After the last day of the prelim workshops, there was still SOO much for me to do.
I had to finish charging all of our batteries, finish up several projects, organize the last bits of electronics we needed to take, and prep the hacking laptop (hacktop). Just getting this laptop ready was a major time suck. I had recently switched to an old macbook air (2010, 11 inch version) because it was super lightweight, cheap, and rather power efficient. But i didn’t have lots of the software and drivers and libraries we needed on it t work with lots of different projects. We were leaving at 6am, which mean i just didn’t sleep.
Luckily Laura drove my car for me, and I passed out immediately (while trying to charge an extra battery). I apparently put a penguin mask on my head to block out the light. I have no recollection of this:
Hitting the Trail
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Everyone was already loaded to the gills with STUFF. The lightest packs were over 35 pounds (16kg), and most ranged around 18-23kg (40-50lbs) . Paul was pretty worried about us being overloaded, but I was feeling bizarrely terrific. So i tried to hide the fact that I was carrying a superfluous 50 foot fire hose and generator in my backpack. I had so little room I had to carry Hannah’s portable day pack on my front. My total load ended up being 36.8 kg (81 lbs).
Studio Packed Up
breaking in a glen
I was a bit worried. I had little sleep, and just 6 weeks before I had broken my left foot. But the weird thing was, i felt fantastic. My whole body just felt comfortable and strong tromping through the forest with all this gear. I think all the injuries and illnesses from the previous hiking hacks had torn my body down to rebuild it into a fantastic machine for carrying ridiculous amounts of potentially useless stuff.
The first question we always get when talking about making electronics and computers in the wilderness is how to power all of our tools. During this trip we tested out numerous different ways of getting the electrical power our devices needed.
Coding around the Campfire
From extremely rough estimates of previous hiking hacks, we came up with a basic idea of what our electrical needs would be.
Where does the power go:
60% Documentation Gear (camera batteries)
20% Computer for programming
15% Lights (Headlamps, etc)
5% Powering microcontrollers
Total power needed (Based on the batteries we went through):
In Madagascar we recharged the biggest batteries about twice, and the smaller ones 1-2 times. In total I would estimate needing about 60+60+52+52+52+20+20 =~ 300 amp-hours of power total. This amount of power would help keep documentation cameras rolling, lights shining, computers programming, and microcontrollers booping-and-beeping for a full 7 days in the field.
Different strategies are available for supplying this power.
Just carry a bunch of batteries
This is the most fool-proof plan, and most important for shorter trips. Just charge up a bunch of power packs, and carry them with you. Obviously the major downside of this plan is all the additional weight.
Solar is terrific, but it tends to need much more direct bright sun than most people anticipate. The difference between a cloudy day and a clear day is greatly magnified when trying to charge off solar. You also might find yourself chasing patches of sun throughout the day if you are in a thick forest (like we were).
Pyro-electric devices are starting to come out on the market. They use peltier devices which are little ceramic tiles that create an electric current when there is a large heat-gradient from one side to the other. Thus the key to making electricity is getting one side really hot, and the other side really cold. This type of electricity is generally quite inefficient, but the advantage is that you can forage for fuel. This form of power only really makes sense if you are going to be making fires every night anyway. The amount of power we got out of one fire, though seemed quite small. We could maybe charge 2-3 amp-hours of a battery over the course of a couple hours. You also need to be constantly paying attention to the position of your device in the fire.
This was one of the craziest forms we tried out in this recent trip. If you know beforehand that you will have easy access to a source of running water, you can try to tap into this resource. You will need a way to control or direct the water, and a way to generate power from it (turbine). Our technique was to carry a large (50 foot) firehose that could be attached to an electrical generator.
Our early tests with DIY hydropower still need much development. We were able to place the hose at two different spots in the flowing creek and get a decent flow of water. We were also able to find a generator that could get 3-5 volts and power and LED by spinning it. Unfortunately this generator needed a much higher pressure than was available from our hose. The hose also tended to collapse unless the flow was much better. Our homemade turbine (that we created from a vibration motor and a plastic cap), showed that we could generate power, but only in the 40-50 mV range.
Future designs will be made to more efficiently harvest energy from low-pressure systems.
Shakey or Crankey – Electric
We didn’t try this on the trips, but you could also generate power with your own body. They have those flashlights that you can shake or crank to make electricity. Such devices could come extremely in handy during projects that also featured addition transportation gear (like a bicycle when mountain biking).
During our initial workshops we brainstormed about different gear and superpowers we wanted to bring with us into the field. The targets were for digital, wearable devices that could help us explore the environment or interact with other living creatures.
We batted around ideas covering a broad assortment of topics, and these then we loosely grouped to find interesting categories that emerged. Some of these basic categories consisted of augmented means of navigating, obtaining the extranormal senses of animals, and new ways of capturing the rich multimodal experiences we were likely to enjoy.
Our group opted to try to build two initial devices from our assortment of interesting new ideas.
embodied ethogram machine
A traditional Ethogram machine
The first device was an embodied tool for creating ethograms. Ethograms are long lists of observed animal behaviors, and they are usually made by meticulously logging the actions of the animals for a specific time period in a notebook or computer program. This process can get boring, and somewhat divorce the researcher from the world around them. By making an embodied suit, the participant could map actions and animals to actions performed by her or his own body. It could not only improve the researcher’s memory of what happened, but also make the experience more enjoyable and fun!
The other device we worked to create before heading into the field was the Photosphere. Big arrays of cameras are gaining in popularity for capturing immersive environments (such as Google’s streetview). These are super expensive though. Matt Swarts had an idea to make an array of cheap photoresistors that we could wear into the field which could capture a 360-degree sphere of the changing light as we walked through the forest. These experiences could then be inexpensively re-created by mapping onto a dome with similarly placed LEDs.
Both of these projects were further developed when we got into the field.
This latest hiking hack is the most organized one to date. Lessons learned from the magnificent experiences in Panama and Madagascar left me prepared to tackle the many obstacles standing in the way of prototyping digital equipment in the wilderness.
This is also the first funded hiking hack thanks to Georgia Tech’s wearable Computing Center which gave us nearly $5,000 to run this expedition. It’s amazing how far this little bit of money can go!
The weeks leading up to this expedition were full of the millions of little tasks always needed before any big trip. We have to purchase supplies, figure out food, scout locations, and work out meetings between everyone’s schedules.
I held informal building-stuff workshops just at my house throughout april and may. We got some of the participants up to date in learning basic electronics and soldering skills, and we also built some of the major infrastructure for the project, such as sewing and sealing our own custom tarps.
We bought lots of our supplies from a great site called Diygearsupply.com, where they have lots of materials perfect for outdoor crafting and weatherproofing. For instance we could purchase huge lots of silnylon, which is an silicone infused, ultra-light, ultra compact-able material for making waterproof tents and tarps. Usually these tarps are extremely expensive, and a >20×20 foot tarp could cost well over $200. Instead we purchased silnylon “2nds” which have imperfections in their coloration, so they are discounted in cost, but are stuff waterproof and light! Working together we, sized, cut, and sewed the french seams of the fabric into a massive tarp within just a couple hours. Most importantly these early workshops helped us to get to know each other and understand our backgrounds and strengths.
The first two days of the workshop were held at Georgia Tech’s App Lab. We brainstormed ideas for wearable devices that could solve problems we expected to encounter in the field. We came up with many ideas (which ill describe more in posts tomorrow!)
The Wearables in the Wild 2015 expedition has attracted quite an amazing crew!
We have a diverse background of ages, jobs, technological and biological experience. Dozens of incredible researchers, designers, artists, adventurers and biologists, applied, but we were only able to accomodate 10 positions. The final selected participants originate from all around the world, and most of them recently come from Georgia Tech and MIT.
Andy Quitmeyer is a Polymath Adventurer. His PhD research in “Digital Naturalism” blends biological fieldwork and DIY digital crafting. This work has taken him to the wilds of Panama and Madagascar (and the US) where he’s run workshops with diverse groups of scientists, artists, designers, and engineers. He’s also adapted some of the research to exploring human sexuality with his Open Source Sex Technology startup Comingle. His trans-disciplinary, multimedia projects have been featured in Wired, PBS, NPR, The Discovery Channel, Cartoon Network, Make Magazine, along with many online and local news sources.
Carry Heavy Things
Laura’s interests in organismal behavior have taken her around the world working as a trans-disciplinary scientist in a variety of fields including shark attack research, zooarchaeology, and game design. After more than ten years of museum collections and biological field work, she now works with the Interactive Media Technology Center at Georgia Tech as a Research Scientist. She applies her classical ethology training towards studying how people use technology and how to design experiences that maximize human performance. Current research projects involve video game design, music psychology, augmented reality, and new technologies to support biological field research.
Matthew’s work focuses on the translation of human behavioral patterns and perceptions within real, virtual, and augmented environments into computer models and simulations to better understand design decisions. He often develops custom hardware sensors, interactive systems, and software applications for capturing occupant behavior, testing human spatial perception in 3D virtual environments, running discrete-event and agent-based modeling and simulation, and performing spatial analysis in the intersections among Building Information Modeling, Geographic Information Systems, and Human Computer Interaction.
Making every cent count
Finding ways to make himself replaceable by a computer so he never has to work again
Starting new projects
Made in India, Engineered at IIT Delhi, Employed at Sea, Lived in Malaysia, learning ID at Georgia Tech.
These are the headlines, if you will. Shiva, has worked as a Business Analyst before renouncing worldly pleasures and working offshore on ships and rigs for five years across south-east Asia. His experience in theater, along with real life engineering roles help him in visualizing new concepts. He has dabbled with modelling softwares for over a decade now and is fluent in Solidworks and Autocad. Normally referred to the guy with the crazy ideas, he considers brainstorming and ideation as his key strengths. He is good with machines and fabrication.
Story-telling and quoting movies and series
Smiling even when hungover
Jim is completely at ease both in the woods and underwater. An adept scientific diver, divemaster, computer scientist, bushwacker, videographer and passionate explorer of the spaces where art, theory, technology, and community intersect, he’s happiest pursuing a lifetime of active observation and reflection. His current work at GT focuses on research into the development of new techniques for using interactive media to enhance collaborative problem solving, especially in the environmental sciences. His most recent two decades have been spent working with marine biologists on underwater field research and coral restoration projects. Keenly interested in exploring I/O mashups that use sensor arrays to generate novel simulations of natural processes.
With a degree in biology, Angela has taught preK-12 students, blown up hydrogen balloons in science museums, led sea turtle trips and naturalist weekends, mentored at-risk youth, carted around cases of prosthetic breasts for cancer awareness classes, and worn many hats at various nonprofits for over a decade. She is currently in a Ph.D. program in engineering psychology at GA Tech with hopes of saving the world with human factors and usability principles. When she is procrastinating, she enjoys making fiber crafts, dancing, silversmithing, gemstone cutting, flint knapping, hiking and exploring, and stalking Jake Shimabukuro – the most awesome ukelele player ever!
Vacation/activity planning (i.e. daydreaming)
The Laughing Panda Lotus Shadow Kick
Katelyn is a recent MIT graduate with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. She’s passionate about engineering, nature, and exploring, both mentally and in the backcountry. Her research blended those interests by developing sensors for field biologists. She’s chased zebras with drones in Kenya to gather accurate population data and modeled the body temperatures of pikas in the Pacific Northwest. She’s excited about finding novel ways to engage the public with nature, such as developing an augmented reality app for citizen science and talking to anyone who will listen about that really cool critter she just saw.
Breaking things, can be used for good or evil
Eating enormous amounts of breakfast foods
Paul Clifton is a Ph.D. student in Digital Media at Georgia Tech. He is interested in the embodied aspects of spatial skills such as route planning, navigation, perspective taking, and mental rotation. He has designed and built tangible and embodied interfaces from puppets that track body movement to balloons that send video to an elevator. He’ll be using this trip to design and prototype devices that support the needs of navigation in the wilderness without getting in the way of experiencing the environment.
Convincing people to not carry heavy things
This is Jeannette Yen. I’ve been to all 7 continents and Antarctica wasn’t the last one. Now I am trying to jump into all the world oceans [yes, we did the polar plunge in an icy Southern Ocean. and I did snorkel in the Conasauga River in search of the brilliant darters and hellbenders.]. I am an oceanographer studying how plankton communicate underwater: the little aquatic critters make a disturbance as they swim through the water and other animals sense the semiotic ripples or the delicate scent in the wake and respond, and I am mostly interested in studying the mating response. In the Antarctic, where I just spent 4 months in 2014, I am studying pteropods, a snail with a calcareous shell that swim by flapping in the ocean. Tragically, these beautiful organisms and key link in the food web will disappear from the West Antarctic Peninsula region due to ocean acidification disabling their ability to form a strong shell. Learn more at this website: . At GT, I teach animal behavior and have known about fireflies and their flashy mating interactions. I also love interdisciplinary collaborations and teach a class to test the hypothesis that innovation and creativity occur at interfaces between disciplines, ethnicities, genders, species. I use bio inspired design as my palette where biologists, materials scientist, mechanical engineers, biomedical engineers, architects, industrial designers learn how to communicate to each other and how to work together. I am very interested in sustainable shelters and would like to study how organisms build shelters in the wild. And of course, I want to talk to the animals…all kinds, maybe humans.
talking to nature
talking to myself
expanding design space
Hugh Crawford is a long-distance hiker and amateur tree enthusiast. He supports those habits by teaching literature at Georgia Tech, something he has done for nearly 20 years. When not parsing poetry, he tries his hand at timber-framing, blacksmithing, and a whole range of practices where he can demonstrate his incompetence. Current projects include the “Wayfinder’s Library” and a never-ending book-project detailing the trials and travails of hiking the Pennine Way and the Appalachian Trail.
The 2015 Wearables in the Wild Hiking Hack takes a crew of biologists, engineers, designers, and craftspersons into the Appalachian wilderness. Our mission, as with many of the hiking hacks, is to test out contextually creating tools for understanding living creatures in nature. Sponsored by the Georgia Tech Wearable Computing Center (http://wcc.gatech.edu/), an extra component of this investigation is how wearable devices can be built in the wild and to withstand the harshness of the wild.
Technology Target: Making Wearable devices for exploring the environment and interacting with animals.
Hiking Hack Target: developing and testing tools
Field Notes: We will not have communication access where we are going. Thus we will document the trip when we come back, reliving the trip day-by-day and posting updates as if we were in the field. So stay tuned!
Safety: This is the first Hiking Hack where we will have to worry about bears! We will be needing to be setting up bear traps and all sorts of stuff, but should be all good!
To be extra safe, our emergency contact info is here: [We all made it back safe! contact info removed]
Wearables in the Wild-The 2015 Wearables in the Wild Hiking Hack takes a crew of biologists, engineers, designers, and craftspersons into the Appalachian wilderness. Our mission, as with many of the hiking hacks, is to test out contextually creating tools for understanding living creatures in nature. Sponsored by the Georgia Tech Wearable Computing Center (http://wcc.gatech.edu/), an extra component […]
Crew – Wearables in the Wild-The Wearables in the Wild 2015 expedition has attracted quite an amazing crew! We have a diverse background of ages, jobs, technological and biological experience. Dozens of incredible researchers, designers, artists, adventurers and biologists, applied, but we were only able to accomodate 10 positions. The final selected participants originate from all around the world, and […]
It’s Over There – a box with a good sense of direction – Paul-I’ve been thinking about navigation in the wilderness and how digital media can support it. There are a couple of things that are particular to the type of navigation in the wilderness we’ll be doing (foot travel in a place where routes aren’t necessarily defined and never square) and some related work that might give […]
Ethogram Jam – Laura-Perhaps the only thing more interesting than the history of ethology itself, is the history of the crazy contraptions that have been designed to support such a science. The most temperamental, yet pervasive, of these tools is the ethogram device. Looking a bit like a bloated calculator, an ethogram is made up of rows of […]
Dirt on My Mind: Angela’s Initial Musings-Animals are sexy! We’re fascinated by them, fear them, watch viral videos of them, and feel a special rapport with them. Then there are plants, which help us breathe, feed us, shelter us, and provide satisfaction or awe when that prized orchid finally blooms. However, the biomass – all living things – in any given […]
Starting the Wearable Hiking Hack-This latest hiking hack is the most organized one to date. Lessons learned from the magnificent experiences in Panama and Madagascar left me prepared to tackle the many obstacles standing in the way of prototyping digital equipment in the wilderness. This is also the first funded hiking hack thanks to Georgia Tech’s wearable Computing Center […]
Preliminary Projects – Wearables in the Wild-During our initial workshops we brainstormed about different gear and superpowers we wanted to bring with us into the field. The targets were for digital, wearable devices that could help us explore the environment or interact with other living creatures. We batted around ideas covering a broad assortment of topics, and these then we loosely […]
Hanging Out – Laura’s Guide to Hammock Camping-The smallest things can make the biggest differences when you’re out in the field for long periods of time. After years of being a ground dweller in tents, I was ready to take to the trees and finally develop my hammock kit. Since I got confirmation that I’d be going on this trip, I’ve spent […]
Field Power-The first question we always get when talking about making electronics and computers in the wilderness is how to power all of our tools. During this trip we tested out numerous different ways of getting the electrical power our devices needed. Needs From extremely rough estimates of previous hiking hacks, we came up with […]
Diving in Heavy: First Day Hiking-After the last day of the prelim workshops, there was still SOO much for me to do. I had to finish charging all of our batteries, finish up several projects, organize the last bits of electronics we needed to take, and prep the hacking laptop (hacktop). Just getting this laptop ready was a major time […]
Standing on the shoulders of giants – Jeannette, Andy-J- I loved my role as Master Blaster. At 5’, 96 lbs and agile, I could stand on the shoulders of Andy Q and reach heights that we could not have reached alone. We raised the tent of our workplace to unprecedented heights. A- Our formation as the amazing Master Blaster duo was an important […]
North Fork Citico Creek Digital Lab (NFCCDL) (Owl Camp) – Hugh-Building the infrastructure for North Fork Citico Creek Digital Lab (NFCCDL) (Owl Camp): From This: to This: First day out of Unicoi Gap (TN) opened with an easy (albeit pack-heavy) stroll down an old logging road, later turning steep, wet, and slippery. After a night sleeping in a trailside encampment and a shorter hike down […]
Where am I? You are here. – Paul-June 11th, 2015 The first day of hiking was easy, until it wasn’t. I had planned it to take two days of walking to get to the NFCCDL (Owl Camp), but the early part of the day had been so easy that we’d gotten optimistic that we could make it in one day of walking. […]
Portable Studio Design-Many of our initial thoughts for the design of a fully portable digital crafting studio have been loosely compiled in this, yet-unpublished, paper: Portable Studio Practice – Wear and Tear – Quitmeyer Perner-Wilson
Hydroelectric Power from Citico Creek-We tried to generate power from Citico Creek using a fire hose and some sort of generator. This was originally Scott Gilliland’s idea, and we volunteered to put this craziness to the test by carrying an extra compatible hose all the way down the mountain with us! We were trying to make it entirely gravity […]
The Most Useless Machine (Without an Arduino) – Paul, Hugh, Laura-The party boat activity prompt was just to take a bunch of outputs and link them together in a way that might stimulate some sort of organism. Basically, it’s just use a combination of natural and digital materials to make a thing that makes noises and flashes lights and things like that. While digging through […]
Setting up for Wildhacks – Andy-On the first day in basecamp, I sent the crew out on a “Smell Adventure.” The goal was to help them explore their environment in new ways by giving them the fun task of collecting as many unique smells from the nearby areas. While they were out, I started organizing and setting up electronics at […]
A Day in the Basecamp Life – Laura-One of my favorite things about working in the field are the natural routines you fall into without even realizing. A typical day in basecamp commenced sometime between 7:30 and 8:30am. The ample tree cover and eponymous Smoky Mountain haze kept the sun’s heat and brightness from our site and let us wake slowly. Early […]
Reflection: It’s More Than Seeing Yourself in the Creek – Katelyn-There are specific tools used in back country living and digital making. When we combined these tool boxes into heavy backpacks to bring on our expedition, we brought the infrastructure to support the most critical tool, our minds. My daily life as a hiking hacker began with coffee at the creek side. A warm drink […]
Gimme shelter: Animal Homes in the Wild – Jeannette-This week, I left the hot sticky stoney enclave of urban/campus life at Georgia Tech in Atlanta and entered the cool dappled forest of Tennessee. I brought my own home with me: a hammock tent. Instead of carrying a support system, I used the structures in the forest, namely the trunks of rhododendron bushes. At […]
Etho-Smock In the Field – Laura, Katelyn, Paul-Challenge One of the most useful, yet also most potentially frustrating, tools for ethologists is the handheld ethogram device. This pocket computer has re-programmable buttons that allow a researcher to capture details of organismal behavior including action type, order, frequency and duration. The challenge in using a handheld ethogram is its un-intuitive interface. The design […]
The Night Crawler, he was called!! – Shiva-After a long day at the SCCDL (South Citico Creek Digital Laboratory :P) and a great Turkey Tetrazinni and Raspberry Crumble, we decided to take a stroll to observe some fireflies!! We merely walked around a hundred yards from base camp. We used flashlights to reach the observation site. However, we had to stand or […]
Amazing Lifeforms at the NFCCDL (Owl Camp) – Angela-Maybe the mountains imprinted themselves in my dad’s DNA during his childhood in South Korea, and those highland genes are what always draw me to the spectacular sights and sounds of southern Appalachia. While camping in Joyce Kilmer National Forest, I was completely awed by all the life that was around us, and the cool, […]
BOB SOS: Back off bear alert – Jeannette, Hugh-Context: First, a report that a young boy was lacerated by a bear in a forest near us and a suggestion that we build a bear detector. A week before, JY learned how to solder and program an arduino to make an LED blink like one of the firefly species. A day before, she got […]
The Succession of Trees – Hugh-The Succession of Trees The Tennessee/North Carolina Appalachians are renowned for their diverse tree population, and our trek took us from 4470 feet at Unicoi Gap to the Citico Creek Campground #14 elevation of 1720, providing an altitude-inflected arboretum. Different areas were logged off over the years, so at the higher elevations most were […]
PhotoSphere – Matt-Part of the experience of hiking in the wild is the dramatic flow of changes in light as you move through the forest. To capture part of this experience we created a cap with photo sensors on it to record the changes in light patterns as we walk. The cap was made before we left […]
Cheap Portable Laptop Power – Matt, Andy-Matt Swarts and Andy Quitmeyer came up with a way to cheaply power laptops and other high-voltage devices off cheap powerpacks! Difficulty: Medium-easy. We cha The Problem Laptops demand lots of power. They also usually need to charge from voltage source that is much higher than the 5 volts you can get out of cheap […]
Schedule / Emergent Syllabus: Wearables in the Wild-Days i and ii: Pre-workshops First Day Brainstorming wearable technology ideas Building two select items Second Day Finishing wearable technologies for field use Sorting gear Sorting food Packing Prepping hack computer with drivers and libraries Day 1: Hike In Challenge Find an interesting organism while we hiked Activities Hiking Set up mini-camp Reflection · Evening […]
Bug Buddies – Angela-My original idea the hiking hack was a very practical, very serious soil testing shoe attachment, but my brain took a direction 180° from my initial thoughts – finger puppets! What could be more practical and serious than finger puppets, right? Although finger puppets may not seem utilitarian, potentially they can serve an educational purpose, […]
The latest publication from the Wildhackers is now available in print and digital formats! We want to share our adventures, discoveries, and technologies with you! Also 10 dollars of each book sold goes straight to funding new hiking hack expeditions around the world! Every little bit helps us get extra gear like solar panels and sensors along with covering transportation costs and (hopefully) scholarships for potential applicants to join us!
As part of the series of Hiking Hackathons, we launched an expedition to Madagascar in February 2015.
Brian Fisher, head entomologist at the Cal Academy of Sciences, Hannah Perner-Wilson, digital craft designer at Kobakant, and Andrew Quitmeyer, PhD student in Digital Naturalism, traveled to south Madagascar’s Anoyasan Mountain range to explore three main goals:
Discover a, yet unclassified, ant found by the 1971 French expedition on the summit of an unnamed mountain
Test new methodologies for crafting digital devices in harsh, rainforest conditions
Explore ways of documenting and sharing science and design research from the field
Hacking the Wild: Madagascar 2015 Book-The latest publication from the Wildhackers is now available in print and digital formats! We want to share our adventures, discoveries, and technologies with you! Also 10 dollars of each book sold goes straight to funding new hiking hack expeditions around the world! Every little bit helps us get extra gear like solar panels and […]
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.
Stuff did not come together until the absolute last minute. Up until 4am packing, waking others up at 5am to load equipment into Mani’s van.
We sorted the food at 9pm last night, but forgot to load any of the stuff that was in the fridge. Before the van rolled off I had to run in and grab whatever I could carry in my hands: some extra fruit, bread, salami.
Harmon dropped out. He rode with us to the statue of Balboa on the Pacific, and hopped into a cab to the airport. He was tossed into this crazy world of the tropics and the insane researchers living here. The people are on Jungle time, getting things done according to the schedules of animals. They are amazing, and we pulled off an incredible of amount in preparing for this trip. However, these biologist (especially during their busy summer field season), can only ever get stuff together at the absolute last moment. Three of them separately referred to my work getting everyone prepared as “herding cats,” and it has taken me three years to get good at it. So when Harmon is here, and it’s already 10pm and not a single person is ready for the 6am departure, and we spent the day getting the safety talk about the horrible jungle diseases you can contract, he seemed to have gotten uncomfortable with the trip. I had to give myself fully away to this project and know that I will never have all the answers or be entirely prepared. These methods may be stupid and foolhardy, but this is the deepest way I have found to learn.
To develop some arbitrary ritual or performance, one that excites you, and scares you with a fear of danger, exhaustion, and general incompletion. Then to accept the challenge of your past self and carry out this concept as far as you can go. Jumping into the river of the challenge letting it carry you to strange places and ideas, while you try to let yourself become part of the water, bending easily around curves, weaving through branches, but maintaining your own momentous force. Realizing that no matter how different the route and challenge becomes, the true success comes from not upholding some earlier mental construct, but by learning how the real world transforms man’s ideas.
The main question of this Hiking Hack is about how much the context in which you build a tool really matters. Will it solve all sorts of unknown problems, or give rise to new ideas, or it is just a really bad idea? Wild animal interaction is a high-level game we play full of interpretation. Can the context appropriately maintain the integrity of scientific tools in this shifting space? I will let this journey pull me and this idea apart and will hopefully know much more about this question at the end.
Our route is a Reverse-Balboa. We will cut across the this country a inverted conquistadors, seeking to understand the environment and people of this place while allowing it to conquer us. We will start with the imperialism of new digital technology, and let the wilderness tear it apart to uncover what is actually useful. In the city we clambor down strange artificial rocks to baptize ourselves in the first of the two oceans we aim to touch.
No one’s gotten any sleep, but we are powered by the rich energy of a fresh expedition. We stride through the city, around the mall, and into the suburbs while noticing how incredibly helpful all the locals are to our endeavor. Directing us to safe routes and construction workers cheering us on when we say “vamos al Pacífico.”
These suburbs, a former US army base, are where the entrance to the historic Camino de Cruces trail has been hidden. Our previous week’s scouting found it behind house 636 in a little subdivision. This is where we encounter the first main obstacle. Within the week, the entrance to the jungle has been locked. The people of house 636 let us setup a lunch camp in their backyard while Ummat and May hunt around for ways around or people to help us. More than an hour goes by and things are looking stupidly grim, how have we marched across a city to just be locked off from the forest? Luckily this fantastic duo finally found a person in this sleepy burb with more info. They told us there is a guy trying to make an illegal land-grab on the Camino De Cruce’s trail and he does mean things like put his on locks on public property. This nice resident then gave us a hacksaw and told us we should open it back up. This is when the Hiking Hack took on a more literal meaning than we would have thought.
This weekend Gamboa hosts some sort of national ultimate Frisbee tournament. I’ve been told that teams come from all over the country for some reason to play out here in the middle of nowhere.
Peter had told me stories of this tournment from the past two years, but I had been out of town both times. Anyway, when Janni invited me to play on the local Gamboa team, I eagerly accepted.
Our team, the Perros Salvajes (Wild Dogs), was a sort of band of misfits made of local gambodians and some scientists who played pick-up games on fridays. Peter said that our name fit us nicely because the Gamboa teamusually “had a lot of raw talent, but was sure to lose because we don’t work as a team, and just sort of run around.” This seemed to clearly be the case.
I looked around and as the other teams were warming up and running drills, our team was smoking and passing around beers. We lost both games the first day, but showed signs of our skills and took the lead briefly in the latter game.
After the first day’s tournment, our team hosted a huge party in the main part of the little town. It was grand enough to hear from all over gamboa and the jungle. I had to miss the party due to work, but it took quite a toll on our team. When I showed up the next morning to play, half the team was nowhere to be seen. We played almost the whole first game without any subs. The only other person to arrive, was our team captain at the end of the first game, but he was holding his head pretty hard in a deadly hangover sort of way. Despite the missing/hungover team, somehow we were doing amazing. We were leading the first game, which had to be decided by a tie-breaker. The final game, we fought against one of the best teams (who ended in the finals), La Jungla. At this point our team was so tired, they were busting out every dirty trick in the book. We called fouls constantly. Moved incredibly slowly whenever we were in the lead to run out the clock. And tried to ignore when the other team had called fouls on us.
Despite this hard, strange battle, we still lost, but I think everyone we faced ended up pretty well chewed by the Wild Dogs.
Like most aspects of this year’s field mission, one of the strangest continual feelings I have is that of comfort. The previous two years kept me in a mad daze struggling to bounce around scientists and sneak space for myself to setup places for electronics and coding. Now I feel like all these rich crazy experiences of the past years have molded me into a lean machine for this research. Just like I no longer flinch at carrying 90 pound backpacks loaded with batteries and harddrives straight through airport security, getting back into the lab and organizing hundreds of tiny electrical parts just feels familiar. Part of me worries about doing anything that feels easy. I bet people training for marathons experience similar anxieties where despite being able to run for many kilometers more than before, the fact that it feels easier than when they were just starting is a bit unnverving.
There was a cosmic reversal of fortune that has been following me since I got to go to Ben and Kristy’s Lake house a few days before flying down. We spent memorial day there with terrific friends secluded in luxury, lakes, and amazing food in the middle of Alabama. Before, the diminishing time was an angry elephant sitting on my chest and fattening itself on problems compounding before the trip. Despite my Fellow status this year (which I figured would make things easier), STRI forgot to help find me housing. Our new prototype with Comingle was facing new hardships everyday. I barely had anything packed, and what I had was already hundreds of pounds more than what was allowed for a person on Spirit airlines. Also I began to REALLY not be looking forward to not seeing Kitty for 2 solid months. But something magical seemed to have happened by forcing myself to divorce work-Andy from just fun-Andy for 3 solid days, and then things started coming together, and they just kept it up!
These electronics compartments drawers are super integral to any decent workshop. While moving in my gear, I realized that just setting up all this stuff, and getting a hand and a little bit of directed attention to each of these bits was integral to being able to think with them later. This gave me the idea to get the people that I was going to be working with involved in this process. I set up a simple “game” where Peter, May, and Ummat (Zoe jumped in too!) would take markers, pull out the blank drawers, ask me what the hell the parts were in those drawers, and then label them.
I set up a timer for 30 minutes, and we tried to see how many drawers we could do in this short time. The time component of this Labelblitz kept us from lingering too long on a simple article (which was easy to do) and helped these scientist buddy get immersed in the language of physical computing.
Beforehand Peter and I had a talk about other people’s research we encountered that brought about existential strangeness in ourselves, but didn’t seem to affect the researchers telling us about this. Most of this talk seemed to revolve around all the different projects we encountered where people kept brains alive in jars. I remember Liz telling me about frog brains in jars which still sent out mating call signals, and peter mentioned how they could keep fruit fly brains alive for days, and program the larvae to respond to incredibly particular stimuli, like when it is 27 degrees Celsius, or when the color blue is present. Looking back at the pictures, it seems my papaya half sitting in a vat of soy milk may have had some influence on this talk.
Peter and I found the fabled Discovery Center late last year when we went to pick up tools for his experiments and supplies for giant ant puppets in our performance last year. The store is, more or less, a combination Target / Lowes with a couple of aisles of just strangeness.
It was amazing to see, and an early trip there would be important for me to know what potential materials could be at my disposal. I figured out how to rent a truck from STRI, and grabbed Barrett, Michelle, and Inga who also had supplies to pick up (but also just wanted to see the place).
One of the first things you are greeted with is a giraffe who was lost to some sort of act of auto-erotic asphyxiation. (right next to the pet cages and baseball gloves).
Lots of things are locked up behind those sliding glass drawers, and usually it’s just still very cheap things like $2 soldering irons. The loaded harpoon gun cabinet was TOTALLY unlocked though!
We might have to get Nate Walsh a pair of these stylish all white jungle boots!
More Solder suckers in stock than any store I have ever been to.
Behind the aisle selling blenders there is a huge zone of medical equipment. You can buy a full gurney or a dozen wheelchairs!
And of course next to the plants aisle there are some sweet jesus-themed biker vests!
We actually had to go to another store to find wood however. And since the truck bed was full of equipment, we needed a volunteer to sit in the parking lot and guard it. A curious parking lot guard came over, and since Inga had purchased some lawn chairs, i pulled them out and offered the guard a chance to take a load off.
Me and him got along great! We taught each other lessons in English, Spanish, and Kuna (the language of a local indigenous people). His name was Dacho, and he was of Kuna ancestry, and he had actually worked with scientists and military people before in Panama. We discussed the finer points of life by translating words into all three languages such as “beer”, “Pistols”, and “Beautiful women”
From June 26th to July 5th, I have organized an expedition across Panama. The main goal is to design digital-biological field technology entirely in situ. The context in which a technology is made drives its design. Conventional development of digital technologies, however, typically occurs in climate controlled laboratory surroundings, and not the harsh environments of many biological field sites (like the Panamanian Rainforest).
This trip will help us find new ways to create novel devices for scientific exploration, hack existing devices, and share our biological-technological discoveries while cut off from the luxuries of standard electronics workshops.
Along the way we will also be critically analyzing the effect that these technologies have upon the different scientific surveys and investigations we will carry out during this transcontinental transect.
We will be fully immersed in the strange world of the other creatures, which will hopefully empower our designs for understanding them.
Images from a prototype Hiking / Hack with Signalfire artist residency
Has been participating in Andy’s Digital Naturalism research since the beginning. He’s a true naturalist dedicated to understanding life in the wild. He’s developed mad hacking skills over the years in order to explore his Azteca ants even further collaborating with Andy to make devices like the Flick-o-matic and artificial Cecropia trees. He’s also a musician in the band Ptarmigan.
May Dixon is an all star bat scientist. She manages Rachel Page’s research lab in Panama, and has been leading projects about novel learning behaviors in Bats. She is about to start her PhD at UT Austin.
Mammals and the Tropics
Ummat studies heliconia beetles and holds encyclopedic knowledge of the many behavioral systems in the tropics and arctic. He is an experienced backpacker and a professional-grade mountain climber.
Erin is a graduate student at the University of Illinois studying the potential impact of climate change on off-host tick ecology in the neotropics. She has been working in the jungles of panama for the past two years.
Tropical Infectious Diseases
Nate Walsh is a professional writer and excellent communicator of the oddities of many cultural and social interactions.http://www.natewalsh.com/
Harmon is a roboticist currently working at Northwestern. Along with his excellent skills in all aspects of physical computing, he has also been on many challenging (sometimes solo) expeditions into backcountry areas.http://www.dhpollock.com/
Duct Tape Hacking
Carry Stuff that’s not quite as heavy as Andy.
Mary Tsanghttp://www.diysect.com/Mary Studied Biology and Art at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, where she picked up a knack for growing hydroponic kale and building installations inspired by 50s space age aesthetic. With an undying love for neotropical rainforests, she has traveled to Central America and back several times, mostly for researching frogs.
Will be leading this expedition. He loves inventing and building new things but hates being indoors. This is why this project came to be!