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Archive for April, 2006

someone actually sold me a house! mwaahahahahahahah!

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Bosnian pyramids


There are a few theories about why there are pyramids all over the world — was there great oceanic travel in the pre-historic past? Is there some sort of evolutionary reality that dictates that humanity spontaneously evolves at the same rate? Were we once ruled by a race of aliens who bred us as slaves only to be exterminated in the insurrection (this one I heard from the hippy clerk at Earth Fare.) I know not the answers. But this is pretty cool.

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Girls on film

The same gentleman who introduced me to the notion that Baby Blue is a perfectly acceptable alternate name for a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer has somehow managed to capture two of my multiple personalities on film at the same time. Genius.

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What the…?

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I used to work with a woman who, after I told her that one reason my relationship with a former boyfriend would never have worked is because he was a believer in socialism as a viable form of government, decided that there was something wrong with me because, as she said, “I can get behind that Socialism idea.”

Dear Lord.

I always find it amusing when people born and raised with the benefits of a free society begin spouting off about the evils of the capitalism/democracy axis and somehow, and I really don’t know how they manage it, romanticize a form of government that has produced some of the most bloody tyrants in history.

And then it occurs to me — almost every situation I’ve been in where folks talk socialism as a utopian ideal, there is a propensity for these same people to deal with dissent by isolating, disenfranchising and otherwise slandering anyone with an opposing opinion. Sending them to a work camp in Siberia, as it were.

This woman, when she discovered we had opposing opinions, managed to surreptitiously spark a campaign to have me fired. She did not succeed.

You see, I have always blamed my disillusionment on these people, saying that they promote one thing publicly but believe another privately. But the truth is, I’ve been very naive. I have always had the wrong idea. I believed that these folks believe in this ridiculous form of government because they care about the good of society. Hence the name “socialism.”

But the hard truth, and the thing I’ve only recently come to accept, is that these people make no such claims. I imposed their love of the common man on them. They have no such love. They are elitist and tend to believe in ruling by the elite class. This is all clearly spelled out in the socialist credo; I’m not sure where I got the idea that these folks cared for people en masse.

Debate and dissent breed a democratic society. Our founders in this country had radically opposing views and fought and died for their various beliefs. But they all stood firm on one basic precept — their right to have opposing beliefs. This, I believe, is the true strength of the democratic society. And I’ll work for this idea. Every time. Because, I think it might, in the long run, in this life or the next, be the right thing to do.

And the socialists can shake their heads at me with false pity and live in their disillusionment and deceit (did I mention how much disingenuousness is required to be part of the ruling elite. I’ve seen it in action…). I think I might rather be shaped and led to make decisions based on the ringing of my soul rather than by the dagger in an elitist’s eye.

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Nothing has so dumbed down American business as this bastardized form of flash card presentation. I try not to hate but PowerPoint — you can go to hell.


PowerPoint Is Evil

Power Corrupts.
PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely.

By Edward Tufte

Genevieve Liang
Genevieve Liang

Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that promised to make us beautiful but didn’t. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects: It induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication. These side effects would rightly lead to a worldwide product recall.

Yet slideware -computer programs for presentations -is everywhere: in corporate America, in government bureaucracies, even in our schools. Several hundred million copies of Microsoft PowerPoint are churning out trillions of slides each year. Slideware may help speakers outline their talks, but convenience for the speaker can be punishing to both content and audience. The standard PowerPoint presentation elevates format over content, betraying an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch.

Of course, data-driven meetings are nothing new. Years before today’s slideware, presentations at companies such as IBM and in the military used bullet lists shown by overhead projectors. But the format has become ubiquitous under PowerPoint, which was created in 1984 and later acquired by Microsoft. PowerPoint’s pushy style seeks to set up a speaker’s dominance over the audience. The speaker, after all, is making power points with bullets to followers. Could any metaphor be worse? Voicemail menu systems? Billboards? Television? Stalin?

AP/Wide World Photos
AP/Wide World Photos
Tufte satirizes the totalitarian impact of presentation slideware.

Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation of three to six slides -a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Students would be better off if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to the Exploratorium or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something.

In a business setting, a PowerPoint slide typically shows 40 words, which is about eight seconds’ worth of silent reading material. With so little information per slide, many, many slides are needed. Audiences consequently endure a relentless sequentiality, one damn slide after another. When information is stacked in time, it is difficult to understand context and evaluate relationships. Visual reasoning usually works more effectively when relevant information is shown side by side. Often, the more intense the detail, the greater the clarity and understanding. This is especially so for statistical data, where the fundamental analytical act is to make comparisons.

GOOD
Graphics Press
Graphics Press
A traditional table: rich, informative, clear.

BAD
Graphics Press
Graphics Press
PowerPoint chartjunk: smarmy, chaotic, incoherent.

Consider an important and intriguing table of survival rates for those with cancer relative to those without cancer for the same time period. Some 196 numbers and 57 words describe survival rates and their standard errors for 24 cancers.

Applying the PowerPoint templates to this nice, straightforward table yields an analytical disaster. The data explodes into six separate chaotic slides, consuming 2.9 times the area of the table. Everything is wrong with these smarmy, incoherent graphs: the encoded legends, the meaningless color, the logo-type branding. They are uncomparative, indifferent to content and evidence, and so data-starved as to be almost pointless. Chartjunk is a clear sign of statistical stupidity. Poking a finger into the eye of thought, these data graphics would turn into a nasty travesty if used for a serious purpose, such as helping cancer patients assess their survival chances. To sell a product that messes up data with such systematic intensity, Microsoft abandons any pretense of statistical integrity and reasoning.

Presentations largely stand or fall on the quality, relevance, and integrity of the content. If your numbers are boring, then you’ve got the wrong numbers. If your words or images are not on point, making them dance in color won’t make them relevant. Audience boredom is usually a content failure, not a decoration failure.

At a minimum, a presentation format should do no harm. Yet the PowerPoint style routinely disrupts, dominates, and trivializes content. Thus PowerPoint presentations too often resemble a school play -very loud, very slow, and very simple.

The practical conclusions are clear. PowerPoint is a competent slide manager and projector. But rather than supplementing a presentation, it has become a substitute for it. Such misuse ignores the most important rule of speaking: Respect your audience.


Edward R. Tufte is professor emeritus of political science, computer science and statistics, and graphic design at Yale. His new monograph, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, is available from Graphics Press (www.edwardtufte.com).

Copyright © 1993-2004 The Condé Nast Publications Inc. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1994-2003 Wired Digital, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Cold Play

Ennui sent me this as I anxiously await the special disc of The Office from Netflix.

Gervais: “You like to buy clothes made in third world sweat shops because they’re cheaper. Do you prefer Chinese- or Indian-made stuff?”

Chris Martin: “Indian. Chinese don’t know what they’re doing.”

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