Some Systems Theory Fun – Has Microsoft Project proven that time can run backwards?

A bit of fun today though one that raises an interesting thought experiment.

Much of my working life is running complicated project plans in P6 or Microsoft project.

Also running compicated spatial models in GIS (Geographical Information Systems)

So a thought experiment arising from this overap – one that empahasis in a interdispinery manner how many problems you run into when your disciplines theories are aspatial, atemporal and on no basis of basic logic.

Heres the fun part, I was running a project model in Microsoft Project, the kind of Gantt model that tracks links between events following each other logically and consequntially (cause and effect) in time. For example build a track, build a station only them can you run passengers services from that station.

Project Management software has the concept of a lag . Imagine you have an evening decision on funding a project, obviously that project is not going to dig dirt the same evening day so their will be a lag till the next successor activity.

So a typed in +5 days, and accidentally typed in – 5 days. The model still worked, no crashes no errors. So I could make the project finish yesterday if I just added enough negative lags. How my boss would be delighted.

Finding out why this is interesting needs an understanding of how such programmes work. They are basically linear planning models based on linear algebra, tield to a logic events, i.e. one activity logically tied to following another.

So an interesting thought occurred to me, if the model ais based on math and the math is logical and right has Bill Gates Proven to tthe world that time can run backwards.

Of course the idea is daft but putting your finger on why is a tought question. Is it due to the nature of passage of information, of space and time and if so is this prior to algebra? Because if algebra can be wrong what math must we use to be right? Indeed more basically is there something theoretically which can show us whther any mathematical model is real, incomplete, illogical? Even more profoundly this raises the question is there something about the logic of the universe which is prior to math? After all Maths can model anything, even impossible things. Being mathematically consistent is no proof anything is real, logically consistent is more important. As we know if there are logical inconsistencies in an argument then any argument can be true (or false), so logic is necessary to make any meaning theory or statement about anything. This is known as the principle of non-contradiction. We also know from Godel that math cannot be reduced to logic.

This is an important area to explore because in physics (and so many other disciplines) trying to reduce everything to math has been a giant dead end which has done endless harms to theoeires of ideas, and to my mind is the main reason why current our deoth of thining is as far divorced from the rationalist age as you can imagine. See also Stephen Wolframs profound thoughts on this issue and the ideas of Eugene Wagner:

“The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.”

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics, Communications in Pure and Applied Mathematics 13 (1960)

The possibly deceptive idea compelling this is that maths of profound theories are ‘beautiful’ so maths must be prior to logic, physics and truth. Perhaps though it is beautiful because reality is beautiful, it has a beautiful logic which is prior to math and as a consequence we are decived by the beauty maths forming a simpified model of the truth?

This brings me on to my interesting though experiment – what might the prior beauty be?

If we accept that logic is an essentialistic prior to reality and that any untur reality can be desribed in a mathematical model; then the starting point must be the logic of excluding the impossible, and describing the logically possible in space and time

Let me explain about three years ago a did a couple of weeks lecture tour in England whuilst spending a ridicukous time reniewing a visa on my fiorthcoming (still unfinished) book on how to solve impossibly difficult planning problems, known in the jargon as wicked problems. The conventional logic in planning theory was wicked problems (which constitute most of our problems) are impossible to solve because they are complex. I posited the bold claim not only are they solvable but a methodology, with computer models (using a new GIS methodology I prioneered with researchers from South Africa, Lebanon and the Netherlands) to solve them, and has been used to solve previously thought intractibly tough problems in several countries which would otherwise take an army of people centuries to work out options. The basic idea was to make tough problems what I called ‘tangible and tractable’ by applying a suiteo f solutions what I called ‘simplify, simplify, simplify’ so you could model them in space and time. This is an example of what systes theoristcalled making a small world problem (solvable) out of a big world problem (unsolvable).

Only today thinking about that amusing Microsoft Project event did it occur to me you could run that logic of the method (BTW its called the Planagon methodology) in reverse, making a big world model from the kernal of a small world one, like adding layers to an oinion, providing you didnt make certain reality defying mistakes. But then that raises the question what are the rules for defining ruls for avoiding reality defying mistakes?

This led to the concept of a MUST which stands for:

Metrical Universal Systems Truth

A rule of what MUST be to be real and coherent as coherence is reality.

My first idea was Mathematical Univeral System Truth, but it ocurred to me that Bill Gates had shown this to me to be a fallacy, because it all depends on what aribtrary syatem of math you use, and out of that infinate series of maths no clue as to what is the right one. Clearly linear algebra and a simple logic on one event following another had to be prior? Perhaps something relating to passage of information maybe?

I’ve only just started on toying with what the MUST laws might be – ive thought of 5 so far it it might boil down to more or less as one might logically imply another.

Lets start with just two, as ideas on others are still a bit sketchy.

The first MUST is any one thing can only occupy one space at any one time and no other.

Image a palette of bricks, if you pick it up and move it its the same palette but the same paltte cannot occupay two or more spaces at the same time. Its the same logic with intagible assets – the underlying logic of double entry bookeeping and the fundmanetak theory of accounting.

Our maths badly sybolises this. Perhaps we should use the @ symbol to describe the set of location in 3 dimensional space, the inverse of the set of location being where everything else in the universe is located. I use the term metrical in that it doesnt matter what metric we use, such as cartesian (X,Y,Z) or non cartesian vector such as HBD (height bearing distance) or any other as we know from geomatics that ANY metrical system can be mathematically converted to any other metrical system. Many maths one space.

A second potential MUST would be

Any event @ can trigger consequential events that decline in intensity as the series of events @ multiply and reduce in intensity inversely to a limit.

This perhaps is second order as it implies something like energy to be expended through events. This is something very badly explained in so much math and theory, but has been essential to so many discoveries (such as Keynes multiplier effect). It is an essentiaal systems thinking concept as so many mistakes are made through not modelling the seond order and consequential impcts of a sysyem – a good example from my field of urban planning is the theory of filtering in housing markets, how people and houses shift and match through time.

Ill let others speculate in comments about what other MUSTS might be.

Back to the original question what is Project doing wrong? Well clearly its mathematicaal model is modelling an illoginal relaity. But whatis the logical mistake. in a simple algebar based logical consequences model? Ill let you ponder that question.

[Note im playing you here as – sign in a network diagram represents lead of course- so a clue to the solution to what is wrong here logically is when leads are pohysically impossible – such as painting a wall before it is built etc.  Another clue to what Bill Gates has not discovered a time machine]

No Bank Town Hubs


Interesting – and not all of the towns in the pilots are declining left behind places – Belper for example has almost no vacancies and is opening new shops. If the answer is post offices offering bank services then what of the trend to closing well suited post office buildings and opening them in them in the back of inaccessible tiny shops. Perhaps planners need to think in service centres of protecting one well suited building as ‘The Hub’ and using it for multiple services, Barton-on-Humber for example having so declined it barely functions even as a village centre for what is by population a small town. In a class E world it seems like drawing up the defenses for the last surviving centres of civilization amidst a zombie apocalypse, using GIS to determine the places least accessible to zombies

Another 13 locations have been earmarked for shared banking hubs to ensure services are available in areas where the last bank branch has closed.

A swathe of branch closures have raised concerns about access to cash for those who need it, and difficulties for small businesses trying to deposit takings.

Ten other areas were previously identified, but the doors have yet to open on any of their new hubs.

Ministers have prepared legislation to ensure people can access cash locally.

At these hubs, run by the Post Office, customers of any bank can access their accounts, deposit cash and cheques, and withdraw money at any time. Trickier enquiries are dealt with by a representative from one of each of the major banks who each visit once a week.

Among the 13 new proposed banking hub sites, four are in Scotland and, for the first time, one is in Northern Ireland, in Kilkeel.

They will be in Brechin in Angus, Forres in Moray, Carluke in Lanarkshire, Kirkcudbright in Dumfries and Galloway, Axminster in Devon, Barton-upon-Humber in Lincolnshire, Lutterworth in Leicestershire, Royal Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire, Cheadle in Greater Manchester, Belper in Derbyshire, Maryport in Cumbria, Hornsea in Yorkshire, and also in Kilkeel.

The BBC visited a prototype shared banking hub in Rochford, Essex, and was told it had been “a lifeline” for many people living in the area after the last branch in town closed.

Running costs are the same as a small branch, but are shared between different banking groups that use it.

Natalie Ceeney, who chairs the Cash Action Group which is overseeing the project, said: “Cash still matters hugely to millions of people across the UK and with the cost-of-living crisis biting, more and more people are turning to cash as a way of budgeting effectively. Banking Hubs are an important part of the solution.”

Each time a core banking service such as a cash machine or bank branch is closed, an assessment is carried out by Link – the organisation which currently oversees the UK’s ATM network.

The review studies the cash needs of the community, such as how easy it is to travel to the nearest alternative service, as well as the demographics and vulnerability of local residents. The criteria are set by a group of banks and consumer representatives.

The latest locations have been identified as part of that work.

However, it can take months for these new hubs to open. As well as finding a suitable premise, often changes are needed to ensure it is fully accessible and secure enough for banking services.

There has been some criticism that services have not yet started in any of the previously-announced locations for banking hubs, apart from the two trial premises in Rochford and Cambuslang, in Scotland.

A Financial Conduct Authority spokesperson said: “Firms need to pick up the pace and deliver more banking hubs. We expect this to be done as a priority.

“Banks and building societies must treat their customers fairly and provide alternatives to branches where needed. Banking hubs are one of a range of tools they can use to ensure communities have easy access to bank services and cash.”

In addition to the hubs, withdrawal and deposit machines – which are unstaffed but can allow businesses to cash in their takings – will be placed in libraries and community centres and available during their opening hours.

They will be in Swanley and Faversham, both in Kent, Holywood in County Down, Shanklin on the Isle of Wight, Atherstone in Warwickshire, Billericay and Dunmow, both in Essex, Bourne in Lincolnshire, Holyhead on Anglesey, llfracombe in Devon, Swanage in Dorset, and Wallingford in Oxfordshire.

The government has been planning to bring in new laws to ensure people only have to travel a relatively short distance to access cash withdrawal and deposit services.

This is seen as vital to the future of cash, and particularly for its acceptance by businesses in rural communities who currently find they are shutting and travelling miles for their nearest banking services.