Desert SW Roadtrip — Day 6 & 7

Bumming around Albuquerque

After settling into our casita, we spent the two days exploring the greater Albuquerque area. Since this was the nuclear road trip, naturally we had to visit the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History.

At the entrance to the Nuclear Museum — Rim-2 Terrier surface-to-air missiles

Nikon D600, ISO 100, ƒ/5.0, 1/1000sec, 24mm focal L., map

The museum had several areas aimed at giving the kids something interesting to do. The magnetic nanoparticles form rather interesting pointy shapes when manipulated with the magnets.

Experimenting with magnetic nanoparticles.

Nikon D600, ISO 1800, ƒ/5.0, 1/50sec, 48mm focal L., map

Molecule building

Nikon D600, ISO 1250, ƒ/5.0, 1/50sec, 28mm focal L., map

The electrolysis demonstration was powered by a hand crank to generate electricity, liberating the hydrogen from its bond with the oxygen in water molecules. Press the button once it lights up, and a spark ignites the separated H2 and O2 with a rewardingly sharp pop that lifts the orange ping pong ball up the tube. Maia must have done it a dozen times before moving on.

Electrolysis of water — The resulting reaction of the hydrogen and oxygen gives a satisfying pop!

Nikon D600, ISO 2500, ƒ/8.0, 1/50sec, 32mm focal L., map

Try as they might, they couldn’t get the portable TV to flicker on.

Powering a portable TV — Just not yet big enough to get the job done.

Nikon D600, ISO 3200, ƒ/6.3, 1/50sec, 45mm focal L., map

The family of prospectors

Nikon D600, ISO 560, ƒ/2.8, 1/50sec, 29mm focal L., map

Had we lived in the late 40′s, I suspect we’d have been the family going on prospecting “vacations”. Valerie was especially keen on the outfits.

Lucky Strike Geiger Counter — You too, can strike it rich finding uranium!

Nikon D600, ISO 2200, ƒ/8.0, 1/50sec, 38mm focal L., map

I did manage to do a little prospecting in the museum. They had an area displaying common household items made with radioactive materials (Fiestaware, old camera lens, etc), but the display was unnecessarily shielded behind thick glass (probably leaded). However, this side display of radium therapy did register a bit above background through the plexiglass.

What’s especially comical about the these quack treatments is that the AMA’s primary concern was not about the daily ingesting of radioactive material for no good reason, but, that the publicly available treatments must have enough radiation to be therapeutic. Thus, the best and brightest doctors collectively decided that such devices need to dissolve at least 2 Micro-Curies of radon, lest you’d have fallen victim to charlatans.

Clickety Click — have a little “therapeutic” radon dissolved in your water.

Nikon D600, ISO 6400, ƒ/6.3, 1/25sec, 45mm focal L., map

I’d first heard the term “Broken Arrow” from the cliché filled John Woo film bearing the name. But it’s not just a Hollywood creation, as it’s known to have happened 32 times around the world. These MK-28 H-bombs fell out of a B-52 after a catastrophic collision with a KC-135 tanker over Palomares, Spain. They came down under parachute, one landing in a riverbed, and the other went into the sea. The other two bombs on board the B-52 fell without parachute deployment, and the impact caused the high-explosives to detonate non-uniformly (i.e. non-nuclear explosion), spreading the plutonium cores around the impact area.

I was rather surprised to see these on display. It’s one thing to have these events documented for history, but, it’s another for the military to put their mistakes on display for all to scrutinize.

Broken Arrows — MK-28 hydrogen bombs that fell out of a B-52 after a midair collision.

Nikon D600, ISO 5600, ƒ/8.0, 1/50sec, 24mm focal L., map

Given the proximity to the historical site our trip is pivoting around, it was fitting the museum has a mock-up of the first nuclear bomb. “Uncertainty” is what I see here. The majority of the wires you see are there to collect data in the event of failure.

The “Gadget” — a mock-up of the Trinity device.

Click photo for more info. Nikon D600, ISO 1600, ƒ/4.5, 1/50sec, 28mm focal L., map.

According to Wikipedia, the technology that enabled the first smart bomb came from a hobbyist that built televisions in his spare time in the late 50′s. With the computing power of your smart phone, it’s almost a trivial bit of software to lock onto a feature in an image. But doing so with vacuum tube technology and then fitting it into a warhead is truly amazing.

Standing in front of a Walleye TV Guided Bomb — AGM-62A

Click photo for more info. Nikon D600, ISO 640, ƒ/9.0, 1/50sec, 26mm focal L., map.

Outside, of the museum are displays of various missile systems, bombers, launchers, and some of the huge (megaton) bombs. Looking at many of the missiles on display brings back memories of visiting Kennedy Space Center as a youth. It’s easy to forget that the space race and the arms race were very much intertwined with each other; arguably the space race benefiting the most from the technology developed for the arms race. The Mercury and Gemini Programs all flew on launch vehicles that were originally designed for use as missiles.

Space ship or ICBM? — Lower stage of a Titan II rocket

Nikon D600, ISO 100, ƒ/7.1, 1/500sec, 24mm focal L., ~341ft from prev photo, map

I have many more photos of the museum content, but, I’ll stop here and let this be taste of what there is to see.

The atomic twins vs the Peacekeeper — the business end of the LBM-118 ICBM.

Nikon D600, ISO 100, ƒ/9.0, 1/320sec, 24mm focal L., map

Gett’n the wiggles out — plaza of Old Town Albuquerque

Nikon D600, ISO 100, ƒ/2.8, 1/1250sec, 42mm focal L., ~8.0mi from prev photo, map

After the museum, we walked around to Old Town. Besides the plaza area where they flew their stamped metal airplanes from the museum gift store, the girls wanted to see what was inside the Rattlesnake Museum. It had quite the collection of snakes and other critters on display, and a fair bit of snake related art/history. All good fun, but, once you see one sleepy snake coiled up behind the glass, the other 30 start looking the all the same.

Catching a glimpse of a real plane

Nikon D600, ISO 100, ƒ/2.8, 1/2000sec, 70mm focal L., map

Running circles

Nikon D600, ISO 100, ƒ/2.8, 1/1000sec, 27mm focal L., map

Against my better judgement, taking a picture of Maia using the cannon as her personal climbing structure only served to reinforce that it must be OK. A blink of the eye later, they other 2 were doing the same.

Maia’s ready to light the fuse.

Nikon D600, ISO 100, ƒ/2.8, 1/1600sec, 45mm focal L., map

The requisite crushed penny for the occasion.

Nikon D600, ISO 4500, ƒ/8.0, 1/50sec, 24mm focal L., ~432ft from prev photo, map

Hiking for petroglyphs

Nikon D600, ISO 100, ƒ/9.0, 1/200sec, 40mm focal L., ~5.1mi from prev photo, map

The next day, we packed up our stuff and said goodbye to our little casita. But, before we left Albuquerque, we paid a visit to Petroglyph National Monument. Parts of the park are literally sandwiched between tract housing developments, making it feel more like a simple open-space preserve than a federally managed park. But, the artifacts along our hike told the real story of the area.

Found some!

Nikon D600, ISO 100, ƒ/2.8, 1/400sec, 38mm focal L., map

The kids probably didn’t get any real appreciation for the significance of the “graffiti” on the rocks, although Maia was very keen to find the depictions of horses. Hopefully they look back on these pictures someday and see it with new understanding.

Navigating the ups and downs

Nikon D600, ISO 100, ƒ/2.8, 1/1000sec, 34mm focal L., map

Nikon D600, ISO 100, ƒ/13.0, 1/100sec, 38mm focal L., map

After a quick stop at the grocery store to stock up on lunch fix’ns, we hopped in the car and took a leisurely drive to Socorro where we’d stay the night in order to be staged for an early arrival at the Stallion Gate of White Sands Missile range.

10 miles further south is San Antonia, NM, where you can find the (in)famous Owl Bar and Cafe, that, among other things, made the green chile burger famous and fed the scientists that worked on the Gadget. I’d heard of their green chile burger about a decade ago from a Socorro resident that moved to the Bay Area following work. It’s the kind of burger with just enough bun around it to keep the majority of the juice off the plate, but, not nearly enough bun to keep your hands dry past the half-way point. The burger may be over rated, you may not be able to look past the dusty walls or the indifferent service, but, the experience is worth the trip. Valerie and I both loved it and will likely go out of the way to eat there again.

The famous bar and burger joint that built the bomb.

Nikon D600, ISO 100, ƒ/4.5, 1/80sec, 24mm focal L., ~86mi from prev photo, map

Socorro’s History Wheel — in Elfego Baca Heritage Park

Nikon D600, ISO 100, ƒ/2.8, 1/100sec, 55mm focal L., ~9.8mi from prev photo, map

After dinner, we moseyed around Socorro and stumbled upon the History Wheel, depicting the natives helping the Spanish scouts in 1598 all the way through to the radio telescope dishes from the VLA. Sure looks like that’s an atom near the top, slightly left of center.

Tomorrow, we visit two of items depicted in the wheel!

Desert SW Roadtrip — Day 5

Holbrook, AZ to Albuquerque, NM — 272 miles

[Click to go to an interactive map]

When we awoke in our cozy cone that morning, a quick look out the tiny, singular window revealed a pair of rabbits hopping around looking for something to eat amidst the imported red lava rock. The girls were all to happy to see this and they oooh’d and ahhh’d and clamored for position until the last rabbit hopped out of view.

Continue reading Desert SW Roadtrip — Day 5

Automating Pool Chlorination

After a year of dumping various sorts of chlorine into the pool, I finally got all the bits and pieces together to automate the chlorine addition process. The key element that pushed me over the hump was learning I could open a COD account at Hill Brothers Chemical to buy commercial quantities of high concentration (12.5%) bleach at a reasonable price. The 15 gallon, reusable carboy is a perfect size — enough to last about ~3 months without any packaging waste.

Industrial Bleach — the best pool chlorination method behind pure (and very dangerous) Cl2 gas

Nikon D600, ISO 5000, ƒ/3.5, 1/50sec, 42mm focal L.

The next part was the positive displacement pump to move the bleach with. I found a Watson-Marlow OEM peristaltic pump on eBay. It runs with simple 12V DC and pumps a quart in a little over 9 minutes.

Watson-Marlow Pump — Model 102FD/R for OEM applications

Nikon D600, ISO 2000, ƒ/2.8, 1/50sec, 38mm focal L.

For the design, I wanted to have a web-enabled interface to allow me to control it from any browser on my network. And, I wasn’t going to drag a network cable out to the pump equipment, thus, it needed to be WIFI enabled. The Raspberry Pi is the perfect solution: runs on linux with USB port(s) to plug a cheep wifi dongle; runs on 5V power from almost any USB phone charger; $30 including WIFI dongle.

Raspberry Pi — with a 5V regulator, and a few relays to control stuff

Nikon D600, ISO 800, ƒ/4.5, 1/50sec, 27mm focal L.

The rPi has quite few GPIO that can used as 3.3V LVTTL output signals. I put together a few relay circuits: 1 to turn on the peristaltic pump, and 1 to kick on the main pool circulation pump.

GPIO to relay

It’s all mounted into an outdoor rated box that keeps the weather out. The output of the chemical pump is plumbed into the intake side of the main pool circulation plumbing.

The final install

Nikon D600, ISO 180, ƒ/4.5, 1/50sec, 26mm focal L.

On the software side, a simple PHP web interface front-ends a MYSQL database to keep a history of all measurements made. Knowing the size of the pool, the past chlorine inputs, and the subsequent measurements taken, it’s a straightforward calculation to figure how much bleach to inject to maintain the appropriate concentration. Everyday after the sun goes down, the Pi kicks on the main circulation pump, meters out the bleach, and then circulates the water long enough to circulate it thought out the pool. Although the software can all run stand-alone on the rPi, the database and web-interface lives on my main web server.

As an added bonus, the system reminds me when it’s time to take the various measurements — as the old measurements go stale, the colored box fades to gray showing that it’s about time to retest that portion of chemistry.

If you want to attempt do duplicate this effort, I’m willing to share many more details, but, I will forewarn that the SW is a real hack that was hastily written without any mind to be easily transported to another situation.

Big Sur Camping with the Playgroup

When we learned we were having twins, we joined the Gemini Crickets parents of multiples club to commiserate learn about handling multiple screaming infants at the same time. Playgroups form with like-aged kids, and it turns out, our playgroup does an annual camping trip to Big Sur. All total, 7 families descended upon the small Riverside Campground, bringing with us 14 kids worth of chaos; that’s 6 sets of 4-year-old twins!

Home for the weekend.

Nikon D600, ISO 200, ƒ/2.8, 1/50sec, 29mm focal L., map

Continue reading Big Sur Camping with the Playgroup

Desert SW Roadtrip — Day 3-4

Williams, AZ to Holbrook, AZ by way of the Grand Canyon— 291 miles over 2 days

[Click to go to an interactive map]

Day 3 and 4 were all about the Grand Canyon. Neither of us have any recollection of seeing it before; twas one of the first destinations we listed when planning the trip.

Williams staged us for a quick 1-hour drive to get to the park. Sadly, breakfast was a bust in Williams and that was the final nail in in the coffin for Williams — never stopping there again!

Unfortunately, it was an equally slim selection along AZ 64, but, we did manage to find a hotel with diner attached.

Continue reading Desert SW Roadtrip — Day 3-4

Desert SW Roadtrip — Day 2

Needles, CA to Williams, AZ — 199 miles

After our long, 600 mile previous day, the promise of a leisurely stroll exploring the Mother Road was just what we all needed.

[click to go to an interactive map]

Sleeping 3-across on the bed, Stella fell off the end several times and, generally, there was tossy-turny sleep for most of us. Tired or not, Maia’s internal alarm clock is quite reliable and the rest of us were awakened sooner than we’d have liked. Round abouts 8:30, we stretched our legs and casually ambled toward the nearby breakfast hole. The girls were psyched to find a Pegasus around the corner.

Continue reading Desert SW Roadtrip — Day 2

Desert SW Roadtrip — Day 1

San Jose to Needles, CA — 601 miles

And, so begins the 2 week adventure that will check off 5 new states in our 50 by 18 Project. This trip is all about the desert Southwest. The months leading up to the trip, Valerie and I plotted and schemed the best route to cover, and ultimately ended up with a Google Doc that had a day-by-day plan with sights to see, places to stay, and reasonable mileages to cover with a six year old sandwiched between a pair of four-year-olds in the back of our trusty Jetta Wagon TDI.

[click to go to an interactive map]

However, the first day was anything BUT a reasonable mileage day. We wanted to run as much of the old road of Route 66 as we could going toward Albuquerque. Since we were so close to LA, we might as well stop and visit our friends, Mark and April, and see their new(ish) born daughter, Violet.

Continue reading Desert SW Roadtrip — Day 1

50 by 18 Project

Valerie and I have a goal to introduce the kids to all 50 states before Miss Maia (our oldest) turns 18 in 2024.   Neither Valerie or myself have visited all 50 states yet and we both feel it’s a an important experience that we can give the kids.

The rules:

  • We shall visit the state as a complete family
  • We must visit at least one significant site of historical, cultural, or scenic importance.
  • We have to visit a state long enough to necessitate needing a meal before leaving.
  • John and Valerie need to have an adult beverage, preferably brewed in state.
  • A post card shall be acquired.

The states already covered prior to starting this Grand Adventure:

  • California
  • Idaho
  • Hawaii

So, good fortune and health permitting, this post will be the launching pad and general project status tracking for many trips to come.  For now, it’s a simple placeholder with grand visions of potential.

Pool Water Chemistry and Testing

This whole pool thing is new to me and it’s time to organize my thoughts on what/how/when things need to be done.

The BBB (Bleach, Borax, Baking Soda) method looks like the most straight forward method for maintenance. In a nutshell, do the following:

  1. Know your stabilizer concentration:
    • You have to know how much stabilizer (CYA, Cyanuric Acid) is in the water.  The more stabilizer, the more free chlorine that is required to make the chlorine effective.  For outdoor pools exposed to the sun, it’s recommended to have roughly 40-80 PPM of stabilizer to prevent the sunlight from destroying the chlorine.  Too much stabilizer (CYA, Cyanuric Acid) leads to high levels of chlorine and unnecessary bleaching of swimsuits and hair.  It seems to be a trade off of how often you want to test/add chlorine vs bleaching (less stabilizer, less bleaching, more frequent testing/maintenance).  Sensitive skin may also have issues with higher chlorine level
    • Stabilizer (CYA, Cyanuric Acid) can be measured at your pool store, or with a test kit.
    • CYA levels do not change except when you add more or remove water.  NOTE: Tri-Chlor tablets and Di-Chlor granules both  contain stabilizer — see the Chlorine Choice below!
    • Replacing water is the only way to lower stabilizer levels, so, add it carefully.
    • Once the level is established, recheck a few times a year, or after some causal event.
  2. Adjust your Free Chlorine: With stabilizer (CYA, cyanuric acid) concentration known adjust your Free Chlorine using this chart, or this chart, to know how much Chlorine  you need to maintain.
    • Add chlorine of choice to raise the level with the pump going and re-check in a few hours for granules and liquid types.
    • Use slow dissolving tablets (careful: they usually contain stabilizer!) for maintenance.
    • Re-check daily, or couple of days once established in a routine.
  3. Adjust your PH: it should be 7.2 -7.8.   The daring can run it up to 8.2 with care, if your pool naturally balances at that high range (and your test kit accurately measures that high).
    • Use Muriatic Acid to lower the PH.  Can be purchased at a hardware store.
    • Use Borax to raise the PH.  Yes, the 20 Mule borax in the laundry isle of your grocery store.
    • Use this pool calculator to figure how much.
    • Recheck weekly.
  4. Maintain the Total Alkalinity in the 60-90+ PPM range.
    • Total Alkalinity controls how difficult it is for the PH to be changed.
    • Raise it very carefully with baking soda.
    • Lowering is much harder.
    • Re-check monthly.
  5. For plaster/concrete pools, maintain Calcium Hardness above 250 PPM to avoid having calcium leach out of the plaster/concrete.
    • Add Calcium Chloride to raise it.
    • There is no maximum, but, too much will eventually lead to scaling around the water line and in the heater core.
    • Re-check monthly.

The rest of the chemistry is fairly much a non-issue.

Chlorine Choice:

Let’s assume we want to take a 20K gallons pool and raise the free chlorine by  5 PPM. What will it cost using the various products?

  • Household bleach
    • Made of Sodium Hypochlorite.  It ranges in concentration, but, let’s assume we are using 6%.
    • It’ll take 208oz (volume) to do the job.  It’ll also raise the salt in the pol by ~8 ppm.
    • At Walmart a 96 oz bottle costs $1.98, thus it would cost $4.32 for this product.
  • Granular, “Cal-Hypo”, or “Cal Chlor”
    • Made of Calcium Hypochlorite, usually 65%.
    • It’ll take 20 oz (weight) to do the job. It’ll also raise the salt by ~5 ppm, and the calcium hardness by 3.4 ppm.  This is of concern if you already have high calcium.
    • Buying a 50# bucket from my local pool supply goes for $120, thus costing $3.00 for this product.
  • Granular, “Di-Chlor”
  • Tablets or Sticks, “Tri-chlor”
    • Made of Trichlor-S-Triazinetrione, which has 90% stabilized chlorine.
    • Usually a slow dissolving tablet that’s meant to go in floating feeder or in the skimmer.
    • It’ll take 14.6 oz (weight) to do the job. It’ll also raise the salt by ~4 ppm, raise the CYA by 3 ppm, and lower the PH about 0.27 (depending on total alkalinity).
    • A 50# bucket from “in the swim” currently goes for $130, thus, costing $2.37 for this product.

So, it appears as of this writing, the most economical way to chlorinate is Tri-chlor tablets if you actually *need* to raise your stabilizer concentration, or Calcium Hypochlorite granules you have headroom in your calcium levels, and then bleach.

Dealing with Combined Chlorine (chloramines)

  • Free chlorine has no odor and does not irritate the skin in normal maintenance dosages.  Combined Chlorine (chloramines), however, does have an odor and causes irritation.  It is the source of that “over chlorinated” complaint people make.  Combined Chlorine is much less effective at sanitizing.  Chloramines will naturally dissipate through UV breakdown, but, it can be accelerated by raising the free-chlorine levels.  Use any of the fast dissolving chlorine choices above to do this — don’t pay more for special “pool shock” chlorine.
  • Reducing chloraimes (combined chlorine — CC) requires raising the concentration of free chlorine.  There’s a good article on it here that explains what’s happening.
  • Update: Here’s a better guide to shocking the pool.
  • There are also non-chlorine oxidizers that accomplish the same goal, but there’s no good reason to use them over your regular fast dissolving chlorine.
  • Shocking the pool is only needed when you have measurable combined chlorine or some other visible problem with the water.  There should be no need to do so as part of a regularly scheduled program.

The open road: 2010 summer trip — Epilogue


For those just finding this, jump to the beginning, or any other day: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7, 8, 9 & 10, 11 & 12, 13, 14, 15, 22.

Home sweet home

Nikon D70, ISO 800, ƒ/3.5, 1.6sec, 18mm focal L.

  • Miles on the odometer: 6964
  • Fill-ups: 45 — average of 155 miles/tank
  • Gallons: 129.0 — an average of 54.0 miles/gallon
  • Dollars spent on dead dinos: $391.17 — an average of $3.03 per gallon

The best roads of the trip:

  1. CO-92 Starting about 10 miles south of Crawford until reaching US-50 near Blue Mesa Reservoir. Wide variation of twisties to sweepers with no traffic. Biggest problem is many parts are have a speed limit 35 MPH.
  2. UT-12 from Escalante to Grover — A few (brief) dull spots, but, overall great variation of scenery and fun road to play on
  3. CO-141 between Naturita and Gateway — sweepers till the cows come home!
  4. Talemena Scenic Drive (OK-1/AR-88) — it fairly well connects nothing to nothing, so, there’s no one else on it. One of those roads that was just cut into the terrain with little “engineering”, making an ideal moto road.
  5. US-550 from Durango to Ouray — It’s busy, speed-limited to 35, and probably highly patrolled, but, WOW, that’s an interesting road.
  6. US-12 over Lolo Pass While it was a let down for being over hyped, it’s still a worth while road to head out of the way for.
  7. CA-108 over Sonora Pass. Yeah, it’s my back yard, but, still loads of fun.

So many miles of fun

[click to go to an interactive map]

This was the first trip with a radar detector. I had it wired into the audio system so I could easily hear it at any speed. I chose the Escort Redline because it is supposedly one of the most sensitive detectors available, for which to pick up the faintest signal in the middle of nowhere and give the best chances of getting a warning. Of course, nothing is perfect, but, it definitely saved my bacon a few times.

As I type this, Airventure 2011 is in full swing and I’m sitting at my kitchen table listening to the pitter patter of chill’ns feet scampering around the house. While I always have the notion to hop on the bike and point it in some general direction, the only thing I’m missing right now is spending the time with my dad. A little trip through NorCal is in the works, but, that’s for another ride report.

Until then, thanks for reading!

– Fin –