Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Big Cat Trail, Leg 1 - Kanha Tiger Reserve

The tiger is not the only important animal in the forest. Spotted deer, sambhar, bears, jackals, and several other animals dot the jungle landscape. Add to that the avifauna of Kanha National Park, and the tiger's perhaps a minority amongst the wild attractions of this reserve. All this said, there's something that sets your blood racing when you come face to face with this large, magnificent, enigmatic predator. The fact that it is so elusive makes the whole act of tracking no less than a Sherlock Holmes whodunit mystery, and the act of finding one something to write home about.

The first leg of my vacation was with a few friends I was meeting for the first time. Sahana and I has been to Kanha earlier and were familiar with what to expect. Sowmya, Pratima, Santosh and Pramod joined us as first time visitors to this amazing forest. I was particularly excited about this visit given my success spotting animals in the thick November forest last year. Javed, our trusty driver from last time was in tow - as always with a keen eye for any signs that the dusty forest roads or the dry tree branches offered.

If you've been on an African safari, you'll perhaps find the notion of having to find animals quite weird. As it turns out, animals in the subcontinent are quite different from animals in Africa. Lions and cheetahs display sociable traits and are more accommodating of human presence than tigers who are reclusive and avoid human beings like the plague. I believe they're also developing an evolutionary response to poaching by staying away from humans as far as possible. Also, the dense Sal forests of Kanha and their expansive, tall grasslands provide a challenge for animal viewing at just about any time of the year.

There's something magical about spotting animals in the wild despite these challenges though; I can say that in particular about our first tiger sighting of this trip. It was in the early hours of morning, 7:45 AM to be precise. We were scouring the forest for signs of predators. We'd run into a bunch of handsome barasinghas (swamp deer) and captured some great snaps. Our disappointment from the last day of not seeing tigers on the previous day was palpable. Three people in the group were still awaiting their first ever tiger sighting and there was a strange tension in the air. "I'm feeling lucky today.", I told Sowmya. She hadn't taken me seriously until we ran into another safari vehicle that told us they'd crossed paths with a tigress. "She crossed over to the right", said the other driver. Javed is a keen naturalist himself and his instincts told him that this was a mother on the move to rendezvous with her children. "I think she'll cross over to that road", he said.

We wasted no time taking a turn and then we all held our breath and waited. "Tiger... look there, she's moving", said Javed. I must tell you, I saw nothing. I marvel at the eyesight of these local people - they see things that us city dwellers can never notice. "Don't worry, she's coming this way, right behind our vehicle." said Javed. I kept my camera trained at the fire line where we were expecting her to emerge. And emerge she did, resplendent in the red morning sun - the play of light enhancing her beauty. This was 'Collar-wali', Kanha's only collared tigress at the moment and a bold, breeding female. She seemed unperturbed at the sight of the safari vehicles around her, a quick disdainful look at all of us and off she was; disappearing into the bushes on our side. A few moments earlier, we were shivering in the early morning wind. Now, some of us were breaking a sweat!

That encounter turned a corner for us, though the sightings that followed didn't necessarily measure up to her elegance. We saw her adolescent cub and another bold tigress in the Mukki zone in the following drives. Our trip was generally a pretty good one, though weather chose to play spoilsport for most of the afternoon drives. We saw most of the animals of any repute except sloth bears, leopards and wild dogs. Amongst birds, we saw and photographed several species as well. You'll have to take a look at my photographs for a more visual storyline.

I'm now on the train to Junagadh to reach our next destination, Gir Forest National Park - the last home of the great Asiatic Lions. I can tell you I'd be jumping up and down in excitement if this cooped up railway compartment allowed me. The excitement of seeing these amazing beasts in the wild is giving me goose bumps already. More on that in a few days when I leave that destination.

If you want to visit Kanha, talk to Gaurav Athelye of Jungle Lore to arrange Javed or his brother Shakir's services. He can arrange transfers for you and also help you select accommodation of your choice. For what it's worth, we stayed stour usual haunt, the Madhya Pradesh Tourism Hostel inside the forest, right beside the Kisli gate. I strongly recommend staying either there or at the Baghira Log Huts, a far more comfortable resort of the state tourism corporation. Both these places are in the middle of the forest and you'll often be lucky to see jackals, Indian bison, sambhar deer, chital and several birds in the vicinity. When night falls, the entire area goes pitch dark - leaving just you and the starlit sky for company!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

3 Visual Design Tips to Make Your Presentation Slides Pop

Cammy Bean is hilarious - and she's also just spot on. Some months back she wrote about her newly discovered syndrome - SoMeFat. My friend Neil Lasher talked about that on his blogpost to kick off the year. It feels like a bit of an epidemic to me, I tell you because I think the SoMeFat bug has reached me. Don't worry, I'm advised that it's a minor disorder and that I should be back to my vocal nature on all social media channels. I'm also told that my upcoming three week vacation starting 21st April, will bring me back recharged. In the mean time, I'm going to take the doctor's advice and not blog about social media or social business today. Instead, in today's blogpost I'll share with you three tips that can really help bring your presentations alive. Of course, there's several other things you can try - all I want to do is share some interesting techniques to bring the zing back to your slides.

Use Contrast to your Advantage

Contrast is a great way to lead your audience's attention to items that deserve their attention. There are several ways of creating contrast. You could choose a variation of size, colour or shape to draw people's attention. You'll see several presentation gurus use this trick all the time and it comes in handy when there are more than one element on the screen and you need to focus only on one of them. Take a look at some of the examples I've put up for you above.

Build a Consistent Theme

I recently attended Tom Kuhlmann's talk at Learning Solutions 2011. Tom's obviously a great practitioner of slide-based presentations and his talk last month was no exception. What I was quite interested by however, was the consistent moon theme that he adopted for his talk. You should see the slides here. The slide design actually added an element of fun and consistency to his visuals and kept me engaged. Tom's made a habit of using a consistent visual theme, and you'll see that even on the presentation he did at DevLearn 2010. Actually if you look hard, you'll see that several illustrious presenters use this approach as well. Take a look at this presentation by Garr Reynolds and also this one. And while you're at it, don't miss Guy Kawasaki's enchantment, though I know one of the viewers found it disappointingly predictable!

Use Hand Drawn, Organic Graphics

One of the trends I've seen in recent years, is that of hand-drawn graphics. While Garr Reynolds did a bit of it in this presentation, I see it being more prevalent these days with a lot of us wanting to stamp our personalities with custom graphics. And what can be more custom than a hand-drawn picture? Take a look at Richard Lee's entertaining Pecha Kucha talk to get an idea of how you can use this style effectively. I've also added one of my presentations to this post (nothing really confidential), so you can see how some of this applies for real, business presentations. And by the way, if you were scared of sketching stuff out by yourself, there's help. The Articulate community has some really cool hand-drawn assets for download. If you do feel like sketching things up, it's quite easy - buy yourself a pen tablet and then just use Powerpoint as Dan Roam recommends. And if you have something like an iPad, then there are free tools like Adobe Ideas that are so simple that even I can draw!

So, I hope that you like this little break from social media and that these tips help you improve your presentations in some small way. By the way, I am going on holiday from 21 April as I already mentioned. I am taking a three week break from blogging during that time unless there's some way I can find an internet connection and the motivation to write during that time. I do promise to come back and spew my thoughts on this blog as usual when I'm back, so hang in here if you do like the blog. Until next week - tada!

Monday, April 04, 2011

Preparing For Serendipity - A Crucial Knowledge Work Skill

Before I begin today's blogpost, I have to mention the biggest event in Indian cricketing history over the last three decades or so. India won the 2011 Cricket World Cup on Saturday and what a win it was! The eleven played like true champions against a tough opposition and at the end of it came out on top. For my non-Indian readers here's a moment for you to accidentally discover how big a deal this is in India. People actually took to the streets in celebration. If you bump into me over the next few days, you're likely to hear me talk about this win so bear with me please.

Speaking of accidental discovery brings me to what I want to write about today. We're uncomfortable with accidents and uncertainty. That being said, a lot of social media based learning solutions rely on serendipity and chance discovery. Serendipity is quite a counterintuitive phenomenon. How do you know that you'll know the important stuff? Most of us from the '70s and the '80s have grown up on a diet of structured media, whether through the web or through books, magazines and education. New media on the other hand accelerates content creation in such a big way that traditional structure is destined to fall behind. A week or so back I wrote an article about the shape of knowledge management in the age of social media. Today I want to talk about the personal mindset that each knowledge worker needs to really exploit this rich, diverse, yet often confusing information explosion.

We ask for structure, but do we really need it?

It's amazing that when on company intranets, people expect structure whereas when on the internet, people don't even imagine browsing. It's no surprise that several people actually use Google as their homepage or as a means to start navigating the web. Why then, is search a counter-intuitive beginning to people's intranet experience. Granted that most intranet searches are just bad, but let's assume you could be confident that the information you're looking for exists, and there's a good search that can find stuff. People still find it tough to start with search. I believe there's a reason for this. Traditionally, company intranets had finite amounts of information. It's easy to build a taxonomy around this finite information and organise it in a browseable sitemap. With modern social intranets content creation explodes in such a big way that it's a bit foolish to even attempt structures. The only structures that survive are the ones that emerge ground up through metadata. Social media does it's bit to help search on the internet as well. Whether we like it or not we constantly keep accidentally discovering stuff on the internet, through various social networks. The constant discoveries help us know in our subconscious mind that we can actually find something if we tried.

Don't drink from a firehose, just sit by a stream
"Its a river of information, dip your foot in whenever its convenient." - Leo Laporte
The fact is that with modern social networks, serendipity is a knowledge guarantee but it needs mental preparation. It may seem that if someone provides you packaged, neatly organised content then you'll be happy, but the reality is quite the contrary. Let's forget about social media for a while. Regardless of how avid a news reader you are, it's perhaps tough for you to keep up with all the news in the world. Depending on the kind of news you're interested in, you perhaps customise your news intake. Not many people read the entire newspaper. Think of a time when you missed an important piece of news. Not many people really sweat over this, because if the news is really important, someone will tell you about it. Social media is quite like news. As Laporte says, it's a river of information. When you sit by a river, you don't try to drink all the water that's flowing by. You dip in your toe when it makes sense for you. But then what if you miss something? This is where you handle your learning just the way you handle news. If it's important, your connections will tell you. This is where having personal learning network (PLN) that you can trust, makes sense.

It's not information overload, its filter failure
Clay Shirky said a few years back, "It's no information overload, it's filter failure." If the current information explosion was really a bad thing then the converse, an absolute lack of information, would make us happy, wouldn't it? Now that seems odd - I guess no one would be happy with that. Shirky's right then - the filters are crucial. As I explained in my last article, we're so individualistic these days that another person's organisation of content hardly ever makes sense to us. On the other hand if we have right filters, we can create a structure that makes sense to us and is tailored to our needs. And by the way, sometimes the best filter is another person on your PLN who you can trust. Just as we trust our friends to remind us of important news we've missed, we leverage our PLN to find the the learning that's important.

If you still need structure, the tools are out there
Once you know what filters make sense for you, there are several tools and services that can create meaningful structure around that filter. My latest favourite is Flipboard on the iPad (see screenshot above) though apps like Zite are worthy competitors. The truth is that you don't need a fancy iPad to provide you the right kind of organisation. Web services like can help you create really nice, structure around important information. Google Reader can give you some really interesting visualisation around your RSS feeds. Heck, there are thousands of applications and services just around Twitter. The key is to pick the services you care for, decide on the filters that make sense to you and follow the people that really matter. From that point you just need to trust that the important information will come to you. Just believe!
Ever since Jay Cross wrote his book on Informal Learning, several people have spoken about the need to 'formalise informal learning'. I think that's just absolute rubbish. Informal learning benefits from the natural connections amongst people and the serendipity it fosters. "Formal informal learning" is the biggest oxymoron on the planet, I'm sorry! In my view the fact is that if you can't prepare for serendipity, you're not ready for the 21st century workplace. Structure makes sense when you're dealing with a finite amount of information. The only way through constantly growing information sources, is to be able to develop the skills of personal knowledge management and sense making. If I was hiring someone today, this would be a primary skill I'd look for.
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