mm028: Bob Sutton

June 22, 2007

Bob Sutton (see the blogroll -> ) is the author of The No Asshole Rule, one of this year’s very hottest business books, and this quote is from his blog’s sidebar.

15 Things I Believe

Bob Sutton

Words to live (corporately) by…

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mm027 PowerPoint: Ugh!

June 22, 2007

From New York Magazine (via Arts & Letters Daily), a sidebar from a profile of Edward Tufte. As a distributor of countless PowerPoint excrescences, I heartily endorse Tufte’s crusade.

In the Magazine
6/13/07
3:50 PM

Edward Tufte and the Triumph of Good Design: Another Case Study

Edward TuftePhoto: Kyoko Hamada

This week’s New York piece by Christopher Bonanos, “The Minister of Information,” was the most unlikely spellbinder we’ve seen in our magazine in quite some time. Three big pages on a semi-obscure graphic designer best known to us for all the copies of his books we sold in the university bookstore we used to work in? Yikes! But it turns out that the story of Edward Tufte is a fascinating one, full of vivid examples of the way technology delivers information confusingly, and how Tufte leads the charge for simplification. (We’d like to see Tufte, for example, take a crack at the interface for our clunky blogging software.)

Tufte’s harshest words are reserved for that nightmare of modern office life, Microsoft PowerPoint. “It’s a low-resolution screw-up, like voice-mail menu systems,” he gripes. Here, exclusive to Vulture, is another excerpt from Tufte’s new book that explains precisely why PowerPoint doesn’t work.

Fig.1: The bad, via PowerPoint.

Courtesy of Graphics Press

The six PowerPoint slides above and the table below are presentations of the same data: a set of survival rates by disease. These slides were produced using the software package’s standard templates; they would appear onscreen one at a time, so viewers would need to flip back and forth to understand the series. A freshly diagnosed patient (or a harried doctor) would find such clutter impossible to navigate.

Courtesy of Graphics Press

Fig. 2: The good, via Tufte. Same data, way less ink. The eye immediately goes to the left-hand column of type, where the patient can quickly locate his or her illness; since the prognoses are arrayed from top to bottom, best to worst, one can immediately size up the situation. Moreover, the meaning of the lines connecting the numbers is immediately graspable, even without an index or key: Steep slopes mean trouble, shallow ones are better. There is as much information here as on those six slides, and it will fit on an index card. It is also comprehensible without a minute’s medical training.

Edward Tufte and the Triumph of Good Design: Another Case Study — Vulture — Entertainment & Culture Blog — New York Magazine

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mm026: Words of Mass Infuriation

June 22, 2007

Found at Arts & Letters Daily: 

Words Of Mass Infuriation

By Anne Applebaum
Tuesday, June 19, 2007; A17

“Eager to preserve the English language against a rising tide of nonsense,” a British newspaper asked readers last week to compose a piece of prose “crammed with as many infuriating phrases as possible.” The results make entertaining reading.

“I hear what you’re saying but, with all due respect, it’s not exactly rocket science,” begins one excellent example. “The bottom line is you wear your heart on your sleeve and, when all is said and done, this is all part and parcel of the ongoing bigger picture.” Another declared, “let’s face facts here, this could be my conduit to a whole new ball game. Awesome, or what?”

Some of the entries mocked bureaucratese: “Our own cost-benefit analysis of the ongoing target shortfall is that this predicament needs to be addressed proactively.” Others celebrated slang, either American (“chill to the max”) or British (“I was gobsmacked”) in origin. And all of them suggested an explanation for why it seems so difficult to follow the ludicrously early American presidential campaign: Too many of the candidates speak in prose crammed with as many infuriating phrases as possible.

The worst offender — and this week’s column is officially apolitical — is Hillary Clinton, who is “running for president because I believe if we set big goals and we work together to achieve them, we can restore the American dream today and for the next generation.” Clinton also believes that“we can give people the education and opportunities they need to fulfill their God-given potential,” and that “the foundation of a strong economy is the investments we make in each other.” Who could possibly disagree?

But maybe that’s what it takes to lead the opinion polls, at least at this stage. “Folks, we’re a bit down politically right now, but I think we’re on the comeback trail, and it’s going to start right here,” Fred Thompson said recently, speaking to an audience of apparently enthusiastic Virginia Republicans. And no wonder they liked him: This is a man who believes that “it’s time to take stock and be honest with ourselves. We’re going to have to do a lot of things better,” and who tells audiences that “I know we’re here for the same reasons: Love of our country and concern for our future.”

Well, I, too, feel love of our country and concern for our future, which is why I worry when Mitt Romney says that “it’s time for innovation and transformation in Washington” (was it ever not?) or that “America can also overcome the challenges and seize our abundant opportunities here at home” (does any candidate think otherwise?). Or when Rudy Giuliani promises a “mission of reform and change” (as opposed, presumably, to a mission of entropy and stasis).

Political campaigns only get interesting when the candidates stop speaking in ringing generalities and infuriating phrases — which doesn’t mean that they become successful, or even good for the country. John McCain‘s campaign in 2000 appealed precisely because he eschewed prepared gobbledygook — though that wasn’t enough even to win the Republican nomination. I am also still convinced that voters initially liked George W. Bush‘s inarticulacy: At least he didn’t sound quite as smooth, and ultimately meaningless, as everyone else. Only with time did his natural-born inability to speak English begin to produce infuriating phrases of unique pointlessness: “These are big achievements for this country, and the people of Bulgaria ought to be proud of the achievements that they have achieved” was a recent classic.

At the moment, the brightest new hope for the English language is Barack Obama, a fact I didn’t fully appreciate until I inattentively picked up what I thought was his best-selling new book, ” Dreams From My Father.” Expecting a dull political tract, I discovered an engaging story of his enigmatic father and his eccentric childhood, full of unexpected observations about race and identity in America and Africa, written with real elegance: (“Miscegenation,” he writes at one point: “The word is humpbacked, ugly, portending a monstrous outcome: like antebellum or octoroon, it evokes images of another era.”) Then I discovered that I’d read the wrong book: Obama wrote “Dreams From My Father” 15 years ago, before becoming a political candidate of any kind. Though his recent “elect-me-president” book, ” The Audacity of Hope,” has been praised for its prose, the jacket blurb describes it as “Senator Obama’s vision of how we can move beyond our divisions” to create a “radically hopeful consensus.”

I hear what they’re saying, but, with all due respect, I’m putting off reading it, afraid the deterioration might already have begun. Let’s face it, guys: No good writer, however eloquent, can possibly survive a two-year presidential campaign.

Anne Applebaum – Words Of Mass Infuriation – washingtonpost.com