Hopping down to Houston

Fueled by $29 each way flights to Houston, part of Southwest announcing new service to IAH in addition to HOU, I set to make a day trip in Houston.

Flying into IAH is of special interest to me because of the unique subway system that runs in the lower level of the airport. Outside the secure perimeter, in the plain, windowless lower level of the airport, is the only People Mover system built by Disney’s WED Enterprises that isn’t inside a theme park. Opened in 1981, the linear induction propelled train cars share little resemblance to their Orlando siblings except for the unique feel and sounds of the linear induction system and the train cars make the almost 20 minute loop around the airport terminals and hotel.

Having made the round trip on the “Subway” enough times to raise the eyebrows of airports employees, I grabbed my rental car and headed to my next stop, the 1940 Air Terminal Museum. This hidden gem of a museum is well worth the trip. The lovingly restored 1940 Art Deco terminal transports you to back rise of commercial air travel in Texas, its rooms filled with artifacts and models of bygone airlines and airplanes. The museum volunteers bring the history to life, an experience reminiscent of spending an afternoon listening to my grandfather’s stories.

My final stop before flying back to Dallas, was The Printing Museum in downtown Houston. Detailing the history of printing from woodcuts dating back to the 1300s up through modern day, the museum also hosts live demonstrations of historical printing process and in person classes. Another hidden gem in downtown Houston, The Printing Museum is certainly worth checking out.

Austin has always been my goto for weekend getaways.from Dallas, but with a little digging, you can find the weirder side in any city, even Houston.

Airbnb Review: Blue Steel

Link: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/15928911

I have a thing for Tiny Houses. I’m currently on the hunt for my first home, albeit something less tiny, I set out to fully immerse myself in one of my potential new neighborhoods, The Cedars. The Cedars is an area in the midst of revitalization; just south of Downtown Dallas, The Cedars is transforming from dilapidated industrial buildings to modern homes and multi-unit housing all radiating from ground zero aka The Southside on Lamar.

Late Thursday night, I headed south past the lights of the Dallas Skyline to find Blue Steel. On Akard Street, tucked behind a small apartment building, surrounded by a once imposing barbed wire fence sits the converted shipping container. The outside of Blue Steel matches its surroundings, doors and windows covered with metal bars it goes unnoticed among the construction sites of apartments and town homes scattered throughout The Cedars.

View of the Dallas Skyline through the barbed wire fence

Once inside, I find a warm and expertly constructed tiny home. The wood and metal floors are all that remain to remind you that you are living inside of a shipping container. A stocked goody basket of ramen help complete this college flashback as I sit on the futon in the second bedroom/media room hovering over a bowl of chili ramen waiting for it to cool off enough to be devoured.

A concern with tiny house living is often the compromises that have to be made in the efforts to remain tiny and often mobile. Blue steel doesn’t have any of the RV type of equipment that is used in tiny homes, built with full residential fixtures and appliances and shelving made of threaded pipe help feed into the rustic industrial look of Blue Steel.

The mechanical side of the shipping container

There certainly are some quirks, hot water while plentiful is accompanied with the roaring to life of the propane powered water heater attached to the back of the shipping container that sounds like a lawn mower’s first start after a long winter. The split heat pump sufficient for heat and cooling the home also produces some noise while running but to a lesser degree. Living inside of a shipping container is like living inside a tin can so the sounds of the city reverberate though the steel exterior and penetrate the minimal insulation and multicolored wood paneling throughout Blue Steel.

Everything said, I enjoyed staying in Blue Steel for a few days and would certainly do it again if I was looking to spend a weekend in The Cedars and go to a concert; it is a good way to avoid the parking nightmare that can be finding a parking spot near South Side.

Hanging out with Big Tex

A trip down the DART’s Green Line to the Texas State Fair has become a tradition for me in recent years and this year I went all out buying a season pass and making three trips down to bathe in the fried food filled air that surrounds the Texas State Fair.

Big Tex 2.0

Last year I had the privilege to be one of the last people to see the original Big Tex, having made my pilgrimage the day before the unfortunate fire that tragically cut Tex’s life short. One year and half a million dollars later, the bigger (3 feet taller) and better (more lifelike silicone skin to replace the old fiberglass body parts)  Big Tex was erected under a shroud of mystery as anxious news crews tried to sneak a peek before the planned worldwide unveiling on the opening day of the fair. The weather wasn’t cooperating and high winds on the day before the fair meant dropping the curtain around Big Tex a day early for fear he would be damaged.

Bottom: New for 2013, Fried King Ranch Casserole Top: Fernie’s Funnel Cake from The Dock

Each year a new smorgasbord of deep fried concoctions are unveiled enticing fair goers with odd and sometimes awful ingredients, but this year the Lipitor crowd were welcomed with several great new offerings. The Deep Fried King Ranch Casserole is a southern casserole staple that I was unfamiliar with but I am a sucker for food that is Texas shaped.  The chicken and cheese with veggies and cream of mushroom soup Texas shaped helping is then deep fired in panko bread crumbs and served with either queso or my choice the slightly spicy sour cream dipping sauce that makes sure the King Ranch Casserole is going to become a longtime fair favorite. Another new addition and winner for best taste is the Fried Cuban Roll, a egg roll with a filling of pork shoulder, ham, pickles and swiss cheese that can easily be confused for the warm gooey feeling of a mother’s love.

No fair would be complete without some sort of dairy based sculpture, wether it be the old standby butter or more adventurous building blocks like ice cream or the often tried but rarely excellently executed cottage cheese sculpture. 2013 saw the creation of a butter based sculpture paying homage to Big Tex as the larger than life cowboy held several small children while weeping what are presumable unsalted butter tears. For me, going to the State Fair marks the beginning of Fall and is a perfect way to say goodbye to Summer. There are always new things to see and try as well as the old standbys like a Fletchers corny dog  that no trip or three to the fair is complete without.

Fun in Chicago

I got back from spending almost a week in Chicago visiting my sister over thanksgiving. In my normal nerd fashion we spent most of the trip going to different museums in Chicago. The Museum of Science and Industry is a must see and takes a whole day to see everything. Upgrade from general admission to see the Smart Home (cool to see a lot of different green technologies come together) and take the tour of the U-505 (worth the extra 5 bucks.) We also went to the Field Museum, made me think of “Night at the Museum” but they have some cool exhibits and there is Sue, the fully intact t-rex on display.

The Lincoln park zoo is a great free thing to do in Chicago. This time of year they do “Zoo Lights” where the zoo is light up for the holidays and there ice sculptures and other fun for the kids.  We took a bus tour that went all around the city and drops you off at the John Hancock building. The only way to see everything in the city and gets you as close as possible to see Obama’s house and you learn a little history and travel into parts of Chicago you wouldn’t want to go by yourself. ( just a little weird to be on a tour bus, a the driver says “to your right you will see one of the housing projects that the south side of Chicago is so famous for.”) All and all a good trip and I got to see some snow before heading back to Texas.

Makerfaire Video

Here’s the quickly thrown together video I made of some of the cools things at Makerfaire. Quality isn’t that great and I shoot it on a Flip Ultra. Nonetheless enjoy.

Planning my trip to Seattle

I have been working the past several days on planning our trip to Seattle and I can’t wait. I already bought the airline tickets and have our hotel reservation made and I’m trying to use gCal to plan out everything in our schedule. I working on some stuff so that I can be blogging while out and about seattle and keep in touch with the folks who haven’t really gotten into the whole social networking thing. Come on April 4th.

Travel Woes

So this weekend we were going to fly to Ohio to see family and leave my Dad so he could spend some time with his mom. Needless to say, we never got there. The snow that we had here thursday went there friday and caused alot of problems. We left and made it to columbus but never landed, just circled around until almost running out of fuel and having to divert to Detroit. American airlines then took all the luggage off the plane and quickly lost it. I had to scramble to reschedule everything and return to Dallas to try Saturday to get to Columbus on the dreaded flight 460. Saturday we get to the airport and 10 minutes after we check-in they cancel the flight. After one hour and three minutes on the phone with AA customer support I was able to get a refund for our tickets since they weren’t willing to reschedule the tickets for a time that works for us only the next day. I understand that it isn’t AA fault that the weather interfered with our flight but I shouldn’t be forced to take a flight days later when I can’t get off work or pay hundreds of dollars in fees to reschedule the tickets. AA is in the service industry and needs to remember what good customer service is about.