Friday, February 25, 2011

Nigel Holmes and F.W. de Klerk

Several big names visited Stevenson's campus this week, and I was able to attend presentations by both of them. Wednesday night, "explanation graphics" expert Nigel Holmes spoke by invitation of the SU School of Design. If you're a regular reader of such magazines as TIME and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, you've no doubt seen a number of Nigel's imaginative designs, many of which get across quantitative information in memorable and humorous ways. His talk covered many of his basic principles of composition (including: keep it simple, don't go overboard with color, and try to make people smile) and included a brief history of the development of informative graphic design. (Ever wonder who came up with the idea of those generic human icons that you find adorning bathroom doors, street signs, and other public places? Find out more here.) Nigel also showed us some of his sketches and paintings, plus pages from a children's book that makes full use of a number of his techniques.

I had an ulterior motive for going to Nigel's talk. I do a lot of my lecturing in my Elementary Statistics classes with PowerPoint and wanted to find out how I could make the presentations more, well, sexy. (I suppose that "exciting" is an impossible dream when it comes to PowerPoint, but I can try, right?) I did get some good ideas (not to mention references) from the experience and hope to put them into practice.

Last night, former South African President and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate F.W. de Klerk became the latest notable to speak at the Stevenson-sponsored Baltimore Speaker Series. Nicky and I have gone to a number of these affairs -- including a pre-speech dinner with author David McCullough -- and this was one of the better talks that I can remember. De Klerk was impressive and compelling as he spoke of how South Africa ended apartheid and the lessons that the experience may hold for other nations undergoing dangerous but necessary transformational change (we're looking at you, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, et al.). De Klerk also spoke on campus earlier in the day (while I was teaching, I regret to say), and I hope he got a good turnout. Last night, Baltimore's Meyerhoff Symphony Hall was jammed. Nicky and I remember the very first Speaker Series event we attended, when Jim Lovell was the guest and there were large clusters of empty chairs on the floor of the hall. The BSS has become a popular institution, and next month, the speakers for next year will be announced. Apparently, there have been some complaints that the speakers have been "too political" (though the roster has been ideologically balanced for the most part), so we're expecting a somewhat lighter tone in 2011-2012.

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This news just in from SU: Men's Basketball Coach Brett Adams is stepping down to devote his full energies to his duties as athletic director. The men have just concluded a 6-19 campaign (the girls were 4-21). Not exactly the best way to "protect the new house" at Owings Mills, but I expect that the "rising tide" created by the excitement of the new football program will have a "boat-lifting" effect on many of SU's athletics programs, including hoops. The lax team, which presently needs little leverage, won its first game and is currently ranked #3 in Division III.

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