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April 2007 Archives

April 3, 2007

Presentation styles

I was asked to speak at the Hungarian Web Conference in Budapest last week-end. That conference brings together about 500 Web aficionados at a conference center in Budapest's tenth district. Most of the conference was in Hungarian; talks are given in four tracks throughout all Saturday. Kudos, first of all, to W3C's Hungarian Office which was a co-sponsor of the conference!

For my talk on security and usability on the web, I tried a Lessig-like presentation style. The result was, I dare say, a pretty good talk -- one of the better ones I've given in a while --, and a lesson learned about how I prepare talks.

Usually, what I do is ultimately an academic lecture: I prepare some material, I assume that I'll have slides to serve as a buffer for the audience to hold context (just like we had the blackboard back when I did talks about maths), and then I start explaining things. Of course I rehearse once or twice, readjust some things, make sure there's some kind of flow to what I tell -- but, ultimately, I rely on the written material, and you'll be able to extract much of the talk's content from it.

In Lessig-like mode (similar to Takahashi style or Hardt style), I found myself preparing a speech. The slides served to underline a point, to hold a quote, to emphasize -- but not to hold context. I found myself in story-telling mode much more than I usually am. I found myself forced to break down my argument more simply and more clearly than I'd usually do. I found myself using more rhetorics than I normally do, and I found myself preparing by giving the speech I was going to hold in little pieces, by iteratively changing the slides, by rehearsing this point or that point over and over.

The downside is clear: While the slides are now available for public consumption, you may not easily get some of the points in there; some of the slides really only make sense when they are combined with the spoken word. I hope none of the possible misunderstandings will haunt me later; actually, I was quite reluctant about making these slides public in the first place (though I'd any time make a recording of the speech together with the slides public, if I had one).

I'll try this presentation style again: while it takes more preparation than an off-the-mill "powerpoint" presentation (I'd never dare to prepare a talk like this during the session that leads up to mine, for instance), I find it more fun to prepare and give talks like this.

If you haven't ever tried this style, go try it. It's worth the effort.

April 8, 2007

Airport Bookstore Success Stories: Kite Runner and Pendragon Legend

Airport bookstores are usually heavy on Brown and Crichton, so there is no risk to mistake them for beacons of literature. Still, I end up in these book stores (in particular when I'm out of reading material for a particular trip), and often get desperate.

Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised by my latest two rounds of airport book shopping.

In Schiphol, I bought Khaled Hosseini's Kite Runner, which I had seen recommended. The story takes up all the classical motives: Betrayal between fathers and sons and among friends and brothers, masters and servants; the quest for redemption that leads to more tragedy; exile; love; foreign countries and countries that become foreign. The background for that is Afghanistan from the 1970s (where a seemingly untroubled childhood ends suddenly) through today; Kabul's upper class back then (where unwritten rules lead to cruel lies) and the Afghani exile community in the US (where links within that community provide help when Western society turns into inhumane bureaucracy). The novel is brilliantly written and thought-provoking; go read it if you haven't.

In Budapest, I stumbled over a shelf dedicated to Hungarian authors. There, I found Antal Szerb's 1934 "Pendragon Legend", which has recently come out in a new English translation. That novel tells of a Hungarian private scholar in early 1930s London, who spends an inherited fortune to fund a life spent on research in libraries. Jan�s B�tky, as that apparently autobiographic hero is called, is drawn into the somewhat mystifying family history of certain Welsh earls, and soon finds himself in the middle of a maelstrom of alchemy, Rosacrucians, old Welsh legends, (courtly?) love for the Lady of the Castle, and temptations of all kinds; not to forget nightly expeditions to haunted lakes, castles, and forests. On its surface, this novel is a bit detective story and a bit mystic thriller - but it doesn't take itself seriously; instead, Szerb gives a uniquely ironic rendering of his motives, of the genres he takes up, and of his characters. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

April 13, 2007

Your credit card doesn't work, Sir!

Imagine my surprise when my attempt to buy a good friend dinner failed that way earlier this year. Imagine my dismay when (after said friend had put the bill on her card; different brand) my ATM card failed, too, and I suddenly seemed stranded without access to money. All that was, incidentally, right in the middle of a longer trip abroad, and I knew I'd still have a bunch of hotel bills to pay -- and no way to just walk to my local bank branch and get cash, since that was some 4000 miles away. Fortunately, things had sorted themselves out the next day; when I called, I was told they had a "computer outage" that night.

Disquieting, though, that a single computer outage was enough to knock out both my ATM card and the Mastercard. One might have hoped these were running on different systems.

A similar (but less embarrassing) experience today: Amazon bounced a Visa card that I'm essentially only ever using with them. When I called CETREL, I was told that, well, all was right with my card, but "Visa International is down today." When I grumbled that this was the second bounced card this year, the reply was a stunning, "well, ya know, they're down the third time today."

I can't think of any better advertising for having credit cards with more than one company (and ideally in more than one country), but I'm also surprised how the systems that we've come to rely on for payment seem to have significant single points of failure built in -- unfortunately, points of failure that apparently can collapse without the impact of major catastrophic events.

I, for one, am now seriously considering to get another card from another brand, and am also thinking of keeping a reserve of travelers cheques or cash around when I'm on the road.

About April 2007

This page contains all entries posted to No Such Weblog in April 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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