After a day-long cascade of productivity, Laura completed her Ph.D. proposal this afternoon. I called her and Shawn aside for a photo (above) to celebrate the milestone. Way to go, Laura!

It’s time to do annual reporting for Oregon Sea Grant. This gives us an opportunity to hold up our impacts and say “we did this.” In other ways, it’s about as much fun as it sounds.

Speaking of fun, here’s a really quick and easy  science activity from Make: Projects. With a mason jar, some rubbing alcohol, a flashlight, a disc of dry ice and a towel, you can make a cloud chamber to observe cosmic rays in real time. You can also make a bigger, fancier one with a basketball case. Then you let the universe do its thing, for the most part. You can trust the universe.  It’s been facilitating free-choice learning activities for a while.



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.

Prototyping describes the process of creating a first-version exhibit, then testing it out with visitors, and redesigning. Often, we iterate this several times, depending on monetary and time budgets. It’s usually a fruitful way to find out not only what buttons confuse people, but also what they enjoy playing with and what great ideas totally bomb with users.

The problem with prototyping, as with many data collection processes, is that you have to ask the right questions to get useful answers. We are currently re-developing an interactive about how scientists use ocean data to make predictions about salmon populations for future harvests. The first round surveys revealed some areas of content confusion and some areas of usability confusion. Usability confusion is easy to re-work usually, but content confusion is harder to resolve, especially if your survey questions were confusing to the visitors.

This was unfortunately the case with the survey I made up, despite a few rounds of re-working it with colleagues. The survey had multiple-choice questions which were fairly straightforward, but it was the open-ended questions that tripped people up, making the results a bit harder to interpret and know what to do with. The moral of the story? Prototype (a.k.a. pilot) your survey, too!

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.


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.



Ladies and gentlemen, I present for your consideration an example of our signature rapid prototyping process. The handyman’s secret weapon gets a lot of use around here, and I even had a roll of Gorilla Tape on my wrist in case of emergencies.  Fortunately, it didn’t come to that.

The angles necessary for good face detection and recognition (up to about 15 degrees from straight-on) require careful consideration of camera placement.  The necessary process of checking angles and lighting isn’t always pretty, but I, for one, find the above image beautiful.