What have we done today?

– Renovated the Ocean Today kiosk and installed new drivers for the touch screen

– Installed a new TV for the wave energy video display

– Installed new solid state video players on wave energy display and hypoxia exhibit

– Drained the smaller wave tank after its prototype test

– Begun installation of research cameras (nine to start with)

– Threw a pizza party to say goodbye to Jordan and Will, who are leaving us for other pastures (if the pastures are greener, the ozone isn’t working)

– Other things I can’t keep in my head right now

Things are in motion. That’s how we like it.

Mark located an ultra-cheap compact USB video camera and microphone online. By ultra-cheap, I mean $10. Laura clipped it to her shirt and gave it a quick trial run in the Visitor Center.

It had remarkably good resolution, but muffled audio quality beyond about two feet. Also, we found that a lapel-mounted camera moves a lot, making it hard to discern what the wearer is attending to.  This new gadget may have some use if affixed to an exhibit, but it doesn’t compete with the Looxcie as a visitor-mounted camera.

My favorite aspect of the product, however, is the instruction manual.  This document stands as a heroic failed attempt to translate coherent thoughts into the awkward and confusing linguistic soup we call “English.”

Here are some highlights:
-When you charge it, blue light and red light will bright simultaneously, of which states are stillness.
-Notice: when battery power is not enough, D001 will enter into protection mode, so it cannot be turn on.  Now, please charge for it.
-If you need to continue to video, please press Record/Stop button slightly once more.

Our other projects are moving along quickly.  The wave tanks should arrive next week.  The data collection cameras should in within two weeks.  If you haven’t seen Katie’s test run of the SMI eye-tracking system, you can watch a quick video of it here.


Some of the cameras with which we’re working come in aesthetically pleasing, self-contained housings. We can fix that. The photo above shows the previously-internal microphone of an Axis M10 camera, which Kent has bent to his will using copper wire and electrical tape.

He also removed the housing from the camera itself, releasing its verdant inner being. Observe, as it perches atop the marine mammal case, naked and free as the day it was manufactured (at least before the housing went on, which presumably happened the same day):


So why, why, why did we do this? Well, we have to established not only how versatile our equipment is in its off-the-shelf condition, but how versatile it might be made through customization. In this case, we wanted to see if the internal microphone could be extended or swapped out if a situation so requires (if you’re wondering, the answer appears to be “yes”).

These devices will become part of our workplace. We have to become familiar with them, inside and out. That process may not always be pretty, but it sets the stage for better integration into our research environment.

In summary, that camera will get new clothes and it will love them.

Laura is putting together a video for Volunteer Appreciation Week.  To that end, we spent much of the day filming interviews and animals.  Katie provided technical support with the Magic Planet to aid our efforts.  We have some other video outreach ideas brewing, as well.

Otherwise, we’ve been shining up the website and setting up microphones as per usual.  Water noise is a continuing problem, but one that we can overcome with proper microphone design and placement.  Sometimes this sounds easier than it is.  We’ve been working with our four-microphone Zoom recorder, which has proven useful in this and other situations.

Inventory of my left pocket at day’s end:

-1 shock- and water-resistant cell phone
-1 small Post-It note reading as follows:
-1 large Post-It note reading as follows:
xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx [Internal IP address]
19:41 (MMHMM)
-1 printed to-do list from Mark with seven items (three crossed off)
-1 scrap of paper with the letters “MTS” written on it

I’ll leave it to you to figure out what all these things might mean. In summary, we had a lot to do today. In addition to the tasks that left written records on my person, we also set up cameras and prepared the website to go public. We still have much to do.

Most of our cameras receive power over ethernet. However, we’re connecting them to the network wirelessly, which requires us to plug each one into a power outlet. The placement of our outlets still makes this preferable.

I suggested making the cameras completely wireless by installing an immense Tesla coil in the auditorium. Sadly, my colleagues did not express confidence that a looming chrome monstrosity surrounded by roaring blue lightning would make science more approachable to the general public.


We were all happy to see that our April Fool’s video had received more than 5,000 hits on YouTube as of this morning.  Thanks for all the great comments, and thanks to PZ Myers for giving us a nod.  I was amazed by the relative scarcity of comments from those whom Dave Barry calls the “humor impaired.”  As of this posting, one insightful commenter has managed to identify the video as “totally fake,” perhaps aided by the title card at the end stating as much.  We would’ve gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!

Shawn, Mark, Laura and I met this morning to discuss camera placement.  The Visitor Center D&D campaign map came into play, with pennies representing camera mounts.  Now that we’ve figured out the field of view and other pertinent characteristics for our cameras, it’s a matter of fine-tuning our coverage and figuring out which camera works best in which location.

Associating video and audio is another issue.  One approach would be to automatically associate the audio feed from each microphone directly with the camera(s) that cover(s) the same cell(s) in our Visitor Center grid.  Another would be to present each audio and video feed separately, allowing researchers to easily review any audio feed in conjunction with any video feed.  What qualifies as “intuitive” can be highly variable.

Hypothetically, my initial response to a fresh mound of audio/video data would be to visually scan audio tracks for activity, then flip through the videos to see what was going on at those times.  In any case, our software should be versatile enough to accommodate a range of approaches.