What are craft skills? A brief overview.

By Gordon Rugg

Craft skills are not the same as crafts, although the two concepts are related.

The term “craft” usually relates to a set of practical knowledge about a manual skill, such as basket making or carpentry.

The term “craft skills” originally related to specific pieces of practical knowledge within a craft, but is now often used in a broader sense, to describe any specific pieces of knowledge that are viewed as too low level to be worth including in an academic body of knowledge.

For instance, an academic course on research methods probably wouldn’t include specific information about the best way of typing in data from a paper questionnaire into a spreadsheet. That information would usually be viewed as a craft skill, easily (and often better) learnt via practical experience, or via informal guidance from a mentor while using the craft skill.

That’s the usual view of craft skills. However, there has been a recent growth of interest in craft skills, and particularly in academic craft skills, which has discovered that craft skills are more important for academic learning than was previously assumed. This is particularly relevant to the concept of transferable skills, where the reality turns out to be more complex and problematic than is generally assumed.

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General update

By Gordon Rugg

After the last few articles about the Voynich Manuscript, we’re now returning to our previous theme of knowledge modeling in relation to client requirements and the design of products and buildings.

We’re also starting a set of articles about another core theme of our work, namely knowledge modeling in relation to education, learning, teaching and training.

We hope you’ll find these articles useful and interesting.


Education versus training, academic knowledge versus craft skills: Some useful concepts

By Gordon Rugg

At the heart of education theory is a widely used distinction between education and training. This overlaps with a closely related distinction between academic knowledge and craft skills.

Although these concepts are extremely important, there is widespread debate about just what they mean, and what they imply for education theory and practice.

In knowledge modelling terms, these two distinctions can be neatly represented using the concepts of closed sets versus open sets, and of connected graphs versus unconnected graph fragments.

The illustrations below show how this works, and what some of the implications are for education theory and practice.

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Applying the Bax proposed solution

By Gordon Rugg

Stephen Bax’s article provides provisional “real” transliterations for over half the commonly used letters in the Voynich Manuscript’s alphabet. If his transliteration is even approximately correct, that should be enough to give some useful insights when applied to a page from the manuscript.

I’ve tried that, and the results are unconvincing. For instance, according to his transliteration, about half the words in one of the pages he analysed end in the letter “r”.

A language where half the words end in “r”? Even in a Latin page crammed with third person passives, that would take a lot of doing. There’s a lot more that’s strange about what emerges.

If this is a decipherment, as claimed by the press release, or even a partial decipherment, as claimed by the actual article, then it’s an interesting use of the word “decipherment”.

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Is the Voynich Manuscript in an unidentified language? Part 2

By Gordon Rugg

In the first part of this pair of articles, I looked at the general principles that linguists use when trying to identify a previously unknown language.

In this article, I’ll look at what happens when you apply those principles to the Voynich Manuscript.

In brief, it doesn’t end well for the idea that the manuscript is written in an unidentified language. That idea was tried and rejected by the specialists decades ago, for very good reasons. Anyone trying to resurrect the “unidentified language” theory needs to show that they’ve found a convincing set of counter-arguments to those reasons for rejection. So far, nobody’s come close; instead, the recent theories simply ignore the show-stopping problems.

Here are some of those reasons.


(Image courtesy of the Beinecke Library.)

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Is the Voynich Manuscript written in an unidentified language? Part 1

By Gordon Rugg

The short answer to the question in the title: Almost certainly not.

Linguists have been identifying previously-undeciphered languages for a long time, and they’re pretty good at it now. This section looks at some methods that let you take an unidentified language and work out what it’s likely to be. When you apply those methods to the Voynich Manuscript, the results are very, very odd. In this article, I’ll give a brief overview of the methods. In the next article, I’ll look at what happens when you apply them to the Voynich Manuscript.

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The Bax article on a proposed Voynich Manuscript decipherment

By Gordon Rugg

There’s a new claimed decipherment of the Voynich Manuscript, by Stephen Bax. In this blog article, I’ll report what the proposed decipherment claims, as far as possible in Bax’s own words, using screenshots to ensure as much accuracy as possible.

Here’s how it’s described in the press release from his university. I’ve trimmed detail from the middle, for brevity.

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Parsing, landscapes and art: Some speculations

By Gordon Rugg

In previous articles, I discussed how humans parse what they see, so as to make sense of it, in just the same way that they parse the words that they hear. In both types of parsing, ambiguities can arise; in both types of parsing, those ambiguities can act as a source of interest to the person doing the parsing.

This article looks at ambiguities in parsing landscapes, and at some speculative overlaps with art. In a later article, I’ll discuss how people parse landscapes, with particular regard to the practical implications for site design and for urban planning.


Image from wikimedia: 800px-Salar_de_Uyuni,_Bolivia_2.jpg

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This week’s Voynich Manuscript decipherment

By Gordon Rugg

I’d never realised how easy it was to decipher the Voynich Manuscript. There have been at least two solutions in the last two weeks (and those are just the ones with press releases).

It’s getting difficult for journalists, researchers, and the public to keep up with decipherments, so I’ll add the latest ones to a list when I hear about them. If I miss any, please drop me a line in the comments section, and I’ll add them. (Please only mention the ones that have had a journal publication and/or a press release, otherwise there will be no chance of keeping the list reasonably up to date.)

Yes, in case you’re wondering, this post is basically humorous. But seriously, anyone who puts out a press release claiming a new solution really ought to check whether their approach contains anything new. Two classic re-inventings of the wheel are:

  • “Some words of the Manuscript look like words in this real language.” If you’re claiming that, you should be aware that the “unidentified language” approach was shot down years ago – the text of the manuscript is very different structurally from any known language.
  • “The text of the Manuscript is non-random.” Yes, we’ve known that for at least ten years. If you’re going on to claim that therefore it can’t be a meaningless hoax, then you should consider that my proposed hoax solution specifically involves non-random combinations of text.

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