Genghiz Khan meets modern music

By Gordon Rugg

Regular readers of this blog will know that my tastes include an occasional penchant for dark humour. In that spirit, today’s article is about Genghiz Khan in popular Western culture.

For some reason, he inspired not only a film so bad that it’s now a much-cherished classic (until you’ve seen John Wayne playing Genghiz Khan, you haven’t savoured the true depths of bad movies) but also a song which is legendary for its kitschiness even by Eurovision standards. That song is the topic of this article, though I’ve detoured slightly into a mention of Barbara Cartland towards the end. If you wish to read more, you know what sort of unhallowed ground you will be entering…

bannerSources for the original images are given at the end of this article

Continue reading

Life at uni: What do I do with the rest of my life?

By Gordon Rugg

It’s that time of year when final year students are uncomfortably aware that the rest of their lives will soon be starting, and that they don’t have a clue what they want to do with their lives, although everyone else seems to be reasonably sorted out and under control.

If you’re feeling like that, you’re not the only one. It’s an understandable feeling. This article is about non-threatening ways of moving towards finding out, and achieving, what you really want in life, particularly if you don’t even know what you actually want. It’s a story of hammocks and exotic sunny beaches and carnival masks. I’ll start with the masks.

bannerSources for original images are given at the end of this article.

Continue reading


By Gordon Rugg

Kites are an awesome invention. I’d originally thought of doing an article about concepts that they illustrate, such as why an anvil-shaped kite is amusing, but it’s a grim day in November, so I’ll just post some pictures of kites, as a reminder that life contains good things as well as bad.

A yellow kite against a blue skyFestival_of_the_Winds_Bondi_Beach_(6136049188)“Festival of the Winds Bondi Beach (6136049188)” by Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –


Continue reading

Making the most of bad bibliographic references

By Gordon Rugg

Sometimes, you have to make the best of what you have, even if it isn’t great.

In the case of cookery, there’s a legend that Chicken Marengo was created when Napoleon’s cook had to produce a meal out of whatever he had been able to scavenge in the aftermath of the battle of that name; the result is one of the few recipes that combines chicken with crayfish.

In the case of academic life, there’s an all-too-common reality where you are trying to write something, and all you have in the way of references for one section is a stub from Wikipedia, plus an article from a newspaper which claimed in the same issue that Elvis had been sighted piloting a UFO in Spokane.

So, what can you do when you’re faced with this situation? Is there any way of salvaging something from the debris?

The answer is that you can indeed salvage something, and even emerge in a position of strength, provided that you handle it the right way, and that you don’t push your luck.

How you do that is the topic of today’s article.

A dish fit for a future emperor (ingredients not to scale, and without the parsley…)bannerSources for original images are at the end of this article.

Continue reading

Creativity and idea generation

By Gordon Rugg

So what is creativity, and how can you generate more and better ideas?

There’s pretty general agreement that:

  • Creativity is a Good Thing
  • Thinking outside the box is a Good Thing
  • Thinking laterally is a Good Thing

That’s a good start.

However, when you start asking about how creativity works, or just how you’re supposed to think outside the box, or think laterally, an element of vagueness starts to roll in, like a dense bank of fog off the Atlantic at the start of a horror movie…

You start hearing stories of people and organisations that thought successfully and laterally outside the box, in a way that solved their problems with designing better elevators. You encounter puzzles involving people and items being found in improbable situations, such as stabbed to death with no weapon visible, in the middle of a field of unsullied snow. It’s all very edifying and interesting, but it doesn’t get to grips with what creativity really is, or how to do anything systematic about creating new ideas.

This article gives a brief overview of a systematic framework for making sense of creativity, and for choosing appropriate methods for generating new ideas.

Continue reading

How does marking work?

By Gordon Rugg

Humour alert and disclaimer: This article is humorous, with the occasional flash of sensible content. It is not intended to be a guide to exam or coursework technique, so if you try appealing your mark by blaming this article for leading you astray, then you have even less chance of succeeding than with the excuse of only having burnt down the cathedral because you thought the archibishop was inside at the time

I’ll start with a marking criterion that everybody knows, namely that markers don’t like Wikipedia very much. Here’s one example of why we feel that way.

dikdik humour

(Used under fair use terms, as a humorous academic article.)

In case you’re wondering whether that’s just a neat bit of Photoshop, I’ve seen equally interesting claims on Wikipedia, such as an article stating that an ancient Roman politician was married to Marilyn Manson.

So, markers have reasons for mistrusting Wikipedia. What else is going through their minds, and why?

Continue reading

Doomsday predictions as expressive behaviour

By Gordon Rugg

There was a classic article on Pharyngula recently about a group who donned bright yellow t-shirts to announce the imminent end of the world. It’s far from the first time that this announcement has been made; it’s probably not going to be the last.

So why do people keep making this announcement? Do they really believe that this time is going to be different, or is there something deeper going on?

As you might have guessed, usually there’s something deeper going on. The same underlying principle crops up in a wide range of forms, and is particularly prominent in politics, where it can cause a lot of problems.

The explanation begins with a topic that we discussed recently on this blog, namely expressive behaviour. It then moves on to systems theory, luxury, sex and power. The end of the world is a fine, rich topic…

end of world

Originally posted on:

(Image used under fair use terms, as part of an academic article about background theory.)

Continue reading