Archive for the ‘thoughts & ideas’ Category.

Potpourri (and remember to vote!)

There is a fantastic tech talk about how to teach computer science to kids. Too often, they see the name and think it’s about programming, and are consequently turned off to the subject. This kiwi teaches CS without using a computer, but has all sorts of fun, hands-on activities for kids to do as they learn about sorting and compression algorithms, error-correcting codes, DFAs, and other parts of CS. If you ever need to inspire kids, this video is definitely worth a watch!

Speaking of videos to watch, check out this Dove commercial. I’ve gotta give them props for that.

On a newsier topic, Bush has begun to admit that the war in Iraq is going poorly and is starting to accept the parallels between this war and Vietnam. Might this be the beginning of someone in the Republican party taking a look at reality and then accepting responsibility for what they’ve screwed up? Not likely, but a man can dream, can’t he?

By the way, please, please register to vote (and then actually vote) in the elections on November 7. In California, you need to register (which can be done at your local DMV) by October 23 (this coming Monday). As John Stewart once quipped, “this country is run by extremists because moderates have shit to do.” However, voting doesn’t take up much of your time, and can help shape which direction the country will go, even if it’s still being run by extremists. No matter which parties/candidates you support, please vote. and please take 10 minutes and read up on the parties/candidates you plan to vote for, and make sure that they really do represent your interests; too often people are elected by an ignorant population that doesn’t realize what it’s doing. You want to vote for the communist party? That’s fine, so long as you know what they stand for and agree with it. You wanna vote for someone because the politicians tell you to? that’s not so good.

So learn about your favourite party, and then vote for them!

Another Tech Talk

Google Video also has a Tech Talk on it about the history of copyright law, which was fascinating. He isn’t great about handling the questions at the end, but the talk itself is pretty good.

A summary of the talk →

Google periodically has visitors who come in and give talks on various subjects (a lot like the Nelson Series, but without a yearly theme, though most of them are CS-ey in some way). I have just found out that many of these are subsequently posted to Google Video so other people can see them, too. They’re pretty great, if ever you have a yen for intellectual discourse.

In particular, I’m quite impressed with Chris Spurgeon’s talk about great achievements in map-making and navigation.

Conservatives Without Conscience

This past Thursday, I got to hear John W. Dean, former White House Counsel to Richard Nixon, speak at the library. He was the first insider in the Watergate conspiracy to stand up and speak out against what is happening. Since then, he has become very disillusioned with the Republican party, and the Bush administration in particular. He writes weekly columns for FindLaw, and has recently written 2 books, Worse Than Watergate, and Conservatives Without Conscience.

His talk was absolutely incredible. A summary of his talk, in particular his analysis of the modern Republican party →

An Inconvenient Truth (3 stars)

So… it turns out I’m still on Gentoo because I am less motivated to back my stuff up than I had expected. At this point, though, it’s almost done: I need to back up my wiki database, my GPG private key (and I should probably do my public keyring, just to make it simple to restore), and my OTR key. Does anyone know how to access your private OTR key? I have no idea how hard it will be to find that thing.

This evening, I went to Movie Night on the Santa Monica Pier and saw An Inconvenient Truth with some coworkers. One of the producers of the movie was there at the beginning, and was a raving, extremist, hippie liberal. This made me very skeptical of the movie, but they actually did an incredibly good job portraying things and making their point (though Gore kinda goes off on tangents—the election, his son’s car accident, his sister’s smoking, etc). I’m now inclined to go pore over The Skeptical Environmentalist and see what parts (if any) differ between the two. Gore makes a very compelling case. He addressed the parts where I expected to disagree with him very well, and presented some well-displayed scientific data to back up his points. The whole thing was a bit like a slideshow, but nothing at all like a Powerpoint. If you have to make a slideshow (and there are some excellent reasons to not do so), try to make one like Gore’s; his presentation was fantastic. If you haven’t seen this movie, please consider doing so.

On the way back from the movie, I ran into Jed and Steph. They seem to be doing quite well: they have an apartment on 6th street (a fantastic location!), and both seem to be enjoying their jobs. I hope to see them more soon.

Powerpoint Users

Hey – if you’re going to use Powerpoint (or Beamer or Prosper, or any other slideshow-making program), please, please follow these rules:

Don’t read your slides to me. If I can get this information from the slide, I will. If you read your slides to me, I’m going to start ignoring one or the other, and I like visual things, so I’ll start ignoring you. Use the slides to supplement what you’re saying.

On a related note, don’t put too much text on your slides. A rule of thumb that Dodds seems to use is that for every complete sentence, you need at least one picture. If your slide contains 3 full-length paragraphs, it feels cluttered, and becomes hard to focus on. Ideally, the slide will have a list of 2-5 sentence fragments reminding the presenter about what they are supposed to talk about.

Spend 1-3 minutes on each slide. If you skip through a slide in 5 seconds, it probably wasn’t necessary. If you spend 5 minutes on a slide, it’s probably too complicated.

Only use Powerpoint when it will enhance your presentation. If a slideshow will not help your talk, don’t make one! Saying “it’s the standard; everybody makes one” is no excuse. When I saw security guru Bruce Shneier give a talk, he started out by saying something to the effect of, “I used to have a Powerpoint to go with this talk, but it wasn’t very useful, so I took it out.” For this comment alone, he got a huge ovation.

It seems like everyone is confident that they can use powerpoint well, when actually around 95% of people cannot. Last night, I had this very discussion with my PerCog partner while making our presentation. She had her heart set on a Powerpoint presentation, with her main reason being that everyone else uses them. I stressed several times that we shouldn’t just read the slides to people, and at the end she said she’d make an introduction slide after I left. You know what’s on it? I shall paste the text below:

“[…] Bouhuys, Bloem and Groothuis asked whether music affects our actual perceptions of the facial expression of emotions of other people (5). […] Music had a powerful effect. For example, after listening to depressing music, subjects judged neutral faces to more express rejection/sadness and less invitation/happiness, despite the fact that such emotions were actually not present in those faces.”

I’m almost positive that during our presentation, she will read this verbatim to the class. We also have 3 slides on which we will probably spend less than 5 seconds each. Argh!