Tuesday, May 31, 2016

myObservatory goes to school

Last week I went and met with eight classes of eighth graders at the Sandwich STEM Academy to introduce them to myObservatory.  Later this week and again next week I will be accompanying them on field trips to collect data at two different beaches.  Our in-class lesson focused on how to orient yourself with a map and how to interpret photo data.

Students were really interested in the map activities.  I had them try to locate a landmark on a zoomed in map of our region.  I was amazed that more students could not identify their school or the nearby waterway of Scortons Creek.  I look forward to using this experience to design a map orientation activity for future students.

Another myObservatory tool that we used is the newly added "Story Viewer" feature.  The story viewer allows you to see a photo on one side and the map location of that photo on the other side.  It was especially fun to talk with students about tide using these images.  In the example below notice that the map view shows the marsh at low tide.  Students observed the empty drainage ditches and sand bars in the creek.  And the photo on the left shows the location at high tide where ditches are barely visible.  What a fun way to connect ideas!

The eighth graders were all signed up for a myObservatory account.  When we are in the field they will be able to use their own login account to record data from the trip.  I am looking forward to spending a few data days at the beach!

Friday, May 6, 2016

David Vs. Goliath

In the world of GIS-based data management systems myObservatory is the David. There is a Goliath out there. And they are very good at what they do. 
The other day I was strolling among the booths in a major international conference. I saw Goliath’s booth. There were about 5 sales people there. They were very nice and informative and helpful. But it made me think: who is paying for all this? Obviously, it is the client who pays for this. When you buy Goliath’s product, you pay for a lot of very expensive overhead. We do not have a fancy headquarters. We do not have a network of offices all over the world. We rarely participate in conferences. 

Goliath is extraordinary powerful equipment with a lot of tools in their arsenal. It struck me that many of the tools will only be used by the giants: major corporations, government agencies, etc.  We have many of the tools that Goliath has, but not all. The question is, when you purchase from Goliath, do you need to pay for the tools the giants use? For example, when is the last time you used a geostatistical package? In fact, why should you pay for it when there are many geostatistics packages out there that are free (e.g., R has a wonderful geostatistics package).  Do you need to pay for the development of expensive, basin-scale hydrological response models that, in all likelihood, you will never use? When you do, will you will need consultants who are already paying for all this or have in-house, proprietary tools?) As an hydrologist, I can assure you, there is no standard, plug-and-play, hydrological model. There is an appropriate time to turn to Goliath, but for a large number of casual GIS users and professionals who work in a specific subject area, Goliath is an overkill. 
So, a few questions to you, our reader:

If you are a professional (teacher, environmentalist, architect, engineer, park ranger, or citizen scientist), and not part of a mega-organization: do you need to pay for Goliath? Desktop users have a variety of free or low-cost tools to choose from for desktop-based data creation, and myObservatory could serve you well for your data sharing, management, and web access needs. myObservatory Mobile could serve you well for in-field data collection.

If you are a traveler or an explorer, wishing to document your travel with a nice, very well organized set of GPS-tagged and dated pictures with notes, do you need to pay for Goliath? We could do that for you, for a monthly price of a coffee and doughnut. 

If you wish to visualize your data, see a timeline, or generate charts of your data, do you need Goliath? This is easy to do on myObservatory. 

If you are a farmer, wanting to document your activities, to archive pictures of your fields so that you can remind yourself how your field looked before and after and over as many years as you have data, do you need to pay for sales offices all over the world? 

Want to have a seamless mobile-web connectivity? We have it. Why pay for sending sales people to conferences?  

Need to share data with all your stakeholders with differentiated access privileges? We can do it for you. No need to pay the salary of a CEO and c-suite officers, and of dozens of thought leaders. 
My suggestion: myObservatory is tailored for your world. Pay for the tools you need, at the price you can afford. Really. Check out here: http://www.my-observatory.com/single-project-plans
Write to me at yoram.rubin@webh2o.net, and I will convince you we can do all that.. and more. 
And if you managed to read all the way to here: you deserve a shot at our free myObservatory Mobile. Download it and have fun

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Sensor Makers at the Faire

This Saturday I accompanied two students, Cam and Michael, from Sandwich STEM Academy to the Cape Cod Mini Maker Faire at Mashpee High School.  It was my first time at the event, now in its third year.  I was thoroughly impressed by the number of Makers present and the breadth of their makings.  It was great to see our students represent STEM Academy and myObservatory with their Arduino based weather sensors that they are building for the Scortons Creek Project.

myObservatory purchased the parts for students to build their own sensors.  We are using the experience of our first students to create a teaching and learning module on sensors and data collection.  I visited STEM Academy four times over the last two months to work with students during engineering class.  The two students chosen for this special assignment, Cam and Michael, have thrown themselves into the project whole-heartedly.  They work hard during our visits and are interested in how they can help teach other students how to solder and build sensors.  They both spent their recent April school vacation soldering and coding to prepare for this Faire.

Attending Saturday's event was a milestone for the team.  The boys brought two built sensors with some minor sketch issues to the Maker Faire.  They fixed the original prototype and got it working while they were there.  They shared their experience with visitors stopping by their table.  They even got to look at code with a fellow Arduino fan.  More than anything it was nice to see them blend with all of the other student and adult makers present at the event.

Over the next few weeks the sensors will be installed out at Scortons Creek where they will start collecting weather data.  This data will be uploaded into myObservatory.  It will become a part of the shellfish feasibility study that is being done in collaboration with the Sandwich Department of Natural Resources and the STEM Academy.  I look forward to sharing myObservatory with the entire 8th grade later in May.  Hopefully by then we will have some data collected by sensors built by the students' classmates.

It is great to watch the process of Michael and Cam's build.  Listening to them work together and watching their constructive learning experience is a teachers dream!  I feel lucky to have the opportunity to work with such talented and motivated students.  I have learned so much from watching them...I almost feel like I could build a sensor myself (*almost*). This is community-based, project-based, inquiry-based learning at its best!