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200th Birdorable!

Posted on July 30th 2009 by Arthur in Birds

We started 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

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Go there! (too late, we already did)

Posted on July 25th 2009 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

Foto Friday: Waiting for a band

Posted on July 24th 2009 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

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

Posted on July 23rd 2009 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

We Choose the Moon

Posted on July 14th 2009 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 where you can see that the pre-launch is already underway:

Screenshot of We Choose the

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.

Putting a new field guide to good use

Posted on July 10th 2009 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.

Surprise mammal on July 4th

Posted on July 9th 2009 by Amy in Nature

On Independence Day, we took a little drive and stopped at two state parks: Chain O’ Lakes & Moraine Hills. It was overcast and drizzling at times, but we still had a very nice walk at Chain O’ Lakes, where we had a really good look at a bold Indigo Bunting in a grass field. Then at Moraine Hills we were surprised to find this guy:

Super-cute thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel at

That’s a Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel! OMG cute! I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one in Illinois before and it was a life mammal for Arthur.

Super-cute thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel at

Indy 5 in 2011 and new Monkey Island games, wow!

Posted on July 6th 2009 by Arthur in Movies, Pop culture

Harrison Ford as Indiana JonesFor some weeks there have been rumours about a fifth Indiana Jones movie and today The Insider is reporting that Harrison Ford will indeed play the famous archaeologist one more time. Shooting will not begin until next year for a release in 2011.

This is great news. Despite all the negative criticism that Crystal Skull received I still liked that film a lot. Here’s hoping that the last one with Ford will be even better and that he’ll pass on the fedora to Shia to continue the Indiana Jones franchise.

I also just found out at that LucasArts is reviving their classic adventure games by making them available for the first time ever as digital downloads. The first round of releases will take place on July 8th (on Steam) and will include Indiana Jones the the Last Crusade (1989), Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (1992), Loom (1990) and The Dig (1995). I have fond memories of playing all four of these games and it’s great that they’re finally re-releasing them.

Also, there’s a brand-new Monkey Island game on the way! Tales of Monkey Island (PC and WiiWare) is the latest adventure of Guybrush Threepwood which will be released in five monthly episodes starting tomorrow! I did not know about this until just now .. how exciting! Here’s a trailer:

And that’s not all … There’s also an enhanced re-make of the first Monkey Island from 1990 on the way: The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition (PC and XBox Live) will be released on July 15th and will feature completely new art in the style of the original game presented in 1080i widescreen, a re-mastered score and a new streamlined interface. And what’s cool is that at any time during the game you can switch between the old 256 color version and the enhanced version. Wow!