The intellectual equivalent of a ham sandwich.

Posts tagged ‘Toastmasters’

Toastmasters Entertaining Speaker #5

The idea for this speech is ‘Speaking After Dinner.’ It’s an 8-10 minute speech. So uh … enjoy?

The Precise Moment

Who here has a hobby that they love?

(Wait for answers.)

Ok, what is it? Are you good at it? Does it take work?

Who here has someone that you love?

(Wait for answers.)

Are you good at loving that person? Does it take work?

I think the idea of ‘love at first sight’ is silly. SILLY! You can look at someone and at first sight know the answers to some pretty simple questions like, ‘do I like looking at this person?’ Yes, this is great, I’m soon going to be entering creepily staring territory. Or maybe it’s a no, not so much, how can one person look so creepy?

But LOVE at first sight? Love can’t be reached so easily. That’s diminishing what love is, in my opinion. Love is work. Love is enjoyable work, but it is work. You have to KNOW something to love it, and you can’t know something with a look. I’ve heard that you can’t know if you love someone until you experience the four seasons with that person. Those aren’t literal seasons but emotional ones. Have you gone through ecstatic highs, or heart-wrenching lows? Some people could be easy to love when they’re in a certain place, but people don’t stay in one place.

Now, switching from my emotional side talking to my engineering side – here is an interesting question! What was the exact moment you fell in love? Because there WAS an exact moment. You probably didn’t catch it, though. There you were, however many months into knowing this person and they grab a straw and pretend to be a unicorn and boop – there it went, the switch flipped from ‘not in love’ to ‘in love.’ That unicorn impression was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Yes, there were many long conversations, many rounds of putt-putt, maybe a vacation where you joined his or her family that preceded that unicorn impression but all of that stuff just got you 99% toward in love. And now here you are, officially, actually, really and truly IN. LOVE.

And maybe some of us are wise, and intuitive, and forward thinking and we can see things quickly and say things to ourselves like, “I’m going to marry this person.” But I would suggest that people think or say that BEFORE they’re in love, they’re just looking at their emotional histogram.

(Draw histogram)

And saying ok, yep, the results are clear, I will eventually end up in love with this person so I’m all clear to say something to my best friend like ‘hey this person and I are gonna get married.’

BUT, say you have only uncovered two of the four seasons at that point and you are soon going through one of those seasons, we’ll call it fall, and it turns out this person only eats Cinnamon Toast Crunch. WOAH. RED FLAG. Not cool. You broach the topic, ‘hey sweetie, hey darling, hey potential love of my life, you’re 30 now … so I bought you a cereal that is just a teensy bit less unhealthy because I don’t want you dead at 40.’ And the person throws a table over and then consumes a whole family size box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch as a coping mechanism.

Yikes. Marriage daydream cancelled.

But I posed a question that I like. What was the MOMENT you fell in love? Does anyone care to share?

(Wait for answers)

Or, perhaps an easier question, what was the moment you realized you loved someone?

(Wait for answers)

I can tell you the moment I realized I loved my wife, and it is definitely indicative of my engineering side. I think it was early in the year, maybe around this time of year even, and I was thinking about what I’d be doing. SxSW? A music festival in Houston in June? California with my family in July? And then I realized. Wait. A. Minute. Lauren’s not a conditional! Previously when I thought about plans in the future I would think, ‘if Lauren and I are together then this will be the plan … if we’re not, this will be the plan.’ Sounds cold, but I was factoring in when she would or wouldn’t join me on trips. But here I was thinking about all of these plans and Lauren was there, there was no question in my mind. I HAD to conclude that I was in love. Woah. Unexpected. And then, of course, the next natural step was to ask her to marry me because there was no sense delaying the tax advantages.

Now you have to figure out … did I really think that? Am I that kind of person? I’ll leave that to you.

In college I actually asked my family one of the questions I’ve asked you – what was the EXACT moment you fell in love? I was fascinated by the idea that there was some particular moment in time where you went from 99% to 100% … My mom tried to answer but said she remembered realizing when she was in love, but not the exact moment. My sister and brother-in-law both talked about moments when they realized things. My dad walked in the room at that point and I asked him the same question. And I’ll add, my dad is not a touchy-feely type, he is much more of a smart alec type. Remember that when you hear this answer. When asked, ‘do you know the exact moment you fell in love with mom?’ He replied without missing a beat, ‘it was the first time I saw her topless.’

Ah. Cherish these family memories.

Today is Valentine’s Day. Tonight, find someone or something that you love and think about how good and nice it is to have something to love. Cherish that, work at that, and that hard work will only pay dividends.

Toastmasters, Racist Algorithms, and Other Thoughts

Recently the Toastmasters club I am a part of had a meeting with the theme of MLK, Jr. day. At each Toastmasters meeting one part of the meeting is ‘Table Topics’ which is a chance to do some impromptu speaking (as opposed to a prepared speech). In this section, you volunteer to get up and then are asked a question, and you need to answer that within 1 – 2 minutes. With our club we usually have the questions correspond to the theme.

I was asked, ‘if you are on a bus with your niece and she turns to you and says, “why is that other kid brown?” what do you say to your niece?’ A good question, and the table topics master had 3 great questions that were asked that day.

But the question was based on assumption – my real or fictional nieces aren’t brown. And that’s true for 2/3 of them. One of them has a dad who is Haitian-American, so she looks … funny enough, sorta like Moana. In my answer I talked about (or attempted to) how kids are amazing because they just ask questions – there is no agenda or purpose other than to learn. My wife, son and I live in Colorado so my son will grow up seeing a whoooooole lot of white people and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear him ask such a question (though if he does clearly we’re not spending enough time with his cousins). And yes, it would make me uncomfortable and nervous and feel awkward, but hopefully the parent of the other kiddo would give me a look like, ‘yeah, I’ve been there’ and we could talk about the simple fact that some people are short, some people are tall, some people have pale skin, some people have dark skin. They are physical attributes, and they’re one of the many wonderful differences in people and that’s why it’s so amazing to get to live in a world where you can talk to other people are learn about them. Boom. (Pst. I said maybe 10% of that and it was maybe 1% comprehensible.)

In the meeting I also talked about a pet peeve of mine in storytelling. I mentioned that I noticed white people do this a lot, but later I thought about it and realized my sample pool for anecdotes is pretty much all white, so anyone could be equally guilty of this. It annoys me when someone identifies a person’s race in a story when it doesn’t matter.

Here’s where it doesn’t matter: I was at the grocery store, and the clerk was the sweetest black woman.

Here’s where it matters: You’re at convention center in Denver and the one black guy in the room is wearing an awesome t-shirt and you say, ‘oh man, check out that black dude’s t-shirt, it’s awesome.’ I could be race-free and say, ‘check out the uh … he’s like, 4 o’clock … no left a little more, kinda by that pole … no not that weird beard-y guy it’s the … he’s …’ But that’s just dumb. It’s not racist to use the most unique physical characteristic to describe someone. If the black dude was 9 feet tall I’d probably instead say, ‘check out the frighteningly tall dude’s awesome t-shirt, and also let’s leave because his height scares me.’

Now, what’s all that got to do with racist algorithms? The video I attached is awesome and you should watch it. Really. It’s 2 ½ minutes. It’ll make you smarter unless you already know it. And it’s fascinating.

Here’s my own example: we are letting computers figure stuff out these days, which is cool. Let’s say a team of doctor’s takes a million brain scans and says ok, we looked through these and 2,654 of these pictures have tumors, the rest are tumor-free. ‘Computer, take a gander at these and here are the ones that are tumor-free, and here are the tumor ones.’ And the computer goes, ok cool, got it. Then the team of doctor’s looks at a new set of one million brain scans and gives them to the computer and says, ‘tell me what you think, boss, which of these have tumors?’ And the computer comes back and says these 3,127 have tumors, the rest don’t. And you go back and forth and back and forth and the computer learns how to spot tumors.

That’s incredible. (And IMO, underutilized. Having my son at the NICU and knowing that they didn’t harvest the hordes of data they were collecting on him was an absolute travesty to me. With machine learning, they might be able to predict when a premature baby is going to have their heart rate suddenly drop so a nurse is standing there waiting patiently to intercede instead of sprinting into the room.)

Here’s where it’s bad. Let’s say you take police data and say, ‘hey computer, here’s a bunch of data on crime, traffic incidents, just anything and everything the cops took notes on … what do you think, can you draw any conclusions or guess when something bad or where something bad might happen?’ And the computer will says, ‘yeah dudes, but FYI, there is a definite risk of systemic ingrained cultural biases that factor into police work and it’s an incredibly complex topic and I’m not sure you or I are well-enough equipped to handle this but uh … I’m going to guess there will be some crime in the area where all the poor people live, especially the poor black people.’ And then the police can go patrol that area more and re-emphasize the bias.

F-ing racist computer.

So. Watch out when you feel the need to identify a characteristic for one person or set of people that you don’t for others. If you tell a story where you describe an old man, was his age relevant? What about her weight? What about his … etc, etc. It’s tough to be aware of your language, but it’s a good thing to shoot for.

Toastmasters – Pathways Research Project

Oprah, Hagrid and Peter the Great Walk into an H&R Block

Who here knows who Oprah Winfrey is?

Ok … and who here looks at her and thinks, ‘taxes.’

Just me? No one else had their first experience paying a tax because of Oprah?

When I was in elementary school my parents had a little family meeting. Great news, everyone! We would be getting an allowance! I was ecstatic. I did then, and do now, love money. Imagine how many GI Joes I could get with an allowance!

(And I have a very young son at home, and am so glad to finally have an excuse to buy toys again.)

Anyway. My parents told us about the allowance, but … we had to do certain chores. Fine, fine, that’s fair.

My parents bust out a sheet and explained how the chores were age-appropriate things so my brother might mow the lawn while I would unload the dishwasher.

And, our allowance would be age-appropriate too. It was this simple equation where you take your age and … my dad probably explained but whatever. Just gimme the money.

But. Wait.

‘And, of course, there will be taxes.’


‘Well, there’s the vacation fund tax, you have to contribute to the vacation fund. And there’s the cleaning supplies tax. You wouldn’t want to use that same vacuum all the time right, we need to get tax dollars to one day afford a new one.’

My folks learned about this oh so delightful way of teaching your kids about taxes from Oprah. Oprah! Sure Oprah, you can be a kind woman, an entrepreneur, an incredibly impressive business woman … but you’ll always be a tax to me.

Taxes! What an unappetizing topic. And, unfortunately, I’m not about to tell you how you can reduce them, or get out of them, or anything applicable. But, perhaps, at the end of my speech, you’ll know the answer to one or two Jeopardy questions.

And, if you’re an optimist, a bright side of life kind of person, you can think, ‘well at least that’s not happening to me’ when you hear about some of these taxes.


The first known tax was brought to us by the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt. They had their tax collectors, known as scribes, go around DOOR TO DOOR. That’s upsetting, but wait, there’s more.

The scribes would travel around to audit Egyptian houses to ensure they were using an appropriate amount of cooking oil! AND! AND! That you weren’t using other leftover oils as a replacement for oil.

Oh, one more detail. The cooking oil was sold by a monopoly run by … the pharaoh. Rough, right?

Come April, when you are filing your taxes using software you downloaded nearly instantaneously … yes, it is painful, and yes, our tax code is absurdly difficult, but at least you’re doing your taxes, unperturbed, in your pajamas.


From that very first tax, which was an obvious way to make the pharaohs richer … there have been a number of taxes with interesting backgrounds. We are of course aware of special taxes that come up for schools, new stadiums, or the county wants to set aside more land for preservation.

But what about taxes for fashion? Peter the Great was not a fan of beards. While touring some of Western Europe he decided that he liked the clean-shaved look he was seeing in their courts, so he imposed a beard tax back in Russia. IF you wanted to continue to sport your beard you had to carry around a token showing you had paid your beard tax. This was part of his effort to ‘modernize’ Russia.

Britain has created a tax break for films that are … “culturally British.” Your film gets reviewed and scored on four categories: cultural content, cultural contribution, cultural hubs and cultural practitioners. The purpose of this is to preserve British culture. But you have to wonder … or at least, *I* have to wonder … Would Harry Potter count?

You need 16 points and you get four points if the film is set in the UK … which it sorta is. Four more if the film represents a diverse British culture … which it kinda does. And four points for original dialogue recorded mainly in English language. That’s twelve points right there for a fictional magical place full of Brits.

Last but not least, we’ll travel to our flatlander neighbors, Kansas. Kansas taxes sales of admissions for amusement services, or entertainment, or recreation. There is a federal law prohibiting states having fees and charges on airlines and other airport users. So, if you get in a hot air balloon but don’t go anywhere … you’re taxed.

I don’t know why you would get in a hot air balloon and just STAY there. But, maybe that’s an entertaining thing to do in Kansas. If you ask me, it all sounds like classic big balloon lobby in action.


What did we learn today?

Did we learn that we’re glad we aren’t ruled by Egyptian pharaohs? You probably already felt that way, but if not, welcome to the club. They did worse things than tax, you know.

Did we learn that Hagrid will get a break in England, but be taxed if he ever goes to Russia?

Did we learn that Oprah is evil? I wouldn’t go that far, but you can if you’d like. And now, for the worst impression of Oprah you’ll ever see, I’d just like to invite everyone to look under their seats because … YOU GET A TAX! AND YOU GET A TAX!


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