Disney catnip is the best

Posted by Amy in Disney, Personal, Videos

The last two times we were in Orlando, we picked up these catnip toys. Arby and Alex both loved them so much.

OldNipToys

We’d gotten them catnip toys in Holland but they were totally not interested – for them it was the American stuff or nothing.

Last week we spent an afternoon at Downtown Disney. We looked for the Good Kitty / Bad Kitty nip toys but could only find these new ones.

NewNipToys

We’re still unpacking from the trip and these were sitting in a bag downstairs. I noticed Arby rooting around in the bag – when I checked, I found the toys. We’d forgotten about them so Arby found them himself!

Fourth Nip Toy

It’s still good stuff. Disney catnip is the best!

June 20th 2009 | 10:40 am CET | No Comments »

Ready for Lift-off

Posted by Arthur in Space, Travel

We’re ready for the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour, which is now scheduled for Wednesday morning at 5:40am. We spent today at Kennedy Space Center and had a great time. It was one of the bus drivers who told us this afternoon that they just decided to give the shuttle another try on Wednesday. The Atlas 5 rocket with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been pushed back to Thursday.

Our new arrival time at KSC, which is the absolute latest that we are allowed to be there, is 12:30am! We asked at Guest Services how long we should allow for driving from Orlando and she informed us 4 hours as roads will be packed with people coming to see the launch, even that early in the morning! OMG, so we’ll be leaving our hotel some time around 8:30 in the evening!

Space Shuttle Explorer
Me in front of Space Shuttle Explorer, a full-scale replica of an orbiter at KSC

June 15th 2009 | 8:11 pm CET | 1 Comment »

No Launch For You

Posted by Arthur in Space, Travel

We got up at 12:30am this morning to head to Kennedy Space Center for the scheduled launch of STS-127. Right after getting up I checked my phone for any tweets from SpaceflightNow for the last updates and it all looked good; the last one said that fueling was going smoothly and the clock continued counting down toward a liftoff at 7:17am. I proceeded to brush my teeth when all of a sudden a new message came in:

NASA has just called a scrub for today. A leak has developed while fueling space shuttle Endeavour. A news conference is planned overnight.

So no launch today. :(


Space Shuttle Endeavour on Launch Pad 39A © NASA

We stayed up to see the press conference at 1:45. It took more than a half hour for any news media to pick up the cancelled launch. Even the homepage of NASA.gov wasn’t updated for an hour with the news. Thanks to Twitter we knew about the cancellation before we got in our car and headed for the space center. Thank you Twitter! :)

I had read that Endeavour had a window of only 3 days (June 13th through 15th) because of the Atlas 5 rocket that was to launch on June 17th to bring two new satellites to the moon. In the overnight press conference they said that it will take at least 4 days to fix the leak, so we thought that’s it; no shuttle launch this month. But then, to our surprise, they mentioned in the press conference the possibility of delaying the Atlas 5 mission and letting Endeavour go first. They even said that if the Atlas 5 rocket goes first, and it launches on the 17th, then Endeavour’s still has one chance on the 20th (it takes 2 days to reset equipment between launches). Mission managers are now planning to meet tomorrow at 2pm to examine the repair plans and determine the new launch date.

We spent the day birding at the Space Coast and then drove to Orlando. We’re going to wait for the results of tomorrow’s meeting and then decide what to do. If Endeavour’s next launch attempt is on Wednesday then we will wait for that. But if the moon mission goes first and they still want to try the shuttle on Saturday June 20th then we may not wait for that and drive back. Or maybe we’ll stay and watch the Atlas 5 launch, although we don’t have tickets for that launch so it would be from far away.

We’re disappointed about the scrubbed launch but we knew this could happen. There are still 7 more shuttle missions planned until the end of next year so if we don’t see this one go up we have a few more chances. At least we had a great taste of summer, with 90+oF here every day. Whatever happens we plan to spend the day at Kennedy Space Center on Monday and use part of our launch viewing tickets that way. I’m really looking forward to that. :)

June 13th 2009 | 7:32 pm CET | No Comments »

Disneyland Paris on Google Maps Street View

Posted by Arthur in Disney, Websites & Tools

This is cool: Google Maps has added Street View of selected areas of Disneyland Paris. You can now ‘walk’ through Main Street, other parts of Disneyland, Disney Village and the Walt Disney Studios Park. Pretty neat!

Disneyland Paris Street View on Google Maps

June 11th 2009 | 11:15 am CET | No Comments »

On the Road to see the Shuttle Launch

Posted by Arthur in Space, Travel

We left this morning at 6:00 and have been driving all day from Chicago toward Florida to see the shuttle launch of STS-127 on Saturday morning. It became gradually warmer as we drove south until it was about 34oC / 92oF this afternoon. That is quite different from the cooler weather we’ve been having in Illinois lately. We’re about 8 1/2 hours away from Kennedy Space Center and are looking forward to the launch on Saturday.

I read something disconcerting about the cancellation policy of our launch viewing tickets. It says everywhere that our tickets are for the launch and not for the day. That makes sense, so that if the launch gets delayed to the next day or next month then our tickets will still be valid. But there’s a catch to that. Apparently, if the launch gets scrubbed after you have boarded the bus at the visitor center to the launch viewing area (which is about a 15 minute ride) you have ‘used’ your tickets and that’s it. You then have to buy new tickets if you are lucky enough to obtain them. I just don’t understand this policy. What difference does it make whether you have boarded the bus or are still waiting to board the bus?

It even says the following in the paperwork:

All new sales of Launch Transportation Tickets will be on a first come, first serve basis. Priority will not be given to previous ticket holders.

So what I understand is that if we’re already sitting there on our folding chairs on the causeway at 4:00 in the morning and they announce that the launch has been canceled, we have to race back to the ticket office to stand in line for next day’s tickets at about $50 per person each. But if we’ve been slow and are one of the last ones to get on a bus we may be lucky and keep our tickets for next day’s launch attempt. That’s just weird.

We’re now wondering if we should try to get on the bus as late as possible, if we even have a choice. I’ve signed up to get text messages from the Spaceflight Now Twitter feed about the latest news about the launch, so if we’re standing in line for the bus and we get a message that there’s something wrong we can still jump out and keep our tickets.

There’s generally about a 50% chance that a launch happens, and the weather forecast for Saturday is favorable for a 80% chance. I hope the weather will be fine and there will be no technical problems so we can see a beautiful launch on Saturday. :)

June 10th 2009 | 8:29 pm CET | No Comments »

Biking to our local forest preserve

Posted by Amy in Forest Preserves, Life in America

Last Saturday was a beautiful day. In the afternoon we decided to try and bike to Rollins Savanna from our house here in Round Lake Beach.

First I checked Google Maps to see how we could cycle and avoid busy roads. The Google Streetview feature works for a lot of our area, so I could follow parts of the route online. I was surprised to see that there was actually bike path along one of the main roads we’d take!

The Drury Lane entrance to Rollins is closest to us, so that’s where we normally drive. On Google Maps I saw that there was a spur to the main trail from a small city park, so we wouldn’t have to cycle all the way to our usual parking lot, which was good news. The bad news was that Drury Lane is a torn up muddy mudville from construction.

bike1

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June 1st 2009 | 1:26 pm CET | No Comments »

A Birdy Day

Posted by Arthur in Birds, Illinois, Personal

We woke up this morning to a new backyard bird: a Blue Jay! Finally we saw one of these beautiful birds at our home. I called it a few days ago when I wrote that we were overdue on a Blue Jay. Pretty cool:

Blue Jay at backyard feeder

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May 31st 2009 | 8:51 pm CET | 1 Comment »

Received our Tickets for STS-127

Posted by Arthur in Space, Travel

Whoo-hoo … yesterday we received our package from NASA in the mail with our tickets for the shuttle launch on June 13th. Being at a shuttle launch is one of those things I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. In ten days we’ll drive down to Florida, which will take us about 20 hours over two days. Launch time is targeted at 7:19 AM on the 13th and I knew that we’d get a specific time slot to be there. Well, we now know our time and it is shocking:

STS 127 arrival time sticker

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May 31st 2009 | 8:17 pm CET | 3 Comments »

Our Visit to Fermilab

Posted by Arthur in Chicago, Illinois, Science & technology

Yesterday we visited Fermilab, home to the world’s largest operaring particle accelerator. I hear you say: but wait, isn’t the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland larger? Yes, but it isn’t operating yet; they’re still fixing the mess since it broke down in September last year. When the LHC goes online it will be the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator, with a tunnel of 17 miles / 27 kilometers. The Tevatron at Fermilab is still 3.9 miles / 6.28 kilometer. You can see it on the following map.

Map of Fermilab

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May 28th 2009 | 11:01 pm CET | 1 Comment »

Fermilab’s Bison

Posted by Amy in Environment, Illinois, Nature

Today we visited the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab). Besides being home to the world’s largest particle accelerator currently in use (LHC is out of commission until at least this fall), Fermilab maintains much of their 6800 acre site with a variety of natural habitats for wildlife. This includes restored grassland prairie – once a major habitat across much of Illinois and the midwest, and former home to tens of millions of American Bison. Today, Fermilab is home to a small herd of bison.

Today over 70% of extant American Bison have been raised for human consumption. Large herds of free roaming wild bison can only be found in a few protected areas in North America, including Yellowstone National Park and Alberta’s Elk Island.

Five bison were brought to Fermilab by the first director, Robert Wilson, in 1969. In 1971 the herd increased by 21; today’s herd at the lab are descendants of those first 26 animals.
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May 27th 2009 | 11:14 pm CET | No Comments »