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Analysing a complex map (Read 7471 times)
Mark Anderson
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Analysing a complex map
Dec 18th, 2009, 7:00pm
 
[Please leave political opinions at the door - this thread isn't about the politics of Afghanistan]

This thread starts with one of Mark B's blog post here, musing on a confusing map of events in a topic part of the world. I thought it interesting to do a TB tear-down of the data ypu can see the result on the Tinderbox Exchange [get a copy as play along]. The chart purports to shows the given problem as impossibly intertwingled (i.e. "not our fault" if it all goes wrong). Strangely, the data is not actually fully readable (the viewer only sees a seemingly 'complete solution') as the 'big\ labels partially/completely obscure a number of the charts nodes.

The original layout looks as if it's been put through a tool like Graphviz to try and stop too many lines overlapping or through nodes to which they're not connected. It makes for a pretty layout, but doesn't necessarily impart meaning.

To put the data in TB, I got the best copy of the chart I could find (a URL reference in the TBX) and magnified it as far as made sense then tracked the links.  There are only 2 sorts of links, "significant delay' or  no label. I copied this in TB. The latter were normal links and the others; have the label "Significant Delay" and are coloured bright red. In terms of notes I kept to the rough colours of the map except I changed the shade for the core section(mid-right of chart) - about the view of the population as this is - I believe - the point of the chart. I also turned the links terminating into links between influence levels into a set of 'Sympathy Influence" notes so we could - in TB terms - correctly terminate all links.

It made more sense to capture the data in Outline form first. Huh? Well, a strength of Tinderbox is avoiding premature formalisation so there's no gain in aping the source map's layout - we're committing to the original author's view before knowing if it's right.  In the outline, I used separators to capture the charts captions. In fact, I initially used the separators as container to colour/mark-up the notes then flattened the outline before taking a peek to the map for the first time.

As I commented to Mark, the process took about 5 hours - a good part of which was squinting at the obscured nodes and figuring the captions (a staff officer's acquaintance with pol/mil jargon and abbreviations helps!). TB v5's checkboxes were a big help here. How?  Well, I set a prototype to show inbound and outbound links. I turned on checkboxes, then walked down the nodes adding outbound links, ticking each items as I went.  all done, I then stated at the top and double-checked  the in/out for each fixing mistakes as I went, an un-ticking each item as I went (I was having to do this between day-job work). Actually I took a third pass to double check as the original matrix was very complex and part-obscured but I do think I now have all inks complete, even if I don't have all node labels.

Turing to the map, I them made a set of smart [sic] adornments coloured as for the note group they represented to pull apart the note 'groups'. At this point the size/position of the adornments doesn't matter. We're just splitting up the raw data. I then moved the adornments to positions roughly mirroring the original chart (seemed a reasonable starting layout!). Now the real TB part. I turn off the adornments queries (actually I deleted them in in the TBX you have) resized the adornment and started re-arranging the notes to look at the way the links run.

At this point you can all play:
  • Make an agent to find notes with no - or N- In or out links
  • Try and rearrange the map so primary sources are at the edge and arrows flow inwards.
  • Try turning off the visibility of untitled links so you're seeing only the 'Significant Delay' links.
  • Analyse what you like - point is you can!
There's no political angle here, I just saw the change to take a publicly available and impenetrable map and see how we could use TB to look at it.

Use my TBX - or make your own. As you find it on the Exchange, I've done little more than import and tease apart the data, so analytically it's rather blank canvas. Certainly, the map icons could do with some selective re-sizing to reveal full titles. See what you get out of it. Show us the map you made from this data. Or, just ask about the process of making the TBX.

Anyhow, I hope this helps a few folk get to grips with Tinderbox! Although I started from a diagram, the TBX could as easily have been generated from text notes and explicit/inferred links.

[..and please, no politics!]
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« Last Edit: Dec 20th, 2009, 10:36am by Mark Anderson »  

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Sumner Gerard
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Re: Analysing a complex map
Reply #1 - Apr 27th, 2010, 8:27am
 
The graphic splashed across the top of the article linked below looked so familiar! The article suggests the original Afghanistan diagram was created in Powerpoint (I wonder) and then quotes deep thinkers who say Powerpoint makes us stupid.  

Since a version of the diagram can be created in Tinderbox, I suppose we are to believe Tinderbox makes us stupid too!

Anyway, it's fun to speculate that the obvious limits to my mental faculties must be due to software... and hence to software makers:)

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/27/world/27powerpoint.html?hp
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« Last Edit: Apr 27th, 2010, 8:47am by Sumner Gerard »  
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Mark Anderson
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Re: Analysing a complex map
Reply #2 - Apr 27th, 2010, 9:48am
 
I too doubt that picture was made in PowerPoint, the link attachments look wrong for that tool. I have a certain sympathy though;as an erstwhile staff officer, I used to need to put a lot of info into briefing documents with little time (and no IT training).

Anyway, were you to retrace my steps in TB and build the COIN data out in Outline view (as I did), you'll have no idea how complex the map will look untill you're done. As reported elsewhere here, I've tried putting the same relationship data into Graphviz with arguably less clear results. I think this shows that some manual interpretation helps though in terms of adding clarity, I don't think any map layout will help with this particular data!
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« Last Edit: Apr 27th, 2010, 9:48am by Mark Anderson »  

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