Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Craisin Acceleration: Why Size and Weight Matter

For a few days, the food rewards inside my apparatus was not dispensing properly. I had wondered what the problem was and like a good scientist that I am, I wrote down all my hypotheses and tested them.

The food reward is too sticky thus sticking to the cup: It was definitely not that the food reward is too sticky. Almost all of them would fall out of the cups.

The distance of cup to chute was too far, therefore the food reward is falling outside of the chute: Wasn't the distance of cup to chute either, although I thought initially it was so as this apparatus was designed with small grapes in mind, not craisins. The food reward was falling into the chute most of the time but there are a few times when it would fall after it passes the chute. It's not a significant reason why the food reward is not dispensing properly.

However, I had an Aha! moment when I realized that the food rewards that didn't get dispensed properly are small pieces of craisins. WEIGHT! It was weight. I need to have craisins that have enough mass to fall from the cup as soon as it drops down and accelerate into the chute. I bought some "whole craisins" which are basically craisins from whole large cranberries instead of varying sizes. I'm happy to report that the food rewards have been dispensing properly today.


Size and weight do matter when it comes to being dispensed properly in my apparatus. Have I mentioned how much they LOVE craisins?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Weekend Distraction: Luna

I adopted a Chihuahua x Pomeranian (Pomchi) puppy over the weekend. I am so used to being surrounded by animals (mostly cats) that being in a foreign place and cooped up in the hotel room was starting to take a toll on me.


Meet Luna Vagell, my emotional support animal. She is a ball of energy (when she's awake, after she had finished her meal)!


Friday, May 22, 2015

Week 1 at Duke Lemur Center

My training with the lemurs is progressing beautifully. There are already some individuals that have went past the exploration phase and are learning to use the apparatus to get a food reward. Of course, much like the universe, you have the ones that are ahead of the learning curve and ones that are way below. It's important to remember though, that sometimes animals that don't learn certain behaviors or tasks doesn't necessarily means that they are not good learners. An "easy" task or behavior for humans might be hard for animals because it might need a complicated cognitive reasoning or sometimes an animal just doesn't have the attention span to learn something. Although some of my lemurs are still exploring and unsure of the apparatus, I am confident that it is only a matter of time that they'll learn to use it. I just hope it doesn't take months hehe.

Today is Friday and it's the end of my first week at the lemur center. Everything is working smoothly. There were some issues with the apparatus (and no doubt will continue to surface) but I am glad I was able to troubleshoot it ASAP. This weekend is Memorial Day weekend and the lemur center is closed on Monday. I'll have a long weekend and a short training week before I fly back to NYC for the weekend.

Retail therapy. I need a personal shopping assistant and a driver and I'm all set.
Oh I went shopping today. I couldn't resist some retail therapy and I think I deserve it. First, I went to Southpoint Mall (The Streets at Southpoint). I bought a nice pair of Sperry shoes (so comfy!) and some shorts at Brooks Brothers (I love Brooks Brothers). Later, I went to my favorite gourmet grocery store, Southern Season. Cause you know, I'm fancy ;)

All in all, today was a good day.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Rainy Day

It rained today. A much needed respite from this hot weather.
It is wet, cold, and dreary today in Durham, North Carolina. A stark contrast to what it was this week when it was sunny and temperature in the high 80s. Wet, cold, and dreary is definitely my kind of weather. I managed to only sweat a little bit today thanks to the cool weather. Although, since I need to wear latex gloves during training, my hands feel like they are constantly submerged in a pool of water. I got a built in self moisturizing system haha!

I met two new lemurs today. I can definitely see the difference in learning and curiosity to novel objects amongst different age groups. So far, all my animals have been very cooperative and it was very fun training them to use my apparatus. Or maybe they are just training me to give them food rewards.

I seem to have figured out how to fix my food reward dilemma. Stay tuned. Will let y'all know if resolve it tomorrow. One more day till the weekend!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Indoor Training

I moved my training to indoor enclosures today because of the glare issue (I addressed that on yesterday's post). When indoors, the tablet is able to display the stimuli correctly and is more visible than when outside. If you have used your electronics (cellphone, tablet, laptops, etc ...) outdoors when it is sunny and there's glare, you'll know what I am referring to.

I have also made a few changes in the phone app interface but I realize after using it today that it is still not resolved. I had made it show a number when I tell my conveyer belt to "rewind" or "dispense" but it seems like I wasn't able to reset the number back to 0. Instead, if I rewind past the number 0, it stays at 0 when I dispense so that still throws me off with the number of food reward dispensed. I guess I'll have to put in a reset button. Why does it matter to know how many food reward I still have inside the apparatus?

When you train an animal and you give them a food reward, you are not only rewarding the animal but also communicating that the have done a desired behavior. The absence of a food reward during early training sessions will make rewarding and chaining behavior difficult as you always want to reward an animal when they did the appropriate behavior. If not, that will confuse an animal and might make them not associate a desired behavior with food reward. However, because the sound of the conveyer belt is a bridge and trainers can hand the animals a treat, the absence food reward might not be that critical if a trainer offers a food reward right after the sound of a conveyer belt. I might be wrong though ...

I also included a haptic feedback on the phone so whenever I press dispense, I'll feel it. That way, I can focus on the animal while I make my phone app dispense a food reward. That feature worked great and I was able to keep my attention on the lemur without having to look down to make sure I have pressed the "dispense" button.

The craisins I use as food reward have started to stick on the cups because of the heat and humidity (it's sugary). The small grapes that I initially wanted to use are sometimes too big and would get stuck on the cups. Now, the craisins are also getting stuck on the cups. I'm thinking maybe I should use freeze dry fruits but I'm not sure they are as palatable and yummy for the lemurs as these sugary sweet rewards.

Tomorrow, I return and continue training the lemurs indoors. 

This really cute jumping spider decided to check me out as I wait for my shuttle to go back to my hotel. Hey there, lil' guy.