Archive for August 3rd, 2009

Hydrophone listening station at the Seattle Aquarium

The listening station at the Seattle Aquarium lets visitors interact with orca sounds via web-based content (live and recorded audio), a monitor, and a trackball and headphones offered at kid-level on a matriarch’s fin.

At the bottom of the concrete helix at the Seattle Aquarium is the Family Activity Center (FAC)– a marine mammal hub adjacent to the big underwater dome. While fur seals and sea otters dive past visitors one side of the room, the majority of the space is dedicated to presenting the parallels between our human families and those of our regional icon, the killer whale, or orca.

Just a week ago the FAC received an acoustic enrichment. A listening station that enables visitors to listen live to the ocean or hear recordings from underwater has replaced the writing station and a panel describing orca prey (Chinook salmon). The listening station project was proposed by Brooke Nelson and me, managed by Michael Darling, and implemented by me (web design/html/php); Val Veirs (Java coding); Grant Glover, Jesse, Zach, Gary, and team at Pacific Studio (art and kiosk fabrication); Steve Harvey and Richard Ramsby (demolition, Internet, and installation).

Since the station needed Internet access for the live streams, we decided to host content on-line, primarily for ease of maintenance, trouble-shooting, and future enhancement. If you don’t have a chance to visit the Aquarium and test it out in person, you can view the pages here:

The site delivers sound through a Java-based audio player called jlGui that can handle both recorded mp3 files and Shoutcast streams while embedded and hidden within a browser window. There are also some nice photos and words to go along with the sounds.  In the Aquarium, the content is presented on a 22″ monitor (using 1280×768 resolution) by an Eee PC running Firefox with the Open Kiosk plugin over Windows XP Home.  A cool thing about this Eee PC is you can set it to keep running when the case is closed; that enabled us to fit it easily in the constrained space behind the mural.

The highlights of watching folks try it out on the first day were hearing a 9 year-old boy walk away saying “That was really cool,” and a mother telling her child as they departed, “How would you feel if you had to listen to that all day?”  Google Analytics suggests that thus far, about 20 unique visitors per day are listening to the underwater sounds for an average of about 2 minutes.

Below are links to photos of the installation, as well as notes regarding the hard-/software we considered and used in implementing the project.

More photos of the listening station…

Eee PC XP notes:

  1. Install Firefox 3.0.14 (3.5 didn’t work with Open Kiosk — though I didn’t try all version permutations)
  2. Add the Open Kiosk add-on, version = “Firefox 3 Install Here” [July 16, 2009] (follow instructions at — don’t download from the (outdated?) FF add-on site!)
  3. Download JRE ??
  4. Get updates to Java (upon autoprompt) (installed JRE and registered it…)
  5. Disabled login screen; made user1 autologin (no password prompt)
  6. Scheduled FF to run at system re/boot for user1
  7. Used Kiosk admin UI to set FF-Kiosk-fullscreen to be default browser (firefox.exe -kiosk admin)
  8. Had to restart Firefox a few times in safe-mode w/various defaults re-set… (via firefox.exe -safe-mode)
  9. Enable jsLib 0.1.359 and BMA Kiosk 1.65
    • Change default start page
    • Under Filters tab click “Enable JavaScript on all pages” (so streams can be played through browser)
    • Under Sessions tab: set Kiosk to reset session after 5 minutes (max time anyone likely to listen?)
    • Under Customize tab: Disable tabbed browsing and Hide All UI Widgets
    • Click OK
  10. Test it out (Launch under Kiosk submenu); first time I clicked on link to page that calls jlgui player, I got auto update of JRE6, then Security query re JavaZoom Team digital signature not being verifiable — clicked Always trust and Run; stream started after about 10s load/lag-time…
  11. Had to de-select location under the View menu in FF to get location bar at bottom of window to be hidden in Kiosk mode
  12. Back in admin, make FF-kiosk the default browser and select full-screen mode
  13. Reboot computer and see if FF-kiosk comes up automatically with start screen
  14. Reboot performance: blue screen at 30s, desktop at 40s; start screen in FF-kiosk mode in 65s, but XP Taskbar locked and visible at bottom of screen (though non-reactive to clicks); select auto-hide in Taskbar properties; reboot…
  15. Reboot performance: blue screen at 30s, chime at 37, desktop at 50, start screen in FF-kiosk mode in 70s
  16. Now has gap at bottom where taskbar is hiding, and location bar is back… (solved by resetting defaults via -safe-mode)

XP takes about 45 seconds to boot up to desktop

Eee PC Xandros 4Gb notes:
— Took WAY too long to get a real desktop environment
++ Wireless connected automagically
— Open Kiosk didn’t seem to want to run on the version of Firefox I initially downloaded (but I didn’t keep good notes on which permutations I tried…)

Read More