Fighting death by PowerPoint… How to make a presentation and not to bore your audience to death.
Archives for July 2007
What the hell…it’s late-July and we haven’t hit 100 degrees (Fahrenheit)! This is unheard of in this land-of-heat. Don’t get me wrong, I actually love the fact that we haven’t gotten above the mid-nineties so far this year, but as a native Texan, I am waiting for the other shoe to drop – will it be snow in September (snow is a magical mystery to central Texas most years) or 101° come November. Add in the tremendous amount of rain (my friend Rick had two of every animal congregating in his backyard) and it’s enough to cause a short circuit in this little brain of mine.
Luckily, Austin has a ton of great outdoor restaurants, pubs and cafes, not to mention parks, so I’ll enjoy it as much as possible.
When WordPress or another Web app starts throwing fits and kicking out fatal errors due to memory, make sure the local php.ini (same dir as the scripts) is allocating enough RAM. 8Mb is not nearly enough.
Growing up in the safe confines of the middle-class womb here in the U.S., it is easy to lose sight of the larger world around me. While I count myself a student of history and a constant consumer of information, I tend to focus on specific periods of the past (World War II, the Crusades, the founding of the United States etc.) or on specific realms of the present (the intricacies of the war in Iraq or the convoluted meanderings of those seeking the Presidency). So, having heard an amazing interview on NPR, I was excited to pick up the copy of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah that Sarah had read for her book club.
Reading the book feels like you are sitting across from a friend in a coffee shop, or over a pint, learning about a past that is both intriguing and scary. The informality of the telling pulled me in quickly and made the environment that much more real, as it remained very personal throughout. He didn’t pull back to the 50,000 foot view to tell you the maneuvers of each side, or the political gambits played by the government and the rebel forces. Instead, he told you how he ran from the rebels and soldiers alike, how he eventually became a soldier at the age of thirteen, how he returned to what was left of his childhood a few years later, only to be forced to escape to a new life far different than he could have ever expected.
It is hard to reconcile the giant grin on Ishmael’s face adorning the back cover, with the stories he tells. I grew fond of the boy who listend to early rap cassettes, practicing his dances for a talent show, and I could never quite come to terms with the thought that the same child became a killer many times over. His story cuts to the core of what it is to be human, dissecting the constant struggle to do what is “right” versus what needs to be done to survive. It’s also important to note how “right” can be defined in many different ways for the same situation. It may mean leniency and generosity, but it can just as easily mean vengeance against those who killed your family and took everything you had, including your sense of security and childhood.
I cannot recall any news reports or history books that could deliver this sense of day-to-day, on the ground reality, and I truly hope that school systems across the U.S. add Ishmael’s work to their reading list. It is important for us to look beyond our borders and the confines of our regular reality, keeping our eyes open to the fact that there are problems much larger than ours around the globe. What we do about them is another question – one which I am turning over in my head.
I highly recommend you pick up a copy of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (Amazon), or if you have read it, please leave a comment as I would love to hear your thoughts.
Your Group is Popular, Now What?
Now you ensure that it remains that way. The more popular a group is, the more important it is for the manager and/or moderators to be actively involved in monitoring the group, keeping the links fresh and on-topic, and ruthlessly eliminating spammers. I’ll repeat that last part as it is a very important to me – managers and moderators need to eliminate spammers quickly. In managing the Web Design group, I have spent a fair amount of time deleting off-topic links and banning spammers. I have a lot of patience with people who may not understand where the topic dividing line (or massive gray area in the case of the design group) is, occassionally adding off-topic posts. But when I see a spammer (they tend to be pretty obvious), I ban them instantly. Sadly, a lot of group managers don’t do this, and a lot of great groups are filled with junk, lose their active members, and turn into that empty lot down the street wfull of broken bottles. That pisses me off. I blame the spammers for the most part, but let’s face it, a part of that degradation is the result of lax managers and moderators.
Don’t Be a Lazy Landlord
If you manager or moderate a group, no matter its size or activity, give it some love. It doesn’t take much time to delete spam or off-topic links, and banning a member is easy, though hopefully not something you have to do often. Out of the 2,200 folks subscribed to the Web Design list, I’ve only had to ban 8. After a while, you’ll find that the spammers don’t even bother messing with your group as it isn’t worth the time, and your group members start to participate more, contributing some great, on-topic items. If the spammers keep coming at you, and you find that you just don’t have the time to keep up, send a message to the group and ask for people to help you as moderators. Just make sure that anyone that you set up as a moderator has been an active member of your group, and submitted at least a couple of on-topic links in the past. If you see aperson who is constantly adding spam to your group, or others that you a a member of, its time to call a Gardener.
Tending the Garden
In addition to the natural roles of managers and moderators, there is a small group of users that have been set up as Gardeners by Larry and Todd at Ma.gnolia. Gardeners are a unique role that I haven’t seen in other systems around the Web. We have the tools to remove the benefits that spammers gain by filling Ma.gnolia with junk, but we aren’t site-wide administrators. So, while I, as a Gardener, can mark an account as a spammer, I cannot ban that user from the site, nor can I remove any of their links. That’s a good thing. I may notice someone filling groups with spam, but its not my right to jump into those groups and take over the role of manager. Additionally, that account may be valid, just very focused on a single subject, so I, or another Gardener can go back and undo the “spammer” flag setting. We all make mistakes, and its nice to know that they are easily rectified if a Gardener misjudges someone.
So, if you spot someone that you think is spamming, feel free to send me, or another Gardener a message through Ma.gnolia, so we can look into it.
But Wait, there’s More!
I hope this has shown you how easy it is to maintain your group. This is just one in a series of articles about Ma.gnolia, so please check back in the next few days, or subscribe to my feed.
If you have any questions about managing,or moderating a group, please leave a comment, or start a discussion on one of the Ma.gnolia boards!
Okay, so I had absolutely no plans to watch any of the Live Earth concerts. My plan had been to work on the laptop and mining the DVR to catch up on the various programs I’ve recorded over the last six weeks, but then I saw this amazing performance by a giant group of drummers (they were called SOS something, but a cursory inspection of the site didn’t how them), mixing rock, Brazilian, Japanese, Scottish and African percussion styles So, now I have the concert footage running as I work, occasionally muting it to avoid some of the less-than-interesting performers (Genesis without Peter Gabriel is just Phil Collins and I could do without him in my life) and the hosts, who prattle on, which I guess is their job.
In between the concert is some interesting information, and I truly hope it encourages more people to step back and think. I know that I sure as hell need to do more to act on the issues that are important to me – overcoming inertia can be hard. The conservation and environmental messages and delivered very well, they use the medium of television to the fullest – I just saw Robert Patrick, (think T2) with a set of garden shears trimming bamboo in what can only be described as slightly menacing, which is perfect delivery and attention getting. As he is clipping it, the narrator talks about how much more beneficial a stand of bamboo is over a stand of trees in relation to eliminating carbon and generating oxygen (30% – not too shabby).
Now, if only they hadn’t polluted the airwaves with Madonna.
I love my MacBok Pro, but it gets far too hot far too quickly when I have it sitting in my lap, and as I got this machine specifically to have the flexibility to use it when and where I want. At the moment, that means writing this post as I sit on the couch, next to Sarah as she makes a couple of giant pillows for the floor. The only reason I’m able to do this is the iLap Laptop Stand from Rain Design. After reading the reviews on Amazon I ordered it and it arrived in two days. Since then I’ve used it while lounging in a couple of chairs and on my desk as a replacement for the old laptop stand. It has been a tremendously satisfying experience so far and I highly recommend that you check them out, especially if you are using an MBP, or other laptop that runs hot.
They have a couple of models (15” for the MacBook Pro, 13.3” for the MacBook ), so the bases are covered if you have something other than a MacBook Pro. Anyway, I thought I’d share the info in the hopes that others may find it useful too. Hopefully this will lead to me posting more often as it won’t require that I set up the comp at my desk!
Now that You Have a Group
So, if you already had a group or have started one while reading this series (Part I), it’s time to give it some love. Feeding it links is a good start, and you’ll be amazed at what happens organically, but here are a few hints on how to kick start the activity.
Spread the Word
Odds are pretty good that you know other people interested in the same subject, so go to the main page for the group and click on the “Recommend Group” button to invite folks to join it. This is a super fast way to spread the word about your new group to friends on Ma.gnolia, as well as to people who have never visited the site before, as you can send the invite to people via your Ma.gnolia contact list, or outside e-mail addresses.
Adding Links and the Hot Groups List
Good links, that are on the topic are the best way to expand the group, but just as important is maintaining a steady stream of these links. When you first set up your group, one of the best ways to get it noticed is to fill it with links right away, as that may get your new collection listed in the Hot Groups section of Ma.gnolia for a little while. The size of the group doesn’t matter – the activity within the group does. This is great as it evens the playing field for new, small groups compared to the older large ones. If your group’s subject appeals to an audience that wants to contribute, you’ll find that the group periodically returns to this list as more and more people participate.
Talking to Your Group
Ma.gnolia has some great functionality that is under-utilized. As a group manager, you have the ability to send a message to all members of your group, and while you don’t want to spam them, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional message to remind them of the group, promote some interesting links, or ask for links on a specific topic. You can also utilize the discussion boards attached to each group to generate conversation and some activity. The boards don’t always garner a lot of participation, but that is easily remedied if you post some good topics. You’ll find that each group contains some people who would absolutely love the opportunity to talk about the group’s subject, or provide ideas that could improve the group.
Ultimately, the best way to expand your group, is to rely on your members, giving them every opportunity to add to it. We joined Ma.gnolia because we want to share our interests, so the easier you make it, and the more excitement you have for the subject, the better your group will be.
More to Come
I hope this has helped you expand your group. This is just one in a series of articles about Ma.gnolia, so please check back in the next few days, or subscribe to my feed.
Ma.gnolia groups are a wonderful thing, whether you are a manager, moderator, active participant or passive subscriber, you can gain a wealth of information, entertainment and/or distraction from the right group, made up of excited contributors. You can also lose time, grow frustrated and and question the value of humanity when the group falls into a state of off-topic, or spam-filled existence. That’s where group managers and moderators come in.
So You Want to Create a Group
Sweet! Setting up a new group in Ma.gnolia is easy and fun. I’ve set up quite a few, several of which lie fallow, waiting for the day that I decide to focus upon them for a bit, or even better, for others to stumble upon the subject and plant a few links they find of value. But a select few have done amazingly well, both in terms of membership and in quality of links. And its a damn good feeling to see those member and bookmark counts climb.
At this point, its likely that you have an idea for a group, but there are a couple of questions you should ask yourself before you set it up.
Does a Group on this Subject Already Exist?
If there’s already a group talking about the exact same thing you want to cover, it’s important to ask yourself why you would start a new group. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t (I’ve set up a few redundant groups myself), but if you are, you should be sure that it serves a purpose. Here are some of the reasons I chose to start a new group:
- The old group has fallen into a state of disrepair, where the only activity is link spam
- The existing group is moderated, so I can’t contribute. Please note, you can send a message to the group manager and ask to be a moderator, some folks would really appreciate the extra help.
- I feel that I have a slightly different slant on the subject, and I don’t want to fill the other group with unwanted links
Should My New Group Be Public, Moderated or Private?
There are some important pros and cons for each of these options that you should weigh when setting up your new group:
Setting a group to be Public makes it super simple for people to contribute, and is the fastest way to grow the group, both in terms of links and participants. It also requires some a little bit of time from managers and moderators to keep it on-topic, and spam-free.
By using the Moderated setting, you eliminate the issue of link-spam, but you also significantly reduce the amount of people who can contribute to the growth of the group. If you choose this option, I highly recommend you keep an eye out for other people who join the group and offer to make them moderators so they can contribute. Giving others a vested interest in your group is a great way to expand it intelligently. At worst, if you have problems with someone, you can always remove their moderator abilities.
The Moderated setting is also a great option for setting up a group focused on a very specific topic, oriented around a group of people you know, either via the Net, or meat-space. For example, I set up a group for Refresh Austin, a Web community local to my home town. I’ve set up fellow members as moderators so they can add to the group.
The Private option is one that I haven’t used, though I can see a lot of value in it for spouses, groups of friends or families who want to share with each other, but not the whole world, or an organization that pools a common set of links, but doesn’t want those links to be public as they may provide information to a competing company or group.
But Wait, there’s More!
I hope this has helped you set up your first group, or evaluate the group you have already created. This is the first in a series of articles about Ma.gnolia (Part II), so please check back in the next few days, or subscribe to my feed.