## On the toxicity of Beamer slides

Beamer can be just as lethal with its overlays and side links.

Now, I am writing this blog post with the hope that I’ll stumble upon a magical ingredient to make an interesting talk. The most helpful advise I got so far was Brian Reich’s “Academic Presentations“. However, Reich never touches on what to actually include in the presentation. One of his advise that baffles me the most is “Present ideas, not details,” which is a bit too idealistic — I don’t suppose everything can be communicated as an idea by neglecting the details. For example, if I wanted to talk about a convolution formula that generalizes a classical one, should I say, “We were able to derive a convolution formula that looks like the classical one, except that we added a few more parameters and use square brackets instead of parentheses. It’s like a Christmas tree with shiny balls in it.” Or should I say, “This is what the convolution for our sequences looks like: <insert a jumble of symbols>.” I think it’s best to trim off ideas that are impossible to convey without too many details.

So far, after reading the suggested materials for our class, my impression about given math talks are as follows:

(1) If your audience is well-acquainted with your work I think it is okay to go technical. My audience will be (brilliant) graduate students who may not be well-acquainted with my work, so I think it will be best to make the talk as leisurely as possible by (a) showing how my work relates to other fields, (b) spending some time on preliminary concepts and (c) illustrating these concepts as much as possible.

(2) Organization is a key element in delivering a good presentation. I think I’d be better off using the good ol’ format: Intro (context, notation, terminology, statement of the problem), Body (results and discussion) and Conclusion (what was achieved and what may be done next).

(3) Neither me nor my audience gains anything if I present anything too technical. So out with highly specialized results, especially those that rely strongly on concepts that I didn’t discuss. If a theorem needs to be proved, it’ll be probably best to give a sketch of the proof.

(4) A good rule of thumb on the number of slides is #minutes/2, which means that I have to prepare a presentation that is good for 15 slides. If I hadn’t read this advise, I would have made as many slides as I thought would be necessary. And the rule makes a lot of sense — more slides = more details = greater possibility that your audience will be lost along the way.

(5) It’s good to include an ample amount of illustrations. David Patterson writes, “Confucius says ‘A picture = 10K words,’ but Dijkstra says ‘Pictures are for weak minds.’ Who are you going to believe? Wisdom from the ages or the person who first counted goto’s?” (Aside: I loved gotos when I first learned LBasic, but I despised them when I learned R and C.)

(6) The basics: eye contact, clear (and engaging) voice, not reading what’s on the slides.

(7) In sum, the whole point of giving a talk is to convey the singular message, “This is what my work is all about, and I hope that you (a) find it interesting enough to Google one of the terminologies I have mentioned (b) think that my work is at least as interesting as yours.” The challenge with combinatorics, which is where my research is classified, is that it is particularly tricky to make results look interesting in front of a non-combinatorics audience. Math majors are trained to appreciate and recognize deep and elegant theorems, which combinatorics has none. (The Principle of Inclusion and Exclusion, for instance, is just equivalent to computing the inverse of a certain matrix.) Oh well, it can’t be helped. So this should be the least of my concern.

Then, again, my first question still begs itself — what should I include in my talk? Wait — I just submitted my abstract. ΩΤΦ*! Let’s see what I come up with tonight.

*WTF.

## Some Things Convince Me That I Really Should Be Where I Currently Am

Okay, time for some vanity post. Let’s talk about talents. I have both a lot and none of them, with special emphasis on NONE. Continue reading

## The Ups and Downs of Writing a Thesis

Image from http://www.mythesis.co.uk/thesis-binding-examples.htm.

It’s appalling how the titles of my blog posts are becoming less and less creative, and I try to butcher the failure by writing about how uncreative the title is, LOL. What’s worse is that I’m putting my years in the student publication — and the countless writing workshops I’ve been to — to shame. Mathematical writing (okay, so I’m about to pass the blame by the way) has a rather different standard of creativity. Only the best mathematicians tend to have the license to write “creatively” (in the usual sense) on their papers, and even so, very few actually do it. In fact, I can only name two — Don Knuth with his conversational, and sometimes vulgar, Concrete Mathematics, and Doron Zeilberger with his !, ? and -’s. Creativity in writing mathematics refers to ones ability to communicate an idea in the clearest and logical way possible. Creativity elsewhere is about the flow of words, the ability to project a complete picture — a rather flower picture, that is. In math witty lines are reduced to a minimum of nil. In fact, I can probably write my thesis like a novel and with passages like, “Today, I couldn’t decide whether to include Corollary A in Section X. The corollary seems to be out of place, but I decided to include it anyway since there is a very little likelihood that anyone will notice,” but no serious mathematician would read my work if I do. Math guys want the meat and do away with the garnishing.

Anyway, the dullness of this post’s title isn’t what I’m blogging about today.  Continue reading

I will be moving in to my new dorm on Friday so I decided to sort out the things that I needed. I really wanted to get rid of as many things as I could – even books. The Main Library has a book drive and I can probably just drop off the books I no longer need. After much contemplation, I settled for just three books – a self-help book on how to be happy, a documentary on the Abu Ghraib investigations and a short story collection by Jeffery Deaver. I wanted to throw away Patterson’s Evolution Exposed (crappy logic) but I figured it would always be a great companion to Futuyma’s Science on Trial.

## Dormitory

It’s freakin hot with typhoon Butchoy (Butsoy?) heading off to Okinawa so don’t complain if I can’t get a descent title. ^_^.

So I finally got myself a dormitory accommodation, at a fitting time when I am about to graduate in a few months. How I got myself a slot was even more surprising.

## My Blabber on the enrolment, typhoons, K-12 and the Mother-Tongue Policy

I haven’t blogged for quite a long time and I’m quite hesitant to post this due to the negativities that I couldn’t strike out. I’m a bit infected with the positive vibes fever, and I have good reasons for being so since I have a (self-set) limited time to write my thesis and I need all positivity in the world to face a computer monitor and pound one TeX code after another.

So it’s June. It’s that time of the year where students flock to their crowded schools and college students line up in endless enrollment queues. Unfortunately, UP has not come up with a completely electronic enrollment system yet where students just pay whatever they have to pay and print whatever they have to print using their own printers (or those in cafés). Alas, the lines have gotten even worse that I missed the cut off on two occasions. So much for going to school before 8am. I’m sure UP has more than enough brains – i.e., pools of policy-makers, planners and programmers to implement a model electronic enrollment system for the whole country.