Some consider travel a hassle. For me, getting there is half the fun and maybe more. I’d travel literally all the time if my economic or employment circumstances allowed it. So I count myself fortunate to have been able to get away for the week of Thanksgiving again this year. For $10, plus 32,500 Delta SkyMiles, I was able to fly from my home airport in Connecticut to one Midwestern city, and return from another at the end of the week. And while spending time with family, I was able to do a number of things that could be of at least mild interest to a tech-geek like myself. I’ll try to focus on those things here.
Caterpillar Visitors Center
Early in the week, I found myself among a party of six at the new Caterpillar Visitors Center in downtown Peoria, Illinois. The tour starts in a movie theater built into the bed of a life-size replica of Caterpillar’s largest dump truck, the 797F. The real truck weighs 1,375,000 pounds and probably has a price tag to match, making it impractical to place the genuine article in a museum setting. Caterpillar does have several pieces of actual current and past equipment on display as well. The kids among us weren’t the only ones who enjoyed climbing on these machines.
John Hancock Observatory
Following a minivan ride to Chicago, I found myself at the 94th-floor John Hancock Observatory on the north side of downtown. The weather was bright and clear, allowing some of the best views of Chicagoland. I noticed that I had decent cellular reception up here this time. When I lived in Chicago during the late 90s and twice again during the early and mid 2000s, I recall cellular service up at the top being spotty at best.
We walked down Michigan Avenue as far as the Chicago River and the relatively new Trump International Hotel & Tower® Chicago. While now the second-tallest building in town, somehow I hadn’t noticed it on any prior visits. In fact, I still remember it as the location of the Sun-Times building. I guess I’m getting older.
LEGOLAND® Discovery Center Chicago
Later the same day, we headed out I-90W past O’Hare, before turning south to Schaumburg to visit LEGOLAND® Discovery Center Chicago. This destination was strictly for my niece and nephews, and in fact, adults must be accompanied by kids in order to gain admittance. Of course I remember playing with LEGOs when I was a kid, including what were then called Expert Builder sets, now know as LEGO Technic. Were it not for my youngest relatives, however, I probably wouldn’t be aware of the extent to which LEGOs have exploded in popularity in recent years. They have series to match several of the recent big-budget movies, such as Star Wars. Speaking of Star Wars, LEGOLAND® Discovery Center Chicago has life-sized replicas of R2-D2 and Darth Vader built from LEGOs, and smaller but very detailed scenes from Naboo and Tatooine. The center also has several 3D movies, a ride and a playhouse for the kids.
I imagine that very few professionals of any type can go back home without their expertise being called upon at least once, regardless of discipline. I spent my Friday afternoon trying to get a working computer running Windows XP with an M-AUDIO Delta 44 sound card, my dad’s preferred combination for working with software-defined ham radio. His daily-use PC that we hand-assembled together in 2009 would no longer power on, so I began working on loading up an even older Dell Dimension 2400 circa 2004. If you’ve installed Windows XP recently, you know how long it takes to download all the Windows Critical Updates, even over a robust Internet connection. And Frontier DSL is anything but robust in farming country. The day ended late with no guarantee of success, but he’s had some luck with some subsequent steps since.
The journey back was largely uneventful, at least until I ran into holiday traffic on the drive back from Bradley International Airport. My good ole Garmin GPS called out, “Severe traffic ahead; recalculating,” and sent me on a route where I was able to mostly maintain the speed limit right to my front door. You’ve gotta love that.
And now, as I relax today prior to resuming work tomorrow, I realize that I’ve certainly got a lot to be grateful for this holiday season. Here’s hoping that you do as well. Happy Thanksgiving.