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Rich Californians balk at limits: ‘We’re not all equal when it comes to water’

(Published in the Washington Post — June 13, 2015)

Rich Californians balk at limits: ‘We’re not all equal when it comes to water’

RANCHO SANTA FE, CALIF. — Drought or no drought, Steve Yuhas resents the idea that it is somehow shameful to be a water hog. If you can pay for it, he argues, you should get your water.

People “should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful,” Yuhas fumed recently on social media. “We pay significant property taxes based on where we live,” he added in an interview. “And, no, we’re not all equal when it comes to water.”

Yuhas lives in the ultra-wealthy enclave of Rancho Santa Fe, a bucolic Southern California hamlet of ranches, gated communities and country clubs that guzzles five times more water per capita than the statewide average. In April, after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) called for a 25 percent reduction in water use, consumption in Rancho Santa Fe went up by 9 percent.

But a moment of truth is at hand for Yuhas and his neighbors, and all of California will be watching…

(Read more)



Washington Post

Fake grass gains ground in California amid concerns about ongoing drought

Fake grass gains ground in California amid concerns about ongoing drought

(Published in the Washington Post — May 23, 2015)

Christopher Knight makes no apologies: He likes a green lawn. But the actor best known for playing middle son Peter on “The Brady Bunch” also wants to do his part to conserve water.

The solution? Fake grass.

“It feels totally different,” Knight, 57, marveled one day last week, stepping barefoot onto a deceptively lifelike expanse of newly installed plastic turf. “Frankly, I’m not really sure why more people haven’t started doing it.”

After four blistering years of drought in California, more people are doing it. The fake grass business is booming, much to the chagrin of some environmentalists and live-grass purists.

Comprehensive numbers are hard to come by, but makers and installers of synthetic turf say they are experiencing an unprecedented spike in residential business in California. From middle-class families who don’t want to forfeit the patch-of-green part of the American dream to megawatt celebrities who are mortified by TV coverage of their sprawling water-hog lawns, homeowners across the Golden State are ripping up sod and replacing it with plastic.

“Everything is in California right now,” said David Barbera, president of Georgia-based Artificial Turf Supply, which opened both a warehouse and a sales office in Southern California last year. “We have doubled the size of our business in the past 12 months.”

The benefits of fake grass are hard to deny. Live grass guzzles some 55 gallons of water per square foot annually, making the all-American lawn increasingly untenable in an era of skyrocketing water rates and excessive-use penalties. Over the past two months, since Gov. Jerry Brown (D) declared a state of emergency and decreed that water use be cut by 25 percent this year, synthetic turf companies report an avalanche of interest.

In many parts of the state, the trend is being fueled by cash rebates of up to $3.75 a square foot for installing low-water (or no-water) landscaping. The vast majority of rebate-takers go the more natural — and cheaper — route of shrubs and succulents, officials said. But a growing number of homeowners are rejecting spiky deer grass and scratchy sagebrush and paying up to $10 per square foot to luxuriate in plastic’s convincing lushness.

“For people who want to play with their children — soccer, baseball, Frisbee — they can’t do that in a front yard with cactus. You’re going to get a needle in the rump,” said Ara Najarian, mayor of the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, who has emerged as something of a synthetic turf champion.

To be sure, fake grass — known as “frass,” in some quarters — has its critics. Santa Monica, for instance, will not approve rebates for homeowners who install plastic. Sacramento and Glendale have long banned the installation of artificial turf in front lawns, as have some homeowner associations, which view the product as tacky.

Najarian has been waging a spirited campaign to get his city’s ban overturned. “I’ve always been a firm believer that we need to give families the option,” he said. But Peter Fuad, president of the Northwest Glendale Homeowners Association, adamantly defends the ban.

“You can’t be assured people won’t buy the cheapest Home Depot special,” Fuad fretted during a recent City Council meeting. “Are you going to allow red, white and blue turf?”

Synthetic turf advocates dismiss such fears. Today’s fake grass, they say, is nothing like the preternaturally green stuff that used to carpet the local miniature golf course.

The venerable Hollywood Bowl, one of the nation’s most iconic amphitheaters, recently made the switch. Mark Ladd, the venue’s assistant director of operations, notes that the fake greenery looks authentic: The height and color of the blades are varied, with a few brown ones thrown in to emulate dead thatch.

“Nobody has a truly perfect lawn,” Ladd said. “The old stuff would look really kitschy.”

Danna Freedman, owner of SYNLawn — a local wholesaler and affiliate of AstroTurf — says some of her most loyal clients are rich and famous. They include former California first lady Maria Shriver, comedian Steve Martin and actresses Julia Roberts and Laura Dern.

Freedman noted that SYNLawn artificial grass is made from soybean oil and recycled plastic bottles collected from national parks — an environmental bonus. Since the drought began, she said, her 12-year-old business has swelled by at least 50 percent a year, prompting her to hire nearly 20 additional employees.

Today’s artificial turf is the descendant of AstroTurf, which was developed in the mid-1960s by chemical giant Monsanto. Originally called ChemGrass, it was rechristened after gaining fame in the newly erected Houston Astrodome, where the trials of maintaining indoor natural grass had compelled crews to paint the dead outfield green.

Since then, the product has traveled a bumpy road to ­sporting-field prominence, waxing and waning in accordance with technological improvements and controversies over toxicity or injuries. The $1 billion-a-year industry began expanding into the residential market in the 1990s.

Nevada, the Sagebrush State, was an early adopter. The percentage of Nevada residents taking a water-savings rebate for replacing natural grass with artificial turf has skyrocketed over the past decade. A quarter of lawn conversions now include an artificial turf component, according to the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Doug Bennett, the agency’s conservation manager, said he was initially skeptical that the product would hold up in the relentless sun. But to his surprise, many projects installed a decade ago remain intact.

A former horticulturist, Bennett has mixed feelings about faux turf. He wonders how the spent stuff affects the waste stream.

“It’s made of plastic; it will degrade,” said Lisa Cahill, director for sustainable solutions at TreePeople, an environmental nonprofit group based in Los Angeles. “And those pieces — even if very, very tiny — can end up in the ocean.”

And synthetic turf can be hot to the touch on a sunny day, Bennett notes. Once, while standing at an outdoor party on a fake-grass lawn, he kicked off a flip-flop and stood on the grass.

“I leaped off onto the concrete,” he said. “I literally would rather walk on concrete.”

The Nevada water agency tries to take a middle-ground approach to lawn conversions, requiring a minimum number of live plants for the sake of the ecosystem. With a chuckle, Bennett recalled a woman who applied for a rebate with a landscaping blueprint that was 100 percent artificial, right down to the palm trees. Her rebate was denied.

“Google ‘artificial palm trees.’ They exist,” he said.

For many artificial-turf enthusiasts, it isn’t just about saving water. It’s also about reconnecting with idyllic childhood memories.

Danna Ziv, who lives in Montecito near Santa Barbara, said her 2,000 square feet of fake lawn reminds her of playing on the grass as a child in the San Fernando Valley. Her father, the late Dan Blocker, played the character Hoss Cartwright on the 1960s TV western “Bonanza.”

“My husband is from Israel,” Ziv said. “He really wanted to have grass because they don’t have a lot of it there.”

For others, it’s all about the environment. Olivier Roumy ditched his 25-year career as a high-end hairstylist for Washington politicians and moved to Los Angeles to work sales for DuraTurf, whose expanding list of clients include both Knight and the Hollywood Bowl.

“Everybody is concerned about the water. It’s a problem.” Roumy said, over the buzz of a power-broom grooming Knight’s new lawn. “So it makes me really feel like I’m helping the planet.”

Knight readily admits he had other motives for spending around $4,000 for his new lawn and a matching patch of green on his rooftop balcony. While the rebate and the water conservation were important, he said, his primary consideration were the dog owners who pretended not to see his posted signs. (“No dog pee on wet lawn!”)

An endless stream of canine leg-lifters had left his grass blemished with yellow spots. “Now I don’t even have to worry about the damage,” he said, admiring the handiwork of the DuraTurf crew.

Still, Knight said, he plans to leave the dog-pee signs up.

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

Professor: Many of us suffer from ‘iDisorder,’ due to over-use of social media and mobile devices

Professor: Many of us suffer from ‘iDisorder,’ due to over-use of social media and mobile devices

March 11, 2012


Know anybody who can’t make it through dinner without checking his smartphone? Who has a tendency to boast a little on Facebook? Who is made a little melancholy by social media but still can’t pull herself away?

CSUDH professor Larry Rosen has become the go-to expert for all things social media. (Brittany Murray / Staff photographer)
CSUDH professor Larry Rosen has become the go-to expert for all things social media. (Brittany Murray / Staff photographer)

Is that person you?

A psychology professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills, is gaining prominence for his argument that more and more of us are exhibiting signs of what he has coined an iDisorder. That is, we are, through the use of technology devices, manifesting symptoms of narcissism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, social phobia, hypochondria and other psychiatric maladies.

The professor, Larry Rosen — whose visibility as a “psychology of technology” expert is on the rise — says that in this age of hyper-connectivity, most people see a little of themselves in at least some of the telltale symptoms.

The good news, he says, is there are remedies — simple solutions that don’t require disconnecting and trying to live like it’s 1985. (Or aiming a handgun at your daughter’s laptop and shooting it full of holes, as one fed-up man actually did earlier this year in North Carolina.)

“What I’m on my high horse about is focus,” Rosen said in a recent phone interview, while sitting with a laptop in the waiting room of his auto mechanic — an irony that wasn’t lost on him. “This is the crux of my talk. I’ll show you how distracted you are, and how we can get you to focus better.”

Rosen has been a professor at CSU Dominguez Hills for decades. But in the past couple of years he’s become an international go-to expert on the topic of social media — and its effect on our brains.

His new book, “iDisorder” — co-authored by fellow CSU Dominguez Hills professors Nancy Cheever and L. Mark Carrier — recently received a favorable review in The New York Times.

Rosen is frequently quoted in national media outlets, and he clearly welcomes the attention. His website includes a list of media interviews he’s done this year, and it isn’t short. In May and June alone, the credits include The New York Times, Businessweek, The Boston Globe, the Sydney Morning Herald and PBS — and that barely scratches the surface.

The headlines can themselves be anxiety inducing.

“Are We Addicted to Facebook? It’s Complicated!” “Mobile Devices: A Constant Craving That May Be Changing Our Personalities.” “Do You Suffer From These 4 Tech Addictions?” “Too Much Technology for Kids is Bad for Development, Says New Study.”

Central to Rosen’s premise is the idea that technology doesn’t make us crazy, but often exacerbates our crazy tendencies, or even triggers their development.

Logging on to your laptop the minute you get home from work every day could be a warning sign for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Posting a dozen daily status updates on Facebook that make frequent use of the words “I” or “me” could be a byproduct of narcissism.

Writing updates that use more swear words, fewer positive-emotion words and more religious words correlates to depressive behavior. Missing meetings or deadlines at work because one has been surfing the Web raises a red flag for ADHD. (One study says more than three-quarters of computer-based task switching focuses on distracting, rather than work-related, activities.)

According to the book, each successive generation generally reports higher and higher levels of anxiety when separated from their technologies. With increased anxiety comes increased usage, and ever more opportunities to develop iDisorders.

Meanwhile, Rosen’s own research has indicated that nobody — regardless of their age or gender — is really all that good at multitasking. Although some forms of multitasking are easier than others.

“The trick is to know when to pay attention to one thing at a time and when it is OK to switch from one thing to another,” he said.

Far from believing technology is bad, Rosen is an early adopter.

In 1984, while an assistant professor at CSU Dominguez Hills, he showed the students a big computer in his classroom; he informed them they would be using it to do their statistics. The punch-card machines were large, bulky and foreboding.

“The students freaked out,” he said. “They were hesitant and scared of it.”

He’s the first to acknowledge he checks his Facebook account every half-hour at a minimum.

Rosen, 62, is a proponent of the tech break. But his idea of implementing such a thing is a little counterintuitive. For instance, in his classroom, Rosen encourages students not to put their cellphones away, but to take them out and use them for one minute at the beginning of class. Then, he instructs students to silence the gadgets and place them face-down on their desks.

“That way you can see it,” he said. “The phone becomes a stimulus to the brain: Don’t worry, you will get to check me in less than 15 minutes.”

He promotes using this technique at work, or the dinner table, or while trying to finish homework.

“It’s designed to get people to stop being distracted and focus,” he said.

On a related note, Rosen advises people to wait a couple of minutes before sending a written email — a technique he refers to as an “e-waiting period.”

“I’ve sent emails I regret,” he said. “Then I send five more emails trying to apologize or straighten it out.”

As for whether all this technology is, on the whole, good or bad for society, Rosen says it’s a wash.

On the positive side, he said, Facebook — despite encouraging narcissistic behavior — in some ways promotes a kinder, gentler society.

“That `like’ button is amazingly powerful,” he said. “People feel amazingly reinforced when 40 people like what they have posted.”

But he also believes there is truth to the idea that the proliferation of social media is taking a toll on our propensity for deep thinking.

Ultimately, the question of whether the digital revolution is good or bad is irrelevant; it’s here, just like the telephone, the TV or the automobile.

The more relevant question, according to Rosen: How do you handle the onslaught without losing your mind?

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze Shifting Paradigms

El Segundo High valedictorian inspired, motivated by school custodian

El Segundo High student inspired, motivated by school custodian

June 24, 2013

El Segundo High valedictorian Kevin Qualls was inspired by an unusual mentor, school custodian William Ochoa. Qualls hung around the school while waiting for his mother to pick him up for their commute to South L.A. and the pair struck up a friendship. Ochoa, left, with Kevin in front of the school. (Robert Casillas / Staff Photographer)
El Segundo High valedictorian Kevin Qualls was inspired by an unusual mentor, school custodian William Ochoa. Qualls hung around the school while waiting for his mother to pick him up for their commute to South L.A. and the pair struck up a friendship. Ochoa, left, with Kevin in front of the school. (Robert Casillas / Staff Photographer)

It is often said that, to succeed academically, students need just one adult on campus to believe in them. For Kevin Qualls, a recent graduate of El Segundo High, that person was the school custodian.

In truth, many adults at the school surely believed in Kevin — who graduated earlier this month in the top 5 percent of his class. But in custodian William Ochoa, Kevin saw a kindred spirit.

Both grew up in poverty-stricken south Los Angeles, where Kevin still lives. Both were raised in single-parent families with an absent father. Both were outsiders who felt embraced by a suburban community whose quaint small-town architecture feels a world away from the gritty neighborhoods they’ve called home.

“Everybody shows me so much love here,” Kevin said.

Their friendship began one day after school hours, when Ochoa walked into the computer lab and found Kevin in there alone, lost in work.

Valedictorian Kevin Qualls gives his speech. (Photo for the Daily Breeze by Axel Koester)
Valedictorian Kevin Qualls gives his speech. (Photo for the Daily Breeze by Axel Koester)

Normally, Ochoa would kindly ask such a straggler to leave — in fact the rules require it. But Ochoa, who is commonly chatty with students, struck up a conversation. He learned that Kevin hung around the school or in the nearby El Segundo Public Library every night until 7 or 7:30 p.m., because that was the earliest his mother could get to school to pick him up after working all day in Century City.

“I thought to myself: If I kick him out, where is he going to go?” Ochoa said. “I figured, it’s not going to hurt anyone for him to stay here for an hour.”

Over the course of the year, Ochoa and Kevin got to know each other better. Sometimes, in the evening, Kevin would walk back to the school from the library — perhaps to retrieve a book he’d forgotten, or perhaps just to shoot the breeze. Ochoa would open the locked door.

“He would always ask about my kids,” said the 32-year-old Ochoa, who these days lives in Lawndale with his wife and two young children. “You never see a kid ask you about your family, about your kids.”

When Kevin worked the snack shack at Friday night football games, Ochoa and the other custodians would joke around with him.

When Kevin learned he was a finalist for the prestigious Gates Millennium scholarship — a jackpot award funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that foots the entire bill for the tuition, room and board of the lucky winners — Ochoa was one of the first people Kevin told.

From the beginning, the odds haven’t been in Kevin’s favor.

Half-black, half-Samoan, Kevin is a resident of Leimert Park, a south Los Angeles community located within the attendance boundaries of Crenshaw High School, where test scores are abysmal and the dropout rate astronomical.

In 2006, Kevin — an only child — saw his small family become smaller. That was the year his father, who’d long battled depression, was committed to a board-and-care facility for the mentally ill in Carson.

From that point on, his immediate family has consisted of two members — Kevin and his mom, Alofa Qualls. Every day, she drove him to school in El Segundo from Leimert Park, then traveled all the way up to Century City, where she works in the accounts-receivable department of an insurance company.The family actually lived in El Segundo in the distant past. But they moved out when Kevin was in kindergarten because they couldn’t afford it. Ever since, his mother had enrolled him in El Segundo’s public schools as a permit student.

Kevin was in middle school, he said, when the sacrifices made by his mother really hit him.

“I thought, if my mom is pouring so much sweat and hustle to take me here, I might as well make the most of it,” he said.

Alofa said her son has been undeterred by the roadblocks. “He’s not using any of those excuses to use it as a cop-out,” she said. “He rose from all that.”

At El Segundo High, where student test scores are exceptional, Kevin did more than hold his own. In addition to graduating near the top of his class, he won the contest among students for giving the valedictory address, which he delivered on commencement day June 13.

He was recognized by the El Segundo Masonic Lodge earlier this month as El Segundo High’s Student of the Year.

“I had the pleasure of teaching Kevin in AP physics this year,” said teacher Steven Eno. “Kevin is the most respectful and hardest working student that I have ever worked with. … Kevin made a habit of coming into class early and leaving class late to get as much time working with physics as possible.”

Most impressively, Kevin was a recipient of that Gates Millennium scholarship, which will cover the entire $62,000-a-year bill for him to attend and live on the campus at USC, where this fall he plans to begin studying mechanical engineering.

Shortly after he learned the good news, he sought out Ochoa.

“He was sweeping one of the science rooms, and I came up to him,” Kevin said. “We just looked at each other and he’s like, ‘What?’ I said, ‘I got it.’ ”

Ochoa threw the broom down and gave Kevin a hug.

Any student who receives so many accolades in a year has also by now doled out public thank yous. During these moments, Kevin is quick to credit his parents — and Ochoa.

Ochoa — who in addition to his full-time job as a custodian works 20 or so hours a week at a print shop in El Segundo — is a little hesitant to take any credit for Kevin’s success.

“I don’t know what I did — he did all the work,” he said.

But Kevin assures that Ochoa was a big help.

“He was just the friend you could count on at the end of the day,” he said.

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

Best-Selling ‘Unbroken’ Star Louis Zamperini, 94, Returns to Torrance High

A Hero Comes Home to Torrance High

Published on April 1, 2011

Torrance legend Louis Zamperini paid a visit to his alma mater Torrance High to visit with alumni and meet students. Robert Casillas
Torrance legend Louis Zamperini paid a visit to his alma mater Torrance High to visit with alumni and meet students. Robert Casillas

If anybody knows the secret to life, it’s Torrance’s very own Louis Zamperini, who has captivated the world by the miraculous ways in which he’s cheated death.

The secret, if there is one, seems to be this: Stay cheerful through it all.

On Thursday, the 94-year-old subject of a best-selling biography enthralled students at his alma mater, Torrance High School.

With the stooped-over posture and comic timing of Bob Hope, Zamperini made light of some of the darkest things imaginable: what it was like to kill a shark with his bare hands in order to survive, what it was like to shake the hand of Adolf Hitler, what it was like to float adrift at sea in a life raft for 47 days with no food, what it was like to be a prisoner of war.

But he also waxed philosophical, saying he prefers the term “Hardy Generation” to “Greatest Generation,” the moniker coined by Tom Brokaw to describe Zamperini’s age group.

“To be hardy is to overcome adversity, and we had a lot of adversity in my day,” he said, speaking in the school’s auditorium. “Each adversity you overcame made you more and more hardy.”

Zamperini, long the pride and joy of Torrance — where an airport landing strip and high school football stadium are named in his honor — has become a national hero of sorts thanks to the book “Unbroken,” penned by Laura Hillenbrand, author of the best-selling novel “Seabiscuit.”

A crowd swelled around Zamperini, consisting mostly of girls, who were jostling to take a photo with him.
A crowd swelled around Zamperini, consisting mostly of girls, who were jostling to take a photo with him.

By now, thanks largely to the book, his story is world famous.

Zamperini grew up the son of Italian immigrants, living at 2028 Gramercy Ave. in Torrance. He began the first chapter of his life as a hooligan, ditching classes, stealing bread from bakeries and hopping freight trains. But his older brother, Pete, a track coach, pulled him aside one day and slapped sense into him, telling him it was time to grow up.

Aware of Louis’ running talent, Pete encouraged him to try out for the track team. Louis not only made the team, he became known as the “Torrance Tornado,” winning meets and breaking national records. He ran his way to a scholarship at USC and into the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he performed well, though won no medals.

Then, like so many other promising young men of the era, the Tornado enlisted with the military and found himself serving on a B-24 bomber in World War II. In April 1943, he was among a dozen men on a B-24 that nose-dived in the Pacific Ocean. Only three men survived.

“It felt like someone hit me in the forehead with a sledgehammer,” Zamperini recalled in a documentary that the students watched Thursday, referring to the plane’s head-on collision with the deep blue.

Zamperini and the two others took refuge on a circular life raft. From the perspective of a plane, it was practically invisible — but a germ on the great expanse. The men soon ran out of food and water, and literally killed sharks and seabirds to survive.

On at least one occasion, they were strafed by the machine gunfire of an enemy plane, which miraculously missed.

Newspapers in Torrance and across the country declared the men dead. By the time the raft made landfall on a remote island 47 days later, only two men remained. They were so weak they had to crawl onto the sandy beach. Zamperini weighed just 65 pounds.

As luck would have it, the island was an outpost of the Japanese Army, which had a presence there. The two Americans were taken into custody, and served as POWs for 2 1/2 years.

Speaking to the students after the movie, USC ball cap perched atop his head, Zamperini recalled one of the most emotional moments of his life. It was during the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Zamperini was running with the Olympic torch, alongside the labor camp in which he toiled. Lining the street were throngs of Japanese fans cheering him on. Later on, at a ceremony, a Japanese official asked Zamperini if anything good came out of his incarceration as a POW in Japan.

“I said, `Yeah, it prepared me for 55 years of married life,”‘ he said, cracking up the crowd. He added that his wife later saw a video of the ceremony. “I had a hassle getting in the house.”

Zamperini went on to describe his encounters with a team of interrogators. The most hard-nosed among them happened to also be a graduate of USC.

“This guy was the most obnoxious of the six,” he said. “I couldn’t believe he was a Trojan. … I finally came to this conclusion: He had to be a third-year transfer from UCLA.”

His prepared remarks were brief, but the jokes kept flowing during a question-and-answer session with the students, who stood up and shouted their questions toward the podium on stage. After each question, Zamperini, who is hard of hearing, cocked his head while the nearby student-body president who organized the event — Danish Akmal — repeated the question in his ear.

“How did you feel meeting Adolf Hitler?”

“It was no big deal at the time,” Zamperini said, referring to how the notorious dictator, impressed by Zamperini’s strong finish in the 5,000-meter dash, demanded to meet the athlete. “We always thought that he was what we call a dangerous comedian. With that mustache and the mannerisms, he would have done great in Hollywood.”

For the rest of the day, Zamperini — once the school’s student-body president — was again the big man on campus. While eating lunch in the cafeteria, a choir sang for him. He signed books for hordes of fawning students.

After lunch, Zamperini and an entourage of organizers made their way to the student quad, where the drum line and a cheer squad performed for him. Not long after, a crowd swelled around him, consisting mostly of girls, who were jostling to take a photo with him.

“He’s so cute!” gushed Jordan Brown, a junior.

“To have the will to live for that long — for longer than a month on a boat, stranded, nothing to eat, just like, sharks to kill,” marveled sophomore Saige Shive. “That’s God, all the way.”

As late as this week, the book, which soared to No. 2 on the New York Times best-sellers list, ranked No. 1 on nonfiction best-seller lists for independent bookstores around Southern California, according to the website L.A. Observed. Universal Studios has purchased the rights to the book, and actor James Franco may play the lead, Zamperini said.

Even in old age, Zamperini has lived an active life. He not only skied until age 91, he took up skateboarding at 65, and took his last ride on a board at age 81 on Gower Street in Hollywood, the city where he now lives.

“I work with kids,” he explained. “What kids do, I do — you get closer to them. And I like a challenge.”

Zamperini said the secret to longevity can be found in the Bible: “Have a cheerful countenance all the time.”

“Even if I go to a funeral, I have a cheerful attitude,” he said. “After all, their problems are all over.”

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

Portly Blind Sea Lion Named ‘Big Guy’ Finds a Home at Utah Zoo

Portly Blind Sea Lion Named ‘Big Guy’ Finds a Home at Utah Zoo

April 21, 2012

An adult male sea lion Big Guy at San Pedro's Marine Mammal Care Center finally found a home after 2 years. He's become a sort-of mascot there, attracting regular visitors to see his giant frame. Big Guy will be leaving this Sunday for Utah Hogle Zoo. Husbandry manager at the center Lori Olsen feeds Big Guy a fish. 20120419 Photo by Steve McCrank / Staff Photographer
An adult male sea lion Big Guy at San Pedro’s Marine Mammal Care Center finally found a home after 2 years. He’s become a sort-of mascot there, attracting regular visitors to see his giant frame. Big Guy will be leaving this Sunday for Utah Hogle Zoo. Husbandry manager at the center Lori Olsen feeds Big Guy a fish. 20120419 Photo by Steve McCrank / Staff Photographer

A less charismatic animal would have been euthanized.

But Big Guy – a 700-pound, 5-foot-tall sea lion stricken by blindness who was rescued and cared for at the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro – so charmed the staff that they resolved to find him a home.

It took two years – the longest stay in the history of the center – but at last, Big Guy has found his new digs, at Utah’s Hogle Zoo. He’ll be leaving next week, either by semi or jet airplane.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Jill Romano, spokeswoman for the center, which is the only federally authorized hospital for injured and sick marine mammals in Los Angeles County. “We’re happy he got a home – that’s what we all wanted. But at the same time we’re kind of sad to see him go. I’ve never seen a community become so attached to an animal as they have been to him.”

An adult male sea lion known as Big Guy, who is blind in one eye, at San Pedro's Marine Mammal Care Center finally found a home after 2 years. He's become a sort-of mascot there, attracting regular visitors to see his giant frame. Big Guy will be leaving this Sunday for Utah Hogle Zoo.
An adult male sea lion known as Big Guy, who is blind in one eye, at San Pedro’s Marine Mammal Care Center finally found a home after 2 years. He’s become a sort-of mascot there, attracting regular visitors to see his giant frame. Big Guy will be leaving this Sunday for Utah Hogle Zoo.

As for how the California bull sea lion lost his vision, it’s anybody’s guess. He was discovered on a Santa Monica beach in February 2010 by a local animal rescuer.

Judging by the facial gashes, scrapes and bruises, staff members at the center surmise that a dramatic event was to blame: maybe a scuffle with a rivaling beast, maybe a bludgeoning from a passing boat, maybe an epic tangle with a fishing net.

Whatever the case, the creature didn’t allow the trauma to change his gentle demeanor, which, in conjunction with his girth, gave rise to the affectionate nickname.

“He’s a big, giant sweetheart,” Romano said. “He’s got a great temperament. Such a calm nature about him.”

It’s safe to say Big Guy will experience an upgrade to his standard of living. At the center, he shared a 6-foot-deep, 16,000-gallon pool with as many as five other sea lions – all of them female.

The portly pinniped’s watery exhibit in Utah will be twice the depth and 11 times the volume, featuring an underwater viewing area for visitors. It’ll also be more exotic.

Called Rocky Shores, the brand new state-of-the-art facility is part of a mixed species exhibit, featuring two other sea lions and three harbor seals. In separate enclosures there will be a polar bear, three grizzly bears, river otters and bald eagles.

There, Big Guy will get to know Rocky Shores staff member James Weinpress, who has long worked with marine animals with disabilities.

“I worked with a blind sea lion and a mentally disabled dolphin,” he said in a statement. “Once you figure out how the animals learn, it opens the doors and shows how much these animals can do – they’re capable of anything.”

Because sea lions spend a lot of time navigating rocky beaches and treacherous waters, they cannot survive in the wild without their eyesight.

Getting him to the center in San Pedro was a Herculean task. The rescuer, Peter Wallerstein, worked with several lifeguards to coax the injured sea lion into a net. They then lifted him with a crane onto a boat and into Wallerstein’s truck to be delivered to the Marine Mammal Care Center.

Two years ago, the center’s veterinarian, Dr. Lauren Palmer, had to decide whether to euthanize him. She hesitated, she said, because he was so gentle.

“He’s a really magnificent creature,” she said.

Transporting him to Utah promises to be even more of a feat. Regardless of whether he travels by big rig or jet, Big Guy will be contained in a 1,000-pound crate. Traveling with him will be a female pup who is one-tenth his weight. She, too, has a vision problem that precludes release into the wild, and so she will also be taking up residence in Utah.

Once Big Guy and his new roommate arrive at the aquarium, they will each be quarantined for 30 days before they are integrated into their new environment.

Back in San Pedro, despite being surrounded by the females, Big Guy never mated.

“He didn’t really show much interest,” Palmer mused. “However, we had another adult sea lion that did.”

She acknowledged that the clock was ticking for Big Guy: Animals that do not get placed in a timely fashion are often euthanized.

“That question was hanging out there, and fortunately we didn’t have to address that,” Palmer said. “No one wanted to go there.”

Unlike Big Guy, the female pup traveling with him is nameless. In fact, the staff at the center doesn’t normally name their animals. But Big Guy is exceptional.

“Big Guy just kind of stuck,” Palmer said. “It wasn’t very creative, but it’s descriptive.”

Follow Rob Kuznia on Twitter at

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

High school football player helps reassemble a ruined team after everybody walks

High school football player helps reassemble a ruined team after everybody walks

April 6, 2013


For Jason Ferguson, captain of the varsity football team at St. Bernard High in Playa del Rey, the first day of this past season was pretty normal: everybody showed up, ran some laps and went home. But that was the beginning and end of “normal.”

When the powerhouse football team at St. Bernard High School in Playa del Rey quit en masse this fall and its members scattered to other schools, Jason Ferguson, the captain, stayed behind. He later helped recruit a large group of boys to assemble a new junior varsity team from scratch. St. Bernard High recently honored Jason with a leadership award for his team spirit.
When the powerhouse football team at St. Bernard High School in Playa del Rey quit en masse this fall and its members scattered to other schools, Jason Ferguson, the captain, stayed behind. He later helped recruit a large group of boys to assemble a new junior varsity team from scratch. St. Bernard High recently honored Jason with a leadership award for his team spirit.

Later that night, Coach Larry Muno, upset about a contract calling for him to fundraise for his own salary, walked. It was a bombshell. Within a week, nearly all the players on the varsity squad had scattered to other schools. Suddenly, what had been a 10-0 team the prior season was dust. Vanished, too, was the junior varsity team.

The teams were gone, but not all the players. Ferguson, captain of the varsity team and an outside linebacker, stayed on.

“St. Bernard is pretty much a family to me,” said the soft-spoken high school senior, who next year plans to study computer science at either Northern Arizona University or the University of Arizona. “I couldn’t really leave it behind.”

It was a painful decision. All summer long, Jason had been looking forward to a final year of football, and now that senior dream was dashed. Or was it? A new coach was soon hired. That coach, John Bibb – nicknamed “Bama” for his Alabama upbringing and faint accent – solicited Jason’s help in recruiting some guys to assemble a junior varsity squad.

Jason took this calling to heart. He hit up five senior guys who weren’t already on the team. Using Facebook and Twitter, he gently cajoled the waverers.

Jason also gave tours during freshmen orientation with an ulterior motive in mind. If a group contained an unsuspecting big guy, Jason made sure to take a detour through the courtyard, where Bama was lying in wait. The coach gave a quick spiel and let the kid know what time practice would be.

“They were like, ‘OK,'” Jason said. “They pretty much kind of got tricked into it.”

Eventually, they’d cobbled together a team of about 30. About half of the players had never before suited up for the gridiron. The junior varsity squad canceled its first couple of games so it could get up to snuff. But the Friday night of the team’s first game on Sept. 14 was soon less than a week away, and Jason was pumped: He was going to play football again after all.

That Thursday, the day before the game, Jason and the five other seniors were summoned into a room by Coach Bibb. The school’s two principals, Cynthia Hoepner and Mike Alvarez, were there. They had bad news: The Del Rey League had rejected the team’s request to allow the seniors to play. (CIF rules allow seniors to play JV football, but divisions within the statewide league can override the rule.)

The room fell into an awkward silence. The boys choked back tears, as did the adults.

“We’re still gonna need you,” Bibb said. “You’ve been good role models. ”

Jason was the first to speak up.

“I’m in, coach,” he said.

The others followed suit. That first game was against Washington Prep High. Jason and the five seniors graced the sidelines in jerseys and jeans – fetching balls, calling plays, offering water, but, above all, providing moral support.

Jason doesn’t remember the score.

“It was a blowout,” he said.

A blowout in favor of the St. Bernard Vikings.

And so it would be for the next six games, each of them won by the Vikings, most by a wide margin. The team finished 7-0.

In one of those games – the nonleague game against Marshall High from Los Angeles – Jason and the seniors were allowed to play. On defense, Jason made a tackle. On offense, he ran the ball for a 20-yard touchdown.

After securing the league championship, the team celebrated in the locker room with pizza and fizzy apple cider, which they shook and sprayed like champagne.

Last month, at a gala celebrating the school’s 55th anniversary, Jason was feted with a leadership award for his loyalty to the team. The other person so awarded at the March 16 event was the school’s most famous alum, Kevin Chilton, who, after graduating in 1972, went on to become a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, a four-star general and an astronaut who piloted the space shuttle Endeavour on its maiden voyage in 1992.

Hoepner, one of the school’s co-principals, said Jason is all the more deserving of the award for his humility.

“I don’t know that Jason fully understood what his heroic efforts did for the morale of the school,” she said. “I don’t know that at the time he fully comprehended or even wanted the attention. … He’s a kid. He did what he felt in his heart was right to do. ”

Indeed, Jason is reluctant to take so much credit. He cited another senior who stayed on, Gilberto Cabuto, as well as two other seniors who’d done the same last year, during a strangely similar series of events with the school’s basketball team.

As for Hoepner, this fall was almost as traumatic for her as it was for the players. A new principal, she hadn’t been on staff for a month when Muno quit.

During that first week of practice, she would stand in the library, looking out the window facing the football field at the dwindling number of players. On Day Two, there were 30 or so, sans Muno. By Day Five, the roster of varsity and junior varsity players had withered to a measly eight.

“Eight players on this huge field,” she said. “You’re going, ‘That doesn’t even make an offense.’ ”

That imagery led to a rallying cry that has stuck all year at the school – one emblazoned on school-spirit T-shirts: “From Eight to Great. ”

Over the months, bonds among members of the hastily assembled team grew strong. “They’d go to the chapel before every game with Coach Bama,” Hoepner said. “They were a family. ”

She vividly remembers a celebration in the jam-packed faculty lounge after the team won the title.

“One freshman said, ‘Go hard or go home!’ The whole team, in one roar, said, ‘And home is not an option!'”

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

No resources? No problem. Carson High School robotics students make good use of junk

No resources? No problem. Carson High School robotics students make good use of junk


Originally published on May 9, 2014

What the Carson High robotics team lacks in resources, it more than makes up for in resourcefulness.

Carson High’s scrappy robotics program began two years ago with a shopping cart, which served as the team’s laboratory. The four founding teammates — all freshmen — spent weeks pushing it around campus, scavenging recycled materials and junk, such as broom sticks and scrap metal, that might prove useful for building an underwater remote operating vehicle.

These days, the team has a little more in the way of resources, but it remains a have-not.

Most notably, Carson High has no swimming pool, thereby complicating the effort to participate in the annual underwater robotics competition, which is happening Saturday in Long Beach.

But team members have a way of making things work, with a little help from their friends and neighbors.

One generous neighbor, the DoubleTree by Hilton in Carson, allowed the team to use its outdoor pool in the weeks leading up to today’s competition.

There, with happy-hour hotel guests sipping cocktails nearby, the teammates have perfected their two remote-controlled vehicles.

“We have to be as creative with materials as we can,”said coach Tammy Bird, a science teacher. “It’s all about repurposing materials. … It’s completely ‘MacGyver.’ ”

Built in the shape and size of microwave ovens, the sibling robots are a complex confection of PVC pipes, broomstick handles, bilge pumps used in boat toilets, scrap metal, diapers (for waterproofing electronics), underwater cameras and skeins of wire. The curious creations are manned by a kid on the surface with an Xbox controller connected to a laptop. The robots are capable of plunging to the bottom of the pool, motoring across the surface, picking up debris, opening doors and collecting samples.

“It’s kind of like the Mars rover, where you’re sending something out to collect data, since we can’t be there,” said Bird, the lead teacher with the school’s Environmental Science, Engineering and Technology Academy.

The months of hard work have led to the annual Marine Advanced Technology Education competition, which is happening all day today at Long Beach City College.

Historically, the team has fared surprisingly well, given its meager resources. In both its first and second showings, Carson High placed fourth out of the 15 or so regional competitors.

“We beat both CAMS teams last year, and they’re an engineering school,” Bird said. “The kids said, ‘Sorry Miss Bird, we didn’t win the competition.’ I’m like ‘Oh hell, you won — you beat both CAMS teams!’ ”

The only Los Angeles Unified School District competitor in Saturday’s event, Carson High is an unlikely robotics standout. It’s an urban school serving a largely low-income population that is among the most diverse in LAUSD. The school’s test scores lag far below the state average.

Of the team’s 24 members, only one or two have a parent who works in the field. None has a car; they make the two-mile trek from the school to the DoubleTree by skateboard, foot or bicycle. (The school technically has two teams — one for each robot.)

Team captain Jelani Dozier was among the four freshmen who pioneered the program two years ago. He fondly remembers pushing the shopping cart around campus that first year in search of materials.

“We have this thing at our school called the graveyard,” he said. “That’s where teachers throw out old desks and stuff they don’t need, old computers that don’t work.”

The cart made passes through there. And Bird still chuckles about how things from her classroom and school garden went missing — and wound up on the robot.

“One of my teacher boxes with wheels to cart my books and stuff around — the wheels disappeared on that,” she said. “The rotors on my sprinkler heads were used for propellers.”

The team’s biggest score that first year was an empty five-gallon water jug, which became the core component to that first legendary robot, “Bottlenose Porpoiseful,” named after the dolphin-like marine mammal.

“The shopping cart was their laboratory, and people laughed at them,” said Nuu “Tui” Tuimoloau, a retired college counselor who volunteers with the team.

The team got the last laugh: their contrivance was the fastest robot in the competition.

True to scrappy form, the Carson High roboteers have tricked out their creations with a few enhancements that have tested the limits of the rules of the game — prompting organizers to rewrite them. For instance, the Bottlenose Porpoiseful had wheels — the ones that disappeared from the teacher cart — enabling the charismatic device to scoot along the bottom of the pool when the intent is for the robots to hover and be “neutrally buoyant.”

Now, wheels are expressly forbidden. Dozier views the new rule as a badge of honor.

“We thought outside of the box,” he said.

The premise of this year’s game mimics an eerie reality on Lake Huron, one of the five Great Lakes. On the bed of the chilly waters separating northeast Michigan from Canada are hundreds upon hundreds of shipwrecks.

Each team is meant to be a company vying for a contract to help identify the “ships,” which in reality will consist of sundry props — such as dinner plates or ship masts fashioned out of PVC pipe — at the bottom of an Olympic-size swimming pool.

Students must use their robots to pick up china, open doors, collect samples and take pictures, among other things. While achieving these tasks, the driver and co-pilot cannot be within direct view of the robots — the camera on the robot and monitor in front of them must serve as their eyes.

“It’s a real and relevant scenario,” Bird said.

For students, the program has led to real and relevant career opportunities. One junior on the team, Jennifer Baysa, this summer will work as a paid intern at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

Dozier, who had been pinning his post-high school hopes on football, said he has found a new career path.

“Because of this, I’ve been able to go with Ms. Bird to places like Raytheon and Northrop Grumman and see what they’ve been doing,” he said. “It’s kind of changed my perspective on what I want to do after college. I want to be some form of mechanical engineer.”

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

Varmints captivate Redondo Beach elementary school students

Varmints Captivate Redondo Beach Elementary School Students

This article was published on Sept. 20, 2012


Wild animals and elementary schools.

It might not sound like the wisest combination, but a bunch of critters paid a visit to Birney Elementary School in Redondo Beach on Thursday night, and it’s safe to say it was the most memorable lesson the kids had all week.

A ferret, a snake, a skunk, an owl, an oversized rabbit, an African serval cat. All of these animals and more took their turn on the stage, with their handler, Mollie Hogan, delivering a pithy lecture about each one, over the squirrelly exclamations of 100 or so excited kids.

“This bird can hear my heart beating,” she said of a barn owl named Dancer, explaining that owls have an extremely acute sense of hearing.

Hogan is the founder of the Nature of Wildworks, a Topanga-based nonprofit rescue shelter that provides lifetime care for nonreleasable wild animals. It also has an outreach mission to build public respect for nature and wildlife – hence the visits to elementary schools.

Holding a colorful bird the color of the sun, leaves and sky – its natural camouflage – Hogan introduced the class to a macaw parrot. Unlike the owl, the parrot likes noise generated by the enthusiastic crowd.

“She likes the fact that all of you are wearing very colorful clothes,” Hogan said. “She just thinks you guys are birds.”

Is it true parrots can talk? When Hogan’s dog, Patty, barks, the macaw says, “Patty stop it.” When the phone rings at home, the bird says, “Hello, how are you?” Once, as Hogan held the bird while saying goodbye to someone, the bird said, “Goodbye, and don’t come back.”

“It was pretty embarrassing,” Hogan said. “You have to be very careful what you say around a bird like this.”

She showed a couple ferrets – named Tinker and Bell – and then dug into a kennel to retrieve a prairie dog, the favorite food of the black-footed ferret. While holding the varmint upside down and scratching its neck – thereby putting it in a trance – Hogan explained that the black-footed ferret is the among the most endangered animals in the United States because the prairie dog had been hunted to near extinction by settlers in covered wagons.

“We don’t have prairie dogs in California, we have ground squirrels,” she explained.

The animal that actually brought the room to a hush was the skunk. That’s because Hogan warned it may spray if they were too loud. But this was in jest – the skunk had been descented.

Actually, skunks prefer not to spray if they don’t have to, because they have limited ammunition, and the smelly acid is their main line of defense. So a threatened skunk usually makes a big show of warning its potential targets. It stomps, it moon walks, it stomps some more. Then it turns around, lifts its tail and cranes its neck to face the victim.

“They are taking aim,” she said. “I’ve been sprayed by a skunk. It gets in your eyes, and causes temporary blindness, like pepper spray.”

Part of the aim of the organization is to educate the public on what makes for a good pet, and what does not.

Not so good? A ferret, which is illegal to keep, or the macaw, which tends to be picky about who it likes.

Much better is the rabbit.

“The one thing they do wrong is chew toys,” she said, as the students beheld a giant bunny named Honey. “But they are nice and quiet. … Look at how big her ears are.”

Click here to see photos

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

LMU grads trying to take hangover remedy to the big leagues

Loyola Marymount University grads trying to take hangover remedy to the big leagues

It was 2012, and a group of college buddies from Loyola Marymount University in Westchester had gone their separate ways.

While living it up in Las Vegas, Cameron Killeen noticed friends nursing their hangovers with Pedialyte — a hydration beverage meant for babies with diarrhea.

Founded and developed by three Loyola Marymount University graduates, Hayden Fulstone, Brandin Cohen, and Cameron Killeen, Liquid I.V. is a specially formulated, all-natural lemon-lime rehydration beverage.
Founded and developed by three Loyola Marymount University graduates, Hayden Fulstone, Brandin Cohen, and Cameron Killeen, Liquid I.V. is a specially formulated, all-natural lemon-lime rehydration beverage.

Brandin Cohen was in Arizona, working as a sales, marketing and branding expert with the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team. In the locker room, he noticed players swigging a drink to stay hydrated. He took a closer look: Pedialyte.

When Killeen, Cohen and a third pal, Hayden Fulstone, reconnected, the recent grads swapped their Pedialyte stories and an idea was born. Why not create a drink that not only alleviates hangovers and rehydrates the body, but also spares the consumer the embarrassment of making a run to the baby aisle of a grocery store?

And thus was born the concept for what would come to be called Liquid I.V.

Advertised as “all natural lemon-lime rehydration beverage,” the product comes in two forms: a powder packet and a bottled drink that tastes a little bit like lemonade, a little bit like Gatorade, and a little bit like Emergen-C vitamin powder.

The powder form is billed as the hangover treatment; the liquid form is associated with the hydration, which is meant to appeal not only to athletes, but also military personnel and jet-lagged travelers.

“It started as a hobby,” Cohen said.

Now, it’s their life.

The three 25-year-old entrepreneurs — who graduated in 2010 and have been best friends since meeting in the dorms as freshmen — have put their careers on hold to focus full-time on their venture.

Fulstone quit his job in the marketing department at Gensler, the world’s largest architecture firm. Killeen had just passed the Chartered Financial Analyst exam for which he’d spent four years studying. Cohen was days away from moving to Boston University, where he had been accepted into its MBA program.

“Now we sit in a little room all day long and yell at each other,” Killeen joked.

They work out of an office in West Los Angeles, and store the product in a warehouse and distribution center in Long Beach.

Already, Liquid I.V. is sold at about 50 stores in and around the South Bay — mostly convenience stores and gyms such as El Segundo Athletic Club and Fit On Studios in Manhattan Beach.

Strong sales via the Internet (where eight packets sell for $24.99) and a healthy amount of capital investment have propelled them to the next level. Come mid-January, Liquid I.V. (powder) will be sold at about 150 convenience stores in and around 35 college campuses across the United States, from UCLA and USC in Southern California to Dartmouth in New Hampshire. They will hire three full-time employees.

Liquid I.V.’s initial sales data and online traction have caught the eye of business people in Las Vegas, the very city where the concept was conceived. In March, the trio will meet with representatives of a large hotel chain that — depending on the results of the upcoming launch — might sell the product in mini bars up and down the Las Vegas Strip.

Much of their success to date owes to a clever marketing campaign that befits a group of millennial men with pro-sports connections.

Liquid I.V. is used and marketed by more than 100 professional athletes — including St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha, winner of the 2013 National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player Award. The athletes receive the product for free in return for touting its merits on Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media.

Their nexus to the Major League Baseball circuit was Ryan Wheeler, a Torrance wunderkind and LMU alum who went on to play for the Arizona Diamondbacks before he was traded to his current team, the Colorado Rockies. Wheeler is now a partner in the company. Another enthusiast is famed basketball broadcaster Dick Vitale.

“It’s a great way to get a bigger following,” Fulstone said of the pro-athlete campaign. “Some have 50,000 or 100,000 followers (on Twitter). People see the Tweets and check out the website.”

Much as the pro players pimp the product online, students living near the college campuses where Liquid I.V. will be sold are set to serve as “ambassadors” who’ll spread the word to peers in return for receiving loads of it for free.

The LMU graduates owe some of their success to their alma mater. Last year, they enrolled in a new business incubator class offered by the university. The class, which kicked off in January, required businesses to create and market a prototype.

It was during that class that they, working with an experienced beverage chemist, finished the brew, a specific blend of glucose and electrolytes that the three founders say is clinically proven to rehydrate the body at a rate similar to an I.V.

So far, the track record of the seven start-up ventures that took the first class is pretty good: five are still in business.

One of them, a Web-based car-buying service called Nabthat, launched last week with some fanfare at the L.A. Auto Show.

Another, an ergonomic shovel, brought in $60,000 in seed money from a 40-day campaign on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter — putting the venture in the top 5 percent of successful Kickstarter projects.

Fulstone is careful to say that the beverage isn’t a “cure” for anything.

“When you say cure, it is stating that there is a disease and a hangover isn’t a disease,” he said. “We can only make structure-function claims such as what the drink helps with.”

But the group has gotten doctors to recommend it in lieu of more sugary drinks such as Gatorade.

To say the three friends spend a lot of time together is an understatement. In addition to having been dorm pals and roommates, they each clock in about 80 hours a week at the office.

“When we first came into the office, they told us it was only open from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday,” Killeen said. “We were like, I don’t think we can be here if that’s true. We had special keys made.”