All posts by Brian Johnson

Cachalot 1.1 is available!

Hi folks,

Just a brief message to let everyone know that a new build of Cachalot is available on the iTunes app store. It should all update automatically, so login in through iTunes or through the App store app on your iPad to get the latest version.

Not a lot new, but definitely more stable and snappy.

Kudos to Adam Cue for getting this update out while transiting to the UK for a bit!


Cachalot is Live!

Hard work pays off and it certainly paid off on Monday night.  On Monday August 29th, Cachalot was launched on the iTunes store making it available to anyone with an iPad free of charge.  We even made it onto the Nicholas School front page.

With all of this we encourage all of you to go to the store and download the application and if you don’t have an iPad tell a friend or family member with one to download it for you and check it out. It was launched with two megafauna, Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins and Leopard Seals and every week we will debut a new “Megafauna of the Week.”  These megafauna of the week will include octopus, albatross, dolphins and turtles.

So of course there are a lot of people to thank here.  So I am sending out a big thank you to everyone who worked so hard on this application. Whether you helped fund it, program it, write it, submitted a photo, a video or just cheered us on along the way, thank you.

Have fun with it and stay tuned, common dolphins coming soon!

Great News!

Another update with even more exciting news for the Digital Sea Monsters Team!

First, a bit on “feeding” Cachalot. I’m of course talking about funding.  I wanted to take this time to thank those groups that helped fund the application, Duke CIT, the Duke Marine Lab and the Nicholas School of the Environment.

Duke CIT was generous enough to provide a second 5,000 dollar Jump Start grant. They are also going to set aside 60 iPads for student use. So the students in Marine Mammals this summer and the students in Marine Megafauna this spring will have an iPad to work on!

In addition, the Duke Marine Lab (thank you Cindy Van Dover) and the Nicholas School of the Environment (thank you Dean Bill Chameides) each provided 3,000 dollars for more work on the application! And I must add another quick thank you to Cindy Van Dover who will also be writing a species profile for the Siboglinid worms!

This additional funding will help continue to develop the application and continue to improve it! So thank you everyone!

Second, I have another amazing collaboration to mention. The Digital Sea Monsters team is already working with one amazing collaborator, the Society for Marine Mammalogy to create the species profiles. And we added NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC to our list of collaborators just a few days ago. NatGeo will be providing CRITTERCAM footage for our set of species. So get ready to become the megafauna as you watch video footage captured by the animals themselves!

We are working hard to get this app ready to launch so stay tuned!

Cachalot at the NMEA!

Today I presented the Cachalot application at the National Marine Educators Association conference at Northeastern University in Boston. This is a very interesting meeting, focused primarily at the middle/high school level. I think that there are possibilities for Cachalot in those environments as well, so it has been really useful seeing some of the talks that make use of new technology.

Getting ready to roll!

Heather here. I have been working on the Cachalot app for about a month now and have some exciting updates. My official title is Student Content Manager but as I see it, my job is something of an artist, a recruiter, a cheerleader, an author and a content manager all rolled into one.

Artist: I first had to create a set of proposals that I could send out to the best and brightest marine megafauna experts. But I knew that these couldn’t be just your run of the mill proposals. They needed to be flashy!  So my goal was simple, make them so cool and so appealing that basically no one could even think about saying no!

Recruiter and Cheerleader: So after getting my “beautiful” proposals done (yes someone said they were beautiful, no it wasn’t my mother) my task became Cachalot recruiter and this is where the cheerleading comes in. I have had to write e-mails about the project and pitch the project in a way that gets everyone else excited about it.  I have sent tens of e-mails out to the best and the brightest marine megafuana experts to get their help with the set of 52 species profiles to be part of the public part of the Cachalot app.  I am asking them to help me write the text portion and provide me with photos, videos and animations. And it seems my art-work, recruiting skills and cheerleading is paying off! Everyone who has responded thus far has been thrilled about it.  The experts have called the app cool and interesting and have thanked me for asking them to be a part of it! As Dave would say, Awesomesauce!

Author and Content Manager: As the information from my fearless experts starts rolling in I will become an author as I take what they give me and “massage” the information into something “less sciency.” I will take out science jargon, use simple examples and generally make the profiles easy and fun to read.

As if all of that wasn’t exciting enough Dave is getting ready to use the application in his summer Marine Mammals course. The course starts July 11th and runs through to the middle of August.

And we’re preparing to launch the official application soon!  So stay tuned…

Cachalot over Duke Telepresence

Last week I had the opportunity to demo the current version of Cachalot for two groups on main campus. The interesting thing was that I did it all from a room about three doors down from my office at Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort!

We demoed the app across the new telepresence system for the OIT telepresence celebration meeting (including showing it off for the Provost and the CIO of Duke) and for the Nicholas School Board meeting. The app performed well, and I used the iPad 2 to mirror the screen and send content over the telepresence connection to users in Durham. The app streamed video efficiently, and it was relayed seamlessly to Durham without a stutter. It was fun to see the lifesize smiles in that remote room as we showed off the functionality of the app.

Below is a Duke communications video that includes part of the demonstration of the app, including a bit of handwaving by yours truly…

What’s in a name?

Cachalot Icon

Those that have followed this project over it’s short life may have recognized early on that “Marine Megafauna” or Megafauna of the Week” are names that don’t necessarily roll off the tongue with ease. They also don’t work well with the software – the iPad OS allows only a certain number of characters in the name of an app, and otherwise truncates them with a series of periods. Our app in development always showed up as Megaf…Week on my iPad. Huh?

We needed a name, badly. Something that really captured the main idea of the app – large, compelling sea creatures. I canvassed my friends and colleagues, we collected a number of names. We’ve finally settled on one for now – Cachalot. Cachalot is a french word often used for the sperm whale – the common cachalot; The etymology of the word itself is unclear. It may be derived from an archaic French word for ‘tooth’, or perhaps comes originally from the Portuguese word cachola, meaning ‘big head’. At right is how Amy Chapman-Braun (Art Director of the Nicholas School) translated this name into our application icon. Clean, modern and fun.
[blockquote align=”left”]Cachalot is a french word often used for the sperm whale – the common cachalot; The etymology of the word itself is unclear. It may be derived from an archaic French word for ‘tooth’, or perhaps comes originally from the Portuguese word cachola, meaning ‘big head’.[/blockquote]

We are also getting close to releasing the application on the iTunes store. The public side of the application is essentially complete, and the private course portion of the app isn’t far behind. We’ll be doing some beta-testing next week, and hopefully that will ferret out most of the nasty bugs and bring us to a nice stable final version.

We’ve also been developing the art that surrounds the species entries and course materials. The splash page and the credits page.  Drafts of several of these are included below. Thanks again to Amy for the splash pages, they are fantastic. I tackled the credits page. I think it is fun.

Finally, we’re starting to reach out to folks about the future of the application, and how we might provide the best content for each species. I’ve delivered a proposal to the Dean of the Nicholas School seeking more support and at present we are in discussions with several professional societies and research groups to help us provide the best information possible. I’m also hoping that we can work with the next computer science class in the fall of 2011 to take the application to the next level.

We’re getting close now, stay tuned.

[image title=”Splash 1″ size=”large” align=”center” icon=”zoom” lightbox=”true” autoHeight=”true”][/image]

[image title=”Credits Page” size=”large” align=”center” icon=”zoom” lightbox=”true” autoHeight=”true”][/image]

[framed_box bgColor=”#ffffff” rounded=”true”]


Public side of App is almost cooked!

Today I had a real treat. Adam Cue hooked me up with a screen-share tour of the app running in the development simulator on his computer, and then he set up a download that let me install the functional beta app on my iPad. Took 1 minute to download and install, started up like a dream.

It looks great, the system is intuitive and I think it will be a compelling application for people who are interested in learning about marine species, their ecology and their associated conservation issues.

James Wu also Skyped me to give me the lowdown on the admin/data input system. This too is nearly finished and simple enough for the most technologically challenged to make use of.

We’ve honed in on a few changes to make – like switching the public section from a “Megafauna of the Day” paradigm to a weekly installment – much easier to address 52 species a year than 365. Maybe we can work up to that!

I’ve been working on some splash screens for the app as well – something that everyone will see when they load it up. Some ideas are posted below. Comments are welcome – send them to

[image title=”splash1″ size=”large” align=”center” icon=”zoom” lightbox=”true” autoHeight=”true”][/image]

[image title=”splash3″ size=”large” align=”center” icon=”zoom” lightbox=”true” autoHeight=”true”][/image]

[image title=”splash” size=”large” align=”center” icon=”zoom” lightbox=”true” autoHeight=”true”][/image]

[image title=”splash” size=”large” align=”center” icon=”zoom” lightbox=”true” autoHeight=”true”][/image]

CIT News Story about Digital Sea Monsters

[image title=”Andrea Novicki, our CIT Mentor!” size=”small” align=”left” icon=”zoom” lightbox=”true” autoHeight=”true”][/image]Andrea Novicki recently posted a story about our project on the CIT website – see here.

Andrea points out the great synergism between the Nicholas School and the Computer Science Department – it’s a great relationship for developing the application, a true win-win for both academic units, and for students. Of course she was the matchmaker in this case.

Thanks Andrea!

Chronicle covers Digital Sea Monsters

[image title=”The Chronicle” size=”small” align=”right” icon=”link” link=”” autoHeight=”true”][/image]Last week the Chronicle published an article addressing the use of iPads in Duke classrooms. While we are not quite there yet, they did cover our project briefly, highlighting one reason why we are moving in this direction – namely the fact that the use of iOS devices in classrooms is on the rise, and represents a target audience ready to use their iDevice in Marine Megafauna.

Here is a link to the story: