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Daily Blog for Courtney

A Crab and a Bull and a (not so itsy bitsy) Spider

Posted on June 17, 2013 by Courtney

Today was a short day.

I’m not exactly sure why it felt so short, but I just don’t feel like I’ve been awake that long, even though I’m exhausted right now. We started off with some extra time to finish up our processing and project preparations for our presentations today. Cole and I were just about finished, so we touched up on a few things and basically just sat around for a while waiting to do the presentations.

It was really cool to see every group’s presentation, and to understand their methodology and how it differed from ours. Some groups seemed very systematic about how they moved around the valley, and others used existing maps as a starting point, whereas we tended to just work wherever we ended up (which, in retrospect, may not have been that efficient). In addition, our group had very little analysis and processing to do in the end because of the discrete nature of our points, but from what I gathered of the other presentations, several of the groups sat for hours trying to classify their data using various programs. That explains all the yelling the other night, I think.

I think our presentation went pretty well, though at one point I realized that I didn’t quite understand all of our attribute table as well as I thought I did, so Cole was nice enough to save me at those points. I was also very caffeinated, having had a diet Coke early to avoid falling asleep on the couch (as I did around 1pm), which didn’t much help me to control the speed of the words coming out of my mouth. But at least we got through it, and without any real problems or major misspeakings (that’s not a word, but it’s late and I’m tired, so I’m making it one).

After a scrumptious pizza dinner, we got together to discuss our individual projects in a little more detail. I’m thinking more about shifting away from my original thoughts of looking at coral and algae near freshwater seeps and instead focusing on the apparent hydrological and climatological differences within the valley, especially between the north and the south. I still have a lot of thinking to do as far as figuring out if that’s really a viable option, but I think it would be cool because it would involve using a lot of the common products all together and producing a fairly comprehensive analysis of how the sides of the valley differ. But again, it’s pretty undeveloped in my head and I’m hoping that sleeping on it will help me to come to a more substantialized idea.

Post-dinner was our wild safari adventure, and by wild safari adventure I mean finding a gigantic tarantula sized spider in the bathroom, and then going on a nighttime adventure. I say safari because of the amount of animals involved in our night. Immediately upon stepping out the barnyard gate into the gravel lot, we found ourselves face to face with a dark black shadow with very large horns. One of the bulls. My favorite.

Thankfully, Kerry was brave enough and confident enough to nonchalantly usher him away while the rest of us cowered in terror, and he didn’t even think twice about letting us pass. Even though I doubt he was even interested in us, much less in eating us, I’m still basically sure she saved my life tonight. (Did I also mention that I’m unnaturally wary (terrified) of cows?) After that, we started down the road to the main highway, flashlights glued to the ground only to find that our only obstacles were not, in fact, sharp rocks, but instead dozens of cousins of that very same spider we had just discovered in the bathroom earlier. I’m not even afraid of spiders, and it was basically a bit of a nightmare. Not to mention the gigantic centipedes that also made their way across our path. I can’t blame them for being there, but it still does freak me out.

In addition to the spiders, centipedes and cows, we also a bullfrog, some crabs on the beach, and something rustling in the bushes that I swear snorted at us (but I didn’t tell the others that I heard it because I didn’t want to freak them out, so hopefully they don’t read this). By the time we got back, I was thoroughly ready to climb up in my hammock and go to sleep, because I’m convinced that nothing can get me up there and I don’t think bulls climb stairs or hop fences.
And that brings to an end our weirdly short safari day. I’m not entirely sure what tomorrow entails, but whatever it is, I’ll probably be tired if I don’t go to bed soon, so that being said, goodnight!

PS: This was blog post number 14! I don’t think I’ve ever blogged this much consecutively in my life. Maybe there is hope for my attention span after all!

Fried Rice and the Magic School Bus

Posted on June 16, 2013 by Courtney

Today I don’t really feel like blogging (but don’t worry, I still will).

This was our half work-day and half day-off, so we spent from about 8am to noon working in our groups on our various common products. Cole and I had already finished most of the data processing, but we wanted to get a head start preparing the presentation and find a way to link the photos we’ve been taking to the points on the map. Constructing some semblance of a powerpoint only took a couple of hours, so with the extra time we began to experiment with adding hyperlinks to the attribute table in ArcMap. Our stab at using an in-computer path failed, and we realized that it would require everyone who wanted to see the photos to copy them to the exact same location on their computer. Instead, we decided we would upload the pictures to the internet and use URLs, so that everyone would be able to see them regardless of computer. That presented a new issue of where to put the photos online. With Facebook and Instagram naturally out of the question, we thought maybe we could try making a series of blog posts with the photos embedded so that each would have a unique URL. In fear of overloading the REU blog, though, we used a new, empty blog on my wordpress account. The results were beautifully effective, and hopefully will prove useful for anyone looking to view them.

The second half of the day was our half day off, so we went as a group to a beach and small town on the North Shore of Oahu. Most of the group went into town to eat and hang out, but a few of us made straight for the beach, not sure of how much time we would have. It turned out to be a good decision after we found out that, because of unfortunate car arrangements, two people would be forced to leave at 5, several hours before the rest of the group. Unfortunately, because Shelby and I had ridden over in the car going home early and hadn’t made arrangements to move to the other cars early enough, and because no one else wanted to go back, we ended up having no choice but to leave early. I’m not going to lie and say that we were thrilled about it, especially when it turned out the others were not leaving immediately after us, but hours later after watching the sunset and grabbing dinner. We still tried to make the best of it though, and made a pretty decent dinner ourselves of vegetable fried rice from whatever we could find and ate it while watching the Magic School Bus and White Collar. If nothing else, it was some good bonding time, and we already have plans to somehow make up for what we missed. We also prepared orange/guava juice popsicles to freeze overnight, which we plan on enjoying tomorrow while everyone else looks on in jealousy.

The final result then, is that I’m not in a great blogging mood right now, but it’s done, which means it’s time for bed. Goodnight!


Posted on June 15, 2013 by Courtney

Being Cavemen

Posted on June 15, 2013 by Courtney

Today was a rustic day. (“rustic” to be read with much gusto)

Since we were just about finished with topography, I went off with the archeology team to try to find archeological things along the beach, but, being me and having no experience with archeology whatsoever, I wasn’t a whole lot of help besides pointing out every single pile of rocks I saw and proudly declaring it significant. The best part about it was all of the climbing involved in searching for piles of rocks in strange places, like up densely vegetated hills, or in trees (except I actually just climbed that for fun, not archeology, because there tend not to be piles of rocks in trees). Getting back onto the ranch property only added to the intrigue after we took a wrong turn and stumbled upon a sort of redneck menagerie with goats, geese, a pony, several peacocks, some horses, and three very yippy Chihuahuas that took it upon themselves to escort us onto, around and off of the property. The right turn still brought us past a gate clearly marked “no trespassing, beware of dog” to a random patch of chainlink fence bordered by a strip of barbed wire. Luckily, there was a gap already formed in the bottom of the fence. Unluckily, the owner walked out to see us wiggling (struggling) through. But he didn’t care, so it was okay. After that, we found the old tunnel dug into the hill to get water, and upon hearing voices, quickly realized that we weren’t the only ones from our program, who had found it. After several minutes of adventuring in there, we left to try to find the laser-scanning demonstration, which unfortunately involved crossing through a fleet (not a herd, they deserve something more military) of cows who dropped everything to stare at us as we passed. Shelby assured me that they were not, in fact, going to eat me for dinner, but I didn’t believe her. I think my experience in the pasture the other day has scarred me for life.

Anyway, it was a half field day so by the time we got back to home base, the laser-scanning was over and it was time to go home. We spent an hour or so in the ocean to cool off and soothe our mosquito bites, and then the work began. Being the topography/georeferencing group, we actually don’t have all that much work to do as far as analysis goes, but even with that little bit we still ran into trouble. After trying over and over again without success to differentially correct our data, only to receive a notice that half of our points were missing positions, we realized that we had not, in fact, deleted all of our GPS points, but instead had failed to notice that the computer was not connected to the internet. So we used the WiFi hotspot through my phone to finish the process (for now) and moved on to the next steps.

The last rustic part of the day came in the form of a small archeological science experiment. It turns out that a particular type of nut found throughout Ka’a’awa Valley, the Kukui nut, has a particularly waxy, fatty, oily inside that burns well like a candle, and was used as such for centuries. Given its history, we had to try it out. So we crushed it between two stones, feeling spectacularly like cavemen, and proceeded to light the first one on fire. But it didn’t work. So we tried a different one, that was a different color inside, and it did work. Science! The brown ones burn and the white ones taste good (we tasted them against our better judgements. They taste like walnuts). So we decided that we’ll probably collect more at some point while we’re here so we have an endless supply of (strictly outdoor) candles.

Besides that, it’s been a pretty normal day, except that the mismatch in difficulty of projects has left a lot of very frustrated people with a lot of work while others have very little and no real way to help, so tensions are running high. When the internet is barely working and ArcMap is just being its usual self, people tend to get extremely irritated by any and all additional stressors. So I think for my own safety I’m going to hunker down in a corner for a while, offering help when I can and avoiding getting my head eaten off by an angry geographer. That being said, wish me luck!


The view from inside the water tunnel.


The Kukui nut, on fire!

Muck and Yuck

Posted on June 14, 2013 by Courtney

Today was a rather yucky day.

Nothing went wrong, but it was kind of hot and kind of humid and overall just kind of yucky as far as feeling well goes.

After some complications with rearranging groups, Cole and I, in an attempt to finish marking ground control points as soon as possible, took off with Scott and Greg from the UAV group again to see what we could get done. We went to the very back of the valley and continued our same process that we’ve been perfecting the last three days, until we had to split up so Scott and Greg could go figure out where they were needed next.

Cole and I took the next few, which were unfortunately well up into the hills on the south side of the valley (this began my not-feeling-so-good problems). We managed to finish before lunch, though, so we went back to the home base, or so I call it, to watch the launching (take-offs?) of the bigger UAVs. I’m not sure which one we saw flying during lunch, because it wasn’t one from our program but instead from a local company that was nice enough to come out and show us how awesome they are.

After lunch we went out with the archeology group, which I found extremely interesting because it’s so different from just finding reference points. Instead of looking for the most obvious points and the most distinctive manmade structures, we were suddenly looking for subtle patterns in rocks buried deep in the valley under trees and in waterways. It was a refreshing mental workout, as well, after repeating the same process over and over again without much variation or intrigue. But it was also hard work, and I felt like a wilderness explorer (at one point even wielding a machete, though it never actually left its protective cover).

Though I was exhausted and still felt kind of yucky at the end of it, our hard work was rewarded by a spontaneous detour to get shave ice! (aka snow cones). I got watermelon and lychee (I don’t know much about it, but it tastes like cotton candy), which was kind of a strange combination, but every bit as good as a snow cone can be.

As we don’t have much to do for our group when it comes to data processing, we had a pretty easy night, which means that for once, I’m actually not tired. Off to watch the in barn pool tournament that just got started. Goodnight!


Cole standing still for three minutes while taking a point. Would be a dull job, if not for the incredible view!


More Data!

Posted on June 13, 2013 by Courtney

Today was a whole lot like yesterday.

We took data again!

It’s funny how it works, though, because after three days of taking data, we’ve become extremely efficient, and the time seems to go by a lot faster. Not that it’s a good or bad thing, but before lunch time even rolled around today, we already had nine points. We did start earlier, but as far as points per hour, we were almost doubling our previous rate.

We covered the beach, which was slightly alarming at times since the road was sort of smack dab in the middle of our research area, and then returned after seeing some of the UAVs take off so we could go watch them fly. Unfortunately, on the way we passed through a cow pasture. Poor choice. Turns out that cows, though not threatening individually, are actually quite intimidating when they’re running, towards you, in a group, with the intent of scaring you away by stampede. And it works pretty darn well too, because it had us running full speed in the opposite direction.

Besides that, the day was without much particular excitement, besides a swim in the ocean, several spontaneous rain showers, and one very exciting moment of figuring out how to add decimal degrees to an attribute table stuck in easting and northing without ArcGIS help, Google, or any grad students or professors. Not that that’s particularly impressive, but for having already been awake since very early this morning, I’m feeling pretty good about my mental capacity right now.

So as I fall asleep on my computer, threatening to drool alllllll over it, goodnight!


Data Day!

Posted on June 11, 2013 by Courtney

Today was a day.

I ran out of adjectives.

Today was day two of formal field work, and it was very much like day one. We got up nice and early to be ready to go by 8, but inevitably ended up leaving a good deal later. That’s not to say, though, that we didn’t get anything done because of the late start. Our group found the solid six hours more than enough time to take quite a few points throughout the valley, and today we were a lot more efficient because we had a little experience and divided up the tasks more evenly. My field notes, though still something of a mess like yesterday, were at least consistent in the information presented, and somewhat consistent in the order in which it was presented. We made it our business to take on the eastern, sea-side end of the valley, which ended up involving some traipsing through muddy cattle tracks, and a few mud-like cattle excrements by accident. But in all of our traipsing we also accidentally discovered one of the old tunnels through which they ran water pipes to make use of the water from the mountain aquifers. Unfortunately, without a flashlight, further information about it, or time, we couldn’t explore any farther in than the first few feet, but it’s certainly something to come back to when time permits.

That same corner of the valley proved to be a goldmine after we also accidentally stumbled upon a sort of hollow in the rock face that bore marks potentially significant to the archaeology group. The hollow was behind a tangled mess of trees and dead vegetation, but I managed to climb up and take some photos of the charred appearance of the stones around it, so that the archaeology people might be able to investigate if it was some sort of oven or fireplace, or if it’s just some sort of geologic feature.

Besides that, not much really happened today. We continued taking points, this time straying off of our planning maps for areas to which we hadn’t dedicated enough attention, and when we got back we loaded the data onto the computers off of the Trimbles and saw it on a map for the first time. It was a pleasant surprise to see how accurate the points were, even matching up perfectly to building corners when we overlaid them on the Worldview imagery. Though our data are rather boring, I’m excited to see the results of other groups that had more variation, like lines and polygons rather than just points. I think I understand a little better now the benefits that will come from having all this data collected already, because I couldn’t imagine trying to figure it out individually for our projects later.

Even with the not-super-eventful day, I’ve still managed to get sleepy, so goodnight!

Our beautiful little points!

I’m tired…but happy!

Posted on June 11, 2013 by Courtney

Today was an exhausting day.

As I sit here writing on my hammock-bed, very nearly falling asleep while typing, only kept awake by the ceaseless itching brought on by mosquitoes being greedy little buggers, I can’t help but think that the sun literally eats people for lunch. How is it that the thing that arguably powers the entire world, from the food chain to the hydrologic cycle, be so incredibly efficient at draining the energy from people. I’m beginning to think that it’s not nuclear fission, but people’s energy that is powering the sun.

The reason I was in the sun all day is because today was our first full field day! After a morning perfecting data dictionaries, we took off for the valley, covered in chemicals and lugging around massively heavy waterbottles and gigantic GPS’s (called Trimbles). A 30 minute training session spent baking in the sun learning how to use those oversized monster GPS’s headed off another several hours of roasting while recording GPS points to set up reference points for our data. The nice thing about being told to pick out noticeable objects in this particular valley is that the majority of those distinct objects just happen to be parts of movie sets from very famous movies (and some not so famous ones, as well). It was quite a process of trial-and-error for us to get our system moving efficiently, because we were working with the UAV guys as well and had to stop and calibrate among ourselves to make sure everyone was on the same page. While Greg and Scott handles flying the Quadcopters to take data from overhead, Cole stood with the GPS to allow it to measure multiple times and entered data about the points. While he did that, I took a picture (mostly of him with the background) as a means of better identifying the area for others looking to find the points later, and took field notes in my notebook of anything significant to the area. That, as well, took some practice because at first I had to keep adding information around the edges of the page to include things I forgot. In the end, though, it was good practice because I usually hate keeping a field notebook. I’m going to have to learn to tolerate it eventually, so might as well start now.

The most significant event of the day was our experience with vigilante justice. As we tried to record a point in the center of the valley, we noticed a car decorated with Roxy logos driving around just as a helicopter came into the valley. It was flying extremely low and creating wind that sent our little helicopter nearly flying out of control (out of our control, that is. It was doing quite well for itself as far as stability goes). After getting repeatedly frustrated in our attempts to fly with the superhelicopter around (it began to film the car for some sort of commercial), we abruptly heard over the walkie-talkie a declaration that the car and helicopter were not to be on the property and that we should get the license plates/serial numbers from them and report them. Upon hearing this, Cole immediately took off on foot after the car, the inhabitants of which appeared to realize that something was happening and promptly ran away. Meanwhile, the helicopter noticed the car’s escape and also fled (which was a sight to see) towards the end of the valley, where it landed in what appeared to be dense forest.

We needed to get a point down there anyway, so we headed in that direction to see what we could see, coming upon a Stargate Atlantis set to use as our point. I climbed a hill and, behind yet another movie prop from Lost, saw the helicopter in the distance where it had landed. Cole then played the part of the vigilante and went over to pretend he worked for the park and write down the helicopter’s information. That’s about where the story ends, because after getting their numbers and watching them later take off, we found out that they actually had had permission to be there and it was just some sort of miscommunication within the ranch. So so much for that. Unfortunately, the endeavor also resulted in us arriving late (and having to report our location, ignoring the fact that we had at least 4 different GPS enabled technologies on us, by movie set – ie. “We’re by where 50 First Dates was filmed. Now we’re by the Jurassic Park log. Now we’re by the Lost field” and so on).

We finished off the day with the beach and sloppy joes, both of which contributed to this feeling a lot like a summer camp. No complaints here! Except now we need some s’mores.

Now I’m gonna go eat some gummy worms that I forgot I still had in my backpack.


Little snippet of our planning PDF, of which I am unnaturally proud.

Lost tower that held some sort of bomb thing in the show...



Dinosaurs, Smoke Monsters, and Foreign Invaders. Aka Movies.

Posted on June 10, 2013 by Courtney

Today was a learning day.

That sounds like kindergarten, but oh well.

Today was also our first full day in Hawaii, which meant it was our first time visiting the valley where we’ll be doing all of our research. After a refreshing beach walk with Shelby (during which we got slightly lost, if that’s even possible, and bypassed the turn-off to the ranch), we heard an awesome lecture from Dr. Terry Hunt, who told us about the archeology in Hawaii, and more specifically the patterns of how various people groups migrated across the Pacific. He, and Dr. Lipo, explained to us the flaws in traditional archeological viewpoints that made too many assumptions with too racist a mindset about these cultures, meaning that many of their earlier theories, the ones that were widely accepted, ought to be challenged. Even though I have never studied archeology, I found the information extremely interesting. Unfortunately, I had just put on sunscreen, and it somehow found its way into my eye leaving me teary-eyed and runny-nosed for a good forty-five minutes before I finally got up the energy to climb out of the hammock and go wash it out. Nevertheless, I managed to learn something, even if I couldn’t see the pictures, so it was a good morning.

Lunch was a little rushed because the Q&A about the lecture ran long (apparently I wasn’t the only one interested!), but we quickly found our way to the Kualoa Ranch, a gigantic tract of land encompassing a beach all the way up into the Ka’a’awa valley (and some other stuff around it, but I don’t know exactly how much). The funny thing about this particular valley is that it’s been used as a film set in tons of famous movies and shows. Jurassic Park, Lost, Pearl Harbor, 50 First Dates, etc. Today they gave us a bus tour to see various sets, and while driving, we also saw people getting tours on ATVs and horses. I guess we’re going to become another of the attractions when we’re our collecting data.

When we got back from the valley, we began planning out the data dictionaries for our various projects. Though I was confused yesterday about what exactly my group was supposed to do for topography, today made a little more sense and planning it out forced me to think it all the way through. The more I participate in it, the more I understand just how valuable planning really is. Not just for efficiency or good use of resources, but also to outline in your mind what exactly it is you’re looking for. Though this probably isn’t related to what my final project will be (I guess it’s too soon to tell, though), I’m really excited to get more experience working with georeferencing and GPS and all the other things that our going to come into our topographical endeavors. This will be the first time in my life working with data that I’ve actually collected, as opposed to just having pre-prepared shapefiles handed to me in a lab. I’m starting to feel like a researcher, or a researcher-in-training, I guess, and that feels pretty darn cool.

Sleepy time now. Goodnight!


Posted on June 9, 2013 by Courtney

Today was a ridiculous(ly awesome) day.
It started early, with a departure time from our hotel at 7:30am, with all sights set on LAX from which we were preparing to fly to Hawaii. It took a ridiculous amount of time to get our ridiculous amount of luggage checked, and I think we got some strange looks from the other passengers for all of the large black plastic boxes we were carrying with us. I thought security would be ridiculous as well, since half of us didn’t even know what we had in our carry-on cases (the joke conversation of: “What’s in here? I don’t know, it isn’t mine, someone just handed it to me and told me to take it on the plane, etc…” happened a lot), but somehow we all made it through okay. Apparently spectrometers aren’t actually that shady after all.
The flight was relatively uneventful as well, especially after all the flying I’ve done in the last few weeks. But it was a GIGANTIC plane, with little TVs in every seat, though the only free movies available were documentaries about Hawaii made some time in the 90s (still interesting though!). After landing, the first twenty minutes were spent frantically trying to count those shady plastic black cases to make sure we hadn’t lost anything in transit. As far as I know, they all made it through relatively unscathed, and after another hour or so of some sort of transportation figuring-out, we finally got out of the airport and into the unbelievably wonderful beauty that is Hawaii!
The way the islands work out, the winds come in from the north-east (I think, can’t remember exactly), bringing with them rain and clouds that get all clogged up in the mountains and consequently rain out everything right there. The result is that the north-eastern side of the island is lush and tropical, while the south-western side is more arid. We drove between both in about twenty minutes. The vegetation was slowly growing more dense as we went, until we went through a tunnel and suddenly emerged in the Hawaii that I’ve seen in pictures. Because of the rain on the northeastern edge, the rate of erosion has produced extremely sheer, extremely tall cliffs broken up by cave openings and patches of forest. That’s on one side of the road, and on the other is the ocean and beach, equally attractive, so I spent a lot of time turning my head back and forth in the car.
The place we’re staying at here is absolutely awesome. It’s a working barn, meaning that horses are our neighbors, and we’re staying in the gigantic space above it. It’s a really giant room with large balconies, a few separated bedrooms, a bar, hammocks, and TONS of big screen TVs. I don’t even know what you would use so many TVs for, but definitely a sight to see when you’re staying above a barn.
For dinner we had authentic Hawaiian food (I think…?). Rice and a sort of baked chicken prepared by our wonderful hosts who are allowing us to stay on their property for the next three weeks. I felt a little bad eating the chicken while watching chickens on the other side of the property, and I’m slightly afraid that I ate someone’s brother. It may or may not answer the question of why all the chickens were crossing the road…
There are a few more brilliant points about staying here: 1) Lots of animals. Horses, cows (bulls!), dogs, the aforementioned chickens, possibly some pigs, and a goat that was sitting in a golf cart when we first arrived. And 2) proximity to the beach. It’s less than a mile away! We went swimming this evening, and the beach was ridiculously shallow, so no matter how far out I swam (I don’t like touching ocean bottoms without water shoes when I can’t see them), I couldn’t find a place where I couldn’t touch the bottom. I guess that’s the business for a day swim, then.

Tomorrow we’re going to start exploring the valley where we’ll be collecting data, and I’m super excited to actually see it in person! (You can only get so far with Google StreetView). Hopefully I’ll have a lot to write about tomorrow. Until then, goodnight!


Our extremely impressive collection of stuff.

About Courtney