Dabbling with the Future: A Slideshow of My Latest Talk

By Carl Zimmer | November 14, 2008 4:59 pm

I just spoke yesterday about Microcosm, and brought a little recorder with me. This afternoon I fooled around with Soundslide and my Powerpoint, and produced this video. This is a format I’d like to experiment with more on this blog, so I’d be grateful if people would take a gander and offer their thoughts. The sound is a little scratchy (and a nearby fire company tested out their siren just as I was starting my talk), but all in all it should be easy listening.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Microcosm: The Book, Talks

Comments (10)

  1. Scott Belyea

    “take a gander and offer their thoughts”

    Well, since you ask!

    Sound quality doesn’t bother me. It’s fine.

    What follows are thoughts on a couple of habits or verbal tics which are worth working on, but which seem to me to be much more intrusive on playback than they would be live. (I think I’ve seen at least one study which backs this up, but I can’t find it.)

    You have a bit of a tendency to signal the beginning of a section or a paragraph with “Um … ah …” as a sort of “holding action.” Or perhaps it’s a fear of a couple of seconds of dead air. I’ve found it helpful to deliberately pause and say nothing at all between sections. Take a breath or two.

    Also, quite a number of sentences begin with “So …”. Some listeners aren’t sensitive to verbal tics such as this … but some are.

    Based on my own experience, folks listening to a talk live typically rate the quality/coherence/smoothness higher than those listening to a recording of the exact same talk.

    Mind you, interesting content helps! And all I’m doing is to suggest a couple of things to help move the recording up from the merely excellent to the nearly perfect. :-)

  2. I think when you show the photograph of Shrodinger, you could make a side-comment about his hair, and that missing cat. I’m fairly confident that the cat could be hiding up there.

  3. Carl- This looks and sounds great. I’ve been meaning to find an application to do this. I’ve been recording the audio of many of my lectures, and want to sync it to powerpoint slides. Would you recommend Soundslide?

  4. Soundslide ( http://soundslides.com/ ) is pretty good so far. Adjusting slide duration takes some getting used to. You have to upload the whole file onto your own web site, and then go to the soundslide site to get embed code. But the quality is much better than YouTube, etc.

  5. Hi Carl,
    It is interesting to see you do this. Our university has invested in some high-tech approaches to recording lectures and has been advertising training sessions, when I always thought that publishing a lecture like this isn’t rocket science and should be quite straightforward.

    However, if you were one of my students, I would give a couple of metaphorical slaps on the wrist. In the first couple of minutes you say “a bacteria”, which is a grammatical howler—it’s “a bacterium” or “several bacteria”. For an old pedant like me (but I am not alone) hearing “a bacteria” or “a flagella” or seeing “flagella” (plural of the noun) when someone means “flagellar” (the adjective) all evoke a wince, similar to that produced in response to the screech of chalk dragged across a blackboard.

    Similarly, throughout your talk, and on the cover of your book, you use the Linnaean Latin binomial “E. coli” without italicizing it. As with the grammatical howlers, this doesn’t influence the ability of the reader to infer what you mean, but for any professional biologist it jumps out as an error and does influence the overall impression you give. It is perhaps equivalent to someone addressing a letter to you as “Karl Zimmar”–you know exactly what is meant, but it jars!

    Another problem is that you use a lot of images without crediting their creators, let alone seeking permission. In particular, I was rather shocked to see an image of a type III secretion system that was created by my student Chris Bailey. Now, I would be a hypocrite to say that I do not ever borrow images gleaned from the net in my own Powerpoint presentations, whether for research presentations or teaching. But I think one can cut allow a little latitude if the talk is not actually published and remains something ephemeral.

    But once you publish it on the web, this makes manifest the whole issue of copyright theft. Again, the era of YouTube and BitTorrent, I am probable rather old fashioned in worrying about such things, but the advice I would give to one of my students is always to credit the source.

    But, aside from all this pedantry, I think you have done an excellent job here and in the book in making the many facets of E. coli the model organism accessible to a general audience! Keep up the good work!

  6. I meant “in the era of YouTube…”

  7. Hummph! Poet justice for my nit-picking. Just noticed that Nick Loman and I are referenced in this article
    as Loman and Pellen (2008)!

  8. Kevin Penner

    Scott, most people begin a sentence with “So …” when they mean “In that case, …” but I’ve noticed that science research people start sentences with “So …” for no apparent reason a lot of the time! (Must be part of their training, or their sub-culture.) I listen to “Quirks and Quarks” (CBC science radio program/podcast) regularly and I hear it all the time.

  9. Jim

    It’s uncanny that I stumbled on this page in a web search for “start sentences with SO”. I was looking to see if anyone else noticed this scientists’ speech oddity, and the narrowing-down power of the WWW came through.

    On NPR’s Science Friday radio show, a consistent number of scientists do the “so” thing. The host (usually Ira Flatow) will ask them a question but they answer as if they were merely interrupted during a stream of consciousness. It comes off as not an answer to the host’s question, but a response with the feeling of “so, as I was saying before I was cut off…”

    What is it about science that would make this manner of speaking more common than other professions? It’s usually coming from people doing cutting edge research.


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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


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