Toastmasters – 3rd Meeting

Susan started the meeting promptly on time. Ann led us in the Invocation and Pledge. We had a number of guests at this meeting, which is exciting to see. I hope they enjoyed themselves and will consider coming back next monday. After welcoming the guests, Susan went on to call up Mark, who was the evening’s provider of humor.

I found Mark’s joke to be rather funny. The story centered around Mark as he was receiving from the previous night’s St. Patrick’s Day “festivities.” In the story, Mark found himself at a gas station filling his car up with a little bit of gas. While he was at the pump, he noticed another man was filling his car up. This other man caught Mark’s eye because he was smoking a cigarette while he filled his vehicle with the flammable fluid. Just about the time that Mark had this thought, the man’s arm was engulfed in flames. Mark came to the man’s aid and managed to help him put the fire out. Mark went into the gas station and was looking to buy some burn creme for the man, when a police office came pulling up outside. The police office began to arrest the burn victim. Mark went to the police officer and politely asked, “why are you arresting this man?” The officer replied, “because he has an illegal fire arm.”

After Mark’s joke, Susan went on to introduce who was playing the different roles for the evening. Tammy Lowe played the role of the Word Master/Grammarian/ and Ah-Counter. Tammy’s word for the evening was, “obsess.” Mark played the role of Timer, filling in for Weixin Lu. Susan was the General Evaluator. After the introductions were done, Susan welcomed the Toastmaster, Toby Pugh.

Toby enthusiastically approached the podium and called up the only speaker for the evening, myself. My speech covered my journey through college and how I came to join Toastmasters. The transcript of my speech can be found here.

After my speech, Hyancithe led the Table Topics portion of the meeting. Hyancithe’s questions centered around the theme of St. Patrick’s Day. His first question was, “Have you ever attended a St. Patrick’s Day Parade? If so, how did you like it?” Ann was called on to answer this question. Ann stood up and took the podium and gave a wonderful answer. She talked about attending a parade and took her poodle, Talula. She mentioned attending a parade in Ireland…I imagine that was a blast!

The next question in Hyancithe’s arsenal of questions was asked of Nam. The question was, “if your birthday was on March 17th, how would you celebrate?” Nam mentioned that he had never celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, but he may consider it next year. He steered the question towards talking about how much he enjoys fishing. It was nice to hear a person speak about a hobby in which they enjoy so much.

Toby was asked how he felt about the environmental impacts of dying bodies of water green in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Toby’s feelings were that if the water can be colored in a way that isn’t harmful to the environment, then “party on!”

Hyancithe asked Tammy about her favorite season. Tammy doesn’t care too much for the “extreme” weather seasons of winter and summer. Of spring and fall, Tammy prefers spring because of the renewal seen in nature. She mentioned she had bought a new house and is looking forward to seeing what springs up in her yard/garden.

One of the guests was asked the fifth and final question of Table Topics. Martin was asked about his favorite tune. Martin told the group that he really enjoys Christian music. This brought Table Topics to a close. Susan took the podium and called for the evening’s only evaluator, Ann.

Ann delivered a scathing review of my speech…I’m just kidding. Ann had good things to say about Brian’s speech. She seemed to enjoy the changing tones of the speech, saying it was, “mysterious,” and “funny.”

Once Ann was done, the Timer and Ah Counters gave their account for the evening. I can’t recall specifics of the times given, but all of them were within the specified time limits. Tammy was a very good listener, as she found numerous examples of “ahhs” tucked away in people’s speeches. I think Toby was one of the few that went unscathed by “ahhs.”

Wearing her president’s hat, Susan did make a comment that the podium should never be left empty at a Toastmasters meeting. The person calling another to the podium should remain behind the podium until the other gets there. There should be a seamless transition of power.

The meeting was adjourned on time. Roles were assigned for next week. I don’t recall all of the roles, but I do know that I will be playing the role of the Word Master/Grammarian/ Ah Counter, and Mark will be giving his Ice Breaker.

Toastmasters – 2nd Meeting

I attended my second Toastmasters meeting last night. While I wasn’t completely comfortable, I was certainly more at ease with the experience. As was the same as last week, there were two main speakers. The two speakers were April and Paul.

Speech #1

April was working on her second speech of the Competent Communication curriculum. Her speech centered around the idea of health and nutrition, and how both of those are within our power to control. I consider myself to be conscious of nutrition and my health (probably too much so if you ask my friends), so I found her speech to be interesting. She mentioned a number of diets:

  • Dr. Oz’s Diet
  • Paleo
  • Popcorn Diet
  • Southbeach Diet

I had never heard of the Popcorn Diet, so that was interesting. I’m not sure how one can do meal replacement with nothing but popcorn, but whatever. Everyone is different and somethings work different for others. I personally could not imagine doing that. As it stands right now, if I don’t take in greater than 3000 calories, I wilt away into nothing.

The main objective of her speech was to provide the listeners with a speech where there was a clear outline. I felt, as did her evaluator, that she accomplished this goal.

Speech #2

Paul was looking to inspire us as he set out to accomplish his tenth speech of the Competent Communication curriculum. I’ve only met Paul twice, but on both occasions he exudes a great sense of humor. From what I’ve gathered, if Paul is speaking there will be some humor injected at some point. The speech he delivered certainly fit with this concept.

His speech was fashioned after Jeff Foxworthy’s bit, “You might be a redneck…,” only Paul’s leadoff line was, “You might be a Toastmaster…” I found Paul’s speech to be entertaining; I didn’t feel a sense of inspiration until towards the end. Paul said, “…and if your friends, coworkers, and family suddenly say to you, ‘you have a lot more confidence,’ then you might be a Toastmaster.” That really spoke to me and confirmed that I am in the right place. I’m not the most confident public speaker, especially when I have to speak off the cuff, but it is comforting knowing that the others in the room feel the same and are doing something about it.

Table Topics – Favorite Hobby

Kyle led the Table Topics portion of the meeting. I was called on to share my favorite hobby. I stood up and rattled off a handful of my favorite hobbies; I spoke too little last time so I had to make up for it this week. I mentioned basketball as my favorite hobby, which is no question to me. When I go periods of time without either shooting a basketball or playing a pickup game, I will start to have dreams about playing basketball. The game of basketball courses through my veins. I also mentioned a couple of my newfound hobbies: yoga and biking. I’ve already talked about yoga on this blog, so I won’t elaborate. The weather has been too cold and windy for me to go biking, but when it warms up, I’ll be taking weekly trips to Lake Hefner to cruise around.

I closed out the meeting by agreeing to give my Ice Breaker speech at the next meeting. I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully I can give the others in the group a good idea of who I am as a person, and what I want to accomplish from Toastmasters.

Benefits of Yoga

I have been practicing yoga for a little over 8 months. I wanted to take the time to write about the impacts it has had on my life.

During my time in graduate school, I experienced issues with my lower back. I injured the area during a pickup game of basketball at the university’s recreational center. The combination of the injury and being hunched over a keyboard for the majority of the day left my back in a very weakened state. There were some mornings I could barely get out of bed. If I would arch my back too far, I would get shooting pains just above my tailbone. This pain continued for the remainder of my time in graduate school.

As with most classes in graduate school, you are required to work on a group project with a handful of other students. In my final class, I was paired with an engineering student who seemed very different from any student I had met before. He had a quiet confidence about him. He was always present, never got too stressed about anything. I saw him doing different stretches in the middle of the day in the middle of campus. He did not care what others thought. During one of our meetings about the group project, we began to talk about more interesting subjects like life, the universe, and what we think it all means. During this talk, he mentioned that he had been practicing yoga for a while. I had always read about the physical and mental benefits of yoga, so hearing him say this peaked my interest. I began to question him about his practice and what effects it has had over him. His answer was very simple. “It has changed my life.” From that moment forward I knew I had to try it.

I joined a nearby gym in May of last year. For about a month, I went to this gym and ignored the fact they offer yoga classes. The truth is, I didn’t have the courage to try out the class. I had the thoughts of, “I’m a man. I’m not flexible. It may be perceived as ‘girly’, etc.” I continued to read about the benefits of yoga and finally I overcame my childish fears and went to a class. I stayed near the back and just tried to follow what the others were doing. I feel I was in pretty good shape at the time, but that class whipped my butt. My wrists hurt from holding Down Dog. My legs were shaking from holding the various Warrior poses. There were a couple of guys in the class, but the vast majority were women. I was humbled by how strong these people were. At the end of the one-hour class, I was very tired, but my body felt different. It was like my body was given a drink of a substance it had needed for quite a while. I was hooked.

I continued to go to this class for several weeks, and I grew stronger and stronger. I eventually moved towards the front of the class, and would routinely stay after and ask questions of the teacher. There was a more advanced class that is held on the following evening. I started to attend it and my strength, flexibility, and confidence continued to grow. I am still attending both classes during the week. I am working towards being able to do headstand poses. Eventually I would like to be able to do headstand pushups and “walk” around on my hands. Yoga is not about the destination, it is about the journey.

The benefits I have experienced have been incredible. I no longer have low back issues. I feel more centered. I feel more in control of situations and my emotions. I feel more confident. The gain in core strength has been amazing. My balance is better. I’m more flexible. If you are curious about the benefits of yoga, but are scared to try it, I highly recommend just taking the plunge. It is worth it.

iA Writer Review

I received an iTunes gift card for Valentine’s Day, so I took to the App Store to see what wondrous new apps I could buy. Since I’ve started this blog, I’ve become very interested in what apps could make things easier. I saw that iA Writer was deemed one of the Mac Apps of the year for 2011, and was on sale for 50% off its normal price. Like a moth to a flame, I was drawn to iA Writer.

I’m using the application to write this blog post, and it has been very enjoyable. I’m using it in full-screen mode and have turned on “Focus Mode.” Focus Mode emphasizes the current sentence you are typing; everything else is slightly greyed out. I really like this feature and can see how this causes the user to focus more on the current sentence. Many times when I am writing, I find myself looking back, with a critical eye, at previous sentences. Focus mode minimizes this, and I feel it is easier to keep a steady flow of thoughts going.

The app is very minimal; the focus is solely on writing. This being said, when you take a pause from typing, simple stats are displayed along the bottom of the screen. The stats that are shown are words, characters, and reading time; nothing too earth-shattering, but certainly useful. There are additional features of the app that I have not used. I do not use iCloud, so I do not have much of a use for that aspect of iA Writer. All in all, I’m satisfied with my purchase and look forward to using iA Writer for future blog posts.

RSS for HPC Discussions

I find one of the best ways to learn about the weather is to read discussions put out by NOAA.  I’ve recently started using Reeder on my laptop and my iPhone; I really enjoy how easy it is to keep up with blog posts and other RSS feeds that I follow.  There are several RSS feeds that are available through NOAA, but I have noticed that the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center does not offer RSS feeds for its many discussions.

I’ve decided to start to work on a script that will run via a cronjob on my web server that will retrieve these discussions and place them in an RSS feed.  The RSS feeds will be available at the following URL:

NOAA Discussion RSS Feeds

The code that I’m using to generate the RSS feeds can be seen at noaa-discussions. Feel free to provide any feedback by forking the repo and submitting a pull request. I am always open to the input of others.

Happy trails!

Maiden Post

One of my goals for this year was to start a personal blog. I’m still not totally sure what I want the overall direction of the blog to be, but I felt I was spending too much time mulling over the many possibilities. I think it is more exciting to just jump in headfirst and see what results.

Cheers!