Ric Bretschneider

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Take the Blue Pill…

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Just a reminder that this blog (at https://ricbret.wordpress.com) is no longer active and new content is appearing at http://blog.ricbret.com.

Please adjust your links and subscriptions as necessary to keep in touch.

You can subscribe to the active blog by going to http://blog.ricbret.com and using the subscribe control at the top of the page on the right.

And there’s a new entry there today! Kind of fun, maybe leading into something scary. I’m excited and hope you’ll check it out.

Oh, here’s a direct link! http://blog.ricbret.com/books/take-the-red-pill/

redblue

 

Written by ricbret

July 26, 2014 at 11:29 pm

Open Letter to Michael Bay

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Dear Michael Bay

I watched you get messed up by Samsung’s presentation support staff at CES yesterday. You’re probably aware that it’s all over the net now, likely a skit on SNL this weekend and maybe you’ll make The Daily Show.  You’re a pretty easy target to begin with (*boom*) but add all the things that went wrong in the space of a couple of minutes to your already fiery personality and wham instant Internet meme.

It’s tough. It’s unfair. How many of the people having fun at your expense have themselves spoken live in front of an audience of 200 people? 500? The pressure of standing in front of thousands at CES and hundreds of thousands more virtually would make most of today’s detractors wet themselves on the spot. But the Internet is not big on walking a mile in anyone else’s shoes if they can feel schadenfreude or get a laugh instead.

But you could have done better.

No jokes here, just a couple of things to remember the next time you get in front of an audience.

Fight or Flight

One of the basic human reactions to pressure is fight or flight, especially when it’s a surprise. We civilized folk tend towards flight, because it’s more socially acceptable. And obviously that’s what happened yesterday. But maybe fight doesn’t have to always mean throwing a punch. Fight can just mean fighting yourself to stay on that stage and keeping your audience involved.

Expect the unexpected

Murphy is my traveling companion. He always makes something go wrong. Always. Because of his tenacity, I believe in multiple levels of redundancy in anything that matters to my performance in front of an audience. And you should too when you can.

Of course, much of it is out of your control, no amount of planning can cover everything.

So just go into it expecting something to go wrong. It’s not frightening, it’s just realizing that you need to remain flexible in all situations involving pressure and performance. If you’re expecting someone to fail to hit their cue, step on your line, the wrong slide to be showing, anything unexpected can be dealt with.

And most important here, you must keep your sense of humor about it. Taking yourself too seriously will lock you into a situation where you can’t think and have no alternative other than flight.

Accept the situation

When something goes wrong, accept it. It can’t be undone now. You now have choices as to how to proceed.

Grace

It is somewhat paradoxically important not to apologize too much, and not to find others to blame. Both may be your immediate urge, but you must suppress it. Your team may have let you down, but they probably feel worse about it than you do (and it’s likely going to be a topic for discussion with their own management!) Focus on getting back on track, not on how you got off track – your audience doesn’t really care.

Humor

Humor is a powerful ally when you can do it off the cuff. You don’t have to have the audience rolling in the aisles, just keep them on your side. “Ever have one of those days?” or “Pardon me while I burst into flame here.” will let them know you’re off-script and the personal aside will keep them in your corner. Resist the urge to be the butt of your own joke, that’s an easy way out, but like too much apologizing it undercuts your relevance and credibility. It’s important to remember that very few people in the audience really want you to fail. They’re basically on your side.

Improv

One of the greatest exercises a speaker can do is improvisational speaking. Develop some level of familiarity with improvisational tactics. Lots of forward-thinking organizations bring in formal improv training for team building and management seminars. You can approach this in many ways, but once you do you’ll find it’s value surprisingly useful.

For example, at our Pecha Kucha events, we warm up with a form of presentation called PowerPoint Karaoke. Here presenters must string together a presentation based on slides they have never seen before. And we do this for fun! Of course presenters are expecting the situation,  developing their ability to expect the unexpected, and again the audience is on their side. And it’s damn funny. But it’s a terrific exercise for any presenter wanting to develop their list of public speaking calisthenics.

While you’re in the moment, look around. Quickly appraise the situation and prepare to deal with it. Look for inspiration, allies, audience reactions… these are all fodder for your response to bridge back to the topic at hand.

Continue the Dialogue

Now that things are composed, and assuming you’ve done your homework, you can probably wing your presentation for a short bit. Hopefully the support staff is working frantically to correct things. And hopefully the well-managed disturbance takes on no more significance than an interrupting sneeze.

But if it goes longer, nothing changes in the advice. Remain graceful and move to transition out of the confusion. Lots of alternatives here. Consider:

  • Engage other speakers already on stage or invite other participants onto the stage. This is what you really should have tried with Joe Stinziano, senior vice president of Samsung Electronics yesterday. He’s probably conversant enough to answer an off the cuff question or give you a clue as to what you want to move onto next. A conversation is a lifesaving improvisational step that can take the pressure off while keeping the audience’s attention. (Improv Hint: Read up on “Yes, and…” technique!)
  • Backtrack and start over. Often the easiest thing to do. It doesn’t have to be a complete recreation, but a summary of what you’ve covered so far can also help the audience shake the confusion of that moment off themselves.
  • If all else fails, moving on to another part of the agenda and returning to your message once the situation is corrected is the graceful way out of a presentation that has burst into flame. Inform the audience, and move gracefully to the side until recalled.

Always Prep

Yeah, good advice in hindsight. Easy, right?

I can see it right now. Someone asked you to get on the stage and get some promotional value for the next Transformers film while pushing some technology you actually liked.  Your protests of I haven’t got time to prepare for a presentation! were met with assurances that all you have to do is read the teleprompter. Well, we see how well that worked out.

Even if you can’t take the time to memorize the speech, break what you have to talk about into one or two salient points that you can fall back on should the unexpected happen. Winging it still means you stay on topic, and you need the facts to do so.

Of course preparation is the activity that pays off in gold. It makes everything above that much easier. If you can’t take 10 times the amount of time you’re planning on being in front of an audience in preparation, you really should bow out.

And That’s About It

Hope this somehow gets to you Michael. While I’m not the biggest fan of your movies, my heart went out to you at CES. It wasn’t your fault, and the Internet is having a lot of fun at your expense today.

I know you already addressed the situation in your own blog with the self-deprecating comment I guess live shows aren’t my thing. I know it’s tough right now, but with just a little prep I think you could turn that impression right around.

Written by ricbret

January 7, 2014 at 10:23 pm

Leap Motion – First Impressions and Demo

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Leap_Motion

Postman bought my new Leap Motion controller this week.  Minutes after installing it (and figuring out I’d placed it on the desktop upside down!) it was up and working.  This video is my first few impressions of the orientation application and the OSX integration application.

Video is in high resolution so click the zoom button to view full screen.

So, will this be a permanent and well-used addition to my physical desktop?  Hard to say.  Right now it’s a real cool demo, and it’s got some potential, but the fine tuning will the real test here. Even games require an exacting “touch” that will hard to match. And the reality here is that if you really want to replace my mouse this new method to exceed my current input devices.

Leap_Motion 3

Does it do that?

No, not really.  But I hope it will soon.

Leap_Motion

How Screwed-Up is Apple Safari? I Think It Needs Therapy.

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Some people think that because I worked for Microsoft for so many years that I’m an Apple hater.  Well, that’s not actually true.  Fact is, I’ve had a Macintosh on my desks, at work and home, pretty much constantly since their release in 1984, two of my family members have iPhones, and we have iPads, iPods, and Apple TVs scattered throughout the house.  This is being written on a 27″ iMac, the one use for about 90% of my day.

OK, part of that 90% is in Parallels running various versions of Windows and Windows Office.

Unfortunately this post won’t help my argument that I’m an open supporter of both leading operating systems.  Partially because these days I’m finding Apple so caught up in their image, their products exclusively, that they’re impressing me as a bunch of pompous jerks. Doesn’t make me automatically hate the products, but I’m no cool-aid drinking fanboy.  Apple is doing plenty of crappy stuff to their customers, turning them more into consumers than unlocking their potential as creators is the big one.  However, I’m getting off the point.  Which is a case in point of how douchy and inept they can be.

Earlier this month I wanted to watch the Apple WWDC Opening that was streaming from Apple.Com.  However, if you weren’t using Safari as your browser, you were blocked. My default browser is Google Chrome. Yeah, if you weren’t going to wear their colors to the party, they shut you down at the door.

OK, I don’t like Safari myself. Apple claims it’s the #1 installed mobile browser, but they don’t tell you that you aren’t allowed to remove it from their mobile devices, and you can’t set a different browser as preferred on their mobile devices.  How’s that for anti-trust?  (Remember the US Justice Department vs Microsoft for “bundling” Internet Explorer with Windows?)   I think Safari is way behind Chrome in so many ways, and Chrome’s cross-platform support is superb.  So I don’t use Safari.  I keep it around when I have to access some non-standard Apple site, like the one in question.

So I manually fired up Safari and started watching.

I may find time soon to comment on how sad the state of design has gotten at Apple, this Ives guy really isn’t impressing me as anything more than someone trying to create a new fashion, not as a real product designer, but I’m getting off track again.

So I watched the list of features borrowed from other OS’s that Apple was rolling out as Innovations.  And at some point I decided to see if there was a way to pop-out the video window, so it would take less room on my screen and I could continue to work on things that actually mattered.  No button on the video, so I started hunting…

This is what I saw when I right-clicked the Safari-embedded video.

safari

OldMacIE

The disabled PowerPC version of Internet Explorer, that apparently still works it’s mojo.

Yeah, it was like some amazing wormhole to an alternate reality had opened up on my screen.  There was Safari suggesting that if I want to open this streaming QuickTime, I should use the Ten Year Old, PowerPC-only, Macintosh version of Internet Explorer.

Wow.

Granted, the old app is still on my machine.  But even Finder recognizes it won’t run in the current OS.  If you double-click it, you get the message “You can’t open the application “Internet Explorer.app” because PowerPC applications are no longer supported.

I’ve kept the old app, and a couple of others, around because I’ve considered creating a virtual machine running the old PPC supporting OS X, just thinking I might write about some history there and it would be an easy way to pose the screen shots I’d need.

But this was strange, and kind of pathetic Safari.  I’d almost feel sorry for you.  If you weren’t such a douche.

Written by ricbret

June 23, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Rotten Bitter Apple

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Update:

Word from comiXology now after many hand-wringing updates overnight is that Apple didn’t prevent comiXology from pushing to iOS apps, but comiXology made the call.  In a letter on their blog page, comiXology CEO David Steinberger noted:

After hearing from Apple this morning, we can say that our interpretation of its policies was mistaken. You’ll be glad to know that Saga #12 will be available on our App Store app soon.

It would be very interesting to know which policies, their actual nomenclature, comiXology was concerned about violating. Expect they were spot-on in their interpretation.  This smells of Apple making an exception after the fact to avoid bad press, and a small company falling on its own sword to keep in the fruit monopoly’s good graces.
Apple is a blatant censor, they just don’t want to be known as one.  Their role as a publisher who censors other publishers is a net-negative, regardless of the details.

20130410:12:45PM PST

Ric’ Originally Wrote on April 9th:

Apple Computer’s been pretty absurd about trying to prevent mature individuals from enjoying mature content on their mobile devices.

What’s so special about mobile devices? Nothing, except that Apple has implemented a file system and application system that they can control, they can prevent the user from using for any content. There is only content Apple approves of, on apps Apple approves of. And they’ve been your nanny since day one.

But now they’ve gone a little nuts.

a1Tomorrow, one of the finest comics available, Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, will not be available in digital form on iOS devices. This is due to two “postage stamp sized gay sex scenes” that appear in the magazine. They’re kind of background images, literally like someone left a TV on in a scene, context is ambiguous and not flamboyant.

Still Apple takes umbrage, and is shutting down all iOS apps that might try to down the comic. No iPad, no iPhone, no. Because they’re trying to protect you from an image you can walk into any comic store tomorrow and buy without showing your driver’s license. And it’s not the first nudity or sexuality in the magazine. It’s undoubtedly because of the gay context that they get out their big censor stick.

This is a crime against art.

I’m not exaggerating, Saga is one of the best comic books available today. Smart, inventive, human, witty, lovely, and unique.

All things Apple used to be.

And now they’re just disappointing.

Written by ricbret

April 10, 2013 at 7:03 am

Calming Down the Grandpa in Office 2013

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I got a lot of good feedback on The First Thing to Do to Your New PowerPoint 2013, thanks and wow – happy to help.

So OK, here’s the second thing you should do after you install Office 2013.  It’s a bitter post, full of my opinion, and I’m perfectly willing to accept that others may disagree.  However, in my opinion this trick corrects one of the most ridiculous mistakes made in Office 2013. You may consider it more of a taste issue. But I think that if you have taste you’ll want your Office interface to not look like somebody’s grandpa sending e-mail with the CAPS LOCK key on.

HEY, YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN!

Yeah, that’s right. For some reason the designers at Office decided that years of calming down the interface, using readability methods developed and proven literally over centuries, should be abandoned so they could inject some “style” into the product.  Beware of designers attempting to make their mark.

Application design should fall back against the content, should not stand there screaming HEY LOOK AT ME, or HEY, GET OFF MY LAWN, or HERE’S A JOKE THAT ALL MY SENIOR FRIENDS THOUGHT WAS FUNNY SO I’M ADDING YOU IN MY REPLY-ALL… just for example. UI should be clear, it should be available, but not garish and hard to interpret.

So one of the first things you’ll notice looking at Office 2013 is the ribbon. The ribbon that so many hate, and the rest just find somewhat annoying. Sure it makes it easier for novices to find things, but it’s proven that the ribbon limits experts from levels of productivity they had with the prior menu UI. But we’re kind of stuck with it, and I digress. You see how easy that is.

What we’re looking at most is the tabs. The little label tabs at the top of each ribbon. And they’re all screaming like grandpa.

FILE  HOME  INSERT  DESIGN  TRANSITIONS  ANIMATIONS  SLIDE SHOW  REVIEW  VIEW

Hideous, right?

Well, maybe you’re not bothered by it, and hey, good for you.  But there’s so much basic knowledge about how typography works, how the eye interprets words and breaks, how recognition is speeded by properly applying basic typographic conventions… all ignored here. It’s tragic really when you consider the scope of Office, how many people deal with this UI on a daily if not hourly (if not constant!) basis.  There were lots of people bringing up how ugly and broken this was in the open Beta for Office 2013, but Office designers decided they knew better.

Sigh

Anyway, you can fix this, calm it down. I can show you how. It’s a little tricky, so follow closely.

We’re going to go into the customize ribbon command. Right-click somewhere on the ribbon where there isn’t a button or control, and you’ll see the hidden commands. Choose Customize the ribbon and you’ll see the ribbon customization mess… er… UI.

right click taskbar and select Customize the Ribbon

Now, if you’re pretty perceptive you’ll notice something kinda weird.

customize ribbon ui

We’re looking in the right column, a list of the ribbon titles and the controls each ribbon contains. Funny thing is, all the labels are already in initial cap case. They are not in all-capitals. The UI let’s you change the name of any of these labels, see the Rename button beneath the list, but if you want to continue using the right names you’re kind of stuck.

The developers have special-cased these label titles for each of the individual ribbons so they display in all caps if they match the intended default label. Why did they spend their time doing this instead of fixing bugs or getting good features into the product? Who can tell. We can imagine the passionate arguments the designers put forward about not allowing users to destroy the delicate balance of their screaming grandpa design, but that’s just me recalling similar conversations. Probably nothing like that. But again, digressing.

A little experimenting will show you that the labels

Home displays HOME
HoME displays HoMe
HOME displays HOME

but it’s kind of hard to get it to just display “Home.” But not impossible. Just give it some space.

Or one space to be exact

Select one of the tab labels in the list and click the Rename button.  Adding a single space character, either before or after the letters “Home”, apparently is enough of a Jedi Mind Trick that  the developer’s force to upper-case code is told “these are not the glyphs you’re looking for” and they pass along to be displayed unharmed. Do this to each label, and you get a nice initial cap label and a much calmer interface.

lowercase tab labels

Yeah, Grandpa is still yelling FILE. If you can figure out a way to get him to calm down there, let me know.

A couple of things

You may want to do all the labels ahead of time. There are more than what are initially shown. Just open the list at the top of the right column and choose All Tabs.

alltabscontextual tabs display at the bottom of the list

Notice a bunch of items got added to the bottom of the list. These are the “contextual tabs”, tabs that show up when you select certain things, like shapes and tables, to give you control over their options.

It does take a few minutes to change all of these labels, but you’ll find the pattern is pretty easy to get used to. Might take you 15 minutes to add spaces to the end of each label. I think that’s the easier technique to use.

And don’t worry about making a mistake. If you do, you can nuke all your changes and reset the UI to the defaults again. That’s what the Reset button at the bottom is for. You can reset all, or just the selected tab.

And One Last Thing

Which leads us to the last tip here. It’s Extra Credit, so feel free to skip it.

If you’re a writer or instructor or someone who needs, occasionally, to make your UI look like it’s fresh out of the box, you can use the Import/Export UI changes command.  It’s just beneath the Reset button.

the import/export change file command

This lets you save a file with all the customizations you’ve made as a file that you can reload later, even share between machines. So if you need to undo your changes and go back to the just out of the shrink-wrap smell, save your customizations, then Reset everything.

Later when you want to stop grandpa from screaming, just Import the saved settings again and you’re back to a calm, mature looking UI.

Let me know how this works for you.

This somewhat silly article is dedicated to my dear departed father, a grandfather and computer user himself, who eventually learned to just use all lower-case in writing his e-mail.

-Ric

Fun Fact: Did you know that the first few versions of the 
Apple computer did not have the ability to display 
lower-case letters? The keyboards had a shift key, but 
it was used almost exclusively for shifting number keys 
to access punctuation characters. The Atari and Commodore 
Computers were among the first personal computers to 
introduce lower-case letters as a standard personal 
computer feature!

Written by ricbret

January 19, 2013 at 8:46 pm

The Facebook Face Flip

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This is not a political post, although a quick reading without comprehension will surely give some that impression. Trust me, and read on.

I was reading this evening about how you can actually see people “unliking” Mitt Romney’s Facebook page in real time graphics on a web site called Disappearing Romney. It sounded pretty wild, and the graphics on the page were conceptually stunning, but the whole thing was kind of sophomoric.  It looked like it might have been a prank.  So I decided to check his Facebook page to see if their math checked out.

It did check out, was really easy to confirm with a couple of page refreshes. But that’s not what caught my eye.

You see, around 100 years ago I took both high school and college journalism. A lot of it stuck, writing of course, but also a lot in the area of page layout.  There’s one guideline that borders on being magic in making a page and subjects on the page look appealing and interesting.

If you have a photo, or graphic, where a subject is looking in a left or right direction, place that element such that it is looking into the page, away from the edge they’re nearest.  If you have to, you can consider “flipping” the element such that it can do this regardless of what side of the page it’s on.

(Pause here to note how well I’m avoiding unnecessary political metaphors. Thanks for noticing.)

Check out the original, and see what happens when you flip both the photos.  It really is like a magic trick!

Flipping the elements of Mitt Romney's Facebook page we come away with a completely different impression.

You always try to have faces looking into the page, it makes them look better, the page look better, and the reader feel better. In this case, we have original Mitt back-to-back, looking very disconnected, even defensive. Look at how flipping both photos around makes him look, well, happy to see himself.

Arguably the wider cover page might work in either direction, and if it were left right-facing the light sourcing for each of these photos would match up, but that’s not a big deal.  I personally liked them facing each other, but your mileage may vary.

And yes, this is eminently applicable to your presentations!  Ah! You knew I’d get there eventually!  It’s one of the simplest things you can do to make your slides look more intriguing, trustworthy, or even happy.

Anyway, it’s not like it cost him the election or anything, but I found it really amazing that nobody on his staff, or even Facebook friends suggested fixing this classic journalistic page layout gaff.

Yes, I am available for consultations.

Written by ricbret

November 13, 2012 at 7:12 am