After the Deluge

Didn’t it rain, children
Talk ’bout rain, oh, my Lord
Didn’t it, didn’t it, didn’t it oh my Lord
Didn’t it rain?

(Song by Mahalia Jackson)

The north of England has been battered by heavy rain for several weeks now. Cumbria being particularly badly hit before Christmas with repeated floods. Then on Boxing Day it was the turn of Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Although we got off lightly compared to places like York, Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd on the other side of the Pennines and Ribchester, Whalley and Croston over here, the River Douglas and othe watercourses in Wigan burst their banks. The flood defences on the Dougie, a dam built upstream of the town centre, were overwhelmed – water can be seen running over the top of the dam in the following picture.

It happened so quickly. I’d popped out to Tesco’s and took the path down by the river and could see that the river was running high. When I came out again a few minutes later it had overflowed and was beginning to submerge the path. The shortest route home was blocked by flood water.

For the rest of the day the news was dominated about the effects of the deluge on the north of England, with local reports of houses and shops flooded and roads closed. But the next day the clouds had cleared and I woke to blue skies. Feeling in need of some exercise after indulging ourselves for a few days we decided to go out for a walk so laced up our boots and set out towards the Plantations.

The flood waters had receded and although the Dougie was full and flowing fast, we were able to walk along the path towards the dam. It was now holding back the water, forming a lake up the valley. “Look out for the Loch Whelley Monster” shouted out a passer by walking his dog

The bridge over the Yellow Brook and the main path up through the Lower Plantations were submerged

So we took the rather muddy path through the woods on the hill above the brook, crossing higher up the valley.

The rest of the route was generally fine, if a little muddier than usual.

We headed up through the Plantations, crossing the canal

and headed up past Haigh Hall

Stopping at the stables cafe to buy some drinks, we continued along past the car park and then down Sennicar Lane

back towards the canal and Leyland Mill. Then back home for coffee and stroopwafels which we’d bought on Manchester Christmas Market a couple of weeks ago – bringing back memories of our short holiday in Amsterdam in August.

With more rain to come over the next few days, memories of Christmas and New year are not going to be so pleasant for many people in th eNorth of England.

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Communicating Science

I spent last week in Ireland. The main purpose of my visit was to attend the annual conference of the Occupational Hygiene Society of Ireland in Portlaoise.  (If you don’t know what occupational hygiene is see here). The theme of the Conference was “How well do we communicate” and one of the highlights was the talk by Fergus McAuliffe, an Environmental Scientist from University College Cork.  Fergus won the International  “Fame Lab” competition last year and was a speaker at the TEDX Ireland conference in Dublin.

His talk was about communicating science, with particular reference to presentations. The key points were :

  • Don’t try to cover too much
  • Use appropriate language for the target audience – “word down” (i.e. use simple language)
  • Use a logical structure
  • Use Powerpoint wisely – concentrate on good quality visuals
  • Deliver with passion – people remember what they feel

Although his talk was aimed at “scientists” his advice could equally apply to other contexts – including art. I’ve seen quite a few “artists statements” and descriptions or critiques of works of art where I can’t understand what the speaker or author is going on about!

A fresh approach to presentation design

I  recently came across a slide deck posted on Slideshare by Chris Atherton. She’s a psychologist and used to be a Senior Lecturer (formerly Lecturer) in Psychology at the University of Central Lancashire. She’s now working as a User Experience Architect for Numiko ltd

The slides are from a presentation Chris made in April at the Leeds Bettakultcha. According to their website this is:

an evening of short talks accompanied by digital slide presentations. The presenters are all volunteers who have based their talk around something that they are passionate about – which can be absolutely anything.

The format of Bettakultcha talks is 20 slides for 15 seconds each (they transition automatically), and you can talk about anything you want. Chris chose to talk about (what else) psychology.

Too many people use Powerpoint in a bad way – either creating an outline or using it as a script. In either case that results in badly designed, over wordy slides. The slides for a “lecture” type presentation should be visual aids to supplement what the presenter is saying, not to reproduce the talk or act as a teleprompter. They should be visual with minimal words that add to what the speaker is saying. Now this means that if the slides are posted onto Slideshare , where the speaker isn’t present, the slide deck can look pretty meaningless. Chris has got over the problem by annotating the slides with a summary of what she said. The annotations on the slides were added afterwards  so that they make sense to the viewer. They weren’t present on the originals. I’ve noticed that a few people have started to do this and it’s a technique that I’ve started to use with presentations related to my work that I’ve uploaded to Slideshare.

She hasn’t used Powerpoint – she’s tried something quite different. The slides are hand drawn on an iPad using the Paper”. It’s a, fresh, original approach. You’d have to be reasonably good at drawing to use it, though.

As there seems to have been some problems with Slideshare embeds lately, the link to the presentation on the Slideshare website is:

http://www.slideshare.net/CJAtherton/chris-atherton-at-bettakultcha-leeds

As well as showing a fresh, innovative approach to slide design, I think that this presentation is a really good example  of how to get a technical topic across to a lay audience in a limited time with well designed slides!