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Catching up [Mar. 30th, 2010|10:11 pm]
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[Current Location |Invercargill]
[mood |busybusy]

There's been a lot happening in the last month or so, it's just that most of it is really not that interesting.

About the one thing of any real consequence is that I have finally (for the first ever time that I can recall) installed a peripheral device on my computer myself and had it working the same evening. Said device is a modern computer screen (or "monitor", they call them these days). Said monitor is a 22" HP LCD screen which is so far a very nice window on what my computer is actually doing. The 17" CRT I had been using is still a perfectly good monitor (it's eventually going to be used on the box-only computer I currently use intermittently to suck data out of a 27 year old word-processing machine) but I finally found a LCD screen that was (1) in my price range and (2) could be rotated on its own axis so that it could be viewed in portrait format. (This last is largely because of the number of web comics I read (if I ever have the time). It's so much easier not having to scroll down all the time!) I haven't actually figured out how to do that yet, but it probably involves something quite simple, like actually reading the instructions.

Speaking of instructions... The first thing I do during the evening I spend getting the monitor all figured out and plugged in and stuff, is opening the box (which is sort of logical in its way, as the monitor isn't going to be much use if there's a layer of cardboard between my eyes and the screen). So, on the inside of the box lid (i.e. not visible until the box is opened) are a set of instructions... for opening the box. Not really all that logical, Mr. Hewlett (or Mr. Packard)...

But for all the traditional annoyances of plugging anything into a computer (folding one's self in half to crawl under the computer table and hunting around with a torch until I find the right plug in the back of the machine), once it was all plugged in it only took two restarts until the computer actually was going properly with the monitor all working (even the keyboard, which is always the touchiest peripheral... considering that ten or so of its keys have had the letters completely or mostly worn off them, it's going to be the next that gets replaced). So far it's working quite happily at 1680 x 1050 pixels (and, luckily, I actually found a nice wallpaper to replace my old one... the old one was a nice wallpaper, too, but just too badly distorted at that screen shape. Last year I bought an art calendar off the Internet and one of the "freebies" that came with it was an emailed set of wallpapers, including one at about the right screen shape). And it's much better at dealing with dark grey colours than my old CRT monitor was. It's just amusing knowing that my computer monitor is the same size in inches as my TV set (even though it's actually smaller in total area as it's a bit closer to wide-screen than my old TV is...)

Meanwhile, in other news... The new computer at work has failed to eventuate. My lack of surprise is evident. Apparently loading all of the specialist software I use isn't quite as easy as loading Office and a couple of proprietary programs everyone at work uses, onto the general purpose machines...

Mark is down for oyster season again, so I've been navigating a minefield of cold leftover chips in my kitchen on a regular basis. One of these days I'm sure I'll convince him that I'm actually capable of cooking my own food...

And the greatest secret of the internet has been revealed. By none other than my mother. It all began when I had dropped in to see my parents last week and my mother was reading (see icon, above, for Randall Munroe's interpretation of "Portrait of Dave's Mother with Book") while my father was watching the news. One item on the news involved someone with apparent bats in the belfry holed up somewhere in the spire of the Christchurch Cathedral (I do not know whether or not he was in turn in its belfry). Said protestor was holding up some banner for his web site which was apparently all about his "issues" with the Accident Compensation Corporation. (As a complete digression: Hate healthcare reform? Think that what you really need is tort reform instead? Take my word for it: within a generation you'll be protesting for the restoration of "the right to sue". How do I know that? Just read up on the history of the Accident Compensation Corporation. That's a practical example of tort reform. Overall, since its implementation in 1974, it's worked quite well, but it hasn't given everyone a unicorn for Christmas or created world peace or any of the other miraculous things that tort reform is supposed to make happen).

Anyway, the banner advertised a web site, clearly readable. I can't remember what the actual web site address was; something like www.imasmadashellandimnotgoingtotakeitanymore.com. (I've checked, and the site doesn't exist, so don't bother looking. You're probably going to try, anyway, but don't say I didn't warn you.) The Reporter On The Scene In The Middle Of Town Looking Up then mentioned something about: what exactly this person's issue with the ACC actually was, wasn't exactly obvious.

And The Reporter On The Scene didn't whip out their gooseberry, dial up the web site with that stupid little keyboard you need a toothpick to operate and actually find out what this person's Issues were? Whatever the hell happened to actual investigative journalism? The sort of thing that reporters in films do to make their stories look more interesting?

Sigh. Anyway, I mentioned this issue to my mother. I added, in fairness to The Reporter On The Scene, that the web site might have been one of those sad, pathetic, incoherent "wah wah wah I'm being oppressed" web sites that People With Issues often create.

The answer came back, quick as a flash: "Don't most web sites start with "wah, wah, wah" anyway?"

I think my mother has just, by accident, stumbled upon something fundamental about the entire Internet. Because, with reference to far too many web sites, it explains so much.

[User Picture]From: mthomas3
2010-03-30 07:18 pm (UTC)
I don't suppose you still have that box with the interesting instructions inside? Because I'm teaching a class on human centered design, and I've found starting off lecture with a photo of BAD design gets the discussion off on the right footing. With a laugh, and a start on some critical thinking.
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[User Picture]From: southerndave
2010-03-31 09:47 am (UTC)
I'll try to remember to borrow a digital camera and take a picture of it. (I normally keep boxes for a decent length of time anyway... they make useful things to store disks and instruction manuals and cables I don't have any idea of the purpose of and assorted paraphernalia in).

If you're looking at design and stuff, you might also be interested in this, which I saw a week or so back, and which led me to finding this, which I haven't had time to peruse just yet, but might be interesting (although, not being familiar with the original except by reputation, I really should read up on that on Wikipedia first...)
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[User Picture]From: mthomas3
2010-03-31 07:40 pm (UTC)
snicker. I hadn't seen the kitten graphic. I had seen Norvig's version of Lincoln's speech, which I've shown to my senior students before they had to do speeches of their own.

I saw a talk, recently, by a professor who'd gone to one of Tufte's talks on visual presentation of information. The professor, in an overenthusiastic fit inspired by Tufte, more or less forbade his undergrad students to use Powerpoint in their talks that semester.

Which, it turns out, was a mistake. Many speeches made by students holding notes in front of their noses and rambling resulted. Powerpoint may hinder good speakers from becoming great ones. But it definitely helps to give poor (or amateur) speakers a leg up to adequacy. Tufte, being many years away from any personal experience with being a bad speaker, may not have realized this fact.

Tufte is a genius about visual information presentation. I have most of his books. (Though, I confess, I haven't read all of them cover to cover.)
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[User Picture]From: southerndave
2010-05-01 03:47 am (UTC)
Over a month later, but I've finally got around to uploading the photos...

It's a box!


Once the box is opened, it looks like there's something printed on it. Hmm... They look like instructions:


... And Step 1 seems to be an instruction on how to open the box. Haven't I done that already?


I hadn't actually heard of Edward Tufte before seeing that graphic, but a quick wikipedia hunt later and I was interested in tracking down some of his writing (which I haven't actually done yet; am just about busy enough now anyway).

And I'm probably a bit put off the idea of Powerpoint due to the number of bad Powerpoints I've had to sit through... just on Thursday there was a Compulsory Full Staff Half Day Meeting full of badly made Powerpoints (never mind the flooding and the road closures, as long as you didn't actually have to drive through water to get in you Had To Go).
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[User Picture]From: mthomas3
2010-05-04 04:25 am (UTC)
I suppose the bit of the diagram about how to assemble the monitor may be new, even to someone who has opened the box. Still. Odd location for the instructions.

Evidently you aren't the only one currently irritated by bad Powerpoint presentations. Since I use it in all my classes, I'm a bit worried I might be traumatizing my students. I do try to "riff" on the topics covered by the slides, rather than sticking like glue to the words on the slides. Still. Oh, dear.
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