We’ve enjoyed an amazingly Nerdy year so far, from all kinds of Monitor Change excitement and international acclaim to a whole pile of blow-out bioblitzes (~10K observations,  ~2K confirmed species, ~400 observers) to some impressively fun NerdFests with USGS and and others to a very productive collaboration at Ecohack to a ridiculously successful Maker Faire debut. What could possibly be next?

Well, we’re sneaking up towards the end of the year, a good time to reflect on recent history and plan for the future. Fortunately, we have some diverse and exciting potential venues and forward-thinking activities zooming into view on the nerdscope. Keep reading below, and watch this space for more information soon! 

We’ll also be discussing all of these topics and more at our next Project Night, September 25 in downtown Oakland. Or join the conversation on our meetup page or our google group. What would you like for the Nature Nerds to be? Only you can make it so!


Market Street Prototyping Festival

April 9-11, 2015 @ Downtown SF

application deadline is October 10

Site Walk - Brainstorming Meetup Sunday, Sept. 28 1-3:30 pm in downtown SF

At our last Project Night we heard an intriguing report about next spring’s Market Street Prototyping Festival in downtown San Francisco. Liam O’Brien and Amber Hasselbring of the Tigers On Market Street project were at a recent kick-off meeting, and were encouraged to work towards a Tigers / Nature Nerd partnership for the event.


Market Street Prototyping Festival Promo from Jacqwi Campbell on Vimeo.


Their initial concepts include temporary parklets that display common host plants and cool critters (along with nature nerds who know about them) to help passersby explore the downtown bioscape. Their plans also include a “Nerds on Safari” urban bioblitz the likes of which they are only starting to imagine — partly street theater, partly biodiversity research, and largely an excuse to engage the public about wondrous nature in unlikely places.

There’s also an opportunity here for our sensor Nerds to submit a proposal for monitoring urban microclimates at these parklets, as that’s another focus of the festival. After all, downtown San Francisco’s unique placement of steel and concrete (and London Plane trees) are part of the reason the tiger swallowtails are thriving there anyway — the whipping wind and dappled light and highrise canyons remind them of their ancestral home. Yes, really!

So did you catch that, folks?! Here’s a chance for bioblitz enthusiasts AND sensor/hardware/software specialists AND artistic/public engagement experts to all join together on a seriously cool public event. Nerdsville!

As it happens, several Nature Nerds (along with educational non-profit Manylabs and Creative Commons) are already developing urban environmental monitoring stations for a Louisville air quality project. Some of that hardware and software should be applicable to the Prototyping Festival requirements, so we won’t be starting completely from scratch (although if we win a grant, there will still be plenty of fun things to figure out and develop).


Conceptual design of Swallowtail information kiosk along Market Street — Liam O’Brien

There are about fifty $1000 grants for winning Prototype Festival project teams. The application deadline is October 10, we should hear the results a few weeks after that. If you’re interested in this project, please attend the Sept. 25 Project Night in Oakland and the Prototyping Market Site Walk & Brainstorm Meeting the following Sunday, Sept. 28 at RockIt CoLabs in San Francisco’s Financial District, 1-3 pm. If you can’t make either of these meetings, please contact Ken McGary for more information or start the conversation on our meetup pages or Google Group.


We’ve been thrilled to see our Change Bracket fire monitoring project lighting up the internet (especially on Twitter, Reddit, and Imgur). We’ve been hearing from folks as near as Yosemite and as far away as Australia that they’d like to install their own change brackets. Awesome!

Now you can try your hand at it with our fancy new Instructable with all the details on how to pick a site, make a sign, and harvest the photos.

Let us know how it goes! (especially on Twitter, @nerds4nature)

We’ve been fortunate to receive a bit of press recently in both online print and video media covering our citizen science activities.

One of our projects, monitoring post-fire landscape changes at California’s Mt Diablo, even reached hundreds of thousands of views on Reddit and went semi-viral! The excitement around this work is encouraging as we seek other applications of crowd-sourced data. Look for details on this coming soon!

Here are some highlights from the past few weeks:

Outside Magazine, "Tweet to Help a Mountain Recover"

"And you thought Twitter was just for shooting the breeze. In another win for citizen science, a group called Nerds for Nature is asking hikers to shoot images of California’s Mount Diablo State Park and post them on social media.”

KCBS News, "Nature ‘Nerds’ Keep A Photographic Eye Trained On Mount Diablo" [video]

"A group of self-described “nerds” is keeping close watch on Mount Diablo as it recovers from last summer’s massive wildfire."

Grist, "Oh, Snapchat: Your smartphone just became a climate scientist"

"Turns out, it’s a project that was put together by Nerds for Nature, a group of civic hackers who do good for the Earth by connecting researchers, enviros, and tech whizzes to figure out new ways to protect our planet.”


[picture via Shutterstock, Grist]

KQED (NPR), "Hikers Use Smartphones to Capture Fire Recovery on Mt. Diablo"

"A citizen science group is asking local hikers to help document that recovery with their smartphones."

Reddit Here’s a screenshot from the Reddit attention we received this past week (thanks Drew Wilson @drewsaysgoveg for the tip!)

Our inaugural presence at Maker Faire was successful beyond all expectations, and we’ll have a complete report up soon. One of the highlights of the weekend was our presentation on the Make: Live stage Sunday afternoon. We shared our amazing successes of the last year, and suggested many new avenues for further research. We also hoped to inspire at least some in the crowd to investigate further and join in a citizen science effort or other community action of their own.


Ken explains grassroots bioblitzing — photo by Ed Brownson

We seem to have accomplished our goal, based on the number of folks who stopped by our booth afterwards to ask questions and provide feedback. The talk started with Ken McGary’s overview of Nature Nerd grassroots bioblitz activity, with photos from some of our most astounding and visually stunning plant and animal observations during the past year. Ken also introduced our Change Brackets project and talked about how we strive to build community and bring diversity of thought and experience to our activities.


An audience member looks at the screen while Ken expounds on the future of the Change Brackets project — photo by Ed Brownson

Originally we had asked for a 15 minute presentation, but they generously (and unexpectedly) provided us twice as much time to fill. So we also brought up Dr. Andrew Thaler to talk about his collaboration with other nature nerds, as well as the economics of research these days, which was a prime inspiration for his own openCTD project.


Marine scientist Dr. Andrew Thaler points out that his job requires throwing expensive instrumentation on to the ocean over and over again, and hoping it comes back — photo by Ed Brownson

And to wrap things up, Sean Headrick of Aerotestra gave the crowd a mind-expanding overview of the wide array of possibilities for rugged, weatherproof robotic sensor platforms like the Hugo quadcopter, from aerial photography to to mapping water and air quality to providing underwater robot support.


Sean Headrick of Aerotestra explains the process of using a quadcopter to map water quality, while Ken demonstrates with Hugo — photo by Ed Brownson

Fortunately, There is live video of the event via MAKE’s Google Hangout which you can view on YouTube. Unfortunately the sound has a terrible echo for most of the recording, and only clears up for a few minutes about two-thirds of the way through. (Also, unfortunately, they filmed the whole thing from the always-unflattering side-view ;-)

The slide deck can be viewed as a pdf file on (in much higher resolution, with iNat photo credits, but without sound or video).


Nerds For Nature will have a booth at this year’s Maker Faire, May 17-18 in San Mateo, and we’re so excited! We’ve got plenty of fun and educational ways to engage the public as they wander by with their tech-glazed eyes, so don’t miss our first-ever Faire festivities. (Get advance tickets online before the event to save some bucks.)

Mr. Makey

The main attraction will be our Monitor The Makers signs 
posted around the fairgrounds, where visitors can take a photo and add to a real-time timelapse slideshow of makers in action. Then we’ll show the latest updates back in the booth, where folks can show us their photo uploads to earn a Nerds For Nature sticker.


Also on the agenda
, Organizer Ken McGary and special guests will give a half-hour presentation at noon on Sunday, May 18 entitled ”Nerding For Nature — Leveraging Open Source Technology for Eco-Research. Put this thought-provoking celebration of our recent accomplishments on your schedule now, and invite your Nerdy friends, too!  It will be at the Make: Live stage in Expo Hall.  


We’ll also have a plentiful bounty of Nerd toys on display to get the conversations started. From the new openCTD water sensor, to remote sensor platform prototype NerdBuoy, to air quality sensor boards, to flying water quality robot DroneLogger and beyond, we’ll have plenty to show and tell. And we’ll be highlighting some of our amazing bioblitz observations and showing off other Nerd projects with our new video projector — hooray! 

Our booth will be located in the Hackerspaces section of Expo Hall [event map], so stimulating conversation will be hard to avoid. Counter Culture Labs will be right next door, Hacker Dojo a few booths away, and NASA will be right across the aisle — how cool is that?!


There will be plenty to do throughout the weekend, so we need your assistance! If you can stop by for an hour or two to visit with folks and keep the Nerd fire burning, that would be awesome. You can sign up to help on our Meetup page and drop a comment if you have some idea of when you can join us. If you can only visit for a bit, that’s great too — come on by and say hey.

And if you can commit to more time, fantastic! Contact us and we’ll give you a discount ticket and make you a booth captain for a few hours — you’ll have amazing new Nerd powers to explore.

See ya there…

the Nature Nerd Maker Faire Crew

Ken-ichi Ueda, who helped create our Mount Diablo Fire Monitoring Project, tells the story on CBS news. Awesome!

(Sorry about the ad at the beginning of the video — it’s worth the wait!)

Thanks to our intrepid volunteer bioblitzers, the Tilden Nature Area Earth Day BioBlitz was a huge success! Over 60 nature nerds showed up for the event, making 800+ observations and documenting 212 species (and counting)!

Highlights of the day included: 

Check out all the results over on

Then sign up for our next blitz — May 4 in San Francisco!

From eco-hacking to enviro-sensoring to bioblitzing, we have a fun and fascinating agenda lined up for our April Project Night

Last month’s Brainstorm segment was so much nerdy fun that we’re doing it again! As one Nature Nerd in attendance noted, "The ideas one hears in brainstorming shout-outs are fantastic, original and brave." Come join the fray.

  • Robin Kraft of EcoHack will be back to help us brainstorm project ideas for the May 9-10 eco-tech hackathon in San Francisco (and New York and São Paolo and Madrid).  There will be scores of eco-minded programmers and designers who need environmental research problems to solve and datasets to crunch! So bring your vexing programming conundrums, geo-mapping puzzles, and web app wishlists for the EcoHackers to possibly tackle.

2014-03-18 brainstorm_crop_small.jpg

  • Our first-ever booth at Bay Area Maker Faire is coming up on May 17-18! We are also in discussion with Oakland Museum of California about producing a big  “NatureNerdCon” public outreach and education event there this summer. Our minds are reeling at the amazing possibilities, but we need your input and energy to make it all happen — come help us brainstorm some awesome new Nature Nerd public activities!

  • If you’d like to throw out a new project idea, that’s great! Two-minute pitches or updates for eco-related projects or collaboration requests are always welcome at Project Night.

Also happening at Project Night:

  • Join our water and air sensor roundtable! If you use any sort of air or water quality sensor or instrument for fun, education, or serious research, please bring it along for show-and-tell. We’ll have pH calibration solutions and other water samples to test, let’s figure out which probe works best and why. We’ll also have some water and air quality sensor prototypes in development to discuss and demonstrate. Bring your newbie or nerdy eco-sensor questions and project ideas!

Ongoing Project Needs:

Change Over Time - We’ve got a project using super simple techplus social media to monitor habitat change at Mount Diablo over time. Know about photo-stitching or time-lapse movie making? Help us out! - Want to help us make a better home on the web? We are working on a new Wordpress version of our site, and we could use your help!

BERKELEY—On Sunday, April 20, hundreds of citizen scientists will converge on Tilden Nature Area in the Berkeley Hills to search land, air, and water and catalogue as many species of plants and animals as possible in one day.

Thanks to and the prevalence of smartphones, the Bioblitz will make scientists of anyone - from dedicated birdwatchers to parents and kids who just happen to drop by.

The event is being coorganized by the East Bay Regional Park District, Nerds for Nature, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Oakland Museum of California.

The aim of the BioBlitz is to get a baseline snapshot of the plant and animal life found at Tilden Regional Park. We’ll be looking for birds, insects, invertebrates, native plants, and whatever else we can find in the area around Tilden’s Environmental Education Center. We’ll be recording our findings with iNaturalist, an app and website that allows anyone to share their wildlife sightings with a global of community of naturalists and scientists.

Event schedule

All events start at the Environmental Education Center at the north end of Central Park Drive

  • 7 am – 9 am: Birds

  • 10 am – 1 pm: general observations (family friendly!)

  • 2 – 5 pm: general observations  (family friendly!)

  • 6 – 7 pm: pizza dinner

  • 7 – 9 pm: nocturnal observations

Please join us for as much or as little of the event as you like.  Sign up and learn more at


Event URL:


If you are alive and reading this blog post, you eat food — that daily sustenance grown mostly by farmers, typically on modest family operations but increasingly by corporate behemoths with little regard for the environment. Fortunately, the environmental, maker, and citizen science movements that have inspired grassroots eco-tech groups like Nerds For Nature, PublicLab, and many others have also sparked up a new generation of tech-savvy, eco-aware farmers who are taking matters into their own hands.

A prime example of this movement is Farm Hack, a community sponsored by the National Young Farmer’s Coalition. Armed with CAD tools and welding machines, Arduino boards and soldering irons, these creative agriculturalists are developing some impressively innovative and low-cost solutions. From open source farm implement designs to remote sensor networks to automated aquaponics systems, accessible, customizable open source agricultural technology (OSAT) is rapidly transforming the world of smaller-scale food production.

So what does this have to do with nature nerds? Well, like the farm hackers, we see that the evidence for an eventual eco-collapse on our planet is becoming more certain. Ocean acidification, global climate change, sea level rise (see Andrew David Thaler’s Drown Your Town for some darkly amusing hopefully-distant-future possibilities), human development and invasive plants encroaching on critical wildlife habitat from all sides, and of course the rapid disappearance of uncountable species is enough to get any thinking person’s attention. We face enormous challenges just to comprehend the Big Picture, much less to do anything about it.


What Downtown San Francisco might look like if the Greenland Ice Sheet melted, resulting in 7 meters of sea level rise — image from Drown Your Town.

Alas, these same relentless worldwide environmental pressures also presage a coming agro-collapse. Water is running out, intensive Big Ag energy demands are banging up against critical environmental impacts (shale oil extraction vs. fracking vs. dirty coal, oh my!), long-useful pesticides are becoming ineffective due to rapid evolution by targeted pests, and “miracle” GMO technologies run the risk of tragically unexpected consequences. Farm hackers can see the impending disaster all too clearly, and are committing themselves to finding workable solutions.

What can we do to join forces? Let’s start with data. Us citizen scientists are getting pretty good at collecting it, but it hasn’t always been clear how to make it useful. An ingenious new project in California’s vast Central Valley uses large numbers of observations by users of the eBird network to suggest where more wetland habitat is needed on a week-by-week basis. Then using a clever secret bidding system, farmers receive funds from the Nature Conservancy to leave water in their rice fields to accommodate our feathered friends. Environmentalists helping farmers, and farmers helping the environment, all based purely on citizen science data – how’s that for an exciting equation? Consider the ever-growing worldwide database of species observations (500K and rapidly climbing) in our favorite citizen science app iNaturalist and ponder even broader possibilities for collaborative eco-ag research and action.

Now let’s think about data in an even larger context. What do you do with it? How do you control access to it? How do you verify and analyze and visualize and share it? This is a vast problem space that we share with the agro-innovators. And it’s a rapidly changing universe, where we’ll need a collection of experts and specialists and tinkerers and broad-based thinkers to help us make sense of it all. For abiotic and other sensor data, there are a few limited open source options, and there are of course plenty of expensive, proprietary commercial options like Xively. But not so much in between.


Data Flow Diagrams are one way to manage microcontrollers, sensors, and data with little to no messy programming — ManyLabs image

To remedy this situation, Peter Sand of the educational non-profit ManyLabs (and Nerds For Nature Organizer) is working on a new open source cloud-based data repository and analysis tool for all sorts of sensor data. In fact, he recently sent around a Call For Comments on a detailed proposal (tentatively dubbed ManyData) for a new open source data platform, which could be useful across a staggering array of problem domains, from education to ecological research to agriculture and beyond. It will allow anyone to create and analyze online data sets by uploading from their own environmental sensors, mobile devices, do-it-yourself science equipment, and other measurement tools. Peter expects the software to be in beta release soon, and is seeking funding to tackle the project.

With a bit of imagination and extension via an API, this sort of system makes sense for managing “smart farm” sensor readings, too. And with all of this data in an (optionally) share-able repository with a standard format, researchers from across many disciplines will have a chance to pick up lessons already learned by others, and compare ag, eco, and other sorts of data in new ways.

A recent Verizon ad suggests the enormous potential for remote sensor tech in the exploding “smart farm” market — youTube video via AgroInnovations blog

There’s plenty more hectares of eco-ag shared ground to cover, from DIY sensor technologies, to remote, off-grid networking and computing options, to semi-autonomous sensor and observation platforms like drones — we all have a lot to learn from each other. So stay tuned for Part II and beyond in future blog posts, and if you have something to say on any of these topics, please jump into our Nerds For Nature google groups or the FarmHack or AgroInnovations forums.


Ken McGary

N4N Organizer