We started the day with a couple of near-disasters but managed to make some good progress despite. We lost control of a hose while filling the tsunami wave tank and doused one of the controlling computers. Luckily, it was off at the time, but it also shouldn’t have had its case open, and we also should have been more aware of the hose! Ah, live and learn. No visitors were harmed, either.
It did help us identify that our internet is not quite up-to-snuff for the camera system; we’re supposed to have four GB ethernet connections but right now only have one. We went to review the footage to see what happened with the tanks, but the camera that had the right angle completely blanked out during just the time of the accident! Several of the other cameras are losing connection with the server intermittently as well. We’re not at the point of collecting real data, though, so again it’s just part of the learning process.
We also got more cameras installed, so we’re up to almost 30 in operation now. Not all are in their final place, but we’re getting more and more closer and closer as we live with them for a while and see how people interact. We also got the iPad interface set up so we can look at the cameras remotely using the Milestone XProtect app:
This will allow us to access the video footage from almost anywhere. It runs amazingly smoothly even on OSU’s finicky wireless network, and even seems to have slightly better image quality than the monitors (or maybe just better than my old laptop).
It’s a pretty powerful app, too, allowing us to choose the time we want to jump to, show picture in picture of the live feed, speed up or slow down playback, and capture snapshots we can email or save to the iPad Photo Library. Laura will install the full remote-viewing software on her laptop, too, to test that part of the operation out. That’s the one downside so far; most of our lab runs on Macs, while the Milestone system and the eyetracker are both on PCs, so we’ll have to buy a couple more laptops. Where’s that credit card?
It’s time to buy more cameras, so Mark and I went to our observation booth and wrestled with what to buy. We had four variables: dome (zoomable) vs. brick (non-zoomable) and low-res (640×480) vs. high-res (but wide screen). He had four issues: 1) some places have no power access, so those angles required high-resolution brick cameras (what a strange feature of high-res camera to not require plug-in power!), 2) we had some “interaction” (i.e. close-up exhibit observations) that looked fine at low-res but others that looked bad, 3) lighting varies from area to area and sometimes within the camera view (this dynamic lighting is handled better with high-res), and 4) current position and/or view of the cameras wasn’t always as great as we’d first thought. This, we thought, was a pretty sticky and annoying problem that we needed to solve to make our next purchase.
Mark was planning to buy 12 cameras, and wanted to know what mix of brick/dome and high/low-res we needed, keeping in mind the high-res cameras are about $200 more each. We kept looking at many of the 25 current views and each seemed to have a different issue or, really, combination of the four. So we went back and forth on a bunch of the current cameras, trying to decide which ones were fine, which ones needed high-res, and which we could get away with low-res. After about 10 minutes and no real concrete progress, I wanted a list of the cameras we weren’t satisfied with and then what we wanted to replace each, including ones that were high-res when they didn’t need to be (meaning that we could repurpose a high-res elsewhere). Suddenly, it dawned on me that this was a) not going to be our final purchase, b) still likely just a guess until things were re-installed and additionally installed and lived with. So I asked why we didn’t just get 12 high-res, and if we didn’t like them in the spots we replaced and were still unsatisfied with whatever we repurposed after the high-res, we could move them again, even to the remaining exhibit areas that we haven’t begun to cover yet. Then we can purchase the cheaper low-res cameras later and save the money at the end of the grant, but have plenty of high-res for where we need it. I just realized we were sitting around arguing over a couple thousand dollars that we would probably end up spending anyway to purchase high-res cameras later, so we didn’t have to worry about it right at this minute. It ended up being a pretty easy decision.
Just a few short updates:
- We now have a full 25 cameras in the front half of the Visitor’s Center, which gives us pretty great coverage of these areas. Both wide establishment shots and close-up interaction angles cover the touch tanks, wave tanks (still not quite fully open to the public) and a few freshwater creatures tanks that are more traditional tanks where visitors simply observe the animals.
- Laura got a spiffy new EcoSmart pen that syncs audio with written notes taken on special (now printable from your printer) paper. She showed us how it translates into several languages, lets you play a piano after you’ve drawn the right pattern on the paper, and displays what you’ve written on its digital screen, performing pretty slick handwriting analysis in the process.
- Katie ran the lab’s first two eyetracking experimental subjects yesterday, one expert and one novice pilot (not quite from the exact study population, but approximately). Not only did the system work (whew!), we’ve even got some interesting qualitative patterns that are different between the two. This is very promising, though of course we’ll have to dig into the quantitative statistics and determine what, if any, differences in dwell times are significant.
Sometimes, it’s a lot of small steps, but altogether they make forward progress!
As Mark noted, all three wave tanks are now in. Months of planning and design come to fruition … almost. Unfortunately, the two-dimensional layout failed to account for the placement of the table legs under the tanks. The proposed situations of the tanks put their legs right on top of the trenches in the floor, which won’t work due to a need to access the trenches for drainage and other water issues.
Whoops! So, things were quickly rearranged on the spot, which is pretty much always the way of things in the museum exhibit world.
The one tank that we let visitors play with revealed a host of issues of its own, including kids climbing onto the tank table and kids vigorously slamming the wave-making handle back and forth. No major injuries, but plenty of “alternative affordances” – creative, unanticipated use of the exhibit. So we’ve pulled it from visitor use for now for a bit of redesign.
In other planning news, we are replacing a well-planned video exhibit that had three vertical screens with the video stretched across them with one. Again, planning called for a cool three-screen timed animation that never came to fruition, so we are retrofitting, as it were.
Call it “make it work” Monday?
The folks building our big wave tank sent along a picture of the assembled wave generators:
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.