The Final Space Shuttle

Posted by Arthur in Florida, Space

Now that we live a mere one hour from Kennedy Space Center, we had a chance to see the launch and landing of Atlantis STS 135, the final space shuttle mission. This was our second shuttle launch after seeing STS 129 from the NASA Causeway in June 2009.


© NASA

This time we drove to Titusville to try and find a place near Space View Park. The launch was scheduled for 11:30am, so we thought leaving home at 2:00am would give us plenty of time to find a good place. However, when we arrived at 3:00am the town was already extremely crowded. We found a parking spot for $30 and walked toward the Indian River with our bags and chairs. We were planning to put down our chairs in the little park just south of Wachovia Bank, but this was already completely packed with people. This whole area of Titusville had been turned into an improvised campground, with small tents taking up every available space. We set up our chairs on the sidewalk, right next to a guy sleeping in a hammock tied to a street sign.

We went back to our car to get some sleep. When we woke up it was light and thousands more people were now sitting everywhere on sidewalks and streets. We were lucky to find our chairs still there. Among all these people we sat for several hours as the countdown continued.

There was only a 30% chance all day that weather would permit the launch to continue and cloud cover was too thick for most of the morning. Fortunately, shortly before lift off the sky cleared up and the shuttle was go for launch. There was a small scare when we heard from a radio behind us at T-31 seconds that there may be a malfunction, but this was quickly resolved and shuttle Atlantis lifted off at 11:29am. A crowd of nearly one million people on the Space Coast cheered as the four astronauts blasted into the sky. We had a nice view, but not as good as from the NASA Causeway two years earlier. Nevertheless it was incredible to see the final space shuttle take off.


© NASA

Two weeks later, on July 21st, we headed back to Titusville to try and see the landing. This was scheduled for 5:57am, or a half hour before sunrise, so we were unsure if we would be able to see anything in the dark. We’d never seen a shuttle landing before and this was our only chance, so we had to try. We arrived at Space View Park at 5:00am and there were a few hundred people there. Several TV crews had set up their cameras and we could see thousands of people on the Max Brewer Bridge.

A few minutes before landing we heard an extremely loud “BOOM BOOM”. I knew we were going to hear the sonic boom, but I had no idea it would be that loud!! Shortly after that we heard people cheer and we could see the shadow of the shuttle fly across Merritt Island against the pre-dawn sky. We had a great view considering the darkness and were both very happy to have seen this historic journey from beginning to end.


© NASA

For more STS 135 Atlantis pictures see The Big Picture.

July 24th 2011 | 7:51 pm CET | 1 Comment »

The Owl and the Nuclear Power Plant

Posted by Amy in Illinois, Science & technology

Last month Arthur and I were dispatched to the old Zion nuclear power plant on behalf of Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation in response to a Great Horned Owl that was stuck in the generator building. This was about two weeks after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan and at the height of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant crisis. Not that we were thinking about that or anything…

We got the call on Wednesday morning. We provided our details to our contact at the plant so we could be granted access to the facility the next day. When we arrived at the plant, which is along Lake Michigan (see map), we were greeted by a female armed guard who unfortunately had no idea who we were. After consulting with her colleagues, our identities were made known and we were allowed to drive into the compound.


View Larger Map

As a first step we got a short safety briefing and learned more about the owl that had been seen for at least three days inside the generator building. Hard hats and safety goggles were distributed and we headed back to our car in order to proceed to the main event.

But first, our car had to be searched. We drove to the checkpoint, left the car and watched a security guard give our minivan the once-over, including using mirrors to check underneath the car. After our car passed inspection, we parked at the generator building and carried our equipment to the next security point. Although we had already given our details over the phone the previous day, and to the main security gate just moments earlier, we again had to provide ID cards and personal details to this latest security guard. He proceeded to telephone our information to another security person who had control over the one-way gated doorway into the main part of the building. Luckily our credentials passed with flying colors and we were allowed to awkwardly shuffle into the building where the owl had been spotted.


Me in a hard hat

The generator building was enormous! Our guide, Angela, showed us where the owl had most often been seen. It would often perch on metal support beams near the ceiling.

plant overview
Overview of the large building from the catwalk

While the bird had been seen fairly regularly by multiple plant staff over the course of the previous 3 days, we learned that the owl had last been seen that morning, about 12 hours prior to our arrival. Several of the building’s windows had been left open the night before, and though the owl was seen the next morning, there was a period of about 30 minutes between the last owl sighting and the last window being closed. Chances were good, therefore, that the owl had left the building on his own sometime that morning. There was also speculation that the owl may be one of a possible nesting pair in the building, so we conducted a search. We had taken an elevator up 4 floors to the main part of the building, and then we climbed four flights of open stairs to access a catwalk in order to search the beams for the owl or possible owl nest.

plant beams
We scanned the beams for any sign of the owl

Our search proved fruitless as no owl was spotted and no signs of a nest were found. We hope that the owl indeed left of its own accord. Even though we didn’t find what we were looking for at the plant, it was a really interesting visit. Neither of us realized there was a nuclear power plant in Zion, although it did sound a little bit familiar to me. The Zion Nuclear Power Station was in operation from 1973 to 1997. The plant is currently licensed to the company EnergySolutions, which is working on dismantling the site. This process will take about ten years. It was EnergySolutions staff that escorted us through the owl search and we learned a lot of things about nuclear power plants that we didn’t know before.

April 13th 2011 | 5:59 pm CET | No Comments »

New Affiliate Nexus Tax in Illinois will destroy small businesses and result in less income for the State

Posted by Arthur in Illinois

The new Internet Tax bill HB 3659 with Amendment 3 is suddenly blazing through the Illinois House and Senate. This new bill will cause hundreds of online merchants to terminate their affiliate programs in Illinois, causing thousands of small businesses, individuals and non-profit organizations to lose all or part of their income.

The tax bill is supposed to generate more revenue for the state, but the reality is that many web-based businesses will leave the state, resulting in less income for Illinois. This bill is all pain and no gain. I have already received an email from Amazon telling me that it will terminate my affiliate account if Governor Quinn signs this bill into law. :(

I just faxed the following letter to the Office of the Governor.

Dear Governor Quinn,

I am writing to you to urge you to PLEASE VETO the tax provision included in Senate Amendment 3 to HB 3659 (also known as the Amazon Tax). The provision would require out-of-state retailers to collect Illinois sales tax if customers were referred by any website operated by Illinois businesses or residents.

What typically happens when a state passes a provision like this is that online retailers simply cancel their affiliate programs in that state. This leaves small businesses and others who derive income from this work (including non-profit organizations who have on their website affiliate links to retailers like Amazon) with a reduced or no income.

The state earns no additional tax benefit and in fact loses income as the affiliates are left with a reduced taxable income themselves. Over 200 merchants terminated affiliate programs in New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island, where similar measures passed.

Over a dozen other states have considered essentially identical legislation but have rejected these proposals largely because of the adverse impact on their states’ residents.

Please veto this amendment or my small business and that of thousands of other online marketers and affiliates in Illinois will be devastated.

Thank you for your consideration.

If you’re an affiliate in Illinois that will be affected by this awful law, please write to Governor Quinn and urge him to veto this bill. You can find more information and contact details here.

For more information see:

January 7th 2011 | 5:11 pm CET | No Comments »

2010: Our Year in Review

Posted by Arthur in Personal, Photos

As I write this there are only a few hours left in the year. It has been a great year! We did a lot of fun things around the Chicago area and traveled to Holland in August to visit my family. Here are some pictures of our year, mostly for myself because I love looking back at these year-in-review posts of previous years, and it’s nice to go through our pictures again. Happy new year to everyone!

Snow in Round Lake Beach

â–² 10 February: We had a lot of snow last winter, but it was fun shoveling the driveway each time, and good exercise too!

Shedd Aquarium in Chicago

â–² 18 February: This day we took the train to Chicago and visited the Shedd Aquarium to see some nice fishes and the Art Institute to see some nice art.

Gull Frolic

â–² 20 February: Every year in February the Illinois Ornithological Society organizes a Gull Frolic at Winthrop Harbor. That’s me on the right in my thick winter coat. We’ll go there again in two months to freeze our butts off to look at gulls and attend education seminars.

Amy with Darwin at FCWR

â–² 23 February: From January 5th through March 30th Amy did a raptor internship with Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation, which she really enjoyed. Here she is holding Darwin, an American Kestrel education bird, at her first solo walk with a bird.

Grant Woods

â–² 10 March: Here we’re on a walk at Grant Woods Forest Preserve, one of two county forest preserves near our house. I biked to Grant Woods many times this year, which was really great. I’m looking forward to taking my bike out there again when the winter is over.

Sears / Willis Tower

▲ 25 March: For a total of 19 times in the spring and fall this year we went downtown to volunteer for Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation’s Migration Rescue & Recovery. Each morning during the spring and fall migration period, volunteers look for injured fallen birds who have struck the tall buildings in downtown Chicago. Birds rescued by FCWR volunteers are treated at the Northerly Island bird hospital. Salvages are brought to the Field Museum.

Seinfeld

â–² 16 April: This day we saw Jerry Seinfeld at the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan.

Nauvoo

â–² 1 May: We attended the spring gathering of our bird club in Nauvoo IL where we did this boat trip on the Mississippi. An Asian Carp jumped in our boat and almost knocked someone out.

Kirtland's Warbler at Magee Marsh

â–² 14 May: In May we went to the Biggest Week In American Birding in Ohio. We saw lots of colorful warblers at Magee Marsh and had a great time. One of the highlights was this rare sighting of a Kirtland’s Warbler.

Chicago Cubs

â–² 17 June: Amy’s parents took us to Wrigley Field for two Chicago Cubs baseball games.

Taste of Chicago

â–² 17 July: On one of the hottest days of the year we went to Taste of Chicago.

Transformers 3 in Chicago

â–² 17 July: In July and August Michael Bay was filming Transformers 3 in Chicago. We went downtown twice to look at the action and see some stars.

Street

â–² 9 August: This is a view from our house. The summer of 2010 was, weather-wise, the nicest summer I’ve ever experienced. So much sun, blue skies and nice temperatures! :D

Schiphol

â–² 11 August: From 11 August until 1 September we visited our family in the Netherlands and did lots of fun stuff.

Papagaaienpark

â–² 18 August: We visited the Papegaaienpark (parrot park) in Veldhoven, a sort of parrot, bird and animal rescue center and sanctuary near Eindhoven. The park took in its first birds in 1987 and is run by the Dutch Foundation for the Refuge and Care of Parrots.

Biesbosch

â–² 21 August: At Biesbosch National Park in the Netherlands we rented kayaks with my family. A highlight was seeing a European Kingfisher fly low over the water around our kayak. This year we got kayaks for Christmas (thank you Santa!), so I hope to be doing this a lot more in 2011!

Amsterdam

â–² 23 August: We took the train to Amsterdam for a day and did a canal tour.

Amsterdam

â–² 25 August: We took the Thalys high-speed train to Paris where, on my birthday, we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower. :D

Amsterdam

â–² 28 August: This day we went to Antwerp and checked out the renewed train station pictured here.

Efteling

▲ 30 August: Toward the end of our vacation in Holland we went to De Efteling amusement park. Here my brother Patrick and I are getting wet in the Piraña river rafting ride.

Independence Grove

â–² 12 September: We did a lot of walking and birding at forest preserves around our area. This is Independence Grove, a Lake County Forest Preserve.

Independence Grove

â–² 19 September: This day we drove to our nearest drive-in theater and saw The Goonies and Back to the Future on a big screen from our car.

Bayfield

â–² 9 October: In October we drove up to the north of Wisconsin for an Evenstad family reunion. We stayed at the idyllic town of Bayfield. Here we are on a ferry to Madeleine Island with a view of the beautiful fall foliage.

Hawk Watch Open Day

â–² 16 October: At the annual open day of the Illinois Beach State Park Hawk Watch Flint Creek was there with education birds and Amy volunteered. Here she’s holding a Red-tailed Hawk named 0511.

Saw-whet Owl

â–² 16 October: That same evening we drove to Durand IL to attend Saw-whet Owl Banding at Sand Bluff Bird Observatory. Saw-whet Owls are my favorite bird and it was great to see them catch, band and release three of the owls.

Great Horned Owl

â–² 30 October: Flint Creek had an education program at the Wild Bird Center in Fox River Grove.

Operation Migration

â–² 31 October: We got up early this morning to drive 2 hours west before sunrise to try and see the Whooping Cranes that flew south with Operation Migration. We were extremely lucky and saw 10 of the rare birds fly right over us following the ultralight aircraft.

Operation Migration

â–² 9 November: This day we drove to Indiana with Amy’s parents to watch Sandhill Cranes at Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area, where they get together in the thousands! On the way we visited the Monon Train Museum.

Barred Owl

â–² 13 November: This night we attended an Owl Prowl at Ryerson Woods in Lake County and saw our first Illinois Barred Owl, which is Amy’s favorite bird. The picture above is that of Meepy, a Barred Owl in FCWR’s education program.

Justice

▲ 20 November: This day Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation released a rehabilitated Great Horned Owl at a public event in Winnetka. Amy handled Justice, a Great Horned Owl in Flint Creek’s education program.

Christmas

â–² 12 December: Our front door decorated with Christmas lights.

December 31st 2010 | 8:59 pm CET | 1 Comment »

Home Christmas Lights Synchronized to Music

Posted by Arthur in Funny, Life in America

The other night we drove to Kenosha WI to see a house with lights synchronized to music. There’s a sign in the front yard that tells you what FM frequency to listen to in your car so that you can listen along to the songs. The house we visited (at 6834 106th Ave in Kenosha WI) had over 25,000 lights programmed to 30 different songs. I thought it was hilarious and very nicely done. I had never seen anything like it, but there are apparently a few more people across the country who do this.

Below is my video of the house in Kenosha (sorry, it’s a bit shaky), followed by other ones I found on YouTube:

The next house is in Pleasant Grove, Utah (more info):

This house in O’Fallon MO has a lot of videos that you can see here (more info):

The following house is in Round Rock TX (more info):

This house with over 80,000 lights is in Sawyer MN:

This one is from Providence Village TX (more info):

Here’s a classic video that has been making the rounds on YouTube for over 5 years. This house is in Mason, Ohio:

December 24th 2010 | 7:53 pm CET | No Comments »

First Decade of Wolfstad

Posted by Arthur in Personal, Top Lists, Websites & Tools

I registered the domain wolfstad.com just over 10 years ago and this blog has been around for about half that time. I haven’t been writing here as much as I used to, but it’s fun to look back at old posts and see what we’ve done over the years. I was just looking at Google Analytics and checked the most popular blog posts over the last 5 years. Here are 10 posts with the most pageviews:

  1. Hidden security tags in Old Navy jeans (01/2006)
  2. Quechua’s toss-and-go “Seconds” tents (07/2006)
  3. Top 10 budget things to do in Chicago (01/2006)
  4. The Rat Temple of Rajasthan (04/2006)
  5. Did you know there is beef in Pop-Tarts, M&M’s and Mentos? (09/2006)
  6. Top 10 things to do in Tunisia (02/2006)
  7. Brilliant bar concept at Footsie in Paris (10/2005)
  8. 10 Chicago Firsts: Famous Inventions (01/2009)
  9. Top 10 things to do in South Florida and the Keys (12/2006)
  10. Woodstock, set of Groundhog Day (12/2005)
November 18th 2010 | 9:56 pm CET | No Comments »

Saw-whet Owls

Posted by Arthur in Birds

My favorite bird is, without a doubt, the Saw-whet Owl. Unfortunately I haven’t seen one in the wild yet, but I have seen a few up close at raptor centers and events. The small owls winter in our area, but they’re very hard to find. I hope to finally see one this winter and will be looking for them every time we go on a walk. They are ridiculously cute:

Saw Whet on the Moss
Photo by BigBrotherBear on Flickr

Peek-a-boo
Photo by Steve Gilchrist on Flickr

Two weeks ago we drove to Sand Bluff Bird Observatory, in Durand IL, for Saw-whet Owl banding. The banding station has been in operation since 1967 and is one of the largest in the region. They caught three birds that evening and we were lucky to witness the whole banding process, from net-run to release. Amy has a detailed report of our visit to Sand Bluff on her blog, and some photos here.

Sand Bluff Bird Observatory founder Lee Johnson with a Saw-whet Owl
Sand Bluff Bird Observatory founder Lee Johnson with one of the Saw-whet Owls

November 2nd 2010 | 3:13 am CET | No Comments »

Whooping Cranes and Operation Migration in Winnebago County, IL

Posted by Arthur in Birds, Nature

We got up early this morning to drive 2 hours west before sunrise to try and see the Whooping Cranes that are flying south with Operation Migration. They had been grounded for 12 days at their 5th stop, in Winnebago County Illinois, due to unfavorable weather. They never know if they’ll be able to take off until the very last minute, but we were lucky and got to see them today! :)

Whooping Cranes are North America’s tallest birds and they are highly endangered. In the 1940s there were just 15 birds left! Thanks to several conservation projects, there are now believed to be over 400 in the wild, but there are still years of work ahead before the bird can be removed from the endangered species list.

Reverse Reflection
Photo by FlappinMothra on Flickr

Since 2001, the non-profit organization Operation Migration has worked to reintroduce these beautiful birds by raising young cranes in isolation at their center in Wisconsin, and then flying them down to Florida with an ultralight aircraft in an effort to establish a new flyway east of the Mississippi River.

The birds are guided for 1,285 miles through seven states, from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to Chassahowitzka NWR in Florida. The long journey takes several months (see migration map). This year, 11 birds left Necedah National Wildlife Refuge on October 10th. Each morning the crew evaluates the weather as they can only fly if there is not too much wind. Until this morning they had been at the same place in northern Illinois for 12 days, due to the bad weather these last couple of weeks.

Spectators from about a dozen cars had gathered this morning on a road where the cranes would fly over shortly after takeoff. We could not see the camp from where we were standing, but they were not far. Around 7:30am two members of Operation Migration arrived to inform us about what was going on. They had radios so we could listen in on what the pilots were saying. Two of the aircraft went up first to check the wind at higher elevations. We saw them flying over the treetops.

After a few minutes we learned that they were going to try it (yah!). The two ultralights started to circle around in the distance. We could not see the birds, but after a short while we saw one of the planes emerge with the cranes following behind.


In the above picture you can see lead pilot Joe Duff is wearing a white suit
from top to toe, so that the birds don’t get used to humans.

There were ten cranes following the ultralight (an eleventh stayed behind and had to be transported in a crate). Nine on the left and one on the right. We read in the Field Journal on the organization’s website that later the birds divided perfectly with five on each wing. It was a beautiful sight and we were very lucky that we got to see them take off on our first trip out there.

Here’s a short video of what we saw:

If you’d like to support Operation Migration and the wonderful work that they do, you can make a donation here.

The following pictures are from last year’s migration. More can be found in Operation Migration’s Flickr photostream:

Img_3038_1

Img_3071_1

IMG_6384 - Day 43

om3.5

St. Marks 023

October 31st 2010 | 6:17 pm CET | 4 Comments »

Fall Foliage in Wisconsin

Posted by Arthur in Nature

We recently took a road trip up north to Bayfield, Wisconsin, for a family reunion. It was right in the peak of fall foliage, so we saw lots of beautifully colored trees.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin
View of Lake Superior from Madeleine Island

Wisconsin

Wisconsin

WisconsinView from Madeline Island Ferry of Bayfield WI

Wisconsin

Wisconsin

In Bayfield we found a very nice trail along the Lake Superior shoreline called the Brownstone Trail. The 2.5-mile trail uses an old railroad bed that was originally used for the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad in 1883. After it was abandoned in the 1970′s, the public started to use the railroad bed as a footpath.

Wisconsin
Brownstone Trail south of Bayfield WI

Wisconsin
Me at the Brownstone Trail

October 18th 2010 | 12:09 pm CET | No Comments »

Annual Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Posted by Arthur in Birds, Chicago, Nature

Many birds are migrating through the area these weeks. We get some extra birds in our backyard too, ones we don’t usually see. Today, on 16 October, we had a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. That’s the first time we see one of those in our yard since 16 October last year! Wow, I wonder if it’s the same one!

Ruby-crowned Kinglet- My Back yard- Peachtree City, GA
Photo by davidcreebirder

October 16th 2010 | 2:32 pm CET | No Comments »