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Daily Blog for Kerry McMahon

Day 10 – Taking flight

Posted on June 13, 2013 by Kerry McMahon

What a great day in the field. Today I was able to help out the vegetation group with their data collection, which was a welcome change from bare ground – much prettier than dirt. It is amazing how much they have learned in just a few days about the local fauna. The Ka’a’awa Valley is home to so many interesting native and alien species of plants, and seeing a number of them was a treat.










Back at the base station, we were lucky enough to have a pilot from Hawaiin Airlines on site to show us some of his personal UAV’s. He even had one that he built from  a conglomeration of household parts including Tupperware, paint sticks, ping-pong balls, and a $10 motor from China.

The highlight of my day was being able to fly my own Pentex WG-2 over the valley using the Phantom Quadcopter and the video function. I need to get comfortable flying higher so that I can see more. It is amazing how different it all looks from above. The detail in the images was outstanding.

After returning to the farmhouse, we spent some time on the beach and then got back to work, tweaking our data and beginning to prepare for our Sunday presentations. Today’s photos are here.

Day 9 – R.I.P. Snail

Posted on June 11, 2013 by Kerry McMahon

On the second day of data collection, my partner and I were much more comfortable with the GPS unit and didn’t repeat our mistakes from yesterday. We covered a good amount of ground, but were unable to find much that we haven’t already collected. We were able to cover the entire stretch of beach which, by the way, was gorgeous! Tomorrow, we will likely assist with another group who has a more complicated data to collect. It is nice to see everyone’s data piling up and by the end-of-day tomorrow, we should have a sufficient amount to begin compiling into ArcGIS and use for classification of our remotely sensed images. It will be interesting to see the culmination of the data layers.  Everyone seems to be putting forth a solid effort, so the finished product should be something to be proud of.

Julianna is collecting a rock point

Back at the farmhouse, we learned how to upload and convert our GPS data into a form that ArcGIS can read. This then allows us to make any necessary additions, edits or deletes to our features and attributes in order to begin working on our common product map. We drop our points into Arc and created a quick map of where we went so that we can determine what ground we still need to cover.

A "rough" version of our data collection

The funniest part of the day was when vegetation team member Thomas put a snail in his back pocket (he thought it was empty) and then sat on it. 

Snail goo

Williams Aerospace will finally join us tomorrow to fly a few of our cameras which will be incredible to watch.  We will also collect more data and begin correction and processing when we get home.

Our days out in the sun have everybody winding down by 8 p.m. and it is still difficult to eloquently elaborate all the events of the day into a blog post. But things are going really well. We all love our team of professors and grad students. Everyone has been so helpful and we continue to learn everyday.

Today’s pictures are linked here.  They are good today! And if you have a Photosynth account (you can make one you know!) then click here to view the valley.

Beautiful rock

Day 8

Posted on June 11, 2013 by Kerry McMahon

This blog is sometimes difficult to write because we experience so much each day that it is hard to compress into a few meaningful paragraphs.

Link to today’s photos

I am enjoying getting up with the roosters every morning at 5 a.m. It gave me time today to brush the horses and mentally plan for the day without feeling rushed.



After learning how to upload the data dictionaries that we created, today we were able to but our plans into motion out on the ranch property. It all finally clicked, since I was definitely a bit unsure as to what the large data collect would eventually turn into. We created a thorough dictionary for bare ground classification, which included roads, dirt, buildings, some agriculture, structures and rocks. Our data will go into a common product – along with data group other groups –  that will help to guide our research by creating ground control and geo-rectification points that can be used by everyone. This front-end investment will really help our research stay on track.

Hotu Iti made his way into our data collection

The grounds of the Kualoa Ranch are simply stunning. I had to remind myself to look up from the GPS every once in a while to soak in the surroundings. There are so many new plants and animals here in O’ahu that we are not used to seeing. Including this bad boy:

Big spider and his friend

While collecting our points today, I learned a few lessons that I can used to adjust my procedures tomorrow, but mainly take my time – we chose the wrong category a few times and also noticed our dictionary needed some edits. While we wandered around collecting our points, we also survey our potential data collection areas for the next few days. We will be hitting the coast tomorrow to collect sample points of the sand and rocks.





Day 7 – Treated like royalty

Posted on June 10, 2013 by Kerry McMahon

Today we finally had a chance to meet Dr. Terry Hunt, from University of Hawai’i. He gave a lecture about the history of Polynesia and offered some insight as to why and how humans populated the various islands. The lecture helped provide some context for our study area. I thought is was interesting to think about how humans were always pushing the envelope to discover new places. After the lecture we embarked on a guided tour, given by Kualoa Ranch owner John Morgan himself, who had a wealth of firsthand knowledge about all the ins-and-outs of the ranch property. Once owned by King Kamehameha III, the ranch was sold to the Judd family who was the current owner’s great, great grandfather. Some of the interesting history of the ranch was that it once served as a military air strip as well as a sugar mill. I thought that was pretty cool since my grandfather served here around the same time that the air strip was initiated.

Historic sugar mill


What remains of the sugar mill

The rest of the tour wound us through the western portion of the ranch, the Ka’a’awa Valley. We explored the various water features, vegetation and of course, the old artifacts from well-known Hollywood movie sets like Jurassic Park. The grounds were absolutely beautiful and awe-inspiring. There were some really interesting trees and other little hidden curiosities.

Beach View from Kualoa Ranch

Post tour, we headed back “home” to Tradewinds to begin brainstorming for the creation of our data dictionaries that we will load into the GPS units tomorrow. This essentially will make our field work much more efficient. Today’s pictures are here Back at the farmhouse, things are going well. Everyone is figuring everyone else out and we are starting to settle into our routines. Between getting dark here around 8 p.m. and the remaining jet lag, everyone is winding down earlier than expected. I am really looking forward to working in the field tomorrow. I think this is when scattered ideas will begin to evolve into more focused and meaningful research questions.   Bus tour video:

Day 6 – The Spirit of Aloha

Posted on June 9, 2013 by Kerry McMahon

After a long day of travel, we were graciously welcomed by Dave and Cheryl at Tradewinds Ranch in Punaluu. The drive around the east side of O’ahu was stunning. The dense city of Honolulu gave way to mountains that boasted every shade of green imaginable. Unlike the fairly homogeneous forests that I am used to seeing, the mountainsides here seem to have a greater abundance of tree species.  We are definitely lucky to be studying in what is the prettiest part of O’ahu.

Today’s picture live here

The farmhouse has all the amenities and everyone seemed to settle into place quite nicely. Cheryl cooked a fantastic dinner and we capped the night at a bonfire. We are surrounded by horses, cattle, pigs, chickens, donkeys and goats… which I for one am enjoying.

See the BARN panorama

The Barn

The Barn

I opted to sleep in a tent tonight, so we shall see how that turns out.

Tomorrow our work begins. I am eager to hear from Dr. Terry Hunt, a professor of Anthropology at University of Hawai’i, Manoa.

The Beach

Day 5 – Leaving on a jet plane

Posted on June 7, 2013 by Kerry McMahon

Day five wrapped up a great week with a lecture about ground penetrating RADAR (GPR) and the scramble to finish assignments. The GPR seems like it could be a very powerful tool if used by someone who can understand and interpret its output. Some may see just wavy lines while others  can actually make sense of what is going on below the surface. I am curious to see it in action.

We were assigned our groups for our “common product” creation for week one in the Ka’a’awa Valley. I will be focusing on collecting as much information as I can (with partner in crime, Julianna) about areas of low vegetation (a.k.a. bare ground) as well as the beach, rocks and possibly coral reefs just off the coast.

I am hoping at least begin creating a geodatabase that have multiple attributes about each feature on the ground, including a geo-tagged photo URL. Some of this process remains unclear, but I know will come to fruition once we are on actually at the study site.

I am really beginning to think even deeper about my research. After a week long of learning about different remote sensors and numerous software programs, I am really hoping to draw some comparisons between them and determine accuracy differences and maybe even determine where the point of diminishing returns pertaining to accuracy lies as cost increases – mainly for supervised classification operations. eCognition really sparks my interest as well, so I am intent on using it again.

So tomorrow is the big day. Provides all runs smoothly, we will be on the ground at Honolulu International by 2 p.m. HST. I am filled with anticipation. I am excited to see if Oahu is how I remember it. I was there in ’89 or ’90.

At some point we are supposed to get a demo from people at Williams Aerospace. I am really looking forward to see what they do.

Time to get some sleep. I will kind of miss CSULB… thanks Long Beach for having us!

Is this us ?


Day 4 – You can lead a student to water…

Posted on June 7, 2013 by Kerry McMahon

Wow, already day four and I feel like I have learned more in these four days than I have in an entire semester. We had the chance to hear from Professor Becker who gave a lecture on hydrogeology, specifically the local processes on windward Oahu. Although hydrogeology is not my main area of study, I still felt like everything he was saying was relevant and will play a role in my research, regardless of which focus I choose. The bottom line is that all of the systems that make up Oahu work together in harmony. I am looking forward to seeing what kind of data is generated near the coast and how it can work with that from the upper valley and higher elevations in the Ka’a’awa Valley. It is so interesting to think about hydrologic and geologic features and what past events have put Hawaii on the map and how these processes might continue to affect the islands.

Professor Becker really got us thinking about our research questions which we will discuss in more detail tomorrow. There is so much going on just in the Ka’a’awa Valley that it will be difficult to settle on just one thing to study.

And as if we haven’t already learned so many cool software programs, being introduced to eCognition rocked my remote sensing world, providing yet another way to process remotely sensed images. I am pretty stoked about object-based image analysis and the command-based operations of the program. While a little less intuitive to learn, I can already see its potential. It seems like it will offer more detail, control and accuracy to the classification process. I’d like to try it out and see how it compares in accuracy to ERDAS and/or IDRISI.

The beauty that is segmentation

Scrambling to get assignments done has been tough, but the challenge is good for the brain. I just hope I can retain most of what I learned this week. I continue to have trouble believing this is all real, as it just keeps getting better and better. I am waiting for the catch… Dr. Wechsler has assured us that Murphy’s Law will have the last word.

Tomorrow is the final wrap up of labs, software, and packing before 20-or-so of us head to Oahu to put all of our new skills to good use. I definitely want to think about the planning process and how important it is to begin NOW. It is easy to ignore, as the temptation is to delve in and just start doing,  but I have learned all too often that the front end investment pays off in the end. So here’s hoping I can nail down my research question by tomorrow so that my brain can get into serious planning mode.



Test Flight – Day 3 supplement

Posted on June 6, 2013 by Kerry McMahon

Day 3 – Learning to fly

Posted on June 6, 2013 by Kerry McMahon

Day three was an intense mix of lecture, hands on and lab work. Dr. Wechsler started with a great lecture about scale, scale, and scale (yes, there are many types of scale). While some of it was tough to make total sense of, the effort of getting us to think about the various types of scale was NOT lost.

More importantly, and I think the major take-home message of this lecture, was that as GIS and remote sensing practitioners  we must address scale, the issues that different scale creates, error in our data, uncertainty in our data, etc. Dr. Wechsler stressed that as long as we do the best that we can with the data and tools that we have and that we are certain to address error, then we are doing our job. This all too often is ignored, overlooked, or swept under the rug because it can further skeptic’s arguments that our work may be flawed or useless. With the technology that we currently have access to, I think that all we can do is the best job possible with what we have in front of us, and this ALWAYS will result in error and uncertainty. That’s acceptable when it is clear to the decision makers, consumers, scientists or whoever else uses the final product. Decisions based upon the data that we create and analyze should perhaps only be made down to the scale that we are able to provide accuracy to.

Dr. Wechsler encouraged us to understand the behind-the-scenes processes of everyday GIS and remote sensing functions that, sadly, are often ignored. But understanding these processes goes hand in hand with understanding scale and error. If we don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes, even at the simplest level, how then can we identify errors in processing or know what function to choose for what scenario? In her words, “don’t just be a button-pusher,” but instead we must apply critical thinking. This is all too often lacking, not only in geography, but in all fields.

Post-lecture, we did a complete one-eighty to getting outside in the California sunshine to learn how to operate the Phantom Quadcopter. Briton and Paul gave an excellent demo and were so patient with us as we learned. After watching a few other people’s lawn-mowing skills (which spared the rest of us) it was quite easy to get the hang of. But better than it being fun, the realization that this technology has become accessible and affordable enough even for students to use and create  real information products. Remote sensors of various types, costs, and qualities are opening up so many doors to geographers to solve real problems.


After several test flights of the hexacopter we returned the lab and worked with yet another new program called PhotScan, which was just about the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time. We created a composite of multiple images that were taken from the hexacopter (not by us) and created a point cloud model of a section of campus, which may not sound cool if you don’t know what it is, but it is! We then turned that point cloud model into a 3D model of a section of campus. Remember, this is all done with a remote control quadcopter, GPS and your average digital camera. Three stages are shown below:



After making some substantial progress in the lab, we called it a night and headed downtown to grab some delicious BBQ. All said and done, today was such a productive, educational, and satisfying day.  I have even more to think about tonight after all I have learned.


Day 2 – More tools in the toolbox

Posted on June 4, 2013 by Kerry McMahon

What a day.. Dr. Lipo, of “The Statues that Walked” fame, gave an excellent lecture that clarified many misconceptions that people have about science, scientific method and common sense. He was clear to point out the usefulness of common sense and science, but clear about how not to confuse the two. I am definitely still digesting the lecture, but it certainly gave me plenty of food-for-thought.

Many new concepts were introduced, too numerous to list, but I particularly liked the idea of phenomenological vs. ideational. I think it is common that because we have given a name to most things that we then believe those things are fixed and permanent (the example Dr. Lipo gave was a dog), but in reality the thing (dog) is only what we have defined as a dog “in this slice of biological time.” I thought about my own dog, who does not use our language to classify things, so he may understand this concept better. Because to him, another dog is just the idea that makes up what we know of a dog, comprised what he sees, smells, etc…

The lecture definitely stimulated interest and conversation among the students.  Pertaining to the word science, I am curious to find out about how scientific method has been, and can be, applied to answering archaeological questions.

Then to shift gears, Professor Lee delivered an excellent lecture on remote sensing that gave an overview of its major concepts. Even though I have taken remote sensing, this lecture was still very interesting because it helped solidify some of the things I have already learned. Plus, it is always nice to hear another professor’s iteration of the same concepts. Dr. Lee then introduced us to many of the remote sensors we will be using “hands on,” such as the hexacopter, Gatewing, GoPro, Ricoh and others. We also discussed the different satellite platforms and the strengths and weaknesses of them all. I walked away with a much deeper understanding of remote sensing and the various types of resolution. It will be great to see the UAV’s in action this week and throughout the program, especially some of the modifications made by Dr. Lipo and others.

One of the UAV's we will be using

Gatewing X100

After the lectures, we heard several demos that gave us a basic understanding of how to use the ERDAS software for digital image processing. We got to take a 100-year-old map of O’ahu, Hawaii and georectify it with a current satellite image. The implications of using remote sensing seem to be endless!

Historic map of Oahu overlaying a modern-day satellite image of the same location

After a day of intense learning, some of the group had pizza, while others gorged on sushi. We continue to get along famously and are having a great time in and out of the classroom. Can’t wait for  day three, where we will fly some of the UAV’s.


About Kerry McMahon

I am a senior at Towson University in Maryland studying geography and GIS. I am mainly interested in combining GIS, remote sensing and cartography. I am specifically interested in the anthropogenic impact on our environment and hope to use my skills and knowledge to help solve problems related to that impact. I live in Baltimore and love spending time outdoors as much as possible.