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February 2009

Visualization of the credit crisis

Are you still trying to get your head around the complexities of the global economic crisis? A lot of people have been trying to explain different aspects of the financial crisis in "simple terms" though not always with great success. I pointed to this whiteboard presentation by Paddy Hirsch in October called "Financial Crisis 101: CDOs explained" which does a good job explaining a complex issue (obviously not in great depth) while using a whiteboard for illustrating the concepts. Today Leonardo pointed me to a very interesting fast-paced presentation called "The Crisis of Credit Visualized." The presentation was created by Jonathan Jarvis, a designer and graduate student from Los Angles. At times the pace may even be a bit too fast, and the sound effects too numerous, but I say well done, Jarvis. You may get some ideas from this presentation; definitely worth a look. Short and simple overview.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

SETI's Jill Tarter: Putting things in perspective

Stage Jill Tarter, Director of the SETI Institute and TED Prize winner, gave a very nice presentation on SETI's mission and why it matters a few weeks ago in Long Beach. Jill could have given her speech without visuals and it still would have been good, but I think the slides really did help illustrate and illuminate her message; the visuals certainly helped her audience put things in perspective. And putting things in perspective is at least one of the ways SETI research is influencing the world. "If SETI does nothing but change the perspective of humans on this planet, then it will be one of the most profound endeavors in history."

The visuals Jill used were completely reworked by one of the Duarte designers and the slides provided powerful visual support to her speech. There were a few times, especially at the beginning, when the slides were out of sync with the narration (Jill was controlling her own slide advances), but when she got her timing down, it was a very engaging talk in every respect. Perhaps the best illustration came, however, not from slides but rather when she used the TED Conference name badge (which she placed on the floor) to illustrate how many stars there are in the universe (this begins at about the 5:30 mark in the video). If the flat name card represented a billion stars, you are not going to believe how many miles the stack would have to extend into the sky to represent all stars. Watch below or here on TED.

"SETI is a mirror, a mirror that can show ourselves from an extraordinary perspective and can help to trivialize the differences among us."
                                                    —Jill Tarter, SETI

Sample visuals from Jill's talk
Here are just a few of the slides that Jill used during her TED Prize presentation.

"Our numbers suggest a universe of possibilities." Our sun is one of 400 billion stars in our galaxy.

Our nearest star, the sun. It takes over eight minutes for the radiation to hit the earth. (Note: yes, this is obviously not to scale.)

The nearest star after that is 4.2 light years away.

The edge of our galaxy is 75,000 light years away.

The nearest galaxy to us is 2.5 million light years away.

We've been "the dominate form of intelligence" for only a very short time.

Duarte Design made a big impact
Duarte_sample TED has always had great presentations, though sometimes the delivery or the visuals were not always of the same high quality as the content. Over the years, however, I have noticed a great improvement in the design & delivery of the now famous TED short-form presentations. And while not all the presentations at TED were perfect or went off without a hitch, you could tell that something was different: the visuals were clearly up a notch. Even if I had not known Duarte designers were helping the TED Prize winners and Al Gore and others who wanted assistance, I still would have known. It was obvious to anyone who is crazy about presentations like I am (and perhaps you are). Yet most people at TED may not have noticed, and that's good. That's good because that's a sign of good design: If the design (including story structure, graphics, etc.) is good, people won't really notice "the design of it" — they'll be too busy engaged with the meaning of the narrative being expressed verbally and visually on stage.

Over on the Slideology blog this week they have a really nice post — including before/after slides — elaborating on the help they provided for the Barry Schwartz presentation below. Four or five really good takeaways. Check it out.

TED Prize: Sylvia Earle on protecting our most precious resource

Sylvia_earle This TED Prize presentation by oceanographer Sylvia Earle is brilliant for so many reasons. First, right from the beginning the smiling, dynamic scientist had the audience in her hands by saying up front where she was going to go in her talk and that she would explain why it matters. Then she proceeded to do just that, to take us on a journey of education and enlightenment with an amazing display of grace, intelligence, humor, and humility at the podium. The talk was informative and cautionary, yet hopeful and inspiring. This talk came across well in the TED video, but live it was even better. As with all three TED Prize talks, you could hear a pin drop during the silent pauses as every audience member was totally engaged in her every word as the supportive montage of video images moved in and out gracefully and in sync with her gripping narrative. Just fantastic. Watch below or go here for more download options including HD.

A smooth mix of narration and video imagery
What was remarkable about this presentation too was the way Dr. Earle made her written speech sound so natural. And of course the way she combined the video imagery behind her was extremely effective in the live talk where the audience could see both the speaker and the wide screen. This is the kind of thing you can do too in your own presentations right off your laptop. If not done properly, this can be a distraction, but Dr. Earle demonstrated that if done well, such imagery does indeed magnify the message and the power of the visual hits people at a more visceral level. Below are some sample snaps and slides from the talk.

"Think of the real costs: Every pound that goes to market, more than ten pounds — even 100 pounds — may be thrown away..."

"We're putting hundreds of millions of tons of plastics and other trash into the sea." (Video of turtle "eating" plastic — powerfully visceral, disturbing imagery.)

"...millions of tons of discarded fishing nets that continue to kill..."

"Barbarically we're killing sharks for shark fin soup...."

An ice-free North Pole in this century? "That's bad news for the Polar Bears...and it's bad news for us."

"...the Arctic: We have one chance to get it right!"

"...or the Antarctic, where the continent is protected..."

"...but the surrounding oceans are being stripped of its krill, whales, and fish..."

Sylvia Earle: We need a global plan of action.

This slide features Dr. Earle's wish. (Only less than 1% of the oceans are protected, let's help improve that number in a big way.)

Spreading the word around the world — you can help
We — you and I — can help by at the very least passing on the link to this great presentation and sharing Sylvia Earle's wonderful story in hope of educating and inspiring others to take action. Also, imagine this: if the TED videos like this were translated into other languages with subtitles, that would be huge — and you can help. If you would like to get involved in translating TED talks into your language, checkout this program here on the TED site. You can contact TED directly here about helping with translation and transcripts ([email protected]).

The inspiring Jose Antonio Abreu & El Sistema

Maestro If you are serious about improving education in a big way — about transforming education in general and communities in particular — then here's what you can do: Grab your fellow educators or students or parents, etc. and watch these TED talks: (1) Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity? (2)  Bill Strickland: Redemption through arts, music, and unlikely partnerships. After you've been inspired and challenged to think differently by watching those great talks from past TED Conferences (and you have discussed their ideas), sit back and watch the two TED videos below which were recorded just two weeks ago at TED 09. The three TED Prize presentations were fantastic — truly an incredible evening that I will not soon forget. But it was the last presentation by TED Prize winner Jose Antonio Abreu that moved many of us to tears (and all of us to our feat). To me, Abreu and organizations like El Sistema perfectly exemplify the spirit of TED and inspire us to work harder to be better and to help others improve their lives in even the smallest of ways. What Jose Antonio Abreu speaks in his TED Prize talk from Venezuela is truth, and it's from the heart. The presentation is 17 minutes, but it really did feel like only five minutes live; we were all listening so carefully to his words (presentation is in Spanish with subtitles). Watch below or go here for better download options.

After the Maestro's TED Prize speech (which got a big standing ovation), the TED audience was really in for something special: The Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra lead by Gustavo Dudamel, himself a product of El Sistema. We were blown away. The second musical piece — Arturo Márquez' Danzón No. 2 — was especially moving. It was really a special night. So, put on your head phones and turn up the volume. This is truly remarkable, inspiring stuff. Go here for more download options.

No music, no life
Conductor El Sistema is a reminder that music and the arts are not cursory, they are not mere luxuries or niceties for a few. "Music is life," as one of the young musicians said in the presentation. You do not need to become a professional musician, but in music and art you learn discipline and commitment and the value of hard, hard work. You learn what the pursuit of excellence is all about, that hard work has a reward, that you have to fail before you can succeed. You learn about self-expression and communication. You learn self-respect and the respect of others. These are not unimportant things, they are vital things. Yes, of course you need math and science and literature — these are essential. But you need music and art to take you to a higher ground, to make you human. Why it is a case of either-or — "academics" or "the arts" — is one of the great mistakes of our time. People like Jose Antonio Abreu and Bill Strickland and Ken Robinson, etc. remind us that this is a false choice.

A few spots open for Presentation Reboot (March 17, 18, 19)

Reboot_garr_nancy Presentation Reboot is just a few weeks away and I can't wait! Although I have barely recovered from jet lag and the amazing experience of attending TED in Long Beach, I'm truly looking forward to flying across the pond again in just a few weeks to join Nancy Duarte and my friends at Duarte Design for the Presentation Reboot one-day seminars. The three seminars are almost full, but there are still a few spots available on each of the days. Go here to learn more and sign up — I'd love to meet you there in California.

Teaming up with Duarte
Teamattedsign As you may know by now, Nancy Duarte is author of the best-selling book Slide:ology and is CEO of Duarte Design, the firm behind the creation of the best presentations you've ever seen including the presentation for Al Gore's Oscar-winning film, An Inconvenient Truth. Nancy brings a wealth of experience from years of working with the top firms in Silicon Valley and beyond. Duarte Design also played a large role at TED this year helping with many of the key presentations (and it showed!) and working on projects such as TED sponsors, TED Prize winners, and the TED Fellows program.


For questions, volume discounts, or student discounts contact [email protected]. We look forward to seeing you there in March! (If you can not attend Presentation Reboot, then checkout one of the other seminars offered at the head office of Duarte Design.)

Barry Schwartz at TED: The need for virtue & practical wisdom

Barry This talk by Barry Schwartz which came on the final day of TED 09 is not my favorite (those are yet to come), but it was a very good talk indeed that was well received by the TED audience in Long Beach; he made a connection. You may not agree with Barry's conclusions, but he did a good job of making his case (as much as you can in 18 minutes) and he gave us something to think about. His talk was clear and designed to be simple yet evocative, provocative, and even inspiring. Bill Gates started TED talking about education and the vital role that teachers play and it was nice to see this theme reveal itself through out the week in myriad forms including in segments of Barry's talk. Watch the talk below or here on TED where you'll find a few download options and a higher rez version.

Barry's slides
I'm not a huge fan of using comics in presentations, but it can be effective if they are used sparingly. Two things Barry does right here with regard to using comics: (1) He does not read the comic but instead pauses to give a few moments silence which allows people to read the strip and chuckle; silent pauses are always refreshing. And (2) he redesigned the text of the original comic panel to be larger and easier to read for the audience and in the same theme as other parts of the visual presentation (Duarte Design helped him rework his slides at TED before the talk). He did not not use slides very often, but when he did he controlled the timing well and naturally and he never looked back. Here are some sample visuals from his talk.

I featured this 2005 TED by Barry Schwartz in this older post called Happiness, decisions, & the paradox of unlimited choices.

Siftables: digital information on our terms

Shiftables Any technology that gets us away from the standard computer monitor and keyboard I'm all for. At TED last week, grad student David Merrill from the Fluid Interfaces Group at MIT's Media Lab, gave a very nice demo (using stills and video clips) of some new technology that allows us to sort of go back to the future in a sense and manipulate the technology in familiar ways. The audience was quite impressed with this short presentation on a promising technology. David did not have much time, but he made a good impression and left people wanting (to learn) more. These are obviously early days for Siftables, but it gets you pretty excited thinking about the possibilities. How, for example, could you use something like this to learn Kanji better? Watch the video below or here in TED.

Note: There was actually a problem with the final video during the live TED presentation (which was not David's fault), so they asked David back later in the segment to demo the final bit.TED did a good job editing this quickly.

Bill Gates at TED 09: How do you make a teacher great?

The theme at TED this year is "The Great Unveiling," and it was an unveiling of a sorts for Bill Gates when he gave an impassioned, upbeat talk to a packed hall in Long Beach Tuesday morning. But Bill was not at TED to talk about technology or Microsoft. The rebooted version of Bill Gates is all about changing the world through his own style of philanthropy. Bill is presenting with visuals much better than in years past (I elaborate on that briefly with photos here), but that's not why I point to this talk. I point to this talk below for the content. Bill talked first about eradicating Malaria in developing countries and then spent the second half of his talk on education in America.

WorkhardIn his talk Bill recommends a new book called Work Hard. Be Nice.: How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America. He likes the book so much he said he's sending one to every TED member. Later in an on-stage interview with Chris Anderson (that's what the sofa was for), Bill stated again how he thought the need to transform education was really America's greatest challenge. I wish you could see the interview with Chris, it really was the best part of his talk (TED will post the interview separately later). Bill was funny but also very serious about his commitment to spend the rest of life — Bill Gates 2.0 if you will — trying to change the world through his foundation.

Above: An engaging interview with Chris Anderson followed the presentation (Chris was getting email questions off the computer). TED will post a video of this interview in future.

There have been some amazing presentations this week. I can't wait for them to be posted so all can see them. (And a big H/T to TED for getting this talk up in about 24 hours.) I'm trying to send comments when I can during the day on Twitter. Here (and here on TED's blog) you can follow updates almost live.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Astrophysicist & communicator extraordinaire

Neiltyson1 If you do not know who Neil deGrasse Tyson is then you're in for a treat. Dr. Tyson is an American astrophysicist with a degree in physics from Harvard and a Ph.D in astrophysics from Columbia University. In addition to hosting Nova Science Now on PBS and appearing on numerous TV talk shows in the US, his day job is serving as Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. You might think that such an intelligent, highly educated scientist would be a bit dry — you'd be wrong. Out-of-this-universe wrong. Tyson is an extraordinary communicator.

What makes Dr. Tyson great is not only that he is smart and amazingly knowledgeable, what makes him so remarkable and compelling is that he's knowledgeable and excited and passionate and eager to share. Share? Astrophysics? Science? You bet. He demonstrates his great intellect when he speaks, yet he doesn't make you feel dumb, instead he makes you want more; he stimulates your curiosity, a curiosity perhaps you didn't even known you had. He needs a lot of work with his visuals (when he uses them), but putting that aside, this scientist is an amazing speaker. He's equally engaging in interviews as he is at the podium. Below is part of a 45-minute interview he did for Time (he was on Time's Top-100 Most Influential people in 2007 list). You can listen to the entire audio interview on iTunes here or download it here from Time.

10 Questions for Neil deGrasse Tyson

At about the 19-minute mark of the audio version of this Time interview, I was blown away by his ideas concerning education and communication, on teaching and answering questions about the universe:

"...I bring to bear [to a person's question] all that I know about the science, but also about communicating that science...and then I see their eyes light up because they learned something new. And they didn't just learn a fact — 'cause if it's just about facts then hand over an encyclopedia — go read the facts. There's more to enlightenment then how many facts you can recite. There's the empowerment of the idea behind the fact. I take it as a personal mission that if I am ever replying to a question, you're going to get some extra information as part of the answer, a way for you to think about the problem in a new way. Empowering you with a depth of thought greater than you had before, greater than perhaps you thought possible within you. If I succeed at that, that's a beautiful thing."

                                                — Neil deGrasse Tyson

At the lectern
Many people think of Tyson as the Carl Sagan of our time. That's a compliment for certain. (I wrote about Sagan's ability to excite and educate the public about science in 2007, it was later reprinted in the CAP — Communicating Astronomy to the Public — Journal. You can download the pdf here.) Below is just part of a talk where Tyson demonstrates his passion for his mission as he shares a cosmic perspective. He has a different style than Sagan, but he excites people just the same (and surely makes some people question their assumptions as well). It's raw and from the gut...and it's real.

"It's not simply that we're in the universe...the universe is in us."

                                              — Neil deGrasse Tyson

Apophis: Tyson gives visual description
Below in another interview on stage before a live audience, Tyson discusses with humor and clarity what the consequences would be in the (very unlikely) event of an Apophis asteroid impact. You can see the entire interview here.


In other news

Logo Tomorrow I leave Osaka via Tokyo for the long flight to Los Angels and the five-day TED 2009 Conference in Long Beach. There are a lot of great presentations planned during the week at TED — you can see the schedule here. I'm most excited to see Bill Gates, Seth Godin, and Rosamund Zander (and of course, Herbie Hancock.) I'm not planning to blog here on the PZ site about the event, but if you're interested you can follow my reports of sorts from TED with photos, videos, etc. on my posterous site. All posterous updates appear automatically on Twitter so it's easier just to follow from there if you like. I hope to learn a ton and share it with you along the way.