random thoughts on railroad photography, railfanning, technology, and such

Entries in Cool Technology (4)


One of My Recent Projects - The "PerryScope"

Despite the long weekend, we opted to stay home and keep the pets company during this year’s 4th of July celebrations. The downtime gave us an opportunity to do some maintenance and modifications to our vehicles. One project that I am proud of in particular, that we did this last weekend, was to finally install a remote searchlight and night vision gear on our “rig.”

Some time ago I had purchased a very cool searchlight from Magnalight.com called the “Golight Radioray.” This is a reasonably high-powered searchlight that can rotate 370 degrees and tilt about 140 degrees up and down - all with the use a remote control. The remote is radio-based (433MHz) so line-of-sight is not required to control the light. The base contains a 200-lb magnet to ensure the light stays in place yet remains removable. Way cool. Yukon Advanced Optics’ Digital NV Ranger 5x42

Another item that I have had for some time and used on occasion was a digital night vision device called the Digital NV Ranger 5x42, from Yukon Advanced Optics. This device is essentially a monocular with some impressive night vision capabilities. Two nice features of the device are its capability to run off of 12-volts DC and the ability to output what the device sees to a video device.

Considering we are often out  in the middle of nowhere with the complete darkness of a new moon night, I have sought to marry the two devices and find a viable mounting option that made use of the wireless capabilities. After many design considerations and testing I finally settled on a solution that should afford an effective and stable mount while still providing flexible deployment options.

Winegard RM-DM61We never watch broadcast television (or satellite TV for that matter) when we are on a road trip so I decided to leverage our Lance camper’s satellite and analog TV antenna system, which is the Winegard RM-DM61, as the mount for the scope and searchlight. By using the antenna as a mounting location it affords the searchlight to be manually elevated by a crank in order to clear rooftop obstacles and still be retracted and stowed for travel.

The antenna system had a large disc-shape analog TV antenna, which is now obsolete, that I removed to provide a location to mount the searchlight.  

Here’s What I Did… 

The chosen mounting location for the “PerryScope” was the location of the obsolete analog television antenna on our camper.

Here are the two main devices of the “PerryScope.” The Golight has the capability to display clear, amber, red, and Infra-red light through the use of lenses. Here, the Golight is shown with a red lense attached.

The night vision device is attached to the Golight through the use of a surplus tripod mounting head with a quick connect element that allows easy removal of the night vision monocular. The tripod mount allows the monocular to tilted and the whole assembly rotates 370 degrees with a remote control.

Here is the obligatory “action shot” with the red lense removed.

The night vision’s output is piped into the camper to be displayed on the television for all to see. It is cool to sit in the dinnete and control the unit with ease.

Prelimnary testing in our driveway suggests that there will many uses for the “PerryScope.” Obviously campsite security should benefit but also we are excited to watch the night wildlife from the “safety” our camper.

I’ll let you now how the field tests go.


Tracking a Legend on Her Journey and Kudos to UP!

Now that the Union Pacific’s Valley Heritage Tour is underway, you can follow the train’s progress and current location on a map that is updated every 5 minutes thanks to the generosity and talents of the Union Pacific Railroad!  Here is what the application looks like with an overview of the route highlighted:

Union Pacific’s Steam Locomotive Tracking Application - Overiew Map

And here is a view of the map zoomed in:

Union Pacific’s Steam Locomotive Tracking Application - Detailed View

You can also follow the train, and Union Pacific, on Twitter and Facebook for the very latest updates. There is even an RSS feed of their “tweets” available as shown below:

RSS Feed Showing UP_Steam’s Tweets

I would like to tip my hat to the Union Pacific Railroad for extending these services out to the public. It is a very good use of technology that allows us to follow the train’s journey while I am a mere 900 miles away and still feel like I am there.  Thank you Union Pacific.  Your Public Relations and Information Technology groups are doing a great job!  Keep it “up.”  (Get it?, UP - oh nevermind…)

Now if we could only stream live in cab video…!

RSS Feed of UP_Steam's Tweets


And You Thought I Was Smart!

Apple iPadAs I reported on my Facebook page yesterday, I received an email shipping notification from Apple stating that my iPad had shipped. As is typically the case with a shipping notification, based on the tracking number, UPS stated it had no notion of the packages location initially but did state it was aware of the shipment. So this morning I checked again.

I expected the package to have originated from the Bay Area of California. Silly me, I was wrong.

Here is the tracking information:



Local Time





9:45 P.M.




9:42 P.M.




4:45 P.M.


Tracking results provided by UPS:  03/30/2010 1:33 P.M.  ET

Turns out the iPad is being shipped directly from the country of manufacture, China!

That got me to thinking about the journey my iPads are on:

  • Where the heck is Shenzhen?
  • How far away is it?
  • How long would a direct flight from there to my home take?
  • If my iPad were sound, how long would it take to reach me?
  • Better yet, if my iPad were light traveling in fiber, or even in a vacuum, how long would it take to reach me?

I know, these are the standard questions everyone asks themselves when the are waiting for a package to be delivered.  Sorry if I am boring you…

Where does one turn to glean the answers to the questions that plagued me? Had I any math skills whatsoever, I could probably compute the answers myself, but I have none. (I grew up during the computer revolution.) Instead I have THE INTERNET! The Wizard of Oz can’t even match the internet.

I took to my iPhone an called up one of my dearest and most interesting applications. That application is called Wolfram|Alpha which is a front-end to a unique query/answer engine of the same name that is described by its creators, Wolfram Research, as a “computational knowledge engine.” Now I can’t do the engine, nor its inventors, any justice with a description here. Your best bet is check it out firsthand and walk through some of their demonstration queries to get a glimpse of the stunning and valuable contribution they have made to the web and its users. So, back to my story…

I “asked” Wolfram|Alpha about the distance between Shenzhen, China and Ontario, California, my hometown. Here is the output from my query:

Results from “Ontario, CA to SHENZHEN” query asked through Wolfram|Alpha

Pretty cool, huh?  When my iPad finally reaches me on Saturday it will have traveled over 7,300 miles and nearly 1/3 of the circumference of the earth.
And you thought I was smart!