Thursday, July 02, 2009

Free shaping III: Training dog to flip a light switch

Here's a two-part video on how to train a dog to flip a light switch using free shaping:

Free shaping - a boxer learns to bow

Here's a video example of free shaping wherein a boxer learns to bow:

Update: here's another. In this one, the trainer just uses a marker word "Yes", rather than the clicker.

Update II: Here's yet another. This one is good because it shows the dog getting completely off track. Also shows the use of "jackpot" treats.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

My Radio Silence

Sorry about the lack of activity on my part especially with so much juicy stuff going on of late.

The reason: I'm moving to Athens, TX!

When my folks moved there the summer before my senior year (they graciously allowed me to move in with a friend and graduate from Skyline High in Dallas...provided I move in with them the next year and make up the time with the family by attending JuCo there, formerly Henderson County Junior College--Hick Jick--now Trinity Valley Junior College), I swore I'd never be a small town guy.

Thirty years later and I'm moving behind the Pine Curtain.

Free shaping

There are at least a couple different ways to teach a dog a new behavior. The most commonly used one is "lured" shaping, where you move a treat in front of a dog's nose, the dog follows the lure and does the behavior you want as a result. Then you reward the completed behavior. You gradually remove the lure and add a word or hand gesture to cue the behavior. For example, to teach a dog to sit, you hold a treat in front of the dog's nose and raise your hand upward and slightly behind his head, and he'll sit to be able to see the treat in your hand; when he sits, you give him the treat; then you add the command and voila the dog can sit on cue. Adding a marker like a clicker to let the dog know the instant he's done the right thing speeds progress. Lured shaping is an efficient method of training, but it is pretty dull and unimaginative for the dog.

"Free" shaping is done without any lure and is much more stimulating for the dog. You have a behavior in mind that you want to teach. You break it into tiny increments in your mind; when the dog offers the tiniest increment of its own free will without any prompting, you mark the behavior (e.g. with a clicker) and reward your dog. The dog figures out what behavior got the reward and will try it again. After a few rewards for the first increment, you then withhold the reward until your dog achieves the next increment. The dog "discovers" what the next increment is by trying things. For example, to teach a dog to back up, you might click/reward when the dog stands in front of you; once he's doing that, you might click/reward for staying standing; then you might click/reward when he moves any paw backwards; then you click/reward when he moves two paws backward; then you click/reward when he moves all paws backward; then you click/reward when he takes a couple full steps backward. In the midst of all this, the dog is offering all kinds of behaviors that you don't want, and you just ignore those. The dog keeps trying things to find out what works and keeps stringing the increments together to build on what worked in the previous increments.

The very first free-shaping training is very slow going. The dog just doesn't understand what the whole process is about. He stares at you wanting some direction and can't figure out what to do to get a treat. But I've seen this demonstrated with service dogs who were accustomed to being trained with free-shaping and it was astonishing how fast they would figure out really complicated behaviors. I saw a dog learn to flip a light switch in about 10 minutes. And the kind of exploration and problem-solving that dogs must do in free-shaping is ideal for service dogs who need to think and act, not merely respond, to do their jobs.

Karma and I tried free-shaping for the first time this past week as part of her agility training. I was supposed to teach her to back up. We accomplished that, but somehow I've trained her to walk in a circle around me before backing up. At first she sat and stared at me for long spells. It took her a long time to figure out that trying things was the only route to doing the right thing and getting the treat. But once she got the idea of that, it was fun to watch her mind work to come up with what she thought she was supposed to do. "I'll try lying down; I'll try rolling over; I'll try getting on the wobbly board; I'll try getting one piece of mail off the mail stack and taking it to the crazy lady; I'll try barking; I'll try sitting down with more determination; I'll try getting my food dish". Next up, teaching her to back up onto an inclined plank. I think it'll be easy now that she's got the idea.

Happy birthday to LJ

Today? or tomorrow? (LJ's FB says today, but it looks like SSJ has celebrated on July 2 in the past.)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Gangsters in Minnesota

In honor of Johnny Depp's upcoming movie about John Dillinger, the Strib published this article about the month that Dillinger spent in the Twin Cities in 1934.
Dillinger cut a brief but intense swath through St. Paul in early 1934, an era when St. Paul was the safest place in America for gangsters, thanks to the "O'Connor system." Police Chief John O'Connor had made a deal with crooks: They would receive police protection if they checked in upon arrival, paid a small bribe and promised to commit no crimes in St. Paul. . .The ironic upshot of the "system" was that St. Paul's citizens lived in a safe environment, despite occasionally recognizing the face at the next restaurant table from the post office walls.

One can tour gangster hotspots in St. Paul on Saturdays. Caves in the sandstone bluffs along the Mississippi were used by gangsters for storing alcohol and for clubs.

Outdoor college Big Ten football, a lovely fall day, a cold beer...

Nope. No cold beer. There will be no alcohol served in the TCF Bank Stadium, the new home for the University of Minnesota's football team.

I hadn't realized that the Big Ten had previously banned sales of alcohol to students at Big Ten sporting events, so even that old-news part of this story is news to me. College football without beer (or hot chocolate with peppermint Schnapps for cold days). Does not compute.

Colbert on the census

Stephen Colbert tweets about the census:

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon, was a book club pick that I had pitched on the basis of the enthusiastic recommendation from our former blog brother. It won the Pulitzer in 2001. I was initially reluctant to give it a try since Chabon's Wonder Boys is one of my all-time most despised books. (I just can't bear that whole self-indulgent trite sub-genre of novels BY middle-aged, writer/lit professors ABOUT a middle-aged writer/lit professor going through a midlife crisis involving cavorting with an 18-year old female student. Blech. I spend the whole book yelling at the author through the pages: "WRITE SOMETHING! You -- your id, your ego, your angst, your psyche -- are nowhere near as interesting as you think you are.")

But I loved Kavalier & Clay. It's richly imagined and brilliantly executed. You know it's not merely good, but great, in the chapter where the boys work out the backstory for The Escapist and you see them drawing from their life experiences (maybe consciously, maybe subconsciously, maybe both).

There's endless material to ponder metaphysical meaning in the themes of chains/suffocation, escapism and superheroes. I'm particularly tickled that each character is handed their "key" by another: Sammy's job offer to Rosa is her key to escape her boredom at suburban momhood; Sammy's key is a Congressional hearing at which he's involuntarily outed; Joe's key to reentering the lives of Sammy and Rosa is presented by events put into motion by Tommy. This mirrors the Houdini escape, described in detail, in which Houdini's wife supplies a key with a glass of water to undo a particularly tough lock. Obviously, too, superhero stories are all about people being saved from their plights by another. (Ayn Rand fans: this isn't a novel for you.)

Also delightful is the fact that the Golem, made of clay, seems to Joe to weigh more after it crumbles than it did in its original shape. Sammy and Rosa's house is on "Lovoisier" street. Lovoisier was a French scientist who recognized the principle of the conservation of mass. I don't know what I'm supposed to understand about the meaning, in the story or metaphysically, of the Golem gaining weight while disintegrating, but I'm mulling it over. Thoughts, anyone?

Concert vs Performance

I was reading this article on Michael Jackson in the Daily Mail yesterday and this particular portion struck me:

"It is worth noting that the O2 Arena has the most sophisticated lip synching technology in the world – a particular attraction for a singer who can no longer sing. Had, by some miracle, the concerts gone ahead, Jackson’s personal contribution could have been limited to just 13 minutes for each performance. The rest was to have been choreography and lights."

I've heard that the cheapest ticket for these series of concerts was going to be $81 - and that got me thinking, why would anyone pay that amount of money to see someone basically dance around and "sing" for only 13 minutes? In my mind, a concert is an event where all the participants are doing what they are supposed to do - musicians playing, singers singing. A performance, on the other hand, can be a combination of this - some musicians playing, some pre-recorded music. Some singers singing, some pretending to. If you go to see a band, say like U2 or Radiohead, you are going to a concert. If you go see Britney Spears or Madonna or Michael Jackson, you are going to see a performance. And I think it should be marketed as such.

I'm nor naive enough to know that even bands such as U2, Radiohead, The Who, etc. use some pre-recorded music, but does anyone really believe that Britney or Michael or Madonna can dance like they do AND sing AND never seem out-of-breath when singing? It's a sham and for me, I'd feel ripped off to pay high prices to basically watch a live music video. Then again, perhaps those who go see these performers know what they are seeing and don't care. They want dance moves and costume changes and video and the "songs" and "singing" is immaterial.