Presentation Software: The Good, the OK, the Sublime

There are so many options these days when it comes to presentations! Each of the following programs has its own strength and purpose, see which will work best for you!

Let’s start with the default here: Powerpoint.

Powerpoint, really, is a fine program. Is it the fault of the technology that it gets misused? No. Can you do a great presentation in Powerpoint? Sure, why not. Is it covered under Hampshire’s Microsoft contract for use on all college computers and even for at-home use? Yes it is.

New versions of Powerpoint even have forward-thinking features like embedding YouTube videos and publishing presentations to the web. Many of the cooler features are only available in the Windows version, however.

I have to say, though, that Powerpoint makes it easy to make a bad presentation. There are so many ugly backgrounds, clunky effects, the bullet point button is right there just begging to be clicked. It takes a little extra effort and forethought to defy the defaults and make your presentation your own.

Google Presentation

Welcome to the cloud. Google docs has a “presentation” type of doc with very basic options. The main reasons to use it are if you want to collaborate with others on the presentation, or be able to access your presentation anywhere. You can also upload an existing Powerpoint file into Google Docs (.ppt, not .pptx) and then have it available and editable online.

Google Docs is all about collaboration and is a great choice if you want to work with others. Multiple users can access the file at the same time, you can have a “chat” happening while you work, or use the brand new “discussion” feature for a richly collaborative, social-media-esque experience.

Google also just introduced a pretty nifty tool called Cloud Connect, which lets you work on a google doc, collaboratively, on your local computer, using Microsoft Office! So if you want to collaborate with someone who’s not familiar with Google Docs, they can just work on the presentation in Powerpoint but they are actually editing the Google doc. *Wow*.

And when you’re done, you can publish the presentation to the web or embed it in another webpage.

Prezi
Prezi is about as outside the box as it gets for presentations, in fact, it’s completely non-linear and it can take a while to wrap your head around it. You create your presentations online, and instead of individual slides you just have a huge pasteboard. You add content wherever you want, and then tell Prezi which areas you want to display and in what order. The advantage is you can give a big-picture view, then zoom in to details as needed.

Overall it’s a limited program in terms of design options and effects, but if you’re a free thinking individual who doesn’t want to be confined by slides, Prezi may be for you. Oh, and an educational account is free.

One caution: the zooming and panning can sometimes make people a little seasick!

Keynote
Steve Jobs is famous for his presentations. Just watch the one where he introduces the iPhone and the audience is practically throwing their underpants on the stage. People have written books about his skills. And we all know that you just don’t mess with Apple when it comes to design. So it figures that Apple’s presentation program, Keynote, is just a little bit cooler and more awesome than all the other options.

While Powerpoint makes it easy to do a bad presentation, Keynote makes it easy to do a good one. The design and layout defaults are beautiful and simple. The effects are fabulous- words can burst into flames or appear through a cloud of fairy sparkles. And it’s really hard to find where to add bullet points.

To be fair, Powerpoint can do everything Keynote can. Keynote just gives your presentation a subtle aesthetic advantage- and when you’re giving a visual presentation I would argue that aesthetics are pretty darn important.

I did find the program interface slightly un-intuitive and it took a little getting used to. They make it easy to insert media from your iTunes, iPhoto, etc, but it’s not so obvious as to how to place in content from outside Apple’s dominion. You can publish a presentation to the web, but it will only look good in, *sigh*, Safari. So Apple’s keeping it all in the family here, and it’s a little limiting and annoying.

The other downside is that it’s only available for Mac (duh), and Hampshire only has limited licensing for it.

So there we are. There are tons of great resources out there for advice on creating better presentations, here are a few!

Garry Reynolds: Presentation Zen Blog, Presentation Tips Website, Presentation Zen Book, Sample Before-and-After Slides

How Not to Suck at Powerpoint on Slideshare

Chart comparing Powerpoint and Prezi

Edward Tufte: The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint

– Asha Kinney

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If you Changed your Email Password…

We’ve asked everyone who uses Hampshire email to change their password regularly. It’s really easy to change your HampNet password (just go to password.hampshire.edu), but once you’ve done that you have to tell all the devices you use that you’ve changed it.

What does this mean?
If you have a smartphone or iPod Touch (or an iPad, for that matter), then you need to update the email password on that device.

If you use an email client, such as Thunderbird or AppleMail, you will have to update the password for that on each computer. .

There are actually two passwords stored for each email account, one for incoming mail and one for outgoing mail. The incoming one is usually referred to as just that, the “incoming password;” the outgoing password is referred to as your “smtp password.” Both have to be changed to reflect your new password on HampNet.

WebMail is tied into the HampNet password system, and once you change your password no further action is needed. .

If you synchronize your device’s calendar with Zimbra you will need to update that password on your phone. .

Zimbra desktop (if you use it) will have to be told your new password.

iPhone, iPod TouchOn an iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad
I haven’t actually tried this on an iPad yet, but if you want to loan me yours I’d be happy to confirm that these instructions are correct! You could just leave it with me for a few days…
From the main screen select “Settings.”

Select “Mail, Contacts, Calendar”

Select your Hampshire account.

Scroll down to “Password” and update it to your new HampNet password.

Select SMTP.

Select smtp.hampshire.edu.

Update your password to your new HampNet password.

If you synchronize your calendar with Zimbra, keep on going; if not, you’re all done!

Use the back arrow until you return to the Accounts page of the Mail, Contacts, Calendar settings.

Select your Connect account.

Select “Account Info”

Change the password.

Droid
There are several models of Droid phones out there, none of which I have in my hands right now, but there are two places where you may find the password:
In the main screen’s “Setting” program, you may find an “Email” section that has account information.

In the Email application, bring up the “Settings” menu, and see if account information is stored there.

If you synchronize your Zimbra calendar with your Droid you should also change that password. In that case, check for Settings in the Calendar application, and if you don’t find the password stored there, check the Settings on the main screen.

Thunderbird
Thunderbird will let you know if the password isn’t accepted, and you’ll have an opportunity to enter it,.

If this isn’t helping
There are lots of different possibilities for entering your password on various devices. If you need more help specifically with getting email or Zimbra working again on your handheld device, contact helpdesk@hampshire.edu.

The Motorola Xoom: Connection and Confusion

Xoom thumb reach

Apple vs Android. A Droid expert I know summed up the distinction thusly: android is for smart, nerdy people who want a smart, nerdy experience with their devices. Apple is for everyone else. So, as a smart, nerdy IT department, we were naturally excited to receive a Motorola Xoom tablet last month on loan from Verizon Wireless. It boasted the newest version of Android for tablets called “Honeycomb”.  I expected it to be awesome. It wasn’t.

Read on, gentle blog subscriber, and hear our tale of woe.

General Usability

Pro’s:

  • Um, we got to use it for free?

Cons:

  • How do you turn this thing on? The IT Director was stymied. I managed to turn it on but couldn’t unlock it. A PhD was perplexed as to how to close programs. Two of us thought the “home” button was an up arrow. Did I mention we all work with computers for a living?
  • Physically, the tablet felt fairly heavy to most of us. You couldn’t easily hold it in one hand. It’s about 4 oz heavier than the iPad 2, I guess in the tablet-world that’s a lot.
  • The glossy screen was a fingerprint magnet and had a lot of glare.

This thing has major usability issues. It isn’t us, it can’t be. This device was near-diabolical in its basic design. For most of us, this initial frustration colored the rest of the Xoom experience, and left us exasperated and annoyed. Two co-workers kept it all of 20 minutes before throwing it back at me. Another co-worker sagely stated “I would never buy a Motorola brand computer, so this is about what I expected”.

If the Xoom can so handily defeat and alienate a tech-friendly group of people, what hope does it have for the consumer market?!

Android 3.0: Honeycomb

Once we managed to turn the Xoom on, we took a walk around the Android interface. Andoid is a more complex interface than Apple’s iPod and iPad OS. There are multiple screens, various buttons and menus, it’s not always clear what each of them do. It’s multi-layered. Complex. Basically the opposite of an Apple interface. Could it be more versatile? Yes, but I think it would take a month of constant use to get used to the interface and fully figure how it would work for you.

What I did like was the easy integration of my existing Google account. Once I entered my account info I had my email, docs, bookmarks, books, etc all accessible. Kate mentioned, however, that getting your account UN-linked from it is not quite so easy, and there is no system for handling multiple accounts and multiple log-ins, so this is essentially not a share-able device.

The App Store, while basically easy to use, had a confusing aspect in that when click “download” on an app, nothing happens. There are tiny letters that say “waiting for download”, and if you click “My Apps” you can then see the download progress, but it’s not obvious at all.

Doing Work

Decent Features:

  • The Gmail app was clean and easy to use, the keyboard was OK for typing on.
  • You can view and edit google docs, but it’s cumbersome and you can’t change formatting easily. It would be fine for taking quick notes.
  • Office Suite Pro is a $15 app that gives you a little more productivity, as well as access to the Xoom’s file system. I could download a google doc and work on it in Office Suite Pro, but then wasn’t sure how to get it back to the cloud. Again, if I had a month to play with this thing I would have figured out a system, but should it really take that long?
  • Google’s CloudPrint service looks really promising and will allow people to print a Google doc from a tablet. But for now, you have to have a constantly networked PC to run the printing so that’s out for me until they improve the system.
  • The Google maps and GPS were probably my favorite thing to use, it’s a great screen size for looking, scrolling, zooming and rotating maps. The directions it gave were clear and good, other than wanting me to leave campus via the dirt road shortcut we’re not supposed to take.
  • It would probably be useful as a scheduler and organizer, though no more so than a regular laptop.

Indecent and/or annoying:

  • You’d think that if a tablet does anything well, it should be web surfing. Well, think again. Where’s the address bar? Oh, swipe your finger in form the upper right corner, or press and hold the bottom left. Um, yeah. Also, the simple act of clicking links was a little clunky and not nearly as sensitive and accurate as even an iPod touch. I had to zoom in the view to get some links to open.
  • Alternate input methods left much to be desired. Voice recognition wasn’t good for anything other than short, simple sentences. A pen reader app was clunky but perhaps would have been workable with more practice.
  • The Xoom has some accessibility features allowing you to turn on sounds describing your actions on the device, but there’s no screen reader or text-to-speech function built in, so I’m not sure why the visually impaired would be using it in the first place.

Reading

I was able to get my Kindle books on the Xoom easily via the Kindle app, but really didn’t like the reading experience. The brightness of the screen in your face was distracting, the text looked pixel-y, you had to hold the screen exactly straight-on to be able to see clearly. And again, no text-to-speech function! You can read PDFs on it as well, though if you want to annotate them it takes a $5 app. To plug in the Xoom and transfer files directly required installing a separate program so I just gave up.

Play

  • No Hulu.
  • No Netflix.
  • No Flash.
  • You have got to be kidding me.
  • Youtube interface is really weird.
  • Angry Birds was awesome, but what else would you expect.

Pictures & Video

The Xoom has front and rear cameras. The images and video were on a par with a low-end digital camera. It had a very bright flash for photos and fill light for videos. It was very easy to upload pictures to Picasa, Facebook, YouTube, etc. and it even has a primitive built-in video editor. Picture editing and organizing was almost non-existent, so this would not cut it for me as a primary means of dealing with photos.

Bottom Line

None of us had any desire to bring this Xoom into our lives, whether for work or play. Some thought it would be mildly useful as something to have on hand for casual web-browsing, but we all emphatically thought it was not worth $600.

The Tangent

So why are tablets in general flying off the shelves? What are other people seeing in them that we’re not? What are these devices doing for people, really? What’s the big attraction?

My biggest clue was the fact that the only time I could see really using and liking this tablet was when I was traveling. I imagined I would feel safer and happier having this on hand. Why? It’s not about productivity. It’s not even really about entertainment. It’s about connection. A tablet gives you a constant, uninterrupted sense of connectedness with the cloud, the web, the world. It’s a lifeline, and an anchor. When I am unanchored from the usual connections in my life, as when traveling, this is when I see the attraction of this connective device.

So what does this say about everyone buying these tablets? Smartphones? Other mobile devices? What does it mean that so many millions of people need these virtual anchors and lifelines? What’s missing from our everyday, real-life connections?

A common theme these days is that technology is driving us away from each other and is diluting our interactions and connections. I would argue, though, that we are adapting technology to bridge already-existing distances in our lives. The gadgets simply make apparent deeper problems that, I think, go back to the fact that as a species we are supposed to live in tribes and villages with large extended families around us. Very few of us have even a close approximation of that kind of truly connected existence. And the only technology you can really blame for this state of affairs is the wheel, really.

So these tablets fill a need for many people. Who am I to judge? On a recent trip it was an absolute gift to be able to Skype with my son from across the country. It was a connection when there otherwise would have been none. Upon returning home, however, I was all too happy to unplug and re-connect with my real-world family in a real-world way.

These tablets are seen as a luxury item. I think the real luxury is having enough true connection in your life to not need them.

– Asha Kinney with help from Jeff Schmittlein, Kate MacGregor, John Bruner, Doug Cotton, Jeff Butera, Bob Crowley, and Andrew Hart

The Amazon Kindle: Worth the e-Paper it’s Printed on?

The Kindle is delightfully primitive. Can it surf the web? Sort of. Angry Birds? Forget it. Pictures, movies, hulu? No, no, and no. Here’s what you can do on it: read a book. And you just might find the simple act of reading so appealing once you have it in your hands that you forget all about Angry Birds (almost).

What can you read on it?

Books
The easiest way by far to get a book on the Kindle is, of course, to buy it from Amazon. Amazon also has a number of free books available, but to find them you really need to be on the website, not on the Kindle. You can find rotating freebie deals here (sort by price to get the free ones first) or browse a huge library of copyright-free classics. Having these classics available instantly and for free will, I hope, encourage people to read them who otherwise wouldn’t. PG Wodehouse, Thomas Hardy, Edith Wharton- this level of writing craft is truly a lost art, and we all should at least get an occasional reminder of what the english language is capable of.

You can also go to Google Books and browse through their free offerings, also mostly out-of-copyright stuff. Depending on the format available for download you may have to convert it using a program called Calibre.

PDFs and other documents
You can get a PDF or Word doc on the Kindle very easily by emailing it to the Kindle. But here’s the kicker: if you bought the more expensive 3G model you’ll pay for this service. If you were a cheapskate like me and got the least expensive wireless model, you don’t. Thanks, Amazon! You can also just plug the Kindle into your computer and transfer things over as you would to a flash drive.

Stuff from the Web
If there’s a long web page or article (like this one) that you want to read without going blind you can also get these to the Kindle. There are a few different ways to do it. The easiest by far is to switch to Chrome for your browser (an easy process, and it’s great anyway), and use their “Send to Kindle” add-on. It sends whatever web content you’re viewing at the time to your Kindle. Doesn’t work for PDFs viewed within a browser but otherwise is great.

There are also a few services such as Instapaper and Read it Later which allow you to send content from your browser to the Kindle. I ended up not liking Instapaper because the material appears on the Kindle as “Instapaper #27” and doesn’t give you a clue as to what articles it contains, so it’s hard to organize the readings. Read It Later requires you to use that same program Calibre to get it onto the Kindle so it’s an additional step.

What’s so great about it?

Notes & Highlights
This is where the Kindle gets really, really, useful. Whilst reading any book or most PDFs, you can highlight text passages or write your own notes. You can then view a summary of said notes and highlights. One way to get the notes back to your computer is to connect the Kindle to the computer via USB and copy over the “My Clippings” text file which contains all notes and highlights ever made on the device, organized by book (or document).

For books purchased on Amazon (whether free or not) go to kindle.amazon.com, choose the book in question, and you can view your highlights and notes from that book. Simply copy and paste. Amazon also has a “flash-card” type feature that will show you your notes as a memory jogger or sorts. And any help offered to my feeble memory is heartily appreciated.

Dictionary
I almost never pick up a dictionary and look up a word when reading on paper. On the Kindle, however, a definition is two clicks away so I now know the meaning of diurnal, florescence, and catholic with a lower-case “c”. This feature became so quickly integrated into my psyche I now find myself getting annoyed when I can’t immediately look up a word read in a paper magazine, or on a website.

Battery Life
It just won’t die. The e-ink technology uses so little energy the battery lasts at least a couple weeks, very handy for the woman who typically has a dead cell phone every other day.

The Screen
I spend so much time starting at screens to begin with that I really didn’t want to get a reader with a LCD or LED screen. I couldn’t get past the pixel-y look of type on the iPad, and I just think the eyes need a break from refresh rates now and then. The e-ink Kindle screen really is very readable, and gives you no more eye strain than the printed page. Can you see it in the dark? No, much like a book and the rest of the physical world. Can you read it in the sun? Unlike an iPad, yes, and the screen has a nice anti-glare, anti-fingerprint finish unlike many other tablets. Keeping the beach sand out of it may be another matter, but summer reading here I come.

The Price
$140, in the realm of affordability for many people. You get 3.5 for the price of one iPad, so even the cats may get their own this Christmas.

Any bummers?

  • The Kindle cannot read e-books available through my local public library system. The Nook apparently can.
  • The text-to-speech sounds like a ridiculous robot. That said, I did use it to “read” an article I just wanted to finish while driving the car. I got used to it, but it could definitely use improvement.
  • The web browser is very primitive and cumbersome, mostly unusable. However, we humans are so bad at avoiding temptation and distraction that I think this is actually a blessing. Amazon might do well to say “never mind, go back to your book” and just remove it entirely.

What these e-readers are really about.

OK, here’s where we get a little dark. Why did I buy this Kindle instead of a Nook or other e-readers out there? Really, why? I took a long hard look at myself and the answer I finally arrived at, which I think gets to the ulterior motives of companies involved, was brand loyalty.

This realization was a horror to me, but I do think it’s true. I shop at Amazon, a lot. I have never bought anything online from Barnes and Noble. Amazon is a known and trusted entity to me. And by selling me this device they have just guaranteed that 100% of my future book purchases will be made with them. I have put my hand over my wallet and made a pledge of allegiance.

Is this creepy? Yes. Does it make the Kindle any less useful and fabulous? No, but it reminds me that the driving force behind this device is not an altruistic love of the printed word, but rather a passion for fourth-quarter gains. I know where we stand, this Kindle and I.

Pedagogical Implications

As a student myself, I think the Kindle is going to be very useful. The device lends itself to focus and concentration. You don’t have the temptation of Facebook being two clicks away, there’s no clock on the device itself, and the interface is so simple that it fades into the background and lets you focus on content.

The offloading of any notes I take is a tremendous convenience, and I think Amazon will probably improve this functionality with models to come. I can also make said notes public, for example to share with a class. The recent addition of actual page numbers improves the Kindle’s chances of being useful in a group setting.

And most of all, the $140 price tag makes it a more egalitarian option for schools. A $500-700 price tag for a secondary device is downright elitist in my book, no matter how useful it is. Prices will come down in the next couple years, but until then the Kindle is the most financially accessible option by far.

The Bottom Line

I will graciously accept an iPad as a gift (birthday September 19, thx), but for my own money I’ll stick with the Kindle. Apple: call me when you get color e-ink, and we’ll talk.

Asha Kinney