Carputer!

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One of the features in the Honda Odyssey that I’ve been looking forward to making use of is the auxiliary audio/video inputs located in the third row on the driver’s side.  There’s also a standard AC power outlet back there next to them.  This combination allows me to wire up a Raspberry Pi as an in-car entertainment system which is infinitely more useful than trying to swap DVDs up at the front console. This is especially true if one parent is sitting in the back with the kids because they won’t be able to reach the DVD slot to switch discs and having the driver do so is not a great plan.

Also, it allows us to avoid the awfulness of DVDs: menus, previews, ads, FBI warnings–blurgh what a terrible experience.  Boot this up, select a show, and you’re watching it instantly.

We’ve got some road trips coming up so I wanted to get this set up beforehand.  First I imaged an SD card with OSMC, an OS built around Kodi with the goal of making setup trivial.  And it really was trivial: Install the OSMC installer on your computer, run it, insert your SD card, click some options and you’re good to go.  Pop out the SD card and plug it into the RPi.

Then I copied a bunch of movies and TV shows to a 64GB USB flash drive and plugged it into the Raspberry Pi (version 1 model B).  To get things started I hooked the RPi up to the network and the TV in the house so it could download updates and the appropriate metadata for the videos.  After initial setup I took it out to the van for a trial run.

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The Raspberry Pi and associated cords fit nicely in the cup-holder.

I plugged everything in and turned on the car electronics.  The RPi booted up and was ready to roll in just a couple of minutes.  To control it I’m using this wireless keyboard/mouse combo by Lenovo which works great in this application.

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Heather helped me out by watching a few minutes of Finding Nemo.  She declared it the best thing ever.

IMG_20150815_123557asThe 4 purplish lights you can see above the screen are the infrared LEDs that transmit the audio to the wireless headphones.  This allows the rear passengers to listen to the movie through the headphones while other passengers do something else–a sanity-saving feature for the adults in the vehicle.

The Very Long Trip: July 3 – San Diego Zoo Safari Park

IMG_20140703_155806asAfter wrapping up our visit to the Titan II Museum we then drove on to San Diego, CA.  After a good night’s rest we were off to our final adventure for the Very Long Trip–the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  I was there going on 10 years ago now (whoa) with some friends from college.  Jess and Heather both like zoos so I thought it’d be fun.

First thing we did was head to the hot air balloon which is tethered, but they take you up to 440 feet to have a nice look around.  The air was cool and there was a nice breeze at that height.  There was a discount for going before noon and they shut it down due to wind later in the day.  So I’m glad we skipped ahead to take our trip up.

After our ride we started the wandering about.  Due to time and energy restrictions we had to write off entire sections of the park.  It’s a massive complex.  You could easily spend 3 days exploring.  It wasn’t very busy, for which we were glad.  There seemed to be a lot of people there, but when we left we could see just how much more parking was available.  If it were full that place would be uncomfortably dense.

We saw warthogs (and babies!), gorillas (and a baby!), elephants, leopards, zebras, and all manner of birds and deer-like creatures.  We got to see two of the world’s last seven-known remaining Northern White Rhinos which was neat and sad at the same time.

The park ticket includes a tram ride around the main grounds.  The Safari Park has many acres of land where as many species as possible co-exist to create a more natural environment.  So you get to ride around the perimeter of that.  For an additional charge you can take trips into that space to get closer to the animals and feed them and what-not.

We picked up a couple of neat souvenirs.  The giraffes are about 8 inches tall, hand-carved in Kenya, they’re only connected at the base.  They were only $22!  We thought that was a steal, so we also got the parrot.  The parrot is about 4 inches tall, made in Ecuador, and only $6!

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After lunch we hit up the carousel (Heather loves carousels) for a few rounds and then headed off. We drove until we finally got home back to our own beds. We pulled in sometime around 2 AM, I think, after over a month away from home. It was very good to be back.

Oh, and one last thing. Since we were driving along I-10 there were areas we could see across the border into Mexico. Which for Jess is the closest she’s ever come to leaving the country, so we had to take a picture. (I’ll forgo my rant about going through 3 border crossing checkpoints on this trip despite never crossing the border. Grrrr…)

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And that finally concludes our epic journey known as “The Very Long Trip.” Over 3,500 miles / 51 hours of driving across 4 states and 3 time zones. I don’t know how many times we watched Bubble Guppies, Curious George, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and Frozen (with the snow monster edited out for Heather’s sake), but it was enough for a lifetime. It was quite the journey, but I think our next grand adventure is going to be via rail (tentatively Fall 2015).

The Very Long Trip: July 1-2 – Missiles

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Titan II ICBM in its silo

Having spent a month studying nuclear deterrence and weapon effects I thought it would be appropriate to get some first-hand experience with the Cold War ICBM world.  When we finished playing at White Sands National Monument it was too late, but the next day we drove back out to the White Sands Missile Range where you can see the “Missile Park” and the WSMR Musem.

Then it was back in the car to drive to Tucson, AZ.  We spent the night in Tucson before visiting a real (decommissioned) ICBM silo in nearby Sahuarita, AZ.  The “Copper Penny” Titan II Silo was turned into a museum with the missile still intact (warhead removed, of course, and presumably unfueled as the fuel was nasty, dangerous stuff).  I thought it was pretty neat.  Too bad we didn’t have more time (or mainly Heather wouldn’t have put up with it) to do the longer tour where you get to go through the whole thing top to bottom.  But we were able to get on the short tour where you see the control room and the silo itself.  They run a pretend launch sequence with the 2 keys and the code book.  I found it interesting, Jess and Heather…somewhat less so.

I spent a month studying the strategies and theories behind how nuclear weapons might be used and what would be targeted with them.  The Titan II carried a W-53 9-megaton nuclear warhead.  An airbust would result in a fireball with a radius of ~1.45 miles.  Most homes would collapse out to a radius of ~10.3 miles.  And exposed persons would experience 3rd degree burns within a radius of ~19.5 miles.  If you detonated one above NYC you’d kill about 4 million people instantly and injure another 5 million.  Over Tokyo would be over 5 million deaths with another 10 million injuries.  These were not surgical weapons.  [Calculations from NukeMap]

Being in the bunker and knowing that the launch of that missile would have meant the immediate death of a few million people and the inevitable death of hundreds of millions (as presumably an all-out nuclear war would be occurring) was sobering.  And the great joke of nuclear deterrence is that no one knows if it works or not.  We only have post hoc reasoning, some logical inferences, and hope.  During the Cold War the Soviets were convinced the U.S. was just waiting for a chance to wipe them out.  The U.S. was convinced the Soviets were just waiting for a chance to wipe us out.  It’s amazing we all survived.

I was able to buy a souvenir from the museum.  It’s a piece of the re-entry assembly from a Titan II.  When the missiles were decommissioned someone got their hands on some of them and cut out these squares from spacer made from an aluminum-copper alloy.  Not everyone gets to own a piece of an ICBM. [Last photo in gallery below.]

The Very Long Trip: June 30 – White Sands

IMG_20140630_180308asAfter Carlsbad Caverns we headed off to White Sands National Monument.  When planning the trip I wondered whether it would be worth it to stop off to see some sand, but it wasn’t too far out of our way and it was worth it.

We arrived in the evening and I expected the air to be hot and the sand to be hot from sitting in the sun all day.  But it wasn’t.  The sand was amazingly cool, not like sand at the beach for whatever reason.  The sun was on its way down and mostly behind clouds and there was a nice breeze so instead of being unbearably hot it was almost pleasant.

Heather thought it was the most amazing thing ever.  When it was finally time to leave she decided to just take off into the dunes instead.  There’s nothing dangerous around so I just followed behind her waiting for her to get tired out which she eventually did after running up and down a couple of dunes.  You can buy sleds from the gift store, but since we didn’t know what it would really be like out on the sand we didn’t buy one.  However, a family that stopped at the same place as us let us borrow one of theirs for a little bit.  It didn’t work out very well, but it’s the closest thing to sledding Heather’s ever done anyway.

We discovered a fun game of taking some of the more solid chunks of sand and hurling them way up in the air and then watching them land.  When they land they make a very satisfying thud, but explode into plain sand.  So it just disappears back into the all the other sand.  It was fun.  Heather got into pretty quickly, so here’s a video:

If you’re in the area it’s worth a stop.  You’d think that a whole area covered in sand would be pretty dead, but there’s actually a fair amount of life going on.  I managed to spot a few of the white lizards that live in the sand.  There are plants that rapidly grow as a dune moves over then, but then when the dune passes they collapse down in a heap.  And there are other plants that hold a column of solidified sand underneath themselves when the dune passes by them.

Once we finished up at White Sands we headed into Las Cruces, NM to stay the night.

The Very Long Trip: June 30 – Carlsbad Caverns

IMG_20140630_102927asWe left Texas on the 29th and headed for Carlsbad, NM.  We got into town and checked into our hotel, found some dinner, and went to bed.  Then it was up the next morning and off to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  Carlsbad isn’t much of a town and probably only really exists because of the caverns.  But people don’t take family vacations by driving like they used to and it seems to really be hurting the area.  The parking lot was no more than one-third full which led me to ask an employee when their busy season was.  They replied that it was the busy season.

At least in one way it’s a good thing they’re not busier.  The staff running the cafeteria were certainly not interested in speedy service.  It honestly took them 10-15 minutes per customer to serve up mainly already-prepared food.  So the line only had about 4 people in it, but you didn’t expect to be standing there for an hour before being served.  Regardless, the caverns themselves were pretty interesting.  We took the elevator down to the main cavern (rather than walking down which Jess’ knees were not going to cooperate with).  Heather was a bit concerned with the whole thing, but eventually calmed down and enjoyed herself.

I was surprised with how quiet it was.  I expected there to be a lot of echoing such that you could hear people all the time, but that’s not the case.  The rocks are apparently of a material that absorbs a lot of sound.  That combined with how few people were around meant that at times we’d be standing by ourselves in near silence, deep underground with minimal lights.

Once we finished up in the caverns we loaded back up in the car and headed off to White Sands National Monument.