Dec. 14th, 2003

sisyphusshrugged: (Default)
I have always suspected this.
In August, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board at NASA released Volume 1 of its report on why the space shuttle crashed. As expected, the ship's foam insulation was the main cause of the disaster. But the board also fingered another unusual culprit: PowerPoint, Microsoft's well-known ''slideware'' program.

NASA, the board argued, had become too reliant on presenting complex information via PowerPoint, instead of by means of traditional ink-and-paper technical reports. When NASA engineers assessed possible wing damage during the mission, they presented the findings in a confusing PowerPoint slide -- so crammed with nested bullet points and irregular short forms that it was nearly impossible to untangle. ''It is easy to understand how a senior manager might read this PowerPoint slide and not realize that it addresses a life-threatening situation,'' the board sternly noted.

PowerPoint is the world's most popular tool for presenting information. There are 400 million copies in circulation, and almost no corporate decision takes place without it. But what if PowerPoint is actually making us stupider?

This year, Edward Tufte -- the famous theorist of information presentation -- made precisely that argument in a blistering screed called The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. In his slim 28-page pamphlet, Tufte claimed that Microsoft's ubiquitous software forces people to mutilate data beyond comprehension. For example, the low resolution of a PowerPoint slide means that it usually contains only about 40 words, or barely eight seconds of reading. PowerPoint also encourages users to rely on bulleted lists, a ''faux analytical'' technique, Tufte wrote, that dodges the speaker's responsibility to tie his information together. And perhaps worst of all is how PowerPoint renders charts. Charts in newspapers like The Wall Street Journal contain up to 120 elements on average, allowing readers to compare large groupings of data. But, as Tufte found, PowerPoint users typically produce charts with only 12 elements. Ultimately, Tufte concluded, PowerPoint is infused with ''an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch.''

Microsoft officials, of course, beg to differ. Simon Marks, the product manager for PowerPoint, counters that Tufte is a fan of ''information density,'' shoving tons of data at an audience. You could do that with PowerPoint, he says, but it's a matter of choice. ''If people were told they were going to have to sit through an incredibly dense presentation,'' he adds, ''they wouldn't want it.'' And PowerPoint still has fans in the highest corridors of power: Colin Powell used a slideware presentation in February when he made his case to the United Nations that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction...
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U.S. troops captured Saddam Hussein hiding in a hole near his home town of Tikrit in a major coup for Washington's beleaguered occupation force in Iraq.

Grubby and bearded the 66-year-old dictator was dug out by troops from a cramped hiding pit during a raid on a farm in Ad-Dawr village late Saturday, the jubilant U.S. commander in Iraq Ricardo Sanchez said Sunday.

Gunfire crackled out in celebration across the country as Iraqis greeted a U.S. military video showing their once feared leader, disheveled and sporting a bushy black and gray beard, undergoing a medical examination after seven months on the run.

The arrest is a boon for President Bush after a run of increasingly bloody attacks on U.S. troops and their allies that imperil his campaign for re-election next year. Saddam may also provide intelligence on alleged banned weapons. The former president, who once seemed almost to believe his own claims of invincibility and urged his men to go down fighting the invaders, gave up without a shot being fired, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez told a news conference in Baghdad.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we got him," a beaming U.S. administrator Paul Bremer said in his first comments to the news conference where the film was shown. "The tyrant is a prisoner."

Cheering Iraqis in the audience shouted "Death to Saddam!"

Leading members of the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council said they would put Saddam on trial in Baghdad. He may face the death penalty as he answers for a three-decade reign of terror and for leading his oil-rich nation into three disastrous wars.

"We want Saddam to get what he deserves. I believe he will be sentenced to hundreds of death sentences at a fair trial because he's responsible for all the massacres and crimes in Iraq," said Amar al-Hakim, a senior member of the Shi'ite party the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

The White House warned, however, that Saddam's capture may not mean an end to violence, which continued hours after he was seized, with a suspected suicide car bombing that left at least 17 dead at a police station in Khalidiyah, west of Baghdad...

Well, obviously, this is a good thing.

Be interesting. I wonder how the rest of the world is going to feel about our puppet government executing someone we've worked with in the past without their getting a crack at him?

Also, hypothetically, if there are still Baathists out there, how does he do them the most good - as a prisoner in Geneva or as a martyr to an american show trial?

Not that we'll handle it any differently for that.
sisyphusshrugged: (Default)
one would think that a company like Halliburton, whose supporters in the White House and the Pentagon say that they were given no-bid contracts because they are the only company with enough experience to handle the situation, would not respond to their overbilling and sub-standard performance as a response to difficult conditions.

We know the conditions are difficult, guys. That's supposed to be why you got the contracts - because you know how to handle them.

Which, you keep telling us, you don't.

Perhaps you could ask some of the military personnel you work with how to prepare food safely. It's the first thing they teach them when they join.

Lots of guys with GEDs manage it on considerably less than $28/day.

Hell, my eight year old could show them how to throw out food that's gone bad.
The Pentagon repeatedly warned contractor Halliburton-KBR that the food it served to US troops in Iraq was "dirty," as were as the kitchens it was served in, NBC News reported on Friday.

Halliburton-Kellogg Brown and Root's promises to improve "have not been followed through," according to a Pentagon report that warned "serious repercussions may result" if the contractor did not clean up.

The Pentagon reported finding "blood all over the floor," "dirty pans," "dirty grills," "dirty salad bars" and "rotting meats ... and vegetables" in four of the military messes the company operates in Iraq, NBC said, citing Pentagon documents.

The report came as President George W. Bush fended off Pentagon reports that Halliburton-KBR overcharged US$61 million for gasoline it sold the military in Iraq. Dick Cheney ran Halliburton for five years until becoming vice president.

The company feeds 110,000 US and coalition troops daily at a cost of US$28 per troop per day, NBC said.

The Pentagon found unclean conditions at four locations in Iraq, including one in Baghdad and two in Tikrit. Even the mess hall where Bush served troops their Thanksgiving dinner was dirty in August, September and October, according to NBC.


Halliburton-Kellogg Brown and Root told NBC that "hostile conditions" pose special challenges as they served the 21 million meals so far to the troops at 45 sites in Iraq.

via the Agonist


Dec. 14th, 2003 09:15 pm
sisyphusshrugged: (Default)
Remember last week's essay in the Times Magazine about how we need a dictatorship of taste in choosing the 9/11 memorial, not some tacky proletariat memorial design competition?
An essay and a picture caption last Sunday about memorial designs for the World Trade Center site referred incorrectly to the selection of the design of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis by Eero Saarinen, cited as an example of the way a landmark design should be chosen. The work was the winner of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial design competition. It was not a direct commission.



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