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I’ve always liked birds. My parents got me a parakeet when I was really little, and they (birds, not my parents) have fascinated me to no end ever since. My grandmother kept canaries, so maybe there’s something genetic to it; I don’t know. At any rate, I’m not sure I can make you understand the joy birds bring me–all kinds, from penguins and ducks to songbirds to ostriches to raptors–but suffice it to say, I’d give up librarianship, as much as I love it and as much as I want to contribute to the field, to be able to work with birds full-time. (An ideal situation would be, down the road, the ability to do my library work from home, somewhere warm enough that I can raise birds. Another ideal situation, again down the road, would be to act as a librarian for the National Aviary or some other bird study & conservation organization. A thing I intend to ask, about any job, is whether or not I can keep a [relatively quiet] bird at my desk or hang a feeder outside the window.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my undergraduate thesis in electrical engineering was about a hypothetical bird-tracking device. I wrote all of the code to make it function–and then a bunch of test code–on an emulator, but I didn’t build a full prototype because one of the components I wanted to use was not yet available for purchase; also, I didn’t have any funding. Anyway, what was cool about my device was that it was kind of a hybrid of the two techniques available to track birds over long distances at the time (this was 2003), bird banding and expensive wireless transmitters. The latter could be done for upwards of $7000 per tracked bird per year, using the NOAA satellites. It was a cool system, but prohibitively expensive and only actually available for large birds because the devices needed large batteries. The former required re-capturing the birds throughout their journey, a source of spotty data at best.

Put simply, my device was smaller and cheaper than the wireless devices, because it had no transmitter (only a GPS receiver), but was less convenient because you had to recapture the bird to download the data from the device. It was designed to run for a year, so you could put it on a bird, let it go, and catch it when it came back to its nesting site again, something many birds do. I hypothesized that a wireless device might be built into it in future versions, for wireless downloading instead of catching the bird a second time. But, of course, I never got to future versions; even the first was only half complete, by any sane measure.

ANYWAY, the exciting thing is, someone did build very nearly the same thing! Lotek Wireless builds a device that works on exactly the same principles as the one in my thesis! And another that works like my hypothetical upgrade! I was on to something! And this idea that I had was clearly good, because they sell these devices to all kinds of bird researchers, now. It made me all warm and fuzzy to find that out. (How, you ask, did I find out? I lucked into getting to attend part of the joint meeting of the Wilson Ornithological Society and the Society of Field Ornithologists, hosted by the National Aviary, this past weekend. Because of the paper I had due on Monday, I didn’t stay for as long as I would have liked, but I did get to see a couple of really exciting presentations on bird tracking technology.)

Anyway, that has nothing to do with libraries, but I thought it was too exciting not to share. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Published inaviarybirdsengineering

One Comment

  1. somcak

    That is hella exciting!!! And you did a great job of describing it to non-scienc/engineering folks like me!

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