March 2005 Archives

March 31, 2005

Trying to get by without those bullet points

Terry Frazier clued me into an interesting idea: banish bullet points in your PowerPoint presentations. The idea is explained in a book called Beyond Bullet Points by Cliff Atkinson. Cliff has a supporting web site with some good ideas.

Atkinson cites research that says if you put bullet points up on screen and expect people to then listen to what you're saying, you're fooling yourself. Atkinson advocates stripping your PowerPoint slides to an almost Zen-like level: a short phrase as a title with an image that support your idea. The title should be an actual thought or useful idea, not a category. Most PowerPoint slide titles are categories: they tease, but don't provide real information. Atkinson further suggests putting the real meat of your presentation in the PowerPoint notes area, and using complete sentences in those notes rather than bullet points. The real payoff: when you do your presentation, people will have to give their full attention to you in order to find out what it's all about. One part of Atkinson's message hit home: if you do 20 slides each with 7 bullet points, you've just put 140 discrete pieces of information in front of your audience. And you really expect them to remember any of it?

I was intrigued by the idea and bought the book; it arrived two weeks ago. By chance, I had a presentation I was ready to start working on. I thought I had two weeks to put it together, but schedules changed, and I ended up with just a few days to put together a 45 minute-plus presentation.

I decided to go for it. I took the plunge. I did a presentation - 42 slides - titles only, no bullet points on the slides, lots of juicy meat in the notes. I didn't have time to put together supporting visuals, so the slides were stark, bare, just the titles.

Using complete ideas in the titles was a win. Instead of vague phrases like "Disaster Recovery Issues", I used concrete phrases like "Disaster Recovery is difficult because we have multiple farms" and "Keeping the customer data replicated is the key" for my slide titles.

The response was positive. I can't separate the feedback on the form away from the from the story I told, but perhaps that's the point. (I did take care to warn people that the lack of content in the slides was deliberate.) I did the presentation remotely, so I emailed everyone the complete PowerPoint file. One person apologetically told me he looked at the notes view during my presentation.

I did have a bit of trouble with one aspect of the approach. Atkinson's books leans heavily on what he refers to a Hollywood approach - a three-part structure that relies on a formula that goes back to the Greeks for presenting a story. He recommends you establish a setting, an imbalance (the problem you want all to consider), the balance (what you need to do to fix the problem), and the solution (how you intend to fix the problem.) That's all part of what Atkinson calls Act I, an appeal to emotion. Act II is the meat of the presention - an appeal to reason. Act III closes it out with a restatement of the problem and pressing for acceptance of your solution.

My problem was that my presentation was basically information, not meant to present a problem and a solution. I had to work to come up with a problem/conflict that I wanted people to focus on. But hat struggle was valuable, though; Atkinson correctly points out that you need to give people a reason to care about what you're talking about. And the structure forced me to concentrate on the story I was trying to tell, not on a laundry list of details.

I got good feedback after the presentation, so I'll use the technique again. Maybe next time I'll actually get some images to go along with my naked slides.

Mike Rohde likes pens, too

Mike Rohde is a self confessed pen freak. His tastes are a little different than mine now - he sings the praises of Flair pens. Flairs are porous point, and I used to like them somewhat - but in general they are too light weight for my tastes.

As useful as Mike's post are all the comments he's attracted. Lots of fans of the Namiki Vanishing Point.

March 26, 2005

Matt's art: someone finally snapped

Over the years, and a bit to my surprise, over the years my son Matt has developed interest in art - particularly in photography.

He's had his pictures on my photography website for a while, but more recently, he's started to contribute to a community/site called deviantART. He has his own area on deviantART - and he's done some interesting work using Photoshop Elements, taking what were some fairly ordinary pictures and making something more striking out of them.

Yesterday he came up with something new - two deviations as they are called - The Witch Is Dead, and someone finally snapped. Both are .. umm .. perhaps a little tasteless, but are funny, and he created them himself - cribbing a well-known graphic off the net and playing with it in Photoshop. I'm impressed.

He's always checking on deviantART to see how many pageviews his art has received - 391 right now - so hopefully this will drive a few more.

March 21, 2005

Mark Shea reviews cheap pens

Back a couple of years I noted that I have a thing for cheap pens.

Mike Shea has posted a review of various cheap rollerball and fountain pens, which I found via this article in Journalisimo, which lead me another article about notebooks and pens.

Mike used to favor Pilot G2s, but now favors the Sakura Gelly Roll, which I'm not familiar with. But I'm guesing from the look and description of the Sakura that I'd find it too lightweight. In general, I don't generally like roller balls - my somewhat odd handwriting style tends to smear gel ink.

Lately, my two favorite pens are the Pentel Ergonomix ballpoint and the Roting Skynn ballpoint. As cheap pens go, they're on the higher priced side: the Pentel is around $8, the Roting around $15. And both are ballpoints, which don't smear as much, and suit my writing style better. What most people notice is that they're both thicker and heavier than most pens. I like a pen to have some heft, and the thickness just helps me write a little neater. (That's probably a lie; nothing really helps my writing. But I like the feel of these two.)

March 12, 2005

Back into the Mac fold?

In the world of personal computers, I was a Mac person before I was anything. We bought a Mac SE in 1987 for Jen to finish her PhD, and I actively avoided PCs until I went to work for CICNet in 1990.

The next machine we bought for ourselves was a Gateway Pentium 133 in 1996; Macs were too expensive, and I'd had a work PC at home while I worked at CICNet, so I already had software and files in the PC world.

Jen had a iMac at home for a few years while she worked at Georgia Tech, but it was running OS 9, and was underpowered.

And then I an DV iMac for a year or so while I worked at CNN. I installed OS X on it, but it didn't have enough memory, and was pretty much a toy.

But lately I've started hearing about a number of interesting pieces of software that exist only on the Mac. Quicksilver is one; another one is DEVONthink, mentioned in a wonderful essay by Steven Johnson

And the recent introduction of the Mac Mini has started to kindle my curiosity for the Mac world again.

Well, thanks to a wonderfully innovative program by the Office of the CTO at EarthLink, where I work, I'm getting a chance to rediscover the world of the Mac.

The CTO's Office at EarthLink had a wonderfully simple but brilliant idea: we're a high tech company, and we live or die by trying to get good products to consumers before our competitors do. Some of the most interesting ideas and products in the consumer space are being put out by Apple. Exposure to good design, good products, is good inspiration for employees. Put those together with the recent Mac Mini, and the result is a loaner program: tell the CTO's office why you'd like to have a Mac Mini for a while, and they'll get you one (or put you on the list.)

So Thursday was like a mini-Christmas, except that Santa was a man without a beard carrying a very small box.

I got the lower-end Mac Mini - the 1.2Ghz model, 40 gig drive, 512 mb of memory. (1Gb would be better, of course, but that's pretty expensive.) They did spring for the Airport Extreme and Bluetooth options. They threw in an iSight video camera, an Apple keyboard, and a Bluetooth wireless mouse.

I’ve got two PCs in my office – a 2.4Ghz Dell P4 - my main machine, and a Dell P4 laptop – but only one monitor (and a single input monitor at that.) So I took the monitor off the Dell desktop, and have decided to try to live mostly on the Mac for work. I’ve only been at it one day, but so far, it’s very interesting. More on my first impressions later.