Archive for April, 2008

CONE Welder Public Beta Is On the Air!

Monday, April 28th, 2008

So, I have a confession to make: A little over a week ago, in response to near-constant pestering, the good people at the CONE project invited me to participate in the alpha test they were doing of the new camera. They asked me to keep it quiet for the time being, so I haven’t been talking about it here (which was kind of hard for me to do, as you can probably imagine).

But this evening I got official word from Bryce Lee that the public beta test is now open! Yay! It’s finally here!

The following notice appears now on the beta site:

CONE-Welder: Beta Testing, 28 April – 5 May, 2008

CONE-Welder is now open for beta testing.

Please email with problems/suggestions/etc. (please note which browser version and operating system you are using)

After this pre-release we will clean the data and zero points so that everyone starts at the same point on the launch date.

Bryce told me it was okay for me to let the other players know, so I’m officially letting you know: The system is open for beta testing. You can reach it by visiting the following URL:

You’ll need to sign up for an account, and verify your email address using the instructions that will be mailed to you. And then you’ll be in!

What will you find? Well, there’s a very cool new interface. The camera and pointing work pretty much like CONE SF did, only it’s a little more intuitive. There’s an in-game chat feature that I love. And there’s the ability to define “zones” within an image, and enter zone-specific comments and IDs. No more need to coordinate as to which bird you want people to identify — you can identify them all. And there are a lot of new scoring features, with exploding pie charts and line graphs and the ability to compete both on a daily basis and overall.

All of which isn’t the most important part. What you really want to know, probably, is what can you see with the thing? What does the camera show? And what about the birds?

Well, there’s a lot to see. The Welder folks have put up a bunch of feeders of many different types, an elevated birdbath, and a sunken pool. There’s a grassy expanse in the foreground, and a fringe of brush and trees around the perimeter. You can browse back through the photos that the alpha testers have been taking over the past week or so, including:

  • Non-birds: A squirrel that is the spitting image of Roscoe, a raccoon I caught pulling the stopper out of a hummingbird feeder so he (she?) could drink the nectar, and a large assortment of pigs (at least two species, I think) in various sizes. And Bryce got a very cool image of a spider hanging out right in front of the camera.
  • Icterids: There are a lot of Red-winged Blackbirds, a fair number of Brown-headed Cowbirds, and some big grackles that I’m calling Great-tailed, though I suppose they could be Boat-tailed. I’m interested in what some of you other obsessives think about that question.
  • There have been a few Inca Doves walking around in the grass.
  • One of the most exciting birds for me, since I don’t get to see them normally where I live and they’re just so gorgeous, are the Northern Cardinals. There are a bunch of them.
  • Of the species of interest mentioned in the pieces I’ve read about John Rappole’s work, there have been a few Green Jays, and Buff-bellied Hummingbirds (pretty sure, though it’s hard to get a good shot of them; I need kryptonkay’s legendary patience and closeup ability to get some better shots). There are also some other hummingbirds that I’m calling Ruby-throated, though again I’m not positive.

Here are a few shots to whet your appetite, but don’t wait around here; get yourself over there and get in the game! See you there!

Panorama Image Posted

Friday, April 18th, 2008

The new cam isn’t available yet, but the CONE folks posted an update to the CONE Welder site yesterday that included a preliminary panorama image from the new camera. Here it is:

Here’s the note that accompanies the new image:

Update(4/17/2008): Great News! We have deployed the camera in Welder, Texas! The above panorama was generated from the new viewpoint. We will be launching the new Flash-based interface by April 28. We are very sorry for this delay; the wireless connection was slower than expected. We are currently working hard on improving the camera’s wireless connectivity to deliver a better video signal. In the meantime, we would like to prepare you for your upcoming birding adventure with these pictures from the Welder area. See you in Welder soon!

There are also some new images (not from the birdcam) from the Welder Wildlife Refuge; definitely worth checking out.

I haven’t been able to figure out from the panorama where the camera is actually located, though there are some spots in the Google Maps aerial view of the main refuge complex that seem like good possibilities. Poke around and see if you can match up the brush to a particular location:

View Larger Map

I’m guessing that, like CONE Sutro Forest, the new setup is facing more or less north. (Update: Um, no. What was I thinking? CONE-SF faced mostly south, not north. Sorry about that.) We can see a dirt road with a parked car on the far right side of the panorama, a pair of vertical posts on either side, and that very interesting shadow extending away from the camera on the lefthand side. I’m guessing that shows an antenna or pole of some sort extending upwards from the area of the camera itself. And then there’s that complicated-looking circular object near the center of the field of view. What is that thing? A feeder station? I really want to zoom in on it to get a better idea.

All in all, very exciting stuff.

An Update from Professor Goldberg

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

So, I couldn’t help myself. Since it is now officially “mid-April” I thought I’d send an email to the CONE folks asking if they could provide any information about the status of the camera. About 5 minutes after sending it I received a reply from Professor Goldberg:

Dez is going to the site on Wed to install a bi-directional wireless system that we hope will increase camera framerate, and we have been finalizing the interface.

In a subsequent email, he wrote:

We’ll send more info by the end of this week and please tell those on the blog that we’re working hard on this and apologize for the delay!

So there you have it: We’re not quite ready to go yet, but it sounds like we’re definitely getting closer. Apparently the wireless networking hardware connecting the camera to the Internet has bandwidth issues, such that the camera’s frame rate is unacceptably low. That makes me wonder about the location of the camera. Maybe it’s not right in the main Welder complex that I posted the link to earlier, but is some distance away in the refuge? Wouldn’t it be neat if it it were in a location where we had a view of some wetlands, like the Aransas River?

At it’s closest approach, the river appears to be about 2,000 feet away from the complex:

Also, at least some aspects of the user interface are still being worked on. Given how much fun I had with the old interface, I’m really looking forward to seeing what improvements they’ve come up with for the new system.

Roscoe Speaks!

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

While we wait for CONE Welder, here’s a stroll down memory lane: Craig posted a YouTube video of Roscoe recently, so we can actually hear what our favorite squirrel sounds like. Check it out:

I think that’s right under the birdbath, but the video never goes high enough to show it.

*Sniff* I miss Craig’s deck.

Update: Oops. No, according to Craig it’s the lefthand corner of the deck.