Star Wars lightsaber combat at Maker Faire!

This member of the San Diego Sabers has personally made many lightsabers. Some examples lie on the group's table during Maker Faire in Balboa Park.
This member of the San Diego Sabers has personally made many lightsabers. Some examples lie on the group’s table during Maker Faire in Balboa Park.

The last couple of years at Maker Faire San Diego I’ve watched a group of Star Wars enthusiasts entertain audiences with lightsaber duels. They have engaged in their elaborate play on the main stage, swinging their illuminated lightsabers in mock combat, to rousing music from the Star Wars movies.

This year, as I walked around Maker Faire, I happened upon this group’s cool lightsaber exhibit. These local Star Wars fans call themselves the San Diego Sabers. They are one of many similar groups all around the world that make their own lightsabers and engage in mock combat.

I asked all sort of questions and learned more than I expected. Most of the extremely elaborate lightsabers used by the members produce colored light, illuminating a long clear tube that can be attached, thereby appearing much like the Jedi and Sith weapons made famous in the movies. Most of the mock weapons also generate that distinctive lightsaber sound. I learned that it’s also possible to order a variety of lightsabers from several online vendors.

Regional competitions are often held between groups, and the method of scoring is similar to that used in fencing. The sport is lightning fast, highly athletic and incorporates various styles of martial arts. The San Diego Sabers provide demos free to the public, teach all ages including kids (often using foam lightsabers for safety), and encourage acceptance, respect, and a positive attitude.

And it’s obvious they have a lot of fun!

Many DIY lightsabers are surprisingly elaborate, generating light and sound, while appearing as authentic as any movie prop.
Many DIY lightsabers are surprisingly elaborate, generating light and sound, while appearing as authentic as any movie prop.
The San Diego Sabers provides full contact lightsaber training based on fencing, HEMA, Kendo and Wu-shu. Kids are welcome and it's free!
The San Diego Sabers provides full contact lightsaber training based on fencing, HEMA, Kendo and Wu-shu. Kids are welcome and it’s free!
Someone picks up one of the cool lightsabers on display.
Someone picks up one of the cool lightsabers on display.
Members of the San Diego Sabers demonstrate mock combat using foam attachments. Together they've got enough lightsabers to take on General Grievous!
Members of the San Diego Sabers demonstrate mock combat using foam attachments. Together they’ve got enough lightsabers to take on General Grievous!
A kid checks out one of the cool lightsabers. As you might have noticed, I took these photos on two different days during Maker Faire San Diego.
A kid checks out one of the cool lightsabers. As you might have noticed, I took these photos on two different days during Maker Faire San Diego.
Kids have a lot of fun with the foam lightsabers.
Kids have a lot of fun with the foam lightsabers.
Members of the San Diego Sabers arrive at the Maker Faire main stage in the Plaza de Panama. A combat exhibition is about to begin.
Members of the San Diego Sabers arrive at the Maker Faire main stage in the Plaza de Panama. A combat exhibition is about to begin.
As Star Wars music plays, two members of the San Diego Sabers simulate an epic battle between the Jedi and Sith.
As Star Wars music plays, two members of the San Diego Sabers simulate an epic battle between the Jedi and Sith.

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Natural beauty at the West Coast Shell Show!

Colorful snail shells on display at the West Coast Shell Show.
Colorful snail shells on display at the West Coast Shell Show.

On Sunday I peered into Balboa Park’s Casa del Prado and discovered a surprising exhibition open free to the public. It was the San Diego Shell Club’s amazing West Coast Shell Show!

There were so many beautiful shells covering table after table it blew my mind. Every shell, I noted, was unique and interesting, and many that I saw seemed like exquisite works of art. Nature’s abundant beauty was spread throughout the room. It seemed I had blundered into a vast treasure of spilled jewels.

When I walk along a beach, I like to search the sand for bright or colorful objects washed up by the tide. But I honestly know next to nothing about shells from molluscs on land or in the sea. So I learned a few fascinating facts during my short conversations with a friendly hobbyist and a dealer.

Among other things, I learned some shells are highly prized for their rarity and apparent perfection, and that a few can fetch many thousands of dollars. I also learned there are relatively few serious shell collectors worldwide. But those who have a passion for shells have a hobby that promises new discoveries at every turn and inexhaustible wonder.

The West Coast Shell Show was presented in Balboa Park by the San Diego Shell Club.
The West Coast Shell Show was presented in Balboa Park by the San Diego Shell Club.
Beautiful shells of all types could be enjoyed--and purchased--inside the Casa del Prado over the weekend.
Beautiful shells of all types could be enjoyed–and purchased–inside the Casa del Prado over the weekend.
A variety of different colored abalone shells were on display at the show.
A variety of different colored abalone shells were on display at the show.
A wide variety of beautiful cowry shells, a type of sea snail.
A wide variety of beautiful cowries. They almost look like polished agates to me. The cowry is a type of sea snail.
The story of shells appears to have many chapters and subplots.
The Story of Shells appears to have many chapters and pages.
The many shells seemed to me like exotic jewels, no two exactly alike.
The shells seemed like exotic jewelry or small works of art, no two exactly alike.
One display case showed a large variety of fantastic chitons. These almost look like polished wood!
One display case showed a large collection of fantastic chitons. To me these almost look like varnished wood!
Dr. Wesley M. Farmer had a table full of scientific books, plus lots of unique art he'd created concerning nudibranchs, a type of sea slug. They shed their shells after their larval stage.
Dr. Wesley M. Farmer had a table full of scientific books, plus lots of unique art he’d created concerning nudibranchs, a type of sea slug. They shed their shells after their larval stage.
All sorts of fascinating mollusc art created by Wes Farmer, including specimens made with colored oven bake clay.
All sorts of fascinating mollusc art created by Wes Farmer, including specimens made with colored oven bake clay.
The public could enjoy many amazing sights at the West Coast Shell Show!
The public could enjoy many fantastic displays at the West Coast Shell Show!

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

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A look inside the Blacksmith Shop in Old Town.

A blacksmith shapes red hot iron at a forge in San Diego's historic Old Town.
A blacksmith shapes red hot iron at a forge in San Diego’s historic Old Town.

Yesterday I lingered for a few minutes at the Blacksmith Shop in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Two forges were operating. I watched as hammers swung, making sparks fly. It was fascinating to learn about blacksmithing and its vital role in San Diego’s history.

I chatted for a bit with one of the friendly gentlemen working in the Blacksmith Shop. These days the shop is used by highly skilled hobbyists to make all sorts of ornamental and useful metal items. They’ve made objects used for display elsewhere in the State Park. They make everything but horseshoes–and that’s because none of them know how to shoe a horse!

I learned that in 19th century San Diego there were several blacksmiths; this shop now in Old Town was probably located a bit to the east, on the outskirts of town (near today’s Presidio Hills Golf Course) because of the fire danger it presented to other buildings. No blacksmith shop back then would have been as large as the one visitors see today. A blacksmith would most likely do their work in the corner of a livery stable, using one modest forge.

Please read the photo captions to learn more!

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park's Blacksmith Shop and Wood Shop at the site of the Blackhawk Livery Stables, circa 1850-1871.
Old Town San Diego State Historic Park’s Blacksmith Shop and Wood Shop at the site of the Blackhawk Livery Stables, circa 1850-1871.
Visitors to Old Town learn a little about life in San Diego during the mid 1800s. Blacksmiths created assorted metal objects, made repairs and shoed horses.
Visitors to Old Town learn a little about life in San Diego during the mid 1800s. Blacksmiths created assorted metal objects, made repairs and shoed horses.
This friendly blacksmith provided lots of fascinating information. Visitors watch with interest as he works to create a pot holder.
This friendly blacksmith provided lots of fascinating information. Visitors watch with interest as he works to create a pot holder.
I learned that in early San Diego blacksmiths typically burned charcoal in their forge, as coal was usually of poor quality and difficult to obtain in Southern California.
I learned that in early San Diego blacksmiths typically burned charcoal in their forge, as coal was usually of poor quality and difficult to obtain in Southern California.
A huge bellows provides oxygen for this furnace. A good working temperature is about 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.
A huge bellows provides oxygen for this brick furnace. A good working temperature is about 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.
Products that were fashioned include grills, traps, candle holders, fish roasters, knives, shovels, chains, hinges, nails, cooking ladles and horseshoes.
Products that were fashioned include iron grills, traps, candle holders, fish roasters, knives, shovels, chains, hinges, nails, cooking ladles and horseshoes.
Hammers, bars, wrenches and various blacksmithing tools hang from the rear wall, in addition to harnesses and other items one might find in a livery stable.
Hammers, bars, wrenches and various blacksmithing tools hang from the rear wall, in addition to harnesses and other items one might find in a livery stable.
The gentleman showed me some devices used to suspend pots over a fire. Everything on this wall was made by local members of blacksmithing clubs and organizations.
The gentleman showed me some devices used to suspend pots over a fire. Everything on this wall was made by local members of blacksmithing clubs and organizations.
A shiny anvil.
A shiny anvil.
This wide grassy area behind nearby Seeley Stable was once used for anvil shoots. Gunpowder was placed in a hollow indentation between two anvils and ignited, sending one anvil high into the air with a loud bang! Anvils that did not shatter were considered sound.
This wide grassy area behind nearby Seeley Stable was once used for anvil shoots. Gunpowder was placed in a hollow indentation between two anvils and ignited, sending one anvil high into the air with a loud bang! Anvils that did not shatter were considered sound.
Old Town visitor tries on a Spanish conquistador helmet made in the Blacksmith Shop.
Old Town visitor tries on a Spanish conquistador helmet made in the Blacksmith Shop.
A heavy anchor chain is shown. The welds must be as strong as the iron links.
A heavy anchor chain is shown. The welds must be as strong as the iron links themselves.
A look back at history. Skilled artisans used muscle, fire and sweat to make everyday life easier for the early residents of San Diego.
A photo of living history. Skilled artisans used muscle, fire, metal and sweat to make everyday life easier for the early residents of San Diego.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

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Photos of amazing model train layout in Old Town!

A jaw-dropping night scene in a huge model train layout in Old Town San Diego!
The jaw-dropping night scene of a gigantic model train layout in Old Town San Diego!

During my walk through Old Town San Diego today, I stepped through an ordinary door into a fantastic dream! Before me stretched a positively enormous model train layout!

The Old Town Model Railroad Depot is a truly amazing attraction that anyone would enjoy seeing. The gigantic layout features O-Scale model trains, and as you can see in these photos, just lots of fun buildings, landscapes, moving figures and special effects.

I must say, in my opinion this layout even beats the two awesome O-Scale layouts at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum in Balboa Park. Now that really took some doing!

And the two guys I spoke to at the Old Town Model Railroad Depot were really friendly! Next time I walk past, you can be sure I’ll venture inside again!

The Old Town Model Railroad Depot is a cool attraction featuring a gigantic 2500 square feet layout for O-Scale model trains!
The Old Town Model Railroad Depot is a cool attraction featuring a gigantic room full of working model trains!  It’s one of the largest O-Scale layouts in the country!
Fun gifts, artwork and items for model train hobbyists can also be purchased at San Diego's unique Old Town Model Railroad Depot.
Fun gifts, artwork and items for model train hobbyists can also be purchased at San Diego’s unique Old Town Model Railroad Depot.
A locomotive for sale among other fascinating stuff.
A locomotive for sale among other unique and fascinating stuff.
Lots of nostalgic railway artwork decorates the walls.
Lots of nostalgic historical railway posters decorate one wall.
The huge train layout has two halves--one represents daytime, the other night. Kids can stand on platforms to see--and hear--all the action.
The huge train layout has two halves–one represents daytime, the other night. Kids can stand on platforms to see–and hear–all of the exciting action.
Many model buildings populate the O-Scale train layout. It's the same scale used by classic Lionel Trains.
Many model buildings populate the O-Scale train layout. It’s the same scale used by classic Lionel Trains.
Tiny human figures and vehicles can be spotted everywhere one looks on the realistic layout.
Tiny human figures and vehicles can be spotted everywhere one looks on the realistic layout.
I really enjoyed the night side of the layout. It seemed even more realistic and dynamic. Special lighting effects include fireworks bursting over a stadium and lightning stabbing down from clouds!
I really enjoyed the night side of the layout. It seemed even more realistic and dynamic. Special lighting effects include fireworks bursting over a stadium and lightning stabbing down from clouds!
A tiny mechanic works in a tiny garage on a tiny truck.
A tiny mechanic works in a tiny garage at night on a tiny truck.
A detailed scene recreates firemen fighting a fire at night.
A detailed scene recreates firemen fighting a fire at night. I see miniature police, an ambulance, reporters and a small crowd of evacuated people!
Your kids will go crazy. You have to see it to believe it. And it's free! But leave a donation!
Your kids will go crazy. You have to see it to believe it. And it’s free! But leave a donation!

UPDATE!

I stepped into the Old Town Model Railroad Depot a second time! And I loved it even more than my first visit!

I met Gary Hickok, the creator of this stupendous layout, and learned he has been collecting the various pieces you see for 15 years. There are hundreds of tiny unique human figures, and they all seem to tell a story. Their unique poses are all part of a huge, bustling scene. The stories are often humorous!

Here are some more random photos that came out okay. These were all taken on the “day side” of the O-Scale model train layout. I hope you enjoy them!

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I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

Fun fungus fair! A mushroom show in Balboa Park!

A mushroom fair was held this weekend in Balboa Park inside the Casa del Prado. The event was put on by the San Diego Mycological Society.
A mushroom fair was held this weekend in Balboa Park inside the Casa del Prado. The event was put on by the San Diego Mycological Society.

There’s a fungus among us! I’m not kidding!  (Groan.)

All sorts of mushrooms were on display inside Balboa Park’s Casa del Prado today during a special show by the San Diego Mycological Society.

I wandered through this cool “mushroom fair” and took a good look around. And I learned quite a lot!

Check out a few fun photos and some informative captions…

Mushroom enthusiasts check out all sorts of displays at the mushroom show. Mushroom facts, art, and food products like jerky were plentiful.
Mushroom enthusiasts check out all sorts of displays at the mushroom show. Mushroom facts, art, and food products like jerky were plentiful.
Several tables exhibited different types of mushrooms one might encounter in nature. The San Diego Mycological Society puts the fun in fungus!
Several tables exhibited different types of mushrooms one might encounter in nature. The San Diego Mycological Society puts the fun in fungus!
These mushrooms are all edible. Some are said to taste better than others.
These mushrooms are all edible. Some are said to taste better than others.
A basket full of Bolbitius vitellinus. Labelled edible but mediocre. According to Wikipedia, it's inedible. I'm no expert.
A basket full of Bolbitius vitellinus. Labelled edible but mediocre. According to Wikipedia, it’s inedible. I’m no expert, so don’t ask me.
Cooking with Wild Mushrooms. (Click image to enlarge the sign for easy reading.)
Cooking with Wild Mushrooms. (Click image to enlarge the sign for easy reading.)
Okay, these are definitely poisonous! Children were advised not to touch. I steered well clear!
Okay, these are definitely poisonous! Children were advised not to touch. I steered well clear!
Here's a monster yeast fungus so villainous that Captain Marvel had a tough time coping with it.
Here’s a monster yeast fungus so villainous that Captain Marvel had a tough time coping with it.
I do know that much of the art displayed at the mushroom show was quite tasty!
I do know that much of the art displayed at the mushroom show was tasty!
Check out this fascinating poster and the following photo. Spore prints show how spores are ejected from the mushroom gills.
Check out this fascinating poster and the following photo. Spore prints show how spores are ejected from the mushroom gills.
These spore prints strangely remind me of human thumbprints.
These spore prints strangely remind me of human thumbprints.
An artist created some spore print cards, hand made from mushrooms found in San Diego! Cool!
An inventive artist created some spore print cards, hand made from mushrooms found in San Diego! Cool!
Volunteers from the San Diego Mycological Society are collecting mushroom specimens found throughout the county. Tiny tissue samples will be barcoded for species identification.
Volunteers from the San Diego Mycological Society are collecting mushroom specimens found throughout the county. Tiny tissue samples will be scientifically barcoded for species identification.
All sorts of arts and crafts, books and fascinating stuff was for sale at the mushroom fair.
All sorts of arts and crafts, books and fascinating stuff was for sale at the mushroom fair.
Colorful mushroom ornaments!
Colorful mushroom ornaments!

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A fine exhibit and publication about model ship building!

An amazing ship model by artist Joe Frangiosa, Jr. One of many fantastic examples in a big, special exhibit at the Maritime Museum of San Diego.
An amazing ship model by artist Joe Frangiosa, Jr. One of many fantastic examples in an extensive, special exhibition at the Maritime Museum of San Diego.

The Maritime Museum of San Diego currently has an exhibit that’s a lot of fun. It concerns collecting model ships and model ship building! Anyone interested in the hobby or nautical history in general should check it out!

I took a few photos to provide just a taste of what you’ll see. Bring your kids! They’ll love it!

Detailed model of a 74 gun two-decker British Ship of the Line, circa 1800. By artist Joe Frangiosa, Jr.
Detailed model of a 74 gun two-decker British Ship of the Line, circa 1800. By artist Joe Frangiosa, Jr.
Half a dozen ship models in different scales of the San Salvador, historic galleon of explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who discovered San Diego Bay for Spain in 1542.
Half a dozen ship models in different scales of the San Salvador, historic galleon of explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who discovered San Diego Bay for Spain in 1542.
Tiny models of classic cruise ships, including the famous Titanic.
Tiny models of classic cruise ships, including the famous Titanic.
A Native American ancient ship model. This pecked stone boat effigy was found in 2012 on San Clemente Island. It's at least 1000 years old.
A Native American ancient ship model. This pecked stone boat effigy was found in 2012 on San Clemente Island. It’s at least 1000 years old.
Just a few of the many ships in bottles on display now at the Maritime Museum of San Diego.
Just a few of the many ships in bottles on display now at the Maritime Museum of San Diego.
Tiny model ships recreate the Battle of Trafalgar between the British Royal Navy and the Spanish fleet in 1805. Admiral Nelson sailed two columns directly into the opposing line of ships.
Tiny model ships recreate the Battle of Trafalgar between the British Royal Navy and the Spanish fleet in 1805. Outnumbered, British Admiral Nelson sailed two columns directly into the opposing line of ships.
The Cutter Bear, by famous ship modeler Dr. William Brown, a local artist. His amazing work appears in prestigious museums around the world, including Mystic Seaport and the Smithsonian Institution.
The Cutter Bear, by famous ship modeler Dr. William Brown, a local artist. His amazing work appears in prestigious museums around the world, including Mystic Seaport and the Smithsonian Institution.
A Model-Maker and His Art. The collected works of Dr. William Brown. Any serious model ship maker, collector or hobbyist must have this fine publication.
A Model-Maker and His Art. The collected works of Dr. William Brown. Any serious model ship maker, collector or hobbyist must have this fine publication.

As a member of the Maritime Museum I recently received the latest publication of Mains’l Haul, titled A Model-Maker and His Art. It features the collected works of one of the world’s most famous model ship builders: Dr. William Brown. It’s really amazing! Any serious model ship hobbyist must have a copy of this fine publication in their library. The many photos are extremely detailed–much better than my few, which were taken in dim light through glass!

Hopefully you’ll soon be able to buy A Model-Maker and His Art online here. Or look for it at the museum’s gift shop!

Dr. William Brown produced models of ordinary working boats and ships, as well as historically important vessels. This is L.A. Fire Boat No. 2 which was launched in 1925.
Dr. William Brown produced models of ordinary working boats and ships, as well as historically important vessels. This is L.A. Fire Boat No. 2 which was launched in 1925.
Close look at Orizaba, a merchant vessel instrumental in San Diego's early history. Dr. William Brown has produced dozens of models specifically for the Maritime Museum of San Diego.
Close look at Orizaba, a merchant vessel instrumental in San Diego’s early history. Dr. William Brown has produced dozens of models specifically for the Maritime Museum of San Diego.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

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