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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The Rugg and Taylor “Cryptologia” article on the Voynich Manuscript

By Gordon Rugg and Gavin Taylor

Standard disclaimer: This article represents our own opinions, and does not reflect the views of Keele University or of Gavin’s employer, Heath Lane Academy, Leicester.

We’ve recently had an article published in Cryptologia about our work on the Voynich Manuscript, which was discussed in New Scientist. The Cryptologia article is behind a paywall, so in this article we’ve summarised the key points, for anyone who wants some more detail.

The background

Our involvement with the Voynich Manuscript started when Gordon needed a test of concept for the Verifier method that he had developed with Jo Hyde, for detecting errors in previous research into hard, unsolved problems.

The Voynich Manuscript is a book in a unique script, with odd illustrations, which had previously been believed to be an undeciphered text, either in a unidentified language or in an uncracked code. There were serious problems with both those explanations for the manuscript. If it was an unidentified language, then it was an extremely strange one. If it was an uncracked code, then it was either astonishingly sophisticated, or was based on a very unusual set of principles. The third main possibility, namely that the manuscript contained only meaningless gibberish, had been generally discounted, because there are numerous odd statistical regularities in the text of the manuscript, which everyone believed were much too complex to have been hoaxed.

Gordon’s work showed that this belief was mistaken, and that the most distinctive qualitative features of the Voynich Manuscript could be replicated using low-tech hoaxing methods. This resulted in an article in Cryptologia in 2004.

Gordon’s initial work, however, did not address the quantitative statistical regularities of the text in the manuscript.

Our recent article in Cryptologia addresses this issue, and shows how the most distinctive quantitative features of the VMS can be replicated using the same low-tech hoaxing methods as Gordon’s previous work. These features arise as unintended consequences of the technology being used, which produces statistical regularities as unplanned but inevitable side-effects.

Taken together, these two articles show that the key unusual features of the Voynich Manuscript can be explained as the products of a low-tech mechanism for producing meaningless gibberish.

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Iterative non-functional prototyping

By Gordon Rugg

Sometimes, product development is straightforward. The client tells you what they want; you produce it; they’re happy with it, they pay you, and everything is fine. This is known in the field as the waterfall model of development; once the client has signed off on the requirements, the process then moves irrevocably onwards, like a river going over a cliff.

When you and the client are dealing with familiar territory, this approach usually works reasonably well. Sometimes, though, things don’t work that way. You’re particularly likely to hit problems when you’re developing something that’s new territory for you and/or the client.

One common problem involves the client changing their mind part-way through development.

Another involves the client being unhappy with what you produced.

Communication problems are another frequent source of trouble, with you trying to make sense of just what the client wants, and getting more and more frustrated.

If you’re in that situation, or you think there’s a risk of getting into it, you might want to try iterative non-functional prototyping. It’s a lot simpler than it sounds, and it’s a fast, cheap, efficient way of getting to the heart of what the client wants, particularly when clients don’t actually know just what they want at the start. It involves looping through mockups systematically until the requirements are clear.

This article gives a short introduction to the core concepts and the process. It should be enough to let you get started; there’s supporting material elsewhere on this blog which goes into more detail about the underpinnings, which I’ve linked to within the article.

Waterfalls and loopsbannerv1Images from Wikimedia Commons: Attributions are given at the end of this article

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Teacher Humour: Why spelling matters

By Gordon Rugg

If one of your students ever complains that you’re making too much fuss about correct spelling…

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https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/573223858803590270/

(Image used under fair use terms, as a humorous low-resolution copy of an image already widely circulated)

If you want a more detailed explanation, this previous article goes into more depth (but is less artistically striking…)

 

Why Hollywood gets it wrong, part 2

By Gordon Rugg

The first article in this short series looked at one reason for movies presenting a distorted version of reality, namely conflict between conventions.

Today’s article looks at a reason for movies presenting a simplified version of reality. It involves reducing cognitive load for the audience, and it was studied in detail by Grice, in his work on the principles of communication. It can be summed up in one short principle: Say all of, but only, what is relevant and necessary.

At first sight, this appears self-evident. There will be obvious problems if you don’t give the other person all of the information they need, or if you throw in irrelevant and unnecessary information.

In reality, though, it’s not always easy to assess whether you’ve followed this principle correctly. A particularly common pitfall is assuming that the other person already knows something, and in consequence not bothering to mention it. Other pitfalls are subtler, and have far-reaching implications for fields as varied as politics, research methods, and setting exams. I’ll start by examining a classic concept from the detective genre, namely the red herring.

five red herrings bannerHerring image by Lupo – Self-made, based on Image:Herring2.jpg by User:Uwe kils, which is licensed {{GFDL}}, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2610685

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