Edward Tufte kills a kitten

By Legal Eagle

I’m back to teaching, which is nice. I like teaching.

But there’s one thing I’d forgotten about: the obligatory query as to where my Powerpoint slides can be downloaded from the web. What Powerpoint slides? Long term readers of the blog know that I have problems with Powerpoint from way back.

“Powerpoint is against my religion”, I told my class with some asperity. (My religion is a very odd one. Things which are against my religion include: group work, Powerpoint slides and clowns. Thou shalt keep me away from these things if thou dost wish me to be happy. This list does not purport to be comprehensive, and may be added to at will.)

If my religion is anti-Powerpoint, I think Edward Tufte can be regarded as the prophet of that particular aspect of my beliefs. He’s written a piece on how Powerpoint led to the Spaceshuttle Colombia disaster. Now that I am a salaried lecturer rather than a sessional staff member, I might even buy his whole essay.

Anyway, a friend on Facebook directed me to this particular beauty by Mark Goetz:

(larger version here)

I’ve printed it out, and I’m going to put it on my office wall.


  1. Posted July 28, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Wallpaper ROFL.

    I will confess to using PowerPoint. But it is not as, they say, my preferred medium.

  2. Posted July 28, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    It’s cruel but it’s necessary. Powerpoint is evil and it must be stopped before it gets us all.

  3. Posted July 28, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Apparently Lessig is good at law and powerpoint. I’ve seen some of his presentations for publically funded elections, but these are more legal-ish.

    Lawrence Lessig’s Powerpoint on Google Book Search and Fair Use

    On copyright law strangling innovation. Watch out for the case where chicken owners tried to stop aeroplanes using trespass law. (the reason being chickens tried to follow the plane paths and smashed themselves into the side of a barn). He goes into SCOTUS talking of common sense… (with the smarty pants remark that this is rare).

  4. Posted July 28, 2010 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    Singing my song!

    I’m back into lecturing this semester, and I have my powerpoint slides for tomorrow ready to go. They are the extracts from Crito that I want the students to focus on. Saves me writing them out. Other than that, I prefer whiteboards.

    I loathe lecture theatres where the screen lowers slowly slowly slowly from the ceiling, covering up all or most of the whiteboard, so that it is very difficult to work with both the board and powerpoint. I like writing up names and unfamiliar terms on the board: there’s something about watching someone writing a new word that makes it sink in much better than just seeing it flashing in front of you on powerpoint.

  5. Posted July 28, 2010 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    I can’t abide powerpoint either, although like LE have found it useful for explaining principles in property law (I have a lovely animated diagram of how chain of title worked under the ‘old system’ floating around the place somewhere). The diagram doesn’t work, however, unless I’m standing there telling the relevant stories as parties’ names appear.

    I agree with Deborah that it’s useful for extracts (from cases, from philosophers, from [etc]), but I am very careful never to read out the extract — that is simply boring, and rather defeats the purpose.

  6. conrad
    Posted July 29, 2010 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    If I didn’t use powerpoint where I work, it would generate hundreds of complaints. At present, the battle for me is whether I use the 5 points per page type or have a more story-like lecture — many students complain if you don’t use the 5 points per page type, lest they not know which points to remember for the exam. Sad really — sometimes I think I should just lip-sinc the book.

    Posted July 29, 2010 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    This is a good laugh. I was doing some subjects a few years back and the lecturers and tutors were either techno enthusiasts, a minority, or those who contended in a Promethean manner against the anonymous forces undermining various attempts at applications of bits of technology during tutes and some most marvellous lectures.

    Incidentally, I was going though a similar process, after having to acquire and learn to operate a pc, word and the rest because a fair chunk of Tasmania’s old growth forest was ending up binned.

  8. conrad
    Posted July 29, 2010 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    “I get an equal number of people saying that they love and hate that aspect of my teaching. I reckon it balances out in the end.”

    This is obviously a difference between where you work and where I work. If I did this, a 50/50 ratio would get me in trouble for poor teaching marks. Indeed, it would work out worse than 50/50, because everyone who doesn’t like something complains, but many that do like things don’t fill in the silly ratings. So a lot of teaching that occurs where I work is about minimizing complaints. As you can imagine, this leads to a lot of homogeneity in the way people present things (students still expect everything to be given to them like at high school) and a lot of trying to make the lowest common denominator happy. I’m sure these guys will have fun when they have to work and find out life isn’t like that.

  9. Patrick
    Posted July 29, 2010 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    I use powerpoint at work, all the time. It is the easiest format in which to produce a presentation (although we actually distribute our presentations in pdf).

    But I almost never prepare a powerpoint when I am running training sessions (which is a lot). And when I do, it is for future reference more than anything else and I barely refer to it.

    So there is good and bad, I think.

    Btw, can Paul Walter get over the caps thing already? Paul, fyi, all caps is like shouting, and generally taken to be a sign of immaturity, so maybe you should reconsider that.

  10. HeathG
    Posted July 29, 2010 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    LE: I know this sounds like ” guns don’t kill people” argument, but it’s not powerpoint that is necessarily the problem, its usually how people use it. If you are using it for a presentation … then typically less is more.

    Check out the first (free) chapter of Presentation Zen (http://www.amazon.com/Presentation-Zen-Simple-Design-Delivery/dp/0321525655) to see how Powerpoint can be used both well and poorly.

  11. HeathG
    Posted July 29, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    @LE: Agree that its good for fields where information can be presented visually, however this in turn makes it important that you think carefully about your charts/diagrams. I’m planning on getting a copy of presentation Zen (having now read the preview), but I think it probably needs to be read in conjunction with a site like JunkCharts (http://junkcharts.typepad.com/junk_charts/) which is great for showcasing the good, the bad and ugly of charts and graphs.

  12. Posted July 29, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    I actually detest more those who are uncritically addicted not to powerpoint but spreadsh*ts. I remember working in the funds management area of an international bank, looking at what my system had to replace, and saying “so, I notice adding the subtotals on the right gives a different answer to adding the subtotals along the bottom of these figures used for reporting to the regulator… How far out do you want these figures when they spit out of my database?” Yeah… That got a huge WTF, embarassed silences, frowning, gnashing of teeth, a “can you replace this for the end of THIS period rather than 3 months away as planned?”.. But no rolling heads unfortunately.

    Aaaah, people so often hate thinking, or whether something is right, just whether (insert name of technology) makes them go “ooooo shiny”.

    Posted July 29, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Patrick, are you a fool?
    the only caps I used in my post were at the beginnings of sentences.

  14. Patrick
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 6:57 am | Permalink


  15. conrad
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    I must agree with Patrick, unless the only computer available is an Apple II++. Then it’s just fine.

  16. Posted July 31, 2010 at 2:37 am | Permalink

    Paul is allowed to have his name in caps, just as I have my handle all in lowercase. If anyone litters their comments with allcaps, however, I will be the first to complain.

  17. Posted August 1, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    These days when I do a presentation I have the powerpoint ( or other program) with diagrams, photos, and main messages set to cycle through automatically behind /above me – not synced to my notes, or talk. It will cycle through 5 or 6 times or more.

    Posted August 2, 2010 at 4:00 am | Permalink

    Scepticalawyer, to think that one such as this humble writer might entertain even a thoughtbubble let alone an idea as to full transgressions of a civilised lower cap convention, is a deeply wounding experience for said soul and offer disavowals; indeed propose the most emphatic contestation of such a heathen practice.

  19. Posted August 3, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    I remember working in the funds management area of an international bank, looking at what my system had to replace, and saying “so, I notice adding the subtotals on the right gives a different answer to adding the subtotals along the bottom of these figures used for reporting to the regulator…

    I had a similar experience during an internship at Deloitte. The difference was tens of thousands of dollars.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *