Thursday, November 19, 2015

Even dogs in the wild

Over the past few days, I've been reading Ian Rankin's latest Rebus novel, "Even dogs in the wild". This is a piece of pure vintage Rankin with the familiar characters of John Rebus, Siobhan Clarke and 'Big Ger' Cafferty along with recent addition Malcolm Fox taking part. Rebus may be retired but he acts as he has always acted; Clarke is always the stabilising force, and Fox allows Rankin some characterisation which doesn't normally appear (no spoilers!). Unfortunately, the older Rebus gets, the less he listens to music - although there is some form of explanation, saying that one of the loudspeakers in Rebus' flat is broken.

I'm not going to write much about the book as I am sure there will be review upon review which will do the job satisfactorily. I do like how the clues which become apparent right at the very end were skillfully sown into the narrative at the beginning; I only picked these up whilst rereading.

I want to write about one possible item which got through the copy editing and had me scratching my head (fortunately, it's not that important a point). The book starts with Fox having to clear his room as a team from Glasgow are coming in. Fox's boss says that there are six members of the team, and at one stage they are even named (Ricky Compston, Alec Bell, Beth Hastie, Bob Selway, Jake Emerson and Peter Hughes). Yet for some reason, there are only five desks in the room. Then there is this exchange:

‘Explains why my boss thought we were welcoming a team of six,’ Fox added.
‘Aye, someone at Gartcosh bolloxed that up – and got Ricky Compston raging at them for their efforts.’

In other words, it seems that Rankin had originally intended to write along the lines that Gartcosh ("now home to the Scottish Crime Squad) informed Edinburgh that six people were coming ... but only five arrived, the inference being that the missing person is a mole. This supposition supports the above quote. But somewhere along the long, six people actually did arrive, so the editing process messed this up.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Going to see a man about a dog

Yesterday, we "went to see a man about a dog", or in other words, went to a dog shelter to see whether there was a dog available for adoption which met our requirements. When we spoke to the supervisor on the phone in order to check whether they had dogs (the previous day we had phoned somewhere else and were told that they had no dogs for adoption), we were told very enthusiastically that they had 120 dogs and that we were very welcome to visit.

The shelter is about 20 minutes' drive from our home, coincidentally where my brother in law and his family live. This is a rural setting and the shelter has plenty of room. When we arrived, we saw many dogs milling around outside, playing or resting, along with about ten people. Most of the people actually work in the shelter; there were only a few outsiders checking adoption. Unfortunately, of those 120 dogs, about 110 are male and we want a female – this creates fewer problems with the other dogs on the kibbutz. First, we checked the dogs which were enclosed in pens (or cells); these were all male. Of course, all the dogs are of mixed breed; it's difficult to imagine how a pedigree dog would end up in such reduced circumstances, and anyway the folk wisdom is that mixed breeds are hardier than pedigrees.

We did find two bitches outside: one was almost all white and one was almost all black.  After some thought – and taking one for a short walk – we decided to adopt the black one ("Cora" – probably someone had been watching Downton Abbey). She's a size or two smaller than Mocha, and about a year and a half old. Although the supervisor tried to tell us the dog's history, it was very hard to hear for all the barking (we had come at feeding time). We think that she was brought up with a family and then something happened. The supervisor was only too willing to allow us to take the dog for a test period, between a week and a month. If everything works out, then we will notify the shelter in order to receive the dog's documentation. We will also have to ensure that the data saved in the dog's chip will be changed. This idea of a test period is very good; it takes a few days for any dog to get accustomed to new surroundings (especially after the somewhat less than salubrious surroundings of a dog shelter) and some prospective adopters have to get used to the idea of having a dog.

Yesterday evening went reasonably well: Cora was very quiet, but of course she needs to get used to us and the house (and especially to the smell of a non-existent dog). We went out for three walks yesterday evening and one this morning, so that she could get used to the regular walking path. She didn't sniff very much, and more importantly, did not excrete. Unfortunately, she did empty her bowels this morning – but inside the house. Hopefully these behaviours will change quickly. I haven't heard one bark although she did cry when she was left on her own this morning (on the balcony, not inside).

Friday, November 13, 2015

The latest addition to our musical menagerie ... and peppermint food

For reasons which escape me, my wife has long wanted a piano in our house. It's not as if she can play .... Anyway, her brother heard of someone who wanted to get rid of their piano so my wife became interested. We didn't have to pay for the piano, only for its removal - 600 NIS (about $180).

It's a Czech August Förster - there isn't much about this make of piano on the internet, apart from this exchange. The piano looks in good condition, but after checking the keys, I can see that it hasn't been played for quite a while, as several keys are out of tune, whereas one key (F3) resonates for a long time after being struck. We shall have to call in the local piano tuner, whoever he is, for a session.

I was pleased that the piano didn't take up too much room. The piano joins its brothers and sisters - guitars, bagpipes, violin, melodica, electric keyboard and Irish whistle - and maybe one day we'll make some music with it.

I paid a visit to the local branch of the Italian ice cream chain that I mentioned a few weeks ago. I was disappointed to see that they had no mint ice cream; in fact, the selection was somewhat smaller than the one near the hospital. When I mentioned this to the staff, I was told that this is because they are a smaller branch.

The sticker on the right hand side of the freezer says "Milk ice cream, 4-8% fat. All the ice cream is fresh, prepared daily on the premises". When asked about the mint ice cream, it seems that if I phone a few days in advance, they will prepare me a 1kg package. As I have only eaten about half of what I bought a month ago (the weather hasn't been suitable lately for eating ice cream), I don't know when this is going to be.

Another package of peppermint tea arrived today. The first shipment took quite a while to arrive so I thought to order in advance. I'm convinced that the second shipment took less time. I haven't been drinking peppermint tea very much lately, preferring to drink green tea, stinging nettle tea and ordinary breakfast tea.

Near where I sometimes work in Tel Aviv is a shop which sells spices, hard to obtain specialist foods and kitchen equipment. I think that they're very expensive, but they do sell items which one can't obtain anywhere else. They don't sell peppermint tea or peppermint extract, but I noticed the other day that they sell peppermint cordial. I went to buy a bottle of blackcurrant cordial, and the peppermint was standing next to it. These are imported from France and cost about three times as much as normal cordial (ie fruit concentrate) costs.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

900 blogs

Blog number 801 was written on 27/01/15 and blog number 900 on 8/11/15, so that's 100 blogs in 10.5 months, or 9 and a half blogs per month.

1Vinyl log24
6Fairport Convention7
8Richard Thompson6
9Sandy Denny6
10Home movies5
12Van der Graaf Generator5

The only real surprise is that I wrote more about my single holiday this year than I wrote about the DBA. The subjects of the blogs are interesting: so much has happened since January. It may seem odd that there are so many Fairport/Thompson/Denny posts, but that is due to the vinyl log and the publishing of a new Sandy Denny biography. A great deal of my youth is connected to the Fairport family.

Conceptual change

The last few weeks – if not months – have been very frustrating, in terms of my doctoral research. I have spent a great deal of time during this period locating companies which use Priority, then locating a suitable contact person within that company, then sending my introductory package. Sometimes those companies have answered with refusal, but more often they have 'answered' with silence. It has been coming clear to me that unless something drastic is done, the entire doctoral project is in danger of not being consummated.

Let's backtrack to module 2 of IBR3: methodology. The text discusses two alternative methodologies, quantitative and qualitative. These methodologies lie at opposing ends of a continuum, so a research project could be 100% quantitative, 90% quantitative and 10% qualitative, etc. A quantitative project basically asks the question "How much?"; it is carried out by means of a fixed questionnaire, is hypothesis based, and those hypotheses are tested by means of statistical analyses of the results obtained from the questionnaires. Such a project also requires a large number (100+) of observations, where the sample is supposed to be representative of the total population. Anyone who knows the methodology of my research project will recognize that I chose the quantitative route.

On the other hand, a qualitative project basically asks the question "Why?"; it is carried out by interviews (which may be fully structured, semi-structured or freestyle) on a small sample which does not have to be representative of the entire population. Its conclusions are considered to be binding with regard to that sample only and not to the general population, although they may be indicative. I could have concluded the final sentence in the first paragraph by writing "It has been coming clear to me that the only way to succeed with my doctoral project is to change to a qualitative methodology".

A few days ago, I emailed all the contact people of companies who have agreed to participate in the research, asking how many responses could be expected from each company. This was in an attempt to see whether the sample size would be sufficient to support the quantitative approach. So far, I have received only one response to that letter: someone wrote to tell me that their company does not use spreadsheets along with Priority. My initial, from the hip, response was to ask (rhetorically) why they signed the participation agreement if they don't use Excel; as it happens, another company with which I was in contact also claims that they don't use Excel, which is why they didn't sign the agreement, assuming that they would be of little use to me.

Yesterday evening, the pieces began to fall in place. I would like to have written that my conclusion was reached after analysing the entire doctoral project and rethinking, but that wouldn't be true. It was more a case of suddenly realising that not only would the qualitative approach be better, the fact that this company does not use Excel could be turned to my advantage.

I still intend that they complete the questionnaire, as the collateral information which can be obtained is very useful. But more importantly, I intend to interview about five users in an attempt to discover how they manage to use Priority without Excel. Obviously, this is possible – in fact, desired behaviour – but it's very difficult to achieve in practice. I would like to say that even I do not use Excel, but that's not strictly true. Hopefully, I will be able to 'extract the secret' from these interviews, then compare them to similar interviews in other companies which do use Excel. I can also attempt to corroborate the findings from the one company with the other company which does not use Excel and which did not sign the agreement.

Fortunately, this company is located about twenty minutes away, so it would be quite convenient for me to spend a few afternoons there. The company which did not sign is located in Afula, which is a two hour drive away and very awkwardly situated.

I have decided that as from today, I am ceasing my attempts to find more companies and sign them up. On the other hand, I am not going to ignore those that have already signed: I will send them the questionnaires, and some of the data will be useful. Thus my project will be partially qualitative and partially quantitative. I am going to run these ideas past my mentor and I imagine that he will be supportive.

Then I will have to rewrite parts of my intermediate submission. The methodology section will have to be expanded as well as the 'conclusions' section of the pilot study, but apart from that, I don't see – at the moment – any parts which will have to be excluded. One might say that adding the qualitative aspect is greatly improving the quality of the project.

As is my nature, I have to examine the above and find where I went wrong. I can see that from almost day one, I have been fixated on the quantitative approach, and have never considered any alternative. This assumes that I knew from the very beginning why people use spreadsheets; I thought that I knew because I work with such people. The idea that people can and do work without spreadsheets never occurred to me, because I had never seen it in practice.

Rereading the material in IBR3 yesterday evening, I saw a hint which I had ignored. One of the differences between the approaches is that qualitative methodology is often used as an exploratory technique, when researchers are not sure of causes. I have often stated that my research is apparently the first of its kind; had I been more experienced (read, less blinkered) or had read IBR3 in a more open frame of mind, then I would have known that the qualitative approach would have been better suited to this research. My mentor had tried to nudge me in this direction at times, but I was convinced that my approach was better.

Well, I was wrong. Maybe it's just as well that insufficient companies signed up.

Another hint may have unconsciously come from a discussion which I had on Friday morning with the Occupational Psychologist. We were discussing the extremely low marks which one examinee achieved from our flagship questionnaire. Obviously, statistically, someone has to have low marks (in the same way that someone has to be last on the bus), but the fact that he had similar marks across the board was suspicious. When I examined the raw data from his exam, I saw that only slightly less than half the questions had been answered. Once this would have meant that his raw data would not even have been accepted into the database, but a recent change in the raw data file format now allows this.
I was somewhat incredulous to see this so I asked whether anyone had noticed that the examinee had not completed the exam. "Yes", replied the OP. "We have here the observations made by the person administering the exam, and … yes, it was noted that the examinee did not complete the exam. Not only that, the psychologist who reviewed the data also noted this fact". I should point out that the OP was extremely worried that we were basing recommendations solely on the computerised data, so she was greatly relieved to see that all along the chain, the incompleteness had been noted and in fact commented upon as a sign of the examinee's psychology.

Only after writing the bulk of today's blog did I become aware of the relevance of this incident, which can be translated in the following manner: I see only the quantitative aspects of the OP's work and am barely aware of the qualitative aspects. In this case, the quantitative data was sorely lacking (read: useless), but the qualitative data proved exceedingly useful. In other words, due to my psychological composition, I am strongly attracted to the quantitative side and tend to ignore the qualitative. This has to change!!

Now I am wondering whether the fact that I have been reading John Le Carre's "Honourable Schoolboy" might have some bearing. George Smiley remarks on Karla's lack of moderation (or his fanaticism) and foresees that this will lead to his downfall. Once again, my fanaticism was the belief that the qualitative approach was the methodology required, but fortunately have managed to avoid the downfall.

Obligatory irrelevant musical observation: a few days ago, the listening material on my mp3 player was the groundbreaking "The Yes Album" from 1971. I devoted quite an amount of thought as to why this album was so good but as to why it pales in comparison to VdGG. I won't go into that now, but I am reminded that the ultimate track on that album is called 'Perceptual change'. Maybe that phrase was hanging around in my brain, for I have undergone a perceptual – or more accurate, conceptual – change in the past few days.

[SO: 4012; 3, 17, 38]