Dear computer: I INSPIRE YOU.

Since my career is moving from straight programming towards teaching programmers (Yes, the Pluralsight C# Collections Fundamentals Course is coming soon…), I’ve realized I occasionally need to communicate with people by some means other than email. So I recently enrolled on a class aimed at improving your voice for public speaking. (Yeah, I know, I felt that merely putting people to sleep in technical talks wasn’t enough. But if I had enough voice skills to put people into a coma….). Great class by the way, at City Lit, led by a great teacher, Nick diCola.

Anyway, last week, after some weeks of learning various exercises and warm-ups, Nick asked us to prepare a couple of minutes’ presentation for the next class. (Alert: This class is attended by human beings, not computer programmers. ‘Presentation’ does not mean ‘a talk about System.Collections.ObjectModel.Collection<T>’ Rather, ‘presentation’ could mean something like reading a bit of a poem or a story. Y’know. Something with (gasp) *people* in it).

So we prepared our bits, and the next lesson came. And then Nick revealed the real task. We weren’t only going to read our pieces: First, we had to look at each phrase of what we’d be reading, think of some emotion and action associated with it, and say that action, in the appropriate tone of voice. So for example, the phrase ‘I have the heart and stomach of a king’ might be intended to embolden your loyal warriors, so you’d read it as : I EMBOLDEN YOU. I have the heart and stomach of a king. (All said in a confidence-raising voice).

So if – hypothetically, for your presentation, you’d chosen to read a bit of Queen Elizabeth’s 1588 address to her troops. You’d probably say this:

I EMBOLDEN YOU. I have the heart and stomach of a king. I RESPECT YOU, And of a king of England too. I DESPISE YOU. And think foul scorn that Parma or Spain or any prince of Europe should dare to invade….

You get the idea. I have to say it’s a very clever tactic to force you to put more expression in your voice.

So, various students did their pieces – poems, extracts from novels, etc.

Then it was my turn to read my presentation, complete with emotional markers.

I’m a computer programmer.

I’d prepared a 2-minute layman’s explanation of what happens when your computer connects to the Internet.

This presents a bit of a problem. What emotion exactly do you associate with – say – a DNS server resolving an IP address to a domain name? Anger? (“Go, you stupid numbers! Go forth and turn into something more useful!”) Boredom? (“Oh not another IP address, I’ve already done 2 449 493 784 today”) Hunger? (“I want IP addresses! More! More! More!”) Love? (“Oh you cute and cuddly IP addresses! Come to me! Let me caress you!”)

So anyway, I started. It went something like this.

I INSPIRE YOU. Let’s imagine you are on your computer and going to some website. I IMPLORE YOU. Say, you are about to go to a class, and want to check train times on Transport for London (TfL), to see if your train is running on time (please). I COMMAND YOU so you type in in your web browser. I ENSLAVE YOU Now TfL will have computers whose sole purpose in life is to respond to requests for web pages…

And so it went on, taking my short technical talk into emotional realms that I suspect have never before in the history of mankind been visited by web servers and DNS lookups.

Well, it could’ve been worse. Imagine if I’d prepared a talk on how to prove Pythagoras’s theorem, and had to stick emotional markers in that…

And before you ask – no, it wasn’t recorded.


Next article: Pythagoras? Easy Peasy.

(Nov 2014 – edited for clarity)


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