Must we Jiggle? Really?

I am astonished and depressed that it has come to this

In the modern world, we can so easily think of technology as ever advancing, ever improving, ever solving. Unless you are a Windows user, of course, then you have seen things go backwards. Like when Microsoft removed the ability to provide individual labels to data points on a graph in Excel. That was really stupid.

One of the Great Leaps Backwards was the invention of laptops hooked to projectors to show slides on a screen. In theory, this is a great leap forward, but in practice, it is clearly not. By using this technology rather than chalk or overheads, it is not possible to guarantee that at a major conference a certain number of talks will happen without the planned presentation because something went wrong technically.

One of my favorite examples of that is when a colleague gave an excellent talk on evolution to a group of science teachers. The talk seemed in some ways extemporaneous, but at the same time very well organized. During the talk, my colleague gave the same list of points twice … once as an overview, then as the body of his talk. He reversed the order of two of them. This was a clue to something, and it turned out that not only did he have significant medical issue which required emergency surgery immediately after the talk, but his Windows computer had eaten his power point, and he was giving the presentation on the fly. About birds, though, not flies. (See: Biology Will Never Be the Same Again: Scott Lanyon.)

Anyway, one of the problems with this sort of technology is this: If you are lucky enough to get the damn machines and software working to begin with (which, by the way, is never a problem with Linux … it just works) then during the presentation, if certain things happen, the machine may shut down, go to sleep, switch to screen saver, or whatever.

There are two solutions to this problem that don’t involve simply designing better technology: A physical device that acts like a jittery mouse moving the mouse cursor a pixel or two every now and then; and a software device that, well, acts like a jittery mouse moving the mouse cursor a pixel or two every now and then.

To get the software in Linux, do this:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:caffeine-developers/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install caffeine

(Hat Tip: Dirk Elmendorf of Linux Journal.

To get the software in other operating systems (it runs on a Mac or on Windows) do whatever it is you do to get software.

Information on the hardware device, if you prefer that, is here.

Comments

  1. #1 dean
    July 7, 2010

    “Like when Microsoft removed the ability to provide individual labels to data points on a graph in Excel. That was really stupid.”

    As is their continued lack of action on repairing the problems with the statistical analysis tools in Excel. It does some things well, but statistical analysis in general is not one of them.

  2. #2 Jared
    July 7, 2010

    Or you can always just change the settings for the screen saver and power options…

    Thirty seconds and about eight mouse clicks. Far less if you set up a power and display profile in Windows (something Linux really needs). Quick configurations like “presentation,” “powersave,” and “movie” are really useful to quickly switch between screen saver and display settings

  3. #3 JohnV
    July 7, 2010

    My laptop has a predefined “presentation” power profile that I believe even automatically kicks in if you hook up a projector.

    It seems Dell at least figured that the complete and total technological illiteracy could be partially countered on their end :p

  4. #4 jake
    July 7, 2010

    If you must use a windows machine for a presentation, but would rather avoid powerpoint, try saving your file as a PDF. A lot of projector remotes work with Adobe Reader (maybe others? I like Pdf-Xchange viewer), allowing you to advance pages of the PDF the same way you advance slides.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2010

    Or you can always just change the settings for the screen saver and power options…

    Not really, or at least, not without being rude. (I’m thinking of when one is using a computer that is there when you get there, which is normal for conferences these days).

    But that is a good point: If you are the person setting up a computer for other people to run their presentations on, do set the settings appropriately for the task!!!!

  6. #6 D. C. Sessions
    July 7, 2010

    Greg, this is the perfect lead to some personal history (with a punchline, BTW.)

    I spent eight years chairing a JEDEC committee [1]. We went from using overhead projectors to a shared display projector in that time, but the basics remained the same: in order to present, you had to provide copies of your presentation to the committee. Since we had up to 150 members present, that was a lot of dead trees. A common problem was with members who didn’t have the copies available at showtime and got by with IOUs, which sometimes never turned up.

    Another problem was that inevitably we spent several minutes on each presentation juggling the projector controls to someone else’s laptop. When you have 150 people spending five days from 0800 to 1700 with an hour for lunch in a meeting, that’s some damned expensive fumbling.

    This shit was serious — you can look up how much part the minutes from JC-42 played in the Rambus litigation. There were literally billions at stake.

    When we switched to electronic distribution, we had the same issue. Partly from discovering how nonportable PowerPoint was, we insisted on PDF display copies. Of course, we still had IOUs. Along come one meeting in Vancouver (2002) our electronic support was on a FedEx truck halfway across Alberta when it was supposed to be arriving by air and we were stuck — so I volunteered my Linux laptop to stand in. Nothing special: I just installed an FTP server and set it up to run a rented projector.

    The new, on the spot, rule was that if you wanted to present, you uploaded the PDF to the “server” (my laptop) and I’d show it direct from there. No fumbling: if the files aren’t ready, you give up your spot in the queue. Worked beautifully, and the following meeting we had a dedicated laptop instead. Stayed that way for years.

    Funny how radical that approach to showing presentations still seems.

    As for what happens when the mouse doesn’t jiggle, well … I just turned off the screen timeout. Not a big deal. I learned that one from a working group meeting where we were figuring out the electrical specs for DDR2. I was chairing it and had a spreadsheet up on screen with all of the magic numbers and a bunch of calculations. The other engineers (about thirty) were hot and heavy doing tradeoffs between desired performance, system characteristics, and what the memory technology could support. Good times. We took off into a side discussion of some sort, and suddenly the display goes over to BSOD. Audible groan from all over the room: we didn’t have time before most of those present had to catch flights to do it over again.

    So I hit the <Ctrl> key and typed in my password and the spreadsheet was up. Then I changed my screensaver.

    [1] Yes, you can blame me for some of the DDR* stuff.

  7. #7 JBC
    July 7, 2010

    Changing the screensaver settings is more rude than downloading a program that will jiggle the cursor? Okay…

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2010

    JBC: No,I was thinking of the USB device for that purpose. (Just don’t forget to take it with you)

    The software giggler is a one-touch solution for one’s own computer.

  9. #9 DuWayne
    July 7, 2010

    Ok, believe me when I say that I am not at all keen on fucking windows. I hates it, HATES IT!!!11!!!1! As soon as I can afford to have this laptop down for several hours, I am going to gut windows (leaving the reset to factory partition) and install linux. I had to get a new laptop when the last one completely crapped on me and may hate windows 7 more than vista.

    But I have never had problems with power point presentations and windows. It takes all of twenty seconds to input a new, temp power plan, if the host’s computer doesn’t have it set properly already – less time to switch it back. And the last presentation I did, I just plugged the projector into my own damned computer.* That took even less time, because all I had to do was pull the USB out of the school computer and plug it into mine.

    That said, I am kind of disturbed by the notion that one would need a special command line to avoid this problem with linux. I rather appreciate having the easy ability to take seconds to set programs to stave off screen saver (or in my case, with my hatred of screen savers, standby the monitor). I like that my computer doesn’t ever shut down the monitor when any sort of “viewer” is running.

    D.C. Sessions –

    Realizing that I had forgotten my drive early enough, I downloaded the driver for the projector before I was slated to go. It helped that the driver was available on the school server, so it was being downloaded directly through the wireless network, rather than the internet. But it really was rather simple. I also considered emailing it to myself, but then I would have had to log myself into the computer we were using.

    That would not, of course, work with such a large number of presenters. Being a rather cantankerous young person, I would not be particularly patient with such a clusterfuck.

    I am curious though, how one can do slides from PDF, I may have to look into that. Mainly because PP gives me a rash.

    *because like a complete dumbass, I forgot my bloody damned portable external drive that had my PP on it

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2010

    I am kind of disturbed by the notion that one would need a special command line to avoid this problem with linux.

    Well, you don’t. Both the software and hardware items noted in this post were designed for windows (and the software bit later ported to Linux).

    But I must say, changing the power settings on someones computer for 20 seconds at the start of a presentation is not an acceptable option. Nor is having a fake mouse that jiggles. That being, in fact, the point of this post!!!!

  11. #11 John S. Wilkins
    July 7, 2010

    Or, you could bring your own laptop (I bring my Macbook Pro, although like you I always have access to PDFs in case) which is incompatible with the Windows 97 PC and Office install at the venue, just so that you have to connect your own customised machine. My Mac has never failed in a presentation, and I get to use both Keynote (yay!) and Quicktime transitions that make everyone gasp. That way, they don’t pay attention to the talk, and I get away with it.

    Possibly you could do this with a Linux install too (I have Ubuntu on my Macbook Pro if needed).

  12. #12 DuWayne
    July 7, 2010

    But I must say, changing the power settings on someones computer for 20 seconds at the start of a presentation is not an acceptable option.

    Not for, in 20 seconds and why would that not be an acceptable option? If they expect me to use their computer for a PP presentation, then I am damned well going to make sure it isn’t going to muck up on me. When you’re done, it takes even less time to delete the temporary power plan and it is back to where they had it before.

    Not that this has ever been a problem for me. The computers connected to the projectors at school are already set up not to fuck up. And on the not inconceivable chance that the computer crashes, I am now capable of saving the day with my laptop. When I go to linux, it will be no problem, because there is a driver for linux too – has to be, as the behind the scenes network is apparently linux based.

    If I were running on linux now, I would actually have access to far more cool shit at school. The network admin has done some really spiffy shit with Moodle and some Moodle tools that don’t functionally integrate with windows computers. He basically made it possible to search our database subscriptions directly through Moodle and to access our server storage through Moodle.

  13. #13 D. C. Sessions
    July 7, 2010

    I am curious though, how one can do slides from PDF, I may have to look into that. Mainly because PP gives me a rash.

    OpenOffice: it’s a single button push. Seriously.

    As for the Linux conversion, I owe you anyway. You (or at least Juniper) have my contact info and if it’ll help anyway I’ll be glad to do some remote tech assistance. After three kids in out-of-state schools I have experience in the field :-)

  14. #14 D. C. Sessions
    July 7, 2010

    That would not, of course, work with such a large number of presenters. Being a rather cantankerous young person, I would not be particularly patient with such a clusterfuck.

    Actually, those meetings were remarkably rewarding. It might sound like a Charlie Foxtrot, but there are a bunch of frighteningly sharp people there who are extremely focused on a common, quite challenging, goal. Chairing something that big and keeping it moving along was a huge dopamine rush.

    Our 1800 meeting cutoff time was instituted because we have a bad tendency to get wound up in the work and keep going into the night. It’s not wise, so we made rules against our own inclinations. Being your own adult has its liabilities.

Current ye@r *