People in architectural drawings, part 2; the mathematics of desire

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the second in a short series about finding out what people would really like in life.

The obvious approach doesn’t work very well. If you just ask people what they want, you tend to get either no answer, because people don’t know, or to get low-aspiration responses, for various reasons that are well known in requirements acquisition research.

If, however, you instead show people a range of possibilities, including possibilities that they would probably never have thought of, then their preferences can change dramatically.

This series is about showing people a range of possibilities via images of buildings, which are intimately linked with a lot of other lifestyle choices.

In the first article, I looked at artistic representations of future and fantasy buildings, to see what trends emerged there, and what they could tell us about people’s desires. One trend that emerged strongly was for those buildings to be awe-inspiring, with lofty towers and huge portals.

This, however, raises one of those issues which are so familiar that we seldom think about them. Why are lofty towers and huge portals awe-inspiring in the first place, given that they can be wildly impractical?

Part of the explanation involves human cognitive biases and human preferences, which are the subject of this article.

In this article, I’ll look at those topics, and look at their implications for competition and change, with particular reference to concepts and literatures that give deeper insights into what’s going on.

From humility to hubris: Doors and desiresdoors2

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People’s dream buildings, part 1

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the first in a short series about what people would like their dream world to be like. Finding out what people would really like isn’t a simple matter of asking them. Most people only know about a limited number of possibilities, so their dreams tend to be correspondingly limited. When you introduce them to new possibilities, their dreams usually change dramatically, in scope and nature and aspiration. That’s what I’m exploring in this series of articles.

One way of introducing people to what’s possible is to show them pictures. The pictures don’t need to be of real scenes; often, the most interesting possibilities are the ones that are completely feasible, but that haven’t been built yet. So, one place to start is with images of imaginary scenes, in the form of fantasy landscapes and of architect’s drawings. In this article, I’ll look at common features in those scenes, to see what they tell us about those dream worlds. Some of the answers are surprising.

I envy the people in architect’s drawings and in the happier type of fantasy world (I’ll look at dystopias some other time). Their world is sunny and pleasant, full of contented people walking and standing elegantly in broad, inspiring plazas, in front of tall, impressive buildings that are clearly destined to win architectural awards. It’s a world where nobody gets caught in the rain, a world without graffiti or grime or the hassles of trying to negotiate a buggy and two small children through a narrow shop doorway in a crowded street.

It would be easy, and unkind, to write a humorous article on this theme. The full story is a lot more interesting, and has deep implications for how we think about the design both of buildings and of the human systems within which those buildings are located. It’s a story of the mathematics of desire, and of physical constraints, and of why we can’t know what we really want until we see it, and of what we can do about building this knowledge into the design process.

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Some modest proposals for educational flexibility

By Gordon Rugg

[Spoiler and standard disclaimer for the literal-minded: This article is satirical, and I’m writing it in my personal capacity, not my Keele capacity. With that out of the way, let the satire begin…]

Whereupon I assured Benaiah that nothing was farther from my mind than the harbouring of wicked thoughts; also, that I was a family man with a positive outlook on the state and its institutions, be they military, administrative or religious.

Stefan Heym, The King David Report. Quartet Books, London, 1977, p.28

Education policy is in flux, so what can a career-minded or survival-minded education worker do to improve their prospects of promotion and/or of managing to survive in post until retirement?

This article contains some modest proposals for ways in which educators can:

  • Show that they have a positive outlook on the state and its educational institutions
  • Ensure that student feedback is excellent, and
  • Ensure that most of their students achieve above average results

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Problem solving skills: What are they?

By Gordon Rugg

There is a general consensus that problem solving skills are a Good Thing. There’s general consensus that the education system needs to encourage them.

So far, so good. The consensus doesn’t go much further, though. It rapidly bogs down in long-running arguments about what problem solving skills actually are, and about how to measure them, and how to teach them. Those arguments follow a familiar pattern, with disputes about the True Definition, and invocations of Great Thinkers such as Socrates and Plato and Wittgenstein. The fact that those arguments have been rumbling on inconclusively for decades is a strong hint that maybe they’ve been framed in the wrong way from the outset, and that framing them differently might be a good idea.

That’s what this article is about. It describes more productive ways of handling these concepts, with particular reference to definitions, education theory and educational practice. It’s based on what happened the field of Artificial Intelligence tried to produce software that would find creative solutions to real world problems. It’s a story of how re-framing the issue with subtly but profoundly different concepts gave a powerful, efficient set of solutions that changed the world. It’s a story that most people have never heard of. It’s also a story that should transform the way that we tackle this aspect of education.

It’s really quite simple…”bannerv1“Viejos mineros asturianos” by Jomafemag – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons (link at end of this article)

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Content analysis: An introduction

By Gordon Rugg

I have very mixed feelings about content analysis. At its best, it gives you a new understanding of the world around you. At its worst, which I see all too often, it’s little more than an attempt to salvage mangled fragments of something useful from the wreckage of a questionnaire perpetrated by some sinner who deserves to be locked in a cell for a while with the assorted works of Barbara Cartland being read aloud over the intercom. Accompanied by accordion music.

So what is content analysis, and why do I have such strongly mixed feelings about it? In essence, it’s about analysing the content of texts. The texts may be questionnaire answers or interview answers, or magazine articles, or books, or online forum debates, or just about anything else that’s spoken or written.

Content analysis is usually something that you “grapple with” rather than “do” because it’s a messy, nasty problem. The core dilemna is that the further you get from the original words in the text, the more you risk distorting their meaning; however, the nearer you get to the original words, the less sense you can make of what those words are telling you.

There are various ways of tackling this problem, but none of them provide a perfect solution. The result is that there are numerous types of content analysis, which vary widely in their assumptions, methods, strengths and weaknesses. This article describes a “vanilla flavour” type of content analysis, which is enough for the needs of many students. I’ll look at other types in future articles.

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Life at Uni: Will the world end if I fail my exams?

By Gordon Rugg

The short answer, in case you were in any doubt, is “No”.

The world won’t end if you fail your exams.

At one level, you already knew that. The planet won’t be destroyed if you don’t get the exam grades you wanted. However, there’s another version of the question that bothers a lot of students. It’s about whether their personal world is going to be destroyed by exam results.

Again, the answer is “No”. This article is about the reasons for that answer. It’s another gentle, supportive article with practical advice. To set the mood, here’s a picture of a sweet little kitten.

Slide1

“Wikipedians cat” by Remedios44 – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wikipedians_cat.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Wikipedians_cat.jpg

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How much is too much?

By Gordon Rugg

There are various well-established answers to the question of how much is too much. (Though being well-established doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re true…)

In this article, I’ll look briefly at four types of answer:

  • Moral outrage
  • An unforeseen price
  • To infinity and beyond
  • The statistics of uncanny valleys

I’ll look at the statistical type in most detail, because it’s received least attention in the past, and because it has some fascinating implications for fashion, the media, and inter-group relations.

This is a story that goes in some improbable-sounding directions. It starts with mediaeval pointy shoes, lust-crazed beetles, and beer bottles.

bannerImages from Wikipedia; full details and acknowledgements at the end of this article

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