Finding Adventure...

My first from-scratch project with my 3D printer

After much research on 3D printers, I settled on the $750 "CTC" one off eBay.  It's a clone of the original Makerbot Replicator, and I suspect it's made by the same factory that originally made the Replicator for Makerbot.  Makerbot has moved on to fancier and more expensive units, but in my research I just couldn't seem to justify the extra cost for the final product.  In fact, I looked at possibly spending at much as $15,000 on a printer, and yet still settled on this $750 unit.

It really seems like you have to step up to $20,000+ printers to do significantly better things than this CTC printer can do.  You would need to be running it constantly, and I'm merely a hobbyist who was looking to learn a few things and perhaps make a few things that could really be used in the real world.

I started out printing a few things I found on Thingiverse.  I'm kind of surprised more people don't just grab things from there and pay to have them printed at sites like Shapeways.  Before I bought my own printer, I did do 3D model of an enclosure I wanted and had Shapeways print it.  The service takes several days including shipping, but it's not terribly expensive and the quality is quite good.  But all it did was whet my appetite to be able to print my own things NOW.  Enter the research and the purchase of the CTC printer.

The first few prints included some mediocre iPhone cases as well as a cool little GoPro mount, seen here:

Not the most complex thing, but it actually works pretty well.  Here's one used to adapt my mountain bike headlamp to work on the GoPro mount of my bike helmet:

The material is VERY strong and fairly lightweight, too.  If there's a downside it's that the color palette is a bit limited and the time to print is pretty slow.  This little item takes about 25 minutes just to print, but setup and everything included makes it more like an hour for the first one and about 35 minutes for each one after.

 A fun thing to do is add a second video camera on the bow of the boat.  Unfortunately there's no good way to do that on these particular boats (and we've tried several different sit-on-top kayaks for surfing, and these seem to work better than most for a 200 pound adult).  So I set out to make something that would work in place of the grab handle in the front.

Here are the parts as I designed them in Sketchup:

 And assembled in place with a GoPro on the boat:

Normally the boat would have a small piece of plastic down where the string connects in this photo attached with a short screw.  I removed that and took the handle off that piece and put it on my GoPro mount.  Then I bolted everything through with a long bolt into the original hole.  It seems every bit as strong as before, except now there's a place to put a camera.  I normally use a chest cam for the best action, but a camera pointed back at the rider is a fun view, too.

There will be more almost-interesting things coming from my evil lab, but not until after the beach.

My thoughts on Puerto Rico


So Ashley and I have been in Puerto Rico for the past few days and return home tomorrow. I'm kind of torn about this place. I really wanted to like it because it's an island that's easily reachable from the east coast and it's in a great climate. Turns out there are many things to like, too. The only rainforest in a US National Forest is El Yunque, and it's less than an hour drive from San Juan, the most english speaking of the Puerto Rican cities. El Yunque is truly a beautiful place, too. The picture above was taken from atop the second highest tower they have there. You have to hike up a very cool trail for about twenty minutes, but it is definitely worth it. A word of advice, though...definitely take rain gear or be prepared to get wet. We didn't get wet, but only because the rain came while we were at the top and we had a dry place to wait it out.

A couple days ago we took a drive from San Juan to the southeast corner of the island. That required a very long drive on a very narrow highway through the mountains. The mountains themselves were quite amazing, with the incredibly large stands of bamboo, some of it more than six inches in diameter and shooting up at least fifty feet. The coastal area was also quite amazing in it's beauty. This island has many rock cliffs to the ocean, but also amazing beaches in between.

The big problem is what the people have done to this place. Almost all buildings are built of concrete and have a flat roof. I'm guessing that's for hurricane protection. But apparently crime is also so bad here that everyone not only has bars on everything, they have tiny (or no) windows and usually concrete and/or steel fences. Many communities are gated with large walls. Even through the mountains, houses are small fortresses. Businesses, too. There's never anywhere reasonable to park, so people just park in the street. And then double park. Oh, and the my my. Potholes so big I'm sure there were people and cars lost in them. No signs on anything. Road names change on a whim, including major highways (and their numbers!).

There are various groups trying to push tourism in Puerto Rico, but that's a joke. They want tourist dollars, but from what I can see they aren't willing to make any kind of investment to get it. The first "overlook" we saw on the entire trip was inside El Yunque, and even those were a joke. The cabs are stupidly're in for $10 minimum, and usually $14-19 for just an average ride of maybe 15 minutes. And good luck finding a cab unless you're at a big hotel. They don't drive around looking for fares...they go park at the nearest hotel and get out of the car and go hang out with the other cabbies somewhere sort of nearby.

Restaurant service? The food is good, but the service is terrible. Only once during the entire stay did we NOT have to ask for drink refills. That was at our own resort, where we did eat several times and did have to ask on every other occasion. And the service in general at the resort was stellar compared to everywhere else we visited. The highlight of our trip had to be eating here:

That's El Churry, a food stand in a truck. It was made famous by the TV show Man v. Food. Jonas saw it there and we had to go hit it. They make this churrasca sandwich that's pretty incredible. Just trust me and go get it if you're ever there. Notice you just go order, pay, and they hand you food. No opportunity to screw up the service there! Oh, and you are eating along the main coastal drag, and on a Saturday night that was an event in itself. Saw plenty of Fast-n-Furious wannabes, but the best was when we heard this thumping sound coming. Yes, it was from some major bass in a big stereo. As we looked for the source, we saw a minivan coming...with both front doors open and the driver and passenger BOTH standing in the doorjam (I guess he had the cruise set and was just reaching in for the steering). As we watched them go by in awe, we saw the source of the bass...both rear doors were open, too (held open by something, I'd imagine) and there was a rear wall of speakers pointed out the back. Heck, for all I know the thing was being propelled by the bass.

We even saw two natives go by on a Polaris RAZR. On a public street.

All in all, it's not a bad place. You do have to worry about crime, but it does have amazing weather and some amazing sights. The two forts and Old San Juan are stunning. El Yunque is kind of profound. The coast is beautiful. You just have to be in a little different mindset about some things. People say they drive crazy here. I don't think they drive crazy, but they do have a bit of oddness about how they drive that takes some getting used to. Oh, and the road signs are in Spanish. That's not as big a deal as you might think, though, because they all look like the same signs as the US, so you get used to that quickly. Our fairly new Garmin Nuvi GPS did have the roads, but the names did NOT match up and the GPS was VERY bad at routing via major versus minor roads, unlike in the US.

The biggest drawback? They don't have Mountain Dew here. I never once saw it in any store or at any fountain. Plenty of Pepsi and even 7-Up, though.

In memory of Carolina Freight


I have a soft spot for the old trucking companies that used to move this nation's products. My grandfather was a truck driver when I was growing up, and because of that, "trucking" was always just something that was cool to me. Of course my favorite movie of all time is Smokey and the Bandit, but other trucking movies like Convoy and TV shows like BJ and the Bear hold a special place in my heart. A recent news article on WRAL brought me back to some memories of seeing Carolina Freight trucks on the road. My grandfather did work for them for a couple years and my other grandparents lived near the hometown of Carolina Freight, Cherryville, NC. So growing up I got to go to the C. Grier Beam Truck Museum in Cherryville.

I was very happy to find that museum is still alive and well, and from the pictures looks to be the same as I remember it. I definitely hope to get my kids in there one day, and do recommend it for those of you who remember Carolina Freight trucks roaming the interstates or just enjoy looking at some very cool old trucks (from back in the days when the "sleeper" was actually on the front of the trailer rather than the back of the cab of the truck!).

That Disney Magic

First, some background. DisneyWorld has what they call the "PhotoPass." Whenever you see a Disney photographer in any of the parks (and they are EVERYWHERE), you can grab them and have them shoot a few pics of you and your loved ones. They're pros with good equipment and they do their job well. Then they give you a PhotoPass, which is just a little credit card sized card with a big long number on it and a 3D barcode. Get more pics taken and you can just give them the card and they add it to your "account." Forget your card or whatever and just grab another one (they are free) when you next need pictures. You're saddled with an additional "account", but that's okay because you can combine them all to one account at any PhotoPass kiosk (again, free).

Share that number with friends (or pull it up yourself and share the link) and any of your friends and family can see what's going on with your trip as it happens. At the kiosks you can buy prints in an array of sizes. But the best deal of all is to buy the CD. You get the raw images sent to you and you retain all copyright on them. It's expensive at $150, but there are pre-purchase deals that can cut the price to $100 or so. And if you go to Disney with other families, just pool your dough and put all the PhotoPasses on one account and then copy the CD. Disney doesn't seem to mind that kind of thing one bit.

The problem arises when you combine a bunch of Photopasses to one pass and then you LOSE IT. Don't do that! One way to avoid it is to "back up" your PhotoPass by simply using your own digital camera (a cellphone camera will usually suffice) to shoot a picture of the number on the pass. Or write it down. Or when you combine you can actually have them put it on two or three passes that they'll give to you and you can put those in different places or in other people's hands. There are lots of ways to avoid being a dumbass, but sadly, as you might have guessed, I took none of these.

That's right, I had a Photopass with 65 pictures for THREE families from an entire day at Blizzard Beach, the best water park in the world. What makes that doubly bad is that this is the one place we generally don't bother taking our own camera in since it's a water park, even though we have an awesome new Canon D10 that's waterproof (just too annoying to keep up with when you're doing all those big slides and stuff since EVERYONE was participating in lots of BIG rides!). But at Blizzard Beach they have "little" PhotoPasses that are waterproof and have a rubber band that will go on your wrist and are no problem. Except we ended up with about a dozen of them throughout the day.

So at the end of the day I combined them at a kiosk to one. I shunned the smart man's attempt to give me two or three and said one was fine. Then, somehow, today, I lost it. I think I left it in the hotel room in a stack of old receipts I didn't need. We left the hotel around 9am and stored our bags for one more morning in Animal Kingdom before coming back to depart for the airport. It was right as we returned I realized I didn't have it and the staff was VERY helpful in tracking down the person who had already cleaned our room to find out if they had it or had seen it. In fact, that entire process took less than SIXTY SECONDS from the FIRST person I asked about it when I walked in the lobby of the MASSIVE hotel. But alas, not surprisingly, the cleaning lady did not have it.

I was a bit dejected, but then the security guy said "let's go over to the PhotoPass kiosk...sometimes they can find your pictures." I was a bit stunned at this possibility, because Disney doesn't really link your Photopass to YOU in any way. You go do that yourself at the end of your trip. You can enter ALL your PhotoPass numbers you might have accumulated and link it to your CD and have it pressed. Why they don't do this earlier (or make your room key a PhotoPass) I don't know, but that's the way it is.

Anyway, it turns out that not only do the pictures get put in a database that's linked to the number on the card they scan when they shoot the pic(s), but they are entered into the database by park and even location as well as the time they were taken. Since I remembered about an hour window at one of the Blizzard Beach rides that SEVERAL of us had gotten PhotoPass pictures at, I was able to have the kiosk guy just show me big thumbnail views of pictures from that time period on that ride until I found one of myself. He was then able to pull up that entire PhotoPass from that one picture of me. SWEET! He then scanned another card, handed it to me, and I was on my way, all in under ten minutes. I immediately snapped a pic of it with my iPhone and ran to catch my bus. Yeah, you got it, that's the Disney Magic. I'm not only amazed they could do all that, I'm amazed at the speed at which it happened. Truly special. Thank you, Disney, for saving me the embarrassment of being the one to lose 65 pictures and really the entire record of our day there.
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Hiking near Blowing Rock with the Conservation Trust for NC


Through a strange twist of fate Ashley and I found ourselves doing a hike today with Ashley's sister, Hilary, and some folks from the Conservation Trust for NC. The hike was around five and a half miles and almost all downhill (they left shuttle vans at the downhill end of the trail which was quite awesome). I'll post my GPS track from it soon, but can't tonight. The above was one of many beautiful waterfalls along the hike.

Anyway, the highlight of the trip was Thunder Hole waterfall (which is not the one pictured above). A very pretty little waterfall and swimming hole that I and a few of the others on the hike decided to take advantage of. Here's a short video of me going behind the waterfall and then through it back out: