Ways of stating the obvious

By Gordon Rugg

Stating the obvious is an activity unlikely to win you many friends, or to influence many people in a direction that you would like. However, sometimes you have to do it.

So, why do you sometimes have to state the obvious, and how can you turn this problem to advantage? That’s the topic of this post. I’ll use the worked example of risks, both obvious and less obvious. (Reassuring note: I don’t go into scary details…)

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Sending the right signals at interview

By Gordon Rugg

On the surface, a lot of the advice that you’ll see about sending the right signals at job interviews is either pretty obvious (e.g. “dress smartly”) or subjective (e.g. “dress smartly”) or social convention with no relation to what you’ll actually be doing in the job (e.g. “dress smartly”).

Below the surface, however, there are regularities that make a lot more sense of what’s going on. Once you know what those regularities are, you’re in a better position to send out the signals that you want, with the minimum of wasted effort and of misunderstanding on both sides.

So, what are those regularities, and where do they come from? The answer takes us into the reasons for Irish elk having huge antlers, and peacocks having huge tails, and monarchs having huge crowns.

Images from Wikipedia; credits at the end of this article

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Cognitive load, kayaks, cartography and caricatures

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the first in a short series about things that look complex, but which derive from a few simple underlying principles. Often, those principles involve strategies for reducing cognitive load. These articles are speculative, but they give some interesting new insights.

I’ll start with Inuit tactile maps, because they make the underlying point particularly clearly. I’ll then look at how they share the same deep structure as satirical caricatures, and then consider the implications for other apparently complex and sophisticated human activities that are actually based on very simple processes.

By Gustav Holm, Vilhelm Garde – http://books.google.com/books?id=iDspAAAAYAAJ, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8386260

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Life at Uni: Some tips on exam technique

By Gordon Rugg

Standard disclaimer: This article is as usual written in my personal capacity, not in my Keele University capacity.

Sometimes, the acronyms that fit best are not the ones that produce the most encouraging words. That’s what happened when I tried to create an acronym to help with exam technique. It ended up as “FEAR FEAR”. This was not the most encouraging start. So, I’ll move swiftly on from the acronym itself to what it stands for, which is more encouraging, and should be more helpful.

A lot of people find exams mentally overwhelming. This often leads to answers that aren’t as good as they could be. When you’re in that situation, it’s useful to have a short, simple mental checklist that helps you focus on the key points that you want to get across. That’s where the acronym comes in.

F is for Facts, and F is for Frameworks

E is for Examples, and E is for Excellence

A is for Advanced, and A is for Application

R is for Reading, and R is for Relevance

In the rest of this article, I’ll work through each of the items, unpacking what they’re about, and how to handle them efficiently.

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Visualising complexity

By Gordon Rugg

Note: This article is a slightly edited and updated reblog of one originally posted on the Search Visualizer blog in 2012.

How can you visualise complexity?

It’s a simple-looking question. It invites the response: “That all depends on what you mean by ‘complexity’ and how you measure it”.

This article is about some things that you might mean by “complexity” and about how you can measure them and visualise them. It’s one of those posts that ended up being longer than expected… The core concepts are simple, but unpacking them into their component parts requires a fair number of diagrams. We’ll be exploring the theme of complexity again in later articles, as well as the theme of practical issues affecting visualizations.

This article focuses mainly on board games, to demonstrate the underlying principles. It then looks at real world activities, and some of the issues involved there.

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Why Hollywood gets it wrong, part 4

By Gordon Rugg

The first article in this short series examined how conflicting conventions and requirements can lead to a movie being unrealistic. The second article explored the pressures driving movie scripts towards unrealistically high signal to noise ratios, with few of the extraneous details that occur in real conversations. The third in the series examined how and why movies depict a world which requires the word “very” to describe it.

All of those themes are arguably about movies either selecting versions of reality, or depicting versions of reality which are simplified and/or unlikely. Those versions are unrealistic, but not actively wrong in the strict sense of the word. The underlying common theme is that they’re simplifying reality and/or exaggerating features of it.

Today’s article looks at a different aspect, where movies and games portray the world in a way that flatters and reassures the audience, regardless of how simplified or exaggerated the accompanying portrayal of the world might be. This takes us into the concepts of vicarious experience, of vicarious affiliations, and of why Wagner’s music isn’t as bad as it sounds. It also takes us into the horribly addictive pleasures of TV tropes…

Horrors of the apocalypse, and Wagner…

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Why Hollywood gets it wrong, part 3

By Gordon Rugg

The first article in this short series examined how conflicting conventions and requirements can lead to a movie being unrealistic. The second article explored the pressures driving movie scripts towards unrealistically high signal to noise ratios, with few of the extraneous details that occur in real conversations.

Today’s article, the third in the series, addresses another way in which movies are different from reality. Movies depict a world which features the word “very” a lot. Sometimes it’s the characters who are very bad, or very good, or very attractive, or whatever; sometimes it’s the situations they encounter which are very exciting or very frightening or very memorable; sometimes it’s the settings which are very beautiful, or very downbeat, or very strange. Whatever the form that it takes, the “very” will almost always be in there somewhere prominent.

Why does this happen? It’s a phenomenon that’s well recognised in the media, well summed up in a quote attributed to Walt Disney, where he allegedly said that his animations could be better than reality.

When you think of it from that perspective, then it makes sense for movies to show something different from reality, since we can see reality easily enough every day without needing to watch a movie. This raises other questions, though, such as in which directions movies tend to be different from reality, and how big those differences tend to be.

That’s the main topic of this article.

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