2011 Staff Conference – My Experince

Suffice to say, I felt that my presentation at the 2011 Waterloo Staff Conference (#ohdconf and #uwaterloo hashtags for those who twitter) went well. Not that I had any doubt it wouldn’t go well; public speaking is usually one of my strengths. Links to the presentation and other random content discussed are available here.

Looking back, it is ironic I was over prepared for my presentation. I spoke highly about pulling a MacGyver, but I thought about my presentation way too much and had way too many demonstrations packed up that I never ended up using. But there is always next time.

I spoke for about 45 mins and did 30 minutes of activities, and if anything I should have flipped that; less talking and more action. I felt the audience got more out of the demonstrations rather than the talk (although I do feel the talk did generate a lot of interest and laughs). I am looking forward to getting more specific feedback once I have an opportunity to read the feedback forms.

One of the things that shocked me was how few people had heard of the term phreaking. I figured that being a university-based audience at a school known for its technical programs there would be a good chunk of people aware, if not openly involved with, this sort of activity. Only three hands went up when asked if they knew the term, out of a group of about 75. I have always known that I am a knowledgeable guy; I have destroyed many opponents in trivial pursuit, and I can get very aggressive during scrabble games, but I still find that I take it for granted other people spend as much time as me reading about… everything.

After introducing the audience to the world of hackers, I picked a volunteer who had never programmed before (April, thank-you again for braving the stage with me) and demonstrated just how super easy it was to program (and modify programs with) a micro controller. She even hooked up an LED to the board as well. Thank-you Arduino.

My next volunteer was Carmen, my co-op student, who helped me to put the Arduino to practical use, setting it up with a garden watering valve, and a pair of nails, in order to monitor soil moisture and automatically water the ground when its too dry.

With time running short, we quickly moved into making LED throwies with the entire audience, and fortunately a few were left in some interesting places around the new accounting wing on campus.

Urinal Throwie
Urinal Throwie

… and that was it for the presentation.

Like I mentioned, there was a lot we didn’t get to do. I had made a MIDI drum set (based upon the ardrumo project) and was going to show how it easy it was to duplicate that project. I really wanted to do that one because the new lecture rooms in the new accounting wing are awesome, with great speakers and acoustics. I was also going to show how easy it is to connect the arduino to the internet, and to make a roving robot with it. If I had 20 more minutes it would have all been possible. But again, there is always next time, and I am already prepared. Although, by the next time I do this sort of presentation again, I’ll probably have even cooler stuff to demonstrate.

I just want to say thank-you to the Office of Human Development at Waterloo for organizing an excellent staff conference this year, and for letting me present in it. I’d like to thank my audience for being awesome, and and extra big thank-you to April and Carmen for helping me out.

As for me, I think I’ll take a break from electronics for a couple of weeks. I’ve been meaning to learn how to crochet. Now feels like a great time to start. Anyone with any tips or suggestions give me a shout.