Sunday, October 28, 2012

SB Rugby Day

The Santa Barbara Grunions
So I've started playing rugby.  Not sure why, really.  Perhaps I thought that I needed more exercise.  Perhaps I thought that I wasn't busy enough.  Perhaps it's because I like the feel of fresh grass between my cleats and it's half a year between now and ultimate season.

Whatever the reason, SB Rugby Day was my first time out on the pitch for a full-contact match.  This was an achievement that followed a relatively short run of preparatory touch games and technique-oriented practices.

SB Rugby Day is, you might say, a quantity-over-quantity affair.  Games are short, but there are many teams, many games and many chances for vets and rookies alike to get some pre-season playing time.

Several colleges attended and played a mini sevens tournament.  There were a few women's sevens sides too, and a handful of masters teams.  For our part, the Grunions were picking on guys our own size - full-grown (very full-grown) adults from Ventura and the Inland Empire.

Our first opponent was IE (as a web-developer, I came into the game pre-equipped with a motivational hatred based on that abbreviation alone).  They were a smaller side numerically, but a larger side individually.  In particular, their forward pack was significantly larger than ours at pretty much every position.  Even so, our side was more fit up and down the pitch and had more subs, even after we leant them a few players so that they could contest the match.

The first half was scoreless, but IE had the advantage in territory as well as time of possession.  We were holding our own at the scrum, but giving up yardage to pick-and-go runs by their forwards.  Line-outs are a strength for the Grunions though and our ability to win line-outs on our opponent's throw probably kept us in the game.

The second half was much more open.  IE scored a try first, barreling in after a few phases of play.  I entered the game as a substitute in the second half and had a front-row seat for the try that we immediately scored in response.  After going left, we passed the ball out to the backs headed right and had significant numbers on the right hand side.  The ball made it out to our inside center who streaked by the sole defender in our area to score between the posts.

Following some back-and-forth kicking, the Grunions ended up with a line-out 5 meters outside of the IE goal.  We took the line-out and scored the try off of a rolling maul from there.  The game had required a lot of effort from our forward pack, so this was a particularly satisfying way for them to win -  especially against the heavyweight opposition.

After the IE game, the Grunions had quite a bit of time off, but I decided to spend some of it playing with IE against Ventura.  As in our game, the IE team needed players and I knew I wouldn't get much playing time as the day went on, so I was eager to get more "real" game experience.  I started at right wing and saw a bit more of the ball than I had in the Grunions game.  I successfully contested a grub kick, recovered a loose ball and assisted a bit in containing the opposition a few times.  A VERY modest contribution to be sure, but one must start somewhere.

The final Grunion game of the day came against rival Ventura.  Instead of two 20-minute halves like the IE game, we played only one 20-minute period (for reference, a normal rugby match is two 40-minute halves.  I did not start or play, but I did take some pictures!

Following the match, there were sausages to eat and beers to drink and a field to tear down.  Some folks went downtown for Halloween, but I had a flight the following morning and opted to return home for a shower and an early bedtime.

A humble but entertaining start to my late-in-life rugby "career."  If you're interested, photos are here.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Solvang days and baking

It had been a while since Chris had come over to make baked goods in our awesome (if sometimes crowded) kitchen.  This time around, the recipe was good old fashioned cookies.  I made room for a cookie or two, even though I was supposedly on a low-carb diet.

Speaking of low-carb diet breaking, Solvang Days was upon us, which meant a parade through Solvang.  What better way to represent the Danish cuisine for which the town is famous than a giant Abelskiver float?
High in carbs, high in awesomeness

These Vikings are a long way from home!

The actual reason that we went out was that Chris's brother was playing in the beer wagon band.  We got to see him play a few songs before the wagon stopped at the beer garden.
Chris's bro is on drums in the back

Chris having some fun with his special lady friend
Good times were had by all, though I dare say that things would have been comfier if Solvang had been ~20 degrees cooler that day!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Alpaca Farm

Melch and her co-workers had somehow gotten it into their heads that it would be a good idea to visit an Alpaca farm.  It turns out that there's a pretty sizable one adjacent to the Firestone winery in Los Olivos, just a quick jaunt over the pass from Santa Barbara.

Up until our trip, all that I knew of llamas was what I'd learned from the film "The Emperor's New Groove."  All that I knew of alpacas was that they were kind of like llamas.

Kind of like a llama
 Apparently alpacas and llamas are closely related to camels, though camels have been bred to carry things, whereas alpacas were bred for their fiber.

Newly-born Alpaca
Alpacas are friendly herd animals and are actually quite curious.  Whenever we'd walk through one of the many enclosures on the farm, the residents would hurry up to us.

Since alpacas are raised for their wool and my wife and her co-workers are knitters, we talked a lot about the fiber and the yarn/knitted goods that the farm had produced from it.  Melch decided that she wanted to knit herself an alpaca-wool sweater and purchased a bunch of gray yarn for the purpose after the tour was over.

Once the transaction was complete, we had to go back out into the fields so that we could meet Thesius, the alpaca from whence Melch's wool had come.  Melch promised to come back later and show him "his" sweater once it was completed.

After saying our goodbyes to alpaca, farm-worker and co-worker alike, we went for some wine tasting and a picnic dinner before hopping into the convertible for the sunset drive over the pass.  Not a bad Saturday!

Monday, October 15, 2012


To get a driver's license, you have to display a marginal degree of competence in the art of spelling your name right on paperwork.  Actually being able to drive is in no way a requirement.

Getting a pilot's license is a bit of a different affair.  There are a bunch of knowledge requirements and you have to build hours of experience in a bunch of different categories.  One of the categories is the night cross country - a flight over 50 nautical miles in length (~58 regular statute miles) conducted entirely in the dark.

Mine was to Long Beach (LGB).  This would be my furthest incursion into Los Angeles airspace yet.

The route for the flight was to begin the same as my previous flight to Santa Monica (SMO).  Take off from SBA and fly direct to Camarillo (CMA), then turn to a specific heading designed to maneuver me clear of Pt Mugu's restricted airspace.  One I hit the ocean, turn directly east to track the coast through Malibu to SMO.  The eastward track needs to track the coast pretty closely - there are some pretty tall hills to the north (hills tend to be pretty hard to spot at night), and LAX airspace to the south.

That's enough to get one to SMO, but there's a big problem with flying direct from SMO to LGB: LAX.  LAX is a huge airport with a big airspace and a lot of big planes flying in and out.  You can't just meander around the area - there are special rules and clearances.  Planes with engines larger than my entire craft are keeping the controllers busy enough - they don't want to mess with small fry like me.

The good news is: someone was looking out for the little guy.  There's a tiny little hole (more like a pair of tunnels really) through LAX's airspace designed just for us.  You overfly SMO, turn to a specified heading, squawk a special code, and fly at a designated altitude (3500 heading south, 4500 heading north), and you can fly directly over the LAX runways without having to talk to the tower at all!  The "tunnels" are collectively referred to as the LAX Special Flight Rules Area, or SFRA, and we would use both the north- and south-bound sections on our round-trip flight.

How is it that you can fly right over the airport without talking to the controllers?  LAX has four runways, but they all face basically the same direction: east-west.  So there would be planes descending towards the runway from LAX all the way east towards Arizona, and climbing out from LAX west across the ocean, but no one to the north or south of the four parallel runways.  The jets would all be beneath me, either about to land or about to take off.  I actually got to see a few from above on the way through.  Pretty neat.

Once through the LAX SFRA, we used VOR navigation (radio-based direction finders used by planes and boats) to locate a designated waypoint where we would turn direct towards LGB.

As a cool and unexpected bonus, we turned towards Long Beach just as nearby DisneyLand was setting off one of its many nightly fireworks displays.  We could see the fireworks pretty clearly from the plane, but they don't come out too well in the video.  In case you're wondering, the airspace over DisneyLand does have a restriction to keep planes from ruining the show. =)

We contacted the tower as we approached LGB and got a clearance to land.  The prevailing winds meant that we had to land in the opposite direction from which we were coming, so we went three quarters of the way around the airport before lining up on our assigned runway.  The landing went quite well for my first landing at LGB and only my third night landing ever.

After a brief pause to set up our navigational plans for the return trip, we got a clearance to take off and departed LGB on the same runway that we'd landed on a few minutes prior.  The winds that made us circle the airport on arrival also meant that we got a straight-out departure, so we were taking off directly towards LAX.  It was all my little plane could do to get up to the designated 4500 feet above sea level in time to enter the SFRA tunnel heading back over LAX and towards SMO.  We made it though, set our radios and transponders and made it to the other side without event.  After crossing over SMO for the second time in one evening, I turned west towards Malibu for the trip home.

Just as we passed Malibu, we dialed the radio for the Automated Terminal Information Service (ATIS) at SBA.  ATIS gives you information on winds, clouds, rain and all the other weather and airport operation details that a pilot needs to have before landing.  The weather was fine for our purposes, but my instructor asked me what I would do if the report had instead been that SBA was fogged in.

I told him that I knew that fog in our area is usually a marine layer that settles into the temperature inversions between the mountains and the ocean in coastal areas, and that I would divert to the other side of the hills where I would expect clear weather.  Of course talking is one thing and doing is another, so my instructor told me to show me.

I selected nearby Camarillo airport for our diversion since it was pretty close to our route yet further inland than SBA and likely to be clear of fog in our hypothetical scenario.  I make a paper flight plan for each cross country that lists radio frequencies and navigational info that I'll need, but I hadn't planned on landing at CMA, so I didn't have all the info I needed.

Of course I had come prepared.  I had a paper chart which would have all that I needed, but it was dark and it would be a pain to try and fly while unfolding a map in the cockpit and trying to read it.  You can't just pull over and ask for directions when you're in the air.

In another day and age, unfolding the map and looking things up in the directory is what I would have done.  These days though, we have better tech.  I have aeronautical charts, airport directories and all the information that I need pre-loaded on my iPad.  I turned on the tablet and got the frequencies I'd need for weather and communication at CMA, figured out what direction the runway went and found the landmarks that I'd need to set up my approach to land.

It was after hours at CMA, which means that the tower was closed and landing craft were expected to hop on CTAF, a communal radio frequency where pilots talk to each other in order to make sure that no one hits anyone.  There was no one else about, but I still called out my position and all my turns just in case (and for practice).  I selected a runway direction based on the wind that I got from CMA's automated weather radio frequency, and lined up to land.  My landing wasn't as smooth as the one in LGB, but it was a minor bump, nothing dangerous to us or the plane.  We didn't even stop this time - as soon as the wheels were on the ground I gave the engine full power and took off without ever slowing down (this is called a "Touch and Go" and pilots do this all the time when practicing).

Satisfied with my handling of our imaginary predicament, my instructor allowed me to navigate us back to good old SBA to call it a night.  The flight back was uneventful and I got to land on the big wide runway that the jets use because there was very little air traffic around the airport.  The big runway (25) is nicer at night since it has better lighting and is also more convenient since it drops us off closer to our parking area.

All in all it was a successful flight with a lot of firsts for me.  It was my first night cross country, my longest cross country yet, my first time in the LAX SFRA, and my first "unplanned" diversion.  Not to mention my first time watching fireworks from the air!  Not bad for a few hours!

Here's a video of some of the highlights (as well as my trusty little GoPro could record the proceedings):

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company

Another Groupon motivated trip: we headed out to Buellton for some beer tasting with Eric and Ra.  It was a nice day so we all piled into the convertible for the trip out.

Well-presented beers
The beers were very... mixed.   The pilsner was okay, the brown was good, the red was pretty good, and the rest were very hoppy.  Neither Melch nor I is a huge fan of hoppy beers, but they're a fact of life here on the west coast.  The black had an interesting flavor, but only an experienced IPA drinker would be able to handle the hop dominance.  I didn't put more than a sip or two's effort into the IPA or DIPA.  Even so, it was a cool trip for the other beers and for the neat little tasting room that they have there.  Any Santa Barbarian beer fans reading this should plan a trip.

 The beer left us with a bit of an appetite, so we drove into Solvang for some eats.  We stopped at the Red Viking, a Danish place that's a bit touristy, but pretty good.  I'm Swedish not Danish, but the countries are neighbors and there are similarities in cuisine.  As a result, the all-you-can-eat Smorgasbord on offer fit well with memories that I have of visiting my Swedish grandparents for family gatherings.  Leberwurst, meatballs, Danish cheeses, cold cuts, knocklbrot, and so on.  Good times.  +1, would gorge myself there again (I actually already DID gorge myself there again, but that's another story).

Tight quarters
The trip back was a bit cooler, so we elected to put the top up.  I'd ridden in the back of my car on the way out, but our guests were gracious enough to take the tiny seats for the return trip.  It's... cozy... back there.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Glass Blowing

Back in August, I finally made good on a Group-on and went glass blowing with Melch and Ra.  In keeping with my alcoholic ways, I made a glass to drink whisky from and a glass to drink beer from.  Neither are pictured (or worthy of such), but here are Melch and Ra learning the trade:

In addition to a glass that doesn't look like a glass and a tumbler that doesn't look like a tumbler, I also made a fish that doesn't look like a fish.  Awesome!

As a final report - it was fun.  It was also very hot.  As a trade, it's tricky.  The glass cools quickly, so you don't have much time.  Keeping the bubble consistent in density and temperature is not easy.  Definitely a craft that would take a long time to master.  Longer than 2 hours anyway. =)