April 30, 2008  ·  Lessig


Julian Sanchez has a piece in Ars Technica analyzing my recent outing by PFF as a communist. Or socialist. Or quasi-socialist utopianist. Whatever. I’ll leave the criticisms of the criticisms of my scholarship to the reader to judge. One perfectly framed point of the piece, though, is something I completely agree with: There is a divide in the libertarian camp about IP extremism. And when, as I’d put it, “libertarians … ‘start to defect’ from a strong-IP stance, copyright incumbents [will] be left with only their wholly-owned-subsidiaries as defenders.”

Then, I suggest, real progress will be made.

April 28, 2008  ·  Lessig

Many have asked me about my Keynote (it is not PowerPoint) presentation style. I honestly don’t have much to say about it, as I’ve not thought it through. But Chris Tunnell, a researcher on the SNO neutrino physics experiment has, and he sent me his thoughts about how and why (and whether) the style works based on his own experience using it for physics presentations. Read about it in the extended entry.

This is a reply to a request that I explain why I’ve shifted to gradient backgrounds (reprinted with permission):

Before I describe my experience with the technique, first let me briefly tell you about the audience. In doing so, hopefully you’ll understand some of the choices I’ve made, but please do bare in mind that I have a negatively biased view of physicists since we’re grumpy and impatient.

I was talking to a group of somewhere between 50-100 physicists who either knew me and my work, or at very least knew of me and my work, so somewhat knew what to expect. This was apart of an all-day meeting that happens annually and everybody’s work is closely related to everybody else’s work; another way of phrasing this is that we know enough to be bored of each talk since we’ve heard it all before, but we know too little to follow the talk given that we’re tired of listening to the hours of talks before. I generally go into these meetings with the mentality of, “Most of the audience is annoyed that I’ve dimmed the lights and am talking to them while they try to check their e-mail”. You see, with the dawn of laptops, regardless of the size of the physics crowd only four people will be listening to you at any given point: one person who did something similar a while ago, two people who are doing something similar now, and one person who had their laptop battery die. My goal of the talk was to not only convince them that I was worthy of listening to, but also teaching them what I did and convincing them that what I did was fairly important (yet neat).

I decided to try a method similar to your’s after I noticed my speaking style slowly leaning towards minimalism (which was actually a result of me needing glasses at first and wishing people used bigger fonts on slides!). This style is contrary to the normal physics slide-style which generally contains four bullet points, one plot, and exactly a minute’s worth of talking while the slide is presented. The reason I like not having much information on any given slide is I find that people don’t listen to you until they’ve fully read your slide, so having single words like you do encourages people to pay attention to the speaker while visually emphasising key points during the talk. Also the control of information on the screen helps the speaker prevent the audience from running ahead and getting lost.

The exact things I’ve stolen from you are as follows:

Minimal text: I try to use the least amounts of words, and letters, as possible in each slide (that isn’t a plot). I find people can’t remember or process more than a few things at any given time, so whether it be text or an equation, it’s dangerous to display too much information. I had to work hard to keep equations as simple as possible in order to make sure that people paid attention to the information of interest. This is generally a good idea in physics and mathematics, and I’ll use a facetious quote from a friend mathematician to demonstrate it: “It’s theoretically impossible to verify more than a line’s worth of algebra”. So the majority of my slides were a word or two, after your technique.

XML tags: I like using XML tags to give the talk a tree-like structure, so accordingly my talk was XML parsable. I find it helps the audience know where they are within the talk. Commonly, I find that I have no clue where the speaker is going with a talk, and specifically where one thought ends and another begins. It also helps the audience realize when they should try to rejoin the band-wagon if they’ve gotten lost. This may be a bigger issue with physics talks than copyright or corruption talks. This also lets the older physicists know when they should wake up if you happen to have a section on something they’re particularly interested in.

Reusing images: I’ve noticed that you like to reuse images to remind people of what you talked about before and to emotionally connect the current part of your talk to previous points. I did the same thing. I reused slides frequently — even if just to flash the slide before them — in order to remind them of what they’ve seen and to draw connections to previous points. I did this because nobody remembers anything ever, so relying on people remembering a previous point — for which they were probably looking at their watch rather than paying attention to you! — is a sure way to lose people and make them hate you. I found that reusing images was a nice way to help people draw connections between what they knew from my introduction to current topics.

Reusing text: This is somewhat similar to the previous point of reusing images, but applied to text. This point is best explained with an example. I was guiding my audience through the physics of my work, and at a point during my talk, I demonstrated a problem I had faced with two possible solution paths. I had a slide which outlined both: “A or B”. I then had a few slides about why method ‘B’ was better than ‘A’ in this case, after which I redisplayed my slide of “A or B” but with the ‘A’ struck-through to indicate that was the bad choice. People like seeing things they remember because it gives them the sense that I didn’t waste their time for the first part of the talk and instead taught them something useful.

Knowing the next slide: Most physicists rely on their slides reminding them what they were planning on talking about. What I’ve noticed in your slides is that you knew what you wanted to say before you said it, which is a foreign concept to our community. For instance, you frequently have slides with a single word corresponding to the word you happen to be saying through the microphone. The advantage of this is that it makes it feel like the slides are an extension of the speaker, rather than having them seem disjoint. The disadvantage of this is that people complain about the talk feeling “rehearsed” since the audience wants to feel special and like they’re getting the inside scoop. I think coinciding slides with words spoken is a great way to emphasize points, but should be used infrequently as emphasis. In my particular case, this allowed me to speak much faster than I normally do, which means at a normal-person pace; I have a slow and lulling natural voice.

Blank slides: I have never seen somebody use a blank slide in a talk before I saw a talk of your’s. Edward Tufte would role over in his grave if he saw that! I made one slide in my talk blank just because it shocked people so much that they really paid attention to the words that came out of my mouth. I find that blank slides are a great attention grabber because the audience is left frantically trying to recalibrate themselves since they have no information to go on. I would have never thought of this without seeing a talk by you, and it’s a useful teaching device.

I may be forgetting something, but those are the key points I remember from giving the talk. I gave the talk a few months ago (I think? It was sometime this year I believe…), so I may be forgetting some points.

Let’s quickly talk about the public reception. While I was giving the talk, over half the audience was listening. This may sound trivial to you, but I was the most widely listened to speaker at the entire meeting by a land-slide (I think nearly everybody was paying attention!). These are record numbers! There were two motivating factors to this: the train-wreck factor and the quick slide attention-deficit-disorder factor. The train-wreck factor is that people see something new and are waiting to see you fail, crash then burn because it will make for good dinner conversation. The quick slide factor is that the higher slide rate (slides per minute) of a minimalist style helps the attention-deficit-disorder physics pay attention. While I was giving the talk, it really seemed like people were much more interested in paying attention because minimalism is a better teaching device since it allows the speaker more control.

After my talk, there was much gossip about how my talk went. In general, I was amazed by how well the public reception was. For instance, a senior colleague of mine walked up to me right after the talk to tell me how the talk went. He told me that this was the best talk he’d seen in years! That was rather flattering. I received quite a bit of compliments from a wide range of people, so the public reception was phenomenal.

It really did seem like people were able to follow the talk and also learn from the talk, which in my mind makes it a great success. I do admit that a good half of everybody who listened to me was more interested in the talking style than the actual information I was trying to portray, but I certainly think that this technique will influence my future talks given how well it can teach information. But it really was amazing how much a new talking style shook up the community since they saw a new way of presenting information.

I thank you for putting your talks for free online because otherwise I would have never been able to give such a successful physics talk.

Summary: the technique I stole from you works surprisingly well on physicists due to the high rate of information flow and due to the control it gives the speaker over meandering physicist minds.

As to your question — no idea. I’ve only ever been guided by what feels
right. I don’t know exactly why black and white seems less useful today.

Well that’s somewhat unclimatic. It’s wonderful you have a natural instinct in presenting then.

The reason I asked is because you sometimes use background color to grab attention (ie. changing to a white background to grab attention).

April 28, 2008  ·  Lessig

I’ve given now four versions of the lecture launching Change Congress. You can see them all (and more) at the Change Congress channel at blip.tv [change-congress.blip.tv]. Some have asked for the resources to remix (by which I take it they mean, improve on) the message. I’ve very happily now made those resources available here.

On that page you’ll find links to two directories, one related to the April 4 Harvard speech, and the other related to the April 11 UCSB speech. Each folder has a keynote file, a ppt file, an image for each slide, and a zip wrapping up all the images. The page will be fancied up soon enough. Everything is under a CC-BY license. Remix away.

April 28, 2008  ·  Lessig

PFF has launched what they promise to be a “series of papers that will critique Free Culture and the Free Culture Movement.” Their first is a piece by Tom Sydnor II called “Tragedy and Farce: An Analysis of the Book FREE CULTURE.” Calling the book akin to “quasi-socialist utopianism,” the 17 page review is certain to be an interesting read. Someone should add this to the Anti-Lessig Reader.

April 27, 2008  ·  Lessig

Just after the writer’s (and writers’) strike ended, Matt Prager (who worked for 15 years in Hollywood as a writer and executive) sent me this fantastic essay about what was really at stake in the strike (guess…). Here’s the start:

The WGA strike to date has been more or less characterized as a strike over money; most press reports have dealt with negotiation demands like residuals and up-front compensation on internet streams and downloads, jurisdiction over reality and animation, and other such issues. However, the press reports have missed the central, underlying issue of this strike: copyright. This battle is not “poor laborer” versus “greedy company” – everyone in Hollywood is pretty greedy frankly. Rather, in the same way that fiction is the business of Hollywood, so is the entire underpinning of Hollywood built on an enormous fiction. But to understand the fiction, you first need to understand some facts.

Here’s the balance.

April 22, 2008  ·  Lessig

So here’s the last in this series for a while (I’m taking a break off the grid with my family starting next week — Madagascar). This version emphasizes the Framers and “independence.” Suggesting the meme — a new Declaration of Independence.

There’s a YouTube version which is better synced this time.

April 22, 2008  ·  Lessig

Many of you have written about the REDSTATE blog entry, pointing to an excerpt of a talk I gave at Google in which I showed a video by Javier Prato in which Jesus is singing Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive.” The YouTube video makes it seem as if this is all there was in my talk. And so my inbox has been filled with people outraged I would have made such a disrespectful video about Jesus, etc.

This will be obvious to everyone ordinarily here, but for the record:

(1) I did not make the “Jesus Christ: The Musical” video. Javier Prato did.

(2) I used the video in probably 5 or 6 out of 200 talks over the last three years, in the section of my talks in which I show examples of “remix” creativity.

(3) I show these videos not because I endorse the message, or even believe in the message. For example, here‘s a fantastically clever video about John Kerry I showed dozens of times during the 2004 election. It makes fun of Kerry — the man I supported for President. The point was not the substance of the message; it was to demonstrate the spread of the technique.

(4) The Jesus video was relevant to the story I was telling because the artist was threatened by the copyright holders because of the video.

(5) I decided to stop using the video when one Christian whom I knew told me he thought unhelpful to the purpose for which I was using it. That seemed right, so I dropped it.

It will be interesting (in a root canal kind of way) to see how far or deep PC-ism runs in this society.

April 18, 2008  ·  Lessig

I was asked to give some overview testimony at the FCC’s “Network Neutrality” hearing at Stanford yesterday. Here’s the testimony.

One panelist, George Ou, was particularly exercised about what he perceived to be a policy by Free Press and EFF to push for “metered access.” I don’t speak for the Free Press or EFF, but my view is simply that tiered access for consumers does not violate “network neutrality” principles. Obviously I’d prefer a world of flat rate, fast service. And if we actually had any meaningful ISP competition, we might get to that. But the narrow question I’ve addressed here is whether it would violate neutrality principles for ISPs to offer different bandwidth commitments for different prices. I don’t believe it does.

April 16, 2008  ·  Lessig

I grew up in Pennsylvania, and went to university at Penn (as did just about everyone on my Dad’s side of the family). I spent a couple days near where I grew up about three weeks ago, speaking at Penn State and Bucknell, and then travelled to Philadelphia to speak at an Obama event at Penn.

It is surprising how home never quite leaves you, no matter how far away you may be. And so as I saw PA leading up to a primary, I thought about writing a letter. Pennsylvania was the last place where I dreamed about life as Superman (at the age of 7); here’s 9 minutes asking PA Democrats to become super-delegates.

(There’s a version at YouTube, but the quality is astonishingly poor. I don’t get the reason for the difference — it is the same file uploaded in both places. But the sync is way off.)