The 2017 Cave Pearl Project ‘Year in Review’

Run times for Cave Pearl loggers without RTC pin power (0.25 mA) and with RTC pin powering (0.1mA). Dashed lines are projections to the point where the unit would have performed an automatic low-voltage shut down.

It’s been an intense year for the Cave Pearl Project, with several major advances. Almost all of the the units in the field sleep at 0.1mA or less with the RTC pin-power modification, so we can finally push the deployment cycle out to a two year rotation. Somehow I doubt that Trish will be able to wait that long for her data, but at least now we have the option of just leaving things in place if we need to when the fieldwork doesn’t go according to plan.

I also started experimenting with SD card shut-down this year, and early records from those prototypes are in, suggesting that they will run for at least four years. However I’m not going to call this technique ready for prime time until we see at least twenty units deliver more than a year of saved data.  Accelerated bench tests can only tell you so much about how a unit performs in the real world.

Extended lifespans mean that we can leave loggers with other people so they can do exploratory deployments in locations we can’t get to. Natalie Gibb from Under the Jungle sent us a brilliant video from one of those deployments:

We couldn’t have produced anything that polished with our hokey little point & shoot cameras!

I didn’t have much time to update the blog in 2017, but even with only six posts the traffic continues to grow, and we are approaching 100,000 unique IP’s. I still consider this blog an experiment, since I had no idea how much traffic a nerdy rant about data loggers would get when I fired it up in 2014. I think we’ve passed some kind of threshold this year, because traffic analyzers are now hitting the site regularly, and the comments are being spammed with a heap of “monetize your blog” garbage. Are there really people out there willing to annoy that many people for a $2.50 average CPM? (Ok…rhetorical question….)

I mentioned in the 2016 review that European countries were occasionally passing the US in the daily stats. At the time I thought that this was just an artifact of some mention in a forum thread, but through 2017 it started happening more frequently and now the US traffic is really starting to fall off. This struck me as odd, given all chin wagging you hear about STEM education initiatives in the burbs.

So I did a some checking with Google Trends and it’s not my imagination; something happened in 2017 that reduced the number of searches for Arduino in the U.S. while those same searches are rising in the rest of the world. Sadly, I don’t think you have to look very far to understand what’s happening when the president states that dismantling “the DEP” is one of his goals, and then appoints a director that sued the agency several times to carry out that plan. The relationship between the executive branch and the scientific research community is so deeply dysfunctional right now that the Center for Disease Control has been ordered not to use terms like “evidence-based” or “science-based” in official documents.  Is it possible that folks on the street are getting the message that science has somehow become un-American?

I’ve no doubt more will be written about this epic estrangement, and in keeping with the freaky zeitgeist we’re introducing the Cave Pearl Projects first annual “Ugliest Deployment of the Year” contest.  A worst-in-show collection of from coastal outflows, mangrove swamps and hydrogen sulfide pits:

Sponges growing on a flow logger after 27 month deployment in a hydrogen sulfide cave. This unit smelled so bad that it attracted all the feral cats from the neighborhood when we brought it home for cleaning.

Bio fouling on an estuary unit after only 6 months. As it was deployed as a floater, and I was quite surprised that it was still buoyant enough to function. A swarm of stinging sea lice made this retrieval particularly memorable.

Pressure unit after 6 month stint in a cave feeding a coastal lagoon. While this units’s not that ugly per se, that supposedly fresh water outflow fed directly into a swimming area that sees hundreds of tourists per day… Nuf said?

Honorable Mention: This was actually reef logger from 2015, but I’ve included it here because this was the deployment that really defined the “fugly enough to be cute” benchmark that future deployments will have to measure up to.

To qualify, these dogs had to run through the entire deployment because without primary data to support your hypothesis you’ve got nothing. (no matter what they look like on the outside…)  You can’t just wave your hand and create alternative data because in research that’s called lying.  Somehow, this not-so-subtle distinction has become blurred in America, where science itself now seems to be under attack.  It’s remarkable that someone with such an obvious facility with numbers could fail to appreciate how economically valuable the insights from research can be.

I’m genuinely concerned that if the the U.S. continues to turn inward, choosing a path towards declining health and social outcomes, it will become less appealing to the kind of entrepreneurs that built the country in the first place. The winners-take-all legislation rolling out of Washington these days threatens to eliminate the things that make risk-taking innovation possible.  An important nugget that policy wonks always seem to forget was eloquently summarized in Jennifer Romolini’s Career Advice article:

“You’ll Suck at Everything the First Time You Do It.
You will probably suck the second and third time too.
Don’t get defensive about this; don’t decide that you should never do the thing again…”

This was my first attempt to build a data logger, and yeah, it was pretty bad. I was lucky to get 24 hours on 6xAA batteries and it was held together with hot glue. My current builds are probably going to pass four years at 100-200 ft depth.   If I gave up when it still looked like this piece of junk on the kitchen table, I’d have no idea that was even possible.  Even today I get criticism from engineers who say the whole project is pointless because it’s not state of the art. But they don’t know where we started, so they also have no idea how far it will go. The same holds true for your project, whatever that might be.

Without a functioning a social support system, only people with rich parents ever get that second chance. It’s no surprise that bankers could care less about this, since they don’t have to produce anything new to make money. But these days it seems that silicon valley is also willing to focus on corporate profits rather than innovation, even if that means looking the other way while legislators dismantle systems those propeller-heads needed when they were just starting out.  If people thought WannaCry was bad in 2017, just wait till they see what AT&T and Comcast does with the net neutrality rollback. (And they called the bill the “Internet Freedom Act”…nope…that’s not Orwellian at all… )

America will not succeed in the 21st century simply by making stuff cheaper with learning systems that remove human beings from the process.  If that does happen, who’s going to have enough money to buy the consumer goods that keep the economy rolling? But they could reclaim that edge by re-imagining how technologies interact with people and the environment. Of course, no one from old money will support policies that might upset the profitable status quo, so the last thing they want is an educated population changing things around with a bunch of new ideas.

Unfortunately, the ‘new’ money created by the internet revolution is now acting like the old.  With few exceptions, the major tech players are willfully dropping the ball, spinning up proprietary bank crypto-currencies when they could be using tools like blockchain to build efficient resource allocation systems for new energy sectors that will create far more jobs. It’s time for the de facto stewards of the internet to accept responsibility for their creations, which are becoming the real arbiters of trust, fairness and justice in our society.  A good start along that path would be to make the voting system more secure from external threats, and from internal ones.

If the tech sector fossilizes into a corporate platform oligopoly, scientists / inventors get lured away by countries 1/10th the size, and congress bends the knee to oil’s hired guns and PhRMA’s lobbyists, then the US will essentially be handing the future to China.  But none of that needs to happen. Especially if people take a moment to think about the role science, innovation and invention played in ‘Making America Great’, and then vote for leaders who help those things to flourish in the future:

5 thoughts on “The 2017 Cave Pearl Project ‘Year in Review’

  1. Edward Mallon

    In the original post I suggested it was time for the programmers to take responsibility for their creations and the effect they are having on society. Ny magazine has published an enlightening article called ‘The Internet Apologizes…’ which goes some way towards explaining how we got to this situation:

    “To keep the internet free — while becoming richer, faster, than anyone in history — the technological elite needed something to attract billions of users to the ads they were selling. And that something, it turns out, was outrage. As Jaron Lanier, a pioneer in virtual reality, points out, anger is the emotion most effective at driving “engagement” — which also makes it, in a market for attention, the most profitable one. By creating a self-perpetuating loop of shock and recrimination, social media further polarized what had already seemed, during the Obama years, an impossibly and irredeemably polarized country.”

    and there are a series of breakout interviews for that piece:

    One has this feeling of having contributed to something that’s gone very wrong….

  2. Brian Davis

    Normally I’m coming here for tips. Tricks. Things to improve. I’m working on getting good enough at this that I can, just perhaps, return the favor and spark a new idea for you.

    Then I come here and read a post that’s significantly not about your research, or your hardware development, but about the culture that promotes… or frustrates… that growth.

    Thank you for changing the topic to the bigger picture on occasion. Thank you very, Very much.

    And I’m hoping I never do beat you in an ugly logger contest. I’m just going to deploy in simple, underground, limestone, all fresh water caves. I’ll leave the sponge-growing hydrogen-sulfide-corroding environments to you 🙂

    1. edmallon Post author

      People want to believe that a STEM education will give their kids a good career with some big stable company. But the truth is far more complicated. (especially for women…) While big Pharma companies became the darlings of the venture capital world over the last couple of decades, the research chemists working at those same companies have seen their wages stagnate, and in some cases decrease. And that’s pretty near the top of the STEM job hierarchy:

      see: STEM Shortages Everywhere You Look and Another STEM Jobs Myth-Breaking Article

      The real situation is more like this: In 10-20 years, most of those sweet corporate jobs will be done by learning systems that teach themselves. At that point, if you can’t invent a job that didn’t exist before you probably won’t have one, and to do that you are going to have to program whatever hardware is sitting in front of you. Heck, I’m most of the way there, and I’m still left asking myself if anything I’ve ever done is more complicated than mastering the game of GO.

      The only way society will survive this transition is if we beef up the social safety net so that people can try these new things, failing a few times along the way, without sinking into poverty. This is why so many people are supporting proposals for universal basic income. No one who’s just trying to scrape together their next meal is going to invent anything, so UBI shouldn’t be seen as a social program – it should be seen as seed funding, since venture capitalists are no longer interested in doing the job.

      As Tyson pointed out in the video, it’s not the lack of STEM jobs that we should be worried about right now, it’s the lack of STEM in the voting booth.

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