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Sudden Onset Presentation Turrets March 27, 2014

Despite what instructors will tell you, sometimes a presentation just goes bad. It isn’t the fault of the presenter and doesn’t result from a lack of rehearsals or planning. It has nothing to do with the number of hours invested in research and is wholly unrelated to the audience or the subject matter. Truth be told, some presentation glitches simply can’t be foreseen.

My lack of sleep the previous night was a perfect example. I had engaged in my usual pre-bed routine and was snuggled beneath my electric blanket in plenty of time to get my usual 8 hours. My head hit the pillow and I was out like a light.

It was a fine start, but for some inexplicable reason, the usual setting for the blanket didn’t produce its usual result. Instead of keeping me toasty through a night of pleasant slumber, it began to get warm. Groggy-eyed, I threw off the covers, turned down the heat, and zonked out again.

About twenty minutes later, I was once more awake. This time I was cold. I grabbed the covers (which were still piled at the foot of the bed) and pulled them up around my shoulders. It felt cozy, so I closed my eyes and drifted off. Then, like shampoo, it was a matter of rinse and repeat for the rest of the night. Total yield: six hours of fitful slumber.

By the next morning, I was only partially coherent. The only thing I really remember clearly is that a presenter who was supposed to follow me jumped the gun and took my slot. I’d been chugging down coffee, so this probably worked in my favor. Nevertheless, as I strode to center stage, my brain went blank. The well-planned, well-rehearsed presentation had evaporated into thin air, leaving in its place, only fear.

I stared out at my audience and cautiously began to grab at anything and everything that might even vaguely pertain to the subject: product repositioning. I defined a few terms, glanced at the clock, panicked (an emotional response which I believe my audience picked up on), and began explaining the art of perceptual mapping.

In theory, this process produces a visual diagram of the relative market position of different product lines as perceived by customers, i.e., is it cheap, expensive, easy to maintain, difficult to maintain, etc. I quickly drew a chart with these four markers and began to fill it in not with brands of cars or DVD players (as I had originally planned), but with types of relationships.

Marriage, it turns out, falls near the intersection of difficult and expensive while the “I’m a princess” girlfriend is located somewhere in the range of easy and expensive. And Vegas hookers? Those are easy and cheap… unless, of course, your wife finds out. (Then, they become more expensive than marriage!)

The audience was doubled over, but I was feeling mildly mortified. Where were these analogies coming from? It was like having an out of body experience in front of two-dozen attentive spectators.

I later confessed my feelings to several of my audience members, apologizing for the uncharacteristic “bombing” of the presentation and the phenomenon which I later named “sudden onset presentation turrets” or SOPT for short.

“Don’t apologize!” one of them laughed. “I’ll never fail a test on perceptual mapping until the day I die!” (She went on to explain that the key to her success would by my Vegas hookers. Several other audience members nodded in agreement.)

This, of course, goes to prove two important points. The first is that you can’t anticipate everything that might go wrong with a presentation and that what you can’t anticipate sometimes can’t be stopped. The second is that if you don’t just bomb a presentation, but bomb with style, people will still remember what you said.

Fifty years from now, my audience members will be sharing my spectacular diagram with their grandchildren. My only hope is that when those youngsters hear the tale they will recognize that even a perceived failure can become a useful memory. Perhaps the difference between victory and defeat is, in the end, merely a matter of perspective.


Why “Not According to Plan” is Not Always a Bad Thing March 20, 2014

I admit that today didn’t go quite as planned. I didn’t get my study time in this morning. Or manage to tidy my room. (Not that anyone would notice if I did.) I didn’t write the scholarship essay that’s due in two weeks. And from where I sit, it looks like I may not even finish the blog posts I’d hoped to bash out.

Unfortunately, I’m in no position to ask, “Where did the time go?” I know exactly where it went, beginning at 6:30 this morning. I woke up half an hour early and, on most days that would mean that I had the time to cram in some extra language study or a few more minutes on the treadmill. I might have the opportunity to put a little extra elbow grease into the day’s housework or get ahead with a few of my writing assignments. Time is money (or at least production opportunity) and I usually treat it as such.

Today, however, was different. Part of my morning ritual includes logging into “Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle Earth.” I’m what, in game parlance, is known as a “might hugger” – someone who builds troops, but never actually uses them in combat. Building these massive armies doesn’t require a great deal of dedication to the game, but it does benefit whichever alliance a player has joined and, with that benefit, comes the right to fellowship. (This usually takes the form of random small talk in an online chat room and is a good way to pass time with other people who are as crazy as I am.)

I had planned to proceed as usual, queuing a few troops for training and sending any spare resources to the “bank” where they could be used by other players. I had just begun to clear the messages in my mailbox when one caught my eye: the game was running a promotion.
“Boxes” of random goodies could be “purchased” for a mere 6th of their usual price. The boxes were awarded randomly through a game of chance and, since I had won quite a few of the gold tokens to that were used in the game, I thought I’d take a look. I did, after all, have a spare half-hour.

I logged into the exchange and began redeeming the tokens. Box after box was added to my knapsack and, as I began to open the boxes, I realized that the prizes (which included additional tokens) were actually quite good. Desperate not to miss my opportunity, I returned to the game of chance and redeemed the additional tokens.

I continued this process until I’d exhausted all of the gold coins, then decided to take a look at my alliance’s standing in one of the server competitions and call it quits. I admit that I might have been better off leaving well enough alone. We were in third place and I knew that some of the prizes I’d acquired with the boxes would help us along the way. So instead of setting the game down, I began using the goodies I’d won.

It was a process that went on for hours. On and off throughout the day, I logged in to release my new troops into my cities. Each spare moment I had (and a few that I didn’t) was spent unleashing the flood of might. My citadels were brimming with hungry, belching, beer-drinking dwarves. And I was pleased.

The sun began to set and I suddenly realized that I had squandered most of my day playing a game. For a moment, I felt guilty. It seemed such a wretched waste of time. Then, again, I can’t deny that I enjoyed it. So maybe it really wasn’t a waste after all.


On “Downton Abbey” and the Perils of Rewriting March 13, 2014

It’s a windy day today and, while I’d like to be reading a book on economic theory, I’m not. Instead, I find myself replaying last night’s episode of “Downton Abbey” in vivid detail. It’s a show that I’m shocked to discover most of my friends don’t watch and which most of my friends may be shocked to hear that I do. I’d be quick to point out, of course, that there is no need for them to feel quite so stunned. The series appears on PBS’s “Masterpiece Theater” and all of the actors have British accents. This strange confluence of “posh” factors contributes to the show’s reputation as a drama rather than a soap opera and allows me to watch it with unrestrained delight while at the same time retaining my sophisticated self-image.

It will, of course, be another two months before this post appears on my blog and by then, most of my questions will have been answered. (With the exception of the one that was so pressing that I felt forced to investigate via a series of spoiler sites. If you’re interested, the answer is “no”.) By then, I’ll know whether Carson and Mrs. Hughes finally become “an item” and whether the drama with Mary will ever end. (My guess is that it won’t). It will have been revealed whether Mr. Gregson actually does become a German citizen and, if so, whether Lord Grantham will find the act entirely deplorable. (My guess is that he will.) And we’ll know whether Molesley ends up as the Dowager’s butler… but what kind of question is that?

Sadly, this is where my problem begins. I’ve been re-writing stories far longer than I’ve been writing them. Taking pieces of plot lines and projecting them forward to create dramas and adventures of which the original writers never conceived. From Big Bird and Super Grover to Han Solo, Princess Leia, Captain Piccard, and Mr. Spock, fictional characters seem to jump off the screen and into my life, leaving themselves open to my creative reworking of their stories. Like imaginary friends, they accompany me on my journeys and I accompany them on theirs. And, in recent years, a few of the characters from other shows like “Sherlock” and “Downton Abbey” have joined them.

So here I sit, imagining grand story arcs when I ought to be studying. Yes, in my world, Violet feels such sorrow for Molesley’s condition that she takes him on as her butler and elevates him far above his previous heights. Mr. Carson does confess that he loves Mrs. Hughes. (Like viewers haven’t speculated about that for the last two seasons!) And Mr. Bates slugs Mr. Green… in the library… in front of everyone. (Mr. Carson and Lord Grantham will, of course, prevent him from doing anything which might result in further prison time.) So there you have it, a brief introduction to “Downton Abbey” season four as rewritten by me. Time will tell whether it lives up to expectations!


NBC’s Olympic Gold Map March 6, 2014

As I write this post, I’m sitting in front of my television set watching the Men’s Skiathalon beamed not-so-live from the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. I admit that I’ve always been fascinated by Olympic sports… or, more precisely, by Olympic athletes. Like many people, I’ve wondered what it would be like to be that strong, that fast, and that skillful. I’ve wondered how it feels to push one’s body to the very limits and reap the reward while standing atop the podium as the flag is raised. And I’ve puzzled over the path that Olympians take as they make their way towards status as truly world class athletes.

That’s why I was particularly interested to hear of NBC’s initiative to get youth involved in sports through their new Gold Map website. Featuring 19 different Olympic sports, the site offers an opportunity to learn more about the rules of each sport, what it takes to succeed, and how to get started. Since I’m not likely to become a great long-distance skier (previous cross-country efforts have proven that there are limits to my physical endurance), I thought I’d take a look at another sport which interests me: the Biathlon.

A combination of short-track cross-country and shooting (both prone and standing), the biathlon skills were originally used by Finnish and Norwegian hunters and date back over 4,000 years. The tactics and techniques involved in this subsistence “sport” were later adapted for military use. In 1930, they played an instrumental role in the Finnish victory over would-be Russian invaders… just six years after their debut in the Winter Olympics. (This information, along with the official rules for the sport, is available through the Learn More link on NBC’s Biathlon page.)

Confident that I was still interested, I checked out the Try It link. Much to my surprise, there are a number of locations where one can try the sport as well as a proliferation of individuals who can assist with such an endeavor. Similar information was available for Bobsled and Skeleton (the latter of which seems far too dangerous for my taste), Ski Jumping, and Luge.

I admit that I have never been a particularly “sporty” person. I was the kid who consistently got trampled on the soccer field or hit in the head while playing softball. I could hit the “T”, but not the ball that sat atop it. I wasn’t very strong, was never a great runner, and, in general, lacked the coordination necessary to be an Olympic quality athlete. But that’s never stopped me from trying something new. Turns out, there’s an opportunity to try out the biathlon not far from where I live. Maybe I’ll give it a shot. Just so I can say I did.

In the meantime, if you do think you have what it takes to be an Olympic quality athlete, I encourage you to check out NBC’s Gold Map. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll be watching you stand atop that medal podium!


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