Icebreaker speech

Note: when making a speech to a Toastmasters club, you have to open and close the speech in prescribed fashion. The “icebreaker” speech is the standard first speech in the Toastmasters program, designed to get you talking in front of an audience. I procrastinated writing this speech until 10:45 on Friday morning, July 31, with the speech due at our noon meeting that day. I printed it out at 11:50 and walked over to the neighboring office building where our corporate Toastmasters club has its weekly meeting. I mention this so you know I’m not holding this up as an example of a well thought-out speech!


Jorah’s Icebreaker speech, July 31, 2015

Mr. Toastmaster; ladies and gentlemen

(PAUSE)

This is my icebreaker speech… and I panicked at first, thinking that I was going to have to discuss giant Arctic working ships with highly reinforced bows and powerful engines.

(PAUSE)

When I realized I was only expected to talk about myself, I relaxed right away, but then had the challenge of figuring out how to restrict myself to five minutes on a topic that I actually know a lot about.

(PAUSE)

Since our Toastmasters club is work-related, I decided to focus on how I learned some of the skills I use in the job I have now.

What a long, strange trip it’s been

I’ve had few different jobs, not all of them as swanky as the one I have now!

  • I’ve swept floors (I think I’ve probably spent 20% of my working life sweeping floors), washed floors, waxed floors, and installed floors…
  • I’ve built houses; torn houses apart, put roofs on houses, and even dug tunnels under houses…
  • I’ve vacuumed parking lots, driven fork lifts, mixed sand, melted bronze…
  • I’ve gathered chickens at night in barns where the ceiling was so low I couldn’t stand up straight…
  • I’ve gathered eggs, loaded and unloaded trucks, decorated ballrooms at fancy hotels (favorite memory; crossing a Boston sidewalk carrying what looked like a 20-foot marble column), and stocked warehouses…
  • I’ve done inventory of parts for nuclear submarines, sewn futons at a commune in New Hampshire, given people baths, cleaned printing presses, done quality assurance, and inspected medical labels at night in a darkened room with a strobe light running for 10 hours at a time…
  • I’ve done newspaper page layout, published a magazine, delivered newspapers, taught job skills to disabled persons, and stood guard over submarines loaded with nuclear weapons…

As you can tell, none of that sounds like background for a career managing corporate web sites.

But no matter what job I’ve had, I’ve always tried to do my best. I’ve always tried to learn something new at each job, I’ve always tried to solve problems, and — perhaps most important — I’ve always worked hard.

Being a stock control clerk in the Navy, I learned about categories and naming conventions. It turns out that being able to work out sensible names and categories will give you a good foundation for understanding web site construction, where you have to arrange things so that people have a chance of finding them.

By having a new job every few months, I learned how to learn new things quickly.

Being able to walk onto a new job and learn long sequences of processes like how to transform piles of lumber, drywall, and roofing shingles into a house… can help you understand how to write process documentation for publishing web sites.

I’ve discovered that I can look at a problem and relate it to something I learned 30 years ago… and often solve that problem.

I’ve learned that no job is beneath me.

I learned not to look down my nose at someone because of the job they have.

Because…

You are not your job. Your current job doesn’t have to limit where you end up. I’m proof of that. If someone who knew I flunked out of high school saw me working in that chicken barn in 1995, they wouldn’t have credited the idea that I’d be working for a top Fortune 500 company a few years later.

And all of this has made me grateful. I no longer have to stand on wooden platforms thirty feet in the air, with freezing water dripping down my back. I don’t have to shovel manure, or work on sun baked roofs, or risk giant rolls of paper shifting and breaking my leg, nor getting burned by molten aluminum.

(PAUSE)

My life has taken me in some strange directions, and much to my surprise it has now brought me here, to a Toastmasters meeting in a beautiful building in Charlotte, and I’m glad to be here and thank you all for welcoming me.

Mr. Toastmaster…

“I hate that the world has changed”

Aside

(cross-posted from FB)

Many of the complaints I see from the conservative side of social media seem to boil down to “I hate that the world doesn’t look like it did when I was a kid.”

For the most part, the good old days were not so good for most people. We’ve lost good things, I won’t deny, but some things are better, and equal rights for more people are on my list of those better things. I’m not asking anyone to agree, but I’m probably not going to spend much time talking with you if you disagree.

Peace.

Leaping forward… into the quiet center

I haven’t fully worked out what I want to say here, but I wanted to get something typed out so that I don’t forget that I want to write about it.

I spend a lot of time online. Twitter, Google Plus, even Facebook. I see a lot of posts by people encouraging everyone to seize the day, start their small business, travel to exotic places, write their book… and I’m sure that’s all great advice. Really! I probably will try to write a book someday, and even though I’m not cut out to be an entrepreneur, if you are, then you probably owe it to yourself to give it a real shot.

But not all of us need to be world travelers, even if we can afford to, which (obviously) most people cannot. Some of us like going home at the end of the workday and leaving work at work… people who start their own businesses probably need to be thinking about their business pretty much all the time, or that’s what I hear. And so far, I haven’t thought of a single story or non-fiction book idea that’s just burning up in me, trying to get out to the world.

My resistance to the “rah rah rah” cheerleader crowd goes deeper than that, though. I think it has to do with a feeling that the go out and burn your mark on the world idea is hooked to an assumption that fast movement, outward-facing action, loud & forceful speaking, and shaking things up are the only ways to be “a success.” As if the only right mold is the one that produces extroverts. I think, too, that it’s aligned with the “growth = success” model that sees wilderness as “undeveloped” and not gorgeous and complete in itself, that sees efficiency and productivity as the only modes of action, and counts speed and size as sole measures of value.

To be honest, none of that appeals to me. I need to think that way at work a lot, because they pay me to get lots of work done. But when I come home, I want to be, not produce.

I seem to be attracted to things that are not quick. I am one year into training in Aikido, where (at my dojo at least) I am not likely to reach the first level of black belt for at least eight to ten years. In my free time I’m likely to be reading, knitting, or learning to weave.

I think there’s a place in the world for taking time, for not rushing to a goal, for learning the subtle aspects of something.

A hard lesson to learn: trying to be a better me

I was reading a book on Aikido recently. The author of the book mentioned how nearly everyone he met in Aikido over the years had been a decent person. I have had an interest in Aikido for over thirty years, and finally got a chance to join a dojo last year. In my very limited experience, I think that his observation is correct. I’ve visited two dojos in addition to my home dojo, and I’ve attended two seminars where people from other dojos visited to train with us. They’ve all been incredibly helpful, friendly, gentle, and patient people.

Even more recently, I was reading an article about Esperanto, and this section caught my attention:

  Invented at the end of the 19th century, in many ways it (Esperanto) presaged the early online society that the web would bring to life at the end of the 20th. It’s only ever been spoken by an assortment of fans and true believers spread across the globe, but to speak Esperanto is to become an automatic citizen in the most welcoming non-nation on Earth.

Decades before Couchsurfing became a website (or the word website existed), Esperantists had an international homestay service called Pasporta Servo, in which friendly hosts around the world listed their phone numbers and home addresses in a central directory available to traveling Esperantists. It may be a small, widely dispersed, and self-selected diaspora, but wherever you go, there are Esperantists who are excited that you exist.

It sounds hokey,* but this is the central appeal of Esperanto. It’s as if the initial Utopian vibes of the World Wide Web had never reached a wider audience. There’s no money, no power, no marketing, no prestige — Esperanto speakers speak Esperanto because they believe in it…

I mention this not because I’m interested in Esperanto, but because I was pleased to see someone praise the no money/no marketing/no power/no prestige angle instead of mocking it.

…and then there’s my local knitting guild. And my wife’s lace guild. All filled with wonderful, helpful people. I also recently attended my first Toastmasters meeting.  I think by now you’ll have spotted a trend, and won’t be surprised to learn that in addition to the stated goal to “…provide a supportive and positive learning experience…” the folks at that meeting actually modeled that behavior.

All of this positivity bubbling up in my life at once got me thinking yesterday, including realizing that this might sound as if I’m turning into a Pollyanna.

I concluded a couple of things right away. One: I don’t really care if I sound like a bit of a goody-two-shoes. After all, I don’t make a very convincing sinister character. Two: I like the “me” who participates in these groups better than other versions of me that I’ve been in the past.

Then I remembered something that I’d figured out a few years ago, but forgotten (or at least, not had much reason to ponder) since then. It was a hard thing for me to admit to myself, and I’ll try to explain why…

Somewhere along the line in my childhood, I’d gotten the impression that… well… good people are good because they hew to concepts of goodness. You know… the good man has this code of ethics and never varies from it. That whole thing. The trouble was, I kept disappointing myself. I kept not being the person I wanted to be. I was selfish, self-indulgent, prone to irrational rages, full of self loathing, often giving up on goals, bailing on commitments to other people… yeah, not the person I wanted to see in the mirror.

It took me a long time to admit that I wasn’t a stand-alone paragon of virtue. In fact, if I hung out with people who also were self-indulgent, selfish, and tended to bail on commitments, my virtue would be hard to detect. I had to admit that I’m one of those horrible people who are “easily swayed.” I’d rather not be. I want to be a paragon. But the reality is, my environment matters a lot.

It turns out, when I associate with people who exhibit the kind of behavior I really admire, I’m rather more admirable myself.

I’ve decided not to worry about being a paragon. If if takes being selective about how and who I spend time with to make me a better person… and heck, if it turns out that I like those people a lot better than the average, then where’s the downside? That I don’t get to be the Mighty Individualist? Perhaps, but in addition to not playing the sinister villain, I’m also not cut out to be John Galt. Sorry, fans of the American Rugged Individualist!

So, it seems that being with supportive people leads me to be a better me. Then a natural question might be “how do I find the groups that help me?” On the surface, knitting, aikido, and public speaking don’t have much in common, but there is a thread; or even a series of threads. These things all take time to do well; constant practice is mandatory to improve. There’s not much room for people who need constant ego boosts. One of my fellow aikido students noted that people who like to be overnight successes tend to drop out of aikido training after a few days or weeks. It’s just too humbling to be constantly at the level of total beginner.

I’ve learned to be at peace with the concept of needing lots of support and I like knowing I’m supporting others in striving for goals that seem to recede in the distance. You can always work to be a better knitter, a better aikidoka, or a better speaker, but it is probably not sensible to strive to be the best at any these crafts or paths. How would you even measure such a thing?

And now it’s time to get ready to go to the dojo. Peace.

 

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*I love that he used the word hokey here… :-)

Tyranny

I was thinking about the news one recent day, and I started to wonder why so many dictatorships spend so much time, money, and energy suppressing their populations. I thought something like “if I had any urge to be a tyrant, I’d prefer to be the absolute ruler of a rich nation than a poor one, as there would be many more resources and fun things for me to own and do than otherwise.”

As I continued mulling on this concept, I realized that if the citizens subjects were convinced that they were actually free, then they wouldn’t even be a threat to my rule, not realizing that they were being oppressed. In fact, only really stupid dictators wouldn’t see this; the ones who saw the world from a zero-sum perspective.

It struck me immediately that if I could think of this, then many smarter and more ambitious people had to have already not only thought of this, but implemented it, and I should be able to look around the world and see evidence of this in existing countries.

Suddenly, and sadly, the history of U.S. foreign and domestic policy since the end of the second world war made a lot more sense.

Believe me, I know how paranoid this sounds, I don’t claim it’s objectively true, and I don’t plan to haul this theory out at get-togethers for the rest of my life. I just wanted to type it out to get it out of the cabinet of curiosities that is my subconscious mind.

Troubleshooting a Harbor Breeze ceiling fan

Harbor Breeze ceiling fanLast autumn, we bought a ceiling fan at Lowe’s Hardware. It was one of their store brand fans, called the Harbor Breeze*. Installation went smoothly and the fan worked fine (although we still don’t understand what all the switches on the remote do! There are three different ways to turn on the light, for instance), and we were happy with our purchase.

About three months after I installed it, there was a day when the fan suddenly wouldn’t function right. Or rather, some days it would work fine, other days it would run for a few seconds and then stop. Sometimes, reversing the turn direction of the blades would make it work again for a while. I realized that I was going to have to stop running it until I had time to troubleshoot the issue. Online research pointed at a possible short in the wires, probably caused by sloppy installation, either when I installed it or when the builders put the wires in the wall.

After getting the fan down from the ceiling, I inspected all the wires and did a continuity check on everything, using a multimeter. All switches and power looked fine, and there was no damage to any wires. While I was cleaning dust out of the unit, I noticed that a small part, shaped like a shoe box (about .5″x.75’x1″), was loose, and I tightened that screw and then tightened all other screws and bolts.

During re-installation, I discovered that the fan blades would no longer turn freely. I took the unit apart again, and realized that the shoe box thing had come loose and toppled sideways, dragging the wiring harness out to the side. This was stopping the circular blade mount from turning freely. The cheesy plastic flange at the end of the component had completely broken off. I used some of that blue adhesive putty and some tape to hold the component** in place and reassembled the unit. The fan now works perfectly again, and I thought I’d share this in hopes that it may help someone else struggling with what may seem like an issue with the motor, switch, or remote, when it’s actually a mechanical issue.

I’m going to keep an eye on my fan and if it starts acting up, I’ll know that the first thing to do is use something stronger to hold that component in place. Probably something like Gorilla Glue.

I’d strongly suggest to the engineers at Harbor Breeze that they strengthen the mounting flange on that “shoe box” component!

 

 

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*Harbor Breeze Platinum Portes 52-in Brushed Nickel Downrod Mount Ceiling Fan with Light Kit and Remote Control, Item #: 451821 | Model #: LP8293LBN

**I suspect it may be the radio receiver for the remote control

What are some of the great examples of coincidence?

My answer to the above question, posted on Quora…

In the early 1980s, I was hitchhiking from Massachusetts to Virginia to attend a wedding. My brother dropped me off at the junction of the Mass Pike and route 495 that morning, and, about ten minutes later, a trucker picked me up. I rode with him all the way to Baltimore… a great first ride.

More than two weeks later, after visiting Virginia, Illinois, and Wisconsin, I was hitchhiking home and my ride dropped me off after sunset at the junction of 495 and the Mass Pike. Getting rides after dark is almost impossible, so I was facing sleeping out or walking 15 miles home.

While standing there by the side of the highway, thinking through my options, I jumped straight up in the air when a truck hit the brakes so hard the tires smoked and the truck looked like it was about to jack-knife. After the truck stopped a few yards from me, I ran up to the passenger side and opened the door; there was my friend from the first day of my trip. It turned out that he lived about a mile from my house and he dropped me off right at my street. He was so stunned that he had given me both the first and last ride of my trip that he couldn’t stop exclaiming about it during the drive.

Nevertheless, he could not have been any more astonished than I was, and it still stands out in my mind as one of the most impressive coincidences of my life.

The original of my answer: http://www.quora.com/What-are-some-of-the-great-examples-of-coincidence/answer/Jorah-Lavin

1,000 sword cuts: Happy New Year!

January 3, 2015

I just completed my test for sixth kyu level in aikido. This is the very first test you take as a new student. We did testing during our dojo’s New Year celebration. We marked the event (the new year, not my test! :-) ) by performing 1,000 swings of our wooden swords. I found the exercise interesting and really painful. I’m barely able to hold my hands up to type this! To avoid having this difficulty next year, I’m thinking of practicing the cuts once a week. I also think there is something to learn in doing a motion that seems so simple on the outside, but may have depths to explore.

It was a pretty big day for several folks in our little school. Senior student Jason got his USAF teaching license, Brenda got her 3rd Dan, and Eric passed his 1st kyu test.

My new Road ID thingy

Aside

Fitness folks, guess what? I’ve started a light exercise program again. After two years (or has it been three?) I’m back in the game–in a small way, at least. I’m doing a light lifting/bodyweight workout and riding about 40 miles a week on my bike, working up to a planned 60 miles per week commuting.

As part of being out on the road a lot, I’ve recently realized that having some ID on me would be good if I’m in a wreck, and decided to go with the “Road ID” thing; it’s like a dog tag. The version I got has a phone number the first responders can call to learn about who I am and any medical conditions I have.

If you’re interested, and use the link below, I’ll get a little credit toward any future purchases I make on their site…
http://RoadID.com/invite/4FMZ6-TAFJVZ6BNTD

(in other words… full disclosure, I will benefit if you use that particular link)

…update as of July 6: and here it is!

RoadID

My Road ID wristband