Friday, March 24, 2006

Pictures that are worth a thousand numbers

Years ago when I held a *real* job, I had to deal with a MS application that I hated with a passion. Widely used by corporate types, bankers, consultants and techies alike, it has become ubiquitous in the *real* world. Yes I am referring to powerpoint, a piece of software that, to me, is the strongest piece of evidence that Bill Gates plans to take over the world through mind control -by making us stupid and by diminishing our mental abilities till we are capable of digesting only pre-processed information fed to our feeble brains in the form of pictures, charts and five bullet point slides.

So you can understand that much happiness happened when I discovered powerpoint is rarely used in my current professional community. I thought, and rather self importantly too, that it had something to do with the (supposedly) intellectual nature of my profession. After all, I reasoned, if intellect is a significant determinant of your success, you are hardly likely to be interested in reducing complex analyses to bite-sized bits of information.

Recently, something occured that challenged this notion of mine, and has led me to believe that *ahem* information asymmetry, rather that intellectual pride, could be the reason for not seeing too much powerpointing around here.

It all started because some research of mine involved a lot of collaborative interaction with a corporate entity. This required me to discuss the findings with both individuals from the entity (lets call them, without any pejorative intent, the 'duhs') and my colleagues (the 'blahs') in two separate presentations.

I prepared two distinct documents for the meetings. The first one, done as all respectable blah documents are done, was prepared using LaTex. It looked something like the schematic to the left. All the intricacies of both the formulation and the analysis laid bare open for the sake of blah peer review!

I spent a few hours and Latexed like i had never Latexed before, discovering new .sty files and packages and writing new \define statements with impunity, all the while boldly going where few blahs had gone before. I was happy with myself at the end of it.

The other document was meant for the duhs. It looked something like this image here to the right, and i need say nothing more than that a picture is worth a thousand words (and that phrase applies here twice, if you get my drift.)

Needless to say, there was a mixup, and it was copies of this document that were sent across to the blahs. On the day of the presentation, I arrived, armed with the original document, and started the talk, when I noticed disappointed looks from the audience.

"Your handouts don't match your slides", a senior blah in the audience complained.

Realizing the error, I started apologizing furiously, when I was interrupted with a, "Don't apologize, we'd rather have the handouts than what you are presenting", from another senior blah.

"How exactly *did* you do this?"

"Er... Powerpoint", I said meekly.

"You can *do* all these things in Powerpoint? I didnt know it was so powerful. It looks very impressive. What do all of you think?"-he looked around quizzically.

I looked around and realized that all the blahs in the room was nodding their heads. I could barely suppress a groan.


Tabula Rasa said...

powerpoint is insidious -- just walk across to the behavioral wing of the bat cave and see! if not for the presentations, then for the teaching. tentacles.

more importantly, duhs and blahs! i challenge you to come up with a picture that's worth more than 1/500th of those two words.

back to my powerpoint...

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

I spent nearly four years of my life as the Powerpoint Man. Embedded Flash, wacky templates, growing graphs, overlaps and undercuts.

Now I'm the boss and I'll be damned if I'll do another one!


Falstaff said...

For the record, I like bullet points. I think it would be great if academia would move to using them, instead of forcing me to read long-winded paragraphs of verbiage before I find out that the author has nothing to say. 90% of the papers I read could easily be summed up in a single power point slide. Instead of which I typically have to plough through some 30 pages of bad writing to understand what they're talking about.

Oh, and all abstracts should be pictures.

Heh Heh said...

TR: true. the behavioral folks do.
JAP: the reason i do not like powerpoint is that form often gets precedence over substance. and very often it results in stuff that is not even readable to someone who does not sit through the presentation.
Falstaff: I agree with you, but with some reservations. I like bullet points when they are meaningful. Too many corporate presentations are meaningless.
For academic presentations i am much more comfortable with tables. so that i can draw inferences for myself.

Brown Magic said...

You might have already seen this - but the gettsyburh address in powerpoint format.

and the explanation that goes along with it

Heh Heh said...

Heyy! i hadnt seen that before. thanks for the link.

Cheshire Cat said...

Well, my branch of academia does function predominantly with Powerpoint, to my deep annoyance. As if the very idea of giving a presentation weren't stressful enough, I've also to give a thought to (but of course never manage to actually implement)various frills and furbelows which my peers use to signal their superior technological prowess. How I long for the days of typewritten manuscripts (but then again I'm not sure I'd know how to operate a typewriter)...

Heh Heh said...

the problem with powerpoint is that it allows morons to get away with stupid presentations by making them flashy, and thus obfuscates the message.

Rallix said...

Clearly, it boils down to figuring who the audience is - duhs or blahs.

There are a lot more things that could be powerpoint enabled. e.g. this comments section.

You've got me thinking.