Things, concepts and words

By Gordon Rugg

There’s a useful three way distinction in linguistics between things, concepts and words.

This article is a gentle examination of the distinction, with some thoughts about implications for human error.

Unicorns and non-unicornsbannerSources for images are given at the end of this article

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Beyond the 80:20 Principle

By Gordon Rugg, Jennifer Skillen & Colin Rigby

There’s a widely used concept called the 80:20 Principle, or the Pareto Principle, named after the decision theorist who invented it. It’s extremely useful.

In brief, across a wide range of fields, about 80% of one thing will usually come from 20% of another.

In business, for example, 80% of your revenue will come from 20% of your customers. In any sector, getting the first 80% of the job done will usually take about 20% of the resources involved; getting the last 20% of the job done will usually be much harder, and will take up 80% of the resources. The figure won’t always be exactly 80%, but it’s usually in that area. Good managers are very well aware of this issue, and keep a wary eye out for it when planning.

Here’s a diagram showing the principle. It’s pretty simple, but very powerful. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. It can actually be developed into something richer and more powerful, which is what we’ll describe in this article.

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Instrumental and expressive behaviour

By Gordon Rugg

There are a lot of very useful concepts which are nowhere near as widely known as they should be.

One of these is the concept of instrumental versus expressive behaviour. It makes sense of a broad range of human behaviour which would otherwise look baffling. It explains a lot of the things that politicians do, and a lot of the ways that people act in stressful situations, for instance.

This article gives a short overview of the traditional version of the concept, and describes how a richer form of knowledge representation can make the concept even more useful.

Humans being expressive and instrumental

bannerv1Sources for original images are given at the end of this article

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Strange places

By Gordon Rugg

There’s a scene in the movie Byzantium where a vampire hesitates at a threshold, waiting for her intended victim to invite her inside. The setting is a run-down seaside town, out of season. It’s a scene that combines several types of unsettling strangeness, which makes it a good starting point for today’s article about strange places.

bannerv1Two boundary spaces: Image credits are at the 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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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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The Knowledge Modelling Book

By Gordon Rugg

Over the last year, we’ve blogged about various aspects of knowledge modelling. That’s allowed us to go into depth about specific topics.

We’re now pulling that information together into a structured format, as an online book. This article contains the core structure of the book, with links to our previous blog articles about the topics within the book. Those articles cover about half of the material that the final version of the book will contain.

We’ve gone for this format, rather than a single downloadable document, because it’s more practical at this point. The knowledge modelling book covers a lot of topics, and even the current partial draft would be a very large document, with a lot of illustrations.

We’ll update this draft fairly frequently, via further blog articles. Some of those articles will be case studies showing how concepts from the book can be applied to real examples. Other articles will be about the broader and deeper context of the book; in particular, the introductory sections and the discussion sections for the main sections. At some point, we’ll put a more reader-friendly version onto the Hyde & Rugg website, which we’re currently updating.

We welcome constructive feedback and suggestions.

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The Uncanny Valley, Proust, Segways and the living dead

By Gordon Rugg

I recently visited my old university town after being away for more than twenty years. It was a very unsettling experience; the town I saw was very different from the one I remembered, and those differences stirred up a lot of emotional turmoil.

I had uncomfortable visions of spending years coming to terms with those feelings, and with the deep subconscious issues that would probably be involved, about memories of my past and of days that could never be re-lived. It had all the makings of a great novel, until I mentioned it to Sue Gerrard, who said that more likely it was just a case of the uncanny valley.

She was right.

And that is why I’m now unlikely to write this century’s answer to À la recherche du temps perdu.

So what is the uncanny valley anyway, and why does it mean that the world will have to settle for this blog article instead of a literary masterpiece? The answer takes us through a surprisingly broad range of phenomena that individually look difficult to explain, but which might be explicable together as the effects of some simple cognitive processes.

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Images from Wikipedia; links are at the end of this article.

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Trees, nets and teaching

By Gordon Rugg

Much of the debate on education uses diagrams to illustrate points being discussed.

Many of those diagrams are based on informal semantics.

The result is often chaos.

In this article, I’ll use the knowledge pyramid as an example of how informal semantics can produce confusion rather than clarity.

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