Tag Archives: Colorado

Nothing Left To Take Away

Keynote window, showing a slide of Steve Jobs holding up an iPhone

Greetings from the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Thanks to the 5624-foot altitude, EVERY night is two-for-one drinks night to anybody visiting from sea level, at least in terms of the effects of the alcohol.

I don’t know for sure how many years I’ve been speaking here. I think my first was in 1997, and I’ve missed only one of them since. That’s 14 years. Which is absolutely absurd, so I dismiss this as just another agenda-driven fiction of the Liberal-controlled basic math.

Actually, the scary thing is my realization that (oh, for the love of God) I’m now part of the Old Guard here. During my first years as a speaker, I was impressed by those people who seemed like they’d been coming here forever. They’d show up at the first party of the week and they’d immediately continue conversations that have been going on for ten years, picking them up right from where they’d left off at the previous Conference, it seemed. There I was on Monday evening, sitting on the steps of a patio with a plate of buffet food on my lap, talking with the same group of friends I’d been chatting with at the same party in the same place last year.

It’s great to feel so at ease, don’t get me wrong. The situation just makes it very difficult to maintain my self-image as The Dangerous Young Upstart Whose Radical Ideas Will Ensure His Early Ouster. It was hard enough when I was still in my Twenties.

(Jeez, I am old. I find myself walking through the U of C campus and thinking “in MY day, we didn’t need longboards. We rode skateboards, like normal people!” Please note that I road a board for exactly one year of my life and I would have traded my twitchy thirdhand deck for a longboard in a heartbeat.)

Speakers at the Conference on World Affairs contribute to seven to ten panels that cover a wide range of topics. Tuesday was fairly typical for me. In the morning, I talked about alternative definitions of journalism and in the afternoon I was on a panel about interstellar space travel. I write about space and I’m keenly interested in those subjects. But I know I’m just a dabbler. Two others on the panel were an astronomer and a physicist. After my ten minute contribution (which leaned heavily on my knowledge of history) I was smart enough to just be quiet and let those guys handle the audience Q&A.

During my solo ten minutes, I stumbled on the term “manned exploration.”

I asked my pal Seth Shostak (fab astronomer and educator) “Is there a gender-nonspecific way to express the concept of sending people, as opposed to probes, into space?”

“Crewed space exploration,” he replied.

“Crude? Who are we sending up there? Ricky Gervais and Seth Macfarlane?”

This got a laugh from the crowd. Which made me happy.

When a session ends, people often come up to the stage to start up conversations with the speakers while we’re packing up our pens, papers, and iPads. A group massed around Seth and the other Guy With Credentials, asking questions about dark energy and solar sails and space elevators and the imperatives of human exploration. A woman skipped past them and made a beeline for me.

“Every time I try to email my friend,” she said, thrusting an iPad forward, “It tries to FaceTime her instead. What’s wrong?”

I happily fixed her iPad. We’re all just here to serve.

I had a new responsibility this year. The organizers gave me a plenary session…one of only a handful of slots in which a speaker has the stage all to him or herself for the whole time. Panels are casual by design; the conference explicitly tells speakers that we’re meant to speak as extemporaneously as possible. Usually, all I do is prepare a rough, five-item outline of the major points I want to cover.

But this was a different thing. The audience was going to be stuck with me and only me for the whole 50 minutes. So I went ahead and wrote a whole new show for the event. I prepared for this just as I do when someone pays me to fly out and give a keynote.

The title of the plenary was “Steve Jobs and Apple.” I built the talk over a course of about a month. First I just kept jotting down thoughts and topics that seemed relevant. Then, I shaped those notes into a rough outline with some sort of beginning, middle and end trimming out anything that seemed irrelevant. Finally, I turned the outline into slides and started thinking about the best way to communicate all of this stuff.

I spent a lot of time reflecting on Steve’s philosophies. Item after item in my OmniOutliner file contained quotes about his design ideals. Each of them said “Simplify, simply, simplify.” One item was my observation the iMac’s power button is hidden away on the back, so that nothing superfluous can mar the face of the screen. I had Apple’s PR photo of the original iPod: it’s a stark whiteout.

I created another new slide, and pasted in a good quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry that I wanted to use:

“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but nothing left to take away.”

This was the first presentation in which I’d used so many direct quotes. I changed my custom template and created a new master slide, basing “Quotation” on an existing master that I call “Statement.”

I looked at the new slide.

The font for the quote was Comicrazy, which is probably my single favorite Comicraft font. It was yellow. The attribution was in the same font, in white. At some point in life I’d come across a list of presentation design tips that suggested putting your identity on every slide, to encourage people to connect with you later. So my name and my Twitter handle were at the bottom of the slide, in a different font, on top of a dark box.

I re-read the “nothing left to take away” line.

Then I flipped back and forth, clicking through all of Steve’s quotes about the importance of saying “no” and simplifying things. I clicked through the slide which represented my cue to talk about Steve’s single-window design for iDVD’s user interface. My presentation contained image after image of Apple products, each with their clean, serene lines.

Well, goddamn it. Steve had shamed me from beyond the grave.

So in the days before my plenary, I built a whole new presenation template. It uses only one font (Futura) and there’s only ever one color on the screen, red. And I only use it for hairlines, to call the audience’s attention to a note). If there’s ever more than one thing on a slide, there has to be a very good reason. I try to use Magic Movies to redirect the audience’s attention instead of just slapping up a thick pile of stuff and hoping that I can steer through it.

I like the new template a lot. My next talk after Boulder is in Dublin, Ireland for Úll and I bet I’ll tweak this a little more. I’ll probably switch Futura for something just a little more interesting.

But, yes. From now on, every time I build a presentation I’ll look at each slide and ask myself “Does this screen look clean enough to contain a quote from Steve Jobs about his design ideas, or a photo of an Apple product, without making me look like a clueless idiot?”

Even when a slide contains neither of those things, it’s a good question to ask.

CoWA Day 1: Jennifer Connelly’s Breasts

Power Girl convention sketch by Adam Hughes.

I’d had the iPad for more than a week before it truly became “mine.” I had it well before the release date, yes, but until I was done writing about it and demonstrating it on TV, it had to remain simply “an” iPad. If I were demonstrating the Mail app on live television and the whole world knew that I was trying to rent out a theater for a massive “Gossip Girl” season-finale viewing party…well, that simply wouldn’t do.

So when I got home from New York on Friday, I was finally able to replace all of its sample, demonstration, and test content with my personal data. At that time, I also officially changed its name to the one that had come to me in a flash sometime on Day Two of my testing.

I probably shouldn’t tell you what it is. The OS uses the name to identify this iPad to a network. But it’s a good one and I’m keeping it. However, after my first day at the Conference On World Affairs at the University of Colorado in Boulder, I learned its true identity:

This iPad is Jennifer Connelly’s breasts.

See, I learned exactly what it’s like to be the star of “The Hot Spot,” “Career Opportunities” and “Mulholland Falls.” Everywhere I went — the speakers’ office, Monday evening’s party, and even during my panels — everyone was really happy I was there but it was the same story. It quickly became clear that while they liked me as a person, they mostly thought of me as the support and mobility system for two big, meaty, luscious things.

Namely, my iPad, plus the MiFi mobile WiFi access point that would let them see the Netflix streaming app in operation.

It didn’t help that when I was checking my schedule and mail before heading to my next panel, I’d be holding the iPad at chest-level, like the Statue of Liberty.

“Hey! My eyes are up here, fellah.”

No kidding. My first panel yesterday was about Twitter. The basic form of a Conference On World Affairs panel is for each of the speakers to talk for about ten minutes, and then the floor is opened up for questions.

Well before a time when there were no more questions about Twitter, someone raised her hand and asked “If there are no more questions about Twitter, could Andy tell us what he thinks about his iPad?”

I offered to talk to her about it after the panel was over.

There were a couple more on-topic questions. But soon enough, well, yeah…everybody just wanted to know what I thought about the iPad. So that was the last ten minutes of the session.

Next, I was on a panel about the disappearing middle class. I led off, spoke for nine minutes, and felt that I’d done pretty much OK for someone who isn’t an economist or a sociologist. Near the end, I’d used the iPad in front of me as an example of consumer spending. The point was that it’s fine to buy something like this for practical reasons, but buying it because “it’s what the cool people with money are buying” is self-destructive; I’d likened it to all of those people who bought homes they couldn’t afford because it would make them feel good about “living the American dream” or somesuch.

Later, a panelist who really knew the economics angle cold — he’s a columnist for The Financial Times — referred back to that comment. But he abruptly stopped in the middle of his thought.

“Do you keep that in a case, Andy?”

He’d caught me off-guard. It’s not customary to direct questions to fellow panelists during your 10 minutes. I’d been listening closely. Jurek Martin always leaves me impressed with his ability to speak plainly and powerfully. uBt I struggled to imagine how it fit into his remarks.

“I’m sorry…?”

“Do you just carry it around with you in your hands, or do you have to carry it in a bag? I imagine that might be inconvenient…”

And then I gave Jurek the usual answer: that yes, it’s big for a mobile device but no bigger than it needs to be…and that it presents no more problems than carrying around a book or a magazine. A fellow sitting in the front row stepped forward and handed Jurek his own iPad, snug in its Apple convertible case.

The iPad was a superstar on my first day at the conference. Not for the attention it got; for its performance. It underscored every positive impression it made upon me during the week when I wasn’t allowed to use it in public.

1) The battery life is spot-on. I was using my iPad from the moment I awoke at 8 AM to just before I sloped into a car to go back to my house at 8:30 PM. In between, if I ever had the slightest notion to do something with the iPad, I did it without any thought as to the need to “keep some battery in reserve for emergencies.” In the end, I still had 30% battery left…about three hours’ worth.

2) The iPad shone through in the “I need to write and publish something straight away, even though I didn’t plan ahead and bring a real keyboard” scenario.

I had imagined that it would. But yesterday was the first real-world test case. While sitting in the back listening to a panel, I checked my email and found an invitation to an Apple event on Thursday. I wrote about 500 words about it using the virtual keyboard, edited it, and published it to my blog. As I’d expected, I couldn’t type as quickly or as accurately as I can on my MacBook keyboard, but even with this little slate balanced between my knees I was typing fast and naturally.

It’s a perfectly usable keyboard. With the added advantage that when I don’t need a keyboard, it goes away completely. Big, big win all around.

3) The iPad is the perfect choice when discretion is important. You can only imagine how many different kinds of computers I’ve had in front of me at the Conference On World Affairs over the past 10+ years. Today, someone came up and told me he remembered all the way back to when I had a Newton Messagepad up there on the stage.

At the CoWA (and many other conferences) I don’t use a computer for slides. I just use it for reference. The screen keeps a rundown of the points I want to make, in their order, as well of a list of any names or data that I need to mention. I might also want to open a browser window and check on a fact or two.

Good stuff. But I don’t like using a full notebook up there. To the audience, it looks like I’m dividing my time between my participation on the panel and my Twittering about how awesome last night’s “Amazing Race” was.

The iPad is the first computer that scored tens all the way across the board. The screen is viewable from any angle; I can just keep it lying flat on the table and still read the screen perfectly. It has a big screen, so I don’t need to squint and hunt to find my place in my notes. And it’s fast and it’s powerful and has a big, typeable keyboard. So when another panelist spoke about the Citizens United case (the Supreme Court case that says “corporations have the same free speech rights as individual citizens”) I could pull up SCOTUSWiki and refamiliarize myself with it in a way that wouldn’t be distracting to anybody else in the room.

4) Carrying it around isn’t a hassle. Not in the least. Yup, you’re going to want to have a bag of some kind with you. I refer back to my earlier comment about the inconvenience of carrying books and magazines. I normally have a smaller version of my Indiana Jones satchel with me at conferences. The difference is that I’ve just deleted about four or five pounds from my normal load: My 1.5 pound iPad takes the place of a 5.5 pound MacBook plus its charger.

The most important point is that the iPad does a better job in this environment than a MacBook or any other notebook. I slide it out of the newspaper pocket of my bag, click the Home button, and it’s awake and ready to assist. When I’m done, I click the Power button and slide it back; no need to wait for the machine to Sleep or the hard drive to spin down.

And I don’t even think about battery life. So I use it all the time.

I can also use it in environments where a notebook — even a netbook — would be awkward at best or inappropriate at worst. Can you use a netbook while you’re standing up? Kind of. Sort of. Not really. But the iPad is just as handy when I’m waiting in line somewhere as it is when I’m sitting at a table. Only when you finally have a computer like the iPad do you realize how often you need to do something on a computer when you’re standing.

My review of the iPad was very positive. It was also very academic, thanks to the fact that the iPad was under house arrest.

I wish I could go back and add a whole new section to it, now that I’ve taken it on trains on spent eight hours in an airport and on a plane with it and a whole day at a conference. Lend someone an iPad for a day and you’ve got yourself an Apple customer for life.