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We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint

April 28th, 2010

This the headline to the central story in today’s New York Times. The story is about the overuse of PowerPoint by the US military, especially in Afghanistan. It centers around a particular PowerPoint slide (shown below) attempting to portray the complexity of US strategy in the region.

The article discusses that a Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraq city of Tal Afar.

Leading on from this,  you may be aware, that next weeks UK event the Embedded Masterclass has also banned PowerPoint from its technical presentations. To quote from the website:

This year we have asked the presenters of the 40 min Technical Presentations to ‘abandon Power Point’ . Instead they will have a white board, a flip chart and hand-outs and of course – their wit and charm ! We want to bring a bit of life back into these kinds of events and raise the standards. We are hoping this will lead to a better and more inter-active presentation. It is already causing the presenters to think more carefully about what they intend to present and how it will be structured.

I understand the sentiment, but I’m sorry but No; PowerPoint is just a tool. Banning (or abandoning) PowerPoint is not addressing the root problem.

For anyone who wants to do a professional job of presenting then there are great reference materials out there (e.g. Presentation Zen, silde:ology, beyond bullet points, etc.).

In reality many poor presentations are due to a lack of a proper review process prior to the event(admittedly some people just can’t present). All presentations should be backed up by a hand-out technical paper and not just a print-out of the slides (eliminating the need for lots of technical detail on a slides). Finally, being someone who has to regularly present  5 days of detailed technical training on embedded systems, white boards and flip charts just aren’t big enough for a large audience (unless you can write REALLY BIG).

To combat this problem of free form notes to a large audience, at Feabhas we have been using a really cool tool called PaperShow to augment the slides. Ideally we’d use two projectors, but this isn’t typically practical. Alternatively you could go back to the “good old days” on OHPs, foils and pens.

As I’ll be at the Cambridge event (as we’re running an Embedded Linux training class) I’m really interested in how it actually works and my concerns will hopefully be proven wrong. Hopefully see you there…

Embedded Systems Conference – Silicon Valley

April 22nd, 2010

As I’m sure you’re well aware, the ash cloud from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano (which began erupting in mid-March) pretty much brought much of European airspace to a standstill over last weekend and into this week. Now that UK airspace has been reopened, it appears I can resume plans for my visit to the Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose next week.

The sessions I’m directly involved with are:

Examining ARM’s Cortex Microcontroller Software Interface Standard – CMSIS
Date/Time: Tuesday (April 27, 2010)   3:15pm — 4:15pm
In this session I shall be examining ARM’s Cortex Microcontroller Software Interface Standard (CMSIS –  typically pronounced C-M-Sis) . CMSIS aims to provide a framework of reusable components for software developers, silicon and compiler vendors to utilize. Aspects such a power-up boot management and interrupt control have been abstracted and defined by ARM for their Cortex-M family of microcontroller cores. I’ll spend time explaining the CMSIS framework, examining the code from a compiler and chip perspective, and finish off by discussing the pros and cons I see in such an approach.

Understanding Mutual Exclusion: The Semaphores vs. the Mutex
Date/Time: Wednesday (April 28, 2010)   12:00pm — 12:50pm
Location (room): ESC Theater 2
This presentation is based around much of the material in some of my previous postings (see RTOS related blog postings ). One of the things I like about ESC events is that some of the sessions are free. So if you happen to be attending just the exhibition, then you can still attend this session.

The State of Embedded
Date/Time: Wednesday (April 28, 2010)   4:00pm — 4:50pm
Location (room): ESC Theater 1
Finally, I have been invited to participate in an informal session along with Jack Ganssle and Dan Saks (moderated by Rich Nass of and EE Times) to discuss some of the latest trends in embedded systems. We did a similar session at ESC UK back October 2009, which was very well received. It shall be interested to see how being the token European with a US audience differs from the UK event. This is also a free session.

If you’re at the event look me up and say hello.

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