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‘Everything I Know about Life I Learned from PowerPoint’ by Russell Davies

This book combines a history of the development of PowerPoint software, an ode to its functions, advice on presenting well, and—most up my street—an excoriation of poor corporate communication. The prose is written in a personal, conversational style, interspersed with PowerPoint slides—a couple of which I recently shared. It is a riot of a book.

Davies argues powerfully and convincingly that PowerPoint is often wrongly blamed for failures which lie elsewhere—usually in poor decisions about communication. Too often, screeds that should have been documents are pasted onto slides.

I didn’t understand why everyone was so contemptuous of a tool I found so joyous and liberating. I understood that bad presentations were bad. I’d sat through a lot of them. But I couldn’t quite see why everyone blamed the tool itself. It seemed like blaming pulpits for the boringness of sermons or printing for the tedium of books. I started to get a chip on my shoulder about all this PowerPointHate.

The section about presentations before PowerPoint—overhead projectors, transparencies, and those special felt-tipped pens—brought memories of giving presentations at medical school flooding back. Even in my fourth year, by which time PowerPoint was pretty common, we were routinely expected to have a backup on transparencies in case of ‘technical failure’—I remember deciding to buy transparencies that my printer could print onto, at what seemed like enormous expense. I hadn’t thought about that in years.

The second on corporate communication was great, which isn’t surprising: Davies was heavily involved with the creation of gov.uk which has a brilliant style guide. It is a shame that it is not more often followed by government departments. The line that will stay with me for longest is the astute observation that the word ‘key’ can almost always be deleted from any corporate document without consequence.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

This post was filed under: What I've Been Reading, .

Yesterday’s events

I was out of bed early yesterday morning.

I walked down to the Metro station, where I waited longer than I used to for the train: so many of the 43-year-old trains have fallen apart that the timetable had to be altered some time ago to remove some services.

I alighted at Newcastle station, intending to travel to a hospital for a meeting. The train was badly delayed, and eventually terminated early, before my stop. I took a taxi the rest of the way, arriving about 45 minutes later than planned.

As the taxi pulled in to the hospital, it passed a picket line of striking healthcare assistants.

After my meeting, as I huddled with patients in the small station shelter waiting for the delayed return train, they talked amongst themselves about how they couldn’t afford train tickets. The trick, they said, is to buy a ticket for a single stop, and to get off at the nearest station to your destination that has no ticket barriers. The hospital always talks about people not turning up for appointments, they observed, but who can afford to travel to hospital in a cost-of-living crisis?

Back in Newcastle, I trudged in the pouring rain from the station to the office, asked three times by homeless people for money. The broken paving splashed muddy water up my legs over and again, and I witnessed one nasty fall on poorly repaired, uneven surface.

As I walked past boarded-up shops, I reminisced about the times Wendy and I used to pop into them.

I cut through Eldon Square and M&S, where a ‘store protection’ staff member chased a member of the public out into the rain.

Once I’d restarted my work laptop a couple of times, I sat and listened to another online meeting about another reorganisation of a government body. I wondered about the point of it all, and pondered who would possibly think that this was the best use of my time.

As I trudged home in the rain, I listened to the radio. A bloke standing in the street outside his house in the pouring rain, having failed to equip himself with an umbrella, complained about another bloke’s inability to plan.

The Prime Minister told us that he’d spend the ‘next few weeks’ earning our trust. He made the same promise in the same location in October 2022, but has perhaps made less progress than he’d hoped—polling suggests his trustworthiness has fallen over that period.

The man who once promised to ‘to put your needs above politics’ chose not to stick around long enough to see through the smoking ban he claimed would ‘save thousands of lives and billions of pounds’—because politics got in the way.

As he talked about how his plan is working, I couldn’t help but reflect on the day and wonder: Which plan? What’s working?

And just as the Prime Minister reached the end of a particularly rambling 53-word sentence, the broadcast cut to John Pienaar.

“We may… we may have lost the sound there… oh no… no… I think that’s it. Yes, the Prime Minster has turned his back. He’s finished.”

It’s hard to disagree.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics, , .

An ‘enquiry’ inquiry

I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but I suffered a moment of pernicketiness yesterday. Reading this BBC News article, I came across the following quote from Mr Justice Fancourt:

This trial is not an enquiry.

‘Harrumph,’ I thought, ‘they’ve misquoted him—he surely said “inquiry”.’

The website has since invisibly corrected the mistake, or what I thought of as a mistake.

You see, I operate in a world where ‘enquiry’ and ‘inquiry’ are entirely different words, connected to different bits of my brain. I deal with ‘enquiries’ all the time—indeed, that’s how our record system at work labels calls and emails from people outside of the team. I deal much less often with ‘inquiries’—or even sometimes inquests—which are slightly scary legal or quasi-legal processes. I’d stopped noticing how similar the two words are.

And so to the Oxford English Dictionary—where the two words share a combined entry. The word ‘enquiry’ came into Middle English from the Old French ‘enquerre’—’to ask’. Some English pedants in the 14th century noted that the original root was the Latin ‘inquīrō’—’I seek’—and started spelling it with an ‘i’ instead. The two words co-existed for a long while.

Only in the 19th century did a distinction between the two develop: ‘enquiry’ came to be commonly associated with everyday questions, and ‘inquiry’ with formal investigations. But this has never been rigorously or consistently applied, and the two are still often interchanged in common usage.

In the USA, they use ‘inquiry’ for everything, which feels to me like it must be awfully confusing. I’m sure they’d say the same about the distinction.

So, as it turns out, my pernicketiness was nothing but misguided pedantry—and no one likes a pedant. I’ll try harder next time.


The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3. I’m not sure what’s going on with his fingers.

This post was filed under: Notes, , .

Different conversations

In the second issue of Tom Rowley’s Backstory magazine, he features an article by one of the booksellers in his shop, Amy Strong. Strong interview Isabel Wall, the editor who has worked on some of my favourite books by Alice Winn, Caleb Azumah Nelson, Elif Shafak and many others.

I was fascinated to learn more about the role of a novel’s editor. The paragraph that stuck in my mind was this:

Wall tries to go to her authors’ events as often as possible. ‘It is really interesting how you can go to events with the same author, but depending on who’s interviewing them… that generates such different conversations and makes me think about their work in different ways.’

This made me reflect on how observing friends and colleagues in different social situations shapes our perception of them. Last week, a colleague and I were pondering whether promotions change people or whether it’s just our perceptions that change: it’s much the same question.

Wall’s observation also felt appropriately literary: after all, we come to understand characters in novels by watching their actions and conversations in different circumstances.

This post was filed under: Notes, , , , , .

Miniature bonsai

Yesterday marked the sixth anniversary of the time Wendy and I visited the spectacular Japanese Friendship Garden in San Diego, which—among many other attributes—boasted an incredible collection of bonsai trees.

By sheer coincidence, as I tidied a wardrobe yesterday, this 10cm miniature plastic bonsai from IKEA fell out and hit my head. It’s not quite the same, is it?

This post was filed under: Travel, , .

Do it like this

I’m currently reading Everything I Know about Life I Learned from PowerPoint by Russell Davies. More on that when I’ve finished it—but these facing pages summed up so much that I couldn’t help but share them early:

This post was filed under: Notes, .

You put your whole self in, your whole self out

Last year, I reflected a little on Civil Servants being encouraged to bring their ‘whole self’ to work. I wouldn’t have guessed that the very next year, under the same political leadership, the same workforce would be told to ensure that ‘your beliefs remain at the front door’ (because heaven forfend that someone should wear a non-standard lanyard).

Yesterday, I was interested to read Zoë Schiffer’s piece on Platformer about a similar—but altogether more thoughtful—change in the culture of technology firms.

It’s intriguing to watch the pendulum swing.

This post was filed under: Politics, Technology.

Penrith

This post was filed under: Travel, .

Sunset

This post was filed under: Photos, Travel.

‘Racing Ahead’

When I lived in Stockton, this life-sized sculpture by Irene Brown stood outside M&S. The sculpture was removed in 2013, when the High Street was being spruced up. M&S closed in 2018.

The sculpture isn’t really my sort of thing, but it is enormously popular with Stocktonites. There was great fanfare when the refurbished sculpture was repositioned outside the library in 2016, and where I took this photo yesterday.

This post was filed under: Art, Photos, , .




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