Category Archives: Technology and Society

Cartoon Guide to Federal Spectrum Policy

The New America Foundation has put together a cartoon guide to Federal Spectrum Policy. Quite apart from being a fan of cartoon guides to whatever, I’m a fan of rational technology policy, which the Federal policy towards spectrum allocation isn’t. I don’t know much about the New America Foundation other than what’s on their website, but the analysis of spectrum policy is basically right, if a little, um… cartoonish.

Hat tip: Maria Farrell at Crooked Timber

General Aviation under attack

These guys are trying to stop a series of idiotic lawsuits which threaten to kill general aviation. Their opponents are the usual NIMBY morons who won’t get a link out of me because I refuse to move them up Google’s page ranking. Check out their quotes page for some astonishing statements by the NIMBYs. I’m sympathetic to concerns about noise, but there are ways to deal with it without stomping on other people’s liberties.

Technology and Psychology

Edward Tufte has a famous essay on the Cognitive Style of Powerpoint, which should be required reading for anyone involved in communicating basically anything. I think Rand has already linked to this essay elsewhere, but I’ll link again just for emphasis. There’s an excellent, if a little technical, essay here which covers some similar issues in word processing (hat tip to an anonymous commenter on this post).

Continue reading Technology and Psychology

“Powerpoint Engineering”

Thomas James points out this little article from Government Executive:

The biggest lesson, Roe said, is to curb the practice of “PowerPoint engineering.” The Columbia report chided NASA engineers for their reliance on bulleted presentations. In the four studies, the inspectors came to agree that PowerPoint slides are not a good tool for providing substantive documentation of results. “We think it’s important to go back to the basics,” Roe said. “We’re making it a point with the agency that engineering organizations need to go back to writing engineering reports.”

Thomas wonders if there will be slides available of the report…

This is not just a problem for NASA–in my recent experience of the past couple years (in which I’ve fallen off the “recovering engineer” wagon and done some consulting for both large and small companies), it’s endemic in industry as well (partly because contractors come to reflect their customer’s culture). Back in the olden days, when I was a technical supervisor, I was a stickler for well-written technical memoranda. Now they don’t even seem to exist, let alone exist in a useful form, and few engineers seem to know how to write any more.

I absolutely agree that this is a major problem in the industry, but it’s not going to change until upper management decides to make it happen, and unfortunately, being upper management, they’ll probably remain addicted to briefing charts, and not even understand the problem. We’ve forgotten how to write, and they’ve forgotten how to read.

“Powerpoint Engineering”

Thomas James points out this little article from Government Executive:

The biggest lesson, Roe said, is to curb the practice of “PowerPoint engineering.” The Columbia report chided NASA engineers for their reliance on bulleted presentations. In the four studies, the inspectors came to agree that PowerPoint slides are not a good tool for providing substantive documentation of results. “We think it’s important to go back to the basics,” Roe said. “We’re making it a point with the agency that engineering organizations need to go back to writing engineering reports.”

Thomas wonders if there will be slides available of the report…

This is not just a problem for NASA–in my recent experience of the past couple years (in which I’ve fallen off the “recovering engineer” wagon and done some consulting for both large and small companies), it’s endemic in industry as well (partly because contractors come to reflect their customer’s culture). Back in the olden days, when I was a technical supervisor, I was a stickler for well-written technical memoranda. Now they don’t even seem to exist, let alone exist in a useful form, and few engineers seem to know how to write any more.

I absolutely agree that this is a major problem in the industry, but it’s not going to change until upper management decides to make it happen, and unfortunately, being upper management, they’ll probably remain addicted to briefing charts, and not even understand the problem. We’ve forgotten how to write, and they’ve forgotten how to read.

“Powerpoint Engineering”

Thomas James points out this little article from Government Executive:

The biggest lesson, Roe said, is to curb the practice of “PowerPoint engineering.” The Columbia report chided NASA engineers for their reliance on bulleted presentations. In the four studies, the inspectors came to agree that PowerPoint slides are not a good tool for providing substantive documentation of results. “We think it’s important to go back to the basics,” Roe said. “We’re making it a point with the agency that engineering organizations need to go back to writing engineering reports.”

Thomas wonders if there will be slides available of the report…

This is not just a problem for NASA–in my recent experience of the past couple years (in which I’ve fallen off the “recovering engineer” wagon and done some consulting for both large and small companies), it’s endemic in industry as well (partly because contractors come to reflect their customer’s culture). Back in the olden days, when I was a technical supervisor, I was a stickler for well-written technical memoranda. Now they don’t even seem to exist, let alone exist in a useful form, and few engineers seem to know how to write any more.

I absolutely agree that this is a major problem in the industry, but it’s not going to change until upper management decides to make it happen, and unfortunately, being upper management, they’ll probably remain addicted to briefing charts, and not even understand the problem. We’ve forgotten how to write, and they’ve forgotten how to read.

Crypto-Gram

Anyone who is interested in technology policy and security ought to subscribe to Bruce Schneier’s Crypto-Gram. It’s an excellent monthly newsletter written by one of the foremost experts in computer security, and it’s free. RTWT, as they say. One thing that stood out in this latest edition is the Brief Safe (fair warning – it’s kind of gross).

I’ll probably post more on some of the items in the latest Crypto-Gram later in the week. Right now I have to get my wife safely off to Wood’s Hole.

CD Rot

It’s not really new, but it’s good to see the fragility of CDs getting some press. One of the ironies of the information age is that information is being lost at a rate unprecedented in human history. A lot of that is pointless BS like my undergrad history papers, but a depressing amount of it is potentially useful technical material and historical primary sources. It’d be nice to have a really good high density long term data archive format. Currently the best we can do with any certainty that it will still be accessible in a hundred years or more is high quality acid-free paper.

Cryonics Emergency

For those who have been following the nonsense in Arizona over putting the state funeral board in charge of cryonics regulation, we thought that the situation was under control, with the sponsor of the bill appearing to be reasonable. However, Alcor now says that he’s been dealing in bad faith, and is now trying to rush a devastating bill through the state house tomorrow.

If you’re an Arizona resident, and want to keep your options open for life extension, it’s very important that you go read the link, and contact your representative tomorrow to urge him or her to vote against this bill.

And anyone in Mr. Stump’s district might want to investigate the potential for replacing him this year…