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Google Earth Engine no longer adds Landsat images .. WRONG!

EDIT: I have finally discovered the trick to getting the latest Landsat images on Google Earth Engine … which means my whole blog post below is incorrect. I had a feeling it would turn out like this, because honestly? Whenever you start giving too much credit to Europeans, that should be the red flag to let you know, “something ain’t right.”

But I will leave this blog post up, so if anyone else is having the same issues, they can find it and then find the solution here.

Note: if you want to know more about why satellites like Landsat are important, see this animation or this animation.

I used Google Earth Engine to complete a large part of my Ph.D. dissertation.  I needed lots of images taken by satellites. Like, I needed thousands.

There’s a couple ways to get these images (for free!) You can go to a NASA website, and make an order. You have to do a lot of clicking to get it done, and then you have to wait a few days for the order to show up in your email. Then you have to download all the images. They take up a lot of room on your laptop. You have to figure out how to organize them, and then you have to load them into whatever computer program you’re going to use to analyze those images.

Or you can use Google Earth Engine. As much as I hate to give more power and control over to Google, this feature is very helpful. They already have all the millions of satellite images out there uploaded onto the Google servers. Instead of waiting a few days for a NASA order to come through, you can access those images with just a few lines of code in Google Earth Engine. You don’t ever have to download the images to your own computer or laptop, because you can analyze them right there in Earth Engine. The whole process is streamlined, you save so much time, and you don’t clog your harddrive up with huge satellite files.

Well, that’s all in the past now. NASA has apparently given up cooperating with Google Earth Engine. I tried to search if there was an announcement made to that effect, but I didn’t find anything. But it is a fact that if you search for Landsat images on Earth Engine, you will easily dredge up old images, going back to the 1970s. But there are no new images, not for Landsat-7 and not for Landsat-8. In fact, there are no Landsat images past April 30, 2017. Hmmm. I wonder what changes engulfed NASA’s ultimate leadership right around then, so that the ripple effects eventually led to this change in April 2017?

At least, they did not delete all the images that had already been uploaded. So images from the 1970s to April 2017 are still available.

If I’m wrong about this, and the new images are up there somewhere, someone please let me know. I have searched a couple spots on the globe and it is the same every time – nothing new after April 2017.

Yesterday, I searched for Houston in March 2019. I wanted images from the sky of that terrible oil fire that occurred. But I found no Landsat images. However, I realized there was potentially a work-around. The Europeans have launched their own satellites, and thank goodness, because ever since 2016, they have been loading their images from Sentinel-2 onto Google Earth Engine. And they are still loading away — looks like Trump can’t stop them. There were in fact 18 images from the Sentinel-2 satellite for Houston sprinkled between March 1 and April 15, 2019.

Alas for me though — no image showed the black smoke of the fire. That was what I wanted. The fire started on March 17. The first satellite image after the fire (March 18; below) had a thin coverlet of clouds covering Houston, and you can’t see anything through it.

Houston March 18 2019
Sentinel 2 image for Houston, March 18, 2019. Bands: Red, green, blue.

 

The next satellite image came on March 20, but alas again — there’s no more fire to be seen. Do you see black smoke?

Houston March 20 2019
Sentinel 2 image for Houston, March 20, 2019. Bands: short-wave IR, near IR, and blue.

That black dot in these images is supposed to be the location of the company that started the fire, or there-abouts. Zooming in a little closer …

Houston March 20 2019 zoomed
Sentinel 2 image for Houston, March 20, 2019. Bands: short-wave IR, near IR, and blue.

Well, maybe that is black smoke, but I don’t know that it’s going to convince any one.

Sentinel-2 has a band for “coastal aerosol”. Maybe that will be the key to being able to tell where the plume of black smoke is.

My Earth Engine code for getting these images is here.

 

The YouTube sleeper

I think a “sleeper” is a movie that no one thinks is going to do that well, and then it takes over the box office.

My YouTube videos are like that, if you chop off the “takes over” part. My videos are like David and Goliath, but David loses.

Any case, I think people are interested in how videos gain popularity on YouTube, so let me throw in what I know, from the perspective of running a very over-looked channel.

I made a movie called: Ariana Grande singing about climate change.

I think it’s quite nice, you know … I think I used some good and steady animation techniques in it overall. It’s clear and to the point.

Well, I posted it in November 2017, and for almost its entire life, it had 87 views. It got those views early on, I honestly don’t know how. And then it just stayed at 87 views.

Then some time, last April or May, it all of a sudden shot up (yes, for me, this counts as shooting up) to 95, and then 99, and then past 100. I was really surprised. I didn’t do anything at all to bring this feat about. I don’t know if someone found the video, randomly, and then shared it on Facebook or something. Or if it all of a sudden became a “suggested video” on the side column of another YouTube video.

Well, when I saw it on the move like that, I thought, wow! A video of mine is going to ‘make it’! I kept checking every day to see if the view count was increasing (things were very slow at work) and it was increasing, so I thought: my video (and I) are invincible now! I thought people must be sharing it excitedly across all their platforms! Pretty soon, it approached 187 views!

Not so fast. The view count was still going up, but by less and less. I finally decided to get to the bottom of things and checked the official YouTube stats. Compared to the leaps and bounds I’d thought the video was increasing by, the reality was much more tame. Yeah, it had increased by 100 views, but there wasn’t really a big burst anywhere. By the stats, it went up by about 15 views suddenly in one day, and that was how it started; then maybe 10 the next; then bounced around with 3-4 extra views a day for the next few weeks, till that dwindled to 1-2 views a day. My invincibility wasn’t so invincible after all. I realized that there was actually no infinite momentum; the 15+ views must have been a fluke, and now I was going to have to settle for 1-2 views until it dropped back to zero.

These days it’s kind of like stop-and-go traffic. The view count doesn’t move at all some days. Some days it gets 4 views. It’s at 301 today. Which is pretty extraordinary for me. Everything else grows by 10 views in an entire year. This is the first of my animations to grow by over 200 views within the space of about 4 months. No idea where it will go from here.

 

No need to listen to “life wisdom” advice

I think they are most usually 100% fake. I just read a blog post with 50 tips for living your best life.

At one point, he (or she?) advises us to: decide your goals for the next five years, and then achieve them in 2 years!

And just a little bit later, his next tip is: don’t obsess about the outcome!

Um, you actually can’t do both of things at the same time. What a loser.

In general, I most especially hate those people who say things like: if you really want something, then you’ll make it happen! Just don’t give up.

I think the people who say that 1) are pretending they achieved something big when it really wasn’t and 2) are mis-allocating credit for their own determination that ought to be better attributed to luck.

 

Feeling ghosted – Animations with kids

I feel like I have very bad follow-through sometimes when it comes to my Science animations with kids program.

Sometimes, it’s my fault. Like at my last viewing party, about 30 parents, grandparents, aunts, everyone, showed up. I gave them all a little slip of paper with the URL of my website (the one you’re reading) and my YouTube channel, and my email, so they’d be able to find the films that their kids had made online.

But alas, I neglected something very evident … I forgot to collect their email addresses. So let’s just go ahead and assume that all the slips of paper I passed out are by now lost, crumpled in a bag somewhere, etc. And I have no way of contacting the parents. Kind of really sucks, because during the viewing party, I couldn’t get the sound to be loud enough, and we were in a big room, and I don’t think anyone at all understood what was happening in the movies.

These were the two movies the kids had made, by the way: A lesson on nurdles and When Anders, Dilsa, and Reza were mean.

But then some other times, it’s not my fault at all. Instead, I literally just get ghosted by the teachers I worked with. For example, the teacher I worked with at Wolf Meadow. The kids there made two such beautiful films: The grass is not trash and The desperate tale of the last tree snail.

At the very least, these films deserve to be championed by the people who were involved in making them. The kids were all fifth-graders who apparently don’t have emails or anything, so I don’t expect much from them. But my partner teacher! And the school principal! First, they said that we would have a viewing party for parents once the films were done. Well, when we actually reached that point, they cutely changed their minds … no, we can’t have a viewing party because only two of the five fifth-grade classes participated in this project, and if there’s a fifth-grade event happening, then a notice must be sent to all fifth-grade parents, and the parents of kids in the other three classes will be upset their kids didn’t participate. I mean, what kind of a lame excuse is that? No, actually, it’s very possible to just send a notice to the parents/families of the two fifth-grade classrooms I worked with. Gotta love rank inflexibility.

But I got over that, and my partner teacher said: oh, yeah, we’ll post the movies on the school website, and we’ll send an email to all the parents. Yeah, that is the very least you could do when your kids have just made two excellent animated films. Except even that never happened. I know, because the viewing counts never changed. I sent email reminders to my partner teacher and everything, but nothing. Can you believe it?

Then there was the time I was describing this project to a lady who’s part of a science communication network. She said, oh, the project sounds great. And she said, without me begging for it, that the science communication network she’s from run a blog, and would I like to write a blog post for them? Well, yes, I would. I emailed her twice after that to remind her, ask her about doing that, but of course she ghosted me, too, her and her exclusive little science communication club that people like me aren’t good enough to get into.

Then there was a man who ran in the same exclusive club circles. Let’s just call him Loser idiot stupid ugly moron. Well, me being me, I don’t learn my lessons the first time, so I was still panting after the exclusive club. Loser idiot stupid hateful moron tells me, and I quote: “This is so cool” [talking about the Animations with kids project] and “hope we find ways to cooperate” and “I was deeply moved, happy and proud” [while looking through my work] …. ahhh, shut up. He also blabbed a whole bunch about how he would talk to this and that person, and find partners for me, and he went into details! Like asking me, how much money will you need, and giving me ideas for film topics, and when would this happen? And he even did the thing, which is kind of rare, of answering my emails within a day. That honestly never happens.

Then after about a week of this, and me being really happy, he ghosted me, too. I hope he falls into a meat cleaver. He just stopped responding to all my emails, everything. If you ask me who I hate, his name will be the first mentioned.

 

Compare: how different countries reported on the Oslo mosque shooting

This was the day after the attack, so August 11. I think I first read this article on the BBC: Norwegian shooting probed as terror attack.

I think what stands out in the article is if you scroll down to almost the bottom, and it starts talking about reactions from Norway’s Muslims:

The shooting has prompted debate over whether enough was being done to protect Norway’s Muslim population.

Mosque director Mr Mushtaq said the government needed to take action.

“For so many years, the secret police says the Muslims are the biggest risk for this country, but if you look at those last two major incidents of terrorist activities, it’s not Muslims who have done this,” he said.

Muslim organisation Islamic Council Norway described the attack as “the result of a long-lasting hate of Muslims that has been allowed to spread in Norway”.

It said authorities had not “taken this development seriously”.

Oh, that’s interesting, I thought, because I don’t remember the Scandinavian news sites mentioning anything like this.

Here you can see, if you scroll down to August 11, all the news stories about this from SVT, which is the Swedish state television. There’s this video clip of one of the Muslims in the mosque describing what happened; a round-up of the main points of the case; some statement or other from the prime minister; and then an interview with the 65-year-old in the mosque who took the attacker down. Nowhere in these articles and videos is there mention of the criticisms stated by the mosque director and by Islamic Council Norway. Not even any mention of such a thing in any point of the “round-up”.

So finally, I went over to the Norwegian equivalent of SVT, called NRK. I first ran into NRK back in 2011, when they were reporting the right-wing terror attack in Oslo. Any case, so what were they talking about this time?

They had some articles with updates about the case, and then they had this headline in a featured story: I think everything is well prepared for today. This article is talking about the police presence sent to mosques the day after the attack to guard the Eid prayers. They interview some police people talking about their “duty” to quote-unquote ‘serve and protect’, and then they interview Muslims. But there’s no quotes, like in the BBC article, criticizing anyone. Instead, it’s just: “oh, we’re feeling scared” “oh, I don’t really think there will be another attack” “oh, some people stayed home today” “oh, we feel safe and it’s nice to see the police here.”

Well, I just thought it was very interesting. Any case, I looked pretty carefully over the NRK site that day (August 11) to see if I could find mention of the accusations leveled by the Islamic Council Norway and the mosque director – even trying to link back to earlier articles – but there was nothing.

I went back just now, though, and scrolled through all the NRK stories on August 10 through August 12. The stories are listed chronologically, so you have to scroll back quite a ways, even today when it’s just August 16.

And after all, if you scroll far back enough, you find this article from August 10: The results of a long-term Islamophobia that has been allowed to spread in Norway. This article does not quote the mosque director at all, but it does report about the Islamic Council Norway’s statement in detail. And this article was already buried by August 11, I didn’t find it anywhere.

Later on August 13, there’s an article that reports on criticisms of the Norwegian police in poo-poo-ing right-wing threats. Well, they quote the criticisms from someone, and then they quote the police in denying all the criticisms.

 

 

 

 

Bad audio, all the time

I usually use my trusty laptop to record kids’ voices for animations. It usually works out really well, and picks up the kids’ voices even when they’re speaking softly.

But I ran into a problem this time around at the summer camp. There was a super annoying buzzing sound in the hall where I started animating. It came from the light fixture. I had already recorded the voices of about 5 kids before I noticed it. We migrated then into the empty room next door, but the buzzing followed us, and I didn’t exactly want to close the door, because it’s not a super good idea for an adult to be alone with the child. So I kept the door cracked.

I didn’t finish recording all the kids that day, and when I went back later, I had an action plan: I decided to record the leftover kids outside. It was nice and quiet out there! I went home and listened to all the recordings, and the outdoors recordings definitely won the day.

So, when it came time to do the recordings for the second film, I strolled outside with each kid, out the front door of the church where the summer camp is held, off to the side a bit where there’s a nice slab of pavement to sit on past which our feet dangled into bright green grass, and warm summer sun all around us. And I felt very fresh and pleased that I was both getting the project done, and getting some outside time.

Sadly, though, it did not turn out for the best. The mosquitoes must have been out in full force that day, just to spite me, I suppose. I heard them buzzing about but I thought — the other day, we recorded outside and it sounded just fine. Surely it’s not possible for mosquitoes to vary how loud they’re being from day to day? Well, apparently it is possible. I found that out later. I had, in good, responsible time, done the necessary animation edits to stitch the kids’ work together. I had it all completed so that there wasn’t a crunch and flurry of work necessary the day before the family viewing party. Instead, though, I had left all the audio wrestling for the last day. I had been at a workshop a few weeks ago where they told us: Guess what! If your audio has a weird buzzing noise, it’s easy to fix it! Just load it into this program [one of the Adobe Creative Suites] and you click the button that says ‘reduce buzz’ or ‘reduce background’ or something like that.

Well. First of all, it is not that simple, between having to load the files, and do some extra clicking about. And second, and saddest, it didn’t really do a good job 😦 I could still hear that stupid buzz from the light fixture, and the mosquitoes. And in fact, the mosquitoes were the hardest to overcome, I guess because the stupid light fixture buzz was a steady and narrow sound, while the mosquitoes blared their song up and down the octaves and blazed forth and dove down. Any case, so the sound is not that good in these two movies, even though it took me forever to try to fix them. And in fact after the family viewing party, and before uploading to YouTube, I spent like a day trying to further fix up the audio. I uploaded and then removed, and then re-uploaded the movies like three times, adjusting the sound each time. And before that, I had rendered the movies about 5 times already, adjusting the sound and volume in between.

I was pretty sad to think that I had the animated parts mostly ready to go, and here was the audio to trip me up.

And here are the movies: “A bird story” is the one where the weird buzzing was in the background. “A lesson on nurdles” was the one which was recorded a lot outside.

GIS and Blender at once

Two of my favorite pieces of software are QGIS – used for making maps on a computer – and Blender 3D – used for 3D animations.

Both of these pieces of software, furthermore, are open-source. That means they are free for anyone to download.

Every time I make an animation with a group of kids, I make sure to tell them that Blender is a free software, anyone can download it, and that thousands of computer wizards across the world have contributed to making it free and available for all of us. And that maybe they can be one of those computer wizards one day.

I’ve always wanted to tell the kids about QGIS being free as well, and I finally got the opportunity. The story that underpins the second animation for this group of kids has a lot of geography in it, and mentions making maps on the computer. It was the perfect context for doing a whole lesson on QGIS with the older kids (fourth grade and up). I told them about how I first learned about latitude and longitude when I was in sixth grade; and that I didn’t really see what was all that special about it, until I went to college and I saw a presentation on the use of computer maps to track endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

The context of our geographic lesson was “nurdles”. I happened to see a story about “nurdles” on Twitter, and went with that. I made up some nurdles data, put it together using R and QGIS, and showed that to the kids. The person who wrote the nurdles story is a young Muslim woman in Texas, by the way. It feels good that the two of us are actually feeding into and supporting each other’s work in this way.

I re-created, as best I could, the computer map onto a poster-board map. I threw a gird over it. And I showed the kids how you would find the location of nurdles contamination on various points on the map.

map of coastline with latitude and longitude

I’m very proud of that lesson, because it actually involves a lot of Algebra, and whenever I remember learning it in school, or trying to teach it when I was a math teacher, it was always somewhat of a disaster. A lot of kids wouldn’t get it. But this time, I had volunteers come up and practice finding a latitude-longitude, and they all got it – except for the kid who wasn’t paying attention. They would find the lat/lon, and then stick a post-it note there with a datapoint about the number of nurdles at that site. I had a whole fake data collection campaign going on.

finding latitude and longitude

The computer mapping will continue to be a theme throughout the story, and it’s very cool to combine two of my favorite pieces of software together like this.