I have just walked back into my office after spending approximately the last hour on Skype with a class from Oregon State University. Itchung Chung is the Academic Program Coordinator at Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport (where I was working for four months before coming here) and he also teaches several classes at Hatfield as well as in Corvallis at OSU’s main campus, and he asked me to speak to one of his classes via Skype.
It was actually amazingly fun and a great compliment that students would actually be interested in hearing anything that I have to say, but after hearing their first question, “It’s been quite a while since your last blog post, what’s going on there?” I have been stabbed with an overwhelming dose of guilt at my failure to keep up with the blog and have found myself frantically writing to you now.
Realizations and Notifications:
- My goal of writing a blog post every day was completely unrealistic and I have failed miserably anyway, so I should change my goal.
- Somehow my responsibilities and job description has changed yet again since arriving at McMurdo (or Mactown as it’s also called) and I have found myself heading up an entire section of the project. Photogrammetry has somehow become my “baby” and is where almost all of my brain power and time has been dedicated to.
- I now officially have an idea for my undergraduate thesis. Hooray!
- In order to improve the frequency of my blogging, I have realized (well actually John from my team suggested) that I can add photographs later. Although it’s not what I would prefer and I know photos make a big difference when you’re reading a blog post, especially when it’s something cool like Antarctic terrain, but somethings gotta give. Therefore, I will try and see if I can post blog posts with only text first and go back later and add in photos. I’ll try and write updates of what posts have had photos added to them to help make that a bit more clear.
- I was sick with the McMurdo “crud” for about a week and am just now fully recovering from that “experience”. The “crud” is essentially an unidentified flu/cold that nearly everyone receives after coming to McMurdo. Living in such close quarters with the same 1,000-1,300 people that have come from all over the world, and getting reduced amounts of sleep from all of the work (or play) leaves you with the wonderful once in a life time opportunity to receive Antarctic crud. Great. I’m not someone who get’s sick easily and I don’t ever get sick enough that I have to stay home from work or school, but, with the crud I stayed back for 3 field days and that was AFTER we had received a rare two day weekend. Basically I was in bed for four and a half days and managed to work a couple hours in the office for part of the fourth day, before going back to bed. Being stuck in bed when you have Antarctica waiting for you outside your dorm room is a really frustrating thing. But, at the same time you have to be at 100% to manage working in the Antarctic environment, anything less and you’ll just get destroyed. Yet even that knowledge doesn’t seem to soothe the blow of being left behind from skidooing into the wild exhilarating world of ice.
- I have been in Antarctica for nearly four weeks, and it has been the FASTEST four weeks of my life. The days have passed feeling more like hours than days and the idea of leaving here in two weeks makes me feel like bursting into tears and chaining myself to a building all at the same time.
- Our b470 team party was last night. We hosted a party at the Coffee House, which is one of the three bars in town, and invited all of the friends that we have made during our time on the ice. It was by far the most fun I have ever had staying up dancing. Being in a group a people like that, where everyone there is guaranteed to be a pretty awesome person because firstly, they’re the kind of person that works in Antarctica and secondly because someone from your team wanted them there. It kind of makes it like an exclusive VIP party, where you feel completely comfortable hanging out, dancing, and getting to know everyone. It was fantastic, but somehow it has awoken me to what little time we have left here.
- I had written a rough blog post while I was lying in bed with the crud and it is much more detailed about the work we’re doing and the project itself. I think I am going to take up the new policy of “pictures later” and try and get that posted in the next couple days as well. Which means it will seem a little out of place considering the post was written about 2 weeks ago, but bare with me.
- Photogrammetry hasn’t gone anywhere near what I would describe as smoothly, but then again maybe that’s how research goes. In order to accurately build models in the program the cameras need to be individuality calibrated, which had been done before we came to Antarctica. Yet, somewhere along the way the cameras must have gotten beaten up and the lenses began giving us grief, which means that I have had to re-calibrate all of the cameras. I can’t build any models or even judge to see how well our procedure or setup for photogrammetry is until these calibrations are done. We have already tagged 11 animals, our goal is 15. Needless to say, I am feeling the pressure to get my stuff in line. I have a certain amount of leeway in that I have the opportunity to take photos again when we recapture the animal, which is usually about a week after deployment, to remove the telemetry gear. This opportunity is a wonderful gift from the science Gods that I can’t express my gratitude enough for.Here’s an example of some of the grief I’ve been dealing with.Markus realized after looking at my photogrammetry photos during our b470 presentation (Jo, Allyson, and Markus presented during one of the weekly McMurdo science lectures) that the camera angles were too narrow and that we couldn’t actually see the entire side of the seal in two photos. Basically four photos are taken at the same time from four corners perspective corners around the seal. Two people on either side of the head and two on either side of the tail. I need to be able to see points in at least two photos for Photomodeler to be able to reference the points into 3D. Therefore, we need to be able to see the seal from nose to tail in both photos from the right and both from the left. So we have changed our set up and now the camera angle seems to be more optimal, but there was still the issue of re-calibrating the cameras.This is an example of one of the first seals we worked with. You can see that the positions of the people holding the cameras is outside of the rulers and that you can’t really see past where the seal has swung out her body. I need to be able to see the entire side of her body and from this angle, a lot of her tail and back end of her body is hidden. Our angle was too narrow. The yellow alphabet cubes were an idea I had to help keep the photos separated. When you get home at the end of the day and have 3-7 photos taken of each animal (sometimes we do 2 or 3 animals in a day which would mean possibly 21 photos per animal) multiplied by four cameras, it’s a lot of photos to keep straight. The only photos I can use are the ones that are taken at the exact same time and when the seal isn’t moving. We rotate the cubes between A, B, and C in between each photo and that, plus the time stamps on the cameras help me group the photos into the correct sets.
This is an example of a photo that we just took on Sunday. The position of the people holding the cameras has moved in towards the center, in line with front and back rulers and sometimes even more towards the center than that. I’ve also added marked flag poles on either side of the animal which adds a third plane for me to work with in Photomodeler. It’s kind of like math, with a ruler on the x axis (side rulers), y axis (front rulers), and z axis (flag poles). Another way to think about it is having a ruler or flag pole on all sides of box like when you’re trying to find volume and need height (flag poles), length (side rulers), and width (front and back rulers). Having that third plane helps Photomodeler solve the alignment of the points and keep all the points on the correct plane.
I have been stressing out beyond all belief about calibrating these cameras. Basically I felt like I was holding up the entire project. I should know by now that stressing out to that degree isn’t really helpful, if anything it was probably just draining me of time and energy that I could have dedicated to moving forward and being productive. But, wisdom tends to come after the fact.I felt like I was doing everything I could, I was spending every spare second I had taking photos of a paper grid with the cameras and running the photos through the calibration process in Photomodeler, but none of the calibrations were coming out correctly. I was making adjustments accordingly and slowly fixing the problems, but it takes a lot of time that I just didn’t have. Markus mentioned that he wondered why the calibration process was SO difficult now when he never remembered it being an issue when it had been done by people in his lab in the past. It could have been the fact that the lenses were off and had obviously been jarred, but it seemed like more than that. After Markus left, I continuing to wallow in self pity and sorrow for several minutes until I remembered something…. I have an irrevocable tendency to be a bit hard on myself and be a bit of a perfectionist and I am well aware that many people have escaped this doomed fate. Perhaps whoever calibrated the cameras in the past is one of those people.
So here’s some things I have realized about this calibration process in the last couple days,I already knew that essentially I could have used any of the dozens and dozens of photos I had taken thus far to calibrate the cameras, but that we wouldn’t want to because all of those calibrations had such a high degree of error associated with them. Basically even though I knew this, every time I saw a calibration report that showed me what I considered to be a high degree of error, I considered the calibration process a fail. When I went to look at the old calibration photos and reports that had been done several years ago, the error was significantly higher than what I was receiving and I would have considered them un-calibratable. Which basically means I have been stressing out over these calibrations for days now, when my calibrations were already more accurate than the ones we had been using the in past. Definite “DUH” moment. However, that means our current position isn’t nearly the crisis situation it had appeared to be and although I am still busy calibrating cameras at several different settings to make up for the several different scenarios we’ve used while taking photos in the field, suddenly a lot of the pressure is off, which is fantastic.
Welcome to my world. These cameras and photos feel as though they have made up my entire existence lately. The one exception, is being in the field. It’s hard to spend all morning working on cameras and photos and then being gone all day in the field only to return home to work on cameras and photos again. But, when I’m in the field I leave everything else behind. I am not stressed about whether photogrammetry is going to work or not or whether I have calibrated the cameras correctly. I am only focused on the experience of being out on the sea ice and working with Weddell seals.
I am going to attach an email I sent to my dad a couple days ago to finish the post on a lighter note, he mentioned that he thought it might make a good blog post.
I’m sorry for being so short on the phone last night. I am a little sensitive right now (maybe more than a little) and am just having a hard time remembering that regardless of how difficult my current situation may seem, I am in an amazing place and I have to remember that. We didn’t go out today because the weather is bad, which means thankfully I have time to work on my stuff… It was a good idea for me to revisit the idea of using RAW images, I’m going to look into that now.
When I’m out on the sea ice, I am in awe. It’s absolutely breathtaking. There is the seemingly endless sea ice, but then it’s stopped by the beautiful mountains surrounding us. The ice on the side of the island is beginning to melt and it leaves these gaping holes in a vertical sheet of ice. You can see stratified layers of ice covered in long melting streams of icicles, tens to hundreds of feet thick draping over the entire scene. The snow gets blown around every day by the wind and it makes it all the more scenic when you can literally see every which way the snow blows in, on, and around everything here. Driving to and from different sites is by far my favorite time of day and is when I really appreciate being here. I didn’t expect it to be so beautiful.
I’m finding it hard to not get caught up in work and stress, but I want to be more like you and keep an even composure. You have a way of not letting things bother you, no matter how difficult a situation is. I wish some of that would rub off on me.
I love you endlessly.