Behind the Firefox Crop Circle

In what many refer to as "the golden days", the OSU LUG was highly active in promoting Mozilla, namely celebrating the 50th, 100th, and 200th downloads of Firefox in creative ways: a lot of sidewalk chalk, high-altitude weather balloons, and for the finale...a crop circle. Led by the current founders of Cloudkick, they were able to pull off some cool displays. OSU LUG takes inspiration from its predecessors to do the same. Below is their story.

Take Back the Sidewalk

"It was Wednesday night when several of us were throwing around ideas as to what we could possibly do for the 50 million download contest. After thinking of a bunch of ideas, we thought of using chalk to draw a huge Firefox logo on the quad outside the Memorial Union Building at Oregon State University. The idea was pretty cool, but, being students, we couldn't really find the time during the week. Finally, Friday arrived, and we were itching to do it. Time: 2315.

Firefox at the Memorial Union

Sidewalk chalk is expensive, and for the size of our project, quite inadequate. Instead we used a mixture of corn starch, food coloring, koolaid, and water. We bought all, 19 pounds, of the bulk cornstarch at the discount grocery store in town. We thought that would be enough, so we set to work. Time: 0000.

The first step was to divide the logo into a 20x20 grid that we temporarily put on the concrete with lots of string. We then transfered the outlines from the paper to the full-scale grid using sidewalk chalk. Time: 0100.

Next came the messy part. We mixed the cornstarch mixture in buckets, and started to paint. It wasn't long before we realized just how large of a project we had gotten ourselves into. Each bucket of starch didn't seem to cover much area. So, we bought more. Also the koolaid, even though it provided a really pleasant scent, didn't do a very good job of coloring the corn starch. So, food coloring was purchased, which worked much better. Fervently we painted for the next four hours. Time completed: 0500.

We signed our work, cleaned up, and went back home. It had been a long night, but very fruitful. Overall, the logo is about 30 feet in diameter.

From the beginning to the end, the project was a perfect example of the Open Source community cooperating to accomplish great things. Some times the greatest things happen between 12am and 6am."

Materials

  • 20 lbs of corn starch
  • 80 packets of Kool-Aid
  • 1 cooler of water
  • Food dye
  • Paper paint buckets
  • Overall: $30

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Take Back the Sky

"The Oregon State Linux Users Group, with the help of the Oregon Space Grant Consortium (OSGC), launched a balloon satellite to celebrate 100 million Firefox downloads. The balloon carried a Firefox banner up to 100,000 feet before exploding and parachuting back to earth. This was our successful attempt at topping the 50 million download stunt.

They can't take the sky from me

On Sunday we were at a BBQ trying to figure out how the OSLUG could celebrate the 100 Millionth Download of Firefox. The conversation started with paper mache logos to dozens of Firefox painted beach balls. But then the conversation turned to launching a weather balloon with help from the OSGC. We would take back the sky!

By Tuesday the OSGC was on board and excited. Catherine Lanier and Jack Higginbotham from the OSGC were going to help us launch a balloon with the ability to carry a 12lb payload up to 100,000 feet! The plan was to put a camera satellite and the biggest Firefox logo we could find on the balloon.

The final piece of the puzzle was getting a huge poster. It was the day before the event, so we knew it would be a difficult to find a place to print one. After making a few phone calls NWGI stepped up and donated a 5'x6' poster! This was the poster that actually flew on Firefox One. The LaunchOregon crew worked the rest of the day to create a structure to support the poster and camera satellite.

The helium started flowing. OSCG had a balloon filled in no time, but we quickly found out that this was the small balloon only for the extra smaller Firefox banner we had with us.

It just so happened that there were about a 1000 visitors on campus for the "Beaver open house". Also, conveniently enough, their break was during the launch. A sized crowd (~100 people) showed up to watch us launch the balloon/Firefox contraption.

We got a "green" from OSGC and the crowd quickly circled around the apparatus. The countdown started from 95, going to 100, to celebrate the 100 million downloads and 100 thousand feet that the balloon would travel. Yes, sort of cheesy, but it was fun.

It was off! The crowd cheered, watched until they could not see it anymore, scratched their heads, and walked off."

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Take Back the Field

"Does the sudden appearance of a Firefox crop circle imply which browser extraterrestrials prefer? We don't know, but it was still fun to make!

Constructed by local Firefox fans and the same team that created the Firefox mural from cornstarch and kool-aid and launched the Firefox weather balloon, the Firefox Crop Circle project shows that we have so much passion for Firefox that we want it to be visible from space!

Sea of wheat

Planned in under two weeks and completed in under 24 hours, the crop circle had a final diameter of 220 feet. We constructed the circle in an oat field near Amity, Oregon, where it was completely invisible from the road but unmistakable from the sky. Our team consisted of 12 people, mainly OSU students, and we carefully stomped down oats from 3:30pm Friday afternoon until 2:30am, putting on the finishing touches between 7:30am and 11:00am Saturday, August 12.

Matt and John, Mozilla video interns, came up with the idea a few weeks beforehand. Fueled by the enthusiasm of Asa Dotzler at Mozilla, suddenly the crop circle was within reach. While at OSCON 2006 in Portland, the three of them ran into members of the OSLUG, and things really started to take shape.

With the idea, the enthusiasm, and the commitment in place, the next thing we needed was to find a field and contact the owner for permission. At first, we simply asked people visiting the Mozilla booth if they had a field or knew anyone in the area who did. Even at OSCON, where you wouldn't expect to find too many farmers, we had a few leads right away, which showed how close we were to making the project work.

Finally, Beth contacted Alex, whose family lived near the owners of an oat field in the Amity area. A few phone calls and emails later and permission was secured! We had an unharvested field of oats!

Other important details were worked out soon afterwards: We coordinated our schedules and settled on a weekend. We worked out car-pool plans and made a list of supplies. We even found a pilot to help us see what we were doing from the air! Finally, we were ready to begin planning the crop-circle's construction.

We quickly designed and printed large posters that had a two color version of the logo. With that we bisected the image into 32 sections and overlayed 60 concentric circles with even space between them. In our mock up, the gap between the circles was two feet.

On top of the design, we also constructed our stompers. Inspired by the discovery channel, our stompers were constructed using 2x4's and rope.

With our plan and stompers ready, we hit the field.

First, the Firefox globe was created by connecting a taut measuring tape to the end of a stake and walking around in a 220ft circle.

"walkie talkie screech we're going from 2 to 4 from 74 to 86 screech".

This was standard lingo we developed to quickly report our progress to the rest of the team. For example "from 2 to 4 from 74 to 86" means we were about to stomp an area from ray number 2 to ray number 4 (somewhat analogous to going from 2 o'clock to 4 o'clock) with a depth from 74' from the center to 86' from the center. With two teams of stompers, each with a walkie talkie and smaller version of the map, we reported our progress to our map team located outside the circle where they recorded all the work by highlighting it on their copy of the map. The map team then knew what needed work and what had been finished even when the stomping teams couldn't see each other.

After we stomped down all the big areas in a boxy grid-like pattern, we "connected the dots" by smoothing out all the edges and blending the corners of the grid to fill everything in. For the most part, everything went perfectly! We had a brief accident around midnight and accidentally gave our Firefox a little bump on the head, but after we saw what we had done, fixing it wasn't very difficult. We bet you can't even notice!

Like any good open source project, we spent a lot of time documenting the process. We had an army of digital cameras, two dedicated videographers, a plane, and a helicopter. All of this allowed us to get some great coverage!

The hard work paid off!"

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