August 2004 - Posts
I've presented technical talks at a few conferences.
I wasn't bad, but I wasn't all that great either.
In the last couple of years, I've been working my way towards
a Competent Toastmaster
Some of my
can be found on my
I serendipitously found
a collection of links on presentation tips.
They're all good and worth looking at.
Perhaps the most interesting set of tips,
Conference Presentation Judo,
is not linked directly on
Instead, I found a link to it in
Creating a great presentation.
MJD's talk is specifically on how to give
a three-hour tutorial at a conference,
but much of it is more generally applicable.
Be sure to read the Detailed Notes in parallel with the slides.
He argues that delivery is more important than content:
A talk with good presentation and poor content beats one with good
content and poor presentation. This is because the first talk will at
least pass the time amusingly; the second will be a deadly bore and you
won't learn anything anyway.
Of course, the trick is to have good presentation and good content.
He asserts that a long introduction is a waste of time,
that no-one can remain attentive for a three-hour class,
and that you should frontload the class,
putting the most important material in the first 45 minutes.
One of his most startling claims is that the old advice
Tell them what you're going to tell them;
then tell them;
then tell them what you told them.
is bullshit, boring, and a waste of time. Instead, he says
Get to the point as quickly as possible.
Don't repeat; embellish.
He explains the last point:
The third piece of advice ("Don't repeat; embellish") requires a
little elaboration. You want to present each important idea more than
once, because a lot of the audience won't really get it after the first
example. So you show a second, different example, which has an
interesting variation. The people who didn't fully grasp the concept
the first time around now have an opportunity to see it again. The
people who did get it the first time around will remain alert and
interested because of the variation.
Both the traditional tell-tell-tell and
the repeat-embellish methods
use reinforcement to drive a message home,
but the repeat-embellish technique sounds like
a more valuable and interesting way of doing it.
The Code Project is a very useful site with C++, C#, and .NET tools, samples, and articles. I subscribe to their weekly newsletter, which summarizes all the new articles and tools that have been posted in the last week. About three months ago, the newsletter turned me on to a utility that has quickly become indispensible: KeePass, a Password Safe (or Manager).
KeePass stores passwords in an encrypted database. When you add an entry to the database, KeePass will automatically generate a strong password for you, such as
xGlslolfeggU10JQ0Kig. You can override the password with a password of your choosing. KeePass also stores a username, URL, notes, and expiration date in each entry.
Between website registrations, network passwords, and credit cards, I have almost 80 entries in my KeePass database. For a long time, I was just reusing a handful of passwords and IDs, since I couldn't possibly remember that many distinct passwords.
If you type Ctrl+C, KeePass will copy the password of the selected entry to the clipboard, for 20 seconds. Ctrl+B copies the username.
KeePass is not perfect, but it is free and it's open source. The user interface lacks polish. The simple username/password/notes schema doesn't work well for credit cards: I store the card number in the username field and the three-digit CCV code in the password field.
KeePass for Pocket PC allows you to view (but not edit) your KeePass database on a Pocket PC.
I just found the
Schmies Vocabulary Test.
I scored a respectable 178 out of 200.
As a teenager, I read much of
which has left me with a large vocabulary.
The Vocabulary Test is riddled with abstruse words.
Mostly, I eschew recondite words from my writing.
Unfamiliar words can show that I have many words at my command,
and they can fail to communicate my meaning.
I prefer to keep my writing clear.
Sometimes, however, precise writing calls for precise words,
and only the mot juste will do.
Two days ago, I helped
Washington Citizen Action (WCA)
register some voters in the International District of Seattle.
I'm somewhat shy, but having a clipboard and a purpose in hand
helped me overcome my unease about soliciting strangers in the street.
In a little over an hour, I successfully registered 3.5 voters,
which my trainer considered better than average for a
A lot of organizations are registering voters.
About 100 million eligible voters failed to participate in the 2000 election.
When you consider how narrow the margins the were in Florida,
it's clear that getting just a tiny fraction of them involved
could swing elections.
It seems like a better strategy than going after the
tiny sliver of undecided voters.
Right-wing organizations are registering voters
(four million conservative Christians are thought
not to have voted in 2000),
as are progressive organizations like
America Coming Together (ACT).
WCA is explicitly non-partisan and is aiming to register 60,000 new voters
in Washington State before the November elections.
So far, they've registered 35,000 people.
Some are first-time voters,
some are people who didn't update their registration after moving.
As someone who
became a U.S. citizen last year
and who got to vote for the first time in seventeen years,
the act of voting is important to me.
Naturally, I'd prefer that all the new voters
support a progressive slate,
but I'm just glad to see them engaged at all.
The training was useful and left me better prepared to approach voters.
Let me summarize what I learned.
First, approach the person in a friendly manner,
making eye contact and
showing a blank Mail-In Voter Registration Form
on top of your manila folder or clipboard.
Say something like,
"Hi, we're registering people to vote today," or,
"Hello, we're trying to register 60,000 new voters."
Next, ask them for their last name.
This supposedly works better than asking them if they're a registered voter,
because it requires them to stop and think just for a moment.
A simple yes-or-no question like "Are you a registered voter?"
is more likely to get a brushoff.
If they are ineligible to vote (too young, not a citizen,
not a Washington state resident, or
a felon whose rights haven't been restored),
thank them for their time.
If they are a registered voter,
check that they're registered at their current address.
Some people are discouraged about voting and can't see
any difference between the candidates.
Encourage them to think about local issues:
gubernatorial races, school bonds, ballot initiatives.
If the person still wants to proceed,
start filling out the form for them.
The WCA prefers that you maintain "clipboard control."
There are some subtleties on the form.
The half-voter of the 3.5 voters that I registered came about
because one woman had to jump on a bus before I had finished her form,
and I didn't think to hand her the form as she left.
The WCA encourages people to tick Yes on the
Ongoing Absentee Request (would like to receive absentee ballots
for all future elections).
People who have absentee ballots are more likely to vote,
because they don't have to make a special effort
to get to the polls on election day,
and they have more leisure to study the ballot.
An absentee ballot also provides the much needed paper trail
that makes many people so worried about
There seems to be new efforts to suppress the vote in
but that doesn't seem to be going on here in Washington state.
I'm going out again tomorrow to register voters at
Cheney Speaks to the Reptilian Brain,
Thom Hartmann makes an interesting point about
Dick Cheney's ridiculing of John Kerry.
Cheney deliberately takes Kerry's remarks about
the need for sensitivity in the War on Terror out of context,
and subjects them to ridicule with a subtext of fear.
Hartmann says this is extremely hard to counter because
Cheney's assertions appeal on three levels:
to the reptilian brain (survival),
to the limbic system (the heart and gut instincts),
and to the neocortex (abstract thought).
One thing that Hartmann doesn't explore
is the homophobic subtext of
calling Kerry "sensitive" or "French",
or remarks on John Edward's hair,
or Schwarzenegger calling California Democrats "girlie-men".
All ways of insinuating that Kerry/Edwards in particular
and Democrats in general are faggots.
In the Salon article,
We Own What You Think,
Jeff Nachtigal describes the case of Evan Brown,
a Texas programmer who has been fighting his former
employer for seven years over the ownership of an idea
that Brown came up with on his own time.
What every employee concerned about protecting their own ideas should
do, the three lawyers wholeheartedly agree, is be very clear about what
they are signing in an employment contract. If they do have a
long-running idea, they should make clear in the contract that their
idea was developed outside the company.
"Really what it boils down to is, read everything," Lai says. "Don't
run into ambiguity as to when it's in effect or not."