7 observations in 1 expeditions

Recent Observations

27/3/2015 One month ago today we were making our way up from our first base camp to second base camp. Now I am back in Europe, Andy is back in the USA and Brian possibly in Transit after wrapping up the Ant course at the Biodiversity Center. The expedition ended for Andy and me the night the car broke down and we jumped in the taxi that the car mechanic arrived in. Back to hotel Mahavoky in Fort Dauphin for a few hours sleep before our flight to Tana at 6 am the next morning. From what I've gathered through Brian's Tweets (@ant_explorer) the rest of the team spent a few days running all over Fort Dauphin and flying in parts from Tana to get the car fixed in order to leave for their next destination - the spiny bush. Perfect climate for their feet to recover from foot rot. We made it to the summit, but we did not find the ant. I have not fully realized that I may never go back up that mountain again. Brian's experience got us to the summit with such efficiency. Even if I return to Madagascar, reaching that summit again would entail a whole new expedition. The paths we trod and the camps we left behind are still there now, but who knows what will stay. Will our camps become farms? The jungle turned to rice fields? It appears this is what happened to some of the French camp sites after their expedition passed through in 1971. One of the farms we passed on our second day, where we were served manioc, bred (a spinach like leaf vegetable) and given peanuts, could have been their 1st camp. "Finding the ant" remains in the back of my head as a placeholder for some sort of distant goal. Somewhere to head for, while concentrating on all that happens along the way. This feeling is definitely a remnant from my overall experience during this expedition. The biodiversity goal during the expedition was to: - collect the ant - collect lots of other ants along the way Back in the lab: - extract DNA - publish results - use knowledge for conservation Our Dissemination Lab goal (or what I want to call "electro-diversity" goal - more about this in a future post) was to: - be there (and keep up) - build there - bring back stuff The "being there" part was not something I anticipated listing as a goal, that simply being in a new environment would be so incredibly challenging and inspiring. As Andy so nicely put it in two of his journal entries transcribed bellow: "I'm in the jungle and EVERYTHING IS HARD TO DO" (Final Day in Cloud Camp) "The jungle is a ridiculously inspiring place to work" (02-25-2015, Up to Cloud Forest Base Camp) The "building there" part also came more laden with insight than I'd imagined. Making things is simply such a fitting way to explore a new environment. As a process it works similar to a lens through which you can look at things and see them differently. For example I was looking for a good material to make a speaker membrane from - all of a sudden everything I look at becomes a potential material for moving air. I touch, handle and look for things that have ideal properties for amplifying vibrating and moving air. One leaf in particular (still trying to find what plant it was from >> worked especially well as a coiled membrane and resonant body. The "bringing stuff back" part entailed what I had expected it would, that we would build stuff and document it to share with the Internet. But besides project documentation we brought back so much more we want to share. If only for entertainment sake, we definitely want to convey the adventurous aspects of the expedition. What we learned by setting up our JungleLab, then realizing we had enough gear with us to easily spend some weeks camped out and making stuff, is high on our list of things to document and publish. All the great exchanges between Andy and myself about why we do what we do... All these things we've brought back, we are currently digesting and slowly sharing in different ways. Here are some project tutorials that are already up online: Ultra-Lightweight Tyvek Backpacking Belt >> Jungle Speakers >> VinPro Camera Head Mount >> Fiber-Optic Jungle Insect Traffic Taster >> One of our evening activities was to draw up individual maps of our trek up to the first base-camp. Then we passed our maps around and explained them to each other. I loved seeing everybody's different drawing styles and from these hand-drawn maps I've compiled a map of our entire route - from Manantanina to the summit and back. Enjoy!

February 14th we finally arrive in Port Dauphin where our expedition into the Anosyan Range will begin! The coastline is beautiful and so is the town. We stay at a hotel that is a huge run-down colonial house. The wind constantly blowing through its spacious rooms and hallways. Waiting here for Andy to arrive from Tana and bring with him a part that we need for fixing the breaks on the car.

Morning of February 12th we begin our two day drive southwest to Port Dauphin. No paved roads for pretty much the entire stretch, and after the recent rain some parts are so muddy that not only do we get stuck (watch the video >> and need help getting out, but a seriously stuck construction truck blocks the road on our last part of the day and we end up taking a detour through the bush and through the night until we finally arrive at a place to stay.

February 4th at 4:30am Brian, Hannah and the Madagascar Biodiversity Center's field team left Tana for Tuliar. Two days of driving and one flat tire, we arrived in Tuliar amid a tropical storm that did not turn into a cyclone. The rain in this otherwise dry region was perfect for bringing out the ants from their underground nests. We spent four days collecting ants and exploring areas of the Tuliar coast that are just becoming three new national parks.

Brian and Hannah visited the engineering students at the Ecole Polytechnique Vontovorona today. We gave them a very brief introduction to the ant research happening at the Madagascar Biodiversity Center. Then showed some examples of electronic textile materials. We explained how both building electronics from new materials, as well as the challenge of building technology in the field, could lead to some interesting new devices - such as "leaf speakers". We then proceeded to demonstrate how to make such a leaf speaker by embroidering a conductive coil onto the surface of a leaf we picked from outside the building. And, with some amplification, it worked! Though only very quietly. When we get to the field we'll try to make some bigger, louder, and headphone versions of these to playback the sounds of the jungle!

Taking inventory of the materials and tools I've packed in my attempt at a super minimalistic electronic textiles field kit, makes my supplies look like nothing. Especially compared to the tower of bags Brian is arriving with:-) A good test will be to try and build some simple circuits tomorrow with just what is in the kit. But since this is my first time joining a field expedition and working with ants, I'm wondering where to start. A challenge Andy mentioned from previous work was detecting an ant passing, or tracking movement of ants in general. Maybe I'll try and have a go at something that can do this...

Landed in Antananarivo! JJ met me and drove us back to the Biodiversity Center where I am now staying. First hours in Madagascar were spent wandering the zoo next door and the markets in the streets around. It feels great to be here. Tomorrow will unpack my minimal materials and tools kit intended for hacking together electronics in the field, and organize or order any more items that seem missing. Also on list of things to do is look for butane canisters that will fit our butane powered soldering irons. In the afternoon will meet with Harinjaka Andriankoto Ratozamanana to find out more about the new media scene here.