Sunday, April 24

Earth Day every day?


“Going Paperless: Not as Green as You May Think” is a rather provocative title, and probably deliberately so.  That was the title of an article published April 14, 2010 by Don Carli on GreenBiz.com.  I started doing some research on going green and the paperless movement when I saw an article in the Sunday Chicago Tribune that suggests we are not saving the planet as much as we think we are.

The April 24, 2011 article in the Tribune actually restates what Don Carli wrote over a year ago: digital media and communication are not quite as green as some would like us to think.  Carli wrote, “There is no question that print media can and must do a better job of managing the sustainability of its supply chains and waste streams, but it’s a misguided notion to assume that digital media is categorically greener” (¶ 2).  Carli goes on to state that we have to be aware of the “significant unintended environmental consequences” of digital media (¶ 7).

Digital media uses power.  And the more we tweet and post, the more power we use because all that tweeting and posting goes through power lines and computers and servers.  And that power means electricity.  And where and how do we get electricity?

Chances are that the electricity flowing through your digital media devices and their servers is linked to mountaintop-removal coal from the Appalachian Mountains. The Southern Appalachian forest region of the U.S. is responsible for 23 percent of all coal production in the United States and 57 percent of the electricity generated in the U.S. comes from coal—including the rapidly growing power consumed by many U.S. data centers, networks and consumer electronic devices (Carli, 2010, ¶ 14).

If you’re interested in knowing your contribution to mountaintop coal removal, to go to ilovemountains.org and type in your zip code.  You’ll see how your energy use could be affecting mountaintop mining.  And if you want to know more about how that particular form of mining is devastating the Earth, you might also read Mountain Justice.  The title of the site is a bit off-putting, but it’s worth checking out the information and then doing a bit more research if you’re so inclined.  I don’t think you’ll be too happy with the results.

If you’re interested in figuring out your energy consumption, you might read Estimating Appliance and Home Electronic Energy Use.  I know it’s not the most exciting title, but it’s from the US Department of Energy.  Give them a break.  Still, if you’re curious to know how much power you are using, how much effect you may be having on mountaintop mining and other sources of electricity, you might do a little math.  I did.  I wanted to go around and unplug every appliance or power resource I wasn’t using.

In Reinwald’s article, “Going paperless: Are saving the planet?”, it seems that most folks were going paperless for convenience.  But it’s a good thing that 70% of U.S. adult employees use direct deposit.  “Americans save 452,819 trees per year for every 5 percent of households that switch to electronic bills, statements and payments” (¶ 8).  According to PayItGreen.com, American households save enormous quantities of wastewater and gasoline and prevent substantial amounts of greenhouse gases by going paperless.

Still, your carbon footprint may still be bigger than you think because of the data center effect.  Data centers—for financial institutions, telecommunications companies, and more—run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  They have to because consumers now expect access 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  For our convenience.

So those data centers have huge numbers of servers with redundancy to avoid losing anyone’s data and backup power supplies for the same reason.  According to Reinwald, “47 percent of the electricity generated in the U.S. came from the power plants fired by coal. . . .  Natural gas-fired plants and nuclear plants each generated 20 percent of power” (¶ 13).

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of data yet on the data center effect.  Earth Day is over and it’ll be easy not to think about the Earth until next April.  Perhaps, though, as we blog; post on Facebook; tweet; and charge our tablets, iPads, iPhones, and other digital media, we’ll think about those mountains and wonder about the cost of electricity and how we’ll sustain that supply in our increasingly paperless society.

Thursday, April 14

The Art of Presentation

How many of you have been to a conference or meeting, expecting some degree of expertise, only to experience the presenter who a) has too many slides; b) has too much text on the slides; c) isn't quite sure what some of the points on the slides mean or to what they refer; d) reads nearly every word on every slide; or e) all of the above.

Yes, I heard your sighs and I see those hands.

What is the deal?  How is it possible that we still manage to do so poorly at presentation?  I get the urge to turn to look the projector screen even if your laptop is right in front of you.  I fight that all of the time.  It's as though I don't quite trust that what I see on my laptop will be projected for everyone else, but I know we often check the screen to be sure the colors or images display as we hoped or expected.  But then we are riveted and can not seem to turn back, or we become sideways bobbleheads swiveling our heads back and forth between the screen and the audience and, inevitably, some of the audience is not included in that quick sweep.  Sure, it makes sense to refer to the presentation screen in some circumstances when you have something specific to point out, especially when you're working with graphics, tables, or even quotes.  But don't stay glued to that screen.  Make your point and step away from the screen.

As a college writing professor and as a purveyor of teacher-/faculty-focused professional development, one of my favorite mantras is this:  "Remember your audience."  That really covers pretty much everything. 

In thinking about your audience, think about your purpose: what question(s) are you trying to answer?  what problem(s) are you trying to solve?  what information are you trying to convey?  what do you want your audience to do or be able to do once they have heard your presentation (or read your blog or article or whatever).  As you consider your audience and your purpose, the tone and style--the how of your presentation will become clearer.  Thinking about audience, purpose, and tone & style will help you make decisions about structure or framework of the presentation, about word choice, about the use of graphics, about colors, etc.

None of these is more important than the other.  If you know your audience well and you know and convey your purpose clearly, you can make a few missteps on the tone and style of your presentation; that comes, for me, from trying to be too clever or cute with graphics or other stuff to "dress up" my presentation.  But that occurs when I think about me and not about my audience.

As you think about your audience, your purpose, and how you are presenting, ask yourself these questions:
  1. what do they know?
  2. what do they need to know?
  3. what do they want to know?  
And you know that "need" and "want" are rarely the same.  I suggested my students write these on a sticky note or something and make sure the questions were in their sight line as they wrote or crafted their presentations.


Remember your audience. . .as you draft your presentation, regardless of your use of Prezi or PowerPoint or Animoto or anything else.  Refer to those three questions as you think about your objectives for doing the presentation.  These factors will help you as you organize your presentation and determine its key points.

Remember your audience. . .as you create your presentation.  Flow, transitions, graphics, size of fonts, space, etc.  There are reasons for the design guidelines.  You might want to review Presentation Zen, TCS Tips & Tricks, and/or the PowerPoint Ninja.  As you are thinking about font sizes and number of lines per slide, think of the size of the room and the people at the back of the room.

Remember your audience. . .as you present.  Be aware of them.  Be present with them.  Look at them.  Make sure you are prepared so you don't have to refer to your notes too often, so you don't have to read the slides, so you don't rush, so you don't overcomplicate your presentation and trip yourself up.  You might visit this presentation tips resource for additional or other thoughts.

As you present, keep in mind that the PowerPoint presentation is a tool, a resource.  The presentation gives the audience something to look at while you talk.  It makes the abstract more concrete.  It makes the concrete more specific. 

As you prepare for your presentation, listen to yourself and look at your slides critically.  As you continue to think about your audience, to reflect on those three questions listed above, hear your presentation and look at your presentation the way you want your audience to experience.  Then you will hear and see what works, and what doesn't.

Sunday, April 3

Calculating the cost of a day off

A week or so ago I was talking with some colleagues about the pros and cons of taking a few days off to go on a personal retreat.  The idea of the personal retreat is not new.  The idea behind the personal retreat is to go some place where you can be away.  Electronically disconnected.  No phones, no email, nothing.  For some, there may be a spiritual component, but the idea of a retreat is to step away from the world.

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, retreat means "an act >or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable" or "the process of receding from a position or state attained."  It's not until the third definition that the spiritual is referenced, but the second definition is to remind us that a retreat can be a refuge, a place of safety.

The only reason this stuck with me is that shortly after that conversation, members of my PLN were talking about needing "mental health" days, but being afraid to take such days because they would only return to more work.  The conversation then veered into job satisfaction, which is obviously connected to whether or not one feels one has to take any days away to regroup or decompress.

What surprises me, but only a little, is how many of us--and yes, I include myself--feel the need for some sort of retreat from the world, but don't or won't for not-so-good reasons.

I don't do vacations well.  While I can go away, I drag along my laptop and my cell phone.  I'll check both in the morning and then check again when I get back.  I remember sitting in the parking lot of a restaurant in Utah checking my email; the parking lot happened to have the best signal in the area.

I think it's more than the fear of workload that drives us to continue to drive ourselves.  While I love to go to conferences, I dread how much work I might have to do each evening because of everything I've missed during the day.  We are bombarded by email and text messages.  People expect to be able to reach us 24/7 and if the boss praises the individual who is available 24/7, then we feel that much more compelled to make sure our phones are on and accessible.  I've even had someone say to me that he sent an email after I did to show he was keeping up.  I felt badly that I'd sent an email so late because my purpose was not to show how late I was working, but to send the email while whatever it was was still in my head.

I know many of us think about work around the clock, which means that ideas or questions or requests pop into our heads and random times.  If you're like me, it's easiest to send the email or text at the moment rather than write it down and risk losing the piece of paper, though I have been known to leave myself a voicemail message, too.

So we fear missing something, falling behind in many possible ways.  We are driven to get the latest and greatest information and some of us, be extension, may feel driven to have the most friends or followers, to tweet or post more than anyone, etc.  And I reminded, yet again, of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart.  Achebe's book does indeed reference William Butler Yeats' 1921 poem "The Second Coming," the first stanza of which reads:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

There is powerful imagery in this stanza and in the whole poem, but I am drawn to the line "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold."  In Achebe's book, Okonkwo, the protagonist, holds tightly to a number of things and eventually things do fall apart for him, and badly.

My point is that the harder we hold on to things, the more likely things are to fall apart anyway.  If we cannot keep up with all of the work, there is too much work and there is no guarantee anyone will appreciate how many hours we spend trying to keep up.  At some point, the centers of our selves will not hold and we will fall apart.

This comes from someone who used to spend most of her weekends felled by migraines.  And then I decided I wouldn't work on weekends.  I might check my email Sunday afternoon, just in case, but that's it.  With the exception of conferences, I've done fairly well at not working weekends for the past month or so.  I work long hours during the week because, yes, there is too much work and it's easy to rationalize the hours.  But I can feel the edges of my emotions fraying and I can tell that if I don't step away for a little while, even if it's not a full-blown retreat of some kind, that my thinking will not be as clear nor as sharp.

In the next few weeks we'll have a long holiday weekend and it comes at a good time for me.  I can take off a day without feeling guilty and it's not as likely that the work will pile up.

The demands of the world and our lives make it harder to take days off, to have any sort of personal retreat, even if it's spending time with friends and family on the weekends. I think this tells us that it's not so much about calculating the cost of a day off, but calculating the cost of NOT taking some time for our selves, to regroup, to reconnect with friends and family, maybe even to heal a bit.