IKEA: A Lovëstöry with Ümläuts

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If you ever meet a person that has moved or redecorated, lives near a major city, and is even the slightest bit frugal; then chances are that person knows, visits, and possibly loves IKEA.  For those of you who don’t that fit that category, you maybe have heard of IKEA … but then again, you may have put about as much weight into that brand as folks do that know it.  Some of you readers, especially those who fit none of those categories above and never paid attention to a major trend in brand names & hip culture (looking at you dad), could have no idea what IKEA is.  I, however, have grown to love the place; and it has seem to replaced my hobby of going to open houses.  It’s a love that … well heck … I just have to share.

For the un-hip, IKEA is in essence a furniture store … but then again, Dodger Stadium is in essence a place to get a hot dog.  The furniture they sell touch on every room in your house to every level, from kitchen cabinetry, to full bedroom suites.  They have couches, desks, chairs, lamps, tables, just to name a few.  You can go in to get a light bulb, or get everything you need to build a home office minus the home.  Nearly all of it is IKEA products of IKEA design and IKEA build.  By that, I mean that they are of modern design, made to decent quality, and still relatively inexpensive.  It gets the butt of jokes from the assembly and cheapness, but also how ‘everyman’ IKEA furniture can be … from a running joke in Dead Pool to a lost but key point in my favorite book (and up there in my movie list) Fight Club.  If you haven’t heard of IKEA, it’s worth paying attention to.

IKEA is also very Scandinavian.  Started in Sweden, the chain of products and stores grew at first throughout Europe and now touches nearly every country and every continent.  All their products, though, are still designed in Scandinavia, either in Sweden or Norway.  This is pretty apparent when you look at the names of the products.  Sure they are clearly described as ‘chairs’ but they have brand names that have more Umlauts in them (that’s those cool little döuble döts you see above letters).

Part of what makes IKEA such a unique experience are the stores themselves.  As it turned out, I moved to the area just at a big time for IKEA in LA.  Burbank just opened the largest IKEA store in North America; so close to the hotel I stayed at when we moved to town that they renamed the street address of the hotel from 321 First Street to 321 IKEA Way.  In fact, the hotel’s main group staying there were IKEA team members helping to set it up.  Now IKEA dominates the Burbank skyline as much as the Verdugos do.  It’s so big that on weekends, they use nearly as many traffic directors around the parking lot as Universal Studios.

The stores have three distinctly quirky areas, and a few other quirky parts.  First of all, you walk into the smell of meatballs … like for serious.  IKEA stores almost always include a restaurant where they serve Swedish Meatballs most the day, and Swedish pancakes for breakfast.  Before you wonder why anyone would go get a meal at a furniture store … Average price per person is less than $4.  You can’t even eat at a McDonalds for that price .. and the meat balls are made of more meat than a Big Mac patty.  Once you ate your full, you head out onto the shop floor.  Most stores are designed into a maze of household rooms; like a section on bedroom furniture, a section on baths, etc.  There is a specific path laid out, and you just have to follow it to get through (there are not-so-secret shortcuts, but still).  Thing is, the stuff that is there, isn’t really there for sale … they are, but you just make note of the numbers on most of them; because the last section is the crazy part.  Once you wound through the show room, you enter the ‘self-service’ warehouse.  In Burbank, this thing is MASSIVE.  Some sixty rows of stacks nearly a quarter-mile wide and reaching up four stories to the roof.  From there, you pick the boxes for the furniture you want, and head to check-out.

If you have heard of IKEA, you likely have heard of the assembly.  The thing about IKEA products is that most of the time, some assembly is required … and sometimes an Engineering Degree is required.  Most are put together with tools that come with the products, like small allen wrenches.  Most have multiple steps to build.  Most have just enough challenge to them that it can go horribly wrong pretty quickly.  Truth be told, of all I bought from IKEA, I only really struggled to put together one item … and that was mostly because it was for the outside deck, the sun was setting, and I was through two glasses of wine.

To this point, I’ve made probably 4 trips to IKEA for the new house and dropped about $1000.  My entire upper back deck is IKEA, including a table, two chairs, a bench, and a yet to be assembled storage box.  I have a book shelf complete, and plans for another.  The real project was my closet; that basically needed to be turned from a single bar to hang clothes to a full up waredrobe. With the IKEA website, I designed a frankenstiened up set-up that required 26 different individual parts to be purchased and assembled together; a project that took about 6 hours to complete.

I still have some IKEA work to do.  I am considering a home office sweet, a potential laundry box, the man cave, the living room, and even redoing the entire kitchen with IKEA.  But that is how addicting these guys can be, you get started, you get building, you get hungry for meatballs.

Of course, this week I am traveling, so I don’t get much IKEA time, but that will change, and I will likely need something with an umlaut to ease my needs.  Come that day, I know where to.

Giving Up the Fight

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A discussion popped up today that made me aware of something that may make me kinda odd (yeah, big surprise right?).  Today is the Autumn Equinox, the day of the year that we pass the point when sunlight and darkness are equal; and the day when we pass from summer into fall.  Randomly, someone asked what would be our favorite season; and in all my normal inconsistency I couldn’t land on one.  All I could do was to throw the good and the bad with each offering.  Summer is that time of freedom and warmth, but it’s too damn hot.  The spring gives you that hope of the new birth and life; but the weather can’t decide whether or not it’s going to rain, snow, or burn.  Winters are frickin’ cold … except when they aren’t and it’s crisp and refreshing.  The fall reminds you that winter is coming, but the heat is gone too.  What I really found out when I challenged myself was that I like the transitions.  I like it when Winter is new and fresh.  I like it when Spring is clearly on it’s way.  I like when everything is grown and warm at the start of summer.  And fall … the start of fall … there is something special about that.

La Crescenta is going through a cool trend.  Mornings are in the 50s, with the fresh dew pooling on grass.  The Verdugos, after fighting off the La Tuna Fire, wake every day in low clouds and fog that dribble their way down the mountain sides.  As I watched the pup chase ghosts in the back yard, I sipped my coffee and breathed in the air.  So much of the first couple of weeks in the new house, I felt locked down, trapped by triple digit heat, and now I get to feel that nice mornings I thought this house would give me.

Fall also means the start of my marching band judging season.  I write this from DFW, sipping a wine on a layover to Memphis where my first gig happens tomorrow night.  I get to surround myself with kids busting their tail to put on great performances and wow me with artistry.  I get to judge with great people all, like me, focused on giving those kids the best experience they can get.

Yet the show doesn’t start until tomorrow night … and in the meantime … football.  Seriously, like starting tonight.  One of the cool things about flying into a show site at night is flying over the lights.  Over North Texas, Oklahoma, & Arkansas; I will be able to spy down on hundreds of little patches of field brightened up next to schools.  I picture each one breaking out in their own grand drama … rivalries, battles, touchdowns, losses, wins, cheers, tears, and life itself; played over over a game that so many live and die over.  From my aluminum chariot, twenty thousand feet above, I can see the scope of Friday Night Lights play itself out over and over again.

One of my favorite Indigo Girls songs uses the great line “summer’s beginning the give up the fight”.  Days like today feel like that.  Cooler, calmer, and building momentum, all in one.  Tomorrow the day begins with it’s fresh new Fall beginnings and all that lays in the road ahead to the end of the year.  Sure, I like the transitions better than the seasons; but who doesn’t like the hope of change.  So let the great transition begin, let the summer give up the fight, let the winter come what may.  Today is the start, and I am just fine with that.

Crash Ending

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The end is coming to an old friend.  JPL’s Cassini mission (or originally named Cassini-Huygens in combination with a long since released probe) will end this Friday with a very quiet whimper nearly 900 million miles away from here.  Cassini is a two story tall orbiter that is currently racing it’s way towards the upper atmosphere of Saturn.  Nearing the end of it’s battery life, and with fears of potential contamination if the orbiter crashes into one of Saturn’s moons, the Cassini team decided to turn it’s child into the planet to burn up quickly in a controlled manner.  That time has come, and preparations are underway for the event.

Of course, with our luck, it’s happening at a really crappy time of day.

The path to Friday began so long ago, that some of the engineering reports still show the outline of taping typewritten words against poorly sketched graphs.  The first hint of what became Cassini were in a call for mission proposals in 1982; and was tagged with the 17th Century astronomer (Giovanni Domenico Cassini, who discovered that Saturn had multiple rings, not just one flat disc) around 1984.  Yet it wasn’t until 1997 before the 2-1/4 ton, 22 foot tall orbiter was launched.  In fact, the run up in the last few months almost caused the whole mission to be scrubbed by an outpouring of fear over a potential launch failure – because Cassini was nuclear powered and folks thought that would mean fall out or a mushroom cloud or something like that, who knows, folks are crazy like that.

Yet even after the flawless launch, it took nearly 7 years for the orbiter to make it to Saturn and begin the real work.  Later that year, it dropped the Huygens probe that made the first landing on another planet’s moon as it did so into the hyrdrocarbon slushes of Titan.  Since then, it’s made 294 orbits of Saturn, traveled over 4 billion miles, executed 2-1/2 million commands, collected 635 gigabytes of data, and snapped over 450 thousand photos.  In that time, it discovered the strange ‘hexagonal storm’ on Saturn’s pole; caught geysers of methane from the moon Enceladus, and raised questions of the vast oceans on Titan under it’s surface.  Voyager 1 & 2 both took a swing by the planet in the early 80s, but they describe those missions as peeling the first layer of an onion away.  While there are many layers left to go in learning about Saturn and it’s moons, they are many layers into this onion, and far deeper than anyone expected to go.  There isn’t a mission currently slated to head back to Saturn currently but some are banging around to peel back that onion even more.

As far as Friday goes, there really isn’t much too it.  Last Friday, Cassini began a full data dump, sending every bit of information in it’s memory banks back to Earth to make sure we have it all.  Monday, it gave a ‘goodbye kiss’ to Titan as it swung by the largest moon in the solar system one last time; and with it making the final course correction to head into it’s end.  Tomorrow around lunchtime, Cassini will take it’s last photograph – we aren’t sure of what yet.  Shortly after that point, a communication link will be made with the orbiter and will lock onto it through the end of it’s life.  Around midnight here, Cassini will make it’s last maneuver, a roll to point an instrument at the planet so that it can collect as much of Saturn’s atmosphere as it can analyze in the waning moment.

Friday morning, at about 3:30am Pasadena time (or just about when the rest of y’all are waking up out east), over the course of a little over a minute, Cassini will breach the Saturn atmosphere, increase it’s thrusters from 10 to 100%, give one last signal to Earth before it begins to tumble, and finally disintegrates into nothing but particles and gas.  Due to the time it takes for the signal to cross the nearly 900 million miles here, we won’t recieve that last signal until about 4:54 am PDT (or about 8am out on the East Coast, or 7am in the Central).

It doesn’t look us normal JPLers will be doing anything special for it.  It is a regularly scheduled Friday off on-lab; which is probably good with all the media traffic that we expect to have.  NASA will be live on YouTube and TV for the event, with live shots at JPL Mission Control (aka ‘The Center of the Universe’).  My friends and I talked about a Crash Party, but I guess it may fall through because people are expecting me to clean the house before then … plus how to you stay drunk until 5am when the bars close at 2.

It’s also a bitter sweet sad ending.  Cassini was launched in the middle of a number of NASA failures, and so many worked so hard to make it a success that it’s hard to see it end.  A common statement made was: “this mission was nothing but throwing toast in the air, and each time it came down butter side up”.  Now, they have to do what they have been hoping would never happen.  Still, it is better to say goodbye on our own terms, than see something end with nothing but questions.

So goodbye Cassini … and thanks for all the cool pics.

The La Tuna Canyon Fire

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YEAH FOR ME, a natural disaster looming over me made national headlines.  Whoppie!!

*cough* I mean ..

Labor Day Weekend 2017 will be remembered around these parts as the weekend of the La Tuna fire … and because the name sounds like some Spanish fish grill.  Raging up in the Vedugo Mountains threatening Burbank, Sunland, & Glendale; it is the largest fire within Los Angeles City Limits in history … because … I guess it kinda is in Los Angeles?  That area also included the Crescenta valley, where I live, and ironically where my dog lives too.  The fire was quite huge … massive … 7000 acres cutting across the Vedugos, raining ash, smoke, and allergies across a good swatch of SoCal.  It was so bad, brunch plans were ruined.  Heck, they even closed roads keeping people from happy hours or worse a good place to live stream the fire.

Alright, I am kidding a bit about a very dangerous and potentially deadly thing.  But I feel I have the right to because a) That was my happy hour that got ruined, and b) there were no reported injuries other than some cases of heat exhaustion.  At last report, only three buildings were damaged (all of them fully destoyed, but still only three).  The fire crews & police did evacuate people threatened; but that ended up to be only 1,400 people (remember there are literally millions of people in this area) of which to my understanding currently 90% are back home.  At last report, we are still under a state of emergency … but then again, the Starbucks is full of people going through their daily business.

And I do say “latest” and “currently” because the fire is still active.  There hasn’t been an update since last night, but at that time they said the fire was 30% contained.  But the ‘since then’ makes for a better ending to this blog … so bear with me.

For starters … it’s a good idea to pull up a map to get a feel of things here; to help here is an image of the burn area, but you may want your own map as well.

LaTuna

This map represents the fire on Sunday September 3rd.  Some key features here are — La Crescenta is to the middle right.  The red cross there is approximately where my house is (not because I am some important thing, just that  I was two blocks from a shelter).   Burbank is to the south … for scale, as the crow flies, that is about 4 miles between my house and downtown Burbank.  The white shaded area is the fire burn area. If you see the white line going through middle of it – that is La Tuna Canyon Road, the canyon where the fire started, thus the name.  The only ‘over the mountain’ route through the Verdugos other than Highway 2 (an interstate) to the east (and the right side of your pic).

As much rain as we had had this spring, it’s been a very dry and very hot summer.  Most of the last two months, the temps were in the 90s and 100s, and besides an occasional humid gloom from the ocean, it hasn’t been wet at all.  Like no rain whatso ever.  So all that growth that happened in the spring, now was dead, and itching to catch fire.

My experience with the fire starts with an ironic twist on Friday – a day off for me.  I never take the La Tuna Canyon road.  It could be scenic, but the 2 is way more scenic & usually faster.  But I needed to go to a part of Burbank under heavy construction (the Lowe’s not the IKEA) and through taking La Tuna wold be faster.  That was about 10am on Friday.  Within a couple of hours after taking that road, it would be closed for the fire, and is still not open.  I remember nothing of that drive that suggests that a fire was started, or looming, but it could have come quite quick.

Somewhere around 4PM as I was taking the pup out for his buisness, and smelt what smelt like a campfire.  A quick look around the skyline and there was a noticable plume of smoke.  By 7PM it was big enough, and pumping out enough smoke, that it was making the news.; but moreso on the Burbank side of the mountain.  The flames were visible there, and creating quite a Friday Night light show.  At that point, it was a novelty.

Saturday morning, we woke up to find out how bad it was.  By then, the fire had already spread to 5000 acres.  The winds were hard to the north, but swirling, causing the fight to be unpredictable.  It was mostly in unpopulated areas, and locations that needed a good burn, but a fire like this can spread, spread quickly, and be trouble if it goes where it shouldn’t.

The battle was fought by the LAFD and the US Forest Service – and they brought out some pretty big guns.  Most of the fire was off the roads, so ground units would have trouble.  So the fliers were flying.  There were two ‘super soakers’ in play; converted float planes that would fly to a lake or reservoir, and while ‘landing’ scoop up a few thousand gallons of water … the two would fly in tandem and hit the same location within seconds before heading back for more water.  Their path had them coming through every 20 minutes or so.  There were water drop helicopters too, but they seemed set up for very specific drops … almost like they had fire hoses sticking out of the bottom.  The real cool stuff happened when the ‘slurry soakers’ came through.  These are modified big jets — DC-9s, DC-10s, even a 747.  They were filled with a red slurry used as a fire deterrent.  In these conditions, they are used much like a fire line, putting down a place where the fighter intend to stand their ground … and they were clearly effective throughout the fight.

Probably the point I saw it at it’s most effective was the only point I was really nervous.  Throughout the fire, it was always on the ‘other side of the ridge’.  I could see smoke, the glow of flames, but no actual fire.  Sometimes something would spring up at the top of a ridge, but it seemed isolated.  Saturday night around 7PM I was sitting out with the pup, and saw how the flames were getting brighter around one edge.  Right before my eyes, the fire lept over the ridge, and started quickly to move down.  Within a minute or two, an acre around that ridgetop was aflame.  All I could think was that if much more of that fire crested the ridge, this whole side of the mountain could go up … and then the whole valley was at risk.  As I sat there and dreaded it, the lights of the super soakers crossed in front of the flames, and slowly the orange grew to black.  From that point on, the rest of the fire was fought on the other side of the ridge.

Still, that threat was enough to evacuate people on our side of ridge.  I freaked out a little when I saw that the evacuation zone ended just 4 blocks from my house; but a scout of that area this morning kinda cooled me off a bit.  The houses over there were much more surrounded by brush, much more on the up slope of the fire, and if the fire did come down it would have had to jump a drainage ditch … so I was pretty safe.  In fact, I was super safe through this whole adventure.  Most people were.

These battles were apparent throughout the day on Saturday, and continued relentlessly overnight.  Sunday’s winds changed to send it southerly; which bothered most of LA with the bad air quality.  However, the wind was now blowing the fire back towards where it already had burned .. and everywhere else was far from homes.

At 4PM Sunday, it was announced that the weather has turned ‘favorable’, and evacuations were lifted everywhere.  By 6PM, we could see what he meant … as the first rains in months started to move in over the mountains.  We awoke this morning to see our cars not covered in ash, but covered in water — rain had fallen, and fallen hard.  Smoke still rises from the mountain, but not in the great mushroom cloud plumes.  The air is still rough, my throat is scratchy, my nose is clogged, my eyes are crusty, but my house is still standing and my dog is itching for a walk.

So I am going to say we survived this fire … even if the brunch plans didn’t.