PowerPoint presentations at conferences are a perfect opportunity to snooze in the dark after a heavy lunch. If you keep your wits about you, you can even follow the talk and pick up a pointer or two for future action. If the conference is well organized and worth the money they charge you to get in, you will be sent home with a CD of the proceedings—preferably containing technical papers that back up the PowerPoint presentation. Thus the snooze deprived you of nothing—you can read the technical paper later at work, preferably early in the morning filled with fresh coffee.

However, there is an alarming tendency for conference organizers to send you home with nothing, or at most a CD of the PowerPoint presentations. Worse, these scallywag conference organizers then sell the CD for $100 afterwards on the basis that there is value for money in the disc.

I got caught thus recently when I purchase the CD of the OilSands 2006 Conference. It contains the PowerPoint presentations and some posters from the conferences. Now the poster presentations are good—for they were designed to communicate information via a single large sheet of paper. I benefited from them, and in due course will write about the technical issues. But I protest the PowerPoint presentations. Take a look at just one, the title of which is Oil Sands Development in a Carbon Constrained World by John R. McDougall of the Alberta Research Council.

I suspect that John has something interesting and important to say, but if so, it is lost in the fact that there is no voice-over to fill in the blanks of the overheads. For example, the many unexplained acronyms baffle, confuse, irritate, and finally send you off to something more lucid. I have no idea what the following stand for: OSB, GERD, IECD, CFC, GHG, SAGD, DIAL, O&G, EOR, CBM, ECBM, EGR, AEUB, AGS, AOSTRA. I bet there is nobody who knows them all. Maybe this was just high mass for the initiated?

Then there is the ever-present Canadian anti-US stance that is kind of rough in print, but which may have been softened viva voce. For example, what am I to make of the bullets: “US has outrun ability to produce” or “Instability of US$ a major global risk.” I have just spent three months in the US and did not notice this in the vibrancy of a proud nation.

I would love to have heard his take on the slide headed 2020—A Geopolitical Scenario. How did he reconcile the prediction that population pressures continue with the observation that prosperity is increasing? At least there is a bullet that predicts that the US is still a military power—presumably because it “out of united Korea.” I would no t bet on the united Korea bit personally.

I would love to have heard his explanation of the slide headed Implications for Alberta. What did he say about the bullet: “Canada-US relations (now within hemisphere bloc).” Quebec now a free nation? Or his stance on “In-Migration—legal and illegal: Alberta a favored destination/target.” By then the US has probably built that fence, or does its economy no longer need the illegals? Good old Alberta stepping up to take the lead role?

The final/final conclusion is the “With such approaches, long-term oil sand development can proceed with a ‘sustainable’ level of emissions.” Given that the word sustainable is de rigor in any presentation and is utterly meaningless in most, I am not sure what this conclusion is, given that it is preceded by bullets that say something to this effect: concentrated GHG emissions create opportunities, need long-term vision to balance short-term problem solving and longer-term strategic agenda, AOSTRA.

I submit we should ban the purveying of CDs that contain only the PowerPoint presentation of what probably were powerful and thoughtful presentations.

Maybe I have been too unkind. It is true that after many hours perusing the CD I now know a lot more than hitherto about the physics, chemistry, and engineering of separating oil from sand. So if your interest runs to this process, this CD may contain a PowerPoint presentation that enlightens you too.