Sunday, February 25, 2007

Walking L.A. #7 - UCLA Campus

No one joined us for today's walk through UCLA. It was the first walk where it was just the two of us since Walk #3 in Southeast Santa Monica. No one wanted to see where I worked and apparently no one wants to see where I went to college.

Before the walk, we grabbed coffee and bagels at the Rumor Mill. We waited around for a few minutes just to see if anyone would show up at the last minute. No one did.

We drove to the start point of the walk at the corner of Hilgard and Sunset Bvld. There was no street parking, so we drove down Comstock and found parking on a small side street Lomond Ave.

The walk started in the Murphy Sculpture Garden, passed through Dickson Plaza, continued through the main quad passed Royce Hall and Powell Library, and then headed down Bruin Walk to Bruin Plaza. It then went back up Bruin Walk turning right at Kerckhoff Hall. I stopped at Kerckhoff and reminisced about the days I used to perform jazz there.

From Kerckhoff, we walked through south campus to the Mathias Botanical Gardens. I looked for California Native Plants in the gardens, but couldn't find any. It had been many years since I was there. I was one of the few UCLA Orientation Counselors that took my tour groups through the gardens. I used to feel like I was letting them in on a special secret since not that many people knew about the Botanical Gardens or how to get there.

After the walk, we ate at Thai Fresh on Westwood Blvd since we felt like trying something new. The food was good but not great. I doubt we'll ever end up there again unless we happen to be on Westwood Blvd craving Thai food.

The next walk is North Culver City.

Walking L.A.: 36 Walking Tours Exploring Stairways, Streets and Buildings You Never Knew Existed

Washington/Centinela Redevelopment Part 5

On Thursday morning, there was some more work being done on the northeast corner of Washington and Centinela. A few guys from Blaine Tech Services were laying out blue pipes and feeding skinny white tubes into holes in the middle of cement squares in the ground.

Blaine Tech Services are groundwater sampling specialists according to their web site.

I don't know where groundwater sampling falls in the process of preparing for construction, but it is good to see some more activity on that corner.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

I had the day off today and decided to take a trip to Santa Barbara to visit the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden which is dedicated to California native plants.

We got up early and made it to Maxwell's just in time for its half price omelettes which they serve until 7 AM. I got the Garbage omelette.

By 8 AM, we were on the road to Santa Barbara. It was raining for most of the trip, but the skies cleared just as we arrived at the gardens. The weather was almost perfect for the rest of the day - just a little chilly at times.

We arrived at about 9:30 AM. The botanic gardens were awesome! Almost all the native plants I was interested in were on display. The garden was divided up into sections like the meadow, the dessert, and the woodlands. There were also sections showcasing plant families like ceanothus and manzanita.

We spend the first 3 hours walking around and saw almost all of the gardens. We then took a break for lunch at The Daily Grind near the Santa Barbara Mission. After lunch, we returned to the gardens for a walk through the Ceanothus Section. This was one of my favorite sections as it showcased many of the plants that I planted in my garden at home, e.g. California Buckwheat, White Sage, and California Poppy.

At 2 PM we went on a guided tour which was led by a nice old lady from Washington who fell in love with California natives and settled in Santa Barbara. The tour lasted about an hour. It was okay, but nothing special. The guide basically took us through a few sections and pointed out a few of her favorite plants.

Before leaving, I stopped by the gift shop and nursery and purchased seeds for the Giant coreopsis and a 1 gallon Monkeyflower to replace one that I planted a few months ago that didn't survive. The Giant coreopsis was a very peculiar looking plant that reminded me of something you'd see in a Dr. Seuss movie. I thought it would be fun to plant somewhere in my yard.

A few California Poppies were in bloom today, but I plan to go back to the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens in the spring when many more wildflowers are in full bloom.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Walking L.A. #6 - Playa Vista and the Ballona Wetlands

Today's walk was supposed to start at the Playa Vista Visitor Center, but we started at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf instead so that we could begin as usual with some coffee and bagels.

Our book describes Playa Vista and the Ballona Wetlands as a carefully engineered slice of nature. One of my friends who was seeing Playa Vista for the first time commented that she felt like she was in the Truman Show. Everything in Playa Vista seemed a little too perfect to her. I can see what she means. The developers of Playa Vista tried to create a perfect neighborhood where one could easily walk or bike to get coffee, visit the bank, or pick up clothes at the dry cleaners. In doing so, they managed to create something contrived like The Grove, instead of something more organic like the 3rd Street Promenade and the rest of downtown Santa Monica.

Anyway, we passed by "Bark Park" after leaving the Coffee Bean. We took our dog in for a quick off-leash experience. Unfortunately, no other dogs were there for her to play with which is unusual since throughout Playa Vista there were many people taking their dogs for a stroll.

Next we walked over to the Ballona Wetlands nature trail which heads west and south from the corner of Lincoln Blvd and Jefferson Blvd. The trail is nice as long as you're looking toward the marsh, but as soon as you turn the other way, all you see is automobile traffic. The traffic is pretty loud which for me ruins the otherwise tranquil walk along a well-preserved marsh. It would have been so much better if they had built a trail that circled the marsh which would allow one to walk inland away from the noisy thoroughfares. Today, the most southern portion of the trail was closed due to the supposed danger of bees. We didn't see any bees, but we heeded the warning and turned around nonetheless.

One the way back we walked through the southern section of Playa Vista, passing a neat park with giant bird-shaped plant sculptures and a giant bird house structure. We stopped there to give our dog a chance to drink some water. After that, we passed the Playa Vista Library which had some beautiful trees blooming with vibrant white flowers. We were all wondering what kind of trees they were since we've been seeing them all around the west side of LA lately.

Finally, we took a tour of some model homes called Icon. All over $1 million dollars, these homes were pretty impressive. It is fun to wonder around homes you can't afford just to dream a little and get decorating ideas. That concluded our walk. Afterward, we stopped at the shopping center at Lincoln and Maxella where some of us got lunch at Rubio's and the rest got dessert at Pinkberry which just opened recently.

The next walk is the UCLA Campus.

Walking L.A.: 36 Walking Tours Exploring Stairways, Streets and Buildings You Never Knew Existed

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

No More Starbucks Shareholder's Card

I received my 2006 annual report from Starbucks yesterday and I opened it right away because I was anxious to see what this year's special shareholder Starbucks Card looked like. I was so disappointed to find out that they have stopped issuing such a card as of this year. Instead, they just include a coupon for two tall (12 oz.) brewed coffees - not nearly as rewarding as a card exclusively for shareholders.

The coupon contained this notice:
For several years now, we've invited shareholders to visit their favorite Starbucks by including a Starbucks Card in out annual shareholder mailings. We viewed it as a good way to introduce this innovative Card program to our investors. Over the years, the Starbucks Card has become an old favorite with our shareholders, thanks to the experiences they've enjoyed as they used it to visit their Starbucks.

This year, we'd like to offer you a new kind of invitation - one that will allow you to share the exceptional coffee and warm hospitality you enjoy at your Starbucks. So get together with someone you care about and drop in for coffee. Our treat. Then visit us online at to tell us how you used this invitation to share your Starbucks with a friend.

They didn't really say why they discontinued the card. I suppose it is more environmentally friendly to send out a cardboard coupon instead of a plastic card. I went to to find out if anyone was discussing the discontinuation of the card, but the site didn't work with Firefox on Linux :( I did find some people talking about it on a site dedicated to collecting Starbucks Cards,

I will continue to use my shareholder card from 2006:

I liked the design better than the one from 2007:

Monday, February 12, 2007

Green Line Coalition

It looks like some momentum is building behind the effort to extend the Green Line to LAX. Government officials from the west side of LA have started the Green Line Coalition, according to a newsletter emailed out today from the office of my councilman Bill Rosendahl.

According to the Background section of the GLC website, the green line was originally planned to extend north on Lincoln Blvd from LAX to Santa Monica, but 1990s funding constraints prevented that from happening. I dream that one day this line will be extended as originally planned. The formation of the GLC gets us one step closer.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

SCaLE 5x 2007 - Linux in LA

I attended the 5th annual Southern California Linux Expo (SCaLE 5x) this weekend at the Westin hotel on Century Blvd near LAX. It was the first Linux conference I'd ever been to. I heard about it on several of the Linux podcasts I listen to. They were offering a discount with a promo code mentioned in the podcast ad. It only ended up costing me 30-something bucks to attend - not a bad price.

Overall the conference was pretty good. There were a lot of good presentations and an exhibit floor with vendors and projects represented. I attended the following sessions:
  • How to Heard Cats and Influence People - Jono Bacon
  • Open Source Business Applications - David Uhlman
  • The State of Linux Systems Management - Simon Bennett
  • Samba For Beginners - Mike Maki
  • Wireless Networking for Beginners - Dennis Rax
  • Open Source Licenses, a Review with Corner Cases - Chris Dibona
  • Web Applications: What is your Backup/Recovery Plan? - Paddy Sreenivasan
I also attended the following BOFs:
  • Building a Linux Home Entertainment System - Cecil Waton
  • Ubuntu - Jono Bacon
The conference had en email room where there were several computers set up, all running Linux. The computers and monitors were very stylish. They were made by the company Shuttle. Each of them had an instance of Knoppix running.

I love that Los Angeles has a Linux conference. I am surprised I hadn't heard of it until this year. I will probably go every year if I can.

California Native Plant Garden Design Course - Part 3

Yesterday, we finished the 3 part class on designing a garden with native plants at Theodore Payne. In this last class, each student presented his/her design to the rest of the class. We were nervous because we didn't think that our design was that good, but our presentation went pretty well. The instructors said we did a good job :)

Although we sketched our whole property to scale, we only finalized a design for the front yard. It is pretty simple: blue fescue in the parkway and the very front of the yard followed by a section of white sage, and then a section of wooly blue curls on one side and desert lavender on the other. We also want a tree on the left side. We're thinking either a palo verde or chitalpa.

The only hardscape change is a series of cement slabs leading from the front porch to the sidewalk in the center of the yard. Right now we only have a path going south to the driveway, but we usually head away from the house to the north when leaving by foot.

The instructor made a few good suggestions after reviewing our plan. She suggested a few curves in places we had straight lines. She also suggested switching the sections of white sage and wooly blue curls since the sage tends to grow taller and should be closer to the house so as not to block the view of the wooly blue curls from the street. She also suggested that we substitute eriogonum gigantea for the desert lavender in case the desert lavender doesn't grow well in our area. Other than that, she just suggested adding a low flowering accent plant in the corner of the yard. We'll probably go with some kind of monkey flower.

I guess we're ready to start working on the front yard now. We just have to decide if we're going to rip out the existing landscape ourselves or if we're going to hire someone to do it. We know we definitely want to do the planting ourselves. Native plants have to be planted before April so we don't have much time...

Friday, February 09, 2007

Washington/Centinela Redevelopment Part 4

Not much has happened in the past few months on either vacant corner of Washington Blvd and Centinela Ave. The northwest corner was used as a Christmas tree lot in December, but there has been no visible progress on the construction of new buildings.

Yesterday and today morning, however, I saw some activity. A few men were taking measurements and drilling a big hole in the ground. I did't know what it was for, but the label on their truck read:
Test America
Drilling Corporation
System 4000
Denver, CO

A little googling turned up some information on Test America and their System 4000 vehicle. Test America does environmental testing. Their Vacmasters System 4000 truck is described as the world's most powerful air-vacuum excavation system. It can be used to locate underground utilities without damaging them.

This all makes sense since this corner is the former site of a gas station. There is probably a lot of environmental testing that needs to happen before anything can be built and existing utility lines need to be located. I hope that this is all a sign that construction won't be too far off in the future. I am tired of looking at a dirt lot on the corner.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Del Rey in the News

I've lived in Del Rey for over 6 years now. It is one of those "adjacent to" communities that no one has ever heard of, even most of the people that live or work here. I am pretty familiar with Del Rey's identity (or lack of identity, actually) since I was involved with the Del Rey Neighborhood Council a few years ago.

In Del Rey, we have Mar Vista Gardens, Marina Del Rey Middle School, Playa Del Rey Elementary School, the Culver City Median Bicycle Path, and the Venice Japanese Community Center just to name a few of the places including one of the "adjacent to" monikers in their names. If that's not proof of a lack of identity, I don't know what is.

This weekend, to my surprise and delight, the Los Angeles Times ran a blurb about Del Rey in their Real Estate section's Neighborly Advice column Ready to Step Out of the Shadows. I found it interesting that the area was known as a good place to grow celery. I guess I should try that in my vegetable garden.

Maybe this article will help raise the awareness that Del Rey actually exists. One day I may be able to tell a cab driver "Take me to Del Rey" and he/she won't look at me like I'm a clueless person trying to get to Marina Del Rey or Playa Del Rey.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Walking L.A. #5 - Mar Vista

This walk is the closet to our home of any of the walks. Since the official walk was only 3/4 of a mile, we decided to extend it by starting and ending at the Mar Vista Farmers Market. This turned out to be a perfect starting place because 13 people came on this walk, our biggest group yet. There wouldn't have been enough room at the Rumor Mill, where we've met before the previous walks. At the farmers market, people could order omelettes or crepes and also get some coffee from the booth operated by the Venice Grind which was just down the street.

Although we met at 9:00 AM, the walk didn't get started until close to 10:00 AM. A few people were late because the map on the eVite we sent out confused the corner of Venice and Grand View with another one in Downtown LA. I guess next time, we need to put an actual address instead of an intersection.

We were going to head west on Venice Blvd, but one of our friends suggested we head up Grand View to get a view of the ocean. We informed the non-locals that there were 3 parallel "view" roads on the hill: Ocean View (a view of the ocean), Mountain View (a view of the mountains), and Grand View (where you could see both the ocean and the mountains). From Grand View, we turned left on Palms Blvd and took in the ocean view as we descended into the west part of Mar Vista.

The official walk started on Marco Pl and Meier St which was in a residential neighborhood. It took us down Meier St and Moore St between Marco Pl and Palms Blvd. This neighborhood was described by the book as a utopian vision of modern living. The houses there were built by 1940s architect Gregory Ain. This two-block housing project of 52 homes was marketed as the "Modernique Homes" when it was completed in 1948.

We must have looked pretty funny walking through the neighborhood staring at the homes. A lot of ladies stared out at us from their kitchen windows. We looked at them and waved as we passed by.

We took Venice Blvd back to the starting point. A few of us stopped at Anonymous to buy some clothing. I had a 15%-off coupon that I was able to share. After parting with the group, I stopped along Centinela Blvd to find my 17th geocache, the Headless Horse (GCTJYE).

The next walk is Playa Vista and the Ballona Wetlands.

Walking L.A.: 36 Walking Tours Exploring Stairways, Streets and Buildings You Never Knew Existed

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Brooklyn Jazz Underground

Trombonist Alan Ferber and his bassist friend Alexis Cuadrado started the Brooklyn Jazz Underground just over a year ago. Is has recently been getting some press. From their website:
The Brooklyn Jazz Underground is an association of independent bandleaders with a shared commitment to improvised music. Through cooperative effort, members of the BJU strive to create greater awareness of their work.
I miss the days that Mark and Alan Ferber lived in LA and I could regularly go see them perform. I am really happy, though, to see them thriving on the New York jazz scene.

You can visit the Brooklyn Jazz Underground on MySpace.