5 Things I Learned From Organizing a Presentations Workshop

    01 June 2014

    In May 2014, I hosted a 5-week “Learn How to Give Awesome Scientific Presentations” workshop. This case study is a summary of the mistakes I made and the lessons I learned. I hope that if you’ve thought about putting together a workshop, reading this will encourage you to take the leap.

    Give Your Slides a Makeover

    25 May 2014

    This past Thursday was the closing ceremony of the Awesome Presentations Workshop, a 5-week get together where we talked about how to give better presentations. The last session served as an opportunity for the people who attended the workshop to show what they had learned during the previous month. William was one of the people who presented, and he has generously agreed to let me showcase his final presentation, along with one he built before the workshop. They couldn’t be more different.

    Speak to the Newbies When You Present: Sheldon Cooper vs. Brian Greene

    21 April 2014

    Sheldon Cooper and Brian Greene are both theoretical physicists focusing on string theory. Besides the fact that Greene is an actual scientist and Sheldon just plays one on TV, they differ in one important aspect: Greene cares about his audience.

    Compare Sheldon’s condescending glare with Greene’s radiating intent in the video below.

    Vulnerability Kills Robots

    13 April 2014

    Imagine you’re part of the audience attending this presentation:

    Long John Silver acting like a robot

    Hello, the title of my talk is “Modeling Barnacle-Induced Drag on Maritime Vessels Using Computational Fluid Dynamics-based Optimization.”

    I’ll start by giving you an introduction, then I’ll talk about the results of my simulation, and then I’ll talk about future work.

    As you probably know, current antifoulant compounds are unable to prevent the marine propagule attachment. The coefficient that you see in Equation 1 is estimated to be blah, blah, blah…

    The promise of a warm slice of pizza is probably the only thing keeping you in your seat at this point.

    What if the presentation started out like this?

    Long John Silver acting like a human

    You probably never thought about it, but the shipping industry spends 6 billions of dollars every year fighting mussels and barnacles.

    One of the most surprising facts about these creatures is that a healthy colony of barnacles attached to the hull of an ocean liner can cause a drag of up to 60%.

    It gets worse. To compensate for the decrease in speed, fuel consumption must go up by 40%, which increases costs and pollution.

    Today I’m going to tell you about why this happens and what we can do to minimize it.

    A Presentation is an Opportunity to Tell an Awesome Story

    11 April 2014

    I found this old ad the other day, and it reminded me of the way data is traditionally presented in academia.

    eyepatch_ad Eyepatch ads have come a long way

    There’s no story here. How did that guy lose his eye? What is that man inserting into that woman’s face? Why would I need a surgically-implanted magnifying glass?

    Writing Every Day Will Change Your Life

    10 March 2014

    I’ve spent the last 30 days writing at least one hour every day. Want to do the same? Here’s how.

    First, make a public commitment. Decide when you’re going to start writing and how many days you’re going to do it (30 days is a good starting point). Ask your friends to hold you accountable, make a bet with your cousin that you will write every day, post a daily update on your Facebook wall. Do anything to avoid having to answer the most dangerous question of all: “Should I write today?” Pondering this for any amount of time will lead to a thousand perfectly reasonable excuses on why you should skip today. Only the fear of public humiliation will keep you honest.

    Master Your Z Shell with These Outrageously Useful Tips

    11 January 2014

    If you had previously installed Zsh but never got around to exploring all of its magic features, this post is for you.

    If you never thought of using a different shell than the one that came by default when you got your computer, I recommend you go out and check the Z shell. Here are some Linux guides that explain how to install it and set it as your default shell. You probably have Zsh installed you are on a Mac, but there’s nothing like the warm fuzzy feeling of running the latest version (here’s a way to upgrade using Homebrew).

    While you’re at it, you should also get oh-my-zsh, a framework that makes Zsh easier to configure. It’s pretty easy to install, just run this:

    curl -L https://raw.github.com/robbyrussell/oh-my-zsh/master/tools/install.sh | sh
    echo $0
    # if you don't see /bin/zsh you might need
    # to open up a new window, or manually run: zsh

    The Zsh manual is a daunting beast. Just the chapter on expansions has 32 subsections. Forget about memorizing this madness in one sitting. Instead, we’ll focus on understanding a few useful concepts, and referencing the manual for additional help.

    The three main sections of this post are file picking, variable transformations, and magic tabbing. If you’re pressed for time, read the beginning of each one, and come back later to soak up the details (make sure you stick around for the bonus tips at the end).

    What it Takes to Give a Great Presentation

    07 December 2013

    A talk is an opportunity to share an idea with your audience. If the audience gets lost, bored, or overwhelmed, the idea doesn’t get shared. To give a great presentation you must condense the fog that surrounds your idea, craft a compelling narrative around it, illustrate it visually, and care enough to guide the audience every step of the way.

    A Hacker's Approach to Understanding French Spelling

    14 November 2013


    Non-native French speakers like myself have a hard time grappling with the French spelling system. It may seem arbitrary to write seconde and pronounce it segond, or frustrating that there is no rule to define why déçu has an accent on the e, but reçu doesn’t.

    C'est la vie, mon ami.— say the French

    Now that I live in French Guiana, I am trying to come up with strategies to make these words easier to learn.

    What I Learned from 30-Days of Blogging

    08 October 2013

    sacrifice Art by Sean Wes

    One month ago, I decided to start blogging once a day, for 30 days. Here are some of the tips that helped me reach post #30 in one piece. I hope you will use them to start your own 30-day challenge.