About Me

When not at work with students, I spend my time in my room either reading, calculating something using pen and paper, or using a computer. I read almost anything: from the pornographic to the profound, although my main interests are mathematics and physics. "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." -Erasmus

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Steve Jobs, Talks, and the Reality Distortion Field

I've recently been on a Steve Jobsfest. I've read Young and Simon's iCon: Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business, and Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs, and watched some of his talks on youtube.  It all began when I serendipitously read Carmine Gallo's book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs; I got interested because I wanted to learn how Apple convinced people that they actually needed an Ipod, Iphone, Ipad and a Mac. The book was a lot of fun, and thanks to youtube, Steve Jobs's  talks are available online.

Although I've heard the term "Reality Distortion Field" when my thesis adviser was describing his thesis adviser, I didn't know that it was first used to describe Steve Jobs. The videos were the first time I saw Steve's RDF in action. I've met people who had such RDF's, and I've always maintained an interest in how they maintain such fields, both as a means of protecting myself and to use during my own teaching and talks. I supposes some reality distortion can be good if it makes people do insanely great stuff. And one of the sources of RDF's is good communication skills.

Of his talks, the two I liked best were his Iphone keynote, and the Ipod introduction. I've had mixed results with my own talks, and I watch all sorts of talks, from TED talks to Steve Jobs to help me learn fantastic ways of doing presentations. Gallo's book provides a peek at what makes a Steve Jobs talk work. As usual, when I find something interesting, I usually walk around and drag my kohai to the source of my entertainment, so I had undergrads and PhD students sit with me as I watched the talks repeatedly.

I like the way Steve Jobs makes the talk look effortless and informal. The secret--- which is really no secret --- is preparation. Because it looks so effortless and informal, people think it means no preparation and just speaking your thoughts aloud. (I've seen examples of TEDx talks where the speaker tries to do things that way, and I've scratched my head and said, hey, I can do better than that!) I've read that Jobs spends days on each keynote, and he pays attention to such things as lighting and timing.

I think that what makes his talks effective is clarity-- people think that putting more features makes the talk better, when it's the other way around. The talk should make people zoom in on the speaker (and his message!), not on the slides.

Steve Jobs avoids death by powerpoint by having minimal content on slideshows. Anyone who attends seminars and conferences has experienced powerpoint horror shows: put too much information into the slide and you put people to sleep.. The best talks, I've found, use the least amount of material on the slide. In a way, it's like writing a crib sheet. If the crib sheet contains too much, you're in trouble.

It doesn't mean having no crib sheet. Powerpoint and keynote has a presenter view so that the slides you see contain marginal notes that you can use to prompt yourself. It's silly how underutilized presenter view is. You can tell by looking at the desktop onscreen. If the computer that's hooked up to the projector shows a clone of desktop, instead of an extended view, you'll know that presenter view is not being used.

Even Steve Jobs has notes, but cleverly hidden from view. Since your computer screen usually points away from the audience, you can use presenter view so that you won't have to look at the projection screen. Instead, you can maintain eye contact with your audience. You should always look at your audience.

Speaking of talks, even a poster presentation can be structured as a talk. Instead of letting the visitor just read the poster, one should instead have a prepared conversation so that you can motivate the viewer of the poster to read the paper itself. Most poster presentations are ruined because the poster has not made the effort to prepare himself to  engage the viewer. I've sadly seen some posters during the recent National Physics Conference that were under-appreciated because the necessary preparation was not done.

I could go on--- I do have a lot of rants that I could make about powerpoint horrors and posters-- but won't go into them here. Maybe on another post?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Einstein and the Atheist Professor

One of the things that irritate me is a shared wall post that's making the rounds in facebook. The post is a variation of the "atheist professor is humiliated by the Christian student" meme. The last one I've seen on my wall adds the line "The student was Albert Einstein.".

A good biography of Einstein ought to dispel the myth that Einstein was a Christian. There are a lot of quotations from Einstein showing that he did not believe in a personal god. In any case, belief or unbelief in god should not be supported by arguments from authority.

A good link on the post that got my ire is here. To my Christian friends, please: before you post anything like that, get the facts right.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New phone

I bought a new phone yesterday, and then spent the next few hours practicing how to use it. My older phone is a Nokia clone, and I've had a number of complaints. Since it's a cheap knockoff of the Nokia phone, I found it easy to use--- when everything is working perfectly.

The main problems of my old phone were:
(1) I could only use it for text. When I try to use it for calls, I cannot hear what the person calling me is saying. Although I could use it to play music, the phone was accidentally set so that it was usable only with earphones. There is a way to fix it,  but I couldn't find it in the settings, because of....

(2) The lack of technical support or documentation. The box that came with the phone had no user manuals, the phone had no warranties, and no websites existed supporting my old phone. To use the phone, I had to learn by trial and error.

(3) Cannot recharge using a travelling charger. The terminal connecting the charger to the phone seems to be busted. The only way I could recharge the battery was to open the cover, and place the battery in an external charger.

(4) Lack of USB connectivity. To transfer MP3's to my older phone, I had to remove the micro SD card from the phone and then connect it via adapter to my computer. I could not use a USB cable to connect my phone to my computer.

I don't usually spend much on consumer electronics, but this time, I wanted a well-known brand name so that I wouldn't have to suffer through the same pain again. When I checked my bank account, I was pleasantly surprised yesterday that I had more cash than I expected. Since getting a new phone was on my task list (as soon as I had the money-- my plan was to use my thirteenth month pay), I decided to look for a new phone.

One boundary condition was price.  It should cost no more than PhP 6K or around 140 USD (I'd feel guilty buying a more expensive phone, and I knew that the Nokia phone with the same capabilities as my clone was priced that much.).

Although the Samsung Galaxy Y was designed to be a low-end smartphone, it still set me back by (for me) a large amount. So I'm going on a consumer electronics hiatus; the next time I'll be buying anything as expensive will be next year, since the new phone comes out of my Christmas shopping list.

My main use for my phone (both old and new) was for phone calls, text, and music. Of course, if that was all I wanted, the phone I ended up getting was an example of overkill. I bought a Samsung Galaxy Y smartphone mainly because I liked the look of it, and also because the Nokia model that I wanted was priced the same but had fewer capabilities.

I had some trouble adjusting to the virtual keyboard, and couldn't find some of the options I wanted. The accompanying documentation gave basic instructions, so I had to go online to find out how to use the Android based operating system. I had difficulty updating my phone book-- I just used a manual method, although if I had saved my phone list in my google account, I would have had less difficulty since my phone had the ability to use my google contact list as soon as I went online.

One mistake I made at the start was to create contacts and then accidentally save them without including phone numbers. I couldn't find the an edit contacts button or link, so I had to search online on how exactly one does it on Android. It turns out that a short press of the contact name allows you to send a message or call,  while pressing the contact name for a longer period gives you the option to delete or edit your contact's information. After finding out that a short press and a long press is interpreted by the phone as two different commands, I was able to navigate through the menu.

Another minor headache I had to overcome was using the internet at work. Since my work network uses a proxy with an appropriately designated port. To change the proxy settings on the Galaxy Y: start from the Main Menu Screen and press the Settings button. Next press "Wireless and Networks". Press "Wi-Fi Settings". Assuming you've connected to the local wireless network, press the Menu button on the lower left-hand of your phone, and the "Scan" and "Advanced" buttons should pop up from the bottom of the screen. Press "Advanced", and the Proxy and Port Settings should now be on the list of things you can change. After changing the assigning the proxy and port settings, I was able to use the net at work.

My older phone had no wifi capability, so I was unable to use it for going online. I've tried using the new phone to go online on our home network; it does the job but it's slower than my laptop. I suspect I'll be using the internet connectivity only for checking on my email and twitter.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


It's a habit of mine to bring something to read when I travel. The travel time from my home to my brother's home is approximately an hour and a half  by train.  So today's companion was A. S. Byatt's Possession. One passage, deliciously indirect,  made me laugh:

" He opened his locked case, putting away Randolph Ash's letters to his godchild, or anyway the stolen images, and drew out those other photographs of which he had a large and varied collection-- as far as it was possible to vary, in flesh or tone or angle or close detail, so essentially simple an activity, a preoccupation. He had his own ways of sublimation."