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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

& Las Vegas

So, we (me, my dad, and his parents) just got back from two days at Las Vegas. The first night (when we arrived) we hit the casinos. I suspect my grandparents and my dad's aunt (who met us there) together sunk at least a grand into those slots (I guess you could call my grandparents the Idle Upper-Middle Class). I budgeted $120 for the slots (actually I had planned less than that, but my grandma gave me some extra cash at the beginning of the night - she tends to do that). After 15 or 20 minutes, I decided that was enough for me, and left with $330 cash.

The next day me and my dad went out (together) to do our own stuff. This amounted to burning rubber in a Corvette, driving a Hummer up a 16" curb, on a 45 degree incline (the incline going the width of the Hummer), and other off-road type stunts, went indoor skydiving (can you say gigantic wind turbine?), and got nicely bruised up while going 30+ MPH off sand dunes, over rocks and bushes, and through turns (apparently breaking when turning or running over some change in elevation is a foreign concept to the dune buggy world); I'd probably have cracked my skull after hitting my head on the "roof" of the buggy so many times, were it not for the nicely padded helmet (we lost two bottles of water on that ride, one of which I was holding in my lap at the time, while my dad took a turn driving).

But today was perhaps the most eventful. After sleeping in later than we had planned, we got to the car to find that it had been mistaken for a cave wall. From the hood going counter-clockwise, the following words had been inscribed on it:
Terry (note that we're not sure whether the first letter was a T or an F, or whether the last letter was a Y or an X)

So, after 4 1/2 hours of talking to people from the hotel security department (actually two departments from two different hotels, which shared the same parking garage), the local branch of the car rental place, and the police (amusingly, we're apparently the second car to have the exact same thing written in the same garage in the last week) we hit the road. Unfortunately, it was only about half an hour before we also hit a road crew repaving I-15. So we ended up spending two full hours to get 5-10 miles (I'm just guessing; we forgot to look at the odometer at the beginning).

While we were sitting around almost unmoving, we took some time to look at the cars and other vehicles around us. Of unusual interest was one Jeep SUV riding on a car transport carrier. Over the more than half an hour we were able to look at it, we found it had a number of very odd features. It had a large assembly mounted right above the windshield, which we believed to be a light array. It had a large unit with exhaust pipes that appeared to be an external air conditioning unit on top, right at the back of the vehicle. It also had a number of odd color-coded ports on the side and back, by the gas cap and rear light.

Fortunately, it had two distinctive markings: the name Axion Racing, and the number 23. So, when we got back, my dad went searching online for information about this peculiar vehicle. As it turns out, the vehicle's name is Spirit; it's an entirely autonomous robotic vehicle that participated in the 2004 and 2005 DARPA grand challenge, and earlier this year became the first autonomous robotic vehicle to make it to the top of Pikes Peak (it appears that the "light" assembly extends; it wasn't near that far forward when we saw it). Sorry we didn't take pictures (despite having a digital camera and plenty of time); we didn't realize it was a celebrity at the time :P

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