SpaceX Falcon Heavy Animation

Posted by Arthur in Space

SpaceX released this animated video of their new Falcon Heavy rocket that will, in a few years, take American astronauts into space again. Check out how the three boosters are intended to fly themselves back to the launch pad. Very cool! I look forward to seeing the first test flight later this year and am definitely going to watch this thing go up at the Cape.

January 29th 2015 | 7:54 am CET | No Comments »

Birdorable website renewed

Posted by Arthur in Personal, Websites & Tools

I finally launched our new Birdorable website today. It was a lot of work but I am happy with the result. We currently have 581 different bird species and 1504 designs on 87,396 products. Go check it out at www.birdorable.com and let me know what you think.

Birdorable website screenshot

January 22nd 2015 | 7:30 pm CET | No Comments »

2014: Our Year in Review

Posted by Arthur in Personal

2014 has been a great year. We got many things done around the house, did lots of fun stuff here in Florida, experienced our first cruise across the Atlantic and had an amazing time in Spain and Holland. Here are some pictures of our year, mostly for myself because I love looking back at these year-in-review posts of previous years.

We started the year camping New Year's Eve at Tomoka State Park and did a bird walk early on January 1st.
In January I worked in the yard putting irrigation pipes in the ground as the first part of my grand plan for the backyard.
At the end of January Kim visited us and we went to Epcot for a day and did several excursions at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.
On 25 February I had 7 pallets with bricks, concrete fines and sand delivered from Pebble Junction in Sanford.
From February to April I worked on putting a path between our two sheds.
In March we discovered mold under our living room floor and we spent many days cleaning it up, then redoing the whole room with a newly textured ceiling, paint the walls and tile floor, which wouldn't be installed until June.
It ended up being a ridiculous amount of work to get the wood floor off as it was stuck with the most obnoxious glue and I ended up sanding the floor with a huge concrete sander to get everything clean.
On March 29 the Sun Rail station in DeBary opened and I went to have a look at it.
On 31 March this Great Egret came to check out what I was doing when I was preparing food for the gopher tortoises at the MSC.
In April, with the ceiling re-textured and floor removed, we painted the walls and ceiling in the living room.
On April 1st we went to Magic Kingdom to check out the new Festival of Fantasy Parade.
On 11 April we had some new highly needed gutters installed, just in time for the rainy season.
On 12 April I finished my paving job.
On 19 April it was Turtle Day at the MSC, and it was super crowded.
On 22 April we had a new yard bird, this Red-breasted Grosbeak.
On 27 April we left on a 12-day transatlantic cruise on the Norwegian Epic from Miami to Barcelona.
We stopped only once along the way, at Madeira, a Portuguese island where we did a birding tour and saw several new lifers.
On 7 May we arrived in Barcelona and met my parents and brother Patrick.
On 9 May we visited the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey, which is beautifully located in the mountains outside Barcelona.
On 10 May we did a balloon ride in Vic and saw the Pyrenees in the distance.
May 14 through 18 we were in Paris.
On 20 May we went to the Efteling theme park in the Netherlands with my family.
On 22 May we went to Leiden for a day to look back at the place where we used to live.
On 25 May we had a family reunion with my aunts, uncles and cousins. We did a boat tour and visited Slot Loevestein.
26 and 27 May we went to Amsterdam and spent a day at the renovated Rijksmuseum.
Back home in June we had tiles installed in the living room and kitchen to finish the long renovation project. Here a tiny baby gecko is checking out the new floor.
Through the summer the neighbor's peacock Frank visited us regularly. Unfortunately the bird was hit by a car and killed later in the year.
On 18 June a bike path connection close to our home was opened. Now we can bike much further going east.
On 26 June the first Trader Joe's opened in the Orlando area. We missed this store since we moved down from Illinois and it's great to have one nearby now.
On 4th of July we saw fireworks from the beach at the Polynesian Resort.
In July we went to Illinois to help Amy's parents move to Florida.
On my birthday we went to Downtown Disney where I got a free Earl of Sandwich.
In September I broke my small toe. Ow!
Amy raised a monarch from caterpillar to butterfly.
On 8 September we had a baby Black Racer in the house.
On 21 September Amy found a cat with 3 kittens at Gemini Springs. We named the mom Sam and the kittens Pokey, William and Timmy. Amy's parents ended up taking Sam and Pokey and we kept William and Timmy.
Here is Timmy wrestling a moray eel.
On 23 September we found a black bear going through our garbage. We got a bear-proof container and haven't seen him since, although we've heard that he's still in the neighborhood.
I had started a vegetable garden earlier in the year, but everything died in the heat. In October I expanded and tried it again.
On 4 October I found an old Indian arrowhead while working in the garden.
On 2 October we had these Sandhill Cranes in our yard.
We had a couple of snakes and frogs die in our A/C unit, so I got a cover and replaced the grass and weeds around it with pavers left over from my path.
With the 7 pallets from the pavers delivery I made these two compost bins.
On 5 October we took Amy's parents on the Orange Blossom Cannonball scenic train ride in Apopka.
On 10 and 11 October we went to Sanibel Island and did some shelling and birding.
The MSC volunteer gathering was on 19 October and we went up the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and did a boat tour of the inlet.
On 22 October we had our big oak tree trimmed, which was hanging over the house.
On 26 October we took Amy's parents on a boat trip at Blue Spring State Park.
This is William and Timmy on 27 November, now a couple of months old and grown a lot since we got them.
On 4 December we went to KSC to view the Orion launch from the Saturn V building, but it was scrubbed. The next day we drove to Port Canaveral in the early hours and watched the launch from our car at sunrise.
On 16 December we took Amy's parents to some Disney resorts to look at Christmas decorations and we had dinner at Trail's End at Fort Wilderness and looked around the Christmas lights at the campground.
On 25 December we did raclette / gourmet with Amy's parents.

That’s it. Happy New Year!

December 31st 2014 | 9:20 pm CET | No Comments »

Air Conditioner Cover to Prevent Snakes, Frogs and other Critters from getting Killed

Posted by Arthur in Florida, Home Improvement, Yard

It has happened twice in the last year that I heard a loud noise coming from our A/C unit outside as if there was a rock banging around inside. Both times it turned out that a poor snake had crawled inside and was killed by the spinning blade. We have also found dead lizards and frogs inside as well. It is a terrible death for the poor animals to be cut into small bits by the spinning fan blade, and it also stinks when the corpses are rotting in the bottom of the A/C.

I started looking around and couldn’t find anything specifically to keep critters out of air conditioners. I did find this Air Conditioner Cover on Amazon.com to keep leaves out and decided to give it a try. The product has some good reviews but none of the reviews nor the product description itself mention anything about keeping snakes or other animals out. It turns out that it works perfectly:

The cover has been on the A/C unit for several months now and there is no way a snake, frog or lizard can get into it anymore. The four bungee cords hold the cover tight so that nothing can crawl under. On the sides and bottom I don’t see any openings where animals could crawl in either. I love this product and recommend it to anyone who has this problem. As a bonus it also keeps leaves out so the inside stays nice and clean. You can get this air conditioner cover on Amazon. I highly recommend it.

December 10th 2014 | 12:19 pm CET | No Comments »

Trimming our big Live Oak tree

Posted by Arthur in Florida, Yard

For a while I have been wanting to get a company to cut some branches off the big Live Oak tree in our backyard. Some branches were hanging over or very close to the house. In the front we also had a live oak with a large branch almost touching our electric wires. A few weeks ago a guy rang the doorbell and asked if we needed to have our palm trees trimmed. I said that that wasn’t necessary, but I asked him if he would be able to do the big tree in our backyard. After an estimate we decided to hire his company and a couple of days later he and two other guys came by to do the work.

Here are two before pictures:
One of the guys climbed into the tall tree with ease. He tied a thick rope to each limb before cutting it off with his chainsaw so that it could be lowered down slowly.
We found some Florida Rough Green Snakes in the branches that fell down. They were okay and Amy relocated them to another part of our yard.
We asked if they could leave some of the wood, so they cut them up and left us a nice little pile for our fireplace.
And here's an after picture with two large branches removed.
December 3rd 2014 | 11:13 am CET | No Comments »

Visiting CROW on Sanibel Island

Posted by Arthur in Florida, Wildlife

We recently visited the Education Center of CROW, or Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, on Sanibel Island here in Florida. CROW is a teaching hospital dedicated to saving wildlife. They have a veterinary hospital and visitor education center open to the public. I found the visitor center quite impressive with very informative interactive exhibits and really enjoyed looking around and learning about the work they do at the clinic. Every year over 4,000 sick, injured or orphaned animals are treated at CROW.

Our car parked in the shade under the Education Center
This map inside the visitor center shows how CROW has expanded over the years to become a world-renowned wildlife hospital and rehabilitation facility. Only the building marked "CROW Education Center" is open to the public.
The interactive exhibits of the Education Center teach you about the work done at the clinic and the importance of saving wildlife. There is a timeline of CROW's history, patient rescue stories and information about testing, treatment methods and past medical records.
Each exhibit area talks about a different part of the rehabilitation process. This stations is about radiographs, with sample x-rays of different animals.
Check out the fractured skull on this Loggerhead Sea Turtle. Surgery was performed to align the fracture pieces and the turtle was released back into wild just five months after arrival at CROW.
There are three large monitors that show live views from cameras in the clinic. We saw them take in some newly arrived baby possums.

For more information and to donate you can visit crowclinic.org.

December 2nd 2014 | 6:36 pm CET | No Comments »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nauvoo

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

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

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

Taste of Chicago

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

Transformers 3 in Chicago

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

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

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

Papagaaienpark

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

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

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

Amsterdam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Operation Migration

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

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

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

12 December: Our front door decorated with Christmas lights.

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