Archive for the ‘Lectures’ Category

Demi-God of public speaking engagements

June 12, 2008

According to Amardeep, it is Rushdie. Take a look at this post of Amardeep wherein he discusses his experience of attending a reading by Rushdie at Googleplex:

First of all, the turnout was striking, considering that this is an office comprised mainly of software engineers and sales/marketing people working for an internet search/advertising giant. The auditorium within the office was full, with about 200 people — about what you might expect to see at a college or university with an English department. Quite a number of people had copies of Rushdie’s new novel with them. In short, Googlers read.

Second, the reading was being teleconferenced live with three other Google offices, which you could see on a screen projected behind Rushdie’s head. (By contrast, when we have readings at Lehigh, we have enough trouble just getting the microphones to work…)

Third, in keeping with Google’s “do your thing” office environment, there was a bright red exercise ball just hanging out on the floor of the auditorium, about 10 feet from the podium. It was unclear to me whether it was there as a seating option, or simply as decoration (the bright red goes well with the Google office’s bright, “primary colors” palette).

Amardeep also links to some of the online resources which Rushdie used for his researches while writing his latest book. Take a look!


So …

April 27, 2008

When I spent six months in Germany during my graduate days as an exchange scholar, in the very first week of my arrival, I happened to attend a talk; it was delivered by a Russian professor in German (who prefaced his talk with this sentence in English — “Since both my English and German are horrible, and since it is Germany, the chance of my being misunderstood in German is less. So…”). In the entire talk, I got only two things — one was a reference to the classic paper of Ramakrishnan and Youssouf and the other was the word “Aber” since at every second sentence, towards the end of the sentence, the volume would gradually decrease, and the very next sentence, he would start with a booming “Aber” — pronounced “aaabah”, and within the first five minutes, I understood that Aber meant “But”.

I guess this is not an uncommon experience; anybody who attends a technical presentation knows about the penchant of different speakers for using different words to start (or, to end)a majority of sentences.

Over at Seed, Michael Erard writes about one such word (link, also, via Chad at Uncertain Principles) — “So” and what it tells about what the use of the word tells about the scientific endeavour itself:

… can such a tiny word reveal anything about the metaphorical underpinnings and conceptual structure of scientific endeavors? In the 1990s, Columbia University psychologist Stanley Schachter counted how often professors said “uh” and “um” in lectures and found that humanists said them more than social scientists, and natural scientists said them less frequently of all. Because such words mark places where a speaker is choosing what to say next, Schachter argued, natural scientists’ low hesitation rate underscored the hard facts they were communicating. “So” can be said to have the inverse relation for exactly the same reason. It relays a sense of accuracy and rigor. One doesn’t have to worry about what to say as much as when to say it. “So” is the organizing device for a logic-driven thought process.

Former Microsoft engineer Alex Barnett wrote on his blog that “so” was a “delaminater” word. To him an idea was a concrete object, much like an onion. “So” was the word a speaker used to convey that another layer was peeling back. This metaphor implies that ideas have a kernel that one could reach with enough “so”s, a notion surely enticing to the problem-solvers and the goal-oriented. I prefer to think of “so” as a vehicle across a landscape of knowledge. It lies not so much in between points on a terminal trajectory, but more on perpetual journey across points of understanding. In this sense it shares some qualities with the infinite “why”s of a two-year-old. Another “so” can always follow the end of a thought. The trajectory is endless; the rabbit hole has no bottom. There will always be more questions for science to answer.

As a word that dwells in the lexicon of those who desire to understand and to learn, “so” is a marker of healthy intellectual tolerance. It is a hallmark of a robust cognitive approach to the world. But this is not to say that the “so” employed by professional explainers is all deduction and dialectic. It also implies an element of faith. This is the faith of any attempt to teach, argue, brainstorm, or present: the conviction that the person who is listening will understand what’s being said and comprehend its significance. More than anything else, this fidelity may spring from a need to communicate; a fervent desire to exchange ideas and, in turn, build new ones. This is an inclination characteristic of many people. “So” is just more frequent on the tongues of those who do it best.

Take a look!

PS: By the way, on an entirely different note, use of fill-in syllables such as uh, OK (which word, I am told I use often in my presentations), and, you-know, while lecturing and making presentations are considered bad; so, as much as there is a reason behind using “so”, its use should still be restricted. One way to do it is to use different words and constructions with the same meaning.

On breaking things and making presentations

March 30, 2008

Doug at Nanoscale views has a couple of great posts.

The first is about an outreach programme in which Doug participated:

Yesterday I did an “Ask a scientist” event at the Children’s Museum of Houston, as part of their Nano Days events. It was fun. (…) The most fun part was when I invited the kids up to help me take apart a Wii-mote, while I explained that sometimes breaking things down is the best way to figure out how things work. The high point: an eight-year-old whispering “Awwwwsome!” to his friend after playing with the guts of the Wii-mote. (Note: opening up any Nintendo gear requires this kind of screwdriver….)

The second post about the quantization of the optical conductivity of graphene, and how one of the groups — forgive my using the eff word here — frame their results is a must-read:

Nair et al., in a preprint, arrive at essentially the same result, but present the data in a much more dramatic way that does a great job of emphasizing the consequences of the physics. Many people don’t have a good intuition for what optical conductivity means. Nearly everyone, though, has a decent sense of what optical adsorption means. These folks demonstrate that the quantized optical conductivity implies that the white light absorption of graphite is quantized (!) in units of the fine structure constant (!!), so that each additional graphene layer absorbs 2.3% of the light incident on it, even though each layer is just one atom thick. The figures in the paper, particularly the last one, do a great job of making this point.

The take-home message about presentation: having a compelling physics story to tell is good, and casting it in terms that a general audience can appreciate with some intuition is even better.

Take a look!

HowTo: make good academic presentations

March 27, 2008

Teppo at Orgtheory tackles the question: not much in the post itself except for a few tips of how not to; but there are some pointers towards the end.

Examples of some great presentations!

February 16, 2008

It is Bhrathiyar who said

உள்ளத்தில் உண்மையொளி உண்டாயின்
வாக்கினிலே ஒளியுண்டாகும்.

(If there be true light in the mind
There will be light in the speech)

That is something I am reminded of every time I watch a TED presentation.

Garr Reynolds at Presentation Zen chooses six of his favourite TED presentations from February 2006 (link via TED blog) and uses them to tell how-to and how-not-to make presentations:

Working within limitations, including time limitations, can be liberating in a sense. It narrows your options, pushes you to focus…and leads to more creative approaches. Any professional in their field can ramble on for an hour or two. But 20 minutes to tell your story, to give it your best shot? That takes creativity.

If you’re going to have ideas worth talking about — and your ideas are, right? — then you’ve got to be able to stand, deliver and make your case. All six videos below are excellent; I list the videos in order of the ones I enjoyed most.

Take a look!

Giving talks, filing tax returns and Orgasmatron!

February 11, 2008

Here are some interesting reads:

Have fun!

Bear with me for a moment!

January 2, 2008

Xkcd gives a great tip on how to give a talk in which a slide on quantum hall effect is followed by one  of rainfall over amazon  basin:

If you keep saying “Bear with me for a moment” people take a while to figure out that you’re just showing them random slides.

A  must-see!

Capgras delusions, phantom limbs and synesthesia

October 23, 2007

It is always such a pleasure to listen to Prof. V S Ramachandran; here is a talk by him at TED. I have heard him on all the three topics that he discusses, namely, Capgras delusions, pains in phantom limbs and synesthesia (at, probably a bit more of detail than what he discusses at this lecture). However, that in no way diminishes the pleasure of listening such a wonderful speaker again. Have fun!

Visualising the oneness world and its different textures

October 12, 2007

In another one of those extraordinary TED talks, Hans Rosling (a) talks about the need for liberating publicly funded data from “stupid passwords and boring data”,  and, (b) uses such data to show the gap that is being bridged between the rich west, not-so-rich in the recent past Asia, and, the edging towards the rich at present Africa, and the differences that still exist within any given country between the rich and the poor. A must-see lecture.

Hat Tip: To Jayan for the email alert.

Saturday very early morning links!

October 6, 2007

[1] Several people have linked to the wild crow tool use videos obtained by attaching video cams to their tail feathers: /. refers to the New Scientist page, while Jenny refers to the NPR page; the Scientific American report is here; and, the paper itself is published in Science, if you have access to the journal, the supporting online material includes the videos.

[2] The other story that is getting lots of attention is the use of YouTube by UC Berkeley, to post videos of the class lectures.

[3] Grrlscientist on the molecular mechanisms of eusociality; and,

[4] Finally, a lit link: Pico Iyer reviews Orhan Pamuk (via Laila Lalami).