Monday, February 24, 2014

Somebody's been lying

I must have Carole Bayer Sager on the brain at the moment, for the above title is the opening lyric to one of her songs. But today I intend to write about something somewhat less trivial than CBS's love song lyrics: the problem of discovering whether someone is lying when taking a psychological analysis test.

This is something around which the Occupational Psychologist (OP) and I have been circling for some time. We have discussed this issue a few times and came to the conclusion that when someone is giving a false answer (in other words, lying), then their response time is longer than when they are telling the truth. Whilst this is intuitively true, someone (I forget who) wrote a research paper on this and divided the process in the brain into three sections. The brain has to analyse and understand the question, then formulate a response; if the response is true, then the brain simply has to retrieve the already existing answer, but if the respondent wishes to lie, then the brain has to work much harder. From a practical point of view, a few years ago I added to our flagship product the ability to measure the response time for every question.

Of course, not all people were born equal. Some people finish the test in 30 minutes (400 questions), some in 35 minutes, some in 40 and some in 50. Sometimes people have a break - either for personal reasons or because they are called for an interview - so one might get the impression that measuring response time is not necessarily so easy. There is also another train of thought which we have noted but yet to implement seriously - the complexity of questions. Some questions are very simple ("I am very slow in making up my mind") whereas others are more complex ("When a person 'pads' his income tax report so as to get out of some of his taxes, it is just as bad as stealing money from the government"). It takes longer for the brain to process the complex questions, so the response time will be longer.

A paper was presented on the subject in an Israeli Psychologists' conference in January. Whilst neither of us went to this conference, we have been reading the conference proceedings on the net. The paper on this subject was interesting, but told us things that we already knew. After discussing it, we decided on a new approach to detect when people are lying.

The first step was to build a control scale - this is composed of thirty questions in which there is 90%+ agreement in the answers; presumably these are questions whose answers are so obvious that no one has to lie (I should point out at this stage that each question can belong to more than one scale and that a 'correct' answer for one scale may not be the 'correct' answer in another scale). I can then calculate what the average response time is for this scale for each person. I already know what the average response time is for all the other scales for each person, but this absolute datum doesn't interest us; what we want to examine is the average response time as compared to the control scale.

To give a numerical example, person A has an average response time of 3.5 seconds for the control scale and 5.0 seconds for a given scale; thus the ratio is 1.428. Person B has an average response time of 5.0 seconds for the control scale and 6.2 seconds for the given scale, so her ratio would be 1.24. In other words, person B answers questions relatively faster than person A (although absolutely slower). In all the measurements of time, I am ignoring cases when the response time is over three minutes; if someone needs to go to the toilet in the middle of the exam, the current question's response time will be exceedingly long, but I won't take it into account.

Once we have the ratios for each scale/person, it is a simple matter to calculate the mean and standard deviation for each ratio, and then calculate for each scale/person the 'standard corrected value'. In other words, going back to the above example, person A has a ratio of 1.428 for a given scale; if the mean ratio for that scale is 1.300 and the standard deviation is 0.15, then the value for this person will be 58, statistically insignificant (or to put it another way, the value is 0.85 standard deviations from the mean). Should someone have a statistically significant variation (three standard variations from the mean, ie a ratio using a mean of 1.300 and sd 0.15, this would mean a ratio of 1.75), then presumably they lied on some of the questions contained within the given scale.

I spent several hours implementing all of the above (fortunately this was Saturday when I can work undisturbed for hours). I calculated the ratios for 4,000 people, 65 scales each; naturally, this took the computer quite some time. After having done so, I then calculated the mean and standard deviation for each scale, then ran a check against a random person. In doing so, I discovered that I had made a mistake when initially calculating the ratios! Possibly I should have debugged the process with a much smaller sample size, but I was fixated on creating a large enough sample for the mean and standard deviation to be correct and ignored the possibility of creating a small sample with albeit 'wrong' means but at least enough data to check my calculations.

Once I figured out what was wrong, I ran the lengthy calculation process again then recalculated the means and standard deviations. Once I had these figures, checking a given person's data (ie calculating the standard corrected value) was fairly quick. Adding the check against this value in the printed report took five minutes.

Obviously, I checked only a few people to see that the resulting values were calculated correctly (checking against my hand calculated figures and logic). Statistically, someone has to be lying, but depending on the ratio of standard deviation to mean ("how narrow the distribution is"), this may be only one person in one scale. Let us not forget that I calculated 65 scales for 4,000 people - in other words 260,000 values! - so finding that one value may take some time. I'm not going to bother. 

It will be interesting to see how this works for all the future examinees.

Incidentally, I note that the information presented in 'Introduction to Business Research 3' made the statistical analysis relatively painless for me. The OP (and presumably other psychologists) use the 'standard corrected value' whereas the IBR material uses the z-statistic. In a sense, they're the same; the ccv converts the z-statistic to a value between 0-100, where 50 is the mean. This makes it easier to understand for people who aren't inclined to statistics (and who is?).

Sunday, February 23, 2014

DCI Banks on television

Two months ago, I complained that "the satellite television station BBC Entertainment only showed the two part pilot for the Banks TV series, "Aftermath", without continuing to show the rest of the episodes". I am pleased to note that the regular series is now being broadcast: the first part of the adaption of "Playing with fire" was shown on Saturday night.

Hopefully I'll be able to watch it tonight, but I doubt that I'll be able to write about it for a few days as I have a heavy schedule of traveling this week.

Carole Bayer Sager - too

I'm not sure what the impetus was, but I discovered about a month ago that the Australian record company Raven had licensed all three of CBS's albums and had released them as a double cd set. It might well be that this review was the key; once I knew that there was a release, it was a simple matter of purchasing it via Amazon. I have to state that I find Amazon very expensive - the packaging is often as expensive as the contents - and frequently try to find alternatives. But often there is no alternative, and I can allow myself one extravagant purchase every now and then.

The double disc arrived a week ago; I've been playing it on and off whilst working on the computer at home. As I already have the first record on cd, I was conversant with its contents and won't relate to it here.

I was reminded how the second album ("Too") was not as good as its predecessor. It's also fairly short - the first two albums fit on one cd with a playing time of 70 minutes. Whilst the songs have a wider range of styles, only one or two are as good as the average song on the first album - in other words, it's not as good. This opinion is upheld in the external review.

The third album, though, is something different. It took me a while to put my finger on the significant difference between this album and its predecessors, but eventually I realised that it was produced as an entire album and not as a collection of individual songs. Whilst the use of links and crossfades provides a unified listening experience, it's the level of production which makes the difference. I am referring especially to the way the songs are played: it's not like the first album which generally featured someone strumming a guitar (or playing a simple piano accompaniment) with overlaid strings; great attention has been paid to the dynamics of each song, so there might be four lines played in one style, then some form of stylistic break. This means that listening is a much more rewarding experience.

There's also more advanced use of extra vocalists: sometimes there are simple backing vocals, sometimes duets with CBS, sometimes another vocalist will sing lead, etc. One of those vocalists is the late Michael Jackson - I think that this is the only place where he appears in my extensive collection of recorded music, although as I once noted, I have very few recordings by black people. It's all a question of style, and black people aren't noted for playing English traditional music or progressive rock, the two mainstays of my collection.

Minor carp: these days it seems almost obligatory to add bonus material to a rerelease. There is no such material here, despite the fact that the second cd is half empty. It might have been rewarding to hear non-album CBS tracks, but maybe there aren't any.

[SO: 3347; 2, 12, 30]
[MP&P: 336; 0, 0, 4]

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

This day in music

19 February:

Neatly following on from my previous post, I see

1977, Leo Sayer had his only UK No.1 single with the Albert Hammond and Carole Bayer Sager song 'When I Need You.' Both Celine Dion and Cliff Richard have scored hits with the song. 

[SO: 3317; 2, 12, 30]

Carole Bayer Sager - one

I remember watching 'Top of the Pops' in spring 1977 when a wispy female singer appeared, singing all the reasons why she was throwing her boyfriend out of their shared accommodation. I don't remember now whether I was impressed, but I do recall that a friend (Dave F., if we're keeping score) bought the single and I borrowed it from him. The 'a' side still didn't overwhelm me but the 'b' side was interesting, showing a certain vulnerability which was how I felt in those days.

This was my introduction to lyricist turned singer Carole Bayer Sager. The 'a' side of that single was her sole British hit, "You're moving out today", and the 'b' side was called "Aces"; both were tracks from her eponymous debut album. Some time after, I bought this album. My opinions were mixed: there were songs which I very much liked (especially the opener, "Come in from the rain"), there were others which were quite good but a few were very showbiz in style and I didn't appreciate them.

Of course, these were pre-Internet days and the only sources of information available were articles in the music press. If I recall correctly, I had stopped reading "Melody Maker" and was turning my allegiance to "Zigzag"; CBS was hardly the sort of act to be covered in Zigzag before the 'punk takeover' of August 1977; she certainly wouldn't have been covered after this date. So I probably wasn't too aware of the fact that CBS was a lyricist for hire, having written many hits (although maybe the fact that she collaborated with several songwriters might have hinted at this).

When I went to San Francisco in August 1978, I bought a copy of her second album (imaginatively entitled "Too") the first day that I was there. I find it hard to believe now, but I schlepped that record all around America and probably never even heard it once. When I did hear it, I was much less impressed by it than by its predecessor: the vulnerability and 'claustrophobia' which I had heard in some songs had totally disappeared to be replaced by showbiz schmaltz. Some of the songs had reasonably good arrangements, but otherwise this was a disappointment.

A few years later, when I was already living in Israel, a third album appeared, "Sometimes late at night". This was written mainly with husband-to-be (or maybe already-husband) Burt Bacharach, and featured a lush sound in which the songs were linked, forming a suite. I remember some interesting arrangements and tunes, but I also remember feeling that CBS was a professional songwriter and that the words (to which I had attached myself like a limpet at one stage) were not coming from the heart: it was all a show. 

It should be said that CBS was not a professional singer. She wasn't even a good singer; she had a broken voice which could carry a tune, but didn't excite anyone. This kind of voice is suitable for confessional songs but not for big-band arrangements (as were to be found on albums two and three) and certainly not suitable when there were backing vocalists.

With the advent of the cd era, I stopped playing the records. I managed to find a copy of the first album on cd, but the other two simply disappeared.

I want to end here with the opening verses of "Come in from the rain"; I used to imagine that this broken voice was singing to me in the dark and cold days of 1977/8.

Well, hello there
Good old friend of mine
You've been reaching for yourself
For such a long time
There's so much to say
No need to explain
Just an open door for you
To come in from the rain
It's a long road
When you're all alone
And someone like you
Will always take the long way home
There's no right or wrong
I'm not here to blame
I just want to be the one
Who keeps you from the rain

Monday, February 17, 2014

DBA: On to the next stage

Once again, it seems that there were communication problems with EBS.   Apparently I was sent a letter a month ago which explained how one progresses.

Amongst the material which I received today is a letter containing the following:
You will be put in contact with the Senior Mentor once you have submitted the following documents -
  1. A signed copy of the enclosed declaration stating you have received and agree to adhere to the contents of the University Research Student code of practice and the University Plagiarism Guide and that you are in a position to fund the remainder of your studies
  2. An up-to-date one page CV detailing your employment and academic achievements
  3. A credible outline of a research question, backed up with Scholar and EthOS searches, using the material accompanying this letter.
As a bonus, I am also entitled to receive a Postgraduate Certificate in Business Research Methods - another certificate to hang on the wall. Only forty five pounds (most of their certificates cost 100 pounds, so this is cheap).

So my next task is to print out most of the material (ten pdf files), then condense the twelve pages that I have already written down to two. As it happens, the introduction just over two pages long, so I won't have to do much editing.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

In Lambeth

It's a rainy Saturday night here, making it the perfect time to hear Nick Drake on the stereo. His voice and guitar, combined with Robert Kirby's elegiac string arrangements, make the perfect accompaniment to the pitter patter coming from outside. The rain always makes me melancholic, whereas my wife (who looks after the kibbutz gardens and is getting more and more frustrated with our dry winter) is only too pleased.

I could have played a different cd, but I've been listening to this other disc so much for the past week that it was time for a change. Richard Williams was once an influential writer for Melody Maker at the beginning of the 70s (I used to read his articles with enjoyment) and then became an A and R man for Island Records (championing amongst others, Richard and Linda Thompson's "I want to see the bright lights tonight"), so I was pleased when I discovered his music blog about a year ago. True, he mainly writes about jazz, a style which I don't care for, but every now and then he writes something startling.

A few weeks ago (when I was ill with the flu), he wrote about William Blake and music which had created under Blake's influence by New York jazzman John Zorn (surely the brother of Richard Thompson sideman, Pete Zorn?). Williams writes " The group here is Zorn’s Gnostic Trio, in which two members of the Blakelight group, the harpist Carol Emanuel and Kenny Wolleson on vibes and bells, are joined by the guitar of Bill Frisell. The music is no less lively and active, often based on arpeggiated figurations reminiscent of the ostinatos of Terry Riley and Steve Reich, but its glistening instrumental timbres and the intimacy of the interplay between these brilliant musicians give it a character of its own. Here’s a track called “The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy”, referring to a female figure used by Blake to signify beauty and poetry (and possibly inspired by his wife, Catherine)."

I don't know what it was about the above paragraph - maybe the mention of Riley and Reich, or maybe Frisell (I have a recording of him playing an instrumental medley of John Lennon songs in a beautiful and sunny style) - but something prompted me to click on the link to the track. I was transported! This is the kind of music to which I can listen for hours. After a certain amount of searching, I ordered the disc 'In Lambeth'. It arrived about a week ago and I've been listening to it frequently when at home.

I recorded “The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy” from that link; listening to it repeatedly inspired my virus affected body to write and record a track in a similar style.

Listening to the disc now, at times I am reminded of Stomu Yamashta's "Close to the edge" album from the beginning of the 70s, whose sleeve notes might well have been written by Richard Williams. I also hear echos in the music of Hatfield and the North, especially in the interplay between Fender Rhodes and electric guitar.

If there is anything to fault about 'In Lambeth', it is that the harp seems to be mixed too low (when it can be heard, it sounds more like a nylon strung guitar than a harp) and that the mixing has lumped together all three instruments, making it very difficult to isolate what each is playing. I would have much preferred a stereo image with separation, having the vibes and guitar on opposite sides with the harp in the middle.

There aren't exactly any melodies hiding in the nine tracks; I can now recognise a few, but most seem to provide an aural background, constantly changing, but never definite. I leave you with a few more words from Richard Williams: "It’s as distinctive, in its own way, as the Jimmy Giuffre Trio of “The Train and the River”, as close as that to jazz — in fact impossible without it — yet breathing quite different air. Beyond category, and highly seductive."

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A flaw with spreadsheets

Following is a piece which is connected to my research. I don't think that it belongs in the research proposal and I doubt whether it belongs in the thesis either. Maybe I can condense the idea into one or two sentences then shoehorn it in.

One of the failings of spreadsheets is that data which is added to the spreadsheet is not retained. What I mean is this: a clerk can create a spreadsheet directly from Priority, then add data, normally notations, to it. But if the spreadsheet has to be recreated, the notations will be lost. Following is an example.

A clerk is responsible for returning samples (chairs) which have been loaned to customers. In Priority, I created a report which lists all the outstanding samples, and the clerk would output this report to Excel, adding to each row the steps which she had taken to retrieve the samples. She would present this spreadsheet in a fortnightly meeting. For the next meeting, she would again output the updated report from Priority to Excel, and once again would have to add all her notations to the spreadsheet.

When I heard about this, I suggested something different: there is a place in Priority where she can note the actions which she has taken to retrieve each sample - instead of adding these actions to Excel where they are ephemeral, write them into Priority where they are permanent. I added this text field to the report, so now every time that we create the report, one can immediately see all the actions taken to retrieve the samples.

I suggested the same idea to another clerk who reports on long term debts. Here I wasn't successful in improving the reporting style; this might well be because the clerk tends to report on debts per customer (as opposed to the actual invoices which have yet to paid). The comments field is on the invoice level as opposed to the customer level. Writing comments on the customer level is not good because some of these are repeat customers so comments referring to one debt are likely to appear in the wrong context. An intermediate level would be projects - a customer can have several projects and one project can be connected to several invoices.

This is a problem which I have seen several times in Priority - what might be termed the granularity of data. Priority (and probably every other ERP program) stores data at an atomic level - an order, a delivery note, an invoice - whereas for reporting purposes, a higher level is required (a "molecular" level). This "molecular" level doesn't really exist - the only thing which I can think of is projects, and this isn't always applicable. Still, this is an interesting line of thought and I will continue thinking along these lines. 

As it happens, there is a divisional meeting on Sunday in which the above clerk will present the latest list of long term debts. I'll try and have a word with her after the meeting. Unfortunately, she tends to be rather fixed in her ideas and not open to changes.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman

I was greatly saddened when I learnt of the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman on yesterday evening's TV news. I very much appreciated his acting and the films in which he appeared. He was a consummate character actor - meaning that he rarely was the star of a film but was nonetheless very good.

A news report can be found here.

I checked my film database this morning and discovered that he appears in 14 of the films which I have, making him one of the most frequent actors to appear (my database of course is a very subjective study and does not mean much in the real world). I especially enjoyed him in 'Patch Adams', 'The talented Mr Ripley', 'State and Main' (go you Huskies) and 'Almost famous'.

I was extremely surprised to learn of the manner of his death, supposedly a heroin overdose, and also learn that he used to be an alcoholic and drug addict in his younger years.

He will be missed.