This was actually the 9th speech that I gave at a Toastmasters club.  It isn’t the best, but I’m posting it anyway.  You may have the same issues with speaking that I do.  There is a lot of concern to get every single word right.  That’s just not possible.  The less time that I spend thinking about every word, the more time I can spend relating to the audience.  The tone was a little off in my voice.  It came across as more teacher/student then I would have liked.  If you want to know more about why laptops cost what they cost, the New York Times did a great article on the topic.

Toastmaster Speech #7 Download if the stream doesn’t work.

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Sometimes things don’t turn out the way I thought they would.  When the infamous $100 laptop project was going on (has it really been) 5 years ago, I thought that $100 laptops were the future.  Tablets were, so we thought back then, unusable devices that would never catch on due to clunky input and the fact they ran operating systems that were designed for laptops.

The iPad changed everything.  It turned out that when a operating system that was designed for a tablet combined with 1000’s of applications that were designed for use with a tablet made a pretty useful device.  Pretty useful as in it does about 75% of the things that can be done with a laptop and then adds its own capabilities such as a touch screen and accelerometer.

This was all well and good, but if you are like me, you were still clinging on to your laptop and saying, “It still doesn’t do X”.  Times have changed, a touch screen combined with applications that work well with a touch screen has left me thinking, “My laptop doesn’t do Y”.

Then the tipping point came.  The team I am on was assigned to the development of a mobile application.  It was time for me to get with the times and try out a tablet.

You may be familiar with the ~$200 tablets such as the Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7.  They each have their strengths and weaknesses.  If you are like me, you want the best deal possible.  By looking around on the Internet, I was astounded to find out that the $200 price mark was beatable.

My first purchase was a $92 Coby MID7042.  My second was a $95 Viewsonic G-Tablet off of ebay.  I have found it!  The sub $100 computer. Both of these devices are great in their own ways.  Disclaimer: Please search the Internet for reviews before you make any purchasing decisions.

It seems unbelievable, but the time has come.  Even with the dollar’s purchasing power going down over the last 5 years, you can get a great piece of computing power for under $100.  Just look in the tablet section.

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Colin Powell is an amazing  success story.  He happens to be a very good story teller as well. In this post I am reviewing his book, It Worked for Me.

It is surprising to me how many people give the book bad reviews simply because they are judging him based on his speech at the UN.  To avoid political quagmires, this review is going to take him at his word.

It Worked for Me is broken into six parts.  They cover various and broad topics. The subtitle, In Life and Leadership, is a good summary of what to expect.  The book feels like an autobiography at times and a leadership manual at other times.

The book begins with the 13 principles of life (aka 13 Rules of Leadership).  They are insightful and one of the better lists to lead by that I have seen.   I’m not going to repost them all, but comment on the two that I was touched by:

Rule 2: Get Mad Then Get Over It!

It’s ok to get mad 🙂 .  This was interesting to read because it goes contrary to what I had heard before.  Showing emotions such as anger has been used against politicians as a sign of being out of control.  My reaction to this is that it is ok to feel the way that I feel even if it is one of those “rash” emotions.  Please comment if you have thought about how this applies to your own life.

Rule 13: Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier!

One of the reasons that leadership is so fun for me is that I am naturally optimistic.  Both positivity and negativity are contagious.  People (including myself) work better in a positive environment.  The leader needs to be the one to set the tone in this regard.

The book then goes into some leadership lessons that Colin has learned during his life along with the stories that go along with the lesson.

There are lots of leadership nuggets that are sprinkled into this section of the book.  “One team one fight” is one that will stay with me for a long time.  It has always been true that a house divided against itself cannot stand.  One team one fight is a way to simplify this message and drive it home.

Colin impresses me with the way he continually mentions how everyone performs a crucial job.  This shows a deep appreciation of those around him.  He commends those who do vital jobs such as taking out trash and sweeping floors.  In this regard, he sets a great example that we all should follow.

The later parts of the book are personal stories.  He writes about the lead up to the speech to the UN about weapons of mass destruction.  He writes about gifts he has given and received from foreign politicians and diplomats.  These stories really have the “just a normal guy” feeling to them.  He seems genuinely genuine and quite funny at times as well.  His story telling abilities are excellent.

It Worked for Me is an inspirational and uplifting book.  It is apparent that it was written by an optimist who believes in the greatness of the people of America.

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Go Karts are one of the greatest Summer activities in existence.  Over the course of my lifetime, I have developed some simple tips for getting the most speed out of your Go Karting experience.  If you are as ridiculously competitive as I am, they may be therapeutic.

Tip #1: Find the Fast Kart

Not all go karts are created equally.  It is almost always the case that there exists a kart that is faster then the rest.  If you are waiting in line, observe the karts on the track.  Try to figure out who is fast because they are a good driver and who is fast because the kart is a winner.

Tip #2: Hug the Inside of the Track

The vast majority of all passing will occur on the inside.  It is often forgotten (especially be people without driver’s licenses) that the shortest distance through the track will always be the inside line.  Even when there are four possible lanes of width out there, hug the inside.

It also is worth mentioning that if someone has a faster kart then you, they will have a tough time of passing if you are on the inside.   Passing on the outside is really a hassle and can lead to losing a position.

Tip #3: Everything Else is Momentum

The acceleration of a kart isn’t the greatest.  It is crucial to be traveling as fast as possible whenever possible.  Although sliding the back tires around a corner may look cool, it causes a loss in momentum.  Try to keep all four tires from losing their grip.  Do this even if it is a slight violation of Tip #2.

Never hit anything that is slower than you.  It will naturally try to bring you down to its speed.  This includes everything.  Do not hit other karts, guard rails, or the person who is running on the track who is asking for it.

Tip #4: Enjoy the Ride

This one is the most important of all.  If you are not having fun, it doesn’t matter how fast you are, because you won’t notice anyway.

Which laptop is best for you?  This speech is intended to answer that question with regards to physical aspects of a laptop.

This is my eighth Toastmaster speech.  Two more before I earn the Competent Communicator award.

If this ends up being a help to others, I’ll do some more speeches on similar topics. Speech reviews welcome.

Toastmaster Speech #8 Download if the stream doesn’t work.

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Update 6/4/2013

A lot of people have had issues with this keyboard.  Mine is typing duplicate letters randomly.  I can not longer recommend that anyone purchases this keyboard.  The form factor is great. The execution, not so great.

Original Review

Keyboards have been boring.  Did you know that there are mice out there that you can put weights in so it weighs the exact amount you want it to weigh? I have such a mouse.  It frequently turns to my keyboard and has a good chuckle.  Thanks to the AZiO Levetron Mech4, that chuckle has been silenced.

The number pad is one of the least used things on everyone’s desktop.  Why does it exist?  Why is it not optional?  Why does everyone have to tilt slightly to the left all day so they can type?  Typically, the mouse is on the right side of the keyboard.  All the more reason to get rid of 4 inches of unused number pad. The mech4 makes the number pad optional.  What a great idea! It seems so profound when you buy a keyboard that actually has had this done.  This was the #1 thing that I was looking for in a keyboard.

The #2 thing I was looking for was anti-masking.  Most people would not care about anti-masking enough to even know what it is.  Let me explain it simply.  Hold down the ‘J’, ‘K’, ‘L’, and ‘;’ keys with your right hand, then hit any other key with your left hand.  Did the key you hit with your left hand actually type?  If not, you are experiencing masking.  This doesn’t usually matter.  Who hits 5 keys at the same time anyway?  The people who care are typically gamers.  I want to move to the upper left (2 keys), while walking (1 key), and casting a spell (1 key), and taunting the guy I am casting the spell on (1 key).   This was also an issue when I rewired an old keyboard to make two player arcade controls.  All of the sudden, one player couldn’t move.  It was because their movements were getting masked.  It seems like a feature that should just be there in a premium keyboard, but like the number pad, often overlooked.

With a keyboard that is going to cost over $100, you expect quality.  The #3 thing that I was expecting was quality.  With the Mech4, I knew going in that it was a mechanical keyboard with Cherry black keys.  That means that the keystokes were going to take a consistent amount of pressure to register.  There are a lot of keyboards out there that have keys that are not consistent with the pressure you need to press a key.  Test out your keyboard (I apologize if I have now made typing annoying for you :)).  Cherry black keys are also somewhat loud.  You need to know that going in.  It doesn’t bother me, and my cat is currently lying with her left-rear foot about 1/2 inch from the keyboard, so it’s not too much of an issue for us.  A co-worker may not be so happy about the noise though.

Those were the three major criteria for me.  There are a few keyboards that meet this.  And, as you already know, I purchased the AZiO Levetron Mech4.  It not only meets my three criteria, but it adds a few interesting changes from your normal keyboard.  There are programmable buttons on the left of the keyboard, a button to turn on and off the ‘windows’ key, a volume knob, and a neat little contraption that sits on the top of the keyboard and provides six additional programmable buttons.  The keyboard is a rock, the skid pads are huge so it doesn’t move around on my desk, and it has a built-in palm rest.

On the negative side, there are a few things they could improve.  The keyboard takes two USB connections and does not have any option for using a PS/2 connection.  The sides of the keyboard, where the number pad would plug in if I used it, take up about 2 inches of space on the sides of the keyboard that I consider wasted.  Back-lighting on the keys was not a show-stopper to me, but may be for some other users.  Unlike some people, I usually have the lights on when I am working or playing.

Finally, someone is paying attention to keyboards!  AZiO has made a product that should make other vendors take notice.  Perhaps, more innovation will come in the near future and we all can benefit from the creative thinking that has made its way into products like the AZiO Levetron Mech4 Keyboard.

There are other reviews on this product on-line.  Please check those out as well before making a decision with your money.  As you can tell my this review, I am quite pleased with the purchase.

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It’s about time for some enjoyable reading. This time, I decided to to opt for something in the science fiction realm. It was a snap decision to buy Pathfinder.  I have read Ender’s Game and thought it to be awesome.  So why not another book by the same author?

Pathfinder initially struck me in two ways.  First, the cover is one of the best covers I’ve ever seen.  The blue color is great, it is shiny :), and it has a dagger on it.  The second thing that struck me is that it is 600+ pages long.  I really wasn’t expecting that much, but in the days of Harry Potter, perhaps that is what people are expecting.

I mention Harry Potter because this is also a book intended for teens.  I appreciate a few things about Orson’s writing in this book.  It is as clear as possible.  He goes through great lengths to explain what is going on in the “science” parts.  At the end of the book, he actually reviews what is the most perplexing of these in length. His writing is clear and straight forward.  It is clean enough where I would have no problems reading it to a pre-teen (although I don’t expect they would understand everything that was going on).

Pathfinder is an adventure.  It takes the reader to places that have never been thought of before.  It also ties this place in with concepts we already know.  Things everyone has knowledge of such as sailing, taverns, and friendships are in the book so we feel like we can relate to this new world.  He describes this world brilliantly.  From the waterfalls to the Tower of O (you have to read it to know what the Tower of O is :)), you feel like you are there.

The reader is left with more questions then answers.  It felt like watching the TV show Lost.  For every question that was answered, two more popped up.  Some things were explained incredibly well and other things were ignored all together.  The dagger that is on the cover of the book is a good example of this.  It is on the cover of the book and yet hardly gets mention in the book.  In this way it feels like an incomplete adventure.  My guess is that is because there is a sequel coming out later this year.

The characters are memorable and distinct.  Each one of them plays a role that only they can play.  It makes for interesting displays of teamwork when their “powers” are used together.  One of the abilities that Rigg (the main character) has been taught is the ability to observe his surroundings.  Some of the best parts of the book are when he uses this analytical skill to play mind games with other people.  He will notice things that others may not and that gives him the upper hand in getting his desired result.

There are intertwined stories going on in Pathfinder.  Since some of the characters were more likable than others,  I kept thinking how much I wanted to know what was going on with the characters I did like.  Orson does a good job of mentioning those other characters even though we are following someone else.  This way, we don’t just forget what was going on and remember that we are getting two or three (or four?) stories in one book.

The pacing of the book is slow at the beginning and then faster towards the end.  It is more of an adventure book then an action book.  That written, some of the last chapters were full of action and made me forget just how much I should be sleeping and not up reading.

I had a good time reading Pathfinder and will most likely read it again to my son when he is old enough to understand it.  As fun and adventurous as this book is, leaving things open-ended doesn’t much appeal to me, if I’m left with more questions after the second book in the series; I’ll probably stop reading there.

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Linux has been working hard to make things work out of the box.  But, what happens when things are working?  Well, when things are working we want them to keep working.   That is why a linux distribution that is supported for a long length of time makes sense.   Oracle has taken a huge step in this regard by making updates for Oracle Linux free.

You have probably heard the story before.  Oracle Linux stems from the infamous RedHat Linux distribution.  RedHat does distributes updated packages for their distribution, but doesn’t give them in an immediately usable form.   Other distributions have taken the packages RedHat makes and transforms them into a usable form.

CentOS was the most popular edition of these RedHat ‘clones’.   When people got turned about the frequency of updates of CentoOS, they turned to Scientific Linux.  Now that Oracle Linux provides free updates, there is another option.

Why is this a big deal?  It’s a big deal because no one likes to change their operating system every couple of years.  The last few updates to the linux desktop have really created backlash in the community. The operating system should not get in the way or make the user have to relearn how to get work done.  The easiest way to accomplish this is to not have perform a major update.  These “enterprise” distributions that I have listed have support for 10 years!  That’s longer than most hardware will last.

Oracle Linux is supported by Oracle.  Given the fact that the company sells a competing product, this is quite an interesting situation.  The fact that it is supported by a company or Oracle’s stability gives it a lot of credibility.   It also has features that are not in the other clones.

RedHat provides some great services to the Linux community.  Please don’t feel that I’m unhappy with them overall.  With regards to providing free and usable packages for an enterprise version of linux, Oracle is currently doing a better job.

I am convinced that Oracle Linux is the way to go for an operating system that provides enterprise stability.   I would also say thanks to Oracle for providing free updates and helping fill the gap that RedHat took away all those years ago when they stopped providing free binary updates.

People are predictably irrational.   We make decisions based on many factors.  Sometimes that leads us to the right place for the right reasons; other times we are lead to the wrong place for the wrong reasons; other times we are lead to the the right place for the wrong reason.

Lately, I’ve been examining the choices that I make.  Why did I buy that PS3?  I can’t play games.  I need that time to write in my blog, or perhaps mow my lawn, or perhaps read chapter two of Predictably Irrational.

Chapter one in this book is awesome.  You should buy the book just for that chapter.   Dan does a great job of explaining how, when we compare things, we can end up getting something that we didn’t really want.  It is better to understand what we actually need instead of being lead by comparisons.

There are few books where the message is so clear and applicable.  Here is the meaning of that chapter in my own words:

Life is a competition; it is you against you.

We all thought we were the fastest until we lost a race, but does that mean we shouldn’t run?  Should we dwell on the fact that we are not the fastest people on the planet?  Of course, this is not the case.  We should do what ever we can with what we have.

I will never be the best software developer on the planet.  Does that mean that I will never write code that helps millions of people?  Of course not!

The only reason to dwell on the accomplishments of others is to gain inspiration.  Never sell yourself short.  Never quit just because there are people who could probably do it better.  Just keep living life to the fullest.

It seems odd that I got all of that from one chapter in a book.  I’m excited to finally write this so I can get to the other chapters.

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Canned Chicken

Lunch time has always been a great time for experimentation. Lately, my goals are leading me down the path of a very high protein diet. After browsing for the best way to get protein during, I decided on eating canned chicken breast for a while. Here are some pros and cons in case you ever want to do the same.

The Good:

  • It has an amazingly high amount of protein. The type I went with has 60g of protein per can. That helps immensely to reach my goal of 160 grams per day.
  • Along the same lines, the portion of the calories that are protein make up a very high percentage of the total calories.  There is very little fat.
  • Surprisingly, the texture is good.
  • It can be bought in bulk for a reasonable price per can.
  • They keep good for quite some time.  It works to “stock up” on them and then not have to worry about buying more lunches for a while.
  • I am having a blast trying a bunch of different things to find the best combination.

The Ok:

  • The taste can only be described as ok.

The Bad:

  • It is only 300 calories. A 300 calorie lunch is just not enough.
  • The smell.  How on earth did they make chicken smell like tuna fish?  I would highly recommend chasing it with some sort of breath freshening.
  • Most of the weight of the can is water.  Make sure you understand that when measuring how much protein is contained in the can.  Multiply the grams of protein by the amount of servings to get the correct amount.
  • It gets stuck on my teeth.

The Ugly:

  • Reddish colors have been found in the cans of chicken that I have eaten so far.   It’s not a lot, but it doesn’t add to the appeal.

Conclusion:

Canned chicken isn’t the amazing super-food I was hoping for.  Feel free to leave me a comment about some other food that I should check out.

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