Monthly Archives: August 2014

Forest Light Fading


It’s the last few hours of my final PhD field season in Panama. It’s going to be busy.

For the past 3 years I have been trying to donate my equipment to STRI. Now that I have a fellowship, there’s actually a rule that I have to keep any equipment bought with my fellowship funds here. This sounded perfect but, they won’t allow me to keep the electronics Lab I had set up in the Gamboa labs. Citing fire hazards (because of the soldering irons) and lack of space and lack of desks (though the busy season is the summer), I was given the no-go on keeping up the original biocrafting station. Luckily, the fantastic Bill Wcislo came to my rescue and found a lab we could set up as permanent at STRI’s headquarters in the Tupper Building.

This means I had to get it there though.

My taxi to the airport leaves 11:45 monday night. So I spent my last full day and night (Sunday) bouncing around between all sorts of events.


First had a luxurious final breakfast with Sara and Kim and Allen Harre eating sweet and savory crepes galore  and chatting about gamboa while making fresh Gambosas.

Borrowed Peter’s truck to get some final shots rocking out in the Jungle.


Then met up with Wauter to see his kickass new Laser Microphone.



Then met with Peter for our final documentary night at the Jaguar House (we watched 20 Feet from Stardom).


(Awesome mystery magazine at the Jaguar House)

After the film, Inga stopped by between feeding her bats to make a cool reflective Bat magnet for her car.


Then stayed up the rest of the night packing up the biocrafting lab in gamboa to move it to the City.

Met up with Dylan at 4:30 in the morning to sneak up the jungle canopy tower to try to record the final sunset up there. I gave my 360 degree spherical panorama rig one final try (it will be some time to piece this together). We snuck back down, dropped off Dylan, and I picked up Peter to check out the ant sensors I put on the trees for a final evaluation.

We also started filming the ants in slow motion with the macro lens (which got peter started on asking all kinds of new questions about his animals). I decided to leave the camera with him so he could keep playing with it until he had to come back in September.

Then at 8:30AM I caught a lucky ride to the Smithsonian Headquarters in Panama City.



There I got to set up the more permanent electronics workspace in a full lab room! Now all my equipment can be potentially put to good use instead of just locked away!


Finished setting up at 11:30Am, and had a great dinner and chat with Bill Wcislo about my research and the weirdnesses of academic evaluations and how different fields earn credit for their work in varying ways.


Saw two bat girls who stopped by Tupper to get some keys and hitched a ride with them back into Gamboa. Stopped by the small asian produce market and grabbed some final cheap, fresh, and delicious rambutans before coming back to town. Said bye to Jose the shopkeeper. Said bye to various people walking through town.


Then decided I had a couple more hours of daylight. Well time to field test the Stereo Olfacticon! Jen, my downstairs neighbor gave me a brownie, and I recruited her to make a maze for me. We took cinnamon, and I had her make a secret trail of it for me to try to navigate using only my directionally-heightened sense of smell only.



To both of our surprises, it actually worked! This was the first real full field test of the stereo smelling device, and it was a neat experience. After a while of being blindfolded and intensely sniffing the ground, my olfaction became my primary sense that I lived through. The hands let me probe all the different smells around the ground. The cinnamon was dispersed in a wider, more ambiguous line than I originally thought it would lay, and the fact that I had two smelling antennae greatly heightened the spots with larger concentrations of cinnamon. The two handtennae also let me rapidly cover larger swaths of terrain simultaneously than if I just had my nose to the ground for instance.

The main drawback was in the temporal frequency of the smelling device. It would draw a breath in from one side or the other every .75 seconds. This forced me to go a little bit slower than anticipated, and also led to complications if I took too large of discrete steps between identifying the direction of the trail and moving my body along it.

After years of learning how insects use dual smelling apparatuses it was thrilling to get to experience it from their point of view. It also gave me insight to some of their behaviors. For instance, I’ve noticed insects seem to be continually cleaning their antennae, and I wasn’t forced to understand it from their point of view until using the device. Every now and then, some cinnamon would get stuck on the end of the smelling device, temporarily “smell-blinding” that handtenna. I caught myself trying to wipe it off, and then had the realization, “ohhhh that’s why this do this, this is annoying to have a smell stuck there!”


Then went for a jog, and collected some mangosteens to bring back home from the jungle. Afterwards made a rockin dinner with Peter. Finally my friends hung around and played music in my room, keeping me company while I tried to load all my crap into a few tiny cases. Inga stopped by between bats to see me off, and Mani whisked me off to the airport.

Kitty grabbed me at the end, we had an amazing pancake breakfast at Ria’s Bluebird Café, and then I brought my stuff inside and finally passed out for the first time in a couple days of insanity.