Archive | May 2013

Volunteer Visualizations

At the Zooniverse workshop last week, Philip Brohan (of Old Weather fame) showed me how to produce a cool graphic of volunteer participation. So I put together a couple graphics – one for Season 1 and one for Season 4 – to see if patterns of who does what changed over time.

In these graphics, each square represents one volunteer. And the size of the square shows how many classifications that volunteer did.

Here’s Season 1:


The big blue square is all the volunteers who didn’t create a user account; since I can’t track them without an ID, they all get lumped together. Probably most of the people in this blue square did just a few classifications at most. All together there are just over 15,000 people who created an account represented here. Those that did fewer than 50 classifications each are lumped together under the big blue square. You can see that the majority of the work was done by people who between 50 and 1,000 classifications each. There were another 100 or so volunteers who did over 1,000 classifications in Season 1.

Now here’s Season 4:


This time, it’s the big purple square that represents all the volunteers who didn’t create an account; the square is smaller than in Season 1, which isn’t very surprising. Those folks that don’t log in are generally looking at the site for the first time and we expect more of them when Snapshot Serengeti first started than later on. All together, there are about 7,500 people who created an account and who worked on Season 4 – about half the number of Season 1. The square below the purple square shows all the volunteers who did fewer than 50 classifications. You can see that the majority of the work is being done by our thousands of dedicated fans; about half of all people who worked on Season 4 did more than 50 classifications, and these volunteers accounted for the vast majority of all classifications.

PS. The Zooniverse is launching a new project today: SpaceWarps. Go check it out, while we work on getting Season 5 ready for you.

Mom’s Visit

After living here for the last three years, I’ve finally dragged my mother into the bush. At 69 years old, I don’t think she is thrilled about our seatless (squatting required) outhouse, or the fact that she can’t blow dry her hair, but she’s been a good sport about everything so far – from layers of dust that covered all of her luggage to the relentless rattle of my noisy Land Rover.



Arusha was harrowing (to be fair, it is hard to remember to look the “wrong way” when crossing the street)

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but I can’t complain, as pretty much all we’ve done since she got here is eat AWESOME food. And you all know how I feel about food.

Food. Caught in the act at Ethiopian.

Food. Caught in the act at Ethiopian.

Grocery shopping was a little less fun than eating out…


Dagaa at the market. One of the few things (alongside marmite) that I *do not* eat.


Grocery shopping.

But we broke the trip from Arusha to Serengeti into 2 days, and got to stay at the super fancy Serena Manyara along the way.


Mom & me at Serena Manyara. I’m thinking about food…


 And we got a personal welcome into the park…


I’m just glad my mom is here, squat-choo or not. More pictures to come!

This is the wet season

### Craig, his wife Susan, and lion researcher Daniel and I went camping at Barafu the other night. These are Craig’s thoughts as we all sat on top of Barafu kopjes, watching the wildebeest out on the plains. ###


Daniel and Susan sitting on Barafu

The rains have been especially good this year. We are camping at Barafu Kopjes, at the eastern edge of the lion study area. The wildebeest have moved very far east, as I type this, I can hear them grunting loudly. The noise will only reach greater volume in the coming weeks as the rut approaches. The grass is green, the sky is full of rain clouds, and this is really the most glorious time to be in the Serengeti.

Back within the camera trap grid, the grass is getting tall, and Ali has to mow it every time she checks the cameras. There is almost nothing for the lions to eat inside the grid; most of the lions have moved very far to the south and east. This is the happiest time of year for the wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle – they are out on the open plains where they can see any danger approaching. They can easily move off away from a hyena, a lion, and still be in the lush green grass –so short it’s like the fairway of a golf course. For the lions, though, having to shift so far outside of their usual territories, this is a time of uncertainty. They may encounter rivals, unwelcoming territory holders, and so they move quietly across the land, always on edge. Further to the east, across the park boundary, into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, there is also the danger that our study lions may encounter the Masaai warriors. Several years ago we lost three of our study lions in a wet April like this one.

All the grazers are drawn eastwards by the extraordinary richness of the volcanic soils immediately downwind from the Ngorongoro highlands. Without the wildebeest, the grass would be nearly as tall here as anywhere else, but it is so sweet, that it is mowed right down to the ground. The vistas here are breathtaking; every animal looks as though it’s floating in green space. It’s almost like snorkeling – the bright orange of the gazelle from head to toe, the vivid black and white stripes of the zebra, the dull brown of the wildebeest but in such mass it’s like a living train as the herd flows across the landscape. And lions, when we see them, stand out a mile. Usually they look like the bulls-eye – a large green target with a concentric circle of brown wildebeest around them.

This is the wet season.


Ali with sausages. Lots of sausages.


Susan, Daniel, and Ali, preparing a feast.


Wouldn’t be camping without a campfire.

Zooniverse Workshop

It’s been an exciting and exhausting past couple days. I’ve been at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium, chatting with Zooniverse developers, scientists from other Zooniverse projects, educators and social scientists, and citizen science volunteers. There have been presentations on the history of the Zooniverse, starting with the original Galaxy Zoo, and on why people say they participate in citizen science projects. We’ve talked about ways to process the huge amount of data that comes out of the projects, and how to make translations of projects into other languages easier. We’ve seen that for some projects, many people do few classifications, and for others, few people do many classifications. And we’ve consumed coffee and food, and just gotten to know one another. (I discovered a scientist on another project went to my alma mater, graduated a year after me, and that we know many of the same people!)


Arfon talks about how the Zooniverse creates citizen science projects

One of the things I’m most excited about for Snapshot Serengeti is a set of visualization and analysis tools that the Zooniverse team is developing. They’ve started on a nice set of tools for Galaxy Zoo already, and Snapshot Serengeti is well-positioned to have tools added next. The tools will allow you to do things like map where images were taken, look at trends over time of species, and make some simple graphs. Is there anything you’d like to do easily with Snapshot Serengeti data? Now is the time to let us know. Feel free to leave ideas in the comments.

This workshop has also been fun because we’ve gotten a sneak peak at what lies down the Zooniverse road… a project called SpaceWarps is coming soon… further down the road, we have plankton, condors, kelp, sunspots… plus more data for Andromeda Project, Notes from Nature, and… Snapshot Serengeti!

It turns out to be true: there IS a new hard drive in Minnesota and it has all the Season 5 images on it. On Friday, Lora Orme and I started loading those images onto the supercomputers so we can start processing them. You’ll have to forgive the Zooniverse for stealing me away these past couple days and keeping me from working on the Season 5 images. But it’s just a small delay; I think we’ll have Season 5 online within the month.


The Adler Planetarium