Category Archives: Technology and Society

“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…

Sun Outages

From the Risks forum, a submission on sun outages in satellite TV systems. When the receiving antenna, the satellite, and the sun all line up, the satellite signal is swamped by the sun. It’s obvious that this would be a problem once you think about it, but this is the first time I’ve seen consumer level consequences from it. You’d think that cable systems would make a big deal out of this (up to 8 minute outages twice a year), since obviously cable doesn’t have the same issues. As Rand has pointed out many times here and elsewhere, the key to reduced launch costs is markets. Right now satellite TV is doing quite well in competition with cable, but this is a definite competitive disadvantage, which is bad news. The good news is that it’s also a money making opportunity for whoever can figure out how to fix it.

Other items (also here) in the same digest talk about electronic voting machines. We’re entering what is certain to be a nasty campaign, and if things proceed on their current course the results of the election will be tainted by serious problems with electronic voting systems. The last thing America needs in the current global climate is still further internal polarization. Fortunately some smart and dedicated people are working to mitigate the problems, and you can help.

Cryonics Breakthrough?

I just saw a segment on Fox News (Shepherd Smith’s evening show) that said that Greg Fahy is going to announce the ability to restore animal kidneys to full function after freezing them to deep subzero temperatures. I visted Greg in his lab over a decade ago when he was doing organ preservation research for the Red Cross in Rockville, Maryland, and he was doing some breakthrough work with rabbit kidneys then. According to the report, tests with human organs may commence within two years.

The purpose of the research is to make it possible to preserve organs for transplant for longer periods of time, but the implications for making cryonics ever more viable are obvious. Of course, they had to have the usual “scientist” on as a nay sayer. However, they’re having to cling to straws more as time goes on. They used to talk about making cows out of hamburger. Now they’re reduced to saying, “Well, OK, they can do it with a mouse, but that’s a long way from doing it with a human.”

That’s how science progresses, professor.

Oh, and kudos to Fox for using the correct term “cryonics,” rather than cryogenics.