Archive for February, 2009

Maintenance at Welder

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Earlier this month I contacted Selma Glasscock at Welder. The correspondence follows.

Date: 2/09/2009 9:24am PST
From: Kay Loughman
To: Selma Glasscock
Cc: John Rappole
Subject: Welder Feeder contact person?

Hello Selma (and John),

Is there a way the CONE Welder observers can contact directly the person who is now taking care of the feeders for the project? I am asking because

1. sometime after 4pm yesterday, the green metal hopper feeder was “vandalized,” possibly by people, more likely by squirrels or raccoons. So the seed ports are now totally closed. That feeder was the only “hope” for the birds when the other feeders were not being filled.

2. the orange plastic feeder has come adrift from its mooring and appears to be banging against the fountain

3. the seed tray is empty, thanks to the attentions of a zillion Red-winged Blackbirds.

I know you are busy, so I hate to bother you. But if we could e-mail directly or even telephone the person doing the work, we wouldn’t have to disturb you with these little maintenance issues.


Kay Loughman


Date: 2/24/2009 6:41am PST
From: Selma Glasscock
To: Kay Loughman
Cc: John Rappole
Subject: Welder Feeder contact person?


I know such things are frustrating for CONE viewers, so you must ask them to be patient. It is important for all of you to understand that we (the Welder Foundation) DOES NOT have any staff person directly responsible for this project and WWF DOES NOT get paid to do this project. We are already over-burdened with our job responsibilities because of downsizing of staff over the past year. I know the CONE tasks may seem minimal to you, but they take valuable time out of our responsibilities to the Foundation and jobs during the workday and work week. My work day often begins about 5:30 a.m. and does not end usually until 7 p.m. – this may be 6-7 days a week.

We will do our best to keep them up and I am trying to find volunteers to assist, but since we are approximately 15 miles from the nearest community it is difficult. As a matter of fact, most of our volunteers live approximately 1 hour from the refuge. The CONE folks have found some funding to help us pay travel costs for volunteers, but that does not mean they will want to travel this far multiple days a week.

We will do the best we can to keep the project going.

Selma Glasscock, Ph.D., C.W.B.
Assistant Director, Welder Wildlife Foundation
P.O. Box 1400
Sinton, Texas 78387


Date: 2/25/2009 8:38am PST
From: Kay Loughman
To: Selma Glasscock
Cc: John Rappole
Subject: Welder Feeder contact person?

Dear Selma,

Thank you for your message, which was informative if disheartening.

I hope you will understand the CONE viewers are all volunteers. We are not privy to detailed information (grants, memos of understanding, or protocols) about how the whole project works. So, although we read that the project is “collaborative,” we do not know the levels of committment or investment by each of the collaborators. We may not need to know those details; but our lack of knowledge could partly explain our concern when one part of the program doesn’t seem to be working. When the birds are not coming in because the feeders are empty or the fountain dirty, we cannot take photographs for John Rappole’s part of the project. [Of course, we do not know any more about Dr. Rappole’s investment in the project than we know about yours!]

From your note I infer that this project has become something of a hardship for Welder. If that is the case, your continuing efforts to support the project with bird food, volunteers, maintenance and oversight are an enormous contribution.

I sure all the CONE viewers join me in wishing you well,


Warning: Robots Merging Ahead

Friday, February 20th, 2009

I got the following email last night from Siamak Faridani, one of the programmers on the CONE team. I’m passing it on, per Siamak’s request:

From: [Siamak Faridani]
Subject: [CONE] Autonomous Code
Date: February 19, 2009 8:50:35 PM PST
To: [me]

Hi John,

I am a PhD student at Berkeley and I work for professor Goldberg, I have developed a code that controls the camera and brows the scene automatically, every 10 minutes it will kick in and will run the camera for around 60 sec and will release the camera afterward, I need to test this code on the website for 4 days, starting Friday morning
until Monday night.

It should only take 10% of the camera time and users are welcome to request frames from the system while the code is running.

I was wondering if you could please post a quick note on the website to mention this, the username for the program is “conetester” and as I said it will log in every 10 minutes and will log out when it is done.

Best wishes,


PS. Hopefully it will not run other users crazy 🙂

Yes, well, we can always hope for that. I’d say the chances of CDS (CONE derangement syndrome) will increase sharply if the system decides to take control of the camera at a time when something really rare and/or interesting is in the field of view.

But it should be interesting, in any event.

“Dashboard” Feature

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

I’ve completed enough of the “dashboard” page I spoke about earlier to go ahead and post the URL to it, if you want to check it out. It’s at:

Currently it has the following:

  • Thumbnails of the last five photos taken today.
  • Thumbnails of the top five photos taken today (judged by the number of “favorites” stars assigned to it by users other than the person who took the photo).
  • A table ranking the top players today.

The player rankings are being done by a different system than the official CONE Welder scoring (though it probably has some elements in common). For the purposes of the dashboard page’s player rankings, I do the following: For each player, I compute a raw score, and a ranking against the other players based on that score, in each of three categories: correct IDs assigned today (with “correct” being in terms of CONE Welder’s idea of a correct ID, which I believe is that at least 2/3 of the people entering an ID have to agree), species photographed today, and favorite points (the stars) assigned to that user’s photos taken today. For each of those three categories, a higher raw score is better, for ranking purposes.

I also compute a combined score, which is the sum of the player’s rankings in the other three categories. I then rank the players based on their combined scores, with that ranking being what determines the overall order in the table. Note that for the combined category, you want to have the lowest raw score in order to rank highly.

The data is refreshed every 15 minutes during the daylight hours, and every hour at night. The actual times of the daytime updates are 5, 20, 35, and 50 minutes past the hour.

I have a bunch of ideas for things I’d like to add, including:

  • The ability to view results for any day, not just the current day.
  • The ability to view a similar page where the computation is based on all-time data, not just a single day’s data.
  • Pages for each user in the game, with that user’s most-recent photos, top-rated photos, and a list of species photographed.
  • Pages for each species in the game, with (again) that species’ most-recent and top-rated photos, as well as a graph showing number of identifications of that species per day.

In general, I want everything to be clickable, so it’s easy to navigate your way around and drill down to look at interesting data.

Please take a look, and let me know what you think. In particular, if you have problems or questions, or if you have suggestions about which features you’d most like to see added, please let me know. Thanks!

Red-shouldered Hawk!

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

Always exciting when the Red-shouldered Hawk puts in an appearance! Congratulations to rafa and blether, who combined for 10 shots of this beautiful bird today. It looks like it may have caught a small rodent, though you can’t see the prey.

Here are some of my favorite shots:

Image 137094

Image 137097

Image 137104

And here’s an animated GIF I stitched together from all 10 frames:

Idea for a New Scoring System

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

One of the people on the team at CONE, Zhang Yan, has been kind enough to work with me recently on setting up an interface that allows realtime querying of game data. My plan is to use this to build a “dashboard” page of sorts that ranks players according to a different system than the one the game currently uses.

I hoped to get the initial version of that up and running today, but unfortunately I’ve had other commitments that have kept me from working on it. As a result, I think it’s probably going to be another week or so before I’ll have the initial version of that ready.

In the meantime, though, I wanted to give an idea of how it would work.

Basically, I’m thinking of displaying a table that ranks the players that have been active in a given day according to three different criteria:

  • number of species that player has correctly identified in photos taken that day
  • number of favorites points (the stars, I mean) that have been assigned by other players to that player’s photos taken that day
  • number of identified species in photos taken by that player that day

In each of these categories, each player would be ranked relative to all the other players who had received a ranking that day, and would get an ordinal score (first, second, third, etc.) based on that. The three different ordinal rankings would be combined to give an overall ranking for each player.

My hope is that this will allow players to pursue different strategies in a way that will be fun. A player could use his or her 10 shots to try to photograph as many species as possible. Or to take the most interesting or artistic images possible, in an effort to win the favorites points ranking.

Yan has set up the interface to return the necessary data. I just need to build the pieces on my side that query that data and display the results on a web page.