The last major thing that I did, before disappearing for most of December, was to attend a seminar given by Edward Tufte. Tufte is a professor at Yale, and author of several books related to information architecture. The New York Times has famously called him the 'Leonardo da Vinci of data'. Geeks tend to know him for his criticism of PowerPoint. He frequently gives one-day seminars around the country. When I saw that he was coming to San José, I decided to see what it was all about.
I walked in reasonably familiar with his work. This turned out to be a negative point for me, since the course almost exclusively consisted of him directing the class to flip to another example in one of his books as he walked us through it. All questions were answered with a pointer to something in one of the books, which did nothing more than shortchange both the person asking the question and Tufte himself. My impression, after watching this happen a few times, was that Tufte only acts as an index to his books when asked a question , but does his real thinking about such things behind-the-scenes. In many respects, the seminar didn’t feel so much like a seminar as it did an extended infomercial for his books. But I like the books and think that they have a lot to offer, so I can’t entirely complain.
One thing that struck me was reading other reviews of his course. It appears that it hasn’t changed significantly in the past few years, other than the latest addition of sparklines (from his book Beautiful Evidence). If I wasn’t paying attention to the dateline on the other reviews, I would have thought that they were all from this same class that I took.
In all, if you’re not already familiar with his books but want to learn more about information architecture and how to present information in a manner that is easily understandable by your audience, this is a good course to take. Given that you get copies of four of his books, the price tag for the course isn’t very high at all. But if you’ve already read one or more of his books, then there’s very little for you to learn here. It’s somewhat useful to have him go through some of his examples in detail, but not really enough to justify the day-long session. Unless you subscribe to the Tufte-is-a-rockstar idea, in which case it’s worth it just to go to watch him be himself and get him to autograph your books.
 I can't take credit for calling him an index to his own books. A friend who attended the same seminar on the following day was the one who said that.
Today is my first day back in the office. I was welcomed back by something that makes me a true Microsoft employee: my fellow co-workers rigged my office. Jealous that I spent a snow-less holiday (although apparently none of them realised that the Bay Area isn't exactly known as a white Christmas destination), they set up a snowfall for me. When I opened my office door this morning, a half-gallon or so of fake snow descended upon me. There's pictures, which I'll share later.
They tell me that this was Plan B, brought about by a limited number of people being here over the holidays. I guess this means that I have something to look forward to when I next go on holiday ...