A Tale of Two Programming Languages and Tawny Owls

I joined Hayes McKenzie Partnership Ltd. during April 2017 as a placement student to begin recreating a MATLAB programme in Python. Recording Tawny Owls hoots for my individual project (IP) at the University of Southampton prepared me surprisingly well for this specific task as I will now explain…

MATLAB is a licenced software which handles numbers in matrices very well. Python is a ‘lower level language’ which means the commands and functions closely resemble the computer processor’s instructions making it very efficient. It is also open source so it is free to download and use. When I began studying Acoustical Engineering in 2014, the University had just started teaching the new students Python rather than MATLAB for these reasons. The trouble was, when I came to do my IP, all previous work had been done in MATLAB which made it difficult to build on their work.

For my IP, I set up 15 data loggers in a wood and recorded several night’s worth of data during which I hoped to detect male Tawny Owls advertising breeding sites to their partners. Previous student’s work written in MATLAB enabled me to detect times when the Tawny Owls had been calling. My idea was to find the position of an owl using the delay between receiving its call on four loggers. Again, there were already functions available which could triangulate a source location given four positions and delays. So I went ahead and learnt MATLAB well enough to use these functions. The project was unsuccessful in achieving its original aim due to large drift between data loggers, however, the skills I learnt from the project became invaluable for the placement. I was now able to import and handle massive data files efficiently and process them in either language.

My colleagues at HMPL were aware of the well known saying “Too much coding drives a man insane”, and so gave me different tasks to break up the day. These included: checking data results, conducting and collating surveys, visiting a building site and erecting a 12 metre mast with a wind vane and an anemometer on top.

I really enjoy being part of a small team and have been lucky enough to work closely with the majority of the colleagues. It is clear that each brings a unique skillset to the company and thankfully I do too! They are approachable which is very handy on the first few days when one has many questions. The work is stimulating and I feel like I am being used to my full potential. For these reasons I believe it is the right place for me to be and so I asked and was granted a permanent position with the company.

By Aedan Mansfield

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Date Posted

07 Sep 2017

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