April 04, 2022

Interesting Things on the Internet: April 4th 2022 Edition

Posted by Adrian at 02:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 25, 2022

Blog All Dog-eared Pages: Everything I Know About Life I Learned From PowerPoint by Russell Davies

A delightful book, that happens to be about giving presentations.

I've been giving talks for years, but I still learnt useful things reading Everything I Know about Life I Learned from PowerPoint by my friend Russell Davies. And it's changed how I've pulled together the presentations I've given since. I expect the presentation-averse would get even more from it.

Here are the sections I highlighted while reading, to give you a flavour...

Page vi

I'm using PowerPoint to stand in for Presentation Software — the category it created. ((I imagine Microsoft's lawyers will hate that. They'll be as angry as when people use Hoover to mean vacuum cleaner, or Google to mean 'abuse of monopoly power')

Page vii

When you prepare a presentation you do a lot of homework and research and thinking. It's natural to get attached to that stuff. You want to demonstrate the effort you've made. And to make it clear that you've thought about the edge cases and the extra things that people might ask about. If you do all that, though, you'll overwhelm your main point with detail, so just start by saying: this is what we're going to cover and this is what we're not.

Page 15

First, almost everyone can be a great presenter. You just need to talk about something you care or know about, and you need to do it to a supportive audience.

Page 26

"Find out who you are and do it on purpose." Said by the great Dolly Parton.

Page 99

And the conversational style of a good presentation helps too. It's not a speech, it's not radio, it's structured but conversational.

Page 103

So much of modern business life is like Tetris. Email, chat, Slack, everything. You complete a line and more stuff just comes at you.
A presentation also offers the special pleasure of being completable. A PowerPoint deck can be finished. You can tick it off. A presentation happens and then you can move on.

Page 125

This is your opportunity to ask for something that will make the world slightly better. You might as well take it. Otherwise what is the point?

Page 129

We call these things 'stories' but they don't have to be life-changing narratives with the tension and power of a Norse myth. Just some stuff that happened to some people.

Page 209

Everyone gets nervous, that's inevitable. A presentation is an important moment. You're occupying people's time and attention. That's bound to create some heightened feelings. The trick is to let your nerves push you into doing the right thing.

Page 247

But then you have to worry — what should I collect [in your ongoing library of slide and ideas in personal PowerPoint decks]? What would be useful?

It's simple. Things that interest you. Things you find fascinating. Remember — this is a long-term pursuit, there's not much point trying to guess what's going to be useful or career-enhancing ten or fifteen years from now. Instead you should have faith that what interests you is going to come in handy. Because it almost certainly will.

And if it doesn't interest you you're not going to do it diligently and it's going to feel like work.

Make your natural inquisitiveness into something a little more structured. Turn it from idly browsing the Internet into research.

Page 253

As the writer Steven Johnson puts it, in an article in the Wall Street Journal:

[...] We like to think of our ideas as a $40,000 incubator, shipped direct from the factory, but in reality they've been cobbled together with spare parts that happened to be sitting in the garage.

Posted by Adrian at 05:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 14, 2022

Interesting Things on the Internet: March 14th 2022 Edition

Posted by Adrian at 03:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 11, 2022

AI Roads and Civic Engagement

In my morning RSS reading I saw this article from the council: Liverpool looks to AI to improve highways investment. From it:

The council’s Highways and Transportation team has set out a new evidence-based approach using a mix of AI and photography[...]

There was little detail about the "AI" being used, but there was a link to the report being presented to Cabinet, so I had a read through that. There's no mention in there of AI, but maybe it's in one of the appendices?

They aren't included in the report PDF, but digging around on the Council website to find the agenda for the Cabinet meeting (along the way wondering again about creating a RSS feed of meetings and agendas or minutes) that agenda item has links to separate PDFs for them. (The agenda page itself also has nice HTML which, if you know enough to view source—so not especially discoverable—lets you link direct to that agenda item!)

There's no mention of AI in the appendices either, but there is a table with references to "GAIST rating" values for carriageway and footway. Googling for "GAIST" brings up these folk. This is presumably the "AI". I watched one of their "technical presentations" which had very little technical information in it, but it seems like they're driving round the country videoing things and then running "deep learning" on that information.

Their sales guy in one of the "technical presentations" says: "It's not necessarily a case of the computer says you do this, the computer says you do that, but it gives you data for you to decide what to do".

He's right, a human should be deciding. It's hard to tell from the report whether we've done any deciding beyond picking a number above which a road is deemed worthy of attention.

What are the criteria that GAIST use to generate the ratings? There's precious little information that I can see on their website about it. It seems to be "cameras and sensors" -> "AI deep learning magic" -> "number". What is it trying to measure? How black the tarmac is? Number of pot-holes/metre?

Is it any good at measuring what it's trying to measure? Have we done any tests to satisfy ourselves that the rating is similar to the sort of rating that our highways engineers would give? It isn't viable for the Council to have someone rate every metre of our roads, so using some automated processing probably makes sense — but how do we know this one works?

And maybe there aren't any other options, or this is the best approach. There just isn't enough information for the public to know.

Mostly I'm channelling my inner-Bianca Wylie and picking away at how to better engage with the Council to make the city better.

I'm not sure what my next step is. I'm not sure I'm quite at the making presentations to the meeting (assuming that's an option). It's good to see that they're now live-streamed, so I will stick it on in the background while working to get a feel for proceedings.

One of my ward councillors should be in attendance, so I could email him with some questions or raise some points; but I've yet to have a response from last time I emailed him. Ditto the Cabinet member quoted in the press release.

Maybe I'll get more of a feel for how useful they both are on the livestream, in lieu of any first-hand experience from contacting them. And in lieu of a better idea of what to do, I'm blogging my thoughts...

UPDATE: So, I listened in to the meeting. It all seems very procedural, and that the time for making any changes to things is before it gets to this point. Maybe that means that anyone who bothered to turn up would be so out of the ordinary that they'd shake things up?

Posted by Adrian at 01:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

February 21, 2022

Interesting Things on the Internet: February 21st 2022 Edition

Posted by Adrian at 10:58 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

January 31, 2022

Interesting Things on the Internet: January 31st 2022 Edition

Posted by Adrian at 12:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

January 03, 2022

Interesting Things on the Internet: January 3rd 2022 Edition

  • last-month Notes: voting, health and tech, ruggedising. An excellent (as ever) set of links from Laura. I'm hoping (as in, I've stopped reading it because in an ideal world I'd find tine to blog about it, but don't quite have the appetite for the work right now) that at least one of the links will make it into something bigger, but there are a whole bunch just on the edge of that...
  • Same Old. This is superb. "Such recycled futures masquerade as innovation to suck the life out of other possibilities. Space colonies and voice-controlled kitchens take on an air of inevitability despite their many postponements and disappointments, while critical refusal of these futures, or truly alternative visions, are cast as implausible." I'm not interested in tech for how it can give us the same old, I'm interested in how we can use it to take power from those who currently have it and spread it more equally to everyone else.
  • Brian Eno on NFTs & Automaticism. "‘Worth making’ for me implies bringing something into existence that adds value to the world, not just to a bank account. If I had primarily wanted to make money I would have had a different career as a different kind of person."
  • The speculative fiction novel I want to read this year. An excellent post on open-source governance.
Posted by Adrian at 12:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 27, 2021

Interesting Things on the Internet: December 27th 2021 Edition

  • Too Big to Sail: How a Legal Revolution Clogged Our Ports "The ability to extract extra revenue, especially when demand is high, means that we’re not in an all-hands on deck situation, but a situation which is working quite well for some, and terribly for much of the industry and the public." Reading this and wondering how much of my money has been given to Peel to let them continue playing this game: "The game in the business is to acquire market power and then use mega-ships to offload costs onto others and block new entrants."
  • Winter Solstice. Chris Locke, one of the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto, died recently. Doc Searls, one of the other authors, pointed to this lovely bit of writing in his obituary of Chris.
  • The End of Rationalism: An Interview with John Ralston Saul. Trump and Johnson are showing that reason has its limits; you can see this every day on Twitter, et al, as people wonder why their cold facts don't win out. It's not that we don't need facts, it's that we need more than just facts. Maybe we should provide his idea of structured civic participation in exchange for your UBI payment? I realise itt's no longer as universal, but maybe a Universal Citizens Income would be a better thing anyway?
Posted by Adrian at 01:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 20, 2021

Interesting Things on the Internet: December 20th 2021 Edition

  • The creator economy. If there's going to be a "creator economy", I too want it to be about moving the world in a better direction, and not just a few rock star youTubers.
  • Open Source Software Virtual Incubator. Nice to see someone trying an open proposals process to help fund open source. It'd be good if that led to a more collaborative process between entrants.
  • Webrise. Written before the recent log4j crisis, but good thoughts the need for more and more diverse funding for the web. I'd like there to be an organisation that funded and supported Internet-native approaches to the world. It's been over a decade since I wrote about my disappointments with the British Computer Society. I've given them over a grand in subscription fees in that time, it would've been nice to give it to a better organisation instead.
Posted by Adrian at 10:45 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 29, 2021

Blog All Dog-eared Pages: The agile comms handbook by Giles Turnbull

Giles Turnbull is one of my go-to people when I want to explain how to write blog posts, or the comms style for MCQN Ltd. Recently he's written The agile comms handbook (on Open Library), which collects together a load of his thoughts, ideas and advice for how to communicate with other people.

It's a very readable book. I got plenty from it—despite having read Giles' blog for years—and it's great to have it pulled together into one document, it'll save me digging out assorted blog posts for new hires. (That's one of the good things about books, I reckon; writing a book forces you to set down "this is what I think about topic X, at this time", whereas blogs evolve over time with each post. I felt that with my book).

Here are the sections I highlighted during my reading, to give you a flavour of the book...

Page 16

It's communication that relates to humans, to busy people with many demands on their time and attention. It's communication that aims to tell the truth, share mistakes and successes alike, and do so in creative, accessible, human language. It's communication that aims to build relationships and trust over time.

Page 26

Good creative communication describes the work as it happens: the best way to do that is to let people doing the work, and people who do communication, sit alongside each other (literally and metaphorically) so that between them, they can come up with engaging, accurate ways of describing it.

Page 37

That's what agile comms means. It gives you storytelling superpowers, and helps build trust and relationships.

Page 53

The Internet-era approach is more open. We don't know who might be interested in this, so it's written for everyone. It makes a contribution to a wider conversation, because it links to other articles about other aspects of similar government [in this example] work. It's part of a longer story.

Page 58

It doesn't matter how many things you collect, and it doesn't matter if you don't use them all. In my experience you will probably end up using a small number of them many many times. But having the archive is what matters. It's good to know that it's there, and that it's a repository of memories that future versions of you—or future versions of your team, regardless of whether or not you're still in it—can use if and when they need to.

Page 85

Links are very important. As a general rule of thumb, I encourage teams to link outwards to everything on the Internet that they can link to. If you mention another organisation, link to it. If you mention a rival company, link to it. If you write about a place, link to its Wikipedia entry. If you write about events in the news, link to well-written reports about them. If it's possible to link to something, do so. This is simple, old-fashioned good web behaviour and it still matters.

Page 127

Maybe your first effort is so rough, it's just a list of bullet points. Or a few lines of text and a picture. It might be a sketch on a whiteboard, or some sticky notes on a wall. All of these things count as bad first drafts.

All of them give you something to start with. Something you can share with colleagues for their input and feedback.

Page 128

The very best blog posts are lively and creative and interesting to read, because they've been through this process within a team. They were written and edited by the team, not by distant comms function writing on the team's behalf.

Page 144

For years now, I've been telling the teams and organisations I work with to "use the words that humans use".

That means ditching the corpspeak and instead writing in plain everyday language. Writing the same way that people speak. If you do that, you will find your written communication is suddenly much more effective. People won't have to work hard to grasp your point, because your point will be crystal clear.

Page 147

The human voice is written as if spoken. It uses the words normal people would use. It's written for simplicity and clarity. It's what one person would say to another person, if the two of them were looking at one another, face to face.

Page 157

How would you explain it using just 10 slides? Or in a single page of prose? Once you've created something like this, share it with someone you trust. Does it make sense to them?

Page 165

Good comms describes how you did what you've done. Bad comms just says that you've done it.

Page 181

The [creative] team combines production, writing, editing, filmmaking, support, coaching and creative direction. It's a unit of creative production that you can delegate to.

Posted by Adrian at 11:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)