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We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint

May 16, 2010

"Slideshow" by Gareth Saunders (CCBy)

On Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon show on 10 May, 2010, Kathryn Ryan interviewed Tommy Honey on the subject of Powerpoint. You can stream or download the audio (duration: 8 min. 29 sec.) from the Nine to Noon website. The discussion began with a reference to a complicated diagram in a Powerpoint presentation that was intended to explain the complexituy of the American military’s strategy in Afghanistan. Honey refers to a recent New York Times article (We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint, 26 April, 2010), in which Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster is quoted as saying that PowerPoint is “dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control.” “Some problems in the world,” he comments, “are not bullet-izable.” It is worth following the links in the article to other commentaries from the military community. This article attracted more than 700 comments, which are worth a look. The New York Times also published a related resource for teachers: Point Counter Point: How to Use (and Avoid Misusing) PowerPoint, which includes a link to the Presentation Zen website that invites us to consider how Obama’s famous “Yes We Can” speech would have looked as a PowerPoint presentation.

Tommy Honey ended the interview with a reference to A description of “sparklines”, the word-sized graphics feature that was inspired by Edward Tufte that Microsoft added to Excel 2010. A description of  sparklines can be found in the official blog of the Microsoft Excel product team.

Edward Tufte’s books are described on his website, where you can also find links to his writings and other creative work. Tufte has written an essay titled: “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within“, and his Website includes a section of this essay that deals with technical reports. It is worth noting that, in order to retain control of the design and production process, Tufte publishes his own work through his Graphics Press. He clearly has an appreciation for good design as well as good communication and clear writing, and he is also creates sculpture and publishes fine art prints.

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