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The Owl and the Nuclear Power Plant

Posted on April 13th 2011 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.

Charging for incoming texts should not be allowed

Posted on April 2nd 2010 by Arthur in Life in America, Science & technology

A major difference between Europe and the US when it comes to mobile phones is that carriers in the US charge their customers for incoming calls and text messages while in Europe they don’t. If I get a 10-minute call from someone then 10 minutes go off of my allotted plan minutes. And if I receive a text message I have to pay for it, or it goes off of my allotted messages for the month.

I don’t have a messaging plan on my AT&T phone, so I pay $0.20 for each message that I send and receive. I don’t mind this because I hardly use text messaging, but lately I have been getting more and more spam messages and ones with some random words from numbers I don’t know. This is extremely annoying because AT&T charges me $0.20 for each of these.

Why does the FCC even allow this to occur? Charging for incoming phone calls is okay, I guess, as you can simply not pick up if you don’t recognize the number, but text messages just arrive and there’s nothing you can do about it. Someone could send me 1,000 text messages right now and I’d have to pay $200 for them. This should not be allowed!

AT&T has a website at where you can block text messages that were sent as email, but it’s not possible to block regular messages that were sent from mobile phones, which is most of the ones I receive. It also only works for short 5-digit numbers, but I tried to block some of these and still received text messages from them, so it didn’t work.

I called AT&T and the representative told me that I can block up to 15 regular phone numbers on my account. Why only 15? If this trend continues I’ll soon get unwanted text messages from way more than just 15 different numbers. Fortunately, AT&T allowed me to completely block my text messaging capabilities. I’ve read about other carriers who don’t have this option and customers are forced to receive these spam messages and pay for them. I can’t believe the FCC allows this. Imagine you’d have to pay for each spam email you receive or unsolicited mail you get delivered to your home. That’s ridiculous!

AT&T and other operators in the US should really stop charging for incoming text messages (as is the case in most of the world!) or at the very least allow their customers to keep a list of numbers from friends and family that they do want to receive texts from and block everything else.

Our Visit to Fermilab

Posted on May 28th 2009 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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10 Chicago Firsts: Famous Inventions

Posted on January 24th 2009 by Arthur in Chicago, Illinois, Science & technology, Top Lists

Chicago is the home of the first African-American President of the United States, but it is also home to many other firsts, such as the world’s first ferris wheel and the world’s first McDonald’s. Here’s a list of ten Chicagoland firsts that you may not know about.

Home Insurance Building (1885-1890)
Home Insurance Building by drs2online

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Craziest Thing I’ve Ever Seen: Banjo Surgery

Posted on January 6th 2009 by Arthur in Craziest Things I've Ever Seen, Science & technology, Videos

Banjo player Eddie Adcock recently underwent brain surgery to fix a tremor in his right hand that prevented him from playing his famous bluegrass music. During the procedure Eddie was awake and continued to play the banjo to help doctors navigate to the exact spot in his brain that would restore his talent. The surgeon poked different spots inside his brains and he would say if he could play the banjo better or worse. Reminds me of getting an eye exam, except the eye doctor doesn’t poke around in my brains to get my prescription!!

After the tests the surgeon implanted a remote-controlled electrode at the spot to stimulate the brain to improve his tremors. This clip from ABC’s Good Morning America shows Eddie Adcock trying to write and play the banjo with the electrode turned off and then on. The improvement is incredible. This is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen!

Our visit to Space Expo and ESTEC

Posted on August 2nd 2008 by Arthur in Life in Holland, Museums, Science & technology, Space

Today we went to Noordwijk and visited the Space Expo exhibition and visitor center of the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC). The European Space Agency has sites in several European countries. ESTEC is the largest site and the technical heart of ESA. More than 2,000 rocket scientists work here on dozens of space projects. Here’s a view of ESTEC in Noordwijk, with the dunes and North Sea in the background. You can see that the scientists have their own golf course and soccer field. The building at the bottom, to the right of the soccer field, is Space Expo:


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Great deal on a 10 megabyte hard disk

Posted on August 11th 2007 by Arthur in Science & technology

Check out this July 1980 ad from Byte magazine featuring a great deal on a 10 Megabyte Hard Disk for $3,495 ! At that price my current 250 GB external drive would cost $8,737,500. Computers and storage capacity have come a long way in the last 27 years.

July 1980 ad from Byte magazine


Driverless robot bus crashes again, financially

Posted on April 18th 2007 by Arthur in Life in Holland, News, Science & technology

Rotterdam ParkshuttleThe saga of the Rotterdam ‘parkshuttle’ continues. After nearly eight years of setbacks (including the December 2005 crash), the driverless robot buses — that are supposed to bring commuters from a metro station to an office park on a two-kilometer special road — takes another blow as the company that made the buses has filed for bankruptcy. More »

Pictures of my first total lunar eclipse

Posted on March 4th 2007 by Arthur in Photos, Science & technology, Space

There was a total lunar eclipse tonight. From 10:30pm the shadow of the earth slowly moved over the Moon and from 11:44pm to 12:58am the eclipse was complete and the moon was a beautiful bright red from the Sun’s rays going through the Earth’s atmosphere. Actually, at 11:43pm, just one minute before the total eclipse, a huge cloud came in front of the moon here in Leiden and it started raining and hailing. It didn’t move until just ten minutes before the end of the eclipse, so we were really lucky to see it at all. I had a chance to try out my new Canon 400D. I know these photos are not really great, but it’s the first time I took pictures of the moon, so I’m pretty happy with it. More »

Google to build server farm near Groningen

Posted on February 7th 2007 by Arthur in Science & technology, Websites & Tools

Later this year Google will built a huge server farm in Eemshaven, near Groningen in the north of the Netherlands. The new ‘Telehouse’ will have room for 100,000 servers that Google uses for storing its search data. Google is estimated to have some 450,000 servers around the world, in places like Mountain View (California), Virginia, Atlanta, Georgia and Dublin (Ireland). The cluster of computers will require an amount of energy enough to sustain 80,000 households. More »