26 August 2010

More power! The poster with a plug

One of the most unusual posters I saw at the International Congress of Neuroethology meeting in August was this one, being presented by Yossi Yovel:

You might not immediately recognize what’s different about this poster. Title, data, and boxes, the omnipresent boxes... It is mounted a little low. And some might recognized that the story has already been published, which is slightly unusual for a conference poster.

Allow me to point out...

The video screen.

That’s right, they were showing video of their bats behaving on their poster. This took some work. They found a cheap, small portable television, and they had to make a fairly complex set of adjustable metal braces, to allow for the fact that they didn’t know the size of the poster board. You need to be close to a power outlet, as you can see in this “behind the curtain” shot:

It seems a much more elegant solution than trying to find some space to hold up a laptop screen to someone. I got wondering if there was a simpler way to do this, and I thought of this.

  1. Go online and buy some cheap second hand portable media player. There are lots that play video. An iPod nano, a Sansa, iRiver...
  2. Transfer the videos over.
  3. Add simple directions to the poster to the poster for how to see the video.
  4. Attach the player to your poster with some double sided mounting tape or something similar.


Yovel Y, Falk B, Moss CF, Ulanovsky N. 2010. Optimal Localization by Pointing Off Axis. Science 327(5966): 701-704. http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1183310

21 August 2010

Academics and typefaces

Head over and see what Gripping Cell has to say on the subject. Hat tip to Biochembelle.

20 August 2010

Type crimes: Double feature

Yet again, proximity matters.

Photo by Wendie Lather on Facebook.

Additional: Oh dear. It’s a trend.

19 August 2010

Anything free is worth what you paid for it


The lure is strong, isn't it?

Dan Ariely has written about how "Free!" tugs hard on our decision making. We are overly likely to be lure in by the promise of anything free, even if it ends up costing you in the long run.

There are many free typefaces on the web. And you also get free fonts with some software packages, and most notably when you buy a new operating system. "It came with the system" is probably why Comic Sans became the cane toad of typefaces.

Font Feed discusses just how good free fonts are. The one point that I think is the most serious for academics making conference posters is number of characters:

Free and shareware fonts however are often restricted to the standard 26 letters of the alphabet, figures, and only the bare minimum of punctuation marks. It is quite common that suddenly you realise you can’t type that French name or that German idiom, nor put a ® next to a brand name nor a € next to a price, or that some punctuation mark is missing.

Or, if you're a scientist, put up that measurement in micrometers.

Caveat emptor!

Related posts

Incredible Presentations – Awesome Font Resources: SlideRocket post that covers both free and commerical sites.

Free fonts
Critique: RNAi and hepatitis C


Picture by Lothann on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license. Yes, for free.

12 August 2010

Digital disasters

Michele Sullivan is a poster evangelist. She has a brilliant discussion of the joys of poster sessions:

Here are scientists just being themselves – taking pictures of friends proudly displaying their “babies,” unconcerned about microphones or accents, uninhibited by the formality of speaking before a crowd, congratulating the sharp conclusion, questioning the flawed method, pushing for the truth.

...and a much needed check on an experimental format: the digital poster session.

In almost 10 years of medical reporting, this is the first 100% digital poster session I’ve attended, and I have to say it was a sad sight.

This is the second time I’ve heard about a digital poster session. The first was from two colleagues in my department, who went to a small regional meeting (that shall remain nameless) earlier this year.

It was a disaster.

The were too many organizational problems in the set-up of the digital poster session to list, so I’ll just name one. The projector they used to show the posters was apparently not very good, and they projected on a wall rather than a screen, rendering almost everything unreadable. Nobody showed up for either the viewing or to answer questions.

Both my colleagues said it wasn’t worth their time.

I’m all in favour of innovation, but digital poster sessions need much more thought and tweaking before they can replace the traditional poster sessions. The essence of a poster session is the face to face, the personal. You have to corral the presenters and the viewers in the same room for the thing to work.

And you really need to read the rest of Michele’s post if you haven’t done so already.

Related links

Empty room

Photo by Brian Hathcock on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

05 August 2010

No tacks

When I was a kid, I pretty much wrecked the paint in my room putting up Star Wars and spaceship posters. I used loops of masking tape to put up my posters, which were okay until you tried to take them down. Though I tried to be careful, more often than not, some of the paint (green) would come away with the tape.

I’m reminded of this because the conference that I’m attending this week sent me a rather stern email a few weeks back concerning my poster:

Fixing methods: Thumb nails are not allowed. Use adhesive materials

Fortunately, adhesive technology has come a long way since 1977. I particularly like the poster strips made by 3M, because they are made to be removed. They’re a soft, slightly spongy material with adhesives on both sides. The tab at the bottom has no adhesive, though, giving you a spot to grab it and slowly pull down. Because the material stretches, it tends not to shear and rip the paint.

I’ve used them quite a bit, and haven’t done much damage to the paint outside my office yet. I find them in the hardware and home improvement section of my local Wal-mart.

There’s also Velcro adhesive pads, but these only seem with it if you’re cycling through several posters on the same spot, which is not the normal conference situation.

Scotch make various kinds of double-sided mounting tape. These seem intended to be more or less permanent, though. I haven’t tried them yet, but they would seem to suffer from the same problem as the old loops of masking tape.

The conference organizers also said:

Poster material: Plastic, paper.  Fabric is not allowed.

I’m risking it anyway.(Yes, that actually is the poster I made for the conference this week.) Note to conference organizers: If you want your attendees to make their poster a certain way, tell them way in advance. Like, when you start registration.