Category Archives: miscellaneous

One more race to go…

Updated 1 January: we raised almost $60,000 for the GBS/CIDP Foundation! The campaign is now over, and regular blog posts will resume sometime soon.

Updated 23 December: we’ve now raised over $53,000 for the GBS/CIDP Foundation! Thank you to all of you for your generosity since I wrote this blog post. You can still donate: let’s see how much we can raise! The new deal is I’ll donate $1 for every $1 you donate, and Google will match my donation. So, every dollar you donates results in $3 being donated!

Cliff notes version: donate now to our fundraiser for the GBS/CIDP Foundation, and we’ll donate four two dollars for every dollar you donate! There’s only 11 days to go!

Zoom Turkey Trot 2015

Zoom Turkey Trot 2015

Help us raise $6,000 more for a good cause

It’s been ten months since I shared the story of having GBS in 2009. Six years later, I’ve decided to turn a negative experience into a positive one. It’s been quite a journey — we’ve now run 51 races of the 52 races I promised I’d run to raise awareness for the GBS/CIDP Foundation, and we’ve raised $46,000 $53,000 of the $52,000 I’ve promised to raise. Pretty good news! But the problem is there’s now only 11 days left to raise the remaining $6,000!

I’m sure there’s no lack of desire from many of you to donate. I know, I know: you keep forgetting and you’re really busy. Well, let me try and help get you motivated: if you donate a dollar, I’ve orchestrated a scheme to donate another four two dollars. That’s right, your $1 results in $5 $3 going to the GBS/CIDP Foundation, and your contribution is tax deductible. (Small print: I’ll do this for the next $1,500 that you donate.)

So, donate now by visiting this link. If everyone donates a total of $1,200, we’ve met our goal! We’ve met our goal, but let’s keep going right up to December 31!IMG_7203

How are we doing this?  I recently received a $1,500 per diem for advising work, and I’ve decided to put it up to match your donations to the fundraiser. I’ve also decided I’ll put in one more dollar of my own hard-earned savings to match it. Then, my fantastic employer Google matches donations that I make. So, all up, when you put in $1, I put in $2 $1, and Google puts in $2 $1 more to make it a total of $5 $3.

That’s it. Eleven days to go, let’s get this done!

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Thank you…

 

We’ve had amazing support throughout this fundraiser. Almost 200 people and organizations contributed, and I owe them all a ton of thanks for helping raise awareness of GBS and related conditions, and helping the important work of the GBS/CIDP Foundation. A complete list of contributors is here.

 

 

 

$42,000 raised for the GBS/CIDP Foundation

After suffering from GBS in 2009, I’ve been on a mission to raise $52,000 for the important work of the GBS/CIDP Foundation. They’re a small non-profit with an enormous heart, and they do genuine good for people suffering from rare, debilitating conditions.

You, yes you. You should donate!

You, yes you. You should donate!

We now have less than $10,000 to go to raise our goal of $52,000!  Here’s your big chance to donate and drive us home to the goal, or to convince that family member, friend, or your workplace to help us get it done. We won’t stop when we get to $52,000 — just imagine how much we can raise if we make the goal with four months of the year left!

These feet are ready to race

These feet are ready to race

What’s been happening?

I’m not just raising money, I’m running 52 races this year to raise awareness of GBS and related conditions. We’re now 25 races of the way to our goal of 52 races. I’ve written a report about races 5 through to 25, and you can read them here: http://fiftytwofives.com (just scroll down the home page). My favorite race so far is the Presidio 10k just for the beauty of running around and across the Golden Gate Bridge. The most exotic has to be a 10k race in Buenos Aires, which might also have been the toughest on a hot and humid day while I was jetlagged. There are two races that have surprised me: the Double 5k where I won $50 in prize money, and the St Lawrence Run for Fun where I accidentally won the race.

One US-stralian in a sea of Argentinians before the start of a 10k race in Buenos Aires

One US-stralian in a sea of Argentinians before the start of a 10k race in Buenos Aires

I think a lot about raising money, and I’ve learnt how hard it is to get people to open their wallets and donate. You know, I often think: what if every LinkedIn and Facebook connection I had donated just $1? We’d be about $3,000 further ahead, that’s what would happen. And imagine if they each donated $10. Wow. It’s really the smaller donations from more people that could make the difference — so please do encourage folks to donate, even if they can only afford $1 or $10. And if you haven’t donated, and you’re suddenly feeling inspired, just click here.

To those I owe thanks

We’ve had amazing support throughout this fundraiser. Almost 200 people and organizations contributed, and I owe them all a ton of thanks for helping raise awareness of GBS and related conditions, and helping the important work of the GBS/CIDP Foundation. A complete list of contributors is here.

 

$27,000. 17 Races. 98 Generous Friends!

I’ve been learning about fundraising by experience, and I now know you should lead with the donation link. So here it is! Head on over and help support my fundraiser: http://igg.me/at/fiftytwofives

A Few Thoughts on the Backstory

Crossing the line in the Bay Breeze 5k

Crossing the line in the Bay Breeze 5k

It’s almost six years since my encounter with Guillain–Barré syndrome began. I remember it well, I doubt anyone who’s had GBS would forget it. I’m happy to have it in the rear vision mirror, and to see it fading into history. I reassure myself that I’ve now got as much chance of getting GBS as anyone who’s never had it.

It took over five years to want to talk about it publicly. In hindsight, I’m not sure why. It’s been cathartic to share the story, and turn a bad experience into a fundraising experience that helps others. Perhaps it was just that talking about it brought it into the forefront of my mind, and it’s an experience I’d have rather forgotten for a while. Anyway, I feel great about doing something good with a bad experience.

Fundraising So Far

Since I began my fundraiser for the GBS/CIDP Foundation, we’ve raised over $27,000. That’s a solid effort for 4 months, but it’s still $25,000 from my goal of $52,000 in 2015. I’ve also managed to run 17 races to raise awareness of GBS and related conditions, about 33% of the way to my goal of 52 races in 2015. Running feels like a fine way to defy GBS, and I’ve heard from more than a few recovered and recovering GBS patients that they like the idea of running as a defiant act.

I maintain a separate blog about my fundraising and racing, and it’s over here at http://fiftytwofives.com. You can read the stories of my races, including my first ever unlikely victory in a race and my crazy time running in Buenos Aires. If you follow the blog, you’ll also get a near-weekly update on my fundraising escapes. If that isn’t enough, Like my page on Facebook, and you’ll get a nearly daily update in your feed.

There’s been some pretty amazing donations. I won’t pick a favorite, but I love the story of Norman Herms of Philadelphia. He mailed a check into the GBS-CIDP Foundation International with the following message: “Please give this check to Hugh Williams. I do not have a computer. I had GBS in 1988 at 55 years old. After 65 hospital days and ten days of therapy I recovered 100%”. That’s a pretty cool story.

Back when

Back when our fundraising began! January 1 in Phoenix, Arizona on a cold morning

All up, 98 people and organizations have contributed to the fundraiser. That includes 3 companies, Pivotal, Accel Partners, and Medallia. I owe them a special thanks for being corporate donors, and I hope other companies will join in too. If you’d like to be part of the story — maybe even our 100th contributor — then you can head over here and donate. There’s some cool perks too, just choose one when you contribute.

See you again soon.

 

Fireside chat at the DataEdge Conference

The video of my recent conversation with Michael Chui from McKinsey as part of the UC Berkeley DataEdge conference is now online. Here it is:

The discussion is around 30 minutes. I tell a few stories, and most of them are mostly true. We talk about my career in data, search, changing jobs, inventing infinite scroll, eBay, Microsoft, Pivotal, and more.  Enjoy!

Putting Email on a Diet

A wise friend of mine once said: try something new for 30 days, and then decide if you want to make it permanent.

Here’s my latest experiment: turning off email on my iPhone. Why? I found I was in work meetings, or spending time with the family, and I’d frequently pick up my phone and check my email. The result was I wasn’t participating in what I’d chosen to be part of — I was distracted, disrespectful of the folks I was with, and fostering a culture of rapid-fire responses to what was supposed to be an asynchronous communication medium. So, I turned email off on my iPhone. image1

What happened? I am enjoying and participating in meetings more. I am paying attention to the people and places I have chosen to be. And I’m not falling behind on email — I do email when I choose to do it, and it’s a more deliberate and effective effort.

Have I strayed? Yes, I have. When I’m truly mobile (traveling and away from my computer), I choose to turn it on and stay on top of my inbox — that’s a time when I want to multitask and make the best use of my time by actually choosing to do email. And then I turn it off again.

My calendar and contacts are still enabled. On the go, I want to know where and when I need to be somewhere, and to be able to consciously check my plans. I also want to be able to contact people with my phone.

Will I stick with it? I think so. Give it a try.

See you next time.

Writing a Book

One day I’ll write another book. Perhaps a sports book about people and their stories, or the story of search engines and the people that build them.

I wrote my first book in 2001 with David Lane, and we rewrote it in 2003 for the second edition. I wrote another book with Saied Tahaghoghi in 2004 – the truth is I started it, and he picked up the pieces when I changed careers and countries; he’s a good man. The first book sold over 100,000 copies over the two editions (I still get a royalty check quarterly) and the second modestly (Saied and I earned our advance back). They’re both dated, old books now.

Web Database Applications with PHP and MySQL. My first book in its second English edition.

Web Database Applications with PHP and MySQL. My first book in its second English edition.

It’s thousands of hours of work to write a book. I spent at least 20 hours per week for 18 months on the first edition of the first book – that’s 1500 hours at least. I got out of bed at 5:30am and I did a few hours of writing before work. I’d also squeeze in a little more after work (typically some proof reading), and a longer period of writing on the weekend (where I’d still get out of bed at 5:30am).

Did I get rich? No. Typically, the authors get less than 10% of the wholesale book price — a couple of dollars per book sold at most. I got more than the minimum wage for the first book (roughly dividing the royalties by the number of hours by the number of authors to get an answer). The second book didn’t pay its way.

The longer I worked in a single sitting, the more productive I was. It takes a certain fixed amount of startup time to begin writing – you reread what you’ve written, edit it a little, get the context back, think about the structure of what you want to say next, and then start writing anew. But I can’t write for an extended period – it’s tiring, and I need to stop and take time away to think about what I want to do next. Three or four hour stints are the most productive for me.

When I wrote the first book, I’d count how many words I wrote in a session, and use that as a measure of success. I’d decide that I was going to write 1000 words before I took a break. It turns out, that doesn’t work for me: I’ve learnt that what’s important is sustained output, averaged over a month or so. Some days, I’ve got writer’s block. But I’ve learnt that that’s when I am doing valuable thinking – I’m working through a larger problem, or thinking through structure, or solving something that’s been bugging me for a while; sometimes, this is a subconscious activity. Other days, I’m a machine: I write as fast as I can type, and thousands of words flow. A whole chapter has been known to flow after a writer’s block.

My second book, Learning MySQL in its one-and-only edition.

My second book, Learning MySQL in its one-and-only edition.

Writing slows down as the book takes shape. I’ll be in the middle of a new section, and I’ll want to reference something else I wrote using something like “as you learned in Chapter <x>, the <something>”. Then I have to figure out what chapter it was, and what exactly was that <something> – that takes time. And, as the book gets longer, you repeat yourself – at least, my memory isn’t amazing enough to make sure I only say the same thing once. I’ll find myself waxing lyrical about some great idea, only to discover that it is somewhere else in the book too. Then it’s a case of figuring out where it should be – which is going to lead to editing a was-finished chapter elsewhere in the book or rethinking what I’m writing today.

I worked with a major publisher, O’Reilly Media Inc., and the wonderful editorial skills of Andy Oram helped me on both books. Editors are awesome – they push, prod, ask questions, push for clarity, and say things that make your book better. But they create a ton of work – you’ll get feedback such as “Perhaps you could merge those two chapters?” or “Chapter 4 needs to be broken into two chapters, and you need to really go into much more depth”. That often happens after you think you’re finished. You’ll get asked for extra chapters, rewrites, more or less content, and complete changes in style. It makes your book better. Between the first edition and second edition of my first book, Andy helped me change my style from a formal computer science style to a more conversational, chatty style – the kind that I use in this blog.

Writing a book isn’t a social experience. You need to enjoy being alone with your thoughts. Prepare for one hour of inspiration and conversation to turn into a hundred hours of hard labor and iteration. If it takes a couple of thousand hours to write a book, ten of them are the inspirational ones where you create the fundamental ideas. I wrote much of the second book in my parent’s Winnebago – parked on the grass, a good distance from the house, deliberately without wifi, and with nothing inside to distract me.

So, why do it? I enjoy writing – there’s rewarding impact in sharing knowledge with thousands of people. If you’re lucky, someone’s success or their impact will be because of what you shared. Or maybe you change how someone thinks or sees the world. Or you make their life better. It’s also cool to see your name on the cover, and to feel it in your hands – it’s even cooler when it’s translated into a language you don’t understand. I wonder what joy there is in knowing people are reading a digital copy? The digital sales on the royalty statement have never quite inspired me the same way.

Have fun. See you soon.

Five tips for Delivering a Presentation

I wrote a few weeks ago on writing a presentation. This week, I offer a few thoughts on delivering one – in no particular order. I’m working on my sequel to my post on performance reviews — expect it next week!

Eye Contact

You want to portray confidence. You don’t want to mumble. You want to engage your audience. Here’s my simplest tip to achieve all three: make eye contact with the audience. Pick out a few friendly faces – people you know who want you to succeed or just people who look friendly – and look them in the eye. Move between those folks as you deliver your presentation.

The side effects are you won’t look down and mumble. You will face the audience and not the slides (the slides aren’t that interested in your talk). You won’t look like you’re only trying to impress your boss (it sure freaks me out when someone spends the whole presentation looking at me). You’ll look like you’re in command as you survey the crowd.

Body Language

Stand up, go to the front, take charge of the room. But don’t plant yourself in one spot – plan to move every few minutes; for example, stroll from one side of the projector screen to the other, or move from the lectern to center stage.

Don’t rock. Plant your feet. Don’t freeze your arms. Make a few gestures – you can even plan to do these every minute or two.

Change your facial expressions every now and then. But not as much as a news anchor – don’t raise your eyebrows every second sentence like they do.

Don’t Read Notes (or Memorize)

Don’t write out your speech. You’ll kill the presentation. Please. For the sake of everyone who is listening. If you must, write a phrase per slide on some palm cards.

Memorizing is the same as writing it down. You will kill the audience.

Only newsreaders can do this, and you are not a newsreader.

Don’t Read Slides

Don’t read the slides to the audience. They can read, and that’s why you’ve put the text on the slides. Again, you’ll kill the talk.

Here’s how I see the role of slides: they’re the key material, and your job verbally is to add flavor to what they’re saying. Relate a story, add an extra point that wouldn’t fit on the slide, point out a key fact, or summarize the key message that the slide is conveying.

The worst thing you can do is to read the slides and track the text with a laser pointer. I hate laser pointers.

 It’s (almost) Impossible to Speak Too Slowly

Earlier this week, I was watching the first election debate in Australia, between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. It wasn’t a debate per se, more of a press conference. And as I was thinking about writing this blog post, I was watching and listening for their presentation styles. I noticed careful use of body language, eye contact, and saw the Prime Minister use notes in the form of phrases. Whether either is charismatic is in question, but they are certainly practiced speakers.

What I noticed most was how slowly they spoke. Try an experiment: watch this video (or any video of a leader), and count the number of words they speak in a minute. Now, at work or school, count the number of words a presenter speaks in a minute. Compare and contrast people you think are great, and those that aren’t – you’ll quickly see that the ones you like generally speak slowly.

About 150 words per minute is about right. That’s hard to execute when you’re up on stage – so my practical advice is just to slow down. Speak as slowly as you can – nervousness will make sure it actually isn’t too slow, you’ll go a little faster than you intend anyway.

A Word on My Personal Style

I always walk off stage thinking that I made a mistake in one way or another. That causes me to reflect on what didn’t go well – and to try and capture it, and avoid the same mistakes twice. Here are a few things that I’ve learnt along the way:

  • If I work in humor early, the body language of the audience becomes more positive, and I relax (and become confident, and present more effectively). I try to lighten the mood early – but only when it’s appropriate!
  • I always write my own slides. I can’t present other people’s slides with confidence
  • When I’m repeating a talk, the third time is always the best. Before that I am rehearsing, and after that I am going through the motions
  • When I’m nervous, I gesture too much and I touch my face. I think about putting my hands in a position (such as one hand in a pocket) and keeping them there, and allow them to move only occasionally
  • I practice the endings of my talks. Starts and middles I can do, ends tend to drift. One trick I use is to learn who or what is coming next, and to introduce it in some form. For example, I might say “I would love to spend more time with you today, but I know you are all looking forward to Jenny speaking to you about Hadoop internals. I hope you’ve enjoyed the presentation, and I look forward to seeing you all again soon”. Or something like that. I also clearly signal the end of the presentation verbally

I love to run surveys about large meetings that I run to see what I can learn. I also always ask people in person what they thought of my presentations. If there’s a video, I’ll skim that too (which is always painful – I don’t know anyone who likes watching or listening to themselves). I think I am pretty good at spotting my own flaws – most people are their own best critics.

See you next week.