Saturday, November 27, 2010

Captain Olsen of the H.M.S. Wonganella, a.k.a. Citizen Scientist

The H.M.S. Wonganella was a tired merchant ship appropriated by the Royal Navy for the dangerous task of submarine decoying from 1915 - 1917. Imagine being hit by a torpedo, a portion of the "panic crew" manning the lifeboats  while the rest remain on station, hidden behind camouflaged guns, waiting for the unsuspecting sub to surface before taking the fight to them!
OldWeather is a project to extract weather data from old ship logs. Computers have a hard enough time doing optical character recognition from typed text, let alone flowery 19th century handwriting. I was fascinated by the "human computer cluster" aspect of this project and was naturally drawn to a submarine related boat. It was also of interest that the information was going to be used to improve computer modeling of the weather.

I am currently Captain because I've done the most weather extractions for that ship. The ship just left Malta (January 1916) bound for Spiza, Italy. I'm also a Lieutenant on the sloop H.M.S. Bluebell. In addition to weather and location, we annotate people, ships, and events which will make the data useful for historians as well.

I had read a bit about "Q"-boats, as the submarine decoys were known, regarding their operation in WWII, but didn't realize that type of trickery began in WWI. Interested in learning more, I found a couple of books on line, one of which mentions the H.M.S. Wonganella and two unsuccessful tangles she had with German U-boats.

So, not only am I having a fun time learning about history, weather, and geography, I'm helping out a research project! Win-win-win. I just need to recruit a few Runescapers and Farmvillers to help. And don't tell the crew of the Wonganella I'm a submariner or they might turn on me!


Eldon and Janeil Olsen said...

What an interesting project. A little bit like doing indexing for family history.

brenda said...

Your drive and volunteerism amaze me! Way to go!