A meeting with ornithologist [B.CI.6] who studies
ecology with birds in India

3:00 to 5:00 pm, Thursday December 9, 2004


On Friday afternoon, I spoke with B.CI.6, who does most of his work in India.  He will return there in late January, and seems to be an ideal candidate for Anoto technology.



Counting Birds during the Field Season in India

He works mainly in India, where he counts birds as a part of his community ecology project.  In addition to counting birds, he surveys woody plants along his line transect. For the line transects, he walks for 30 min, along a 200m line, pre determined. During this, he pays attention within a space of 50 m x 50 m box, perpendicular to the line, and writes down observations of the species, distance, etc.  The line transect is just a sampling method that biologists use. Another method is the point count, which he doesn’t use.


For measuring distance, he marks down a bin (e.g., 10-25m) that is a vague description of the distance the bird is observed to be from the line. Over a four month field season, he produces on the order of 200-300 data sheets, which must be entered into his Access database. This particular biologist is quite computer-savvy, so he can perform SQL queries and export his data into R (http://www.r-project.org/), a statistical analysis program (a derivative of S-plus).



He claims that he takes months to enter all his field data and notes into his MS Access database, where he keeps all his information. One of his colleagues calls this a “bit extreme,” and from what we have seen, it is—most biologists use Excel or some statistical spreadsheet app to keep their data. This biologist’s data is tabular in nature, and he uses Access to compose SQL queries on that data.


His data comes in the form of tables written on paper data sheets. He also has audio recordings of the bird calls. He enters his data in one big go. He might hear 15 birds at one time, and has to distinguish between them.  He once tried a Palm OS solution, but it didn’t work so great.


Some quotes:


“it is not just a function of merely transcribing data.  As I put my bird sheets in the computer, I also have to go through the bird tapes for those sheets, which is the really time consuming part.  Anyway, to give you something to work with, each of those yellow rite-in-the rain books probably takes me about 25 hours to put in the computer - maybe a bit more.  When I do it, I do it in a big go - say 12 -13 hours per day.”


“the task I would most like to eliminate is the step of transferring data from paper to computer, into a format that is ready for analysis. What I mean by ready for analysis is that all of my data goes into a relational database (Access) and is only meaningful within a relational context.  It would be absolutely tremendous to have some way (perhaps mediated by that computer pen you showed to me) where data was transferred from paper directly to database.”


“I do compose SQL queries.  Additionally, I am very familiar with Visual Basic for applications (which fits right into Access), so I can customize Access with additional functionality to make it do exactly what I need.  I usually create a query in access to produce the data that I will eventually analyze in R.”



While he collects, he has an assistant who records bird calls for him. Whenever he deems a bird “unknown,” he will silently point his assistant toward that bird. His assistant will point a shotgun microphone toward the call, and this is recorded to analog audio tape. The assistant says the time into the tape at 2 minute intervals, so that the biologist can index into his audio tapes later.


Upon reviewing his notes, he will look at the “unknowns” and index back into the audio tape to create a file he can send to the Indian ornithologist (expert who lives there) who will give him the ground truth. Reviewing audio tapes requires a huge chunk of the effort. The audio tapes serve as the backup to his primary observations (taken on paper).


For plant data, he has two quadrats for every line transect. In the quadrat, he does surveys of the woody plants, including diameter of the plant’s stalk. It took about 3 weeks to put the plant data into the computer. Ideally, he’d like this data in Access as soon as possible, but he normally doesn’t do this while in India, simply because he doesn’t have the time.


Anoto Pen

We discussed the pen for a while, and he thinks it would be great if he could send his notes directly into an Access database (every night). This would allow him to get a rapid understanding of how his experiment is progressing, and would allow him to adjust experimental parameters if needed.


Summary:  His form-filling task is ideally suited to Anoto pen and notebook technology.


Further Notes are on the Anoto Notepad #1…