Sunday, August 30, 2015

Solset on Mount Wilson

Public access to the Mount Wilson Observatory ends at 5pm, unless you're going to a special event. So when I had the chance to be on the Observatory grounds during evening hours, you can bet I grabbed it.

Approaching the 150-foot Solar Tower at sunset...


Take a closer look. The little platform on the right is an elevator you can ride to the top IF you don't fear heights and IF you know the right people. I don't fear heights. I have to work on the people.

My next post takes place inside the building, with more magic. Or, uh, science.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


What's the best way to deal with a heat wave?

1. Find shade.

2. Get into the shade.

3. Rub yourself against the shade.

4. Bite the shade.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: A Billion for Bob

A couple of weeks ago, the lovely and multi-talented Karyn O'Bryant invited me to a unique voice over industry event at Deyan Audio Studios in Tarzana, CA.

I was pretty excited about meeting the people at Deyan Audio. They're famous for producing over 12,000 audiobooks, and for winning numerous Grammys and Audie Awards. Really, if you want to record audiobooks (and I do), you want to know Deyan.

But this wasn't a hand-out-your-business-card-and-schmooze type of event. There's much more to the story. 

Bob and Debra Deyan founded their business in 1990 in a closet in their home. Many voice artists record from home this way, but Bob and Debra expanded to include two locations, both a good deal larger than closets. Now Deyan Audio employs 150 or more audio engineers and directors and has provided freelance work for as many as 1500 voice actors, all who clearly love and respect Debra and Bob.

In 2013, Bob Deyan was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a neuron-killing disease for which there is no cure. We had gathered at Deyan to make this video for Bob:

The palpable love of all these people made me wish heartily that I'd known Bob Deyan. By the time PJ finished talking my cheeks were wet with tears. But I chickened out of getting doused with actual water. I mean geez, I was wearing a dress. However, I wanted to make a contribution so I made a behind-the-scenes video of the rehearsal:

Bob died one year ago today at the young age of 56, one week after his friends made this for him:

There are many things you can do to help find a cure for ALS:

1.) Accept the Ice Bucket Challenge!

2.) Record a video of yourself dumping a bucket (or a cup) of ice water over your head to increase awareness of ALS. You can use an existing body of water (my friends used pool water the other day), or another drought conscious substance in place of water (dirt!). Challenge at least three people to do the same to support the search for a cure.

3.) Upload your video and challenge/tag at least three others. You can also send it to the ALS Association Golden West Chapter and they'll do it for you!

4.) Give to The ALS Association Golden West Chapter.

Update: Johns Hopkins University has just this week announced a breakthrough in ALS research. All of this is thanks to the Ice Bucket Challenge. So join in! It's definitely worth it!

I'm uploading my video and challenging all of you here. You can douse yourself with water if you like, but we're in California and there isn't a lot to spare. So feel free to cut to the chase.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Quick Blog Break

I'm taking a quick blog break. At least I hope it will be quick. Like a fool, I went and updated my operating system and now I don't know how to use the photo program. Oh damn, I must learn something new.

I'm working on something else that's requiring me to become a techie, so the photo program has to wait. Just a bit. Fingers (and toes) crossed). I have a maximum capacity for this stuff, and my skull runneth over.

Waiting is hard. Ask someone who knows.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Mark Piscitelli Men's Fashions

I got an email from Salvatore (Tore) Piscitelli, inviting me to come and take pictures at Mark Piscitelli Men's Fashions. I knew the building, a 1920's style, two-story corner store on the shady side of Green Street in the Playhouse District. I've always wondered about that building. I told Tore, "I don't do advertising!" Which isn't quite accurate. I like to tell you about interesting stores and restaurants. But what's in it for me? Maybe some architectural history.

At the store I was met by Michael Amer, who showed me around. He's very knowledgeable about the merchandise, which includes everything from suits and tuxedos to cufflinks and the store's signature scent for men. This is no off-the-rack, $99 suit warehouse. It's a men's fashion boutique. Some items are exclusive to the store, some are handmade or made to measure. And considering the quality, the prices are reasonable.

Oh, did I mention? These guys are into color.

But I wanted to know about the building. "Let's have the info, Michael," I said, "and make it snappy." Except I was more polite than that. You have to be, when folks are so well dressed.

Michael knows his stuff. The building, at 589 E. Green Street, was built in the 1920's. Its first purpose was for growing orchids. Back then the part of the store shown above had a dirt floor.

If you look in the mirror you can see the false ceiling. Above it there's a skylight that used to shine natural light on the orchids I was stepping on.

Here we look out at the elegant old building across the street, which houses corporate offices of a giant company. Neither Michael nor I had ever seen anyone enter or leave the building.

Here I am standing in the dirt again, looking out to the part of the store that was once the customer service area of the orchid place.

After the orchids it became a real estate office. In the 1980s the building housed an interior design firm, which was there until 2009 when Mark Piscitelli took it over. Before that, Mark Piscitelli was at Hudson and Green for 22 years.

Tore and I each get what we want here. He gets a plug for the store, which is lovely, carries an incredible variety of fine stuff, and smells good. I learned some Pasadena architectural history and met new people, and that's always a plus. Besides Michael I also met Frank, who was equally handsome and well dressed.

They've got quiet tones if you want them. But I don't think you're going to find a rack of slacks like these anywhere else. And ask about the chemical-free jeans.

You are welcome to stop by. You can shop, or just enjoy the building. Don't miss the cash register, even though you'll have to step on the orchids to get a good look at it.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Pasadena Museum of History Archives

The first page of a huge book of maps called the Sanborn Maps.

I'm researching to write a book, and one of the characters is an archivist. So I went over to the archives at the Pasadena Museum of History. I thought it would be a fun way to learn how archiving is done. I decided to research my home and street to get an idea.

I knew where to find some of the materials I wanted. There's plenty right there in the reading room that you can look at. It'll take me ages to get through it all—delightful, nerdy ages. You can also tell an archivist what you're looking for and they'll help you find more great resources. You can research anything about Pasadena history.

This is the City Directory from, I believe, 1939. The C.F. Lamb Funeral Home offered definite pluses, especially the "Lady Attendant." I assume that the building, at the corner of Orange Grove and Los Robles, has always been a funeral home. It was the Avalon Funeral Home when I moved to Pasadena in 2005. Recently, the Avalon business has vacated the premises and the building is for sale. Next time you drive by, look up. There's a lovely weathervane.

Put some cash in the donation box and this book can get a special protective cover.

For a break, I found a shady spot on the grounds of the Museum. You could do worse.

And yes, I had fun.

The Archives are open Thursday through Sunday from 1-4 pm. No appointment is necessary. Enter the parking lot on Walnut just east of Orange Grove, take the elevator to the lower level of the museum building (not the Fenyes Mansion), and you're there.

(Oh and just by the way, by the by, off hand, as an afterthought, as it were: the Museum Store has 3 copies of Act As If and one of Camelot & Vine. When you buy the books there a portion of the money goes to the Museum.)

What would you like to research?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Garfield Heights

Garfield Heights is a historic district in Northwest Pasadena. Northwest Pasadena is a big area with a bad reputation. 

And boy, is that reputation well deserved. Drugs, gangs, crime... I mean, look at these statistics! Geez. 

Gilmore House, 1891
Could you live in this dump? I couldn't.

Gerlach House, 1913

"Adena House," 1887

The median income in Northwest Pasadena is a mere $104,000-ish per year, barely $10,000 more than the rest of Pasadena. It's shameful. We need to fund some programs or something.

To be fair, there are serious trouble spots in NW Pasadena. It sort of depends on what you're used to. If you've ever lived in Chicago, or Houston, or New York, or Los Angeles—or Paris or London, for that matter—these spots are itches, as opposed to burns. 

So don't write off the whole area, unless you don't like living in a mansion and paying less for it than you would anywhere else in town.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


The first time I visited Hoopla I forgot to look up and I didn't see this sign. It's a trace, a vestige, of the old store on North Lake Avenue in Altadena. That store was Webster's Fine Stationers. Before that it was simply the Stationery part of Webster's, an Altadena institution, where you could buy padded envelopes, browse greeting cards, pick up some liquor and fill your prescriptions all in one trip. If memory serves, you could buy underwear and mail a package, too.

I just found out that it's pronounced Al-tadena, (as in the first name "Al"). All this time I've been pronouncing it All-tadena (as in "all this time").

At Hoopla you can be on a first-name basis with the owners, Altadena residents Scott and Lori Webster, who have made their store into THE place to purchase local crafts, foods, and books. (Scott Webster, who has lived in Altadena all his life, confirms the Al over All thing).

Today I was focused on the pottery. 

But you could focus on the foods. Or the handmade soaps. Or the toys. You can't believe how much eclectic stuff they cram into this small "emporium of good things." If you want to buy a gift, it's here. So is the card.

All this by way of telling you I was forced, forced, to go to Hoopla today to restock Camelot & Vine because they were sold out. How I suffer. They carry Act As If, too, as well as books by many other local authors.

While you're there book shopping, be sure to peek into every corner to find the weird, the wonderful, and the fine stationery, too. And don't forget to look up.

Sunday, July 5, 2015


I was walking with Wilma one day when I noticed that a pretty plant perched on many a front step we passed. Tied around the festive wrapping paper was a card that said "Enjoy your pepper plant!" on one side and showed a business card on the other.

Pretty soon we met the woman in the photo, who was pulling a little red wagon full of plants. "Hi! I'm Diana," she said. "Would you like a pepper plant?"

She told me she was a real estate agent and she was giving the plants away. We talked about the neighborhood. I told her I already had a real estate agent. Diana said, "That's great! Please take a plant anyway."

So, being a lover of free things, I took my plant, thanked her and walked on.

She had canvassed the neighborhood. Those plants were all over the place.

My pepper plant has been enjoying my back porch for two weeks or so, and I've had time to think about Diana Nikolof's evil plan. She gave something of value and she did it cheerfully. In my case, she gave while knowing I would not buy her product. She didn't know I was going to write a blog post about her. She didn't even know I have a blog. She only knew I wasn't in the real estate market and that if I were, I had another agent to call.

Networking is giving. And I believe it pays off in the long run. You can't know how it's going to pay off. You just have to get out there and give.

What do you think of Diana's methods? I wonder what I can give at book fairs, etc? Should I walk around the neighborhood and leave bookmarks on peoples' doorsteps? I don't think people care much about bookmarks. Then again, I don't have Diana's budget. 

You like Smarties, don't you? Everybody likes Smarties. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Dark Arts

Our family friend is in medical school. He let it slip that there's a med school course—two courses, in fact—in Non-Treatment 101 and 102. It's is a well kept secret, like Dark Arts classes at Hogwarts.

As you will guess, these classes are inhumanities electives. Very popular.

Non-Treatment 101 teaches doctors how to keep a patient coming back for follow-up appointments and, without actually doing any healing, charging patients and insurance companies for a wide variety of "healing services." A good Non-Treater can keep you coming back for years without helping you at all. The very best can also sell you a lot of drugs you don't need and for which there is no generic equivalent.

Non-Treatment 101 is a prerequisite for the more advanced Non-Treatment 102. This class is complicated to explain (med school courses are for the superior of brain and often difficult for us laypeople to understand), but it's basically this: How long can you keep the patient sitting in the waiting room, then the exam room, before you deign to sell them ten minutes of your distracted time for several hundred dollars?

Non-Treatment 102 is popular because it's purely recreational. It doesn't create income for the physician or for the drug companies, but med students and doctors report emotional rewards: in a stressful profession it's pure joy to peer out into the waiting room and watch all those unhealthy, unhappy people check their phones, stare at the ceiling and try to get comfortable in the office chairs as their pain and suffering intensify.

Want to get an A+? Don't provide magazines.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

No Solicitors

dramatic re-enactment

A knock on the door. John answers.

John: Hi, what's up?

Solicitor: Hello sir, can you help us out? We're selling, um...

The solicitor stops speaking. There is a brief pause.

John: Not now. We're having a physical therapy session.

Solicitor: Oh. Oh! Right! Okay! Bye!

Little feetsies hurry away.

I guess you had to be there.

Note to schools, summer programs, etc.: please don't make your kids sell door-to-door.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Now I Am Five

I have been living with my humans for a year now. They made today my birthday. I didn't tell them different because I don't know. So now I am five.

I get two meals and two walks every day, and I get a treat each time the humans have their meal. I think the treat I get in the morning is medicine but I will eat it because it is mine and because I will eat it.

I get a bath sometimes. The whole pack joins in this activity. I like baths.

I have a cage, but I almost never have to go in it, so I made it my office, for when I need quiet time.

I have three bones. I am tired of the blue bone. The red bone is for outside. The chicken flavored bone is for family activities inside.

I have five places.* FIVE! Plus a couch**, and sometimes an armchair if no one's watching. At the shelter I did not have these things, but I got meals and sometimes walks and treats. I had a cage which was too noisy to be an office.

What I have learned this year:

I have learned to walk on the leash without pulling. I wish we could go faster at the beginning, but after that it's fine. My fur is growing back where I used to pull against the harness.

Sometimes we see dogs. I do not like dogs! But I get a treat if I don't bark at them, so I begin to see their uses. I WILL NOT LIKE CATS.*** EVER.

photo by John Sandel
The back yard is mine. The sun is there. I am safe there. I can have a nap or I can bark. I bark at sirens. I rage at the mailman. I throw myself against the fence if a cat walks on top of it. I only do that when it's important because the humans make me come inside if I do it. I think I took out some fence boards but they must have put them back. I don't know how that works. I would like to give my humans a dead cat but they don't want one.

I know some words. I already knew "sit," "stay," "no," and "leave it." What is "down"? I don't know "down." I know "off." "Love" means "good." I learned "lick" (mostly comes after "no") and "come" (optional). These are human words. I don't say them. I say many dangerous things.

I had a swimming lesson! I will tell you about it when the female gets the pictures.

I like to cuddle.

Some things still confuse me. I have more to learn. I like learning.

For my birthday I would like to have a bath and a dental chew. I hope we will celebrate my birthday today. Sometimes I still worry that I won't get to stay here, but a year is forever so I think I get to stay.


*Wilma's "place" is her pallet. She does indeed have five, so she can participate in family activities in the living room, dining room, and offices. One pallet stays in the bedroom for sleeping. 

**In the photo of Wilma on the couch, Boz's ashes and photo are in the background. Wilma knows about Boz, but we haven't talked to her about ashes. She's too young for that just yet.

***We use the word "cat" to denote "small animal," so Wilma won't have to distinguish verbally between squirrels, cats, opossums or chihuahuas. Too many syllables. We just say "no cat." 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Use Me

Camelot & Vine has hit the big time! I'm dealing with some of the same issues that the big New York publishers deal with!

23 cents may seem cheap. But wait. Here's Diana Gabaldon's huge hit, Outlander:

I doubt she minds. Her book has been made into a big cable TV hit, with gorgeous stars and gorgeous countryside and gorgeous costumes and gorgeous gorgeousness.

I don't mind, either. After all, if they're selling it used, then it had to get used in the first place. And look at this, at the end of the Camelot & Vine used sales list. 

What? I mean, what? Do people pay that kind of money for a used paperback? Not unless it's a first edition, signed by Dylan Thomas. People don't even pay this kind of money for a new hardback. So I wonder what the motivation is behind this pricing. It's certainly not sales.

Friday, June 5, 2015


I'm tired tonight. It's been a long day. A lot of freeway driving and traffic, a friend's funeral, car trouble. All this took up the whole day. And tonight: leftovers.

My feet burn, my shoulders ache and my ears are ringing. I feel drained.

But I can look forward to a good night's rest. I can be glad of friends who shared the day with me, one who did most of the driving and another who backed me up when my car backed out on me. The leftovers weren't great, but they were okay.

And today I did not get my heart broken by the loss of a dearly beloved. The hardest thing for me about my friend's funeral was knowing how much harder it was for her family.

I have tomorrow.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Charter Invitation

I would take them up on this. Really, I would. It's about $115 less than what we were paying Charter when we canceled—on January 21st, 2009.

But we canceled for obvious reasons.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Mt. Wilson Observatory: A Great Adventure

The grand finale of the Mt. Wilson Observatory tour is the 100-inch telescope. Here, Edwin Hubble worked to discover his theory of the expansion of the universe. Yep. Major important stuff.

Notice anything different about how the roof of this facility opens, as opposed to the roof at the 60-inch I posted about the other day? Our guide, Observatory Superintendent Craig Woods, explained that after the 60-inch was built it was discovered that this vertical opening, as opposed to the horizontal one at the 60-inch, made for a stronger structure. 

By the way, Craig has been known to climb up to the top of the roof. 
But he's no fool, he gets strapped onto a safety catch.

The 100-inch (that refers to the diameter of the mirror) is a big telescope, though there now larger ones in the world.  

John took this picture of me and Craig at the 100-inch.

He also took a couple of great panoramas of the inside of the telescope housing. Click on these to enlarge. 
They're pretty cool.

This one really shows how big the space is. Craig and I are over on the left. We're looking into a hole in the floor. It's a sort of trap door big enough for a giant to keep his lunchbox in. The Observatory is keeping the top part of the 100-inch telescope there.

The two telescope-looking things here really are scoping devices for the 100-inch. And there are buttons. And stuff. I was just trying to explain Steampunk to Craig when we came upon this.  

I think if any one thing can convey Mt. Wilson's past, present and future importance it's this building, this telescope. Hubble's discovery was seminal. He made it here, sitting on a bentwood chair, measuring the movements he saw in the skies. There may be more powerful telescopes in the world now, but even those still observe what he discovered here.

We met Larry S. Webster, the Site Manager for CHARA, the Center for high Angular Resolution Astronomy, a project of Georgia State University. Larry has been with Mt. Wilson for 37 years. He lives there, with his wife and daughter. (What a childhood! That kid is on a first name basis with every squirrel on the mountain.) Larry told amazing stories about a building in Pasadena that was once part of the Carnegie Observatories. Just before the building was to be torn down, with all the old records in it, Larry went in with a flashlight (because the electricity had already been turned off) and rescued everything he could fit on his truck. He couldn't get it all and some things were lost. But many precious papers, records, and items are now preserved, thanks to him. I hope these will one day be part of a Mount Wilson Museum and archive here on the mountain.

There's a board of directors. They are thinking of ways to keep the place alive. Let's listen for the call and take part when it comes.

For now, join the Friends of Mount Wilson Observatory. Take a day to go on up there. It's a vigorous hike, or a leisurely drive. Have a hot dog, chili, or pie at the Cosmic Cafe. 

 And enjoy your discoveries.