Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Time - Toastmasters Speech #7

Mister Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters and guests. Today I'm talking about time. More specifically I'm talking about the Toastmasters Timer.

I've been a member of Toastmasters for almost a year now and this has given me the opportunity to present a few speeches but even more opportunity to practice speeches. Each person has their own way that they like to practice. For me, it's in front on my computer. I've found that my computer has been exceptionally supportive. If I say something that I think is funny I can play the laughter sound file and the computer always responds. I have one laughter sound file that goes on for 15 seconds, one that gives riotous applause and another that says "ahhhhhhhh" if I were to say something cute.

Another important support function the computer provides is that of video recording. I used to record all my practice sessions and play them back and count the ums and ahs and measured improvement. Although I still do that every now and then I find that in the time it takes to play back the video I could have practiced the speech again and we all know how precious time is.

The final support function that the computer provides is that of timer. Here you can see the timer that I use during practice sessions. If you wish to use this timer I would be happy to send you a link.

When I discovered that I needed a screen based timer I searched for an online timer and came across a couple of them. The two that I found had some drawbacks. The times were difficult to configure, the time and color changes were small and difficult to see when you are pacing up and down in front the screen. I needed big time and big color. The only option was to write a timer that addressed those concerns and this is what you see here.

When I was researching this speech I went off to find as many different timers as I could find and this is what I came up with:
Seventeen online web browser based timers.
One windows downloadable application.
Two iPhone applications
Three Android applications

I had clearly not done sufficient research when I originally wrote this timer. On examination of each of the browser based timers I was happy to note that none of them fulfilled my requirements and they were all very similar so it turned out that my time wasn't wasted.

I installed one of the timers for the Android Phone and discovered some functionality that I had not expected. My idea of a computer based Toastmaster Timer was to perform the single function of keeping the time for one speech. The Android App allows you to add a person's name once the timing has completed and will keep track of each person speaking during that meeting. That got me thinking that you could expand this application to allow members to keep track of all their speeches over time if you extended the functionality of the application.

One of the big advantages of a web based timer is that it will run on any device that has a browser. This means that you can use this timer on your iPhone, your Android, your PC, your iPad, and your Mac.

Once I’d done my research and decided that I had to create my own timer to satisfy my needs I then had to do some more research and determine the language in which I was going to write the software. This is a somewhat misleading statement because in a browser the only language that will work is JavaScript.

Has anybody heard of JavaScript?
Has anybody heard of Java?
Who knows what the difference between these two languages are?

Java is to JavaScript as ham is to hamster or car is to carpet. They are very different languages that share part of name for marketing purposes.

Because JavaScript is the only language you can use in the browser and because it’s such a popular language there are a number of languages like CoffeeScript, ClojureScript, Dart, and TypeScript that compile, or more accurately transpile, into JavaScript.

I chose to use the variant TypeScript to create the functionality on this timer. I picked it because it had just been released and I wanted to learn a new language.

This timer is a great tool to practice against. At a toastmasters meeting the objective of the timer is to communicate time to the speaker in the most efficient, reliable and unobtrusive manner as possible. This tool will do it but the stoplights might be more practical and appropriate. Of course there are also other methods. You could hold up different colored cards or even shout out the colors. Here's a link to it: Toastmaster Timer.

This speech was about time and how I created a tool to communicate the time to me. That tool as well as the stoplight being operated by the timer both confirm that it is time for me to stop talking and thank you for your time.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Le Pigeon Portland

Just had an awesome dinner at Le Pigeon in Portland, Oregon. Pigeon for starter, how can you not have pigeon at a restaurant with that name? And salmon for the main course. I had forgotten how tasty pigeon was.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Wild Fiction - Toastmasters Speech #5

"Who are you?"
"I'm the author."
"If you're the author then who am I?"
"You, are a fictional character that I created to help me write a bestseller."
"I'm skeptical, what's my name?"
"Your name is Sherry?"
"You're wrong. My name is Rebecca. Do I really look like a Sherry to you?"
The author paused, fingers dangling like cocktail sausages over the keyboard, he realized that he'd already lost control of the first character that he'd created.

Madam Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters and guests. What you just heard was the beginning of the very first version of a book I wrote called Wild Fiction.

Who has written a book or would like to write a book one day?

My desire to write a novel gnawed at me from about the age of 8. I made a few feeble attempts in my early twenties but those novels never got further than a couple of pages. Then one day I enrolled in a writing course at a place called The City Lit in London's West End. It was an evening course, once a week over several weeks. One of the assignments we were given was on dialog and how to write it and the short story that I came up with turned into the first chapter of my one and only novel.

I loved the character that I'd created in that short story so much that in the next few weeks I wrote another three chapters to take the book to a total of four chapters. I was rapidly on my way to writing my first novel. This happened over a few weeks in 1996 and three year years later, in 1999, I was still only four chapters into the story. Writers block had settled in, or so I thought, and the story was frozen in time.

Let me tell you a little bit about writer's block. In his first self-help-book for writers titled How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James Frey describes writer's block and how to resolve it. In his second book How to Write a Damn Good Novel II he tells you that he made a mistake in the first book and there's no such thing as writer's block and you just need to stop feigning it and write. He gives the example of a bricklayer that wakes up one morning and tells his wife that he has bricklayer's block and won't be able to go to work that day. His wife would kick him out of the house and send him to work without a second thought with a lame excuse like that.

I have to agree with his advice in his second book. If you feel uninspired or uncreative then there are a number of exercises that you can do to get the creative juices flowing again. So long as you're writing something, doesn't matter if it's your novel, it will eventually lead you back there.

At the beginning of 1999 I set off traveling around the world. One of my objectives was to complete the novel I'd started and in that time I certainly made some headway but not as much as I thought I would. I got another 20 to 30 chapters further into the story and shared it with people that I was traveling with and got some great feedback. What I hadn't counted on was the fact that when I landed in each of these exotic destinations it was my duty and obligation to myself to go out and seek adventure and explore my new habitat and not spend my days sitting in the hostel writing. What's the point in being in the middle of the Amazon if you're not going to see the Amazon?

After three years of traveling I still hadn't finished writing. I was getting to a point where I was running out of money and needed to return to London and find a job. I knew that there was no way that I'd ever finish the novel if I went back to work so I made myself a promise that all I was going to do was write until the book was done and then return to work. I went off and stayed with a friend who had nothing of interest near to where he lived and he was never at home and for four months I wrote until the novel was finished and then I started the process of revising it until I'd revised it four times and was sick of the story.

Writing a story is fun because just like when you read the story you have no idea what's going to happen next. A misconception that people have about writing fiction is that the author knows where the story is going. This is completely untrue. The author has no idea where the story is heading in the next chapter. Sure, the author might think that they know where the story is going but by the time you get to the next chapter something else has happened that changes the story’s direction.

Revising the story is rereading a story you just read and when you have to do it four times you are sick of it at the end.

I tried to get the book published. I bought a big thick book which listed the literary agents and wrote to one hundred of them. Twenty five of them replied saying that they weren't interested but five replied asking for a sample. I picked one and sent them a sample. One of the tricky things with literary agents is that you can only submit your sample chapters to one at a time. I waited three months for them to reject my sample and by then I was working eighty hour weeks and didn't have the time or inclination to submit to another publisher.

It lay in a bottom drawer for a couple of years and then I found time to publish the book on the web and make it freely available to anybody who wants to read it. If you are interested in a finding out what happens to the author and Rebecca you are welcome to read the novel at wildfiction.com. I’ve printed out some sheets with links to the books that I referenced.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Flowrider at The Westin Kierland

Here are some videos of me on the Flowrider at the Westin Kierland recently. If you like to ski, snowboard, skate or surf then you'll love this, it's a blast.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

A busy ceiling

I'm used to lying on a bed and looking at a ceiling and seeing one or two items. Perhaps a fan and a light. Our master bedroom has 14 items:

8 lights
2 fire sprinklers
1 fire alarm
2 a/c vents
1 fan

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Panic Action - Toastmasters Speech #4

Imagine the feeling that goes through your stomach when your one-year-old falls backwards into a swimming pool without any flotation and starts sinking into the water. Madam Toastmaster and fellow toastmasters. Today I'm going to talk to you about something I call panic action.

A couple of months ago at the beginning of our spring when the water was still too cold to swim in but the days had started becoming balmy I was sitting on a chair at the pool steps with my wife next to me and the kids playing around us. I was putting together a fiberglass rod and had completed three pieces and had this one piece left when I heard my wife scream and out of the corner of my eye I saw our one-year-old fall backwards into the swimming pool like a sack of potatoes. A very small sack of potatoes. Everything then went into slow motion.

There is a concept called Slow Motion Perception. Typically in an accident scenario a person involved in the accident will experience everything going into slow motion just before and during the accident. To a bystander, however, the accident will take place in a split second. To a person in the accident it will last for several seconds which will allow them to think and act faster.

There is no mention of slow motion perception prior to the industrial revolution. Only after this period when faster transportation was made available and people started undergoing car and motorbike accidents did reports of slow motion perception start to appear.

The first time that I experienced slow motion perception was while traveling on a highway in a torrential downpour. The highway had a treacherous stretch with a curve with an inverted camber. Water was washing across the road. The highway was around 5 lanes wide and I was on the inside lane and a black BMW came through at high speed in the middle lane. As he hit the corner his car started to aquaplane and like a ballet dancer's pirouette he started to spin in 360s on the road. Everything went into slow motion. Even my vision seemed to be better as I could make out the driver's terrified face. It appeared to last for about 10 seconds but I'm sure it was just a couple of seconds. Luckily he didn't hit anyone and came to a stop against the outside curb facing the wrong way.

The second time this happened to me was in a very different situation. I was in a pub in London and had just been given a full pint of beer which I'd placed on the corner of the bar. Now I know what you're thinking. Someone in the bar started choking on something and I did the Heimlich maneuver and saved their life. That didn't happen. It was far more serious than that. Someone elbowed my beer off the bar. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the pint glass slide off the bar and start dropping to the floor. Everything went into slow motion and I swept my arm down and back and caught it around the rim spilling only a couple of drops. I have no idea my mind thought that was an emergency situation that required slow motion perception but it did.

Let's return to my one-year-old falling into the swimming pool. For the third time in my life my world went into slow motion. The first part of the incident that I remember is my wife's scream. As he hit the water I was already moving towards him and I looked straight down at him as he was sinking towards the second step. What I saw gave me immediate elation as I saw that his tiny eyes and mouth were squeezed tightly shut; I knew that he wasn't taking in water. I could see my hands stretched out towards him in an almost out-of-body experience. They grabbed him under the armpits and pulled him to the surface faster than he fell in. We estimate that he was under the water for a quarter to half a second. There wasn't even a cough or a splutter from him as he hadn't taken any water in his mouth. The fright of falling in and the shock of the cold water made him cry but all was well.

Later I found the fiberglass rod at the bottom of the pool about 10 feet from where I had been sitting. I have no recollection of throwing it there.

If you have never experienced slow motion perception and especially if you have never heard of it then I'd like to leave you with the task of asking your friends, families and coworkers if they have ever experienced it. I guarantee that it will be accompanied by an interesting story and you'll get to know that person much better. It's also a great ice breaker at a party. A word of caution though, because this experience most frequently involves an accident, the story won't always be a happy one.