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Date:         Tue, 25 Jun 1996 16:24:00 CDT
Reply-To:     "Ethology  (Discussions on animal behaviour)"
Sender:       "Ethology  (Discussions on animal behaviour)"
From:         Ramon Diaz-Uriarte <>
Subject:      Hand held computers in behav. research: summary


Recently, I posted a question about hand held computers as alternatives to traditional paper checksheets in field behavioral observations. I have included below all the answers I got. Thank you very much to all for your information (and sorry I didn't thank each of you individually).

Let me summarize what I have learned: -if you have the money, The Observer, in Psion machines, could be to be the way to go (at the end are several messages from Noldus, the makers of the observer). - if you can use a "normal" computer (say you work in the lab, and can use a laptop), a cheaper alternative is to use EthoLog, a Windows application. EthoLog is very nice freeware, and can be found in the Web (see below for addresses). - In terms of hardware, you can use Psion or the HP 200 LX; in these cases, is up to you to do the programming (or you can use spreadsheets). - much more inexpensive, if you can find them, are old machines like the Atari porfolio or the Tandy (can be found in used market?); again, the programming is up to you.

As none of the above worked for me, I have been looking at different programable calculators (mainly HP and TI; a few Casio and Sharp); pocket organizers do not seem appropriate (most do not connect to a PC; programming is not available; awkward data entrance, etc., etc.). I have decided to use the HP- 48G family of calculators. The HP-48G comes with 32K of RAM, and costs about $100; the HP-48GX comes with 128K of RAM (easily expandable) and goes for $200 (I found the best prices in Educalc: 1-800-395-1000). You can connect these machines to your PC (also Mac) and transfer data at the end of the day as ASCII files (you can also transfer programs), by using a connectivity kit ($50). The use of these calculators for behavioral data recording can be very flexible [I don't own any shares in HP!]. You can enter the raw behavioral data by just typing at the command line (and then saving everything as a list of lists). You can also write programs, using a Lisp-like language (didn't you always wished you had the excuse to learn yet another language?). Any one of these approaches, or a combination, should allow you to get what you want. It is straightforward to get the time and the time elapsed between successive events, etc, so recording continuous data is very easy with simple programs (the TI-92, an otherwise apparently very nice machine, has no time or date functions; that immediately excluded it from my list of candidates). If you are going to write programs for the HP-48G series, you'll probably want to buy the "Advanced Users Reference manual" ($20), as the users manual that comes with the calculator does not say much about programming. (Check out p. 1-63: it is possible to lock the letter keyboard!) If you are not dealing with many behaviors, or you are not using very complicated observation schemes, these machines might suffice (within the limits of these being calculators, with small keyboards, etc, etc). It is true that, when buying one of these machines, you are paying for stuff you don't generally need in the field while recording behavioral data (e.g., plotting a 3D function or solving diff. eqs.); but I haven't found anything more appropriate or tailored to my intended use. A more serious problem could be the amount of memory; 32K might not always be enough for a day (for some of my data it would not be enough some days). If you can team up with someone that uses a similar system, one of you could have an HP-48G and the other a 48GX; the one with the 48G could transfer data to the 48GX in the field if her/his calculator's memory fills up (transfers between 48G series machines are a painless, easy, thing; no cables required, as it uses infrared). If you are going to use the machine in the field, you might want to protect if from accidents, in particular the display. You can use a transparent video plastic box (can buy 5 for less than $3); hold the machine in place, and protect the sides, by covering the inner lateral sides of the video box with weatherstrip (the foam stuff for windows and doors, that you buy at a hardware store). Then cut an oppening in the "door" of the video box, so that you can just access the keyboard, leaving the LCD protected, when the box is closed. If you are considering using these machines, look around in the Web for discussion groups, their FAQs, etc; there are plenty of them. There are also some utility programs that will allow you to write programs for the HP in your PC (using a real-sized keyboard!), and then transfer the programs to your HP (for example, look for the files tools.exe and at the site: As a final suggestion, if you are going to write your own programs, take a look a the paper in TREE, 1988, vol 3, pp. 146-148, by Whiten & Barton. It's got some very interesting ideas.

Hope this helps. I am leaving for the field: I'll let you know a year from now how it worked.

Ramon Diaz-Uriarte Dept. Zoology, Birge Hall 430 Lincoln Drv. Madison, WI 53706

*********************************** Sorry that I can't give you any definite information, but you might want to try asking or the ECOLOG mailing list your question about field data recorders -- this topic was discussed there very recently (February or so). If you have world wide web access, you might try looking up the messages using the DejaNews archives ( or AltaVista (sorry, don't remember the URL). I think the topic title was "Vegetation field data & handheld computers" or some permutation thereof.

If you need more information about using DejaNews, I'd be happy to fill your screen with more.

David Fleck ( Division of Natural Sciences (671)735-2795/2780 fax:734-1299 University of Guam 13.5N lat. 144.7E long. Mangilao, Guam 96923 USA Time : GMT+10 EST+15


Dear Ramon, Supongo con este nombre que hablas castillano, pero como no estoy seguro voy a adelantar en ingles (ademas es mas facil para mi).

We use Psions LZ64 since several years loaded with the Observer 3.0 program. I don't own shares in the Noldus information technology company but I can tell you that their software is very useful and that they are extremely helpful to support their customers when learning the program or when a problem arises. (I saw you had a response from that company).

One disadvantage of that model of the Psion is the small size of the keys. So you must be careful while recording when you have wrestler's fingers instead of pianist's ones. One way of decreasing errors is to cover the keyboard with a cardboard punched with holes above the keys which are in use. But Noldus can advise you eventually other small computers.

Another important point we learned through (bad) experience. You must download the program from a PC to the Psion initially. After the recordings in the field you must upload your results to the PC for analysis. Now, be careful to connect the Psion to the mains when uploading because if you get the "battery low" message while uploading you loose all your data harvest (and tend to commit suicide...). That's something that should be mentioned in big letters in the manual instead of casually in a given paragraph.

I hope this is of some help. Good luck.


Prof.Dr. F.O. Odberg Dpt. of Animal Nutrition, Genetics, Breeding and Ethology University of Ghent Heidestraat 19 B-9820 Merelbeke Belgium


Contact: Noldus Information Technology b.v. Costerweg 5 P.O. Box 268 6700 AG Wageningen The Netherlands Phone:+31-(0)317-497677 FAX:+31-(0)317-424496 E-mail: WWW:

Noldus develops software, integrates systems, and conducts training for behaviorial researchers. Good Luck.


Dear Ramon Diaz-Uriarte and others!

With regard to the use of hand held computer in registrating behaviour we have now extended experience with the use of several different types. However, the use of Observer program (now windows based) from Noldus in the Netherlands and the PSION Workabout has turned out to be a very easy to use and versatile combination. We have used this system as part of the training of students in our major ethology course since February this year and even students with little or no experience with the use of computers, and I might add, a rather hostile attitude towards them, now use the system with the greatest naturalness. I can only encourage you and others to start using this or similar systems. It makes observations less biased and has the great advantage that you can put your observational data directly into the PC and statistical analyse programs. We have encountered a few minor problems, but most have been solved promptly by the hardware or software manufacturers. The one draw back, of course, is that it is far from gratis. It is something that should be purchased for student training and not for a single project. Since Noldus use a dongle (a hard ware key) to protect their licenses it is not possible to copy.

Yours Anders Lund ################################################## ########################## ##### Anders Lund e-mail: ALund@ZI.KU.DK Copenhagen University Phone: (+45) 35321306 Zoological Institute Fax: (+45) 35321299 Dept. of Population Biology Tagensvej 16 DK-2200 Copenhagen DENMARK



Last summer I used a Psion Series 3 to collect tree data in the field in south Madagascar, and found it most satisfactory, though perhaps it is priced a little high for your purposes. This handheld machine is made in the UK, calls itself a palmtop computer, and includes a basic spreadsheet and a basic wordprocessing package as well as the standard calculator, address book, and world time convertor. It takes ordinary AA batteries (sadly, not rechargeable ones), it has an optional PC link, and its output files are compatible with standard Microsoft programs. Its very lightweight and I liked the spreadsheet very much - not so keen on using the tiny keyboard for typing.

As I recall, in June 1995 the computer, cable and extra RAM card cost around 220 UK pounds: I'd expect prices to have dropped by now. Its also worth looking round the 2nd hand market if you've time.

The only thing I missed was a square number pad for data entry.

Best of luck Lera Miles Centro de Ecologia Aplicada, Universidade de Evora, Portugal

************************************************** *

An expensive but excellent solution would be the "Observer" software by Noldus. They have a WWW site at:

The software is written by behavioral biologists specifically for field and lab recording of behavior such as you will be doing. You design a sampling protocol in a simple form format. The possible designs are very flexible, allowing for the recording of events, states, specific actors, and modifiers to the events and states (for reciprocal behaviors, etc.). Basically, once you've designed the protocol, the computer becomes a dedicated behavioral recording device - the keys are linked to the various events and states. The software will also do various analyses of the data or export it to a number of formats. The datafiles are in straight ASCII, so it's easy to write alternative analysis programs.

Most interesting for field applications, they have written drivers that will translate the data collection programs into versions that run on a broad range of handheld computers and pocket organizers. So you can design the protocol in the lab, collect in the field, then download and analyze the data back at the lab.

There is also a module that allows you to use it with videotapes in the lab. It controls the VCR, and uses a timecode (VITC) on the videotape, so the software can keep track of the videotape time as you flip back and forth on the tape or use different playback speeds.

The downside, of course, is that it isn't cheap: about US$1,375 for the DOS base package (ouch). They're just releasing a Windows version, so maybe they'll lower the price on the DOS version. You might be able to convince your professor to get it, or get some communal department funds together if there are some other people who could use it.

I've been using it to do a rather intricate set of behavioral recordings from videotape, and I highly recommend it. (No, I have no connection with the company - I'm just a happy customer).

The other alternative may be to find a buddy who could do a little programming for you (if you don't program yourself). Designing and programming a simple dedicated behavioral recorder shouldn't be too difficult a business. It helps a lot that you know your requirements clearly. That makes it possible to quickly arrive at a "final" version. (The flexibility of a package like the Observer allows you to easily tinker around with different configurations, but that's more important when you're beginning observations, rather than when you are well into them, as you currently are).

Good luck!

-Dean -- N. Dean Pentcheff <> WWW: Biological Sciences, Univ. of South Carolina, Columbia SC 29208 (803-777-3936) PGP ID=768/22A1A015 Keyprint=2D 53 87 53 72 4A F2 83 A0 BF CB C0 D1 0E 76 C0 Get PGP keys and information with the command: "finger"

************************************ Hi,

Someone recently asked about hand held computers for use in their research. I lost this mailing, but I hope this information is of help. I use a palmtop in my work and find it invaluable. The one I use is a Psion and it seems to fit all the requirements. Most importantly, apart from a full word processor, spreadsheet etc., it comes with its own programming program so it should be possible to create what you need.



============================================ Name:David Appleby Address:The Pet Behaviour Centre, Upper street, Defford, Worcestershire. WR8 9AB.England. Phone and fax:+44(0)1386 750615 WWW: ============================================ *******************************************

From: IN%"" "Julie A. Fronzuto" 14- JUN-1996 22:30:22.16 To: Subject: ethology software


I don't know anything about handheld computers but have used the following program for ethological data on a PC. It is freeware and easy to use. A url where you can download it is under the info below. I originally found it on the ABS homepage.

Julie Fronzuto Dept of Zoology Washington State University Pullman, Washington EthoLog v1.0 Ethological transcription tool ************************************************** ********************

EthoLog is a tool for the transcription of behavior observation sessions. The behavioral categories and their key codes are defined by the user in a text file. EthoLog is designed to deal with two kinds of events: State Events, which have durations, and Instant Events, which have times of occurrence (and are embedded in State Events). You can add Labels to any registered event, which can act as notes or modifiers. The transcription sessions can be paused and resumed. EthoLog generates two text files with a session summary and the full sequential and timing data. These files can be loaded to a spreadsheet for further analyses.

EthoLog 1.0 is FreeWare, and may be freely distributed.

The file contains the following files:

- etho10.exe (the program) - etho.hlp (the winhelp file) - example.ctg (an example of categories table) - cmdialog.vbx (VB library) - toolhelp.dll (the dll with the TIMERINFO routine) - readme.txt (this file)

Copy them to any directory you want and create EthoLog Program Manager icon manually (with the "new" option in the File menu).

This program was created with Visual Basic 3.0 Professional, so be sure you have the file VBRUN300.DLL in your system (it can be found in all Windows repositories in the Net; look for vbrun300.exe or

** Eduardo B. Ottoni

Dept. of Experimental Psychology University of Sao Paulo Av. Mello Moraes 1721, Bl.A, Cid. Universitaria CEP 05508-900 Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil

e-mail: *** you can down load it from here:

************************************************* Dear Ramon,

a very cheap software alternative to the "'Observer" would be "EthoLog" a shareware programm available on most software archives (e.g. SimTel). It is of course by far not as good as the observer but depending on what you want to it might serve your purposes.


Ruediger ************************************************** ******************** Ruediger Cordts E-mail: Arbeitsgruppe fuer Ruediger.Cordts@Rz.Ruhr-Uni- Verhaltensforschung Ruhr-Universitaet Tel.: XX49-(234)-700-2364 D-44780 Bochum Fax.: XX49-(2302)-77891 Germany ************************************************** ********************



I have no experience in the use of this method for behavioural studies, but i know of a product that might do what you want. I used to own an Atari Portfolio (no unfortunately stolen!) that was about the size of a large calculator, only a little thicker and heavier. I guess you could find one second hand for well under a $100. Although Atari no longer make them another company did continue making them under another badge and i have seen them for sale in the UK not to long ago, but i can't remember the brand name.

Anyway the reson I think that they would be what you require is that they have a DOS compatable operating system (you need to buy a lead to plug into your PC), a standard ASCII text editor and more importantly a Lotus 123 compatable spread sheet so you would be able to take all your data and down load straight into 123 or any other spread sheet such as Exel.

I can't remember how long the batteries used to last but it did have a socket for an external power supply or battery pack, so you should have no problem here!

Anyway hope that was of some use,

Neil Ambrose

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX X Neil Ambrose X X Department of Biomedical Science and Ethics X X The University of Birmingham X X Edgabaston X X Birmingham X X B15 2TT X X 0121 414 5390 (W) 0121 427 9839 (H) 0589 236 345 (M) X X Email - - Main mail X X or - - Unix account X XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

*********************************8 Dear Mr. Diaz-Uriarte,

Thank you for your e-mail and your interest in The Observer

The Observer 3.0, Base Package for Windows cost US$ 1,735 for academic institutions.

We are working on a special Student Version of The Observer but I do not know the price at this moment yet.

The Observer itself runs on a PC. Several hand-held computers are supported but you than need special software for translating your configuration file to a suitable file format for the hand-held computer you want to use. With the student version it is not possible to use a hand-held computer as event recorder.

The Observational Research Kit contains all items for desktop and mobile collection of data.

A mobile Kit includes: - The Observer 3.0, Base PAckage for Windows - The Observer 3.0, Support Package for hand-held computer - Hand-held computer - Event recording software on memory card - Communication cable and communication software - AC-adapter

ORK with Psion LZ64 (64Kb) US$ 2,790 ORK with Psion Workabout 256Kb US$ 3,205

Please let me know if you have any further questions. I will keep you informed about the Student Version

Best regards,

Bart van Roekel

---------------------------------------- Bart van Roekel Noldus Information Technology P.O. Box 286 6700 AG Wageningen The Netherlands

Tel: +31-317-497677 Fax: +31-317-424496 E-mail: WWW:

Dear Dr. Diaz-Uriarte,

I saw this posting on the Applied Ethology network and I would like to respond. But let me first introduve myself. My name is Wineke Schoo and I ma a biologist. I have studied chimpanzees when I was a student. Now I work as a consultant for a small software company in The Netherlands that is specialized in software (and hardware) for behavioral research. Among our products are hand-held computers with accompanying software. If you want I can send you some information about our products and if ypou are interested I could also send you some information on local users in your area.. You can also cekck out our Web page. The address is out the bottom of this message.

Yours sincerely,

Wineke Schoo Consultant ______________________________________

Noldus Information Technology b.v. Costerweg 5 P.O. Box 268 6700 AG Wageningen The Netherlands

Phone: +31-(0)317-497677 Fax: +31-(0)317-424496 E-mail: WWW:

Dear Ramon Diaz-Uriarte and others!

I would like to clarify something about the protection of the software.

The software contained in any package of The Observer falls apart in two categories:

1. Software to set up observational studies (Configuration) and to analyze observational data (Data Analysis). This is typically done at a central location.

2. Software to collect observational data (Event Recording). This is typically carried out at multiple locations, using PC's or hand-held computers.

A license of The Observer restricts the use of the software in the first category to a single computer at a time (protected by a hardware key). The data collection software, however, can be used on multiple computers simultaneously without the need for additional licenses. This applies to the Base Package as well as the various Support Packages for hand-held computers.

Yours sincerely,

Wineke Schoo ______________________________________

Noldus Information Technology b.v. Costerweg 5 P.O. Box 268 6700 AG Wageningen The Netherlands

Phone: +31-(0)317-497677 Fax: +31-(0)317-424496 E-mail: WWW:

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