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.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Bridge and Training

A "bridge" in animal training is a stimulus that bridge a correct response to a reinforcement (usually a food reward) and is almost often a vocal communication such as the sound of a clicker or praises (Good boy!). A bridge is usually an anticipation of something positive going to happen and bridging tells an animal that they did the desired behavior and a reward is on its way.

Most of what I did today was bridging and positively reinforcing my lemurs to do the behavior I want them to do. The bridge, in this instance, is the sound of a moving conveyer belt that dispenses a treat. When the lemur hears the mechanical sound of the conveyer belt, it acts as a bridge to tell them they did the right behavior and a food reward is on its way. All the lemurs that I worked with today were very cooperative. They ran right up to the apparatus and did a lot of explorative behaviors but almost immediately knows that the chute in the apparatus drops food reward because they were sitting near the chute (this might be a biased observation on my end). Hopefully, in time, they will associate the sound of the conveyer belt as the bridge.

Aside from doing training today, the trainers and me found a few issues that I need to work on with my apparatus. One of the most important thing was glare. We tried to train the lemurs outdoors and the glare made it impossible to see the tablet screen. I will be training the lemurs indoors tomorrow so hopefully the screen should be brighter (in theory it will). Some design changes were made to the phone app interface, including having a number countdown on how many food rewards were dispensed for easy rewinding, as well as incorporating haptic feedback whenever I press a button so I don't have to look down at the phone while miraculously also keeping an eye on the lemur.

Have I mentioned how unbearable this North Carolina heat is?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Apparatus, Assemble!

This beautiful mural greets you as you enters the Duke Lemur Center. Tonga Soa!
Today was exciting because I get to put something in practice after fussing around with the concept, prototype, and then the product for almost a year. I am, of course, talking about my apparatus that I built. If you have been following my posts, you'll know what I am talking about.

NOTE: If you are interested in learning more about my apparatus, I will be presenting a poster about it at ASP 2015 in Bend, Oregon. I usually have the poster up the same day or a day after so if you can't make it to ASP, please keep an eye on it in this blog.

I brought all the pieces of my apparatus to the research center and assembled them there. Took me about 30 minutes and I'm getting much more proficient judging from all the times I've dismantled and assemble the apparatus back again. Everything is in place. Nothing is broken. Everything works as intended. There were some hiccups, but then again, as I said in my previous post, no matter how much you try to test a products you will always run into some hiccups when you finally use it as intended.

  1. My USB wire doesn't seem to want to connect between an Android device to a Macbook. Still haven't figured out why this is happening but I figured out an alternative to route my data to where it needs to go.
  2. Some of the location has no WiFi connection so my apparatus cannot communicate to Google spreadsheet. No matter. I figured out how to work around that as well.
  3. My grapes are getting stuck on my conveyer belt cups. We ended up opting for craisins. It'll be smaller and the lemurs can eat it quick enough to focus and get back to the tests.

You know what? I'm too blessed to be stressed (that's actually what my mug says). As long as you are quick thinking, there is nothing you can't do.

My apparatus and me.
After assembling my apparatus, I did a walk through of all the enclosures where I will be doing my training and testing. Also got to meet most of my subjects (inside voice: squeeee! they are soooo cuuuuutteeee!!!) and figuring out what location is best to put my apparatus in.

Before I left, I signed a few waivers and one of them was about not posting any photos or videos before getting a release from the research center so, sorry y'all. No backstage photos. If I ever take any pictures and it is cleared by the research center then I will definitely post it here. If not, sorry. Rules are rules.

I return tomorrow to the research center to start my training. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Fun Day Everyday

Today is Sunday. I started my day early by taking an Uber to the Durham Green Flea Market. It was an interesting venue, but not what I had pictured it to be. I thought it would be more of a tag sale with a lot of vendors selling their old junk (or antiques if you are nasty). My idea of a flea market is a lot of cheap old junk which could turn out to be priceless antiques. Unfortunately, I realize my ideal flea market is a Venn diagram of flea market and antique market.

Scenes from the Durham Green Flea Market

The Durham Green Flea Market is a conglomerate of mostly produce and food vendors. It was an interesting and vibrant place, just not what I had in mind. I did checked out the market and was impressed with the vast array of produce that they sell. There was a lot of Mexican candy and food, as well as food trucks that serve tacos and pupusas (Salvadorans, haaay!).


Artsplosure: Street view

After checking out the market, I hailed another Uber as I head towards Raleigh for the Artsplosure. My previous Uber driver told me that it's a huge annual art festival where local artists show their craft. I requested my Uber driver to drop me off by the North Carolina State Capitol so I can check that out before heading to Artsplosure, which is one block away from the State Capitol.

Scenes from Artsplosure

Artsplosure was fun and I was very impressed with all the wares from local artists. I spent a good 3 hours at the festival and purchased a few pieces of art. That'll brighten up my hotel room and add some flair to its almost sterile environment. Is this what solitary confinement looks like? Am I actually dead? Is this all a dream? ... OK, sorry. I was thinking out loud.

Art pieces that I bought from Artsplosure: Birdhouse by Leatha Koefler, Insect prints by Zendustria, Text prints and Tootsie roll wrapper banana art by Hero Dog Design, and metal with stained glass fairy by Debi Dwyer Designs.

My battery pack arrived in the mail today. I had to order a new battery pack because the old one shuts off after a period of inactivity. While that might sound like a good feature by the books, what it essentially does is it will shut off my apparatus if I leave it out for a long period of time without making my conveyer belt move. That's pretty bad if you are training an animal and you aren't able to give them a reward because your apparatus shuts off.

As I am writing this, I am getting everything ready for my first day at the Duke Lemur Center tomorrow. I don't think I will be able to train the lemurs tomorrow as I am going in after 11 AM, which is almost or past the time they get fed. I will be, however, assembling my apparatus and maybe test out which location is best for putting the apparatus to train and test the lemurs.

More from me tomorrow!