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This semester, we’ve been tak­ing a course called “Algorithmic Game The­ory”, which is the broad area that my thes­is top­ic belongs in. Although Tasos is the course coordin­at­or, and lec­tured the first couple of lec­tures, the bulk of the “lec­tur­ing” has fallen to the stu­dents in the course.

Last week was my turn, and I did my talk on evol­u­tion­ary game the­ory. I had been inter­ested in that ever since I read Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene, where he makes use of evol­u­tion­ary game the­ory, albeit in a non-math­em­at­ic­al way, to explain his ideas for the evol­u­tion of genes. In a nut­shell, evol­u­tion­ary game the­ory allows you look at the evol­u­tion of strategies/​genes/​behaviours in a large pop­u­la­tion of organ­isms. For example, can a mutant gene over­take an incum­bent gene? See the link before for more inform­a­tion, or read my lec­ture slides: evolutionary.pptx, evolutionary.pdf.

Now, onto the second half of the post’s title: why I’d hes­it­ate to use Power­Point again. I’ll begin with a cla­ri­fic­a­tion: why I’d hes­it­ate to use Power­Point again where I need to use equa­tions at all. (If you’re an Open­Of­fice fan and you’re begin­ning to smirk, here’s some­thing to wipe your smirk off: Open­Of­fice Impress fails to impress me even more dra­mat­ic­ally. Sorry.)

I’ve been using LaTeX with Beam­er for my present­a­tions this year, and I’ve had a good exper­i­ence with it so far. Why did I use Power­Point? Mainly because I haven’t used Power­Point 2007 for any real pur­pose so far, and secondly, because I saw that Word 2007 had a new flashy equa­tion edit­or that’s kind of nice. It was a bit of a dis­ap­point­ment for me when I had fin­ished writ­ing all the slides with no maths to find that Power­Point some­how failed to inher­it this. Back to old Equa­tion Edit­or. I hate it, so I took to doing the equa­tions in Word and then copy­ing them over as pic­tures. The main prob­lem with all this is that, for a math­em­at­ic­al present­a­tion, equa­tions should not be treated as pic­tures. Power­Point and Open­Of­fice both lack the abil­ity to insert equa­tions as inline text, and that frus­trates me to no end. Anoth­er minor little gripe is that there’s no in-built way to have nav­ig­a­tion bars like you do in Beam­er.

The shock­ing thing is that most lec­tur­ers in aca­demia, such as the School of IT, con­tin­ue to use Power­Point even though the set of tools it provides for tech­nic­al present­a­tions is min­im­al. (If you’re doing a sales pitch with pie charts and dot points, it’s fine.) Unfor­tu­nately, this just means there’s little incent­ive for Microsoft to go and improve the tools for this import­ant mar­ket seg­ment.

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A couple of weeks ago, I presen­ted at the Algorithms Read­ing Group two papers that I had pre­vi­ously read for my hon­ours work. The first week, I presen­ted How Bad is Selfish Rout­ing? (Roughgarden and Tar­dos), and that attempt was … let’s just say that there was (sub­stan­tial) room for improve­ment in the present­a­tion style. Sev­er­al points to take away:

  • Slides don’t really help in present­ing a paper: the mode of deliv­ery of a paper is neces­sar­ily dif­fer­ent to that of a lec­ture. It’s much more dense, and the bite-sized chunks that slides give you don’t do justice to the mater­i­al in the paper, and in fact, make it harder to fol­low. For example, defin­i­tions are great, but when taken off the page and onto sev­er­al slides-worth of defin­i­tions, your eyes do glaze over.
  • Sleep is use­ful: nev­er present after get­ting very little sleep
  • Know the details very well: you might think you know the paper well, but when present­ing a paper, you need to know how each part can be obtained with pre­ci­sion. People will ask you things you’ve nev­er thought about. It’s often stated that you only know some­thing well when you can teach it. Corol­lary: prac­tise present­a­tions before giv­ing them.

Over­all, it was a good first attempt. I’m quite proud of the slides still, and they might be use­ful for someone start­ing out in this area: they can be down­loaded here (handout). This was my first attempt at using the LaTeX Beam­er class, and I must say that I’m now a con­vert. Power­Point has its uses still, but def­in­itely not for very tech­nic­al talks.*

The second attempt was far bet­ter. This was present­ing The Price of Rout­ing Unsplit­table Flow (Awer­buch, Azar and Epstein), and I did the entire thing with a white­board and a mark­er… and I rehearsed it with Tasos. I walked into it feel­ing more con­fid­ent, and I felt that the audi­ence walked out of it with a good under­stand­ing of the paper’s con­tents.

For anoth­er hon­ours-related mor­al: Don’t edit your work after you’ve writ­ten it. Just hand it in. Bizarre? Well, it turned out that while edit­ing the Research Approach doc­u­ment after dis­cuss­ing it with my super­visor, I acci­dent­ally deleted half of a sen­tence and didn’t real­ise it. The mark­er adjus­ted the mark accord­ingly. Fine, to be fair, it should be: Don’t edit your work when you’re half asleep. The mis­take is now cor­rec­ted.

* I recently got Math­em­at­ica 6, and there’s a new slide show view — so that might be a good way to go for those who don’t like typ­ing LaTeX code. As an aside, I’m quite impressed with the new visu­al­isa­tion cap­ab­il­it­ies of Math­em­at­ica 6, and I’ll be sure to use it in my work.

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