Monthly Archives: February 2009

Death By PowerPoint

So we all know that bullet points are a crime in PowerPoint. You’re meant to do the minimalist thing:  a picture and a single word in Helvetica. Or just the word. Otherwise you risk being B-O-R-I-N-G.

Apparently, it could be worse. This guy thinks that poor PowerPoint was partly to blame for the Challenger disaster.

It has to do with NASA and Boeing engineers “burying” some annoying statistical technicality about the foam that hit Challenger’s wing way down among the bullet points, close to the bottom of the page. That annoying statistical stuff turned out to be rather important, as it effectively voided all the safety models and meant that Challenger, orbiting around the Earth full of blissfully unaware astronauts, was at far greater risk than everyone thought.

Apparently one of the lesser-known recommendations to come out of the Challenger disaster was that PowerPoint no longer be used as a format for technical reports.

So. Next time I see a throwaway “caution: low base size” on a tracking debrief, I might mention this. And see what everyone says.

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It lives…

After one abortive attempt (not counting music ones) I’ve decided to start a blog again. I thought I’d call it set square because it has connotations that I quite like. At some point I’ll write them up and probably put them in my about. But for now, suffice it to say that it has to do with creativity, and science, and the merging of those two things. Which is sort of my job, and sort of what I’m interested in.

With that in mind, I thought I’d make my first post a bit of a “look what I found”. I started reading Godel, Escher, Bach the other day. It’s one of those books I felt the need to know a bit about. There’s quite a lot I like about it, but one of the first things I found was a really nice list of the abilities which indicate intelligence. Which I though was also quite a good list of the abilites that are essential in creative thinking. So here it is, courtesy of Douglas R. Hofstadter:

  • to respond to situations very flexibly
  • to take advantage of fortuitous circumstances
  • to make sense out of ambiguous or contradictory messages
  • to recognize the relative importance of different elements of a situation
  • to find similarities between situations despite differences which may separate them
  • to draw distinctions between situations despite similarities which may link them
  • to synthesize new concepts by taking old concepts and putting them together in new ways
  • to come up with ideas which are novel

There you go. If I do some of those things in a day, I’ve had a pretty good day.

If you’ve stumbled across this in its early days, I hope you enjoy the forthcoming randomness.