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27 May 2012

Beyond Bullet Points (3rd Edition) by Cliff Atkinson

Ever witnessed a slide presentation without bullet points? No? I can't remember one either. Yet, all too often this de facto standard of presentation acts as an aide-memoire for the presenter, rather than a compelling story for the audience.

The aim of Cliff Atkinson's book is to banish bullet points and text-dominated slides. His mission is to encourage you to create a very different kind of presentation. One that engages the audience with a well crafted, highly focussed, carefully ordered collection of headlines and images. A collection that delivers a story rather than a lecture. As the subtitle suggests he wants you to "create presentations that inform, motivate and inspire."

To compose a successful presentation the Beyond Bullet Points (BBP) approach takes cues from other mediums, namely stage plays, newspapers and movies. As with a stage play, a successful story flow will have three acts; a beginning, a middle and an end. Each slide has the kind of strong, memorable headline you'd find in a newspaper. And the complete slide collection is designed in a movie-style storyboard manner.

Fittingly, the book begins with a BBP success story, and by the end of chapter three you'll have acquired a solid overview of the steps required. At this point many readers may want to head off and apply their new found knowledge immediately. However tempting this might be, only by reading the rest of the book will you discover many valuable nuances, and learn how to avoid some of the more common mistakes.

Content organisation is excellent, with a smooth transition from chapter to chapter. More advanced information and reference material is relegated to one of the five appendixes, rather than clutter up the book's main flow. As you'd hope with a book focussed on presentation, the page layout and general styling is clear and effective. Nevertheless, with the PDF version there is an occasional problem with text contrast, the result of some poor colour choices; namely black-text-on-dark-grey and white-text-on-light-grey. Although no such problems on my Kobo Touch e-reader.

The book's website has a number of very useful downloadable resources, including toolkits and templates for a range of Microsoft Powerpoint products (2003 to 2010).

I believe this book will help anyone create better presentations. Whether you create them as part of your job, or as an ad hoc activity for work, clubs or social groups, I heartily recommend it.

24 May 2012

Smartphones In Space

Yes, it's true. Android-powered smartphones have orbited the Earth.

Read all about CubeSats, PhoneSats, SPHERES, Smart SPHERES and space-oriented app competitions in this week's Micro Mart magazine, issue 1210. It's the one with a Smartphones ... In Space banner at the top of the front page.

Here are a few extracts from the article:

On the face of it smartphone technology seems a perfect fit for CubeSat projects. A smartphones is already a highly sophisticated miniaturised device, with a relatively fast processing speed (well over 10 times the power of typical space-borne computers) and ample memory. The latest smartphones bristle with wireless communication systems, and have built-in cameras, accelerometers, gyro-meters, GPS, proximity and light sensors. The whole package is easily customised via an open source operating system and readily available application software tools.

Developed by the MIT Space Systems Laboratory, these 200mm (8-inch) diameter SPHERES are designed to operate in a variety of environments. MIT professor David Miller was inspired by a scene in the original Star Wars film, where Luke Skywalker spars with a small hovering droid to practice his force-enhanced Jedi light sabre skills.

The first generation of smart SPHERES are paired with the Android-powered Nexus S smartphone from Samsung. The open source Android operating system and freely available application development tools only adds to the flexibility. As Intelligent Robotics Group software engineer Mark Micire said, "The availability of Android source code allows us to customise the smartphone to be used as a compact, low-cost, low-power computer, rather than just a phone."

Download the free Micro Mart iPad/iPhone app and purchase the magazine for only £1.49.

4 May 2012

Big Data - Big Questions

My comprehensive guide to Big Data is published in Micro Mart issue 1207.

I begin with an explanation of what's meant by 'big data' and the technological challenges it poses. Challenges which are starting to be addressed by Apache's Hadoop framework and startups like Cloudera and Hortonworks. Then I discuss why there's so much interest in capturing our personal information and the worrying concerns over privacy, before considering the likely effect on personal computing.

Big data is a hot topic this year. There's been a surge in cloud storage offerings from the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and now Google. Plus plenty of media coverage on the personal privacy issues surrounding the UK Government's push for GCHQ access to social networking and website data.

Here’s a couple of extracts from the article:

Acquiring masses of data is pointless unless its hidden secrets can be revealed. This means uncovering the patterns and trends within masses of unstructured data, and creating human-understandable reports and charts. Before this happens the data needs to be extracted, filtered, manipulated and subjected to deep statistical analysis.

Existing technology isn't well suited to big data challenges. Spreading the processing load efficiently can be a hard problem to solve. Relational databases, such as those from Oracle and MySQL, store, manage and retrieve information in carefully designed tables. However, table-based storage isn't suited to the dynamic, unstructured nature of big data information. And SQL is too inflexible to cope with big data analysis.

What's needed is a new breed of data storage and transaction processing technology. Oracle and other relational database organisations are already working hard to offer big data solutions that supplement their relational offerings. But Apache has rather stolen the initial limelight with their open source Hadoop project. Even Microsoft has Hadoop at the centre of its big data strategy.

However, there is another and somewhat darker side to big data. With much of the focus being on acquiring and storing social information there are obvious concerns about the protection of our right to privacy and anonymity.

We are already very close to a situation where every message you send, every call you make, every website you visit and every item you buy, is logged and stored in some anonymous far-flung server. These logs reveal patterns of our daily lives, including electronic communications, geographical movements, social interactions, personal preferences and regular habits.

And these logs contain other secrets. Think you have deleted some emails? The log will have recorded any previous email contact history. Removed some website images from your website or Facebook? They could well still exist in a backup on some Internet-connected server.

Read more analysis posts.

3 May 2012

Smart Key Fobs

There’s a new kind of key fob starting to appear - the smart fob.

A smart fob can act as a ‘bridge’ between the car’s Electronic Control Unit (ECU) and your mobile phone, tablet or PC.

It's really a mini-computing device in its own right, with built-in data storage and wireless communications technology.

It's all in Micro Mart issue 1207. Here’s a couple of extracts from the article:

With Bluetooth or wi-fi technology, the smart fob can act as a 'bridge' between the car's sophisticated electronic control unit (ECU) and your mobile phone or computer. In practice this means feeding information from the car's many sensor logs, control modules, navigation devices and entertainment systems to smartphone and PC applications.

Take a 'find my car' app for example. When you lock the car the fob captures the current GPS coordinates and stores this data in its memory. When it's time to return to the car, take out your smartphone and start 'find my car' app. The app will connect to the smart fob, read the stored GPS data, then display the parked position on a map, using Google Maps or some similar geo-location software. Very handy when you're in an unfamiliar city.

Read more analysis posts.

1 May 2012

EU Cookie Directive

On the 26th May the EU's Cookie Directive comes into force. This legislation was delayed a full 12 months to allow organisations and website owners to digest the detail, understand their responsibilities and implement the necessary changes.

In essence this directive is all about user consent. Any website that captures user information using cookies must first obtain consent from the user.

Any website that employs a tracking cookie is covered by this directive, and many others too, even if they just save a few user preferences. A cookie can be classified as having either first-party or third-party status, depending on which server issues the cookie. Any embedded advertisements, popups and so on will have to be reviewed.

Unfortunately, there's no single clear cut solution to follow. Appropriate action will revolve around how the easy-to-misinterpret rules apply to your own website design. Solutions range from simply displaying a prominent message informing users that tracking is taking place, right up to giving users the opportunity to allow or block each individual piece of information (as in the much cited BT.com solution).

Metanym have a a particularly helpful and informative web page with tools and examples. Plus there's more to read in this BBC news story and the ICO's cookies guide.

Read more analysis posts.