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Happy Halloween

Posted on October 31st 2009 by Arthur in Photos


Getting tickets for the next Space Shuttle launch

Posted on October 21st 2009 by Arthur in Space

Yesterday morning at 8:00am CT launch viewing ticket for the next Space Shuttle launch went on sale. We tried this back in June when I managed to get causeway tickets but we drove to Florida just to find out that STS-127 had been scrubbed. For so long I’ve wanted to see a Space Shuttle launch, and with only six more launches left (the last Space Shuttle mission is in September 2010) we decided to try again for the next one on November 16th.

The NASA causeway is the best place to view a launch. It’s still six miles from the launch pad, but it’s an unobstructed view and it’s the closest they let regular people watch (the press and NASA people get to watch from three miles away). The number of tickets is limited and they are known to sell out fast. We were ready yesterday morning refreshing the order page on the Kennedy Space Center website a few minutes before 8:00am. On my screen I had a window open with an atomic clock to know exactly what time it was. At 7:59:50am the “Buy” button appeared on the order page. Amy and I, each on our own computer, immediately tried to buy two tickets, but no luck. It immediately said “Sold Out”.

Oh no, how can these tickets be sold out in a matter of seconds? We didn’t believe this and figured there must be a problem with the website. For the next few minutes we kept refreshing the page and trying to add the tickets to our shopping cart, but each time we got “Sold Out” . Then all of a sudden I got through and got a form to enter my details. Whoo-hoo! A clock at the top of the page started counting down; you have 8 minutes to complete the order and then the tickets will be made available to other people again. I had already put all my address and payment details in a Notepad so all I had to do was paste them into the form. When I was done and clicked the button to confirm my order I suddenly got the “Sold Out” error. Drats!

By this time it was about 8:10am and I knew for sure now that there was a problem with the website. After all, I should have had 8 minutes to complete the order! I decided to try and give them a call while Amy continued to refresh the page on her computer. I kept getting a busy signal for about 10 minutes and then finally got through. I pressed “2” for information about Shuttle launches, then “3” to order tickets only to be told that they’re experiencing a high volume of calls right now and please try again later. What? I finally got through and then they hang up on me? I hung up and tried dialing again and again and again. Each time it was busy and every 20 tries or so I got through but was hung up again.

At 8:30am or so the website homepage finally said that all tickets were sold out and I still hadn’t been able to talk to anyone on the phone. I found a Tweet from someone that said “DO NOT TRY the website. Call them instead.” and on the Facebook page of Kennedy Space Center some people were having a discussion about the website problem and some said they had just been able to order tickets by phone. So I didn’t want to give up.

I figured out that after being told to hang up I could press “0” to return to the main menu and try it again without having to dial again. Hey, that was handy. I went through this maybe fifty times: 2, 3 .. told to hang up .. 0, 2, 3 … told to hang up .. 0, 2, 3 … etc. FINALLY I got through and was put on hold. I was going to speak to the next available rep. By this time it was 8:45am and I didn’t have any hope that tickets were still available, but at the very least I wanted to find out if my online order from earlier had gone through.

After 5 minutes of waiting I finally got to speak to someone. She said that they still had tickets left! But only “dine with an astronaut” tickets. These tickets are $20 more expensive and you get to have breakfast with a real astronaut in the morning before you take the bus to the causeway to see the launch. Well, I didn’t have to think twice about that! Of course, gimme two of those! I gave all my details over the phone and that was it.

Wow, that was a stressful one hour of trying to get these tickets yesterday morning. I never received a confirmation by email yesterday, so this morning I called them again (got through right away this time) and they confirmed that we’re in the system and the tickets will be mailed to us on November 2nd. I’m so looking forward to going to Florida again and really hope the launch won’t be scrubbed this time. Keep your fingers crossed!

STS-125 Clears the Tower

Good backyard bird week

Posted on October 17th 2009 by Arthur in Birds, Illinois, Life in America, Nature

We’ve had a good week for backyard birding. Not only did the White-crowned Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos return for the winter, we also had five new song birds! Since we moved to this house in February we’ve been keeping track of all the birds we’ve seen in our backyard. This week we added five new species.

It started last Monday with a Yellow-rumped Warbler that was hanging out in the back and the next day Amy spotted the first Chipping Sparrow at our feeder. On Wednesday we heard a thump against the window and found a little Golden-crowned Kinglet laying on the roof, knocked out. We picked it up and put it in a box in a warm place. A half hour later it started to scratch around in the box so we let it out in the backyard. The kinglet immediately flew to our tallest tree and we watched it for a while as it was flitting around the tree top looking for bugs. Yesterday we saw our first Red-breasted Nuthatch flying back-and-forth between a feeder and a tree and just a few minutes later a Ruby-crowned Kinglet was hopping around the big tree where we had earlier seen the recuperated Golden-crowned.

Wow, that makes 30 different species in our yard so far! I never guessed we’d get so many in our suburban neighborhood! Especially the beautiful warbler and kinglets were a huge surprise. We’ve also been seeing a Cooper’s Hawk almost every day, terrorizing our song birds. Last week we saw him eat a House Sparrow and Amy caught it on video (gruesome!). He likes to sit on the lightest slat of our fence, which is the same color has himself, so he blends right in.

Here’s our complete backyard species list:

  1. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (16 October 2009)
  2. Red-breasted Nuthatch (16 October 2009)
  3. Golden-crowned Kinglet (14 October 2009)
  4. Chipping Sparrow (13 October 2009)
  5. Yellow-rumped Warbler (12 October 2009)
  6. House Wren (3 August 2009)
  7. Blue Jay (31 May 2009)
  8. Northern Flicker (25 May 2009)
  9. Red-tailed Hawk (24 May 2009)
  10. Ring-billed Gull (19 May 2009)
  11. Baltimore Oriole (18 May 2009)
  12. Common Grackle (6 May 2009)
  13. White-crowned Sparrow (6 May 2009)
  14. Tree Swallow (May 2009)
  15. Brown-headed Cowbird (April 2009)
  16. Common Starling (30 March 2009)
  17. American Tree Sparrow (30 March 2009)
  18. Downy Woodpecker (20 March 2009)
  19. American Robin (18 March 2009)
  20. Song Sparrow (15 March 2009)
  21. Red-winged Blackbird (15 March 2009)
  22. American Crow (March 2009)
  23. Northern Cardinal (15 March 2009)
  24. House Sparrow (12 March 2009)
  25. Mourning Dove (6 March 2009)
  26. House Finch (6 March 2009)
  27. Black-capped Chickadee (3 March 2009)
  28. Cooper’s Hawk (March 2009)
  29. Dark-eyed Junco (26 February 2009)
  30. American Goldfinch (22 February 2009)

Blue Jay