Weekend Adventures – City Museum and a Birthday Party

This weekend was a whirlwind road trip. The Hubby and I took Friday off to drive down to Carbondale, Illinois for my Mom’s 60th birthday party. We had to pick up my sister, Erin, at the St. Louis airport at midnight along the way, so we worked it out so that the Hubby and I could spend a couple hours at the City Museum in St. Louis. The City Museum is one of my favorite places to play in the world. I always feel 10 years younger there. The museum is eccentric and whimsical; it consists of found art and lots of tunnels and man-made caves to explore and crawl around in, curving staircases to climb, and slides and ropes and even a ball pit!

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Hubby on the Road: Coming Home

The Hubby made it home safely on Saturday! His road trip from Connecticut to Minneapolis was a little more snowy than the ride out.

I stopped at this rest stop in Ohio twice. The shot on your left is on the way out, the shot on the right is on the way back home.

Nightly sight at rest stops and diesel gas stations.

 

Hubby on the Road: At Work

The Hubby wrapped up his job in Connecticut yesterday, and he should be starting back home today unless the site calls for a last-minute look at anything. While he was on-site he wasn’t able to take photos of the really cool, confidential-type stuff that he was working with, but he did manage to take a few shots outside of the camera-restricted areas. Here are the Hubby’s photos from work:

Caution: I may drop something on you.

Outside eyewash and safety shower in case I spill bad stuff on myself.

Connecticut license plate – it’s the little things are different.

Hubby On The Road

The Hubby is an environmental testing technologist. His company tests air, water and soil for contaminants and composition. He is in the air division, which means he spends a lot of time outdoors climbing those huge stacks that you see rising up from large plants and factories, or working on hot tar roofs, or sitting in company vehicles waiting for data collection. He uses a number of cool instruments to do analyses like GC/mass spec (gas chromatography mass spectrometry) and FTIR (Fourier transform spectroscopy), which are ways of separating samples into their various components and identifying those components.

Every once in a while out-of-the area companies will contract the Hubby’s company to do air testing for them. In these cases one or more of the technologists in the Hubby’s group will have to fly or drive out to location. The Hubby has recently been sent out to Connecticut, and he’s driving because there is a trailer full of equipment that needs to go along. Connecticut – how fun! I wish I could have tagged along for the drive, but it’s pretty busy at work, so that wasn’t going to happen. Instead I asked the Hubby to take photos along his drive and send them back to me so I could share the road trip.

These are from the Hubby’s road trip to Connecticut. I hope to have new photos every day or two.

Sunday:

Driving Through Chicago – Sears Tower spotting!

The Hubby with his rig at dusk in Indiana

Monday:

A farm in Pennsylvania. The Hubby also hit New York and Connecticut today.

Mississippi River Adventures

Last Friday Aaron and I road-tripped down to Wabasha, MN to see two friends embark on a sailing adventure that started in a tiny Wabasha marina and will end in Belize, Central America (You can follow the adventures in photos and written stories at their website, Sailing to Belize). We left at 4:30am and rolled into Wabasha at about a quarter to seven. We got a tour of the boat and were treated to a really beautiful sunrise. The goodbyes wrapped up and the guys set sail. Those of us who had traveled down to see them off headed into town to warm up and get some breakfast.

After that Aaron and I split off to explore some of the landmarks along the Mississippi River. We started at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha. It’s a very pretty building with several exhibits that educate about eagle habitats, behavior and representation in current and historical cultures. The highlight of the museum is a viewing area with five of the center’s permanent eagle residents. The viewing area is open air; the eagles are tethered to an small area around their perches and visitors stand behind a low barricade only feet away from the birds. The eagles – four bald eagles and one golden have all been injured and are unable to be returned to the wild.

This eagle had been hit by a car and never regained his ability to fly. The National Eagle Center gives him a home and helps people learn about eagles.

Next we crossed the river into Wisconsin and drove south to Alma where we visited Buena Vista Park. It shelters many different kinds of songbirds and is kind of breathtakingly gorgeous.

Just a little pretty. Panorama stitched together by cleVR. Click to enlarge.

And since we were there we made a quick stop at Lock and Dam #4 in Alma. We were hoping to see some bald eagles hunting the fish that get injured by the dam, but all we got were a bunch of ring-billed seagulls. Pbth! But I did get cool shot of the dam.

Chatty three-eyed aliens!

The next stop on our list was Rieck’s Lake Park, which is north of Alma and not quite to Nelson, Wisconsin. It is a large lake and flat, open marsh. We saw tons of Canada Geese,  Mallards, and Teals, but weren’t lucky enough to see any Tundra Swans. The view, however, was incredible.

Ducks and Geese hanging out in the lake.

Some small mammal hut – muskrat? Reick’s Lake houses beavers, mink and muskrats.

View from the Reick Bridge site.

After that we went in search of Tiffany Bottoms Wildlife area. Tiffany Bottoms is largely undeveloped and has a great and varied population of birds. We found a parking lot a few miles past Nelson on Highway 25 and started hiking. We never made it to any of the rivers that run through the area (other than the Chippewa, which our path ran parallel to), and we didn’t see a lot of birds, but we found some other forest inhabitants and a set of overgrown train tracks.

Fall Forest Trail 

Eastern Comma Butterfly

Dragonfly

Leopard Frog

Overgrown Train Tracks

After Tiffany Bottoms we headed back to Minneapolis. We had been up since 3:30am and the day’s adventures did us in. We did stop for dinner in Stockholm, Wisconsin on the way back. What a cute touristy town! We walked around a little and shopped at the trinkets stores. And then we went home. What a day!

Minneapolis Chevy Sonic Adventure

On Saturday I participated in the Minneapolis Chevy Sonic Adventure. I posted about the race last week, and since then I’ve had people emailing me for more information. Apparently the race is going to be held in several cities across the U.S., and enterprising individuals are looking for clues or trying to decide if they want to get in on the action. I’m not going to share specific clues that we given here on the blog, but I’ve made a couple of lists about my experience with the Minneapolis race.

Top Ten Highlights

1) It was FUN. I had a really good time.This was an enjoyable scavenger hunt, especially for someone like me who enjoys logic games, friendly competition, a little exercise, and exploring.

2) Well-organized start. The starting location was huge and there was plenty of room for people to leave the park at their own pace when the race opened up. There was no craziness or fear of being trampled as people raced out of the area. Not getting trampled was a nice way to start the day.

3) The clues were really quite well done. I was worried that the challenges would either be too easy or impossible, but the people who were responsible for creating the clues for Minneapolis managed to make them challenging without being frustrating. We didn’t have to know the city to figure out the clues, but it did help to have a general sense of direction of where we were and where we were headed.

4) We got some exercise. My partner and I walked several miles on Saturday, which was lovely because the weather was PERFECT – sunny, a gentle breeze and somewhere in the low 70s.

5) I love group activities. The organizers handed out pale pink shirts with the logos all of the supporters written on the back. When we were walking around the city we’d run into each other and there was a sense of camaraderie. Also, there was a bit of hint-helping – you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. No one that we ran into were super-competitive jerks, and most of the teams were smiling and laughing. It felt nice to be part of the group. And one amusing thing about 500 people running around the city in pink shirts was that it confused the crap out the cabbies and other downtown Minneapolis regulars.

6) Seeing the city with new eyes. I’m pretty familiar with downtown Minneapolis, but I discovered new parks, landmarks and stores that I had never noticed or paid attention to before participating in the race.

7) They planned ahead with the no-bike rule. The organizers did not allow bikes or other wheeled transportation (with the exception of medically necessary wheelchairs). There were up to 500 people racing around crowded downtown Minneapolis on a Saturday afternoon. I am so grateful that no one from our group was on bikes; that would have been a nightmare with the pedestrian and car traffic.

8 ) Well-organized ending. When the game was over, the app and text number were disabled. It was a very clear message that the game was over and it was time to head back to HQ.

9) Treats and Prizes! At our game the organizers had a bunch of different kinds of granola bars, fruit snacks, candies and water waiting for us at the end of the race (totally not expected as we hadn’t paid an entry fee). And at our location, one of the local radio stations helped sponsored the event and handed out some swag by random drawing. Finally, the organizers awarded tickets for local events, an MP3 player and a couple of digital cameras to the top eight finishers. I’m not sure what the first runner-up won, but…

10) Someone actually won a freaking car! As I mentioned in my earlier post, the details for the race were quite vague. There was a statement about how participants might win a new Chevy Sonic. My partner and I thought maybe the top winner would get entered into a drawing, or maybe someone would have to hit a certain number of points to win the car, but no. At the end of the race they actually gave away a car to what I’m assuming was the team who ranked the highest in points. That was really neat.

Top Five Disappointments

1) Crowd control during registration. The race was advertised as starting at 11am. We showed up at 10:30 to register and were told that registration didn’t open until 11am (oh, that’s what they meant by starting at 11am). There was no help for queuing up, so at about 10:50 everyone started bunching up and pressing into a huddle around the reg tent. When emcee announced that registration was open the crowd surged toward the table. A couple of orderly lines eventually formed, but not without some shoving, nudging, elbowing, grumbling and generally jerkiness. It took the organizers over an hour to register everyone and we didn’t leave the park until sometime after noon.

2) Runners had the advantage. The name of the game seemed to be hit the most number of clues (and correctly answer them). Those who were able to keep up a steady jog made it to more places. I’m not saying that it was unfair, but those who were used to walking or jogging for long periods of time definitely had an advantage.

3) SCVNGR sucked it up BIG TIME. Don’t get me wrong – the SCVNGR app is really well designed. We pulled it up at the start of the race and all of the  locations were mapped out and the clues were all listed. We planned a route that would cover the greatest number of points in the most direct lines. The app was beautiful. And then the f*cking thing crashed. They weren’t ready for the traffic and we ran into many groups who were having trouble getting the map and clues to refresh or open up. We eventually switched over to the text mode of playing, but we lost a lot of time and a few clues in the process, and…

4) The text message mode of play is at a big disadvantage to the SCVNGR app. The text message mode of play was more reliable than the SCVNGR app for us, but WAY more inefficient. With texting we were sent to one location at a time and we couldn’t pick or choose which location it would send us to. We were sent back and forth across several blocks and had no ability to plan our route. E.g. – it sent us to 7th Street, then up to 10th street, then back down to 8th Street, then to 10th street again. That was frustrating. If they wanted to make the race more even, they would limit everyone to use of text messaging.

5) Battery Life!!! My phone had a 2% charge left at the end of the race. If it had gone any longer we would have had to stop and charge up or throw in the towel. All answers were tied to one phone – not an account that you could log in to from anywhere – so once we had started answering questions, we needed to keep using the same device.

Conclusion: DO IT.

Overall it was a GREAT day and I would recommend the race to anyone and everyone who likes this kind of competitive gaming. The few annoying things were not enough to ruin the overall awesomeness of the event. The thing that made participation a no-brainer for me was the free entry. For $0 from all of us the organizers provided a wonderful afternoon of entertainment, plus a free t-shirt, snacks and prizes.

I would suggest getting a bunch of teams together that all know each other. My teammate and I didn’t know anybody else, so we were our own little world of two. Teams were strictly limited to two people, but there were a couple of larger groups of two-person teams who all sat together before and after the race, and I imagine they had fun running into each other downtown and competing against each other.

And, you actually have a pretty decent chance of winning a car. In Minneapolis the challenge was limited to 250 teams, and one of those teams won a car. If you consider that some of the groups that pre-registered probably didn’t show up, that means each team had a better than 1:250 chance of winning the grand prize. Those are better odds than most of us will probably ever have of winning a car in other types of contests (radio call-in contests, raffles, etc.).

There are photos and video of the event over at the official Minneapolis Chevy Sonic Adventure website. And knowing what I know now…there are some clues about the types of questions and answers you might expect if the Chevy Sonic Adventure comes to your town!

Ack! I need a teammate!

I signed up for a treasure hunt that’s going on this Saturday. It’s called the Chevy Sonic Adventure, and the big prize is a new Chevy Sonic Sedan 2LT. I have no idea how big or difficult the event is going to be, but I had a free Saturday and I like scavenger/treasure hunts so I thought, why not?

Here’s the description of the event from the Minneapolis Chevy Sonic Adventure Facebook page:

Chevy Sonic Adventure is a one-day, real world treasure hunt throughout the city. Teams of two answer riddles and complete challenges via standard text message or SCVNGR app for iPhone and Android. Score the most points, and someone could drive away in an all new Chevy Sonic Sedan 2LT!

Oooo…pretty new car. Hey, you never know until you try, right?

So, now I need a partner! An oddball fascination with general or car trivia may be useful. Cheverolet knowledge specifically may be good too. And it might be helpful if you have a grasp of downtown Minneapolis geography. Maybe we can do a little research beforehand. You know, stratergize?  The website is annoyingly vague about what kind of questions will be asked, although the facebook page does promise to drop some clues prior to game day. They’re also a little cryptic about how much distance we might be covering, although the website does say that everyone must play on foot/wheelchair – no bicycles allowed.

The hunt starts at 11am at Loring Park, so all of my friends who like to sleep in on Saturdays – no worries! There’s plenty of time to roll out of bed, eat some cereal, drink some coffee, walk the dog and still make it down to the park on time. Also, the event is completely free.

Here’s the website. Take a look, decide if you might be up for a good ol’ scavenger hunt dealeo with your buddy, Brianne. If you’re interested, you can contact me here in the comments, or by email at bio_dork – at – hotmail.com, or on twitter @abiodork or on Facebook. Let me know soon, though, because we totally have to come up with a team name.

Yay for grownups playing!

I was on the radio!

A few months ago I was invited to do something new and exciting: I was asked if I wanted to be a radio host for MN Atheists radio show, Atheists Talk! I was very excited to be asked, but I didn’t want to put anything out here on the blog until all the details came together. Today they did.

Today I was the host for an interview with Dr. David Eller on his book Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence: Religious Violence Across Culture and History. It aired at 9am this morning on AM950 KTFN. You can listen to the interview here or on iTunes (the podcast is called “Atheists Talk”, and this is episode #137 “Exploring Religious Violence”). I won’t go into the details of the interview itself here, but it was interesting enough that I found it a little hard to stay focused on the technical side of things, instead of letting myself get completely engaged in the issues Dr. Eller was discussing.

Being the radio host was a neat experience. I read all of the intros and outros, kept an eye on the clock, introduced the guest and the interviewer, thanked the sponsors, and theoretically would have read any email questions or taken any phone calls for the guest, had that happened. There was a kick-butt radio engineer in studio who took care of the actual sound quality, getting Dr. Eller on the phone, turning the mics on and off, and other techy goodness. And aren’t we all grateful for that?

Hosting was a little nerve-wracking and I did mess up a few sections. I totally, utterly cut off Dr. Eller at two of the commercial breaks, but then the engineer came in and clued me in to how those were supposed to work (as opposed to how I had been doing them, lol). Going to commercial is a bit of a delicate dance between the interviewer, the interviewee and the host, but after messing it up twice we NAILED the third break. But then we ran out of time at the end. And I said “uh” quite a bit. And I missed an entire paragraph of script for one of the intros.

So, there’s room for improvement, but now I’ll be one of the regular hosts and I’ll have a chance to try it again! I’ll be alternating with Atheists Talk radio host (and the blogger behind Almost Diamonds) Stephanie Zvan most weeks. My next show is on Sunday October 30th at 9am. We’re scheduled to have Alex Rosenberg on to discuss his book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality.

Fun, huh?

Wisconsin Weekend and Photo Contest

A friend of mine invited me and the Hubby to spend this past weekend in Wisconsin with her and her family. They have a GORGEOUS  house on a quiet lake in the Northeast corner of the state. We went tubing, jet skiing, boat cruising around the lake and flying through the woods on an ATV. We played board games, had tasty adult drinks and ate incredible meals prepared by her mom (her mom bought all sorts of gluten-free goodies just for me, including brownies, spice cake and ciabatta rolls!). We packed a lot in over 30 hours. Oh, and we saw a frickin’ black bear as we were driving home!

Tubing on Crane Lake
Me tubing!

Photo Contest

I could use your help. I’m submitting three photos to a gallery at work (just a showing, not a contest) at one of our upcoming site-wide celebrations. I’ve picked out my top thirty favorite photos and placed them in a flickr set. If you have the time and the inclination, I’d love to have your help in narrowing it down to the three winners. Here’s how you can pipe up:

Oh, and did I mention that there is a contest associated with this? I love contests. If you vote you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a set of prints of your three favorite photos, even if they aren’t the three that I use for the gallery showing. I’ll chat printing options (size, finish, etc.) with the winner. 

Thanks for any votes, thoughts or advice!

Back at it!

Author’s Note: Mom was here for two full weeks, and it was a blast! While she was here we did all sorts of fun things, and I also neglected a few things. Like dishes. And laundry. And my husband. And blogging. Mom left Minneapolis on Tuesday morning and is continuing her journey westward toward my sister’s hometown of Bellingham, WA. Yesterday evening I did dishes, vacuumed, cleaned the cat’s litterbox and took out the garbage. Tonight I get to blog, edit photos and Flickrize.

~~~

Okay, I wrote that last paragraph two hours ago. I’ve started two skepticism-based posts, and I’ve realized way too late in the game that both are going to require a little more research and brain power than I have left in the stores this evening. Rather than put out a shoddy article, I’m going to tip my hat to you fine readers and leave you with a couple of picture from the adventures of the past two weeks. I thought about captioning them, but after flipping through these gems a few times I decided that they were more fun without any context.

And yes, that is a dancing urine cup. Nighty-night!