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PowerPoint and its place in the world

In Geek Alert, Thoughts on July 30, 2014 at 10:52 am

The knowledge management expert David Gurteen recently asked in his newsletter, whether PowerPoint was evil, or a strategic tool, based on a number of articles recently published on the subject. That prompted some thought on my side, especially as I have been collecting some articles on the subject for a while now and also keep thinking about effective ways of asymmetric face-to-face communication, both for private and professional reasons. Public speaking, visualization of ideas and concepts, new media &c are things that will keep people busy for a long time. And whoever calls the tune, the piper will get paid in the end 🙂 So here is the response to David’s article, as posted in his LinkedIn group:

I thought I should respond to the question asked in the last Gurteen newsletter regarding the evil or blessing of PowerPoint in modern business life. Lot has been said on how visual splendour covers intellectual void in modern presentations. My favourite on that subject is this article from the New York Times, dealing with the use of PowerPoint in the military (and I love the expression of the PowerPoint Ranger)

(http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/27/world/27powerpoint.html?_r=0).

But I think what makes a better point is this piece (again in German, what is it with these Germans and presentations?)

http://www.faz.net/aktuell/beruf-chance/arbeitswelt/wie-war-dein-tag-schatz/kolumne-gerber-spielt-mit-1491986.html

about a game politely called buzzword bingo.

To lament the quality of contemporary presentations, the slide decks rushing by at a speed that makes the pictures moving and the cognitive laziness of today’s students working only with the provided slide decks is maybe justified, but blaming it on the medium does not seem fair to me.

What was before (i.e. when I was in school and uni in the 80ies and 90ies)? Blackboards. Professor starts writing while talking into a microphone suspended from his neck, starting top left and ending bottom right, followed by a pause for wiping and starting over. More advanced presenter would use actual transparent slides, either photographic from a magazine, or as a blackboard replacement on an overhead projector. That is why slides are still called slide, although they don’t. Students would trade in scripts, i. e. write-ups either hand-written and photocopied or, where there were enlightened and technologically savvy student unions or professors, typed and printed.

How has PowerPoint changed that? It has made the blackboard faster by having the presentation laid out beforehand. It also has made the presentation more colourful that the average four colours of chalk. It has retained the capability of the slide projector to introduce photographic material. And it has improved the capability of the overhead projector to present animated content through overlays. Technically more refined, but more or less the same.

Now the question that really matters: does it improve the content? No! A thirty minute talk about Introduction to BS will be still the same. Cognitively, providing the slide deck to participants might encourage them not to take notes, which will negatively affect the retention of the contents. On the other hand, a clear, simple picture will massively improve the understanding of a concept. For more on that, see Dan Roam, The Back of a Napkin.

I think what matters is rhetorical training combined with the inside that PowerPoint is your slave (or minion, if you want to stick with the evil theme), not the other way round.

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Bibliography

In Geek Alert, Treasures on May 16, 2011 at 11:12 pm

So here is another thing, which for some reason I have forgotten to mention so far. Every student, especially when looking to go into German politics 😉 is familiar with the issue of sources, citations and references. I. e. you should show where your ideas come from by means of footnotes and a bibliography at the end of any works.

I remember the days when my dad studied and had an index card box sitting on his desk, where he kept tab of the things he had read, and the citations for those. Now here is another point where I am happy to live these days and not earlier.

For my work, I have discovered a bibliography software called bibus, which lets you define a structure of keywords over several levels and then sort your literature, in different categories with different ways of citation, into that structure. So every piece of literature is entered under a type, such as article, book etc. or up to four customizable ones. The record allow reference to a local file or hyperlink so the source can be directly accessed. It is then filed under one or more of the defined keys, so you have a chance to find it again. The citation format is free definable, but there are a bunch of pre-defined ones already in (think Vancouver).

The software supports direct links to MS Word or OpenOffice.org and lets you place endnotes with the correctly formated reference in the bibliography at the end of the document.

If you need it in footnotes as well, you can do that easily by hand by copying the endnote into the footnote and edit whatever needs to be edited there.

So this has allowed me to comply with the reference guidelines of my uni and also to keep a handle on all the stuff I have picked up electronically and then saved somewhere on my computer. Very handy and highly recommendable.

A student’s toolbox

In Geek Alert, Thoughts, Treasures on September 23, 2010 at 5:55 pm

I have managed to pull a few late night sessions in order to prepare for my studies, which should be starting some time next week. As I have returned all my classic office tools along with my business computer, I have to find a way to make do with what I have, which is a slick little webbook with StarOffice and MS Works preinstalled, and apart from that mostly open source software.
Going through the recommendations from my future uni, I was looking for a few things, namely a journal to keep notes and events organized. Outlook Express does not do that, so I needed something else. I also was looking for something to keep my notes organized, and something to bridge the gap between my office products and the uni standard of MS Office 2003. So here is what I found:

is a slick little text based calendar system, that allows note taking, incl. links, pictures and file reference, tagging with user defined categories, templates for calendar entries and the whole thing nicely laid out.

is a nifty little program to create state of the art encrypted areas on an existing hard drive and mount them, so that not every Tom, Dick and Harry can read everything that is on the computer without much effort. My former employer used to use a much more complicated commercial system, so I am more than happy to have discovered this.

is the extended version of freemind, a software to create and organize mind maps. Now this is where it gets a bit geeky, I guess, but I think that mind maps are a great way to structure complicated things in an easy way fast and without having the gift of shorthand or photographic memory.

The only open question now is whether I want to replace the StarOffice that I have on the machine with a true OpenOffice.org to allow me to use the whole range of add-ons, which StarOffice does not support.

What I hope will come in handy is a template that I made in line with the requirements for uni coursework formatting, so that at least the format is there, and I won’t get penalized for not conforming with the required layout.

The Hash

In Geek Alert on September 6, 2010 at 5:08 pm

A warning ahead of time, this posting is not about the recreational herb/drug. If that is what you are looking for, please return to your search engine/pharmacist/dealer/greenhouse.
Geek alert: This article deals with the movement that describes itself as a drinking club with a running problem. Now why would that be interesting for you?
The first time I heard about the hash,I was in Nigeria and heard about it from a local colleague and associated it with the herb, but was educated that it is in fact a group activity, where a bunch of people gather with drinks and then follow a previously set trail around a particular area to arrive possibly at the starting point or other destination for more drinks.
At that point, I felt reminded of my childhood in Germany where we used to play a game called “Schnitzeljagd”, which was very similar, but without the drinks at the time. Back then it was fun, but I had trouble transferring the concept into adulthood.
In Nigeria, the education remained academic, and I left before I could see the event in real life.
The first actual time I went on a hash was when I got to Angola, and only then I realized the appeal. In a rather difficult location you get to meet a lot of people outside work (hint, talking shop is punishable by beer shower) from different backgrounds, you get drinks, and because you are walking around (or running around, as is the original concept) in a sufficiently large number to discourage opportunistic assault and robbery, while behaving silly enough to break the ice with the locals whose neighbourhoods you are passing through. So you get to see something of your assigned location, which might not be from the guidebook, but it is certainly the real thing. And it comes with exercise.
Now I have only seen/heard about this in action in West Africa, but I thought I should at least share it.
And since starting to hash in Angola on a more or less regular basis, I have been initiated to the higher mysteries, such as wearing a blond wig, a Merlin hat with German colours, several rounds of punishment for wearing inappropriate gear, haring (as in gather ahead to set out a trail complete with false trails, beer stops, song stops, view points and arrows) and finally on the day before leaving Angola for good, receiving my hash handle (i.e. the name I shall henceforth be known amongst the hashers) Hare today, gone tomorrow. Now if that is not a fitting name 🙂 And following fellow hashers, this limited perception of hash geography is actually due to my ignorance, so if you would like to learn more or find a bunch of hashers, check out the global website

Prologue

In Events, Geek Alert on August 21, 2010 at 11:20 pm

First blog to share. I hope you have read my profile, so you have a cursory idea of what this blog is supposed to be about. But I haven’t started yet. There is a plan in place, but then sometimes things happen differently.

I have spent most of the day trying to sort out our things here in Angola, so the packers on Monday can come and cart of the majority of our things to our home in the UK, while I am carrying a shopping list and elementary things for my subsistence to our home in Thailand to see my family again. The newest member of the family is due on 4 September by means of Cesarean Section.

Geek alert: Did you know Cesarean section was called that, because the Cesars of ancient Rome were delivered that way, as a normal birth was to mundane for a future emperor and god?

On Friday will be my last day on the job. The account manager has indicated that he will throw a farewell lunch with the client, and next Saturday, the neighbours will host a Hash, so I can hare and for a farewell  gift get me a nice degrading Hash name.  So that looks like a week of fun ahead.

Today in one week, I will board a plane and say goodbye to Angola.