James San Jacinto Mountains Reserve

University of California, Riverside and UC Natural Reserve System

Idyllwild, California

The First Virtual Field Station - 1986

The first version of the Macroscope simulated a guided naturalist walk through the ecosystems of the San Jacinto Mountain in California in 1986

In 1986 the James Reserve was barely electrified using a small solar photovoltaic sysytem, however it was adequate to power my first Apple II computer, and a laserdisc player. I had received a small grant from my campus to experiment with interactive multimedia, or "Hypermedia" as Apple was beginning to call it. My proposal was to build a electronic museum that would simulate exploring the trails and biodiversity around the James Reserve and its surrounding watershed. A campus photographer and I spent a week videotaping thousands of short clips and stills of plants, animals and landscape views, as well as close up stills of plants and animals in our study museum. We carried around a very large and heavy "portable" U-matic video camera and 3/4" tape recorder. This video was then taken to a post-production studio in Burbank, California where it was recorded onto a single laserdisc. The disc could be played back to a TV monitor, and also controlled directly by a personal computer. Individual still images or frames, as well as motion clips could be retrieved and displayed from any location on the disc within 3 seconds. Over time I added additional footage and several thousand 35mm slides from many other locations, including field study sites in California and Venezuela.

The project was dubbed the Macroscope and in 1990 it won several awards for its innovative use of multimedia technology for teaching ecology and natural science. We eventually produced 300 copies of the disc including a companion CD-ROM containing the HyperCard and SuperCard software for Apple or IBM PC computers. For the next few years the Macroscope was used by a number of K-12 schools in southern California that had a laserdisc player interfaced to an Apple or PC compatible. For several years I taught an adult education class through UCLA, UC Riverside and UC San DIego called "Hypermedia for Educators." The course covered the basic tools, techniques and uses of interactive technologies for computer-based learning, and the course served as an introduction to what was to come as the Internet and the world wide web became available in their schools.

I am finally dusting off this old project and converting the nearly 100 panoramas and thousands of still mages into a web version of my original project. Its very challenging, as the applications and their data formats are no longer compatible on any of todays computers. On top of that the quality of the original video, although being state of the art at that time, is extremely low resolution by today's standards. Fortunately I held onto a couple of early generation Macs with macOS9, and my original Pioneer Laservision player, so its not an impossible task to simulate the original project. Below are the first dozen or so of the earliest panoramas taken around the James Reserve between 1986 and 2000. This VR tour will be completed over the next few weeks.

Immersive Panorama Viewer