Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday afternoon

So this is how we spend our Sunday afternoons.

It turns out that we have more computers than people in the flat. The missing machine is my C&W laptop still in its bag.

Clare was finishing off TMA 05 for her AA100 Open University arts course (The Art of Benin). Alex is doing something considerably more obscure.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Car back

Clare dropped me off at Autotech this morning en route to her OU day school. So we finally have her car back after two weeks. The total repair bill came to around £800 of which my part was £300. Thankfully it will soon reside mostly in Wells.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Across the river

We took a walk last Saturday up and down the Thames and at this point we were directly opposite Alex's flat where we're staying. Clare took the photo and you can see how cold it was.

Tomorrow morning, while Clare is at an OU arts day-school at Thames Valley University Alex and myself will collect Clare's car, now two weeks in repair at Autotech Reading. A couple of days ago when I checked, the bill had already come to more than £740 (if you're not following the saga, see here). We will just have to pay the excess of £300.

Thanks, that person who stoved in her back window.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Lovely Bones

We first had dinner in Bella Italia opposite the Reading Vue. What a pleasant experience with very prompt service. I asked our waiter, a young handsome fellow if he was Italian. No, he replied, I'm Brazilian but (and here he spoke with great pride) I speak five languages.

He them itemised them: Portuguese (of course), Spanish which is easy then Italian and French which being Romance languages are also easy and finally English. He leant over to confide: "I can tell you how I learned these languages so quickly - I had a girlfriend for every language!" And he swept away triumphantly.

"The Lovely Bones" tells the story of Susie Salmon who at 14 is lured away from her close family by a neighbour and brutally abused and killed. The focus of the film is on the aftermath, the effect on her family and the eventual retribution for the paedophilic killer. The twist is that the dead Susie is present in "the in-between" between earth and heaven (it's American) and she continues to narrate events on earth and vaguely haunt as an insubstatial ghost.

Inside this film there is a good one trying to get out. Susie's post-death CGI environment is cleverly done but in its infatuation with its own cute imagery it jars with the psychological thrust of the film proper, derailing the flow. The film is drizzled with ladled-on-with-a-trowel sentimentality which seems de rigeur for American films (thanks Peter Jackson).

However, the acting was good, particularly Saoirse Ronan playing Susie, the central character. Rachel Weisz playing the mother gives her normal performance of introverted neuroticism and should get out more.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Wintry Mix

Horrible phrase, isn't it? Used by the TV weather forecasters to remind us that we continue to suffer 1 degree cold and damp caused by that stationary polar air.

I should be working away at the Calculus of Variations, but I'm tired after a week of getting up at ten to seven, out of the house into the Reading traffic at 7.25 and back home around 6.30 p.m. So the morning has been spent relaxing, listening to Radio 3 while Clare was having her bath ... I'll get to the maths a bit later. Maple has been kind of prioritised down a bit: it's interesting but not yet central to what I have to do, which is much more conceptual.

Adrian called yesterday evening from Canada, a good-voice-quality Skype call punctuated by latency and drops. He'll be back April 9th to the UK and after a few weeks here will be off to Chile for the summer (their winter). Then it's back to western Canada for the next season.

Meanwhile as I write Alex is doing something high and cold in the Lake District - he's taken the opportunity to get away for a few days.

How is the building work for our new house in Wells, Somerset coming along, you ask. The reconstruction of the kitchen and its transformation into a kitchen-diner should by now be complete. The carpets are in. The downstairs bathroom should shortly be rebuilt.

March 3rd will see the kitchen equipment arriving: fridge-freezer, washing machine, cooker, and once the kitchen lino is in they will be installed. On March 9th it's planned for the furniture to finally be delivered from store and from that date the house should be habitable.

In the next phases various outbuildings will be demolished, the front drive widened and resurfaced, double-glazing installed and cavity wall insulation applied. By the summer we will have spent a large sum of money and brought the house up to modern standards. I say 'we' but Clare has done all the project management: my contribution is purely on the financial side.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Clare's car trashed

Back on December 27th I noted here that our neighbour had had her car smashed in. We speculated about grudges.

This morning it was Clare's turn to suffer the same fate. When I called the police at 9.20 a.m. they asked me the same question. Here's what we saw this morning - click on the images to make them larger and look for clues. The door is open because I opened it.

Clare's car showing the damage

View from the side

In fact the police made no attempt even to suggest they would investigate. After confirming there was no CCTV coverage, they promised a chat with the local neighbourhood team in due course to see if there is a 'pattern'.

I saw our neighbour this evening when I was working with the Direct Line-approved garage to tow Clare's Saxo away (see below). She was of the view that there's some bloke who's taken to coming round at 3 a.m. looking for cars to rob. Yet there was stuff in Clare's car which was in plain view after it was smashed and nothing was taken.

Towed away: our red Auris is in foreground

Clare went down to Wells today (in the Auris) to start the builder off while I had a meeting in London and went in by train. So we were not massively inconvenienced except for the bill which I confidently expect to be in the hundreds of pounds.

That and our belief that our cars are now permanently under threat here in Reading.

Toyota joke I heard at work: someone calls his friend on the mobile, his friend replies "I can't stop - I'm in a Toyota!"

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Myers-Briggs Type Theory and brain architecture

For a primer on Myers-Briggs Type Theory see the previous post. For an overview of Jungian/Myers-Briggs type-dynamics theory see the post here.

Myers-Briggs (MB) type theory and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI - the 'four letters') were developed in isolation from both evolutionary theory and brain architecture. It was also developed in isolation from academic personality theory but there has been recent convergence with the dominant 'five-factor model', particularly as the Myers-Briggs community is developing a new scale for their missing dimension (five-factor's 'emotional stability -- neuroticism' dimension).

In this note I want to consider how to understand the conventional four MB dimensions against the triune brain architectural model, which posits the human brain as a human-specific thinking-reasoning neocortex wrapped around a mammalian limbic system implicated in social, emotional, affiliative behaviour, which in turn surrounds the 'reptilian' R-complex brain core which accounts for instinctual survival behaviours. We start by considering the somewhat unworldly 'Rationals'.

1. The NT combination ('Rationals')

In MB type theory NTs are scientific, detached intellectuals. This would correlate with neocortical dominance emphasising its conceptual-creative and systemic implication-processing functions. With neocortical dominance comes inhibition of the limbic and R-complex functions leading to the controlled and repressed-emotions characteristic of 'Rationals' (cf. Mr Spock).

2. The NF combination ('Idealists')

Here we see a combination of limbic system affiliative drives ('F') combined with neocortical associational function ('N') to produce the idealistic champion of causes. NFs are relationship-oriented, although if the 'F' is introverted this may be in a 'behind the scenes' values-oriented way. The 'T' cortical function which tests concepts for consistency, completeness and coherence with other ideas is much less dominant in Idealists.

The concrete types
We now come to a puzzle for MB type theory. According to MB type dynamics, the relevant personality types should be ST and SF. The former are concrete, tough-minded individuals, the latter concrete but more relationship-oriented, affiliative people.

However, many people have observed that the empirically most useful distinction seems to be between SJ 'Guardians' who are authority/institution minded and SP 'Artisans' who are individualistic/performance oriented. An example of the former would be a bank manager, of the latter an athlete or 'maverick' go-getter.

We start with the orthodox MB approach.

MB theory has the 'S' (sensor) designation focusing on the immersion of the 'S' person in the situational-concrete. This is an R-complex level of behaviour shared of course by all animals. In 'S' people that situational primacy is supported and given context by the knowledge embodied in higher-layer limbic and neocortical functions.

The ST/SF distinction now enters as to whether the response pattern is driven primarily out of the R-complex or the limbic system.

The R-complex tends to drive robust, aggressive, hierarchy-maintaining behaviour (pecking order) which in MB theory gets classified as 'T' behaviour. Notice this isn't the same T as in NT where it's better understood as 'Thinking' (= a striving for logical consistency); the ST 'T' by contrast is raw 'tough-minded'. For reasons no doubt due to political correctness, the MB community does not properly engage with this distinction.

If the limbic system is used to engage with the sensor's situational awareness, then the SF is inclined to use affiliative, diplomatic and negotiating methods to deal with their social environment.

So far, so Jungian/MB.

To resolve the puzzle described above, we note that situational awareness 'S' is always social: human beings could not survive in isolation in the environment of evolutionary adaptation (EEA). All personality types are therefore acutely aware of the dangers of social rejection and isolation.

The 'J' designation in S(T/F)J according to MB type-dynamics means that the 'S' is introverted and that the extraverted (T/F) function presents to other people. The introversion of the social-situated mode of the sensor creates a social context for their behaviour.

So, if they're STJ they will do what they take to be objectively right for the benefit of the collective - a watchdog function if you like - based on pre-existing social norms. That's why so many STJs are police/military and in general pillars of the community. To repeat, their 'toughness' translates into doing what's right for the concrete community (not for an abstract, possibly innovative ideal: that would be NF or NT according to whether the ideal was affiliatively or intellectually founded).

On the other hand SFJs with their affiliative approach ('F' = 'friendly') will labour in a more convivial, helpful, diplomatic, host/hostess-type way for the (conventional) general good.

The 'P' designation in S(T/F)P according to MB type-dynamics means that the 'S' is extraverted and the 'T' or 'F' introverted. As the 'S' is concrete and specific rather than interiorised and abstracted, SPs luxuriate in their personal immersion in the wider (social) world. Their 'T' or 'F' functions determine whether that dynamic social immersion is focused on achievement of their more primal status-oriented goals (STPs with R-complex drives) or more affiliative objectives (SFPs with limbic system dominance).

It is well known that people exhibiting antisocial personality type disorders have the personality classification of ESTP, as are mavericks of all descriptions, sociopaths and some very successful movers-and-shakers.

In conclusion it appears that the success of the MB approach to personality type classification and interactional dynamics is a consequence of the fact that it has quite a good fit to an evolutionarily well-founded theory of human brain architecture, factoring in the extreme sociality of the human animal. I think there is more scientific utility lurking within MB type dynamics than the academic empiricist tradition of personality research accepts at the moment: give it time and I expect further convergence.

Note for physicists:  physicists sometimes discover MB type theory. They soon discover they're NTs and as they seldom know any other type of person, rapidly come to the conclusion that's it's all just a trivial novelty.

So to flag that it's not entirely trivial, note that psychological type is evaluated through the subjects answering a detailed inventory of normed multiple-choice questions which are scored: a great deal of psychological research is done this way. Over a statistically-valid population of subjects the classification (i.e. the proportion of the tested population assigned to each type category) are consistently distributed and individually-repeatable. Type-categorisation, like IQ, is an effective predictor of 'fit' to occupational category in which capacity it is widely used in business.

In academic research the population score is taken to be normally distributed in each of the five personality dimensions: in MB theory the questionnaires return a bimodal distribution. My view is that the underlying brain-physiology variance which underpins psychological diversity is indeed normally distributed, as is IQ, and that the MB approach focuses more on outliers. Business is most interested in talent identification = outliers and has embraced the MBTI for this reason.

It is worth noting that when a person takes the MBTI, they don’t get back simply a four letter classification. The degree to which a person has scored along each access is also returned. People with extreme scores tend to exhibit their four-letter type characteristics more clearly, showing we have an outlier effect. More here.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Myers-Briggs approach to Personality Types

Isabel Myers and her mother, Katherine Cook Briggs developed their theories during the second world war. Their initial self-assessment test was based on concepts of psychological type developed originally by the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung but Myers refined and extended the concepts, orienting the approach towards 'normal people' rather than the clinically-referred individuals whom Jung had theorised about. The Myers-Briggs approach was developed outside the academic community, at that time mired in the morass of behaviourism. This separation continued even as Myers-Briggs took the global corporate community by storm.

The Myers-Briggs approach to personality differences is deceptively easy to state. Individuals taking the self-assessment inventory answer questions which produce scores on four dimensions as follows.

1. Extraverted or Introverted?

Is 'hell at a party' not being able to get in? Or being there? Extraverts take their energy from socialising with other people and feel under-energised when alone. Introverts need time alone, and socialising makes them weary. Most people recognise themselves on one side or the other of this divide. This is the E-I scale.

2. Sense-impressions or iNtuition?

Some people deal with the world in a concrete pragmatic way, others grasp situations through a framework of concepts, values or ideals. In the former category are many sports people, administrators, policemen; in the later category intellectuals, conceptual artists, campaigners for a cause. This is the S-N scale.

3. Thinking or Feeling?

Another poor choice of words from the founders. We all know people who are coldly focused on the logic of the situation, who will do what is logical, and take the interpersonal consequences. This applies as much to the logically-focused intellectual as to the results-focused executive and mission-oriented special forces soldier. On the other hand, there are those who put personal relationships first, who are motivated by sustaining the cohesion of the group, making their opponent a friend, or who are driven by a moral imperative to care.

The former score highly on the 'Thinking' side - sometimes the T is read as 'tough-minded'; the latter score highly on the Feeling side, although feeling is not so much raw emotion as a genuine warmth, empathy and an orientation to human values and solidarity. This is the T-F scale. And by the way, men's scores tend to be skewed to T and women's to F, although as a corrective, we have all met women who are probably from Mars, and men who have real warmth and are natural hosts, entertainers or diplomats.

4. Judging or Perceiving

This dimension is the staple of so many comedies, as well as real life dilemmas. One half of the partnership likes everything planned and organised in advance, the other hates lists, loves freedom and just wants to live life as it comes - 'something will always turn up'. This is the J-P scale. The highly-organised folk who want to put a grid over life score strongly J, while those who are transactionally in dialogue with events score highly P.

Putting it all together

Having completed the Myers-Briggs self-assessment questionnaires, your score will position you on each of the above four axes, combining to give a single, four letter code. I for instance score as an INTP.

I = Introverted (rather than extraverted)
N = iNtuitive (conceptual rather than concrete)
T = Thinking (logical and systematic rather than values-driven)
P = Perceiving (understand /persuade rather than dominate).

This is a typical profile for a researcher, architect, scientist or strategist. If you enter INTP (or any other Myers-Briggs type) into your favourite search engine, a number of profiles will come up.

I want to emphasise that the theory behind the MBTI is a lot deeper than I have described. For example, the four axes are not really in the same category. The S-N and T-F axes are fundamental, and the E-I and J-P dimensions modify their dominance and orientation.

Continue to the next post where we dig a lot deeper into the relationship between Myers-Briggs type theory and brain architecture.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Smart Fraction Theory applied to BT

The utility of IQ tests is that IQ scores correlate well with success in jobs with equivalent cognitive demands. It's fairly obvious that the cognitive demands of floor-sweeping for example are somewhat less than those demanded to be a world-class theoretical physicist.

But of course the IQ requirements to do different kinds of jobs are much more finely grained than that extreme example. Here's the result of one such study (click on the image to make it large enough to read) - the white vertical lines in each IQ-bar are the 25th, 50th and 75th percentiles.

Smart Fraction Theory notes that a modern complex economy requires mass participation in many occupations with significant cognitive demands. Technicians, entrepreneurs, accountants, legal people, designers are all needed by the hundreds of thousands and these jobs need intelligence if they are to be done properly. It follows that a successful, functioning modern economy needs a large fraction of its population to have an IQ in excess of something like 108: the so-called "smart fraction".

What happens if the population doesn't have this amount of human capital? Then these required occupational slots get filled by people who are not that smart. They don't "get it"; they don't understand what the problem is; they make elementary mistakes over and over again; their work needs continual checking and fixing by the few, more senior people who are sufficiently smart. In short, things just don't work very well all of the time.

Smart Fraction theory doesn't just apply to countries. It also works for big companies and their staffing policies - in particular the situation currently obtaining within BT customer services (see previous post).

The blinding incompetence of BT

So this is what BT have managed to do in Wells, Somerset.

1. The phone number of the previous owners of our new house has been ported to their new home. Unfortunately, if you dial it, you don't get through.

2. We were allocated a new number. However, if you ring it, you end up connected not to our new home but to the new home of the previous owners.

How did BT engineering manage to misconfigure the local switch so spectacularly?

Since Clare is there at the moment cleaning the house before the carpet fitters arrive tomorrow, I thought I would give her a call. I ended up speaking to the daughter of the previous owners who was at their house making them dinner.

I then called BT. After waiting in a queue for 25 minutes, I was put through to an anxiously helpful woman at the call centre. After the usual explanations, she admitted that the records were in a complete mess and handed me across to "customer services" in India.

The Indian call centre guy was under the misapprehension that my problem was with broadband. I had just got to the point of explaining the situation above when the call dropped. I decided to kill myself.

Actually I decided to go home, get some dinner and try again. All of this post so far has been written while I'm in the BT queue again. The recorded announcement explains periodically that they're very busy. Are you surprised?

Clare drove down to Wells in the new car which seems to be working well. I'd tell you more but for some reason I'm unable to get through to her.

Work is good. I've got through that stressful early part where one doesn't have a clue as to what's going on, and now we're starting to put some shape on the project. The only problem is Reading's traffic, especially in the morning. I so hate the gridlock experience.

Well, I'm still in the queue ...

Update: Wednesday Feb 3rd. 20.52

I eventually got routed through to the Bangalore customer services centre last night after more than an hour. At 9 p.m. the call-centre person eventually semi-figured out what my problem was and said he'd call back in an hour. As I expected, no such call occurred.

Earlier this evening, twenty hours later, I had a call from a small elite BT group up in Leicester. Apparently they operate in the interface between BT Retail and Openreach. After I explained all over again what the problem was they said they were on the case: I would hear more soon.

So far that's it.


Clare just back from heroic work down in Wells sorting out carpet people, lino people and builders bearing quotes. Plus the new car and no telephone contact!