Edward Tufte and Smart Art

on Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I just read Edward Tufte's snarky, funny and deadly accurate diatribe against PowerPoint,The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within, and thought I'd address a solution to one of the problems he poses in the essay.

Tufte correctly points out that a limitation of Powerpoint is that the bullet point format forces the content of every slide into a hierarchical relationship, with one bullet point relentlessly following another down the slide. PowerPoint 07 offers a partial solution to this limitation with Smart Art.

PowerPoint 07 offers the option of sidestepping the traditional march of bullet points down the slide. Go to the Insert Tab and choose Smart Art. The dialogue box offers plenty of visual formats to represent not only lists, but processes, cycles, hierarchies, relationships, matrices, and pyramids (an example of the "Cycles" options in the dialogue box is shown at left). Some example of slides are shown below.

Smart Art won't magically turn a boring, sloppy or badly designed presentation into an exciting and meaningful one. But it is a step in the right direction.


on Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Timesnapper (http://www.timesnapper.com/) is a free productivity tool with a very simple idea it it's core: it takes screenshots of your computer screen every five seconds, and allows you to play them back as a movie. You can see your entire workday replayed back to you in minutes. Thus, you can see at a glance how you spend your day, and perhaps find ways to streamline your workday (e.g. quit checking your email every five minutes).

Frankly, it's also just fun to watch your workday fly by in the space of a minute.

It won't fill up your hard drive with images of your computer screen, as they are automatically deleted after a set period of time (which you choose). You can adjust the resolution and format of the screenshots, and how often the screenshots are taken. You can also adjust the speed of the playback.

The professional version, at $24.95, gives you more productivity tools to work with, such as customized reports detailing the percentage of time you spend on selected applications, amount of time you spend on the computer each day, recording screenshots only of certain applications, and much more.

Both a trial version of the Professional version, and the free classic version are available at http://www.timesnapper.com/. Scroll to the bottom of the page to get to the free version.


on Tuesday, June 16, 2009

SildeRocket is yet another tool for sharing slide presentations online, along with Slideshare and Google Docs.

Like Google Docs presentations, you can upload existing PowerPoint presentations, or collaborate with others to build a presentation together on-line. You can share the presentation only with those you invite, or publish to a URL for all to see. Like Slideshare, you can add audio (though synchronizing it to the slides is problematic) .

SlideRocket has a few advantages over the other two options I've mentioned. Primary among them is that it converts the slide graphics and text using Flash, so the visuals are crisp and sharp. Similarly, the on-line space the presentation runs in is very pleasing to the eye. There are also a number of very cool graphics available.

The free version allows an unlimited number of presentations, and a 250 mb overall limit.

All presentations come with easily copy-and-pastable embed code. An example of an embedded presentation is below.

IE Tester

on Thursday, June 11, 2009

IE Tester (http://www.my-debugbar.com/wiki/IETester/HomePage), from My DeBugBar, allows you to test your websites on multiple versions of Internet Explorer, including IE 8, IE 7 IE 6 and IE 5.5.

It is important to test and preview your webpages in several browsers, from Firefox and Safari to all the various flavors of Internet Explorer out there. The problem with Internet Explorer is that you can only download the most recent version from Microsoft. And, when you do, it will attempt to overwrite the older version.

IE Tester is an elegant solution to this problem. I've previously mentioned Multiple IE as a solution, but, while a good product, Multiple IE does not install on Vista, nor does it allow testing on IE7 and IE8. IE Tester overcomes these limitations nicely.

Thanks to Zach Hittle for the suggestion.

Password Safe

on Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Password Safe (http://passwordsafe.sourceforge.net/) is a neat little open source password tool, that allows you to store and manage all your various passwords in one encrypted and secure place. All you need to remember is one master password.

With Password Safe, you can easily generate, store, organize, retrieve, and use complex new passwords, using password policies that you control. Once stored, your user names and passwords are just a few clicks away.

You can choose to store all your passwords in a single encrypted master password list (an encrypted password database), or use multiple databases to further organize your passwords (e.g. work, school, home).

Suggested by Andrew Riesel.