Data buoy v3!

Congratulations team on a successful test of the latest version 3 of our databuoy!

Still waiting to see the results of the wave data and compare (validate) with the pressure recording device, but during the test deployment, seeing the average wave heights and direction coming off the buoy, to the wireless receiver, transferred through the institute server, and displayed on a mobile phone screen back on site was impressive!

It’s the culmination of a year from when we first discussed the project, to fully functional prototype, with all the hard work, lessons learned, trial and error and eventual success, and it’s solid evidence for the viability of Speculative Design not only as fictions that imagine potential futures, but through backcasting, to facilitate real-world technology design and development, shaping our Preferred Futures.

Thanks everyone who has been helping and encouraging so far, especially project engineers Victor Azevedo and Vitor Aguiar, as well as Carlos Freitas and the IFCN, Marko Radeta, Jorge Lopes, Joao Monteiro, Rodrigo Silva and many others!

Learn more about the project here:

Research dives in Ponta do Lazareto

Our current project in Madeira (see involves quite a lot of diving plans and subsurface activity in the test site at Ponta do Lazareto, Madeira. Some tasks are simply manual labor underwater, but we consider it all ‘scientific diving’ as the diving is a tool for our research. There are two main entries and exits to the site, one is part of a historic jetty with stairs that facilitate the access to the water, and the other is a rocky beach (see Fig. 1). Initially our dives at Ponta do Lazareto had the goals of familiarisation of the site, depth mapping, and installing buoy moorings. Next steps include video and photo transects to record flora and fauna, and photogrammetry of seabed morphology.

Fig. 1 Ponta do Lazareto site (thanks to IFCN)

We typically dive once or twice in a day using Nitrox 32 in a maximum depth of 15 meters. We differentiate research project dives from our other recreational dives, and we created a specific logbook (see below) that contains the additional information concerning the dives.

Dive planning is important, so before entering in the water we establish the details for the upcoming dive. Safety is the keyword! We have trained to GUE standards and usually follow the pre-dive checklist proposed by GUE, most importantly we discuss the goal(s) of the dive and each team member’s responsibilities and their tasks. Creating a list of all the extra equipments (e.g., ropes, measure tape, buoys, lift bags, cameras) required for the dive help (Max) not to forget those items. The other important aspect we never miss is equipment match, before immersion we double check each diver’s equipment again. If there are complex manoeuvres or specialised tasks to perform, we will simulate the activity above water and adjust the choreography for efficiency.

Concerning the dive execution, we stick to the plan as closely as possible, each performing the assigned tasks to achieve the team goal. So far so good, yet the underwater world can “surprise” in many different ways, for instance poor visibility complicates the fulfilment of some activities. Realising how much longer it takes to complete each task underwater can cause stress and dives with unfulfilled goals. So learning as much as possible our dive site and regularly testing our capabilities is important to predict many challenging situations.

Fig. 3 Adding an extra hose for the lift bag

Again, planning is important, as well as having appropriate equipment. It might happen that a piece of gear selected for the dive is not adequate, for example we realised that the extra hose to fill a lift bag was too short, might create a potential hazard, and needed to be replaced. Or as we realised on our last excursion, we really need an underwater equipment bag to keep everything together, as things tend float to the surface unattended. Because we work on very slim budget, we make a lot of equipment ourselves; this can be useful as we can fully customise each piece, but in the end it might not be cheaper than buying commercial gear, if we counted all of our labour hours!

We are also enrolled for the course Scientific Diver at CCMAR in Faro, Portugal. Our instructor Dr. Diogo Paulo is a great source of encouragement and supports us to improve our knowledge, skills and performance to carry out underwater studies

Viz, no viz

Unfortunately one of our marker buoys was lost to a recent storm. The heavier weight of the added chain, which we hoped would keep the mooring fixed, indeed made it too fixed, so that the rope first ate through the rubber hose chafe protection, then ate through the rope. We dove the mooring yesterday and as soon as i moved the chain to try and sort it out, my visibility went from pretty good to absolute zero in about two seconds! This demonstrates how important situational awareness and trust in your team are, as when i was working with the chain, i could see nothing and could not focus on anything else but that. When i emerged from the cloud of silt and rust, quite disorientated, there was my teammate, patiently looking out, and i felt very reassured. Enough gas? check! You ok? check! Let’s go?! check!

Ocean Wave Data Buoy video

Recently we made a little video introducing our work with the REDEMA project here in Madeira. REDEMA is a research “Redesigning Madeira: Using Speculative Design to Rethink Energy Policy and Consumer Behavior”, project leads are James Auger and Julian Hanna. The video was a contribution to MacaroNight, a Horizon2020 project sharing research from several institutions around Macaronesia.

The video is immediately outdated, as we have already deployed a second iteration of the Data Buoy, but the ideas shared in the short edit can provide some relevant background. Have a watch!

REDEMA ocean wave data buoy project from max willis on Vimeo.

Learning to Sail

Picture of sail boat sails

To try and make our research more sustainable, we are learning to sail! We are inspired to sail not only for the environmentally friendly aspect, as pursuing our research into Sustainability by flying around the world, or just staying in one place doesn’t really make sense. But also because of the pandemic, we don’t feel it’s safe or prudent to travel, not only for our safety, but because we are seeing here on Madeira, the pandemic is advancing because of those planes arriving often full of people. So if we go somewhere, we want to be sure, and we think the quarantine at sea and testing on arrival is a better bet. Our island futures include visiting as many islands as we can, to learn and share, develop contacts and our network, and try to understand what sustainability really means to people around the world, and we hope that eventually we can sail there.

When we were doing our PhD’s in the mountain region of Trentio-Alto Adige in Italy, we were focussing on more abstract concepts; Greta was investigating using ontological analysis to study aspects of Business Process Modelling, thinking about participants, roles, events, and so on. I was picking apart the idea of Agonism, harnessing conflict as a potential creative resource in Social Design, and citizen engagement, urban game and play. But we were all the while asking, what’s next? The PhD seems like the pinnacle of education, but in fact it’s just the beginning of a proper research career. For both of us, what became evident, beyond the challenges and hardships of the PhD degree, was the actual privilege and opportunity that being funded to study really is. And for both of us, it became clear that we wanted to do something meaningful, perhaps even impactful for the world and for others. Ok, this sounds lofty and altruistic when i write it, but it’s true, and as both of us grew up by the sea, Greta in Genoa and myself, on Okinawa, it was easy to decide the path we are currently on: we would devote the next phase of our lives and works to exploring what we could contribute to environmental sustainability, and we would return to the sea.

Of course, we quickly discovered that sustainability is about much more than the natural environment, it’s a complex arrangement between the continued development of humanity, and the uplifting of all peoples to the level of prosperity, health and technology that define our modern civilizations, but at the same time cherishing more traditional values of society, culture, and living with harmony with nature. There are so many aspects to this concept of Sustainability, and we plan to write and share more on our journey to actually finding, how best to contribute. There are also so many things we can potentially do in pursuit of sustainable living, and reflecting on conservation and sustainable practice is possible in every aspect of life and work. This includes learning to sail!

greta on helm
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Sustainability and the Web

The kind of work that we are doing, investigating sustainability issues, needs to be supported both conceptually and materially, so we (are trying to) host our web content using as close 100% renewable energy as possible. This is on the face of it easily accomplished, and not too expensive simply by choosing so-called ‘green hosting’. We decided on 1984 hosting in Iceland, for their green credentials, but also for their privacy and security consciousness, and because we are enthralled by Iceland and its rugged, isolated islandness.

1984 hosting is powered completely by renewables, or at least, as much as possible and as far as we can discern. However commercial data centres usually keep some backup systems at the ready in case of catastrophic grid failure, in which case combustion generators kick in to keep everyone’s stuff online, and the commerce sites active making money. We have not investigated if 1984’s Icelandic system uses for backup power, but we take them at their word as being fully renewables powered, at least for the standard delivery of our web pages.

We are hosting a wordpress site, as multiple partners will be adding and updating, and since we haven’t developed web pages for years, having access to the community of wordpress developers and all their free themes, plugins and widgets helps a lot. However, there are likely some requests going out to external servers for code snippets which will burn unsustainably sourced energy on routing and host servers. Where these requests go to google, of course, these will remain on a sustainable power grid, however the transfer of data in-between and passes through conventionally-powered telecommunications networks, mobile phone towers, wifi-routers and into your laptop batteries. So it’s not all renewable from host to user.

Also, hosting videos at Vimeo isn’t the most sustainable means of sharing video, but youtube embedding adds so many back-end requests and tracking cookies that are firing everytime the code is displayed. Although this is only bytes for each communication, it all adds up to a lot of wasted energy. Our opinion is that vimeo is the least damaging to the environment of the two. This is a tricky question, where is the best place to host videos, and if Vimeo’s servers will deliver our video to you more efficiently than serving them from Iceland, it’s not clear, but as with wordpress, the service is convenient and quality, so we’ll stay with that. We will also try to keep image sizes reasonable for fast loading, low data transfer, which in general will reduce the load on the internet, and thus, power consumption while serving and viewing our pages.

We published an interesting article on this idea of sustainable internet communications, which outlines a number of things that can be done to reduce the energy and carbon impact of web communications. It’s called “Low Power Web: Legacy Design and the Path to Sustainable Net Futures” and you can find it here

Also, here is a fun online service to check your own website, how much damage is it doing to the environment, to host your content?

collage of iceland drawing and the authors on bicycles
island futures team in Iceland

Low cost data buoy

One of the things we have been working on is a low-cost ocean wave data buoy, this is a marine environment sensing platform which we are developing to monitor ocean wave height, period and direction as part of a project exploring ocean wave energy capture.

Its one aspect of our work as postdoctoral researchers with REDEMA, “Redesigning Madeira: Using Speculative Design to Rethink Energy Policy and Consumer Behaviors” at ITI / LARSyS, Interactive Technologies Institute / Associate Laboratory of Robotics and Engineering Systems in Madeira, Portugal.

Special thanks to IFCN and ITI / LARSyS for facilitating this project!