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Archive for January, 2010

U.S.S. Carl Vinson in Haiti

The U.S.S. Carl Vinson

Here’s a story from ABC (the Australian Broadcasting Company) about the heroic efforts of the U.S. Navy to bring relief supplies to desperate residents of Haiti. My nephew is one of the “baby-faced” pilots from the Carl Vinson profiled here.

I can’t begin to tell you how proud of him we are.

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Last week I attended a demonstration of the presentation style PechaKucha (alternatively Pecha Kucha, or just PK). Named for the Japanese term for “chit-chat,” it was developed in Japan as a way of combating the familiar phenomenon of “death by PowerPoint.” Based on one exposure – eh, maybe.

In theory it couldn’t be simpler: 20 x 20, or 20 slides, 20 seconds each, 6 minutes 40 seconds precisely. That’s it. You can see the correspondence with the Japanese esthetic of haiku, to take one example: 3 lines, 17 syllables. The idea is to strip content from the tyranny of bullet points and pare it down to its essence. Not surprisingly, since it was developed by artists and architects, the focus is on images, not text.

PechaKucha is pronounced pe-chak-cha, by the way. Since its beginning in February 2003, PK has spread virally to cities around the world; here in Cincinnati there have been three instances of PechaKucha Night (r) — yes, that’s a registered trademark — in the past year. The emphasis on night is a further reflection of its social/artistic origins, and the distance between PK on the one hand and business and academic presentations on the other. Not that the latter couldn’t use a little shaking up — but I’m not sure PK is it.

To be fair, the presentations I saw did not appear for the most part to have been produced from the ground up in this style; they looked more like conventional presentations re-worked to fit PK. The biggest problem I saw is that the form in essence demands not a single presentation but a series of 20 micro-presentations. Because presenters needed to view their screens to keep the timing right, there was not much eye contact with their audiences. Quite often the comments on individual slides went long, but ones that were too short were even more problematic.

I know from my radio experience that one of its indispensable skills is the ability to match vocal content to a precise length in a hide-the-artifice way. Doing that 20 times in a row is an enormous task. Comments of 18 or 22 seconds — even comments of 19 or 21 seconds — don’t quite get it. And if it’s not done right, the technique calls attention to itself in a bad way: the audience pays less attention to the presentation because they’re wondering if the speaker will make it. Over and over again.

I hope to attend a PK night in Cincinnati and see how artists and architects do it. I’d love to be proved wrong, but I suspect that the power of this form is not going to transfer very well to more formal settings, where innovative concepts like those from TED.com may be better bets (or Garr Reynolds’ approach in Presentation Zen, also inspired by Japanese models).

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Morning fog

We’ve had a little bit of snow on the ground in Cincinnati for a few days, but warm temperatures melted most of it yesterday. The air must have been really saturated, because this morning we woke up to this fog.

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From January 5th-10th we made a trip across a good bit of the country so we could take our daughter to El Paso for grad school (UTEP). EP is about 1,500 miles from Cincinnati, just about half of which is in Texas. Dang, Texas is big. The Google Maps image shows the route we took. Two days to get there, two days to recover, and two days to get back.

Here, in no particular order, are some impressions from the trip:

1. Wind farms near Sweetwater, TX. I wrote about this in a separate post, which I filed from my Blackberry on the road after taking a photo from the moving van.

2. Almost all the Arkansas towns you’ve ever heard of are on the same stretch of road. That would be Interstate 30. There’s Little Rock, Benton, Hope, Hot Springs, and of course Texarkana.

3. Best meal: gorditas from The Little Diner in El Paso (actually in Canutillo, just northwest of the city). An undistinguished building in an undistinguished block, but it’s been written up in Gourmet magazine and others. And well worth a detour. Runner-up: cowboy-cut pork ends at 11 pm from Randy’s Smokehouse in New Boston, TX.

4. Radio stations: Ugh. I plan to do a separate post about this. Not much of interest anywhere, unless you like smarmy preachers and country music. Because of my professional background in radio, I was looking for public stations. I heard Morning Edition in a few places, and Diane Rehm (mercifully), but very little classical. The iPod got a workout. However . . .

5. Best country lyric: “Been workin’ hard all week to put beer on the table.” Runner-up (from the same song): “This job’s killin’ me, but at least it’s keepin’ me alive.”

6. Worst roads, overall: I-30 from Texarkana to Dallas. Fast traffic, very short entrance and exit ramps, with strip malls and tiny little businesses right up to the roadway. Southwest from Dallas the road is better, but not the ramps. None of the roads we saw had fences running alongside. Judging from tire tracks, people don’t use ramps to get on and off the highway anyway – they just drive across the berms, it seems. Runner-up: short stretch of I-40 in Arkansas just across the Mississippi from Memphis. However, most of I-40 runs past extensive wetlands, which is pretty cool. Lots of waterfowl everywhere. I-40 east of Memphis is pleasant, also.

7. Most directionally-challenged employee encountered: the otherwise very friendly young lady who tried to direct us to the Days Inn in Texarkana. Bless her heart, she didn’t know the number of the exit where it was located, and she couldn’t say for sure whether they were north or south of I-30. The highway travel circular where we found their $49 coupon also got it wrong, compounding our confusion.

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Close call

Jenny was in a scary wreck Monday morning, but she is OK. She was on her way to work in Oxford in the dark. A pick-up truck crossed the center line and hit her almost head-on. It spun her car out to the other lane, where another car hit her. All three vehicles were totaled, but nobody was seriously injured, it seems. A few bruises and scrapes, but she’s feeling pretty good and doing some exercises so she won’t be sore . She was very, very lucky.

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Ohio Light Opera

Our son John the vocal performance major had good news this week. He was offered a Young Artist Scholarship to the Ohio Light Opera at the College of Wooster in Wooster, OH. It’s a summer festival of Gilbert & Sullivan, light operas and operettas, and some Broadway. He’ll get a scholarship, room and board, small roles in Kismet and Gypsy, and be in the chorus for 4 others. He’ll be up there from late May through early August. He’s very excited.

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#1 in a projected series. We’re taking our daughter from Cincinnati to El Paso for grad school (UTEP). Sweetwater says it is the “wind farm capital of the world.” Sounds right to me.

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