Paris-style metro entrance in Chicago

Posted by Arthur in Art, Chicago

We came across this Paris-style Metra entrance in Chicago the other day. It is based on the famous Art Nouveau Metro entrances by Hector Guimard. The entrance to the Van Buren station was given to Chicago by the city of Paris in 2001. The cast iron entrance was taken from the original molds.

Paris metra

Here is the original in Paris (photo by adfoto), which was introduced to Paris in the early 1900s.

metro Monceau

There is also one in Montreal. I wonder if there are any anywhere else.

August 5th 2010 | 3:13 am CET | 4 Comments »

Eye and Cardinal in Chicago

Posted by Arthur in Art, Chicago

There’s a new eyeball in town, and it’s three stories tall! The art installation by Tony Tasset can be found at Pritzker Park at State and Van Buren in Chicago, from July through October 2010. It is called Eye and Cardinal.

Eye and Cardinal by Tony Tasset

It’s a bit creepy, if you ask me. Looks like a giant got his eye poked out by the spikes on Sears Tower Willis Tower.

Eye and Cardinal by Tony Tasset

The Cardinal-part of Eye and Cardinal is in the form of 156 vinyl banners on State Street. The banners have flying Northern Cardinals on them, the state bird of Illinois.

Eye and Cardinal by Tony Tasset

Eye and Cardinal by Tony Tasset

Eye and Cardinal by Tony Tasset

The three-story eyeball sculpture is part of the Chicago Loop Alliance art collection. For more information see Chicago Loop Alliance.

Eye and Cardinal by Tony Tasset

August 3rd 2010 | 3:13 am CET | No Comments »

More photos of Transformers 3 filming in Chicago

Posted by Arthur in Chicago, Movies

Today we went down to Chicago again to see more of the filming of Transformers 3. This time we saw a huge action scene with explosions, lots of gunfire and a bus and cars flying in the air. We also got good looks at Shia LaBeouf, Michael Bay, Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson. Today’s action took place on E Wacker Drive between State and Wabash. We had a great place to stand across the river from the action, where hundreds of people had lined up to see some of the movie magic.

Transformers 3 set
Some impressive set pieces as if they had fallen off the building

Transformers 3 set

Transformers 3 set

Transformers 3 set

Transformers 3 set
Note the damaged awning and the destroyed news stand

Transformers 3 set

Transformers 3 set

Transformers 3 set

Tyrese Gibson
Tyrese Gibson

Josh Duhamel
Josh Duhamel, who was limping around the set today after injuring himself yesterday

Transformers 3 cars

Transformers 3 set

Here’s a video (from someone else) of the action scene we saw:

Transformers 3 fire
After the explosions there was a huge fire and a fire truck came immediately to put it out.

Transformers 3 chair

Transformers 3 set

Transformers 3 set

Transformers 3 set


You can see director Michael Bay in the background here directing the soldiers.


We saw Shia LaBeouf from pretty close this time, but only got pictures from the back

Optimus Prime
Optimus Prime was parked in an alley

Optimus Prime
Under protest from the crowd workers cover up Optimus Prime to keep him shiny

August 1st 2010 | 7:03 pm CET | No Comments »

Transformers 3 filming in downtown Chicago

Posted by Arthur in Chicago, Illinois, Movies

Through August 23rd, Paramount Pictures is filming Transformers 3 in Chicago. It’s been all over the local news here these last couple of weeks as the road blocks and detours cause a bit of extra chaos downtown, especially on the weekends when most of the action takes place.

This weekend the production crew took over Michigan Avenue Bridge and part of Michigan Avenue and turned it into a war zone. We drove down to Chicago today to witness some of the movie magic. Here are movies and pictures from our visit.

This video starts with the sky divers gliding around Trump Tower. They were actually gliding for a while before the video starts, it was very neat. We later found a great place across the river to see some shots of Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel and the other soldiers running up and down stairs. We watched them for several hours as they were being directed by Michael Bay

Movie helicopter
This helicopter with camera in front was flying around most of the afternoon, presumably taking shots of the skyline and buildings to later add CGI robots

Shortly after we arrived we saw five stuntmen jump out of a helicopter, glide around Trump Tower with their winged suits (very cool!) and then open their parachutes and land on a barge in the Chicago River. We saw this twice but it was done at least once more before we arrived. The skydivers jumped out of a black helicopter while the above white helicopter circled around filming them

Some of the tall buildings had camera men on top to film the skydivers

Scuba divers
Scuba divers of the Chicago Police were ready to jump in the water in case a skydiver ended up in the river. All went well what we saw, except once one of the gliders missed the barge and ended up on Wacker Drive

There were a lot of Paramount trucks and trailers everywhere around the set

These actors just picked up their machine guns and other weapons at a wardrobe trailer and are walking to the set. The second guy from the left is Josh Duhamel, who also played Major Lennox in the first two Transformers films

The bridge was partially opened all day with several wrecked cars attached to the north side of the bridge. The cars were hanging from steel cables.

Car wrecks
Pile of cars in front of the bridge

Movie set
Area in front of the bridge, with wrecked taxis, parts of buildings and lots of smoke and fire. One of the taxis had a 555 telephone number on it 🙂

Transformers HOPE posters
Transformers “Hope” posters based on the Obama poster by Shepard Fairey

Car wreck
In an alley off E Wacker Drive we saw people positioning an upside-down MTA bus (a fake Chicago CTA bus) with some other debris

Car wreck
This wrecked truck was right in front of the Corner Bakery where we had lunch

Car wreck
Same car from the side

Car wreck

The Transformers cars were parked on Michigan Avenue and covered up to keep them clean

More Transformers

More Transformers

Terminator 3 Public Assistance T-Shirt
All around the area were people in these yellow t-shirts telling people to keep moving and not block sidewalks or get too close to the set


Lots of other people have posted videos on YouTube. Here are some nice ones:

Video by billyripkin, from YouTube

Video by spudart, from YouTube

Video by mjleshock, from YouTube

Video by zztopeurope, from YouTube

July 17th 2010 | 8:49 pm CET | 1 Comment »

OMG, a hummingbird!

Posted by Arthur in Birds, Life in America, Nature

Fourteen months after we put up our first hummingbird feeder, we have finally seen one in our backyard. Yeah! We first put up a feeder filled with delicious nectar (home-made: 1 part sugar, 3 parts water) on April 2nd, 2009. Unfortunately we never saw one all spring and summer last year. And to make matters worse: raccoons often stop by at night to knock down the hummingbird feeder. They’ve broken a few and we keep having to fill them up.

Early this morning, before leaving on a walk at Rollins Savanna, Amy was looking outside when she saw something small fly by our feeders. She didn’t know what it was, but it made a U-turn and flew back to our orange oriole feeder, which has bigger holes than the red hummingbird feeder (you can see both in the picture below). It was a hummer! We watched the female Ruby-throated Hummingbird for a few minutes, as she hovered above the hole, going back and forth to take a sip.

After this joyous moment we ran outside to put fresh nectar in both feeders and Amy put up her Wingscapes Birdcam to see if it the bird would come back later in the day. At the end of the day there were over 1,500 pictures on the camera!! Most of them were of an empty feeder; the cam takes pictures of movement and the feeder had been blowing in the wind all day. 1,499 of the pictures had nothing on it … but one did!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

It’s hard to see, but it looks like this one has a dark chin, which means that it may be a male. That would mean we had a whopping TWO hummingbirds in our yard today! 🙂

We’ll keep the cam on the hummingbird feeder for a while, now that we know there are some around here. Hopefully we’ll get better pictures one day.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

June 6th 2010 | 7:45 pm CET | No Comments »

Biggest Week in American Birding 2010

Posted by Arthur in Birds, Life in America, Nature

Magee Marsh, a wildlife area in northern Ohio, is considered one of the best places in the United States to witness spring migration of neotropical birds. Lake Erie forms a natural barrier and birds pile up in large numbers as they rest and refuel before they continue their journey across the water. From mid-April through May thousands of birders flock down to the area to witness the event. A boardwalk (of approximately 0.8 miles) that runs through the marsh provides an excellent opportunity to watch these beautiful birds up close.

Magee Marsh boardwalk

This year, a birding festival named The Biggest Week in American Birding was organized for the first time. It was a huge success and hopefully will become an annual event. For 10 days there were many activities, like bus trips, guided walks, workshops and talks. We had the pleasure to attend the festival last week from Thursday to Sunday and stayed in nearby Port Clinton.

Magee Marsh sign

We spent a lot of time on the boardwalk, which was simply amazing. Birds flit around at eye level and they are apparently so tired and hungry from their long journey that they do not mind the people watching them up close. In our first minute on the boardwalk we spotted a Black-throated Blue Warbler right in front of us and we watched it for about 10 minutes hopping around just a few feet from our faces. This is a really good way to observe these birds and learn them. We had already seen quite a few warblers here in Illinois last year, but they are often in the tree tops, making them just small specks and hard to identify. In total we saw about two dozen different warblers at Magee Marsh and the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (which is right next door) and a hundred other species.

American Redstart
American Redstart

Prothonotary Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler on a nest right along the boardwalk

Friday was by far the best day bird-wise. On Thursday afternoon we were on a shore bird excursion, standing in a field watching some Black-bellied Plovers, when all of a sudden temperatures went up about 20 degrees and it became very windy. These southern winds brought a huge amount of birds to the area and Friday the warblers were everywhere.

Scarlet Tanager
Scarlet Tanager

Organizers of the festival and bird guides from Tropical Birding were tweeting rare sightings throughout the day, so we were often checking our iPhone for updates. The boardwalk is numbered, so it would say something like “Gold-winged Warbler at marker 25 MM boardwalk” and people who still hadn’t seen one of those would go and try to find it. At one time on Friday we were standing on the boardwalk when Chicago birder Eric Gyllenhaal passed us and told us to check our tweets. He was referring to:

Twitter: Kirtlands on Magee east beach 300 yards east of parking lot Kenn K

OMG, that’s from Kenn Kaufman, world-renowned birder and author, who just saw one of the rarest warblers nearby. No wonder people were running over to see it. But what were the chances that it would still be hanging around when we finally got there? We started walking toward the beach, about a mile away, and more and more people joined us. When we arrived at the end of the parking lot we saw a long line of people walking along the beach to the place where Kenn was standing. We ended up having great looks at the rare little warbler, and so did an estimated 4,000 other people that day. The bird stayed there almost all day (very cooperative!), just hopping around on some low bushes at eye level. People around us were overjoyed, many thanking Kenn for a life bird that they had been trying to see for years.

Flock of birders watching the Kirtland's Warbler on the beach near Magee Marsh
Flock of birders watching the Kirtland’s Warbler on the beach near Magee Marsh

Kirtland's Warbler on the beach near Magee Marsh
The rare Kirtland’s Warbler

In the four days we stayed in the area we spent a lot of time on the boardwalk, walked around Ottawa NWR and attended several workshops, presentations (including one by Alan Davies and Ruth Miller who, in 2008, broke the world record for most bird species seen in a year), and a bus trip to Oak Openings. We also attended a bird banding demonstration at Black Swamp Bird Observatory. Below you can see a Magnolia Warbler held by one of the banders. Check out these other bird banding pictures at BSBO that Amy took.

Magnolia Warbler
Magnolia Warbler handled by bird bander at Black Swamp Bird Observatory

If we get the chance we’ll definitely go to the Biggest Week again next year.
It was great. 🙂

May 21st 2010 | 9:04 pm CET | No Comments »

Facebook’s photo verification

Posted by Arthur in Craziest Things I've Ever Seen, Websites & Tools

I tried to log on to Facebook today from a public wifi location and Facebook wanted to verify who I was by showing me some random photos of Facebook friends. It tried to show me 7 photos with faces of friends and for each one I had to pick from a list of 6 names. In the end Facebook decided if I’d answer enough correct ones to let me in or not. Unfortunately, most of the photos I got were just random photos like screenshots from Farmville or photos like the one below.

How am I supposed to know who posted these photos? This is a ridiculous verification method. I ended up just guessing most of them. I had to try it four times and each time had to wait an hour before I could try again!

May 12th 2010 | 9:01 pm CET | 92 Comments »

Looking for injured birds in Chicago

Posted by Arthur in Birds, Chicago, Nature

On the last few Thursdays we have been volunteering with the rescue and recovery of injured birds in downtown Chicago. We do this with Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation, which organizes rescue and recovery twice-yearly for 10 to 12 weeks during bird migration.

Chicago Skyline at Night
Chicago skyline via Flickr

Thousands of birds strike Chicago’s tall buildings every year as they migrate through the city. The stunned birds fall to the ground where they lie unconscious and risk being eaten by gulls, stepped on by pedestrians or dying from their injuries. Teams of volunteers go out every morning during migration to look for injured birds. They probably only find a fraction of the birds that hit, as many of them will fall on awnings, ledges and rooftops. Fortunately, about 90% of the birds rescued by volunteers from Flint Creek recover after treatment and can be released back into the wild. This is a great program.

Another city that I know of with a similar program is Toronto, where since 1993 FLAP volunteers have picked up over 44,000 birds from 162 species!

American Woodcock
Our team salvaged and rescued several American Woodcocks in the last few weeks
(photo via Flickr)

Today was our fifth time. We got up at 3:45am, left the house at 4:00am and arrived in Chicago at 5:00am. It is nice to see that many of the buildings in Chicago have their lights turned off during these migration months, which is an effort that has helped reduce bird strikes in the last few years. We drove and walked around Chicago’s downtown loop until about 7:30am today. It’s a large area to cover, so we run around a lot, with our large net, flashlight and backpack full of paper bags. Amy and I also carry walkie talkies which makes it easier to split up and cover different parts of a building and stay in contact.

Brown Creeper ... landed next to me today
Volunteers have also been finding a lot of Brown Creepers these last few weeks
(photo via Flickr)

We try to do the buildings that we have to check along the Chicago River before the sun comes up and the gulls come out, as they are known to snatch up injured birds right in front of rescue volunteers!! Flint Creek has provided us with maps of the City. There are over 125 buildings on the map marked in pink, and these are the buildings that we need to check. This is a huge area, so we’ve split the area up in three parts. Amy and I do one part and two other volunteers do the other areas.

Map of Chicago with rescue area

Flint Creek has two locations in the suburbs and a facility at Northerly Island. This last place is only a 10-minute drive from downtown (see map above), which is great for the birds! Timely treatment is important to survival rates and bringing them to this nearby location increases their chance of survival. After finishing our route we call our two teammates and check if they found anything. If they did we swing by their locations to pick up any bags with birds and then head to Northerly Island, where a triager takes care of them.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (photo via Flickr)

This morning we found a live Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (see above) and dead Palm Warbler (see below). Fortunately, we have not found so many birds yet on our days. I don’t know whether it’s still too early in the season, if it’s the weather or if we haven’t been looking in the right places. In any case I’m happy when we find less birds as that means more birds made it through Chicago without hitting buildings.

Palm Warbler (Yellow -Eastern form) - Peachtree City CBC. Dec '09
Palm Warbler (photo via Flickr)

For more information about rescue and recovery in Chicago see the Flint Creek website. For the Toronto program see

April 15th 2010 | 8:23 pm CET | 1 Comment »

Squirrel antics

Posted by Amy in Funny, Nature, Weather

I can’t believe it, but the forecast for tomorrow is calling for a wintry mix – that means SNOW! Why, just last week our neighborhood squirrel was too hot to even stand up straight!

We watched this cutie scoot around on the ground for a while, foraging and eating while remaining flat on its stomach.

In the end she scampered off, so we think she was just trying to keep cool.

If you think this is cute, you won’t believe what I got to do last week – feed a baby squirrel!

April 7th 2010 | 9:48 pm CET | No Comments »

Charging for incoming texts should not be allowed

Posted 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.

April 2nd 2010 | 9:43 am CET | No Comments »