Haunted Tales tour from Downtown LA Walking Tours

February 18, 2018

Pico House, Los Angeles
 

This evening I took the Haunted Tales tour from Downtown LA Walking Tours. Their website kind of spoils many of the locations — but it also undersells the tour.

First problem: all the photos of buildings and locations were taking during the day, yet this is a night tour. Everything looks creepier at night so why show the daylight photos? Second, while it mentions “parental guidance” regarding “graphics…” that’s not exactly accurate. Let’s just say this tour probably shouldn’t be offered for kids.

Of all the haunted tours I’ve been on this one really kicks things up a notch and there’s a pretty simple reason for that; California has had some horrific acts over the past 50 years or so and downtown LA was ground zero for many of them. Unlike events from way back when, modern forensics leaves much less room for doubt even when someone isn’t found guilty (spoiler alert: OJ Simpson is mentioned a few times.)

I don’t want to spoil this last bit because the tour’s website doesn’t mention it, and I don’t mean to make light of sad and tragic events, but a certain hotel on the tour was the base of operations for two serial killers and also a relatively recent case where a woman disappeared only to be found dead in the hotel under mysterious circumstances. You’ve probably heard of these cases but had no idea they occurred in the same building — which by the way is currently closed. Turns out that sometimes bad publicity is still bad publicity.
 

My recommendation: This tour ratchets up the concept of a haunted tour by including terrifying events in recent history as well as in the past. I found it fascinating but would not recommend bringing young children as newspaper photos of dismembered bodies and faces are shown.

Historic downtown LA walking tour

LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour
 

I spent the morning on a long walk through downtown Los Angeles on LA Conservancy’s Historic Downtown Walking Tour. I won’t go over everything on the tour, but I’ll cover a few stops I found interesting.

LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour
 

The Central Library is actually two buildings glued together, and aside from books and such it’s also home to a variety of permanent and rotating art. The LA Conservancy helped prevent the stately old library from being torn down, although it was too late to save the interior due to a fire. See also the photo at the top of the post.

LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour
 

One Bunker Hill, aka the Southern California Edison Company Building, is an art deco masterpiece that was also the first building in LA to feature air conditioning. Thankfully, it still does. The building’s land was owned by Henry Huntington who was involved with SoCal Edison among other businesses. And where did he get the money for financing these projects? From one of San Francisco’s railway robber barons, his uncle Collis P. Huntington.

LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour
LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour
 

Angel’s Flight is known as the world’s shortest railway, intended to get lazy people up and down Bunker Hill. It raises some interesting questions, or rather one question really — why didn’t they just build an elevator? I suspect the answer is people will pay for train rides but would balk at paying for a very short elevator trip.

Confession: since it’s cash only and I don’t like bothering with paper (their claim to accept TAP cards is a bold faced lie) I skipped the ride and took the stairs instead.
 

I didn’t get any photos but the Grand Central Market is your typical foodie mecca selling everything from raw ingredients to freshly made cuisine. It’s pretty similar to the Ferry Building in San Francisco, Pike’s Place in Seattle, etc. Bringing the tour through here at lunch time was a poor choice as we lost a couple hungry tourists. I came back after the tour for lunch myself. Finding good food was easy, finding a table was not. Finding a chair was even harder — I eventually gave up and ate while standing.

LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour
LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour LA Conservancy's Historic Downtown Walking Tour
 

Last but definitely not least is the Bradbury Building. Also known as “hey it’s that building from Blade Runner!” The iron work in the building was reclaimed from a World’s Fair exhibition. Today tourists are only allowed on the first two floors and not in the elevators as the offices are still actively used. Many of them appeared to be empty, presumably because workers got sick of answering questions about Replicants.

There’s a patio on one side of the building with a wall detailing the life of Biddy Mason, a slave who’s owners moved to California. Mason realized being a slave in a free state made no sense and successfully freed herself through the court system, then took up work as a midwife. Her former home was located nearby on the site of what is now (to the surprise of no one who’s ever spent time in Los Angeles) a parking garage.
 

My recommendation: If you like architecture and public art and don’t know downtown LA (that’s me!) this tour’s a good fit. Be forewarned it’s more strenuous than your average walking tour. A few older folks in the crowd were having trouble keeping up at times.

Museum of Jurassic Technology

February 17, 2018

Museum of Jurassic Technology
 

Over the past few years I’ve told pretty much anyone who’ll listen about my fascination with the type of real life interactive adventures from the likes of Nonchanance, including their Jejune Institute, Elsewhere Public Works, The Latitude, etc. [citation NOT needed] and every now and then someone responds by telling me about this oddball thing in LA County called the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

From Venice I took a reasonably fast 30 minute bus ride (good thing I’d ordered and pre-loaded my TAP Card in advance) down Venice Boulevard to this strange museum in Culver City.

After buying your ticket — technically it’s a donation — there’s no prescribed order to the museum, but if you enter the exhibit area and make an immediate left there’s a TV screen which shows a video at the press of a button explaining what you’re about to see… sort of. It starts off in a long-winded explanation of the history of museums, then finally hones in on the (fictional) history of the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

It’s worth noting here the word “Jurassic” is intentionally nonsensical; once you get past this the meanings of the exhibits start to fall into place. Nothing here is at it seems, and furthermore it’s all a series of stories that parody the very concept of a museum.

I don’t want to spoil too much because it’s sort of against the rules (no photos are allowed) but I’ll describe some of my favorite exhibits in my own words.

  • A pair of western scientists explore a “savage” people’s demonic experiences only to find the phenomenon is the result of a species of unusual bats.
  • A room full of paintings of dogs pays tribute to each dog in the Soviet space program.
  • An exhibit of early 20th century motor homes inexplicably compares them to Noah’s Ark and the Garden of Eden.
  • An ordinary stairway features dioramas of staircases.
  • A series of “cat’s cradle” string manipulations is treated as a major exhibit across two rooms with interactive exhibits.

This “museum” originally opened in the late 1980′s and has expanded since then according to one repeat visitor I spoke with. Some of the exhibits were not operational during my visit, though despite spending over an hour and a half I didn’t see or hear everything before it closed for the night. While I usually ignore museum gift shops, I wound up buying a book detailing the museum’s exhibits because it was just that good.
 

My recommendation: If you’ve ever read this blog you’re probably the target audience for people who enjoy subtly bizarre humor. This is the museum for people like us — by all means pay it a visit.

Venice… California

Venice, California
 

Over the summer of 2017 I took a long trip around various parts of the Mediterranean, with a stop for a few days in Venice, Italy. While there, I remember thinking “I wonder what that other Venice in LA County is like?” So I knew I’d have to go and find out at some point.

A month or so ago I decided to book a trip to Los Angeles over President’s Day weekend because airfare is cheap this time of year on a total whim. First stop after landing at LAX? Venice… California.

Venice, California Venice, California Venice, California Venice, California
 

From LAX I took a Lyft ride to an area near the Venice boardwalk. If you’re not familiar this boardwalk it’s your typical tourist trap, but also features some silly Venetian themed buildings, a really nice beach, and a popular skate park. As an aside it’s nothing like the boardwalk in Santa Cruz with rides and such. This is all retail, buskers, and hucksters.

If we’re being honest my favorite part about the area around Venice Beach are all the enormous street art murals. The one featuring Saint Mark as “the patron saint of Venice” got a solid laugh out of me since it’s both technically true (about Venice, Italy) and also not the kind of thing you expect to see in spray paint on the side of a three story building.

While around the boardwalk I kept noticing I was walking through camera shots of people filming what appeared to be b-roll footage. Later, I found myself walking behind two heavily tattoos guys pretending to be hella hardcore while lip-syncing to some agonizingly dull soft rock, the kind of music so bland Matchbox 20 would listen to as a lullaby. So yeah, all signs point to me winding up in the background of some terrible music video. Fame at last! How can I cash in on this?

Venice, California Venice, California Venice, California Venice, California
 

Next up I had to seek out Venice’s canals, because what’s the point of calling a place Venice if it doesn’t have canals? Well it turns out these canals bare little resemblance to the ones I visited in Italy. For one, it’s a very small residential neighborhood — you won’t find any restaurants, let alone Italian restaurants. Second, the canals are laid out in a rectangular grid rather than haphazardly since they’re all manmade. Third, virtual nothing’s made of brick, even the sidewalks are cement rather than cobblestone. Oh and fourth — there are cars. So aside from a few boats (but no gondolas!) it’s really more of a typical suburban neighborhood with an admittedly neat water feature.

In the gallery above you’ll see some of the more whimsical things I came across in Venice’s canals including a pink flamingo themed home complete with a matching rowboat, a Little Free Library primarily accessible via boat, and a tree filled with mid-century hanging lamps.

As a side note the canals aren’t well marked, but if you follow Google Maps the area isn’t too hard to find on your own.
 

My recommendations: Skip the Venice boardwalk tourist trap unless you’re interested in skateboarding. The beach might be a less crowded alternative to other SoCal beaches, but then again it’s February so take that with a grain of salt. The canals are a fun half hour or so if you’re interested in a weird part of California’s history.

Salesforce Tower’s hat lights tested

February 13, 2018

Salesforce Tower hat testing
 

Today for the first time I noticed the LED grid in the “hat” on Salesforce Tower was being tested. If you’re unaware, the top of the tower isn’t offices, but rather a light-based public art display. Visible throughout much of the city, this will be a big change to the skyline — weather permitting.

Now, it should be noted that San Francisco has a mixed reputation when it comes to permanent light-based art installations. While the Bay Lights have been successfully lighting up the Bay Bridge, the Promenade Ribbon along the Embarcadero didn’t last very long due to water damage. I mean, who could have foreseen water damage as a problem along the edge of the bay?

For that matter, the black rectangle that used to sit on the side of Moscone West was intended to be a light show of sorts, but didn’t work well and was eventually removed.

So let’s hope Salesforce Tower’s light artist Jim Campbell knows a thing or two about fog-proofing his designs or this new installation may flicker out as well.

Killer BOB wanted poster spotted in SOMA

February 9, 2018

“BOB” wanted poster
 

While waiting to cross the street outside the LinkedIn building, I noticed a wanted poster taped to a light post and did a double take — it’s a recreation of the Killer BOB wanted poster from the original Twin Peaks. The poster implores you to call Sheriff Truman if you’ve seen BOB.

If you’re unfamiliar with the surreal crime drama, BOB is an evil spirit of sorts who possess people. In his physical manifestation he was played by Frank Silva. Silva does have a connection to San Francisco as he had a degree from SF State. Unfortunately he died back in 1995.

(Spotted at Second and Howard)

New Age “sovereign citizens” found guilty of bank robbery

February 4, 2018


Mugshots of Heather Ann Tucci-Jarraf and Randall Beane from the Knox County Sheriff website.
 

Recently a strange “sovereign citizen” court case caught my eye due to one of the defendants involved. If you’re not aware, sovereign citizens are people who believe for various reasons they’re beyond the reach of law, often because they found some kind of legal cheat code that gets them off the hook for anything from a parking ticket to a standoff with the FBI.

In this trial and as in so many other sovereign citizen cases, both defendants were found guilty. But before we get into that, let’s take a trip down memory lane so I can explain why this is relevant to my interests.
 
 

Free energy and a flight to Morocco

Four years ago I wrote a post on this blog titled Anatomy of a free energy scam in which I detailed a woman calling herself HopeGirl who kept raising money to build a free energy machine. (Many of the links in that blog posts no longer work but you can still find backups on Archive.org.) Shocker: four years later, the QEG free energy machine still doesn’t work.

HopeGirl and friends wound up moving to a community of like minded folks in Aouchtam, Morocco. This community evolved out of an odd hybrid group called One People’s Public Trust (OPPT), which mixed sovereign citizen beliefs with bizarre financial ideas and some New Age woo thrown in for good measure.

Before the relocation to Morocco, OPPT filed a series of documents which they believe “foreclosed” on the US federal government as well as major corporations, banks, and the Federal Reserve. Yet they curiously continued asking for donations in US currency, almost as though they didn’t actually believe what they were saying at all.

One of the main players behind OPPT was a former prosecutor known as Heather Ann Tucci-Jarraf — let’s just call her Heather. At some point Heather had been married to a man from Morocco, which could explain OPPT’s decision to move there.

Aside from functioning as a lawyer of sorts for the group Heather also helped spread a philosophy of BEing and DOing. You can learn more about this at a website run by Heather and her followers, although I’ll warn you right now that it involves watching hours of long, poorly made YouTube videos that no sane person would ever be able to sit through.

Do the terms BE and DO sound familiar in this context? HopeGirl’s website and forum for her QEG magic energy machine was located at be-do.com (site now dead, link is to an archive.org backup copy.) HopeGirl eventually became disenchanted with the New Age weirdos who she joined in Morocco and publicly distanced herself from the group, which she explains here. Unfortunately her realization was short lived, as HopeGirl continues blogging about free energy, “chemtrails,” “orgone,” and other magical thinking that still sounds suspiciously New Age-y.

Between Heather and HopeGirl moving to Morocco together and their shared terminology at the time, I hope you can see how my interest in the QEG scam eventually led me to try and piece together what happened to Heather when she popped up in the news recently.
 
 

Numerology bank robbery

Here’s the story behind the case as I understand it based on the court documents as well as newspaper articles. Links to these articles and related online forum threads are at the end of this blog post.

A US Air Force veteran in Knoxville, Tennessee named Randall Beane got himself into some serious financial debts despite making a six figure salary as a software engineer.

Rather than turn to a financial advisor or even trying to refinance on his own, Randall turned to YouTube where he found a video channel run by a man calling himself Harvey Dent, named after Batman villain Two-Face. Is your Spidey sense going off yet… oh sorry, wrong comic.

Harvey Dent’s YouTube channel is difficult to describe. It’s a mix of crazed rants on various topics, most of which are mercifully short. He’s a self-styled guru who claims to lead an “intellectual freedom movement,” whatever that means. He also has a tendency to erupt in laughter at random times which makes the videos a challenge to take seriously.

At some point Randall allegedly came across one of Harvey Dent’s videos, possibly this one, that explains a sovereign citizen concept about how the government is somehow monetizing our birth certificates with secret Federal Reserve accounts that can be accessed through some kind of… numerology? It’s bafflingly incoherent. (Note: Harvey deleted his previous YouTube channel, so it could have been one of his older videos that’s no longer available.)

Randall decided to go with this scheme he learned about from Harvey Dent’s video and somehow wound up enlisting Heather’s help, presumably because she was promoting the video. Taking Heather and Harvey’s advice, Randall withdrew money from his super duper secret bank account at the Federal Reserve and deposited into a certificate of deposit (CD) at his bank, USAA. Due to some fluke this temporarily worked, and he immediately used that money to purchase a luxury motor home for half a million dollars.

Heather and her friends’ website deserves some credit for posting actual court documents from her case — even if they apparently don’t believe the court is legitimate presumably due to the aforementioned foreclosure against the government. Regardless much can be gleaned from the court documents.

For context in understanding some of Heather’s court document filings, the frequently cited Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) is a suggestion for a framework of laws to facilitate commerce between individual states. Most states adopted UCC into their own laws in one form or another, but it’s important to remember that UCC is a recommendation for laws rather than laws in and of themselves. This distinction is something Heather seems to willfully ignore in her (many) irrelevant filings.
 
 

Go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect a half-million dollar motor home

Randall’s bank transactions quickly raised red flags. Not only was the initial deposit into the CD a banking error, but withdrawing money from a CD prior to the maturity date incurs a significant penalty.

Before Randall could even drive “his” motor home away — presumably with the intent to sell it and pay off his debts — FBI agents arrested him.

Heather intervened on Randall’s behalf by going all the way to the top of the government she allegedly foreclosed upon, showing up unannounced at the White House for an impromptu meeting with Trump.

The Secret Service had none of Heather’s shenanigans, getting in touch with the FBI instead. After an identity hearing Heather was shipped off to be tried along with Randall in a court in Knoxville.

Heather and Randall chose to represent themselves in court. And by represent I mean they did very little, aside from re-filing court decisions with Heather’s fingerprints and the word “REJECTED” written on the documents. It’s not clear they even participated in jury selection. At least Heather had the foresight to bail herself out while leaving Randall in jail, as any good attorney would.

Needless to say both Heather and Randall were found guilty and now face significant sentences. Heather faces conspiracy money laundering. Randall faces bank and wire fraud. Now behind bars, both are scheduled to be sentenced in June.
 
 

Conclusion

The sad thing about this case is there aren’t really any winners. Ultimately taxpayers pick up the cost for court cases and incarceration, while the Federal Reserve clearly messed up when they allowed a fraudulent transfer to take place.

Worse yet, I’m not sure Heather’s followers will learn anything when they can spin this as a pair of heroic citizens fighting “the man” and losing in a court they don’t think is legitimate. No matter what happens it’s difficult to imagine Heather’s clan from seeing this as an abuse of power from a government they don’t recognize.

For his part Randall seems like the dopey fall guy. I’m not saying he deserves to get off the hook for what he did, but he’s likely to get the tougher sentence for being the one who executed the robbery in his own name despite not being the mastermind behind the scheme. He seems to me an extreme case of what can happen if you believe everything you see on the internet.

Still it’s reassuring for us Americans to know the FBI and Secret Service can do their jobs even in this turbulent era. The worst outcome would have been Randall and Heather getting away with bank robbery. Thankfully they did not.
 
 

References

These news reports are the sources for most of the information in this blog post:

The following web forum threads helped provide context and information while researching the trial:

 

Update
The Daily Beast wrote an excellent piece on this saga: Sovereign Citizen Convicted After Giving Advice on Plundering Federal Reserve

Honey bear invasion

January 30, 2018

Tony the Tiger honey bear Honey Bowie bear Flava honey bear
 

On the way to work this morning I noticed SOMA had been invaded by honey bears. Anyone familiar with local street art — or regular readers of this blog — would immediately recognize this as the work of fnnch. But what was up with all the bears appearing at once? And why were they strapped to the utility poles instead of painted on?

I didn’t have to wait long to find out, because pretty much every local news outlet covered the project.

To sum up an already short story, fnnch got a bunch of friends together to raise awareness of a petition to decriminalize certain types of street art. But to learn more in fnnch’s own words, check out this post on Medium about the project.

Robot barista cafe expands to second location

January 24, 2018

Cafe X at Market and Second
Cafe X at Market and Second Cafe X at Market and Second

A while back I visited Cafe X in San Francisco’s Metreon only to find its robot barista charged me for health care.

I thought for sure the novelty would wear off quickly, but it seems every time I’m at the Metreon there’s still a bunch of people gawking at the robot arm shuffling cups around. I’ve even ordered a couple more times myself when I was too desperate for coffee to wait in Blue Bottle’s notoriously long line.

But still, I never expected to see another Cafe X robot barista. Well, I was wrong.

Last night as I headed home I noticed something unexpected: a new Cafe X location at a small storefront on Market Street near Second Street. Despite walking by frequently somehow I hadn’t noticed the signs going up. I peered in the window and sure enough, there was the robot, sitting still, waiting for an order to be placed. A paper sign on the window indicated the grand opening was the following day.

Fast forward to this morning and I decided to stop by and grab a coffee on the way to work. The place was busy, but I breezed through the gawking crowds, fired up the Cafe X app on my phone, and ordered a cappuccino. A few moments later the robot arm gave me my coffee and I headed to the office.

Yes, yet again a robot charged me for health care. Perhaps it’s time to embrace our future of robots and spurious surcharges.

Why the new Firefox logo looks wrong, yet oddly familiar

January 14, 2018

Back in November Mozilla released Firefox 57, aka “Quantum.” It was the first major change to Firefox in many years with a new look, new extension system, and significantly faster performance. While it did break some of my favorite extensions this was a temporary problem, and despite a few bumps the upgrade was ultimately a huge win in my book. Finally, Firefox became as performant as Chrome while retaining most of its customization options.

There was another change though that didn’t seem quite right — the logo.

Sure the new logo isn’t that different than the old one. It’s just a few visual tweaks here and there, and the colors were modified slightly. No big deal, right? Shouldn’t be, but something looked off and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what bugged me about it.

Then in a moment of realization I figured it out: the new Firefox logo bears a stunning resemblance to Trump’s infamously bad hairstyle:


 

Unfortunately once I saw this I couldn’t unsee it. Enjoy!