Revolutionary Ideas Rediscovered

I have rediscovered a video that has profoundly influenced my ideas about how we think and use computers to help us learn about the world. The video is a presentation by a programmer and rather deep thinker named Bret Victor.

In this video, The Humane Representation of Thought, he imagines a new way of communicating. He talks about a concept that he calls the direct manipulation of dynamic behavior. This is a different approach to getting a computer to support the thought process. He emphasizes the use of all the senses and all the capabilities of the human body.

He talks about the fact that we have constrained our communication to words and numbers and drawings that are all represented in two dimensions using ink on paper or pixels on a flat screen. Not that these are bad ways of representing ideas but rather that they ignore the other senses other than sight that we have to perceive and interact with the world. Senses such as hearing and touch. The ability to perceive depth through visual and auditory clues. The sense of touch. The sense of proportion that comes from standing next to something and walking the length of it.

I highly recommend watching his video and exploring his web site to better understand his brilliant concepts. Any descriptions that I write are insufficient to communicate his vision and I think that is just more evidence for his point.

Eating the Dog Food

I’m sitting here working on a presentation on AspectJ and listening to Dave Slusher’s Evil Genius Chronicles. I’m trying to convert a completely awful presentation (almost all bullet slides, way too many words, no pictures) into an engaging presentation to give via Webex. It all started when I followed a link to Kathy Sierra’s essay Stop your presentation before it kills again! I gave the awful presentation to a lunch time get together with some of my colleagues last week. They kindly overlooked the deficiencies of my slides and one of them looked me up afterwards to ask me to present to a more formal technical exchange that he regularly attends. This got me motivated to rework my slides.

I’m also using Dave Winer‘s OPML Editor to organize my thoughts before I attempt to translate them into something visually appealing. The hardest part of preparing a talk like this is narrowing the topic to fit in the time allotted. The second hardest thing is structuring it so that it can become a dialog instead of a lecture. The main reason I’m creating a Powerpoint presentation is that I am giving the presentation remotely and I want to have something to talk to.

This brings me to the title of this post. I believe in the things that Kathy says about not using Powerpoint slides. I am, however, intimidated by the fact that I am presenting to people “above” me in the hierarchy that expect slides. I feel a need to meet their expectations. I hope that I can come up with something that both meets those expectations and at the same time is visually exciting. I’m not holding my breath.