Citizen Science Hack Chat With Ben Krasnow

Join us on Wednesday, April 29 at noon Pacific for the Citizen Science Hack Chat with Ben Krasnow!

For most of human history, there was no such thing as a professional scientist. Those who dabbled in “natural philosophy” were mainly men — and occasionally women — of privilege and means, given to spend their time looking into the workings of the world. Most went where their interest lay, exploring this facet of geology or that aspect of astronomy, often combining disciplines or switching to new ones as they felt like it. They had the freedom to explore the universe without the pressure to “publish or perish,” and yet they still often managed to pull back the curtain of ignorance and superstition that veiled the world for eons, at least somewhat.

In their footsteps follow today’s citizen scientists, a relatively small cohort compared to the great numbers of professional scientists that universities churn out year after year. But where these credentialed practitioners are often hyper-focused on a particular sub-field in a highly specialized discipline, the citizen scientist enjoys more freedom to explore the universe, as his or her natural philosopher forebears did. These citizen scientists — many of whom are also traditionally credentialed — are doing important work, and some are even publishing their findings in mainstream journals.
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NASA Needs Help From Gamers And Citizen Scientists

NASA would like you to help them explore — not space — but the bottom of the ocean. For now, you’ll need an Apple device, although an Android version is in the works. While it might seem strange for the space agency to look underwater, the images they need to process are from fluid-lensing cameras that use techniques originally meant to remove distortion from the atmosphere from pictures of outer space. Turns out they can also unravel distortion caused by the ocean and clearly image coral reefs.

The phone app is in the form of a game and, according to NASA, even a first grader could play it. In the game, you are in command of an ocean research vessel, the Nautilus. You dive to examine coral and identify what you see. The game generates training data for a supercomputer at the Ames Research Center so it can recognize coral types even when taken with more conventional cameras.

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Oceanography As Open As The Seas

With Earth in the throes of climate change and no suitable Planet B lined up just yet, oceanography is as important now as it has ever been. And yet, the instruments relied upon for decades to test ocean conditions are holding steady within the range of expensive to prohibitively expensive. Like any other area of science, lowering the barrier of entry has almost no disadvantages — more players means more data, and that means more insight into the inner workings of the briny deep.

[Oceanography for Everyone] aims to change all that by showing the world just how easy it is to build an oceanographic testing suite that measures conductivity (aka salinity), temperature, and depth using common components. OpenCTD is designed primarily for use on the continental shelf, and has been successfully tested to a depth of 100 meters.

An Adalogger M0 and RTC Featherwing run the show from their waterproof booth in the center of the PVC tube. There’s a 14-bar pressure sensor for depth, a trio of DS18B20s for temperature averaging, and a commercial conductivity probe that gathers salinity data. These sensors are fed through a 3D-printed base plate and ultimately potted in stainless steel epoxy. The other end of the tube is sealed with a mechanical plug that seats and unseats with the whirl of a wingnut.

We particularly like the scratch-built magnetic slide switch that turns OpenCTD on and off without the need to open the cylinder. If you’d like to build one of these for yourself, take a deep dive into [Oceanography for Everyone]’s comprehensive guide — it covers the components, construction, and calibration in remarkable detail. The switch is explained starting on page 50. You can find out more about the work Oceanography for Everyone is doing at their site.

As far as cheap waterproof enclosures go, PVC is a great choice. It works well for underwater photography, too.

HF Propagation And Earthquakes

For all the successes of modern weather forecasting, where hurricanes, blizzards, and even notoriously unpredictable tornadoes are routinely detected before they strike, reliably predicting one aspect of nature’s fury has eluded us: earthquakes. The development of plate tectonic theory in the middle of the 20th century and the construction of a worldwide network of seismic sensors gave geologists the tools to understand how earthquakes happened, and even provided the tantalizing possibility of an accurate predictor of a coming quake. Such efforts had only limited success, though, and enough false alarms that most efforts to predict earthquakes were abandoned by the late 1990s or so.

It may turn out that scientists were looking in the wrong place for a reliable predictor of coming earthquakes. Some geologists and geophysicists have become convinced that instead of watching the twitches and spasms of the earth, the state of the skies above might be more fruitful. And they’re using the propagation of radio waves from both space and the ground to prove their point that the ionosphere does some interesting things before and after an earthquake strikes.

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Magnets Versus Laundry Detergent

Soap cleans clothes better than magnets. There, we are spoiling the ending so don’t accuse us of clickbaiting. The funny thing is that folks believe this is plausible enough to ask magnets experts so often that they dedicate a blog entry to comparing magnets and soap. Since you already know how this ends, let’s talk about why this is important. Science. Even though some magnet retailers, herein referred to as [the experts] can easily dismiss this question as fanciful or ridiculous, they apply the scientific method to show that their reasoning is sound and clean evidence is on their side. [The experts] detail the materials and techniques in their experiment so peers may replicate the tests and come to the same results themselves. We do not doubt that the outcome would be equally conclusive.

The experiment includes a control group which processes dirty clothes without detergent or magnets, one group with only magnets, one group with only detergent, and one group with both. White clothing was soiled with four well known garment killers and manually agitated in a bin of warm water. We guessed that magnets would be on par with the control group, and we were pleased to be right. [The experts] now have a body of work to reference the next time someone comes at them with this line. The only question now is if tricky spouses used science to get nerds to do the laundry.

In this age of spin, keeping facts straight instead of jumping to heartfelt conclusions is more vital than ever. We are all potentially citizen scientists so testing a conspiracy is within everyone’s grasp.

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Brain Hacking With Entrainment

Can you electronically enhance your brain? I’m not talking about surgically turning into a Borg. But are there electronic methods that can improve various functions of your brain? Fans of brainwave entrainment say yes.

There was an old recruiting ad for electrical engineers that started with the headline: The best electronic brains are still human. While it is true that even a toddler can do things our best computers struggle with, it is easy to feel a little inadequate compared to some of our modern electronic brains. Then again, your brain is an electronic device of sorts. While we don’t understand everything about how it works, there are definitely electric signals going between neurons. And where there are electric signals there are ways to measure them.

The tool for measuring electric signals in the brain is an EEG (electroencephalograph). While you can’t use an EEG to read your mind, exactly, it can tell you some pretty interesting information, such as when you are relaxed or concentrating. At its most basic we’ve seen toys and simple hobby projects that purport to be “mind controlled” but only at an incredibly rudimentary level.

Brainwave entrainment is a hypothesis that sending low frequency waves to your brain can give your mind a nudge and sync up brain activity with the equipment measuring it. The ability to synchronize with the brain could yield much better measurements for a meaningful interface between modern electronics and electric storm of thought happening in your head.

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High-Altitude Ballooning Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday at noon Pacific time for the high-altitude ballooning Hack Chat!

The Cope brothers are our hosts this week. Jeremy, a computer engineer, and Jason, a mechanical engineer, have recently caught the high-altitude ballooning (HAB) bug. In their initial flights they’ve racked up some successes and pushed the edge of space with interesting and varied missions. Their first flight just barely missed the 100,000 foot (30,000 meter) mark and carried a simple payload package of cameras and GPS instruments and allowed them to reach their goal of photographing the Earth’s curvature.

Flight 2 had a similar payload but managed to blow through the 100K foot altitude, capturing stunning video of the weather balloon breaking. Their most recent flight carried a more complex payload package, consisting of the usual camera and GPS but also a flight data recorder of their own devising, as well as a pair of particle detectors to measure the change in flux of subatomic particles with increasing altitude. That flight “only” reached 62,000 ft (19,000 meters) but managed to hitch a ride on the jet stream that nearly took the package out to sea.

The Cope brothers will be joining the Hack Chat to talk about the exciting field of DIY high-altitude ballooning and the challenges of getting a package halfway to space (depending on how that’s defined). Please join us as we discuss:

  • The basics of flight – balloons, rigging, payload protection, tracking, and recovery;
  • Getting started on the cheap;
  • Making a flight into a mission with interesting and innovative ideas for payload instrumentation;
  • Will hobbyist HABs ever break the Kármán Line? and
  • What’s in store for this year’s Global Space balloon Challenge?

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the High-Altitude Ballooning Hack Chat event page and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat discussion.

 

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, February 6, at noon, Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

join-hack-chatClick that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.