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.

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March 14, 2022

Interesting Things on the Internet: March 14th 2022 Edition

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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?

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