26 September 2007

ET and Joe Klein

A few months ago my Capital B Boss and I attended a workshop held by Edward Tufte, the graphics guy. Or, more accurately, The Visual Diplay of Quantitative Information Guy. Right now, you are probably thinking "I know the name...." Well, let me jog your memory.

ET (as his adherents call him and as he refers to himself) is best known to the average reader for two things:

* The Napoleon's March Graph, which ET did not create, (Frenchman Charles Joseph Minard did) but which ET so loves that he has made it famous to a generation or so of Americans. You know - this one:

* His hatred of PowerPoint. As much as he love's Minard's graph, he hates Microsoft's slide tool.

ET, like Alton Brown (who calls himself "AB." Hmmmm), has firmly stated opinions that sometimes stray from the strictly accurate to the, shall we say, more rabidly partisan.* There is a eensy-weensy-teensy-tiny bit of "I think this and you must, too, because disagreement on this point will bring down all that good and holy. And just ruin everything."**

Just mouse around his website for a while - you'll see what I mean. Needless to say, his workshops are very informative and hugely entertaining. I loved it. I now also have four of his books, in hardback, in a handy carrying case. Autographed.

So, anyway, any time I see something dissing PowerPoint I think immediately of ET. And in this week's Time Magazine***, Joe Klein's column about the testimony of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker contained this bit that ET himself could have written (except that it's less livid):

The general was armed with the modern military's deadliest weapon, the PowerPoint presentation -- serried rank of bar charts marching toward victory, which provided camouflage for the gaping holes and contradictions in the Petraeus-Crocker story.

* As I like to point out, some of the things in the Columbia PP slides should be blamed less on PP and more on what happens when you have engineers do an admin's job. Bill Gates isn't responsible for Boeing's shoddy proofreading.

**We all have that to some degree. Check sometime on how flexible David is on the number of items allowable on a computer desktop and the acceptability of touching the monitor when pointing to something. Whew. I'm lucky to be alive, I swear.

*** "This week's" meaning the Time Magazine that I am carrying around this week. Their dating system is somewhat peculiar. Specifically, though, this one is dated September 24 but I've had it since last week.


tommyspoon said...

I'm going to one of Tufte's seminars in October. I may bring up that proofreading/PP point of yours. See if I can make his head explode. ;-)

Liza said...

Not too long before Noah was born, I worked for a VP who loved book reports. He made everyone on his team pick a business book, and give a book report/lead a discussion on it. The structure of these meetings was 2 books per hour long meeting.

Mine was Tim Harford's The Undercover Economist, which is fabulous and changed the way I buy groceries, and Starbucks.

I was the second book in the hour, and like the presenters in the weeks before me, I put together a short ppt, with random pictures of froofy coffee drinks and other silly crap.

The book IMMEDIATELY before me was, of course, The Visual Diplay of Quantitative Information.


David Gorsline said...

The icons are happier when they're put away into folders.

Anonymous said...

When you have 20 minutes (I know, Leta, that may not happen), it will absolutely be worth your time to view Hans Rosling's presentation from the TEDtalks:

This is truly the most enthralling 20 minutes of public health statistics you're likely to see this year.