An Open Letter, 9 Years of Safecast

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 01:53


Tara, Ripley & Sydney, Los Angeles circa 2011

In 2011 I was living with my family in Los Angeles. We lived in a little grey 2 bedroom 1 bath house once occupied by Henry Rollins, an author & musician whose punk rock/DIY ethics & integrity had already played a formative role in my life. In early March I would celebrate my son’s first birthday, and a few days later a triple disaster on the opposite side of the planet would completely change the course of my life. Over the following weeks and months I’d find myself staying up 24 hours at a time coordinating with people in every timezone imaginable trying to find information and answers for friends and family directly impacted by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown playing out in Fukushima. The government systems had failed, and we thought we could help. Be it art or activism, if you know me you know I’ve spent most of my life pushing against the boundaries of established norms, refusing to just accept the status quo. I would make several trips to Japan to work with others like me, taking our first steps towards a solution to a problem much larger than most of us realized at the time. Eventually the back and forth would become too much, and in 2017 as a family we decided to upend our lives and move around the world so as to better focus on the project that had become Safecast. As we approach the 9 year anniversary, I’m writing from Tokyo to ask you to join me.

We began Safecast with a push towards transparency, quickly growing to address the larger issues of trust and openness and forced a reassessment of what we all should expect from environmental monitoring projects. In a world where devices can be bricked anytime a company pivots, where EPA datasets and research disappear overnight, where a single politician can undo decades of work out of spite or where government regulations are written to augment an industry’s financial goals rather than the health of the people or the protection of our environment we stood up and said not anymore. If we can’t trust the companies and governments to look out for us, we’ll do it ourselves without them. We put all of our data into the public domain to ensure everyone can use it, and no one can ever delete it. My son will be able to show his grandchildren this data and it will be just as useful then as it is now. All of the devices we designed are open and futureproof, ensuring they will work as intended for as long as someone feels like repairing them. In a few short years this community built the largest open radiation dataset ever collected, larger than the combined datasets published by every government today. This information reshaped evacuation zones and helped people make life changing decisions. We’ve built a real time monitoring network that lets residents know about changes in their environments in minutes. From Tokyo I was able to see how smoke from brush fires was directly impacting my friends back in Los Angeles because of Safecast air sensors that were up and running. This system was unimaginable a few years earlier when I was in LA worrying about friends in Japan and week or month old data was the best anyone could find. Our global volunteer team has helped us to build a comprehensive map allowing people to see measurements on the streets in front of their houses, all over the world. In addition to the tools and deployments we’ve developed curriculum, lesson plans and tutorials to help people understand how this works, and do it for themselves without relying on us. In a world where companies are trying to find new ways to lock people into their ecosystems, we’ve actively worked to make sure these systems can function even without us. 

In the nonprofit world it’s commonplace to spend half your time fundraising in order to spend the other half doing the work. At Safecast we focus the majority of our time and energy on the work and the funding has come through recognition of our results. We’ve been lucky to have the incredible support of Reid Hoffman, Shuttleworth Foundation, Knight Foundation and others like them with courage, vision and the ability to see the long term picture. Their wonderful donations have covered the majority of our bills year over year. We’ve been able to have the kind of tangible, global, long term impact that we have precisely because we get to spend our time working doing the work without fundraising as a distraction. But that also creates a dependency where our ongoing work relies on a single person or a single donation, which isn’t healthy. We started this project with a recognition that “the way things work” wasn’t working and a belief that we could find a new way, and I think we’ve done that. Similarly, we think the way that nonprofits are expected to survive is broken, and believe there has to be a better way. “That’s the way it’s always been done” is a terrible reason to keep doing something, especially when it’s obviously not working. We reimagined what environmental monitoring could be, and now we are reimagining how to fund it. Safecast is not flashy. We are not a trendy startup looking for a quick exit, we’re not selling data out the back door to jack up our valuation. We aren’t looking for a hockey stick increase in market share. We are a passionate global community committed to a reliable solution that can be counted on today, tomorrow, and in the years to come. While we deeply appreciate the funders who have helped us get this far, if we want to be truly robust our funding needs to come from our community. Rather than relying on one person donating $100k, I want 100 people to donate $1k. A few hundred volunteers with geiger counters built the largest radiation dataset ever amassed while politicians sat around talking about why they couldn’t do it. That’s the proof that a few committed people can do the work that everyone else will benefit from. That’s what I’ve spent the last 9 years of my life focused on. Safecast is deploying sensor networks and building datasets that will benefit us all for generations–we didn’t ask permission or get anyone’s approval to do this, it’s just what we do.

My 45th birthday is at the end of this month. For my birthday I’m hoping to find 100 people to commit to giving $100 a month to Safecast for 1 year. These donations are tax deductible. That money will go a long way towards paying for salaries, servers and sensors. But more importantly, it will prove that a few people who care can positively impact the world. I hope you’ll join me.

Thank you,

Sean Bonner

BGeigie Diaries: What Covering 2,000 Kilometer of Japan – On Foot, With A Camera – Can Teach You

Wed, 12/11/2019 - 08:53

A map of Stefan Speidel’s walk and bGeigie measurements.

Covering 2,000 kilometers of Japan on foot with a bGeigie on his back was a journey of rediscovery for Stefan Speidel. As an avid photographer, Stefan documented his journey taking pictures along the entire way. 

Get up; get ready; get going; get lost in thought; get connected to the country and its people; get to the end of the day upload data; go to sleep; wake up; repeat. 

Stefan Speidel’s more than 2,000-kilometer trek across Japan on foot doesn’t fit well into one sentence. Luckily, the idea of a picture saying the same as a thousand words helps. Stefan is an avid photographer and carried a trusty Leica, as well as a Safecast bGeigie, along with him.  

After 30 years at Siemens AG, mostly in Japan, Stefan had a list of things that he wanted to do. It included a journey of rediscovery of Japan and the Japanese. Below is his description of his trip, and his thoughts about Japan, Safecast, and open data.

Stefan Speidel: The starting point was a desire to walk along some of the old kaido, the highways that connected Tokugawa-era Edo with other provinces. Specifically, I wanted to walk the Tōkaidō, as well as the Nakasendō, which both connect Edo/Tokyo and Kyoto via different routes across central Honshu — one along the Pacific Ocean, the other through the mountains.

I was going to start in April and set myself three months for this journey. I calculated that if I averaged 22 – 25 kilometers a day I would be able to cover around 2,000 kilometers during that time, giving me the chance to expand my journey beyond Kyoto and further to the western parts of Japan.

These shoes carried Stefan Speidel – and a bGeigie – 2,000 kilometers across Japan.

Packing lightly was a priority. I made a list of things that I would like to bring and compared it to a goal of carrying a maximum of ten percent of my body weight. In the end, I had three-four sets of clothing, some rain gear, a hat, my camera, a  MacBook Air and a bGeigie.

Early on in the trip, I met an old man who had been doing similar trips. His motto was ‘start early, move slow, and keep going.’ For him, that involved starting at 4.00 in the morning. I think his motto is sage advice for much more in life than walking. Although I’m less sure about starting the day at 4.00 in the morning…

Stefan Speidel on his walk.

My own rhythm quickly turned into walking about 4 km/h for up to ten hours a day. That way, I would surpass 25, 35, and on occasion, even 40 or more kilometers in a single day. The limit for any given day was rarely a lack of strength in my legs. More often I felt I needed more time to process all the things I was seeing. 

Walking, especially by yourself, lets you look around and take the time to digest the scenery and people. It gives you a different view on many things, and I would often find myself around the middle of the day wondering ‘why are people so busy?’ I know it’s a question that, at the time, was partly based on my luxury of being able to focus on just observing what was around me, but I do think people tend to forget to move at their own speed and stop to appreciate their surroundings from time to time.  

The trip itself was a patchwork of experiences that I’m in some ways still processing. Meeting people along the way, having small conversations, walking parts of the way with different people and connecting with them in ways that are difficult in the rush of daily life. One of my favorite memories was when my German friend and I walked into a narrow valley where two guys were fixing the roof of a reed hut. I asked about what they were doing, and it turned out that the house was a zen retreat. The priest in charge told us that he had trained with a German abbot. After a bit of back-and-forth, we discovered that we had a common acquaintance, a Japanese friend who lives in Tokyo. The coincidence of making the connection could only have happened by taking the time to stop in that remote valley. 

While walking, you get to see a mix of the road infrastructure, from lush mountain trails and side roads to the national highways with heavy traffic. Most of the heavily trafficked roads have sidewalks, but you still have to be watchful. In a way, I think the contrast between the highway stretches and the backroads, coastal roads, and trails make the latter seem even more beautiful and peaceful. 

A picture from the road.

One of the more surreal experiences was walking through a 1.4-kilometer-long tunnel. You really don’t know how much noise a car makes in a tunnel until you’re stuck walking next to them for a stretch like that. The air was quite cool, but I remember how I emerged back in the light, soaked in sweat. It must have been scarier than I realized at the time.

The sights, smells, and sounds of Japan are so varied that you come to appreciate the typical nature of many of them. The smell of soy sauce wafting from homes around dinner time, the sound of temple bells, and the uncountable different nuances of green, and the many roadside shrines. It all gives a feeling of being in and connected to Japan in a way that is difficult for especially foreigners – even those who have lived here for a long time – to achieve.

During the journey, I had a bit of an online network that talked about what I was doing and what my plans were. People were extraordinarily kind and generous. They gave me recommendations on where to stay and who I should try to meet along the way. It was a good example of the way that technology can connect us and let us share experiences with each other. 

I guess that’s also part of why I’m involved with gathering data for Safecast. My initial connection to the organization comes through Pieter who I know through a shared interest in photography. We met at a Leica event. 

Day 1 on the Saba Kaido. Obama to Kaminegori. Fukui, Japan.

That was back before the Tohoku quake struck… Speaking of which, I was in Tokyo when it happened. I had been out with my boss and we were going back to the office in a company car. We were pulling into the garage, and I first thought that the driver was going crazy, alternating between the brake and accelerator as fast as he could. Then we realized that everything was shaking and the buildings around us were moving back and forth.

Having lived in Japan for a long time, I’ve experienced a lot of earthquakes, but I immediately felt that this earthquake was different. It was more powerful than anything I had ever experienced before. As I remember it, we heard of the tsunami warnings pretty quickly after the quake hit. Scary figures of tsunamis 6 or 7-meter high, which later proved to be poor estimates. But at the time I was focused on making sure my wife and daughter, who was 17 at the time, were safe, as well as ensuring that everyone at the office was okay. I was in central Tokyo when the earthquake hit, 20 kilometers from home. In the evening, I started making my way back on foot. There were hundreds of thousands of people walking because public transportation was not working. It was very quiet, and while there was no sense of drama, the silence and focus on getting home created a very strange atmosphere. One of the only places you could definitely feel something afoot, apart from the number of people in the streets, was the convenience stores. Their shelves were all completely bare. 

I made it home safely and managed to communicate a little with friends and family. It was only the next morning that I saw the first images from Tohoku. Even then, the scale of the disaster was not really known Around noon that day, we learned that Fukushima Daiichi had what seemed like an explosion, but there was definitely no talk of a meltdown that day. 

Fukuroi, Shizuoka, Japan.

Later we saw the images from Fukushima. I think most people who were in Japan at the time will attest to the fact that the tsunami, and the nuclear meltdown, changed them on some fundamental level. I mean, we saw images like the ones of someone trying to survive by clinging to an antenna as the waters swept around them. Imagine the amount of stress that person must have undergone – and the strength it took to hang on. Or the scenes in Onagawa where the waters toppled concrete buildings, some four and five stories high, and swept smaller ones up, carrying them first inland and then off out to sea.

When we heard about the meltdown at Daiichi, an additional issue arose. We needed to make decisions with very limited information, both personally and at the company. How dangerous was the situation? Should we stay in Tokyo or move west away from the plume? Even with the technical expertise that we had in the company, these were hard questions to answer without more data. And data was practically non-existent.  At the same time, trust in information coming from the government was low and fading.

I wanted to have my own Geiger counter to be able to measure what was going on. And I wanted to have access to the data that other people measured. Today, I would say that Safecast offers reliable information about radiation levels not only in Japan but across the world. I am happy if my walk can do a little bit to support that.

Toyohashi, Aichi, Japan.

We need to get back to figuring out facts. What is true and not true must be grounded in data and information. That is the basis for making informed decisions. Without data, we cannot judge if an area is dangerous or not. Even with data, it is hard for people to decide if a potential risk is acceptable. Therefore, we need comparable data sets. Having only one data source is not trustworthy, and it does not provide an opportunity to compare results to others.

Without sufficient and open data, we cannot make progress and get a better understanding of radiation’s potential impact on our health. Again, this is not just something that covers the people who were in Fukushima during the disaster, and the time since. To this day, we still don’t have any consensus on how much radiation is OK. 

Stefan Speidel has written a fantastic book about his journey. It is now available on Amazon.

Transparency, the olympics, and that damned water, Part 2

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 07:31

Above: Official messaging about Fukushima focusses on happiness.

Part 1 here

Part 2: What about the Olympics?

The concerns we hear about the 2020 Olympics are more generalized and less focussed than those about the water in the tanks at Fukushima Daiichi. Some people ask us if it’s safe to come to Japan at all. Others narrow it down to Fukushima Prefecture. A few journalists and others have specifically asked us to weigh in on the potential risks to people who attend the events which will be held in Azuma Stadium in Fukushima City.  Our response to Tokyo businessman Roy Tomizawa was to suggest he build a bGeigie and survey the stadium himself. He did, and wrote about it. Helping people find out for themselves is how we prefer to interact with and inform the public. We often point out that the entire framing of “safety” when it comes to radiation risk is problematic. The guidelines for acceptable radiation limits in food, the environment, and elsewhere are not really “safety” limits, and exceeding them does not mean “unsafe.” They are warning levels that trigger protective actions intended to prevent actually “unsafe” exposures. In each case, the important questions are: Do you understand this risk, and is it acceptable to you? This is where people need help, and where government has so far largely failed in its mission to inform. Once again we think it comes down to transparency.

A quick Google search of “Fukushima Olympics”  will illustrate the widespread belief that athletes and visitors who go to Fukushima next year will be putting their lives at risk. The Korean government has announced that their teams will bring their own food so as not to incur potential health risks from eating local products. Many people suspect that the Japanese Government is holding Olympic events in Fukushima in order to cover up the effects of the disaster and paint the prefecture with a tint of normality. It seems clear that the government lost control of this narrative long ago and may well be unable to recover before the 2020 Olympics begin, and that the negative effects could persist for years afterwards. We do not see any adequate messaging or information about the kinds of risks people around the world are concerned about, presented understandably and accessibly. What messaging we have seen so far is clumsy and tends heavily towards images of smiley happy people intended to suggest that everything is fine. No-one really trusts these blithe reassurances, because they distrust government itself.

Japanese government agencies seem to be operating under the assumption that their authority in matters like this is still intact in the eyes of the public. Their messages appear to be shaped under the assumption that they can simply say, “We’ve had a committee look into it and we’ve determined that it’s safe,” without demonstrating the necessary transparency and breaking the explanation down in appropriate ways. We have no desire to make government’s job easier about any of this, but we care about the people in Fukushima, and so we want government to present clear and accurate information about their situation. Things in Fukushima are not as bad as alarming Google hits often suggest, but it’s definitely not hunky-dory either. Honest messaging would reflect this. We too wonder why the government has rushed to hold Olympic events in Fukushima, ignoring the global public’s existing fear and skepticism. Many Fukushima residents are supportive of the games and hope they will shed a positive light on the progress the prefecture has made since the disasters in 2011. It could be good for local economies as well. On the other hand, it could be another avoidable PR disaster.

We think people can visit Fukushima today without undue fear. The preponderance of data, both independent data like ours as well as official data, shows that typical visitors are extremely unlikely to travel anywhere in the prefecture where external radiation exposure is higher than natural background radiation levels in most of the world, unless they go out of their way to enter very contaminated areas to which access is normally prohibited. If people are willing to consider normal background radiation levels “safe,” then most of Fukushima fits this description. There are a lot caveats, however. There may be cesium contamination in the ground even in places where the external dose rate is in the normal range (Minnanods has published a very good map of their independent measurements of soil contamination). While food produced in Fukushima is closely monitored by both official bodies and independent labs, both of which indicate that it is overwhelmingly “safe,” people should avoid wild mushrooms, wild vegetables, wild game, and other items which are not produced under controlled agricultural conditions and distributed by supermarkets. With few exceptions the forests are not being decontaminated, and radiation levels can be considerably higher there, so it’s probably best to avoid entering unknown forests.

We get a lot of pushback for saying this, but years of Safecast radiation measurements in Fukushima and elsewhere show that short-term visitors to Fukushima will almost certainly get a higher radiation dose on their flights to Japan than they will by spending several days in Fukushima. (You can see Safecast measurements taken during air travel here.) These exposures are not entirely comparable, though, and the equation is different for people who live in parts of Fukushima where they are likely to receive decades of elevated radiation doses. But we stand by our overall conclusions, while pointing out that the only way to be sure is to have good data available for the places you’re going, which Safecast tries hard to provide. We’re very critical of the Korean government’s politically motivated manipulation of fear about Fukushima food despite not presenting any measurement data in support of its claims. On the other hand, Korea has demanded that radiation risks for next year’s Olympics be verified by independent third-parties, which we highly endorse. The Japanese government and the Olympic committee have announced that the torch relay will run though over 20 Fukushima towns, but they have not provided the public with survey data showing the current radiation levels along those routes. Safecast volunteers are ready to measure these routes, and indeed most have probably already been measured at some point, and while our data might indicate no particular risks for participants and viewers in most locations, it might reveal areas of concern. What maddens us is that we have been unable to obtain information about the actual street routes for the Fukushima portions of the relay and do not know how long before the event’s route information will actually become available.

Ultimately, we expect that official messaging about the Fukushima 2020 Olympic events will continue to avoid frank discussions of radiation risks and will continue to focus on “happiness.” The current information void and amateurish messaging are likely to be shattered at some point early next year by a massive and expensive PR blitz which will also focus on “happiness” but with higher production values and market reach. If radiation is dealt with at all, it is likely to be in a superficial and somewhat misleading manner. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Transparency, the olympics, and that damned water, Part 1

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 07:30

Above: Joe’s drone image of the water tanks at Fukushima Daiichi, December ,2018

Part 2 here

Questions, questions…

It’s hard to say what we get more questions about lately, the 2020 Olympics or the plan to release water from Fukushima Daiichi to the Pacific Ocean. Both issues involve public safety. How safe from radiation will people be who will attend Olympic games in Japan next year, specifically those who attend events to be held in Fukushima? How safe is it for TEPCO to release the water containing tritium and other radionuclides that is currently being stored in hundreds of tanks onsite at Fukushima Daiichi? These are separate issues of course, but in both cases the answers hinge on transparency. We think the fact that we get so many questions about these issues from both journalists and the general public indicates a continuing lack of trust in what the Japanese government and TEPCO say about anything related to Fukushima. That there can be no trust without transparency has become one of our mantras, and we repeat it at every opportunity. Whether the questions are about the Olympics, the water, food safety, the environment, or health, available scientific data only fills in part of the picture. Time and again we’ve found that even when the science generally supports official policy, the public is not given enough transparent information to evaluate the accuracy of the statements they’re hearing. And all too often we ourselves are forced to conclude that we haven’t seen enough reliable information to either confidently validate or refute official claims.

Part 1: What about the water?

In the case of the water in the tanks, last year I wrote a detailed two-part blog post as well as a newspaper op-ed about the issue. I pointed out the problems we saw then with communication and transparency on the part of both the gov’t and TEPCO, and relayed expert opinions about the risks of releasing the water. At the time, all of the information about the water in the tanks provided by TEPCO and the government referred only to its tritium content, with no reference to other radionuclides. While researching for my articles I consulted TEPCO experts several times, and asked them directly if there was data available showing the actual radionuclide content of the tanks. I asked directly if there was truly only tritium to be concerned about. Each time I was given summary data that indicated only tritium. A few months later, in September, 2018, TEPCO suddenly announced that in addition to the tritium the tanks also contain noticeable levels of strontium, americium, and other radionuclides. The public was as outraged by this dishonesty as we were.

What should we make, then, of the November 21, 2019, announcement from METI, widely (and vaguely) reported in the international press, that the advisory committee had determined that the water release plan was “safe”? In terms of politics and process, we’d like to point out that there has not yet been any announcement of an order from METI, NRA, or other government body to TEPCO to release the water. Similarly there has not been any announcement of an actual request from TEPCO to be allowed to do so. The public position is that no decision has been made yet. But we think it’s a done deal and has been for several years already. What we’re seeing is an ongoing effort to get enough of the public on board to minimize the political fallout when it happens. Someone will have to put their name on the order, and it will surely be politically costly.

To be sure, this entire “crisis” is predicated on the claim that TEPCO will run out of onsite tank space in a year or two, but there is no evidence that the company or METI has seriously evaluated obtaining use of land adjoining the Fukushima Daiichi site, which is currently under the jurisdiction of the Environment Ministry for storage of decontamination waste, in order to build more tanks for long-term storage. This recommendation has been put forward by several groups and individuals at public meetings and elsewhere, but seems to have been dismissed without detailed study. We acknowledge the potential risks of this approach in the event a tank ruptures, but considering that the half-life of tritium is about 12.3 years, it seems plausible that secure storage for several decades could be constructed, during which time the water’s radioactivity would decline substantially. The idea should at least be seriously considered and good evidence presented for why it should not be done, if that is the conclusion.

The November 21st METI document acknowledges the need for monitoring if and when the water is released, stating: “Effective monitoring to confirm both 1) safety at the time of discharge and 2) safety of surrounding environment should be conducted” and “Monitoring results should be shared in a transparent manner, to wipe out concerns.” While these acknowledgements are welcome, we consider them obvious to the point of absurdity. Painful experience has shown that the need for actual transparency in cases like Fukushima can only be met by robust and independent third-party monitoring, which is not mentioned anywhere. The public has a right to this, and as Safecast has proven, we can do it ourselves. We have strongly recommended to TEPCO and the government officials we have spoken to over the years that they allow water samples to be measured by genuinely independent researchers and citizen-run radiation monitoring labs. We had never gotten an explanation of why this could not be facilitated. But in a recent news article, TEPCO spokesperson Hideki Yagi is quoted as saying that necessary safety protocols make independent testing impossible. We see no evidence that TEPCO has seriously investigated how true third-party monitoring could be implemented for the water in the tanks. Adequate protocols seem to be in place for third-party testing of other water onsite. TEPCO should come clean and give adequate access to technically qualified organizations and let them convey their findings before any release decision is made.

Page eight of the recent METI briefing document includes dose estimates for humans after the water is released, which it states have been derived from an UNSCEAR document from 2016, “Sources, effects and risks of ionizing radiation, Annex A.”  METI concludes that “…the impact of the radiation from the discharge is sufficiently small…” This is, of course, the most crucial data, but it is presented in an extremely confusing and sketchy manner. The public should also be given dose rate and radionuclide concentration estimates for the ocean water itself at different points, and for affected marine life. We asked for this information over a year ago, but METI was unable to provide it. Further, the UNSCEAR document cited as the basis for the calculations is really a summary overview document, and we question whether or not by itself it provides a sufficient basis for detailed dose estimates. The METI committee should show its calculations, especially the assumptions made, and we caution that no-one should assume that the estimates are correct until they do so. To ensure true transparency, the public should also demand to be included in developing detailed monitoring plans for the released water, to track the spread of the radionuclides and their concentrations, and to monitor subsequent concentrations in the food chain and in the wider environment. There are many individuals and organizations, including Safecast, who are well-qualified to participate in this oversight and have the motivation to do so. The public should refuse to accept any release plan until this kind of participatory planning and oversight is clearly in place. We are far beyond the point where “Trust Us” is an option.

Part 2: What about the Olympics?

Safecasting Fashion

Fri, 11/08/2019 - 01:49

One of the less obvious uses of open data and open licensing is that things can be used in ways that someone might never consider an option with all the traditional hoops that need to be jumped through. While not specifically related to licensing, Tara’s recent post about using bGeigie logs to generate music is an excellent example of using Safecast data in ways it was never intended, with wonderful results. Another example is this rarely seen collaboration with Slow Factory. Several years ago I was talking to Céline Semaan about her work with Slow Factory, a sustainably focused company who was using openly licensed imagery from NASA to bring science into fashion and related conversations.

We talked about the potential to use some Safecast data and visualizations in a similar way, and because the data is public domain and maps openly licensed this could just be done without legal concerns of any time. A few pieces were made and sold out right away, unfortunately before we were able to get photos. Recently Rachel Binx, a data science engineer based in Los Angeles, posted an image of one of her favorite scarfs – and it happened to be from the this collaboration! This scarf is actually part of the “Endangered X Extinct” collection which brings attention to changes in the natural world, and animals that are no longer with us. The pairing of the extinct Carolina Parakeet imagery with Safecast radiation visualizations is both beautiful, but also layered with complexity as humans and human development are directly connected to the Carolina Parakeet’s extinction, and the Safecast radiation map is a reminder of the largely unseen impact we continue to have on our environment.

While these pieces are no longer available, we love that they exist out in the world and would love to see more creative uses of our work, and will highlight them from time to time as we come across them. If you’ve used Safecast data in your project, or have an idea that you’d like to explore – please let us know!

Slow Factory scarf with Safecast data visualizations

Compose Music Using Your Safecast bGeigie Nano Data

Thu, 11/07/2019 - 08:01

Convert Safecast bGeigie CPM Readings To A Midi File in Less Than 10 Minutes!

For the past couple of years, I’ve been inspired by numerous artists that have utilized Safecast radiation data and the bGeigie nano device to imagine it in ways that go outside the norms of scientific data represented in bar graphs and maps. You may also be interested to know that some of the Safecast founders are very into making music! After coming across a post by Forest Mims III on converting scientific data into music, I decided to try converting one of my bGeigie drives into a musical piece. The readings I chose are from my Forest Medicine training in Uenomura, Japan in May, 2019 and I paired the music with a recent trip to Europe which you can listen to and watch here.

Here’s how you can do it too:

STEP 1 – Export Your bGeigie log file

This assumes you have uploaded a bGeigie file!

  1. Go to
  2. Log In
  3. Click Review your bGeigie log file submissions
  4. Toggle the tab in the top right from Everyone to Yours
  5. Choose one of your submissions and click the log
  6. In the top right of the page, click Download Original File

STEP 2 – Convert log file to .csv file 

  1. Rename your log file to use the extension .csv
    • E.g. change 12345.log to 12345.csv
  2. Import your comma-separated file into a spreadsheet
    • Here’s how to do it in Google Spreadsheets:

          1. Navigate to Google Drive
          2. Click New
          3. File Upload
          4. Choose the file from your computer
          5. After the upload is complete, double click on the file
          6. It will open in Google Spreadsheets
  3. Copy the CPM values that you want to convert into a midi file (column D is your CPM readings)

STEP 3 – Convert CPM Readings To Midi File

(Detailed Steps by Forest Mims III are here:

  1. Navigate to MusicalAlgorithms (by Dr. Jonathan Middleton and team) 
  2. Click Compose
  3. Click Import Your Numbers
  4. Paste your CPM numbers from the spreadsheet. Note that there should be a return after each number


  5. Uncheck boxes B, C, D
  6. Click the button Get Algorithm Output
  7. Click the button Scale Values
  8. In the Compose section, do one of the following:
    • Click Play to open a Java-based MIDI player
    • OR Click Save MIDI to download a file

STEP 4 – Optional Mac Garage Band Import (Similar steps for Logic Pro X)

  1. Save the MIDI file
  2. Choose a tempo and click the button Download MIDI
  3. Open Garage Band
  4. Click New Project -> Empty Project
  5. Choose a Track Type -> Software Instrument 
  6. Click Create
  7. Drag the MIDI file you want to import from the Finder to a software instrument track or to the empty area below the existing tracks in the Tracks area.
    The MIDI file appears on one or more software instrument tracks. You can choose the software instrument used to play the MIDI file in the Library.
  8. Play around. Have fun. Share your drive tracks with us!


  • If you are asked to Import Temp, choose No. 
  • If you only see an empty file or one that sounds like clicks, try dragging the MIDI file onto the Garage Band application in your Dock.
  • If you see two tracks – delete the one that doesn’t appear to have any audio.

Anything else that will be helpful? Please comment below.