Monthly Archives: March 2012

Babbage Difference Engine

I was planning on creating a video with some images of when I visited the Difference Engine in the San Francisco Computer History Museum, but found that someone has beaten me to it.

This is a fascinatingly complex piece of work.  It’s no wonder why Babbage couldn’t build it in his lifetime.

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PowerPoint is a tool

Is PowerPoint a neutral tool or a negative influence on presentations? Authors like Tufte have called it many things, but one response is below.

This makes some good points about slides being a tool that can be used well or poorly, but is a bit simplistic. PowerPoint software has an impact on how people present. As the saying going, “the medium is the message.” Authors who say that PowerPoint has crippled our ability to speak have forgotten the ability of truly bad presenters to put an audience to sleep in any decade.
So what do we do? Presenters like Duarte and Reynolds have suggested that presenters should plan a presentation first, and only at the end put together their slides. Does using PowerPoint as a drafting tool reduces quality?
I don’t think so. I find using PowerPoint as a drafting tool, as opposed to index cards, a Word document, or a lined paper pad, to be a great way to get started. My first goal is always to get something down on the page; I hate the empty screen.
The major problem I think people have is that they don’t spend enough time revising. Most of writing is re-writing. Most of presenting preparation is thinking, changing, and cutting.
The most helpful advice that I’ve found for students is that they need to figure out the following:
  1. What is the goal of the presentation? Don’t use the word “describe…” A good thesis argues for something, has a point of view, and asks the audience to change their mind about something.
  2. What is the goal of each slide? Each slide should have a single thought. Just as a paragraph should be about one thing, each slide should be able to reduce to a single sentence. A good best practice is to state the topic in the title. Rather than saying “Office product description,” write “Microsoft’s Aging Cash Cow.”
Presentation gurus shouldn’t tell people to avoid writing their presentations in PowerPoint. That’s like telling a student not to start writing their paper in Word. Instead, we need to focus on helping them move quickly into a revision stage.
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