Tag Archives: gamboa2012

Best Battle of My Life

Peter picked me up with the truck and drove us to the Pipeline road for my very first time. He showed me an Army ant bivouac inside a tree that he tracked down the day before. Tracking video would be hard to get of the inside of the tree, so I wedged the GoPro 3D and started poking the bivouac to see its movements. I then came up with the idea to take a fistfull of ants and toss them onto a white reflector. Started off simple enough.

Close-up of bivouac inside hollow tree. It smells like funky meat.

LIKE ALWAYS, did not realize the implications of tossing fat piles of angry ants around myself.
These ants are big.
The biggest can bite through my beekeeping gloves (of which I am only wearing one).
The ants are in no formation, have no purpose, are not contianed within the tree. Instead they are infecting the ground everywhere, crawling all over the ground, spreading and climbing up everything coming out of the ground.
My feet are COVERED in them.
Surprisingly I have yet to be bitten by them down there. (UPDATE: starts happening A LOT in the afternoon)

Spending lunch writing and tossing ants off the bridge to the fish below.  A perfectly black moth lands on my boot. Everything in the —(Crazy birds start shouting and screaming down at me, minor bird attack)— jungle must be terrified all the time. The two emotions of the jungle seem to be absolute fear and absolute boredom.

It is getting more and more difficult to keep track of things, and this just my first few days here. Keeping stuff organized is fat and time consuming, and the time keeps slipping away from me. I feel the sun move across the sky as I work nonstop.

Army Ant Soldier Head lodged in my leather beekeeper’s glove

Saw my first Basilisks. They are everywhere. How nice! They are hard to spot unless they move. Also, it seems they won’t run across the river unless they feel forced, and must. Otherwise they will run along the land. They remind me to test out how the army ants’ bivouacs function in the nearby stream.

Back after my first truly amazing ant experience. Remember How I was waxing poetic about how research is embettered by situation in the feild? Well it’s not all roses. And I am not just talking about pain, or hard work. The flipside to situated design is that it turns you into a machine. An Animal. Feeling Weird.

Peter tells me that army ants also sting. This makes more sense as to my symptoms later in the evening. My hand is fully swollen, and I really should have taken my wedding ring off because now it is stuck onto my chubby hands. When I got home, my blood pressure seemed greatly elevated, and I could feel the poison coursing through my body. Everything throbs.


Video of water bivouacs:

First Wild Ant Captures

5/31/12| ——– 11:30 AM Testing capturing footage of leafcutter ants outside the schoolhouse. Filming under a short tree is not a good idea. This tree is full of thousands of small biting ants, and everytime I am filled with the desire to change focus, exposure values, I accidentally stand up fully and the shirt refills itself with ants.

My stated goal for coming here is to capture difficult footage of uncommon species on natural locations for testing computer vision tracking. I have to pick and move branches and leaves away from the ant trail. In a way, it makes me think about my job as cheating for computer vision. Shooting more GoPro footage. I hope it turns out. Hang GoPro upside-down from ant tree. Camera sets are covered in ants. Plastic is a fantastic substance! Animals can’t figure it out. They don’t know what to do with it. About to do some Dual DSLR testing. Realized that I could photograph my Journal entries to preserve them in case of destruction or loss.



More Pics from the day before



Barro Colorado Island

Day before went with Peter to Barro Colorado Island.

Hiked across the island through the rain. Peter shows me walking trees.



Lunch with Apes.

Shiny Bugs.

Poison Frogs.

Crocodile in the distance.

Susi did not like how we smelled on the boat ride back.

Science Starting | Rapid Development

5/29 |
Start day with peter looking under microscope to identify ants. There are apparently 20+ varieties of Azteca ants around, but there are only identification keys for 4 species. These ants I hear are also notoriously hard to tell apart, especially between workers. Queens are apparently the key to identifying species, but they are, of course, harder to sample.

Need to keep reminding self not to be bogged downby money or equipment failures,- place strict focus on the possibilities of experimenting, exploring and learning here.

Projects thought up the night before with Biologists
Despite that this may sound like wishful thinking on my part, considering much of what I study and will hopefully bundle into my thesis is about the values of situated design, but I am amazed by how much more rapid and powerful ideation and design can come forth when actually being in the field around excited, interested groups.

Leafcutter stop signs:
auto-redirect paths of leafcutters. See what sorts of gate timings going up and down provoke new paths or let them keep the same path.

Bee Guillotine:
Apparently scientists want to examine bee brains all the time. This means they have to cut the bees heads off. Bees like to walk in rows, why not hook servos with razor blades up to computer vision/arduino stuff.

Antotator:Adapt a temporal annoation system based on a smartphone (sort of like Documatic), to let field biologists quickly tag and collect data on their surveys. They could choose common attributes/tags, such as species, witnessed behaviors, or area descriptions, and input custom metrics like body lengths, and other environmental information like GPS coordinates, air sensors, timestamps would be included automatically!

Artifical Cecropia tree (for labs):
It would be useful to have a tree that is transparent to monitor the full colonies without having to invasively cut the trees open.

Side Writings

Items to purchase: Haircut, boots, fruit, machete (for peter), plastic melting soldering iron

In a way, this journal is a bit like Memento, and it’s interesting to know that odd specifics I include and exclude, will form my later comprehsions of what I actually witnessed. These slight changes to how I write things down, whether this is due to misperceptions, limitations of what I could actually write down at the time, compressed details from tiredness, or just plain lies…my future self’s knowledge of these encounters are at the whims of circumstances of writing.

Eyes feel funny last night. Have been pained since the end of florida. I’m not sure, however, if I am too aware that there may be something wrong with my eyes and psychosomatically these problems come about, or if I am just tired.

Booting In

Kitty drives me to the airport at 3:45. Despite my hours of packing and gathering, I still have to stop by Tech one more time to grab my missing Arduino ADK. Get in to Panama, meet nice older biologist couple in the Inmigration queue. As someone described, the airport looks like the 1970’s.


Found a cab to Smithsonian headquarters (Tupper), and met up with Bill Wcislo. What a great guy. Sat me down and gave me thorough, elegant descriptions of the most pertinent and interesting research projects and animals around Gamboa. He brought me to get registered and find housing, when, suddenly, all the power in the entire building shut off. Luckily for me, he got his assistant to drive me into Gamboa. Bumped serendipitously into Peter Marting who gave me a place to stay for the night.


Peter shows me around a bit. The roaring vivacity of the jungle is so evident, palpable. Everything is moving and screaming. After so many equipment failures already, the humidity here has me terrified. GoPro1 was destroyed by idiocy. Hopefully Amazon takes it back. Battery Backpac is not quite functioning. 64GB SDCard is being very flakey. Andy T2i (AT2I) scare this evening. Just bad batteries. GoPro + T2I work well together as a reviewing mechanism.

Sawing into a strange tree tumor

List of neat animals that I was told about that run around here: Tapir (Macho de Monte), agudi, basilisk, gecko, sloth, leafcutters, azteca ants, Bullet ants, bats, hemipterans (stinkbug looking order with sharp dagger probiscuses). Stingless bees, howlers, toucans, giant eagles that attack people, jaguar, ocelot.


Peter explains the Azteca+Cecropia relationship. Ants are an external defense kept by the tree. I go to one scientist’s going away party on my first day here. Someone rushes in to the party with a strange bug. Creature has a false, hollow facepart. vibrates. back is like a moth. sharp sucking tube. Face looks like it’s trying to be a tiny lizard head to me. Sort of like Yoshi.

Conchs are Weird, Personable

Woke up on beach. Everything is back right with the world. Returned gopro camera to amazon through byzantine process involving a best buy, staples, and a ups. Spent the morning exploring the beach. I knew conchs were mollusks, and I’ve seen their feet before, but I figured they were just some blobby, snail or oyster-like creature on the inside.


I had no idea they were so expressive.


Academic Sass, Cash Moneys, Gopher Tortoises

Morning lecture by Danielle McNamara from ASU. Preaches for “games” (she speaks incredibly broadly about this topic) to be used as educational tools but argues adamantly that games themselves have NO LEARNING VALUE. She proves this by administering pre- and post- examinations to groups who play a (pretty shitty-looking*) game vs. watching a powerpoint presentation. *[they admit to this, saying they didn’t have the money to make good games so they just “gamified” stuff]

I got riled up. Still bummed about my camera. Bugs in our tracking program are keeping me down too. Cash is leaking out of me in fat streams as I prepare for this panama trip. I’m also battling against the dwindling business days in which I can purchase equipment and have it before setting off to panama.


Have to keep reminding self that I’ll be fine no matter what and that money spent prepping for ULTIMATE BADASSERY is always worth it. Decided to upgrade to a full 3D gopro. Need to capture and share footage that the world has yet to see! Who knows how well the system will actually work though.



Dropped Maria off and had to miss the rest of the evening’s activities. Found my way to barefoot beach. Giant gopher tortoises crawling everywhere! Manatee reserve on one side, beach on the other. Signs everywhere saying beach closes at dark, but no one comes to throw me out. Get caught up taking weird long exposure pictures anyway.

Dissembling and trying to clean the broken camera


Get scared by monkeys(?) in tree. Things in woods. A little scared of armadillos.

Finally set up camp. My tent is fantastic. Up in just 5 mins. Large, airy, and cool inside. Fist time lying down fully reclined all week! saw shooting stars and fell asleep against the sky, sand, and waves.



First Academic Conference

First day of my first Academic Conference! Weirdly laid back conference. Everyone’s in shorts and loose shirts. Topics are
AI conferences seem odd in that there is a huge spectrum that individuals seem to cover between theory and practice. At one end, I spoke with some german researchers about several diagrams of crazy just-pure-math, probabilistic conditionals and the rules governing translations from different state spaces. Their chart looked like this:unnerving in that way akin to the hardest of science. Much research in AI seems to be focused on using CGI monsters from the depths of the uncanny valley to stop real humans from trying to kill themselves.


On the other end of the spectrum, were applications so embedded in shear practicality. Using AI to determine optimal shared conditions for a thermostat.


Drove back up to for Myers to pick up Dr. H. She’s always fun to hang around. It’s pretty adorable how opposite her and Dr. B’s personalities are!

Ate cheeses and chatted with AI people. Met Tucker’s old student Gita.

Got my GoPro camera submerged in water, sea water, totally destroyed. It was great talking to kitty on the phone, which made up for the lost brand new camera.