Dissemination Lab - Madagascar

Latest update April 1, 2015 Started on February 1, 2015

We are hiking and hacking through Madagascar to share science. We will be doing workshops and crafting tools to try to figure out new ways to share scientific practices, and the behaviors of animals. http://www.fisherlab.org/dissemination-lab.html Follow our games and challenges from the field here and also on Twitter: Hashtag #WildHacks Brian https://twitter.com/ant_explorer Andy https://twitter.com/HikingHack Hannah https://twitter.com/openPlusea @OpenPlusea @Ant

February 1, 2015
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Another Rockwell Kent hand-drawn remix of Madagascar experiences. Following 18 hours of hiking during what we called the "Death March," Hannah and I collapse on a hill overlooking the river that will take us back home. We lay down as the sun drops behind the horizon. Time slips by. The sky changes brilliantly from colors and clouds to a monochrome speckled matte of the southern stars. The weather is perfect; the air is so pleasant you want to snuggle with the intangible vapor. To tired to actually sleep, but no where near awake.

The boats eventually come to take us away. Different textures of darkness and moonlight surround us. Hannah's face in the canoe is lit by moonlight and framed by stars. The jungle plants passing by on the shore are the only sources of true darkness. Again can't sleep, not awake, excited by adventure, beaten down by the same. Perfect feeling.


wow, breathtaking, in a very empathic way. Love your story telling! And the art is amazing. I love the kent style behind it.

Thanks! It would be nice if i could post picture comments! I could show you a pic of the original drawing with it too. This one is very similar. The other was more free-hand.

It's been over a month since the expedition ended, but some memories remain etched into my mind. There was a tough day, our first day making our way up the river. The entire day was a slippery climb over steep rocks covered in moss and slime. The speed of the porters made us feel so stupid with our fancy future gear and falling constantly.

Bazille, the 62 year old amazing guide, stayed with us slowfolk. Everytime I managed to pull myself up a steep boulder, there would be Bazille, standing magnificently, pointing the way out of this labyrinth of rocks and water.

This image stayed burned in my mind. I wanted to convey this experience, and looked to the adventure artwork of Rockwell Kent. I studied his woodcuts and created a remix of features to try to tell this story using a marker to emulate his style.



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 >> reddit.com/r/whatsthisplant/comments/303raf/anyideawhatplantthisleafisfromfound_in/) 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 >> instructables.com/id/Ultra-Lightweight-Tyvek-Backpacking-Belt

Jungle Speakers >> instructables.com/id/Jungle-Speakers

VinPro Camera Head Mount >> instructables.com/id/VinePro-Camera-Head-Mount

Fiber-Optic Jungle Insect Traffic Taster >> instructables.com/id/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!


Before we went into the jungle, Brian had told us about the Malagasy's extreme love for honey. Lucky for us, we were able to participate in a genuine "Honey Party!"

This video is AMAZING! I love that you are talking to us from the field! The sound of the rain and the whole setup in the background really makes this come alive for me. Did you really drink a liter of honey?!

Death March (Part 2)
Made it! We left at 5am and walked ALL DAY. We covered what had taken us 4 days, and got through it in one crazy day.

Made it at 1am, ate a meal, and passed out at 3am. A full 24 hour day.

After that crazy march, we got up at 7AM, packed up and started the long drive to Ft. Dauphin.

From our drive-in, the 100km took us 10 hours with river crossings and quick repairs. But we had more problems this time.

The battery doesn't work AT ALL. So we had to push it starting. This seemed ok, until we realized that if the car stalled at all in the long trip of mud and rivers that we had to drive through, we'd be totally screwed.

Brian is an incredible driver. I don't understand how the car can b SO sideways at times and not tip over. On top of the battery, other problems started happening. Weird grinding noises and things caught underneath that started sounding worse and worse.

We fixed and shoved the truck out of really hairy predicaments all day, but now, just 17 km away, on a nice flat road, the transmission goes out.

So badly destroyed that the car cannot even roll or be towed. Brian says for 15 years he has driven this beast, and this is the first time it has actually, all-the-way failed on him.

It's 10pm on a dark, quiet road. Our flight is at 6am. Eating papaya now, figuring out what to do. :)


Your maps and notes are incredible! Will you be auctioning them off someday??

That's a really good idea @davidlang

Aww you all are too nice! and If you like my crazy looking maps, just wait till we post some of Hannah's gorgeous maps and drawings!

In The Field

The Death March
Been a bit scared of this day for a while. Brian always seemed cheerful about it, "It's amazing! You take four days to get out here, but then you just walk the whole thing back in one day" - "also there's no more food, so you HAVE to make it back!"

Get up at 3AM to take down camp, eat, and leave at 5AM. I shove as much bland rice into me as possible. The Chef, Berlin, also has a little sack of sugar I start eating mouthfuls of: I am camel-ing up whatever nutrients i can before our 12+ hour hike into the unknown new path back.

Walking down a mountain in the dark is super difficult.
Also WALKING is a wrong verb. We moreso do a controlled fall for 3 hours. Make it to the 540m raincamp and barely give it enough respect. Just march through. Brian is CRAZY fast at this. Hannah and I keep getting lost, and have to look for clues. Tiny ridiculous clues in the terrain. Like disturbed patches of moss to track where everyone is. This is crazy.

When we get to deforested areas, we start to move fast, but get tired-er, hotter, and thirstier. We find guava growing along the path and hannah feeds me some which saves me and prevents the trail-crazies.

I stumble along for hours behind a woman carrying a baby and ton of vegetables to go to the market. She's amazing. She uses our porters (one guy named "James Bond") to carry her baby across rapids for her.

These malagasy have such smart feet. My feet feel stupid and crippled locked in their shoe-prisons.


Final Day in Cloud Camp

Didn't find the ant.
Looked everywhere at the summit, but no - show. Brian is anxious. After so many years, we are here, but no ant. Against his own judgement, he decides to lead a SECOND expedition up to the top to hunt for that ant once more. It's gonna be crazy because he'll have to pack everything in camp today as well when he gets back from the top, AND then be ready to leave at 3 AM for the long walk home.

While he is gone, Hannah and I try to finish up and document beaucoup de notre projets. I become a tiny bit frustrate because I realized that before, I kinda thought I had the excuse that the reason that some of my project electroniques looked terrible was because I'm in the jungle and EVERYTHING IS HARD TO DO.

But now Hannah is here and her hands turn vines and wires into beautiful objects. She has those smart, strong hands of a real craftsperson. Meanwhile, I cobble together some fun projects with my less-honed aesthetic. I turn leaves into an electro-tongue display. And I make the worst robot ever from mushrooms and a linear actuator. It's so stupid looking, hobbling over the floor.

(Illustration includes drawing of terrible mushroom bot and hannah's leech disco-dancefloor).


Are you able to bring any of these lovely creations home or are there too many agricultural restrictions?

Of the weird robots and stuff, it was more physical restrictions in how to pack it and now mold or turn into mush!

The Summit

This basecamp up in the clouds only has 3 Days. Day 1 we had to rest and set up camp. Day 3 we had to pack and prepare. So before we even realized it, we suddenly knew that today, Day 2, would have to be our chance to summit, and find that mystery ant.

We shove as much food as we can into us at 5AM and head up into the unknown. There are parts where we are crawling up waterfalls and snaking around chasms. mostly it becomes a long enjoyable walk through a radidly changing landscape as our guides chop a minimal path through the jungle. At no point are we ever sure our path will actually bring us to the summit, and not just a dead-end ridge. The jungle gives way to a psychedilically shifting new types of forest. Suddenly everything is spongy and teal. Then it is all burnt. Then grasslands. We see bizarre new forms of plants.

We get close in elevation but panic sets in as our guides detect HONEY. We almost lose them but brian convinces them to summit! We get to the top. It looks like the alps. So strange but maybe hannah feels as home! We hunt for that ant!


Why is honey panic inducing?!

If they went to get the honey, there was no way we could get them to go to the rest of the way to the summit! Would have just been honey party all afternoon!

That is kind of amazing.


Up to Cloud Forest Base Camp

Felt great this morning (sickness mostly gone). Saddened to leave our amazing lower base camp. As Hannah said we could have stayed at this luxurious camp we built for weeks building all sorts of things. The jungle is a ridiculously inspiring place to work. The biggest challenge is to not be overwhelmed by the possibilities.

I think Hannah and I have been tackling all these challenges excellently together. The project, (sharing research, building electronics, designing mobile labs, surveying) is already huge, but we have been helping eachother, watching out for eachother, and tossing ideas around together.
Such a luxury having her with us.

We walked, or really climbed, with backpacks straight up for 4 hours to the cloud forest camp. One porter carried a full live pig all the way up. They slaughtered and BBQ'd it up here last night. I had never seen such a thing first hand.

Only 3 days left to build and explore.

*Submitted by Brian
Transposed by Erika



Got sick maybe I shouldn't have eaten the cold 9 day old meat. Whups. Slept a long time. Frustrating to not be able to do anything. Everyone was very nice to me. Fever broke in the night, now just ache-y.

As I am lying here, it occurred to me that many of you might not know about one of the biggest goals on this mission:

The Unknown Ant on the Mountain:
So, some bad ass french guys were the last people here (even the locals don't go here) in the 1970's. They were studying the forest and also just randomly collecting stuff. They happened to bring back an ant that no one had ever seen before! We are trying to find it! Unfortunately, it lives on the TOP of the mountain, also nobody knows how to get there!

Submitted by Brian
*Transposed by Erika


Notes from the field, this time with pictograms!!
*Submitted by Brian, Transposed by Erika


Another Fantastic and productie day in the camp. Felt like this had been the day we relaxed the most, looking back, we tackled all sorts of difficult problems.

First, it was sunny for the first real time. We went down to the river and managed to clear a long backlog of journal entries. Accidentlally dropped an SD card into the river, but i think it was at least 50% baked up (Lucky I had done that!) We brought our 5 day old muddy clothes down to the river today and swam about this magical place. Hannah and I then jammed on design projects for the day on boulders above the rapids.

Project 1 was to try out rope-based aerial photography. One of the chets or guides made a kickass bow and arrow for eel hunting. We are going to try to use it to shoot the rope over, but then decided to just use a rock :)

Project 2 was about how to make a sensor triggered by ants. We tried sanding down the edges of fiber optics and wrapping these around trees. Showed some success...continued

Continued... working with Brian and Hannah is fantastic. Brian is the craziest most extreme ? I met, and he still makes time for all my side activities. Hannah is always gung ho and has a sharp wit and creative mind that's going to make most projects.......


Day 4:

We had just 3km to go to make it to base camp. It took us the entire day. Crossed burnt rice fields on slippery logs. The river was even harder. Giant boulders and stormy rapids made for magnificent videos. But a slippery wet climb. We stop only 200 meters from camp. Our target. Set up camp.

Build workspace.

Prep for 4 days of Activity

transposed by me, Erika. I'm open to other explorer's interpretations of this leaf message. Post below if you read it differently


Day 2 continued:

In Suavala the porters stop and won't continue, so we set up for the night and begin new discussion the possible porters from this village. These discussions last several hours, but we do come to an agreement and plan to set off at 5 am the next morning.

In Madagascar things happen early, and after lunch one cant' really expect to get much done.

Day 3:

We set off and make a good start following a path that leads through further villages. All these villages and farmed land was not here when the French expedition passed through. In 1971 it was all still rain forest!

Crawling along burnt tree trunks, through rice fields, attacked by leeches. After only about 11 km the porters stop at a farm and we can't persuade them to continue on the final 4 km to where the French set up their 4th camp be the river, at the base of the mountain. Thus we setup camp to stay the night on the farm. Scarcity of trees makes it hard for Andy and Hannah to find places to hang their hammock tents.

Discover a cave with bats and Andy experiments on a large snail crawling up his leg to see what colors of LED light it might have a reaction to. No noticeable reactions to any, even IR and UV.


This just in! Field Journals from the Team, transposed here:

Day 1:
The expedition begins! We finally successfully pick Andy from the airport in Fort Dauphin. Rush to mechanic to have missing break parts mounted that Andy brought with him from Tana. Quickly to hotel to pack and set off for 120 km drive to Manantan. Five ferry crossing we need to make before dark. Bad luck catching ferries on our side but luck with all the road and car troubles we ran into. Which include bumping and scraping underside on bridges that crack as we cross them, pushing car out of deep sandy water, pumping oil filter day and managing not to tip over. Finally arrive long after dark and eat bread with sardines for dinner.

Day 2:
No more car. We take three la kana (boats hollowed from single tree trunks) upstream as far as we can go. This takes about 3 hours. The river is beautiful and in the distance we catch fist glimpse of Anoysian range- where we are headed. Our destination starts to feel real and the face that we don't know how to get there maybe even more so.
We leave the boats in Analamiar and discussions with locals begin to hire porters who will help carry all our stuff (equipment, gear, food) to our base camps (s). These discussions take time, during which we find out that somebody's father remembers the French expedition that passed through in 1971! We get to talk to this persona and ask him if he remember the route they took and where they set up camp. He unfortunately says it was too long ago to remember. We set off on foot with about 16 porters and only make them until the next village Suarala.


What to do when your plane doesn't work, document and upload all your GEAR.


(Also seeing if i can embed HTML here?)

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

What happened with the plane? You wrote something about an emergency landing!?!


First post with an actual GPS!

Spent the day long layover also getting a little SD card Arduino GPS Lipo Powered Gizmo going!

Was easy at the start, but then converting to decimal degrees kinda sucked more than it should have!

Anyway, seems to be going good now!


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 >> youtu.be/q9PQCce7Lns) 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.


Wow! What a picture! Was this group part of the construction team, or made up of helpful passersby? Either way, great teamwork!

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.


Are they harmless ants? Any painful stings yet?

Ahhhhh crap. There are apparently much different and stricter baggage restrictions for DOMESTIC flights in Madgascar. Which means, that what used to be in 4 bags on the way here from the US, now needs to go into 2 bags. And also the biggest bag cannot be over 20KG.

I think my tiny Box RPI that i spent time building before i came here won't make the cut either. My problems and concerns that have come up over the past 48 hours:

  • The USB hub i had the RPI didn't like, and thus it didn't work, and I wasn't able to hook peripherals up
  • I bought another one in the UK and it ~kinda works
  • the small, rollup keyboard I had turned out to have broken UIO keys, and so i had to send it back to amazon on friday. So no keyboard
    +But andy is crazy and always has backups! Yep! I have my twiddler which is a combo keyboard and mouse.
    -Whups, looks like the Raspbian version of linux doesn't like the twiddler and just repeats characters endlessly :(
    -My mom was super nice and sent me her old laptop, but it had weird battery issues.

So, looks like I am bringing my fancy macbook out into the jungle. oh man.

leaving in 3 hours. The fun of gear logistics never quits!


...and there might be something wrong with our car in FT Dauphin? So i have to carry some large spare parts for the car with me too! Wish me luck!

and how are large car parts going to weigh less than 20kg and fit in 2 bags with everything else? Waiting sympathetically for updates.

Turns out the answer is mostly making friends with the people working there and tipping a lot. Though because the plane got cancelled have to start all over again today!

SOOOO CLOSE. I am in Tana, and I have all my gear (Minus 1 pocked knife knicked by the TSA), and now I am sorting through all of it, double checking and documenting everything I have.

I leave at 5AM to finally meet up with Hannah and Brian in Ft. Dauphin! This is 5 hours from now...

I will have a flickr set that has all the equipment on it soon: flickr.com/photos/8560499@N02/sets/72157650421540887


Posted on behalf of our intrepid explorer Andrew:

In Johannesburg for the penultimate leg of the trip to meet up with brian and hannah. Had a 7 hour layover in London which gave me enough time to bike around, go to the natural history museum (well if I hadn't gotten lost) and managed to snag some ultra last minute electronics for some things I found were incompatible with the rpi box I made for the field.

I found that when you are traveling to Madagascar, you end up in a position of envy of all the other travellers you meet :)
I still can't totally believe it. What an opportunity!

Should be landing in 5 hours, then lots of work to start!


See you on the other side of the world! Safe travels.

And they're off! Team leader Andrew is packed up and heading out to Madagascar! Stay tuned for posts from Andrew relayed here:


On my way!
It's been one of the strangest days of my life. Spent all last night packing and downloading and charging batteries to bring into Madagascar. Dropped asleep at 5. Back up at 8 for more prep and then a pretty impromptu photoshoot with a local magazine, creative loafing for their cover article (it involved some very fun and strange shots and interviews if you know what my side business is.)

Then more packing, and then our campaign on indiegogo just met itsgoal and so got an extra flood of congratulations. My wife came home at 4 and I was still wrangling my mess. But I managed to pull it all together at 630 and make it to the airport.

Ill talk more about the weird art of packing incredibly heavy (and suspicious looking ) bags of electronics and navigating airport bureaucracy and security in a later post, but I made it through!

Bags are all 55-60 pounds and I have 3 ( this is actually a large reduction from my past Jungle trips!) And one bag is mostly full of electronics that I got Georgia tech to donate to people in Madagascar!


Ultra tiny field computer.
We need an energy efficient, lightweight computer to program out arduinos out in the field. The problem was, we didn't have one. And I leave tomorrow. So I built one this morning!

I took the basic principles of Adafruit's Touch Pi: learn.adafruit.com/touch-pi-portable-raspberry-pi/overview

and Made an ugly hacked-together one, that actually has a much more beautiful display (HDMI ). I also just hacked a box instead of fancy 3D printing

I am leaving it as un fancy and basic as possible because I want to let the jungle influence the rest of its design.


Is the box material tough enough to withstand your field work? Is is acrylic?

It's actually wood coated in plastic. I might give it a once over with silicone too

Wow! cool! Raspberry PI! Good luck and safe trip

I leave tomorrow. This stuff needs to be in bags instead of everywhere. ummmm.....


I love this, my family recognizes when I'm on the verge of travel because everything explodes right before epic efficient packing. Good luck!

One of the challenges Hannah and I were discussing before leaving was how to have large work surfaces in the jungle that were also lightweight.

At the same time we were also thinking of how to design collaboratively with lots of people at the same time. In the Panama Hiking Hack, I took a large 14x18 notebook and let participants do drawings and design diagrams on those to share with each other. The size and format of these pages worked nice, but we had to keep carrying around all this heavy (and wet) paper with us the whole time.

Hannah mentioned the Betabook http://bit.ly/1Ac5cWp , which would be like a Dry-Erase board that's portable. We also happened to be talking about Chalk pens http://bit.ly/1Ac5dtr13?ie=UTF8&qid=1423672512&sr=8-3&keywords=chalk+pens

I bought some super thin cutting mats to use as worksurfaces, and then the idea hit me to see if they would work well with the chalk pens. Turns out they work great!

In my opinion it's even better than the dry-erase option because
A) no fumes or weird chemicals for the environment,
B) It comes off completely with just water, (no gross cleaners for old marks)
C) Unlike dry-erase, this won't rub off just from brushing against it (so You can make a design, toss it in your backpack, and let is jangle around with minimal smudging

I cut holes in it too so we can hang it up with lots of designs in the tent to share and discuss with each other!


Good tip!

Thanks! Yeah i hope it works out good! I think it will!

Backing up your data in the field is super tricky. Here's a quick preview of a hack i made so that we can duplicate the information on our SD cards without computers. And we can copy this info to multiple hard drives. You can even plug SSD hard drives in if you are worried about a bumpy adventure!

Full how-to article will come after the expedition!

Built my fancy new first aid kid! Reminds me of the sublime badass-osity of May Dixon who kept our asses safe in the jungle. Advice from Chris Koentz and Nathan Julius. Bonus support supplies from Kristy Marynak and Jessica Anderson. Hopefully i never have to open this box.


Ecole Polytechnique Vontovorona

Hannah and Brian went of on a visit to the Polytechnic school to talk about our project and show some neat DIY electronics projects. Hannah demonstrated some local leaves that she turned into musical speakers!


Musical leaves? that is amazing, and makes me really curious. Is there a link to the hack?

We'll try to have a lot of our hacks documented toward the end of the trip. This one is made off hannah's research in speakers: plusea.at/?p=4161

It's like picking out the right dress for the big dance! Except it's like picking out thousands of little dresses that you want to wear all at the same time. Also if you bring too many you will tear your rotator cuff again ;)

Transferring gear from the old Panama Hiking Hack Boxes into the new (watertight) tackle boxes for Madagascar! Making some tough decisions. Though some are easy: I brought 3 RFID readers last time and didn't use any? Well that should go!


Andy is still in Atlanta taking care of lots of last minute business before joining Hannah and Brian out in the wild.

The thing I am working on tonight is making our hacking center. One thing we learned from the previous Hiking Hack in Panama, was the importance of making a large group shelter for designing, and even more for constructing technology.

Unlike a regular backpacking expedition, where you just need to provide shelter for yourself, we are going to need a communal area. We will need a spot where many of us humans can work together, discuss large designs, plot out drawings, and craft with sensitive components - all while shielded from the almost certain, torrential rains we will encounter.

In the earlier trip we just strung up a large, 12x15 regular, old, blue tarp that I got for 18 dollars. It worked fine, albeit a little cramped. The problem was that is was actually kinda heavy, and quite bulky. So over the past year I have been researching alternatives and found out about Silnylon. This ultra-lightweight material compresses really small. It's problem is that the stuff is REALLY expensive! For instance you can get a 10x12 foot silnylon tarp for like $150 dollars! http://bit.ly/16jrTtMsbssg_6?ie=UTF8&refRID=0RQMN4NZ08ESTHFZQW1Y

So we have a couple super light tarps for ourselves, but for the big shelter, I wanted to try to make it myself to save cash. I bought a bunch of silnylon seconds from DIYgear supply. They sell it for the super low price of just $5.50 per 5x3 foot piece. (diygearsupply.com/product/silnylon-2nds)

Unfortunately that means I have to sew a bunch of it together. So that's what tonight is! At the end, I will have a HUGE 16 x10 foot tarp that packs down to the size of a loaf of bread!


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...


Cool knife! This is great for me to see right now. We have such similar stuff!

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.


Sometimes the hardest part is just getting to the airport. We are packed and ready to go. Stay tuned for posts from the field.


How many people did you pack for ?

Core Team: For a rather Ad-hoc trip that came together at the last minute, we managed to pull together an amazing, strong team! Here's a couple posts about each of the Core Team Members.

Andrew Quitmeyer:

Andy's a digital media PhD student at Georgia Tech. He's writing his dissertation on how field biologists can use new forms of digital technology for sharing and exploring animals and ecosystems. He launched his first "Hiking Hack" during his research in Panama, and learned a LOT. His previous research is located at www.digitalnaturalism.org

He also has an interesting side business (comingle.io), and is joining up with the rest of the crew in madagascar on Feb 13. Meanwhile he is running base command from Atlanta.


Core Team: For a rather Ad-hoc trip that came together at the last minute, we managed to pull together an amazing, strong team! Here's a couple posts about each of the Core Team Members

Brian Fisher:
Brian L Fisher is a scientist, speaker and teacher with a passion for adventurous expeditions and conservation fieldwork. The Fisherlab research focuses on leveraging new technologies and tools to discover, document, and understand the diversity on earth and ensure these results are available and used immediately for conservation action.

He's currently in the air leaving from his job at the California Academy of Sciences on the long journey to Madagascar to meet up with Hannah.

(Photo by Alex Wild)


Core Team: For a rather Ad-hoc trip that came together at the last minute, we managed to pull together an amazing, strong team! Here's a couple posts about each of the Core Team Members

Hannah Perner-Wilson
Hannah's a renown e-textile hacker and co-creator of How To Get What You Want (www.kobakant.at/DIY/) , an online resource for making textile electronics from scratch.

She is flying from a workshop in Abu Dhabi to Tana, Madagascar today!


Very interested in Intelligent Clothing.

Just 48 hours before we start leaving for Madagascar. One issue we needed to figure out is how to connect to the internet while in the field. I choose to get an The Wideye iSavi IsatHub wireless satellite terminal. The next challenge was to figure out how to keep it charged. With a little hack, I modified the laptop output on the GoalZero 100 to charge the ISavi.

Now the challenge to pack 10 large duffle bags and then get them checked in on the plane. I'll keep you updated on how that goes.

Expedition Background

The Dissemination Lab is a experimental initiative to discover new methods for sharing field research using digital technology. We will be developing and testing an assortment of new ways that we can connect people around the world with biological fieldwork.

The first instantiation of this project will take place in Madagascar from Feb 1 - March 30 2015, Contribute your ideas for fun, weird, or engaging new forms of outreach that you would like to see us try out.
Submit your ideas here

We are looking to target new ways of connecting people around the world with our
Animals - The creatures we are studying
Environment - The amazing ecosystem we work in
Practices - The how and why of what we do


I love your logo! Hiking and exploring are my first loves!

Just watched you video. I remember reading about your out in the field hacker spaces. Very cool and innovative project!

I'm so glad to have you here. I know next to nothing about Madagascar and I have a good feeling that's about the change for the better!

Looking forward to sharing the adventure!

Oh man, bullet ant stings and venomous snakes...

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