How to Speak in Public – a troubleshooting guide

 About me : I have been public speaking and training people for over 20 years on everything from aircraft repair to managing a big data infrastructure .  I have trained side-by-side with Larry Tracy, a well known speaker who delivered the daily report to Ronald Reagan.  I am a writer with publications by Elsevier, CRC press, and Morgan Kaufman, and I have testified on computer forensic matters in state and Federal courts.  I blog on whatever I feel needs clarification and explanation that has direct relevance in my life.  If you enjoy this post, follow me on twitter : scoraellis.  

I’ve seen experienced public speakers make the mistakes listed here.  The biggest two that even the most seasoned pros make are eye contact deficits and projector spotlighting. 

If you have ever had to speak  in public, you’ve probably experienced fear.  That is the trouble, and these are the most common causes and solutions for dealing with that fear. If, at any step of the way, one of these things occurs, it can trip off a collapse of your ego.  When that happens, your presentation caves in along with it.

Here is a bullet list of the problems (in bold) followed by the solution.

  1.  When I start my presentation, I don’t have anyone’s attention and nobody is paying attention. You Didn’t Start Out With a Reason Why. Don’t start with “today we are going to be talking about metabolic subatomic mass spectrometry…(see, you are already bored)”   Instead, start with The Reason Why.. Give the audience information that will motivate them to listen. Some startling statistic, a relevant quote or headline – something powerful that will get them to buy in to the subject matter and realize they should listen
  2. I am trying to act just like William Shatner when I speak. Everyone listens to him, why aren’t they listening to me? This is Because You Are Imitating Someone Else.  A lot can be said be said for  “Fake it ‘til you make it,” but William Shatner  isn’t even doing William Shatner very well anymore.  Be careful who you model. It can back fire horribly, especially if nobody likes who you are imitating.
  3. The people in the audience are skeptical of me, they don’t seem to understand why I am talking to them or what the point is of this talk.  You Failed to “work” the room. The audience actually wants to meet  you. Mingle beforehand and get to know some of the people. If you can do it without them knowing you are the speaker, all the better, and the nicer the surprise. If they like you, they have a vested interest because these people hate being wrong.  If you are standing at the podium when people come in, messing with your computer, they will probably think that you’re the computer guy, and that that handsome man over there, chatting it up with everyone, must be the speaker.
  4. I’m so nervous I feel like my heart is going to pound out of my chest and I might faint…Failing to use relaxation techniques will cause this every time.  Breathe deeply, do 2 or 3 deep, slow knee bends. Raise your hands over your head, and shout to yourself “I am awesome!” 6 times.  These things have been proven to reduce heart rate. I still get a bit of a pounding sensation in my chest when speaking, but after testifying in some of the most high pressure courtrooms in the country, well, things are relative.  If you ever have the opportunity to speak in front of a very challenging or large audience, take it. Everything else will be easy after that.
  5. I’m reading my speech word for word, and it’s an awesome speech!  Then, why is everyone fidgeting and looking like they’d rather be anywhere else? This is as bad as having a huge PowerPoint presentation and reading from it. Why?  Because, whereas  a 4 year old child wants to be read to, adults want to be talked to.  They want to feel like they are having a personal and connected conversation with you.  You can’t do that with your head down on a podium. Ask questions and interact with the audience.  Watch them for cues, like a quickly raised hand that might not make it all the way up, or looking around a lot at others to see their reaction, and looking at their phone – they may be fact checking you.  In case this is not CLEAR.  DO NOT READ FROM YOUR SLIDES — EVER!
  6. Using someone else’s stories: Nobody wants to hear someone repeating what other people have said. That’s what Google is for. It’s okay to use brief quotes from other sources, but to connect with the audience, you must illustrate your most profound thoughts from your own life experiences. If you think you don’t have any interesting stories to tell, you are not looking hard enough.
  7. Unnecessary Movement, unusual faces.  Don’t dance around and sway back and forth! Move, plant.  Move, plant.  Keep their eyes as steady as you can with just enough movement to keep things interesting. And try to keep a straight face as much as necessary. When you make lot of weird faces and exaggerated gestures, you come across as condescending and arrogant.  And that’s ok, if that is what you are going for and it actually works for you.  For most, it won’t.
  8. Hogging the Spotlight Dilemma. It’s not a spotlight! It’s a f’ing projector!  DO NOT STAND in the projector light.  It is super annoying. I mean it. You all do it.
  9. The Escape Artist This guy continuously scans the room, and never lands on one person for more than a second or so, which is about 4 words.  Are you talking to the audience or looking for an escape route in the event that things don’t go well?  TALK to people.  Pick someone.  Say something to that person – don’t look away in the middle of your sentence – FINISH IT.  Keep your sentences brief.
  10. Instant dull – just add wet noodles. You think you are doing everything you think you need to do, so what additional “edge” can you bring to your speaking? Speak in short sentences. Speak with rhythm.  Speak with certainty.  If your spoken words have no rhythm, then you can’t set expectations, you can’t create suspense, and you won’t win your audience. Remember the “Rule of Three” and make use of doublets and triplets. Let your excitement about your topic show, engage the  audience!  For example, Winston Churchill once said “Never in the course of humanity has so much been owed by so many to so few.”  What if he’d said,  “A lot of people have done great things and we owe them a great debt” – this is not nearly so nice. Watch TED talks.  Those guys are usually great speakers.  Watch my YouTube channel (google scorellis, you will find it).  Some of the videos are old, and could be better, but taking the time to make all these videos has been great practice for public speaking. After all, what is public speaking?  It is a “How to.”
  11. I’m at the end of my speech, and I’ve asked if anyone has any questions, and nobody does. What should I do? Your mistake was that you ended a speech/ talk  with the cliché “questions and answers.”  Instead, tell the audience that you will take questions and then say, “But first, let me move to the closing point.”  Make your closing point one that will spark conversation.  This should be the final arrow in your quiver!  For example, summarize a couple of key points, and then say something like “So, now ?”  Don’t forget, You can ask questions too, but don’t ask questions you don’t know the answer to.  Make a list of questions you think the audience might have, and then ask them.   Conclude with a call to action, for example, “If you have any trouble after downloading my widget, shoot an email to
  12. Failing to prepare properly  What is proper preparation is subjective. Recognize what you’ve done in the past when you were at your best. Sometimes, too much preparation will leave you coming across as a dry accountant type. The biggest mistake is not knowing the material, and having an audience that has not been prepared for the topic.
  13. Failing to recognize that speaking is an acquired skill. Effective executives learn how to present in the same way they learn to use other tools to operate their businesses. They practice and they take classes. They listen to advice.  They try, and try, and they try again.

Bonus Tip:

Be cognizant of the health of people in the room.  If someone appears to be experiencing some sort of attack, you should stop speaking and render your complete assistance to them.  If you see someone looks distressed, you can ask them how they are doing.  Don’t tell them why you are asking.  As you work the room, and are interacting with the group, a simple “How you doing?” will suffice.   YOU are in charge and everyone will look to you to ensure that the person is cared for.  The first thing is to always call 9-1-1, ensure that someone is doing this while you render whatever aid you can or ask the room if someone has any medical training.  Know how to recognize and treat shock, it’s simple and easy and can make a person more comfortable while help is on the way.



A response to Laura Erickson’s Humming bird predation post.

Recently, a friend of mine forwarded me a post about hummingbirds:

Laura Ericson’s Blog posting regarding Hummingbirds and predators:

In her post, she presented an interesting postulate : That a 1985, scientific paper, written by Miller and Gass and titled “Survivorship in Hummingbirds: Is Predation Important?” is basically wrong.  Now, whenever a layperson begins bashing a scientific paper, my ears perk up.  I’ve spent a lot of time writing technical papers, books, and chapters for books, and I’m always interested to see how people perceive technical and scientific things.  Ultimately, Laura’s interpretation of the paper lacks foundation and is meritless, and is just another piece of Internet drivel (not unlike this one).  In the hopes that this blog post will crop up near Laura’s should anyone be unfortunate enough to locate and read either post, I have put the following editorial together.

I have no delusions that I can just say “she’s wrong” and then get on with life.  Rather, I am presenting evidence that she is wrong and I am also asking the reader to do some independent research and see where it leads.

Originally, I thought I would post this to her blog, but I do enjoy retaining copyright, as well as the ability to consolidate all of my Internet ranting to one place.  There is nothing worse that being unable to go back and remove an undesirable post (20/20 hindsight) or being unable to revise a malformed sentence.

This is the message to Laura as I originally intended to post it:

I have just a couple of question/comments after reading your blog post and the original paper you are discussing.

Question 1. The paper you mock refers to”‘natural predators’ in the usual sense” and you even quote this. Immediately, this excludes opportunistic predation and predation caused by things like cars, buildings, and cats, but your blog goes on to use these as refutation of the paper’s central argument.

That you mention cats as a hummingbird predator pretty much destroys your entire argument.  “Natural” predation also excludes opportunistic predation induced by human activity, such as introduced invasive predators, or luring hummingbirds in large numbers to poorly concealed, non-exhaustive hummingbird feeders where those invasive predators lie in wait. Where backyard feeders are concerned, we may as well be in league with the hawks and the cats. This wasn’t really a question, was it?

Question 2. How many squirrels are killed by Red-tailed hawks? Squirrels are definitelyHawk food.  A staple of their diet, as it were.

Question 3. How many hummingbirds per day are killed by, say, Cooper’s Hawks, which have been seen chasing hummingbirds (and vice versa)? I have never seen a hummingbird being chased by a hawk in nature myself, but even if did, a single incidence does not a pattern make. Even if 100 humming birds were killed by hawks, in the grand scheme of the food web, it is trivial. Thousands of squirrels are killed by hawks every day. Less than a thousand humming birds have been killed by hawks, possibly in the history of the species.

Question 3. It’s agreed by most people that, aside from other humans, we have no natural predators. Yet, thousands of humans are killed every year by lions, tigers, snake bites, sharks, etc. (I offer this as perspective). Are we to say, then, that humans are not apical?

Question 4. Finally, you argue the Hummingbirds’ alertness adaptation as foundation for their prey status. And it is an adaptation – it looks around a lot because it is hard-wired into its head to do that. It doesn’t mean the bird is flying around, terrified for its life all the time. So, why does it do this if it has no natural predators? Examine the adaptations of the kiwi bird for a clue. Why does the Kiwi possess such fabulous anti-arial attack adaptations when, in reality, no arial threat exists? (Hint : the Haast’s Eagle is extinct now).

In conclusion then, “chuckling” at the scientific and researched conclusions of actual scientist might best be left to disciplined minds…don’t get me wrong, I admire your work and understand and sympathize with your position that the hummingbird is a victim of opportunistic predation – I’m sure it is. I just think you went about expressing your point in a very unscientific manner, and that you victimized a very well written paper for seemingly opportunistic motives.

Brick Pilers strike again.

This is in response to a post on the Lake Bluff Patch.

I’m not saying that this is necessarily the case here, but my observation has been that there is a highly vocal faction of people in Lake Bluff that seem to want downtown Lake Bluff to be somewhat like a downtown Libertyville, with trendy little shops and bars and lots and lots and lots of people pouring through. What motivates this faction?  Ultimately, this is how the landlords will be able to raise rents and reap serious profits – when their tenants are raking it in.

How did this happen, how did we get here?  It started with the loss of Center Video, included a building collapsing “accidentally,” followed with an erection of what can only be described as (IMHO) a hideous monstrosity (the building that houses Lake Bluff Brewery and Lulu’s), and has transformed Lake Bluff from the quaint, hidden community into a caricature of North Shore suburban life.  Quietude and peacefulness was the reason that so many of us moved here. Loud, blasting music that can be heard from 2 miles away WAS NOT.
I’m not sure that Douglass had anything to do with any of the afore mentioned items, I’m not sure if he owns more buildings than the old Village Market building.  I seem to recall he was involved in the design and building of the Monstrous Brick Pile (again, just my infinitesimal opinion, which I am allowed to freely express).
One thing is certain – “progress” for this brick pile faction in the community (let’s just call them “The Brick Pilers” because that is what they do, and we should call a brick a brick) of Lake Bluff is not about building community and consensus, it’s about getting their way, getting their profits, increasing the tax base, so they can get more money more money more money.  “Let’s cover it all in concrete and asphalt.  Hey, isn’t a bustling community of shoppers and tourists what we want here?” they demand. Not me, no thank you.
The critical mass needed to satisfy the Brick Pile faction is NOT the kind of community of which I would be proud.  It’s not community – it’s just converting Lake Bluff into a beach-side tourist attraction that brings in lots of outsiders, spending money.  That’s it.  At the end of the day, that’s all the residents will see: Lot’s of outsiders, spending money and attracting crime, clogging the streets, and creating a general nuisance to the residents of the town.
Perhaps, the days when kids could leave their backpacks on the ground outside of Village Market, with zero fear they’d be stolen are already gone forever.  Thank you Brick Pilers.  Thank you. (<- that was sarcasm.)

Eulogy for Marilyn Swieck (How to Make Fudge and be a Good Person)

Greetings, and good afternoon.  My name is Scott. I am most honored to be here today, to talk to you about my Aunt Marilyn.

These next few stories are slices from my life, my life with Marilyn and my family’s life with her. I don’t have much time to deliver this message, my cousins have threatened me with an undisclosed punishment should I take too long. So, some of my transitions will seem abrupt, and through it all, I’m going to interject bits and pieces of Aunt Marilyn’s fudge recipe, so please pay attention and keep your pens at ready. This will hopefully not be as all over the place as I am, but it probably will be. I’ll make liberal use of strategic pauses.

A few years ago, Marilyn and I made fudge together, and I captured it in a series of videos.  The first step, she told me, was:

*Get yourself a big, wooden spoon.  Preferably one that says “chocolate only”

I don’t remember a world without my Aunt Marilyn.  She was a familiar motif for me, in my never ending tangled up state, in my rush to understand everything.  Her home always offered a calm, stable place.

*butter just the sides of a heavy, 3 quart saucepan.

Marilyn meant so much to me and my family, that not mentioning the impact on my life that she had would be unfair, so forgive me if I seem to digress – everything here relates to Marilyn, and where and how I saw her in our lives.

*add 4 cups granulated sugar.

For the past few weeks,  I’ve had this song going through my head, and it has this motif, this concept of home, of the moon being in my side, of angels not arriving, and being able to hear the choir. So there’s that, this concept of home that Marilyn understood, and that I learned from her.  I remember her playing Blue Moon.

*Add one 14.5 ounce can of evaporated milk

I did not know what I wanted to be when I grew up.  But every year, at Christmas time and at my birthday, I would receive books.  Books on astronomy, on nature, works of fiction, and then of course there was the penguin mug.  I still have most of these gifts.  That was the thing about Marilyn, she gave thoughtful, helpful gifts, and education was important to her – as a result, it became important to me, and to my children as well.

*Mix it up before you put the margarine in.

My wife’s mother passed away 9 months before we got married, and this created a deep void in our lives. Aunt Marilyn was there for us during the very difficult grieving that followed, and I don’t think I ever thanked her enough

*add 1 cup land-o-lakes. because grandpa didn’t think there was anything else.  Cut it up, 6 or 7 times per bar so that it melts

When my son Ethan was born, Marilyn came and stayed with us for a week. She helped around the house, did laundry, cooked, and taught me that how you fold your towels depends entirely on the shape of the cabinet where you store them. We had just been folding them randomly and stuffing them in. She referred to our dog as her favorite area rug. He was half Great Dane.

*Turn on the stove, setting it to just below medium.  It really shouldn’t take you more than 45 minutes to make the fudge.

*now just let it melt.  Don’t stir it.

It was maybe ten years ago or so, I used my engineering and carpentry skills to install a handrail for Marilyn at her house – she had a short flight of stairs that had no rail. I told her I would take care of it. She gave me no requirements- she didn’t have to. It was Marilyn, and so it would be strong, beautiful, and it would last.  That something could be made better, stronger, and made to last, by these hands, became a standard in my life on that day.

*As the concoction on your stove warms, it boils up.  Let it.  Some recipes say to not stir it, but you can stir it every now and then.

I remember forgetting to return the library books I borrowed from Oak Park library, and my absolute terror that she would find out.Well, she was the head of circulation so I’m thinking she might have known. I don’t even remember if I returned them – if there is anyone here from the Oak Park library, please see me after the service for a donation…

*cook over medium heat to soft ball stage (236 degrees) or maybe a little below medium.  It cooks longer, but you won’t get it [to come out right] much.

When Ethan was 11 months old, we (my wife and I), drove to Ohio with Marilyn. She rode in the back with Ethan the entire way. At this time, he was all “gibahbah*pbbbbbt” he had no words yet

*In the video, Marilyn changes her mind and says, “Ok, stir it more than you have to…and don’t worry if you scorch it a little.  Dark pieces might come up, but they’ll blend in with the chocolate.  Nobody will know.”

On the way back from Ohio, I think my wife was driving, and I looked at Ethan,  point at Marilyn and say “Aunt Marilyn” and he looks right at her, then at me, and he says, as clear as a bell , “no, Nana!” It was his first word, and the name stuck. “Nana.”

*To perform a softball test, take a little bit of the batter into your spoon and pour it into really cold water.  Dump the water out, and see how the fudge is.  Is it fudgy? Does it have substance?

Now, I’m sitting in an Italian Restaurant a couple of nights ago – all the most important events of my life have taken place in Italian Restaurants – and I’m writing this, and trying not to cry into my lasagna, and I’m thinking of my daughter, who left her sweater here, the sweater that she wore the last times she went to see her Nana.

I think it was last Tuesday or Wednesday, not this past one, the one before, that Elaine took Addie to see Marilyn that last time, wearing that wonderful sweater, with all her colors and her twirling, flouncing, bounce, Marilyn awakened, and in a strong voice, says “Oh my goodness gracious, look at you,” and she held out her hand to her. Those would be her last words.

*1 heaping, rounded serving spoon of marshmallow fluff. So that was the secret, a heaping, flouncing, bouncing serving spoon of marshmallow fluff. 

Recently, I was taking a class and the instructor asked me how I felt about being there, and I said, “I’m excited to be here!”  I think a big part of life involves always being excited to see people, and one thing is certain, is Marilyn was always excited to see people. 

*add one 12 ounce package semisweet chocolate pieces and a couple of small Hershey bars.
*1 teaspoon vanilla

For the past few weeks, while this song was going through my head, this entire time, we: Marilyn, my cousins and my children and my wife, and all of us, waited for the angels to come, to carry her Home.

I am thankful for the definition of home that she taught all of us, and I know we will carry it for the rest of our lives in our hearts, and in our minds.

*Once the pour has fully settled, score while warm, let cool, and call for someone to come, and carry it home.

Six Aspects of Measuring the Quality of Software

This is a post I wrote a long time ago when I first read “Espresso Coffee, The Science of Quality.”  I am finally getting around to posting it here because I just now noticed I never posted it here, it was just a thing I passed around on the Internet.

Lately, I have found myself curious about what quality means, and how I can better control it in what I do. As I researched quality, there grew in me an even greater confusion about quality, and what it means, how it is interpreted and understood,  and the implementation of it. That is, whether or not I can always  hold to the same standard of promised quality as the highest uncommon factor – the value of my product/output.

This pertains to working with clients, with other departments, with myself, and the expectations people have had regarding the deliverable, and the effective quality of the interaction they have with my output.

Value is in the eye of the beholder, quality is perceived. There is an interesting story I once read about an appraiser who was asked to appraise two antique secretaries which appeared to be identical. He was told that one of them was a forgery. He appraised them both at the same value, stating that he could not detect the forgery. When the maker revealed which one was the fake, the appraiser inquired as to how he had made it so perfectly. The cabinet maker said that he found several 200 year old pieces that were damaged and used the wood from them. He used  adhesives which he made himself from raw materials accurate to the period and heated them to accelerate the aging.  He built his own circular saw to cut the planks to size using an antique saw blade, and he discovered a process whereby he could age the cuts perfectly (he wrapped in layers of burlap and buried them in a swamp for 20 years). It took him 30 years to build the secretary, and was his life’s work.  Upon hearing this, the appraiser certified the piece as an original. He said that, for all intents and purposes, the piece was in fact 200 years old. The lesson: If one thing is indistinguishable from another, they have the same value whether you like it or not.

Software has three perceptible areas of quality…(three that I am going to talk about)

  1. The quality of the product.
  2. The quality of our responses to our clients which includes traits that are  perceptive, substantive and literal.
  3. The quality of service the product delivers.

A software company, as a whole, can be said to be in the business of producing quality.  For a software firm involved in the litigation industry, for example, total quality delivered is the offering of products and services.  This cascades outward and downward from their internal total quality approach in their service vertical, through to their customers, out to the industries they serve (their corporate and private clients), to the courts, and ultimately to the consumers who buy the products and services offered by the litigants. Essentially, a software firm in the legal industry provides a core utility that services the national infrastructure.

As such, the requirement for quality is not only essential, it is fundamental to national interests. When we neglect even one small part of the quality of our processes, it is not only detrimental to our business, but it has a much wider, and deeper impact than perhaps many realize (or care to think about).

From the point of view of a customer, then, it becomes necessary that we really think about what quality means, and how it can be measured.  We need to think about the  different states of quality, and how to develop them progressively.  Customer satisfaction, after all, is a dividend of perceived quality and expected quality. If the expected quality is high, and the perceived quality is low, the satisfaction of the customer suffers. If the perception of quality is high, and the expected quality is low, then we have exceeded expectations. Exceeding expectations is not a quality. If, in the end, the expectation is that quality will be very high, then it can’t be very well higher than itself.  In the end, “quality” is the measurement of the product against the expectation of our clients, ourselves, and each other. It measures how well we meet the expectation. Such is the expectation that we have, that it is one that cannot be exceeded.

The expectation is this – that we will do everything within our means to achieve  as near to real time excellence as is humanly possible without risking life, limb, personal society, damaging our health, or creating permanent insanity. What this means is that we care for our families, we care for our health, and we care for our clients with every available ounce of our being. Our measurement of our ability to do this then becomes not a measurement of gradient expectation, but rather one of quality, which in our work means time to resolution. Our mean time to resolution, across the board, must be faster than everyone else’s. To be the leader, and to stay out in front (or to get there), you must deliver this level of speed on a continuous basis.  The word “quality,” then, is not an aspect in and of itself.  It is a unit of measurement, not unlike an inch on a ruler stick.  To say something is “quality” is not unlike saying something is “inches” when asked “how long is that stick?”

How we use quality as a tool of measurement, then, both internally and externally, become a necessary area of focus.

Firstly, we look at the different states of quality. For this exercise, I’ve picked six different qualitative attributes.

1. Promised quality. Briefly stated, this is the expectation that a person has of a particular product delivered by a particular entity.  Externally, customers have this about the kCura product, and internally this manifests as an internal/external unified attribute, with cause and effect vectors that must be appreciated.

Externally, the promise of quality is high, both in the product and in the service. Since the two are so closely intertwined, that is, the service delivered is part and parcel of the software, I am referring to both collectively as “the service.”  There are some areas of the product where the quality of it is dissonant with the promise, but these are likely caused more by technological and human limitations than by willful oversight.

At times, this causes customers to pigeonhole the product as one that delivers a few, very strong, core competencies, but falls short on other offerings.  This requires kCura clients to do things like hire DBA’s, outsource certain aspects of IT, and purchase other software bundles which they then integrate with the Product.

Internally, at many organizations, there are few promises of quality (but the expectation and implied promise is there, it just isn’t well defined, cross departmentally). When you don’t promise anything, you don’t have to worry about not being able to execute on it.  Where the promise of quality does exist, it does not always mesh well with other, external facing promises.

At times, this causes a disconnect when those who face the customers must interact with those who typically don’t. It may even cause a blatant contradiction that results in conflict.

2. Industry (expected) quality.
These are the standards that govern the very minimum expectation that must be met. Consumers that use discovery products are accustomed to certain features working in a certain way, and a certain guarantee of accuracy. Companies that create food products, likewise, must ensure certain standards are met.  Across the board, in areas of comparability, a quality focused company typically meets or exceeds expectations, with a corrective “roadmap” in place to address shortcomings. Ultimately, there are many, many standards in the industry. Some of them are driven by legal (forensic) requirements, others are aesthetic or purely usability driven.

3. Effective Quality
These are the actual objective and subjective metrics of an organization. What are the promises made by the product, and how does it hold up against them?  The items that comprise your “effective quality” are real, tangible metrics that can be measured, discussed and improved.  Examples of these things include usability, scalability, processing speed, error handling, recovery, precision and accuracy, traceability, and most importantly, reliability.

4. Relative experiential quality
This quality refers to the differential experience created by the actual implementation of the product by the purchaser.  A more experienced team that delivers the product, on better equipment, will deliver a user experience that can have substantially varying degrees of experiential quality.
relative experiential quality = expected quality / experienced quality

5. Perceived quality
Satisfaction = (perceived quality / expected quality) * relative quality

6.  Potential quality

The degree to which a product or service can be measurably improved. This is measured and communicated by an organization’s roadmap, and should be readily available to it’s consumers.


All six of these are qualities that are assessed by consumers of a product one by one.  To be considered a quality, that is, a quantifiable entity that can be measured, each quality must map to a tangible, perceivable action that can be consumed, viewed, experienced, or understood to have intensity, duration, and frequency.  To whatever extent possible, then, quality is something that is measured against the whole.

Without the whole, without an accounting of the sum of all parts of a thing, it follows then that a measurement of quality is purely a subjective, out of context measurement that is rendered meaningless against the overall impact and perception of the qualities of a product.  Those that actually interface with the product or service in its entirety are the best at explaining its level of quality.   To measure quality requires, then, a broad range of measurements that must be painstakingly derived and executed against the subject as a whole. This is no small task, to be certain, but one that will reward the quality analyst with a rich array of tools that can be used to improve the product and services offered.



Getting it right, every time : F-QMAASS

I shoot in manual mode, and the only thing I ever float is my ISO.  However, sometimes while shooting, I diverge and start changing settings to accommodate for the conditions of the scene. Now, as an extreme hobbyist nature photographer.  I say ‘extreme’ because I make a small amount of money doing this, but mostly I do it as an altruistic pursuit, a vocation.  Ok, enough about me….sometimes when I am shooting I forget to check my settings and then I blow an entire set or even an entire location.

I developed QMAASS as a way for me to always do a sanity check whenever I am shooting. I run through this checklist every time I change “sets”.  A “set” is a group of photos from a locational scene. So, when I am in a particular location, and am shooting a particular scene, I may take three or four sets. When I change scenes, the set needs to be checked, and that is where QMAASS comes into play.

By “set”, I mean settings, which has everything to do with how I have my camera configured. It’s a paradigm that I use to help me make sure that my camera is properly configured for the scene I am shooting, which includes considerations for the lens I am using, for the lighting, the subject matter, and whatever effect I am trying to achieve.

I shoot in manual mode almost always, and sometimes, between scenes, some time passes. As a nature photographer, I shoot in some very diverse conditions, and so my sets are wildly divergent at times.

Camera settings during a particular grouping of photos  of a particular subject matter applied to a different set can destroy my photos.

For example, last weekend I was shooting a Great Horned Owl sitting on her nest. I was shooting through lots of twigs and had the camera in manual focus mode.  I left the scene, and as we were driving into a new scene, a Harrier was playing around not 50 feet from us. I stopped my car, jumped out, started shooting, and blew the entire set except for one shot – I was in manual focus, and a coincidence of distance focused one shot out of the whole set. I learned that I need to have the camera in a neutral QMAASS, which is a balance of settings that will work in most situations. While I was shooting the Harrier, I was able to run through QMAASS and get the shutter speed up, but QMAASS has no “F” for focus.

So now I’ve added the F, and it is F-QMAASS. below, I list what each setting is, and what I use for each when I am between sets. So, every set I ever do will start with these settings, which may ( will ) change during the set.

  • F- = focus mode and drive (this include manual/auto, AI servo/single drive, and the auto focus points.)  — AI servo
  • Q = quality (jpg, raw. Etc)  — RAW (captures far more information than jpg and can be used to recover massively under or overexposed photos
  • M = mode (manual, Tv, Av, Custom. My camera goes not not have an Auto mode ). –Manual
  • A = Aperture –8 – 11 for birds. 8 for birds far away, up to 14 for close ones and if you have enough light.
  • A = Auto ISO –Auto, though sometimes I set it to 1000 to force the camera to a different exposure. For example, shooting the moon is best at 200 ISO
  • SS = Shutter Speed – 1/f  or 1/(f – 1) if the subject matter is relatively stable, 1/(f – n)  if the subject is absolutely still and I am on a tripod.  1/(f + n) for stop motion, adding n until stop motion is achieved or I am at my fastest shutter speed. f = focal length of my lens, so for example, if I am shooting at 800mm I would not want to drop my shutter speed slower than 1/800 unless I am confident I can hand hold it steady or if I am tracking on a moving subject.

F-QMAASS needs to be checked twice. First: before a set starts. Second: when a set finishes. Why both before and after? Well, for me, when I am walking around with my camera dangling at my side, there is no end to the number of buttons I can accidentally hit. Sometimes, I even bump the AE lock button. I don’t have a letter for that in my acronym because it’s an icon in my viewer and it has high visibility, so I can just kill it when I see it.

So, that’s the story behind F-QMAASS. I needed a way to make certain that I could quickly check, and reset as needed, all of the settings that may he changed intentionally during a set, and accidental between sets.

Let me know if you have any questions, and I am always happy to answer any questions you may have in the future.

You can read tips on composition and lighting there:

Learning to Kayak

As a lifelong paddler of canoes, with the occasional kayak outing here and there, I recently began to think that kayaking is the life for me.  Within 10 minutes of arriving at this decision, I had purchased a couple of kayaks and drained all the cash out of my bank account.  (Unfortunately, I happened to be at an outdoor outfitter when I experienced this epiphany)

NOTE to kayak purchasers:  If you are getting ready to purchase a kayak, definitely work through this blog post.  While putting this together, I discovered that there are two important things that the sales person failed to mention to me:  Kayak skirt (a must-have) and sealed bulk-heads.  I bought my son a kayak that doesn’t have sealed bulkheads, and on mine there is only one.  So, I will be buying the right kind of three-inch foam and doing it myself.  The tricky part for that will be making a template, but I have a trick for that that you will like to see.  I will make a video for that later this summer (2014).

Kayaking has a lot of the same mechanics to it that you’ll find in canoeing, but it pleased me to no end to watch a series of videos and learn that kayaking embraced another discipline that I have had many thousands of hours of experience with as a child and an adult : swimming.  As a child I swam every day – my parents forced me to do it.  I actually kind of hated it, but because my mom had me in the pool when I was two, I was better at it than all the other kids (I had more practice than they did.) So, my parents made the same mistake that many parents make – they thought I was “gifted” at it and so they forced me into it.

OK, back on topic:  Kayaking has a number of paddling strokes that are very similar to swimming.  – think of the kayak like the swimmers body, and the paddle is his arms.  I suppose you could even split the paddles and do a butterfly stroke and a breast stroke, but I don’t recommend trying to do that as a serious paddle.

This morning I embarked on a mission to learn more about paddling, and I am so excited about all the things I learned that I wanted to share them, along with some GREAT videos from paddle TV that really get to the point (better than i am doing here…).  I’m hoping that you will read through this and watch these videos, which will make your next kayaking outing both safer and more enjoyable.

Propelling yourself forward using the Forward stroke

Here is a nice blog post about an efficient stroke: and here is a great video that you should definitely watch:


There are three parts to this:

  1. Catch – stick your paddle in the water.  Some videos show the paddler stuffing his entire paddle under water – I think that how much of your paddle you stick in is entirely related to how fast you want to go and how much maneuvering power you need, but you should develop your own style and methods.  Don’t think that you have to do it exactly like the pros.
  2. Stroke – rotation – While holding your paddle with a firm but easy grip, use your entire upper body. “Wind up” your body, and plant entire blade. Use your body rotation to power the forward stroke. Real power comes from core and body rotation. If you use just your arms, you will end up with sore shoulders.  Your stomach and sides and back have big muscles on them that can work hard for a long time, once they are conditioned.  One thing I noticed in the videos I watched is that the professional paddlers had a stroke line that followed the wakes of their kayaks.  I look forward to trying that out – my suspicion is that if you follow the wake line with your paddle, you will be far less likely to waddle or fishtail your kayak a lot.  By keeping your kayak tracking in a straight line, you can take longer strokes and get more speed.  This will conserve your energy by delivering more power to your forward motion.
  3. Exit – it looks like the kayakers in these videos are twisting their paddle right before they pull it out.  This will reduce splashing, but it will also reduce the suction effect you get when you pull the paddle out of the water.  Try it both ways and see what I mean.

Exercise: Tilt the boat and paddle forward to turn in the opposite direction you are tilted.  Experiment with this as I saw people doing some things with their kayaks that were pretty impressive.

Turning around using Sweep Strokes

  1. Tilt kayak away from the direction you want to turn (tilt with hips!), brace yourself using the pedals.
  2. Take long, far reaching, sweeping stroke, with paddle completely in water.
  3. Combine alternating forward and reverse sweeps into a “spin turn.”

Sideways with Draw Strokes and Sculling Draws

  1. Reach out, insert paddle, and pull it toward your hipS
  2. Slice or “T” out before you hit the kayak!
  3. sculling is like fish tailing the paddle out to the side to push you – you should watch the video for this and try it out and experiment.

Stabilizing the kayak in a wobbly situation: Getting upright

Low brace, high brace, and sculling brace are techniques for getting your kayak back into an upright position if you have tilted too far over and can help prevent a tip.  They involve reaching out in the direction that you are tipping, reaching out with the flat of your paddle, and pushing down ward and toward the underside of your kayak, drawing the paddle in toward your hip.  As you do this, your head should stay down, and your hip should snap up and toward the upright position.  If you’ve ever seen anyone do that dance move where his arms make a wave as he steps to one side, it kind of is like this.  Again, watch the video from these Paddle TV guys!

Again, another fantastic video from these paddle TV guys:

  1. High brace – hands in a pull-up position..  You can pull weigh more weight with your back than you can push with your shoulders.  First, remember to keep your hands low, even in a high brace.  A high brace is probably better for rougher situations, whereas a low brace is something for calmer situations. Not that any situation is ever a calm one…
  2. Low Brace – hands in push-up position.  In both of these, you are essential using the paddle as a lever.  THe further away from you the paddle is, the more leverage you will get, but it will also be harder to do (it’s a physics thing, which I am actually sort of qualified to talk about, unlike most of this post)

According to this video, the high and low brace moves are kind of a one shot deal.  If it fails, you need to switch into another technique called a sculling brace.  I am not sure if it is wise to attempt consecutive low/high braces.  I’m also not sure which has more power, the high brace or sculling; I suggest you experiment and see what works best for your center of mass, strength, and your own body mass.

Sculling brace

the sculling brace you just sort of have to see to get.  It’s just like sculling when you are upright, only you are using it now in a more powerful way, with the paddle deep in the water, and you combine it with the hip pivot and head roll to get back into an upright position.

Oops!  You aren’t in your kayak any more.

Well, now you know why you should never kayak alone.  This technique requires two people and a second kayak.

re-entering the kayak
Three things that need to be accomplished:

  1. get in the boat
  2. get the water out
  3. get full control

You really need to watch the video on this one, and then practice it on your lawn.  Then, once you have it mastered, try it in the water.  Make sure you don’t forget your pump, and do it only on the nicest, warmest day when you were planning on swimming anyway!

Here are some key takeaways:

  • Never kayak alone – when buying a kayak, if you buy a tandem, it doesn’t count!
  • Sealed rear and forward bulkheads – without them, the kayak can sink
  • Keep a hold of gear (paddles) when you fall in.
  • Kayaks should be positioned upside down kayak bow to rescuer in a ‘T’ configuration during recovery
  • man in water – pushes on stern
  • man in kayak – lifts and rolls bow to empty water.
  • position kayaks kayaks together in parallel, bow to stern, with cockpits offset so that the rescuer can stabilize the bow during reentry
  • There are three reentry techniques:
  1. feet first, using the two kayaks like parallel bars
  2. pull body on deck
  3. Scoop final option – leave kayak in, slide in and then rotate it up. pump out.


Be sure to read training materials and watch lots of videos before you go out onto the water.  Other safety tips include things like wearing a helmet, wearing a wet or semi-dry suit when the water is really cold.  One rul of thumb i ran across in my research is if the air + water temp is less than 100 degrees = trouble, fast.  You literally have minutes to live if you are wearing cotton.  Kayaking can be one of the safest sports, but if you don’t know what you are doing you can easily get yourself into trouble.

That’s it, and don’t forget rule number one:  When in doubt, STAY OUT.  That goes double for river kayaking.  If you hear or see something and it looks like it might be trouble, get your kayak out of the water ASAP and walk up to the trouble site.  Examine it, and if you think it could be trouble, portage around it.


Why self-schooling is the ultimate, and only true school

There is no such thing as public schooling, private schooling, institutionalized schooling, or home-schooling. These are all just artificial realities that we wrap around our children, and serve only as vehicles for blame when we fail to teach our children what the true meaning of school is. There is only self-schooling. Everything I’ve learned that I use in life now I learned because I wanted to learn it. At the core of all my knowledge, at its center, lay just one person: Me.

The self has to take the responsibility to “school” its intellect. Once one accepts this responsibility, there is no obstacle to great, and no atmosphere to restrictive. A child who sits through all his years of institutionalized education, who challenges every thought, every notion, every aspect of it all, this is the child who can learn anywhere. Teach a child to question, and demand and search for answers, and to scientifically test those answers, and you teach a child to learn.

If a child won’t learn this, or refuses to learn it, then all you can do is read to him and wait for him to catch on, and hopefully become a productive member of society. As a parent, teaching my children to question is my responsibility.

I know what you don’t know that you don’t know.

I wrote this in response to a post at this site,  which tries to defend Jimmy John Liautaud’s behavior and habit of hunting and killing big game.  That tagline for this bloggers blog is “You don’t what know what you don’t know.”  I guess he thinks he knows what I don’t know that I don’t know.  It’s always interesting how that sort of thing can backfire on you….

To the author of this post:

In an effort to show exactly what it is that you apparently don’t know that you don’t know, I would like you to answer a few questions:

1. What benefit to the world ecology does having billions of chickens in cages have?

2. If all gulls went extinct, but we had millions of them in captivity, what would happen to the world ecology?

3. Think about the world as an ecosystem that depends upon the ability of animals to migrate and allow each to tend to its own discipline. If this collapses, do you think humanity would survive? Or do you refute that the ecosystem of the world is a highly complex, diverse system with interdependencies that we are only just beginning to fathom?

4. Do we need or require biodiversity in order for the planet to survive and produce oxygen at acceptable levels for human survival?

I  am very curious to see your answers to each of these questions, as each of them, if answered correctly and scientifically, should serve to refute the foundation of your argument – which seems to be that hunting animals that are kept in cages (however large or small) is somehow ok, and somehow contributes to the efforts of conservation. Furthermore, the keeping of animals in cages so that they may be hunted for sport exploits these animals, and inflicts and encourages further damage to an already heavily disrupted, world ecology.

Primarily, I think that before anyone, on either side of the fence, begins to argue in this space, they should be thoroughly educated as to the impact animals play in the world ecology. You don’t know what you don’t know – and we don’t know or fully understand the impact of each extinction that occurs. All we know is that every extinction is a warning sign from nature, and we need to listen. We might not be anywhere close to being next, but we are standing in the same line.