Craziest Thing I’ve Ever Seen: Advertising on the Moon

Posted by Arthur in Craziest Things I've Ever Seen, Space

Moon Publicity is selling 44 regions of the visible side of the moon to place huge letter advertising to be created with rovers. Robots will be used to create several small ridges in the lunar dust over large areas that capture shadows and shape them to form logos, domains names or memorials. That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen!

This must be a prank. It would just be a dumb idea because: 1. the moon has an uneven surface, so good luck making straight letters; 2. it would cost billions of dollars to send up enough robots to finish the job, 3. It would take ages to finish it (Spirit and Opportunity have been on Mars for 6 years and have only traveled a combined 15 miles, and the diameter of the moon is 3,474 miles), 4. the letters would be too small and faint to read from Earth and 5. it would ruin the moon forever … so many people would be against it that I doubt any sensible company would be willing to spend billions on this advertising stunt.

August 9th 2009 | 8:07 pm CET | No Comments »

Na na na na na na na na Batfest!

Posted by Amy in Events, Forest Preserves, Nature

Last Saturday we attended Batfest, a celebration of bats by the Lake County Forest Preserve District held at Lakewood Forest Preserve.

Quiet Please. Bats Sleeping!

Years ago two large picnic shelters were built at the preserve, which local Little Brown Bats found to be great places to roost. Picnicking humans were not happy to find guano on their picnic tables and dropping into their food, so the district decided to rezone the shelters – one for people and one for the bats. The picnic shelter was modified to be less appealing to bats and the bat shelter was cordoned off so people would not disturb the roosting bats.

Bat Shelter

The large colony of Little Brown Bats at Lakewood made it a perfect spot for Batfest. There were several tables set up at the preserve with exhibits about the bats of Illinois, making bat houses and other neat bat information. There were also two presentations by bat experts, one of whom brought a couple of her rehabilitation and education bats to show to attendees. During these presentations we learned a lot of neat facts about bats, including:

  • There are over 1000 species of bat
  • A bat’s claws are naturally in a curled state. They use their muscles to uncurl the claws in order to grab onto a perch, and then relax to remain clamped on
  • All bats can see
  • Vampire bats’ saliva contains a substance which prevents clotting
  • Vampire bats will share their food with other bats who are hungry and unable to get food for themselves
  • Bats are an important pollinator for one of the ingredients used to make tequila (when this was mentioned, the crowd murmured ‘thank you, bats’)

After the two informative presentations, darkness began to fall and it was time to look for bats. Everyone gathered around the shelter. It was a huge crowd: bats are popular here in Lake County!

Huge crowd at Batfest

Researchers set up a mist net to capture bats as they left the shelter for the evening. Since the crowd was so large they had live camera which was projected onto a huge screen to capture the action in case a bat was caught. Soon after the first bat was spotted leaving the roost, another bat was caught in the net. She was brought in front of the camera and the brief examination was shown on the screen. It was neat to see the bat expert show features of the animal that helped her determine the age and sex of the bat. The exam reminded me of the bird ringing we observed recently, but the image on the screen reminded me of MST3K:

MST3K Bat

Batfest was another great program put on by our Lake County Forest Preserve District. If you want to learn more about bats, visit Bat Conservation International.

August 6th 2009 | 9:50 pm CET | 3 Comments »

Comcast billing is SO hinky!

Posted by Arthur in Life in America, Television

It seems that I only write about bad things on this blog, but I have another rant about Comcast I just have to write here. A few days ago I signed up for another 12-month promotion to get Comcast TV and Internet for $85 per month. If I hadn’t called Comcast, our monthly cable costs would have gone up to $135, which is the regular price.

Today I received my statement for the next period and the total amount due is $135. Obviously, I thought that this was the regular price and the promotion hadn’t kicked in yet, but upon closer inspection it does have the promotion price, but there is a mysterious $50 surcharge for internet installation. Why are they charging me $50 for installation when 1. we’ve had internet at this address for six months and 2. installation is free; we didn’t pay anything for installation six months ago! It’s like they ‘accidentally’ put in the $50 to bring the total amount to what I would have paid if I hadn’t signed up for the new promotion, just to see if I was paying attention. The exact same thing happened a few months ago when my bill was completely wrong. I had paid too much the month before, but to level it out in the next bill they put in a bogus deposit amount just to make the total amount be exactly like the previous amount’s balance. Talk about creative accounting!

I just called Comcast and they acknowledged the mistake and I only need to pay $85 this month. Will I get a new statement? No, they can’t do that.

You really have to pay attention with these guys. I signed up for automatic payments for all our other monthly bills, but Comcast is the only company I don’t trust and I continue to pay them manually each month. If you have Comcast, check your bills and make sure they are not screwing you too!

August 6th 2009 | 10:13 am CET | 1 Comment »

Six months of Comcast

Posted by Arthur in Life in America, Television

We’ve had Comcast cable TV and internet now for six months. When we moved here in February earlier this year, I signed up for Comcast’s 6-month promotion for their cheapest TV package and 16 mbps internet speed for $69 per month. There are actually some surcharges to that and the total costs are around $90 per month ($9 for the HD box, $3 for the cable modem, etc).

I find that Comcast can be very unclear about their pricing structure. I’ve called them a couple of times asking what the regular price will be after these first six months and got different answers. The monthly bills I receive are just hilariously complicated; the first one in February was completely wrong and even the Comcast person on the phone did not understand what was meant with the different figures and charges listed. Unlike Dish Network, which clearly states in their ads what the promotional price and regular price is, with Comcast you really need to dig and read fine print to find out what the regular price will be after your promotion ends. It’s all very sneaky. It turns out that starting this month our monthly Comcast bill would go up to about $135.

That’s really too much. We hardly watch any TV besides the basic local channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, etc) which are free with antenna (and in crystal clear HD too). We get about 100 channels in our Comcast TV package and only watch a handful of them. In fact, there are some I’d really like to have but those are not included. I’d like to have SyFy Channel and NASA TV, but those are in the next package up, with 70 more channels. I really wish one could just pick the channels you wanted and pay for those. I refuse to pay an additional $20 per month just to get SyFy and NASA. NASA TV especially should be included; it’s a public channel paid for by taxpapers and you can even watch it for free online!

I’ve read a few times that you can call Comcast and negotiate about the price. I can’t believe this is common practice here in the United States. I’ve haggled on the price of souvenirs in Egypt and India, but never on that of my cable television bill. But apparently it’s quite normal to call your TV provider here, tell them you will leave if they don’t lower your monthly costs and they’ll give you an offer. I called them this morning and told them that I wanted to cancel my TV package and just have internet. Immediately they had another promotion to offer that I could take advantage of. For just $69 per month I can continue to have the same TV and internet service for the next 12 months. With surcharges this comes down to the same price I’ve been paying per month. It’s not really an option to cancel TV and keep internet, because that would be about the same price. It’s really a ‘buy one get one free’ deal. *sigh*

So now we’ll have Comcast for another 12 months and I’ll have to watch my SyFy shows online. Not all shows are available online for free, but I’ve figured that buying those that are not free is still cheaper than paying for the next package at Comcast. Comcast really needs get their act together. More and more people are canceling their cable TV since websites like Hulu are offering TV shows online. I would pay Comcast the same for less channels if I could pick which ones I wanted. I know it should be possible technically, they’re just trying to hang on to the old ways for as long as they can.

August 3rd 2009 | 2:10 pm CET | No Comments »

200th Birdorable!

Posted by Arthur in Birds

We started Birdorable.com almost three years ago and in this time have created 200 different cute birds, from Abyssinian Lovebird to Zebra Finch. The birds are available on thousands of different products. The first dozen birds we cutified were American backyard birds, like the Cardinal and Blue Jay, and almost all the others since have been requested by people visiting the website. For the last 17 days we’ve been having a Birdorable Bonanza leading up to the 200th bird, adding a new one every day. Today we finally added our 200th bird: the Dodo. To see all our 200 birds visit our Meet the Birds page.

Each time we publish a new bird I take a photo of its natural surroundings and put the Birdorable in it. Here’s a list of the last 17 pictures I made for each post on our Birdorable blog leading up to the Dodo:

184: Scarlet Ibis

Cute Birdorable Scarlet Ibis

More »

July 30th 2009 | 10:13 pm CET | No Comments »

Go there! (too late, we already did)

Posted by Amy in Funny, Illinois, Leiden, Space

I got a big kick out of reading this placard in one of the telescope exhibits at the Adler Planetarium during our visit there last week. Our old home town has several great museums and we visited them all, including the outstanding Boerhaave.

Sign for Leiden museum at Adler Planetarium

July 25th 2009 | 10:09 pm CET | No Comments »

Foto Friday: Waiting for a band

Posted by Arthur in Birds, Forest Preserves, Foto Friday, Illinois, Nature

Can you guess what’s in the bags hanging in this tree?

Bird bags hanging in a tree

Those bags have different birds inside them, ready to be banded. There’s Common Yellowthroat, Bluebirds, Song Sparrows and Red-bellied Woodpecker. Doesn’t it look a little surreal?

We visited a group of bird banders last Tuesday morning at Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve and observed their work for a couple of hours. They told us about bird banding and showed us how they handle and band the birds. They had ten mist nets set up that they use to catch birds and every half hour they walked past all the nets to take out the birds that got caught. After carefully removing each bird from the net it was put in a little bag and then hung in this tree until they were ready for banding. It was an interesting experience.

Common Yellowthroat
Common Yellowthroat

Field Sparrow
Field Sparrow

Bird banders at work
Bird banders at work

July 24th 2009 | 9:49 pm CET | No Comments »

Celebrating Apollo 11: An Evening with Astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell

Posted by Arthur in Chicago, Illinois, Space

Yesterday we spent the day in Chicago to visit the Adler Planetarium and see legendary Apollo and Gemini astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell at a special event organized by the museum. We had a great time and even got to shortly meet Buzz Aldrin in the end as he signed our copy of his new autobiography Magnificent Desolation.

Adler's Apollo celebration poster
Poster for the Apollo 11 Celebration at Adler Planetarium with the famous picture of Buzz Aldrin on the moon with Neil Armstrong and the lunar module reflected in his visor

We took the 7:38am train from Round Lake Beach and arrived at Chicago’s Union Station at 8:55. Here we took bus 130 to the Museum Campus where we spent the rest of the morning and better part of the afternoon at the Adler Planetarium. The last time we had been here was about 10 years ago, and a lot of the exhibits had changed since. There’s a nice new exhibit about the Apollo program called Shoot for the Moon that tells the story of astronaut Jim Lovell’s life and career using artifacts from his personal collection. It even includes the fully-restored Gemini 12 spacecraft flown by Captain Lovell and Buzz Aldrin in 1966, which is on long-term loan from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.

Jim Lovell's artifacts
Jim Lovell’s helmet and glove. Note the glove has a little booklet attached to it with instructions about the extravehicular activities the astronaut was supposed to perform on the moon, but unfortunately it was never used because Apollo 13 never made it to the moon

Shoot for the Moon was closed for the public for a short time in the morning and in the afternoon as Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell were visiting. We did not get to see them there, but that was okay as we were going to see them in the evening anyway. After the museum we walked to Shedd Aquarium and took a Shoreline Sightseeing water taxi to Navy Pier where we had dinner at Capi’s Italian Kitchen.

The special event with the astronauts took place starting at 7pm at the Thorne Auditorium of Northwestern University, just north of Navy Pier. We walked there and there was already a huge line outside when we arrived at 6:15pm. Unfortunately it was not allowed to take pictures during the interview but everyone started to take pictures when it was over so we quickly took this one:

Jim Lovell's artifacts
From left: moderator Craig Nelson, Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell

The two astronauts were on stage talking about their experiences in the Gemini and Apollo programs. They received a huge applause from the 800 people in the auditorium when they arrived and a standing ovation when they left. The interview was moderated by author Craig Nelson (Rocket Men) and lasted about 90 minutes. Questions that had been gathered from the audience were read and answered too.

It was wonderful to see the two American heroes in person and afterward Buzz Aldrin was available to sign his new book Magnificent Desolation.

Buzz Aldrin signing books

The interview ended at about 8:30pm and people poured out of the auditorium to stand in line for Buzz’s book signing in the hall, where a table had been set up. I think that they underestimated the number of people interested in the signing as it was a bit of a chaos to get everyone organized into an orderly line, which eventually extended to well outside onto the street. We were toward the end of the line and people there were getting worried that it would take hours to get through the line and that Buzz may not stay that long. A couple of the organizers came outside to reassure people that Buzz knew how long the line was and that he personally guaranteed that everyone who wanted to get a signature would get one, even if you have multiple books to sign. That was nice!

It actually went pretty fast and within an hour we were there. Buzz was signing very quickly and was not doing any personalizing. When it was my turn I thanked him profoundly and told him what an honor it was. He looked up, smiled at me and moved on to the next book. He is without a doubt the coolest person I have ever met in person. He was the second person to walk on the moon, which is probably the highest achievement of mankind.

Here I am proudly displaying my signed book before we ran to catch our train:

Signed book

July 23rd 2009 | 1:17 pm CET | No Comments »

We Choose the Moon

Posted by Arthur in Illinois, Space, Websites & Tools

July 16th will mark the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, culminating in Neil Armstrong becoming the first human to step foot on the moon on July 20th in 1969. To commemorate this historic event, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum has set up an incredibly cool online experience which allows you to track the Apollo 11 mission from pre-launch to lunar touchdown. You can visit the website at wechoosethemoon.org where you can see that the pre-launch is already underway:

Screenshot of We Choose the Moon.org

As part of the Apollo 11 celebration, former NASA astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell will be at Northwestern University in Chicago on July 22nd for an evening discussion reflecting on their careers in space. We got two tickets for this event, which you can order here. Buzz Aldrin, of course, was the second man to set foot on the moon on Apollo 11, and Jim Lovell became most famous as the commander of the Apollo 13 mission, which suffered an explosion on its way to the moon but was brought back safely to Earth. It’ll be interesting and exciting to see these two legendary astronauts in real life next week. Aldrin will also be signing copies of his new book, Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon.

July 14th 2009 | 3:38 pm CET | No Comments »

Putting a new field guide to good use

Posted by Amy in Nature, Travel

On the drive home from Florida last month, we stopped at the Jackson County Waterfowl Area in Alabama. While we were hoping for birds, we mostly saw lots of skittish turtles who jumped into the water even when we approached from hundreds of feet away.

We also saw this lovely dragonfly.

Male Widow Skimmer

It’s a Male Widow Skimmer. I wouldn’t have known this if it wasn’t for our trusty brand new field guide I picked up just a few days before: Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America. Thank you, field guide.

July 10th 2009 | 9:57 pm CET | No Comments »