Taking a personal day

I mostly talk about geeky stuff on this blog, but sometimes I like to get a little more personal. Today is one of those days.

Like this post, I took my public speaking to a personal place this month. At the Ignite Birmingham event this month I decided to talk about what life is like with a large family. This was a different experience for me. It was very well received and my wife was there to watch it. She had not seen the slides so it was a surprise to her. Here is the video.

My daughter's 8th grade class had a "graduation" ceremony on Tuesday. Now, I kind of think that is a bit silly. I approached as an awards ceremony. They give out awards for best GPA per core class. They also award student athletes of each sport. the SGA and drama department are honored. I think those are all great things. Well, Macy, my 13 year old received seveal honors. If I told you I did not expect them I would be lying. She was a head cheerleader, class historian/photographer, played the lead role in the school play and is an all around good student. She received awards for all of those things. Those were expected. After the students all walked across the stage, the vice principal and principal had one more award to give. Each of them chooses one boy and one girl based on their own criteria to receive the Vice Principal's Award and Principal's Award. We sat listening to the principal talk about who she chose the students to receive the award. She spoke of character, kindness, school spirit, work ethic and all the qualities that one hopes their child has. Then, much to our surprise, she says Macy's name. I was floored. I admit, while she was saying all those things, I was thinking "Macy fits all those to a T, she should get that, but probably won't". I figured it would go to some goody two shoes kid I had never met because their mom was always helping out at the school and they would always chat it up with the principal in the hallways. In reality, my wife and I have not always seen eye to eye with the principal and I feared that relationship would also be a hurdle. But, no, kudos to the principal. She evaluated Macy for being Macy. And I won't lie, that will probably help the relationship between myself and the principal as my other kids go into that school.

How does a geek end up doing public speaking?

I just finished reading Confessions of a Public Speaker (O'Reilly) by Scott Berkun. It is the first book I have read cover to cover in 16 years. I even read the colophon (which I had never seen in a book before). I found the entire book to be very engaging. While reading it, I kept reviewing every mistake I had ever made in every talk I have given. Even if you are not a regular public speaker, there is great stuff in the book that can help you with talking to your coworkers, boss, etc. There is a chapter that is more about teaching than speaking that I found really good. I can really apply a lot of that knowledge to working with my team on new technologies.

Public speaking was never something I thought I would do when I was younger. I was not on the debate team in high school. I was never the leader of any clubs. The most I ever did was run for class president my senior year. I did not win. The eventual valedictorian who had been the president of our class every year of high school won. That was probably for the best. In fact, I was considered a "rebellious", quiet outsider I later discovered. Ha, a rebel? Me. That seems quite far fetched.

I first felt like I wanted to share my knowledge with my peers was when I went to Apachecon in 1999. We were a 4 or 5 person company at the time. But, our CTO had been to regular conferences in his past jobs and found value in the experience. So, he and I took off for Orlando, FL. At the time, Apachecon was really the only well rounded web conference that existed (I find it is not as much this way now). I was excited by the environment I found at the conference. The speakers were not talking heads for faceless corporate giants. They were guys that, like us, were trying to make the web work. Also like us, a lot of them did not have massive investment cash, but were operating on shoestring budgets. Performance and availability mattered. Coming up with new ideas really mattered. We found that we had ideas that others had concurrently. And in some cases, we had ideas that some had not thought about. I would wait another two years to have my turn on stage.

The web dev/ops team had grown to 5 people. I received an email for the CFP (Call for Proposals) for Apachecon 2001. I thought I had a good idea for a session. The reaction we received from people when we talked about our caching scheme was interesting. Most people had one of two reactions. They either thought the idea was very interesting or they thought we were just dumb. But, the key was that almost everyone had a reaction. So, I thought it would make a good talk. I made every rookie mistake there was. I made my slides the night before the talk. I did not go to the room I was speaking in until it was time to talk. You name it, I did it for the actual presentation. The talk felt like a train wreck. The only good thing about it was, at that time, Apachecon required the presenters to submit a full written version of the session for printing in a book that attendees received. So, we (I was doing the work along with a coworker) had become very familiar with the content. The response we received from the people that attended was incredible. They probably had no idea that the slides were written the night before. But, I have to say, from that point on, I was kind of hooked.

It would be a few years before I spoke on that type of stage again (MySQL Conference, 2008). I seem to have found a home at O'Reilly conferences. Like Apachecon, they embrace people that are doing the work in the field. Sure, you see some talks that feel like sales pitches, but the community quickly exposes those sessions. In the last 5 years, I have spoken at several O'Reilly conferences, another Apachecon and several regional conferences.

All of this public speaking helped me in a way I never expected. In late 2009, my grandfather passed away. My grandmother, his wife, passed away in 1995. I remember at then having the urge to get and and talk about her. She was a fascinating woman. And there were so many things in my head. But, I lacked the confidence to just get up and say them. So, when my grandfather passed away, I had a completely different mindset. I made it known that I would like to say some things about him. When trying to decide what to say, I found myself using techniques I use for preparing a presentation. I started with several points to make, worked on the right order for the points. Then I went back through and filled in the details of each point. Practicing that "talk" was the hardest practice I have ever had to do for public speaking. No practice or preparation has seemed hard sense. It was an odd clash of my worlds. But, I am so happy I did it. I still have the notes on my iPhone. When I miss him, I get them out and read them.

Lately, I have branched out from talking to geeks. O'Reilly's Ignite series of events leap out of the geek culture and into your community. We are lucky to have a very good group of people organizing Ignite Birmingham in my home town. And while my talks thus far with Ignite Birmingham have had a tech slant, they were not for geeks. I was speaking to a room full of smart, but not nesicarily technical people. It's fun to get outside of my comfort zone. Also, they video all the talks. So, I get to see myself and judge my performance. It's great. Speaking to a wider audience is a fun journey that I am finding very exciting and look forward to exploring more. My next challenge for myself is to find a completely non-technical topic for Ignite Birmingham.

Engineers Work In Their Sleep

My grandmother worked at the Marshall Space Flight Center. She worked with a lot of engineers. I have always remembered when she told my cousin and I that we should be engineers. Her reasoning was that if you saw a janitor sitting in a chair with his arms crossed and his eyes closed, you pretty much knew he was not working. But, if you see an engineer in the same position, you can not prove he is not working. Now, was she saying she wanted us to sleep on the job? No, of course not. The message was to have a job where you could use your mind. Although I think watching our grandfather work hard every day as a construction foreman may have shaped her opinion. You know what is funny about that? He was the healthiest man I have ever known. Maybe I don't need to be sitting behind a desk with my arms crossed and eyes closed?

For what it is worth, I don't believe that all jobs that use your mind are desk jobs. Some of the smartest people I know have jobs in fields that would be considered "manual" labor. I believe that smart people will always rise to the top no matter what your profession.

Spreading Open Source (sort of)

So, I know I just had a kid, but I am at a friends house helping with some computer issues.  This is the friend that took my wife to the hospital and sat with her until I got there, after all.  She is also the friend that took my other five kids in while we were at the hospital.  So, I owe her big time.

First a little backstory.  A few years ago, I started installing Firefox and Thunderbird on my non-technical friend's computers.  I would label the Firefox icon "Internet" and the Thunderbird icon "Email".  This made it simple for them.  I would also install OpenOffice on those machines that did not have the full Microsoft Office package and show them that it could do all the same things that they needed MS Office for.

Anyhow, I am helping this friend by installing XP Service Pack 3 and remove some malware that somehow got on here. While waiting on Windows, I notice that my usual pattern of installing FF, TB and OOO.org are all done on this machine.  What is cool is that I have never used this computer before.  This one is new to me.  So, that means this friend sought out Firefox, Thunderbird and OpenOffice all on her own and installed them for her family the same way I always have.

Now, I am not naive enough to think that my friend suddenly understands Open Source.  She is not using it because she wants to be a part of the open source movement.  But, it does make me feel good to help spread open source if even from the user perspective.  It is also a testament to those applications and how far they have come.

Hudson is born!

Well, it was not as planned, but he is here.  Our 6th child, Hudson Bennett Moon came into the world this morning at 8:53AM.  All of our children have been born via C section.  The plan was to come in at around 10AM on the 16th to deliver Hudson the same way.  Well, yesterday my wife starting having some pains that the doctors did not like.  They watched her overnight and decided this morning to go ahead and perform the C section this morning.  It was a whirlwind.  We waited all night to see what was going to happen.  Then, at 8:25AM, the nurse came in and said that we were doing it at 8:45 and that my wife was to be wheeled in to the OR in 5 minutes.  We franticlly called friends and family.  None of them were there.  We assumed (you know how that goes) that we would have an hour or something.  No such luck.  So, by 8:53 he was here and at 9:40 we were all in a room with baby and family.  Everyone is healthy.  Mom feels better than she did the last 3 weeks.

Hudson in blue

Click for a slideshow


Wow! For the second time this year we had snow for the kids to play in. It was all gone by noon, but we got out early and took some pictures. Click the picture below to see more.