Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘statistical modeling

Twenty years later, and I am still hurting; (Jan. 28, 2010)

I returned to the USA in 1986 for a PhD program in industrial/Human Factors in engineering.  It hurts to recollect this non efficacious decision that was hasty, as all my previous decisions were, a split-second decision with no turning back.  Anyway, most of my jobs and positions after graduation were not related to my specialty, a specialty that I am still trying to define and explain to myself.

Luckily, 15 years later in 2001, I had the opportunity to teach at a university in Lebanon, on part-time basis, two courses related to Human Factors in engineering.  That was a golden opportunity to write over 50 professional articles, 25 of which were my way to re-discover what this field of industrial engineering/Human Factors is all about, in this fast evolving technological breakthrough, and transmits its concept.   I thus published on the category “What is that concept of Human Factors in Engineering?

I applied for a Canadian emigration visa in 1990, a year before graduation, but it was denied me: the Canadian consulate in Houston did not interview me at all. After inviting me for an interview the consulate told me by letter that since I have a USA visa then I had to go back home for application or something to that effect.

I left with $5,000 of my own saved money, much devalued by inflation. Again, I had no one to receive me at the airport and had no acquaintances to shelter me. It was the same lonely and frustrating process as my first travel.  It was as if I never learn anything from past mishaps, but I knew my destination this time around, and what to expect to see. There were no internet facilities at the time and no versatile communications.

I stayed two days at the temporary university boarding building.  A bright Lebanese undergraduate student in electrical engineering named Ghassan visited me at the dorm and connected me with a Lebanese graduate student in Environmental Engineering who rented a house far from campus. This graduate student agreed to take me in for a week and I used to accompany him in his car, mornings and evenings.

Ghassan was an undergraduate electrical engineer and ended up obtaining his PhD in the same year of my graduation; he got a job with Cisco in Oklahoma City while I was totally exposed to an uncertain future.

I forgot the name of the Environmental engineer: my memory is the weakest element of my brain, especially in recall. I remember that I aided this student during his PhD project; I connected him with the specialized person in data design and acquisition and then I helped him imputing data for statistical analysis. He insisted on paying me and when I finally asked for $100 for an entire month of work (I was totally broke at the time) he got furious for accepting the money since he took me in for free, 5 years ago for a week.  This is a typical Lebanese testing gimmick for loyalty or whatever you label it; they insist and your role is to continue refusing, but I was not proficient in that custom and abhorred it.

In the meantime, I had contacted the university student foreign office and a lovely structural engineering undergraduate, a Tunisian student named Suhail, agreed to share his university apartment with me.  Suhail loved everything that is Lebanese, food, music and all, but I was not up to his expectations.  Suhail was a bright and caring person; he finished his PhD in no time and wrote an “artificial intelligent” computer program for structural engineers; the program would prompt you with inquiries and at the end it would suggest the proper equation to use for your problem or project.

The notion of artificial intelligence was the rage at the time and I had audited a course on that topic because I could not afford tuition; I read many books on the topic.  I was working four part-time jobs at minimum wages, within university campus, because I am a law-abiding kind of guy.

Suhail got married at the same period with a Palestinian/US girl in Norman and got a son; he did all these things while I was plugging in to get past my General Exam. I think Suhail’s wife name was Wafaa and she helped her parents in a restaurant that specialized in Near Eastern food. I recall that we occasionally had the specialty of the day around lunch time; probably Suhail’s visits were much more frequent.

Suhail aided me greatly in writing the computer program for my computer generated experiment. I started writing the program in Pascal but I was not that proficient in programming and Suhail translated my ideas into C++.  I had audited a course in C++ because I could not afford any tuition, but had to stop coming to class: I thought that I was taking an introductory course in C++ but discovered quickly that the computer engineers were already proficient in that programming language. The funny part was that the team I was added to were gracious enough to deliver me the programming instructions of its final project.

The Dean, who was from India, refused me a grant and Dr. Foote, my former MS advisor, would not support me as I expected of him. I had no choice but to enroll in order to straighten my visa status from business visa to graduate student.  I paid the full exorbitant tuition for the minimum 12 credit-hours and was completely broke by the end of the semester. I had to take three undergraduate courses, two of them I had taken but the third one (Experimental Design) turned out to be the most interesting and very important for my field and for scientific mind.

I settle for the Human Factor specialty within the industrial engineering department because Dr. Purswell agreed to be my advisor next semester, and offered me a quarter scholarships which allowed me reduced tuition fees.  Dr. Purswell was more interested in the health and safety aspects in this field: he had a private company in forensic engineering for work related accidents.

There were not enough graduate Human Factors courses in the industrial engineering department for a PhD program: the human factors field was not well-developed as the other industrial engineering specialties and the university lacked qualified professors in that field. I was lucky to complement my graduate course requirements in many other departments such as psychology, “quantitative psychology”, marketing, accounting, economics, and education which offered me new perspectives and approaches to the human element in all these artificial human made systems.

I enrolled in a couple of graduate courses in the Psychology department and I felt at home; my heart got set on the cognitive aspect of human capabilities and limitations instead of the physical aspects that is known as Ergonomics, and the modeling of the human body versus the functions of the brain.

I had taken many courses in cognitive psychology and various statistical modeling and software analysis programs, frequently used in marketing, business, psychology, and econometrics.  One professor by the name Getty gave me credits for the Pascal programming language, the next semester, when I paid for the course that I had audited and did all the homework and exams.

I was hooked to the cognitive field in Human Factors but my advisor would have none to do with cognition for my dissertation because he was not interested in such a field and it was not in his line of business.

To be fair, Dr. Purswell was more than patient with me and let me write two proposals related to cognition that both were turned down within a year.  I attempted several times to get on teams working on interesting projects but I was turned down on account that I should have security clearances; what? GM requires security clearance for designing a new ergonomically functional board for its cars! Or the other project for selecting a dozen indicators, sort of operation measurement of the mental and sensory responses of individuals for flying military jets.  The project was done and I attended the presentation.  I guess this project is operational in selecting applicants.

Finally, Dr. Purswell had to deliver an ultimatum or he would have no choice but to suspend my scholarships. I was ordered to stop all part-time jobs. I obeyed and within a semester I wrote the proposal.  I then designed the experiment, finished setting up the fictitious chemical lab, and carried out several intelligence testing protocols just to divert the true objective from the over 120 “subjects” whom I enrolled mostly from first year Psychology students: they are required to submit to experiments for credit-hours.

That semester was hectic but a lot of fun. The next semester was the worst of all semesters because I had input thousands of data and read hundreds of pages of computer statistical results and then the gruesome task of writing up my dissertation.

I had Dr. Schlegel in my advisory team and he forced me to use a specialized word processing program, simply because the print was professional and versatile; the problem was that no one could interpret it when I got stuck, except Dr. Schlegel; I had occasionally to wait a couple of weeks to meet with him in order to untangle stupid word processing glitches.

What still hurt, after 20 years, is that I was not satisfied with my thesis.  Not that practical applications are expected from an engineer, but because no one controlled the process of my experiment.  What was initially an excellent design of the experiment that turned out to get out of the designed program.

The analysis would no longer correspond to cause and effect designed experiment and I had to contend with descriptive analyses that ruined all the pride that I had as an excellent scientific mind.

I am still hurting; I am glad that the publishing company for dissertations refused to publish it, because the manuscript had a numbered blank page and I could do nothing about it: I had no money at all. to recopy the entire manuscript. And didn’t care for the thesis to be published anyway.

All scarce money going down the drain and no professional future in the horizon.

I am hurting because I hated academia after graduation, and tried my best to keeping academic life at bay, working on lousy jobs hoping that my “unconscious” depression would subside.

This mental block never let go and I had no support system to get on the right track.  Yes, I wasted my life as a professional, but deep in my mind and my heart I know that I have a better and sounder scientific mind than many professionals that I know, and I am still interested in many fields of study and have the capabilities to untangle the good valid scientific projects from the faked ones.

 “An exercise for taxonomy of methods”

Article #14 in Human Factors

I am going to let you have a hand at classifying methods by providing a list of various methods that could be used in Industrial engineering, Human Factors, Ergonomics, and Industrial Psychology.

This first list of methods is organized in the sequence used to analyzing part of a system or a mission;

The second list is not necessarily randomized though thrown in without much order; otherwise it will not be an excellent exercise.

First, let us agree that a method is a procedure or a set of step by step process that our for runners of geniuses and scholars have tested, found it good, agreed on it on consensus basis and offered it for you to use for the benefit of progress and science.

Many of you will still try hard to find short cuts to anything, including methods, for the petty argument that the best criterion to discriminating among clever people is who waste time on methods and who are nerds.

Actually, the main reason I don’t try to teach many new methods in this course is that students might smack run into a real occupational stress which they are not immune of, especially that methods in human factors are complex and time consuming.

Here is this famous list of a few methods and you are to decide which ones are still in the conceptual phases and which have been “operationalized“.

The first list contains the following methods: operational analysis, activity analysis, critical incidents, function flow, decision/action, action/information analyses, functional allocation, task, fault tree, failure modes and effects analyses, time line, link analyses, simulation, controlled experimentation  operational sequence analysis, and workload assessment.

The second list is constituted of methods that human factors are trained to utilize if need be such as: verbal protocol, neural network, utility theory, preference judgments, psycho-physical methods, operational research, prototyping, information theory, cost/benefit methods, various statistical modeling packages, and expert systems.

Just wait, let me resume.

There are those that are intrinsic to artificial intelligence methodology such as: fuzzy logic, robotics, discrimination nets, pattern matching, knowledge representation, frames, schemata, semantic network, relational databases, searching methods, zero-sum games theory, logical reasoning methods, probabilistic reasoning, learning methods, natural language understanding, image formation and acquisition, connectedness, cellular logic, problem solving techniques, means-end analysis, geometric reasoning system, algebraic reasoning system.

If your education is multidisciplinary you may catalog the above methods according to specialty disciplines such as: artificial intelligence, robotics, econometrics, marketing, human factors, industrial engineering, other engineering majors, psychology or mathematics.

The most logical grouping is along the purpose, input, process/procedure, and output/product of the method, otherwise it would be impossible to define and understand any method.

Methods could be used to analyze systems, provide heuristic data about human performance, make predictions, generate subjective data, discover the cause and effects of the main factors, or evaluate the human-machine performance of products or systems.

The inputs could be qualitative or quantitative such as declarative data, categorical, or numerical generated from structured observations, records, interviews, questionnaires, computer generated or outputs from prior methods.

The outputs could be point data, behavioral trends, graphical in nature, context specific, generic, or reduction in alternatives.

The process could be a creative graphical or pictorial model, logical hierarchy or in network alternative, operational, empirical, informal, or systematic.

You may also group these methods according to their mathematical branches such as algebraic, probabilistic, or geometric.

You may collect them as to their deterministic, statistical sampling methods and probabilistic characters.

You may differentiate the methods as belonging to categorical, ordinal, discrete or continuous measurements.

You may wish to investigate the methods as parametric, non parametric, distribution free population or normally distributed.

You may separate them on their representation forms such as verbal, graphical, pictorial, or in table.

You may discriminate them on heuristic, observational, or experimental scientific values.

You may bundle these methods on qualitative or quantitative values.

You may as well separate them on their historical values or modern techniques based on newer technologies.

You may select them as to their state of the art methods such as ancient methods that new information and new paradigms have refuted their validity or recently developed.

You may define the methods as those digitally or analytically amenable for solving problems.

You may choose to draw several lists of those methods that are economically sounds, esoteric, or just plainly fuzzy sounding.

You may opt to differentiate these methods on requiring high level of mathematical reasoning that are out of your capability and those that can be comprehended through persistent efforts.

You could as well sort them according to which ones fit nicely into the courses that you have already taken, but failed to recollect that they were indeed methods worth acquiring for your career.

You may use any of these taxonomies to answer an optional exam question with no guarantees that you might get a substantial grade.

It would be interesting to collect statistics on how often these methods are being used, by whom, for what rational and by which line of business and by which universities.

It would be interesting to translate these methods into Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Hindu, or Russian.

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October 2020

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