Archive for May, 2007

American Crow!

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

kryptonkay continues to dominate the birdcam in terms of getting the best shots. This morning she got five photos of a bird I’m calling an American Crow. Here’s my favorite:

Image 13259

She says in the comments on a couple of the photos that the bird is actually a Northwestern Crow, and between her vote and that of tom kellie in beijing, who chimed in on her side, a couple of the photos were briefly ID’d as such. But I’m pretty sure we’re actually looking at an American Crow. According to the Breeding Bird Survey, a Northwestern Crow would be a really unusual bird to see there.

Based on one of the images, I’d almost believe it was a Common Raven:

Image 13258

But looking carefully through all of them, I’m fairly confident we’re talking American Crow.

In any event, a new bird for the birdcam, and awesome pics (again) by kryptonkay! Congratulations!


Sunday, May 27th, 2007

As regular players are too-painfully aware, there are a couple of ways in which the CONE SF system has been “nerfed” (gamer slang for a system that has intentionally been made less-capable in some area).

One disability that the system has had from the beginning is the way the camera will automatically zoom to a fairly zoomed-out position (not the maximum zoomed-out position, but pretty far) if you try to point it in the area of the buildings in the upper lefthand corner of the panorama. As the FAQ explains, that has been done for privacy reasons, and while it’s kind of a pain when you’re trying to get a shot of the Rock Pigeons on the rooftops, I think it’s probably necessary.

The second disability is one that the game acquired on May 7. I talked about it some in System Changes. Basically, since that time, certain operations take a lot longer than they used to. In particular, loading the My Gallery page, and entering an ID on an individual photo page, can sometimes take a very long time.

My assumption has always been that this represents an intentional act of nerfing, rather than an unintended performance problem. (Update: Actually, as of a couple of days after I originally posted this, I no longer think this. I’m now thinking it’s an unintended performance problem. I’ll post more on that when I’ve got more specifics.) I’ve mentioned it a few times in emails to the site’s operators, and although I’ve received some feedback from Professor Ken Goldberg (the project’s co-director) and from Bryce Lee (one of the students who developed the system) to other comments I’ve made, they’ve never said anything specifically about this issue. Which is pretty much what I’d expect. There’s a complex dynamic that controls what information you do and don’t give out when you’re developing an online multiplayer game, and as someone who’s been on both sides of that issue I understand, and sympathize with, the CONE SF creators’ hesitation to share too many details about what they’re doing.

So, given that I don’t really know what the intention behind this was, or the specifics of how it has been implemented, it’s hard for me to be sure of what I’m about to say. But I’ll say it anyway: I think this particular act of nerfing isn’t very effective. It doesn’t appear to me that it’s accomplishing much beyond annoying a lot of us to the point that we’ll probably end up using the system less than we otherwise would.

In preparation for writing this item, I ran some tests to try to get a better idea of how the nerfing actually behaves. I turned off image loading in my browser (to better monitor the connections I was making to the server), loaded the My Gallery page multiple times in new browser tabs by Command-clicking in Firefox, and noted how long it took for the individual requests to complete.

Here’s the first test I ran, in which I submitted five requests in quick succession (spanning two to three seconds, probably, from first to last). For each request (numbered in order), I give the number of seconds until the server’s response completed:

Requests submitted at 08:30:00:

1: 47s
2: 54s
3: 1m 00s
4: 1m 08s
5: 1m 15s

I suspected that that test might have been influenced by the clicking around on the site I’d been doing just prior to that, so I waited several minutes, then tried again, this time only making two requests. The results:

Requests submitted at 08:35:00:

1. 8s
2. 16s

Then I ran a test with three near-simultaneous My Gallery page loads:

Requests submitted at 08:37:00:

1. 8s
2. 15s
3. 22s

Next I did a test with four:

Requests submitted at 08:39:00:

1. 8s
2. 16s
3. 21s
4. 28s

And then with five:

Requests submitted at 08:41:00:

1. 8s
2. 16s
3. 24s
4. 35s
5. 1m 35s

That one was interesting. Between the fourth and fifth request returning I suddenly got a huge jump of an additional minute of time. Two and a half minutes later I ran another test with five requests; here are the results from that:

Requests submitted at 08:45:00:

1. 49s
2. 1m 45s
3. 2m 45s
4. 3m 00s
5. 3m 05s

Again, there’s lots of extra time being injected into several of those responses. And then I tried 10 simultaneous requests:

Requests submitted at 08:49:00:

1. 8s
2. 16s
3. 24s
4. 30s
5. 35s
6. 43s
7. 50s
8. 56s
9. 1m 05s
10. 1m 10s

Now it seems to be back to “normal”, with about 7 or 8 additional seconds being tacked onto each request. And then, just now, after not using the system for an hour or so, I loaded the My Gallery page once, waited two minutes, and then loaded the page 10 times in quick succession. The response times were as follows:

Requests submitted at 10:11:00:

1. 8s
2. 15s
3. 22s
4. 29s
5. 34s
6. 40s
7. 47s
8. 54s
9. 1m 00s
10. 1m 08s

Again, all the responses look “normal”, with about 7 additional seconds (on average) for each additional request.

So, summarizing what I’ve seen, the nerfing system seems to work like this: requests for the My Gallery page are queued up, and responded to with one response every 7 seconds (or so). There’s also something that occasionally injects a large (and variable) amount of extra time, on the order of 45 seconds to a minute. I can think of a couple of explanations for that:

1. It could be that the nerfing is being done on a per-user-account (or per IP address, maybe) basis. In that scenario, the occasional injections of big blocks of additional time could be the result of some kind of longterm effect of my previous testing. Maybe the nerfing algorithm is integrating requests across a longer span of time than the minute or two of inactivity I was leaving between requests?

2. It could be that nerfing is being done on a server-wide basis. In this scenario, the injections of extra time could be the result of other users’ requests slipping into the queue ahead of mine.

I can think of a couple of ways to figure this out. One way would be to create a “sock puppet” account and run two tests simultaneously (from different IP addresses, I guess, to be sure I was isolating the tests from the server’s perspective). But I haven’t used sock puppets to try to figure out the system up until now, and don’t think it’s really kosher, even though I haven’t been able to find any language explicitly forbidding it on the system.

An easier way to test the “one big queue, across all users” theory would be to repeat my tests late at night, when I can be reasonably sure I’m the only person interacting with the system. Maybe I’ll try that.

In the meantime, I hope the good people on the CONE SF development team will get rid of the response-time nerfing. Especially when one is trying to snap a good picture of a rarity, taking lots of photos and then trying to delete the rejects in order to get another one before the bird disappears, the nerfing is very annoying. (That annoyance is multiplied many times over if you only have one or two shots left in your roll for the day.) If it’s true that all the users entering nerfable requests at any given time are competing with each other for a place in the queue, this gets even worse, since when a rarity is on-camera everyone will be trying to delete their rejected shots at the same time. In effect, the system will become cumbersome and unusable at the precise moment that players are most sensitive to its performance.

That’s not fun. And games are supposed to be fun. 🙂

Okay; done ranting for now.

More Allen’s Shots

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

The Allen’s Hummingbird has been continuing to show up at the birdbath fairly regularly, leading to some nice close-ups. Two days ago rookie got this shot:

Image 12368

And yesterday kryptonkay got this one:

Image 12555

Cool stuff.

Ready for Their Close-Ups

Friday, May 25th, 2007

One of the best features of the Panasonic KX-HCM280 camera they’re using for the birdcam is its 21X optical zoom. There were a number of shots yesterday that showed off that feature to good advantage; here are my favorites.

First, from robin54, this isn’t such a terribly tight close-up of the Steller’s Jay, but it’s such a beautiful shot I had to include it:

Image 11943

Then there was this great shot of the male American Robin by noho_bird_club:

Image 12035

And this totally cute shot of the Pygmy Nuthatch by lin:

Image 12100

But the prize for Best Close-Ups has to go to kryptonkay, who got these three amazing shots of the Anna’s Hummingbird:

Image 12106

Image 12107

Image 12109

I can’t even imagine how much luck and/or patience must have gone into getting those. Awesome!

Here’s to You, Mrs. Robin(son)

Friday, May 25th, 2007

It’s been fun watching the American Robin working through its obsessive-compulsive disorder with multiple trips per hour to the birdbath. But what I’d failed to realize was that there were two American Robins hitting the bath. Which I guess I should have been able to figure out, it being the breeding season and all, but for whatever reason it just never occurred to me.

Until yesterday, when a series of shots (including these two, by kryptonkay) made it obvious:

Image 12137

Image 12140

Nothing beats a nice comparison shot for educating one about the differences between two birds. Looking at these two, it’s hard to understand how I failed to recognize what I’d been seeing. But I guess that’s how my brain likes to work (when I let it): it just makes an instant ID (“American Robin”), and doesn’t bother actually looking at the bird in question. But having been confronted by these images, I dug out my Sibley guide and checked out the gender differences between the male and female robin, and sure enough, that’s clearly both halves of the happy couple sharing the bath, with the male on the left in the first image and on the right in the second.

So now, armed with my newfound ability to practice gender discrimination, I’ve gone through the photos from today and plucked out a few of my favorites of that classy gal, Mrs. Robin. Here are images by maraluna, kryptonkay, and noho_bird_club:

Image 12141

Image 12155

Image 11984

What It Takes to Go from ‘Disputed’ to an ID

Friday, May 25th, 2007

kryptonkay got this interesting shot at 4:05 p.m. today:

Image 12122

It’s pretty clear, after some study, that it’s a female House Sparrow. But the posture and the camera angle are deceptive; it looks like a pretty unusual bird. This led to a number of wrong guesses being entered, such that by the time I came along and entered my own guess, it had been placed in status ‘Disputed’.

My ID of House Sparrow was enough to flip it to that ID, which is handy, because I’ve been wondering just what it takes to go from disputed to ID’d.

Before my vote the tally was like this:

Dark-eyed Junco: 1
Pygmy Nuthatch: 2
House Sparrow: 5

After my vote, it was:

Dark-eyed Junco: 1
Pygmy Nuthatch: 2
House Sparrow: 6

As most of us have probably noticed, two votes to one is sufficient to get a bird with only three votes classified as whatever got the two votes. And the evidence of this photo seems to indicate that the same principle works with larger numbers, too, leading me to believe that this is the general rule: A bird is given an ID if at least 2/3 of the votes cast agree on a particular species.

I took a look at some of the more notorious shots currently in ‘Disputed’ status, to see what it will take to get them classified “properly” (according to my personal definition). For instance, there’s this photo by bluebean, which I believe (for reasons I explained in more detail in Well, Hello Little Lady) to be a female Western Tanager:

Image 7128

Currently the vote tally for this one is:

Western Tanager: 10
Lesser Goldfinch: 4
Bullock’s Oriole: 3
American Goldfinch: 1

So, to get the image classified as Western Tanager would require six more votes for that, with no dissenting votes (because there currently are eight non-tanager votes, and we need to double that). I guess I won’t hold my breath for that; there’s probably a better chance of getting another, clearer shot of the bird if we want Western Tanager to be officially in the game. (Wouldn’t a shot of a male be awesome?)

Then there’s this photo by harpsichordgal, which I talked about in Is That a Hooded Oriole?

Image 7594

Currently its vote total is like this:

Hooded Oriole: 4
Black-headed Grosbeak: 4
Evening Grosbeak: 1

So to get that officially ID’d as the game’s first Hooded Oriole would require (again) six more votes for that, with no dissenting votes. Sigh. Probably not going to happen anytime soon.

Next up are these two shots, from the first (and so far only) appearance of the Lazuli Bunting, back on the morning of May 9. Both of these were by kryptonkay:

Image 7709

Image 7745

The vote tally on the first one is:

Lazuli Bunting: 5
Black-headed Grosbeak: 4

That means to switch that ID to Lazuli Bunting would require three more votes for that, with no dissenting votes.

The vote tally on the second image is currently:

Lazuli Bunting: 6
Black-headed Grosbeak: 3
Blue-headed Vireo: 1

That means to switch that ID to Lazuli Bunting would require two more votes for that, with no dissenting votes.

I really hope we can get one or both of those switched to Lazuli Bunting, for the following reasons:

  1. That first shot was the first appearance of the bird in the system. It would be nice to have it properly classified.
  2. The second shot is arguably the clearest one taken of the bird during his appearance.
  3. Most importantly, of the other seven shots of the bird that were taken that day, and that were successfully ID’d as Lazuli Bunting, none were taken by kryptonkay. That’s not fair. She seriously deserves to have that bird in her list of photographed species.

If you haven’t entered a vote yet for one of these disputed photos, I encourage you to do so now. Well, as long as you’re willing to vote the right way. Otherwise, I encourage you not to bother. 🙂 Thanks!

Update: And now, thanks to some help from users lal and vireo, the second of those has been flipped to Lazuli Bunting. Yay! All is right with the world.

Great Shot. Even Better Comment.

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

This shot by fingerlakes, taken today at 1:18 p.m., was great:

Image 11843

The caption added by sunbird was even better:

“aww come on guys, I haven’t had a bath in over an hour and twenty minutes!!”

European Starling!

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

In some ways it’s hard for me to get excited about the two European Starlings that user millerman7669 caught at 4:30 p.m. today on what was his (presumably) very first day of playing the game. But they’re a new species for the system, so native or not, I’m excited. 🙂

Image 11647

New ‘Latest Bird’ Record

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

It was a fun evening on the birdcam last night, with extended appearances late in the day by the Steller’s Jay at the birdbath and a pair of Lesser Goldfinches and a Song Sparrow at the feeders. And at 8:30 p.m. user ttinin got this as the last shot of the day, setting a new record for latest identified photo:

Image 11506

The American Robin is now officially both the earliest riser and the latest to bed of the birds in Craig’s backyard. And with no fewer than nine trips to the birdbath yesterday (according to sunbird), it’s living up to that characterization someone posted in a comment (I can’t remember who, sorry): “I think that bird has OCD!”

New ‘Earliest Bird’ Record

Monday, May 21st, 2007

Cementing my status as the Microsoft of annoyingly dark early-morning shots of the robin at the birdbath, I got this photo at 5:31 a.m. today:

Image 11253

A minute later, at 5:32, I got this slightly better shot:

Image 11256

Interestingly (well, if you’re me; a caveat that should be applied to anything I’m obsessively raving about, which you’ve no doubt figured out already), the photo ID values applied to the two images (11253 and 11256, respectively) show that at least one of the two other users who were active on the camera at the time were also snapping pictures. I wondered if they might have saved one taken earlier than mine, but after waiting the requisite 10 minutes nothing else showed up, so they must have deleted all their shots.

I guess when one is the working to be the unchallenged monopolist of annoyingly dark early-morning shots of robins at the birdbath, it helps that no one else is actually competing. 🙂