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September 12, 2007 - Image 11

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2007-09-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.


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Postcard from New York:
A Midwesterner on the subways

y suburban Chicago childhood did
-not involve much mass transporta-
tion. Most of my travel experience
involves the back seat of a caravan. I'm not
sure I ever took a bus, except to junior high
school, and that hardly counts. I rode the El
exactly two times, both 20-minute trips to
Wrigley Field, and I sometimes caught a com-
muter train downtown, but it was a smooth
ride populated by men with briefcases. The
only sound was the rustling of Chicago Tri-
bunes. It smelled like soap.
These experiences did not at all prepare
me for the New York City subways, which I
had always imagined as grimy tunnels full of
blight. This summer, I found out that I was
mostly right.
For three months, as areportingintern for
one of the city's dailies, I rode the uptown 1
to Washington Heights, the Queens bound
7, the D to the Bronx, the shuttle train
between Grand Central and Times Square,
the downtown 5 to catch the Staten Island
Ferry as well as dozens and dozens of other
The most surprising thing about the sub-
ways is how safe they are. At the beginning
of the summer, I was baffled by the number
of small children I spotted. Any parent who
brings their infant into this subterranean
horror film set should be forced to put the
child up for adoption, I reasoned. It turns

out I was wrong. New York Police Depart-
ment records show that you only have a
1-in-714,000 chance of being a victim of a
crime on the subways. There were only a
few murders on the subways last year. That
may seem like a lot to a Midwesterner, but
it's not when you consider that 4.9 million
Exploring the peculiar
subterranean world of
people ride them each weekday.
The New York subway system may also be
one of the most diverse places on earth.A trip
on the D train from Coney Island through
Manhattan all the way to 205th Street in the
Bronx reveals more nationalities, creeds and
colors than pro-affirmative action Univer-
sity of Michigan administrators could ever
dream of.
The system has its fair share of problems.
More often than you might imagine, I spot-
ted pools of blood on the tracks, fresh from
the suicides of people who likely could not
bear the thick humidity of the underground

platforms for another moment. The stations
are filthy and routinely smell of urine, feces
and spoiled meat. There's a lot of inappropri-
ate oogling and brushingup against and even
indecent exposure.
By the end of the summer, I felt like a bona
fide straphanger, though I knew the 87-year-
old woman standing next to me drinking a
cup of coffee and reading the New York Post
without losing balance as the cars lurched
around a dark turn would not consider me
I once rode anA train fromPenn Stationto
the end of the line, Far Rockaway, Brooklyn,
which is only on the standard subway map
by virtue of an inset. The trip took me almost
two hours.
I sat and read the paper and watched peo-
ple come and go, lugging paintings and FAO
Schwartz bags and beach chairs and stuffed
suitcases. I watched the beggars and sales-
men filter in and out of the car. Two teenagers
announced that they were selling M&M's for
their baseball team, which made me wonder
for the 20th time that summer whether any
of them were raising money for Little League
or actually avoiding a summer job flipping
burgers. A middle-aged man with bright eyes
got on and sang a song he had written about
Jesus. Afterward, he asked for donations. "A
scrap of food or something to drink would
be much appreciated," he said as the sun lin-

gered over the Empire State Building behind
him. No one gave him anything. "God bless
you anyway," he said. We had been blessed.
We traveled on.
When I arrived, my editor told me we
were abandoning the story, and I got on the
next train back to Manhattan.
Underneath Brooklyn, a man hawked ille-
gal DVDs. "Your favorite boy wizard in the
most compelling installment yet," his deep
voice boomed. "That wacky donkey, prin-
cess and ogre are back at it again in Shrek
the Third. And you can own it for only $5.
Or how about something for your husband?
That renegade cop John McClane saving the
world from criminals. Three for $10!" No one
bought anything from him either.
Then a pair of men set up a boom box in
the aisle. "Own this collection of Bob Mar-
ley's greatest hits," one said. "Only $3 for 17
songs." The woman to my left frowned and
buried her head ina Spanish-language news-
paper as the man to my right reached for his
wallet. One of the salesmen switched on the
boom box. I still had an hour left on the train,
and I was out of reading material. The only
thing to do was to sit back and listen. The
opening chords of "Redemption Song" filled
the car.
-Karl Stampfl is the editor in
chief of The Michigan Daily.

Cont'd: Why your English presentation sounds like a sales pitch

wouldn't have fit on one line.
More important, Tufte argues that the
hierarchical setup of bullet points hid
important details from view. Larger bullets
gave overviews of problems, while only the
smaller, indented ones expressed dangers
and doubts. And people viewing slideshows
generally assume that smaller, lower-level
bullet points are less important.
"Information was lost as it traveled up the
hierarchy," said a 2005 NASA report about
the Columbia disaster. "It is easy to under-
stand how a senior manager might read
this PowerPoint slide and not realize that it
addresses a life-threatening situation."
When Al Gore made the rounds with
his PowerPoint presentation he called "An
Inconvenient Truth," was eventually made
into a blockbusterPowerPoint movie, he con-
verted a lot of people to his cause. Somehow
even watching the famously dour Al Gore
clicking through slides is a lot more interest-
ing than watching a professor use the same

A big risk associated with PowerPoint use
is it becomes a replacement for thinking and
explaining ideas to others. Instead of being
the shining result of years of reflection and
stewing, as Gore's presentation was, profes-
sors' presentations can be droll and confus-
That's most obvious when presenters load
up slides with paragraph upon paragraph of
information and then read them to the audi-
"That's a no-no," Fishman said. "Use it as a
complement to what you're saying."
Fishman says it's not so much that Power-
Point creates boring lectures but that boring
lecturers use it. In September 2003 in Wired
magazine, Tufte arguing that presentations
given with PowerPoint are more sales pitch-
es than information sessions. He complained
that slideshows often have more visual con-
tent than informational content.
"If your words or images are not on point,
making them dance in color won't make
them relevant," he wrote. "Audience bore-
dom is usually a content failure, not a deco-
ration failure."
As much as PowerPoint is a crutch for lazy
instructors, it can also be a crutch for lazy
students. Though somesay PowerPoint is an

invaluable tool for jogging memories of the
lecture, with lecture slides often available
online, some students rely on PowerPoint
presentations more than the actual class.
Can great oration and
PowerPoint go
Sleep through lecture? Download the slides,
and the entire lesson is before you in PDF
form. And with some professors using the
new technology to make lecture slides avail-
able before classes, paying attention during
class has become outdated.
This is hardly a new dilemma. Microsoft
first released PowerPoint in 1987, albeit only
in black and white, and this summer marked
two decades of people making electronic
slideshows. During that time, scores of other
similar programs have popped up, including

Apple's popular Keynote. Making slick-look-
ing presentations has never been easier
Even before personal computers, slide-
shows existed in boardrooms in a low-tech
version. Graphic designers sketched graphs,
data and sentences onto 35mm slides that were
displayed using mechanical slide viewers that
went "cuh-click" as they advanced the images.
There are limits to technology, though.
O'Donnell said he wishes the old-fashioned
chalkboards were more prevalent around
campus. In many classrooms, they've been
covered or removed to make space for pro-
jector screens.
Sometimes, O'Donnell takes a portable
chalkboard to lectures with him, alongside
his PowerPoint slides.
The question remains, is PowerPoint a bad
"That's an unanswerable question," Fish-
man said. "Technology isn't good or bad - it
depends on how people use it."
One thing's for certain. Slideshows aren't
going away. Dull lecturers will continue to
read paragraphs off slides, students will use
PowerPoint files in lieu of listening to lec-
tures, and important details might just get
lost to indented bullets, but at least it will be
fun to watch.

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