End of summer

Or at least, the end of summer classes. Today was the last day of System Dynamics and thus, the end of my summer classes. Looking back, I'm glad that I didn't decide to take three classes over the summer as two was plenty of work. Hopefully between the feedback that's been given about Systems Engineering as well as the addition of a Software Systems Engineering course option (which I'm planning to audit in the fall), some of the problems present in that class will be less problematic in the future. I know that people have complained quite a bit about ERBA in the past, but seriously, ERBA was a much better class.

System Dynamics, on the other hand, really should be a required course for all SDM students. Not necessarily because I think that everyone will use it on a regular basis, but because it provides a very solid foundation on thinking about causes and effects within a system. The exposure has me definitely looking at things with a slightly different light. That said, I think that a lot of the actual modeling is more complicated than you're going to usually have time to do and a lot of actually simulating the models requires either tons of research to get quantitative data or making up numbers. A cool thing that I learned about yesterday is that one of the GSoC projects is actually working on an activity for the OLPC that lets you do System Dynamics modeling. This is very cool and I actually want to sit down and play with it some in the next week or two.

Some other (related) things that I've noticed over the course of the semester that are/were kind of interesting…

  • Not having some form of repository to store things and share them really makes collaboration a lot harder.
  • Vensim (the modeling software we used for System Dynamics; worked under wine fwiw) could really stand to have some form of built-in source control. Although merging changes with the silly file format might be less than fun
  • Google Docs really does work well for working on a document among a group of people. I want to play with the AbiCollab stuff now and see how well it works too. The downside is that to get it to work in a general environment, have to get people to install something. Google Docs just requires them to use their web browser. This is big
  • PowerPoint (etc) slides are a terrible way to try to convey any significant amount of information. Our society is substantially worse off for its existence

After class, I headed out on this week's MIT/Harvard ICIC ride. We headed to Jamaica Plain to visit the original JP Licks. Along the way, took a trip through the Arboretum in JP, and got a nice view of the Boston skyline.
View from the top of the hill at the Arboretum in JP
Was a nice little ride, although I was regretting not bringing the nice light and the clear lenses as it was getting dark by the time we made it back to Cambridge. But I had them in my bag for the ride home at least. I guess it's getting to where I'll be using them more. And I definitely need to go through and replace the batteries in all of my smaller lights as most of them are starting to get a little dim.

2 thoughts on “End of summer”

  1. I’ve heard people complain about slides before, but have never quite understood what the alternative is supposed to be. In fact, when I’ve questioned people about it their complaint often comes down to either “it encourages speakers to just read the slides” or “the slides distract from the speaker”, which I see more as problems with content-design and delivery more than the medium.

    That said, I’d be very interested in hearing more about what you see as the shortcomings of slide-based presentations and some viable alternatives.

  2. It’s not necessarily the existence of slides that’s the problem. Slides have existed for a long time prior to PowerPoint. But PowerPoint _encourages_ the creation of non-interactive slides that are filled with nothing more than bullets that you read.

    A good presentation, instead, uses its slides/visuals to support and reinforce big points. See, eg, some of Lessig’s presentations for nice examples on how to do that. A good presentation also works to engage the audience actively rather than treating them passively — think back to school and whether you preferred classes where the professor just stood up and was writing on the chalkboard without any real interaction with the class or classes where the professor was engaging and maybe still used the chalkboard, but did so as part of an ongoing and engaging conversation. Or switch out “chalkboard” for “overhead project and transparency” (the immediate predecessor of the modern slide).

    Can you replicate some of this with PowerPoint? Sure. But you have to try hard and basically work against the way the program is designed.

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