Labor Day Weekend 2017 at Disney: Day 3

Happy Labor Day!

We got up early so we could check out of the hotel and drive over to the Animal Kingdom park to take advantage of the early morning Extra Magic Hours (it opened at 8:00am for Disney resort guests). We were in the parking lot at 7:40am but discovered that they were already letting people into the park to get in line for Avatar: Flight of Passage. So we walked immediately (with everyone else) to get in the line … which was really really long. Despite that, however, we were actually done with the ride by 9:15am! It’s pretty incredible … Soarin’ on steroids, and might compete with Expedition Everest for my favorite ride at the park.

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Labor Day Weekend 2017 at Disney: Day 2

We bounced around a lot today …

This morning while eating breakfast at the Contemporary, a departing family gave us three Super FastPasses for Epcot! They were heading to the airport and hadn’t had a chance to use them and since they had three, and we are a family of three, they gave them to us. Very nice! We’ve done this ourselves in the past, so it was nice to have karma pay it forward. After eating, we crowded onto the bus (barely making it on) bound for Hollywood Studios.

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Labor Day Weekend 2017 at Disney: Day 1

Labor Day weekend … time for our annual mini family vacation to Walt Disney World!

We couldn’t drive over to Orlando until this morning because of Friday night high school football yesterday, but we got a relatively early start and made it to the resort area by 10:00am. We parked at the Contemporary resort (since that’s where we’ll be staying this weekend) and walked from there to the Magic Kingdom. Disney has re-organized the bag check/security setup at the Magic Kingdom for the better. Now you go through bag check far before the ticket gates (so before getting on the ferry or monorail at the ticket/transportation center or right after getting off the buses). A welcome change!

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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!