Monthly Archives: January 2012

Video tutorial on how a content management system works.

I had trouble explaining this concept to some of my students this week, and so put together a brief tutorial on how Content Management Systems work. The Youtube video below walks through how a webserver deals with clients.  It’s simplified, but is a rough mental picture of how the different parts work together to create most websites in used.

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Don McMillan – Life after Death

Don has a number of funny videos on Powerpoint.  His DVD is available for sale, but you can get a pretty good sample through the YouTube clips below.



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Long Way Down

The Long Way Down is the 2nd DVD series/book by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman.  It follows their journal from the tip of England down to the horn of Africa.  Although ostensibly about motorcycles, it spend much of its time dealing with the social devastation resulting from poverty, tribal conflict, and AIDS.

I watched the DVD series a few years ago, and just finished the book (go Burbank library!) last night.  It’s a short read, about 6 hours or so, depending on your level of child-per-minute interruptions.

The first part of the book is marred by constant kvetching about the fast-paced schedule.  Riding a motorcycle is really demanding, but the constant complaining gets annoying.  Their first trip, the Long Way Around, had a much more flexible schedule, and Ewan and Charlie were able to get more in the spirit of a long-distance trip.

I really have no desire to go through Africa, but their descriptions of the people and scenery were gripping.  It’s amazing how much each country differs geographically.  I suspect that part of it is due to the different country’s developmental level and irrigation engineering, but think that it also shows how divisive different geographical landscapes are to people groups’ development.

Overall, this was a good read, but I would rate it as a distinct second to their original journey.  The faster pace and heavier focus on social issues takes away from the more carefree first film, which focused more on Ewan’s and Charlie’s friendship and the challenge of traveling in desolate areas.

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Funny video on presentations

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Carl-Benz Academy Launch Event Pictures

The Carl Benz Academy is a three-university start-up intended to develop Mercedes-Benz managers in China.  The launch event was last year, but I just ran across the photo album today.  Aside from a weird expession on my face, there are some nice pictures on the launch page.


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“On Writing Well” — simplify, lead, and closing

Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” reads like the author took his own advice; it’s short, memorable, and filled with examples of good writing from a zoo of different authors. It took me only around 4-5 hours to read, but someone who already writes well could take much longer to absorb the examples.  Below are a few highlights:

1. Simplify

“Clutter is the disease of American writing.” (p7)

One of the best parts of William Zinsser’s “On Writing” is on pages 9-11, where he shows the a roughly-edited draft of his own chapter.  Seeing the author’s editing reveals that (a) even a major author benefits from editing, and (b) just how can be cut without the reader noticing the lack.  When it comes to writing style, his statement that you must cut down to bone, and then rebuild, seems apt.

2. Opening

“[the lead] must cajole him with freshness or novelty or paradox, or with humor, or with surprise, or with an unusual idea, or an interesting fact, or a question.  Anything will do along as it nudges his curiosity and tugs at his sleeve.” (p60)

The stuffy format of the academic paper typically leads with a highly-condensed version of the findings, research method, and limitations.  It’s hard to liven up a format so deadly-structured, but the list of possible openers above is as good as any.

3. Closing

“We are most of us still prisoners of the lesson pounded into us by the composition teachers of our youth: that every story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end…  This is all right for elementary and high school students…  But if you are going to write good non-fiction, you must wriggle out of [part] III’s dead grip….

“The perfect ending should take the reader slightly be surprise and yet seem exactly right to him.  He didn’t expect the article to end so soon, or so abruptly, or to say what is said.  But he knows it when he sees it.  Like a good lead, it works.” (p70-71)

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7 years at Woodbury

I started working at Woodbury 7 years ago as a half-time educational technology specialist.  Since then, I’ve had 6 offices, 4 bosses, earned 2 degress, and had quite a few title changes.  For all but 6 months of my marriage, I’ve been working at Woodbury.  I’ve been heavily involved in change initiatives, first for WASC and then for AACSB.

I really think Woodbury is a special place.  I don’t get to see students for more than one term, but my relationship with faculty and staff has been the best part of my job.  When I did IT tech support, the part I enjoyed the most was one-on-one coaching.  I met some of the oddest and narrowly-talented/focused people.  Curiously blind to larger topics, they so enjoyed their teaching that it was hard to not want to take their class.

Since Woodbury has on-going contracts with multi-year periods, below is my most recent packet.  While it is annoying to have to redo the materials each year, it’s good to look back and compare last year’s packet to today’s.

There are things I want to change in 2012.  I think that I’ve been very effective in service areas: co-chairing the EPC and leading the business assessment process have been a good opportunities. However, my research project re-orientation has taken a lot longer than I thought it would, and I have gotten too focused on software and not enough on writing.  It’s hard to say that I would have done it differently; I know a lot more now than I did when I started my project 2 years ago.  Playing a ‘if I knew then what I know now’ game is generally futile.

I don’t know where I’ll be in another 7 years, but hope to have similarly interesting people around me, and feel that I’m still making a contribution to something larger.

Below is my renewal package:


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Making your presentation interesting (or yes, you need a thesis)

What’s the point?  A common presentation mistake is to have slides with so much information on them that the viewer isn’t sure what to remember.

Below is a good sample:

This has a lot of information on the Khan Academy, but is too broad.  If asked “what’s the point,” how would you answer?

Every slide should express a single complete sentence.  For the Khan Academy, there are a variety that could be used:

  • Online videos are the future of education.
  • One person can do great things with technology.
  • Sal Khan has helped a lot of people with online videos.

Since the presentation is on how the Khan Academy is changing education through IT, a good thesis for this slide would be the last in the list above.

In slide design, it’s best to have a strong title.  This should be the thesis for the slide. A quick look at Khan’s YouTube channel and their homepage allows us to flesh out out our thesis with a few key points:

  • Sal Khan has had a major impact with simple educational videos
    • One-man’s non-profit started in 2006
    • 2,600 micro-lectures on YouTube with 107 million views
    • Expanding with exercises, knowledge maps, and badges

These key points should be turned into a story.  The presenter could start by describing how Sal made some simple videos to help his nephews learn calculus.  Then, they could talk about the expansion since 2004, the simple style of presentation and easy YouTube hosting, and end by describing the funding allowing him to create new features.

Once the story is designed, we need to finish the slide design.  While we could just use the bullet points as is, it’d be better to use visuals to increase the impact.

One option would be to try and show images of the people who have been helped.  Another would be to show a graph comparing the viewing hours generated by Sal’s budget with those created by another publisher.  But, the simplest way to highlight his impact is to show a short clip from a video and highlight the most critical numbers describing the organization.

Below is an plain slide with a clear thesis:

While plain, the above slide is easier for people to quickly skim, helps the presenter to avoid reading the slides, and has a much clearer thesis statement.

Ultimately, the goal of a presentation should be to have people remember it the following morning.  Which of these two slides would you remember?

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Add shadows to text in PowerPoint to improve image visibility on top of an image

Using an image as the background of a slide can add a lot of interest, but can have negative effects on an audience’s ability to read the words.  The example slide below shows how “text glow” shadows can make it easier to read.

The title uses no glow, the 1st bullet uses a 1 pixel border, and the 2nd and 3rd bullet points use progressively more aggressive border styles.

In a Mac, you can add this by selecting the text, and going to the Format menu, and selecting the Font option.

Then, choose the”Text Glow & Soft Edges” option.  From here, you can set the color, thickness, and transparency.  A high transparency value increases the background bleeding through the glow.

In a PC, right-click on text, and choose “Format Text Effects.”

Then, in the following menu,go to “Glow and Soft Edges” and add a color, size, and set the transparency.

While it takes a little hunting to find the option, this option can greatly enhance the legibility of text on top of a complex image.

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Nice list of free graphic design resources

Sacha Grief posted a great list of high-quality design resources.  Highly-recommended…

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