About Harrison Baker

Harrison Baker works as an aquarist at Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center. His academic background is in animal husbandry, journalism and editing. He is currently pursuing an MS in Free-Choice Learning Science Education. His board game, Deme, is currently under development as a component of his MS project on games and adult learning.

Mark and I did some guerrilla filmmaking this morning.   Despite some hiccups and an uncooperative Sun, we got some good footage.  As I type this, Mark is preparing these and other videos for the Sea Grant all-hands meeting tomorrow and Friday.

Communicating what we do is a big part of what we do.  This is ethically necessary for human-subjects research (see Katie’s post from Monday), and it’s also a great way to teach science as a process.  It’s a somewhat recursive approach that can be, oddly enough, difficult to communicate.  I like to think we do a decent job of it.

I think the key point, as always, is that we’re all in this together.  Visitors, researchers, students and educators each have a role to play in this thing we call “Science.”  Researchers can learn about natural phenomena from the observations of the general public, while the general public can learn about research and natural phenomena from our Visitor Center exhibits and outreach products.  It’s a two-way street—nay, a busy four-way, multi-lane intersection—and our job is to facilitate the flow of information in any direction.

Much of what we do is familiar and time-tested—Bill, resplendent in his bloodstained white lab coat, holding aloft the entrails of a found shark before a crowd of excited children.  Such childhood experiences with classic museum interpretation are what drew many of us into this field.

Hopefully, the new strategies and technologies we’re in the process of introducing will come to be equally accepted and enjoyed by visitors.

Today, Oregon State University’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences (COAS) hosted the Salmon Bowl, our regional competition within the National Ocean Sciences Bowl.  Some fellow grad students and I had the opportunity to try out a free-choice learning activity with the participants as part of a class project.

I really enjoyed seeing high school students engaged with ocean sciences.  Many conservation issues don’t have easy answers.  It’s nice to know the next generation of of scientists, voters, educators and citizens in general includes people who are eager to learn and willing to listen to others.

In the Lab, we’re still scrambling to get the website finished up.  We’ve had a lot of great help (technical and emotional) from our colleagues on campus.  Thanks, everybody.  It’s getting there.

The FCL Lab website currently tops our list of priorities.

We’ve been struggling with it for months now, and our biggest obstacles have been the odd affordances and constraints of Drupal.  Drupal is the content management system used by Oregon State University.  It’s open-source and very adaptable.

These are good things.

It’s also user-hostile and often intolerably restrictive for users without certain administrative privileges.

These are bad things.

Very bad things.

It’s sort of like being handed an array of organic compounds and told to create a rhinoceros. Of course, you have to assemble your rhinoceros one cell at a time, creating each cell individually, organelle by organelle.  You can’t just make a skin cell, copy it, then paste it all over the rhino.  You see, this lack of a basic function allows you to make a rhino with all kinds of crazy skin, so it’s actually a “feature.” Aren’t you grateful?

Oh, and you can’t bond hydrogen to carbon yourself because your version of nature does not include that functionality.  There’s an active community of creator deities out there who have found various workarounds, but these all require a level of sanctioned omnipotence that the universe has withheld from you as a matter of policy.  You can finish at least the brain by the end of the week, right?  After all, it’s just one thing!

Perhaps Drupal’s most beautiful moment so far came toward the beginning of our development process.  We wanted to find out how to activate and work with modules, so we tried to consult the help documentation.  Instead of the help page, we were greeted with a message telling us to install the “help” module, with no further explanation.


Jasper Visser wrote up this brief list of five advantages Pinterest offers for audience engagement.

“Pinterest is the perfect platform for culture, if you ask me. It’s the platform most suited to give meaning to our mission statements and values.”

Pinterest is the “it” social medium right now.  Do you think it will prove to be a lasting and effective method of talking to and with audiences?

If you haven’t seen the SETI Institute‘s “Earth Speaks” project, you might want to do so.  You can log in to post or record a message you would like to send to an extraterrestrial intelligence, or submit your message via Twitter.  The outcome of this has been a large collection of questions, dire predictions, jokes, Star Trek references and the to-be-expected indictments of humanity.  Gary Stix of Scientific American recently posted some examples of the discourse, along with some commentary.

Can we gain something from this reflexive exercise?  I’m intrigued by the frequent Othering of humanity in the messages.  Many bemoan our species’ history of war and hatred, but this fixation on human flaws often apes the very misanthropy that it pretends to oppose.  As of this posting, the words “peace” and “hello” dominate the message section’s rotatable tag cloud.

What do you want to say, and who do you think should hear it?

Left to right: Harrison, Bill and Laura discuss wave tank placement and accessibility.

With new tools and exhibits on the way, we’ve had plenty to keep us busy.  We’ve come up with a new wave tank layout.  We’ve been working with our new Open Exhibits Kinect system.  We’ve tested the limits of face-recognition demo software.  We’ve laughed.  We’ve cried.  We’ve waved our arms around in closets.

Mark tries out the Kinect interface from Open Exhibits

For a brief overview of the research camera placement process (boldly undertaken by McKenzie), take a look at this video.