Trying out the Oculus Rift

I just got back from a trip around the solar system via the Oculus Rift.

I’m no stranger to VR: I bought and read a lot of VR-related books in the early 90s, owned a Nintendo Power Glove (which I connected to my PC for some basic homebrew VR), ran a VR-themed BBS, and my first gaming experience was playing Dactyl Nightmare when a travelling Virtuality exhibit came to my college.

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A quick weekend road trip

This past weekend involved another road trip (July has been a busy travel month for us!).

My wife and daughter flew out to Houston on Thursday to kick off another week-long college visit road trip that will take them from Texas to Ohio. Friday evening, after work, I flew to meet them in Dallas. It had been probably over 10 years since I’d last been to DFW and was surprised to learn that you have to pay to go into the airport even if you’re just going to pick someone up! It cost my wife $2 to come in with the rental car and get me.

On Saturday, while my daughter was visiting with her boyfriend at UT Dallas, my wife drove me through the campus of SMU, which they had toured yesterday. We all met for lunch, and then at 1:30pm were on the road, heading north out of Dallas on US-75. At 2:20pm we crossed into Oklahoma and then three hours later were in Arkansas. We stopped for dinner in Fayetteville at Tacos 4 Life (great tacos!) at 6:30pm.

Back in March during our southwest road trip we had visited Four Corners. On this trip we wanted to stand on three states: Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. At this point we were racing the sun because the “monument” was (according to Google Maps) down a dirt road in a clearing in the woods and was not lit. We crossed the Missouri border at 7:45 and made it to the three states area at 8:30pm. There was still enough light to get our family photo with each of us in a different state. Heading east again on I-44, we stopped for ice cream at Andy’s in Joplin. We finally made it to our hotel in Springfield by 10:15pm. So it was a long driving day, but we hit five states!

Sunday morning we were on the road by 8:15am because I had a 1:00pm flight home out of St. Louis. We got to Lambert by 11:45am so I had no problems making it to the plane. However, I was delayed in Atlanta and didn’t make it home until 8:00pm.

So I’m back, but my wife and daughter still have a few days of driving (and four more college visits) ahead of them.

Home Assistant

Back in February I read about Home Assistant on a TCF thread. At the time, before I knew a lot about it, I thought maybe it could be used to make the setup of my TiVo Control skill for Alexa a little easier. That turned out not to be necessarily true, but I did learn about proxying HTTPS requests through Lambda which was helpful for people who couldn’t host their own HTTPS server at home.

HA is written in Python and has a ton of components to contributed by the user community. The big automation players are here (Amazon Echo, Nest, IFTTT, Hue, etc.) plus a lot of smaller or lesser-known modules (like IKEA’s new TRÅDFRI light bulbs). You can mix and match these components by adding a new section to your configuration.yaml file with the required settings. With device location tracking you can set up automations with a basic trigger/condition/action setup.

Since most of my home automation is done via Z-Wave devices tied to my ADT Pulse system (which finally has some basic Amazon Echo support of its own), I haven’t played around with HA’s powerful features automation, control, and push notification features. For now, I’m using the iOS app to connect to my HA install. From there I can see the status of my Nest thermostat, view my Dropcam and TRENDnet cameras, and even control my web power switches from a single application dashboard.


July 4th Road Trip: Day 7

It was a strategic decision to stay at the Westin at the Denver airport for the past two nights: easy check-in for our late arrival on Thursday, and easy check-out for our flight home today. Plus this was the only time on this trip we were in the same hotel two nights in a row.

This morning was remarkably easy: we packed our bags, left the hotel, and walked across the bridge to the airport terminal. The bag check line for United was really long (I considered going out to the Skycap) but it ended up moving quickly and shortly we had turned in our bags and then breezed through the TSA PreCheck line at security. We still had time to grab some breakfast in the terminal and eat before boarding our flight back to Florida.

Another road trip in the books! This one took us 1,691 miles on the road (plus the 391 mile flight from Salt Lake City to Denver), through seven states, in seven days. Whew!

… and next weekend we’ll be doing a little more travelling. Stay tuned!

July 4th Road Trip: Day 6

Denver, yeah! Today we spent the day in the Mile High City.

First on the agenda was another college visit at the University of Denver so we walked back to the airport, picked up a rental car for the day, and then drove to campus. The information session and tour took most of the morning. Afterwards, we grabbed lunch at the Denver Biscuit Company and then had to book it north to Boulder for our next tour at the University of Colorado. DU was nice, but the campus and surrounding areas of CU are incredible. That tour took up the afternoon so before we knew it it was 5:00pm. We braved the rush hour traffic back to Denver where we were having dinner with old friends at their house. It was nice to have a relaxing evening watching the sun set behind the mountains.

After dinner and visiting, we drove back to the airport, turned in the rental car, and walked back to the hotel. Tomorrow we fly  home …


July 4th Road Trip: Day 5

Today is a sight-seeing day … no serious driving except around town as-needed.

After packing and checking out of the hotel, we left the car in the garage and walked to breakfast at Bruges Waffles & Frites (I had the Pig on a Cloud … yummy!). Across the street, near Pioneer Park, we spied a rack of rentable GreenBikes and decided to use these to get around ($7 each got us “unlimited” 30-minute rides for the day).

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July 4th Road Trip: Day 4

We got an early start this morning as we drove into Yellowstone National Park (crossing into Wyoming) hoping to beat some of the traffic and crowds. Driving into Yellowstone was incredible … steaming geyseys and hot springs everywhere. At times it almost looked like those post-apocalyptic (or pre-historic) wastelands you see in the movies, just amazing.

We arrived at the Old Faithful visitor’s center around 9:30am. I had called the park’s prediction line before we left so I knew we’d have enough time to walk around the grounds before the next eruption at around 10:15am. The geyser erupted just about “on time” as predicted and was a pretty cool site to watch. After spending a little more time in the surrounding area and getting some ice cream at the Old Faithful Inn we started driving back out of the park. We made a few more stops at the other hot springs and scenic views (like the Fountain Paint Pots). It was definitely getting more crowded and we were glad we were working our way out of the park by now instead of trying to get in.

At 12:30pm we were back in West Yellowstone and heading west on US-20 into Idaho ten minutes later. The route south on US-20 was very scenic and different from the plains and prairies of North Dakota and Montana. We stopped in Idaho Falls at 2:30pm for lunch at Smitty’s Pancake & Steak House (I recommend the potato pancakes and sourdough waffle!). After lunch it was back onto the interstate system (I-15 now).

At 5:00pm we crossed the border into Utah and by 6:30pm we were checked into our hotel in downtown Salt Lake City. We had wanted to go to Caffé Molise across the street but it was closed for the July 4th holiday. 🙁 So instead we took the opportunity to get some laundry done and just had dinner at the hotel restaurant instead.

Tomorrow is a sight-seeing day!

July 4th Road Trip: Day 3

Happy Independence Day!

Since we only had 8 hours of driving scheduled for today, we slept in a bit and were on the road by 10am after eating breakfast at the hotel. About an hour down I-94 we made a quick scenic stop at the Painted Canyon. Having just been to the Grand Canyon four months ago it wasn’t that impressive but still a pretty view. Half an hour later we crossed the border into Montana (with an 80MPH speed limit!).

1pm found us in Miles City for lunch (Subway) and then two hours later we made a stop at Pomeys Pillar outside of Billings. The Pillar is the site of the only remaining physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark Expedition: Clark’s signature (and the date, July 25, 1806) is carved into the side of the rock. Very cool!

At 6:30pm we were in Bozeman and left the interstate for US-191. The trip west across North Dakota and Montana on I-94/I-90 was scenic, but heading south towards (and through a small portion of) Yellowstone National Park was really impressive (and we’ll see more tomorrow). At 8:00pm we were in West Yellowstone and checked into our hotel by 8:30pm.

The town was hopping with July 4th activities and crowded with tourists (like ourselves). Our plan had been to go out to dinner before the fireworks show so we walked over to Wild West Pizza a few blocks from the hotel. The wait time was 40 minutes so instead we put in a take-out order which would only take 20 minutes. That gave us some time to pick up drinks at the grocery store next door and also wander through a few shops looking for souvenirs. We ate our pizza on a bench on Canyon Street, watched the sun set, and still had time to walk back to the hotel in time for the fireworks show at the end of Yellowstone Avenue.

July 4th Road Trip: Day 2

Today we got up and drove over to Macalaster College where we spent the morning in an information session and taking a tour of campus. By 11:15am we were on the road, heading northwest out of Minneapolis/St. Paul on I-94.

At 2:15pm we made a stop in Fergus Falls to see the library sign and continental divide markers (thanks to Roadside America). We also made quick roadside stops in Moorhead, MN to see a replica viking ship, and then across the border in Fargo, ND where the wood chipper from the movie “Fargo” is kept. At 4:15pm we had a late lunch/early dinner at the Mediterranean Grill before getting back on the interstate.

We also made a stop in Jamestown, ND to see the world’s largest buffalo and check out the Buffalo Museum. This turned out to be a really cool stop, and we caught a glimpse of Dakota Miracle, calf of the albino buffalo White Cloud.

Just before getting to Dickinson, ND as the sun was setting, we spotted Geese in Flight marking the start of the Enchanted Highway. According to Roadside America this is a pretty cool set of large sculptures along 32 miles of a county highway. Unfortunately, it heads directly south and wasn’t along our way so we only saw this first sculpture. By 9:00pm we were in Dickinson and checked into our hotel for the night.

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, and we’ll spend most of it in the car. 🙂

July 4th Road Trip: Day 1

Today we kick off another family road trip over the July 4th holiday. The next seven days will see us through seven states and three college visits!

This afternoon we flew to Minneapolis on Delta. Somehow we ended up with two aisle seats and a middle in the exit row. I tried changing the one aisle to the window so we could all sit together but for some reason the system wanted to charge me $35 for that seat even though it was in the same row and I had already paid for the exit row seats! I tried last night online and at the airport but couldn’t get the seat changed (and I wasn’t going to let Delta gouge me more). By the time we got to the gate to talk to a rep, the seat was already assigned. Oh well. Other than that, the trip was uneventful (always good).

After getting our bags and picking up our one-way rental car for the week (a Nissan Rogue), we checked into our hotel for the evening across the street from the Mall of America (we were last here back in 2010 for our Mount Rushmore/St. Louis road trip). By now we were hungry for dinner so we walked over to the Mall. Unfortunately we forgot it was a Sunday evening (vacation time!) so most of the retail shops had closed at 7pm, but luckily the restaurants were still open (we ended up at CRAVE).

After dinner and a brief walk around the (now empty) mall, we drove out to get supplies for the road trip. We went to three places (Target, Walgreens, and Wal-Mart) and were unable to find a simple styrofoam cooler so we had to buy a smaller (and more expensive) soft-sided cooler to hold our snacks and drinks for the drip.

Tomorrow, the road trip begins!