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Sunday
Apr192009

Ban the lectern

Bore: one who has the power of speech but not the capacity for conversation. Benjamin Disraeli

Computerized slideshows have been much maligned of late. No more bullet points. Death by PowerPoint. PowerPointlessness. You've heard them all. And probably seen more than a few examples of poor slide show use.

But let me tell you, the only thing worse than a bad speech with PowerPoint is a bad speech without it. Not long ago I listened to a very smart man with very good ideas give a very poor keynote. He started off by bragging of his "lack of slides," but then went on to read (yes, read) his talk directly from the text he assured us would be online verbatim in a few days. Uniformly formal, ceaselessly forceful, and demeaningly parental, this audience member left feeling unconnected, unmoved, and feeling like a kid who was read the riot act by the principal for about an hour. When the speaker later asked me what I thought of his talk, I tactfully replied, "It was challenging." I didn't elaborate that the challenging part was staying for all of it.

I wonder if the speaker might have been more natural and made a better connection had he not been provided a lectern on which to prop his notes. Just might a major cause of bad "speeches" be the lectern itself - that large slab of wood originally designed to protect speakers' vital organs from sharp objects thrown by displeased listeners? (I just made that up.)

While I always request a wireless lapel microphone so I can wander a bit when speech - ifying, there are time when the only voice amplification is hardwired right to the lecture and one is pretty much forced to stay behind it in one place. And as much as I try to overcome it, this restraint changes my message:

  • I am more formal.
  • I am more likely to "read" the slides on my laptop sitting right in front of me.
  • There is less give and take between the audience and me.
  • There is a physical barrier creating a "me, the expert" and "you, the receiver" rather than an open space that says "let's form a partnership though which we can solve some mutual problems."

OK, it is somewhat comforting to know that when using a lectern the second "Is my fly zipped?" check is not necessary and that most lecterns are slimming. But let's expand our suggestions for the improvement of public speaking beyond "ban the bullet points." Whether the message is read from paper on a lectern or digits in a PowerPoint screen, it's all poor communication.

Saturday
Apr182009

Just few more notes on Egypt (and sex)

The surviving face on the big stone guy you see at the left is probably the most famous mug carved in temples and monuments all over Egypt. It's not King Tut, but King Rameses II. Our guide was rather proud that RII lived to be about 90 years old and fathered between 90 and 100 children. (Fact checked on Wikipedia.) On first glance, that does seem pretty impressive. You can see why a condom branded Rameses is somewhat ironic.

But let's do a little math here. Let's say RII started his procreative career at 15 and continued until he was 75, that leaves 60 years of being Pharaoh or Pharaoh-elect and getting carnal access to an unlimited number of women. And the statues and paintings certainly make those ancient Egyptian women out to be pretty darned cute. (To paraphrase Mel Brooks, "It's good to be the Pharaoh.")

Given those conditions, I don't think 1.5 children a year is anything to brag about. Even one kid a month would have resulted in 780 little princes and princesses running about. Of course Christmas and birthdays would have gotten pretty darned expensive.

While we are on the delicate topic of sex, The Geezer has a rant, "Get a Room," on a news story about a couple being arrested for having sex while driving. My response was 'Let he who is without sin write the first ticket." If Geezer's memory wasn't going, I bet even he might recall some personal indiscretions along this line from his own youth. He suggested it might be just those hot-blooded Scandinavians acting up. First time I've ever heard a Norweigian called hot-blooded.

The funny thing though is this - my guess is that having sex while driving is less distracting than texting - especially after you've been with the same partner for a while. (LWW, you are the exception to the rule if you are reading this.) I'm saving my outrage for those who Twitter and drive, not twiddle and drive.

One thing about the Cairo traffic, drivers seemed to be focused - at least on where the next lane change might come.

Like many "developing nations" Egypt has a trash/litter problem. It's ubiquitous and at least to my eye, very disturbing. Somehow I think the trash must become invisible to the people living there and changing a culture to value neatness may not be practical. And I am sure there are economic reasons for this condition as well.

Here is my solution: Give a Pulitzer Prize to the first person who invents a plastic that biodegrades, say, after one month of being exposed to sunlight. And I mean true biodegradation, not just the plastic being dissolved into ever smaller little pieces of plastic that are then consumed by ever smaller creatures as happens now. One of the scariest chapters of Weisman's The World Without Us was the decription of giant whirlpools of plastic now circling in our oceans.

OK, one last one. Many of the homes and buildings of flats in Egypt look unfinished, with missing top floor windows and rebar still extruding from the roof.

Our guide explained that this was done purposely since Egyptians do not have to pay taxes on a building until it's finished. Of course they move into the building during its very loooong construction phase.

I am fascinated by the ingenuity humans through out history have shown in avoiding taxes. The Nederlanders build tall skinny houses since they were once taxed on how much house faced the street. Our Victorian houses in the Midwest often had closet-less bedrooms since closets were taxed as additional rooms. The armoire works just fine, thank you. Even the house we moved into that was built in the mid-90s had a room without ceiling tiles installed so it couldn't be assessed as a bedroom. Tax Avoidance Through History and Cultures - unless someone has already written it, might make an interesting retirement project some day.

Oh, garbage and traffic picture are from Flickr, not my camera...
Thursday
Apr162009

Reflections on Egypt, travel and all

Home from Egypt and mostly over jet lag. Tonight, my third night home, I hope to stay awake all the way to 9PM - my regular bed time and then sleep until 5:30AM. Maybe.

Still catching up at work and at home. But a few scattered observations...

  • My upgrade streak held up pretty well. I was upgraded to first from Minneapolis to Amsterdam, got into the business lounge at Schipol, and was upgraded from Amsterdam to Cairo. On boarding the cruise ship in Luxor, we found out that our regular cabin wasn't yet ready and were talked into taking one of the two suites instead. Tough decision. I was upgraded on the way home from Cairo to Amsterdam but gave the LWW the seat. Then my luck ran out. I couldn't talk both the LWW and me into the business lounge in Amsterdam and there were no upgrades to Minneapolis. But it was a good run while it lasted.
  • My second workshop at the conference wound up being changed. Even though both the NESA folks and I brought routers, we found that the conference rooms didn't have wired ethernet ports - only wireless. Oh, and the hotel was charging, get this, $65 a day for conference goer for wireless access. So we switched to a different workshop. The conference was really fun. Something about working with international teachers I really like. It must be their toughness and love of diversity and adversity.
  • When I work with international audiences I always worry that I am too America-centric. That was particularly true with my keynote about the Net Generation - most of the research is on American kids. But I did find an interesting news story. It seems that one of the biggest strike organizations in Egypt has about 66,000 members - and it was all organized by young people - using FaceBook. Really, really.

  • I really want to love Egypt, but I still find it a tough country in which to travel. The ubiquitous requests for "baksheesh" (small tips for any service), the abysmal traffic, the constant dust, and in-your-face souvenir touts gets really wearing after a short time. Lining the exits of most tourist attractions are lines of trinket shops and just walking by them is like running the gauntlet.
    • No pressure. mister.
    • No charge for looking.
    • You remember me?
    • Buy something nice for your daughter. (I guess flattering to the LWW, but insulting to me.)
    • You name the price!
    • I pay you to look.
    • Everything free.
    • And the ever popular -  standing right in your path, thrusting the t-shirt, gallabaya, scarf, whatever at you. A polite word or two of Arabic (la shukran - no thanks), worked the best at turning these tireless salesmen away
  • Even a few words of Arabic show that you are not a completely naive tourist. Learn some before you go. One of the great Arabic words is "inshallah." Translation: "If God wills it." It's a great way to say "no" without being rude. "Will you come back to my shop?" Reply - "Inshallah."
  • After many long years, people in other countries again smile when you say you are from America. "Obama, number one!" Yup. And I hope he lives up to the hype - for all the world's sake.
  • Lane markings on highways are a waste of paint in the Middle East. As one tour guide described it: "In America you have freedom of speech; in Egypt we have freedom of streets." Cairo is a city that should hold two million people, actually contains 20 million, and hosts 2 million cars. Rush hour is 24/7.
  • Even after weeding out the duplicates and fuzzies, I still have over 300 photos from this trip. Picture of a felucca anyone?
  • Yes, even after 20 years, the Pyramids, Karnak, and Abu Simbel are all still standing, and much as I remembered them. The main changes seem to be in tourist infrastructure - nicer walkways, flooring, lighting, security, and booths for the souvenir dudes. OK, I suppose, but it felt at lot more Disney and a less Indiana Jones.
  • I'd recommend Sonesta Cruises. Ours was top notch (and I am not just saying that because of the room upgrade.) Excellent service, good food, great side trips and guides ... all well done. Not the cheapest cruise line going, but hey, how many times does one go to Egypt? The LWW was pleased.

 

  • While on the cruise, I read Geoff Ryman's fascinating book The King's Last Song - alternating contemporary and historical fiction set in Cambodia (my next trip.) A little cognitive dissonance is good for the soul. I finished it before the end of the cruise, but picked up a collection of Nobel prize winning Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz's short stories at a book store. He is an acquired taste, I guess.
  • While Jeff Utecht at the Thinking Stick is celebrating the "Culture of Availability," I was just thinking how nice being away from e-mail and RSS feeds and blogging and such was for a week. Hurray for the "Culture of Unavailability." Yes, there was (slow) Internet on the boat, but I used it only once. When I got home, I simply clicked on "Mark all as read" in GoogleReader. And felt OK about it. But go, Jeff, go.

Happy to have gone. Happy to be home. Back to thinking about libraries and schools and serious matters soon... Egypt is an amazing place and everyone should go - once anyway.

The problem with a broad brimmed hat is that you have to flip up the front when you take a picture and you often forget to flip it back down thus creating a lovely "gomer" look.