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The Totally DoubleQuotable James Fallows

Saturday, March 15th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- Malaysia flight 370 seen through the media glass, darkly ]
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Here’s Fallows in The Atlantic on Malaysia flight 370:

As the years go by, I am more and more convinced that the immediate, fast-twitch talk-show responses on what we “have” to do about some development are almost always wrong, and the calm, day- or week-after reflections about proportion, response, and national interest are almost always wiser. If I could, I would put all cable-TV discussion of breaking-news crises on a 24-hour delay.

I would love to DoubleQuote that up with some other specific example — but which?

With the initial reporting that the Oklahoma City bombing was likely Islamic? From the American Journalism Review, Jumping to Conclusions in Oklahoma City?

Within hours of the bombing, most network news reports featured comments from experts on Middle Eastern terrorism who said the blast was similar to the World Trade Center explosion two years earlier. Newspapers relied on many of those same experts and stressed the possibility of a Middle East connection. The Wall Street Journal, for example, called it a “Beirut-style car bombing” in the first sentence of its story. The New York Post quoted Israeli terrorism experts in its opening paragraph, saying the explosion “mimicked three recent attacks on targets abroad.” “We were, as usual, following the lead of public officials, assuming that public officials are telling us the truth,” says John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s magazine and author of a book on coverage of the Persian Gulf War. He believes the media overemphasized the possible Middle Eastern link and ignored domestic suspects because initially the police were not giving that angle much thought. “Reporters can’t think without a cop telling them what to think,” MacArthur says. “If you are going to speculate wildly, why not say this is the anniversary of the Waco siege? Why isn’t that as plausible as bearded Arabs fleeing the scene?”

With the student Sunil Tripathi, widely and falsely accused of being one of the Boston Marathon bombers, whose body was later found in “the waters off India Point Park in Providence, Rhode Island”? As later reported by Mary Elizabeth Williams in Salon:

Of all the ways in which last week’s horror in Boston showed the resilience and cooperation of a community in the wake of disaster, the tragedy will also inevitably go down as a shining example of the desperate, despicable scramble to hunt, to accuse, to blame first – and worry about ethics and responsibility later. If ever. We saw it in the epic bungling of mainstream media outlets like CNN and the New York Post. We saw it in the frenzy of Redditors and overeager tweeters. We saw it, most cruelly, in the story of a missing student, a young man whose body may have been pulled Tuesday night from the Providence harbor:

Sunil Tripathi was already making headlines before the Boston Marathon bombing. The Brown undergraduate was last seen on March 16, wearing “a black jacket, blue jeans and a Philadelphia Eagles cap.” … And then Boston happened. In what was later far too generously referred to as the “confusion” of its aftermath, the amateur detectives of Reddit decided that the missing man could be seen in images at the scene of the bombing. “The photos bear good resemblance… not perfect but there are definitely strong similarities… skin tone, hair color, approximate build, and yes that nose.” Where the whole thing really went berserk, though, was in the rumor, which instantly became a desperately repeated report, that Tripathi, along with another man mentioned by name, had been “identified on police scanner” as a suspect. Tripathi’s photograph was instantly splashed across the world. He was declared unquestioningly in the news feeds of both hasty, news-hungry social media users and several media outlets as a “suspect.”

And so forth…

Or should we go with something simpler and more general, like Moltke the Elder‘s dictum:

No plan survives contact with the enemy

or Philip Snowden‘s:

Truth, it has been said, is the first casualty of war

??

The DoubleQuote is a fine and useful form — but deep down, it’s pattern recognition — and as in the present case, a pattern may recur more than once…

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In this instance… James Fallows later commented, in Malaysia 370 Update: Landing Strips, Cell Phones, and More:

Rupert Murdoch loses his mind. You can see it here. What’s most amazing about the response below is that it happened before anything was known about the flight — whether it had blown up, ditched in the sea, been hijacked, landed safely by mistake somewhere, etc.

It’s possible that the jihadist interpretation will turn out to be true. But the word “confirms,” before anyone knew (or yet knows) what happened to the flight, from perhaps the single most powerful “journalistic” figure in the world is … well, it confirms a lot of suspicions about Murdoch.

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Spirals: plus ça change

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- a striking image from the Cassini probe, a "spiral" staircase ]
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Spirals, which are close to concentric circles and close to ellipses, can also be “squared” or “oblonged” — pattern recognition is not always neat in its observation of definitions, and this can as easily be a cognitive feature as a bug:

Besides, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose could almost be the motto for pattern recognition, emphasizing the naturally cross-disciplinary, cross-silo nature of analogical cognitive strategies.

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The top panel image is of the North Pole of Saturn, as recently captured by NASA’s Cassini mission. As blog-friend Bryan Alexander notes at Infocult, NASA says of this image, which it calls The Maelstrom:

The vortex at Saturn’s north pole — seen here in the infrared — takes on the menacing look of something from the imagination of Edgar Allan Poe.

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Gaming the Connections: from Sherlock H to Nada B

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- the game of Connect the Dots in play and practice ]
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CIA's (now ret'd) Nada Bakos examines the Al Qaida board in the HBO docu, Manhunt

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Manhunt, the HBO documentary, does what (not having been there and seen that at the time) appears to be a decent job of recreating some of the cognitive stratregies employed by CIA officers in the OBL hunt. The one I’m interested in here is the building of a “link chart” or cognitive map — law enforcement “evidence board” — the idea being (a) to note known connections visibly, and (b) to encourage the mind to make intuitive leaps that reveal previously unknown connections between nodes… or “dots”.

Sophisticated software does this sort of thing algorithmically with regard to (eg) network connections via phone-calls, but the human mind is still better than AI at some forms of pattern recognition, and that’s the aspect that interests me here.

Aside:

For more on the cognitive significance of the link chart in Manhunt, see my post Jeff Jonas, Nada Bakos, Cindy Storer and Puzzles.

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Benedict Cumberbatch‘s Sherlock lays out the way it works –

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Okay, so one way to visualize connections is to make a fairly random collage of relevant photos, names, dates and places, and tie it together with links of string or ribbon. That’s the equivalent of what in HipBone games terms we’d call a “free-form” game, and it works well for the “divergent”, initial brainstorming phase of thought. But it does little to bottle its own energy, to focus down, to force the mind — in the no less powerful “convergent” phase — into perceiving even more links than occur spontaneously in building the link chart in question.

HipBone‘s preformatted boards take the cognitive process to that second stage. They work on one of the most powerful ingredients in creativity: constraint. Business writer Dave Gray of Communication Nation puts it like this:

Creativity is driven by constraints. When we have limited resources — even when the limits are artificial — creative thinking is enhanced. That’s because the fewer resources you have, the more you are forced to rely on your ingenuity.

But that premise doesn’t just hold true for business problem-solving — it’s at the heart of creative thinking at the Nobel level, too, in both arts and sciences. Consider mathematician Stanley Ulam, writing in his Adventures of a Mathematician:

When I was a boy I felt that the role of rhyme in poetry was to compel one to find the unobvious because of the necessity of finding a word which rhymes. This forces novel associations and almost guarantees deviations from routine chains or trains of thought. It becomes paradoxically a sort of automatic mechanism of originality…

Here’s how the poet TS Eliot puts it:

When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas.

A Hipbone Gameboard such as the Waterbird, Dartboard, or Said Symphony board is chosen precisely to challenge the mind with third, fourth and fifth rounds of “creative leaps” — thus adding both divergent and convergent cognitive styles to this form of graphical analysis.

That’s my point here — and a plug for HipBone-Sembl style thinking.

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I can’t resist adding a couple of instances in which the meme of “connecting the dots” via a link chart or evidence board has crept from TV series that I enjoyed into the world of games — this first one based on the terrific French detective series, Engrenages, retitled Spirals for British consumption:

— and this one for fans of the US TV series, Breaking Bad:

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Matrioshka forensics

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- it still takes a live human to see what the human eye cannot see but the machine can ]
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This would appear to be (one version of) the state of the art in facial recognition:

Image within image within image — the gentleman on the right is more or less recognizable as a reflection in the eye of the gentleman on the left — thus giving new potential meaning to the phrase “you are the apple of my eye” (cf Zechariah 2:8, also Oberon in Midsummer Night’s Dream III.ii.102 ff., and Stevie Wonder, You Are The Sunshine Of My Life).

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Or — to switch disciplines while remaining with the matrioshka form, because such patterns are of interest to the inquiring mind — as Gary Snyder puts it in his marvelous poem, One Should Not Speak to a Skilled Hunter:

The secret.
and the secret hidden deep in that.

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For another version of the state of the art in facial recognition, see: Where’s Ms. Waldo?. Aloha!

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Theory and Practice:

Friday, November 29th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- how theory works out in practice, and vice versa ]
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Here’s the first of a pair of “patterns” of interest…

Theory contradicts practice:

— with thanks to my friend Peter van der Werff!

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And here’s the second, a delicious serpent-bites-tail tweet re Egypt:

Practice contradicts theory:

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Okay, there are two more items for the “pattern recognition” / “pattern language” archives…

And here’s wishing you all a Happy Black Friday — if that’s even concedivable!

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