Imagining $819 Billion

The new administration is communicating to the country that $819 billion is the answer to the recession.

I want the economy to turn around, really I do.  I am just having a hard time imagining $819 billion dollars.  I am generally a fan of low government spend, free markets and all. But I know that we, as a country and a world, can’t get out of this mess without help.  I appreciate that the new administration is doing something quickly.  I just still have a hard time imagining $819 billion of our tax dollars being spent.  I am fast forwarding in my mind to twenty years from now and think about the effect this current spend will have on long-term debt.  I hope the economists are correct and this spending will bail the country out of recession and that the subsequent economic boom will neutralize the debt.

Wait and see, wait and see.

Hurling Insults

From the Washington Post this morning
“Soon after the November election, al-Qaeda’s No. 2 leader took stock of America’s new president-elect and dismissed him with an insulting epithet. “A house Negro,” Ayman al-Zawahiri said.”

I laughed when I read it.  Maybe not the best response, but it sounded so pathetic to me.  Could al-Qaeda not come up with anything better?  It reminded me of a bully calling another kid a ‘sissy’ on the playground in elementary school.  Only if the other kid is weak does it have any effect, and Obama is far from weak.

From a communication perspective I think it is a foolish move on behalf of al-Qaeda — only making them look immature and petty.  Of course, from a global peace perspective, that is a good thing.  I guess, come to think about it, it is good they made such an insult.  Obama will not be harmed and the rest of the world (hopefull) will see right through the insult to the pathetic nature of the communicator.

Next time, perhaps al-Qaeda should think more about their communication strategy before the ‘hurl insults.”

“Now is an opportunity we have not had in decades.”

“Now is an opportunity we have not had in decades”
These are the words of Robert Reich, Obama economic advisor and former U.S. Secretary of Labor, who I heard speak today at the Commonwealth Club of California.  He was a very effective communicator.  He warmed the crowd with humor, previewed his key points, used language that could be understood by non-finance people, and had a strong conclusion.  In addition to me watching his speaking techniques, I found the content compelling.  I will share a few of his key points and then return to the blog title quote, which was his conclusion.

The U.S. lost $7 trillion in assets in 2008.  Ouch.  The dominant theory is that this recession was caused by the housing bubble crash, but actually it has been coming for a long time as U.S. median (not average) household income has stayed steady or declined since the 1970s.  To compensate, U.S. households have 1.  made both parents work 2. worked longer hours 3. gone deeper in dept, primarily by using houses as collateral.  The irresponsible lending of American financial institutions allowed Americans to go too deep in to debt.  Then the housing market crashed. People could no longer consume at the level of production, leading to recession.

How do we get out?  Three areas of aid: Federal Reserve, TARP, and Stimulus.  The Federal Reserve is helping by lowering interest rates and by buying distressed assets.  TARP is supposed to be helping by stabilizing the financial institutions such that consumers can get loans.  But, the first half of the $700 billion seems to have gone to executive pay and shareholder dividends and is not trickling down to the average consumer or “main street.”  Hopefully the second half will have more requirements such that “main street” actually benefits.  The stimulus needs to be $900 billion over two years and help rebuild American infrastructure.

This is the good news getting back to the quote – we have the opportunity now to regain American excellence by investing in areas that benefit the entire public, but don’t benefit any one company enough to be financially feasible.  These areas include differed maintenance of physical infrastructure; building of broadband networks; improvement of medical information technology; creating renewable energy alternatives; and improving education and healthcare.  The U.S. can borrow relatively cheaply (via TBills) and then spend the money to improve the country while putting people back to work.  This is the opportunity we’ve not had in decades, and the good news according to Robert Reich.

Creating PowerPoint Based on Research

My wish for PowerPoint in 2009 is we apply what we’ve learned from research.   Everyone has an opinion on what makes PowerPoint the best, but opinions vary widely.  Research confirms what actually works for most people.  There is not much, but there is some research that we can rely upon as we create PowerPoint.  My recently completed thesis research showed that audiences learn more when presented with multimedia PowerPoint that follows Dr. Mayer’s multimedia learning principles than when presented with bullet point PowerPoint.  Here is a quick summary of other research specific to PowerPoint slide design:
Alley (et. al.) found that students were better able to recall the main assertion of slides when presented with a full-sentence headline written as an assertion compared to a word or phrase headline.
Alley, M., Schreiber, M., Ramsdell, K., & Muffo, J. (2006). How the Design of Headlines in
Presentation Slides Affects Audience Retention. Technical Communication, 53, 225-234.
Bartsch and Cobern discerned that PowerPoint with irrelevant pictures can be detrimental to learning.
Bartsch, R.A. & Cobern, K.M. (2003). Effectiveness of PowerPoint presentations in lectures.
Computers & Education, 41, 77-86.
Bradshaw found that test scores were lower when participants viewed slides that had interference (pink background, ornate font, transition sounds) compared to when they viewed interference-free slides (high-contrast color, easy-to-read text and graphics).
Bradshaw, A. C. (2003). Effects of Presentation Interference in Learning with Visuals. Journal of
Visual Literacy, 23, 41-68.
Mackiewicz found that audiences perceived 2D graphs more clearly than 3D graphs and that cool colors with high contrast were more attractive.
Mackiewicz, J. (2007-1). Perceptions of Clarity and Attractiveness in PowerPoint Graph Slides.
Technical Communication, 54, 145-156.
In a study comparing five serif and five sans-serif fonts in PowerPoint, Mackiewicz found two rose above the rest, Gill Sans and Souvenir Lt, in terms of professional, comfortable-to-read, and interesting variables.
Mackiewicz, J. (2007-2). Audience Perceptions of Fonts in Projected PowerPoint Text Slides.
Technical Communication, 54, 295-306.
So what we learn from the research is:
1.    Follow multimedia learning principles (for summary of principles see )
2.    Use full-sentence declarative headlines
3.    Don’t add irrelevant pictures (or anything irrelevant for that matter)
4.    Keep the design interference-free with high-contrast, easy-to-read text & graphs
5.    Use 2D graphs with cool colors and high contrast
6.    Use Gill Sans or Souvenir Lt font
These recommendations are not opinions, but rather facts based on research done by academics following rigorous protocols.  So, my wish for 2009 is that we start listening to what the research says and developing PowerPoint presentations that will increase audience learning and satisfaction.

Meetings from my iPhone

GigaOm reports that WebEx is now accessible from the iPhone.
Appreciating all the information I can access and ways I can communicate with my iPhone just increased with this announcement.  This news supports the ‘communicate-on-the-go’ trend.  Our geographical locations are becoming less and less relevant to our ability to communicate with others.  I like that.

Technology for Blind Users

This Sunday NY Times had an inspirational article about a blind engineer creating technology for blind users.
T.V. Raman works for Google and specializes in developing technology for when people are not looking at the screen.  This is great for blind people, and for people multitasking — say driving and making a call.
Of course, I think of it from a communication perspective.  Making technology more accessible to blind people opens up an entire new dimension of communication.  Raman uses screen reader technology to access computer technology and listens at a pace of three times a human voice so that he can process at approximately the same speed as someone who is reading the screen.  Right now, he is working on a touch-screen phone that would open the mobile computer world, especially GPS, to the blind.  My hat is off to Mr. Raman and all those working on accessibility.  May the channels of communication be opened.