Roll baby roll

The train has spent the last few hours speeding Eastward, I think we start heading North after Marshall Texas.

Here’s a screen-cap from Streets 2009, click on it for a huge version.

The sleeper car is a little different this time. The tiny closet has been replaced by a large hook and an open storage area. The single large step which you climbed to get into the bunk is now two steps, a little narrower. The halls feel narrower too, i think the room might be a tiny bit larger.

Our conductor is doing a better job keeping this rig rolling. The trip North is progressing more smoothly, we’re spending a lot less time at the stops.

My seat is on the west-facing side of the train again, so I’m seeing the same scenery again in reverse… I don’t really think I’m missing anything on the other side.

My EVDO connection has been working pretty good, I’ve been getting 15-20kb/sec uploading all these pics and videos.

After the Faire

Greetings Everyone…

The Faire is behind us now, and to sum up “how was it?” in one word: disappointing.

The fair reminded me of our local Independence Day festival in Manistee. It’s mostly arts, crafts and performers. The difference is, there were a few nerds in the corner, and fighitng robots.

The Faire had several major areas; the arena area housed some big ass tesla coils, some sort of lame robots with balls competition and the ComBot cage. The tesla coils were cool, but they were mostly just a light show to some midi controlled drums and a really loud PA system. The fighting robots were the coolest thing at the fair. It was very impressive to see the heavy weight and super heavy weight bots go up against each other. The smaller bots just sort of danced around until time ran out.

Next we have the Maker Stage, which was an outdoor tent covering raised platform and rear-projection screen. Different Makers and visionaries had scheduled talks. In general they were hard to hear, and the projection was useless. The tent was open on three sides and kind of small. The screen was washed out, and the PA wasn’t very loud – it had to compete with the human mousetrap and the electric guitar bicycle contraption.

Indoors we had the Maker Shed, selling many of the commerical projects covered on the Make blog. Lots of leds, arduinos and other assorted electronic gizmos. The shed had three tiny areas dedicated to demostrations and hands-on. If you purchased a kit from the shed, you could solder it together there which was nice, especially for the young folks just starting out.

In the rodeo barn there was the craft sellers. A little further down a company selling big CNC mills was cutting various things, and demoing a snap-together kit house they’d developed for temporary housing usage. Further down were some home-made CNC’s cutting away at various designs. Sparkfun had a decent sized booth at the end of the barn, showing off some of their eye-candies and doing soldering tutorials. On Saturday there were a few large LEGO cities setup, which were quite impressive. A few real hackers had their tables grouped together, show casing musical gizmos, nixie tubes and surface-mount soldering. A computer club named Austin Modders had some nice looking rigs on display, but they weren’t really doing anything. Duke University had several different teams displaying their work on parallel computing. I spoke with one of the engineers for about twenty minutes – he was very informative, it looks like a great program to be in.

Outside there were some art-bikes, a stage playing eccentric music, model rocketry, kite building and flying, and last but not least, a small trebuchet. I was lucky enough to stumble upon it right before a launch; it was most impressive.

I’m going through my pictures and videos right now, uploading as best I can with my evdo connection. Right now I think I’m on the sprint network and it seems pretty fast.

find some videos here: http://justdiy.blip.tv
and pictures here: http://picasaweb.google.com/gordonthree

More to come!

That's Lunch

chicago stuffed deep dish pizza

This pizza was lunch on Wednesday.

Dinner on the train was not so good. They were sold out of most things, I had to settle for some dry and flavorless salmon. Things were too hecktec for any pictures… Will try again today.

The train is about an hour and a half behind schedule – I hope they can make that up, since I don’t really want to be getting into San Antonio at 23:00 or later!

Greetings from the Texas Eagle

According to the trusty GPS, I’m south of Joliet Illinois. The train is rolling at sixty mph right now, and seems to max out around eighty.

The ride is a lot rougher than I thought it would be – so much for “riding on rails” referring to a smooth ride. It’s so bumpy and turbulent I’m having trouble typing. Here’s a picture of my laptop setup in my little room.

Lunch at Giordano’s was excellent. The small pizza was too much for this man to tackle, I had to leave some behind. It was only a five minute walk from the train station, almost right across the street from the Sears Tower. The weather was not at all pleasant, I didn’t take many pictures.

I can’t get my phone to roam on the EVDO network, so I’m stuck at 1x speeds … better than nothing at least!

Trying hard not to judge.

I made this mistake of printing the schedule of stops for my train, the Texas Eagle. I’ve been reviewing the stops, seeing if there’s anything of interest that can be seen from the station. In Saint Louis, the gateway arch is very close – I hope the weather cooperates so I can snap a few photos.

However, I’ve developed the habit of looking at the track mileage between stops, and the time Amtrak claims it takes the train to travel that distance.

So far the worst stops I’ve found are between Dallas and Forth Worth. The train is scheduled to arrive at noon in Dallas, departing twenty minutes later for Forth Worth. The track distance between the two stops is thirty-one miles. However, the train is not scheduled to arrive at Forth Worth until 13:55. So that means Amtrak estimates the train to take roughly an hour and a a half to cover that thirty-one miles. The train then takes a leisurely fifty minute stop in Forth Worth before rumbling south-westerly for Central Texas. Luckily I’m not traveling all the way to Los Angeles on this train. After arriving in San Antonio at 22:25, the train does not depart until 5:40 the next morning!

I continue to remind myself, taking the train is not about getting someplace quickly.

Almost Time!

Wow, it seemed like the vacation was a long ways off, and it still feels that way, but I’m leaving Wednesday.

The train leaves at like 08:15 on Wednesday, so I’ll be leaving my house at about 05:00 so I can get there early and maybe have a quick breakfast. The Giordano’s a few blocks away on Jackson is still my plan for lunch during the ~3 hour layover in Chicago. According to my folks and the Amtrak website, people traveling with a room on the train have access to some sort of lounge with a concierge that will secure your baggage for you.

Once I’m on the train, I want to roll a lot of video of the view out the window. A little googling and I found some ideas for real-time transcoding of DV output from a firewire camera direct to mpeg4 xvid files. This setup will let me film for 100’s of hours using my little 160g portable usb drive. I’ll also shoot some footage of inside the train with my shooter – I imaging it’s pretty tight in there, and I don’t have a fisheye lens.

I got my ticket for the fair in the mail a few days ago – it’s not nearly as fancy as the passes to other technology conventions – just a plain paper ticket with multicolor printing on it, no holograms even!

If anyone going to the fair wants to contact me directly, shoot me a gmail @ gordonthree and I’ll give you my cell phone number. I plan to travel with two phones, one of which I’ve subscribed to EVDO internet service on. Maybe I can even blog during the train ride.

Austin Trip

My train tickets are confirmed and on their way. Finding a ride and a room in the area are proving to be more of a challenge then getting the transport. Amtrak is fairly simple compared to the airlines – there is only one train that goes there and it only has one schedule; take it or leave it!

From my research, the trains are on their schedule down to the minute – so when Amtrak says I arrive at 7pm, that’s when the train pulls into the station. I don’t know how long it’ll take to unload, or to claim my baggage. Right now I’m thinking I’ll take a rolling suitcase of mostly clothing, and a duffel bag with a few clothes for the train ride and most of my electronic gear. The duffel will stay with me in the roomette and the roller can get checked into the cargo area. I’m impressed at the luggage “restrictions” that Amtrak imposes – each passenger is limited to 5 bags, weighing not more than 50 pounds each. You get two carry-on bags and three pieces of checked luggage. Each piece of checked luggage is limited to 36 by 36 by 36 inches, which I think is a total of nine cubic feet, and I could take three of those! Of course the 50 pound limit kinda gets you there – any kind of crate that big would probably weight more than that.

The best deal on a rental car I’ve found is using a discount code from Amtrak with Hertz. However, the logistics of securing the ride are proving difficult. The auto rental places are all at the airport and the train station is on the other side of town. From what I can see on google, the station is very small – just a little building, a single rail platform and a small parking lot. I think I’ll end up with a cab ride to my motel for the first night, and then a cab or shuttle to the airport the next day.

I’m still on the hunt for rooms; downtown Austin is out of my ballpark, with most rooms costing $150+. I got a laugh that O’Rielly has a deal the the Austin Raddison for $147 a night using the coupon code MAKER – I guess working for a small time tech publication has its perks! The best prices seem to be in the North end of town, and the suburb Round Rock. There is a large shopping mall called the Arboretum that has a mix of high end and low end hotels around it.

Even though it’s more than a month away, I feel the need to start making a list of the things I want to take along.

Maker Faire: Austin

I really enjoy reading the Make website – it’s a great collection of all the DIY stuff that’s going on out there. And all the different events they cover look like fun. So I’m going to the Maker Faire in Austin this fall. I believe the dates are October 18th and 19th. Is anyone else going, are any of my readers from the Austin area? Shoot me a gmail @ gordonthree if you know anything about any of this! I don’t know anything about the Austin area, and the various online mapping tools aren’t offering up a lot of detail either.

The last vacation I took was way back in 2005. I made a road-trip to Florida, to watch the space shuttle’s return to service flight after the Columbia disaster. I got there, hung out with some family for a few days, no space shuttle. So I went down to the keys for a few days, shuttle still was on standby. Spent nearly two weeks, and didn’t achieve much but a decent credit card bill. The drive through the mountains was fun… The road leading from south-eastern Tennessee through North Carolina was really something – winding roads with a sheer mountain face on one side, and a sheer drop off on the other. Mix that with lots and lots of big trucks going way too fast, just enough rain to make the road greasy and twilight from a just-setting sun and you get “white knuckles” kind of fun! On the way back I got to see Corvettes being built and climbed around in the Mammoth Caves system for a few hours.

I bought a new truck this year in June – it is a gas guzzler but the price was unbeatable and with huge tires and four-wheel drive, it’ll be fun in the Northern Michigan snow. However, trying to take a road-trip vacation anywhere with it would get real expensive real fast – 18-20 mpg on the highway at $4/gallon – oh yea! That leaves mass-transit; Originally I was looking at flying from Grand Rapids – the airfare was reasonable and there it was a fairly direct flight with only one lay-over. While I was pondering my options, the price almost tripled. Lower oil prices equal higher airline fares I guess. I could drive to Detroit and fly from there, but that’ll cost a lot of gas money and parking at Metro is not cheap.

My folks suggested I look at taking the train. Originally, I had dismissed the train since it takes thirty hours to cover the roughly 1200 miles. However, after the spike in fares, and reading about the TSA’s crackdown on IEDs, I figured flying might not be the best option, especially if I wanted to take some of my projects along for show-n-tell with other makers should the opportunity arise. With the cost of a sleeperette added in, the rail cost half the cost of first class, but a few hundred more than coach. If I wanted to ride coach, it would be real cheap, but I have reservations about sleeping in “public”, which might occur sometime during the ride. Traveling “first class”, aka, private room / sleeperette, Amtrak is apparently very accommodating. They include a bunch of meals, free pop/water and a generous luggage allowace. The room apparently has 120v outlets for gadgetry, so I don’t need a suitcase of batteries to run a laptop on the journey. To make things more interesting, I’ll be taking a commuter train from Holland to Chicago. To get to Holland on time, I’m looking at a 0530 lauch time. So 30 hours on the long haul train, 3 hrs on a commuter train, 3 hr layover in Chicago between trains and a 2 hour drive to Holland equals roughly 38 hours? That’s a long day!

Anyway – I wanted to write a bit about this so I can get it out of my head – and see if anyone reading the blog knows about the area or show, or is planning on attending? My thoughts are rambling now so I’ll have to recompose things and write some more later.