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2.2 Positive feedback and change

Simple positive feedback loops are easily illustrated since they are the mechanism through which anything changes rapidly. Take for example the explosion of water hyacinth when introduced into new environments:

Water hyacinth is a floating plant that has spread from South America to waterways around the world. It can cover the water so completely that it obstructs the movement of boats. Imagine a lake that is 10
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2.1 Systems thinking: the first step

The processes of analysis and synthesis in conventional thinking are based on the concept of an object. An object is something that can be clearly distinguished from its environment and can be characterised by its attributes. Attributes enable categorisation schemes that are the basis of our normal thinking. So when you look at a particular ecosystem, for example a pond, you find different animals and plants. And if you look at any ‘book of the pond’ you find each a
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1.3 Activities

Activity 4A engages you in developing a more sophisticated visual model of one of the themes raised in the ‘Powerdown Show’ programme. The sign graph diagramming technique is the ultimate visual modelling approach for revealing positive and negative feedback relationships, so you will be using this technique to first explore, and then communicate, the dynamic nature of the complex situation you have chosen to investigate.

The first sign graph you will develop will focus on r
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1.2 Readings

In your studies of the learning units so far, you have investigated a range of factors that may lead up to the ‘perfect storm’: a combination of interlinked environmental, social and economic crises. You have also explored your personal ecology, extending this to incorporate quality of life and environmental impact aspects. You have done this using a range of verbal, visual and mathematical models.

You have also become familiar with the fact that our mental models evolve through th
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1.1Aim

The aim of this section is to practise the use of diagramming techniques as part of a fundamental shift in interpreting issues – from an assembly of static objects to a network of dynamic relationships.


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Learning outcomes

By the end of this unit you should be able to:

  • use the sign graph diagramming technique to develop and communicate a systemic understanding of complex situations;

  • identify feedback relationships as fundamental controllers within systems and as points of intervention to enact change.


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Introduction

This unit will allow you to extend your visual modelling skills through the use of the sign graph diagramming technique. You will explore the dynamic relationship between social, economic and ecological factors whose interdependencies will determine the complex dynamics of the future as it unfolds. Your final task will be to identify points of intervention within this complex system in order to "nudge" the situation towards a more favourable outcome.

This unit is from our archive and is
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6.1 Review

Let's see if we have made any progress in studying thermal effects. The following SAQ is based on Exercise 3, although this time I have a higher expectation of how much you should be able to do.

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5.3 Order and chaos

How can we explain a sudden switch of behaviour at a particular temperature? There must be two competing influences (say X and Y) that depend differently on temperature. Figure 23 indicates how a unique temperature (a so-called critical temperature, Tc) arises,
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4.3.2 Competing processes

Let's look graphically at the way the rate of a thermally activated process changes with temperature. Figure 16 shows two rates with different activation energies of 1.0 and 0.5 eV – which curve is which?

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4.2 Energy distribution

Atoms without much thermal energy will not be doing very much. Consider fifty million million million (50 × 1018) silicon atoms, bonded into a single massive network; I've chosen silicon, but any elemental solid would do. It will be a speck just large enough to be seen without a microscope. You know that if it is heated it will expand, at some stage it will melt and then eventually it will vaporise – that is because thermal energy effectively ‘rattles it to bits’. Having the
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6.4 Blogs

The founder of Technorati  claims that the number of ‘blogs’ doubles every five months and that the creation rate is approaching two per second. One estimate I read in July 2010 put the number at 400 million blogs. Because these online diaries offer instant publishing opportunities, you potentially have access to a wealth of knowledge from commentators and experts (if they blog) in a wide ra
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6.3 Mailing lists and newsgroups

Mailing or discussion lists are email-based discussion groups. When you send an email to a mailing list address, it is sent automatically to all the other members of the list.

The majority of academic-related mailing lists in the UK are maintained by JISCMail. You will find details of joining these mailing lists on the JISCMailJ website. Mailing lists
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6.2 Alerts

Online bookshops and some of the major search engines offer ‘Alerts’ services. These work by allowing you to set up a profile once you have registered on their site, and when there are items meeting your criteria you receive an email. The good thing about alerts is that you don’t have to do anything once you have set up your profile. The downside, particularly with alerts services from the search engines, is that given the extent to which internet traffic is on the increase whether new
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6.1 Introduction

The process of keeping up-to-date in your chosen subject area is useful for your studies and afterwards, for your own personal satisfaction, or perhaps in your career as part of your continuing professional development.

There are a great many tools available that make it quite easy to keep yourself up to date. You can set them up so that the information comes to you, rather than you having to go out on the web looking for it. Over the next few pages, you will be experimenting with some
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5.8 Plagiarism

Referencing is not only useful as a way of sharing information, but also as a means of ensuring that due credit is given to other people’s work. In the electronic information age, it is easy to copy and paste from journal articles and web pages into your own work. But if you do use someone else’s work, you should acknowledge the source by giving a correct reference.

Taking someone's work and not indicating where you took it from is termed plagiarism and is regarded as an infringemen
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5.5 Copyright – what you need to know

An original piece of work, whether it is text, music, pictures, sound recordings, web pages, etc., is protected by copyright law and may often have an accompanying symbol (©) and/or legal statement. In the UK it is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 which regulates this.

In most circumstances, works protected by copyright can be used in whole or in part only with the permission of the owner. In some cases this permission results in a fee.

However, the UK legislation incl
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5.4 Social bookmarks

If you find you have a long unmanageable list of favourites/bookmarks you might like to try social bookmarks as an alternative.

Activity 14 – what you need to know about social bookmarks

Read 7 things you should know about so
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5.3.2 The 5 Ds

If you don’t use a system at all, then you could suffer from the effects of information overload:

  • losing important information;

  • wasting time on trying to find things;

  • ending up with piles of physical and virtual stuff everywhere.

One technique you might like to apply to your files (be they paper or electronic) is the 5 Ds. Try applying these and see if you can reduce your information overload.


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5.3.1 Desktop search tools

Finding your paperwork or electronic files can be a problem. You may find that even if you do have some sort of filing system, your structure soon gets quite large with files in multiple locations, which can be hard to navigate. You may find yourself making arbitrary decisions about which folder to place a document in. It may make sense now but in the future, when you look where you think it should be, it’s not there.

At times like this you may resort to the search command from the Wi
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