about the current resident of the White House and his cult) I’m feeling a bit numb to it all. Maybe I’ve just been exhausted by it all already.

Either way, we’ve done all we can to prepare, both at home and at work, and now we’ll just do the best we can. As will everyone else, for the most part.

Welcome to the next power of two! (Is there an actual term for that, the equivalent of “decade” or “century”?) I doubt it will be dull.

Now, go wash your hands! And stop touching your face!


Filed under CoronaVirus, Los Angeles, Paul

Super Tuesday 2020

For decades California has had their primary in June, by which time the Presidential candidates had long since been chosen. Now they’ve moved the date up to Super Tuesday, so we got to vote today.

In addition, Los Angeles County has done a 52-pick up with the election process. Instead of having specific polling places with ink marks on paper ballots (and usually five to ten minute waits) we now have a small fraction of the number of polling places and they’re “Voting Centers” open for about ten days before the election. Piece of cake, you can vote any time in that ten days or so! Right?

Except they didn’t do a good job of advertising that, so 99% of us thought that today was the day. So we were all in line. Some of those lines got long.

The good news was that you could go to any “Voting Center” in the county, and it’s a big county. I didn’t have to drive all the way back home and get there at 7:00 or 7:30 and then wait for a couple of hours. I went to a place just a few blocks from the office, got there at 5:30, and then didn’t have more than about a 45 minute wait.

The process itself also changed completely. We got what was basically an almost legal-sized sheet of heat sensitive paper, which had some QR codes on it for security, which then got fed into a station with a touch screen about twice the size of my iPad. The touch screen process was easy, once it was done I got to confirm my choices, it printed out on the sheet, I got to review the sheet, then fed it back in to be stored. Interesting. Easy peasy.

Secure? Who knows?

But there were a couple of notable sights in the line:

A teenager with her grandmother. It looked like the teen was voting for the first time, while her grandmother must have been in her 80’s. Maybe it was her great-grandmother. But it was interesting to watch them go through the sample ballot and other materials to discuss the judges, measures, and the Presidential candidates.

There were signs all over for people who were just dropping off their mail-in ballots. No need to stand in line for that, so just bypass the line and go in. At one point a mom came in with a little girl. They were working their way through the crowded hallway and the little girl was real upset, worried that they were “cutting” the line and all of us would be mad at them. (We weren’t.)

Compared to other locations in LA County it was a breeze and not unpleasant. But let’s face it – it was a white, upscale neighborhood with a 35-40 minute wait. And our machines worked. Apparently there were plenty of other places where it was not so pleasant, the wait was 3-4 hours, and the machines didn’t work all the time.

Was it secure?

Good question.

Did my candidate win?

I’m sure she didn’t.

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Filed under Los Angeles, Politics